Sunday, May 1, 2016

I Am the Honeydew

Ok, so let’s talk about expectations.

You ever have a fruit cup from a grocery store or coffee shop?  Ever notice that they put like two strawberries on top and a couple of slices of pineapple.  Looks good right?  But once you dig beneath the good fruit, what’s underneath?  Fucking honeydew and grapes.  Really, the cup is like 80% honeydew and grapes.  What kind of asshole likes honeydew?  I mean really.  It’s like the cucumber of fruits. 


So, what to do about it?  Get mad?  Quit eating?  Me, I have learned to enjoy the honeydew. 

What does any of this have to do with bikes?  Well, the first two races of the OMBC series are now behind me.  What have I learned? 

I suck. 

Last year, I raced Novice Clydesdale.  This is for beginners who weigh 200 or more pounds.  To my surprise, I won the category.  It was my first year of racing.  In most races there were seven or so other Clydesdales and we raced 8-10 miles.  It wasn’t “easy;” I didn’t blow the field away.  But I was able to pull off enough podium spots over the season to earn first place.

Winning the category meant I had to move up a category.  This left me with many options.  I could stay in Novice, but move “up” to my age group – 40-49 – which is a bigger class with faster racers..  But I didn’t want to stay in Novice.  Sure, I’d be competitive, but I wanted the longer races and the challenge of more competition.  Or, I could move up a whole category to Sport Clydesdale, who race 15-20 miles per race.  But I was resolved to lose enough weight over the winter to no longer qualify as a Clydesdale.  (I did).  Also, Sport Clydesdale typically doesn’t have many racers – usually only a couple per race.  What’s the fun of that?

So, I took a big plunge.  I moved up to Sport Masters category (my age group).  Sport is consistently the biggest category in the OMBC races, and my division is consistently the largest as well.

I didn’t really know what to expect.  I knew that I had been training hard, and I knew my times on many of the OMBC trails.  But it’s hard to compare a strava ride to race day.  Conditions, competition, nerves, and other variables will all affect your performance.  And, several members of my team – Breakaway Quickdirt Trek – had made the jump with me, and I knew they were faster than me most days.  Still, I had high hopes that I might nab a podium or two this year.  Boy was I in for a surprise.

Seriously, like half this group is in my category
The first race, at Mountwood WV had a huge showing.  There were 40 racers in my category alone.  And, when we got there, it was frosty, with a light snow cover on the ground.  I knew that, with temperatures predicted to rise into the 50s, the ground would thaw and get soft, but I was hopeful that it wouldn’t be too bad. 

My new, lightweight cross-country race bike a 2016 Trek Procaliber 9.8 was in the shop.  I knew Breakaway Cycling would get it done as fast as they could, but they were waiting for a part, and there was no way it would be ready for race day.  This meant that I had to use last year’s race bike, a 2015 Trek Stache.  I love this bike, but its low knob, 3-inch tires are not ideal for sloppy mud.  And I hadn’t trained on this bike – hadn’t even ridden it for months.  And it’s heavier than my race bike.  And other excuses.

When we lined up for the start line, I hoped to gain some time.  The race started with a 2-mile climb, where I excel.  The start is on the road, which then takes a sharp left hand turn onto a narrow gravel path after a quarter mile or so.  I was in good position heading up the road, but at the left hand turn, I got forced into the left shoulder, which was a muddy mess, the consistency of several inches of oatmeal.  I couldn’t pedal through it.  I had to get off the bike in traffic and run with it up a short incline.  Fuck! Now I was gassed already, and I could see the leaders riding away.  Still, I was able to hop back on the bike and hammer away, gaining back some ground.

Keith's bike
Then, in the singletrack, came the mud.  My bike handling was not up to the task, and I had to watch hopelessly as riders passed me throughout the day, as I slid in the mud.  This was particularly disheartening, because, on the climbs, I would pass many riders, only to see them breeze by me as I struggled to keep the bike upright on the downhills. 

To make matters worse, I had overdressed because I was so cold in the morning.  So, as temperatures rose, I started to overheat.  And my bottles were so mud-covered that it was hard to get a drink.  I was starting to get mad.  Mad at the course, and mad at myself.  When we hit the grassy section midway through the race, my tires caked so badly that it looked like I was riding a fatbike.  And when my rear axle spun loose, I had to stop and fix it.  I knew my race was over, and had to watch helplessly while five or six riders, that I had been holding off throughout the race, passed me.   

When I finished I dropped my bike and threw my helmet in a little temper tantrum.  I’m not proud of that, but there it is. 

