When I was a child I wanted to be “Boy” from the old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies. I was too hyperactive for school and day dreamed about running around all day in tight animal skin loincloths fighting rhinos or rabid chimpanzees. Not much has changed except now I run around all day in tight lycra, fighting old men on bicycles.
(Note from JOM – K-Dogg isn’t right in the head).
The weekend before last (March 20, 2016), Cam and Gardner of Blue Mountain Revival Productions – and Eric of Pisgah Productions, graciously provided us with just such a wondrous playground set in the Brushy Mountains of North Carolina, in the cow town of Love Valley.
Although the 37F degree morning was not exactly tropical, the lush and beautiful scenery more than made up for it. Everywhere you looked were blooming cherry blossoms and white-flowered trees. Everybody you spoke to was chipper and jovial.
As the bicycle tribe gathered at the start line, we were warned not to spook the ponies lined up and tied to their hitching rails.
But these bomb-proof beauties scarcely cocked an ear as the race began, and 200 gravel cyclist types scampered down the dusty trail and into the Brushy Mountains looking for a wonderful day of adventure.
Inexplicably, Gravel Cyclist founder JOM found himself right near the very front (second wheel mostly) fighting side winds and such with 199 other racers happily tucked in behind him.
His steel Ritchey Break-Away bike was laden down with with Garmins, snaking cables, spare battery packs and more cameras than Dennis Hopper in the movie “Apocalypse Now.” Having spent eight hours driving up from Florida enduring his whinging (Note from JOM – whining if you’re Americano) about bruised ribs, I couldn’t understand his reasoning for towing the field so stupidly early. Turns out he had no reason and was soon ingloriously spit out the back on the first serious climb a country mile later. JOM descends like a scalded Dingo but most of the time climbs like a Platypus with a full bladder.
The climb in question quickly took its toll on everybody. Within a few minutes, about 20 Alpha dogs shredded the pack and vanished into the wild. Little clusters of cling-ons began to form. K-Dogg managed to glob on to six younger creatures that he could comfortably climb with, but more importantly, cling to on the way back down.
Unbeknownst to K-Dogg, another group of six riders were dangling just 30 seconds behind, including 60+’er and hard man, Tom Ratajczak. A frustrated Tom scolded his younger companions into mounting a proper chase by taking 30 second pulls to close the gap more efficiently.
I don’t know how well this worked, because my rear tire suddenly flatted and I was off the bike throwing my pockets onto the ground. Tom’s group soon flashed by. “You all right?” they asked. “Yep” I said tight lipped to the ground. “Need anything?” “Nope.” I said. Gravel cyclists are so nice.
Soon JOM’s cluster flew by. He didn’t stop but neither did he spit on me. “All right mate?” he shouted, not touching his brakes. Later, he lectured me about inner tubes being for luddites or the technically challenged (Note from JOM – all rude comments directed solely at K-Dogg). Why do I have teammates again? Dozens of racers filed past as I went to work changing the tube as quickly as possible… which of course didn’t happen.
First, my one plastic tire “iron” snapped in two. Then, my cartridge system froze the valve stem so it would only hold 15 psi. I wasted two cartridges then jumped on the bike and tried to ride it. Two corners later the rim bottomed out horribly. A passing racer with a giant backpack kindly stopped and offered his three inch long frame pump. The cheap plastic pump head was worn out but had to be an improvement. Three thousand rapid pumps later, I hopped back on with maybe 16 psi in my tire. Luckily, there was a rest stop half a mile later with the most beautiful department store floor pump I’ve ever seen. Ten pumps and 50 psi later, I was back in business. The sun came out and I heard jungle parrots squawking at me. “Squawk ! Squawk” they said. “Boy chase! Boy chase!” they squawked.
The good news… the flat came less than 30 minutes into the race so I had 2.5 hours to chase down a baker’s dozen of old guys for a podium spot. Time for a caffeine Gu and a jungle time trial! Giddy up! It’s Cheetah time.
First, I chased down Nice Backpack Guy. Then a few clusters of people on the unofficial Grand Fondo. Then ones and twos who probably went too hard too soon. Then I danced past several big guys who at best were not conversational. I was feeling great after my 15 minute nap but knew better than to be chipper.
“Hoo raa!” I said quietly passing. ” Whatever.” they breathed out. Several riders appeared by the roadside, slumped over a flat tire or with a broom wagon mechanical. “Got everything?” I yelled. “I’m OK” they sighed.
The hardest hills were the paved little 15% bastards that insidiously curved out of sight. You could hear them snicker that the worst part was ALMOST over. Then another steeper one would appear. “Nope! maybe the next corner! Ha, ha!” they teased.
With each guy I passed I tried to discern their age group… 40+? 50+? 60+? Who was a threat? It was hard to judge.
Helmets and dark glasses can hide a lot (thank goodness) and I didn’t want to appear rude so I employed an equation based on:
- (B) the size of their beer belly.
- The amount of visible white hair (H).
- Multiplied that by how far their knees (K) stuck out when pedaling.
(B+H x K = amount of threat).
Usually, I just attacked everybody that tried to stay with me. Many caught me on the down hills but luckily there were plenty of up hills left to hold the gap.
With half an hour remaining I spotted a lonely JOM ahead on a switchback.
“Oi!” I shouted, happy to see my teammate.
“I hate you!” he said as I danced past him.
“Gotta keep going mate!” I said, “I’m trying to make the podium.”
“I’ll catch you the next descent bit-h” he spewed. He did of course pass me near the bottom.
“Bit-h!” I gave back. “See you up top.”
We do this a lot in hilly races. It doesn’t mean anything, some Aussies even talk to their mums like that.
A few hills later, I was alone and on my way home. Turning onto the main street of Love Valley, I spotted the finishing banner and one big guy just ahead of me. His helmet showed black hair and his knees didn’t stick out too badly. I sprinted anyway, almost hit a German Shepherd dog and shouldered around the big guy to the finish line. It seemed silly but probably a good precaution. Why blow a box spot in the last second?
As it turns out I got second in the 60+ and collected a really cool trophy.
Congratulations to Tom Ratajczak for taking first 60+ plus all the other podium people who went much faster! I hope some day to film the first across the line riders but that would take a miracle – or a car.
The best part of course, was getting to play Boy in the Jungle. Such a natural high. I could smell Tarzan and Jane serving supper in the saloon… I just hope they wouldn’t scold me for coming home so late.
Good luck and see all-y’all at Darby Roubaix!