While there was a nice hilly race going on in CT - there was simply no chance of missing "my" local race. The race that got me back on track in terms of fitness & passion.
Described as a race through a rooty, rocky swamp, The Grind makes short work of riders who haven't honed their skills. In 2009 The Grind was my first MTB race and it made short work of me. I thought I had some decent skills - but during a "simple" pre-ride I racked up at least 5 crashes attempting to ride out the rock gardens. I wised up during the race and ran a few of the sections where it made no sense to risk things.
For example - this beauty of a spot will never be forgotten. The course ran the opposite way in 09' - and this was the exact spot where I performed a classic "where'd my bike go??!!" Superman flight much to the delight of the Expert guy pre-riding behind me.
The night before I tried putting my tools and crap in various locations with various fixtures. - The Grind is not a race to take lightly when it comes to equipment failure & backup systems. Here was where I intended to put the multi-tool.
From there I was going to strap a "Big Air" CO2 canister on the seat-tube and strap a spare tube on it too. I finally just accepted that this little touristy geeky apparatus was the best solution. Everything is inside, it's easy to get to - and shouldn't fall off. (Note the strap for added protection)
You might think it's silly looking - but it works.
I had also very much in advance decided on riding the hardtail instead of my aging & cushy Yeti FS bike rolling Nevegals. Last year I had my butt handed to me in Sport by a guy riding a late 80's rigid Univega. Time to man up, take a few Advil and go hard.
After a pre-ride with Andy Gould - whom I often happen upon while pre-riding it was time to head back and try to do muh hometown proud.
At the start I chatted with a few fellow racers. They're getting to know me from the few ROOT 66 races I've done and a couple even insisted I move up towards the front for the start. I might be OK at this biking thing - but I will never touch these guys when it comes to sportsmanship. Can't win everything I suppose..
After the youngsters took off - it was our turn. This time - I wanted the hole shot or at least a spot near the front. Nothing worse than getting stuck in a conga-line through the the kind of terrain The Grind has to offer. At the signal I layed on the juice and quickly tucked into 2nd place. The course went around a LH turn on the grass and headed back across near the start with a wide open straight-away. I made my move and turned on the coals - 1st position into the woods: Acquired.
Now into the woods - I kept telling myself "chill the eff out" - "Not worth dumping it this early" I could hear the riders behind me - which certainly turns your "cool" into "Why the hell am I here?!". It's alot of pressure to lead like this - no lie. Within a 1/4 a mile or so - I broke rhythm and lost my line or something. I didn't so much crash as simply lose all composure - and from there - lose my bloody damn chain. Again. Much cursing ensued - and I was passed by 3 or 4 riders. I heard one say "relax man, we got aways to go". Hmm.. Dude's got a point there.
Interesting tidbit on cursing - supposedly it helps with pain. Here is Kari from Mythbusters proving so..
Most of the middle of the race kinda went blurry from there. I recall passing one fellow in the zig-zag section on the grass - he says "Alby!" - I say, "who are you??" - "I'm Chris! - I have you marked"... Woah. I'm like "marked". In Rhode Island that could could turn out really, really bad. At the same time I'm kind of flattered. I keep on keeping on and we trade spots here and there- this guy is a good rider. I keep managing to screw up in a few technical areas, but finally get by and get on with it. Around midway through the second lap - the sky opens up.. Big time. Result - if it wasn't slippery enough for you before... this should do the trick.
Further into the second lap I chance upon last years rival - Shawn Smith. I catch him just in time to watch a spectacular wipe out (sorry Shawn, really though - it was the best one I saw) Not only did he wipe out, but he continued to have difficult simply getting up floundering like a fish. (Sorry Shawn, this is the stuff many lackluster careers in comedy were built on). He is undamaged (what, do you think I'd just laugh at a guy / situation if the dude was hurt?? - shame on you!!) as I make my way past he says "Gould is just ahead - maybe 30 seconds". This is all the motivation I need. Andy has been killing it this year. Along the way I catch up with a rider on a 26" FS bike - this guy can ride - he is nailing lines to the point where I can't help but compliment him. I ride at his pace for some time and we get to a grassy section in between the wooded single track that includes some bermed corners. Between the deluge, the slippery grass and speed - he cuts a corner a little too tight and starts going down. Before he even hits the ground he is cracking up. The rider: Steven Crossley - yeah, that guy. Steve rips. I pass on the outside and keep a grindin'.
About 1/4 of the way into the third lap - I see him in the Blue Steel Cyclery jersey: Andy Gould. He is trailed by three younger riders and they are all moving pretty good. About halfway through I get past these guys and finally, finally... I catch up to Andy. I make a pass where reasonable using quite a bit of bug juice and within a minute or so say "Hey Andy, feeling strong?" In other words "I'm spent - wanna go?" He replies that he is just fine and I carry on the rest of the race being ever so careful not to do anything totally stupid. Despite almost really screwing up in a few sections it all works out. Easily one of my best races. Ever.
So there you have it. 1st Vet 2 - 2nd overall Expert by a measly 7 seconds. Damn you and congratulations Joshua Krzyzek.
The prize: Money!! My first ever money!! From a race!! Almost got my entry fee back!! YAHOO!!
I love, love this race. Grassroots racing doesn't get any better. A few sites from the scene.
Muddy masses discussing slipping, sliding, crashing, blood & gore at the finish.
Virtually guaranteed mud at the Grind
Awards Ceremony - this is where they give out MONEY!!
Folks hanging on the back porch -big thanks to the Peckhams. Let's hope the tradition continues a few more decades.
Kevin & Steve chatting it up with Maz
Gaggle of award winners & watchers
So I get home - and tell Lucy and Ava "I won money!!!" Ava's instant reply: "Awesome, you can take us out for dinner"
She looks so sweet just reading her book. Inside - there is much, much scheming..
I gotta go clean the mud out of my eyeballs. Do you think Steel Magnolias or Beaches will do the trick?
See y'all at the Weeping Willow.