This race has a "split start". Basically there are two options after leaving the start line, you can head directly into the woods for the single track part of the course, or run the field. According to the announcer testing has shown both will take the same amount of time, so in theory there is no advantage. In reality I know if a bunch of guys head for the single track right off the bat and somebody has a problem, it could slow things down. The field has much more room. That's my theory anyway.
Flag flies and the group splits nearly 50/50 woods and field. I pass two riders and begin the switchbacks. I can hear someone in the crowd yelling my name and I am momentarily distracted. This is enough to break my concentration. The front tucks in the silt and down I go. From hero to zero in two corners, son of a bitch. I grab the clutch and keep the pig running while I right the ship and get the mess moving again. Several riders have gone by. Somewhere in a dark little corner of my mind a quiet voice whispers: "It's gonna be one of those days."
The woods begin and within five minutes my goggles are foggier than Malcolm Young's memory. The voice in my mind whispers a little louder. Never take off the goggles, usually get stabbed in the face by a branch. I have nightmares of an eyeball ending up like a marshmallow on a stick. If I am to continue, there is no choice. At least I can get some air to my face now. Laps are short at five miles, we will be doing 5 of them plus one mile, in this godawful humidity. Fun. The first lap passes hot and sweaty, but mostly uneventful. I am in third.
The track is tight in many spots, there are traffic jams with almost no alternative paths. Four bikes are bottle-necked, the first one has his handlebars stuck on a sapling. It looks like if I am willing to try and mow down a few trees I can pass the whole lot. Normally against wanton abuse of local flora, I make a special exception because this is a race goddammit. The gambit works and I pass the group, which includes first and second place of my class. Now in first.
My heart leaps at the proposition of such an early lead in this race. There is a long way to go, but if I can put some time on these guys, I might be able to hang on until it's over. I feel pretty good, the bike is running pretty good, let's wick it up a bit. Mistake. I get a little throttle happy and the rear steps out on a slight uphill right-hander. Normally not an issue, but I am standing when it happens, so there is no time to get a foot down. No problem, just use a little body english to correct. Normally not an issue, but I miscalculate the proximity of an eight inch diameter pine tree, which promptly tests the integrity of the right Acromioclavicular Joint (my good one). Elbow is sent into the ribs and somehow hits a nerve in the right arm, causing it to go completely numb. Unable to hang on I find myself unceremoniously tossed off the bike, into the trees, down an embankment and towards a pond. I have just enough time to take a breath and close my eyes in preparation for the drowning that is about to ensue.
That little voice inside my head? It's screaming at me now.
|OK, I never said I was graceful. Here I am screwing something up, but not crashing. Early in the race because my goggles are still on.|
|The truly eagle-eyed may notice two subtle differences in the bike between the two photos, to be explained in Part III.|