Big Bear Shootout #1.... 10 AM and the bank thermometer in the city of Big Bear reads 90 degrees. The race starts in an hour and I'm hydrated, beyond hydrated. You'd better be, as the course was advertised at 18.2 miles, with 2,500 feet of climbing on mostly fireroads. Team Block pedalled up the asphalt to the Snow Summit area, which, thanks to another POS lawyer's lawsuit, is now closed to MTB racing.
There were quite a few racers out there and as the pro's and experts took off, we moved up. Finally it was our turn. I didn't pre-run and could only try to remember when I raced here last, back in 2003 at the Nationals. Deb was somewhere behind me in the large pack awaiting her turn. We got the countdown and the 'GO' and we moved out in the heat.
I led for a few blocks and got overtaken for first and held second as the leader moved out of sight. We worked long hill climb after long hill climb in the bright hard-shining sun. I caught up with a guy in the 35-39 class from the 'Chicken Ranch' team, as he had the '21' marked on his leg. I didn't know it yet, but a half hour later, we'd meet again.
The climbing was unbelievable. I still held second place as I crested tough grade after tough grade. We'd descend on fast loose fireroads and begin another beyatch of a climb. Some poor XC racer was puking on the side of the fireroad. After a short descent, the Plantation ST came up and I grabbed it, working the loose sand and boulders for a short while through the trees. Popped out and got greeted with another long climb. At the top, my new bud that I had met earlier, from the 'Chicken Ranch' team rode by and told me to get on his wheel. Apparenly, he'd been behind me the whole time. I pulled in behind him and he started hauling.
We started playing the 'drafting game' on the rolling hills. I'd grab the front and he'd pull in behind, while we slammed by a whole lot of other riders! They'd be riding side-by-side and we'd slice right through the middle, some tried to keep up, but soon got shedded. This went on for a good while and at the bottom of one descent, I started climbing again, only to lose the 'Chicken Ranch' dude on the ascent.
We're getting close to the end. I start to recognize the end-game part of the course. I was wasted as we blasted down the fireroad downhill. The screaming sirens and dust cloud ahead surprised me, as an ambulance passed us by, going up the hill. Apparently some guy had a serious wreck and had to be airlifted off the course. I found out about this later on. Right now, I'm racing. I move into the Upper Fall Line singletrack and a short while later, remember why it was so bad. Gawd, was it awful. Super rough, very technical and plenty of places to seriously hurt yourself or get a rear tire flat as many others did. My hands were screaming in pain from holding the brakes and I was thankful for the less gnarly sections. I clattered down that rough beyatch, still holding second place. If I had any brains, I would've disengaged the Pro-Pedal on my new Fox RP-23 and went to the plush mode. This lack of foresight was going to cost me.
Almost at the bottom and I'm winding down, beat to crap and trying to make it as best I can, still holding second place, when suddenly I got passed with conviction by another guy in my class from ARP. Aaaugh! I try to catch him, but he put a good one on me and there's not enough time or space as we're crossing the finish line, not even a minute later. Missed second place by a mere five seconds. But it's something that I did too, last time I raced there too, in 2003, when I passed second place, in nearly the same spot, for my second place finish, missing first place by six seconds way back then. So it ain't like I've never done that to anybody else either. Fair is fair, and racing is racing. I crossed the line and had to deal with monster cramps in my thigh's, both front and back! Fortunately, I didn't tear any muscles in the ordeal.
A half hour later, Deb crossed the line, totally whacked from the heat. She had not been on the bike, all week, due to the infection from being punctured by a dozen yucca spines the previous Monday. Wednesday night, she had a fever of 102 degrees, but with antibiotics and rest she was feeling better, but still hadn't rode. She was the only woman in her class, so first place was not a question. Later on, she told me of how many times she felt like quitting or giving up out there. I thought back to the race and the couple of times I was cresting a long hill, feeling my heartbeat in my ears and just suffering like an overheated dog. I told her that it's something that goes through all of our minds.
What separates us, is the ability to overcome the almost overwhelming emotions that rise up inside of us. The boiling heat, the aching legs, spitting out thick globs of sport drink as your sweat pours out of you and streaks the dirt on your once-clean mountain bike. It is a serious suffer-fest and what you have to do, is reach deep down inside of you and pull that 'something' out. That 'something' that is nearly indescribable. Call it will. Call it fortitude. Call it survival or the unwillingness to quit.
The layers of your regular self have been blasted away and what remains is the raw naked core. 99.999% of the regular population will never see what's really inside, underneath all the layers of personal bullcrap that we've piled on. But we see it. We deal with it and we work it. And hopefully, we'll have succeeded with it. When you cross that finish line, after throwing down on your mountain bike for many miles and a ton of hard climbing, that is a feeling that can't be duplicated by nearly anything else.
Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a 02' S-Works from P'Dale on 07/02/07