So, not just the Timpanogos guys are wusses. Everybody else is too. With the impending weather, I got a lot of calls wondering if we were still riding, and I have the final say, so I said yes. But whether it was because they were afraid of losing to a fat guy like me, or they thought they’d melt if they got wet, most people abstained from the race around SFLDC.
When I pulled into the summit parking lot with Nick, there were only two people there, Nathan, and Jake. With Nick and I that meant this would be a four man scramble. You could tell who was serious, because they were in Spandex. Not unusual for Jake, but a little surprising to see Nate in all his aerodynamic glory. Nick on the other hand was working it, in a full “urban camo” ensemble. Black, white, and gray from neck to knees. Out of the corner of your eyes it looked like a holstein charging around the parking lot for the “shakeout loop”.
It was 54 degrees when we started. A little brisk, but once your heart started pumping it was perfect. Jake got the holeshot onto 157, followed by Nate, then me, and then Nick. Nate held second place for about 17 feet, and then promptly skidded into a tree, breaking the Horn of Eternal Annoyance, and losing his place to me. The race was essentially over from this point, and no grand moves were made. We soldiered on, even as the clouds grew black and threatening. I would occasionally gain sight of Jake, only to see him disappear around the next corner. What began as a race would become a solo ride for four dudes.
The mud was a concern at the beginning. In reality, the west side of the mountain had a thin layer of slime over it, with several big puddles that were a little sloppy. Other than that totally rideable. It continued on like this until the four-way. Dropping onto SFLDC proper, I began to smile. With the thick tree cover, the trail had gotten wet, but smoothed out like glass. The dirt had reached that perfect saturation where your tires leave just an imprint of the tread behind, and the tread stays wonderfully clear as you pin it towards the next turn. This was the case until the climb in the middle(Coitus Interruptus). At which point the canopy opens a bit and the fast, moist, dirt becomes slick, black grease. Jakes tracks were becoming more and more obvious and I was sliding around much more than I would have liked. After the second whoop-de-do that banks to the right, I leaned it a bit too much and wound up planting my right grip into the mud which augered my saddle into my twigs and berries. My eyes crossed, and I swallowed hard, and tried to remount and make up the lost time. My focus from that point would move from trying to catch Jake to one of survival.
As the ache in my nether region faded, the rains began to fall. And accompanying them, the lightning. Creeping up on me like a distant train, the odd rumble here and there soon became a constant barrage of thunder. By the time I crossed Cascade Springs road, there was a flash on one side or the other of me about every ten seconds. Followed by the kind of thunder that seems cool when your sitting safe in your house, but scares the bejeesus out of you when you are alone on a mountain top with nowhere to hide. When I began counting the seconds between the flash and the bang, it wasn’t long before I couldn’t even mentally say “one.” Before my fillings would rattle and my neck hairs would raise. Soon I came to the first meadow. You know the one that the trail takes you right through the middle of, with no trees for a hundred yards in any direction? I stopped at the edge of the meadow, and actually found myself considering whether being struck by lightning was ultimately painful, or if you just woke up in the hospital and ask the nurse what happened. After a few silent moments of prayer, the two meadows may be the hardest I pushed myself the entire ride. Since I am now writing this, you may assume that I didn’t need to ask any questions of a nurse. But there was one strike, where the white light was all around me. Not on one side or the other, not lit up from behind, but everything in my peripheral vision was bright, arc welder white, and before the light faded a boom that removed voluntary control of at least two of my bodily functions.
At this point, it began to hail. And it didn’t build up, it started with California Seedless grape size hail beating welts into my exposed forearms, and the back of my neck. The sound of it hitting my helmet made it so I couldn’t hear myself swear. Comically though, about every five seconds, one would hit the bell on my handle bars striking a clear tone like the triangle player in a percussion concert. The hailstones began getting smaller, and a little softer, but didn’t go away completely.
The last half mile or so of trail was survived, not ridden. In full 22/34 gearing the layer of snot on the trail kept giving way, and the bike would either fishtail, or spin brodies into the muck. With all the pauses to reflect on mortality, and trying to get pictures, I almost forgot that I was in a race. As I rolled into the parking lot, there was Jake looking triumphant and speckled. Shivering, and chatting with….Nick. Who was completely dry and clean due to his cowardly retreat after only a couple hundred yards. He had avoided the mud, and sought shelter under the canopy of the pit toilet for the entire race.
Soon after that Nate rolled in looking similarly disheveled but almost as pleased with himself as Jake.
Sometimes, the best rides are the ones that go to hell. Aside from being afraid for my life, and crushing two of my favorite body parts in a crash, I found myself grinning during and after the race/ride. Something about being in the least pleasant situation I can imagine voluntarily, makes it seem somehow enjoyable. Judging by Jake and Nate’s faces they had the same kind of feeling. That, “I’m still here!” victory grin that proves you can take whatever nature dishes out to you.
That feeling of satisfaction was overshadowed however, by the 45 minute hot shower I took when I got home.