MTB in SB Blog
Friday – November 14th
After working until 2, I jump on BART back to Berkeley in time to get packed for a trip to Santa Barbara. Saturday is my first mountain bike race and I can’t wait to get down there.
Six hours later I’m squeezing in the back of Rob’s car, the team President, with the WCCC (Western Collegiate Cycling Conference) trophy on my lap. This will be our last chance to outrace Cal-Poly for the conference title.
We stop to pick up Antoine, a 22-year-old Frenchman studying Mechanical Engineering. Since he’s from France there’s only one topic of conversation: Le Tour de France, at least for the first two hours. He’s seen a few stages but is more into mountain biking. I cringe at his lost opportunities but he doesn’t seem to mind. I grill him on all the French cycling terms: rouleur, grimpeur, soigneur, domestique, tarmac, et cetera.
After a while we talk about the election and French politics, but always back to cycling. Eventually we both pass out. We wake up as we’re pulling into a grocery store parking lot. Food! We’re still at least an hour away but we’ve got food so I could care less. I buy enough food for a week. We’re on vacation so I’ve got none of the usual food guilt. That means sugar topped blueberry muffins and, well that’s the extent of my splurge. Antoine makes a comment about me not being hungry. I chuckle at how stereotypically American I am. Anytime is a good time for carb loading. It’s easy for him to say though, he’s super lean and has less to feed!
Finally we arrive at the race area. It’s too late for us to go on to our teammate’s parents’ (not sure about those apostrophes) house 35 miles away. Plus this way we’ll get an extra half hour of sleep in the morning. I roll out my sleeping bag and kick myself for not bringing my sleeping pad. Antoine, the smart Frenchman he is, has brought a blow up mattress. I’m not French enough to ask him to share though. The ground isn’t that hard and I fall fast asleep.
Saturday – November 15th
I awaken to the cool morning air and bright sunlight. It’s still early so I roll back into the fetal position and try to sleep. Unfortunately, the muffins from the night before along with a bit too much kefir have done a job on my stomach. Fortunately, there’s a row of porta potties (sp?) near registration.
A lot of the other schools have slept outside as well although they look better prepared. I put on my bike gear and begin riding around. I still have a few hours before my race but I like a lot of time to warm up.
The atmosphere is tangibly different from at road races. For one, most of the people here seem hung over and I hear the word “bong” about as often as “bike.” Two, no one is warming up.
Undeterred, I set out to ride some of the course. It’s my first time mountain biking on a trail so I take it easy on the downhills. Sure enough, I can still ride dirt. I was hoping my younger years of bmxing in the woods and jumping bonfires would come in handy and it does.
The men’s As start their race and the butterflies begin. I still have an hour but I’m anxious because I know what’s coming. Pain, pain, pain. I ride a bit more and then get ready to go.
It’s go time. I ride to the line full of jitters.
“15 seconds gentlemen” says the race official.
The whistle blows and it’s a dead sprint into the first turn. We head off along a flat straightaway. The area is super dry so there’s tons of dust and I’m about to choke. Up the first climb we go. Once again no one else is as wooed by my climbing skills as I am.
We go along more flats until we hit the first little downhill. It’s pretty rocky but I handle it fine. Then it’s off to the first big climb.
Going up I shift into a bigger cog and sure enough, the derailleur I neglected to align earlier is still unaligned. Plus these hills aren’t like road biking hills, they’re steep! Some parts I have to get off and walk the bike up. I realize too how much of the technical aspect to mountain biking I lack. Every time I stand up to crank the back wheel slips but when I sit down and crank it hurts to bad.
I continue to have shifting problems on the climb. I curse Calder whose bike I’ve borrowed. I curse his poor maintenance like it’s a moral issue. Then I lay into the bike until I realize I should be grateful I still have air in my tires. That lasts until the next hill. This time I get the chain caught above the chainstay. I had just passed a teammate who was racing in the Bs so he stops and helps me. Three Cal-Poly riders pass me. They’re the same ones I’ve already passed twice.
Finally I get going again and try to chase them down. I pass one who goes off to the right to let me pass. I’m shocked since that’s not exactly something you see in road racing. The joys of single track.
