Rowdy Dawg Mountain Bike Race
September 6, 1998

I couldn't believe the way the race turned out. It was my first attempt at a mountain bike race, having ridden a grand total of about four times in my life.

A friend of mine, Matt Brown, got me into the sport and loaned me his Cannondale for the race. It has both front and rear suspension which helps improve traction and handling. We did everything right. He and I prepared and adjusted everything to my liking the day before. The only other machines I have raced (besides bicycles) are motor vehicles. With bicycles, there's a lot less to worry about. Consequently, I was able to get to bed early.

On race day I got up early, ate a good breakfast, warmed up on my road bike, and stretched thoroughly. A few days before I had been to my fitness trainer for an evaluation and was feeling rather confident as a result.

We arrived at the race early with everything ready. It was a gorgeous day. The course was 13.25 miles, mostly through forests. At the start everyone took off at a brisk pace, one that I felt was too quick. So I backed down a little and decided to wait and see what would happen.

Sure enough once we hit the single-track hills, the others started dropping like flies. And I took advantage of that. When your legs are burning, and you're breathing hard, it helps to know that everyone around you probably feels as bad or worse. I try to make my moves then.

Back on the fire road after the first single-track section I was up to second place, right behind the leader. By the time we got to the next single-track section, it was all downhill and I was leading.

But it really was all downhill. Midway down, I crashed and dumped the bike down. Luckily, I landed on my feet, picked up the bike and kept going. I was back in second place and the seat was skewed to the left. After knocking it back into line I was on my way. The going started getting pretty rough, and a few miles later the leader was facing me, with two race officials standing next to him. What the heck was going on?

It turned out we were directed the wrong way and had gone somewhere between a mile and a half to two miles for no reason. Then we had to turn around! So we went an extra three or four miles. That's an impossible handicap to overcome in such a short race.

When we got back on the right path, I was directly behind my friend and former roommate, Eric Holmberg. Imagine his surprise. The rest of the way I was livid. But by the end I was so tired, I just wanted to finish.

The thing about this is that I was in contention for the win. Instead of covering about thirteen miles, we (Skip, the other guy who was misdirected along with me) covered more like seventeen. I also had another couple of crashes, though luckily I landed on my feet each time.

By the end, my hands were completely raw and felt like they were on fire. I didn't have gloves, and so every bump, rock, and tree root I hit caused a great deal of discomfort. Of course with mountain biking, those obstacles were everywhere.

So it basically hurt all the way. It also didn't help that we had mounted the pump on the right hand side of the bike, so when the bumps were particularly bad, the inside of my right knee would knock into pump. It hurt.

I am absolutely certain I would have netted a top three finish, possibly the win. I had no mechanical problems, no flat tires, and I rode fairly conservatively on the high speed downhills to avoid any unpleasant meetings with tree trunks. But what I got was 13th place (of 28 competitors), while Eric came in 14th, and Bryan, a friend of Eric's, hauled in 15th.

Skip, my fellow misdirected competitor, came in around 16th I think. We were pretty upset, but that's racing. We did, however, get our entry fees returned. In such circumstances, that's the best that can be done, and I have to compliment Wes and Jeff of East Coasters Bicycle Shop (Blacksburg, VA) for putting on the event.

It's just unfortunate that the mistakes of a few course workers had to alter what should have been a great result for me and for Skip. But you do the best that you can do, and that is what matters most. It also will not be the last time I race a mountain bike.

This is reminiscent of an incident I had back when I was fifteen. I was in the lead pack of a road race, made a break up a long hill, and was incorrectly directed down a two mile descent back to the start/finish line when I should have gone in another direction. A word to the wise: Know your route before the start. They were kept secret until race day in these cases. So get to the race early and learn the course. It would have saved me a lot of disappointment. But that's life.