I Should Have Stayed In Bed
The Substance Projects Ontario Fatbike Race Series, presented by 45NRTH and Cannondale.
Race #3. Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre, Parry Sound.
4 laps. 28k.
I was so looking forward to this race. Georgian Nordic is renowned for their trails, and from what I saw, will likely become a fatbiking mecca (awesome trails, fatbike rentals, and a cool vibe) so I was so jazzed for the race (um, did I just say “jazzed”?). Even better, the race would be a chance to spend a day on a bike with my Substance Projects friends, and my cycling community. Best of all, the weather and conditions leading up to the race were a mix of perfection (a bunch of snow a few days before, no snow on the day of, and an ideal temperature at race time). Honestly, when I was prepping for the drive up, I had visions of summer-like ripping, and was imagining all the words I was going to use in this post to describe the sweet singletrack I was anticipating.
I even left my house with plenty of time to get to the race. Heck, I even had time to hit Joyride a few times in the past few weeks so I was in sort-of racing form.
Me? I should have stayed in bed.
I shouldn’t have made the two and a half hour drive to Parry Sound.
I shouldn’t have buckled my helmet, gloved my hands, muffled my neck, and clipped in.
Here’s the story…
I left my house to embark on the long drive, and I was in great spirits.
However, three minutes into the drive it started to unravel. The wind threatened to rip my bike off the rack, so I pulled off the highway for a massive reshuffling of everything in my vehicle so I could carry the bike inside. That shouldn’t have been a problem, but with winter riding (and bad packing habits—I just threw everything in the car) that meant moving my three kit bags, two pairs of boots, a duffle bag (and a pile of loose clothes that didn’t fit in the duffle bag), two food bags, various gear and miscellany, cycling shoes, a helmet, and booties, and three jackets. What? I don’t pack light. It’s kinda my thing.
I lost 20 minutes, but I was still looking forward to the race. Safely back on the highway, I still had plenty of time.
Traffic was uncharacteristically light, the roads were dry, and EVERYTHING fell into line.
But I had a giant smoothie (like 1.5 litres) for breakfast, and two water bottles en route, so I really really had to pee. No problem. I thought I’d put some highway behind me, and I waited as long as I could, but by the time I hit Barrie, I had to pee like a cow.
I pulled off the highway at the first exit in Barrie at what can only be described as the single busiest road in the world. It was New Delhi busy: 10 lanes of stopped traffic going either to or from one of the several massive Smart Centre Plazas, or the giant Costco.
I stumbled into a surprisingly vacant Starbucks, jarring the baristas away from their phones, for a coffee, and “mooooooooo”
Looking back, the venti Pike I ordered was probably a bad addition to my belly, because after losing 20 minutes on the 401, and another 20 minutes in Barrie, I was now under the gun and would not have time to stop again.
At least the weather was co-operating.
Nope. Pretty much immediately north of Barrie, the snow started. It was a winter winder wonderland: snow draped trees, giant fluffs of heaven falling, and decent driving conditions, but it slowed my speed, lessening my buffer of time. No problem, everything was going to be fine.
And then the pee hit again. It hit like a giant sloppy slap in the face. Whoa, that was a horrible visual. It hit like…I don’t know what it hit me like because my brain was swimming.
In the space between Barrie and Parry Sound, aside from a rest stop at Severn Falls, and another when you pass Highway 12, the only thing that exists is the space between Barrie and Parry Sound. Rocks lakes and trees and that’s pretty much it. It was beautiful, but not conducive to a roadside stop. At both opportunities, I thought “Next one”.
Well that was dumb. About an hour later, out of time and full of pee, I HAD TO STOP.
Lucky me (he said dripping with sarcasm, and thankfully that’s it) there was a Truck Inspection Area with a Porta-Potty. What Porta-Potties lack in the winter (smell) they make up for in frozen “uck” factor.
Back on the road, with only 25 minutes of driving left, I was on track.
I made it with lots of time to spare!
I registered, and started prepping for the race.
Fortunately it wasn’t a flat from a hole, it was just flat because I forgot to tighten the presto valve the night before.
No problem. Pump pump pump…
Time to get dressed. Nope.
With my “pack everything” mentality, I brought EVERY THING…except a shell. I’d have to race wearing a down-filled jacket, and that meant I was going to overheat. I could mitigate that by de-layering a bit, which I did, but within the first 15 minutes, I was drenched. At minus a lot (I think it was minus 17 or so), with sweat dripping from my forehead and freezing on my glasses (which were also fogging like crazy), I knew I was in for a tough race.
