Sunday, April 11th, 2010

MTB: Play in the Mud (Napa Valley Dirt Classic)

The duration of my ride at this year’s Napa Valley Dirt Classic: 10:46am to around 1:50pm. Well, what can I say — mudworm finally got to play in the mud. Total immersion style, head to toe and inside ‘n out. What a day! It was hard but I had fun; then, it got harder …

When I left the house early in the morning, it was warm and calm, almost a little eerie. But two and half hours later when I pulled into Angwin, my windshield wipers had been churning continuously for a while. This was expected based on the weather forecast I had been reading all along. The registration was at the gym. I ran into Joie, a fellow dirt diva. She had the look of a winner who would go out and crush the field. (Last year, she crushed the Women’s Beginner field.) I scaled her from head to toe just like I did every other rider around me. I had never ridden in the rain before and had no idea how I should prepare myself, so I was trying to get some ideas. She cheerfully offered her strategy. (The content in the parentheses was what went through my head.)

  • -“Oh, the rain is no big deal. I ride in the winter a lot.”
  • – (Thinking to myself, “What’s wrong with this woman?”)
  • -“I’m only wearing these neoprene pants before the race. Once you are in the race, all you think about is the ‘race’, and you won’t notice the cold.”
  • -(“What race? Right now, all I can think about is how to stay dry, and I’m sure on the ride, all I think about is how to stay up right.”)
  • -“I’ll be wearing my shorts in the race. I use some …. cream and it will help warm up the muscles.”
  • -(I didn’t get the brand, but somehow my mind drifted to that little bottle of massage oil (expired by now) in my night stand that says Warm Sensations.)
  • -For the core, I wear this rain jacket and it will keep me dry.
  • -(It is transparent and looks snug and very light. I wish I had one like that.)

I wished her the best luck before we parted ways and went on to stare at my duffel bag that had my entire riding wardrobe inside. In the end, I decided the last thing I wanted was feeling miserably cold on the ride out there. For the body: three base layers, one jersey, one over sized plastic poncho I got for free at last year’s Death Ride, Erik’s wind breaker vest, and my own flimsy wind breaker, which really was there just to keep the poncho from flapping. For the legs: cycling shorts inside and thick Performance brand neoprene long pants outside. For feet: liner socks and Rocky Gore-Tex Socks (I bought those for the creek crossings at Henry Coe). For head: helmet covered with a plastic grocery bag duct taped on — nothing a little duct tape can’t fix. Feeling heavy and clumsy when I moved, but I was comfortably warm.

Once I got everything set up and put away, the car locked, and the keys in the clip-on ToePeak saddle bag, it was the start time. I was hoping to rub my thighs a bit before the ride, but I didn’t even have time to adjust the position and the tilt of the saddle Erik just swapped over from my new bike last night.

Oh, speaking of the bike. I was so glad that I didn’t bring my new Titus FTM. If I had, I would have pulled a DNF for sure because I would just carry my bike on my shoulder and turn around at the first mud puddle I saw. With my old Stumpjumper, I plowed through everything. I heard people say that Angwin would not get muddy. They were wrong. Okay, the higher part stayed somewhat firm despite all the standing muddy waters, but the lower part (on both sides of the lowest point of the course) turned into muddy slush just like the rest of the country would. At one point, I stepped off and the mud was at my ankle! Half of the time, my bike refused to shift into the small chain ring, but at least the other half of the time, it did. The drop seatpost quit staying at the down position. I probably needed to turn the collar a little, but I could’t remember which direction, so I didn’t bother with it. At least, it stayed up. I think next time, I would not bother using a drop seatpost since there is nothing technical on this course. The disc brakes worked as well as expected in this condition, but there were times on super steep descending switchbacks, I couldn’t keep my speed low enough even though I was braking with full force. Over all, my bike, my old loyal Stumpy, got me back without giving me much trouble.

I tipped over twice, once when I stepped off onto a slippery rock, and the other time when my bike stuck in mud and I couldn’t unclip. (Yes, I should upgrade my old SPD pedals.) For the most part, my Panaracer Fire AM Pro 2.3 (front) and Kenda Nevegal 2.1 (rear) worked well, but there were times on the climb out, my rear was slipping in the mud. The mud was so wet that it didn’t stick at all, so my tires looked clean by the end of the ride.

