The Wilderness 101, being a 100+ mile MTB race, does certainly have many peaks and valleys to traverse. If there is any doubt about the amount of climbing contained in this race, it will quickly vanish upon seeing the hill profile of the course. Climbing is my friend; however, so it is not the amount of climbing or descending in the 101 that caused me difficulty on August 1, 2009. Like I have mentioned before, I always start my races with some sort of a game plan. My plan for the 101 was to stay near the front, with the geared riders, as long as possible and to keep my eye on the other single speed racers around me. But, just like at the Breck 100 Race two weeks ago, my game plan fell apart quickly.
After the first long climb, a group of about 20 riders was able to separate from the main pack. This group was comprised of all the main contenders of the race and two single speed riders: Matt Ferrari and me. Matt and I hung on to the pace set by the faster geared guys until about mile 20, when finally we both dropped off the pace. Since there was nobody in sight behind us, we both seemed happy to just ride together and keep our eyes on each other. We also had a geared bike rider with us and the three of us seemed to be working together pretty well together.
Other than getting dropped by the main group of geared guys, I thought things were going pretty well. But, then, on one of the first technical single track sections of the race, I must have pinched my rear tire on a rock. I noticed it slowly going low about 4 miles before check point 2. Even with my Stan's Sealant, the tire only held air for about another mile before needing to be repaired. I couldn't believe that I flatted again at the beginning of another NUE Series Race when I was feeling so good. I was hoping that I did not have the same repair issues that I had only two weeks early. You can only imagine how thrilled I was that my tube change had no issues. You can also imagine the disgust that followed when my CO2 canister would not inflate the tube. I was stuck and desperate, again. Luckily, another good Samaritan racer offered me the use of his pump, when I stood on the trail side begging.
I figure I lost about 5-10 minutes to Matt after my flat and knew I had my work cut out for me since he was a local strong rider and was very familiar with the race course. After my flat repair, I rode alone on a slightly downhill fire road, before being caught by a group containing 4 geared riders and 2 single speeders (Gunnar and Roger Masse). I was actually glad to see them and to "hitch" a ride with the group until check point #2, but at the same time, I now knew that I had two fast single speed racers to battle against. Masse had a super quick stop at the check point and probably put 20 seconds on me there since I had to add more air to my tire (added protection against a 2nd flat) as well as grab some nutrition. During our check point stop, Gunnar somehow lost sight of Roger and I leaving, so he was left behind and not to be seen again. Seeing Roger leave the check point quickly made me rush to leave also. It wasn't until a mile or so down the road that I remember Gunnar telling me during our paceline that my seat bag was open and that there was nothing in it. Great! Now I have no tools, no CO2, no tubes, no nothing until the next check point.
I caught Roger on a big climb after checkpoint two. He rode with me for a short while, but I was able to put a pretty good time gap on him by the top of the climb. I was now in my chase mode and began to focus on catching each rider in front of me. I must admit it is much better for me to be the hunter rather than the hunted. I came into check point three feeling pretty good, grabbed two bottles of Gator Aid and my waiting CamelBak of water. Of course being in a rush again, I completely forgot about asking for a spare tube and would do so at all remaining checkpoint.
Leaving check point three there is a sharp left turn that leads up a steep, root and rock covered piece of single track. On this trail, Harlan Price tells me that the other single speeders were right in front of me. It was only a few seconds later that I had sight of Ferrari again. I caught him pretty quickly and told him of my mechanical. I also checked with him to see if any other single speeders were out in front of him. He said the guy immediately in our sight, Joe Kedrowski, was a single speed rider. By the end of the single track, I was able to get by Matt and Joe. Seeing that I had put a gap on them, which put me into the lead again, gave me a good burst of energy. Like the other highs I felt during this race, it was also short lived, however.
Since I was feeling good again, I went back into the single track pretty fast. I then rode into a rock garden on the trail and proceeded to smack my big toe on a rock. The pain of that impact numbed my toe instantly and left it feeling irritated until the finish of the race. I fought through the pain, though, and was able to get into a pretty good grove again. It certainly makes me feel better when I can look over my shoulder around each bend and see that no one is chasing. At this point in the race, my legs felt really good and I was still catching geared riders on the climbs and passing them. I thought that if I could just stay smooth and continue riding strong, I might be able to win this race. As it has seemed to go all season, though, it would be too easy for me to just finish a race without adding some type of drama.
My drama came on the long rocky descent a few miles before check point 4. This descent is always a little sketchy, but the rain received the day prior made this thing nasty. Part way down this thing, I hit a wet mossy rock that caused me to eject from my pedals, which also caused me to lose my balance. Off to left side of the trail was a super steep and rock cover slope, basically it was a cliff. Me and my bike were pointed directly towards going off of this cliff and if we did, I knew it was going to be ugly. Somehow, and don't ask me how, I managed to free myself from my bike, but unfortunately my bike still took a trip over the cliff. I watched in horror as it bounced from one rock to another rock for about 10-15 feet before coming to rest. My first thought was that this was the end for my bike and that I was going to be plagued by a race ending mechanical.
I climbed down the rocky slope to examine my bike and collect my strewn about water bottles. I spun the wheels and looked for any noticeable major damage, but saw nothing. I then hiked back up to the trail with my bike in hand, all the time wondering if a rattle snack was going to jump out from behind one of the rocks I was clinging on to so tightly. I thought that a rattle snake bite would fit perfectly to the way things were going for me during the race. Fortunately, there were no snakes hidden in the rocks and after finishing the descent with my bike intact, it seemed that my bike was good, too. I still can't believe my bike survived that ordeal without any major damage.
Believe it or not, I continued the rest of the race, about 30 miles, without any others issues. I did not even need to go into survival mode because physically, my legs and the rest of my body seemed to be working fine, minus the toe, of course. I can certainly say that if nothing else, these NUE Series Races have been teaching me the meaning of perseverance. Overcoming obstacles, maintaining motivation and doing what I can to finish these races strong does seem to be a regular occurrence for me recently. I guess as long as I continue finishing on a peak instead of in a valley, all that happens in between the start and finish is good. In this case, I was able to maintain my lead for the remainder of the race and finish with a time of 8 hours and 5 minutes. This now gives me 3 NUE Series Race Wins and a pretty strong lead on the Series Win.
Happy Trails - Gerry