I don't usually have much drama to deal with heading into races, however this time was a little different. V and I were all packed up and ready to hit the road when I decided to split some wood for a fire later in the evening. As I was finishing up, I got distracted and ended up whittling my left pointer finger down to the bone with the hatchet (kind of like peeling a carrot). We opted to visit the urgent care rather than the ER which proved to be a smart choice. When I explained to the doctor that I needed a sturdy fix because I was racing the next day, she gave me "the look" and said just as long as you don't bend it. The only problem with not bending my left pointer finger while riding would be the use or lack there of, of my front brake. After thinking things over, I decided that during the race I would rely on my middle finger to provide the front braking power.
V and I got to Banner Elk a little later than planned. It rained most of the way out but we were lucky to find a lull in the rain to set up the tent. Because of our later than planned arrival coupled with the wet conditions, I decided to skip my pre-ride which I usually use to spin out the legs. Instead, we worked our way up Beech Mountain for registration and followed that up with a nice meal in Banner Elk at the Frog and the Monkey.
At the race start the next morning it was cold, very cold. I always race warm so when it's cold, I have trouble figuring out what to wear. I went with my normal kit with a side of arm warmers. A last minute experiment with my brake situation revealed that my middle finger may not be as reliable as I thought. This meant that it's freshly stitched up counter-part may have to take on the bulk of the workload. I planned for such by adjusted the lever throw way out taking some of the bend out of my finger while squeezing the brake.
The start was a neutral roll out down hill. It was cold enough that most of the guys including myself were shaking causing some death wobble. Luckily the speed was slow so no concern there. As the lead vehicle pulled away, the race was on. Within a mile or so, I could tell that something wasn't right. My perceived exertion was high, my heart was beating out of my chest, I couldn't breath and there was minimal power output. I tried, but couldn't manage to hang onto the lead group or the chase group. I sent out a search party for my legs but they were nowhere to be found. I tried using my high cadence legs, slow grind legs, out of the saddle and hammer legs, I even tried to use the legs of others with no luck. It didn't take long before I was dropped from the third group, left alone with a mind that would not stop troubleshooting.
Was I getting sick? Was it the lack of a ride the day before? Was it the cold weather? Was it the elevation? Could my finger be getting infected? Why is my stomach upset?.. Maybe I am getting sick.
I still have no idea what went on out there but whatever it was almost convinced me to call it a day 30 minutes into the race. No matter what I did, I couldn't keep on any of the groups coming by and I felt horrible. I got very discouraged and was in a dark place but would not let myself quit. I knew that a good finish was out of reach but wanted the satisfaction of pushing through.
In the meantime, the course was more rough than I was expecting which was providing a challenge with the beat up finger. I had adjusted my lever throw out so far that I was having trouble reaching it. On top of that, there was no way to keep from using my finger or to keep from bending it. I had to use it and there was no way around it. There were times where I was a bit worried that I had ripped some of the stitches out however the lack of blood convinced me that everything was ok. I tried to take it as easy as possible while using the front brake and eventually started slowing sooner than normal in anticipation of turns or sketchy terrain which seemed to work well.
Late into the race, three hours to be exact, I found myself in the company of lead singlespeeder Daniel Rapp. We crossed paths at the base of our final "peak", a 10 mile climb to the finish. It was here where my body finally started working as a unit and the first time in the race where I felt like I could work my legs. For nearly an hour, we set ourselves on cruise control catching and passing rider after rider. Knowing that time was running out had me wishing that this climb would continue for another hour so I could continue to work my way back up the field.
Crossing the line just shy of four hours, I learned that on that last climb, I had worked my way into 8th overall and third in my age category. Even though the race did not go as planned and I am a bit disappointed in whatever went on out there, I am happy that my finger stayed in one piece and that I was able to get in one good climb out of three.
I am glad that I was finally able to make it out to this race as the course was beautiful, easy to follow and provided plenty of challenges. Thanks to all of the volunteers as well as Andrew Stackhouse of Pirate Race Productions for taking the time to provide us with another event that I will look forward to adding to the schedule time and time again. Also thanks once again to Blue Mountain Revival Productions for setting the benchmark for timing with a system that is accurate while providing instant results.