There is a series of two triathlons each year sponsored by the YMCA here in Spokane, WA. They are called Plunge, Pedal and Plod 1 and 2. I think I will up the ante so to speak and do the second one, the first one is this weekend and I don’t want to pay the double fee for being late (or embarrass myself in the pool). I would like to do it and just take it slow and have a great “off the couch” time that I can measure future improvements against though, but the $60 late entry fee plus the “fool in the pool” syndrome I might display will keep me out of the water.
So the last time I entered a race “off the couch” it was a downhill mountain bike race. Stupid. I wasn’t cut out for the real one where you actually had to pedal. I just did the downhill one. I would not recommend doing what I did to anyone. Stupid. I think I wound up with a slight concussion and a very bruised ego by the time I made it to the bottom of the hill. Ah, but there are fond memories that me and my daughter will always cherish. Like the time she asked Daddy how did you get all muddy? (It was a hot, summer, and completely dry day!) Who would have thought it would be difficult to coast down a stinking hill!
So the race was part of a series call WIM (Washington-Idaho-Montana real clever of them) and it was at Lookout Pass in Montana. My daughter and wife to be (we married that winter) came along for the trip to frolich in the race atmosphere while I struggled for my life. But I am getting ahead of myself again. I had a friend who was into downhill racing and he had a friend that was a true fanatic. He was ranked and all that. So I am like third generation removed from actually wanting to make a living at this stuff, very removed. Bike riding is for fun for goodness sakes. My thought was I just want to beat one person that makes it down the mountain, how hard could that be? I am actually very competitive, but considering this was when I was just about to graduate from college and was in the neighborhood of 240-250 lbs I didn’t have any delusions about where I was going to wind up on the list. Besides I saw some of the freakish things these guys were doing during a practice run and that cured me of thinking I could really beat anyone that actually practiced this insane sport. I automatically beat those that don’t finish and some of the crazies that wear the body armor wind up not finishing. So just one from the group that finished was my goal. Well, as it turns out, I got to fullfill Bob’s goal if it were the same as mine, he beat me and came in second to last.
The problems started after we finished the practice run. It was a nice easy ride down the hill where at times it was so steep I couldn’t slow all the way down pulling my brakes to their fully closed, mashed against the handlebar position. No I didn’t have the oil filled brakes, or even a shock absorber. In fact I wasn’t even riding a true mountain bike, it was a hybrid. All that would be needed for a fun ride down the mountain. Oh, and in other categories such as protective gear and fashion, I was out of luck there too. I had a helmet and a hybrid bike. I was one of a handful of people in the Clydesdale division (over 200lbs, I wonder if they really think this is a good label?) I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and tennis shoes. They did not have any sense to put me in the last starting place though.
So after the practice run, the one where I made all the muscles in my arms sore that squeezed the brakes all the way down the hill, I had my brakes adjusted. Like I know anything here. I was just thinking I want to be able to stop if I want to stop so they need to be moved a bit back from the handles so they can be squeezed further. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. I did not bother to do another practice, just tossed my bike on the truck that took everyone back to the top and lined up for the race.
So every minute they let another person go. It was inspiring to see everyone heading off through the switchbacks pedaling downhill at top speed. Very inspiring. It made me want to try all that much harder than I thought I wanted to —just a slim 30 minutes earlier during my practise run. I was going to be putting on a show for the people behind me, I can’t look like I am headed off to grandma’s house on a Sunday afternoon. I had to look like all the other maniacs pedaling at full speed down a hill on a gravel trail with sharp switchbacks. Yeah, that was smart. I wanted to fit in. Well, it didn’t work.
I was the only guy to pedal off the corner in one of the switchbacks and flip over the handlebars after hitting some ground shrubs while trying to turn. I was like 30 feet from the guy that had just said go when the watch hit the second of my impending doom. I looked up and I swear he was going to run down and help me up, I wasn’t going to have any of that so I just pointed my bike through the shrubs and got back on the trail. I took it a little slower…
By the time I got out of the little switchback area and onto the logging road I was out of site of anyone and thoroughly embarrassed. Also of great concern was that the brakes were sticking out so far thanks to the adjustment I could hardly squeeze them to slow down. My forearm muscles were at their fatigue point and I still had miles of downhill braking ahead of me.