My head and core stayed dry, which made me happy and the riding fun. My legs got really cold when my neoprene pants got wet through and I could feel the effect by the end when I couldn’t get any turning power from those legs. The Core-Tex socks turned into two nice sacks when muddy water somehow got in, and my feet went completely numb, which did not help when I did hike-a-bike many times on the climb out. But I couldn’t complain because I had seen worse. Half an hour into the ride, a racer looking rider pulled off the straight and easy fire road right in front of me to stand next to a course support. He was shaking violently. Later before the long descent into Pope Valley, two riders in front of me rode up to the support crew at one big intersection and asked them, “Which way is the fastest way out? We just want to get back!!!” Then, after the big climb with only two miles of somewhat flat terrain to cover, I saw a rider sitting against a big tree with his bike laying next to him. He had the look that he was finished. Yes, I had seen worse.

I got very hungry on my climb out and was looking forward to the hot beverage and food they were selling right by the gym. Actually, that was all I could think about on those last few miles. When I finally rolled past the finish line, I had a huge grin on my face knowing I was about to return to comfort. When I got off the bike at my car, I went, “S*H*I*T!!!” My saddlebag went missing, gone with it were all my keys. I kept the keys in because it came with a nice little rain jacket that seemed to be able to keep it dry, better than the  flimsy poncho my body was wearing. The really ordeal for me started right then.

I could do nothing but wait, hoping someone had seen it and picked it up, and would turn it in soon. Everyone else showered and changed into their dry and warm clothes. I, still covered in mud from helmet to toe, stood into the shower fully clothed, and let the shower pour down on me. When I stepped out, I looked cleaner, but I was completely soaked.

When two women saw my weird behavior in the locker room, I felt that I had to explain. They felt bad for me. Even though I insisted that I would survive, one brought me a towel she kept in her truck and the other brought me a blouse and a hat she said that she wasn’t planning on keeping. They, along with a small T-Shirt I got in the swag throw, helped slow down my progress into hypothermia.  Unfortunately, nobody turned in the saddlebag throughout the entire awards ceremony. Then we got the words from the course sweep that he didn’t see one on the trails either. After all, he was mainly out there to pick up dead bodies.

Michael, the race organizer, offered to help me out. His two daughters had been out there in the cold helping with timing and things and they took me to their house. I was provided a hot shower, dry and warm clothes, and best of all, the most delicious soup on earth. I gradually thawed and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the extremely kind and friendly family. In the mean time, my poor husband had to first drive an hour from work to home to find my valet key, and then he got on the 2.5 hour drive to Angwin to rescue me. Michael and one of his daughters already went back out to the course to take down some signs, which took them a whole week to set up. Oh, speaking of signs, I was amazed how well marked the course was despite the very confusing nature of the maze out there. There were signs all over the course. Erik had thrown a head lamp in my pack last night saying it was just in case I got lost and got stuck out there in the dark. (Thank you honey for the vote of confidence!) But he had no idea that I couldn’t get lost even if I tried. Anyway, the phone at the house rang. Michael called to report that they had found my saddle bag, sitting in the mud right at the first Wall on the course about 1 mile from the finish. It must have fallen off on my return because I heard the rattling noise of my keys inside most of the time on my ride. It turned out that hard plastic clipping hardware had broken. I was beyond relief when I heard the news. So, when their two little dogs rushed to the door, barked in excitement wiggling their tails, I joined them. Michael stepped into the door holding my muddy saddlebag sack by the fingernails and I received it from him in the same matter. Just then, I thought I saw rays of light poured into the door hole. I only had time to give him and his daughter a big hug before they disappeared in the mist once again back to their hard work on the course. I now consider myself the luckiest person in the world all because of the good will from these beautiful people.

I told the family that I would return to ride in the area on a nicer day. One guy commented that he had been racing NVDC every year since 1994 and this was the worst ever condition, so there is hope for me.

