Rural Retreat again. I love coming out here, if only to escape the godawful heat and humidity of central VA. After five years my thick Yankee blood is still trying to acclimate. The terrain, hilly, rocky, with plenty of water crossings and mud also suits my riding style. Only it has been dry. Lack of rain has turned the entire course, aside from the creek, into a mountainous dust bowl.
Dave and I ride two laps in Saturday practice, struggling with the hugely steep off-camber sections that threaten to throw the unskilled unceremoniously down the mountain. We both survive by taking it very slowly, now with the knowledge that our work is cut out for us on Sunday.
Dust. Everywhere dust. The race begins and the clouds grow. Off the start into a dry uphill that the early rows have already dug down to rock and root. I get bumped into a slower middle line as four riders take the preferred left one. Which works out in my favor because someone screws it up on the left side and nearly takes everybody out. Crest of the hill I am in third. Ok, I can work with this. I intend on winning this race. No mistakes. Make time by not losing it. Keep your head.
These mantras work very well for the first half of the lap. I'm not blazing the course, but I'm also not falling down or making too many terrible mistakes. Through the creek and the muddy ruts, about a 1/4 mile, which consists of the only moisture over the entire track. The rest is parched, and visibility is shit.
The first bottleneck nearly ends my race. What a clusterfuck. An off camber, extremely dry uphill single-track with apparently only one passable route. Somebody gets stuck, loses their head and starts digging trenches with an adrenaline fueled throttle hand. People go around and start falling sideways down the hill, catching themselves on trees and thorny vines to stay upright. There are bikes and bodies scattered around the steeply sloped battlefield. I am stuck with riders in front and behind. The kid in front is managing to hurl dusty clods at my face while the bastard behind me keeps ramming my rear wheel as if it's going to get me moving any quicker. Like the assholes who sit there beeping their horns in a traffic jam that is clearly not going anywhere.
I finally get around the kid, who now has the root he is stuck on burning from the friction. Most of his knobbies are chunked and piled behind him. I don't get far, about six feet on and there are more riders stuck, fallen and just generally in the damn way. The guy behind me goes uphill to find another path. I follow him. So does everyone else. Soon we are all jammed up in a tangle of vines, saplings, stumps and weeds, walled in by piles of knocked down trees that are too large to get over, wasting precious energy in a vain attempt to make forward progress. People are yelling, dirt flying, bikes moving in every direction. Bloody chaos. I can't find a way and realize I have to go back if I ever want to move ahead. It's a crushing blow. I've already lost five minutes and it looks like more now. I head back to the marked trail, get by some stalled riders, eventually threading through the impasse, anger on the rise. I'm doing my best to keep a clear head, but this little disaster is shredding my last nerve. I ride mad, making mistakes, bouncing off of trees in an effort to make up lost time, losing more in the process. I manage, however, not to crash. That is, until I target fixate myself into a 3" sapling that tweaks the forks and my left shoulder. Up again, straighten bike and body as best as possible and move along.
We come to the Christmas tree farm section, grassy, hilly, bumpy and high speed if you can manage to miss the hidden pot holes. Racing down one hill and up another like a giant roller-coaster of dust. The rhythm comes at long last, let's start riding like somebody who has done this before. Maybe I can salvage something here. Anger now translates to speed picking off stragglers mid-hill, top and bottom as well. Out of the tree farm and into a small field before a steep uphill. There is a ditch jump here that I remember from practice. Nothing too bad. Hit it in third gear, moving. The bike launches, rider and machine land perfectly....
And the left freakin' footpeg bracket lets go. Peg drops 90 degrees, foot slides off the peg, fall on the gas tank, ensuring that I will never have children or possibly urinate properly again and proceed to run over my left foot with the rear wheel. My initial thought is that my foot slipped from the peg, but looking down I can see it hanging on by a thread. I wonder for a minute if it can be ridden like this, shifting and having nothing to stand on, for another hour and a half. Remembering vividly the off-camber section, my gut knows. There is no way. Even with an heroic attempt it would be weeks before they found my carcass at the bottom of a ravine, buried under 250 pounds of Spanish pork.
I finish the remaining portion of the lap, make timing and scoring and continue back to the pits on the ride of shame, trying to ignore the swelling in ankle and the bruising of spirit. My race is over.
It never gets any easier.
|Once through the creek was all I got. Both feet still firmly in place. Both footpegs still attached.|
|The aftermath. Lieutenant Dan, you only got one peg!|
|Instead of making fun of guys in shop class, I should have learned to weld. Would have come in a lot handier than those damn AP English courses......|