I’d like to remind everyone, that these stories are only as accurate as my memory. I try to get the details right, but sometimes things get lost in the cloud of war. When things do get mixed up, I err on the side of just telling a good yarn. Consider Quickdirt to be “based on true story.” For example, the Gary Hocke character in today’s article was probably really a synthesis of Gary Hocke and Vince Urichich. The three of us traded places several times and it was hard to keep it straight. Sorry. Read on…
It was a pleasant morning at Dillon State Park but the weather was headed towards hot and humid. Rain had hit the course the night before. The dry trail had soaked up most of the moisture, so mud was not an issue. However, all the roots and rocks that make Dillon the most technical course in the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series were now slippery and threatening to take out some riders.
On top of the regular challenge that Dillon provides, the folks at AOA decided to mix things up and run the course counterclockwise, which is the opposite of what it has been for many years. All the lines were different now. It was a whole new course. Everyone, except for a few locals, was starting from scratch.
I was a little nervous about racing without seeing the course first, so I decided to go pre-ride part of the trail that morning. The loop was 7.4 miles according to my Garmin and I rode the first 6. I was trying to take it easy, but Dillon is not the kind of course where you can just coast in an easy gear. By the time I was done, I was soaked with sweat. I had found a few good lines that would save me time in the race, but at what cost?
I did a few calculations before the event to put a plan in place. I figured that 21 miles of singletrack would take me about 2 hours to finish. On average, you are supposed to drink one bottle of fluids per hour, so I was planning on drinking two bottles to hydrate myself for the race. There were two large bottles in the frame of my bike, so I thought I was set.
108 riders signed up for the challenge that day. Of those, 46 raced novice and did one lap, bypassing the second rock garden, 47 riders did sport, two laps with both rock gardens, and 14 riders took on the expert challenge and did three laps and 6 total rock gardens.
Right before the noon start time, I was getting thirsty from my pre-ride, so I chugged one of the bottles on my bike and threw it by my car. I could finish the rest of the race with the other bottle.
I was signed up in the expert 40+ division and lined up with 10 other fast racers. When race director Ryan O’Dell said “go” we shot off down the road in one of the shortest race prologues of the series. I’d guess it was about a third of a mile to the singletrack. I knew that I shouldn’t be the first one in the woods, so I tried to stay in the middle and do a little drafting.
I looked over my shoulder to see how the rest of the field was doing and looked straight into the eyes of my nemesis, Chris Knapp.
“Are you looking for me?” he asked with an evil little grin on his face. He surged forward and passed me.
Then right as we were about to enter the singletrack he slowed down.
What!?! What sort of trail jujitsu was he trying to pull? Was he going to throw a wrench in my spokes as I passed by? What was this skinny little fat guy trying to pull on me?
The “skinny little fat guy” is a reference to a Glen Gardner quote. Glen saw Chris with his shirt off and told him he was the skinniest fat guy that he’d ever seen – or something to that effect. After telling me about this, Chris then lifted his shirt to illustrate. Glen was right.
I reluctantly accepted his kindness and shot forward onto the trail.
The dirt on the course was in great shape, tacky with no mud, but the roots and rocks were slippery. The trail conditions seemed to make the lead peloton a little jittery. About one mile in, there was a huge slanted slab of stone that covered the entire path and took out several riders as they tried to ride on it. Their rear wheels spun out to the side across the slick surface. Because of my pre-ride, I had already figured out a good line and rode right across it.
It was a fast and fun start. For the first several miles until we hit the rock garden, I had a visual on most of the leaders. Austin Francescone was right in front of me. He’s a strong rider and I took that to mean one of two things – I’m having a really good day or I’m going out way too fast. I was in a good mood, so I chose the former option.
The course was no joke. The rocks were coming left and right and I watched the experts in front of me struggle to ride some of the terrain. When the first rock garden came, I had already picked my spot to run. I turned a corner after a huge patch of moss-covered stones and hopped off my bike. I just started running with my bike in the air and I watched as several guys came to a complete stop in the rubble. I was able to move right past the carnage. Before I knew it, I was in front of Brad Smith and Austin. Clearly, I should have taken this as a warning sign. These are two guys that I haven’t stayed with all year. But, I’ve been getting some good training in lately, I just figured it was starting to pay off.
I caught Gary Hocke. Austin and I followed him for a while.
After running through the second rock garden, I had moved up the rankings. I may have been as high as 4th place, although it was hard to keep track. I was breathing hard and sweating like a maniac. All these things should have told me to chill a little, but one thing was clearly certain in my mind – I was super-awesome and way faster than that skinny little fat guy, Chris Knapp.
When we exited the first lap, I drank about half of the Hammer Heed that I had on my bike and planned on drinking the other half when I finished the second lap.
Austin passed me in the field while I was getting a drink. It seemed like he almost felt bad about it when he said, “I have to sneak by you when you’re drinking.”
Did he feel bad about about being competitive?
“Don’t worry. I’d stab you in the back if I had the chance.” I replied half-jokingly.
He laughed uncomfortably.
I did slow down in the field a touch and let Austin put a little gap on me. About three miles later, Austin was on the side of the trail with a flat tire. Consider your back stabbed buddy. Ryan, please cross off another series point from my totals.
Apparently his tube had fallen out of his bag and he ended up DNFing because he didn’t have what he needed for the repair. It would have been really nice of me to offer him help instead of just saying “That sucks!” I really thought he would be good though. I’ll try to be more thoughtful next time.
