Before this weekend, I’d never ridden in the Land Between the Lakes area. So, when I had to make a race-schedule decision between either Race to the Canal on my mountain bike or Cyclocross in Nashville, I went with the “spend more time in the woods with gorgeous fall colors” option. Race to the Canal is a 37 mile (for Cat1 and Open categories) point-to-point race that takes the North-South and Canal Loop trails from the middle of the Land Between the Lakes peninsula to the canal at the north end. Other categories started further north.
Poolboy Matt came along to race the “37 Open” category. We arrived mid-day on Saturday, and stopped by the bike shop to get some trail info before heading out to pre-ride some of the course. The people at the Wood ‘N Wave shop are super nice (they also have a female mechanic, which just adds to the awesome). Matt was having some problems with a bad schrader valve on his fork, and they were really helpful in fixing it. The pre-ride was great. We rode the Canal Loop- half of which wasn’t race course, but we figured it was a good chance to get a feel for the landscape. The conditions were essentially perfect- a little bit of dampness had transformed the trail into mostly “hero dirt” (when the dirt is just wet enough to make it ultra-grippy), and the leaves were in full-on color change. I was excited to see the rest of the trail on Sunday.
The next morning, with the help of some friends, we got a ride to our start location just in time for the pre-race meeting. The 37 mile group was small enough that we ended up being started as a group rather than with gaps between categories. I was glad- the other two women who’d entered had already told me they weren’t going to try to race with me (makes me a little sad), so I decided I’d see if I could hang with the guys.
When the race started, a bunch of guys took off at full speed. I was near the back of the fast people when I rounded a corner to see one of them getting back on his bike. The slowdown was enough to let Matt and the other guys get down the trail and out of sight. I was immediately on the wrecked guy’s wheel, but didn’t ask to get around because it was pretty obvious that he was faster, but just needed to get his shit back together after wrecking. I was right, and soon enough, on the first climb, he disappeared into the woods, and I was alone.
I had a hard time getting into the hills at first. They were too long to be punchy and generally too short to get a good rhythm going. It took me a solid half hour to get a feel for the gear to use to get up as quickly as possible without blowing up halfway through. Between hills, the trail was crazy fast and flowy with lots of baby berms and perfect dirt. Pretty soon, I was motoring along and waiting for the guys ahead of me to get tired.
It wasn’t long before I saw a group of three guys at the top of a climb when I was at the bottom. I knew they had to be fading.
(caution- dubstep content)
I resisted the urge to catch them immediately and kept motoring at the same pace. It took what seemed like forever, but eventually, I was on Matt’s wheel (I wasn’t sure where the other guys were). He said he was having a bad day and let me around at a doubletrack spot in the trail. We about 1.5 hours in, so I kept the hammer down in search of the other two guys who I’d seen with him earlier.
I never felt tired, and found both of them within the next 15 miles. After ripping through the last couple of miles of race course, I quickly found myself climbing the road up from the trail to the finish line
Matt finished about 10 minutes later, and the 2nd place woman was about 5 minutes behind him. Our other Memphis friends, who’d raced the shorter versions, had great days as well. If you haven’t checked this trail/race out yet, I’d highly recommend marking it on your calendar for next year.
In paved-road news, My new road bike arrived exactly two weeks ago, and it is, quite possibly, the most amazing piece of carbon ever to leave a factory in Taiwan. I want to post a bunch of photos, but I’ve been (vainly) holding off because I’m waiting on a set of bottle cages that I ordered through the shop nearly 3 weeks ago. Hopefully they’ll be here this week, and I can show off the finished product.