Wednesday, May 18, 2016

One Thousand 13

As of today, I'm now at 1013 days in a row, riding a bicycle, outside.

Rain, snow, ice, wind, cold, warm, hot. These are just words and not the enemy. The only enemy to the task is apathy. It is so easy to postpone, delay, or avoid all together. It is hard to make the commitment, get ready, and get outside.

Once you are outside though, and on the bike, the rest is easy. I'm finding more and more often that some of my most rewarding rides are in some of the worst conditions. Just this past week in fact, a late day, heavy rain ride on muddy roads up over a mountain was just what I needed, literally putting a smile on my face.

Live your life every day, ride bikes, enjoy what you are given and take none of it for granted.

2016 Rasputitsa Recap

I know that this is a little late, and I'd said I was done with race reports, but I wanted to at least have some recount of this year's iteration of the Rasputitsa spring gravel road race, which took place in the Northeast Kingdom of VT a month or so back. Really, this isn't going to be as much a race report as it is going to be a synopsis of the event itself. At least that is the plan.

As everyone in the Northeast knows, the recent weather conditions have been abnormal to say the least. When the Rasputitsa was first conceived, the though was that the conditions would be as much a part of the race as the course and race itself. The race would become an individual battle as much or more between man, machine and the elements as man vs. man. The past first and second iteration of the race were more on par with that notion, making it a true tough but smart guys race. Tough in battling the elements but smart in equipment choice and preservation.

This year things were looking to be completely epic, with legendary mud and conditions to make note of. Exactly one week before we rode the course and the conditions were deplorable. It was below freezing and there was snow and mud, both of which froze to the bikes and rendered them useless in a short period of time. Equipment choice and close management and preservation of that equipment would have been crucial had the race been that day not to mention clothing choices for a long, sloppy, well below freezing race. I projected that had the race been one week earlier, the winning finish time would have been nearly an hour longer and the a solid half of the field would have run into mechanical issues caused by the frozen slop accumulation. Of those, many would not be equipped to deal with them and would have been walking. Of those, many would not be prepared for the weather once they were no longer generating heat from riding. They would have suffered and some would have been in trouble. In short, this was the race that I was hoping for, for selfish reasons of course the primary of which being that I excel in conditions like that. The pre ride that we did a week earlier was pretty taxing on my Bikeway Source provided Cannondale Synapse disc, which isn't designed to be a mud bike and as such has low mud clearance. When the mud, slush and grit accumulate and freeze, you only have a certain amount of time before you have to clear it out, otherwise things stop turning.

Seven days before
But that was not to be. The rain and snow ended, the sun came out, the wind blew and the temperatures rose quickly to well above normal. The unbelievable muddy roads dried. The mud ruts were smoothed by the graders and the one bastion of hope left, the Cyberia section of Kirby Mountain even dried out in literally a few days flat. That was good in that it meant I had a bike, my Synapse, which was perfectly designed for the conditions. That said, the race went from a race that plays to my strengths to a race that played to my weakness, big long hard fast climbs. As much as I like to climb, I'm not a true climber. One look at me is all that is needed to see that fact. Sure, I can fake it on the short punchy stuff but when it is a long steady grind and I am forced above threshold, time is ticking.

And so it was. I played it safe early and made it over the first series of climbs then went to the front and drove hard on the first descent to try and stay safe. That worked well but I used too much gas. Through the next sets of rollers I tried to conserve within the large, maybe 25 person front group. That in and of itself is telling as the race was only a few miles in and the nearly 700 starters had been whittled away to a small lead group of a couple dozen racers. By the next long, gradual climb I was starting to feel the strain but seemed comfortable enough, with the discomfort. At the top of Carter Road, the pace bumped and I spaced out, losing contact. I figured I could bridge the small gap on the descent but I couldn't, in fact, I was getting dropped. The pace down the somewhat sketchy rutted and steep race was insane and I was working way too hard, not recovering but digging deeper into the red such that when we started back up again the writing was on the wall.

I was done, fading, losing the lead group. Worse, there was no secret stash of really nasty stuff up ahead that would re-shuffle the deck like Cyberia did last year. I watched the group pull away ahead as we climbed Victory Rd. I was now with a small group including James from the Tekne team. The climbs were putting the hurt on for sure but despite the earlier mishap on Carter Rd, I was descending well. Knowing the course is always a help. Just before the KoM I was caught by the group behind, which had a half dozen folks including all around great guy, John Funk. I really like racing with Funky as he is such a cycling icon. I have the utmost respect for him and I consider any day that I can ride with him, a good day.

Love this area
I sagged the rest of that section and kept at the front of the group on the descents. River Rd was sloppier than it had been a few days before as Victory had apparently graded the road. I tried my best to conserve energy on that stretch as did most everyone in the group, knowing all too well what was looming just ahead. We caught a few people who'd been spit out of the group ahead of us, which was now the chase group on the road chasing after the four leaders.

And then we made the corner off River Rd onto Victory Hill Rd and the final real climb started. this was the big one, a solid 3.5 miles with some good double digit percentage grades. The climb was hard but pretty steady. Things spread a bit on the steep sections but came back on the lesser grades until we hit the run in to the last section of the climb, a solid half mile with looser terrain and some steeps. Over the top I was back a bit but within sight. I was again shocked how fast people were descending what I knew was a nasty, rutted road. Folks were taking huge risks I just wasn't prepared to take. Not on that stuff and certainly not when I saw Jake Wells walking back up the hill toward me holding his likely broken collarbone. I chose to be safe and take my risks on the road descent, one that I know well and knew would be fast. It was fast in fact. Luckily I was, with a huge amount of luck, able to catch back up on. The group came back together after the Kirby town hall and stayed pretty much together along Ridge Rd.

