It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Bester of Times.
Northumberland Forest. Coburg, Ontario: The 2017 Substance Projects Northumberland Humbler.
That’s the same as driving from the CN Tower to Barrie. Well, 20k south of Barrie. 74,000 metres of singletrack, double track, old trails, new trails, fire road, access road, this side of the road, that side of the road, back to this side of the road again… We even did a few sliart. That’s trails spelled backward. You know, because we rode some of the trails in reverse.
1,400m of climbing.
That’s as tall as, well something really tall.
It was my favourite race EVER.
Let me say it again. The Northumberland Humbler was, by far, my favourite race ever.
- I actually started, raced, and finished my longest MTB race ever. 74k of BOOM.
- It capped a two month spree of epic race awesomeness. 7 big races in 9 weekends, plus 5 weekly series races. BOOM times 7, plus 5, divided by 9.
- Northumberland Forest is one of my favourite places to ride–AND we got to try a new trail AND, a whole bunch of it was backwards. MOOB (same joke as above)
- I nailed a spot on the podium: 3rd place Clydesdale (and so what if there were only three Clydesdales and I was actually 2nd last place overall). A podium finish is a podium finish. One third of a BOOM.
- I got to see my favourite biking sub-community: the folks at Substance Projects. A big Dan Marshall BOOM.
And, after almost five hours of sweating in a helmet, there isn’t a single hair out of place. Thanks to my race photographer and Fatbike God, Jeff Shikaze for the shot, and thanks to great hair product. L’Oreal BOOM.
- Honestly, if you peel everything away (the challenge, the exhaustion, the poison ivy all over my legs…) the Humbler was just a big boss, 4 hour and 48 minute long, rip (although it was considerably less time for the rest of the riders…). Bike playing BOOM.
I’m not saying it was easy, because it wasn’t, but honestly, it wasn’t that tough either. I started strong and with a smile on my face, I was still grinning at the halfway point, and I finished strong, with a bigger smile on my face. This race is a very stark contrast to the desolation and hopelessness (yes, actual desolation) I felt for the ENTIRE Long Sock Classic. Very stark indeed. While the LSC was my toughest race ever, the Humbler was the funnestest.
You might think funnestest isn’t a word, but if you raced the Humbler, you would know exactly what I’m talking about.
I still can’t believe we did it. I still can’t believe Team Colin rode a full marathon distance, on a single speed, and it didn’t kill us. Didn’t kill us? Pfft. Actually, I felt almost good at the end of the race.
The Humbler marked the end of a nine weekend racing spree that covered a good chunk of Ontario’s finest bike trails, a bunch of different riding disciplines, and almost 450k of race-pace, white-knuckle, maximum heart rate, riding…
Wait, what’s this about 9 weekend epic racing spree?
Well, from April 9th to June 3rd I raced almost every MTB race within 2 hours of my house. Here’s my Facebook post from the day after the Humbler:
7 big races
5 weekly series races
3 shots on the podium
Over 7,000m of climbing (um, that’s almost Mt. Everest)
Just under 450k of racing (and almost half of it on a single speed)
- Steaming Nostril (April 9);
- Homage to Ice (April 15);
- Paris to Ancaster (April 30);
- O Cup #2 in Kingston (May 7);
- Long Sock Classic (May 20);
- Singletrack Classic (May 27);
- Northumberland Humbler (June 3).
Oh, and five King Weekly Series races.
And yes, I know Team Colin really isn’t that good of a rider, and I know there are so many riders who are way more epically awesome than me (they ride longer, faster, harder, and better, and their results are way better than mine–like waaaaaaaaay better), and because of that, there’s usually no shortage of self deprecation on my blog.
But not today.
Nope. Because Team Colin is now sort-of-in-a-periphery-way-kinda-almost-maybe-close-to-being in the same league as the big kid MTBers.
Not really, but almost sort of. Um, why do I keep referring to myself Team Colin?
And even though I’m not the traditional (okay, actual) definition of epic MTB awesomeness, I always place first because I’m not racing THEM, I’m racing ME. Although saying that, I also know that if I’m the “only person in the race”, I also place last, but that’s not the point I’m making right now. Right now, I feel good about my riding, and I want to hold onto it for a while longer. Besides, if you’ve ever seen my results, you know there’s plenty of opportunity for me to feel crappy about my riding.
You know, I feel better than just good. For the first time in my racing career, I feel kinda badass. No, I feel wickedly badass. As I wrote in blog #38, this season, I stopped QUALIFYING each race, and I started OWNING each race: The full P2A, the full Singletrack Classic, and three marathons (on a single speed)! So cool.
By the way, I didn’t start racing the marathon distances because I COULD, I started racing the marathon distances because I wanted to see if I could. The rationale and mindset leading to that decision is for another blog post, because now it’s time for a Race Report.
