Hardwood Hills Enduro (continued)
Apparently my reputation preceded me at the Hardwood Hills. Word had gotten around that some whackjob had ridden a water buffalo through the rocks at Scipio. When I rolled into camp, I felt the shocked glares of men, women, and children as they simultaneously mouthed the words "WTF?" Actually, I slipped in relatively unnoticed.
Since I had made the long, slow trek from White Rock, AR to Mansfield, MO after a half-day of riding in the Ozarks, I arrived just before sunset. I missed the $5 steak dinner (or something similar at a ridiculously low price) and I reluctantly cooked some camp food instead and rubbed elbows with some of the racers at the sign-up area. This is always a pretty typical scene. Meeting various n00bs and veterans alike, the conversations generally divert to name, home town, and what bike you ride. Cue the intrique and disbelief... "Did you just say '650'?!" ... or, "Oh! You're that dude with the KLR!?"
One thing that I wondered/worried about when I went to my first race (and several races afterward) was how my antics would be received by "real" enduro riders. Many of these people have been riding dirt bikes their whole lives. They live to race. What would they think of me coming in on a bloated dual-sport bike? Would they be insulted? Would they just see me as a roadblock on the trail? I'd heard tales from the old racing bulls about how some riders will intentionally cause slower riders to crash if they impeded a pass or slowed the pace. Serious stuff.
Fortunately, I have had virtually nothing but positive experiences with the racers and families. That last word is the operative one. The people of the BlackJack Enduro Circuit really are a closely knit, welcoming group. Nobody has ever made me feel that my bike or I didn't belong.
Of course, this family atmosphere can't really compete with the anxiety I still feel at the start of every race... The feeling of being a tortoise amongst hares.
Anyhow, at camp I shared space with some guys that have since become pretty good buddies. These guys are seasoned racers- A or AA riders with fancy, lightweight, finely-tuned bikes to match. I have used these guys (among several others) as mentors to help me learn what the hell I'm doing. We consumed numerous beers that night in prep for the race.
Morning of the race I lined up on row 17C. Hardwood Hills Enduro was scheduled as a restart format instead of a timekeeping event. From my experience, I get passed way more in a restart than a timekeeper. This is due to my notoriously slow pace. A timekeeper requires many riders to temper their pace, whereas in a restart, it seems that riders have more opportunity to ride balls-to-the-wall. This = more passes and more time on the edge of the trail for me.
The course was pretty tough. I recall it being fairly warm and dry too. I must have baked my brain because most of the race was a blur and nearly all my memories are from between loops or in the second loop. C-level riders do the "short course". Most times, the entire enduro course includes three distinct loops. First loop is generally short and easy (~20 miles), is called "super-short", and is ridden by the small and feeble. The second loop is generally longer than the first, includes more technical obstacles and terrain, and is ridden by novice and intermediate riders. Expert riders and superheroes do a third loop which has more miles and even more technical obstacles than the second loop.
At Hardwood (and in most enduros) I'm generally grooving during loop one. Sometimes the first loop is peppered with some challenging stuff- tight trees, hills, and whatnot. As you can imagine, the KLR is about as nimble as a school bus. Tight woods can give me troubles in a pinball sort of way. A simple bump of the barkbuster against a tree in passing will sometimes send me into hysterics.
Where the KLR shines for me (IMHO) is grunt. It will generally tractor up steep inclines as long as I can commit to it with a steady throttle hand. If the hill is lined with boulders, it's typically a more interesting sight and I'm really gassing it while the bike picks the line and I try to hold on for 8 seconds.
One memorable obstacle from loop one at Hardwood was a REALLY steep, loamy dirt incline. I always get nervous and psyched out about such an obstacle when I see that other "real" racers are having trouble or are stuck. When the hill was in sight, there were two or three riders in various stages of dismay. No way I was getting through or around them without cutting course, so I waited for the trail to clear. When it was my turn, I gave it a go. Not enough go, really. The rear tire bogged down into the loose dirt about 2/3 of the way up the hill and I was buried down to the skidplate. The wrestlemania begins. Now other riders are backed up behind me. I let one or two through before I had to basically lay the bike over on the trail to get out of the burrow. I backed the bike up as much as I could and several attempts later, I crested the hill. I nearly launched into a pond as the hill's apex was a sharp right turn. The second time through (loop 2) was easier because I knew what to expect.
