I'll be honest - I didn't know what to expect with the long race at CMSP on Sunday. The last time Nick and I tried riding Blackmere and Cougar's Shadow, they were a mess. It was more of a swamp then a trail, with several stream and creek crossing and mud bogs that were 100s of feet long and ankle deep. Not ridable at all. We've had some dry and hot days since then, but not enough to even dry up some of the new rivers running through CMSP. Given that I wasn't sure what was coming, I'd originally planned on doing a pre-ride of the course Thursday. And then it rained Tuesday and Wednesday - so scratch that idea! I would go into the race semi-blind - unfamiliar with how the water had reimagined some of the trails.
We got to the still quiet park at 8:20 - just enough time check in, do some last minute prep and go over bottle handoffs with Mom. A few of the other riders in the 9:00 start had gone out and ridden some of the course to warm up and they were coming back absolutely filthy. This would be an interesting day. Then Clay and Patrick announced that we weren't doing Cougar's Shadow - staying on Blackmere across the top. There would still be some mud, but at least most of the trail was dry. I was actually pretty happy about the change. Cougar's shadow is fun riding, but really hard racing. Blackmere has some play areas across the top, but it's all ridable and a much better trail for racing on.
Once again, I was the only woman on the starting line. Seriously. Where was everyone? I was hoping that this would be the year where the competition for the women's series would be as fierce as the men's. I know this was a busy weekend with lots of other races going on, but passing up a race in our backyard that costs less then the tank of gas needed to get out of town? In fact, there weren't that many racers at all lining up. The single speed class had the largest field out of everyone! I knew that I would be riding alone for most of the day given the size of the race - I might be able to try to keep up with some of the Cat 1 racers, but not the pros and 19-29 Cat 1s.
And then we were off. At least the Pro men were - they dashed from the line like it was just another Wednesday race! I would only see them again if they lapped me. Which I was hoping wouldn't happen... Since I was the only woman racing, I opted to try to ride everything instead of being smart - which meant after the creek crossing on Zook, giving the rock garden entrance to Blackmere a try. I almost made it once - but never cleaned it. Would running through that section have been faster? Yes. Would that have addressed some of the skills I need to work on? No. On the climb up Blackmere there were three deep mud and water crossings. At first, I was able to see how far behind people I was by the sediment in the water - on the first laps, the water was muddy and dirty. But on my last lap, clear and still. Yep. I was pretty darn alone out there! I took the fun line through the first rock section on the first lap - up and over all the big rocks. But just the first one, every other lap was on the littler lines. There is one line that Nick and I have been workout on for a while - the rock pile just before the bench overlook. There's an easy but slower with more steering involved line or the faster, bigger line that only requires one big move and you are up and over. I've been inconsistent with that line over the past few months, making part of it but bailing on the second section. Not this time - every lap but one. Up and over, smooth and fast.
Then came the mud. It started with a creek crossing with a tricky, steep and rocky entrance. Once out of that, a little climb, another creek and the bog. About 30 feet total, with a few dry feet between ankle deep mud. If you didn't hit it with enough speed, it was enough to suck the wheels to a stop. There was no good line through - just mud. After that first lap, I quickly figured out that if I wanted to drink as much as I needed, I would have to finish my bottle before the mud bog. There was no way I was drinking out of a bottle covered in that slime! And that wasn't the only mud pit. There was one more after we passed the terminus of Cougar's Shadow. This one was just as bad - but deeper. The upper section of Boulder Run looked like a stream bed and I was quite happy my usual line of over the rocks was still on. every other rock had been moved. One more mud pit and creek crossing and we were on the traversing descent of Boulder Run. Normally it's a fast but rocky trip. Not this time - on any of the laps! The bushes were so overgrown that I would come around a corner and not be able to see the trail! Add in the rocks that weren't where they used to be and I think the park was the winner on the day. A lot of racers saw their days derailed by flats and sidewall tears from the rocks hiding in the bushes.
Me? Well, I was doing great riding, only missing that first rock garden at the entrance to Blackmere. But I very much wasn't racing. JJ caught me at the top of Blackmere on his final lap. Normally, everyone finishes on the same lap, but this was supposed to be a distance race, not a time race. I wasn't sure if I would have to ride that fifth lap or not. I had mixed feelings - it was a great day on the bike and I was riding well. But mentally I wasn't into racing at all. When I came through the finish line and Christina said I was done - but could ride the fifth lap if I wanted, I pondered it. The 11:00 race was already on course, Nick would be finishing in about 15 minutes and I had a birthday cake from Justine to share with everyone. Cake won out. I accepted being pulled at four laps.
The final race of the series returns to Palmer Park on the 29th. Hopefully we will see a return to the record field sizes for this race as a fitting end to a long summer!