After a week of teaching at the Simpson College Orpheus Music Festival, it was time to race the bike on the weekend. I had a cold and fever earlier in the week, so nothing like a little heat to cook out the remains, right? This was to be my 14th race of the season. Wow! It looks like - if I stay healthy and injury free - I might end up racing more races this year than in any prior year. Hmmmm......
Saturday night was a guy's night out/girl's night out for about 5 couples we hang with, so the guys gathered at Joel Hade's house for a pool/beer/cigar/music/steak party at 4 and we managed to last until about 11. The gals went to a movie in Des Moines and then went to Tina's new loft for dinner. Back at the guy's party, I actually ate a 20 ounce ribeye steak (now that's a big ass steak!!!!), drank a couple of beers, had some wine, and avoided the cigars as they are not good for the voice or my lungs for racing. The swimming felt really good as the pool was at 89 degrees while it was 100+ in air temperature.
Speaking of heat, we have heat in spades this summer. It just hit 105 degrees here in Indianola and looks to be the same for the next couple of days. Traveling north on Sunday morning to Burnsville for the race at Buck Hill Ski Area, I noticed the weather radar had rain north of Des Moines all the way up to the twin cities. The forecast was for the mid 90's, so it would be a tad cooler than in Iowa. Sure enough, north of Des Moines it sprinkled off and on, then some rain the further north I drove until finally things stopped about 30 miles south of Burnsville. Once you hit the Mason City/Clear Lake exit in Iowa - things green up and even if there is a drought in Minnesota - the place looks green like a jungle compared to southern Iowa. It's so hot and dry down here that the leaves look like it is September/October turning their fall colors and falling off of the trees. Grass is beyond brown here (looks like California brown). Combine that with day after day of 98-102+ temperatures and the prognosis is not good.
I left at 6 am and got to Buck Hill around 10 am to check in, get suited up and warm up. There was cloud cover and a nice breeze, so temperatures were hanging in the low 80's which was nice indeed! I was only operating on 6 hours of sleep, so I knew that would have an effect on my riding, but c'est la vie. I lined up about 10 minutes before we were to take off at 11 and struck up a conversation with another Iowa gal who was from New Hampton (but lives in the Twin Cities). She gave me a run down of the race course since she races it in the Thursday night series throughout the summer. She said there was a lot of loose sand, loose dirt, gravel and rocks thanks to the lack of rain. In particular, she warned me about a steep descent that was very loose and sketchy. I thanked her for the course tips and moved up into my wave for our start.
I took off with the 45-49, 50-59, and 60+ group. Maybe the weather, maybe RAGBRAI, maybe the British Open, maybe family vacations, or who knows what - but attendance for the older racers was quite a bit down from what one usually sees for a Minnesota Mountain Bike Series race that is right in the Twin Cities area.
Regardless, off we went and I was in a mind game with my legs on the start (uphill start on gravel). I passed a few and got into line in the singletrack.
During the switchback, maze of S-turns entry into the singletrack, one bozo in front of me buzzed the rear tire of a rider in front of him and he hollered out in an angry tone "Come on guys, let's get going!!!". I always, always hate these bozos who yell that. If he wanted to get going - do the damn work off the line to get in a better position before we hit the singletrack. Turns out, he was yelling at 2 riders in the 60+ age class and they were doing their best for their own particular race.
The amazing series of S turns...
I waited patiently, and passed them a few meters later and thanked them. Then I went to chase the asshat down who had yelled at them. I passed him on the next climb and never saw him again. Ha!!
I worked my way through 4 more riders on the first 1/2 of lap 1 and my legs were waking up and I was feeling good by cranking out good force on the pedals and staying in the big ring. I notched in behind a rider and we were doing well in all the twists and turns. We hit the section I had been warned about, but we came in way too hot and I didn't know it was the steep descent until my tires were already on loose rocks. No amount of braking would help and I tried my best to pick a line. However, everything on the trail simply slid to the right and I felt like I was riding a rock avalanche down a steep hill. I fought and fought and did everything I could to stay upright, but the inevitable happened and down I went. Luckily, things were loose and moving, but my right knee hit hard. Blood and a stinger to scream about! Three or four guys I had worked hard to pass, went by me and all asked if I was okay. I hopped right up, but the stinger was so bad - it was not easy getting back on the bike. I managed to get on and hop back on the trail right as another rider was coming down the steep chute. Off I went, but I was gun shy and it was difficult to get the knee to work.
I eeked out the final portion of lap one hoping my knee would eventually stop stinging so I could put more pressure on it. Who knows how much time this all cost me, but at least I was moving. Finally, I crossed the start/finish area and put some pressure on the knee. It held and the pain was tolerable. Entering the singletrack for the 2nd lap, the sun came out and it was suddenly 10 degrees or more hotter. Ouch! I noticed in the big ring I was having trouble shifting. Perhaps I had banged the rear derailleur in the crash. It kept hopping between the 1st and 2nd cog in the rear and was slow to shift. Between that and the knee, I caved in and dropped to the 27T ring and spun up the hills with a higher cadence (more like 110 rpm instead of my usual 75-80 rpm cadence). After a short pavement climb where I headed back into the singletrack in the shade again, I said to heck with it and started to tighten up the cable with the barrel adjuster. I managed to get things working well enough for the big ring again and off I went. I caught back up to everyone that had passed me and I worked my way around all of them again. I took care down the steep section and noticed a nice line had developed on that descent with most of the loose rocks pushed off to the right. Not so bad, I thought.
Lap 3 and Lap 4 I hit my stride. I was racing again, feeling good and the sun was dipping behind the clouds to keep temperatures in the 80's. I turned it on all the way to the end and crossed the line good enough to earn 2nd Place for my age class. I was 2:31 behind the winner (Steve Kapaun) in my age group. I know the fall cost me in lap one and part of lap 2 as I recovered from it, but was it a full 2 1/2 minutes? Who knows. I finished strong and brought home some hardware!!!
Being that I was going to stay for the awards ceremony to collect my hardware, I partook of a Fat Tire from the keg and had an excellent grilled burger. It's my highest place finish in a Minnesota Race ever. I've gotten a 3rd before, but never a 2nd. Of course, it didn't hurt that a few who usually beat me were not in attendance. That's okay, they'll be back next time I'm quite sure.
I congratulated Steve Kapaun on his win, and hopped in the car for the 4 hour drive back home. I pulled off at one of the rest stops along I-35 while the clouds were out to take a 25 minute nap. I pulled up under a tree in some shade, opened the windows and like a fool - left the fan on. It felt good, but when I awoke after 25 minutes and tried to start the car, it barely - and I do mean barely - turned over. Whew! The nap refreshed me and I drove home error free and made it in the house at 6 pm. 8 Hours of driving, an XC race, a fine dinner all made for a good set up to watch the conclusion on Food Network of a competition we have been watching for weeks. I slept like a baby and feel much better today. The knee is not so bad. In fact, I got 2 hours of Zone 2 riding in today and the knee didn't even flinch in spite of how ugly it looks. A contusion on the front and a big old swollen lump on the right of the knee cap (about the size of an egg).