A few months ago I started riding the Mountain bike a bit more. Why, you ask? My lovely wife decided that for my 30 something birthday (yup, can't recall how old I am anymore), I should pursue one of the most lusted after and previously unattainable prizes I can recall ever setting sights on. Yup, the 29er. I recall the conversation vividly, which is odd because I've been accused by some of having a memory that's anything but vivid. It was late and Christa was pushing me for birthday ideas.....
Christa, "Honey, I should get you an Ipad"
Me, "Now, what in the world am I gonna do with an Ipad?"
C, "You could play play solitaire on it. Or even angry birds"
Me, " I do like angry birds, but $600.00 dollars seems like a lot to play a card game and fling birds at walls. What else could I use it for"
C. "Lots of stuff, you just mess around with it, I don't know."
Me, " I'd rather not spend the money. Maybe we can save up a few birthdays and Christmas's for something I'd actually use. Just seems weird to buy something for the internets, when when we already have laptops, Play Stations, Two "smart phones", and cable that all do the same thing."
C. "You're so hard to shop for you know that?
Me, "Sorry, I know."
Fast forward a few nights:
C, "How about a bike?"
Now she has my attention!
C, "You've always wanted a new 29" bike, you should get one."
Me, "Can't hardly believe I'm saying this, but that is really not something you want me to do."
C, "Why, you deserve it."
Me, (I know - inside voice), Thanks honey, but you know I'll want to spend as much on a bike as we normally spend on cars, that's just ridiculous."
C, "You still deserve it."
Me, "Probably shouldn't honey. Thanks, but we'll just see what we see."
Fast forward a few weeks
Me, "So, is the offer still open to get that bike."
Even though it's dark I sensed a smile and a possible eye roll, but no one will really ever no - save one!
C, "Yes, you can get your bike."
Me (In the illustrious words of Bill Cosby upon finding out there were eggs in chocolate cake), "Oh goodie!"
So I bought one, and that's why I started riding the MTB again.
Back to the Ruby 50. So, this is ague-ably the most difficult course in Michigan. Not for the crazy downhills, the sand, the rocks, or the roots. But really the squeezes between the trees, the off camber turns, the ill placed out-houses, and the momentum robbing corners that send you screeching though the gears and grabbing for more (even though you were out three tries ago). It's short, It crosses rivers (really, does the DNR even allow that anywhere else in the really real world), it goes straight up and straight down. You have to dodge 5 years old kids who are catching frogs on the trail, the owner on his decrepit old "land-scaping" implements, and the occasional drunkard who still believes that the american flag is the only acceptable pattern with which to cloth himself (you can often spot him by his vacant stare and his too late Whooooooooooooooooooo as you ride by kicking up mud and/raw sewage).
So when I heard that there was going to be a race there again this year, I thought yup, I'm in. After a few more Wednesdays kicking around the campground (which by the way is an odd combination of primitive camping turned wanna be modern.....but not quite) and I find out from Todd Powers that he's convinced the Michigan endurance series to hold a 50 mile race there. I looked at Todd with a vacant stare containing wonder, awe, and confusion and simply stated, "say again."
Now keep in mind, Mr. Powers is one of the most optimistic, driven entrepreneur-type people I've met. I don't get out much, but he's got endless energy, and a plethora of never say die attitude in him that we could all use a little more of. Anyway, he brought the race race to Ruby Campground, and thus set the stage for a epic race in the middle of nowhere Michigan.
Background complete (or beat to death), we jump to the weekend of the race. Christa has a rendezvous with Mom at the Brothers of the Sun tour on Saturday before the race. Uncle Hoon and Brooke decided to drop by this weekend as well, so not exactly the pre-race calm I was aiming for. But then, in the life of an amateur racer, when is there really ever a few days of pre-race calm? Anyway, We had a good morning with the girls, Christa left for the concert, and David and Brooke and I took the girls on a bike ride down to the park in Marysville. Had a great day, the girls were awesome, and went to bed for dad without a hitch. Christa finally got home around 1:30am.....but that is another story.
