Long Time

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 man’s heart.

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.

Now I'm muddyHe 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.

The Mighty HunterWell, at 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.

Fatty RidingDean was 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.

Last LapThe 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 had fun.

Podium TimeOur 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 to the podium at Levis-Trow!