The 1st Annual Night Owl went off without a hitch. It was my first race @ Hungry Mother and also my first ride using my new LED headlamp, the popular Magicshine. I had my reservations about racing the Night Owl early on since a majority of the course is double track with very little in the way of technical features. This being the same weekend as the 12 Hours of Tsali I was torn between the two. Just about all of my friends went for the Night Owl due to it's lower costs, close proximity to home and local folks organizing. Tsali is at least 2 hours farther, about $50 more in race fees and put on by guy from Florida and by the conditions of the trails in the previous years it doesn't look like he really gave back much.
With all my options layed out I decided to do something different and support the local guy by racing the Night Owl. I knew the course would not be as fun to ride and the race would be alot shorter but the weekend as a whole was much more fun I'm sure of that. I attend races more for the fun of the whole experience than the glory of winning races. If I was just in it for the glory I would have given up long ago.
We hit the road early Fri and arrived just after noon to find a majority of the campground empty and any site we wanted. We ended up scoring a spot right next to the creek perfect for two dogs who like the water no matter what the temperature. The campground was excellent, nicer than many I've stayed in. The only thing I can think of that was annoying was the unusually nosey campground hosts. An older couple who took it upon themselves to try and attempt to be best friends with everyone and give them all sorts of worldly wisdom. Saturday morning, just after breakfast as Alan, Andy and I were discussing race strategies they came tooling through the campground on their golf cart just like they did every 30 minutes looking for someone to talk to. This time they were armed with Monopoly board games from the gift shop which they tried in vain to sell to us. I told them I was broke after paying $20 in fees just for my dogs to stay with me.
Enough about the campground, I know your really here to find out how the race went. The weeks leading up to the event we were sure that the turnout would be low since it was the first year for the Night Owl and the fact that it was sharing the same date as the 12 Hrs of Tsali. The day of the race were only 10 pre-registered riders and 8 of them were camping within the 3 sites surrounding me.
The NTMBA wrecking crew.
As we rolled into the starting area we were pleasantly surprised to find close to 40 racers, a majority of which were entered in the sport class. My plan was to stay put in sport and see what I could pull off. I knew with the big climb half way through the course I needed to stay ahead of most of the pack including mountain man Chris Dillow. Hungry Mother is kinda known as a roadies' mountain bike race course with double track and very little in the way of roots & rocks.
As we lined up behind the expert class I positioned myself right on the front line, something I normally don't do but I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it. My plan was too go out hard get up front but not so hard that I blew up before I reached the climb.
With a quick word and a go we were off like a bat out of hell. I stomped it hard but some cat on my outside stomped it harder got around me and lead us all out at the most blistering pace I've ever ridden in a race. I had a very bad feeling right off the bat and I had no choice but to continue because everyone of my friends and half the field were breathing down my back. The first mile and a half circled the lake not really doing much other than making us spend alot of energy. I really wish I could have seen it on video. Right before we hit the first bridge I heard and felt Chris make an attempt to pass but the bridge proved to be too narrow and rather than go for a swim he backed off but only for a moment. In less than 50 yards he was around me and pulling away. I knew right then this was going to be a tough race. I managed somehow to catch Chris again and regain 2nd but in the process Fat Tony & some other guy got by us both. Great, even more people to race hard with. As the trail got a bit more technical I somehow managed to pass Anthony and then I heard a crack of rock against aluminum followed by an OH SH*T! come from Fat Tony. I looked back saw that he was ok and took advantage of the situation and put some distance on them and attempted to catch my breath.
As we reached and began the climb I knew it would only be a matter of time before Chris caught me and he did, and once again he passed me. Not long after that we caught the guy who started this craziness and that ridiculous pace. Evidently his gas tank was running dry but I didn't trash talk him one bit as mine was feeling the same. Twice in the past 2 weeks I did this same climb and stayed in the saddle the whole time. That night I was out of the saddle standing and mashing a 1x9 as everyone else was spinning their granny gear. The further we climbed the more the lights ahead grew closer, we were catching 1st place I thought to myself. As I proceeded to pass I realized we weren't passing 1st but we had caught the tail end of the expert class.
I tried my best to get by Chris the whole way up the mountain but it was all I had to stay on his wheel. I just stayed put looked for an opening and hoped one came before we reached the top. None came but we did catch another expert rider just before our turn off. I know what you're thinking, we should have been racing expert but we had a shorter climb so we were able to spend more energy climbing faster and if anyone was sandbagging it was our leader who was no where in site.
As we reached the top and started descending I was all over the back of Chris's rear tire trying not to be pushy but I could feel another rider getting antsy behind me as well so as soon I had the chance I gave it all I had and sprinted by hoping no one followed. The guy behind me must have done the same because he was on my back in no time. My sprint past Chris left me with nothing as the trail turned back up hill and the guy was able to get around me.
I knew my chances of regaining 2nd were getting slimmer so I chased hard down the mountain keeping him in my sites until my handle bar light decided to drop and point at my front tire. I thought seriously about just letting it hang the rest of the race since I still had my Magicshine but my bar light was mounted to and open ended mount and it would have never stayed put. I slowed down managed to unplug the light with one hand, remove the light and shove it in my jersey pocket all without stopping. That move alone moved my chances from regaining 2nd from 50% down to 10 or 15%. I hit the gas and decided to keep as much distance between me and fourth as possible.
As I rounded the lake I felt like crap but I pushed on looking over my shoulder everytime I heard the slightest noise thinking 4th was gaining on me but I never saw any lights. I finally realized what the noise was that kept me looking over my shoulder. The cable that was running from my battery up to my handlebar light had unraveled and was now flopping wildly against my tire and once again rather than lose valuable equipment I slowed long enough to fix the situation.
Even with 2 slow downs I still managed to maintain a respectable 3rd, actually my first podium in a solo mountain bike race.
to be continued...........