Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Welcome to the jungle

What is field work, really? 

The terrestrial crew (I was on the aquatics crew)

Going out and getting dirty? Yep. Fun/ Yes. According to plan? No.
This week I was sent out to a wildlife research station to stay for two weeks in Algonquin Provincial Park. The station itself is pretty hilarious. It’s been around for seemingly hundreds of years and you can feel (and see) the history of this rustic station around you. It turns out that my dad even went here! Sure enough he's in some photos on the wall.
Second from the top left, a "Turtler" apparently! (also known as Herpetologists)

The station is on a lake, known as “The Sass” comprises numerous cabins for sleeping accommodations, labs, and storage, some picnic tables for eating, a general kitchen and oldschool style cafeteria. Everyone at station is super nice, though it seems to be more of a drinking station with a research problem! Breakfast is at 7:30l, but you don’t see many people then, lunch is at 12:30, and dinner is 5:30. Food is unlimited. People go about their days by waking up, running their morning errands (canoe to get turtles, check plots, look at birds, etc.), eating breakfast, maybe some lab work until lunch, hanging out on the dock until dinner, eating some food, cracking some beers and maybe some more errands and social drinking. Everyone is super interesting to chat with and learn about their work, and super laid back. I like it here, though there’s no internet or phone reception.
The lab - right in front of the lake
The cookhouse! I gained weight from the unlimited food and the fact that I had no bike..

On my time off, I would canoe and get turtles out of the traps!

Being a guy who’s been put there for 2 weeks means I have to work basically nonstop to get done an insane amount of work in a short period time. Unfortunately my week went like this: it started out working out in the field, then processing the samples all night – until 1:00am sometimes [that was the night that I found my tent flooded too].  I love field work, and all of the adventures in the forest [not so much the lab work at night] – but it’s tough when I was getting almost no sleep and no ride time, by Saturday, I was much more worn out than I was willing to acknowledge, which is unfortunate because I decided to make my very first appearance in the pro/elite field.
The course is at Buckwallow Cycling Center is known as the toughest venue on the Ontario Cup circuit, much rockier and rootier than the other races and with no real down time. Typically I take a good break in the singletrack, and open up in the doubletrack – but in Buckwallow you’re pretty full throttle the whole way. Getting a bike over the rocks and the roots requires some serious upper body strength,  and with five 9km laps, you get pretty worn out. Additionally, though the trails at Buckwallow can be pretty flat ground sometimes but super twisty. If you’re feeling pretty fresh these factors just make the trails more fun, but as you tire, it’s hard to pick “the good line” through the trail, and if you’re not on “the good line” you are wasting more energy and time, which gets stressful too.
So I showed up at the course on Sunday morning, having not shaven in about two weeks (I actually can manage to look scruffy now), and been out of internet and cell phone reception for the week, to suprise the world with my debut on the “pro cycling” scene of Ontario. It was a great feeling to put my new race sign on the bike, double digits now (representative of elite riders), and how do you spell “badass”? With “ELITE” at the top of your race plate. It was a bit of a situation that got me into elite, I asked if I was allowed to race elite, and got a phonecall back saying I was now a pro/elite racer and that’s how it would have to be for the rest of the season. Well, okay. Let’s do it.

I knew that going into the race thinking I was in bad shape would obviously make for a very bad race, so I pushed it out of my mind that I hadn’t trained or slept for a week and that I was out in the heat. A foolish thing to do. In hindsight, I was in no shape to race but getting caught up in the moment causes you to ignore things and just jump in so to speak! The pace started out about as fast as my old category, but once we hit the singletrack it was evident I wasn’t racing the expert category anymore. The riders in the pro/elite field  are well rounded guys, not just cardiovascular machines. After a couple of trails, I found the pace unsustainable (especially while I was puking along the way!), I was simply not strong enough to that day handle my bike through the trails at that pace. By halfway through the first lap, I was riding my own race, but I kept my chin up and kept at it. By lap 2 I started to accept that it wasn’t just the elite pace that was killing me, and my heartrate monitor confirmed this. I was running at about 75% of my maximum heartrate, and would be right out of breath. By lap 3 I was finding myself at the end of trails with no recollection of how I got there. It was foolish of me to race, and the last half of the race (laps 3-5) I rode – not raced. Until on lap 5, where I saw another rider ahead of me a few turns in the trail! I picked up the pace (ever so slightly), smiled to myself, and worked at bridging the gap – nobody passes me in my last lap, and if you’re in my sights that late in the race, I’m determined not to lose the hard work that I had done. I caught him, and put some time in between us, managing to finish the race, and not in dead last either!  There is no way I would enter a race and then simply not finish, rather finish dead last than not at all, at least I’m proud of sticking it out.
It’s tough to make the plan now, can I race elite for the last few Ontario Cups? I don’t feel as though my performance on Sunday was a real indicator of how well I can race in the elite 5 lap race, but that’s not to say that I think I am  ready for sure yet.  I’ll work hard though, with hopes of one day earning a decent position in that category, but until then I may just be that guy who tried his best. It’s tough though, to build yourself up in less than a year to the level I am trying to compete at, while still attending University and being involved in the student and cycling communities of Guelph.  Either way – it’s time for secret training! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Another weekend out of province

