After some uncertainty about the weather and trail conditions at Lake Norman, it was finally announced on Friday that the race was a go, so off I went to Statesville. The bike was clean and lubed, I had a new popup shelter, the cooler was packed with adequate nutrition, and I felt ready to race. The drive to Statesville was uneventful, though dealing with bad North Carolina drivers can be stressful if I let it get to me. Which I did. Once in Statesville, I found a Ruby Tuesday’s up the road from the Sleep Inn, so I got a table and found that I had worked up a powerful appetite. After round one at the salad bar, I demolished a peppercorn steak and grilled zucchini, followed by round two at the salad bar.
In the hotel room, I tried to watch an episode of The Office on my Macbook, but the hotel wi-fi was slower than a sloth in syrup, so I turned on the tragic lantern and watched Bill Maher. Sleep would come fitfully for most of the night, as I struggled with the room’s HVAC to deliver the right temperature and an acceptable white noise level at the same time. Not easy. I awoke around 5:30 AM after a night of what felt like a wrestling match with my pillow. But this was no surprise; I rarely sleep well at hotels.
The free breakfast was nothing to write about, so I won’t.
It was about this time that Abby texted me, asking if the race was truly a go, since she was driving though rain. I assured her that there was “no rain here” and that the forecast looked promising. As I stepped outside to load the bike onto the Siouxbie, I found that I had unknowingly lied to Abby. There was a slight drizzle, so I checked the forecast once again and was surprised to see that the current conditions were clear, and there was no precip in the future. Somebody was not telling the whole truth.
I arrived at the staging area for the race and discovered I was the first competitor on the scene, so I strolled over to chat with David about the weather. No, really. He reassured me that the event was definitely on, so I set about unloading the car and assembling our pit area. I got a good spot in the shade of a huge tree, although oppressive heat and sunshine were not going to be a problem on this day. The drizzle had abated, but it remained cool and cloudy. I wondered about the trail conditions. David had mentioned there may be some slick spots on the Hawk loop, so I contemplated a pre-ride of that section, but I needed to finish setting up first.
A woman racer had arrived in the meantime, and had begun unloading next to our spot. Her shelter was a super heavy-duty type, and I was immediately envious. She appeared to be struggling with it, so I offered to help. It turns out she was the female portion of one of the other co-ed duo teams: Ann from Bike Law. We made small talk as I readied myself to pre-ride the Hawk loop. Before I could mount up however, I received another text from Abby, asking me to drop a pin at my location. She had mistakenly gone to a different parking area on Lake Norman, which was almost an hour from the actual race location. I could sense her frustration; like me, she prefers to arrive early and get the necessary prepping out of the way, then do a pre-ride. That probably was not going to happen for her this time.
As a few more racers arrived, I headed out to reconnoiter the Hawk loop, which, like the Monbo loop, would be ridden in a CCW direction this year. I found to my delight that the trail flowed very nicely in the opposite direction, and I had to resist pushing it too hard. There were a few damp spots here and there, but very little puddling. Another text from Abby assured me that she was on her way and would arrive soon. When I got back to the pit area, more racers (including Abby) had arrived and were busily setting up. I chatted some more with Ann and gave her my report on the trail conditions: 76.6% dry. She chuckled a little and mentioned that Lake Norman trails were her “home” trails. Also, she looked fast.
Soon it was time for the pre-race meeting, which was held in the lower lot near our encampment. This would also be this year’s starting area, necessitated by the odd-year CCW trail direction. It would not afford the racers very much separation before diving into the singletrack, but it was not a huge crowd anyway. The fast riders gathered near the front, but it was a mass start with no pauses between classes, so I was fearful it might be a bit of a clusterfuck. It wasn’t, as it turned out. I took the first lap, which wound through the pit areas, crossed the main park road, and shot up a gravel doubletrack before narrowing into the singletrack of Hawk loop proper. I was nested comfortably among a pack of riders who were motoring at a pretty respectable clip, but I could tell riders behind me were itching to pass. I let a few go around me at an appropriate spot, then found that I could easily match their pace, which was rather dangerously fast. Naturally, this lap was nothing like the pre-ride. Shit was whizzing past with a fierceness and I had eyes only for the trail; at this speed, you need 100% concentration. I have found that, as I have gotten faster over the years, it’s not so much a matter of “can I pedal fast enough to be competitive,” but rather “can I handle my bike at these ridiculous speeds.” At least at the beginning of a race.