As I get near the finish I make sure my mask of pain is on. People are watching, photos are being taken, I have to show the pain that is bike racing. Okay but really, this doesn’t take much effort. I’m dying.
I’m unable-or unwilling?-to catch the three Cal-Poly guys and I cross the line an uncontested 7th. I’m a bit pissed about not having 4th due to the mechanicals I had. I have no excuse good enough for not being 1st.
After an hour of lying down I decide to try the slalom course out. We need all the points we can get as a team so I figure I might as well try to race it. I hit the first jump and get some good air. Then I hit the rollers. Unlike jumps, getting air on rollers, unless you can clear them all, is very bad. I fly over the bars and smack my head on the ground. I stumble as I try to stand. My helmet is broke and I’ve got scrapes on my arms and legs. So maybe I won’t do the slalom.
I go get bandaged and catch word that a teammate is planning on riding back to SB. That’s more my speed. We load up with food and water and head out an hour later.
We ride along 154 and he’s really cranking. The teammate is Lucas, a cat 2 road racer who wants to do some “base” miles. “Base” miles are usually done at a lower intensity but his base is a bit higher than mine. I do my best to hold on until we get to the pass. Supposedly it’s 2500 ft but it looks monster. Thankfully he raced the As race so he raced three times as long as I did. Thus, I’m able to keep up.
We climb and climb and climb. After more false summits than I can count we see the sky ahead. I, remembering the whole time that he’s ridden farther than I, decide to attack. My legs go along with that decision for a whole 5 seconds until I sputter to a slow grind and watch Lucas take off up the hill. Like the man says, you can take the boy out of the jalopy but you can’t take the jalopy of the boy.
Finally I make it over. Lucas is stopped admiring the view of the ocean. I pee behind a bush and then we head down.
We go 30-40 downhill long enough for me to get tired of descending. First I whine about the ascents, then the descents. Blah, blah, blah.
Eventually we make it to the house we’re staying at. They’re blocks from the beach so we go dip ourselves in the cool water.
The rest of the night is a blast. The teammate’s mom is very into growing her own produce so we talk a lot about local co-ops they have in SB. That’s until I find out she’s Jewish, then I give her the full history of Zionism.
Having watched Home Alone far too many times as a kid, I make sure tell a few teammates I’ll be sleeping the backyard. Then I retire to the hammock out back and fall asleep under the stars.
Sunday – November 16th
I hear someone tell me it’s time to wake up. My body is super sore so I’m slow getting up. I wonder how on Earth people are able to stage race. I decide there’s no way I can race today. Moments later I’m sharing this decision with a teammate over bagels. Another one overhears and asks “you came down to race bikes right?” “Uh, yeah…” I mutter. Helluva salesman.
Next thing I know I’m back on the trail cryin’ “ma-ma!” It’s the short track race though so it’ll be over soon. On the climb I pass on the right and the kid comes over into me. “Sorry dude” I say as I knock him off me to avoid the edge. I feel bad for half a moment then realize that’s just bike racing.
Four laps later I’m on my last lap. Out of nowhere I’m passed by a Cal-Poly rider. We come up on a technical portion. “Come on grandma, that’s the ticket, there you go…” I’m trying to psyche him out. A few turns later it pays off because he eats it on a U-turn. I look behind and when I see no one I pedal lackadaisically toward the line. I finish an uncontested 6th.
Hours later the downhill race starts so I go watch the guys scream down the hills. It’s utter insanity. I’ve never seen downhill before so I’m stunned.
Finally, the podium ceremonies finish and we all pack into the van and head home. Lucas, the guy I rode to SB with is in the same van. There’s also Jordan, a Freshman mountain biker, in the car who’s pretty good. He’s considering racing road this coming season.
“Should I just attack from the start?” asks Jordan.
“Yep, just go off the front and don’t look back.” replies Lucas.
“Um, yeah, I would say maybe not. That’s a good idea if you’re, well, Lucas but you might want to hang tight near the front for the first half to just see how you feel because you could, you know, attack then blow up and be caught.” I say prudently.
