The ride didn’t begin with a mass start, thank God. We all had chips and could set off whenever we wanted to in the morning. Slightly soaked from a steady drizzle, I rode over the timer mat and pedaled off alone. A lady at the start told me to turn left and I cruised along for about two kilometers looking for signs or volunteers telling me where to go next. I saw none so I kept riding. After about six kilometers, I realized I was still alone and no one was behind me. The rain continued to fall, the sky was headache gray and I was feeling miserable and pissed off. I turned around and began thinking about quitting the race as I made my way back to the start. After four kilometers, I started seeing other cyclists and they were making left turns at an intersection that I somehow missed. I noticed there were arrows painted on the road telling us where to go, and if I would have studied the materials in my race packet, I would have known this. Yes, I’m an idiot.
About a half hour into the ride, the rain stopped and the skies became sunny and blue. It stayed that way the rest of the day. The roads were fantastic, smooth with only occasional ruts, cracks and potholes. The scenary was beautiful: barns and cherry farms set among the rolling hills. The aid stations were well staffed with smiling volunteers presiding over a buffet of snacks: bagels, pop tarts, energy bars, bananas. There were no mountains, but the climbs were many and some were long and steep. I was thrilled to discover that my climbing muscles have not shriveled up and died during my two years living in pancake flat southeastern Michigan. I felt my best riding upward, my inner mountain goat couldn’t be happier.
At the 50 km mark, it was obvious that if I did the century, it would become a sufferfest. My legs could do it, but my upper body – neck and back – weren’t up to the task. I needed to do longer rides to cover the distance in a dignified manner. I spent a lot of time debating whether I was being a wussy for not doing the century. I concluded that I had done centuries before and didn’t have to prove I could do another one. I also realized that my priorities and interests in cycling have changed. Long endurance events no longer seemed fun and important to me. I didn’t want to spend so much time doing six-hour rides on the weekends. I enjoyed doing them when I lived in China because they filled the void in my life created by my unhappiness with my career and environment. But I’m living a more balanced life now, and there are plenty of other things that I enjoy doing. Three-hour rides suit me perfectly. A one-hour cyclocross race sounds just about right.
I began amusing myself by vowing not to let the triathletes pass me on the hills. They were hard to beat on the flats, with their time-trial bikes and aero bars. But the climbs belonged to me. There was one guy wearing a sleaveless skinsuit that kept passing me as he listened to his iPod. But I’d catch him at the top of the hill and sprint by him with my hands in the drops like Marco Pantani.
I spent the last 20 km racing a guy on a Seven titanium bike. I would open a gap on a long hill but he would catch me by doing a daredevil descent. Once, he narrowly missed a wild turkey that ran across the road. I finally dropped him on a brutal set of rollercoaster hills. But with 10 km left, I stopped to help out a cyclist on the side of the road. The guy was riding a carbon Focus with carbon wheels. He had a flat and was just circling his bike in a mild panic. He had a spare tube but no pump, so I loaned him my pump. He tried pumping up the tire but it wouldn’t hold air. I told him it was time to change the tire, but he just stood there looking at the wheel. Meanwhile, the guy I was racing appeared and cruised by me with a big smile. It became apparent to me that the guy with the flat didn’t know how to fix it. Maybe my new rule should be: If you can afford an $8,000 bike, you can afford a lesson in changing flats and you don’t need my help. Just as I was about to strip off the tire for him, the mechanics truck appeared. I never saw a guy look so releaved before. So I pushed off and tried to catch Mr. Seven.
I can’t remember what my time was, and my chip must have malfunctioned because my name never showed up on the results list. I sent an e-mail to the race organizers about this but they never replied. Would I do the race again next year? Maybe.wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Michigan Mountain Mayhem | No Comments »