Fortunately, my teammates were waiting for me in good spirits, and after some food and drink, my mood turned around.  I enjoyed the rest of the event, especially celebrating my teammates finish in good times and grab podium spots.

I finished 21 of 35.  Ugh.  Nothing to celebrate there. 

In the days after the race, I reflected on my experience.  What had gone wrong?  What could I improve?  Well, the obvious answer is that I need to improve my bike handling.  But the deeper issue was that I wasn’t enjoying the race.  I was taking it too seriously, taking myself too seriously. 

So, as I headed into the next race at Mohican State Park, I resolved to have fun.  I let go of thoughts of glory or beating my rivals, and decided just to race myself.  And, if it went poorly, I would still relish the day out on the woods on my bike.

Calvin found this four leaf clover for me before the race.  Would it help?
I rode out to the race with a new teammate, who is an old friend, but hasn’t raced much.  It was fun to talk with him and play the “veteran” – answering questions and calming his jitters – what a strange new role for me!

Fortunately, race day cooperated with me.  My race bike was back from the shop.  The temperature was warm, but not hot, the sky was clear and sunny, and light rains earlier in the week had left the trail surface in primo conditions. 

James does his bike repairs just before the race, as is his custom.  Or, at least Chris and Mike do James' bike repairs

When we arrived, so many friends and teammates had showed up for the race.  I smiled and laughed so much that my face hurt. It was my turn to get advice from guys like James, Austin, Chadd, and Joe.

Then, it was time to race.  I wished my son good luck (he was racing High School Novice for the first time) and huddled with my start wave.  What a huge group.  I chatted with those around me, like Glen and Paul, while we waited for our wave to be called. 

Calvin getting it done.  Photo by Photoglypics
Then, it was time to go.  Like Mountwood, Mohican started with a gravel climb before a bend and a steeper climb into the singletrack.  I wasn’t among the lead riders, because I wasn’t sprinting.  But some of the guys ahead of me had already burnt too many matches on the gravel climb and couldn’t handle the steep ascent on the singletrack. So, a bottleneck formed as they dismounted, forcing those behind (including me) to dismount as well.  Despite pleas of “riders back!”, the walkers wouldn’t clear the trail to let those behind pass.  This infuriated some of the folks behind me, who yelled unkind things.  But not me.  I smiled, remembering that this was just for fun.  So, I hopped off the bike and managed to outrun a few folks up the hill.  At the next climb, another bottleneck, and some more angry words.  I still kept my cool, kept my pace, and called out to friends happily instead while passing.  One of them cheered me on as I passed “go Dan!” 

Photo by Photoglypics
The course was perfect and I was motoring along, keeping a steady pace.  I was having so much fun pushing myself that I forgot to be mad.  About nine miles in, I caught up to my teammate Paul.  So good!  Paul is one of my new favorite people, and when he saw me, he picked up his pace.  We rode with a group of about five for the next eight miles or so, Paul and I cracking jokes the whole time.  On the hills, I’d say “come on Uncle Paulie” and on the descents, he’d yell “come on Dan, come on!”  Finally, near the end of the piney section around mile 21, Paul decided it was time to drop me and pick up the pace.  I let him go with a yell of encouragement.

The final four miles of trail were technical, and a few riders started to catch up to me.  I was able to hold all of them off, except for one rider, who I let pass at the last downhill.  It turned out to be a costly pass, because he stayed in my sights and finished one place ahead of me by ten seconds!  Guess I can’t always be the nice guy.

When I finished the race, some of my teammates were already waiting for me.  Everybody was spent, but exhilarated.  Hi-fives were exchanged and some cold beers were obtained as we watched the rest of the team roll in.

I didn’t check my results until much later.  I was blown away – I had beat my own record on this course by 30 minutes!  It wasn’t until Monday morning that I checked the official results.  I finished 13 of 36.  Not a podium spot, to be sure (I already knew that much), but a great finish for me nonetheless.

The next race is at Great Seal, one of my favorite trail systems in Ohio.  I can’t wait to get out there and set a new personal record.  I may be honeydew, but we can’t all be pineapple.

Be brave and eat your fucking honeydew. 



  1. Loves every thing about this.

  2. Great job Dan! You have improved dramatically since you started. Keep a smile on your face and keep moving forward. I started as a novice racer. It took me 9 years and a lot of failures, but I'm starting to lay down expert times. Don't think its out of the realm of possibilities for you either. It just takes time to learn the subtle nuances of mountain biking. I do things now that seemed out of reach and ridiculous several years ago. You can be out of reach and ridiculous too. Be brave honey dew!