The entry list for the Ouachita Challenge always seems to be a mixed bag. 2010 seemed like the year of the pros. Last year, the field was slightly more sedate. This year, Carey Lowery showed back up, as well as Jessica Rawlins (state XC champ of Texas) and a host of other strong regional ladies. I finally had a chance to race the new Air9 RDO. Of course, I love the singlespeed best, but with a chance to win, it wasn’t the choice for a race with miles of flat/rolling road injected into its front and midsections.
I lucked out with work- Poolboy Matt was able to get Sunday off and come out to crew for me- a huge time saver on this sort of course.We arrived at camp Sunday just before sunset and rode the pump track for a while to get the car out of our legs. Afterward, we sat around the campfire and traded stories with the Texas guys.
Sunday morning was pretty typical. As always, I woke up with a race song in my head…
We struck camp and headed to Oden High School where the race started. I was a little late to the lineup and ended up only being able to nudge my way about halfway up into the field. For most endurance races, that’s not a huge deal, but for this one, getting into the draft of the lead groups in the 7 miles of road prior to the initial singletrack can give you a huge headstart on competitors that get stuck out in the wind.
I did not make it to the lead group. I was able to get some good paceline action, though. It was about the time that the asphalt changed to gravel when I saw Jessica for the first time. She was smack in the middle of a paceline of her Bicycles Plus teammates, who, from what I overheard from one of the guys, were all cat 1 cross country racers who were there to help Jessica out. I stuck to their wheels for a while before they took off after Carey Lowery up the final climb before the singletrack. I wasn’t about to blow myself up at 5 miles into the race. I figured I’d let them beat each other up a bit then tackle the loser.
After a little singletrack climbing, I rolled up on Jessica and her guys. I managed to get on her wheel and chill out a little. From what I could tell, she probably had me on fitness, but I had the rock riding advantage. With Blowout Mountain ahead, that was a good thing. I was waiting patiently for a chance to get around her when she (I think) dropped her chain. I calmly made haste down the back of Brushy Mountain through the first aid station.
The next portion of rocky awesomeness up and across Blowout was like home to me. Unfortunately, I punched a rock with my rear tire. Stan’s sealant went up in a roostertail behind me, and I pulled off the trail and rotated the hole down to let the sealant work. It seemed to have closed the puncture, so I decided to gamble and aired the tire back up with my one Big Air CO2. It appeared to hold… until I rolled down the trail another 20 feet, and it started spewing again. CRAP.
I found another safe spot to pull off (not always easy on Blowout) and proceeded to add a tube to my tire. About the time I was getting the tube into the tire, Jessica rolled by. One of her guys stopped to ask if I was OK. When he did, he accidentally dropped a CO2 out of his pack… lucky me!! I finished the change and headed down the trail with my rear tire bouncing like a basketball over the rocks (I wasn’t about to pinch flat). Time elapsed with flat… 10 minutes. In hindsight, the initial CO2 gamble was a bad idea. If it would have worked, though…
Next it was up & over one more mountain before hitting the road to/from Sims. There, I met Matt, swapped bottles, and refilled my seat pack. Matt said that Jessica had blown through with her teammates about 4 minutes prior. I could tell I was a little overheated when I left, so I refrained from going all out on the road to the Womble Trail portion of the course. Once I was there, I settled back into my trail rhythm. I was tired, but feeling like I would be able to successfully maintain a slightly gentler pace than what I’d sustained through the Ouachita Trail.
I made it over Mauldin Mountain and was headed down the back side when suddenly, I was wrecking. I don’t really know what happened, because I didn’t ever look ahead of me and register an “oh shit, I’m going to wreck” in my head. There were some roots… they may have been a little slick and off camber… no idea. All I know is that I watch my left hand smash against the ground with my fingers bending back towards my wrist. When I came to rest, I was face down with my feet downhill and my helmet just off the edge of the trail. The two guys that had been following me were pretty freaked out. They offered to get help. I told them I was going to be ok, but that I’d hurt my hand. In my head, I was thinking more along the lines of, “OH MY GOD MY HAND IS MANGLED.”
I heard one of the guys say he’d go get my bike. I have no idea where it was, but, with their help (and by help, I mean, they drug me back up onto the trail) I was back on and riding pretty quickly. I hope I wasn’t rude to them in my demanding that they just give me my bike so that I could keep going… they were concerned, but I just wanted to be riding again during the space between the initial “hurt” and when the adrenaline wore off and the real pain (from both my hand and the multitude of the other cuts/bruises) set in.
The last 15 miles hurt. I made a promise to myself that I could cry on the other side of the finish line as long as I kept my shit together the rest of the way there.
After what seemed like forever, I was back out onto the forest road and headed back in to Oden. I made it a point to big ring the gravel climb that had nearly crushed my soul with cramps the year before. Minutes after that, Matt appeared on his singlespeed with words of encouragement. I chatted with him for a minute before taking off on the wheel of another racer. Finish time, 6:05… 3rd place by less than 2 minutes.
Once I was over the line, I dropped my bike and sat down against a nearby building. It seemed like Matt and everyone else was trying to help me, but all I wanted was some water and to be left alone. Something about the way I was acting or looking caught the eye of the nearby paramedics. They also kept checking in on me, and one eventually convinced me to go sit in the ambulance where it was cool and get a bag of IV fluids.
It did make me feel much better.
Of course, the pain of hurt fingers and other bruised/abraded joints eventually set in once I was cooled off and calmed down. Three of my knuckles started to swell (the index and middle fingers on my left hand and the middle finger of my right hand) as well as the area over my left 5th metacarpal.
This morning, I went to the doctor. Turns out, save a small fracture at the end of the proximal phalange of my left middle finger, the remainder of my injuries are all in the soft tissue. I’ve typed this entire post with 7 working fingers (the other 3 are in splints). I’m to go back to an ortho doc in 1 week for re-evaluation.
I’m crossing my splints for a speedy recovery.