This weekend kicked off the race season with The Sugar Hill XC in Patapsco State Park just outside of Baltimore. I came into the race feeling pretty good. I hadn't strapped a number plate on my bike since the Six Hours of Cathedral Pines back in November, but as anyone in the east knows, the whole winter had been great for riding and I'd put in more miles in the first two and a half months of 2012 than I can ever remember riding over that same period since I first developed this obsession with pedaling on dirt.
My race was about 21 miles or so, and I wasn't too concerned about the distance. And I also knew that the toughest part of the whole course was a climb we'd only do once. So I lined up feeling pretty good. I mean, for clarity, this was definitely not a race where I had aspirations of a podium spot. I was pretty keenly aware that I was racing against guys who were a few steps ahead of me as racers in general and singlespeeders specifically. But that's cool -- I'm willing to be field fodder, especially when it means I get to spend a longer time on a course like this one. And it was a very cool course. I thought it was a perfect singlespeed course -- super fast but with plenty of technical sections thrown in.
Anyway, I started out fine -- right in the middle of the pack as we hit the climb. I had one slip up when I followed another guy who dabbed on the rooty section at the top of the water bars, so I had to run the last bit of the climb. No big deal. I settled into a line of riders -- I think we were the second group on the course, as the front runners were pretty much gone from the start.
Now, as an aside, Joanna had texted me right before the race to tell me that Brian Fults, the founder of Team Bulldog, was gong to be there. This would be the first time I met him in person. I met Brian over Facebook this winter. Anyone who's raced in the MASS likely knows who Brian is -- he's pretty much dominated the Clydesdale category for the last few years. And I mean dominated -- in the races he'd show up for, the other guys were usually racing for second place. Anyway, Brian was diagnosed with cancer last year and my wife and I sort of got to know him a little as he fought through his treatment. He's a pretty amazing dude, and when he mentioned that he was going to be putting together a team this season, I was honored to be a part of it. So yesterday, I met him in the parking area before my race, and he was as cool in person as I figured he'd be. And he seemed frustrated that he couldn't race himself, and that was about what I'd expect -- I know it may be a pain for him, but it's actually kind of cool when you think about it. Despite what he's been through, he's already thinking he wants to be back out there suffering on the bike by choice. That's a winner.
And Brian wasn't the only Facebook person I met in person there -- I met up with fellow blogger and SSer Sandie and her significant other Blake, and Andy and Mark from the JB team. I'd actually met Mark a while back when we raced together at a small race in Blue Marsh a few years ago, but the others were straight out of the virtual world. That's one of the best things about the whole social network thing -- sometimes, it actually works the way you'd think it should. Betwen blogging and Facebook, I've been able to meet people from all different places around the country who share the same interest in riding. Of course, it's still always a bit cooler to actually meet those folks in person.
I mention this now because one of these folks had the wheel I followed through most of the first lap. After I remounted and headed into the singletrack section of the course, I tucked in behind Blake and just worked to stay on his wheel. I was constantly reminding myself to settle into a pace -- there was enough up and down on the course to make it a tough day if I tried to go too fast early, so I wanted to be sure to stay in control all day.
Sometimes, though, other factors conspire to take that control away. Somewhere early in the first lap I lost my water bottle. That was tough. It was a really hot day for this time of year, and the course was very dusty. I needed liquid and I didn't have it. And I knew that this happening so early could make everything go bad eventually. I rode two laps this way and, well, I was completely dried out going into the third. I stopped at the top of the initial climb (sort of the start of the lap) and asked if any of the spectators might have an extra bottle. The first person to respond said he given his only one away already, but then a woman said, "I don't have any water, but I have an accelerade!" That was like music to my ears. She gave me the bottle and told me to keep it. I was so dehydrated that one sip gave me an electric jolt of energy. My whole body felt it. Honestly, if it weren't for that lady, I don't think I could have finished. My third lap was much more enjoyable than my first two. I drank that entire bottle in less than a lap. It really pulled me back!
So, in the end, I finished near the back of the pack, but that didn't really matter. I had a great time on an awesome course, met a bunch of really cool people who all represented (in fact Sandie was the only woman to ever finish the expert course on a singlespeed! Way to go!) No better way to spend a Saturday!
Oh ... one final footnote (which is a terrible pun I am truly sorry for ...): I think I also broke my foot yesterday.
I hit it on a log when I cut a turn too tight. This might have been where I lost my bottle, too, because the force of it lifted the back of my bike off the ground. Oh ... and it hurt like hell. I think I fractured one of the bones on the outside top of the foot. Luckily, it didn't really impact pedaling. In fact, it feels worse when I walk then when I'm on the bike. I even did a recovery ride this morning and it felt fine when I was riding, but walking hurts.
So one weekend of racing in the bag! Back at it next week with the Tuscarora Enduro!