Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wicked Fun ...

The crazy mass start at 6 Hrs of CP
photo credit: Jennifer Carlson
I rolled over and looked at the clock on the microwave. It was about 5:30. I had planned to get up at 6:00. I'd actually been awake on and off all night, which was odd. I'd done the Something Wicked Six Hours of Cathedral Pines three times before, and I never really have much trouble sleeping the night before races that I know well. But there I was, up and ready to go more than three hours ahead of the start. My hotel was only a few miles from the start, so I took my time getting ready.

If I had to guess why I didn't sleep that well, I'd probably say it was because things had actually gone way too smoothly this time around. That may sound strange, but every other year I've done this race, I've had some kind of drama in the run-up to it. In 2010, I came down with a pretty nasty head cold a day before but decided to race through it anyway. I was jacked up on sinus meds and feeling pretty loopy by the end of the day, but I still had so much fun on the course that I knew I'd found a race I'd return to every year I could. Then, right before the 2011 edition, my fork ceased up and I needed to have it rebuilt, which meant I would be without it for the race. As a stop gap, I picked up a rigid carbon fork and had it installed one day before I left for the race, meaning my first ride on the fork was in the race. It worked out okay in the end, but I was worried that the roots would hammer me (because there are a lot of roots at CP.) In 2013, I took Friday off to drive out to the venue early for a pre-ride and while I was out on the course, my seat post snapped in half and I spent the next few hours first tracking down a seat post that would fit my frame, and then trying to extract the broken piece inside the seat tube that refused to budge. (That worked out, too, thanks to some creative use of a slide hammer by the folks at Rocky Point Cycle.) So this year, when the only thing I had to deal with was a cracked water bottle cage, I had a pretty easy run-up. In fact, I was done with my pre-ride and checked in to my hotel by 4:00 Friday. So maybe I was so restless because I hadn't had any problems to deal with!

I hung around the hotel for about an hour waiting for the breakfast buffet to open. After a quick waffle & egg meal, I loaded up the car and headed to the park. One of the great things about this race is the fact that everyone pits from their car. The course circles a wide open field and we all park on the perimeter. So once you pull up to your spot, you just pop the trunk and set yourself up right behind your car. Having done races where the pit areas were miles from the parking, I can say this is an awesome feature. After six hours of racing, who wants to drag a cooler and possibly more back to a car (especially in the cold)? As I pulled up to my spot, I saw the man himself, Shoogs.

The Cowbell King - Randy "Shoogs" Larrison
photo credit: Gary Hoehne
We discussed how deep the SS field was this year. I'd noticed that when I'd checked the lineup a few days before -- I knew a lot of the names on the list and there were some really strong riders coming out. I wasn't too concerned about that, though, because in all honesty, my only plan for the day was to get 8 laps again (and maybe do it a bit faster than in 2013.) I could have cared less if I came in DFL if I could still pull that off.

It was really cold at the start -- somewhere in the 20's -- but it was supposed to reach the low 40's during the day, so I had some concern about how to dress. I was shivering out of control, though, so layering up won out. Even then, though, I was shivering uncontrollably as I waited for the start.

The start … the start at CP is kind of nuts. It's a mass start with all classes going off at once, and it stages in the lower parking area of the park. Only the "staging" is basically one massive single line across the width of the lot, and on the sound of the gun it's a mad dash for all racers to reach the much narrower road first. Why? Because shortly after we reach the single track about a mile up the road, the first climb causes a miserable bottleneck -- unless you happen to be up near the front. And so that's where everyone wants to be. And it can get pretty hairy -- wheels rub, brakes squeak, angry racers shout, and occasionally someone can go down. I've made it a point of putting out as much effort as necessary to stay out of the fray and get up near the front ever since the first year I did the race, and this year was no different. What was different is that it seemed like a whole lot more of the field had the same idea this year and I had to stay on full gas all the way to the single track just to avoid getting spit out the back.

