Mudslinger XC- April 1st, 2012

Race 2 Oregon XC Series

“I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN” exclaims a male racer somewhere in the woods behind me. Good for you buddy and thanks for sharing. If I were to yell something to the trees right now it would be, “HOLY SHIT BALLS”! Yeah, Mudslinger did not disappoint on the mud, and Mother Nature supplied the freakish amount of rain for a cold spring swim on the bike.

Last year at this time, it was in the mid 50’s in lovely Blodgett, OR (2 hrs south of Portland, OR), the sun was out and the trails were dry. EPIC conditions for a mountain bike race in April. Today however, I geared up in 36 degree temps with intermittent rain, local flooding in the area, and parts of the course under water. Many stayed away, avoiding the terrible sounding weather conditions. But me? I’m like the cat you keep dragging in from the rain, only to run back out under your feet when you open the door again. But I require a bigger towel when I’m done.

Waiting in the rain

22 miles, 3700 ft of climbing should take me 2 hrs and change in ideal conditions, but who knows today. After a neutral roll out to our start at the base of the first climb, we are sent off by category in the cold drizzle. Cat 1 /pro men off at 10:30 AM and then the Cat 1/pro women are sent. Unfortunately, I missed my pedal at “GO” and was in the wrong gear. With local pro Sue Butler (River City) and our own Alice Pennington leading the charge, I missed the bus to pain town, but did my best to catch back on. Legs didn’t feel warm and it took about 10 minutes for me to find a good pace. Hoping I could reach the pack on the climb, I ground away, dropping a couple girls in the process. One of those ladies was Angela Mart (Webcyclery), my nemesis from last years XC series. Angela is one that always seems to find me later in the race so I don’t take any early gains for granted. Unfortunately, my goal of catching the group before the first descent didn’t pan out.

The first downhill into Collarbone alley was into an almost orange colored clay trail. Mud flew off of my wide knobbies like huge chunks of mountain flavored cookie dough. Still ridable, but the mud was deep and speed helped in staying upright. Coming through the ‘Panama Canal’ trail, I held back a little with sections of trail covered in water. Unless someone rides it first in front of you, you never know how deep it is or what is lurking at the bottom. Luckily, I didn’t get thrown face first into 2 feet of muddy water today and cleared all of the water sections (I wasn’t so lucky on 6 hrs of Mt. Hood last year). Early in lap 1 a photographer yelled, “You guys aren’t even muddy”. Don’t worry, we’re just getting started.

smiling on Super Tree trail

The rain was light and the climbing kept my core pretty warm but toes were numb and legs got chilled on the short, fast descents on service roads. Tree canopies helped shield the rain briefly, but those sections were not as plentiful. Then……. I arrived at “Root Down”. If I had a race goal, it would be to clear this section with out getting off my bike. Ha ha ha. Like that is going to happen. Me and wet roots have a painful history together and I had trouble with this section last year in dry conditions. My full suspension Kona Hei Hei Supreme works really well for the rooty stuff.  Too bad it’s at home and I opted for the hardtail 26’r.  Lost a bunch of time here, but the non-rooty sections were kind of ridable in lap 1. Mostly, just getting frustrated with slipping all over the place and not managing my bike very well.

Eventually, Angela caught me on a climb but I couldn’t stay on her wheel. My guess is just took her a little longer to warm up, but her “after burner” had kicked in completely now. I kept her in sight during the long, extended climbs on the dual track as we snaked upward, but by lap 2 I had lost her. And sadly, started to not care either. No idea where I was in the line up but I found the trail was having it’s way with me and it didn’t buy me dinner first.

