Monday, April 18, 2011

the 8 hours of lake Ocho

The week leading up to the Ocho, the 1st race of the TN Cup Endurance series, we had plans to camp for the weekend. Mother Nature had other plans and we decided rather than camp in the rain we stayed home, saved precious vacation days and made it a daytrip on Sunday since the drive was just barely over an hour.

As soon as we arrived Sunday morning I knew we had made the right choice. Despite the sunny skies and warm weather in middle of the field where we were supposed to camp was a swamp of standing water. It was kind of hard to tell at first because of the grass but as soon as I felt the rear tires give way I threw in it four wheel drive rather than tear up anything. We roamed aimlessly around the field in search of a place to set up our pit until we finally headed for higher ground and dry land.

Unfortunately the start/finish line as well as the course leading in and out took you right through the middle of lake Ocho. For the next hour while we set up we were entertained as several two wheeled drive vehicles attempted to cross the flooded area, slinging brown water all over the sides of their cars.

Originally I had planned to do this one solo but got an offer from B-Rad to join him in a duo attack so I took him up on the offer knowing he would lead us through the first lap strong arming weaker riders off the trail as he charged through the field.

I wasn't counting the number of riders that came through the pits after the first lap, I think because we were more worried about the fact that half of them had lost their # plates all together or had something resembling a # plate just barely hanging on. The promoter handed us a brown marker ironically and Eric D. and I took turns writing our #'s on our legs. When Eric wrote mine on my leg what was supposed to be 69 turned into 62 but I didn't realize it until several hours later. Luckily my # plate made it through the entire race but just barely.

When Brad came in off his first lap he was earlier than I expected somewhere in the top 10. Excited at our chances I took off determined not to get passed by any other team riders on my lap.

The course for the most part was dry as a bone all except for one section. The most technical section on the entire course, so technical in fact that bridges had to be built a few years ago just to make it rideable. It was like a night and day difference once I hit the mud, it was nasty slick and an energy sucking vampire, just to stay upright and moving forward took alot of time and skill. Several places I found my self riding somewhat sideways as my rear tire found some traction and started coming around as my front tire just slid around aimlessly. I rode as smooth as I could which wasn't long until I hit the rock garden. It didn't take long before my bike slide out from under me and rather than waste energy and take the chance of a nasty crash and ruining the race for myself I opted to just run it out. Running through the mud was definitely more efficient and made my chances of finishing the lap unscathed much better. Not expecting to catch any rider being so far up in the field I was surprised when I caught a glimpse of two riders ahead through the trees. I stomped on the gas hoping to improve our standings only to realize it was two off-road unicyclists still on their first lap. I'm amazed at what those guys did on their unicycles finishing two laps without a scratch.

My goal for the race was 4 laps a piece for Brad and I, 8 laps in 8 hours. The cut off for the last lap was at 4:15 with the finish time of 5:00. I knew as long as we kept our lap times right at the hour mark we would have a good chance of pulling it off. Our first lap Brad and I both came in at just under an hour. After that I added a minute or two to each lap as fatigue and the pain set in.

Race fuel???

Throughout the course I would stay fairly clean and dry but as soon as I would enter the pit area and cross lake Ocho, it was all over. As the day wore on it got worse and worse. Coming off a fast decent into the finish our tires were slinging brown water everywhere. By lap 3 and 4 the brown water turned into mud. The shiny silver polished finish of my AIR9 was converted to a nice shade of brown.

As Brad went out for his fourth lap I told him to finish strong and hurry up, I had plans for a 4th as well and as long as his lap went smoothly we should be good for me to go out before the cut off. As I waited for Brad to return I tried not to pay much attention to the teams all around us that had called it a day, tempted by the free flowing beer. To make matters worse the promoters rolled in was a massive pile of pizza. I lined up on the line waiting for Brad and joked around with the other racers who were stuffing they're faces to save me some.

My last lap went well, I felt surprisingly stronger than the previous lap. The nasty section that had challenged me all day while still nasty in spots looked a bit drier. Not wanting to have been a pansy and run it every lap I gave it my best effort and rode the entire section with only a couple of slips.

I finished my last lap strong and headed straight for the beer and pizza. I grabbed a cup off the keg properly chosen for the occasion, Red Hook's "Mud Slinger" and a couple cold bottles of Yazoo's finest, Pale Ale.

As we waited for the final racers to come in Brad and I learned that we had victoriously finished 1st in the Sport division but because of the low numbers across the team categories we had been grouped together with the Open guys. Our overall placing was still good in 6th finishing with 8 laps only one lap shy of the team with the most overall.

We stuck around for the awards ceremony hoping to receive some sort of prize for our efforts. In the Open category 1st, 2nd and 3rd place teams all received swag bags, for 1st place in the Sport division Brad and I each received a bottle of champagne from some local winery. I was kind of disappointed in the winnings but the swag we received just for showing up helped some. Every racer received a t-shirt, pint glass and water bottle not to mention post race pizza and all the free beer you could drink. I made sure I got my money's worth and came home with a cooler full of Yazoo. It was the least I could do so the promoters weren't over burdened by a bunch of stuff to haul home.

I'm not sure if I'll actually get around to drinking this stuff or not, maybe I'll hold onto to it until B-Rad and I get together for the 2nd race, the H8R in Knoxville at Haw Ridge.

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