The middle section of the trail was quite easy and all I did was coast a little faster than desired which bumped and jostled my arms to the point that would make jello spontaneously melt. This, by the way is what my arms felt like. So now the interesting thing happened. As a rule, during a downhill bike race, if you are caught —the person behind has the ball so to speak. They are doing better than you anyway, so you just get the hell out of their way. They tell you which side they are going and you move for them. So the obvious thing to do is take the best path, if one is better, and scream at the guy in front of you. So here I am on the slanted logging road, slanted both downhill and sideways. There coincidentally is a small stream so small that it is just oozing across the road. It is about 2 feet wide on the right-uphill side, and about 5 feet wide on the left-downhill side.
“ON YOUR RIGHT!! ON YOUR RIGHT!!” I hear with dread.
My first thought is this SOB is going to pass me at the exact point where the one little drizzle of a stream hits the bloody trail. The water is moving so slow there is algae growing in it and there is a big mud bog on the left just off the trail/logging road. I tried to slow down, but the jello wouldn’t respond to the frantic electrical signals my brain was sending, so I just moved to the left and tried to go straight.
No luck there either, I hit the algae as the fore mentioned SOB passed me, and the tire took a little dive down hill. I slid off the trail and into the mud bog. My tire got stuck in the mud and I, with much momentum and fear, flew over the handle bar. And not for the last time either.
Now it is time for my public service announcement. Wear a bike helmet as you don’t know when you’ll need it. This is the one and only time I ever needed my helmet. But I got a mild concussion just the same. The face and the forearms landed straight in a muddy puddle and started to sink in. The helmet made contact with a water logged piece of wood about 2 inches in diameter. A loud snap spelled doom. It was the wood, not me. I came barreling down the hill and ruined it’s day good.
The next thing I remember is someone in the distance shouting “man down, man down, man down.” I lift my head up, which took some effort to release from the suction created by the mud. I now see that I must have conked out for a few seconds and the last thing I wanted was to be seen in this compromising position. I got up as fast as I could which was not very fast at all and stood there with my bike while the cobwebs faded.
“Are you ok?” the guy asked me. “Yeah,” I said. So he acted as if I was a racer and helped me start to push my bike and urged me on. If I was alone I think I would have just walked down the hill for a bit. But he got me motivated, I jumped on and off I went again. The only entrant that year to finish up completely covered in mud!
Not two corners later I now hit the final steep stretch which ends with a super sharp corner to the left. The corner cannot be taken more than say 10 miles per hour since there is no banked edge to ride around. So I start getting all worried about being able to slow down. I still don’t know how it happened but the next thing I know a bump in the road and my confidence had my diving over my handlebars again. This time it was right in the middle of the trail and my waist got hung up on the handle bars. Now this is hard to imagine so follow closely. I know it was hard for me to even believe at the time. The bike kind of fell down on top of me. Its like I twisted on the handle bars to be at 90 degrees from them and the bike sort of just fell forward and the back tire landed on top of my head.
I am sliding off the trail and hit a giant evergreen shrub which completely stops my forward momentum in a very kind and gentle manner. the problem is I kind of slid under the shrub and now with my legs still on top of the handle bars the back of the bike had me pinned to the ground with the branches of the shrub I was wedged under locking me up tight. It’s like hog tying yourself with a bicycle. Come to think of it I guess I did need my helmet one other time.
“Man down, man down, man down,” is all I heard from the guy yelling in his radio as he ran up the hill to help. Now I was mad. I was not about to have some guy unpin me from under my bike. This became my new goal in life for those next few seconds. Get free before he made it those last 50 yards.
I started thrashing about. pushing and pulling and jerking every which way just to loosen up the whole pile of tangled bike, body, and bush. How freaking embarrassing.
I did manage to get out, but not quite stand up before he made it there to help. I just walked to the corner as my brakes were not going to work, obviously. Hopped on and rode to the finish through a stunned crowd of onlookers at seeing the only muddy participant riding to the finish.
“How did you get all muddy Daddy?” is about the last thing I remember from that day, as the emotional excitement, the kind that has you worrying not only if you will live, but if you are going to be laughed at while you don’t.
You will only find me in civil bike races from here on out (think triathlon), no more downhill maniac behavior from me!