NOT a Love Letter to Ganaraska Forest
It was a week ago, and I’m still not even close to recovered.
It was a week ago, and I can still feel the phantom burn in my left thigh as I recall that bloody hill on top of a hill, and the other hill, and the other hill…. So many hills.
It was a week ago, and my shoulderneck (totally a real body part) still throbs with the lingering pain of 5 hours and 41 minutes on a bike with no front suspension.
It was a week ago and I still haven’t published a blog post about the Long Sock Classic.
The 2018 LSC, presented by Substance Projects, in Ganaraska Forest, was a week ago, and it was awesome.
Except not really.
I mean, sure, it was awesome. The Long Sock Classic is always awesome–Dan Marshall’s races are always awesome. But it just wasn’t all that long sockey.
As a reward for challenging Ganaraska Forest, riders were given a pair of commemorative Long Sock Classic socks, however, Substance Projects didn’t have normal adult-sized socks, so mine were too small for me–or maybe my legs just aren’t normal adult-sized. Anyway, my too-small socks spent the race squinching further and further down my calf, and gathered at my ankle. It was more like the Slouchy Sock Classic. I felt like I should have been doing aerobics in a bad perm for 20 minutes, wearing a french cut bathing suit with a flesh coloured leotard. “4 more, 3 more, 2 more, and take it to the top…” What, 20 Minute Workout was a big thing when I was a kid? How could I not have seen it?
Also, puberty. How could I not have seen it?
Long Sock, Slouchy Sock, Argyle Sock… It doesn’t matter what the race wore on its feet, it was still one heck of an awesomely horrible race. Once again, Dan Marshall and Substance Projects put together a ridiculously fun and challenging course, and a great post-race experience.
And it was no small feet to even make the race happen (see what I did there; feet). My riding buddy, John, rode the course a week prior to the race, and he said it was an absolute mess. With a Spring that was, um, not, the course was a 37 km web of tangled trees, fallen branches, and few farms from Kansas. It may have taken Mother Nature’s full force to bring down the forest, but it took an Act of Dan to clean it all up.
And with a whole bunch of rain, and not much warmth, starting on race day eve and carrying through to race day morning, Mother Nature wasn’t finished playing. The sand in the Ganny likes a bit of water to keep things speedy, but it doesn’t need a deluge. Well, deluge it was.
I brought two bikes to the race: my carbon Norco Revolver hardtail, and my Cannondale Trail SL single speed. I wanted the benefit of gears for the climbs, but with such bad bike luck lately, I didn’t want to trash my drivetrain with all the sand. Either way, I was expecting a tough day on a bike.
Here’s my Facebook post from the morning of the race:
It’s race day! It’s cold…and rainy…and this course always beats me up, but in a few hours, I get to race against my nemesis (Ganaraska Forest), not because I want to, but because I CAN. Bring it on Mother Nature, just maybe don’t bring ALL of it on, you know, because I’m fairly delicate.
But I also posted this on the Team Colin Facebook page:
Team Colin hates the cold. Team Colin hates the rain. Team Colin hates the Ganny. Annnnnnnnnnnd…today’s Long Sock Classic, at Ganaraska Forest is calling for rain all day, and a high of 8 degrees. So yay, a 1-2-3 punch of “Ugh”.
However, it’s MTB, and while it’s great to ride warm and dry on an easy course, it’s a billion times greater when a race writes a story for you. I’m really not looking forward to 70 something km in the forest today, but I’m also eagerly anticipating it. Yeah, it’s complicated.
Complicated indeed. To make matters worse, my personal situation is still an absolute mess lately: I didn’t get much sleep in the prior week (yay, I’ve been waking up each day at 3:30 AM or so); I’m on single dad duty, so I’ve had zero race prep; and I’ve been involved in some giant projects at work lately, so my school days are full throttle.
At least there’s an end in sight. My wife’s “special project” is coming to a close, and the school year will be over before I know it (despite the fact that I’m just not finished with my courses, and could use another week or three to jam some more knowledge into my students).
Also, I know the Spring race season will be over before I know it, so even though I didn’t want to, I got up on Saturday morning, looking forward to seeing my race peeps, riding in some lousy weather, and all the awesome/gross stuff for which I love/hate the Ganny.
Oh, and there was a race, so I dd it.
Honestly though, I almost called it 10 times while I was packing and driving to the race.
When I got to the forest, I decided on the gruelling (and relative safety) ride of my Cannondale Trail SL single speed. Probably not the best choice for the Ganny, but a choice nonetheless, and it was at least consistent with last year, so I’d get a year-to-year benchmark of my physical state.
Yes, the fork is aluminium. No it does not flex.
