Great Gravel Grindage
For the last year, I’ve been pretty steamed with the Steaming Nostril race–a 45k or 65k gravel romp through the horribly awesome, wickedly gravel, roads, hills, rail trail, and farmer’s fields of St. Jacobs.
I was angry at the race because it was so horrible last year. I’m kidding of course, there is no such thing as a horrible race.
But last year came close. It was awesome, but it was mostly horrible. Cold, windy, snowy, windy, cold and windy. Worse, because of a poorly positioned horse and buggy, I missed a turn and added a bunch of pedaling to my race. Horrible indeed. Here’s my post from last year: The 2016 Steaming Nostril
I was excited to be finally riding my new (used) Norco Threshold–a proper gravel ripper, and after last year’s Draft-A-Thon (at my expense–I’m talking to you, Runny Nose Rider), I was excited to explore the possibility of drafting.
Well, I’m happy to say that yesterday we made up. The 2017 Steaming Nostril (Runny Nose distance) was, as the title says, a bunch of great gravel grindage. Sure it was windy, but it’s tough to beat racing in 12 degrees on a sunny Sunday morning during MTB shoulder season.
Although it almost wasn’t meant to be. The day started with tragedy. While loading my new bike into my van, it tipped over and bent the heck out of the rear derailleur hanger. I’d been plagued by drivetrain issues since buying the bike, but my shop finally had it purring the day before the race. Now, unless the Steaming Nostril involved a puck and an ice rink, my hockey stick derailleur hanger wasn’t going to be any good.
Have no fear, Velofix was there. Damn, that almost rhymed.
Here’s how it went down:
Me: Thank god you’re here. My rear derailleur hates me.
Tim: It’s the morning of a race. If you can pedal, leave it. The last thing you want to do is snap it.
Me: Well, it was bent into my spokes this morning…
Tim: Okay, let’s take a look (Velofix Tim–that was his name–clamps bike on stand). Oh no.
Okay, here’s where a little bedside manner would have been nice Velofix Tim. The words “oh” and “no” together, half an hour before a race, are so very not cool. Thankfully, I had another pair of bib shorts. You know, because of the immediate and involuntary bowel evacuation.
Tim: (attaching his Park Tools derailleur hanger bender-backer) Well, here goes.
While I waited for a the horrific “PINGK” sound of my derailleur hanger snapping, I felt like I was going to throw up.
Tim: Just a bit more…
Yup, I was definitely going to throw up.
Tim: And some more…
I may have blacked out at this point.
Tim: There you go.
Me: Wha? How? Really. How much do I owe you?
Tim: Nothing. Now get out of here and change your shorts.
Velofix Tim is my guy. Seriously, I love you Velofix Tim. Also, super cool van.
With my bike in shape, and weighing at least 10 pounds less, I was good to go.
Race Report: Steaming Nostril–Runny Nose distance. St. Jacobs (April 9, 2017)
I did something I never do. I seeded myself near the front of the pack. I placed 10th overall last year, and 7th overall two years ago, so I figured (hoped) I’d have a similar performance this year. It was the biggest crowd I’d seen at the race–52 riders in total–but I was chatting with my new blog/hat buddy Steve Shikaze, and I tried to play it cool.
Awooooo (that’s what I heard) and the race was on. There was a little zip up a soft grassy knoll that was short enough to book, but tough enough to feel. The 65k riders cheered and waved. Nice.
Within a few minutes, we hit the Millrace Footpath–a 2k stretch along the river that is usually sheer ice, but was completely dry this year. The pace was fast, but I felt strong.
Back on the road we left St. Jacobs, for the long haul: gravel, road, and gravel for the next little while. The wind was punishing. I was riding alone, distancing myself from the pack behind, while watching the pack ahead slowly thin to lone riders . Really, we were all ALONE. While this year’s field was the biggest I’d seen at the Steaming Nostril, 52 riders does not allow for any pack riding the same way that it isn’t possible to NOT be in a pack when there are a few hundred riders (take THAT 65k riders–we couldn’t draft). By 8k, we were firmly into our respective race positions, and it was time to get into the race. The wind was hammering us, so there was only one thing to do. Pedal.
The distance started adding up. My Garmin read 12k…18k…20k. Wind, gravel, farms, and awesomeness. I was into my groove, and struggling, but my pace wasn’t unmanageable, and I held speeds between 25-35 km/h. Clearly my bike was a good investment.
And then the 20k mark.
Oh. That. Wind.
I hit the drop bars, lowered my head, and just gave it. The wind was mean. Punishing. I still felt strong, so I increased my pace enough to close the gap between me and the rider in front of me. Maybe I’d get a chance to draft after all. It hurt. A lot. But I closed it. When I caught up to the rider, I suggested we share the load a bit. At least I think that’s what I suggested. My lungs were infernos, my legs were stumps, and I may have vomited. In any case, he got the message and tucked in behind me. I pulled for a short stretch, before tucking behind him. Actually, it was such a crazy cross-wind, that we pretty much rode astride and barely behind each other when we were drafting. Crazy wind.
