Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mayhem In the A.M: 12 Hours of Lodi Farm Race Report (Part 1)....

The race has ended, the bike has been put to bed, and I still haven't settled up with Morpheus. The ol' reticular formation has been thrown for a loop and aphasia has kicked in, but my legs felt uncharacteristically strong on the commute this morning (Monday) and my ass offered no complaints. Not what I had been expecting after throwing it down hard for 30+ miles of dirt the day before. But hey, I'm not complaining.

Saturday afternoon saw The BIG MEATS pulling into an open field in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to set up camp for the 9th Annual 12 Hours of Lodi Farm race. If you're not familiar with the race, it's a bit unique in that the start time is midnight, meaning that it all gets underway beneath a blanket of stars and rolls on that way for about six hours. Then it's the dawn's turn for another six. Lodi is the yin-yang of the race world (here we go), the ideal mix of black and white, of dark and light, of good and evil, of love and hate, of malt and hop, celestial chiaroscuro. Get the picture? If you don't do much night riding, the idea can be a bit daunting. On the one hand, you'll be riding an alien trail in the dark (all trails grow alien at dusk, mutating with subtle shifts in the gloaming as Nyx steps out for the evening), the unknown rolling quicky toward you out of the inky void with the goal of separating rider and bike. On the other hand, your body is fresh for the challenge, your reactions quick and undiluted by fatigue, your senses sharp and focused. Half empty or half full, perspective can be everything.

We picked a decent spot, unknowingly pulling in next to Trevor (a sometime riding buddy), then set up the canopy just before the rain began. It wasn't long before we discovered the first mechanical of the race--Butch's Voodoo had sprung a flat while riding the rack on the way down. While Butch changed the tube and did his share of warranted bitching, DT and I began unpacking and getting things set up. Meanwhile, the rain began to fall harder as the sky grew overcast, prefiguring the weather to come almost right up until race time. I punched up the Royal Trux's Accelerator CD. With songs like "I'm Ready" and "Follow the Winner", it seemed the perfect choice to set the mood for the race, heroin associations nothwithstanding. Butch contemplated switching to some sketchy, worn-out 1.9s that resembled slicks more than knobbies—the center "tread" looked about as grippy as a five-o'clock shadow—but gave it up after a relentless bout of heckling.

We passed the intervening hours talking about the race, cooking our meals (Butch, they put expiration dates on food for a reason, man!), visiting other riders, checking out their bikes, and throwing down a few pre-race beers simply because they were there. RickyD was a couple spots over, lounging on a camp chair beneath a makeshift pavillion of his own creation. Just beyond him, Gwadzilla shared an elaborate camp with a couple other riders, the unintelligible drone of their portable television cutting through the surrounding chatter every now and then when conversations waned. Fatmarc was somewhere; I'd seen him earlier getting in a preride to fortify his already strong lock on a win. The three-person single-speed class was shaping up to be very competitive. Good, someone should take things seriously.

The temperature was holding on to the low fifties, the rain alternating between drizzle and deluge, but never really letting up. The trails at Lodi Farm are nothing if not root ridden, and the rain meant an extra tricky element to contend with. But all would face it equally, so on balance, it came as neither asset nor detriment. I felt my choice of tires was perfect for the developing conditions: a Geax Blade 2.35 (Big Meat!) would give guidance up front, a Kenda (team sponsor!) Nevegal 2.1 would offer thrust from the back.

We decided on the rider order: Butch would be first, I would take second, and DT would finish up. Doing the math, that meant DT would likely get the coveted sunrise lap, hitting the halfway point right as the first fiery rays began to bleach away the blackness. So be it. His bike light was the sketchiest, so it made sense. The best thing about a three-person team, a 12-hour race, and an average one-hour lap time is that a decent light will cover you for your night laps with no need for a backup.

We wandered over to the race start and registered, explaining the meaning of our team name to the volunteer at her request. Apparently, one half of the double entendre did not slip past her. We were assigned number 104, prompting the mnemonic, Ten-four, asshole! Easy to remember. The three of us had to sign a lone waiver because it was the last one left. Back at the camp, Erin and Becky rolled up, pulling a camper that looked like it would have a hard time finding a home among the dwindling spaces. They ended up in front of us and stopped by for a chat before setting up. They were doing a two-person open, sharing the same bike with little more than a quick tweak of the seatpost between laps. An interesting idea, to be sure.

Night fell. Everywhere, smoke from generators emulated fog, the chugging boxes creating a background din all their own, that rhythmic language of machinery that the ear quickly learns to ignore. Fires sprang up at random from grills scattered about the field; riders huddled around them like elegant tramps, hands thrust out to the flames as if in obeisance. The temps were sinking, and the falling rain took with it the hope that riding conditions might yet be salvaged before the zero hour arrived. We were all cold. Butch seemed to be bothered most by the chill, even going so far as to question what he was doing here and suggesting that maybe he was getting sick. That didn't sound good coming from our lead rider. But neither DT nor I was worried; we knew he'd snap out of it as soon as his ass hit the saddle.

