Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Most Outrageous Race of the Year: Sagebrush Safari

**This post is a race recap as an entry to the First Endurance contest**

Being my first year with a full calendar of XC events I was wholly unfamiliar with the classic Southern California race known as the “Sagebrush Safari”. My naiveté was in part due to the fact that the area was closed after being devastated by the Horse Fire in 2006 that ravaged the area. This year the race was incorporated into the Sho-Air US Cup as Round 3 of the Kenda Cup West.

Going into this race I had great form and high hopes. At the first round of the Kenda Cup I had suffered cramps on the last lap dropping me from a possible top 5 to 8th place. Despite the lackluster result, I treated myself to a 2009 Sworks Sumpjumper HT to race on for the rest of the year. My new race steed was tested at the next race, the first race of the Pro XCT known as “Fontana City National” and hosted by Southridge U.S.A where I put in a solid race placing 5th.

Having never ridden near Lake Morena previously I decided it would be a good idea to preview the course the day before the race. A small group consisting of my wife Allison, Stephanie, Dan, and myself, set out the day before for a moderate paced lap to get an idea of what we were in for. The course was epic! It included a bunch of paved fire road climbing, some technical climbing, HAB-age, and awesome extended single track descents with some of the most fun features I have ever raced on!

Race day always brings with it lots of anxiety. I warmed up and then lined up next to the same fast faces as always. The course started with a few miles of flat paved road. You might think that it would be uneventful, but not with these characters! On the very first corner one of the major contenders nearly crashed and the group fired up the afterburners. The pace was extremely fast and we were strung out in single file, tucked down and spinning in the big ring, flying down this paved road like a pack of roadies, and I thought to myself, “I am going to blow up!”

We arrived at the bottom of the first climb and a pair of Sho-Air riders led the charge. I dropped off pace and settled into my own house of suffering knowing that my world would be a cramp filled place of agony if I didn’t let up a bit. Near the top of the climb I picked off most of the fast starters and found myself somewhere in the top 5 behind Matt. The first single track section is fun and flowy and we were flying. We started overtaking the Pro women who had started a few minutes ahead of us. Things were going great! But then they weren’t…

On a short steep pitch of Moab-like rock I got out of the saddle to power up and something snapped. My right foot went straight to the ground. I narrowly escaped crashing (my groin didn’t escape colliding with the top tube though) and I scrambled to recover. I tried to put my foot back on the pedal and there was nothing there! No pedal?! I looked behind me on the ground, nothing! I jumped off my bike and started to panic, realizing that my trusty Crank Brothers 4Ti pedal was still attached to the bottom of my shoe!

I quickly twisted the pedal off my shoe and inspected for damage. The pedal looked fine. Threads in the crank looked fine. I started threading the pedal back into the crank and it started threading in, but I could not overcome the friction with my hand. All the while I was falling farther behind the leaders and other racers were streaming by. I grabbed my multi-tool and then had a horrible sinking feeling. I didn’t have an 8mm wrench.

I stood up and looked around thinking to myself that this is why big single loop courses are not so good! I was in the middle of nowhere!

I started shouting at racers as they rode by… “8 mm wrench?”

Not long after that Ryan passed me. In the couple of XC races that I had done last year Ryan was a major competitor of mine. We didn’t know each other outside of races but exchanged friendly jabs on the line and brutalized each other on course (as much as two Sport class racers can brutalize one another). Ryan stopped and dug through his jersey pocket handing me a multi-tool. I quickly opened it up and saw no wrenches large enough and handed it back to him, “No 8mm dude, thanks, good luck!” and gave him a shove as he rode off.

I took a deep breath, collecting myself and resolving to do the walk of shame back to the Start/Finish area.

Suddenly Ryan comes running back up the trail, he jams the wrench into my hand and yells “It’s inside!” before turning around and running back to his bike.

Hidden discretely inside the body of the wrench was an 8mm socket that went onto one of the other wrenches! GENIUS!

