While the rest of the world was at Sterling this weekend (silly road races), Arik and I roadtripped it to the Orchard Assault with the hope of sending a few unsuspecting college kids crying home to their mothers a day early. (Note that "Arik" is not a typo. Eric's absence has been filled for the day with someone whose name is spelled differently but pronounced about the same, you know, because I fear change.) For all our ambition, we neglected a very important element of execution--knowing exactly where the aforementioned Orchard was located. UMass can't be that big, right?
After making a couple of futile and hurried circles around the UMass Amherst campus, we glommed onto an unsecured wireless connection with Arik's iTouch and let the oracle sort us out. As Arik isn't much of the preriding type, he was more than happy with less than 30min to his Cat2 start. (Special thanks to Lia, who not only neglected to secure her WiFi but also named it after herself so we could credit her appropriately)
With an average of more than 1/2" of rain every day for nearly a week before the race, conditions were "mixed", with trail surface ranging from sticky banked turns to giant mud holes criscrossed at oblique angles with wet roots. Oh, and then there was some pasty mud:
While Arik's fitness suffered somewhat from a training year that began last week, coming from a place where it rains 300 days a year helped him look as good riding the slippery tech as he did making his game face.
After a good couple hours of the Cat2s tearing up the course there wasn't much left for us in the Cat1 ranks, but if you're in for $25 you're in for a whole drivetrain, and if you're gonna trash a small fortune worth of parts in the course of an afternoon, you'd better go HARD. [Edit: and I'm not kidding--put a big fat dent in my new frame.] Not to mention that after consistently wrenching on my bike for about a month and not racing for two weeks I have (had?) just a little bit of pent up frustration. Man I was gonna mash that stuff into the pedals real nice, especially with about 50yds of fire road at the start before the entrance to some greasy, twisty singletrack.
"Daddy wants the hole shot!"
...and with it the responsibility to push it way too hard through most of the first lap, for about half of which I managed to hang with the Cyclocross Masters National Champ (Kevin something...) until the trees started throwing punches. You see, while most people get slower as they get tired, I just become unable to steer which, as you might imagine, can have some undesirable consequences when the trees aren't rubberized like the bumpers in a pinball machine. I must have been bouncing in the right direction though, because along with Jeff--another guy nearly twice my age--I had opened a monster gap on the rest of the field, minus Mr. Stars and Stripes. We might have been in another time zone for all I know, while this dude Kevin was most certainly in the next one ahead of us.
At this point (somewhere in the middle of lap 2 out of 5), Jeff wisely admonished that we "ride smart". I say wisely, because as I began to get comfortable with the idea that my heart might not explode before dinner, he was quietly planning my execution. (despite being in a totally different category) His plans were in vain however because I handily executed myself, catching my as-yet uncut bars on a tree (did I mention this is race number 3 with an unfinished bike?) and tossing myself into a ditch. That was the last I got to chat with Jeff...
(note how he's getting away in a blur of blazing speed)
After accepting the fact that trying to chase down the 40-49 leaders was a colossally bad idea, the rest of the race was spent enjoying how dialed my bike felt, minus the bars that could be a wirewalker's balance pole, and trying not to do anything stupid enough to crash hard and melt my remarkably solid lead on the rest of the 19-29s. I placed 3rd overall, a minute behind this Jeff character, and first in 19-29. Sure, I got crushed by a couple of guys old enough to be my biological father, even outside the state of Utah, but they've had WAY more time to train than I have, and mud really ain't my thing. The End.
Harold Parker on Sunday.
See all the race pics here.