Sunday, April 11, 2010
Battenkill or the “Tour of the Big Frickin’ Unpaved Hills in Upstate New York”
As soon as I saw this video, I signed up for the race. “How can you not sign up for a race that has kill in the title?” It’s just the kind of challenge I relish. When I told my son Louis, he said, “Why would you do something like that? Isn’t life hard enough already?”
Race day dawned cold and blustery, with snow flurries for dramatic effect. But, the roads were dry and I hoped it would warm up before my race went off at 11:40. We met up with other members of the Tarmac team. They were all in different races, but I found Barb who would be racing with me and consulted about what to wear as we warmed up. The day was getting brighter, although still windy. We kept stripping off layers until we thought we got it just right, but it was hard to know. Barb had advised me to get to the line early and start near the front. I got right behind her and chatted with the women around me. I was excited and ready to get started.
There are several miles of warm up before the first bit of dirt. I stayed at the front of the group and tried to stay out of the wind. It seemed as though everyone was eager to race and the pack was moving at a fast clip. But, when we turned onto the first dirt road, I could feel a sudden wave up panic around me, and people slowed way down. I moved even further ahead and to the side just in time. A woman right next to me went into a skid and fell down sideways onto the dirt, just inches away. As I rode past, I could hear shouting and crunching metal. So soon, so close, it could have been me. I was glad it wasn’t.
Anyone not comfortable on the dirt dropped way back at that point. The rest of us stayed together until the first big-frickin-dirt-hill. Several blasted to the top quickly and took off. I and another women worked together, taking turns drafting each other. Eventually, we picked up a couple more that had been dropped by the lead group. Amazingly, somebody who was in the crash caught up with us and we had a nice little pack going. We picked up more and more folks and soon, there were only a few women ahead of us. I was feeling really good, but expending way too much energy in my enthusiasm. I pulled too much, and when some of us would drop back on a hill, I was the one to bridge the others to the lead group. It was just too much fun to be part of this team working together.
At one point, the older men passed us, and in typical male style, slowed down. I bridged our group up to them, but the wheel car told us to stay back. I rode up and asked the guy in the car why we couldn’t pass them and he yelled, “Your ride is up ahead, your money is up there, you have to stay back.” It didn’t seem quite fair, but I wasn’t going to argue with him. We dropped back obediently, but it would have been fun to pass them.
Victor was waiting at all the turns to take my picture. The video below can attest to my overzealous lead. Of course, it didn’t last. I dropped my only water bottle at about mile 20, so by the time I got to the feed zone around mile 37 I was parched. Some people actually stopped their bikes and took a break. I grabbed the bottle and kept riding, but when the next big hill came up, I dropped back and that was it, I never did catch up. For one thing, I had nobody to help me. All the others were out of sight behind me as my pack got further and further ahead.
The next 25 miles were the hardest. The next time I saw Victor the pack was past and we both knew I would not be in the top 10. A cat 3 women who had been dropped by her group stuck on my wheel. She wanted to know how much further. “Too much,” I told her. We rode together and the company was nice. At one point, the young men blasted past, practically running us into the ditch. There were several groups of trailing riders in that category, and going up yet another big-frickin-dirt-hill, one guy actually yelled at us, “Move over ladies, this is an open road!” I yelled back, “Your ride is WAY ahead buddy, you better step it up if you don’t want to be dead-frickin-last.” My riding companion and I got a good laugh out of that.
The dirt was smoother than it had been a few weeks before on the preview ride. I never felt out of control, although the winds were fierce. There were times I had to lean over just to stay upright in the crosswind. The headwinds were no fun either. But there was one moment as I was cresting the top of the last big-frickin-dirt-hill that I felt a tail wind push me like a gentle hand at just the right moment.
The finish was a bit of an anti-climax. There were no other riders in my category around but I love to sprint at the end, so I did. I saw balloons and lots of people, but unlike any other race I have ever been in, nobody cheered or clapped. There was not a sound, except for Victor, yelling, “Go Kate!” I crossed the line and somebody pointed to the chip removal area. Coming out, I passed a few of the women I had pulled, and they made a point of thanking me, which made me feel really good. And Victor ran up to hug me, which made me feel very grateful. As it turned out, I was 15th, which made me feel pretty proud. Maybe all those people standing around at the finish line didn’t know that life is hard anyway, and doing something like this deserves a round of applause. “$75 is such a bargain to pay for suffering like this!”