I spent the next half lap with Gary until we reached the “sled hill”. The sled hill is a grassy slope with a path mowed down the center of it. It is a constant steep grade, but not technical. Once racers reach the top they descend down a newly-mowed winding grassy path back to the bottom. Climbing the sled hill is a feat of stamina, strength, and will power. About half way up, I realized that I was killing my quads, but only going 4 miles per hour. I figured I could walk 3 mph and use a different set of muscles so I hopped off my bike and began hiking in the hot sun of the exposed field.
Gary must have smelled weakness because he powered by me and began his descent while I was still climbing. I figured I could just catch him when we got back in the woods. But, when I got back down the hill he was gone. I’m not sure if he was purposely putting a gap between us as a mental roadblock, but that’s how it felt to me. It was the first chink in the armor on a day that was starting out so well.
I spent the rest of the second lap mostly by myself. My mouth was getting really dry. I wanted to drink, but grabbing my bottle was difficult while navigating the rocks. When I came out of the woods into the field at the end of the lap. I chugged the remaining liquid I had left. The field was so hot. The sun was baking me. I needed more water or sports drink. I closed in on the finish line which is the lap point for the riders.
I saw Gary Hocke about two minutes ahead of me, heading back to the woods. I really wanted to catch him. If I stopped at my car for more water, then I would lose time behind Gary. Plus, I wasn’t even sure if veering into the parking lot to get water was against the rules of the race. So, despite my thirst, I powered on. It was only 7 more miles I thought. That’s nothing. Although, the miles at Dillon were proving to be much harder than your typical Ohio singletrack.
My average speed was dropping and now close to 9 mph. This was my slowest race so far this year and it was taking way longer than the two hours I had planned on. I had taken pride in a lot of the obstacles I had cleared on the first lap, but by the third lap some of them felt insurmountable. The power was starting to drain from my legs and I could no longer push the pedals over some of the hardest terrain.
When I got close to the sled hill, I saw Jeremy Larson and Chris Knapp on some switchbacks. Oh no. I had to hold them off. I still had a little bit of speed left, but I could feel the first twinges of cramping in my legs. I wondered why I didn’t stop and get more water.
I didn’t even try and ride the sled hill on the third lap. I had to save every ounce of energy I had left in my quads. I pushed my bike up as quickly as I could and kept looking back to see if my opponents had started the climb. Gary Hocke was making the descent and said “Hi” on his way down. I made it up and down the hill without seeing anyone else. There were three or four miles left in the race. Maybe I could catch Gary and hold the other guys off. That was my best-case scenario at this point.
I tried to dig deep when I got back on the singletrack, but my legs started to push back. I was getting small cramps in my quads and hamstrings and could no longer pedal with all my might for fear that they would completely lock up. Oh no. I was dehydrated. My mouth was begging for water. I had to keep up my momentum. But, every rock at Dillon is a momentum killer. As I learned on my pre-ride, you can’t soft-pedal this trail. You have to work for it.
I reached the final rock garden and there was a rowdy group of guys and gals cheering on the riders.
“You are going to be so disappointed in what you are about to see.” I said to them before I hobbled off of my bike. I could no longer carry my hardtail over the rocks. I dragged it beside me through the bumpy terrain.
I hurried off down the trail in a panic. It wasn’t very long before I heard that same group of folks cheering on someone else. Oh no. I could tell by how they were cheering that I was getting caught. I wasn’t sure if it was Larson or Knapp.
Go. Go. Go. I begged my legs to move.
Then, to top it all off, my front tire started wobbling. My quick-release skewer had come loose and I was in danger of losing my wheel. I quickly stopped and started tightening the knob. Hurry, hurry!
I jumped back on and all of a sudden I heard the chipper voice of that skinny little fat man.
“I do much better clearing those rocks when those guys are cheering me on.” Argh.
I have to apologize to Chris Knapp for what I said next. I can not type it here for fear that it will warp my kids and ruin my presidential aspirations. It was unnecessary and I’m better than that. …or am I?
After venting my frustrations I started pedaling harder, hoping to hold Knapp off – but it didn’t last for long.
I hit a slick root and didn’t have the power or finesse left to tackle it. My rear tire spun out and he rode right by me.
I was toast. My body was dry as a bone and I my legs had nothing left to give. I gave it one last try and my legs completely locked up in a cramp. I couldn’t move. My race was practically done.
But, I still couldn’t give up for fear of losing another place Jeremy Larson. I dragged my weary carcass through the final two miles of the race and amazingly didn’t get caught. I had lost over 6 minutes to Knapp and my other opponents in the last 3 miles of the race.
The skinny little fat man had gotten me again.
P.S. We will have a rematch at Chestnut Ridge Metropark on Sunday, September 13th at noon. Check the OMBC Schedule for more details. I hope to see you there. Don’t forget to like Quickdirt on Facebook.
Time: 2:34:36 (OMBC finishing time)
- Average Moving Speed: 9.0 mph
- Max Speed: 24.6 mph
- Avg Power 154 Watts (this seems off, but what do I know)
- Normalized Power: 212 Watts
- Max Power: 221 Watts
- Training Stress Score: 124.3
- Work 1382 KJ
- Elevation Gain 2165 ft.
- Average Temperature 73.6
***Some of these numbers are skewed by the fact that I hiked/ran my bike through some of the rock sections. Also I hiked the sled hill one and a half times, so some of that work was not recorded by the bike even though it still took a physical toll on my body.