And a Look Forward…
Well, it’s the Time of COVID…
Stay-at-Home orders, self isolation, parks and trails closed with metal gates and yellow streamers…
The race season is literally disappearing by the minute, and I’ve updated my 2020 Race Calendar with cancellations almost daily. By this time of year, every year for the past 7 years, I would have already been hammered by three or four races…
I want to ride so bad. I can feel the trail in my bones…smell the forest…
I want to race so bad. I can hear the nervous chatter at the START…see the tired and smiling faces of my competitors at the FINISH. I miss my chums.
This COVID thing is throwing a nasty punch at the globe, and I don’t think it’s going to get much better any time soon. However, since I’m not one to brood or wallow, and I love the power of positivity, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the awesomeness of early spring racing which, for anyone who needs a reminder, is thoroughly unenjoyable…and awesome.
Um, before I start, I have a quick question: What day is it, is April over yet, and where the hell are my pants?
My favourite Spring races
I have four favourite Spring rips (each one is unique in it’s own way). Here they are in no particular order:
- Steaming Nostril
- Substance Projects XCM #1
- Spring Epic 8 Hour
These races are awesome. And horrible. In fact, they have been so reliably horrible over the years that I’ve devised the calculation:
Basically, it means that every metre of awesomeness equals a kilometre of pure hell, where m represents metres, A represents Awesomeness, and SUCKIT is what Mother Nature is saying to us. The actual answer for this calculation does not exist.
Seriously, between the wind and the rain and the snow and the sleet–all in the same few hours, these races literally beat us into a quivering and cramped, spandex-clad, mud-encrusted, heap of carbon and aluminium.
Still beats a day on the couch eating a bag of chips and Lucky Charms for dinner.
That’s what you do too, right?
P2A: My First Bike Race, One of My Favourite Races, and Canada’s Spring Classic
P2A is a bike race that answers the question “Why?”
Nobody knows why we race P2A, nobody cares why we race P2A, and every year we do it for the simple matter of doing it.
P2A is a killer of giant magnitude, with a few thousand racers spending a few hours grinding their way toward the FINISH line…which, for the initiated, is literally at top of a climb that scales the entire elevation OF THE NIAGARA ESCARPMENT. The race is ugly, it’s always windy, sometimes it’s hot (and sometimes it’s cold), an it’s ALWAYS muddy.
Check out these two links (just click the pic):
This year would have been my 8th kick at the Martin Hill climb.
Steaming Nostril: Mennonites and Man I Hurt, Right
Steaming Nostril, and it’s younger sister, Runny Nose, are Waterloo Cycling Club’s answer to “Am I ready?”.
The answer is No. Nobody is ever ready for the wind and the wind, and the mud, and the wind of Steaming Nostril. It’s not called “Smiling Lips” or “Happy Riders”. It’s called the Steaming Nostril–and it’s one a beauty of a race.
Two of my favourite posts about Steaming Nostril (just click the pics):
Between the terrain of Steaming Nostril, the weather–always the weather–and the early spring-ness of the race, it’s a killer. Loooooooooong stretches of hilly wind-in-your-face gruel; a tear down into a spongy field, compete with scaling a mud wall to get back to the road; and snow–always snow. So Awesome.
Steaming Nostril was on hiatus for 2020, but I still miss it, and I can’t wait for 2021. Aw dang, it’s a fun race.
Substance Projects XCM #1: Dufferin Point or Turkey County Forest…
Whether it’s covered in a foot or two of snow, an inch or two if ice, or in the middle of a Polar Vortex (talking to you H2i 2015), the first MTB race of the season is always a killer.
The Substance Projects XCM #1 has had a few incarnations (H2i @ Mansfield, SSITT @ Dufferin County Forest, or Turkey Point XCM), but it’s always wickedly cool, and a great way to start the MTB season.
XCM does not answer a question. Rather, it makes a statement. MTB is hard.
Like, really hard.
I’ve raced all but one of Substance Projects XCM races since 2013 (and most of their fat and gravel too). In fact, the 2013 H2i was my first MTB race ever.
