Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dirt Sweat and Gears

I needed a little time to recover before I could write about Dirt Sweat and Gears-- that race was hard on body, mind, and drivetrain. Damn.

I was entered in the coed duo class with Christopher “X” Rampton as my race partner. X and I had both been slackers in the days just before the race and a lot of race-prep-type conversations had been left til the last minute. I was coming from Columbia via Athens, and he was coming from Atlanta, so we didn’t even connect the night before. We figured it would all work out ok as long as we just rode our bikes fast enough. X decided to take the first lap.

A minute before the start of the race the thunderstorm started. The lap times were supposed to be a little over an hour, and the rain only slowed people down a small amount. X came into the start-finish with a decent time and I went out for my first lap. The downpour was tapering off, but what had been your average wet trails were starting to set up into a form of mud I had never seen before.

It was advanced mud. It was supermud. It was mud from the future that had come back in time to kill us all. Riding fast quickly turned into riding slow, which became bike pushing. Even bike pushing became impossible as the mud got worse. The only rideable sections were a few hills that were steep enough to drain well, and even there it was slow going. Really slow. It was simply not a bike race any more, if you define a bike race as “riding bikes fast.”

(deep in the shit on my first lap; photo from

The only way to finish the lap was to clean as much mud as possible off the bike, shoulder it, and walk. I tried to place it on my own personal spectrum of unpleasant experiences and decided it ranked just below the time I had food poisoning on a Taipei-to-San Francisco flight. In hindsight I have scaled back this ranking, since food poisoning lasts longer and is not undertaken voluntarily. My lap ended up being 3.5 hours long, with only 2 miles of the 12 mile loop actually ridden. I was talking with someone else racing duo as we trudged along, and we debated whether to tell our race partners to go out for another lap or bag the race. But there was no way I wasn’t going to let X experience the supermud!

(photo by Ladd Dunwoody)

Finally made it back and tagged X, who took off. I went back to my gear to start getting ready for another lap. I hadn’t even gotten my bike under the hose when I happened upon X, who I had thought was about 30 minutes into his own muddy hell. He’d gotten a taste of the mud and very intelligently decided it was too stupid. A couple other teams in our category were in the same position. I had race brain, and decided that if my bike could be fixed I would go out for another lap and see if we could still get on the podium—I’d come all this way for a bike race and dammit I wanted a race. I was having front brake problems and I couldn’t clip in to my left pedal. The Terrapin Racing Team pit crew graciously fixed my cleat, while I fixed my brake, dug mud out of the drivetrain, hosed everything down, shoveled in some food, and changed kits. Time was ticking away, though, and it was starting to seem like a losing battle.

As I was going back to the start-finish, I ran into Dan from Eastside Cycles in Nashville. He had his singlespeed cyclocross bike with him, and said I could borrow it if I wanted. Helllll yeah! This race just got fun again!! It wasn’t going to get me onto the podium, but getting out there and riding that course on a CX bike sounded like it would be a blast. The mud was absurd anyway, why not just see what could happen. The skinny tires could cut through the deep mud and shed it better, and the entire bike was way lighter to carry. Nice. A Surly Crosscheck with a Cars-R-Coffins sticker on the top tube that matched the Cars-R-Coffins jersey I was wearing. It was meant to be. Swapped pedals and I was gone.

The flat sections in the beginning were real crossy, and I was riding great though the gear was a little tall for conditions… 42x18. Whoa. Most of the singletrack was crazy deep mud, unrideable even on the CX. But anything that was a little sloped was totally rideable with the skinnys. The mud slowed the bike down enough that it didn’t matter that the rim brakes were non-functional. The funnest part of my race was riding in the drops, pedaling down sweet muddy descents on the backside of the course. I actually started enjoying myself. And also wishing for cyclocross season.

I could definitely finish the lap on a cyclocross bike, and could definitely do it before the cutoff, but I hadn’t brought any lights. I got about 2 or 3 miles from the end of the lap and had to bag it because it was just too damn dark in the woods. I cut back to the start-finish on a firebreak and immediately drained a beer. Then another beer. I’d been on the course for 7.5 hours total and only completed one lap.

Super extra props to Dan, who is an awesome guy who let me borrow his bike!! Not only did I borrow it, I completely forgot to wash the fifty pounds of mud off it afterwards. I definitely owe him a new chain, possibly a bottom bracket, and most definitely some beers next time I am in Nashy.

And next year I will be back, and I will bring my cyclocross bike, and I will be finishing a lap on it. You heard it here first.


  1. no sweat. bike is fine. It's a Surly. You can't hurt it. Scrubbed it down at the shop and it looks like new. Didn't cost a dime.

    So glad you had a good time, and on my bike for some of it. Next time we race, party, race, party, wash rinse repeat.


  2. I like the part where you said "I actually started enjoying myself." Gosh, it's those moments that make it worth the struggle. I can't even imagine what that mud must have been like no matter how I try. Props girl and to Dan too for offering up that bike. Ya'll rock!