Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Double Deathmarch

(At right, Ironmaster's Hostel appears peaceful in its mountain setting.)

The Ironcross event in PA was all Kevin promised and more. Kev must have thought we would not be humored enough by the epic 62-mile backcountry race, so he reserved our lodging in a hostel. Ironmaster’s Mansion Hostel had all the resume points of cool since it sits at the midway point of the Appalachian Trail. But we learned the second that we pulled into the gravel lot Saturday afternoon that there was more to the place than free-loving hikers and porch rocking chairs.

As we pulled into the gravel lot, the manager was outside greeting and indoctrinating us before we could even step into the place. Hosang was convinced early on that the manager was a serial killer, and that she was running out to greet us as the others inside were covering up murders. The spaghetti everyone was eating for instance did not have spaghetti sauce and meatballs but blood and eyeballs. Carol, Laura and I were amused all weekend by Hosang’s conjectures but we started to notice how Kev and Gener took on the look of bored wives every time he made a joke.

Around the hostel, there were signs with angry—no controlling—tones. We were told where we could walk, how frequently and in what stage of dress. It surprised me that the manager granted our request that the men and women stay in the same large room. She originally tried to put us 3 women in a room downstairs near a group of boy scouts but we objected. She probably thought that women who would rather be in a room Kev, Hosang, Gener and McMahon should stay away from the young scouts anyway.

We left for dinner, and upon our return to the gravel lot, we were once again greeted, this time with sharp rebuke. It was 1130 (we had been on a ridiculous search for Wal-Mart) and curfew was at 10. She had, in fact, called the restaurant where we had been to find out where we were. Gener and Laura responded to the discipline by ignoring it as they fought over energy bars in the lot. Manager freaked out, saying they were too loud as she tossed her body between them. I could only think of how loud the boy scouts would be once we entered the place, but she had apparently subdued them since the house was quiet. Gotta give her credit for that one.

Rob, Carlos and H had joined us, and Hosang put in some really bad DVD as we hung out in the TV room. Something about a guy who got freaked out about closets as a kid and lives in a glass house as an adult. We cut that thing off and made jokes about who would be on top in the bunk beds. It was quiet in the bunkroom just before I feel asleep and of course Hosang got the last word in. “Why don’t we all push our beds together?” he pleaded. I think someone said, “Because the manager would hear and come in here and kill us.” There seemed to be lots of concern that we would die in that hostel.

I was not worried about dying until about mile 40 of the 62-mile race the next day. This cyclocross race is in a class all its own. A true cyclocross event lasts an hour or less, involves various terrain and has forced dismounts and run-ups. Well, the organizers have transposed this model into a long event, so all cyclocross attributes are there, but each is stretched out. There was a “run-up” at the 40ish mile point. A run up would take 5-10 seconds in a regular race. This one up a rockslide took me about 15 minutes. It was so steep and rocky that I could barely get one foot in front of the other. Hosang calls this one a "crawl up."

Carrying a mountain bike in such conditions is unbearable, so I had a first class meltdown. I was cussing and nearly crying so insanely that the competitors around me were just plain embarrassed I am sure. I felt better when Cara, the eventual women’s winner, passed me on this run-up and told me she had just been cussing up a storm a few minutes ago herself. She and a few others had taken a wrong turn and were off course for a while. It did not make me feel better though that she was walking up that rockslide quick as a mountain goat.

I finished 5th after riding much of the race with the 3rd place finisher Karen. I could not stay with her on the longest climb of the day at about mile 50 and I fizzled the last hour. Carol finished 6th despite her knee issues. Gilmer would have been in top 15 for the guys had he not got off course and had to backtrack. The organizers have definitely tweaked this course to best suit cross bikes (not so past 2 years) so if I do the race again, I will use a cross bike.

Turns out Robert, Tim and Gilmer had been beating on the hostel door, trying to get in around midnight. We could not hear from the upstairs TV room, but I am very sure the all-knowing manager heard them. She had practiced tough love and did not let them in. I enjoyed myself tremendously though and will return next year.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Draftigious Canttouchthisious

(L-R BJ, Liz, Carol, Laura, Sally, Steph and Mandy pose in MD mud. Photo by Janice Risley.)

