Drama. Rain. Mud. Spills. Thrills.
Father's Day weekend and my original thought was to drive to Red Wing, Minnesota on Sunday for the Minnesota Mountain Biking Series race and skip the Nebraska State Championships because I don't think my body can do 2 in a row at my age - especially the always tough Ponca State Park in Nebraska and the course in Red Wing.
However, like last year, Tara and the family want me home on Father's Day - so it was off to Nebraska for Saturday's race. I packed up last night, set my alarm for 6 this morning and was out the door by 7. I brought along the softail (Dos Niner) to race thinking it would help me with all of the climbing at Ponca.
The drive over was efficient, but once I headed north at Omaha, the dark clouds could be seen to the west. When I turned west on Highway 20 just south of Sioux City for the 22 mile jaunt over to Ponca State Park, the rain started to fall. By the time I got close to Ponca, the rain was falling in biblical proportions. Even with the windshield wipers going at full tilt, and slowing down - I could see pretty much nada.
I sort of half thought that the race would be postponed until Sunday, but as I drove into the park I saw the heavy forest was protecting things quite a bit and the Marathon race had already been going for an hour. The racers and bikes were muddy, but racing was on and it was going to be a bit on the slushy side. I picked up my number, got suited up and did a shortened warm up because I didn't want to get too wet and get the bike too dirty before the race started. I was worried about brake pads lasting in the rain and the drivetrain shifting properly in the mud. Turns out - neither were worth worrying about...
I wasn't sure if I should wear clear lenses for eye protection, my Oakley darker glasses, or just go without glasses. I saw most all the marathoners had shed their glasses as the humidity, rain, and mud all made for a mess that few glasses could survive. I decided to start with my Oakley glasses since they are vented and don't fog over - usually.
We got started a few minutes early as we were all lined up and ready to go. My wave of 40+ age riders took off and rather than go full tilt off the start, I settled in for a bit of a wait and see attitude based on the mud and slick conditions. The trail was actually in good shape and my tires were hooking up fine. I was leading a group of three in my age class when I leaned a bit too steep on a sharp corner and hooked a bar end on a tree which had me go down. Around me went the leaders for my age class, but I hopped right back on the bike and caught back up to them. The crash knocked my stem/bars to the right so they were no longer straight. After riding with it all crooked for a few minutes, I got off and straightened things out again. As soon as I got going again my glasses were so fogged over and caked with mud I took them off and put them in my jersey pocket.
Climbing the super steep stuff was greasy on lap one and had most of us off our bikes pushing the bikes up the hill. Suddenly, footwear became critical as it was hard to get a good footing scampering up the hillside. There was a wooden bridge to cross that took many prisoners it was so slippery. Jerry Hoff was in front of me and had gone down on the bridge. That gave me pause to slow up and treat it with care. I passed Jerry and was back in the lead for my group. I motored ahead to finish up lap one and now had a good feel for the course. The rain had stopped and the trail was actually getting better in terms of traction at this point. It wasn't too bad at all.
Head down and grinding out the climbs...
Lap two had me back off a bit on some of the steep climbs to settle in for a spinning cadence rather than muscling so much up the climbs. I was able to recover a bit and started pushing a quick tempo. My rear wheel slid out a bit on the wooden bridge, but I managed to stay upright and reminded myself to give the bridge more respect on the final lap. I was flying on the descents and the flatter sections, but noticed I was losing time on the climbs no matter if I sat or stood up. The gearing on the Dos Niner is not as forgiving as it is on my JET and I was missing not having the two bailout gears. Either I have to change the Dos gearing or drop about 15 pounds (how about both?) to make it feel as efficient as the JET. And by the start of lap 3, my lower back was talking back at me with unkind words as I was getting tossed around on the rougher sections.
I pushed ahead on lap 3 and when I got to the wooden bridge, there was a guy down in front of me. I asked him if he was okay and he muttered something that sounded like he was fine as I rode past him. Then I heard a big crash as somebody behind me came flying down the hill and bit it hard on the bridge. Turns out it was Tom Anderson (marathon 3rd place winner). I saw him after my race when he stopped for some bandages. He had cut his elbow and leg pretty good and was bleeding. Turns out, that bridge ate a lot of limbs today. I turned on the gas from the bridge to the end knowing there was no reason to hold anything back. I crossed the line happy to be in one piece and felt pretty good about my bike handling in the slop.
My race effort was good enough today to earn this...
Full race results of the Nebraska State MTB Championships can be found here.
Following the race, wouldn't you know it - the sun came out and conditions turned into perfect!!! My Dos Niner was really muddy and covered in grime. I'll have to tear it down and really clean everything to get all of the sand, grit, and mud out in hopes that nothing gets ruined. Muddy races are always expensive!!
I loaded up the mud covered bike before heading to the registration area for a double burger and a Powerade...
It was one of those races where you sit around and talk about all of your near death experiences out on the trail - and we all had tales to tell. There was a racer who was doing his 2nd ever mountain bike race who went down on the wet wooden bridge and broke his wrist. There was Tom with his bleeding knee and elbow. There was Ryan who went down on the bridge and had two swollen shins with scrapes to show for it.
It took a bit over 2 hours to get the Category 2 results posted, so there was plenty of time to hang out and chit chat before the awards ceremony.
Sun was shining by the time the awards were presented...
Kudos to the Feagans (Ryan and Roxzanne) for such a great event. Ponca remains a challenging course for me, but it's one of the better mountain bike tracks in the states I am fortunate enough to ride. The rain and mud just added a bit of a twist this year which raised the stakes and made the win even sweeter.
I drove home and arrived just in time for some cod, orzo and strudel. Yum!