After letting the leaders gap me a bit, I eased back just slightly on my pace, but was still cooking quite respectably. Then it happened. I hit a soft spot that was already rutted by the lead racers, and down I went. Hard. I slammed my left temple on a log that was parallel to the trail and my glasses disintegrated on impact. My first thought was “I’m going to lose consciousness,” but I didn’t black out. I picked myself up and found I was in a daze. My bike was in the middle of the trail, a fact that was happily pointed out by passing racers, who were also kind enough for a perfunctory “are you okay?” which I translated as “I hope you’re okay, because I’m not stopping.” I mumbled “yeah” in response, despite blood spewing forth from my temple. I found bits of my glasses and discovered the left lens and earpiece were missing, so I set about looking for them among the dead leaves and loam near the log. I was in a slight panic, knowing that I could not finish the lap without both lenses. But even if I found the lens, my glasses would not sit properly on my face if the earpiece was broken off. I hastily shot off a text to Abby, telling her that I crashed and she would need to finish the lap, then continued looking for the missing lens. I did this for a few minutes, then it dawned on me that I was probably wasting precious minutes. By this time, the last of the racers had passed me and panic turned to desperation as I thumbed another text: “stay at the pit. I’ll be right there.” I groggily mounted the Highball and affixed my crooked eyeglasses as best I could, then made my way out of Hawk loop at a comparative crawl. I kept thinking to myself Abby’s gonna have to ride to the spot where I crashed and resume the lap from there.
The remainder of Hawk loop was only about a half mile before it intersected the road section. I told the course marshal that I’d crashed and was headed back to the pit area. He mumbled something that I didn’t hear, but I did not care. Abby had frantically prepped for the emergency handoff and was dutifully waiting at the starting line when I rolled up, bloody and still in a fog. I told her repeatedly that “you’ll have to ride backwards about a half mile into Hawk, then turn around and resume the lap from there.” It wasn’t until later that I realized how absurd that was. Of course, she only needed to ride where I had emerged from Hawk (where the course marshal was stationed), then ride on to Monbo and complete the lap normally. Which is what she did, and with a quickness born of necessity.
After Abby sped away, I let the Troutman EMT attend to my wounds. She asked if I had any spring water to clean the wound, and I mused to myself, don’t you? I poured some water out of my race bottle and then dabbed my bleeding temple with gauze. I asked if she had some antiseptic to clean the wound and she replied that the Troutman EMTs do not carry such a thing. Then I inquired about triple antibiotic, and her answer was the same: “We do not carry that. We are only equipped for major accidents.” Jesus, really? Then I remembered I had my own first aid kid, so I cleaned and dressed the wound myself while the forlorn EMT waited helplessly by her truck. I wanted to let her feel as if she was helpful, so I had her apply two pieces of bandage tape to some gauze and my temple, but I had done most of the work. Later, I would wonder why she did not even give me a basic test to determine if I’d suffered a concussion. I don’t think the city of Troutman thoroughly trains their emergency personnel, but whatever. She was nice.
After finding my backup glasses in the car, it took a few more minutes for me to calm down and overcome the shock of the crash. I wondered how Abby was doing. I have to give her credit: her first concern was my well-being, but her instinct for strategy was in full flower as well. If she pushed hard enough, she could complete the lap in under an hour, then take off for another if I was not up to it. But I was up to it. Adrenaline levels had abated somewhat, but I was more determined than ever to make up for the lost time. Sure enough, Abby rolled in at 10:58 and looked at me with a mixture of concern and questioning, that question being are you good to go? I signaled a thumbs up, then pushed away for my first true lap.
