My son Jacob and I got to Nordic Mountain about 45 minutes from the start – as we look up at the hill, I tell Jacob it looks like we’ll have our work cut out for us!  I had to hustle to get a warmup in…not quite as much as I wanted, but better than nothing.  Lined up early enough to chat with John Wryzca from Wheelfast and get a couple pointers on the course.  It sounded obvious that a good start was in order to kill some traffic in the climb before muddy, rocky singletrack in the forest.  Got to the line quick enough to get in the 2nd row of the 40+ wave after the call-ups – so it was showtime! 

Got a great start and passed two of my competitors on the climb before the drop into the woods – and no sooner did we get in there, and I could hear the traffic jams behind us…the group I was in was hustlin’ pretty good through the peanut-buttery mud and rocks, so we were building a good gap.  Pretty uneventful lap one till we got over to the faster downhill east section where I had a 35-39 kinda holding me up, so I keep saying “coming through”, but he ain’t moving, so I keep the pressure on, then wham – he does a double (yes, double) endo right in front of me…I yell “you OK?” as I blast by, and he yells “I’m good”, as I see him pop-up.

We hit “dave’s drop” which is a techy, twisty section and get some much-needed cowbell from some kids.  We finish lap one, I get a good handup from Jacob and we make the climb back into the peanut butter…as we do, I say to Jacob “the only thing worse than a climb, is a soft climb”…it was agonizing, but I was still gaining positions as I go, so I was doing better than others. 

It was also hot, damn hot and humid.  You go from the shady, peanut butter and rocks climb in the woods – with no air moving - to the kinda up-and-down roller coaster section, then out of the woods straight into the face of the ski hill, where you zig-zag your way up the hill while the sun is cooking you.  However, what goes up, must come down, so you zig-zag your way back down, make a turn back into the woods directly into a sand hill climb – damn!  At this very moment, I get one of those overwhelming head rushes that goes straight into nausea…for a moment I think I am gonna pass out, but get a cool drink from the fresh bottle, finish the climb and find recovery on the downhill rollers shortly after…a couple more gulps, and I now feel fine, actually refreshed, so I press on. All the while, I am passing a number of guys in younger age groups, so it dawns on me that I might be in front, and I’d better get my head down to make sure, or at least defend an attack. 

As we get near the end of the east woods, I come up on a group of three that are just a bit too slow, so I ask for a pass.  First guy – no problem, second guy – “on your left” – no problem, third guy, “on your left” I yell and I swear he yells “take it” as we go over a left-turn hill exiting the woods – but no, he turns into me as we go left and we are both down, directly in front of a female spectator.  I swear, he swears, we both get up, my bars are tweaked, I’m tweaked, but I hop on and go – he does too, he apologizes, I apologize, and as we’re off, the girl yells “you OK?”, to which I yell back “yeah, I’m OK”, to which he responds “she was talking to ME!” – I guess we took each other out in front of his girlfriend – oops! 

Nevertheless, I press on with the twisted bar and tweaked bar end, but everything else works, so I keep pedaling…another pro hand-up from the boy, but I was stopping anyway to straighten the bar…Jacob confirms that he has seen no 50-ups in front of me, so I drop the hammer to keep whatever gap I might have left on the field. 

Lap three is much better…I loosen up, take-on some food, and just start riding for fun…I hook up with a Clydesdale that is really strong on the steady climbs, but not-so on the steeper ones, so we trade-off for a bit and really just relax – but it feels faster for some reason…”clyde” as I called him started running out of steam right at the end, and I pulled him along a bit, but he had nothing left for the finish climb, when I still did. I was cheered to the line by Jason, Amber and Jacob, and the cold-soak towel from Amber pretty-much made the day – THANKS!  Another tough, but rewarding race, and I am really looking forward to the next round!

 -Al Thom