The day started out with a good omen. While we drank coffee and got ready, the cabin's TV just happened to be tuned to an old-movie channel that had on this 1963 bicycle safety film (really, really worth watching, I am not kidding) so we all learned some valuable tips and got pumped up for a day of extra-safe bike riding.
It had been raining for a good part of the night and was still wet when we started. Tried to keep cool while everyone was redlining up the three mile road climb, and I was psyched to go into the singletrack right after Jamie. Got to ride with him for about 10 miles or so, and he pulled away from me when I flatted. I aired it up but the Stans wouldn't do its trick. Tried again, still nothing. Damn, time for a tube! Everything was covered with a mixture of Stans, mud, and dead leaves. The tube valve was weird but I finally got about 14 psi in there. I was afraid to mess with it any further so that would have to do.
Back on the bike I was trying to make up some of the time I'd lost. Passing folks, I followed a line to the side the trail that didn't work out. A pretty nice big endo off the front wheel left me with a deep cut in the palm of my left hand. Once I got back onto mellower doubletrack I realized it had also left my front rim really wobbly. And, I realized that my fork was bottomed out and staying there. It's already happened before. It comes and goes. The fork is new and bearings were just reset, but it has some kind of issue (leaky air seals?). A warranty issue, I would assume. I don't think it happened due to the crash, I'm thinking my crash was due to hitting that drop without any suspension.
So now I was riding a waaaaay out-of-true front wheel, on a rigid fork that was 1.5 inches shorter than the bike's geometry should have the front end. Leaning on a left palm that was bleeding copiously all over the bar. And I had about 85 miles to go. When I rolled into the first aid station I poured a cup of water on the cut and kept going.
Riding along dripping blood and staring at that wobbling front wheel, I needed to give myself a pep-talk. A couple days before the race I'd seen this video about the honey badger (again, really I recommend you watch this, at least skip ahead to the part at 2:20 where the honey badger rises from the dead) and read all about the honey badger's many qualities here. Honey badger is illogically fearless for a 30 lb animal. He faces down leopards and lions and poison snakes, and loves honey so much he endures a thousand bee stings for it. I decided that the honey badger was a good role model. Would the honey badger focus on a bleeding hand and stop for first aid, or ride easy on the messed up wheel and fork? No way. Honey badger would get angry and keep riding hard. Did honey badger shake off a venom hangover and finish eating that snake to impress internet surfers with how badass he was? No way. Honey badger doesn't care what you think. He did it because he's a wild animal and that's what he does. And because snake is DELICIOUS.
The weather was turning from bad to worse but I was feeling strong and angry with my honey badger role model pep talk. The front end of the bike was holding together though the suspension was still cutting in and out and the front wheel was looking crazy. It was hard to make sharp right turns on the wheel but since there wasn't much of any singletrack riding that required tight handling I figured it was no big deal. Thunder, lightning, dense fog and downpours of rain started up during the big long climbs from mile 40-60. I resisted the temptation to use the 22-tooth ring and spin easy. I resisted the temptation to take it easy on the mud descents too. I'd already caught and passed a lot of people in my category but the honey badger wasn't happy with just eating half a snake. Luckily the bleeding was stopping pretty well, since just by riding I was "putting pressure on the wound" like I was supposed to.
It went on, the rain lightened a little bit but by mile 80 I was starting to feel the effects of all that rageful-honey-badger-style riding. Not to mention the effects of the rigid fork, and of pushing an out-of-true, 14 psi tire through the mud all day. I'd made it back up to 7th place but my legs were starting to protest even though the rest of me wanted to keep it up.
Denelle caught me from behind in the gravel descents to the last 10 miles of singletrack. I entered the trail right before her and hung it out there to put as much space as I could between us on the first singletrack descent. The trail then went up for a long gradual climb and I tried to widen the gap more, but by the top of the climb had pretty much run out of gas. With only 4 miles left in the race I got passed back by Denelle and another woman, and knew I couldn't match them for a final sprint. I ended up in 9th place at 9h45.
I am really satisfied with this race. I gave it more than I thought I could and kept my head in the race til the end. Honey badger is a good role model. Endurance racing hurts like hell when you're doing it right, but you keep coming back for more because even though it just might kill you, snake is DELICIOUS.