If I told myself the truth about some things, I’d never get out of bed. Take the Seagull for instance. I would have stayed right in that overpriced Days Inn in Salsibury had I not lied to myself. Certainly, I reasoned, with heavy rain and 30 mph winds no one will want to ride 100 miles. These women are tough, but they ain’t that tough. Once mud starts going up their noses and aquatic life takes residence in their shoes, it will be short cuts upon short cuts to get the hell back to the cars. So I got out of bed, ate stale muffins, drank very weak coffee and lived the lie.

The U4 and U4.5 teams met on time, but weather was clearly going to hamper our sub 4-hour and sub 4.5 hour goals. Both groups combined and decided to ride a steady pace and “enjoy” the day. Funny that it needed to pour rain for us to enjoy and not compete. From the start, Tim, Tom and Gilmer couldn’t help themselves. They picked up the pace early. A second group formed: BJ, Carol, Sally, Laura, Jay, Harlan, Paul, Art, and me. It got ugly at times. Laura went blind every time rain flooded her contacts, my hipflexers hurt like crazy from new pedals, Carol's knee flared up, we just missed sliding out on top of crash victims. The usual I guess.

But it was with this group of 9 that I pedaled to the gut of what this sport is really all about. It takes extreme weather to remind me that we live and die by the draft. As Hosang in the academic journal TriPower Listserve said:

“They use their cunning ability to help each other shelter from the howling wind and needle-like rain with a rather prehistoric method, only seen in the imagination of our ancestors. This method is called "Drafting" named after the mythological creature (Draftigious Canttouchthisious). This 'drafting' helps create a lesser work load for those behind a lead cyclist, normally, in these conditions, called a 'dummy.' For millenniums these indigenous creatures have roamed the earth with an unknown purpose, but today we can clearly see; they are trying to get from point A to point B.”

The group pivoted on the strongest draft bodies. Harlan, Paul and Art were those most capable. So the five highly outspoken women were transformed into indecisive followers. We’d just look at each other every time Harlan and Paul presented us with shortcut options. At one point we could have made it a 40 miler. Again, 60. Laura would ask Sally, what are you doing. I would look at Carol just knowing she wanted to take the shorter loop but she had little to say. BJ, yes BJ, was strangely silent. That part actually scared me a little. I found myself quite without an opinion because I knew my decisions had to be made by the strongest ones, even though I was absolutely soaking wet.

At mile 70 we were forced to choose. We could follow Paul and do 80 or follow Harlan and do the full 100. I think it really came down to the fact that Harlan is physically a better draft than his slight son Paul that we all eventually joined Harlan to complete the entire 100. Paul even joined back and took his place up front. We were true creatures of natural selection while echeloning behind Harlan, Paul and Art on the causeway into Assateague, rain and wind in a serious uproar. I felt warm and safe but NOT dry.

Things became less primordial once we arrived at civilization on Assateague. We picked up Austin, Pete and Woodhouse. Hosang, K-Dog and Brent chased to catch us at the 80 mile mark after their late start. Our ride time was a respectable 4:50. Tim, Tom and Gilmer finished in 4:30. Frank and Nick finished in the 7 hour range, and Frank H and Arthur also finished. Mandy and Steph opted for the metric century.

Maybe people can comment on some of the fringe stuff . . . !

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The U4 and U4.5ers

(at left Paul has inquired into U4.5 status. Photo by Harlan Ward)

The U4 club is attempting their second under-4-hour flat century this weekend. The women have broken from the men in barbaric fashion and formed a U4.5 club so that we can enjoy a little oxygen for the day while attempting same ride in 4 hours 30 minutes. U4.5 was formed over at the women's coffee table. Despite U4 tyranny and glances from the men's table, we managed to organize ourselves by permitting only one person who held the cup to speak at a time. No matter that 2 cups started circulating. A couple of guys even migrated over and said they'd really like to join U4.5 instead. Robert glared over, eyeing the cup with intent to destroy our new found order.

We all hope to start before the masses so that we have clear roads and will stop only once at mile 60. The Robert Rule "we will wait for no one" will be in effect for U4.5ers also.