Race Report: Long Cock Classic. May 19, 2018. Ganaraska Forest
The race was really hard: punishing hills, giant stretches of tough single track, and some of the gnarliest double track around…twice.
End of Race Report (short version)
I haven’t been doing Race Reports lately because they all seem to sound the same, and a few people said they were “the boring parts”. However, when you tackle a giant like the Ganny, with only 56 people entered in the long course (and 9 of them taking a DNF) out of deference to the course, I think a proper race report is justified. For people who haven’t courted the beast that is Ganaraska Forest, consider yourself lucky. Also, get out there and let ‘er rip. Ganaraska Forest has some of the toughest, rawest, gnarliest, and finest MTB out there.
It’s so damn boss. I HATE The Ganny so much that I LOVE it.
And yeah, 9 DNFs in a race of 56.
Race Report: Long Cock Classic. May 19, 2018. Ganaraska Forest
Immediately out of the gate, the LSC takes a swipe at you. Sure, it nips at a few hundred metres of gentle track, but then it hits a mean stretch of farm access road that can only be described as MTB Heaven (or hell, depending on whether you’re racing). For about 2k, the road is an ugly mess of ruts, rocks, sand, and branches, and the riding is either straight up, or straight down. Simply put, the road beats you up. If you try to “just pedal” up the climbs, you’ll find yourself stalled on a very wrong line. If you try to find some flow on the descents and “just let go” you’ll end up on a stretcher.
It’s horrible. And yeah, wickedly cool.
From the access road, the course turns into the forest for a gentle meander up a slight elevation gain, until it hits the bottom of a beastly, raw, double track climb, that finishes in an even more beastly, raw, double track climb.
And then the really fun stuff starts. The Ganny is singletrack nirvana. It’s horrible, and I hate it, but yeah, it’s awesome, and I love it. I always say that I feel every ounce of my weight and every inch of my height in the Ganny, and it’s always true.
About 10k in, I came upon a downed and bloody rider, and a few people assisting. It was a good reminder that we may be playing bikes, but the stakes can be pretty high. I saw a buddy from the my King Series weekly race (and pretty much every other race I do), Matt Emm, waiting with the injured rider. He’s a young guy (and fast as heck), and it must have been tough for him to throw away his race to assist. I’m always proud to race with folks who do the right thing when they’re called to do so. UPDATE: I checked with Dan after the race. The rider is “okay”.
About 8k after that sobering sight, in the middle of a nice stretch of cycling zen, and somewhere just after my favourite bit of the course, or maybe just before, and maybe just before that horrible part, or perhaps just after, the Aid Station appears out of nowhere. It’s the halfway point of the lap (about 18k), but it feels like it’s way further in. The Aid Station was staffed by none other than Ms. Shikaze. Yeah, Jeff Shikaze’s wife. She volunteered to spend her day in the middle of a damp forest helping racers. As I was refueling, enjoying a dill pickle or two, and stuffing a sandwich down my throat, we had a chat (also, I didn’t want to get back on my bike and I was totally stalling…) and it was nice to get to know her. Jeff’s a lucky guy.
And then I realized that I was only halfway TO THE MIDPOINT OF THE RACE. I was unnerved and daunted. I still felt strong, but not that strong, and looking at so much of the Ganny in front of me, I didn’t know how I’d handle it.
But I pushed on, and found myself almost enjoying the race, with total disregard to the iminent pain and suffering. More singletrack, more tough climbs, and more harrowing descents (pretty sure the climbs outnumbered the descents about 10 to 1), the course wound itself through some cultured forest, and some awesomely swoopy up and down twisty stuff that went on forever, before landing us on another planet: a sort-of clearing, filled with white, blossoming seedlings. Because or the rain, a mist hugged the ground, creating an ethereal landscape. It was a spectacular sight–however, one that I couldn’t truly enjoy because I think I was in the actual throes of either a massive heart attack, or a grand mal seizure.
Or maybe both at the same time.
By that point in the course, there was about 30k of track behind my wheels, and I was hurting.
After riding on Venus, we re-entered the forest for the last bits of sweet singletrack, a punishing two-part climb, and a return to the START/FINISH.
It was 1:30. Two and a half hours into the day. It was a lousy time by any measure, and I knew my second lap would likely be much longer.
A fellow rider asked if I was done. “Nope” I said between gasps of air and swinging arm stretches, with weary shoulders, and an even more weary body.
I took a few minutes to refuel and compose myself (I needed a few hours).
I took a few minutes to assess the task at hand (I needed more than a few hours).
I took a few minutes to bring my heart rate down from a billion bpm (I needed a nap!).
My friend, Dan Elmsley asked “Is that it for the day?”. His son, the legendary Nick, finished his lap an hour faster than me.
