In 1990 I was mountain bike racing in expert (now called Pro/Elite)
class. I wasn’t the best racer in the class but I was respected
and as a whole, was about average and being average among the best
isn’t bad. I did manage a fourth place finish at a race but
a podium finish was elusive. A podium finish usually means a
top-three finish where you get to stand before the crowd with your
award on the winner’s podium. One day, it was almost a top-three
podium finish…but things didn’t go as expected.
I was riding a 1990 Klein Attitude and planned on racing the first
annual Buzzard Buster race at the Levis-Trow trail system on September
23, 1990. It was a four hour drive to the race and about one mile
from the start, my bike rack cracked and the bike went flying (and then
bouncing) down the road. Words cannot express the feeling of
looking in the rearview mirror and seeing your bike go its own separate
way. The bike didn’t look that bad as it had bounced into the
grass. The seat was torn but worse, the front wheel was
destroyed. I sat down on the side of the road, too distressed to
do anything else. What else could one do?
A while later, a guy who was going to be handing water out during the
race came by and said, “Hey you’re one of the fast guys, why aren’t you
racing?” I showed him my bike and said, “I’m not going to be one
of the fast guys today.” He told me to take his American
Comp-Lite, which is quite an expensive bike, and race with it. I
said, “But you don’t know if you’ll ever see me again.” He
replied, “Don’t worry about it. Take it and race.” Bless that
I hurried the last mile to the race as it was getting very close to
start time. The race organizers told me there was no time and
pushed me to the start of the pack as the race started in less than a
minute. Steve was giving the pre-race talk (and when he was
finished, got into the pack and raced). There I was in the
starting gate with people looking at me asking me where my usual bike
was while one of the judges named Dean pinned a number to the back my
jersey during the countdown. It was quite a sight.
The race commenced and we took off. There was something about
that day because I just had it. Whatever it took to race…I had
it. I was strong and fast and having a great day not only in
terms of performance but fun. There were three riders who were
way off the front of the other riders and there was no way the rest of
the pack was going to catch them. Those guys were fast, fast,
fast that day. Yours truly, Mr. Moose happened to be among them.
I was feeling good and knew a top-three finish awaited. I don’t
know if I would have won but second place was a good possibility but a
top-three finish was a given. Sort of….
Then it happened. The Comp-Lite had been in a very muddy
Chequamegon 40 race the week before and hadn’t been maintained.
The chain had no lube and it resulted in chainsuck bad enough to break
the chain. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!
At that moment, I kissed my top-three finish goodbye. About two
minutes later, the fourth place rider came by, that’s how much time the
top riders had on the pack. I didn’t know what to do as I had no
tools since I was in such a hurry before the start, so I put the chain
in my jersey pocket and started to push. Soon more and more
expert riders passed me up and then the sport riders started to come
by. Dean, the race official, came by in a four-wheeler with a
flat bed and offered me a ride. I thanked him but declined
saying, "It's been a pretty bad day for me, so I'm going to make
the best of it and have the dignity to finish on my own."
He told me that I had nine miles to go and I said, “I know. I’ll
make it.” and continued to push. Then the beginners started to
pass me and eventually the pack petered out and it was Dean and I.
He offered a
ride several times but I kept pushing. He drove next to me for a
while to keep me company as I pushed, paddled, carried and coasted on
the bike. It was a pretty wet race and Dean said, “Hey, you
aren’t muddy enough!” I looked over yonder at a big mud puddle
and did the right thing. Six more miles to go, more pushing and
paddling and coasting then three miles and so on.
I found out they were holding up the awards ceremony for me and
approaching the end I nearly beat a beginner. She suddenly sped
up saying, “I am NOT going to be beat by some guy pushing!” I
crossed the finish line and the crowd cheered. The guy who lent
me the bike apologized about the chain and I told him it was OK, that’s
how things go and we made the best of the situation we were
given. They gave out the awards. Steve got one that day but
I did not. So it goes.
A few weeks later, Dean sent me some pictures and said, “You sure did
make it a memorable race.” And I have to say that Dean, too, made
it a memorable race.
Levis-Trow I had finished DFL, which in race parlance means Dead
&#*&@*’ing Last. Over my career, I would finish DFL three
times as an expert. Levis was my first DFL. At another race
my chain broke and the chain tool broke when trying to fix it. I
had to push about a mile to the start to fix the chain and by the time
I was back on the course, it was forty-five minutes later but at least
I finished. The third race was on a day where I was sick and
shouldn’t have been on a bike at all. It was a brutal 30-mile
course on a brutally hot and humid day (98F/37C) where 40% of the
experts quit the race. That’s unheard of for that many to
quit. I suffered, genuinely suffered, that day but I
finished. I’m proud that in my twenty-three years of racing, I
never DNF’d (Did Not Finish). So while I have been DFL, I’ve
never once been DNF.
What’s really kind of funny is that my Mom had watched me race
twice. The first race she saw was the miserable hot day and
second was where the chain tool broke. So she has watched her son
race twice and both times…DFL! I asked her if she wanted to watch
me hang glide but she said that she was worried that I would fly like I
race. Momcat has a clever wit for sure.
Years later, I bought a 2012 Salsa Mukluk fat bike. It’s a bike
specially designed for giant tires, up to 4x the volume of regular
mountain bike tires that are run at about 1/4 the normal pressure and
are meant for using in snow. These bikes have become more popular
and there is now a race series for fat bikes.
On March 3, 2012 Steve and Dean (among others) threw a fat bike race at
Levis-Trow called The Sweaty Yeti. Fat bike races tend more to
the fun side than the summer races and people come for the camaraderie
as much as anything else. This race consisted of three person
teams which were randomly assigned, again to make sure we keep it fun
and not just three fast guys who get together to win.
supervising the registration. He took one look at me and said, “I
remember you. Welcome back!” He assigned me to a team
that had Scott and Justin on it. Scott is a very fast guy but is
getting to the age where he realizes that he can’t keep it up
forever. Sort of like….me. We spent some time talking about
how things change over the years and it’s something that can be very
difficult to accept for strong racers, but it’s inevitable that it
affects us as time goes on. Justin is in his early twenties and
is very, very fast and will only become faster in the coming
years. I saw Steve before the race and said hi as we had raced
against each other in many races over the years and while he didn’t
intend to originally, he ended up doing a few laps himself that day.
The race commences Le Mans style
start where the one member of the team runs for their bike and starts
the lap. You then switch off between team members. Some
teams had a person doing one lap between switching riders and others
opted for two laps. Justin did the first of our two laps and he
managed to open a good sized gap between the second place team.
Scott did quite well on his laps and when it was my turn, I managed to
gain a little time over the next team too.
The race was partially over wide cross country ski trails and then went
into the woods on a narrow single-track trail before emerging back onto
the ski trail for a short stretch and one arrives back the chalet for
the start of a new lap. It was nice combo of trails and everyone
Our team did
our two laps each and then we started over again and Justin continued
his strong riding of two laps followed by a good performance by
Scott. I did my two laps but on the third lap, tired a little and
lost some time relative to the next team but felt stronger on my fourth
lap and gained some time back. We had just enough time for Justin
to get in one last lap.
The second place team did twelve laps and our team completed thirteen
and we took first place. Most of the credit for the win belongs
to Justin and Scott. I have to
respect both of them for showing some real grit that
day. It’s not a huge race and while people rode hard, there
weren’t giant egos present, but it was still nice to take first.
Our prizes consisted of hats with ear flaps emblazoned with a cassette
sprocket, a giant bottle of beer, bragging rights, and memories.
It took twenty-two years…but I finally made it
podium at Levis-Trow!