Saturday night I was plagued by the phantom sensations of skating over slick rocks and roots and of my front wheel getting twisted out of my control by piles of baby heads and jagged beachball rocks. My body could still feel the jarring impacts of high speed root drop offs. Burned into my ocular nerves were the slashing angles of off-camber roots stretching off in infinite quantities to a vanishing point somewhere far off in the undergrowth.
My thoughts flickered like sun dapples on gravel road during a 30 mph bomb-run descent. There were plenty of those. The back woods gravel roads were more of my forte. The Mohican is like the bastard son of a solid single track race and a purebred gravel grinder. The entire route is scenic…beautiful. The topography and geology are very similar to my home turf. There were sandstone boulders along the trails. There were rolling ridges covered in hardwoods forests. But if I wanted to push my bike up muddy hills I could do that at home. And I’m not talking about the footdabs over techy obstacles. There were two or three too many mandatory hike-a-bikes.
|Looking up and down the first mandatory hike-a-bike|
Sunday morning I woke up with my body a Mormon Tabernacle Choir of aches and pains. I Frankensteined my way to the bathroom muffling my whimpers so everyone else could keep sleeping. Tom was up, but he’s an early riser. When I came out he was silhouetted in the window by the pre-dawn sunlight. He was wearing his new bike helmet. He’d picked up a Poc from a guy after the race for a good deal. Had he…really…worn it to sleep? Then my eyes focused and saw he was also wearing his jersey. He was going out for one last ride before we headed home. I’d had my fill. Or at least, my body had. My mind would have loved an early morning ride with the Proofer extraordinaire.
I've said it before and it’s been true with the 2014 Mohican...I've ridden less and felt worse. I wasn't wrecked when I finished. The 100 miler would have wrecked me. I was really glad I didn’t choose the longer route like Jeff did. Jeff was wrecked. He went farther than he should have by his own admission. Sunday morning he didn't move until long after the rest of us were up and ping-ponging around the hotel room getting ready for the long trip home.
"I guess we could strap him to the hood of the jeep like a deer," I told Casey as she tried in vain to wake him. I felt bad. No, I felt good, and that made me feel bad for Jeff. It wasn’t right. I was always the one barely hanging on while he looked like he could go another 40 miles.
When I first saw Mandy and Casey on Saturday I was half an hour down on Jeff. I blasted through Aid Station Two, fought my way through Tree Frog and when I got to Aid Station Three where the courses split they said I was half an hour—maybe forty-five minutes—behind Jeff. Of course neither one of us got in much training. Neither one of us did a fraction of the riding we did over the same few months in 2013.
|Jeff at Aid Station Three|
|Looking worse than I felt at AS3|
|Tomahawk after a hard morning of Proofing|
I foresaw that reality and signed up for the 100k. I knew how hard the first twenty-some odd miles were and I knew I wasn’t going to be in good enough shape to enjoy suffering for four times that distance. Three times the distance was enough self-mutilation for me. After a few conversations after the race last year I thought Jeff would sign up for the 100k too. When he said he had signed up for the full monty I was a bit surprised considering he had finished the longer route last year and had proclaimed he’d come back and do the 100k but not the 100 mile route again.
We talked about this later, that after you DNF and some time passes you forget how bad it was. It’s like when women forget the pain of childbirth after a few months and decide it wasn’t so bad so honey, let’s have a few more. Until they’re 50 miles into it and cursing their husbands, their husbands’ first grade teacher, and the milk man. I’m not equating the amazingness of having children with taking home a medal or pint glass after a mountain bike race, but for men it might be easier to relate to that way. Sorry ladies.
I signed back up and had no intention of going back to the Mohican. Jeff signed back up for the 100 miler again. Tom talked about Proofing all year. Ah, Tom had the best of both worlds. He got the swag. He got the t-shirt. He got the meal ticket. He got to ride quite a bit of the route. And he didn’t have to pay the entry fee. He almost had Jeff and I talked into going back as proofers. Except Jeff was pretty sure he’d get stuck proofing the Tree Frog section.
