I would not call it a breakthrough race. But it felt that way.
And it begs the question: Just how far can I push this envelope until the world collapses, bringing me back to the reality that I am ten pounds overweight, have five kids, a full-time job and other familial duties that require my ongoing attention?
I intend to find out.
This story begins last Wednesday, at the weekly race series. I waffled back and forth between racing my singlespeed (Wednesday Night Wunnspeed) or racing the HiFi. I chose gears. I wanted to simulate the upcoming Intermountain Cup race as closely as possible. We’d be racing Saturday’s course, and so the opportunity to get acquainted with the route while racing was just entirely too obvious to pass up.
I’ve ridden the trails at Sundance countless times over the last ten years. I know them as well as any trail system anywhere. And yet, on Wednesday I discovered something that changed my entire approach to racing there. A revelation so utterly barefaced and indisputable that I am veritably embarrassed to admit that just then, after all these years, did I discover the secret.
Nonetheless, after observing the racing both on Wednesday and Saturday, I hesitate to reveal just what the obvious and conspicuous discovery was. It is clear from those observations that though my epiphany was long in arriving, the number of people who are not yet so enlightened are legion. And so, consider my sharing this new truth a public service. And when you use the this new knowledge to defeat me at our next Sundance race, I expect at least in part, to be held responsible.
And so finally, after much blither and blather, what exactly am I talking about?
Archie’s Loop, the capstone of the Sundance trail network, is meant to be hammered!
I can hear you now: “That’s it?”
Yes. That’s the great secret.
And yet, so many unwittingly spin easily along the contouring trail, enjoying the unparalleled scenery, the tall pines and the thick aspens. They pick their way cautiously around the treacherous corners and through the rocks and roots. But the trail is designed to be ridden much, much faster. At speed the bumps and the rollers and the corners smooth out, catapulting your bike along the path. The banked switchbacks, the gradual climbs and the short descents are all built with speed in mind. Smooth is fast, and fast is smooth.
Awaking to that new reality (I blame the singlespeed completely for the delay in discovering this reality) helped me to move gradually, but progressively through the pack on Wednesday night. And that brings me to Saturday–wherein I planned on further exploring the merits and the substance of what I am calling “The Archie’s Hammer Project”. The result? Utterly convincing.
On each of my three laps I gained time on those around me while on Archie’s Loop. I closed gaps, and I opened them. I rode hard and fast and confidently. I remember distinctly whispering aloud that “this is my trail, this is my trail…“. And frankly, I felt as if it actually were my trail. For those 108 minutes on the course it was no longer Archie’s Loop. It was Grizzly’s Loop. Which, incidentally, ought to be the name of a trail someplace, no?
The White Tags around me were tags that had, in previous races, left me behind, huffing and puffing and sputtering and muttering. Saturday the glimpses of that cat and mouse game that I witnessed on Monday were in full view, revealing themselves in a glorious light that was as welcome as anything I had ever seen. It felt thoroughly liberating, convincingly euphoric to race as I raced in those halcyon days of old.
Yeah, I was–still am–excited.
However, it was not all so iconic. There are still deficits that I cannot fill, and weaknesses that are self-evident, transparent, unmistakable. And so on. But they were far from my mind at Sundance. Far from any consideration or attention, they were, for the time forgotten. At least, they were forgotten until they were not. And when I remembered, I did so with alacrity and lucidity that was stark and sobering. And indeed, most likely offensive and disgusting to the innocent bystanders who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With Brad Keyes on my wheel (but in reality 2 minutes ahead of me due to the staggered start) as we started the final paved climb I took off. Not so much to finish ahead of Brad, but because behind him were two unidentified racers, both of them wearing a white tag. And so, again, I took off up the pavement knowing that the finish line, and untold riches, awaited. Except, a few moments after hitting the gas my engine sputtered, coughed, choked…
And then it dry heaved. And after that it vomited.
Over and over I blindingly puked as I tried in vain to keep forward force on the pedals. I glanced back in panic expecting to see at any moment the hard charging racers behind me. Gone were the speed and vitality of the singletrack. All I knew at that moment were the unrelenting pavement, and the alarmingly loud eighty-sixing of the contents within.
I glanced back and there they were. I pulled myself together, and crossed the line, dizzy and nauseous–but ahead of the pursuants.
I am certain that there are women and children who will hesitate forevermore when considering a return to a mountain bike race. There were simply too many of them who had a front row seat to my display of over-zealous “sprinting” up the hill, and the resultant disgorging that accompanied it.
And for all that? An 18th place finish. Eighteenth! A mid-pack finish (34 finishers) never hurt so much. Nor did one ever feel so triumphant. And yet again, I find myself wondering with amazement exactly “when did everyone become so fast?” Of course, all this reminded me about the last time I raced the ICUP at Sundance.
Wherein I also threw up.