8. Paris To Ancaster

Every time I read someone else’s riding blog, they seem to be way cooler than mine. Faster riders, with boss experiences, more discipline on a bike, and better results than mine. So, what can I add to the conversation about the Paris to Ancaster race (held on Sunday April 24) that hasn’t already been said by a bunch of other people with better stories? Well, I could talk about the climbs, the mud, and trail, or I could give a detailed race report about how boss I was (I wasn’t).

Or, I can talk about ME and MY experiences with the race.

So here goes.

P2A was my first race four years ago. I first talked about it in the “Colin” section of this blog, from the perspective of an inexperienced, absolutely awestruck, first time racer. However, now that I’ve done it four times (and with 30 or so other races in between) I can talk about it from the perspective of a somewhat less inexperienced, but still awestruck, racer.

So what have I learned, and how have I changed, in the past four years?

A whole bunch. And, well, not nearly enough.

Honestly, I’m just not sure. Some days, it feels like I’ve grown a great deal, and I’m becoming a more accomplished rider. Other days, it feels like I’ve actually become worse, or just changing in tiny increments, or at the very least, I’m no better than I was at the end of my first year.

But that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing because everything that I’ve experienced on a bike has become part of the fabric of my life. I’m always either recovering from a ride, planning for a ride, lamenting that I can’t ride, or talking/texting/blogging about a ride. And because riding has become such an integral part of MY STORY, and altered MY LIFE so dramatically, who cares whether I’m getting better or worse, as long as I’m moving.

Because when you stop moving, you fall down.

I’ve had a few discussions with people lately about why I race. Sometimes I wonder what keeps me moving. Aside from not wanting to fall down, that is. Why did I race a single speed last week, when I didn’t even own a single speed bike until last October?

Why did I do a race series this winter on a fatbike, when I didn’t even own a fatbike until February—after the second race in the series?

Why did I even start racing to begin with?

The answer for each is the same.

And the answer is, because. There are a billion qualifiers that could follow the word “because”, but none of them really matter.

Because I like riding.

Scratch that–because I love riding.

Because I love the challenge.

Because I love pushing my body as hard as I can.

Because I love the thrill of speeding through a forest.

Because I love single track.

Because I love double track.

Because I love gravel, road, rail trail, logs, climbs, mud, slush, snow, sun, rain, sun, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and trying to pee while wearing a lycra bib.

Because it’s so damn much fun.

Because I love the joy of a sweet ride.

Because I love the smell of a damp forest, when the fog is lifting, and I’m riding a trail, and I feel like I’m a PART of the world around me.

Just because.

And because riding is all those things, and so much more, I keep riding.

And reflecting.

And developing,

And learning.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about P2A:

  1. Relax. I’m not in position for first, or second, or fifth, or tenth. Or anything. There is never a need to worry about ANYTHING on the race: Bad weather, cold weather, no weather, technical failure, accident, wrong gloves… Whatever the problem, my sponsorship is not relying on my performance. Yes, I’m aware I do not have sponsorship.
  2. Walk the P2A mud chutes. Since I’m not looking for a spot on the podium (see above), there is no reason to gum up my drivetrain, and then spend the time un-gumming it. Also, I’m sure as hell not going to be a photographer’s fodder when I sail over my bars into calf deep mud. So what if it takes me about three minutes to walk the chutes. I can live with that. Plus, if you’ve seen the top riders fly through the mud chute, they have nerves of steel and, skills waaaay beyond me. 
  3. It’s just a ride. If I have the wrong tires, or if I get cold or wet, or if a tree blocks the course, I just relax, because each and every race is also a just a ride. Period.
  4. The last hill is a killer. I spend each year agonizing over it, brooding over it, dreading it, and worrying. And then I do it. And it’s done. I’ve done it four times: the first time, I grunted, groaned, and struggled a lot, but made it to the top; the second time, I had a crippling cramp about two hundred metres from top, but I made it to the top; the third time, I struggled, grunted and groaned, but I made it to the top; and on Sunday, I spent the race worrying about an impending cramp, but I made it to the top. I made a spreadsheet compiling all these results and noticed a trend. Each time I attempted the last hill, I made it to the top. It’s true. I have a pie chart.
  5.  Paris to Ancaster is awesome. Almost 3,000 like minded people come together for the same “Becauses”. Residents line the streets to cheer us on. Traffic grinds to a halt to let us pass. The trails range from every type of condition, to every type of condition plus weather. The mud chutes change (but only slightly). And, most importantly, lives are changed—whether for the first time, with a personal best, with an okay result, or maybe just incrementally—for the better.

