I still don’t own a fat bike but I’ve got one on loan again, this time from Ben Witt at Milltown Cycles in Faribault where I spend a considerable amount of my children’s inheritance. I’m not likely to blog from the event but plan to tweet regularly @mtbikegeezer and will blog when I get back.
I was a little apprehensive about it, as I’d heard a few comments about how Afton is the toughest venue of the entire series because of the climbing required. And on Saturday, the day before the race, temps were in the 90s. Turns out, race day temps were in the upper 50s with a drizzly sky. Perfect.
As I lined up at 9:30 for the Citizens Class, I looked around for other fellow 60+ geezers and found two: Gary Schildgen from Dellwood and Brad Beisel from Plymouth. "Guaranteed podium," we laughed.
The climbing was indeed tough. In three places on the course, I got off to walk my bike, not because of the sheer difficulty but because my legs were crying out for a different set of muscles to take over. I also discovered I could walk the bike up these sections faster than I could ride. Most other riders I saw did likewise.
Some of the downhills had bumpy washboard sections so you couldn’t really relax on those. And there were a few downhill turns that were flat with loose gravel. I wiped out hard on one and threw my chain, but got up without a scratch as I had my knee/shin protectors on and was wearing my new padded gloves, courtesy of a Penn Cycle swag drawing at Buck.
I was thrilled to pass a few riders since I’d only passed one rider the whole race at Buck. My 29′er flies on any kind of downhill so on Loop 2, I tried to position myself to make some passes just prior to a downhill. That’s the extent of my first attempt to think strategically. I have no idea if it’s sound.
I’ve learned that a cross-country mountain bike race is a very different experience than just riding a single-track as fast as I can. The pure pleasure of a rolling, berm-and-obstacle filled trail isn’t there, at least not yet with the two race venues I’ve experienced. But the overall physical challenge is much greater and therefore the end result is quite satisfying. And the social environment before and after a race is definitely fun. I think I’ll keep doing it.
I raced again this week at Penn Cycles’ Thursday Night at the Races at Buck Hill. But it felt like my first-ever mtb race since last week’s race in the Beginner Class was, um, special. Why? I showed up at the 7:30 pm starting line, only to see about a dozen kids, most if not all under 13. I spotted a dad nearby, Eric Guse, who appeared to be lining up to race, too. But he’d already raced and was there to accompany his son, Ryan.
I felt more than a little foolish but at the advanced age of 62, I’m starting to get used to age-related embarrassments so I shrugged it off and started out leisurely aside Eric. But after a few minutes, I decided to go as hard as I could until I approached the end, at which point, I’d stop short of the finish line. I really didn’t want to be on a podium, denying one of the kids their chance in the limelight.
So I passed one kid after another until I could only see one more, about two minutes from the finish line. As I got closer, I could tell it was a young girl, her blond pony tail flying. She was fast, though, and my only realistic opportunity to pass her was on the long, gravelly downhill right before the finish. It was not to be. Her family was there cheering for her and that seemed to motivate her to go faster. I just kept right behind her to the finish where I pulled aside before crossing the line. I learned later that she was Sydney Carlson, and she finished third. Two boys finished 2-3 minutes ahead of her so I probably would’ve lost to those guys even if I’d gone out hard from the beginning. Dang kids.
I asked one of the women workers at the finish line why nobody told me that the Beginner Class was really a kids class and she explained that normally, they do have a dozen or so adults in the class so they split the awards by age: 17 and under and 18+. Ahhhhh.
The Penn Cycle folks rubbed salt into my wounds by awarding me first place in the 18+ Beginner Class. At least no one laughed loud enough for me to hear when I went up to accept my $10 gift card.
As you can see from these three photos and others in my album of 180+ (large slideshow) it’s quite a festive atmosphere. Props to Penn Cycle owner Pat Sorenson (on the right in the center photo) and staff for a great venue.
So last night I raced again at Buck Hill, only this time in the Recreation Men Class. Two laps, a slightly more difficult course than last week, 59 riders. I finished 50th. Complete results here. I passed one rider, right at the end, which, I must say, was quite satisfying.
And I lucked out: my name was drawn for some swag. I got good pair ($25) of mountain bike gloves (which I really needed) and a "Thursday Night at the Races" t-shirt.
My first-ever mountain bike race, the Sagamore SnowXross Race at the 2012 Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout, started out well for the 15 of in the Beginners Class. After about 50 yards across the parking lot, however, soft snow created a big pileup and I soon learned firsthand what the phrase hike-a-bike meant. As Aaron Hautala wrote in this blog post:
Early into the Sagamore SnowXross Race it was obvious it needed a new name.
The snow pack turned into champagne crystal powder overnight with the dramatic drop in temperature from Friday night, which made the race course a bit more challenging than we originally intended.
After about two miles of pushing the Mukluk, I lowered my rear tire pressure from about 4 PSI to near zero—I could feel the rim by pressing the tire hard with my hand. Much better traction. Another mile and it occurred to me to do the same to the front tire. Better yet.
Last discovery at about mile 4: I quit trying to always ride in the narrow tire ruts made by other riders. The amount of energy required to keep my balance while riding a rut wasn’t worth it, speed-wise. Instead, I could often go faster (especially when the terrain was flat or downhill) if I rode where riders had been walking. The low tire pressure usually gave me enough grip to get through the footprints if they weren’t too deep. Still, I estimate that I pushed my bike for 3 of the 6 miles. Uff-da. I finished in just under two hours. I’ve not yet seen the results posted but the top three riders (Beginners Class) finished in approximately 1 hr and 35 minutes. I’ll post a link to the results at the bottom of this blog post when they become available.)
Unlike Friday night, the Haul Road trail to the parking lot in the center of Yawkey was mostly packed down, sometimes to a width of 12 inches or more (left and center photos above). This makes for splendid riding.
I then rode Tugger, normally an intermediate difficulty trail that’s at the base of Bobsled (see the inset on page 2 of this DNR map of the park). It’s a gorgeous trail but like Friday night, riding it was very difficult because there was only a single rut from the few previous riders. I took it easy and just enjoyed the scenery.
The plan was to pre-ride the race course at the Sagamore Unit at about 6 pm but the high daytime temps and sunny skies had softened up the packed snow so much that Cuyuna dirt boss and race director Nick Statz was worried we’d create deep ruts and ruin the course for Saturday’s XC race. He suggested we all ride the Yawkey Unit instead and we agreed.
We first headed back to the Yeti spaghetti feed at the Legion where Nick Statz’s daughter introduced me to her personal Cuyuna Yeti.
The Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout is a winter festival to celebrate the new Sagamore Winter Trails and to benefit the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew (CLMTBC), a division of MORC/IMBA. (Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists / International Mountain Bicycle Association). All event profits will fund continued expansion and maintenance of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails in Crosby-Ironton.