Curse of Dark Hollow

So after a six week hiatus from bike racing due to a tick-borne infectious disease that had me flat on my back for nearly three weeks, I finally threw my hat back in the ring yesterday. I’ve been training hard for the last three weeks in an attempt to recover lost fitness and to prepare for some salvaging of late season results. The Curse of Dark Hollow is by most accounts the easiest of the three Michaux courses. Despite this, I aways seem to have bad luck with mechanical problems in this second race of the three Michaux Endurance Series events. The 2010 edition would be no exception.

Since the Michaux races are among the hardest and most technically challenging races around, easy is also a relative term. Riding the rocks of Michaux State Forest for 40 miles is always a challenge.

The forecast was for a hot and humid day with afternoon thunderstorms. It looked like we were going to be done racing before any rain, but the heat was definitely going to take its toll on the racers.

At the pre-race meeting, suited up and ready to ride my SRAM equipped geared Superfly, the promotor announces that the start this year would be LeMans style rather than the what is usually a start with two-minute waves by category. Groans can be heard.  A LeMans start suits me just fine, since I do a moderate amount of running as cross training and the Masters category which I entered is usually the 3rd wave anyway. Apart from the fact that I’m not 100% sure who’s even in the Masters field, things are shaping up!

Bang! I take off running with the entire field of 75 or so and two minutes later, with my heart rate soaring, I’m on my bike roughly in the top 20. Sweet! Not 10 seconds later as I was passing a slower rider just to the side of the trail I hear the dreaded sound of escaping air. Looking down I see a pretty large stick caught in my chain stay wedged against the tire sidewall of what now is a flat rear tire.  Curses!

I should pause here to note, 10 seconds into actual pedaling in a race and getting a flat is a new personal best for me. The car I drove up in with additional tubes, tools and a pump was literally 100 yards away. I normally don’t get too many flats so I usually only carry one tube and a single Big-Air quick fill. I thought briefly about returning to the car to avoid having to risk riding the entire 4+ hour race without the ability to repair a 2nd flat. Too far. I also thought briefly about just using the Big-Air to try and fill the tire on the assumption that the stick caused the bead to unseat but the tire was actually fine. Too risky.  So I extracted the stick, used the only tube I had and expelled half of my Big-Air to fill it and started to chase like crazy from DFL.

Even though I was chasing pretty hard, It took 20 minutes to even see anyone. But I gradually started catching and passing slower riders. I was riding at a pace that I knew I couldn’t possibly sustain for the entire race. I figured I’d work my way up as far as possible and then just try and hang on to my position to the finish. The forecast was for a hot and humid day, so I knew there would be some suffering riders near the end.

Cool thing about working your way up from the back is you get to see a lot of your riding buds. During my two hour period of dumping jet fuel, I caught, rode with and eventually passed: Tony No-Fear Vachino, Nate Big-Air Shearer, Chad Miller, IMBA-man Patrick Miller, Trek Coop rider Jon Posner and Cyclocross extraordinaire Bernie Shaio. Nate, Chad and Bernie were on Single Speeds and Pat and Jon I knew were in the VET class, so no luck so far in connecting with any of the Masters contenders.

Chad Miller, who’s an awesome single speed rider, must have found some inspiration after I passed him because around mile 35 he caught me and we rode together for three or four miles. He got around me when I drifted too much in a turn and had to clip out briefly. I would never completely regain contact. Nice riding bro!

At around mile 30 I re-connected with Michael Funk who I knew was a Master. Finally! He was riding kind of slow for him and appeared to be suffering in the ever rising heat and humidity. One mile later, I passed Michaux local and ex-pro Shawn Ol’ Man Withers. He too looked pretty rough from the heat. I had no idea what position I was in, but I assumed I was somewhere near a podium spot in Masters.  Problem was, I too was starting to come apart. My chase had gone on longer than I thought it could possibly go… but now I was in the hurt box. Time to suck it up and just try to hold my position and finish.

Curses! At mile 35 the dreaded sound again. Pssst, pssst, pssst of rotating air loss from the rear again. My luck had run out. Or had it? Maybe the the tire was fine the first time and the new hole could be sealed with any remaining Stans. It was worth a try… what else was I going to do?   I removed to the tube, put back the tubeless valve stem and attempted to fill the tire with the rest of my Big-Air. It became quickly apparent that the new hole wasn’t going to seal and now my Big-Air was empty. The jig was up.
I had just reassembled my bike for the hike out of the woods, when another rider passed and asked if I needed anything. I said half jokingly, How about a 29er tube and a quick-fill? To my complete surprise he said: …Ok, I have two tubes and two quick-fills, we’re close enough to the finish, so here. He threw me half of his stash, the two items that were the key to my future, as he rode off to my thank you’ s.  A guardian angel had given me a new lease on life!

Note to self: carry two tubes and enough air to fill them for Michaux races.

While I was busy changing the flat with my newly acquired gear, I saw first Pat, then Shawn and finally Mike pass. Three minutes later, I was chasing again… only this time with no gas left in the tank. I was surprised to reconnect and pass Mike within 2 or 3 miles. I was hurting, but he looked worse. I rode by him with as much fake authority as I could muster.

With a few miles to go, the wind picked up and it got very very dark in the woods.   So dark a light would have been nice to illuminate the trail.  It was only 1:30 or so in the afternoon, but it was dark like dusk in the woods.  Then, quite suddenly, a violent fast-moving storm was upon us and torrential rain began to fall. Within minutes, the single track was a flowing stream. It was raining HARD slowing down my pace even more. When was this race going to be over? !

After what seemed like an eternity, I made it to the finish, completely exhausted. Shawn had finished just a few minutes in front of me and Bernie crossed the line less than a minute behind. As it turns out, Shawn was the Masters winner, with me in second and Bernie (who was racing in the Masters category after all despite being on a sweet Gary Fisher Superfly Single Speed) was third.  I had been the Masters leader for a short while before my second flat and didn’t even realize it.

Hats off to crew member teammates Chris the Rock Star Beck for a strong 3rd place overall finish and Kyle Lawrence who finished 6th in SR men. That is some awesome riding fellas!

So even though the Curse was strong, luck was on my side. A guardian angel helped save my finish. I was happy to find him after the race to thank him again and give him some cash for his items. Because I was able to finish respectably, it appears the series winner will be determined by the last race, the Terror of Teaberry. It looks to be a showdown between Shawn Withers, Mike Funk, Bernie Shiao and myself.  I can’t wait!


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