“No problem” I thought, it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the middle of winter, and I’m on my bike. Cool.
The Race: Lap #1
It wasn’t cool. It was cold and chilly and damp and frosty. Worse after the endorphins of the start of the race wore off, I found it impossible to ride. It wasn’t a lack of stretching or not being warmed up, I just couldn’t find purchase in my legs. You know that dream where everyone is moving at hyper-speed, but you’re basically oozing? That was me. The simple task of peddling felt Herculean. Except he was always warm. Wait, I was warm (well, parts of me were) but some other really important part of me were cold, like really cold, because during the first lap, the toe of my bootie popped off, leaving my little piggies with little protection. Booties have one job. It’s even in their name.
Nope. It was just the kind of day I was having. Uncovered toes. Cold toes. Dripping wet torso. Fogging glasses. Sweaty hands.
It was such a shame, because the course was a thing of beauty: Wide swaths of groomed double track swooping through the forest, undulating between the trees. Georgian Nordic. Sweet.
Also, my bike was a charm. I still had my loaner 45NRTH Wrathchild studded tires, and they performed like a beast. I performed like a beast too–but I was about as agile as an elephant, and slower than a sloth.
I was losing water fast, so I took I drink. No I didn’t. My water bottle was frozen.
A racer passed and quipped we were about to hit what he called “Singletrack from Hell”. Pfft. Pre-riders. Despite everything, I was still having a blast.
More double track, some nice climbs, and then the course cut into the trees for some sweet singletrack. We were 5k into the lap, and it was Singltetrack Heaven. Pre-rider dude didn’t know what he was talking about. ITWASAWWSOME!!!
….for the first few hundred metres. Then we hit a few big climbs and deep snow. It was half hike-a-bike/half technical snow-skinny. One step of the trail, and “oof”, thigh-deep snow. Okay, maybe pre-rider dude was right. It was a slog. I wore knee-length skinnies over my bib pants, and they kept scootching down, which made every dismount a chore.
My cheery demeanour was fading. So was my energy.
Near the end of my first lap, riders were actually lapping me–and I was only 7k into a 28k race!
My first lap took about 45 minutes.
I wanted to take a break and drink, but instead I spent a few minutes trying (unsuccessfully) to wrench the toe of my bootie back over my toe.
The Race: Lap 2
I was back on my bike for the second lap. Maybe the first was just an anomaly. Sure enough, the terrain was easier going, and the crowd had dissipated, but still I found I couldn’t manage any speed. Every stroke felt like I was riding into the wind up a hill with a giant elastic band around my chest.
The second lap was a mess, more getting lapped, more and more sweat, opaque glasses, sweaty hands, colder-than-cold toes, and too much dismounting.
My second lap took about 45 minutes.
At the START/FINISH, I made the trek to the parking lot to get a different pair of booties. Maybe they’d live up to their proud legacy. Gotta say, after 90 minutes in minus a lot weather, taking-off tight booties, and putting-on NEW and even tighter booties was a challenge. Yay for frost.
I took a drink of water.
No I didn’t. I forgot to drink.
The Race: Lap 3
Back on the course, after about 500 metres, the cramp hit. Um, bad hydration. My thigh buckled like a pouty lip.
“Um, that’s not good” I thought to myself. I wish I had thought “Um, get back to the hut to hydrate and stretch your thigh”, but it was just that kind of day, and I pressed on.
Sweet double track, and swooping trail. No speed.
On the Singletrack from Hell, the cramp hit me hard. Like, really hard. It wasn’t a full-blown wincer, but it was close.
The pain of a cramp is bad on a good day. On a cold day, with daylight waning, and snow starting to fall, and tired legs, and a sodden down jacket, and water dripping from my forehead, and toes uncovered (What! Stupid new booties—one friggin’ job…) I stepped off my bike to stretch my cramp.
Whoosh. Standing in the snow up to your waist is not a good way to ease the discomfort of a cramp.
If I had remained there, frozen in place like Jack Nicholson at the end of “The Shining”, I would have considered myself lucky, but I still had one more lap to do after I finished this one.I was well past two hours into the race, and it was only getting harder.
Pedal, pedal, walk and grunt, I was going to finish this race.
My mind wandered. I thought about the epic playlist I brought for the drive; I thought about work and family and my birth kids and my student kids; I thought about blueberry Poptarts and the difference between an Executive Director and a non-Executive Director; and avocados and the Epic 8 Hour and the word venti (20 ounces of coffee?) and that jerk Thanos and his stupid stone (whatever it’s called) and Crokinole and my freewheel…
And I thought about my freewheel. You can pedal a bike backwards, but you won’t move. If you want to move, you have to pedal forward.