Racing Paris to Ancaster is the stuff that dreams are made of, and regardless of the outcome, I’m glad I get to be on a bike while it happens.  And I don’t even ride the full distance (I do the shorter, 40k Saint George to Ancaster)

You want to know the funny thing about this year’s P2A. It actually started with members of the local militia firing muskets as a signal. The sound heard throughout the countryside was a reverberating, wait for it, BOOM.

By the way, I beat last year’s time by about five minutes. Not great. Not bad.  Just okay.  But I can live with okay.  Do you know why?  Because.

Ride.

7. Single Speed 101 (H2i)

Single Speed 101.  Also known as “My Lessons on a Single Speed”.

Gears?  Pfft.

Team Colin got schooled at last weekend’s Homage To Ice, the first of four in Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects XC Marathon. It’s my fourth year racing, and it was my fourth time doing the H2i, so I knew exactly what to expect.

No I didn’t. I didn’t have a clue. Aside from the fact that the course, trail conditions, and weather have been entirely different each time, this year I tried something new. I raced a single speed. To be more precise, I raced a single speed with a rigid fork.

I placed last in the single speed category (7/7), and 74/100 overall.

It was, by far, my worst actual race placing ever.

Horrible.

And despite this, the 2016 H2i was also, by far, my best ever actual performance ever. Ever.

Really, I didn’t even choose to ride a single speed. I didn’t even consciously choose to buy a single speed in the first place. I just did. As with most other things riding, it just happened organically.

Rewind to last year, when the universe conspired to put me on a bike with no gears. First, my riding buddy rides a single speed and always says they make better riders. It’s easy for him to say, he’s already a better rider. Second, two close friends of mine are avid single speed riders, and raced single speed exclusively for years. They love single speed bikes. By the way, they’re also better riders. Finally, in the late fall, I took my family to the York Region Take Your Family Mountain Biking Day. We won a $20 gift card for Spoke O Motion, so I thought I’d visit the shop on my way home, to support them. A Cannondale Trail SL was sitting on the rack outside the front of the shop. It was calling to me. Beckoning to me. Screaming to me. Also, it was half price ($699). A few days later, after conferring with the guys at my local bike shop, I bought it. Then it sat in my garage for two months because I was scared to ride it. True story. I bought a bike that I was terrified to ride. No gears? What the hell kind of torture is that. In late November, I met my friend, John, in Durham Forest for what we thought would be our last ride of the season. After packing my usual bike and gear, I put my single speed in the back of my van. Just in case. We rode for a few hours on our bikes with gears. You know, because gears make riding easier. Then, when we were cooling off, I said “Hey John, Do you think we should do a quick lap on my new single speed?” John never says no to a ride. So we did a quick lap on my new single speed.

It. Was. Awesome.

The weather held out for a few more weeks, and I had my new single speed out on the trails three more times before the snow fell. Each time, I loved it more. I didn’t love it enough to race, and it wasn’t like riding my Revolver–which is like poetry–but it brought a new dimension to the sport for me. Cool.

Fast forward to last Thursday. The H2i was sandwiched between the Steaming Nostril and Paris to Ancaster. Both of them are sort-of CX races, so I put thin CX tires on my Revolver (a 29er with gears). I could have changed back to my MTB tires for the H2i, but the CX tires were so hard to get on the first time…

And that was it. My Revolver was out of commission, so I got my single speed ready to race. My coach didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because I don’t have a coach, my friends didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because they’ve seen me ride, and my shop didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because they’ve also seen me ride. I was nervous, I was terrified, but I figured I was ready for a new challenge. Single Speed School was in session, and I was about to get a crash course.

Race Report:  Homage 2 Ice (April 16, 2016)

Two 15k (or so) laps for a total of 30k (or so) of sweet single track that was mostly quick, sometimes spongy, a little icy, and always awesome.

But no gears? Or suspension! (NOTE:  For $699, even when the bike is half price, you don’t get front suspension.)

