Saturday, October 19, 2013

My First Race...

...was the 1992 God's Country Classic, near Coudersport in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

I was pretty into riding by that point, even though I'd only started that spring, and my friend Mike and I decided we wanted to try a race. I have no idea how we picked this one, or even found out about it -- racing was popular at the time, even if we didn't know much about it, and there were tons of races closer to home, but this was the one we found and did. My guess is that Mike saw something about this one, maybe an advertisement somewhere, and it piqued his interest.

Flashback to a few weeks before the race: I spent a lot of time riding the towpath that summer, and a few other, similar places, and I was fitter and stronger, after a summer of rising and losing weight, than I had ever been before -- but that was a low bar, and I also didn't know much about "real mountain biking," as in what I'd now call singletrack, or more technical terrain and how to handle it. So what I d was sign up for something called the "CAM Fat Tire Rally," put on by Cycle Across Maryland, ie CAM, which I think is now defunct but they used to run charity rides across Maryland (get it?) to fund helmets for inner-city kids; this was their first offroad event, and it was held at Patapsco State Park.

Me at the CAM Fat Tire Rally, 1992 

I actually got there a little early, and ended up helping with minor setup, mixing the energy drink jugs etc, then as things got started I met a few people to hang out with -- they all called me "Jersey" after seeing my license plate -- checked out some workshops on safety/etiquette/nutrition/technique/trail maintenance/etc, then went out with the "beginner" ride.

That was pretty cool, but it seemed a bit basic to me. After lunch -- tuna sandwiches, and a speech about what CAM does, which included a homily on MTB helmet safety -- I hooked up with the "intermediate" afternoon group ride, and was pushed beyond my skill and fitness level, almost losing my lunch before letting myself get dropped. All in all a good day, and I remember being exhausted on the drive home.

That was mid-September. In mid October -- Friday night of the weekend of October 10th, to be exact -- Mike and I drove up in his van, camped out with everyone else in the fields around "Potato City Airport," and on Saturday morning we went down to register.

Me at the God's Country MTB Classic, 1992

The guy who took our registration forms was in one of those "broken neck brace" halo thingies, which gave me a few qualms, and I also remember looking around during the racer's meeting at the fancy bikes -- I'd seen my first full-suspension bike at the Fat Tire Rally, but now I saw more of them, as well as plenty of suspension forks -- I was riding my fully rigid Giant Iguana with toe straps, and wearing sneakers, tube socks, really-old-school baggies, my lucky Jaegermeister tee shirt and a windbreaker, plus helmet and gloves. I thought I looked obviously out of place, and remember checking out some guy's disk wheels and feeling really clueless and inadequate...

Finally the race started, and started with the only section of actual trail on the course, about 50 yards long and complete with mud puddles and one rider already down, I mean face down in a mud puddle, with a pool of blood spreading through the water from his face while other riders were crouching and saying "You OK? You OK?" - yikes! I started thinking harder about that guy with the broken-neck halo at registration...

The rest of the course was actually pretty easy, jeep/snowmobile trails, and somewhat wider than doubletrack -- it was pretty much the towpath with elevation changes and turns. I started feeling better and more  confident (though the long climbs were tough), and at the halfway point we came to the "mandatory" stream crossing -- there was a bridge right next to where we crossed, and course officials making sure no one used it -- and I went through the stream without a problem just behind Disk Wheel Guy, who hit the water and was immediately swept away by the current. Bonus!

Immediately after the stream crossing was the biggest hill on the course, and I ended up walking, but I felt OK, and took the opportunity to carb up with my damp, rock-hard Snyders of Hanover pretzels. The rest of the ride was pretty much more of the same, climb and descend on wide dirt roads, and finally there was the finish line: my final time, something I couldn't tell you for almost any other race, was 3:03:01. Twenty-five miles or so, and about 3000 feet of climbing according to the advertisements, and I'd done it.

Mike finished about an hour later -- he told me actually took a nap on the course at one point, he was so whooped -- then we went back to our campsite and exchanged vainglorious tales with the guys in the next tents, whose names, strangely enough, were Donald and Kevin. The next day we hit the road for home, and we were so stoked we decided to do the race at Allaire State Park, practically in our backyards compared to Potter County, in November.

Epilogue: Mike and I raced Allaire together, but he didn't go with me again to God's Country; I went the next year and finished in 2:45, and the year after that I did it in 1:45. My last time there was when I went with Brian in maybe 1998 or so, after the race start/finish had moved from "Potato City," whatever that even was, to Lyman Run State Park. My time was about 1:40.