P.S. Result:

P.P.S. MTBR thread:

P.P.S. Below picture was taken by Kris’ brother (see the above MTBR thread):

10 Responses

  1. Jeanneon 12 Apr 2010 at 1:23 pm

    What a great trip report! As you know, I lost my keys while I was at Kirkwood last week, and found them buried in the snow and ice 8 hours later. How stressful. It’s so weird you lost yours too, and so lucky they found them that same day. We both need to get spare keys.

    Good job on the race! You are truly a studette. Sorry that I bailed on you. I saw the forecast and couldn’t imagine suffering like that. I would have been with the guys that were trying to find their way back to the start. I’ve ridden that race in the mud, but never in a downpour. Instead I sat at home and watched the radar and imagined you out there shredding it up. Good job!

  2. Dirk dBon 12 Apr 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Sounds truly epic, and probably quite memorable. Congrats with placing 2nd! Though you may not have loved life for a while after losing that bag, at least you got to know some nice people through it.

    I had a similar problem once with one of these plastic wedge type seat bags, on a bikepacking trip ( Luckily I noticed immediately it had broken off (and had zip ties to patch it). These days I refrain from using seat bags in races all together, and use a strap instead.

  3. Patrick Herlihyon 12 Apr 2010 at 2:56 pm

    2nd? Mei, I’m disappointed in you! :biggrin:

    Fantastic writeup.. I was sitting at home, drinking beer, watching TV, my seldom used muscles recovering (sore from swinging the McLoud at Coe) and wondering if you went to the race in such weather. I’m pretty sure I would have bailed; muddy rides always end badly for me (either OTB or broken bike parts).

    Total studette!

  4. mudwormon 12 Apr 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Hi Jeanne, for how fast you ride, you could have won it if you had done it. Actually, if you kept your core dry and did not have bike mechanical (I got lucky on both accounts), riding in the rain/mud would not seem that painful. I have to confess that I probably have liked the harsh condition more than I would have enjoyed a nice condition because it allowed me to enter the race completely stress free. First time doing the race, first time riding in the rain, and at the tail of the bad cold I had last week, I had zero expectations on my time or placement. So, I was pleasantly surprised with the result. I’ll want to go back and ride there again, but I’m not sure I want to race it again because there is no doubt that there will be self-inflicted stress next time. 🙁

  5. mudwormon 12 Apr 2010 at 5:42 pm

    HI Dirk, I really should find the Amazon link to that product and post a review so that other people can be warned. We both got lucky, but I’m afraid that some people may not be as lucky as we were.

  6. mudwormon 12 Apr 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Patrick, I felt sorry that I missed Saturday’s trailwork with you guys though. I enjoyed reading about it on MTBR.

  7. mudwormon 13 Apr 2010 at 9:42 am

    A few more things to add:
    1. A friend of mine asked me I had always avoided riding in the mud thinking it would not do good to the trails, what about this time? I did think about it, but went anyway because: 1) The course is on the college’s private land, and if the college still wants the race to happen (and thus raises funds for various sports programs), I’m okay with that; and 2) people keep saying that Angwin is a good wet weather riding destination.
    2. On my way home, I stopped at Trader Joe’s and got myself my favorite Triple Chocolate Bundt Cakes and indulged myself thinking I had earned it. Strangely, I did not feel any soreness the following days. I probably should have pushed myself harder. :blush:

  8. Alison Chaikenon 13 Apr 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Wow, what an epic! Was the ride actually harder than the Death Ride or Boggs? Paris-Roubaix sounds easy by contrast. I’m so glad you got your keys back.

  9. mudwormon 16 Apr 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Alison, I’m not sure if I can call any of those rides the hardest. They were all hard and fun in their own ways. When I heard that Paris-Roubaix was happening the same day, it did cross my mind that we were suffering out there with those world class riders (not really true considering the time difference), but I’m sure P-R was a much much harder ride from what I had read. My teeth would rattle loose and fall out if I rode my road bike on cobblestone like those riders do.

  10. mudwormon 20 Apr 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Just got to work on my bike and the Gravity Dropper this weekend. Wow, I was surprised to see how damaging the rain and the mud were. After a dry week, when I flipped my bike upside down, there was muddy water flowing out of the chain stay. And when I took apart my GD, there was mud and corrosion INSIDE it. Glad that it was not a Joplin.