June 27, 2015
Who in their right mind drives 15 hours for a bike race? Uh, well, we do. K-Dogg, Dr. Pain, and JOM escaped from the blistering heat of North Central Florida to Morgantown, West Virginia where we were presented with a forecast of rain, rain and rain. But, temperatures in the 70’s Fahrenheit still sounded quite desirable… like winter for us.
Lest you think we are complete nutters, we combined our Hilly Billy Roubaix race to a trip to our undisclosed Gravel Cyclist training camp in Virginia. Training camp, you know, where you get up, eat, ride your bike on new roads, eat, then sleep. Maybe exploring is a better word for it, but at least we didn’t do 30 hour drive for one race. Of course, J.R. Petsko’s production would have been worth it, but we needed a little more bike ride to drive ratio to make it more fun.
So we raced. JOM, who claims to be a hardman Aussie, bagged the race because of some clavicle issue. For once, he exercised some reason and decided not to race with a broken clavicle. Shocking! That left K-Dogg and Dr. Pain as the only representatives of Gravel Cyclist. K-Dogg is over 60, and Dr. Pain is getting there… too rapidly.
Before the race began, we sat in the G.C. travel vehicle, watching the rain falling, knowing that the course was going to be at least as challenging as the competition. For Dr. Pain, the course is the only competition, since the leaders are gone when we reach the gravel sector with all those very non-Florida inclines. After that, it is the course that is all that is left for his competition.
J.R. lined us up a few interminable minutes early to give the obligatory pre-race instructions, directions, and admonitions. It was mostly stuff like, “Do you know what you’ve got yourself into? Do you know the course is really muddy? Don’t go left of center. Don’t die.” Stuff like that.
It was a cold rain, at least for Floridians. Sitting on the line, contemplating five to six hours of riding in a cold rain, axle deep muck, and one million feet of climbing, brought Dr. Pain close to the point of bailing. Pride kept him in the race, certainly not good common sense. All the people at the start seemed amazingly enthusiastic… too much so for the good Doctor.
We started with a “neutral” rollout. This involved riding through some grass, like a real cross race, then down a 30+ mph descent, then up the other side, to regroup and stand around in the rain again. Once regrouped, the race proper began. It began with a rapid paved descent.
K-Dogg who actually, occasionally, wins stuff, did the right thing, and weaseled his way to the front. Dr. Pain, seriously lacking motivation, did the wrong thing, and hung back. No possibility of doing the “fat man fade” since he was sort of faded from the start. The advantage of starting that far back upon entry into the gravel “pinch points” is that the road was clear. No walking at all. We had scouted the first few miles of the course the day before, and were prepared for the first short descent, with the left turn at the bottom. “Stay to the right”, to avoid the half buried boulders and slime on the inside of the turn. All clear, no problems of either of us.
Everyone knows about Indian Creek Road. It’s always a quagmire. Before that section, there is a stream crossing. Generally, we take the left path through the crossing. Amusingly, we crossed three streams that looked like streams, before someone mentioned that we were now crossing the stream.
Indian Creek Road this year defied description. There was no safe or easy line through any portion of the road this year. All bearings were exposed to a murky mire. They will never be the same. It was hilarious. That’s the only reaction one could have retain any sort of sanity.
What we didn’t know, was there would be another axle grease-like section of “road” for a race total of three. The second sector occurred somewhere after Indian Creek Road, but my glasses were too opaque to see anything on my fancy Garmin, so I have no idea where it really was. How does mud get behind your fancy riding glasses? I think we need a National Science Foundation grant to look into this phenomenon.
After the second quagmire, we went up and down a lot, mostly on paved roads. The most notable deviation from this pattern was the underwater road. Not under water like Indian Creek. This water was flowing, toward the riders. In fact, it was not at all clear that it was a road at all. It looked like a wrong turn into a creek. Note from JOM – this road has been recorded by the Google Street View car!
As you may have surmised, the good Dr. Pain was not so much racing, as surviving the ride. K-Dogg may have been racing, but he was up ahead… probably the result of racing. Dr. Pain especially stopped racing when his rear derailleur stopped shifting. Too much schmutz was in the cable housing, apparently. Fortunately, the derailleur would shift into the giant 40-tooth cog enabling him climb feebly.
Feeble climbing was needed for the last two sectors of indignity. The first was another section of complete and utter mud induced dismay. Some of it was ride-able, some of it was barely walk-able. At some point, Dr. Pain would like to see how the fast people traverse this section, because whatever skill it takes, is missing from Dr. Pain’s repertoire. Once you get through this section, it feels like you might finish without dying.
The final indignity involved leaving a perfectly good bit of pavement, to instead ride straight up a grassy hill, that was a fun, wretched, rutted mess by the time Dr. Pain and K-Dogg arrived. Somehow, after bounding over rocks, mud and unknown submerged things, K-Dogg managed to puncture his front tire in the grass. The spooge inside sort of held air enough for him to finish… after he pumped some more in there.
So, we didn’t die, we finished and we didn’t finish last. Success! K-Dogg won the 60+ division, if only they had actually had such a division. Dr. Pain finished an astonishingly long way behind the winners, but 17th in the 50+ division.