Monday, November 10, 2008

The Iceman Cometh

I awoke Saturday morning to temperatures in the high 30s, and a forecast calling for light rain. Camelpack and bottle got filled, clothes got picked out, breakfast got consumed, and we made our way over to Kalkaska. We pulled into a crowded parking lot, where I finished getting ready. After about a 20 minute warm-up, I handed my windbreaker to Brandy, and made my way to the starting chute. Here I sized up the competition: this year the singlespeeders were divided into 2 waves, under 39 (which I was in), and 40+ (which would start 5 minutes after me). The last Expert wave, sport/expert clydes, started, and we were called up to the line.
Likely due to the smaller wave, we had roughly 45-50 people in ours, I was able to secure a spot on the front line. I wanted a good starting position, as my goals were lofty; a top-10 finish, be amongst the top 15 if you combine both singlespeed waves, and finish in the 1:50-1:55 range.

At the start. I'm number 703, near the right hand side of the photo.

After a five minute wait, we were off! After a clean start, including negotiating a loose corner a couple hundred yards in, I settled in holding 7th or 8th wheel. I kept the lead riders in sight for about 3/4 of a mile, before dropping back. A couple miles in, and I was catching the first of the sport/expert clydes, I passed them, and continued to hold a strong pace.
After about 3 miles, on a rough straight section, I felt my pedals go slack and heard a "chank" noise. #&*@, I dropped my chain! OK, now get off, re-rail the chain (while watching a half dozen guys on singlespeeds fly past), remount, and get going again.
The next 5 miles were spent picking off the guys who passed me while I addressed my chain. Here I was able to put my 65 gear inches to use, hammering a strong pace on the flat sections.
I caught and passed Joe from KLM's team just before some singletrack. We got caught up in a "conga line" of slower riders, so we used this opportunity to recover and chat about riding. We crested the grunt hill that marked the end of that singletrack and I put the hammer down, with Joe hot on my tail.
After another stretch of wide-open riding, we encountered a section signed "Steve's Secret", which was a sequence of loooooooong singletrack climbs, not wide enough for passing. Sure enough, we were greeted with a long line of riders from previous waves, slowly creeping up the hill in granny gear. I was able to pass one of them, but quickly caught the next. There would be no way for me to get around him till we hit the top. Somehow, I was able to keep the pedals turning (at an extruciatingly slow cadence), and ride up without having to dismount.
We reached the top, things opened up again, and I put the hammer down. I also looked back and noted that somehow I had dropped Joe.
Williamsburg Road greeted me with a downhill sand pit, where I had to negotiate a fallen rider right in the good line. I made it through unscathed, and hammered up the hill leading to the road. The cheering spectators and the announcer added some spring to my step. Some more fireroads, and we hit the Vasa trail. This was a fast rolling ski trail, with a bit of singletrack thrown in, including The Wall. The wall is a steep switchback singletrack descent, complete with 2 trees that there was no way in 'ell I was making it through without dismounting. Other than those trees, the wall presented no great difficulty.
The race finished up with "Anita's Hill", which was a run-up, the "Ice Breaker" hill, some sweet flowing singletrack, and another short steep run-up hill where I overtook another rider in my class (putting me in 7th). Knowing he was behind me, I hit the gas when I crested the hill.
I rode up the last climb: I knew it was the last one because the spectators were announcing that fact to everyone who rode by, and then was greeted with signs for 1 mile and then 1 kilometer to go. The announcer's voice was in the distance, as was the sound of cheering spectators. Almost done! I could hear Brandy cheer from on top of the bridge, and as I was crossing the finish, I saw that I had done the course in 1 hour 53 minutes and change. We would see later that my official time was 1:53:13, which put me in 7th place in my group.

Approaching the finish.

I found Brandy, and we walked around congratulating teammates and other friends as they finished. After changing, we made our way to the team tent where we shared our war stories, drank beverages, cheered the later beginner waves, and watched the Pro/Elite class finish.