The Great Albion Enduro.
Superfly Racing wasn’t just going to host an enduro race, but a GREAT enduro race. Sweet.
The Superfly website billed it as follows:
“…one of Southern Ontario’s most popular riding centres, switch directions on half the trails, add some unique unmarked trails, AND add a chunk of pure singletrack in the Palgrave tract, along with several kms of rail trail, and what do you get? The GREAT Albion Enduro.”
Lofty goals. However, even though I knew Superfly Racing always stage awesomeness, I was still a bit skeptical. I mean, without even scrolling down on the event website, they used the word GREAT five times. Let’s be honest, I’m no stranger to awesome superlatives (and in this case, super hyperbole), but every time I use the word “awesome”, it’s because whatever I’m describing is totally, 100%, honest to goodness, awesome. But with such gratuitous use of the word ‘great” Team Colin had to check out the Albion Enduro—sorry, the GREAT Albion Enduro–to see just how great it would be.
Wait a sec, what’s a Palgrave?
All I had to do was decide which distance. 40k or 80k? I’m not a frequent Albion rider. In fact, it would be only my second time there (My first was at Superfly’s Endur O-Cup in July. Blog # 17) and I clearly didn’t even know what a Palgrave was. Then I heard that the Green Monster was going to be at the end of the race. The Green Monster is to climbs what bullies are to the school cafeteria. Mean, dumb, and nasty. Superfly’s website also said the race would give us about 800m of climbing. I spent a good deal of time debating the distance. 40k would be fun, and 80k would be a slog—especially since the last time I tackled the Green Monster, it was in the middle of a 25k race, not the end, and this time I’d have to do it twice
But then I realized that I was up to it. Prior to this season, an 80k mountain bike race or ride wasn’t even a distant aspiration, but after the joy I experienced in the 109k distance of the Eager Beaver, the fun of the 100k Kawartha Lakes Classic road tour two weeks after the EB, and the (almost) ease of the 38k Kingston XCM, I realized that distance riding wasn’t as tough as I always thought it was. It’s kind of dumb that it took me four years to finally ride a hundred k, but there you have it. Also, it’s nearing the end of the MTB riding season, so I’m in peak shape, and I figured it was time I challenged myself with a proper marathon distance.
So I registered for the 40k. No, that wasn’t a typo.
My family couldn’t come to the race—and I’m not just talking about my wife and kids. I’m talking about my bike shop family, my Substance Projects family, and my MTB family at large. Without my FAMILY there to help me celebrate the experience, I felt like a giant tree would fall in an epic forest, and nobody would be there to hear the BOOM. Nobody would be there to share it with the tree. Yes, I’m the giant tree. When I bust out my first epic 80k MTB ride, I want to be able to share it with the people who enabled me to get there—because that BOOM is going to be, wait for it, awesome!
Full Disclosure: Sean Ruppel and Superfly are awesome, and I know they’re family to legions of riders, but they just aren’t MY family (yet) because I’ve only done a two of their races. I always think it’s so wicked that pretty much EVERYONE in the MTB world is awesome. My local bike shop is awesome, but I bet yours is too. My MTB family is awesome, and I KNOW yours is too.
Registration. With the inherent craziness of the start of a school year in a household that has two teachers, a 9 year old, and an 11 year old, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to race, so I couldn’t pre-register, but Supefly allowed Day-Of Reg., so I waited until the morning. Rain was coming, and the old me might have crapped out, but the new me was actually looking forward to some nasty weather to keep things interesting.
If you’re going to play bikes, its way more fun in the muck.
To skip ahead to the end of the day, and to save the effort of reading this entire post, when all was said and done The Great Albion Enduro lived up to its name. And more. it wasn’t just all of the awesome (and great) stuff at Albion Hills. It also included an awesome (and great) chunk of Palgrave, and all of the awesome (and great) extra touches of a Supefly Racing event (Sean Ruppel at the helm, wood oven pizza, a little sample of super hipster beer–courtesy of The Second Wedge Brewing co., handmade awards for the Clydesdales, the 3 Rox Racing yard sale, and a dude playing a guitar—even though I was sure I heard a lady while I was racing). Oh yeah, and a free shirt!
The Great Albion Enduro. September 17, 2016
I met my riding buddy, John, a few minutes before the start. After playing it safe at the start in Kingston a few weeks ago, we decided to seed ourselves closer to the front of the pack for this start. We worked our way up as far as we could, and after a few cautions from Sean Ruppel, the race started. A few wheel jams in the first few hundred metres, and then we turned right to a short climb that started to thin the pack.
John likes to hit his own pace, so while most riders rode single file, he darted in and out of the pack to pass. I just tried to keep up. The rain drops started falilng, and we spent the first few k on easy double track (with a smidge of singletrack) before looping back through the Start/Finish area. The rain picked up a bit, and made for some slick grassy sections, and I realized that my Thunder Burt tires, with minimal knob and aggressive sidewall, were a stupid choice. After a few slips and spins, they threw me off my game a bit, so I spent the rest of the day riding very tentatively. Stupid tires.
Pfft. Stupid me. When I knew rain was in the forecast, I should have changed them.