And then, sometime late in the night, the rain stopped, almost on cue. At 11:30, the hosts called everyone together to give the lowdown on the race. The customary Le Mans start would be scrapped in favor of a less reckless parade lap. The digital timer would max out at 6:00, then start over—those rolling in at 7:00 and seeing 1:00 on the clock should not assume they'd hit a wormhole in time somewhere out in the woods. The mandatory "cross the line at or after noon" rule was explained, an obligatory stupid question came out of the crowd in response, and then it was time to race.

Butch rode off with the other first lappers. DT and I watched them disappear into the woods, waited, then shot some pix as they reappeared. After the last stragglers went by, we grabbed coffee and headed back to camp to wait.

At 12:40, I returned to the starting line after readying my light and making sure I had everything I needed. I decided to take a water pack along with a bottle of Acclerade, reasoning that more is better than less. DT came along too. We stood around a few minutes, chatting with RickyD and Gwadzilla, and generally trying to ignore the pre-race jitters creeping up our spines.

At 1:00, Erin rolled in, passing the baton on to Becky, and with it her bike. Immediately behind Erin came Butch, barreling out of the darkness like a rocket. They'd both managed to rack up a one-hour first lap—impressive, given the pile-up nature of lap one.

My turn.

(And now a change of tense—call it artistic license and work with me here, okay?)

Lap 1
I head off into the maw of the night, on the wheels of another rider who turns out to be Becky. Immediately I realize my first mistake. When I attached my light to my helmet earlier, I put it too far forward and now I can't tilt it up enough to give me advance notice of approaching trail features. It's a mistake I attribute to the paltry number of night rides I've done in the last six months and a memory rendered porous by a penchant for good beer. Obstacles roll up fast, and I have to crane my neck back abnormally and ride upright to make the adjustment, a move that carries it's own danger of increased fatigue. Fuck. I hit and ride out a few ruts that I would have avoided with enough notice, and manage to keep both wheels on a mini-bridge that pops up just around a blind corner. I'm less than a mile into the lap at this point. Something has to give. Then the trail gets tighter, slower, and my upright position becomes a little less of a factor.

I stay right on Becky for a while, until we both flub a short steep that is like a mudfall. Cargo Mike stacks up behind me, hustles past, and stomps it down the backside before remounting. I follow suit, and this is the last time I see Mike on the trail. It's okay, until this race, I'd only known of him in a virtual capacity.

Back on the bike, I throw down what I have and manage to pass a couple riders. At a clearing where the trail briefly slips the woods, I pull over, frustrated by the restrictive lighting situation. I begin fumbling with the overly long velcro strap, the fuzzy snot-wipes on my gloves sticking to the hook part of the velcro and making things difficult. Several riders pass, including Becky, who asks if I'm okay. I manage to adjust the light to its proper spot, then start off again, cursing my stupidity.

I catch and pass Becky, then move on to a couple of other riders, trying to recoup my lost ground. The trail is surprisingly solid in most parts, the moist earth incongruously grippy in the corners. Even with the varicose roots rising up like miniature speed bumps, I'm able to maintain a surprising degree of speed and control. Maybe it's the tires.

The route is tight and twisty, disappearing every few yards behind the boles of trees leaning insolently into the trail. There are bridge crossings, plenty of logs, several short-'n-steeps, a newly-constructed catwalk, whoop-dees stacked haphazardly against one another like bad alliterations, and ribbons of peanut butter mud every now and then. (Later, there's even an old heating oil tank that becomes a ramp with the addition of two discarded doors.) Entire sections are new; a crew has rerouted the path around some of the older parts. It is an improvement that the rider appreciates instantly, on the fly. This course, as compressed as it is, has a lot of flow, and there are sections where you gather a good amount of speed and then scrub it all in a 180 degree arc between chummy trees.

For the last third of the lap, I lock onto another rider's wheel. It's a chick, and she's finessing the bends as if on rails. Just smooth as silk. I catch her at every climb, an advantage I owe to the SS, then cede the lead, again and again. We begin talking—why not, it's free. Her name is Amy, and she's riding for Henry's Bikes out of Delaware, in a duo with another chick. She's on her second lap and hurtling through the night at a good clip. We continue on until a stick finds its way between my rear wheel and rear brake arm. I'm sufficiently annoyed by the dragging sound to pull over and have a look. I extract the offending dowel and head off again. In the meantime, another rider has passed me. I hop on his wheel, and eventually we catch up to Amy. We maintain this arrangement all the way to the camp area, where I pull ahead of the rider in front of me to finish. I pass the baton to DT, and he heads off. My time is 1:05. Lame, but I'm consoled by the thought that I lost a couple minutes between the light fiasco and the stick jam. The next lap would be better.

End, Part 1


DT said...

Nice write-up so far! Great racing with you and Butch. Can't wait for the next one.

fatmarc said...

very well done,
I'm looking forward to the next chapter...


amy said...

It was nice to have non-creepy company in the dark :) Thanks for the compliment! Fun ridin!


Butch said...

Great write up. I loved the "varicose roots" description.

juicy, juicy, juice


gwadzilla said...

I think fatmarc's wife was the other chick

great write up

what words I understood with out consulting Webster's

a good night on the bike

thus far this has been a fantastic mountain bike season

Hjalti said...

Great story. Thanks for the write up. Looking forward to part 2.

iconoclasst said...

Thanks! You all are too kind, ha.

So, who's doing Big Bear?