With no racers around me, I settled into a quick but steady pace. I kept a lookout for the spot where I crashed and wondered if I should stop and look for my missing lens. Of course not, you idiot. Push! The course had firmed up a little and Monbo loop was flow central. My gears were topped out on a couple of sections near the back side of the loop, as I overtook several riders and rode atop the Highball like Cauthen on Affirmed. You might have to look that up. I attacked the climbs and passed a few more racers, wondering distantly if any of them were in the duo co-ed group. There were some numbered red signs for emergency waypoints, and I remembered vaguely that they ended at #22 or #24 on this particular trail. I had just passed #20 and was on the hunt for #21. After a brief doubletrack section, I plunged back into the narrow bit and looked for the final red sign. It was indeed #24, and shortly thereafter, the road back. I hit the asphalt and cranked down, then lowered into an aero position and passed a couple more competitors.
Ever alert, Abby was waiting for her lap at the transition area. She made sure I was okay, then rocketed away. I found that my lap time was a respectable 44 minutes, and if I could maintain that pace for future laps, we’d be okay. I chatted some more with Ann and found that she and her partner were in second place and that Abby and I were in fourth. Just push some steady laps, and trust that Abby will do the same, then maybe we’ll be able to work our way up to third. I’m not gonna even talk about the first place duo; they’re pros who did not have a great deal of competition at this event. The more interesting battle would be for third, which just happened to involve Abby and yours truly.
I did some stretching and foam rolling before my second lap, and was ready to hit the trail again and find a comfortable rhythm. Abby turned in about a 47-minute lap and I was off once more after tagging up. It was a bit of a lonely lap, as I did not see too many racers. I did manage to overtake Jeff Dennison at the beginning of Monbo, on a gentle, undulating climb. He was rocking the single speed and appeared to be having a good time. At the end of monbo, I assumed a tuck position for the road descent and pushed even harder than the first lap. As I approached the bridge, I eased into a coast and felt the breeze in my face. Suddenly, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and to my left. It was another rider who caught me on the downhill. He was a clydesdale who apparently had a sizable weight advantage, but I dropped him once we headed into the last tiny singletrack section before the pit area.
Abby took her third lap, then I settled down to rest and get some food in me. I learned that we were closing in on third place, then started doing some math to determine how many laps we’d get and how much time there was to spare. Abby returned at about 2:02 PM and I promised my lap would be about 45 minutes, which would be plenty of time for her to take the final lap without having to kill herself. For this series, racers must be back no later than 4:00 on the nose; one second more and your lap does not count. Very unforgiving.
For my third lap, I fell in with a couple of guys who were pacing one another, so I asked if I could tag along. They were happy to have me, and we made small talk for most of the lap. The three of us caught another rider on a climb, and I realized it was the female half of the third place team. With that pass, she became a member of the fourth place team. Gradually, my riding compadres managed to gap me about two thirds of the way into Monbo, and I watched them slowly recede into the distance. I then passed another rider who was stopped on the trail, fiddling with his bike. I asked if everything was okay and he said “yeah,” and I rode onward. To my chagrin, he very slowly closed the gap and rode my wheel for a few minutes. I asked if he wanted around me, and he said “nah, this is a good pace.” I wondered why he did not want around me, even in very passable areas, but I tried not to let it bother me. Later, while on the road descent, he rode up beside me and we exchanged pleasantries. I asked what category he was in and he replied “I’m not racing…just out here enjoying the trails.” I was a little annoyed, then I thought to myself well, this guy showed some restraint, actually. If he’d passed me, I might have felt humiliated that a non-racer was faster than me…boo hoo. Then he told me he was a racer; he just wasn’t racing that day. I guess that’s okay.
I rolled in at about 2:50 for Abby to take one final lap, which would be our seventh. The female rider I passed was far enough behind that her partner would not be able to overtake Abby after their switch. His final lap was over 47 minutes and Abby’s was barely 50 minutes; slightly slower, but fast enough to hang on. This meant that we had third place nicely wrapped up, with a bow on top. We were happy with that result, especially given the early setback. The fourth place finishers (whom we know) will want some revenge at the next race in June, so Abby and I will need to stay on top of our game.
I felt a stab of pride when David called out our team name, “Velocibraaptors,” which I admit is a little silly, but damned if it’s not unique. Abby and I then mounted the podium (generic “Podium Finisher” mugs raised high), got our picture taken, received a $75 check, then went in search of Mexican food. It was a good race.
We did it! (click to biggenize)