The final mountain bike race on my calendar was the Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival on labor day weekend. The only problem is, it's on Sunday. This is probably great if you're coming from out of town, but it kinda kills the whole weekend for us local folks.
So what to do when you've got a whole day both before and after a race? Ride there and back, of course!
My obsession with the Tour Divide race is fairly well documented here, and I was kind of frustrated on my Manitowoc tour with being banished to the pavement. So, I ordered up a rack for my mountain bike and stripped down my touring setup to the bare essentials.
I was feeling pretty smug about being Mr. Badass Touring Racer for my plans to ride to Copper Harbor and back until I was riding home from work on Thursday night and ran into a couple of guys from Marquette riding down the highway on their way to Copper Harbor for the race too.
Buncha showoffs. :)
Anyway, Saturday morning I took off. The plan was to stick with snowmobile trails as much as possible. Had a nice ride through the old mining ruins of the Keweenaw.
Once I hit Allouez, I decided to make some time and rode pavement all the way into Copper Harbor. Had plenty of time to register, grab a nice dinner at the Mariner North and head out to my super secret camp site out past the tip of the Keweenaw. I was kind of worried about backcountry camping on labor day weekend, but only one other group had found my spot, and they were camping way down the beach.
I registered 86 miles for the day. Despite rolling on 2.3" knobbies, I still managed to average about 10mph. Only about 2mph slower than 35c touring tires and a heck of a lot more comfortable.
I had myself a nice Polynesian themed happy hour with dried squid and pineapple while I watched the sun go down.
Rode back into town early the next morning. Thankfully, the team tent was on hand to stash my gear in during the race.
Time to start mentally prepping myself for the race. I decided to go with the "just have fun and cruise this one" philosophy. After all, I still had to pedal 80 miles or so back home tomorrow, and this race is very technical and it's easy for me to get in over my head and crash if I'm not careful.
As usual, I took it easy for maybe a whole 5 minutes into the race.
The first part of the race has a climb up some double track and I was stuck behind a couple of guys riding side by side. The people in front of them were pulling away and the gap was getting bigger and bigger. Good thing I've got myself a pretty good bag of asshole roadie tricks now.
I just inserted myself between them and held my ground. If you've ever ridden cyclocross or a crit, this is no big deal. You regularly come into contact with other racers and you sort of learn to lean on them without letting the bikes come into contact.
This utterly freaks out midpack mountain bikers.
The guy on the left held his ground pretty well, but the guy on the right immediately headed for the bushes.
Well shoot, looks like I'm racing now.
Which was really OK, as the first part of the course really suits me- lots of steep quick climbs that I can power up. The slower traffic from the long race was really killing my big gear mashing technique, but I still found myself in the top 20 for the short race.
Of course, you know how these stories go now. "I was doing great until..."
Well, I knew I couldn't hang onto that top 20 for long. Although the first part of the course is lots of quick, steep ups, the latter part is lots of quick, steep downs. It gets so bad in some places, I have to get off and run my bike, and I certainly can't bomb it at race pace.
Before that though, there's some intermediary fast and flowing stuff. Unfortunately, me and a couple of other guys were stuck behind a slower long course racer. After a bunch of incessant whining on our part, he finally let us by and I immediately started riding well outside of my actual ability. I knew I was being a little reckless, so I let the guys behind me by so I wouldn't have any incentive to try and stay ahead of them.
Didn't work though.
I was happily bombing along when I caught my shoulder on a tree, which bumped my handlebars into another tree, which bounced me off a third and landed me in a pile on top of my bike. I managed to land on top of my up pointed handlebars right on my collarbone. My collarbone area was screaming in pain, but didn't feel broken, although what really had me worried was the dull twinge in my knee.
I managed to get up and get going before anybody passed me, but my race was pretty much done at that point. The only way to get any kind of edge from here on out was to bomb the downhills faster than anybody else, and my confidence was so shaken, I'd have a tough time riding it at Sunday morning cruising pace.
I managed to hang on to a 36th overall, 30th in my division. A really good finish on my part that I'm quite proud of.
(Image courtesy of Juskuz.)
This was followed by the famed "Festival" part of the Fat Tire Festival. I kicked back with a beer in my hand and a bag of ice on my knee and it wasn't long before I was feeling no pain whatsoever.
Just after sunset, I cruised out to a secluded spot a couple of miles out of town and passed out for the night.
Woke up the next morning and SWEET JESUS MOTHER OF GOD WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY KNEE?!
First problem was, it hurt like hell. The most concerning issue was the fact it was now approximately twice the size it used to be. Once I actually got on the bike and started pedaling though, it didn't really bother me all that much. I couldn't hammer, but I could certainly spin.
I ambled my way into town to survey the wreckage left from last night.
Ate a huge breakfast and pointed my bike southward.
Man, that was a slog home. but I made it. And I'm now horribly, horribly hooked on this whole bikepacking thing. I'm now lusting for a 29er hard tail with some custom bikepacking bags and a lightweight sleeping setup to carry with me. I could really get into this touring/racing thing. It adds a whole new spin on "run what you brung".
And it only took a week or two for my knee to return to a normal size and color.