Spring Thaw

What with getting cancer and all, a vacation certainly seemed like it was in order. Heading south to the warmer weather in Ashland to do the Spring Thaw bike race was just the ticket. It's one of my favorites. The cat III course is only nine miles. The support is outstanding and the race finishes in Lithia Park with hours of loafing and free beer!

We stay up at my sister's cabin in the Greensprings about 30 miles from town. It's quiet and beautiful and it was a relief to be off and away.We had a chance to process a bit and talk about what to do next. But first we had a race to run.

Bike racing has turned into something of a family affair for us. Maddie, my niece, guilted me into doing this race a year ago, ending a 12 year hiatus in my riding. Her dad podiums in CAT II pretty regularly and this year my sister decided she could beat me so she joined the fray. Carolyn would have been left at the sidelines except that Maddie was benched following some leg surgery so they cheered us on. Mallory and I would be racing the same class. Mallory's been training on the course for months and reports were, she was strong on the climbs and getting faster on the descents. Her weakness is a tank of a bicycle and a natural aversion to technical descents. I hadn't been on the course in a year but I'm no sloouch on the climbs thanks to Mr Hill across our valley and I'm running a lighter, full suspension bike. I also get to practice my downhilling at Black Rock so I figured I could hold her off.

I pre-rode the course the day before the race. I basically snuck into town, parked out of site, and headed out to the course. We have quite a few friends in Ashland and on any other trip I would have called them to get together. I just couldn't muster the energy to either lie when asked how we were doing or explain to everyone what was going on.

I've always loved riding down in Ashland. It feels familiar. The Cat III course rolls out of Lithia Park on pavement for several miles of gentle uphill. It eventually changes to dirt and makes a hard hairpin into a steep dirt road climb. This begins the 4 mile slog to the White Rabbit trail and the beginning of the single track. I struck up a conversation with a woman who was planning to race tomorrow as well. She fell back to ride with her husband and I pedaled on. I felt really good. The road is shadey and the grade not so steep that you feel like your legs and lungs are going to burst. Cresting White Rabbit, I got on to some fun single track and picked the pace up. Wound up the last of the fire road, hopped on to Caterpillar and zigged down the trail at a nice clip. All was smooth until I started down the BTI trail. It's a nasty piece of work that switchbacks down a very exposed steep hillside. It's powdery rotten granite that's filled with braking bumps and has been "improved" with a mess of "doubles" - jumps you are meant to launch from one and land on another. It might be fun if you're a veteran black diamond downhiller with no concept of your own mortality, but for those of us whose cells are dying off faster than they're being replaced, it's downright terrifying, or at least annoying. Mallory's been fighting it for months. Last year, Maddie and I piled up on the crux switchback. Back then I was laughing so hard, I didn't care. This time I figured with a new bike and a year of practice at Black Rock, I'd sail down it, rail the berms, clean the switchbacks and dust the competition. Instead I clanked around, plowed into braking bumps, crawled over the doubles, fell off on the switchbacks and generally felt horrible. Limped back to the car and spent the evening whinging to anyone who'd listen about how that trail never should have been built.

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