We make promises to ourselves every day; little pledges that we are going to do something good for ourselves. We make those pacts when we are alert and clear-headed – I’ll workout tonight, I’ll eat better at dinner, I’ll get those clothes hanging on the treadmill put away. And then we get home from work and we sit down for “just a second”. Next thing you know, the Daily Show is coming on and you’ve got to get to bed if you expect to make up for not doing anything today by working out in the morning. Then you find the snooze button. We’ve all been there.
When I’m serious about a promise to myself, I make it out loud, in public, my lazy ass makes my friends responsible for holding me accountable. It usually works thanks to my overzealous friends who are all willing to call me out. It’s why I wound up covered in mud with a sore hip on Sunday afternoon.
I may know Cedar Glades Park better than I know my own backyard. I know the trails there as well as I know the ones that I’ve built myself. I’ve ridden mountain bikes there for about ten years, I’ve covered every kind of outdoor event imaginable there, I’ve walked through the woods utilizing every possible shortcut. I know this place. The park is built around the Garland County Landfill, but you wouldn’t know it to see most of the area. Beautiful pine and hardwoods cover most of the mountain bike trails with quartz laden gravel and rocks throughout. It is classic Arkansas singletrack and it is exhilarating to ride. I’ve missed several years of racing at Cedar Glades; this year I promised to race at least one race at Cedar Glades and I let everyone know.
AO friend Cliff Li said that any mechanical issue I might conjure up in an attempt to back out could be easily fixed by borrowing his bike (our bikes are almost identical). The day before, while covering the Cedar Glades Cyclocross Race, I was reminded by racers that, “I promised.” While driving to the park Sunday morning, Bob Ocken called just to make sure I was on my way. There would be no backing out. My friends were on point. So of course, it rained.
It had rained some throughout the week I knew things would be sloppy and then it started raining on Saturday night. When Lisa and I got to the park, we were greeted by a nice steady shower that would last throughout the event. I got registered and headed to the Bell and Company tent to get ready for the 9 am start. Not only was this my first race at Cedar Glades, this was my first time to race as part of a team. I like to think of Bell and Company as a trail building crew with a racing problem, perfect for me.
I got up to the starting line with some familiar faces. I’d raced many times with Ed and Larry over the last couple of years, we all did our nervous jokes about needing walkers to approach the starting line and checking that everyone had taken their Geritol before the race. Suddenly we were off.
The course started with a short paved road section before turning onto the gravel road that went past the climbing wall and before long we were in the woods on a section of trail I hadn’t been on in years. I was in third place behind Dave Thomas and Brian Dinsmore and comfortable with the spot. I immediately realized that I should have taken the time to put some more aggressive tires on the bike as I slipped over roots and rocks throughout the first section. I let it rip when I could but the extra effort to stay upright would be my nemesis throughout the morning. As I cleared the top of Heart Attack hill, I was able to see that I was putting a little distance between myself and Ed and Larry. I figured if I pushed it a little I could get far enough ahead to hold third for the day pretty easily. That’s when I crashed.
I don’t know what happened, a tight turn on wet loose gravel and somehow I went over landing hard and fast. All I could think of was Ed and Larry right behind me and if I let them get past me now, my race would be over. I jumped up, not even checking the bike and started down the trail. By now the guys were just behind me and I couldn’t shake them. I made the next few climbs and pushed but I could still sense them on my wheel. I came to a stream crossing that has a slick hill exit. I knew that the tires couldn’t handle it so I jumped off and ran the bike up the hill, and with a glance back I saw Larry. Getting back on the bike quickly I worked the uphills as much as I could but my shifting was faltering, I had messed something up in the fall or the mud and water was getting into bad places.
I tried to hammer up the switchbacks, a long, grueling climb and Larry stayed on my wheel. I finally got to the top and tried to bomb down the big straightaway. As the fast section gave way to some tight turns I realized that Larry was still there. I was spent and let him pass. Fourth place.
The rest of the race I was in survival mode. Keep enough speed that Ed didn’t catch me and try to keep the bike upright. Sometimes I felt like I was on ice skates as roots tried their best to slide me into trees. I continued to fight my drivetrain as shifting continued to get more and more erratic. I was able to clear the rest of the course only getting off the bike one more time to get over a big root cluster that I had no chance of navigating. As I came out of the woods and into the final stretch I was glad that I had made the race, but wished I had actually done it the year before in the cold instead of this year in the cold and wet.
I stayed around after the race for a little while, but not long enough to see everyone come in. Lisa and I were tired from a long weekend of activity and friendly gatherings in Hot Springs and ready to get home and get dry. I guess it’s time for me to get the bike cleaned up. It seems I made another promise about my first cyclocross race next weekend.
Lisa did an incredible job on the photos while I was out playing in the mud. I’m sure we missed a few folks because of leaving early but here they are.