Sunday, June 24, 2012

40 miles, the hardest way

I had plans to pre-ride some of the Capitol Forest 50 course this weekend.  I was going to be in the area anyway, at least sort of, so I thought it would be a good opportunity.  Then I found out there was going to be a race going on on those trails, the 6 Hours of Capitol Punishment.  I figured, "what the hell," and signed up for it.  A few days earlier, I'd swapped the chain on my mountain bike, and hadn't ridden since then.  So I rode up and down my street and made sure the shifting was working fine, rode up the steeper street near my house to make sure the granny wasn't skipping, and figured I was okay.

During the drive down on Friday, it was raining heavily.  I actually decided to skip pre-ride because I thought the course would be destroyed and muddy and awful.  By Saturday morning, the morning of the race, it certainly was.  It was still drizzling when I parked.

I noticed a little slipping in my drivetrain riding into the start/finish area.  When I started doing the big climb up Mima Porter #8, I noticed even more.  I just shifted again in whichever direction if I found myself in a cog that was doing poorly.  Usually one shift was enough to get me onto a good one.  Still, not an auspicious beginning.

The course is laid out with a big climb, a rolling singletrack connecting two of the larger trails, and then a long descent.  The singletrack connector was nasty, gritty, pine needle-containing, soul-destroying mud.  At least the two main trails were steep enough to drain better, and trafficked enough not to have a lot of organic material on them.  I think wet pine needles are my Kryptonite.  Except, I know they're everyone else's kryptonite.  Anyway, I was riding along and talking to another racer who also was soloing and didn't want to kill himself yet when my pedaling resistance suddenly became much higher and I stopped.  He actually buzzed my tire, but I think that happened after.  My rear derailleur was all sorts of twisted and mangled.

I tried to make the bike a singlespeed, but the closest to a workable gear combination I found in terms of chain links matching up was 22/11.  I didn't have to ride for very long before that autoshifted to 22/13 and started binding like crazy.  Since I was at the top of the course, I rode the rest of the way to the start/finish line, including a little pushing, and went to the mechanic.  The best gear ratio he could find was also 22/11, so it's not just me not understanding chainline.  :D  I realized I'd forgotten to put up my parking pass, so I rode to my car to take care of that and the bike autoshifted to 22/13 again.  So I hadn't put it there in the first place, and it was clearly not going to work for riding another lap.

At this point, I was ready to give up.  At least, on getting my bike working.  So I went to find the organizer and let him know I was pulling out - good to let them know I'm not lying unconscious in the woods somewhere or something.  He asked if I'd keep going if I could, and I said, "I came here to race!"  Someone else who was there to cheer and drink beer had a singlespeed with a chain tensioner, so that was the next plan.  The mechanic started to install it and my derailleur hanger broke.  Darn!

SRAM had a van there with suspension forks to demo.  They also had some demo bikes.  So they lent me a Stumpjumper 29er Hardtail.  While it was a nice bike, it really made me miss mine!  Mine has fenders, a front tire I like better, a granny gear, a little bell, a suspension fork that's old but that I've got set up to the best compromise I can find, which is a bit plusher than the Reba on the SJ was, and, last but certainly not least, I have a lower, longer cockpit.  I felt like I was driving a truck on the SJ.  Wide bars, short stems, and sitting bolt upright aren't my thing, apparently.  I think if this was my only 29er hardtail demo, I might be in the chorus of people saying they suck.  But actually I think it was a stubby stem and me having the wrong riding position.  Still, SRAM saved my race, and I realize they're carrying bikes that they're supposed to be able to use to send people on short demos, not four and a half hours and a few thousand feet of climbing and mud.  I rode three laps on it.

All in all, this feels like the hardest I've ever worked to ride my bike 40 miles.  People took really good care of me, though, which was great - I was able to get myself safely off the mountain, but I wouldn't have been able to continue to race without everybody's help and SRAM's demo bike.  And there were definitely some moments when I wasn't slogging uphill through the mud and I could get in my (sort of, 'cuz of the high bars) attack position and carve through the linked turns and flowy bits.  Results aren't up yet, but while I think the fastest people may have managed seven laps, I think my four put me at least mid-pack.  Not bad for over an hour left on course and a borrowed bike!

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