Race Report. Northumberland Humbler: Northumberland Forest (June 3, 2017)
The race started with the Humbler’s standard quick blast out of the start, and a rip up a moderate double track climb. There was a short rider snag at the first bit of sand, but then we were up the hill, and immediately into the sweet singletrack goodness that makes Northumberland my favourite place to ride: long stretches of fast and flowy singletrack, awesomely railed berms, and sweet MTB awesomeness at every tree, root, rock, and stalk of poison. For anyone familiar with the trails, we took the Hogsback bypass, which winds, in the gruntiest way, around the actual Hogsback. The bypass skirts a giant climb, but that doesn’t mean it’s gentle. It’s almost 2k of continual output, which took us to the 5k mark. Once at the top of that climb, I knew we didn’t have a significant climb for a long time. The next 15k was a blur of more awesomely flowing singletrack, speedy climbs, and long descents (that always seemed to end in a 90 degree turn). At the first aid station, I took a minute to recover with Liz, who was being assisted by Dan Elmsly, and then we we crossed the street for a quick zip alongside a pioneer stone wall (the fun new part).
At approximately 20k (across the road from the parking lot) the race transported us to Ganaraska Forest for a long haul. Yeah, the Northumberland Forest actually becomes the Ganny for a while. No it doesn’t, but it sure feels like it. On that side of the road, the trails morph from the fun Northumberland vibe to the raw Ganaraska vibe. While the trails leading into Stonewall (the fun new part) were awesome, the trails leading away from Stonewall (the fun new part) are a mean, raw and grunty mesh of tight and twisty, rocky and rooty trail that’s better suited for its intended use as motocross track instead of a mountain bike race. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but that’s okay, because I wasn’t walking, and I had my bike. By the time we were back on “this side” of the road, we were spent.
Fortunately, there were a few FAST stretches of trail that led to a faster switchback climb, and down to the START/FINISH line.
I hit the START/FINISH for a quick recovery before heading out onto the trails for a repeat.
Even though I felt strong, the first part of the second lap was the hardest. I knew what lay ahead, and I knew it was still 35k until I could stop pedalling, and I knew the pain had to kick in eventually.
However, surprisingly, the pain didn’t really kick in. On the other side of the road, just after Stonewall (the fun new part) at the 65k mark, the race became a slog, but I knew it was only 10k of lousy-ness, so I counted the metres until it ended.
And it did. I hit the aid station for a get-off-a-bike-stretch-and-drink, before the last 5k, and a few minutes later, I finished my longest MTB race.
Smiling. Grinning. I was even ready to do another lap. I’m kidding. I was sore and tired, and I think I would have had a temper tantrum if I had to get back on my bike, but I’m not kidding about my smile. It was an ear to ear, open mouthed, sweaty and spent, dirt-caked and trail-grimy, poop eating grin. True story: On the drive home, I was smiling so much that I felt like my cheeks were actually going to cramp.
End of Race Report.
So that’s it. I rode hard, I felt strong, and I did it.
These marathon distances are tough, but after three of them in four weeks, I feel like they’re now well within my realm of possibility. I’m not good at them, but I can still finish.
I should rephrase that. I’m not good at them YET.
It was an awesome day from start to finish–and I even won a set of pedals (courtesy of Bateman’s Cycle).
After the race, when the podium was finished, and most racers left, Team Colin relaxed for a post race chat/popsicle with my pal Raf (from Fatboy Nation), and the Emsleys (from Awesometon–totally a real place). Dan Emsley gave me a bear roast to cook when I got home. Yes, an actual bear roast. That night, I roasted it, and Team Colin sampled Haliburton’s best.
Seriously though, what’s with me always referring to myself in the third person?
With all the fresh bear meat in my belly, I felt like I was Nick Emsley, and without even knowing it, I roared “I AM TEAM COLIN”. It was kind of primal. Maybe it was the fresh bear. Maybe not. Either way, I immediately thought “Were the heck did that come from, and what’s with this third person thing?”
And then it dawned on me. I. AM. TEAM. COLIN. Say that like Jean Luc Picard telling Gul Madred “There. Are. Four. Lights.” It sounds way more boss. It’s not the epic bike racing spree, or the bike love, or the positivity, or anything else that makes me Team Colin. It’s not even the hats (although they are pretty sweet). It’s a feeling deep down in my belly–a primal fire in my belly–that makes me who I am, and I am totally digging it.
There are four lights, and I am Team Colin.
Post race update. During the race, one of the lead riders was hurt. Three of the leaders, Nick Emsley, Rick Landry, and Seth Stewart, stopped to help. The three of them are awesome. I can only imagine how tough it was for the three of them to step out of race mode to help a fellow rider–and Nick Emsley is 18 years old. These racers demonstrated a remarkable level of fellowship. I don’t know Jeff and Seth, but Nick sure made me proud to know him and his family. Nice work Nick. You’re an example for the rest of us.
To Jeff, Seth, and Nick, the three of you are the undisputed Humbler winners.
If you have something to say about the race, or anything else, comment on this blog, or send an email to: email@example.com