The mountain bike lap was probably 8 miles of twisting flat and fast single track through the woods for the first 2 miles with random bits of rocks and roots. Then into the real red trails, Rattlesnake, Ant Hill, and John Brown. Then another couple of miles of flying through the woods on fast stuff, and into the last red trail section on the Sink Hole trail. The first three red sections have a lot of very tough rocky climbs and several squirrelly rocky descents, and several sections where you are riding over boulders. The last red trail was just annoying w/ lots of rocks and roots. Plenty of opportunity to hurt yourself, but no killer climbs.
The week before the race, Ray had sent out an email that the road bike course was shortened to 22 miles (2 laps), but during race registration they took a poll of the riders, and bumped it back up to 33 miles. Classic Red Trail race day change that makes Ray’s races fun.
The 11 mile loop was a short leg to/from the parking area to a hilly square route w/ about 5 miles on rough as a corn cob blacktop road, followed by smoother roads for the last 6 miles, which turned out to be beating against the wind.
Beautiful weather, low 50s at the start to maybe 80 degrees by the end. Tigger & I were each riding solo, while Dianne and Casey had teamed up in the coed team division. Casey was riding his 29er single speed, against my advice, but he said he was so used to his 29er that he no longer felt good on the 26 inch wheels.
The teams used a small painted piece of wood as a baton to be passed between the MTB legs and the road bike leg. Before the race, we were guessing who would come out of the woods first, and we all expected that if things went well for him, that Casey should come out of the woods first, followed by me, then Tigger. There was some half-joking chatter that If Craig came out of the woods close behind Casey, then Dianne was going to soft pedal until Craig could catch on, so that they could work together during the road bike leg. She made no such offer to me. Hmmm….. But Craig told her that if she got on her road bike first, she should grab onto whatever wheel she could find and not mess around waiting for him. At least that’s what he said out loud…
The race started with a mad sprint around the parking lot, and the hole shot into the woods, for the inevitable choo-choo train ride of 60+ riders all on each other’s wheels through the woods till we hit the first climb. The Woodall boys hit the woods in the front of the pack, Casey was somewhere in the first 15 people, I was somewhere around 2/3 of the way back, and Craig was some number of places behind me doing his slow-steady-start thing.
Everyone near me was apparently about where they wanted to be in the train, because there was very little passing in that first piece of trail. I was behind a big guy on a 29er, and for the first mile I was hugging his wheel and having to follow his line because I couldn’t see around him. Turns out, 29er’s ride differently, which is what Casey had been trying to tell me. I followed him off-trail twice as he went on the wrong side of trees because he missed the turn, then when he rolled straight over ^%$#@’ing boulder instead of going around it, and I went straight after him. After that, I dropped back to give him some room, and was able to ride my own line.
We hit the tough section, which starts with a very tough 20..30 foot climb. Boom. Everyone was off their bikes, and for the next mile we did a lot of passing people that were walking over rocks and up tight little hills. The first section was really jammed up, and after about three climbs I passed the cause for that jam: our boy Casey. He was standing on the side of the trail, already bleeding and not happy, and he yelled out as I rode past, “This trail Sucks!”. Apparently on that first climb, he was trying to ride up the hill, and another rider tried to pass him on the climb, and her wheel swept his wheel out from underneath him, sending him tumbling back down the hill. After that inauspicious start to the tough section, his knee hurt so much that he couldn’t push on it, and was forced to walk all the tough climbs, and according to Casey, “I crashed more times that first lap, than I can remember”.
After we left the red section, we flew through the woods, but the field had been strung out so much by the chaos of that first section that I was chasing ghosts and saw no one behind me, and only caught one rider in the woods. The Sinkhole trail was uneventful for me and Craig, but apparently Casey was able to spend some more quality time off of his bike after hooking a vine with his handlebars.
I hit the road bike section first, with about a 4-5 minute lead on Casey. Casey came out of the woods like a trooper, Dianne took the small baton from Casey and shoved it into her back jersey pocket and was off on the road bike. Craig came out of the woods just seconds after Casey, but because he had to do a real transition to a new bike, possibly eat tasty snack, maybe quaff a beverage, and in general piddle around before getting on his bike, he started to ride a few minutes behind her.
