Read Part I here: Decision Point
Read Part II here: Wrath of God
Read Part III here: Gimme Shelter
To the pit, off the bike, dig out the warmest jacket I could find, cover my legs with towels, find a seat. Drink some milk and honey for a small recovery, snack on some food. Wait. Shiver. Focus on the positive. Stay off my feet. And wait.
My Dad, Tim and Ryan had dropped the tent to save it from the wind, and tied it down to the cooler to keep it from lifting off. So there we were, in some sort of Being John Malkovich world, crouching in a half-raised tent and trying to stay calm, stay warm and stay informed. Nobody really knew what was going on, and as riders began to filter back into the pits -- halted at the aid stations, some chose to ride back, others were forced to wait for the rescue wagon -- the word was wet, the word was cold: Even if my lap gamble hadn't paid off, at least I was warm and relatively dry longer than those who were stuck out on the course. Our Salsa tent was sandwiched between Cody Gunst on one side and Justin Lund on the other -- Cody had ridden in while Justin got a lift in the box truck. Each of us had our own strategy to deal with the stop.
Eventually, word filtered in that we were looking at a mass restart -- first at 4
p.m., then 4:30, finally confirmed at 5. With the rain tapering off, it was time to start moving; all told, I had 2 hours of down-time with no idea what it would do to my body. Would I shut down? Would I go good? What will that restart look like in the mud?
With about 30 minutes to go, we started getting ready. Tim re-set my bike for mudder conditions: new wheel, crud catcher, lube. As I stood up from the camp chair, I realized that my Honey Stinger gel flask had completly emptied all over my jersey and shorts, setting me up for the following:
Tim: "Here, let me get that." He walked over with a wet rag and began wiping down the bottom of my jersey.
Me: "Aw, man, it's all over. All over. Here, get my shorts."
Tim: "No worries, it's coming off."
Me: "Yeah, but it's Honey Stinger. The last thing I need is to be chased by bugs through the woods all night."
At this point, Jason, Tim's coworker who had been observing this whole thing, strolls over, and deadpans: "It's not the bugs you need to worry about. It's the hoards of angry Pooh Bears. They're viscious."
... and for the next 17 hours, wet chamois and all, it was all I could do to keep from laughing about angry Pooh Bears after my ass for Honey Stinger.
My dad had made his way to the timing tent, and came back with good news: My fifth lap had counted, and put me in second place behind Ron Stawicki, with only the two of us on the lead lap. None of us had been sure whether Ron, with his single speed prowess on full display, was racing the Open class -- turns out, he was, and had 12-ish minutes on me, even though I had a geared advantage. That news told me two things: first, Ron was out for blood -- he's wanted to win Wausau overall on a SS for years; and second, I had a tall order in front of me. In fact, I was honest with my crew, and told them that while I wasn't conceding by any means, I needed to ride my own race, and wanted them to keep tabs on Jeff in 3rd place vs. updates on Ron in 1st. I knew that if I started chasing Ron I'd put myself in a hole that I might not climb out of.
I pulled off a quick stop in the chalet, where the fire had it nice and warm, and lined up at the front next to Ron for the restart. It's been a while since I did a foot-down XC start, but I knew I needed to give it my all through at least the first few sections of singletrack if I wanted to stay upright and maintain my place. The countdown was on, and as Adam hit "1" I took off -- sure, it's been a while, but I remembered my Stupidweek crit training!
Here's where I need to pay Wes Dickson a debt of gratitude. Wes owns Sycamore Cycles in Brevard, and hosts a Thursday night, all-comers, beat-the-heck-out-of-yourself ride in Pisgah that has tested my limits nearly every week this season. I've ridden harder and faster on those rides than I've ridden in any race, only to blow myself up and do it again -- this is the mountain bike training I've needed to really round out the endurance riding that I enjoy so much. And in those first 3-1/2 miles of restart through small lakes, rivers, mud, rocks and roots of Wausau24-2011, every single one of those rides paid off.
I wasn't first into the singletrack, but I was in the lead group. I was maybe 5th or 6th wheel, and holy crap! I was staying with them! Ron was right there, just one or two wheels up, and damned if he wasn't getting away. I've seen him pull off crazy-smooth moves that I won't even try before, and I have to admit I was surprised as heck that I was staying even -- we were in near full-on WORS mode, slipping and sliding our way through the singletrack, and I was there.
We popped out onto the forest road and began to climb through the mile 4 marker. I did the math and realized there was still 17 hours to go -- 17 hours -- and pulled back a little from the pace we had been setting. I let Ron go as we hit the steep, and settled in with Jeff, getting comfortable and getting ready for a really long afternoon and night in the saddle. I was focused on my race, on what I could do, and concentrated on staying upright and moving forward as best I could through the wet and mud.