I didn’t say “Nope”. I said, “Have we met? I’m Colin. It’s far from ‘it’ for the day”.
A minute later, as I was preparing to leave, a spectator asked “You’re going back out there?”.
“Yeah, I’m going back out there”
Head down, pedal, and pedal some more. Damn, it’s a bleak and dreary prospect to start a race when you are absolutely and utterly spent. It seems to be a trend with me lately…
Actually, it’s always bleak. I’m a big guy and I don’t train nearly as much as I should. Big races hurt.
Just before my second stab at the access road, a spectator was on course and cheered me on “You can do it buddy, you got this—oh and it’s a big guy!”
I gripped my bars for 2k of white knuckle punishment, and tried to focus.
But then, between the grunty climbs and terrifying descents, the voices came.
“Is that it for the day?”
“Are you done?”
“You’re going back out there?”
“…and it’s a big guy!”
My head was a tangle of thoughts, and one big, giant, underlying, message: You have no right to be here. I felt embarrassed for my performance. How on earth was I going to ride through the finish line, especially since pretty much everyone would be done by the time I finished, and not feel like a total fool?
I had no business on a bike in a full marathon race, and I knew it.
The voices were so loud that they drowned out chorus of moans from my aching legs, the pained screeches from my cramped shoulderneck, and the death rattle from my exhausted lungs.
Head down, pedal. Rocks, roots, up and down. Head down, pedal. Stay focused and keep going.
Every pedal stroke was a challenge, and every climb was a torment, but with the wailing voices in my head, the race course passed under my tires, and I found myself close to the Aid Station.
Rest, refuel, and back on the bike.
I remembered what my pal, Jeff Shikaze, said to me near the end of the Epic 8 Hour. “We’re all hurting buddy”
The second lap was exactly the same as the first, except that I felt like it was in slow motion. For the second time in two weekends, I searched for that time when riding in a long race becomes easy, but it just didn’t come. For the second time in two weekends, I just grappled with finishing.
Riding on Venus.
The last big climb (both parts of it).
The final rip of singletrack.
And for the second time in two weekends, I just finished.
End of Race Report (long version)
By the time I got to the FINISH, the awards were in full swing, and the entire field of racers was there to witness my struggled limp under the banner.
And it was awesome. I went toe to toe with the Ganny a 6th time (and second time in the full), and finished. I didn’t beat The Ganny, but it didn’t beat me either.
It wasn’t until the next weekend, after the SingleTrack Classic, that Dan Elmsley told me people weren’t questioning my ability, they were impressed with my resolve. Funny. I usually beat myself up, but never as bad as I did in the LSC. Somewhere in the clatter of thoughts and words, between the physical exhaustion prior to the race and the exertion during the race, I lost my mental stamina. I guess when we’re playing bikes in the big distance races, I I have to condition my brain muscle too. Gotta work on that.
Hey, I want to talk about Shawn for a moment. Who is Shawn? Shawn is a rider I first met at the Aid Station on the first lap. He rolled into the station, and said his ankle was hurt. Looking down at his ankles, I couldn’t see a problem. His left leg looked like any other left leg, and his right leg looked like any right leg THAT HAD A BOWLING BALL SEPARATING HIS SHIN FROM HIS FOOT.
I then saw Shawn at the end of the first lap, and throughout the second lap, with what I can only describe as an elephant’s ankle. I also saw him at the finish. Yeah, he finished the race.
That spirit–his spirit, and the spirit of all the other finishers–runs deep in mountain bike racing. Whether it’s finishing the race on foot for 10k because of a broken chain (like one rider did), finishing in 3:30:25 (like the winner, Jon Slaughter, did), or just finishing.
We weren’t sipping a Corona at a comedy club, we were there to take on a giant.
Speaking of drinking, a final word on nutrition. I totally nailed it at the LSC: Hammer Perpetuem throughout the day, lots of electrolyte fizzes (and a whole bunch of Skratch at the Aid Stations), and some real food in between. The Perpetuem isn’t harsh on my belly, and even though my body was tired, I knew I was fueled.
So that’s the Long Sock Classic. It was a week ago, and I’m still not recovered, but I get to do it all over tomorrow morning at the Singletrack Classic. Yeah, I’m tired. No, I really don’t want to race tomorrow morning, but 44k at Hardwood Hills may just be what I need to help me recover…
Oh, and I was first place in my category. I was the only Clydesdale who entered.
Something to say about the LSC? Something to YELL at Ganaraska Forest? Comment on this post, write on the Facebook page, or send a message to: firstname.lastname@example.org
With a first place medal around my neck, there was only one thing to do. Strut. Some post-race pics:
Mon ami Simon, and mes amis David Vee, Lorraine Gee (and les filles) went to Arby’s for some post race chat and beef.