My first lap was a classic Ken road ride: All Alone. I saw no one in front of me, and no one behind me. As I started my second lap, and was turning into the square portion, I saw a group of three or four riders in a pack finishing up their first lap. I saw jerseys that looked like Dianne and Craig’s in there, and knew then that if that was them, they were about 4-5 minutes back, and that I was likely going to get run down if I didn’t find somebody out there on the road to share the wind. How could Craig and Dianne be together on the first lap, if she started a few minutes ahead of Craig, and she’s as strong a rider as him? Gentle reader, you must make your own judgment regarding this mystery.
Craig left transition, and immediately jumped on the wheel of a fast rider. Unfortunately very shortly thereafter, she dropped off, and he was all alone for the first 3 miles. Dianne got off to a good start, and hooked up with a couple of other riders early in the lap. But then, according to Dianne, and unverified by any third party, her baton “fell out” of her jersey pocket. She had to stop, and ride back down the road a few hundred meters to look for the baton. It was while she was “looking for her baton”, that who should ride along but her husband! Just as she “found her baton”. Wow. What good fortune!
My second lap was another classic. All alone. I passed a couple of All Mountain solo riders, but no one on a road bike. As I was starting my last lap, I saw a pair of riders about 60 seconds behind me, and again saw Craig and Dianne, about 4 minutes back, this time confirmed sighting with Dianne cheerily waving at me. Grrr. I decided I better soft pedal the corn cob road, and let the two person group behind catch up, but it took them more than three miles to finally catch me. After they caught up, I let them hold my wheel for the next mile or two before we turned back to the north, so that there’d be some good will, and I could catch a break from the headwind we would be facing. But nope. Just as we turned to the north, they dropped off, because the woman wasn’t as strong as the man, he was clearly pulling her around, and she had to back off. Alone again! Then, about 2/3 of the way up that road, they went shooting past me, and I had to stand up to grab on. I caught a brief respite until we turned back to the east w/ three miles to go. He finished a pull, then she did about a 30 second pull, and I started my pull. About a minute later as we hit a small hill he went swooping past me, attacking the hill with vengeance. I stomped up the hill, and as I grabbed back on, he immediately dropped to the left, and backed off. I told him that he had dropped his female, to which he replied, “She’ll be fine.” Eh?!?! Then he attacked again. This time my slow brain engaged for me to finally get it, he was trying to drop me. Thanks friend. I briefly gave chase, but he was hammering and continuing to look back to make sure I didn’t catch on. I decided that it would be stupid to fry my legs chasing bozo down before getting back on the mountain bike. So I let him go, and just finished up the last lap alone again. Just seconds after I left the transition area to begin my last mountain bike lap, I heard cheering through the woods announcing the finish of the first racers at the end of their trip. Yep. I had a solid 40 minutes ahead of me, and the real racers were done. I was able to grunt through the second mountain bike lap, and finally achieved my goal of keeping about the same time as the first lap.
You may recall that the last trail-to-trail at Carter Road, Tigger, and just about everyone not dragging a limb were able to pass me after I’d popped. Casey’s last mountain bike lap included the requisite number of spills and thrills, complete with his wheel coming off, and requiring trail-side mechanic time. He added a few more bruises to his hand, but it sounds like he was better off on this lap, than his first trip through the woods.
Unfortunately all of Casey’s injuries together are nothing compared to Craig’s. Within 1/2 mile of the finish the the road bike section, Craig was on Dianne’s wheel and had the lapse of focus that is all too easy to have. Their wheels overlapped and he went down hard. He said he had plenty of time to prepare for the ground, and when he hit kept his arms in tight, and after breaking free of the bike, tumbled like a log down the road. He had a huge red and blue bruise, contusion on his bicep, road rash and bruise on his hip, and bloodied knee. But thankfully nothing like it could have been hitting that hard on the pavement. After limping in from that horrifying end of a road bike ride, he climbed aboard his mountain bike for what had to be a very painful last lap; leaving behind a clearly distraught Dianne. Amazing that he was able to get on the MTB bike for the last leg, and equally amazing that he finished it as quickly as he did, leaving a faint blood trail along the way.
We may never know the truth of the Baton Incident, but we know it was a heck of tough and fun Red Trail race.