I made quick work of getting my pedal tightened back onto the crank, hastily stuffed the multi-tool into my jersey pocket, and took off down the trail.

It is interesting the things that go through one’s mind after an incident like this. I had gone from race mode, to panic, to an attempt to recover, to desperation, all the way to resignation, then a miraculous recovery… and was now trying to get back to race mode! I rallied in my head as I descended, overtaking several slower riders.

On the next climb I caught and passed Ryan. Passing his multi-tool back to him and shouting at him as we scrambled up the HAB-age. I was now back in race mode and resolved to try to salvage the day. There was still a lot course left to race on! The next climb was brutal and I was slowly working my way through the field. My legs were letting me know that I was well above a sustainable level of effort, but I was no longer paying any attention to them.

Nearing the top of the climb I started working my way back through the Pro women. It was encouraging to know that I might be getting back to some semblance of a decent finish! With this in mind I set off down the descent like I was winning the race. I was railing it and having so much fun! There were jumps and berms and I was pushing it to the max.

As I neared the bottom of the descent, still passing people like crazy, I came upon a train of three guys. The guy in the front was going painfully slow and the other two were obviously trying hard to get by him. I didn’t wait long before I yelled up that there were “Three riders back!” and on the next bermed corner the rider took the outside line letting us all go by. The other two riders in front of me picked up speed quickly and although they weren’t going as fast as I could go, it was a decent pace and I decided that since we were near the bottom of the descent I would be patient.

Just moments after making that decision the lead rider made a mistake going over a pair of big jumps followed by a hard bermed left. Dust was flying and I saw rider and bike tumbling. The rider in front of me skidded momentarily and then shot to the inside and sped off. I had slowed considerably and shouted, “You okay?”

The response came quickly enough, “Yeah I think so.” But I had already slowed to a near stop and glanced over my shoulder to make sure the rider was indeed safe. What I saw as he got up might make someone with a weaker stomach lose their Gatorade! The downed rider had suffered a badly broken left arm, it was a compound fracture and the bone was protruding from his arm at least 5cm! It had come in contact with the ground during the crash and was covered in dirt and gravel. The arm was distorted in ways that shouldn’t be possible.

I quickly assessed the situation. There was no major bleeding. The rider was calm and I assured him that everything will be okay. He was already standing and said he was fine other than the obvious damage to his arm. In a heartbeat I decided that given the situation the best move would be to walk him to the road not far down the trail where emergency personnel would be able to extract him easier. I grabbed both bikes and told him to walk in front where I could keep an eye on him and block any riders from smashing into him causing more damage.

Before I knew it we were at the road. A pickup truck came up the road moments later and we loaded him into the back. I told him I would get his bike to the race officials and I found out that we had a mutual friend Mark that I would inform as to the situation. Later I would find that he was in surgery before the awards ceremony over, and he showed up to a later race to thank me for helping him.

So now I am standing at the bottom of a significant climb, mind blurred by the shock of what happened, with my Sworks HT in one hand and a 35+lbs. full suspension bike in the other! I jump onto my bike and ride while pushing the other bike with my free hand. I am still going to finish this race!!! Upon reaching the top of the climb where the Aid Station was I dropped off his bike with race officials and took pause to collect myself. I remembered that he last descent was no joke and the thought of trying to get back into full on race mode was one that my mind and body were not too keen on. I was still frozen in place when the famous Heidi Volpe came ripping along. She shouted something at me about trying to put in the fastest CAT 1 female time for the day so I jumped in behind her to help motivate!

I quickly forgot the gruesomeness of the previous scene and was having a blast whooping and hollering behind a girl that totally shreds. We railed the descent together and then rallied on the flats back to the Start/Finish. My wife was there waiting with my mom, they had been very worried when I hadn’t finished earlier but had heard from another racer that I was helping an injured rider. My finish position of 16th about 1/2hr. back from the leader certainly doesn’t represent the journey I took that day! Fortunately my wife represented for the family taking 2nd place in the Pro Women’s race!

Next year maybe I can make the podium with the help of the First Endurance!

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