The race started with lots of spinning on double track, and I was kind of annoyed. Everybody just took off, and I was left behind, spinning like I was in the wrong gear. But then we got into the single track. Boom. It took about 30 seconds before it hit me in the face: Single speed bikes are wickedly cool. With no gears to think about, and no shifting to fiddle with, I felt connected to the trail. Connected to the ride. Moreover, without a suspension fork, every bump was mine—but in a good way. I felt like I was a kid again, bombing through trails on my old BMX. I never chose the wrong gear. I never lost a pedal stroke while shifting. I didn’t bounce around. I just rode. And that’s what it’s all about: The ride. Let me circle back for a sec.  Actually, I bounced around. A lot. Without suspension, my deltoids (I think that’s what they’re called) were flapping so much, I thought I was going to take flight, but I was bouncing along WITH my bike.  I honestly felt like I was one with my bike.  Super cool.

Two laps: the same bloody giant hill twice; the same log overs; the same twists and turns; and the same connection to the trail. It was a game changer. I was schooled in the art of single speeds, and by the end of the race, I graduated to the league of riders who don’t need gears. And even though I finished last, I finished with a smile, and hard earned aches and pains. But none of it mattered because I knew I gave it all I could, and left nothing on the trail. It was all me and my bike. It’s never been about placing–only about riding. And I rode the H2i as hard as I could.

I don’t know whether I’ll race my single speed again, but I know that if I want to, I CAN. And that’s one sweet lesson.

Ride.

 

 

PS

As an added bonus to the day, two of my friends from Joyride150 raced.  Trish and Erin embodied the spirit of Dan Marshall’s races, and the cool atmosphere got that much cooler with their presence.  I even guilted my bike shop manager, Matt from Cycle Solutions, to race.  Sweet.

 

 

 

6. The Runny Nose

I haven’t posted lately. Why? Not much to write about. Crappy weather, stupid work schedule, and unrideable trails (that were almost rideable a few weeks ago, but then it rained for a week and they weren’t rideable, and then it stopped raining and they were close to rideable, but now they’re back under a few inches of snow and once again a few weeks away from being rideable).

An unrideable trail is a horrible thing. Unrideable isn’t even a word–either is rideable, but whatever–so it’s a good thing there’s a remedy:  Joyride. However, as great as it is being able to ride at Joyride–any day of the year, regardless of the weather–when the trails are this close to being open, my body is screaming to bounce off some single track.

However, the weather has different plans.

Thankfully, an answer came last Sunday with the 4th annual Steaming Nostril. The Steaming Nostril isn’t a CX race. Or a Mountain bike race. Or a road race. It’s an Early-Spring-In-Southern-Ontario-Bike-Race.   Early-Spring-In-Southern-Ontario-Bike-Races are wickedly, horribly, awesome. If the weather condition exists, you’re almost guaranteed to experience it–in each race–at 15 minute intervals. Sun, wind, snow, ice, clouds, wind, more wind, repeat.

The Steaming Nostril is a 70k bike race, with the option to do the Runny Nose distance of 35k (which was lengthened this year to 38, and then changed to 39 to accommodate a missing bridge, but was actually 42 on the GPS–except that a few of us missed a turn and it turned out to be 45). Whatever the distance, the race was a grind over pavement, gravel, mud, freezing farm lane, wooden steps, sort of thawed farm lane, ice covered bridges, precarious river fords, limestone trail, and any other bit of surface that organizers could manage to piece together in and around the town of St. Jacobs, Ontario. And given the weather this time of year, the race is aptly named. Although I also had numb fingers, number toes (more numberer?), frozen testicles, and lots of wind burn.

And so I raced on Sunday.

One word to describe the race: holycrapitwascold

Another word: holycowitwaswindy

Both are good words.

Here are more words to describe the race, in the form of a Race Report:

Race Report:  Runny Nose (April 3, 2016)

I got to the race on time, which is rare. I even had time to do a short warm up. It was a gentle neutral start, but I noticed a pack of lead riders starting to form. Before the race, I planned to experiment with my pacing. I decided that I would keep MY pace instead of the pace of the other racers. Most riders take off at the start of a race, and many of them seem to falter later in the race. When I hold back at the beginning of a race, I usually start passing riders in the last 10k. So, took it easy, so that I’d have enough power at the end of the race.

But the lead pack was getting further ahead.

I thought my pace would leave me behind the leaders, but I’d at least be able to keep up with the slow pack. I was wrong—I struggled to keep up with the slow pack.

And the lead pack was getting even further ahead.

So I struggled and kept pace with the slower pack.

