Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Friday, August 24, 2012

An extremely consequential training camp weekend up in Collingwood

Near the end of the every season, races begin to be a little bit further between and fewer on weekends. We still have a few big races (marathon nationals, provincials, and the legendary University Cup series), but it’s a good time to refocus, reenergize, and throw a good block of training into the mix. Long time racing buddy James Clarke invited  Jon Slaughter and myself to his beautiful chalet near Talisman Resort (amongst the escarpment in the blue mountains) for a weekend of epic training. The plan was to do a 95km day on Saturday that climbed up the escarpment 6 times (you can thank the crazy Belgian Etienne for that), and then put some good time in on Sunday on the provincials course.  This would be a sweet weekend! We were riding all day every day with buddies, hanging out at a chalet on the escarpment at nights, and doing it all over again – without the stress of being in peak performance for a race.

Saturday’s ride turned into an unforgettable and extremely consequential one. After riding up and down the escarpment 4 times, including up Blue Mountain and down on the downhill trails (it may have been the highlight of my weekend to yell “RIDER!!!! “ at a fully equipped downhill mountain bike rider and see the shock in his face when a spandex-clad cross country rider came flying by him onto a bridge and proceeded to gap over the latter part of the bridge). Jon had been riding very strongly all day, and is an incredibly technically astute rider but as we were descending a very steep, long, technical section at Three Stage something happened, and Jon ended up head first into a tree. I was the guy behind Jon and was first by his side. He was lying absolutely still, swearing. He and his bike were back off the trail by the tree, which had clearly stopped him dead. His helmet was cracked, and he told us that he couldn’t feel his right arm at all. We asked him some questions, he did not appear to be concussed, but something was seriously wrong.

Jon lied down there for about 20 minutes before he sat up. We discussed the idea of calling in help, but we were so far in the middle of a forest, and didn’t know really where we were. The fastest way for Jon to get to the hospital would be in one of our cars. I tried to comfort Jon with the novel idea of going into a big tube and getting a CT scan, but he wasn’t quite ecstatic on it. We all knew of the severity of his injury though.
I fashioned a sling for his arm out of a bike tube, and the man of steel, Jon Slaughter started walking out with Kelsey while Etienne led James, Jerome and I to the road. James and I then screamed down the road about 20 minutes to his van, and Etienne and Jerome went back for Jon and Kelsey to show them their way out of the bush properly.

I was the first to actually visit Jon in his hospital after Kelsey and I rode to Blue Mountain, picked up his car, and got there. Jon had been scanned in the “big tube”, and left on a hospital bed, still in his spandex shorts, and with a hospital patient gown on. As I entered the room, Jon (now equipped with a neck brace) was trying to squirm out of the bed.
“NO, NO DON’T  MOVE!” screamed the nurse
“But I just have to pee!”
“I’ll get you a jug then”
“And I’ll hold it for you!” I added
“Oh good idea” said the nurse.
The look on Jon’s face after this exchange was the funniest I had ever seen Jon muster, but of course I gave him privacy.

At least blue is Jon's colour, and he looks great in polka-dots

We found out later that afternoon that Jon had two fractures in the vertebra of his neck, and that he would have to wear a “halo” for 12 weeks. He was transferred to Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto to have the incredibly invasive apparatus screwed into his skull. Jon is extremely tough and lucky and considering what happened, this may be the best case scenario. One of his fingers remains numb, but he is in surprisingly good spirits, and chuckled when I surprised him with a visit all the way up in Muskoka on Tuesday.
Etienne and I are on the way to Quebec as I am writing this, the only two left that are in for the Canadian Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships. This will be a seriously grueling race, but it’s a challenge that I am looking forward to, and I’ve got some yellow tape on my bike, to remind me that I’m riding hard, because at the moment, Jon can’t.  Check out the course profile, and the awesome video for it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A somewhat un-glorified homecoming

It was great to be back in town for the weekend at my old home course where I learned to ride a mountain bike; Buckwallow (just north of Gravenhurst, Ontario). I am flattered and it meant so much to me to see friends that I hadn’t seen in years come out and support me – there truly is no better feeling! Unfortunately the race was overshadowed by bad weather and no pre-ride of the course, and it just wasn’t my day.
Riding the course blind (and my tire valve failing in the last lap) did lend to making it tougher and a bit more stressful, but I have no real excuse. 

bringing her home on foot. you can tell I'm not too impressed with myself here
(photo stolen from Jim Cassell)

Some days are bad days, and we can all learn from them and how to make them better! By this point in the season my training regimen has been demolished by unpredictable, and too many work hours. I am surely not complaining here, as I will be at work till whenever it takes, and I take great pride in working with the University of Guelph in the School of Environmental Sciences Microbiology lab. Priorities are priorities, and I thought that I could get away with less training to make sure that things get done at the lab. On the way home I reflected and figured that I need to refocus myself, and sleep more, eat better, and train more (if I can).
Thank you to my great friends, to Jon and Vicki, who hosted us, and sorry that I wasn’t able to put on a better performance for the race.