Lucas persists. “What you do is attack hard off the front. Then once you’ve got a gap, you attack again, and then you attack your own attacks...”
Attack your own attacks. I write it down in my journal and begin to dream of next season...
Friday, November 21, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I wake up at 645 and eat some granola. I begin to consider working on a paper instead of riding. This means it's time to get out the door. I haven't worried about that paper all week but the minute I know something hard is coming I'm dying to work on it.
Most of the way out, through I guess Lafayette and part of Danville, is peaceful because of the holiday. Everyone's doing the sensible thing and staying at home. Finally, I make it to Diablo and begin to ascend. The first part's candy like it always is. Let the ego get nice and inflated. I see the sign for 1000 ft. Ahh, that was easy I think. Then I remember that first 1000 is basically a freebe since you start at around 500.
I make it up to the ranger station which I guess is about half way up, around 2000 feet. I'm feeling good so I keep going without stopping. Five minutes later it hits. Out of nowhere I look down and I'm going 5 mph and soaked in sweat. I've bonked. I think it's around the same spot as it happened last time.
Finally the last switchback comes. I feel a little magic in my legs and get out of the saddle to crank. I look up to realize that magic wasn't in my legs, it was in the grade. The road has flattened out considerably. I take what I can get.
Around the last turn and up the narrow, steep walkway to the summit. "Ma-ma, ma-ma." That's all I can ever say at this point. I try to focus on the ground below. When I look up and see how far away the summit is it hurts worse.
So sweet. But only for that first coast across the parking lot. Once I arrive at the water fountain it's all over, just like always. Back to "how do I look?" and all that other crap.
I survey the sights a bit. Clouds are covering most of the bay so I can't even see Berkeley. I call Chris. Blah, blah, blah. Playtime's over so I head down.
The descent is amazing. I stay around 30 most of the way down which is pretty fast for me. A few times I pull an "oh shit!" because I choose a bad line (read: almost go over the edge). That doesn't stop me from barreling around the next turn.
I get closer to the bottom and I hear the dreaded question: "why aren't you going back up??" "Um, uh, uh, well, time is, uh, an issue." No excuse. Back to the homework, "oh yeah, I've like got that paper I really wanted to work on, you know the one I wanted to do instead of ride this morning, yeah." So I think to myself the same thing I always think when there's the question of going further "what would Chris do?" Shit.
I get to the residential area at the bottom and turn around. I eat my last bit of food, put it in a low gear and begin the climb. Going up the first time I kept worrying about my white handlebar tape that was turning brown from my gloves. This time I could care less.
I see the 1000 ft sign again and then the ranger station around 2000 ft. I begin thinking about doing it a third time. Typical. One thing I love about riding far is watching the ego at work. First it was "you should stay home" and then "you should go back home, you don't have time to do it again." Then it switches to "hey you should do this three times! or four!" Keeping me safe and comfortable but completely unfulfilled.
3000 feet. Not hurting too bad because I haven't been going that hard. I hit the last switchback and again get the surge of energy. It'll be over soon.
The last stretch. Same story, I get out of the saddle and try not to look up at the summit.
Ahh, 10 more seconds of pure glory. No one claps and I wouldn't be able to hear it if they did. I refill my water bottles, take a quick glance at the vista and head down. This time I take it easy on the turns knowing if I ate it I wouldn't be able to get up! I have no thoughts of going for a third.
On the way down everything is fine until a car crosses the yellow line. They aren't close to hitting me-I'm familiar with the ways of cars-but it does piss me off. I give the cyclist snarl! It's funny to see how quickly I go from "ah, what a nice descent" to indignant.
A little more time passes, at least until the next car crosses the yellow line. So much for my spiritual experience. This one laughs! "Yeah it's funny, except it's my life!" I think. Until I realize she was just remarking about how quickly I went from 0 to victim! I smile and keep on pedaling.
Near the bottom I see a few cute cyclists riding up. Still no thought of a third, I'm dead.
I pedal on toward Danville, thankful it's mostly downhill. And that there's food waiting. I know just the trick, a little black magic. Yep, I decide I'm gonna do it. A whole cup of decaf...with sugar! That'll do it.
