Soft as snow?

Every rider knows the feeling. That sixth sense feeling that something is wrong and something bad is going to happen. It's like being in the middle of a train wreck and not being able to stop it. The question becomes - once the train wreck has happened, what do you do?

Saturday night, at the starting line for the first race in the Leadville Winter Bike series - my personal favorite The Tennessee Pass Night Jam. The full moon was hidden in clouds and snow was piling up on the groomed trails. It was going to be a epic race and a fun ride. I was eager to start, a little nervous and ready to see how the new tires handled the fresh snow. It was a record crowd for the race and everyone was raring to go. The symphony of fat bike brakes filled the air as Sterling called us to the line. This was the only part I didn't like - the downhill start followed by the sharp right turn for the start loop. It made for great spectating and a spectical of lights flowing down the hill. But it always made me nervous. Between the rush of the start, the clunky bikes and the snow, it seemed like someone always went down in the that corner. My plan was to try to stick on Nick's wheel for the right hand turn and then settle into my own pace. Play it safe and get through the traffic jam before really starting to race. 

At the starting line under snowy skies
Photo Justin Talbot -
At least that was the plan. And we all know what happens to the best laid plans! As soon as the whistle blew, Nick was gone. I was still in a decent spot, but further down then I wanted for the corner. A quick glance around told me I was in second place so it really wasn't that bad of a start. I was getting pushed to the left a little, getting more and more boxed in on the right. Which wasn't bad as long as I could still make the turn. And then I felt something - that sixth sense feeling that things weren't going according to plan. I was still getting pushed to the left, with nowhere to go. But now I felt the brush of handlebar against my left hip. Too close and moving faster then I was. I couldn't move back to the right because of the crush of bikes. Our handlebars tangled and down we went. Hard. I'm not sure if I landed on him or on the snow, but the impact dazed me. I must have hit my head hard because it took me what felt like minutes to get up and moving again. Checked my Reflex and my Garmin - both still on my bars. Checked my brakes - working. Couldn't figure out why everyone who passed us was was yelling "light" until I turned around and saw my Diablo half buried in the snow. I'd hit hard enough to rip it right out of the bracket on my helmet. The guy who tangled with me kept asking if I was okay. I hadn't done the physical inventory completely - I knew my shoulder was hurting from the impact and I was obviously a little dazed. But I felt like I was okay so told him so. He asked one more time, then got on his bike and started riding. It took me a little longer to get going, but I eased my way back in to the race. Nothing felt really bad when I started pedaling - my shoulder was tight, but otherwise I was okay. I could keep going.

I slowly rolled through the back of the race, working my way towards the middle. It wasn't the easiest passing people because of the inches of fresh snow - outside the main track and the going was definitely harder. As I past the start-finish area, the spectators were cheering for Roxanne - which gave me an idea of where I was in the field. About the middle, which was further then I'd anticipated given how long it had taken me to get organized and back on the bike. I wasn't hurting that bad so I kept pedaling on through instead of pulling out. The smartest of moves? Maybe not. But if you are going to be dumb, you better be tough! On the long climb up to the Cookhouse, I paced myself and the passing. Pull out, get around someone, settle back into the track and then repeat. I was trying not to burn any matches, but with adrenaline pumping it was hard to stay settled and not just go for it. On the first long descent, I was really hesitant. My shoulder was starting to hurt and I knew that I couldn't afford another crash. There was no crazy flying though the fresh powder for me! That was almost harder because I just wanted to let go and have some fun instead of holding back. But I was still moving up through the field.

The conditions were perfectly epic fat bike racing weather. Cold but not freezing with soft snow piling up. The only thing that would have made it better would have been no wind! My bar mitts were covered in snow, my glasses were covered in snow and the world was a perfect little snow globe under the beam of my lights. It also made the riding challenging. I was far enough back that there was a decent track for most of the course - it was hard enough under the fresh snow that you could still pedal though. On the drop to the Fish Flat loop, I was starting to notice some difficulty breathing and a little tingling in my left hand. And a deep, throbbing ache in my shoulder. I was having to use my right hand to drink as I didn't even want to try pulling my left had out of the bar mitts. By now I was committed. There was no where to pull out without having to ride back and if I had to ride back, I might as well finish. I'd caught a woman wearing white patterned shorts over black tights - the last thing I remembered seeing before going down. So I'd at least made up some time! We went back and forth several times on the descent to and the lap around the flats. She was taking more chances on the descents then I was willing to - not something that frequently happens!  But then we would hit a chewed up section of terrain or a slight climb and I'd motor away. Meet my friends Bud and Lou! A few extra pounds of tires meant for great traction!

Riders on the trail
Photo Justin Talbot -
It was on one of those climbs back up towards the finish where I realized just how bad my shoulder was. I couldn't stand and pull on the bars for the climb. I wasn't even able to lower my chest down to the stem to maintain traction. I had to get off and push my bike - and even then I couldn't get my hand out of the bar mitts without excruciating pain. Whoops.... The pain was starting to affect me mentally by then. I just didn't have the motivation or the oomph to try to keep up with some of the guys around me. I didn't know where I was in the women's race, but really didn't care anymore. I came through the final bail out point - tempted to quit, but what would another 15 minutes do? It couldn't cause any more damage then had already been done. Might as well just keep pedaling. It wasn't enthusiastic pedaling by any means and I was  bummed that I wasn't enjoying the conditions more. So much snow had fallen that the tracks on the start loop were already covered! It would have been the perfect day for some solid fun if I'd kept my bike upright.

On the last climb back up the cookhouse. I could hear the spectators cheering at the yurt so I knew I was getting close. I was simply focused on finishing at that point, so when a women passed me it was a fairly half hearted attempt at staying on her wheel. I just didn't have the strength in my should to muscle the bike like I needed to for the climb. She wasn't climbing away, but I wasn't able to close the gap. Past the warm fire and the spectators offering fireball. One more hurdle to finishing - the normally giggle inducing fun of the final single track descent. Steering the bike had become a struggle, with pain shooting through my shoulder every time I turned the handlebars. There would be no giggling this time around. I was prepared to pull over for the guy behind me, but he never called a pass so I just kept going. Very happy to have the dropper post this time - I didn't have to fight the bike quite as hard as I would have without it. Then, to my surprise, I caught the women who'd passed me on the climb. She was riding the single track even more gingerly then I was! I called rider back and then waited. There was no way I was going to try passing unless she was willing to let me around. Not with how deep that snow was and how much I was hurting. I needed to stay upright and on the bike! Luckily, she was willing to pull over on one of the wider straightaways. I made the pass and returned my focus to the trail. There were only a few minutes left and now that I'd passed I needed to make it stick. Onto the final groomed section and I dug in. I didn't know where anyone was, but I didn't want to get passed in the final stretch.

Nick was waiting at the finish, just before the turn for the fire booter. He was hollering to every rider to hit the booter - instigating trouble as usual! When he recognized me, he doubled the calls for the booter. Nope. Not this time. I rolled through the finish, calling my number to volunteers and immediately turned to look for Nick. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing  but when it wears off... Crap. Not quite 10/10 pain but pretty darn close! And as Nick put it later - he signed up for taking my clothes off... Helping me get dressed is a different story. But there was no way I was moving or using that left arm that night.

Amazingly, I'd managed to work my way all the way into third place! Not was I was anticipating given how much my shoulder was hurting throughout the race. Sterling even noted that I'd crashed in the first corner and still finished during the awards!


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