And that’s when I got disqualified.
Yeah, disqualified. Team Colin got disqualified (although not officially) on my 41st race.
I have finished every race I started. Sometimes I start late, and sometimes I finish late. Sometimes I sail across the finish line, and sometimes I finish with one shoe on, one shoe off, and a taco for a front wheel.
But I ALWAYS record a time.
It was stupid, really. Somewhere along the road, we missed a turn onto the rail trail, and skipped a 1.4k portion of the race. Every turn was marshalled by police officers, but apparently, there was an unmarshalled turn that we missed. I was riding with dude, and we were probably tucked low and focussed on not dying, but we definitely missed a turn. I didn’t find out until much later when one of the leaders passed and notified my. It was devastating. Up to that point I was feeling strong and confident. After that, I felt deflated and stupid. The wind wasn’t my enemy this year. I was. At the end, I found out that I missed about 1.4k. It wasn’t enough to cause much of a time difference, and the officials said many others had done the same thing, but it was enough for me to feel absolutely, utterly, and totally bummed. I may not be a good rider, but I race with all I can, and this really stung.
So, with a broken heart, I pushed on. More headwind, even more headwind, maybe perhaps possibly a bit of tailwind, lots of gravel, a few paved sections, a bunch of horse buggies taking Mennonite families back home–and back in time–after church service. It was a bright and sunny day, and I was racing my bike (that was performing like a champ by the way–thanks Velofix Tim) so it really wasn’t that bad, but my upcoming DQ was ever present in the back of my mind.
And then, at about 28k, I passed a farm with a few horses. I said hello to the horses, because it really is rude to ignore them, and asked them how they felt about the state of American politics. Unanimously, they said “Nay”. But one horse stood out. I called him (or her–I’m not an equestrianite) Fabio Horse. Seriously, dude horse was rocking a wind swept mane of awesomeness that would broil a romance novel cover. “Dude, you are awesome”, I said to the horse. He (or she) said “Nay” but I think they were just playing coy.
Honestly, with Fabio Horse on this planet, I figured everything would be alright, DQ or not.
And then the farm. Hey farm, I hate you. Even Fabio Horse hates you. Seriously, just ask him if he likes you. No I don’t really hate you, but c’mon. Even the route into the farm (which I knew would be tough) was tough. At the farm, the rutted, soft descent was rideable, as was most of the valley, but that dang section did all it could to throw me off my pace, zap whatever energy I had left, and make me feel like a chump.
The farmer had shots of maple syrup. I asked if they could give me an IV drip of maple syrup, but no luck. Two shots of maple syrup later, I was off, and up out of the valley. Last year, there was only one route out of the valley–the Cliff of Exhaustive Swear Words. This year, there were two options: the shorter COESW, or the longer and easier route. I thought I took the shorter route, but got mangled on the longer and easier route. What is it with me and signs?
Out of the valley, off the farm, and a few k to the end. Here’s something I really like about this race. Many race organizers exaggerate and give an inflated distance. The Steaming Nostril was supposed to be 40k, but it was just over 44. The organizers love riding and racing that much. Me too. Nice work organizers.
It was a quick(ish) shot along our last taste of gravel for the day, through the last farm, and the finish line. The crowds waiting at the Waterloo Rod and Gun Club were great, and it was a sweet lead up to the end as well. The wind cooperated, and I booked a sweet sprint through the road crossing, and down to the finish line. The announcer read my name as I crossed–always a nice touch and a very pro feel–and gave me a tenth place finish
Except for my DQ.
End of Race Report
I approached the officials immediately and explained my transgression. They were very cool about it, and since the next rider came in 8 minutes later, they kept the time and the place. I guess I’m okay with the result, but there is still something scratching at the back of my mind: an unfinished race. So not cool.
The day ended with some great bike and life chat with a bunch of awesomely cool people. The food was spectacular and plentiful, and the hall was just thumping with the adrenaline and post-race vibe. I spent most of it with my new blog/hat buddy, Steve Shikaze (check out his link), a few lapdogs, and a bunch of other awesome riders (some of whom actually read my blog sometimes–so cool). Names were exchanged. Race stories were related. Loved the vibe.
And guess what? On the way home, I missed my turn from highway 85 onto highway 8. Damn signs…
And that wind? Whatever. Like I said last year, we didn’t bring our teacups to a garden party, we brought our bikes to a big boss race. Can’t beat that.
PS. Hey, did I miss anything? Were you there? Want to say something, add something, or ask something? Comment below, or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Look who I found. A few blogger pals, and She Who Will Not Be Named (last year’s Runny Nose Rider–yeah, were buds now).