I arrive in Danville only to find out the Peet's is 15 minutes away-it was probably only a few blocks but the guy saw my condition. I pass by the Starbucks right across the street. With all my 1 cups of coffee per month I still have to be a snob about it. No relief.
I see a "High Tech Burritos" place, bolt in front of a few cars and dodge the truck that almost runs me over. I pout my way through the whole burrito over this. Danville this, Danville that. Despite the mediocre taste of such a technical burrito it still does the job. Blood sugar is back to normal so I head next door for that cup of coffee.
Sure enough. A few sips and ol' Tin Man is back to moving like (insert very smooth mover). I call the grandparents, text Chris, and finally muster up the energy to get back on the bike.
The rest of the way home is pretty easy, excepting anything remotely uphill. I end up near Orinda and don't feel like taking Wildcat all the way through Tilden. I just on 24 and head to Fish Ranch Road.
Two hours later Hunter, my roommate, finds me on the floor naked and napping on my yoga map. Livin' the dream...
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Today I woke up early and started to get ready to race. Earlier this week I decided it was time to do my first cyclocross race. I saw one a few weeks ago and caught the bug.
I was able to round up a really sweet mountain bike and some shoes and was set. I left the house a bit early to ride over to campus and try the bike out. I hadn't ridden on dirt since I was in middle school. It took all of two minutes for me to start planning my next two-wheeled investment. I head over to a friend's house and we head for Candlestick Park.
We show up, okay my past tenses are getting messy so please excuse any changes in narrative. Anyways, we get there and there are lots of bikes and lots of people in costumes. I assume all the costumed ones are racers since costumes are often worn at cyclocross events. I'm wrong. Apparently there's a rave going on that began at 4 AM near the park where the race is. Unfortunately the party isn't close enough for us to hear the techno.
I check out the course and Oliver and I do a warmup lap. The course is awesome and I'm excited to get started. The race is five hours away though so I decide to head over to the rave. I ride through and it has the makings of a pretty typical rave-only it's daylight out and in a park! I'm wearing my spandex bike gear so I get lots of cheers. I head back over to the race area and get settled...
One o'clock rolls around and I'm back on the bike getting warmed up. I do some good warmup laps and then roll over to the start. I stay near the back so, well I say it's because I don't want to get trampled. The truth is I don't want to try and hang with the guys up front.
Everyone takes off but quickly slows down going into the first turn. The first lap is pretty congested because it was a field of 85. There are a ton of big hills and I'm able to occasionally move up a spot or two since the mountain bike gives me an advantage on them. These gains are quickly erased by my poor dismounts but that's another story.
Things are starting to settle a bit, the pack has spread out. I start to wonder how much longer we have, mostly because it's hurting. These guys are fast. I'm able to stay up though and though the straightaway.
Some other lap.
Okay this hurts. Legs are aching from the hills and my hands are getting a bit worn from the vibrations. I'm hanging in the back half but definitely getting tired. I'm no longer flying up the hills like I was earlier. After one of my efforts I go into an easy turn but I'm so worn that I eat it. Right into the dirt. I'm officially a cross racer. I get up quick to make sure no one crashes into me. Fortunately no one is behind me. Unfortunately that means I'm either in the lead and I just blew some of it-unlikely-or it's because I'm way back.
Three laps to go.
I get back to going; no lasting effects from the crash. I've managed to also bang my arm pretty badly on one of the dismounts. The "3" sign couldn't have come at a better time. I get a burst of energy knowing I'll be done soon. Around this point I'm probably a few minutes off the leaders. I pass two of the many recreational photographers scattering the course, who, by the way, will take pictures of anything on two wheels. I put on my best smile but they're too busy cleaning their lenses. Tough crowd.
Two laps to go.
I'm pretty dead by now. I have to carry my bike up some of the hills. I try and surge a bit but want to save some for the last lap.
Alright here goes. I'm still riding hard although things are getting sloppy. I'm dying. This is it. I'm passed on the last straightaway and crank harder. He's too fast, and then it's over. I catch up to him after the finish line. "Nice race mountain biker!" That's all the recognition I need.