July 3, 2005: A race in the life of

Today was dedicated to competing in the Billy Cross Boggs Mountain Cross-Country Mountain Bike Race. Following is 24 hours in the life of a recreational mountain bike racer in the greater Bay Area.

9:25 a.m. -- Romulus readies
9:55 a.m. -- The course awaits

12:14 a.m. -- Lights out. That alarm is going to hurt.

3:22 a.m. -- Trip to the bathroom courtesy of conscientious hydration.

4:59 a.m. -- Alarm clock sounds.

5:03 a.m. -- Alarm clock sounds.

5:07 a.m. -- Alarm clock sounds.

5:08 a.m. -- Fire up the tea kettle and strap on the bike shorts.

5:27 a.m. -- On the road.

5:56 a.m. -- Pull up to Rom's house in the City.

6:09 a.m. -- Roll to the Bay Bridge.

7:05 a.m. -- Hit the greater Napa Valley.

7:47 a.m. --Enter Lake County. Next stop Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest.

8:30 a.m. -- Realize we are no longer in a wooded area and that we have missed the entrance to the forest and driven too far north. Reverse course and stop at the California Department of Forestry (CDF) station in Siegler Springs to ask directions.

8:59 a.m. -- Arrive at the entrance to the forest. Since the first time we passed by this point 45 minutes earlier, race organizers have posted some handmade signs announcing the race. While there was an official CDF sign for the forest for southbound traffic, there does not appear to be one for northbound traffic, so we don't feel quite so lame about missing it the first time through. Still.

9:07 a.m. -- Check in at the registration table. In addition to a port-a-pottie, there are a couple of card tables, some small orange pylons, and a half dozen people milling around. Race day registration was never easier.

9:17 a.m. -- Fall back to the adjacent campground to assemble the bikes and get geared up.

9:47 a.m. -- Take the bikes out on a stitch of nearby singletrack to get warmed up and to get a taste of the local trail conditions. Dry, dusty, rocky volcanic soil. Heavily forested but thinly wooded. Good light, but visibility averages only about 40 feet. In the race, it will be hard to catch or be caught because of the limited sightlines.

10:00 a.m. -- Riders ready at the start line. The field is divided in to three categories -- Expert, Sport (that's us), and Beginner -- though there appears to be less than 25 riders total. However, of those 25 riders, only Romulus, myself, and like two other riders appear to be non-sponsored riders. We realize that this is a very local race for the hardcore. Among the field are category and overall winners from the Napa Valley Dirt Classic (See April 24, 2005: Napa 2005) and the Lemurian (See April 30, 2005: The Lemurian). In this field, we are the weekend duffers. Gulp.

10:03 a.m. -- Expert start.

10:05 a.m. -- Sport start. I am much less nervous than I have been at the bigger races we did earlier this year, but as the pack explodes off the start line, I am enveloped in a cloud of dust and realize with a surge of panic that I am at the very back of the pack. Working on his starts, Romulus goes blowing past me on the right.

10:06 a.m. -- The first hill of the day. None of the hills on this course are that tough. Nothing like the leg busters at the Lemurian. This course is more like one of the ridgeline trails at Skeggs (for example, the Sierra Morena). Up, down, and rolling. Nothing extreme, but neither are there long enough stretches of consistent terrain to allow riders to get into a rhythm. On this course, you need to be nimble on the pedals and flexible in your riding style.

10:12 a.m. -- First bonk. I don't know if it's from not warming up enough, an adrenaline overload, or just a choke, but I almost always go completely flatline about 10 to 15 minutes into a race. Usually takes about a mile to get through it but sometimes it can last several miles. On a short course like this one (two 8.9-mile laps), every mile counts. Adding to my difficulties today is the heat. Temperatures are only in the low 80s, but as I found out last year, my coastside training has left me very vulnerable to suffering in moderate to high heat.

10:19 a.m. -- Romulus also goes flatline and almost immediately takes a major tumble negotiating the peripatetic singletrack. He is unhurt, but rattled. How can you not be after a high-speed singletrack crash? I witnessed a pretty spectacular Romulus wreck last week at Skeggs and he said this one was worse. Romulus pushes on, but never fully regains his groove.

10:23 a.m. -- I make my first wrong turn of the day. The course is lightly marked with white flour and chalk arrows. After a few riders go through, the chalk/flour gets mussed. I'm near the back of the pack. You do the math. On the day, I made two wrong turns that required stopping and reversing course; three missed turns in which I was going too fast to make the turn and ended up sliding and skidding through the turn and into the trees (two of three times I was able to ride out of the forest without clipping out); and one near wipeout when I hit a three-foot water bar and came unclipped in mid-air. Course navigation is a definite issue for all riders, and many lose time from wrong turns and errant piloting. It would have been nice to pre-ride the course.

