Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Misery Loves Company - Part 2

This write up of last year's Capital Forest 100 continues with Part 2.

Preparation. After commitment to the outing, the next thing that has to take place is preparation.  Preparing one’s body is a good idea, but it is a time-consuming process, not just in terms of hours in a day, but the number of days it takes to make a difference.  As a young man, it was probably possible to make significant strides in fitness in a couple of weeks, but as an aging weekend-warrior, you had better plan for your events many months out if you really want to change your fitness level going in.  What does that mean for us?  It means we are screwed.  It is as good as it is going to get when you make a plan to do a 100-mile mountain bike race the same week of the event.  Thank goodness we have a few miles under the belt already this year.

Next on the list – gear.  Gear is the single best way for the middle-aged plus athlete to find a high level of satisfaction.  Sure, that 20-year old on a beater bike is still faster, but I guarantee that he is looking enviously at your carbon fiber wonder machine.  So, it is time to get a check-up on that wonder machine and get together the list of stuff to take along on the trip.  In this case, the forecast was for clear weather, cloudy maybe and not very warm – ideal temperatures for a long effort. 
The gear selection for this ride was fairly straight-forward.  PW and I are firmly in the 29er camp and this wasn’t the first rodeo for either of us, so barring serious idiocy or brain freeze, we would show up with the minimum stuff required, like our bikes, shoes and helmets.  You can improvise a lot of other stuff when you have to, but those elements are mission-critical. 

Race Day.  One of the agreements PW and I made ahead of the ride was that we would, in fact, ride together.  Some group rides operate on a “kill or be killed” basis where the strong survive and the weak are left behind.  Obviously all racing takes place with this credo.  Other group rides have a “no drop” policy so that the fast folks go the pace of the slow ones or at least everyone regroups at the tops of climbs or on regular intervals.  A ride like this one can be done either way, with a group of friends tacitly or explicitly agreeing to see each other at the finish line.  We had done some rides like that, most notably the Leadville 100, which really is a survival test anyway, but we had agreed to generally stick together for this ride.  Of course, in the first ride of the year together, we had agreed to ride the final lap of an event together, but in PW’s mind that meant I should stick with him until he felt recovered enough and strong enough to take off to sprint to the line in the final few minutes.  I guess this is modeled after the Top Gear rule, which is that when one party has a break-down, the others get to go on, or, more succinctly, if a friend falls, leave him there.  Rule of the jungle, survival of the fittest, whatever.  For the sake of the journey, however, we agreed ahead of time to suspend this approach and get through the day together.

Race day started early, like 4 am early.  Due to geographic anomalies, we each stayed at a parent’s house overnight before the race.  We had about the same distance to drive and agreed to meet at the freeway exit to make our way to the race course site together. 

The race was originally scheduled from 6.30 am until 8.30 pm.  The 14 hour window was one of the things that convinced me to come along and try to ride 100 miles.  I figured that even with a slow pace that 14 hours was plenty to cover the mileage; just over a 7 mph average – hell, I could do that, right?  The race start was then bumped up to 6.10 am just to maximize the time out on the course.  As a result, we planned to get to the course by 5.30 am to check in and be ready to go.

PW and I met just off the freeway, as planned, and headed to the trailhead.  As we got farther away from the highway, to the by-ways and then finally to the park entrance, it got darker and darker.  It was a moonless night and there were no trailhead or general lights at all.  We noted that a few people had headlamps and lights on their bikes.  Seemed like a good idea all of a sudden.  We did, however, find an area where there were no cars in the quite full parking lot, so we got on with getting ready to ride in the pitch-black pre-dawn.  It would not be until several hours later that we discovered why there were no cars in this area; it was the designated horse trailer clean-out spot.  We noticed the smell, but didn’t realize that every bit of our preparation was done standing in shit.  It would be an apt metaphor for my day.

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