I was up and out of bed at 6:15 to head to Gaylord. Why so early? Well, it is a 3-1/2 drive from my town south of Grand Rapids all the way up to Gaylord. Why was I going? Well, as of Friday when registration closed...there were zero people signed up in my class. So why not? Originally a few teammates were planning on going but other responsibilities arose and I headed up solo.
|That hill doesn't look "that bad"|
The drive was fairly uneventful. The skies kept changing from a full blanket of clouds to a light blanket of clouds to some light rain. When I arrived the clouds opened and the temperature rose to the mid 70's. I waltzed to the registration table and signed up. At that time...I was the second person in my class. Off to a good start....all I have to do is finish for a 2nd place. Sweet. Worth the drive.
Watching the Experts and Elites I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into. When the fast guys are riding slower....that is never good for a rider like me. But....oh well....still have 2nd right?
Then it was time to line up. The Sport class was pretty thin. They were combining and riders were sliding by to the start line. When it was time to go there were three Sport Clydes on the line. Sweet. All I have to do is finish.
|Half way up the first climb|
Ready. Set. GO!
Done. The first climb was awful. Best part....only 3 more times. I was around a small group of riders as I got to the top. I caught a guy from the class in front of me and never saw him again. The first climb just kept going and going. Then it kicked. I don't know if I could have ridden that hill last year when I was the strongest I have ever been. It was so steep. At the top you get a short bit of respite. A quick downhill to a small paved uphill. Then to the singletrack. The trail shoots off a cart path for the golf course and dives into the woods between the driving range and one of the tee boxes. The trail is rough. Barely ridden. Tight. Loose dirt. Tough.
I meander my way though the woods and shoot out onto the back side of the ski hill. Then the second nasty climb. It is short...but crazy steep. I have to walk. Doesn't matter. I push up the hill and cruise back down the front of the ski hill....actually crossing the uphill from the first climb. There are already people coming through on their second lap. I am crushed already. HA. I press on.
The next climb is ugly. Long. Steep. Never ending. Awful. I barely even put a dent into it before I have to walk again. Have I mentioned I am heavy...and a strict non-climber? Yeah...that is rearing it's ugly head at this point. After an eternity I reach the top. Grab a drink of water and dive into the next singletrack section. Decent little stretch then BOOM. Huge steep climb. Legs are already cooked. I walk. So what. I am here. Trying my best. Doing what I love. After some very dodgy and technical downhill switchbacks the trail gives way to the pavement and I bomb down to the start finish line. That was only 1 lap....ugh.
|View back down the first climb|
Second lap was worse. 8 minutes slower than the first. But I was in what little groove I had. This course is hard to find any rhythm on. Just when you do there is a nasty switchback or a kicker or just something else. Mentally I checked out on the first lap. I was just riding at this point....there was no "race" left in me. Just finish.
The trees finally give way again and I head down to the start finish area. Halfway done. Sweet. I swing to the right of the hill where I stashed my cooler and swapped bottles. Just as I get back on my bike I hear "keep pushing dude"....from the guy that is in 2nd place in my class. Lapped....half way through the race. But....I had 3rd locked up. So....again...whatever.
|Another view from the top of the ski hill|
Slowly I churned away. I was tired. I was still trying to ride what I could...which wasn't much. Still, the people I did see where offering encouragement. Keep going. Just keep those wheels rolling Sean. you got this. Lap 3....finally finished. I crossed the line and I hear Ted R on the microphone. "Passing thru is Sean Evans! He is in 3rd place. Keep going buddy! Still a smile on his face". Yes, for some damn reason I was still smiling. Maybe I was still having fun as miserable as it was. No, I really was still having fun. Like it or not....I was in 3rd place rolling on the hardest course I have ever ridden. Ever. Worse than LJ100. Worse than Ore 2 Shore. Worse than anything. Brent said "this is the toughest course in Michigan".....I agree.
Last lap....walking. More walking. Then as I pass across the course on the front of the ski hill I hear Ted calling the awards. Ugh. I didn't even make it back for awards. lol. Oh well. Top of the last steep climb I grab a banana and fuel up. Then I hit the last singletrack. I get that excitement that I am almost done...but it left as soon as I hit the nasty climb in that section. I just smile and say "what the hell am I doing out here".....to which I remember "taking 3rd". So I trek down the switchbacks and the woods open up one last time to the pavement. I get a spark and bomb down the hill and crush the finish. Surely this was the fastest I had ridden all day. Hey, people are watching after all.
I get cleaned up and catch the last part of Beginner awards. Ted calls me up and I collect my plaque. Earned. The single hardest race I have ever done. So yes.....I was slow. Doesn't matter. I showed up...and I raced to my current level. Crushed? Sure, but that doesn't matter either. I took a chance that I would land a podium and I was successful. My second sport podium.
Will I ever do this race again? Well, depends on how many people sign up.....