Woke up at 3:44. Had an alarm set for 3:45, 3:55 and 4:00. Tried not to scare the deer off and bagged a spike. Showered and loaded the Tahoe. Met Tim, Silk and Foster at the office, rolling by 4:45. Headed North. A few errant turns were corrected by years of traveling the same roads and a Tom Tom. Three hours, fifteen minutes and two Egg McMuffins later we pull into East Macon Park. Meet up with Mark, Big Worm, Big Jim, D and the Mackerel. I try to take it easy. We are excited and have plenty of time to prep for the 9:30 yellow wave. The start is a 50 yard motocross style sprint to a right hander, then another 50 yards to a BMX track (which spills into the singletrack). One by one, we watch the yellow wave starts. In Expert, Silk runs into the woods 4th. Mark is somewhere near the back of 19 riders with Darien in the middle. Tim and Ken have good starts with Ken mid-pack and Tim top five. By the time we get back to the 180 Energy tent, Ric, Darien and Mark have already come through our little U-turn area. This is a big hard pack/grassy area built into a field to add length to the course – it’s about a third of the way into the lap. A few minutes later, Tim comes by in second as he’s marked the first place rider. Ken comes by looking good mid-pack. The next few hours are spent handing our boys the wrong water bottles and trying to prep for the white wave. Ric battles with two other guys and comes 10 seconds shy of winning and beating a pro. Darien has a bio-mechanical. Mark turns out a solid 9th with more left in the tank. Tim flats and still battles back to a third and Ken has a mechanical. His 29er was freshly built and his rear wheel’s spokes stretched like taffy. By far the weirdest wheel thing I have ever seen. He decided not not to trash the rim, parked the bike and of course sniffed out some micro-brew a few tents down.
Big worm, Steve, Big Jim and myself are all doing our thing by this time. The start was delayed by 30 minutes which threw everybody off except me because “I knew” we would start late. Everything felt great. Close to start time I finally get on the bike and settle into to a medium warm up – just to wake the legs up. Everything feels great. I pair up with Steve and we do some laps around the baseball fields. Close to start time now. We’re in the fourth wave, with Worm in the second and Big Jim in the fifth. I’m kind of jammed so I pull an old school, move up first move when the wave ahead of starts. Steve pulls up, giggles and says smooth. We’re both excited. Of course I want to beat Steve in this race but most importantly I want to ride solid. They blow the start whistle and I surge ahead. I have the holeshot easy. Then some guy powers by and I decide not to contest. Damn it’s Steve! We take the right hander clean and step on the gas. We run through the BMX track with ease and go into the woods 1, 2. I decide I am good to ride his wheel. Steve is talking us through it and we use our old school skills to gap everybody. We dial it back a little to recover and I feel pretty good. Everything is good. The plan is to: Chill at the start – check, Smooth through the BMX – check, settle down until the first climb – here’s where the trouble starts. We are going slow enough through the single track at this time that I am ready to go. I pull around Steve and say “come on let’s grab another gear, they’re catching up”. We do the big u turn and I hear Steve says it’s shitty. Good thing he warns me just in time for a crappy drop off. We groove thru the single track and I ask him if that was the climb. The way he says no should have scared me. By the time we get there and he says this is it – he didn’t need to. I try to ride it smooth but it is a grind and I am gassed at the top. So much so that Steve is now on my ass saying come on Kent – meaning step your game up. We have a group of four and big gap. The two guys behind us are talking shit and Steve keeps repeating “if you’re feeling froggy” leaving out the punch line – jump. If I wasn’t in pain, I would laugh. At this point I still feel OK but the climb was a huge burn. I snow plow the first sandy section with my front wheel. Luckily I have enough speed to carry through. By the time we get to the cactus section I realize something is wrong and I’m in trouble. I’m not bonked, but there are way more ups and downs than I expected. Normally an advantage, Steve and these guys are taking me to school. We finally let the two guys around – more like they ride around. Climbing up to the u turn area field we see Chris bombing the downhill. About this time we hear Big Jim say “Steve, Kent.” All I can think is man he is riding fast. After Jim makes short work of us, Steve says out loud “he’s going to catch Chris.” Steve comes around to bump up the pace. I grab his wheel and we come close to pulling back the leaders in our race. Pop out to the start of the u turn area. Steve glances back to make sure I’m on his wheel. The small gap and look on my face tells him he’s off the hook – I’m done. I crest the hill, roll past the tent and stomp on the pedals fueled by cheers from the boys. Slight downhill after the turn so I pull back # 234 and we’re not far off Steve. Bomb the big down hill and we’re fairly tight (it’s Steve, 234 and then me).
This is where the pain really starts. Up down, up down. I’m pissed. This mofo course is all climbing! I’m at the when does it end point. Stay smooth, try to breath. Try not to kill yourself on the climbs. Legs full now. Try to groove the bottom of one of the downs and crash. Not bad but hard. Look back, it’s clear. Back on the bike, stay calm. 234 and Steve are gone. Roll through endless up downs and really struggle with the last two climbs. They hurt bad. Get off the bike bad, but I keep pedaling. I’m dripping sweat, elevated heart rate and have no idea where the lap ends. I get teased several times when I hear the announcer. Finally break through and luckily pull back a three hundred series rider. I ride his wheel through the VERY long start/finish area. Oddly enough I’m able to pedal fine on these flats. I’m able to speed up and finally shake loose “pretty boy” – another rider Steve quipped was meditating at the start. I called him pretty muscle. I finally feel like I am able to pedal. The second lap comes easier and it does not hurt as bad – except for the first climb. I have to dismount and scramble the last 20 yards. While this lap doesn’t hurt as bad on the legs, I’m now in survival mode. Not in danger on not finishing, more of I feel like I should be able to go faster. Just pedal, smooth. Up down, up down. I am going as fast as possible and pushing as hard as possible. Any harder and I would not be able to finish. I am riding hard enough to lose track. Now it’s just climb, smooth, climb, smooth. I’m hurting. I’m picking off 100 series riders, and 300 series riders that passed me. That tells me I’ve picked up the pace. Pleasantly surprised when I pop out of the woods. I was so focused on climbing, going as fast I could that I’m now done. Power through the start/finish – nearly pulling back another rider. Make my way back to the tent and sit down. Boys try to talk with me and realize I’m not there yet. Takes me awhile to come back. Load my bike and finally crack a smile when Mark offers me a 180. I’m finally back. Later find out that Steve pulled a 4th, and I got 9th out of 16. Could of easily been a 16th for me. Jim won, of course. Chris had a bout with survival mode on his third lap to score 5th out of 6. Tough race for all of us. Great race for all of us.