On Thursday night I logged on to discover an e-mail from Dennis: “Racing CCCX #1 at Fort Ord this Sunday!” At that point it wasn’t even a consideration, but I quickly contemplated the upside: the race was just a half hour away, and I could carpool with Dennis. Then I considered the down side: I had not ridden my mountain bike for two months, and had not raced mountain bikes for the better part of a decade. My off-road skills were at an all-time low ebb.
Clearly, my preparation was perfect!
On Saturday I pulled my mountain bike off the hooks in the garage and applied my highly advanced form of bicycle mechanics, which involves liberally spraying everything with lube, wiping off the excess, and lighting small votive candles. I also swapped out the front tire, which was quite bald and dated from the dawn of mountain biking.
At the start, I sucked up to the leaders and hung on in order to learn the course. It was pretty fun, with lots of woops and even some man-made berms. Before long I found myself in second, behind Billy Hall of VOS. At one point he turned around and said, “Want to work together?” I was just about to answer when my chain was violently subsumed into some nether region of the crankset. I dismounted, pulled the chain out, and resumed chase. This grim situation repeated itself a few times, and Billy finally said, “I think you have a cable tension problem.” That would be a monumental understatement, Billy!
Apparently there was contagion involved, because I soon saw Dennis, off in the bushes with the same malady, a choice string of expletives emanating from the poison oak. Soon after, I thought I had gone off course, and was turning around to ride backward toward civilization when Dennis came zinging past. “No, it’s this way!” he said. It’s great when teammates can function like such a well-oiled machine!
Prior to the race, Mark had sent me one of his exquisitely detailed e-mails telling me how to pace myself, whom to watch, etc. I had re-read this about 10 times prior to the race, and was following it faithfully. But now, due to my mechanical mishaps, it was clearly time to improvise. He had recommended waiting until the fifth lap to try something. I considered this, but when I extrapolated my current frequency of mechanical disasters over the remainder of the race, I didn’t think a last-lap attack would give me enough of a margin to conduct further trailside repairs. So with two laps to go, I attacked as hard as I could and managed to get a gap. At this point I just tried to maintain a steady pace, intoning quiet prayers to the mechanical dieties. On the final climb, I just thought, “Please, please, don’t suck the chain, please please…then…CRUNCH!” The previous episodes of chain suck were impressive, but this one was colossal, a virtuoso affair of splintering carbon and warped aluminum. I stood to one side of the bike and jumped on the pedal in a counterclockwise direction as hard as I could. Voila! On to the finish!
I wouldn’t call it a graceful or elegant win, but it was a win.
Dennis came in soon after, taking third. The Bike Trip had dominated the podium with style and panache. Or not!