Coming down out of Cyberia
Near the top of the last rise on Ridge Rd I pulled to the front, wanting to get into position for the descent on Ridge Rd that dropped you down to the hard left turn onto Brook Rd. Brook Rd is one of the last roads to get sunlight and tends to remain in pretty rough shape. There are a few blind corners and some rough road on the fast, fairly steep technical descent. I wanted to be at the front as I knew the road well and feared there may be casualties on the road. Turns out that we all made it through OK but there were indeed casualties on that road later in the day when a friend nailed a pothole, went over the bars near 30 mph and broke her nose, toe and neck. Luckily she was mostly OK and is recovering well with a full recovery expected shortly.

We all came back together for the final run in toward the finish. The last descent dropping back down into East Burke caused me the masters race last year when I let myself get pushed off line and crashed at the top. This year I wanted to be clearly first in so I attacked the group about 100 yards out, coming in hot. Unfortunately, I'm just not confident enough to risk dying down that rough chute at warp speed on a road bike. Though I was first in I got passed by three people in the group literally in the chute. I was awe struck that the bikes didn't explode given how much abuse they took. Still, I made it through toward the front of our small group, fourteenth place overall, the third logical group to finish and well out of any contention for a podium spot even in the master's race.

Cathy got the job done in the women's fat bike again
This wasn't the finish that I'd hoped for but I took it with a grain of optimism, that being the fact that the race was essentially a very hilly and dry road race. I'm not a particularly strong road racer and I'm not a particularly proficient climber when it comes to real climbing. I've also had some incidents recently including a couple of bad crashed last fall that have changed my perspective as to just what kinds of risks I am willing to take. Maybe that means I'm not cut out for racing bikes anymore, a possibility for sure. And I'm OK with that.

Did I mention that Cathy killed it, again this year in the women's fat bike category? She did and took about an hour off of her finish time from the previous year. She certainly seems to be carrying this team of recent. She also spent the day before with my mom making homemade donuts for the event. They were incredible and in fact, we just finished the last of them, which we'd had in the freezer. Many thanks for the efforts of both her and my mother, which were above and beyond. Both of my parents spent race day volunteering, perched at the base of the Cyberia section.

Darn, I said this wasn't going to be yet another, boring race report and guess what happened? Oh well. It was a great event and the good conditions, phenomenal and unheard of conditions, were indeed a treat for all. No hypothermia, frostbite. Still, wasn't that or the threat of that why we all signed up for the race in the first place? Nothing the promoters could have done on that front. This was all Mother Nature if not the bizarre, fickle weather patterns caused by the climate change we seem to be experiencing beyond the historic norm. Had the race literally been seven days earlier, everything would have been different, everything.

I'd also like to say how happy I am that the the event is being used to benefit the Little Bellas program, which is run by top professional athletes Lea and Sabra Davison, both VT natives. The program gets young girls into mountain biking through support, outreach and mentoring. Both Lea and Sabra beyond being incredible athletes, are true, genuine people who want to make a difference. In meeting them both I was abundantly impressed. They epitomize what it means to be a professional cyclist. I'd love to see more money go to programs like this, with local impact on every day young people, truly making a difference in their lives.

The old NEBC junior team
We have the ability, through the love and promotion of cycling, to give back by spreading that love to those who may otherwise overlook or abandon cycling. This is especially true in rural areas, like the NEK of VT, where that cycling related support, encouragement and mentoring is all but non-existent. Cycling is a tough sell in rural areas, especially among the poor. It's expensive, exclusionary and lets face it, not exactly mainstream. When rural kids hit high-school the bikes tend to be dropped in favor of motorized alternatives. I believe that this doesn't have to happen, by instilling a love of bikes through enablement, encouragement and mentoring, kids can embrace cycling as a life long sport. And from my perspective, that is the real goal here. Racing is nice and all but we have plenty of groups that promote bike racing among the over privileged. Cathy and I were fortunate to have started and run a junior team that enabled young kids to try a host of different cycling disciplines through crowd sourced parts and gear donations, which I built into a literal fleet of bikes. We got more than a half dozen kids to try MTB and cyclocross and more, helped instill cycling as a life long passion for all of them. These kids are now starting to graduate college and go out into the real world. I follow them and their cycling exploits with both honor and pride. I view this as one of the most important a relevant contributions I've made to cycling, far outweighing any race related accolade or achievement. I hope in the very near future to get something like this started in the NEK, and get rural kids like my younger self, or my nephew engaged in cycling, forever, and off the couch.

Stellar Sunday recovery ride
In terms of the event, I'd say things went pretty well. The organization, timing and results were flawless. The outdoor setup at the finish was spot on, especially given the gorgeous weather. The only thing that seemed to be lacking from events past was the food and drink situation. A single line to food handled one person at a time did not scale to over 700 people. Likewise with the only drinks available inside, at the bar, having to fight through the same narrow, choked entryway that those waiting up to 45 minutes for light food fare were standing in. Last year the drink sponsors wares, Woodchuck and Switchback, were dispensed outside making it easy to get to. This year with warm weather, I'd think the same would have been perfect. I'm guessing that some of the issues came simply from scale, the magnitude of the event. Dealing with nearly 700 people is a challenge.

Anyhow, another great event. what will next year bring? Who knows given the weather that we've seen. Hopefully we are back to more of a seasonal norm but we will have no choice but to take that which we are given.