There were so many things about this race I want to tell you. I'll keep it chronological so follow me on my emotional roller coaster if you can. I'm sounding a little melodramatic because the weekend started with my 11 year old daughter Ellie being diagnosed with pneumonia. She's my little ninja. She's never been this sick and it really burdened me all weekend. I tell you this so you'll understand why everything I'm about to write seemed like a dream. It was like being in a video game where you and your teammates can make great things happen, overcome unforeseen dangers, and achieve improbable victories... but reality is still there to remind you or who you really are what is really important.
Normally I give in to every man's natural tendency to take an all expenses paid ego trip. I mean that type of mental 10 feet tallness is a gift from God. It's why we can charge into battle. It's what athlete's use to jack themselves up for a race. It's blind belief in the face of the unknown. We all have it. Some men just don't sign up for events where they can let it loose. It's this theory that helps me understand why people do Tough Mudders and Spartan Races. You have it when you're a kid and then forget it. But some of us fortunately find it and let our dormant testosterone loose once again.
I like hanging out with those people.
I say all that to say this... I was not able to take an ego trip this weekend for thinking about my daughter. When I left her on Saturday morning she was better but still hurting and sore. They had a doctors appointment that morning to see if she's made any progress. Before that my oldest daughter Molly was signed up to compete in the Dirty Spokes Trail Run at the University of North Georgia. I headed out to Conyers.
Molly had a great race. She started near the front, which we talked about doing, and set a good pace. There were some other women running with her who actually coached and encouraged her. She tripped on a few roots but otherwise completed the course well enough to earn 2nd Overall Women.
She loves competing with all the great people who frequent these events. The atmosphere is a lot like what you find at mountain bike races. Just great people everywhere, doing there own things but happy to join any bit of fun that happens.
In the meantime I arrived in Conyers and came flying out of the truck to get ready. I normally lead the kids race and I enjoy it. Thankfully Kenny had postponed the race by 15 minutes so I could get my act together. We lined up the kids and for some reason he let me talk to them. I said something stupid like "are you guys ready to race?" I lead them around the course where all the racers cheered as they went by. It's very cool. It always helps me keep things in perspective.
Then it was time to race. My team mates for the day were David Shabat (as usual) and a newbie named Randy Hemphill. Although you'd never think he's new to mountain bike racing because he rides a shiny new Cannondale Scalpel 29er Full Suspension bike. It's purdy.
I don't really know Randy that well. He is soft spoken and friendly and very receptive to all the advice I felt like giving him. He's no stranger to competition. He's a runner who recently discovered that running all the time is hell on your joints when you get older. I liked him right away. And I liked him even more after he blistered his final lap. More on that later.
The start was too short! Kenny!
I had some insider information so I knew to get off to a blazing start and get to the woods in the lead group. Others had the same idea but ended up knocking heads. Todd Case had to stop and straighten his handle bars.
I flogged myself to get with the 7 leaders and before we were a mile in I realized there was a gap to the top five. I went around the two guys that let it happen but couldn't bridge to the leaders.
David couldn't figure out my phone so his video of the start actually ended up being a short clip of the sprint for the woods. But it's kind of cool so I wanted you to see it.
I wanted to try and stay with Rob Butler. He and Dustin Mealor were going for the 2 Person Male Expert Category and Rob is fast. He also weighs 20 pounds less than me and is 20 years younger. I figured... hey... you might as well shoot for the stars right? Well he was in that lead group that I lost at the start. So I was surprised when I caught up to him about 4 miles in. Turns out he had some stomach issues and backed off. He still beat me to the finish by almost minute. Punk.
I filmed one of their exchanges.
I made my exchange with David and sat down to keep from puking. I went a little too hard on a pan flat section of forest road just before the finish. After I recovered I started telling Randy about the course. He seemed a little nervous which is good. Nervous energy translates into adrenaline.
While we waited I called to check on Ellie and hear the good news about Molly's race. Then I walked around a little to listen to the stories everyone is always telling about the start and the course.
Randy and I sat and watched all the exchanges coming in and soon David was back and we put Randy on course.
As results started being posted we tracked our progress and kept eating and drinking. My turn came back around and this time I settled down knowing we had a lead. It was a beautiful day to be racing a bike and I wanted to enjoy it a little.
Dustin and Rob would come hang out with us and we'd laugh about stuff. We had a great spot right behind the staging area to watch all the exchanges and hear all the stories. I'd say there were around 300 racers. I would also estimate that the Coed division was the toughest. Those folks were slugging it out within minutes of each other at each transition. I especially enjoyed watching Rich Kidd when he would get the chip from his team mate Missy Petty. He would run up and get it and then bounce back to his bike like he'd just been given the key to Pandora's box yelling something like "race my bike, race my bike!" It made everyone smile every time.
