Like last year, I chose to put a bit more emphasis on this late season race called Peak 2 Peak, which is held at Crystal Mountain Resort, Michigan. It’s a terrific location, and scheduled in mid-October when the fall colors are prime. Peak 2 Peak is not a slow, technical race where you pick your way through the woods all day. It’s a fast race, and a good deal of the trail is tamped down two-track offering the chance to settle into a good cruising speed. But, the race course is best known for the long climb up the actual ski hill, which is followed by a scary fast descent down the front of the hill at the end of each 11 mile lap. I raced the two lap sport single speed last year, and this climb was a real punisher. This year on my geared Niner bike I expected to have a better experience. I was also determined to stick with my decision late this summer to begin racing expert class rather than sport, meaning three laps and three climbs up the ski hill!
My wife Beck and I drove up the evening before race day, staying with my grandparents in Northport which is about 1 hour north of Crystal on the Leelanau Peninsula. We expected a beautiful drive as Michigan’s fall colors had recently hit their peak. Unfortunately, a gale force storm rolled in on Friday night. While making the drive I got a little concerned that my Niner would be blown off the top of our Jeep. It didn’t, but all night in Northport we could hear the wind howling, with gusts regularly above 40mph according to the weather channel. The next morning we awoke to find northern Michigan still in the grip of the storm. But one of the benefits of racing expert class at Peak 2 Peak was the start time being around noon. By then, the weather would lighten up somewhat.
So instead of recounting every turn in the race, let me just cut to the chase and say that this race hurt big time. I had been training hard this year to become a “real” mountain bike racer, hitting the weekday road ride groups, tracking my miles, and spending a lot of time at or near the “throw-up” zone. If you ride hard you know what I mean by throw-up zone. So when my body decided to go on strike somewhere on the second lap I was bummed. Problems started in my lower back which started tightening up in spite of regularly shifting positions on the saddle. I then started losing most of the feeling in my left foot. I was left with increased burning in my legs by riding out of the saddle to avoid taking any more hits to my back. Just when I settled into a more accommodating pace for my condition, up came the ski hill climb, where my quad muscles began cramping up. And getting to the top isn’t much reprieve because the descent is serious business. The downhill demands total concentration and you completely forget about the pain.
Lap number three was actually mentally easier due to my acceptance that I could not change my issues but I could still have a really good time. I concentrated on spinning in smooth round circles to keep my legs away from the cramp zone. The sun also came out and that really lifted my spirits. I started to feel a little faster but remained cautious. On the last climb up the ski hill, Mr. Left Leg decided to completely lock up in cramps. I even had to get off to wait for the spasms to stop, then stretched out and rode very gingerly up the rest of the hill. But just for fun I had to let the bike run a little during the downhill and slalom, which made for a close call as I nearly ran over the first slalom turn marker instead of going around it. Whoops! Oh well, I probably split the hill in two with my brakes locked while trying to slow down in time, sorry Crystal!
Looking back, things could have gone better but given the distance of this race – about thirty three miles, and expert class competition, I was happy to have the finish on the books. My results are on the web, and they stink. But Beck was there at the finish and said she was proud of me, which after 14 years of marriage still makes me smile. So do I feel like a real expert class racer? No - I got crushed, but you gotta start somewhere and this race was my line in the sand. I give credit to the Lord for keeping me safe and to my wife and kids for supporting a guy who refuses to completely grow up. And lastly, thanks to everyone for reading and to my incredible team for a season of incredible progress.