10:52 a.m. -- Complete the first lap. I lost sight of Romulus somewhere around 10:10, but I have been jockeying with a teenage rider for the entire first lap. We exchange the lead several times early in the lap, but he holds the lead for most of the second half of the first lap. I am in position to pass many times, but each time I get ready to make my move, I miss a turn or bobble or nearly crash. I lose sight of him for five minutes or so then pick him up again, only to make another misstep and fall back. I catch him again near the end of the first lap and resolve to ride him until he tires himself out and then make my move accordingly.

10:56 a.m. -- Hear what sounds ominously like the hiss of a pinch flat as I fly through a particularly jagged section of trail. Bikes seems to be handling OK though, so I continue.

10:59 a.m. -- The teenager and I are starting a longish fire road climb. I've been catching him on most of the hills, so I decide now is the time to make my move. If I can blow by him early in the hill and hurt him the rest of the way up, I might be able to drop him for good when we get to the labyrinth singletrack at the top.

11:00 a.m. -- I stand on the pedals to attack and the whole rear end goes limp. Flat tire. Pinch flat. I make a couple more turns on the pedals, trying to determine whether or not I can continue. Nope, it's flat. I pull to side of the trail and watch the teenager pull away up the hill. The Wine Country does not like me.

11:05 a.m. -- After a surprisingly well executed tube change, I am back on the bike and pedaling. I expected Romulus to pass me during my downtime, but he was not one of the two riders that cycled past me.

11:12 a.m. -- Rear end of the bike feels like crap, especially in the corners (which is most of the course). I know what the problem is, but I try to convince myself that if I just keep riding, everything will work itself out. No such luck, I've got another flat tire.

11:15 a.m. -- While working on this flat, Romulus passes me. Like the true friend that he is, he stops his lap and checks to see if I need help. I love him for it, but feel bad that he is losing time on his lap for me. I get another new tube from him and he rejoins the race.

11:17 a.m. -- Back on the trail.

11:28 a.m. -- Rear wheel feels like crap again. I look back and notice that the tire has seriously low air pressure. I have to stop and re-pump. Because I've got a trail pump the size of a cell phone, it is hard to pump the pump and keep the valve stem from getting tweaked. It appears that I may have damaged the stem while frantically pumping 10 minutes ago. I pump furiously for a couple of minutes and then decide to hell with it, it's good enough. It's no longer a race against the clock, it's a race against PSI.

11:33 a.m. -- Back on the trail.

11:41 a.m. -- Turning off a section of singletrack onto a long, uphill fireroad climb, I am dismayed to see Romulus toiling along about half way up the hill. He's too far away to determine his speed, but I can tell by his body language that he is not feeling it.

11:43 a.m. -- Pass Romulus and encourage him to keep fighting. We may finish last in our category, but we're going to ride hard the whole way.

10:45 a.m. -- Representative trail
12:01 p.m. -- Kibitzing at the finish line

11:49 a.m. -- Cross the finish line. I am bummed that my race time has been blown by the two flats, but I am encouraged by the genuine applause and congratulations I receive from the spectators gathered around the finish line. They could care less what my time is, they're just there to support the tribe. Thank you very, very much to all the event organizers, volunteers, spectators, and other racers who have the class and humanity to equally support the middling racers as well as the elite racers.

My race numbers: 17.8 miles; 1:39:15 riding time (not counting down time); 10.4 MPH average speed; 26.0 MPH top speed. As with the Lemurian, I take pride in the fact that I didn't give up and kept pushing as hard as I could even though the mechanicals ruined my chances at a good finish.

11:51 a.m. -- Romulus finishes. Like me, his is disappointed in his race, but not disappointed in the race.

12:00 p.m. -- We hang around the finish line for a few minutes, lending our cheers and support to some of the other riders straggling across the finish line. We also get a chance to kibitz with some of the elite riders that we've seen at other events. We're used to seeing these riders from afar (usually as they are climbing up to the podium), so it's nice to hang out with them in a very casual setting. I know that when I have seen these riders at the big races, I've felt intimidated. They usually are surrounded by other top-flight riders and assorted hangers-on. And from their perspective, the big races are loaded up with weekend duffers, most of whom couldn't tell the difference between a single-speed and a fixed-gear. At the big races, elite riders are focused on the race and don't really have the time or interest to educate the masses. But these are really cool people, and races like this one are the opportunity to find that out. Of course they are cool, they're mountain bikers. Mountain bikers are a different breed, they are connected by a common ethos, one which stresses positive experience over social or even legal convention.

