Bruce MacDonald, the Wind and the Rain, and the 2019 Steaming Nostril (Sunday, April 14)
In it’s seventh year, the Steaming Nostril, presented by Cycle Waterloo, is of my early season highlights. I’ve raced it for the last four years; my first three in the Runny Nose distance, and the full deal last year.
The race is best described as an angry P2A, but since it’s earlier in the season–and way gnarlier–it hosts a fraction of the crowd, so the vibe is chill and communal. In the true spirit of the best gravel grinders, the small and devoted crowds, and passionate organizers, make the race a must-do. If you missed it this year, don’t make the same mistake next year (and if you want a taste of what to expect, try the Substance Projects El Bandito on August 24. It’s a similar race, but you get to wear short sleeves…).
I love-hate the Steaming Nostril so much. Here’s last year’s post. If you read it, and then Bruce’s Race Report, you’ll notice they sound oddly similar. That’s because racing in Southern Ontario in the middle of April is awfully horrible, epically awesome, and way too much fun.
Of course, it’s not fun until AFTER you warm up and dry off.
People cite “rule 5” or say HTFU when they talk about riding in harsh conditions, but I don’t see it that way. We don’t register for bike races because they’re easy. If we wanted a walk in the park, we’d take a talk in the park.
So how did I do this year? I didn’t.
I couldn’t make it to the race, and I got the FOMO’s so bad, so I reached out to the world of Facebook to see if anyone had a Race Report. Bruce couldn’t sleep, so he wrote a blog post.
And it’s awesome.
Bruce is new to the sport, and his newfound love is contagious. We met briefly at last year’s Howling Coyote (his first race) and I’m pretty sure we’ll be meeting at many races to come.
Here it is:
My Amateur Race-Recap of the Steaming Nostril Gravel Ride in Beautiful St. Jacobs, ON.
It’s amateur in two ways. First, I’m about as amateur as you can get when it comes to bike racing, my first ever race was less than a year ago, the 2018 Paris to Ancaster, and second, this is the first race report I have ever written in my life.
How did I get here you ask? As an avid reader of the Team Colin Blog, let me tell you:
I’m something of a newer cyclist and I’m still feeling my way through the cycling world of mountain, Cyclocross/gravel, velodrome and road cycling. The fat bike will be a fall 2019 purchase.
I started cycling a little less than 2 years ago after turning 50 and after 2 weekend rides on a 10 year old bike, my wife and I were sharing, I was hooked. I sought out some bike purchasing advice from a friend in Alberta, Bryon Howard, who is a competitive amateur athlete in many endurance sports including cycling. Bryon steered me towards a carbon fibre XC mountain bike. (My favorite bike).
I rode the mountain bike most weekends until the fall and then I discovered the Milton Velodrome. The velodrome was one of my best ever discoveries. Up until joining the velodrome, I didn’t have any local buddies who bike rode, so I was constantly on a search to find a group to ride with. The velodrome connected me with a world of passionate cyclists, who were more than happy to share their favorite clubs, races, and experiences with me. This led to my first ever race, the Paris to Ancaster 70km in 2018. It was after this race that I stumbled across the Team Colin Blogs and have found them to be one of the highlights of the Ontario race circuit. I didn’t meet Colin until the Howling Coyote in October of 2018 and he is as big and gregarious as his blogs! I liked him right away. Colin wasn’t able to ride the Steaming Nostril this year and made a call to see if someone wanted to do a guest blog. This was my effort.
“Hey Bruce, I thought you were going to give a race-recap of the Steaming Nostril, not your life story.”
Sorry, I thought a bit of back ground was necessary.
The 2019 Steaming Nostril!
In the lead up to the many 2019 races/rides I have registered for. The Steaming Nostril was one of the more notorious ones.
I ride in a casual CX bike group out of Oakville, affectionately called, “Gary Cross” and organized by a guy called Gary McGahey. Most of the cyclists in this group have at one time or another ridden The Steaming Nostril. Most said they endured the experience. Most said the winds will be brutal. Most said they weren’t planning to do it again any time soon. None have ruled it out though!
I’m not a very fast racer, really more of a plodder, but believe I can finish any race if I’m given enough time. I thought, how windy can it be?
A few weeks out from the race, the long range weather forecast was looking sweet for race day and I learned a couple of other Oakville Cycling Club riders were also going to race the 65km SN!
