I remembered Barlow as one of my favorite races last year, also one of my bloodiest (two bad-ish crashes with lots of bike damage.) My memory was accurate — this is an awesome course. Lots of singletrack but also lots of long grass (and asphalt) sprints where the field can take proper shape. More importantly: lots of long dusty climbs.
This was my first race on my (new-to-me) All-City Nature Boy, whose previous pilot was Mat Barton, singlespeed champ. I don’t think I could ever fill those shoes but I hope my inaugural race didn’t dishonor his former steed. I staged back half to back third and finished 40th of 110.
Racing one gear was an eye-opening experience. Quickly I realized momentum was my only friend. I came to resent every single rider in front of me for wimping through corners, braking down descents, and spinning up climbs. Without gears, I had to carry momentum into the corners, open up on descents, and power up climbs. In fact, I think I pushed the climbs much harder than I would have on the Gunnar; not once did I get passed on a climb, in fact I did all the passing. Often to commentary: “you are kidding me with the singlespeed, right?” “I can’t believe you caught me on one gear,” etc. I couldn’t respond because I was too busy suffering. None of this suffering seems to have affected my heartrate one bit. If anything, it was a little lower (187 avg vs. my usual 191/2).
Also: not having gears means one less thing to think about.
The Tiger Pit — an infamous stream crossing in a steep gully, out of which one must climb a railroad-tie staircase literally on hands and knees — was what it always is. Brutal and fun. Throngs of mean-spirited spectators howl down into the Pit, lending it a very Thunderdome atmosphere. But with a (much) lighter bike the Pit was easier. (As were all the barriers. At the triple barrier one of the spectators said to another, as I passed: “that guy is fast;” I don’t think “fast” is a word anyone has ever applied to my barrier handling before.) Without a sufficiently low gear I couldn’t remount right away out of the pit, probably the one place where I really wished for a gear. I also had to fight up the short runup before the baseball diamond, barely turning the pedals. It was at the edge of my legs’ abilities and every lap I thought: “my legs won’t be able to do this next lap.” But they did.
Uncle Karl came to the race and I think he had a pretty good time. He kept his niece and nephew on their toes, for sure, and helped Jenny negotiate what must be one of the worst venues for non-racers. It has only ONE(!) course crossing, at a double blind bend on literally the fastest portion of the course.
Kiddie Kross appeared to be entirely unplanned. Last year they had the usual rodeo-style mini course; this year the Kiddie Racers started on the main course just behind the juniors. In fact the Juniors caught the kiddie racers just at the double bend. A few smart spectators — who appeared not to be course marshalls or OBRA officials — steered the kiddie racers to the right at the first bend, then waved the juniors to the left. The kiddies rode from the start to the finish, perhaps half a mile, uphill then FAST downhill, with a long grass climb and off-camber section. Orion tore it up. Jenny, Karl, and I couldn’t keep up with him and he was waiting for us at the finish!
Photo: Scorpius Cycles