Another interesting thing that we discover is that we aren't the only ones that struggled today. Bill Durkee, winner of the single-speed division at Lemurian, broke his chain twice in this race and was a DNF. His wife, Abbie Lueders, top female finisher at the 2005 Lemurian, winner of the 2005 Napa Valley Dirt Classic, and winner of the women's cross-country race at the 2004 US MTB National Championships, blew out her forks in today's race. I saw at least five other riders with flats, and numerous other riders mentioned missing turns in the trail or crashing.

12:25 p.m. -- Retire to the Bronco to rest and refuel. I check the rear tire to see how it's holding and discover that I rode the last five miles of the race with only 23 PSI in my tube. I'm lucky to have finished at all.

1:00 p.m. -- Back on the trail for some noodling to explore the beauty of the Boggs Mountain forest trails.

1:07 p.m. -- Noodling around the forest, post-race

1:11 p.m. -- The legs are dead, my rear wheel is wobbling around like a drunken dreidel, and the trail we're on is running steeply downhill (meaning we'll have to ride back up it on the return trip). The gods are telling us to call it a day.

1:19 p.m. -- Back to the Bronco for some Gatorade and Snickers. After lounging around for a few minutes, we slowly pack up the bikes and gear. We both want to get home, but we are also immensely enjoying the beauty and serenity of Boggs Mountain. It is Fourth of July weekend, but the awesome campground here is virtually empty. Romulus and I both make mental notes to add this spot to our list of must-do camping destinations.

2:00 p.m. -- Head for home.

12:48 p.m. -- Time for rest and reflection
4:33 p.m. -- Almost home

4:45 p.m. -- Drop Romulus off at his house. A huge headache has been building for the last 50 miles and my legs are starting to ache. There weren't any brutal climbs in today's race, but Romulus and I feel pretty beat up, especially the upper body. Rom says it feels like he's been in a fistfight. Both of us acknowledge that we weren't as physically prepared for this race as we needed to be, and we both resolve to work harder and be more disciplined as we train for the NORBA US MTB Championships in Mammoth this September.

5:19 p.m. -- Home, sweet home. 275 miles round trip. Ouch. Worth it, but still, ouch.

5:20 p.m. -- Find Romulus's wallet between the seats of the Bronco. I call Romulus and he says he'll come get it later tonight. That sucks for him.

5:25 p.m. -- Unload the Bronco, and unpack and put away all the gear. I'm really feeling beat, but better to put everything away now rather than let it sit around for a few days.

5:48 p.m. -- Give JB the day's highlights.

5:50 p.m. -- Oh glorious shower. Feels so good.

6:20 p.m. -- Crash into the recliner with some chips and salsa to watch Stage 2 of Le Tour. Outdoor Life Network (OLN) is still giving Al Trautwig and Bob Roll way too much air time at the expense of the much preferable Phil Leggett and Paul Sherwin, but thank the gods for OLN's tour coverage. After five years of watching every stage of the Tour, I can't live without it.

6:35 p.m. -- Drift into recliner sleep.

7:45 p.m. -- Romulus stops by (50 miles round trip) to pick up his wallet.

7:50 p.m. -- Rally myself long enough for a walk down to the harbor with JB and the hound to get some fried calamari. Dinner is wolfed.

8:30 p.m. -- Get some ice out of the freezer for my aching thumb. I'm not sure where or when I injured it -- I suspect it occurred during the Superman I did over the water bar on lap 1. The lower knuckle of my left thumb, right where the thumb attaches to the hand, is killing me. I can make the "OK" signal with my left thumb and forefinger, but I can barely exert any force with my thumb and it hurts plenty. Pain, but no swelling.

9:00 p.m. -- Blow two hours watching "Surviving Christmas" with JB. My advice to Ben Affleck: Your career is in shambles, ditch the People magazine crowd and find out if Matt Damon is still taking your calls. The cast is actually decent, and James Gandolfini does some good work, but this movie convincingly exposes Affleck's complete lack of acting ability. Get the hook.

11:00 p.m. -- Make notes for today's blog entry. Seems like this day started about three weeks ago. Try as I might to focus on the negative, I keep coming away with only positives. We motivated ourselves to get out of bed and up to Boggs Mountain, we competed against a hardcore field, and we finished strong despite riding troubled races. These are the type of local, low-key, strong-field races that will teach us how to be better racers. We're already darn good bike riders, but we need to develop our racing skills. If we take our lumps during these races, we should be able to hand out some lumps at the bigger, more prestigious events.

11:30 p.m. -- Check e-mail, brush teeth, walk dog. General evening shutdown procedures.

11:50 p.m. -- Settle back into recliner to watch SportsCenter Top 10 Plays of the Day.

11:59 p.m. -- Fall asleep in recliner.


Mileage: 19.27 Time: 1:54:34 Avg: 10.0 Max: 26.0 Weight: 164.5

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