We started a messenger group to discuss race day preparedness. This mostly turned into a weather discussion and how every day we got closer to the race, the weather seemed to be getting bleaker. About two days out from the race, it’s calling for quite a lot of rain and windy with the potential for gusts up to 65 km/h and wind-chill below zero. There was a bit of innuendo in our discussion about possibly dropping back to the 40 km Runny Nose portion of the race. This was dismissed fairly quickly.
I usually ride best when the weather is cold as I generate a ton of heat within a few minutes of a rides start. However, I was recalling how my feet and hands were pretty cold during last Octobers Howling Coyote race. I made a quick trip to my local bike store, Cyclepath Oakville; to see what winter clothing they still had available. Buying a new pair of LG winter boots was my best pre-race move (Thanks Natalie!)
The night before the race, the weather forecast is now calling for ice pellets during the first hour or so of the race before turning to rain. 100 percent chance of ice pellets, 100 percent chance of rain, 100 percent chance of high winds. I’m thinking this is going to be miserable but then trying to convince myself that maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.
I have a great sleep and I’m up early and anxious to drive out to St. Jacobs. At 5 am the weather doesn’t seem that bad in Oakville.
My bikes all ready, I have carefully thought out my race nutrition and hydration, race and post-race clothing all organized, Its 95 kilometers to St Jacobs, I have a full tank of gas and I’m wearing sunglasses (Yes, a Blues Brothers analogy).
I arrive at the Waterloo Rod and Gun club at 10am sharp. The race is in 1 hour and I’m glad I was able to park relatively close to the club house. The weather outside now is bloody miserable. I’m a little shocked at how cold I’m getting just walking into the clubhouse. I don’t see my two OCC friends Harry and Stacey but I do see some riders in Oakville club gear so I go and introduce myself. These blokes are more seasoned riders and put me at ease that it won’t be that bad once we are underway.
I get on my bike and head down to the starting line. I see a few familiar faces from the velodrome including the owner of New World Cycling in Burlington and finally my two OCC friends Harry and Stacey. Stacey is up front and Harry is starting beside me nearer the back of the field. I always have butterflies right before the start. I don’t know why, It’s not like I’m going to win. So far, every race goal has been the same. Finish the race and don’t come in last!
Its GO TIME!
We start out across the water soaked back lawn of the gun club, a rider in front of me falls over trying to get going and takes down another beside him. There is a bit of a hill leading up to the parking lot and the road and this seems to gently spread out the pack.
By the time we get to the road I can’t identify Harry by his yellow rain jacket since about 80 other riders are also wearing the same yellow rain jacket. After about 3 or 4 minutes, I’m settling into a pace on Three Bridges Road. I’m satisfied I’m not the last rider in Wave 1 and I can still see many riders ahead of me, although they are slowly creating a bigger gap.
The road is muddy and slick and I slow down for a few of the turns to avoid wiping out. I do fish tail a couple of times. Overall though, I’m feeling really good! I realize that mostly the wind is at my back and side but I convince myself that I’m bringing my “A” game to this race. A year of cycling has really paid off and I’m going to have a wicked good finish time. I have a water bottle full of maple syrup as my sugar energy and a Camelback full of water. I try to remember to drink a bit from both so I can keep my energy up.
I know its bone chillingly cold but at this point I’m really satisfied with my clothing choices. I’m actually surprised that after a half an hour of having my heart at close to 85% of maximum that I’m not overheating. I congratulate myself on my careful planning and wise purchase of the new winter boots. This race isn’t so bad and even though we can’t control Mother Nature, she can be effectively managed with proper planning.
Things carry on like this for about 32.5km, half the race is over. Muddy gravel roads, wind at my side and back mostly, I’m getting colder in my hands and feet but I’m halfway done. This is easy. I can see by my Garmin that I am averaging 24.4 km/h at the halfway mark. About 1 hour and 20 minutes has passed. I’m going to crush my goal of an under 4 hour race time. Will I finish in the top half of my age group? I’m invincible!
We slow down and take a 90 degree turn now off the road and onto a muddy rail trail.
WTF just happened?
How is it that the wind can be this strong and directly in my face and I didn’t realize it was blowing so hard? How can the trail be this muddy? Why is my rear tire spinning with each pedaling effort? Why does my Garmin say I’m only going 9.9 km/h?
