I’m spinning fast on a the gravel road, tucked way down. I look back. Sweet. I’ve got a pretty good gap on the rest of the single speed field. A few seconds later, Pat Blair passes me.
We turn into the singletrack, and start up the rocky climb. Pat dabs, and I sprint around. Just ride carefully through these rocks. No need to get a flat this early. My front rim pings a rock. Then another. Chirst. Carefully through these things.
I pass a couple guys on gears. Down a sketchy descent, nobody passes me, but not because I’m going fast. It would be really sketchy to try to get by, and nobody is willing to risk it this early. I’m really having to take it easy on this rigid fork. I wish I would have put a bigger tire up front.
Then trail widens, and Pat passes on the right. No way I can go with him. I just can’t ride my bike any faster without blowing my front tire off. But that’s fine. Just settle in and make time where you can.
Then Topher passes, long black hair and Osama beard blowing behind him. Shit. Can’t let the terrorists win. I try to flow through the sharp rocks as fast as I can. It’s all I can do. This place is too rough to put my head down and pedal.
We pop out onto a gravel road. I spin, catch up to Topher and pass him. Up a long gravel climb. Pat is way out of sight, and his polka dotted teammate is a hundred yards ahead of me. Maybe I’ll be able to put some time into him in the singletrack.
Back into the woods. Rocks rocks rocks. Up and over, skidding the back tire down limestone slabs, hoping my bouncing front tire sticks in the corner. It does.
A guy in a Penn State jersey passes me.
“Hey, that guys right behind you. The one with the beard,” he says.
The one with the beard passes me. Damn. We start down a rough descent, and I can’t keep up. Just be careful, don’t flat, you can catch him when it smooths out.
It smooths out, and I catch him.
“So where are those guys with the polka dots from?” I ask.
“I think New Jersey,” Topher says.
“It’s not nice of them to be so far ahead of us,” I say.
“Yeah. Who the hell they think they are?” he says.
We turn into some windy smooth singletrack, and I try to drop him. It doesn’t work, but we do catch up to one of the guys with polka dots. He’s walking his bike over some boulders. We ride past, and ride over a few more miles of boulders. I drop down one and almost fold my wheel over. Topher passes me. Bastard.
More rocks. This is one of the best days I’ve had on a bike. Rocks everywhere, perfect sunny weather, and florescent green leaves. I ride a quick section of smooth trail, then into the third aid station. It’s the first one I’ve stopped at. I grab a peanut butter and jelly and fill up a bottle.
Back on the bike, and along a rooty river trail. My hands are starting to blister a little bit from the constant pounding and shaking. That’s fine. I’m in third, over 35 miles in, and I might be able to catch Topher on the last climb.
I hear a train of riders coming. I glance back. Cheryl (the leading woman), a few other guys, and one of the polka dot single speeders. Time to go.
I go fast up a gravel hill, down some rocks, then get off and run up a steep section. Only a few miles to go now. Down a smooth flowy trail. Swoop back and forth through the trees. Perfect. Just keep pinning it and you might be able to catch back onto second. Get ready to sprint on the last climb.
My back wheel feels loose. Don’t fucking tell me. Not now.
“Hey, you’ve got a flat,” yells Cheryl.
“I know,” I say. The back rim smacks into a couple roots. I have to stop. Goddammit. The line of riders blow past me. Now I’m in forth.
I pump up the back wheel with my mini pump, shake it around, get the Stan’s to seal it. I unscrew the pump, and the valve core unscrews with it. Damn. Pump it up again, the valve core unscrews again. The tire goes flat. Motherfucker.
“Motherfucker!” I yell.
Another single speeder passes, along with a bunch of other people. I pump up the tire a third time, and carefully unscrew the pump. The valve core shoots into a pile of leaves. Fuck.
I try to get the valve core out of my spare tube. It won’t budge. Try to unscrew it with my teeth. I hurt my teeth. Damn. Gotta put the tube in. More people pass.
I unwrap the tube and try to put it in. It doesn’t fit. It’s a goddamned 26 inch tube. Son of a bitch. I step on it, stretch it out, try to get it to fit. It finally does, but I can’t get the tire back on without a lever. I start begging passing riders. A guy finally stops and gives me a lever.
I get the tire back on, pump it up, and start riding again. I’m probably in 8th or 9th now. I soft pedal the last three miles to the finish. There’s not enough race left to make up any time.