Life is suffering. First tenant of Buddhism. I know this. But I am old and soft. It happens. My revived mtn bike racing career has been going brilliantly. Frankly night and day from when I "retired" from mtn bike racing eleven years ago. I thought I knew what hard was. I thought I was tough. I got a wake up call in the form of a kick in the nuts with the steel toed Jack boot that is the 6 hours of Pats Peak this Saturday. Mountain bike racing is so much fun. Seriously. I love the vibe. And the road tripping. Its like cross season but we get to hang out and no one is freaking out. I got a bit lulled into this one. I thought no problem I can get 6 laps in. I have done 24 hours of Great Glen. How bad could Pats Peak be? Bad. Really, really bad.
We rolled up to the venue, said the usual hellos to all the cool cats, got to see The Wilcox's new whip! And a sexy whip it is! We all lined up for the Lemans start. Colin lined up behind us so he could get his GoPro in full effect. Have I mentioned I hate running? The bikes didn't seem that far away when we walked over to the woods. They seemed really far away now. Running commenced. I found my bike in the scrum and started pedaling. I didn't rupture an achilles, so, so far the event was a huge success. We went off at a fairly spirited pace. I wouldn't call it full race pace but fast tempo. I chopped my teammates wheel right before we entered the loop around the pond. I realized it was Jon and told him to go ahead of me. Cause he is fast. And I am not so fast.
Everything was going great until it went from great to really bad in a blink of an eye. At minute 20 we had sorted things out a bit. I was in a good group. And then we hit the fresh cut loamy single track from Hell. Or the Hike a Bike championships of New Hampshire. At this point I hear Colin yelling at me "CHIP THIS IS NOT A CROSS RACE!" He was yelling that at me because I was off the bike running up switch backs that I would much rather have been riding. If I could actually think and form words I would have responded back something snappy like "Colin if this was a cross race I would not be suffering this badly" But I was in a dark, dark place where words and snappy comebacks do not exist. Colin rode by me. I then proceeded to put forth the most epic gentleman's slide ever seen in a mtn bike race. I am pretty sure I was last by the time we dug our way out of the fifth level of Hell. I was in a state of shock at this point. Instead of just accepting my fight I kept fighting it. It was inconceivable that I could be in this much pain while going so slowly.
I somehow regained contact with Jon at the top. I started hearing braaappp noises coming up through the woods. Jon looked back and we saw Lauren Kling rolling up on us. Finally a ray of light in all the darkness. We rode with Lauren for a bit. Ie Lauren shredded the Gnar and Jon and I freaked out at the insane DH drop offs and rocks. We popped out by the bears and the Red Bull inflatable and completed lap one. I stopped at the tent to survey the damage. I took a pretty good crash on the first ripper of a descent. I was bruised and battered but no actual physical damage had occurred. The psychic damage at this point was immeasurable. I pounded a coke and headed out on Lap 2. Lap 2 was possibly worse than Lap 1 which is saying something as Lap 1 seemed to be the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike. I somehow survived Lap 2. After 2 hours of hike a biking, chewing my stem pedaling my 22 x 32 up gravel access roads and praying to not die on some rock drop-offs I decided to take an actual break.
I sat down in the Death Star with Bacon the dog and licked my wounds. Or Bacon licked them for me. This was a day of many epiphanies. The FACT that cross may be all about cats, but mtn biking is all about DOGS. I ate some food. Tried to find my Gucci suitcase of courage and headed out on Lap 3. Oddly Lap 3 felt ok. For a bit. I guess this would be what messed with my head so bad. I went from being ok to being near death within minutes of each other. Maybe this was just not my day. It happens. I honestly haven't had many days on a bike like that. In the fresh cut loam from Hell I bumped into Colin. Or he bumped into me. I forget which. Frankly this period of the race is a blur. Colin was in a dark, dark place. Darker than me. Which was a bit scary. I was walking faster than he was walking. Granted I had just eaten some real food and had another coke in me. Colin saw me skip over some roots and yelled at me again "CHIP YOU ARE RUNNING? WTF?" I swear I wasn't running. Then we saw our spirit animal. I actually asked Colin if he saw the Bulldog. He said yes. Then I asked him if it was a real dog. He thought it was. I said it must be our spirit guide. The Bulldog did guide us out of the Darkness. And then disappeared into the woods.
I survived Lap 3. Barely. As dark a moment hanging out in the fresh cut hike a bike from hell was. Spending it with Colin was an education in mental toughness. Colin seemed wrecked. But he came back in and by the magical powers of a cold Coke and pickles he rallied and went on to do 8 laps. He was 4 minutes off of being on the podium. I guarantee that abyss we were in at Lap 3 ate up at least 6 - 10 minutes of bike racing time.
I pulled the plug at Lap 4. Sometimes you learn the best lessons by failing. I dnf'd. It is what it is. I felt fine when I did it and still do. But there is a part of me that wishes I had not pulled the plug gone back to the tent and rallied and done that last lap with Jon and Lauren. Endurance mtn biking is all about striving and not freaking out when you are sooo blown to pieces. I think I get that now. Regardless of the race outcome it was the hardest day on a bike I have ever had. And I will hold it on a pedestal. I will be back next year. And I will do that last lap.