By Uncle Dan
Mountain Bike Trailer Park is a regular column written by Uncle Dan that appears monthly on the Dirt Rag Interwebs. He dabbles in a variety of topics including racing, training, trails he loves, and not taking himself too seriously, all with a big dash of humor. If you missed his previous columns, check them out here. He also writes a personal blog.
Lean in close, I want to tell you a secret. I can trust you, right? Well, I suppose I can if you’re one of the three readers of this column, because there’s a one-in-three chance that you are my mom. Anyhow, here’s the secret: I used to race triathlons. I know, I know and believe me, I’m ashamed.
I tell you this by way of introduction to a triathlon concept. It’s called the “party wave.” But let’s back up even a little more. In triathlons, they have these awful contraptions known as wetsuits. Ideally, the wetsuit is intended to keep you warm when the water is cold. They also are known to add buoyancy to the swimmer, thereby making the swim portion of the tri easier. At any given race, a wetsuit may be allowed, or not, depending on the water temperature.
At many races, the athletes may choose to wear a wetsuit for the swim, even when they are not allowed, with the understanding that either their time won’t count for awards or the race will not count towards series points. If you choose to wear a wetsuit on the days when it is not allowed, then you must start in the final wave of the race. The “party wave.”
Why is it called the “party wave?” Well, because people in this wave generally JDGAF. They don’t care if their time counts. They don’t expect to get a podium. They’re out there for a good time (and usually a long time). Folks in the party wave tend to be less, shall we say, “high-strung” than your average triathlete. In the party wave, people talk, laugh, and pace each other, and just generally encourage each other along.
Last weekend, a bunch of friends and I headed down to Pisgah for the Pisgah 111k. Some of us were sticking around to race another 55k on the second day, but not me. One day would be enough. Plus, I had to work Monday, so couldn’t race all day Sunday.
I had been watching the weather all week. Being part of the Appalachian temperate rainforest, Pisgah can handle a lot of rain. So the race would go on regardless, even though the forecast was for lots of rain on the days up to the race, and even on race day. But the fact that the trail can handle rain didn’t make me feel any better. Pisgah is a very technical trail system that would be challenging for me when it’s dry, so I wasn’t looking forward to trying to stay upright on the off-camber roots and rocks and fall-line downhills in the rain.
On the drive down, I told Brandon and Jimmy that I had “never quit” a race. In fact, I have never DNFed. I didn’t know why I shared that at the time, but, in retrospect, it’s probably because I was already anticipating the difficulty of the race and the fact that this might be my first bow-out.
Still, we drove on to Pisgah, making an obligatory stop at the Hub to drink beers with friends, new and old. And to browse the shop, naturally. Then, after registration, it was time for some Mexican food, margaritas, and half-gallon sized beers.
At the rental house, I tucked myself into the couch and passed out watching Dumb and Dumber. I slept pretty well, except that every time I stirred, I heard the steady pattering of rain on the roof, reminding me of what was coming. Shit.
In the morning, I stuffed a couple donuts in my face, while everyone nervously prepared. I skipped the chamois cream, a decision I’d later regret. At the start line, I was amazed by the number of other singlespeeders. It seemed that everyone was either on a singlespeed or a five-inches-of-travel full suspension bike. I was on a singlespeed, but mainly because I hadn’t ridden the full suspension in a few months, and I was also worried about the hurt that the wet, sandy conditions would put on that bike.
Anyhow, the first 50 miles passed mostly smoothly, with me at the third or four aid stations in around 7.5 hours – not exactly burning up the race, but, at this pace, I expected to finish in a respectable 10-hour range. Boy, was I wrong.
The next 12 or so miles proved to be the toughest of the trail, and I broke mentally. Physically, I was still fine (except my chamois zone was starting to get really sore from all the water and sand), but my mind was falling apart. It seemed that the gradual climb went on forever, and I would only be able to ride a few hundred feet before some root or rock pushed me off the trail.
Eventually, after spending a couple hours on the trail, I sent a text message to my friends who – I was sure – must already be at the finish, drinking beer and eating burritos.
I walked a lot. I kept yo-yoing with a poor guy from Indiana who must have been getting sick of me bitching and asking questions. It was a dark place for me. I thought: I just needed to quit the race, my grundle and hands and butt hurt, the trail was unrelenting, and I was horrible at bikes. I felt like, once I hit the next aid station, I might just quit bikes forever. Plus, as I slowly picked my way down the Pilot Rock descent, the shadows were getting longer, and I was panicking about getting off the trail before dark.
Finally, I reached the fourth aid station.
“I’m done,” I announced to the guys working the aid station.
“Uh, have a swiss roll, and here’s some Coke,” one of them replied.
“I’m serious,” I said, “my butt hurts and I don’t have lights.”
“Well,” he replied, “it’s going to be faster to ride out on your own than to wait for SAG.” Dammit, he was right. I drank a Coke and ate a swiss roll. I may have drunk a beer too. But I still didn’t have lights.
Just then, Todd and Gardner rolled up behind me. I had met these two guys out on the trail a few times during the race, usually when they caught me on downhills, and had chatted with them. Fortunately, they both had good lights and agreed to lead me the rest of the way in. After they refueled, we took off. As we rode, Todd remarked that it was “just a ride” now (not a race anymore).
That’s when it hit me. We were the “party wave.” But we couldn’t be the party wave, because this wasn’t a triathlon. We were the “race mullet:” all business at the front of the race and a party in the back.
Before long, we picked up another rider, Emily, who also had lights. The four of us rode in together, talking and keeping each other’s spirits up. It was a great way to finish up. From that point on, I decided that if I ever find myself suffering and dragging at the end of a race again, I’ll just look for others and try to slick back a race mullet.
Rolling into the finish in darkness was awesome (even though I couldn’t sit down). Most of my friends were still there waiting for me, cheering, beer in hand. It was a great feeling and made me forget that we were the last four riders in.
Except it didn’t.
Honestly, I don’t feel super awesome about finishing. It feels like “just” finishing, if you know what I mean. But, if you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know that I’m not the braaapiest; I’m just the honeydew. Sometimes a race gets the better of me. It sucks. It’s mentally tough to recover from. I’m just glad I had good friends and a race mullet to pull me through.
While we’re on the topic of waves and endings, it’s come time for me to wave goodbye. This column is going on hold for a while. As much as I have enjoyed writing for Dirt Rag, as my friends will tell you, I have enough other stuff going on to keep me plenty busy. I may be back on Dirt Rag and other places online.
I’ll keep plugging away at mountainbiketrailerpark.com. If you’ve enjoyed this column, check me out there and follow Mountain Bike Trailer Park on Facebook and Instagram for updates. As always, be brave.