March 26th brought another race in the Okeechobee area. After 3 weeks of not racing I was ready to get back out there.
The weather in south Florida is starting to heat up, with afternoon highs in the high 80's.
My practice lap revealed a very, very tight course through the trees and palmettos. It was all soft sand with some large palmetto roots the size of railroad ties to get over. They wouldn't be so bad if there were just one across the trail every once in a while, but they come in bunches. It's the kind of thing a sadistic enduro-cross designer dreams about.
I took it nice and easy during the practice lap which was at 10 am before it got too hot. I knew with the sand, roots, endless tight turns, and the afternoon heat, the 2:15 race would be a real challenge. Oh, yeah.... I almost forgot about the dust.
My start went very well. The bike started on the first kick and I was off with nobody in my sight line. I blasted towards the first double green arrows and just before I reached them a rider passed me on my left, stealing what would have been my first hole shot.
I was riding well, trying to keep up with the very fast leader and passing slower riders from the other classes. My skills have really improved since my first race a few months ago, and I felt that if I didn't make any big mistakes I could possibly get a win today.
That excitement was short-lived, however, as I came around a blind corner in the woods and nearly rear ended another rider stopped in the trail. There was a rider down up ahead and a backup of riders who couldn't get by.
I avoided the rider ahead, but had to go off the trail to the left, hit some stumps, and went down. It would have been a non-event, but another rider came up from behind and hit the bike I nearly hit. He went down right on top of my bike. It took him a minute or so to get up from the awkward position he was in, then he finally picked his bike up off of mine.
By this time my bike had stalled in spite of my holding in the clutch, and I could see a puddle of gas forming on the ground. I picked it up and got on and started to kick.... and kick.... and kick. It would not start. I kicked until I thought I might pass out.
I rested and tried to drink from my Camelbak. I was so hot and my mouth was so dry and dusty it was hard to swallow. I resorted to getting a big mouth full of water then letting it flow out of my mouth down my neck to try to cool down. I kicked again for a while as much as I could but still nothing. Riders were now passing me in bunches and my heart was sinking as well as pounding in my chest. A volunteer course worker stopped to check on me and I told him I was ok, just couldn't get the bike started. I actually asked him if he could kick it for me.
He said he would come back in a few minutes and if I was still there he would call for someone to tow me out. I was now thinking my day was over. After such a good start and feeling so good, I was now completely exhausted, overheated, and thinking I would DNF.
I drank some more, caught my breath, and gave another kick. Finally it started!! I took off, went around a thick bunch of trees and immediately had to cross a gauntlet of palmetto roots, criss-crossing the trail at a variety of angles.
I rode easy for a minute or two to cool off a little, then I decided to try to make up some lost ground and finish strong. I began to really charge and was riding with a real purpose. I was angry at having to watch everyone pass me as I sat there helpless, and I wanted to catch as many of them as I could.
As I came to the finish chicane at the end of lap one, I could see my friend in the pits holding up a jug of water and a pair of spare goggles but I rode right by, determined to make up time.
The second lap went well even though I was really tired and hot. I think I probably used a whole race worth of energy trying to start the bike, and I was feeling it more as the race went on.
After lap two I pulled in to the pits and drank from my camelbak while Brent poured some water down my front and back. This helped a lot, cooling me down considerably and letting me hydrate a little. I felt much better as I took off for my last lap.
I had a couple of the normal low speed drops in the deep sand but kept the bike running. I was passing riders in my class and some of the Evo bikes, and a couple of the faster Junior riders were lapping me. Damn whipper-snappers!!
I did 3 laps and managed to finish 9th out of 18 (I think). Considering the amount of time wasted and the energy spent trying to kick the bike, I felt pretty good about it.
I have definitely improved. I think if I can manage a whole race without the bike stalling I can do well. I am much smoother and faster in the turns, charging right through the sand and deep ruts, and my endurance is improving. I may do one more race in the beginner class. The next couple of races are too far for me to get to, so my next race will be the last one of the season.
I am considering making the move to Sunday and racing the longer course in my age group for the last race so that when I start next season I will have already experienced the different race. Sunday courses are usually around 12 miles and the race is 2 hours compared to around 6-7 miles and 1 1/2 hours on Saturday.
Thanks to all of my new friends at FTR for making me feel welcome and for all of the tips and advice. Thanks also to my Key West friends for making it fun and reminding me that I'm not the only one suffering out there.
Here's Ivor mixing it up.
Here I am chasing the leader
Thanks to Glenn Gardner at G2 Photography for the shots!!