Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Friday, August 10, 2012

Of mechanical misfortunes and generous racers

The first weekend  in August marked a race that has been on my calendar since the very start of the year, a race that caps up the series that I had set my mind to as a season goal: the Ontario Mountain Bike Marathon Championships. The course would be 60km in length up in Kingston, which meant lots and lots of rocks, mixed with farm fields, lakesides, and very clayey soil.

Saturday before the race I got out of the house to tool around on my bike and make sure that everything is in good working order. Unfortunately before I could even get to the trails I realized that it was indeed not. There happened to be a tooth missing from my big gear in the front, which meant that any powerful pedal strokes would cause the chain to derail. Firstly this is a problem for the obvious reason that I can no longer sprint, and secondly it puts my chain at an extremely high risk of snapping.  After a quick check in with the bike shop it became apparent that there was no way that I could resolve this problem, so I would have to race without sprinting....hmm..

On the way out the door to Kingston, I got a phone call from my wonderful Mother (anyone who has stayed at our place before a race can attest to the fact that she is the most wonderful woman in the world).  The phone call was warning of the apparent apocalypse to happen Kingston during the race. Too late, I’m out the door. With the wrong tires.

Focused on something while I was coming through the fields

The morning of the race looked like there may be a chance of rain, but the start was dry...For about 2 minutes. The combination of rain and clayey soil meant that racers would have bikes gummed up, gears would work much less effectively (if at all), there would be no traction through the trial, and bikes would get so heavy that they were hard to push even if you were on your feet. I seemed to thrive in these conditions. I quickly realized it would be a game of survival and dedication. I spent my water bottles in the first half of the race to clean out my gears, and would get off the bike every few minutes to scoop the mud by hand out of the wheels and frame. Running sections and picking up and slamming my bike on the ground while doing so would keep me going faster, and get some mud off of the bike. Any times that we would be out in the open, the rain was coming down so hard that my bike would be rideable again, and it was as if all the frogs in the world came for a party in the rainstorm, which was a plus!

After the first 30km we ended up back at the starting line, riding through a barn, and then back across some fields. By this point I was just overtaking the guy in 4th place overall, and doing so with a gusto (the reason that I was back was to fix and clean my bike at a race checkpoint). Upon re-entering the forest however, I found that my rear tire had managed to get a slow leak. How this could have happened in the fields and going through the barn remains a mystery to me, but as soon as I got into the rooty stuff again I felt my rim tapping the obstacles. While attempting to fix my flat, I must have not been thorough enough and missed whatever it was that punctured the tire, because even after checking and throwing a new tube in, it would not hold air. After releasing a dud of a CO2 canister, trying my pump again and again, and another guy’s pump I realized I must have reflatted the same tube while trying to fix it. This left me begging at the side of the trail for who ever would be merciful enough to offer up a new tube. Luckily someone did, but it cost me about a half hour.

The sun came out, and I almost look happy to be running my bike here..

I continued on, podium well out of sight, but I kept my composure and had fun for what the race really is; an adventure on my bike! The trails were awesome, and though my bike wasn’t in great shape from the fine mud earlier, it was still pedalling and I could still enjoy myself! Until out of nowhere my chain dropped off the bike. I glanced at the quicklink chain fixer on my bike and figured “It’s not worth it” and fixed my chain in a very rushed and irate (too many biting insects) manner. When I hopped on the bike again the chain fell off once more; I had forgotten to thread it through my front gear shifter. After rebreaking my chain, and fixing it literally fast as ever, I was off again. By this point racing at a pace quick enough to relieve anybody’s frustration at any mechanical problems.

Bringing it in toward the finish, thinking that I'll outrun the guys on bikes

In the last 5 km of the course my chain was acting up again, so I pedalled softly for a while, then ran it in to the finish. Not my best result ever, but I still had a good time with some great friends, and am happy in knowing that I was comfortably in 4th place overall, more than half way through the race, before they happened. I’ve learned to be extra careful when changing flats and fixing chains, and that mountain bike racers are a great bunch who won’t leave even their competitors hanging dry in the trail. And I still LOVE MY BIKE!
The face says it all right here
Thank you to Dayle Laing for taking photos and sending them to me!

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