So I pedalled.
Snow be damned, cramp be gone, sweat be drippin’ (so gangsta). I pedalled.
And walked and grunted and pedaled some more.
“S’no problem” I thought. I’ve been in worse situations. Plus, bike…awesomeness…racing…yadda yadda yadda.
The falling snow got heavier, and Georgian Nordic was a giant snow globe.
I crested the small climb to the START/FINISH, and I knuckled-in for my final lap.
The Race: Lap 4
Nope. They called the race on me. It was getting too dark, and the official who pulled me from the course told me they were doing a “minus 1 lap” for safety reasons. I wasn’t an official DNF, but it sure felt like one.
Defeated, cold (and warm), and tired, but especially, wet. I hobbled to the hut. The hobble was due in part to the cramp, but mostly because of the true shellacking I took on the course. It’s tough to walk your bike when your tail is between your legs…
And when your damn bootie looks like a Muppet character.
“At least I was on my bike, and a bad day on a bike is still a day on a bike” I thought to myself, trying to at least pretend I had fun. After all, I wasn’t expecting a winter tea party.
I posted this on the Team Colin Facebook page: I got pulled!
In the hut…
Chili, chat, warm-up/dry-off…
I looked at my legs. My skinnies had zippers on the thigh. “I wonder what these do” as I unzipped.
Do you know what they do? They unzip in order to allow air to flow AND TO ALLOW FREE MOVEMENT WHEN ON A BIKE. I raised my legs freely. It turns out I spent the race fighting against my pants.
Stupid guy wearing the pants.
After about 45 minutes, I decided to pack up. It was snowing hard, I was beginning to feel the cold, and re-packing my messy vehicle to find dry clothes took longer than it should have. By the time I finished packing my bike, it was kind of dire. I was cold and shivering and spent and my fingers were frozen nubs. I pulled my damp clothes off and started changing out of my pants so I could warm up a bit.
But then, with my pants halfway down my legs, I realized I was still wearing my booties and shoes.
The stumps that used to be fingers had no effect on the zippers of my booties, and pulling them off was impossible. I frustration, I took a break to regroup. “I’m just going to sit here for a bit and try to warm my hands and feel stupid, and try to take THESE DAMN BOOTIES OFF IN A FEW MINUTES”.
Shoes and booties still on, pants halfway down (or halfway up if you really want to be optimistic), frozen hands.
And that’s the story of the time I found myself half naked, shrouded in a snow-covered car, in a nearly empty parking lot, deflated from a lousy race, feeling like a tool, sticking to my leather seats. I knew I hit a new post-race low.
Wait, that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
Also, it wasn’t until a half hour later that I realized I probably could have pulled my pants up while I waited to warm-up, but that’s just the kind of day it was.
I should have stayed in bed.
Glad this guy didn’t stay in bed.
The Day after…
So it wasn’t all bad. A few things actually went right. The course, conditions, and weather really were sublime. Driving to and from was a nice treat. Also, there were a few moments in the Singletrack from Hell where I felt pretty good. In deep snow, the course becomes a 4.5” wide skinny, and the riding can be quite technical. There were many moments when I caught myself in the middle of a track stand, aiming my third eye (good ole belly button) in the direction I wanted to go, and maintaining balance. It was kind of boss. Finally, regardless of the result or the pain or the toil, I spent two and half hours ripping some of Ontario’s finest fatbike trails. Also, bikes.
Plus, those tires and that bike (my Cannondale Fat Caad 2)…not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
So it didn’t go well, and yes, many things went utterly (and completely and totally) wrong, but that’s the nature of this gig. Despite the best planning, I forgot a very important item…and regardless of the prep, my legs still didn’t work…and in defiance of the weather and the terrain and the long long drive, things still went sideways…
And I made it. I rode and smiled and cursed, and finished. Well, sort of: Minus 1 lap.
Glad I got out of bed.
What do you think? Were you there? Anything to add? Any tips to offer or questions to ask (about fatbiking, biking in general, or blueberry Poptarts?). Comment on this post, or fire an email at: email@example.com
Also, don’t forget to check out the Team Colin Facebook page, or follow me on Instagram.
Finally, if you have something to write and want to submit it to my Friends Of Team Colin page, check out information here and start writing.
Fingers crossed, I’ll be at the next race in Kingston on February 9th (my borthday weekend!), and I’m aiming for Hardwood Ski and Bike on March 10.
Also, the Toronto International Bike show is coming up (March 1-3) and I will be there.