Dust, Descents, and Downed Riders at Treadfest

Julie, Erica, Adrian, Chris, Tim, and I represented HAC at Treadfest last Sunday. The weather was on the warm side, but otherwise beautiful: clear, sunny, and dry. Too dry, as we’d all soon find out.

I met up with Jason on Saturday afternoon to pre-ride the course. He had already done a lap by the time I got there and was losing air out of the stem on his front tire. He swapped out the tire and we were on our way. We got out to the start line and Jason turned to me, “I don’t think you’re going to like this course,” referring to the climbing, especially at the beginning. (I seem to be getting a reputation as an anti-climber. I assure you, dear reader, that I do not dislike climbing as much as I simply prefer descending). I took the lap slow, so I could make mental notes of where I needed to conserve energy, where I could pass, good places to take a drink, etc. My bike started acting funny half way through my test run—ghost shifting in the rear and chain rubbing on the front derailleur. I ignored it for a while. That is, until my chain broke on the last climb before the finish line. With Jason’s help, we took a couple of links out of it and I was back in business. By that time, Jason went home and I took another lap. My bike was still acting funny, but I made it through my second practice lap ok. I stopped off at REI on the way home to get a new chain and then spent the better part of the evening working on my bike. I replaced the chain and futzed around with the derailleurs until they were close enough.

By the time I got to Lake Geneva on Sunday, Erica was on the course riding in the beginner race. Julie was warming up by running up and down the hill, because Erica had the Spot and hadn’t crossed the finish line yet. The rest of us were admiring Chris’s shiny new Specialized Stumpjumper 29er, so white and glistening in the sun. Chris and I took a short warm up spin around the tarmac of the Lake Geneva airport. It was fun to see all the cyclists taking over the runway of this tiny airport.

Warm up over, we lined up and waited for our start. Maintained by the Treadhead crew, the course was a great balance of climbing and technical singletrack. A successful racer would have to have good legs and lungs as well as good handling skills. The course was mapped out on a downhill ski hill at Grand Geneva Resort. Off the starting line, racers wind around the front of the hill and began the first climb. I started out in the middle of the pack, but toward the back. As we all hit the first hill, racers thinned out, but I got stuck in the slower pack. The first climb levelled out before rising again and turning down and to the right. As I came around the front of the hill again, I hit the first descent—a narrow, reasonably steep piece of trail cutting across the face of the hill. Here’s where being toward the back of the pack hurt. As racers hit the first descent, there was a traffic jam as people tried to get into single file. After flowing down that hill, we raced around the bottom of the ski lift and around the back of the hill. We hit another climb, this one longer and more torturous than the first. At the top of that hill, another traffic jam. The trail made a sharp right down a loose, steep chute. The more timid racers got hung up at the top of the chute while the more aggressive among us cut across the inside. The result was a little scarier than the promoters probably intended. The singletrack began at the bottom of the chute. And what singletrack it was: fun, twisty, and technical. There were off-camber turns, logs, even a small ladder bridge. The singletrack was broken up by periodical doubletrack, which allowed for fast passing, taking a quick sip of your water bottle, or trying to clear some of the dust from your mouth. The topsoil of the trail was light, loosely packed dirt. It didn’t take much for the fine grains to become airborne. With each passing tire, more and more of it was in the air. We all breathed it in. It blocked our vision (I think it made me faster, as I couldn’t see obstacles in the trail and thus rode right over them).

The technical spots in the trail meant lots of riders down. I passed Adrian after a downhill with a series of drops took him off his bike. After that, I worked hard to pass as many riders as I could. The fewer people in front of me, the fewer to fall—not to mention the less dust I’d be eating. A bee took Chris out of the race. It flew right into his jersey and stung him. Fortunately, he wasn’t allergic, just a little annoyed.

After three laps of inhaling much dust, my legs were burning and my lungs were aching, but there was a big smile on my dirty face. Julie crossed the finish line not too long after. It was one of the most fun courses I’ve ridden this year—by far the most fun of the WORS courses I’ve done. And when the dust settled, I took 12th place in my age group, my best showing in a WORS race so far.

 -Paul-Brian McInerney