I was about half an hour behind Jeff at the Aid Station Three split. Just before the rest stop there is a section of brutal technical downhill singletrack through the Tree Frog Canopy Tours property. It was after Aid Station Two and another hike-a-bike, and a downhill that, to me, was unrideable (because I value the health of my collar bones and dental work) that I decided if I wanted to push my bike up muddy hills and walk singletrack that was too difficult for me I could probably just tool around in the oil fields near home for free. Yeah, I decided it wasn’t worth driving 12 hours round trip and struggling to get in shape and fretting over the bike and my body and then have to walk so much.
Like many others, I came into Aid Station Three cursing Tree Frog and vowing not to return to the Mohican. I only had one thought of quitting at Aid Three. I instantly stomped that squirmy amphibian to jelly. I was going to finish the race. There was no second DNF in Loudonville for me. I wasn’t going to pedal impotently past the Welcome to Loudonville (Quitter) sign again.
|Happy cows, sad mountain bikers|
It looked like a gravel version of Tussey Hill
I hadn’t caught Jeff. And being so close behind him I was certain to get to the finish first. I’d briefly had hopes of beating my Alpine Odyssey time of 6:45 for a 100k around noon when I’d been out five hours and had about twenty miles to go. Once I was back on gravel and rural roads I really put the spurs to ‘er and did my best to make up some time. At Aid Three my hopes of slashing that time were dashed, but when Tom (who had proofed from Three to the finish) said it was one big climb, a lot of roads, and the final singletrack section from Aid Five to the finish my spirits soared.
I didn’t look like much at Three, but I felt pretty darn good. I’d had a distinct second wind after seeing Mandy and Casey and because I had spent so little time at the first two aid stations I afforded myself a proper rest at Three. As I was getting ready to get on the bike and head out another racer nudged me and pointed at my Leadville Race Series jersey.
“Which do you think is harder?”
“This one is technically harder, but Leadville has the altitude and the big climbs.”
He agreed. The Mohican is no giveaway. You can’t just power your way through. You have to have the chops to get you through the hard riding. And you have to have the mental toughness to persevere beyond those moments when you feel like you can’t go on. You have to have faith that a second wind will come. And maybe a third. And a fourth. It’s hard to know when your reserves have been completely depleted and you have nothing left to pull from.
I’d had my second wind after getting past Aid Station One and seeing my lovely and amazing wife and hearing her voice tell me I was looking good and that I was doing great. I had more energy then. My resolve was solid.
When it weakened going through Tree Frog it only took seeing the crew again to boost my spirits and find a wellspring of energy. Heading for Five I dreaded the final singletrack section, but it was so short (only 7 or so miles) as to be insignificant as a serious obstacle.
Tom was right; there was a big climb up from
Wally Road. I only walked a short section due to my
gearing. I maintained that my 1x9
configuration would have been sufficient had I been in as good a shape as I was
last year at this time. It wasn’t the
solo chainring, it was the solo Chainring.
I plowed over the hill, rolled out a very scenic and open ridgetop and
made one last knockout descent to a creek crossing and final (albeit brief)
I could sense I was nearing Aid Five. My superior geographical senses told me I was moving into the broader river valley. I pedaled steadily knowing for certain I was along the Mohican. I could taste the final aid station. I could smell the finish.
Mandy was waiting at Aid Five. Tom had taken Casey way out to four which is only for the 100 milers. Eight miles she told me. She had my clothes for after my shower and was going to walk the half mile from Aid Five along the road to the finish. Lucky. But I wanted to complete the Mohican. I wanted the closure.
The singletrack was hard. It wasn’t hard, hard, but for being 50+ miles into one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done it was hard. I tried to enjoy it, and knew that if I had been fresh I would have been eating it up. In a sense I enjoyed it very much. And through the last section more and more 100 milers were coming up behind and alternately asking nicely to pass or all but demanding that us scuzz 100kers stop and get out of their way. I passed Tough Lady and a couple of other riders and then other than the speed demon long riders I saw no one else all the way in to the finish.
At 8:51.10 (3:51pm) I crossed the finish line and accepted my finishers’ pint glass. The Mohican was behind me.
I showered, ate a massive slab of pork chop, and about a pound of cole slaw. Tommy rolled in after dropping Casey off at Five to wait for Jeff, and we decided it was about time he was getting there himself so Tom, Mandy and I headed over to Five to cheer him through. But Jeff wasn’t coming through Aid Station Five in the 2014 Mohican 100.
To be concluded...