Yesterday I did something extraordinary by my standards in that I rode 57km (35 miles) in the toughest conditions my mountain bike has ever seen. Come to think about it, it was the toughest conditions I’ve ever seen as well. I’ve had my Marin bike for a few years now. Probably did a couple of thousand miles around SoCal mountains, mostly on beautiful sunny days. The bike has been bulletproof and I’ve never had a single problem with it. Until yesterday. But more about this later.
Fast forward to March 15th, 2012 and it ain’t sunny SoCal no more. In fact, it was only around 6°C (42°F) and either slightly drizzling or pouring heavy rain all day long in Wrocław. Truth be told, had I not registered for the race on Saturday, which was actually semi sunny and dry, there would be no way I’d leave my house on Sunday morning to ride a bike. But money spent, I was committed. And I wasn’t the only one, I talked my dad into it as well who coincidentally wouldn’t have left the house either on a day like yesterday.
I first learned about Wrocław’s bike marathon from my boss, Nicholas Holdcraft, who’s ridden plenty of marathons in Poland and Czech Republic throughout the years. He told me that it could get muddy, but I didn’t really know what that meant until now. With Nick talking about the marathon, I was further enticed by my buddy Piotr who’s also done marathons in the past and who semi-forced me to sign up on Saturday for Sunday’s event. As I entered my dad and I for the race I had high hopes for good weather the next day, and then woke up to find out that for once the weather forecast had actually come true. Rain, more rain, and cold!
We all met up before the race in Marszowice, a suburb on Wrocław’s west side, just before the city limits sign. I was very surprised how many people had actually shown up on a rainy day, couple of thousand maybe. I could only imagine how big this race could’ve been had the weather held up. Nick, my dad, and I, started from the very back of the pack in sector 8, while Piotr with his previous experience officially documented was moved up front to sector 3. We heard the official “Three, two, one, START” and then 20 minutes later sector 8 got their chance to go, that’s how long it took to get everyone out the gate.
The first few kilometers were simply a struggle not to fall or get tipped over by someone near by. Riding handlebar to handlebar in heavy mud and rain through the forest was tricky to say the least. There were constant “on your left” shouts coming from the back and yet there’s no where else to go. There were a few thoughts going through my mind about the “on your left” guy. First, this ain’t no Tour de France fucker, chill! And second, if you’re so bad ass, what the hell are you doing in sector 8! I hate the “on your left” guy, no matter who he is and how many of them passed me by that day.
At the 11th kilometer we were forced to make a split decision, Mini or Mega, or to put it another way, 28km or 57km. I felt great at 11km, so I decided to battle the Mega 57. About a kilometer later I regretted my choice. But I wasn’t the only one. Turns out my dad chose to go on as well and he quickly caught up to me while I was taking a short brake on the side of the trail.
We continued on together until the 25th kilometer at which my dad announced that he’s done. No more mud, no more trail. He asked a fire marshal along the way which asphalt way to take back home and I was left to go on by myself. At that point I was beat, completely soaked, freezing cold, but for some reason kept on going. A real crisis hit at 45th kilometer where I kept wishing for nothing more than a straight road to the finish line and yet all I kept getting were windy trails with mud too soft to ride and too deep to walk. It was a mud bath through and through.
Adding to my list of shitty times along the trail were bike problems with my beloved Marin. Turns out all that mud took its toll on my chariot. First my derailleur started doing things I didn’t know were possible. I felt as if I had an automatic with a shifter problem. I couldn’t stay in gear long enough to keep moving. Only after a few cranks which felt and sounded as if stuff was seriously getting damaged did things get back to semi normal operation. Adding to shifting problems was what was later explained to me as ‘chain suck’, an event where due to all the mud my chain from the front sprocket got pulled back up and underneath itself making further pedaling impossible. This happened all throughout the trail. Chain suck, you suck! Ohh, and the smallest yet most annoying problem of all, my seat post kept sliding down. For some reason I personally couldn’t tighten it enough to stop it from moving down under my weight. Only about half way through the race, after a minor meltdown and a few curse words thrown at the seat, did I kick-shut the lever tight enough for my seat not to move again that race.
Six and a half hours after starting the race, I managed to ride my bike back through the finish line to the cheers of my friends who waited 3 hours after their finish to watch me smile at the end. I don’t yet know what my official time was as the official web site hasn’t been updated, but I know that my GPS hasn’t lied to me before. So here are the stats.
53.8km travelled, not 57km advertised… did my GPS lose signal along the way or was the distance stretched out a little by the organizers? 5 hours and 24 minutes of pedaling my bike, 6 hours and 41 minutes of actual time spent on the trail. The stats aren’t doing my any favors, I realize that, but I know for a fact that I wasn’t the last person to cross the finish, and I did finish after all.
From our little group Piotr finished first with a time of 3 hours and change, I’m not sure what Nick’s time was but I know he wasn’t too far behind Piotr.