The course wound through some great Albion single track before a a quick zip along a side road that took us to the Palgrave Tract. Ohhhhhh, a Palgrave is a forest….with trails. Sweet. The Palgrave Tract was tight, twisty, technical, and tonnes and tonnes of fun: great rock gardens; short, punchy climbs; sweet jumps and drop offs; rocks, roots, and general MTB goodness, and all the other ingredients of an awesome MTB mix.
We left Palgrave for a return along the side road, and zipped up to a short stretch of rail trail. It was raining, we were booking it. So awesome! The thrill of pedals, trail, wind, and adrenaline.
The guy who drafted me the entire time on the flat stuff thanked me for the break. If you’ve ever drafted behind a Clydesdale, I hear it’s pretty sweet. We’re like a brick wall, and we create a LOT of suck. I imagine the person behind me throwing their feet off their pedals and screaming “Wheeeeeee”. It’s just how a Clydesdale gives back.
You’re welcome, Otto.
The course took us back into Albion Hills and the race got even more fun. Apparently, many of the trails were run backwards, but everything was new to me, so I didn’t know the difference. The roots started to get wet, and there were a few slippy-slidey sections, but the rain never really took hold, and it was mostly just managebly wet.
And then I lost a cleat screw on my shoes. I tried to continue as my foot twisted in my pedal, but it was no use. I had to dismount to fix it. I spent a few minutes trying to fix it while riders passed. The bolt sheared of, and there was no easy fix, so I spent a few more minutes trying to jam my clip back into my shoe so I could continue. I couldn’t unclip in the event of a bail, but I could finish the race. Tricky business, not being able to unclip. Tricky business.
Okay, the tire thing was my fault, but the cleat thing was totally my shoe’s fault.
If my knobbyless tires threw me off my game at the beginning of the race, not being able to unclip really threw me off my game. In truth, the inability to unclip made me ride through, over, and up many features that usually scare me, but I was so tentative, and I know I could have given more.
The last 15k was the pure, sweet, singletrack that makes Albion Hills such a great destination. Damn, they know how to cut a trail at Albion, and damn, Sean nailed the course with the perfect mix of single and double track, trail variety, and just plain fun.
Not to mention butter tarts. The aid station at around 32k had butter tarts. Mmmmm. Sweet buttery tart goodness.
It was another quick zip through a maze of Albion trails (apparently in reverse, but like I said, it was all new to me), to the bottom of that jerk, the Green Monster.
I have four words for the Green Monster: You don’t scare me, you big stupid jerk. Okay, that wasn’t four words. And it wasn’t true either. Like a true bully, the Green Monster had me shaking in–my clipped/unclipped shoes for the entire race–not because of WHAT it was, but what it REPRESENTED. It wasn’t just big, it was at the end of the race, and it became bigger and bigger by the minute. By the time I got to it, it was a giant ball of fear. It was the kids who made fun of my Ozzy Osbourne 3/4 sleeve t-shirt, or my stupid glasses, or my shaggy 70s haircut.
Well, I’m not going to take it any longer you big jerks—I need these glasses to see, and I really like Ozzy Osbourne, and my mom makes me get this damn bowlcut every time we go to the barber. I mean, um, I’m not going to take it any more because the only way to manage a big hill is to get to the top of it by any means necessary. So, after fearing the hill for the entire race, and holding back so I’d have something to give when it came, I rode up half of it, and then gave up to walk—with everyone else.
Seriously, Colin, it’s just a hill.
After the climb, the course gave us one more k of sweet Albion trail before the finish, and as I found a final burst of energy on the last switchbacks down to the finish line, I heard the sweet acoustic echo of a folk singer crooning “Bobcaygeon”, one of my favourite songs. What an awesome way to cap an awesome race.
And Sean even announced my finish. He didn’t say “Team Colin” because we’re not super cool BFFs yet, but it was a nice touch to announce all of the riders
2:44. 5th place Clydesdale. 1,000m of climbing.
End of Race Report.
Sean Ruppel and Superfly sold themselves waaaaay short. The race wasn’t just great, it was awesome. Spectacular course, cool vibe, great music, terrific people, sweet t-shirt (even though it wasn’t Ozzy barking at the moon), and more fun than a 44 year old guy should be allowed to have on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
But here’s the funny thing. It really was awesome. And it sort of wasn’t. Everything about the race was awesome, but nothing about my experience was–there wasn’t a life changing epiphany, or profoundly challenging experience, or anything exceptional. My blogs usually write themselves because I’m always moving forward (as a person, a rider, and a racer), and the content of my post becomes whatever challenge and circumstances brought me to the end of a ride, but this one was different. Not bad different, and not unawesome different, just different.
It was my 40th race.
The 40th time I strapped a hemlet on my head and threw myself to the universe.
And nothing went boom?
So I had to dig. But it wasn’t hard to find, because it was a Saturday afternoon and there was a bike race, and I did it. And for as long as I’m able to pedal my bike, that energy will continue to create the most epic of booms.
Sweet photo courtesy of Ted Anderton at Apex Photography. He always makes me look better than I think I am.