There was a very brief bottleneck as we turned into the trail but once we got through that, I found myself on a fast moving train of riders. We rolled along for a while, picking off a few quick-starters here and there, and eventually I found myself on the back of a short group of three behind Chris Brawley from NJ and, just in front of me, SS pro Matt Ferrari. I know how strong both of these guys are, so I figured sitting on with them was a good place to be. We rode along for maybe five miles this way and then I dropped my chain for the first of many times over the course of the day. I'm still not sure what loosened it up, but I wasn't about to stop to find out. And even though it took only a few seconds to fix it that first time, I was passed by about 20 riders. But all in all, though, if I have to have a mechanical, I'll take dropping a chain over most others any day because on a SS, it's almost always a very quick fix. Ultimately, I would drop it about 8 times during the course of the day, but in total that may have cost me only a minute or two tops.

Pushing out of the woods
photo credit: Chris Daily
One other thing about the crazy start at CP is that the confusion of everyone running all together makes it more or less impossible to know where you are in your class. And since I was only focusing on chasing 8 laps, I wasn't focused on finding out. I just wanted to stay as fast as possible without blowing myself up. But around my fourth lap, I started to realize that I was on a pretty good pace to hit my goal as long as nothing too major happened and as I came through the Start/Finish area, Scott Rath from the Cadre Crew told me I was in the lead with about a two minute gap  to second place. At first, I was sure that was a mistake. I'd already had to stop 5 or 6 times for my chain, and I was sure I remembered seeing at least one other SSer passing me very early on and I certainly hadn't caught anyone. But I figured it couldn't hurt to stay on my effort either way. And besides, at that point every time I was coming through the Start/Finish, Jody or Jeff form Cadre were yelling at me to go faster on the PA, and it's hard to deny that kind of motivation.

Speaking of motivation, one of my favorite parts of this year's edition of CP was that every time I'd pass through Shoogs' Cowbell Heckle Pit, I'd hear him yell my name and call me a "crusher of souls". Whether or not you agree with the idea that crushing souls is a good thing to do (I happen to be fine with it!) having that yelled at you while you're struggling to go as fast as you can is an undeniable boost! I highly recommend experiencing that at least once in your racing career!

I finished up my 7th lap in about 5:50 or so, ensuring I'd hit my first goal for the day. I was on pace to beat my time from the last year, too, so that pretty much ensured that I'd hit my second goal as well (again, barring disaster.) I still had only seen a few other SSers all day, and those were guys I'd lapped, so I started to wonder if what I'd been told earlier was actually the case. Either way, I wasn't about to leave whatever position I was in to chance. I worked with one of the LWC guys, Don Breon, for the last lap and that kept me moving. I crossed the line in about 6:38, about 4 minutes faster than last year. And they confirmed that I had, in fact, won the SS class! That was really cool. The guy who they'd been warning me about all day came in a few minutes later. I'm glad I never knew for sure because I wouldn't have wanted any reason to do anything differently. I had ridden solid all day, had a lot of fun doing it, got to see a bunch of friends from all over, and ended up with the win. And I also came away with an awesome chain-ring and cog set from Endless Bikes (in orange, no less!) as a special SS prize! That's how you do a race day!

On the SS Podium with Brian Berry (right) and Watts Dixon (left)
And with that, my season is done. It was a long year, and I'm really happy with how it played out. But it's time to take a little time off before next year's training begins in earnest. I really couldn't have asked for a better way to end the year, too!

Huge thanks to Randy, Jeff, Jody, Scott from Cadre and everyone else involved with putting on this race. It's become one of my perennial favorites and I mark it down as a "definite" every year when planning the events I'll attend. It's so well run, and so much fun -- perfect for first time endurance racers and those of us who've been doing them for years. It's definitely one not to miss, and a great way to close out a long season! Whether you want to push yourself for the full six hours, race with teammates, or even just ride a few laps and then hang out for the fun (and post-race chili!), do yourself a favor and don't miss out on this race next year. Hope to see you out there!

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