We got going and I was struggling less. In fact, I left the pack I was with, and aimed for the lead pack. That meant that I was riding without the aid of other riders to cut the wind. I was by myself in an epic battle of lone rider against the cold, faceless, wind—a grunting, panting, sweating, epic battle. It sounds a bit dramatic, but when it’s really really really windy, and your heart is bursting, and your legs are on fire, EVERYTHING is dramatic.

As every race is, the Runny Nose was tough, but I didn’t bring my teacup to a garden party. I brought my mountain bike to an Early-Spring-In-Southern-Ontario-Bike-Races race, so it was kind of expected.

At the 10k mark, I leaned over to de-snot, and I noticed three riders directly behind me. They were drafting me! Me? THEY were drafting ME. Three thoughts came to mind.

  1. If they think I’m going to shoulder the load so they can smoke me in the last 10k, they’ve got another thing coming.
  1. They’re drafting me. That means they think I’m the better rider. They’re putting their faith in me to set the pace.  Cool.
  1. Whatever. I’m going to ride as hard as I can. If they smoke me, they smoke me. I’m just going to ride my best for as long as I can. This was the thought that stuck.

They were with me at 15k. They were with me at 20k. They were with me at 30k. Despite trying to let them pass, begging them to pass, and willing them to pass, they would not. I sprinted to 45k/h, and they followed. I slowed to 15k/h, and they slowed. I pulled into the lose gravel on the shoulder, and they pulled into the loose gravel on the shoulder.

And it was sooooooo windy. Dorothy and Toto windy.

At least I had lots of water to drink. No I didn’t, my water bottle froze within the first half hour. Damn.

At the 32k mark, the race organizers did something that only race organizers do. They sucker punched us. The course turned into a farmer’s lane, and then down a steep descent into a gully. The descent wasn’t even close to rideable. It was tough to just walk.   Since they couldn’t draft me, my tag-alongs fell behind. But the organizers didn’t want to keep us in the gully for long, because after a few pallet-for-bridge river crossings, and a mostly-walked meander through a freezing wet gully, we hit the bottom of a wall. Not a hill, or a cliff, a damn wall.  We shouldered our bikes and grasped at anything we could to scale Mt. What-The-Heck-Is-This (which would have been a killer if it was warm, dry, and not in the middle of a bike race.

To steam the nostrils a bit more (or just make them a bit more runny), when I got off my bike, I felt the beginning of a leg cramp. I knew we had about 8k to go, and I knew that there were 9 flights of stairs at the end of the race. But up we climbed. By the time I scaled Mt. Crappy/Slippymud, the cramp was hammering my leg. And the icy gully had caked the ice into my pedals so badly that I couldn’t clip my left shoe no matter how hard I tried to dislodge the ice.

7k to go.

I was riding up an endless hill, following a rider at about 50 meters. My leg was cramping worse.

5k to go. We saw a rider approaching us. What the? We missed a turn. So, thanks to a poorly positioned Mennonite family, a poorly positioned arrow (on the wrong side of the road) being blocked by the poorly positioned Mennonite family, and a poorly positioned invisible marshal, I didn’t turn where I should have…

And the Runny Nose just got about 5k longer.

By the time we doubled back, and neared the correct turn, I was leading the three riders, but the closest rider ahead of us (who didn’t miss the turn) was almost a speck in the distance.

So, it was back to 7k left in the race and my thigh was promising me a world of pain.

I massaged my thigh. I stood up on my bike. I rubbed my thigh. I banged my frozen water bottle against my thigh. I swore. The cramp didn’t get worse, but it didn’t let up either.

The end of the race was on farm lane and river trail, so there wasn’t even a chance to draft anyone.

So I rode.

And my thigh screamed at me.

3k to go.

2k to go. I’m with a small pack, and we’re sailing through downtown St. Jacobs. The stairs are up ahead.

We hit the stairs, I’m behind a rider. I dismount, and start the climb, anticipating that my leg cramp will immobilize me at any second. It doesn’t. I get to the top of the stairs, and the rider in front of me is spent. But I’m not.

10th place.

The detour cost at least six minutes and probably three places, but who cares. It was a Sunday afternoon, I awoke at 6:30 AM, drove 90 minutes so that I could be an hour early, booked it for 2 hours through the wind, snow, and a killer cramp, and placed 10th out of almost 40 riders.

Boom.  I did it on my own. No drafting. No pack to pace me. Nothing. Just me and my bike.

Ride.