The morning of the race came early. I departed for the race venue (camp ground) at about 7:15am. The start was to be prompt at 9:00am. Uncle Hoon can attest, that I am really one of the most annoying people in over compensating for Murphy's law, so I arrive in plenty of time to realize that I'm actually gonna ride 50 miles at Ruby campground. Normally 12.5 - 15 miles is considered a full day there. So you can imagine how 50 is sounding/sinking in the morning before the ride.
Now, it's not all bad. A few days before the race Todd and the Michigan Endurance Series organizer decide that 50 miles at Ruby might just have the potential of actually getting some people hurt.......huh, really? That being said, the decision was made that we should take half of the race to the surrounding country gravel roads. Great, trade one of the most difficult loops in Michigan for a bunch of hill billies on 4-wheelers dressed in civil war rebel garb (if they're dressed at all). Awesome! But I digress.
Finally, the start of the race: We line up. All 40 of us. There's not a lot of crazy people out there who would show up for an event like this. But the fact that this is one of the races on the Michigan endurance series means there are points up for grab. I looked to my Team Sandbag (TSB) team mates (we're the majority team here, about 5 strong) and realize that we're likely out classed. There are various individuals including clean shaven roadies, hard core tattoo-ed endurance series mainstays, and even a coupled of ZZtop wanna be's also legendary on the endurance series circuit. It suffices to say, that these people are a different breed of racers.
After dodging a few 60's vintage RV's leaving the campground, we start the race, nearly on time. The "roll out" starts on the aforementioned gravel roads and turns into a 5 mile 24 MPH average sprint for the woods, on mountain bikes, in the gravel, for 5 miles. At one point, I looked in front of me (tucked in roadie style hoping for a little draft) and realized the wheel which I was clinging was the ZZ Top wanna be on a single speed. What!!!!! Really!!!! One gear for this race!! Oh come on! So I managed to survive to the woods only slightly off the pace. 5 animals had streaked away (including one TSB guy, Alex Gonzalez) and I hung onto the next group which included Todd Powers (recall, TSB Captain and the one responsible for pulling this all together), and two team guys from the Mt. Pleasant area. I entered the woods 7th and cooked before the race has really even started....ugh.
Todd is talking the whole time. He never stops talking. We need to stick to the plan. Stay together. We know the course, pick the best lines, pick the best pedal strokes, we're one with this trail. Remember, this is our home course! Right, (inside voice again) then why are these guys smoking us? But we stuck together and stuck with the plan, and he was right. We actually recovered? Maybe. Just a little. And began to reel in the the evil doers. We dropped the Mt. Pleasant guys and focused on catching the top five.....then the road hit again...and watched as they crept ever so slowly away.
Todd to me, "stick to the plan. 30 second pulls on the road. We can do 20-21 together, they're split apart attacking each other like a pack of wild dogs up there. Stick together, stick to the plan, your turn"
My turn hurts me every 30 seconds, but we maintain the pace and near the end of the road section, Todd is stoked and I'm crying for mercy. We hit the trails again and oddly enough recover while reeling in the bad guys again......crazy. Anyway, we draw in ZZ top on the single speed and drop his butt like the cigarette smoking 80's rocker that he is! ;)
Then the road again.....ouch
This time Todd isn't talking. I'm wondering where the banter is. This banter that has carried me through the first 20 miles of this 50 mile massacre. I pull to the front and I notice he's actually drooling. Oh man.
Me, "Dude, you OK?"
Todd, "yeah why?"
Me, (Inside voice again, oh, I don't know maybe cause you're drooling!)
We trade pulls. Todd's are getting shorter, but that's OK, because he helped me when I was smoked. We are coming to the woods and I wave him around. This is his baby, he built this thing and I don't want to hold him up. He takes the lead and we realize we've reeled in the 4th place rider. Actually, he's the clean shaven roadie lookin' guy who probably should've chosen something other than the ultimate weight weenie machine. He's blown a spoke and is hollering for another bike. Didn't realize this was Le Tour or who the hell he was talking to, but I know he wasn't getting my ride. I think I may have flung some sewage soaked earth his way as I blew past him on the trail, but who could tell?
Back to the woods. I'm pushing Todd now, but appreciating the rest.
Me, "Are we still going fast, I can't tell."
Todd, "You need to go around, I'm all in. I'm a sprinter and this is where I check out."
