It was not a good start to the day.
The forecast called for 50 to 75mm of rain, starting in the morning, followed by a deep freeze. Rain does not melt the snow on trails, it makes ice.
Also, for my American friends, 50 to 75mm is 2 to 3 inches. Yes, of rain. No kidding.
I got my bike ready and packed on Friday night. Some moron put my bike away wet last year, and the chain was as stiff as a coiled metal rod (um, that moron would be me), but a bit of elbow grease, actual grease (lube), and some patience, and it as as good as…barely usable. With the forecast and anticipated course conditions, my sleep was less than calm. Then, I was checking the Facebook during the breakfast, and I noticed the race started half an hour earlier than I thought. “Um, crap”, I said to my smoothie. “No problem”, I said “I got up early enough, and I’m already packed, so I’ve still got plenty of time.” My smoothie didn’t answer. Must be the avocados–they’re so uppity, amirite.
It was a Substance Projects rip, and inclement weather is never a deal breaker with them. In fact, I think they have a policy: the inclementer the better. Courtesy of Substance and Dan Marshall, I have been thrown into a cauldron of Mother Nature’s wrath more times than I can list. I always used to fret about bad weather, but looking back I’ve realized that each time I lived to tell the tale–and man, what tales I’ve told. Ain’t no story like a Substance Projects post-race story…
I carried on with my morning ablutions (Boom. I NEVER get to use that word), and loaded a few last minute things, doing a final check: bike in back, clothes in front, two flat tires…
Two friggin’ flat friggin’ tires on my friggin’ truck 75 friggin’ minutes before the friggin’ start of the race. Did I run over something? Slow leaks? 5psi is for fatbike tires, not a passenger truck…
Like I said, it was not a good start to the day.
7:44AM, and it was a 58 minute drive to Albion Hills. The best case scenario was an arrival time of 18 minutes before race time (and when I got there, aside from getting myself ready, I was also setting-up the sound system).
Indeed, not a good start to the day.
Traffic across the city was unusually sparse (you know, because Toronto is an hour drive from Toronto), but the rising sun lit the sky and the buildings along the 401 in a fiery orange tint. I was was startlingly beautiful, I was moving, and it wasn’t raining.
Albion Hills was still 49 minutes away.
The 401 was a breeze, Highway 409 was a snap, the 427 was an actual freeway, and before I knew it, the sky above was grey, the rain started (and wow did it start), and I pulled into Albion Hills. The time was 8:42AM.
Race Report: Albion Hills OnFatbikeRace #1. Saturday, January 11, 2020.
On the Wednesday before the race, Albion Hills Conservation Area had a base of 6 to 8 inches of snow. By Saturday morning, there was no base, only ice…with occasional areas of a corn/slush mix, criss-crossed with ankle-deep rivers of run-off (on top of ice)…and deep, wheel-sucking mud. Oh, and a few grassy areas under a few inches of water. The bottom of the parking lot was under a foot of water, and the hill to the REGISTRATION/START was a treachery of ice that was all but impossible to cross.
At least I had 10 minutes before the start of the race…
As I was riding to the chalet, I put my foot down into a puddle. It was an underwater cave really, and I drenched my leg up to the middle of my calf.
Honestly, at that point, the day could only improve.
And it did!
The race was delayed (so that Dan Marshall and the conservation authority could redesign pretty much the ENTIRE course to accommodate the flood of Rainmageddon), and it gave me time to relax for a moment and catch my breath. If you’ve ever seen me when I’m late, which is EVERY TIME THERE IS A RACE, I can be pretty, um, what’s the word…manic. I like to play with time and find new ways to thread the needle of last minutedness, but sometimes–like when you have 18 minutes to park, dress, register, prep, helmetize, shoe-a-size, move equipment and set up a mic…and then mentally prepare for a race–well sometimes there just isn’t enough time to bend.
20 minutes later, after a rider briefing that included words usually reserved for fight club, the race started. Immediately out of the gate, riders were slipping and sliding and crashing. No kidding, several riders were down even before riding under the START banner.
With an inch of running water covering the entire course, there was no purchase for their tires.
But there was for my tires: a pair of 45NRTH Wrathchild studded gems (on my sweet Cannondale FatCaad)! Where people slip-slidey-walked up hills, I pedaled through. When the trail was slightly off camber, and other racers even had a tough time walking, I was riding strong and confident. My tires would not lose grip.
In a word, it was horriblyawesome. Awesome because I was riding, but horrible because I knew the struggle. I’ve spent many races hiking my bike. Worse, the constant echo of “Oof” and “Ack” was unsettling. Everytime a Batman fight bubble rang through the forest, it meant a rider went for an icy cold, unscheduled swim, in a very shallow pool.
And there you have it.
I forgot to mention a few things in that video.
- It did not stop teeming rain for one moment
- My clothing choices were perfect (base layer, thin shell, jersey, no helmet liner)
- My shoes are summer shoes. They are not meant for ice, snow, or cold. Meh, izzalright.
- There was actually a warm breeze at times.
- And a cold breeze too.
- The weather was so wonky that my GPS was either covered in giant water drops, or shrouded under a cloud of condensation.
- I smiled the entire time.
The course would have been fun without the added challenge of Mother Nature: decent climbs, some singletrack, and lots of fun, but with the flooded sections, the unending ice patches, soul sucking mud, troughs of icy water, and the constant downpour, it was actually kinda fun. Please note: I was not ripping. “Slow and steady to finish the race” I thought.
And I did. 33/55 Overall; 15/26 Men’s 35-49; 1:30:52 (the winning time was under an hour–wow)
I attached a few shots of the podium at the end of this post.
End of Race Report.
Well, it wasn’t a great start, but it sure was fun.
Better, Substance Projects had enlisted the services of a lit DJ (um, that DJ would be me), and I gotta say, it was hella cool (yeah, I said “hella”). I brought moving head lights and a banging PA system, and started the festivities with a double shot of Rush (to commemorate the greatest drummer who ever lived: Neil Peart). “Tom Sawyer”, followed by “Closer to the Heart”. Boom.
Chili, hot chocolate, podium, draw prizes, lots of joking, some ass grabbery (courtesy Annie) lots of community, annnnnnnd scene.
And here’s the best part: Despite all of the worry before the race, all the fretting about the conditions, an orange chain, and a few flat tires, the 45NRTH Albion Fatbike Festival (race #1 in the Onfatbike Series) didn’t even crack the Top 10 Worst Bike Race list. Not even close.
Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
His reserve a quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events”(“Tom Sawyer”, by Rush)
Check out this sweeeeeet pile of draw prize schwagg (courtesy of Cannondale, Fabric, 45NRTH, and yeah, I may have slipped a Team Colin hat in there too…