Date: June 7, 2014
On March 24th at 2:47 PM I sent Chris the URL “http://www.ramseysrevenge.com“. I said “It’s actually an open date for me and we should be hot off our vacation miles.”
Ramsey’s Revenge was a XC mountain bike race that was being held right here in our back yard in Brandywine State Park and the new First State National Monument. A portion of the proceeds would go to http://farmtoconsumer.org/, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which I think is great.
With no real knowledge of the trails I confidently promised Chris that it would be awesome. Since then, I’ve managed to confuse the matter of who’s idea it originally was, but really it was me. I started us down this trail of blood, bruises, and sweat.
As I write this now, a few days after the race has concluded, I am still very tired, sore, and pretty sure I have a cracked rib. It is bruised at least. Chris is reportedly feeling much the same, though he has a few additional healing cuts and scrapes to show for it. This is what happens when two guys in their 40s who haven’t seriously ridden their mountain bikes for around 20 years decide to go and race on trails described on the event website as “unbridled terrain”.
We pre-rode the course at every opportunity. We became somewhat concerned. It was more technical than we’d expected. After attending a Salsa Bikes demonstration day and riding some 29-inch wheel bikes on the same trails we discovered that our bikes were far more out of date than we’d realized.
Race day arrived and I felt good. My stated goals were:
1. to finish, and not dead last
2. a strong mid-pack result
Warming up the annoying way
I hydrated and warmed up by annoying all bystanders with the droning noise of knobby tires on a trainer. The weather was perfect, 80 degrees and sunny. The Lovely Annalisa and Chris’s family were along to ring cowbells for us and I wanted to put on a show.
Chris and Adrea’s “little” Stefan
At the start I was at least five rows deep in a field of 35 riders. My group, the Cat2 40-49’s, was the largest field of the day by far and I wasn’t assertive enough to go to the front of the line. I decided to go hard at the start and assert myself through pedaling.
Of course, that’s when I got boxed in. It took almost the whole start-loop to get some clear track but when I did, it was into the fast starting downhill and so I put it in the big ring and pedaled my heart out, making up two places on the descent, another one through the fast first sweeper, and a couple more before the off-camber dust cloud corner that slowed the field. I hoped my cheering section saw that!
My start (#248)
I didn’t think I was pushing too hard but raced up the double-track first climb and practically sprinted along the short flat top of the hill dropping into an aero-tuck for the fast descent and then instantly entered into a world of hurt. Where did all my energy go? Maybe I’d overdone it on the start? I still had 15 miles to go!
Fortunately, this is when the singletrack started and I was able to recover. Passing came much more occasionally now since the singletrack required cooperation to fit two racers side-by-side.
Long before I could see it or start to worry about its arrival, I heard a distant cacophony that announced my nemesis… The ROCK GARDEN. I’d only successfully ridden this section of trail a few times, and never easily. It was 29-er country and I always struggled with my smaller wheels. The sounds of cheers, jeers, horns, and cowbells hit me and rolled over my fatigue and apprehension. Ignoring shouted instructions about a fictional “line on the left” I took my favored far-right line and before I knew it, was through it! In race conditions I cleaned it and hot damn!
Rocking the bike I rode to the technical descent on which both Chris and I had crashed during practice runs. Ignoring the shouted warning from the course marshal, I let it roll faster than ever! I concentrated on looking ahead, keeping my weight back, and trying to float like a flutter-by. I was exhausted when I hit the bottom, not refreshed at all.
However I definitely WAS refreshed at the bottom of the next descent, inexplicably named “No White Bikes”, that led onto the big-pedal along the Brandywine River. Down there on the flat I felt my road-legs come on and motored past a few more racers. This is when I discovered I was being tailed by Colin Hoon, the guy who’d taken me on a guided tour of the course the week before. He shouted encouragement, I think because this is one of the very few sections where drafting was advantageous?
I faltered on the technical climb near the end of the lap. Feeling some serious fatigue, I was almost over a steep rocky and root-strewn crest when my rear wheel spun out and I came to a halt. I had to get off and push the bike 10 feet before I could re-mount. That was the last I saw of Colin.
That little mistake took the wind right out of me and I just couldn’t ride to save my life. I developed a stomach cramp in my right side. I lost a spot to one of the riders I’d passed along the river. I couldn’t decide if my left cleat was straight. I tried to hold myself together but was falling apart.
Then I broke out on to the top of the finishing field. I knew The Lovely Annalisa was waiting at the bottom with my teammate and his family with cowbells (and the camera). I pushed hard to build some momentum that I could carry past my adoring fans. I caught the last guy to pass me just as I passed them. I couldn’t look or wave, but heard the bells and shouts as I re-passed him on the brakes into the next turn, and never saw him again.
Lap 2, lining up the pass
I got my picture taken on the big double-track climb.
The cramp slowly cleared over the next few miles. I caught a rider climbing up to the horse field and noticed him go for his water bottle… So I passed him right there! As he struggled to put the bottle back in its cage (or so I imagined, he was already behind me and I wasn’t looking) I heard him call out “What’s your group?”
“40 to 49” I yelled back.
“SHIT” he said.
I never saw him again.
The rest of the lap was a lot of concentrating on not making mistakes and keeping up my momentum. The ROCK GARDEN showed up again, and I somehow managed to clean it a second time and even got my picture taken at the beginning of it.
Entering the ROCK GARDEN
I would screw up the same spot on the final technical climb but it didn’t affect me quite so much this time. I caught up to the rider in front of me just before we reached the top. We came out onto the field nose-to-tail and I hung in until we turned onto the steeper downhill where I carried more speed and ducked into a downhill sprint. I passed and never looked back. I hit my highest speed of the whole race here at over 35 mph and crossed the finish line fully spent.
As I rolled around looking for The Lovely Annalisa, I tried to take a sip from my Camelbak… It was empty.
Annalisa found me, comforted me, and gave me water. About 3 minutes after I crossed the finish line we watched Chris start his race.
Chris leads out
Chris happy at the front
As we waited for him to finish, the results were posted for my race… 5th! Goals exceeded!
My result, 5th place
Chris had a great start off the front of his race, leading the pack at the start and all the way up the first series of climbs. His chain jammed at one point early on and he had to stop to fix it. Several riders passed him while he worked on it but he passed most of them back again. In the end, he blasted down the finish straight to a super-strong 3rd place finish in his first ever mountain bike race. Congratulations!
Chris pounds for the line
Post race BS
Thanks to Dusty, his team of the organizers, and all the sponsors for a great event.
Thanks to Ramsey’s Farm, Brandywine Creek State Park, and First State National Monument for sharing your land and trusting in us.
Thanks to STAMPEDE! for the support.
Thanks to Chris for agreeing to do this, helping me train, and pushing through the pain of practice.
Most of all, thanks to my wife, The Lovely Annalisa, for everything.
Official Results: http://www.midatlantictiming.com
See you on the bike!