Thanks to Diana and her family who cheered, and had my feeds absolutely under control!
(photo stolen from Jim Cassell)
Feeds so clean that I didn't even have to look to know where the bottle was!
(photo stolen from Jim Cassell)
Finishing it off with an action shot! I'm told I looked strong during the race, and it was great
 to have such encouraging supporters! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Back to home turf

Today I am travelling back to where I learned how to ride a mountain bike, and where my passion all started. The race will be just north of Gravenhurst Ontario, on a course full of bedrock, roots, big rocks, and arguably the most technically challenging trails in the Ontario Cup series. My buddy Alex and I will be leaving momentarily, and have just found out that the course is closed and the scheduled pre-ride will has been cancelled due to rain. I hope that though I haven't been riding at Buckwallow (the race course name) in 4 years, my local advantage still sticks. There have been a lot of changes, and this race will present a new challenge for me and the other riders; especially those who will be riding the course completely blind. I expect a lot of mechanical problems and many riders may get injured, but I am hoping for the best!

Come check out the race tomorrow!
Buckwallow map

Anyone who is stuck up north wanting to ride, send me a message, I will be organizing a mountain bike ride today so we can spin our legs the day before the race! I'll show you some great local trails!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Of mechanical misfortunes and generous racers

The first weekend  in August marked a race that has been on my calendar since the very start of the year, a race that caps up the series that I had set my mind to as a season goal: the Ontario Mountain Bike Marathon Championships. The course would be 60km in length up in Kingston, which meant lots and lots of rocks, mixed with farm fields, lakesides, and very clayey soil.

Saturday before the race I got out of the house to tool around on my bike and make sure that everything is in good working order. Unfortunately before I could even get to the trails I realized that it was indeed not. There happened to be a tooth missing from my big gear in the front, which meant that any powerful pedal strokes would cause the chain to derail. Firstly this is a problem for the obvious reason that I can no longer sprint, and secondly it puts my chain at an extremely high risk of snapping.  After a quick check in with the bike shop it became apparent that there was no way that I could resolve this problem, so I would have to race without sprinting....hmm..

On the way out the door to Kingston, I got a phone call from my wonderful Mother (anyone who has stayed at our place before a race can attest to the fact that she is the most wonderful woman in the world).  The phone call was warning of the apparent apocalypse to happen Kingston during the race. Too late, I’m out the door. With the wrong tires.

Focused on something while I was coming through the fields

The morning of the race looked like there may be a chance of rain, but the start was dry...For about 2 minutes. The combination of rain and clayey soil meant that racers would have bikes gummed up, gears would work much less effectively (if at all), there would be no traction through the trial, and bikes would get so heavy that they were hard to push even if you were on your feet. I seemed to thrive in these conditions. I quickly realized it would be a game of survival and dedication. I spent my water bottles in the first half of the race to clean out my gears, and would get off the bike every few minutes to scoop the mud by hand out of the wheels and frame. Running sections and picking up and slamming my bike on the ground while doing so would keep me going faster, and get some mud off of the bike. Any times that we would be out in the open, the rain was coming down so hard that my bike would be rideable again, and it was as if all the frogs in the world came for a party in the rainstorm, which was a plus!

After the first 30km we ended up back at the starting line, riding through a barn, and then back across some fields. By this point I was just overtaking the guy in 4th place overall, and doing so with a gusto (the reason that I was back was to fix and clean my bike at a race checkpoint). Upon re-entering the forest however, I found that my rear tire had managed to get a slow leak. How this could have happened in the fields and going through the barn remains a mystery to me, but as soon as I got into the rooty stuff again I felt my rim tapping the obstacles. While attempting to fix my flat, I must have not been thorough enough and missed whatever it was that punctured the tire, because even after checking and throwing a new tube in, it would not hold air. After releasing a dud of a CO2 canister, trying my pump again and again, and another guy’s pump I realized I must have reflatted the same tube while trying to fix it. This left me begging at the side of the trail for who ever would be merciful enough to offer up a new tube. Luckily someone did, but it cost me about a half hour.

The sun came out, and I almost look happy to be running my bike here..

I continued on, podium well out of sight, but I kept my composure and had fun for what the race really is; an adventure on my bike! The trails were awesome, and though my bike wasn’t in great shape from the fine mud earlier, it was still pedalling and I could still enjoy myself! Until out of nowhere my chain dropped off the bike. I glanced at the quicklink chain fixer on my bike and figured “It’s not worth it” and fixed my chain in a very rushed and irate (too many biting insects) manner. When I hopped on the bike again the chain fell off once more; I had forgotten to thread it through my front gear shifter. After rebreaking my chain, and fixing it literally fast as ever, I was off again. By this point racing at a pace quick enough to relieve anybody’s frustration at any mechanical problems.

Bringing it in toward the finish, thinking that I'll outrun the guys on bikes

In the last 5 km of the course my chain was acting up again, so I pedalled softly for a while, then ran it in to the finish. Not my best result ever, but I still had a good time with some great friends, and am happy in knowing that I was comfortably in 4th place overall, more than half way through the race, before they happened. I’ve learned to be extra careful when changing flats and fixing chains, and that mountain bike racers are a great bunch who won’t leave even their competitors hanging dry in the trail. And I still LOVE MY BIKE!
The face says it all right here
Thank you to Dayle Laing for taking photos and sending them to me!