The rail trail is really muddy and squishy and I’m struggling to keep the bike upright at times. I try to tell myself that this can’t last that long. It does. It lasts a very long time. It’s really cold outside and I’m getting really cold inside. My gloves are soaking wet and the cold has gotten through to my fingers. My new winter boots aren’t able to keep my toes warm as I head directly into the wind. I’m starting to get a brain freeze in between my eyes like when I overindulge on ice cream. I focus my vision down the trail as far as I can, to see when we get to turn off this damn trail. It seems to keep going for as far as I can see. Who the heck came up with this stupid route? Didn’t they know it was going to be windy?
My average speed is dropping fast and we carry on the rail trail for what seems like forever. I’m miserable now. Everyone was right, this is an extremely humbling race and the wind is relentless. The trail is covered in horse shit and my gears are mostly not shifting. The grinding of the sand in my brakes and in my chain is starting to really bother me.
The misery will persist like this for more than the next two hours. I keep getting colder. I’m thinking why didn’t I do the 40 km route. If I had chosen the 40 km route I would be done by now.
I occasionally pass road sections where the volunteers are controlling traffic. One of the Waterloo volunteers recognizes me from the track and yells, “Hey Velodrome Guy”. We fist bump and he runs along the trail beside me for about 100 feet. This makes me happy. After he stops running beside me I become miserable again.
I come across another intersection and at this one there are a bunch of young Mennonite children. I want to say something kind but all that comes out is, “Stay in school kids”.
I think it was at the 48.8 km mark where a guy was handing out water. He says some cyclist with hypothermia is warming up in the van behind us. I ask him how long do I need to keep going directly into this wind. He tells me about 15 more kilometers. I don’t believe him. I think he must be new to the area and is confused.
I go down the road directly into the wind for exactly 15 more kilometers.
I’m wondering, why didn’t they shorten the route this year? Do you mean to tell me not one organizer looked at the weather forecast?
At about the 60 kilometer mark we turn into a plowed field. A cop tells me we have to drive down one side of the field and out the other side. I think, what is the point in cycling in one side and out the other? Why don’t we just plot the shortest route back to the start line?
At the back of the farm field is a muddy ravine we are to cycle down and then come back up. It’s completely un-rideable for me. 2 riders ahead of me stop halfway down and turn around and walk back up with their bikes. Good call. I go with them. Did I just disqualify myself?
It’s only a couple more kilometers to the finish. I can see the gun club. I feel such relief. I can’t believe I actually finished but I also can’t recall ever being so cold. 50 feet before the finish line some lady sneakily passes me. Who cares. We fist bump and now I want to go change.
I regret not taking more photos during the ride but I was so cold I couldn’t. I now ask someone to take my photo at the finish.
I finished in 3 hours and 43 minutes.
I go inside and see my friend Stacey. She is also freezing. I give her a hug. She is shivering so badly she can hardly hold her coffee. I learn my friend Harry had a mechanical failure at the 60km mark. I’m so cold I just want to get in my car and go home. I see Harry in the parking lot and he is doing fine and has a big smile and we fist bump. We agree Paris to Ancaster will be a cake walk after The Steaming Nostril.
I get in my car and put on the heated seats and think. That was awesome! I’m doing it again next year!
Thanks to all the volunteers and organizers for an epic race!!
Some notes on Bruce’s post:
- Dude, P2A might be easier, but maybe not (you have been warned)
- Cycle Waterloo came up with the course, yes they knew it would be windy, no they don’t care (and that’s so awesome)
- Misery only persists until the FINIFH, but a good story lasts forever
- You were going 9.9 km/h because the wind hates you (it hates all of us)
- Of course you’ll do it again next year, and I’ll be just as bad, and just as awesome (and I hope to be there for my fifth kick at it)
And Another Thing:
Since tire choice and style of bike are usually a hot topic for racers before gravel grinders, especially first timers, here is a list of the bikes and tires I’ve raced in past grinders (P2A, Steaming Nostril/Runny Nose, and Stuporcros):
- 26″ Norco Torrent hardtail (MTB) with 2.4″ MTB tires,
- 29er Norco Revolver hardtail (MTB) with CX tires
- a demo Santa Cruz Stigmata (the pinncale of gravel bikes) with Enve wheels
- my current Norco Threshold with very bald 33mm CX tires
I gotta say, that time I borrowed an orange Santa Cruz Stigmata from my bike shop was a sublime experience, the bike had a price tag of about 12 grand, and the other bikes and tires I’ve raced with weren’t horribly worse. In fact, each bike, and each tire choice, had almost as many merits as downfalls.
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