Me, "I'm good it actually feels better for once."
Todd, "That means you're not going hard enough....get around me>"
Me, damn (inside voice), "OK."
I go around and begin to swoop around the course again. I hit the road for the 4th time and I'm utterly alone. Oh great. I don't see anyone in front of me and no one is behind me. I have no speedometer to realize the pace I need to push so I go to what I know best.....Hoon, don't you laugh! I crank it up until my hands shake and then step it down a gear. I hold that for 5 miles, then hit the woods. To my surprise a mile later, I see a jersey. Now at this point I've been passing a lapped rider or two., Easy to tell the difference though. This guy isn't coming back in a hurry. That's 3rd place up there! Podium baby. 3rd overall. I have a TSB guy and two other cats in front of me. The two other guys: One's a guy from the west side who's multi lingual but speaks some type of Danish language (recall, I'm not well traveled). He's holding 3rd. The other guy is 140 lb rocket running a skin suit on a rigid factory ride sponsored by Soul Cycles (chances are if you haven't heard of them, they're really expensive).
Anyway, I catch the 3rd place guy and pass him as he taps down on a crazy switchback appropriately named the Wall.....ouch. I'm officially on the podium. Shortly after that disaster strikes for My TSB partner (A.Gon) as he blows his tire off the rim in an uncanny location. His day is done. I'm in 2nd place with 1.25 laps to go.
Then comes the road. The danish rider is within sight as I exit the woods. I know the next 5 miles will be the race for me. I'm now actually nervous because (in the illustrious words of Rocky Balboa), I don't wanna lose what I got! I hit the top of the campground road and look, but don't grab for, the big ring. You would've thought the shift lever was covered in a thousand poisonous thorns. I knew I needed to jam it, but couldn't convince my thumb to do the deed. This lasted for what seems like an eternity. I turned the pedals over several times, looked over my shoulder to see the danish champion (oh, come now, really...couldn't help myself there!) climb onto the road a mere 500 yards back. I grabbed the Big Ring one more time and dialed er up to shaky hands and backed er down a gear..........
Which wasn't enough.
He was closing. I had lost almost half of my lead in the first mile and a half. I turned the corner and dropped it down to the hand shaking gear. Oh man, if I can just make the woods, I'm in for second place. I focus on everything I've ever learned on the road. Make circles. Use every muscle in your lower body starting with your core to turn it over. Relax your shoulders, lift your head, and crouch to reduce the drag, and pin it. And please, please don't cramp.
I make the next turn, fearful to look back but unable not to. I realize I've opened the gap almost to my original lead leaving the woods! No way. 1.5 miles left to go to the woods. It felt like a hundred. I pinned it for all I was worth, didn't cramp, and made it to the woods, near out of sight of the Danish rider. The last 5 miles should've been uneventful. I pedaled and focused. I kept smooth even though I knew I was a gear lower than my original laps. I eventually dropped the challenger from sight and began the roll into the finish......when something odd happened.
I couldn't recall whether this was my last lap or not. Whether due to incompetence or age combined with drink (thank you Bones), I had forgotten where I was in the race. I continued to pedal, fearing the possibility of another lap and unable to piece together what would happen when I crossed the line. I rolled up the last hill and dropped down into the gravel pit where the fans and finishers were (and to my delight C and girls stood as well) and gently and gingerly turned toward the exit corral which signified the finish of the race. I waited, uncertainly for the officials to send me back out or to proclaim my hard fought second place. I was supremely thankful to hear the announcer announce me as the second place over all finisher in what was truly the toughest race yet in which I have ever competed.
It ended with no raucous fanfare or ticker tape shower of confetti and spray of Red Bull, but rather it ended in the arms of my three favorite people in the world. Carys was trying to jump into my arms, unaware of my personal accomplishment and only aware that daddy was done riding his bike.
Harper looked at me as she usually does: Furrowed brow, slow crinkling smirk, and then full blown smile that could melt the earth.
And Christa, who had been up all night enjoying a rare moment of solace had dragged herself and the girls out to another mountain bike race in an obscure corner of Michigan to be there for me at the finish. Thanks baby. Love you for all that you do.