If Dug were a car racing video game, he would be one of those where you have to earn your turbo boost — but once you’ve got it, you get to keep it.
If I were a car racing video game, on the other hand, I would be the kind where you have Nitrous and Turbo Boost right from the first moment of the game, but you only get a finite amount of each. I would also be the kind where somehow the console senses you’re about to press Start and immediately turns on the Nitrous, Turbo Boost, and mashes the Gas button clear into the controller without asking whether you really want to go that fast right from the gun.
And in short, in spite of the fact that Dug clearly explained before we started the race that he was going to hang back and let me cook myself to a crisp, I went right to my redline and kept it there. By the time I got to the bridge that signals the base of the big climb on the first lap — Clark’s — I had already put enough distance between us that I could no longer see Dug.
And I would not see him again for the rest of the race.
Whaddaya know. My total lack of a strategy and boneheaded approach to racing worked. While Dug suffered badly for the big climb, I put enough of a gap between us that even though I knew I had a good chance of completely discombobulating on the second lap, he wouldn’t be able to catch up.
Theory of Subjective Speed
This is not to say that I did not crane my neck around ten thousand times (usually at switchbacks, sometimes where there was a long straight section behind me) to see if Dug was closing in. Because — especially during the second lap up Clark’s — I felt eminently catchable.
Which brings me to a couple of things I noticed during this race.
First, in the absence of any kind of real measuring device (a bike computer, GPS, or even a watch), my sense of speed got incredibly subjective. During the first ascent up Clark’s, my iPod played about three songs: I started the climb halfway through one song, listened to two complete songs, and finished about halfway through another.
On the second time up Clark’s, I was certain Dug would catch me. At several of the mini-summits, I nearly stalled out. I was weaving on the trail. I had nothing that even resembled a cadence.
And yet, I started the climb about halfway through one song, and finished about three complete songs later.
In other words, I did the climb in three songs when I was fresh, and 3.5 when I felt completely broken. Now of course, songs can be of variable length and I might have been more than halfway through a song at the beginning of one of the climbs and blah blah blah, but still: while I felt like on the second climb I was twice as slow, in reality I probably was just a minute or three slower.
By the way, I have just now decided that from now on I shall measure all climbs in Song Units. Please do likewise.
More Subjective Speed Theory
Actual amount of time notwithstanding, it felt like I was crawling during the second climb up Clark’s, and multiple times considered getting off my bike, resting while I waited for Dug to catch up, and then proposing that races are stupid and that we’re both closer to our mid-forties than early forties and what business do we have racing one another?
But I kept going. For you.
During this subjective crawl, I noticed that I was noticing things (which is pretty darned meta, I admit). I noticed, for example, that the distance between trees was greater than I had previously suspected. And that the distance between a couple of landmarks on the climb — a signpost and a gate — is about eight feet, where I had always before thought of them as being within just three or four feet of each other.
Also, I noticed a lot more false summits than usual.
Adrenaline is Not My Friend
Of course, since the course is a loop, it can’t be all uphill (and if a loop course were all uphill, I’d be mighty upset). The big downhill was Ghost Falls, a switchbacky, wide, clean stretch of singletrack with several bridge crossings and a few whoop-de-doos up top.
The first time down Ghost, I was terrible. For two reasons. The first — and most important — reason is that I was still all amped up. I wasn’t riding the trail, I was attacking it. And on a twisty course like that, that just doesn’t work. I kept overbaking the switchbacks, surging in any little straightaway, and in general was a herky-jerky mess.
I’d guess that I was slower than when I just ride this trail normally, flowing with it and enjoying myself.
The Worst Downhilling Song Ever
The second reason I did so badly on the first descent was that my iPod chose to shuffle Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” into play.
Now, let it be known that I love this song. Cash brought soul and an ache to it that makes his version vastly superior to the original (and I like the original too).
That said, I cannot imagine a worse song to downhill to. However, just for fun, I just took a look at my “One Good Gig” playlist (a carefully-chosen set of songs to fit on a 1Gb iPod), and decided that if my iPod decided it really hated me, it should play the following songs from that list the next time I’m on a nice, long downhill:
- “Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover),” Johnny Cash
- “Loser,” Beck
- “Under the Milky Way,” the Church
- “Round Here,” Counting Crows
- “Baby Got Back (Sir Mix a Lot cover),” Jonathan Coulton
- “Superstar (Carpenters cover),” Sonic Youth
- “Pennyroyal Tea (Live),” Nirvana
I am curious as to what songs you have on your PMP (that’s “Personal Media Player” for all you non-tech-savvy people) that you dread having turn up right as you’re turning down.
As long as I’m at it, though, here are the seven songs on my “One Good Gig” playlist I would most like to get shuffled into play during a downhill:
- “Renegades of Funk,” Rage against the Machine
- “Don’t Take Me for Granted,” Social Distortion. (As an aside here, I’d like to proclaim that this is my favorite song from my favorite album from my favorite band. This song is the archetype for straight-ahead rock and roll.)
- “Under My Thumb (Rolling Stones Cover),” Social Distortion
- “Uncontrollable Urge (Live Version),” Devo
- “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Green Day
- “Whisper to a Scream,” Icicle Works
- “Bad Reputation,” Joan Jett
Also, as a note to myself, I need to do a post about the hardware I’m using to listen to music when riding nowadays, because I believe it may in fact be the most perfect solution for cyclists possible.
I Contemplate Cheating
After climbing up Clark’s, there’s a mostly-downhill stretch of dirt fire road connecting you to Ghost Falls. As I rode along it my second time, I noticed something on the left: new trail — which I hope will be named “J-Line” — has been cut. I already knew that it empties back into Ghost — about two-thirds of the way down.
I had not ridden that trail yet. And I was sorely tempted.
It looked soft and would probably have been slower than taking the route I was on. And it would have been clearly a disqualifying event to head down it.
So I didn’t.
Which means, I’m pretty sure, that my priorities are screwed up.
Defiance of Physics
After climbing Clark’s and descending Ghost Falls, the race course had us doing a short little loop of Singletrack I call “Last Dance” (I’m not aware of whether it has an official name) because it’s generally the last thing we ride before finishing the ride.
Last Dance starts with a climb, and then drops down to the main Corner Canyon artery trail.
It’s that climb that boggles me. For some reason, it’s the easiest climb in the world. Even though my legs are cooked from a hard climb and working descent, I seem to just float up that climb. It only lasts a minute or two, but — even on the second lap of a race, where I was fully out of gas — I zipped right up it.
Later, I asked Dug if he noticed the same thing. He did.
It’s a climb that rides like a downhill. Weird. And wonderful.
I am not, generally, an intense person. But I am when I race. I take each and every race very seriously. So I finished the race pushing myself as hard (albeit much much slower) as when I started, and kept looking over my shoulder to the very end.
Reaching my truck without Dug in sight, I hurriedly put my bike up on the rack, took off my helmet, got out a drink, folded down the truck bed’s gate, and sat down, doing my best to look like I wasn’t in danger of throwing up.
A few minutes later, Dug rolled through the parking lot, no-handed and casual. We sat and talked for a while, while Dug picked off the dozens of caterpillars that had accumulated on his jersey.
Now, the next morning, my throat is still raw from two hours of open-mouthed hyperventilating. I have a hard time walking down stairs. And I find myself worried at the prospect of this afternoon’s group ride to the summit of the Alpine Loop, especially since I told Jill she could borrow my geared road bike; I’ll ride my singlespeed road bike.
Oh, what am I worried about? I’ll be fine. I’m sure it won’t turn into a race.