Then "it" happened.
David Shabat's carbon handle bar broke on the left side when a tree reached out and slapped it. We're not sure where on the trail it happened but he was forced to ride the rest of his lap with one side gone. There was just enough left to use to keep him stable but no way he could get crazy on speed. But get this, his second lap was only 2 minutes slower than his first. Unbelievable!
Here's the story in David's words:
On my second lap out, I was flying. I was out there with a solo rider who was 20 years my junior. He was whooshing through the singletrack twists and turns with all the usual flawlessness of fellows who, in their 20s, are training and aren't out goofing off, like I was when I was his age. At one point, out of some wild hair, I passed this guy on a climb and thought I'd put enough of a gap on him to even out my lack of grace in the tight turns.
I was horribly wrong.
Coming out of a deep dip that took us through a stream crossing, I came flying out and into a right hand turn (watch this phrase) and came out a little wide. Mr. Young Fellow blew by me and we both laughed because it was some kind of karma that put me in the chase again. So, this time I played along. I stuck to him like glue. I figured this would be my best lap, yet.
I was horribly wrong.
We went into another hard - right hand turn - and again I was a little wide and tagged a tree that was about 4 inches in diameter, with my left hand. I heard an awful crack! I thought "well this is it, I broke my hand to pieces". No, not at all. My carbon handlebar saved my hand, but it snapped off between the brake lever mount and the gear shifter mount. "Well, you've got half a lap to cover and you still have all your rear controls still working!" I was still coasting when that thought crossed my mind. And off I went, holding the remaining piece of handlebar on the left AND the broken end of the bar with the grip and brake lever.
I was unstoppable.
My adrenaline was pumping as if someone was pouring it into my blood from a bucket. I was passing people on the big dirt climb. I passed more people on the power line climb. I was skidding out in the hard curves, but managed to stay on the bike - oddly enough - minus the left half of me sticking out the normal width, I wasn't hitting anything with my left side when I went into hard right hand turns! Ha ha ha! Amazing.
So, now I have half a bar and I am under pressure.
I was worried that I had wasted a bunch of time with my handlebar mishap. So, I pushed as hard as I could through the rest of the course, especially the gravel road section, where I simply brought both hands to the center and rode in a time-trial position until I got to the transition area - still passing people until the end.No one on our team even knew I had broken my bars. Chad only looked at my leg, grabbed the chip, and put it on Randy to send him on his second lap. I couldn't stop laughing for the rest of the race. I said a quick prayer of thanks that it was only the bar and not my hand or worse.
I have to thank José from Performance Bike for working with the other person I have to thank, Paul Dallas, for lending me a bar for my third lap and swapping the bars out and back.Randy and Chad both did awesome. I cruised through my third lap - and was SLOWER than on that fateful second lap where I only had half a bar for half the course. I need to find better ways to get my adrenaline pumping! Cheers to Chad and Randy for being the fantastic gentlemen and skilled athletes and competitors that I relied on. They brought us victory, while I brought us a little comedy (and some not-too-bad lap times).
While David was out on his third lap with his borrowed bar Randy and I started wondering if he could get a third lap in. The debate went something like this;
We don't need it... but it would be cool to have 9 laps... but David may not get back in time, we need 42 minutes... yeah... but it would be cool to get 9 laps. And so we decided that if there was anything near 42 minutes left when David got back that Randy would go for it.
David arrived with 42 mins 50 seconds left in the race. Randy was ready and flew out of transition. Pretty fun stuff.
I synchronized my phone with the race clock and headed out to a corner of the field I like to call the teaser spot. The course designers bring you out here and you think you're almost done but they turn the course right back into the woods for a little more pain. It's a big tease.
Randy came flying down into the field so fast I could only snap a picture of his exit back into the woods. Then he caught some guys in front of him and because he was with them I missed getting a shot of him on the gravel road.
But it's all good. He finished with about 30 seconds to spare giving us our coveted 9 laps.
Nicely done for a "newbie".
Let the celebration begin!
|Rob Butler & Dustin Mealor, 2 Person Male - Expert|
|Randy Hemphill, Chad Hayes, David Shabat - 3 Person Male|
Next up is the Georgia Ride to the Capitol on Tuesday, March 26th! I think Joe Elam and I will try to join the Reality Bikes ride from Cumming and then hook up with the Lt. Governor Casey Cagle in Roswell. Join us!!
Thanks for reading!!