The Red Bull race was a very high-energy, high risk way of realizing I’m only human. Before the race had even started, I had fallen pretty hard and been bandaged up in a very big way by the onsite first aid. The race started off lamanz (I had to run a fair ways to my bike, then ride my bike for a lap), and in all of the excitement, I went down hard taking about a two foot drop down to a gravel turn, and because it was so early I got held up behind other riders before I could get back onto the trail. By this point I had blood all the way down my other leg, my mouth was still in pain from the tooth incident, and my confidence was utterly shaken up.  It was getting dark enough in the trails by the time I got to the singletrack to warrant a light, but I was too focused to turn mine on. The singletrack was surprisingly tough for a night race (the latter half of the world cup course), but that’s why it’s a Red Bull event, for spectators – it’s a paid event for people to do high risk things. One notable spot was going down a steep sandy rutted off camber (hill on the side of a hill) hill, then needing to turn immediately hard right and drop a few feet down some roots onto a sickeningly steep hardpack sand hill. They had a spectator section there, with lights and photographers blaring at the athletes, making it impossible to see where you were going. Needless to say a lot of guys were walking that section.  The course for the xc riders was essentially a climbing section, a quick open downhill, over a couple of bridges through crowds, climb up again, then a techy singletrack section then a downhill bomb to a ladder bridge through crowds to the finish line, where my partner was radioed to start his run down the hill.
Unfortunately, I got into a pretty down mental state, and was exhausted and in pain anyways - strung out from all of the damage to my mouth and a general lack of sleep. I’m ashamed to admit that during the race I was just dwelling on my weaknesses instead of building on my strengths, my performance was probably the worst I’ve ever done, luckily my downhill rider Andrew Gibson picked up the slack! I shouldn’t have really been racing in the state I am anyway, I forget sometimes that I’m really only capable of so much, I’m not superman – yet. The night was great though, a big dj tent, and a pumped up atmosphere, we managed to have a great time anyway.
Day two in Mont Sainte Anne was the world cup race (unfortunately I didn’t come to compete in it!), women’s at 11:45 (starring Canadian cycling’s sweetheart Emily Batty), and the pro men’s race at 2:30, with my coach and idol, the amazing mountain athlete Eric Batty.  I had a great time that day hung out with Emily in the morning; – she gave me a permanent marker and I made my “Team Batty” fanboy shirt and then I cheered. All I wanted was to show my support to Eric and Emily, especially Eric. Eric is arguably my biggest supporter, keeping me together and motivated. As my coach he keeps in touch, makes it his mission to keep up with not only how I’m feeling physically for training, but also mentally and emotionally. It’s especially great because he checks in with me, and it does really seem to matter to him.  For Eric’s race I was biking across the mountain to different checkpoints to yell encouragement, I felt just as into it as the racers!
After the race I met up with one of the Canadians I mentioned when I first started my blog! Ross,  the guy I met in the hostel in the mountains in Georgia went out for a couple of laps of the course. WOW. There is no way that I could ride that during a race. Its the kind of course they use to crown world champions, so of course it’s ridiculously tough. Not only is the course super techy, but it hits you when you’re the weakest. I’m talking about tough sections deliberately through the hills, or at the top of steep climbs when you are at your weakest, a truly trying event, it was no wonder that the pros were falling so much.
Day 3 of the weekend was an epic ride day. Woke up and met up with Jon’s coach Peter Glassford, and athletes Jared Stafford, and Andrew L’Esperance. Coffee was brief, then we packed up the condo and went out for our ride. We rode random trails around the hill, then went straight up to the top (a very big climb!). On the way up we met Krista Park of the United States, who rides for Stan’s Notubes, Cannondale, and Osprey packs (sweet!). She was super nice and we trucked up the hill together to the top of the gondola being used for the world cup downhill race, and took some trails down. 
Krista and I on the the way up!

This ride included rivers, waterfalls, stream crossings, and even double black diamond downhill trails. I’m very proud of my bike for staying in one piece, and of me for staying on it at such ridiculous speeds, and such unsuited trails! This was exactly the ride I needed to recharge, I got into a great groove, felt the trail, learned to trust my bike, and rebuilt confidence.
It’s off for another adventure now, I’ll in Algonquin Park for almost two weeks starting Monday the 4th of July. I’ll be camping out at the wildlife research station, working in tandem with another Guelph student and helping out with specimen collection for the the Barcode for Life, which is a global organization trying to determine the genetic DNA sequence of every morphospecies on the planet. This will involve limited (if any) cell phone reception, and internet, and   12-14 hour work days, with no weekends! But I hope to see everybody at the Ontario Cup Next weekend!