Pro Alice Pennington getting her mud moneys worth

Teammate Lisa found me inside of lap 1. She opted for the 12-mile singlespeed race, newly added for female racers. Riding the Sellwood shop singlespeed out of the saddle, she bopped up and down like a pogo stick, bouncing back and forth up all of the climbs. “Wow” I thought. Riding all of the climbs out of the saddle is tough. When I finally asked her about her riding style, it turned out she had too much gear for the day, and out of the saddle was the only way she could power up the hills. Bad Ass. Lisa packs a ton of power into her tiny frame, bike and body. I don’t envy her task, even though she gets to be done at 12 miles. Especially when we get to the ‘lay on your handle bar” climb on dual track. One of the steepest sections that requires all of your concentration.  Rough day for singlespeeders here since the grade is about 12% and if you lose your balance in the gravel, it’s pretty hard to get moving again. Many walk this climb.  At the Cat 3/singlespeed lap cut off point, I went right to start lap 2 and Lisa went left to finish (and win) her race. Then she changed bikes and clothes to sweep the course on a geared bike.

Lap 2 was not any more fun for me. The sun came out for a bit but the temps didn’t come up much. Root Down trail was WORSE on lap 2. After 400 riders had tromped over the course, the mud was deep and sticky, chewed up, and really hard for me to power though. I ended up running most of this section if you could call it running. Much cursing was expelled as I stumbled and slipped in the ankle deep muck, running my steed along next to me. Unfortunately, in my attempt to remount here, I proceeded to run the nose of my saddle into the dark side of my moon so hard it hurt for the rest of the race. Ughhhhhh…From the look of it, the day wasn’t going well for some of the men either. On one of the long climbs around “Short Cut”, I passed several guys pulled off stretching, trying to relieve horrible leg cramps including my buddy Charlie from my cycle training classes at C-Velo. He and I went back and forth in lap 2 for a while, and then he ended up leaving me behind once his cramps subsided.

Tight, single-track climbs though the fern covered forest were harder than I remembered and my legs were not the main problem. It occurred to me later that I had been over compensating with tire pressure today after my 3 flats at Echo Red to Red this year and was a little over zealous with the pump. Still running tubes though. I’m in no man’s land with no women in front of or behind me. I don’t really care what is happening on the course, I just want to finish. Insert frustrated face emoticon here.

Returning to the red clay cookie dough, the course had dried some which made this trail WAY worse than before.  So much of this sticky, thick mud collects on my tires that my bike stops rolling completely. Worse than any cyclocross race except maybe Kruger’s Crossing. The trail I am trying to get to is within sight but my bike is so freaking heavy I cannot carry it in this crap to get to the other side. Plucking fist size clumps of clay from my front and rear wheels, it takes all of my effort to drag my disabled pony down the trail.  It is at this time that I get passed by a woman in my group, Elaine Bothe (Sorella Forte). Really? I was actually beating at least one other person but now she has a gap on me. Tired, frustrated and not having any fun. This is supposed to be fun, right? Once I get rolling, my bike throws a party of dirt confetti as the speed dislodges the clinging mud. Happy to be on dryish land and back to the drainage ditches, striping the trail like deep wounds I need to avoid. My body is tired and at least I’m going downhill.  Inside of the last 5 miles and the finish is coming soon.

Returning to the sweeping, open gravel road, the gears go up and I pedal cold quads with what I have left. Just…want…to be…done…Last uphill push to the finish, I spot Charlie.  We had yo-yoed back and forth for a while and he is within reach now. Can’t let this guy beat me, right? Especially since he had commented to me in the past that I beat him at other races. I wouldn’t want to let him down. Bringing my power up, I actually powered past him as he was slogging up the hill to the finish. I don’t need to win, I just need to beat you Charlie. Most fun I had all day.

So happy to be done!

Promoter Mike Ripley finds me after the race. “So, how did you like the race today?”  Answering honestly, “ I didn’t. It wasn’t fun and I didn’t like it”. Sorry Mike. I finished almost 30 minutes slower today than my time last year when conditions were dry and awesome. Maybe next time someone drags this cat in from the rain and dries me off, I should just stay in for the night.

Someone needs a bath


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