Other than that, loop 1 was good, IIRC. There is a pause between loops for refueling and whatnot. I was getting pretty hot at the end of loop 1 and I remember spending the pause with a cold gatorade and a towel dipped in cooler water over my head. I sat and shot the shit with several riders (and non riders) about the terrain. I guess I got a bit too comfy in my chair because I lost track of time. I started the second loop 17 minutes late!! I was the ONLY rider in the whole race that was late to restart.
Now I was behind the eight ball.
The second loop was more of the same. Tight woods. Miss a tree, hit a tree. Miss a tree, hit a tree. The heat and fatigue from wrestling a 400lb bike really gets to me after a while. If I could somehow ride a clean ride, I wouldn't get so tired. But my performance on the second loop of every enduro typically degrades into a downward spiral precipitated by a minor get-off, be it a tree bump, a washout, or a low-speed off-camber drop. Righting the bike that first time is a battery-draining SOB and exponentiates from there. That's when I flip the switch into survival mode and the riding is less fun and reflex-oriented. Then I have to start concentrating and telling myself not to screw up and finish this thing.
I've got tunnel vision by this point. A brief string of song lyrics are repeatedly playing in my head. The context of the lyrics in this place and time are nonsensical. I don't know why it pops in my head, maybe just to distract me from the fatigue, pain, and dehydration. I can't recall what song it was for Hardwood, but more often than not, it is a song that I don't particularly like. I try to force my head to choose a different song. It never works. Focus on the trail. Focus on NOT crashing because 1 crash = 1 rep in the 400lb deadlift. Sitting on the bike and twisting the throttle is easier. Let's just do that, mkay?
At this point in the race, I'm trail riding solo. This is familiar, but I'm just following arrows. I don't have a clock, odometer, or an enduro computer. I'm just riding and five miles feels like 50. How much is left? Surely, the glorious finish is just around the corner and everyone will be lined up to cheer me home, snapping photos and popping champagne. Nope, just another tree.
I'm feeling nauseous. I'm now fully at risk of losing sight of the fun factor. I haven't seen another rider in quite a while. Everyone has passed me by now and are waiting in the pits and sipping beers.
I looked up through the trees on the trail ahead and a figment materializes into a real life human. I approach and stop at his feet. Next to him is some caution tape. I shut off the motor and he asks me if I was long course or short course. I reply and he then realizes that I'm not super fast, but rather super slow. He is in charge of changing the tape at a course split between loops 2 and 3.
I ask the figment how many miles are left, and I anticipated a single-digit number, but he replied with a gigantic number like 13 or so. Damn. I had killed the bike already and capitalized on the opportunity to take a break. I told the figment that I was feeling pretty shitty- nauseous, fatigued, and whatnot. He asked if I wanted to quit. At some point during our conversation, he of course realized and pointed out the fact that I was riding a gigantic bike. So he was predictably sympathetic.
He urged that quitting was nothing to be ashamed of in my situation. I resisted. I didn't want to quit and told him so.
While we were talking, I was still astride the bike but had taken my helmet off. I was sipping water from my hydration pack when instead of water, I got air. Shit. When I was lounging between loops I forgot to refill my hydration pack. That just threw a wrench in the quit or no quit debate.
Things were a bit fuzzy but I relented and decided to quit. In my current state, I didn't see the plus side of riding 13 more miles with no water. I waited off the course until the figment got the radio call to change the course split and then he made good on his offer to lead me back to camp via easy trails.
I learned in conversations that the figment was actually one member of a small consortium of individuals that owned the property on which the race was held. He turned out to be a pretty good dude, and I am thankful for his assistance. He even came to check on me later.
So with much regret, I quit my first race. I tried not to be too butthurt about it.
I packed up camp and headed home. Later, I got a message from the scoring chairman that my attempt wasn't without reward. Apparently I finshed 3rd in my class (out of *cough* four). Even better, I beat my nemesis.
Rather, I outlasted him.
I don't know how I got a 2nd place trophy instead of 3rd, but I'll take it.
Up next- My 3rd race for the year... Train Robbers Enduro, Bismarck, AR