Here are two of my favourite XCM #1 races: The 2016 H2i, when I hammered my first race on a singlespeed, and the next year, when I took-on my first full marathon distance race (once again, on my singlespeed, natch). My bike for those races was a 2015 Cannondale Trail SL. Hardtail, rigid fork…awesome (click a pic for a link to the post):
The XCM holds a special place in my heart. The series nurtured me into the (non) racer that I am today, introduced me to an awesome community of bike minded people (and organizer Dan Marshall’s parents!), and cultivated my skills, endurance, and deep connection to the sport. Most people aren’t lucky enough in a lifetime to mesh with something so completely, and I get to do it a few times a year at the XCM.
Spring Epic 8 Hour
This is the race that answers a different question for different racers. For those on a team, it answers the question…um, I don’t know, because I’ve never done it on a team. For solo riders, it answers the question “Can I ride basically non-stop for 8 hours?”.
The answer is yes, but it’s going to hurt.
An Epic 8 Hour mountain bike race is a surreal experience.
Somewhere near the end of the fourth hour, and lasting for about two hours, there is a peace that comes, and it’s almost impossible to discern where the connection point to your bike starts and ends. You pedal (and pedal and pedal some more) because that’s all you can do, and your place in the forest is as definite as the ribbon of trail that connects the START to the FINISH. I know that sounds contrived, but it’s hard not to wax lyrically about an 8 Hour race, because the task is as simple as it is beautiful. Ride. You ride, and you ride, and you ride some more–and you take breaks when you have to, and get off your bike when you need to–and you don’t stop riding until the race finishes, regardless of how hard your body tells you to STOP. The elegance of it is beautiful.
And I gotta say, on a singlespeed, it’s even more better.
Aw geez, now I want to cry. I miss the race vibe, the community, and the bossness of it all.
And I miss the physical strain too.
Here are two posts about riding a weeks worth of dirt in one day (click on the pics):
Gotta say, to start an Epic 8 Hour race–and finish it–ON A BIKE, is transformational. The races are physically demanding, psychologically straining, and just bloody awesome.
BTW the end of the 2019 Fall Epic 8 Hour is, by far, my most enjoyable moment on a bike, and a moment I will never forget. It was epic indeed. Too bad it’s a fall race, and I can’t talk about it in this post…
Honourable Mentions: Early O-Cups, and the King Weekly Series
Early Spring rips are the absolute worst. Also, after a winter of no MTB they’re the best. The forest, the community, and the fact that Mother Nature wants to play bikes too is awesome.
The 2017 O-Cup #2 at MTB Kingston was just that kind of race. For precisely a thousand days before the race, it rained. Mud fest.
The King Weekly Series is my Tuesday night rip. The race is about an hour away from my house. After spending a day standing on spring legs, I rush home to shovel some food in my mouth, and then load my vehicle to brave the worst of Toronto’s rush hour traffic. The races are an hour of white knuckle, leg busting, lung bursting, hell. So awesome.
Hey, want to read about basically the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me? My pal, Drew Bezanson, Red Bull rider, DK endorsed (yeah, the Canadian Tire bikes) came to a King race. It was bloody epic. Here’s the story.
So that’s my look back. So awesome. So very awesome.
It’s a look back, but honestly, you can’t look back without remembering all of the awesomeness that has happened since–and that’s what I’m looking forward to. The Cadence of COVID is a killer, and even though it rears its head (and is currently punching the entire globe in the throat), there’s peace, and change, and a new normal on the horizon. I always tell my kids that life is like a bike race: you can’t anticipate the things that MIGHT happen, so you prepare for everything that COULD happen. If there’s a log-over, and it’s just too big, or if the climb is too long and steep, you get off your bike. COVID-19 is the biggest and meanest trail obstacle–and sometimes you have to get of your bike and walk for a bit. Sigh.
Here’s the full shot of a sketchy descent at O-Cup #2 at MTB Kingston. My wheel is going in the wrong direction, and it’s a miracle I made the bridge. BTW, this was the LEAST MUDDY part of the course!