Spring Thaw 2012: Things Change

May 19th Carolyn and I headed down to Ashland for the Spring Thaw cross country race. I've written about this race a few times over the years. It was my first race after a 12 year break. It was during the following year's race that we settled on my cancer treatment. We stay at my sister's up in the Greensprings and whatever life event is going on, attending this race is like coming home. This year was no different. Actually, that's not really true. It's a bit different every year - this year perhaps more than others.

The first big change was the venue. Since the 1980's this race has started and finished at the band shell in Lithia Park. This year the race started at the top of the park after the road turned to dirt. This was ostensibly for the safety of the riders but since this race has run from the middle of the park for 20 years without any major mishap, the move was more likely a result of growing tension between cyclists, park users, and residents.While some racers were happy to be off the pavement, it shortened the Ct III race to 6.7 miles which is really too short for a decent race.

Maybe the biggest change was Maddie missing the race. She was in Bend at a regional track meet on race day. Though the mountain bike races have always been more of a family activity to her than a competitive focus, it was still kind of sad not having her with us at the starting line. She's also 17 and will be heading off to college next year. My feral niece went and grew up on us. We knew that was going to happen of course, but contemplating that change certainly made me feel a bit sad. She was the one who talked me back into racing and despite my being 35 years older than her, I still sort of need her validation. Memo to myself: I should probably man up about this.

Racing has its way of giving you focus no matter how mopey you feel about the passing of time, the world at large, or all the other things you can't really control. Saturday dawned sunny and beautiful. Getting the kit on and loading the Westy got me back on task. We found a great parking space close to the start/finish, picked up our registration packets and did the usual warm up and socializing that goes on before a mountain bike race. Now that I'm an official Sappo Hill fanboy and actually got on the podium last week, I'm discovering an odd sense of belonging. People are genuinely glad to see me. After years of bouncing off of the culture of biking, I'm sort of fitting in, albeit in an enthusiastic man-child sort of way.

Cat III went off first. Mallory and I staged next to each other. Carolyn stood next to us snapping pictures. The count reached zero and we were off. I got a great start, immediately cementing my status as a scumbag brother by leaving Mallory in the dust. I was running third into the hairpin that starts the three mile climb to Lamb's Saddle. The pack bunched up there but I stayed in the front five or six until the top of the climb.  I had closed the gap on the lead group and was just starting to get around the back ones when the trail turned downhill.

I should pause at this point to mention that I've been putting long hours in on the trainer in the barn building strength and it seems to be working. The thing about trainers though, your bike is clamped in to them. It takes exactly zero skill to pedal furiously for an hour on one. They do nothing to prepare you for going down a twisty trail full of roots, rocks,  sand, and switchbacks - which was pretty much what the race course had become. The lead pack did a credible version of that thing space ships on Star Trek did when they went to warp; they seemed to stretch out a bit and then simply vanished. I, on the other hand, was doing a credible impersonation of someone in a wheelchair who had just been pushed down a set of stairs. I wobbled downhill for about 10 minutes wishing I was somebody else until I started to feel a bit of confidence returning. Then all the people I dropped on the climb began to catch up with me because unlike me, they actually rode their bikes in the woods.  I let one rider by on Caterpillar and two or three more on BTI. I was really missing my old Felt. The Yeti's a great climber but really twitchy on descents. I probably could have shaved a minute off the downhill with my old bike though I would have lost as much dragging it up the hill. Still, I was pretty fast getting up the course and while my descending skills might be generously described as "witheringly incompetent", I was still moving forward. I managed to hold on for 2nd in my bracket. The guy who came in first in the 45+ crowd was a solid four minutes faster. I looked up his stats and he's over 60. Some 60+ guy wiped the trail with me! I don't know why that makes me kind of happy.

Mallory came in five minutes later finishing first in her bracket and the second woman down the mountain. Joe, doing the long course, arrived a bit over an hour later finishing second in Cat I. He was a bit bloody. That's normal for him. Then we got a look at his saddle. Apparently he hit some huge jump at the top of Toothpick a lá Napoleon Dynamite. He did so with enough force to bend his seat almost in half. He and the bike must have parted ways before the seat impacted but the amount of force needed to get a 20 lb bike to do that to its seat simply boggles the mind!

So, despite all the change, or perhaps because of all the change, it was still a great weekend. I got my second podium and lots of props from the Sappo Hill team who love seeing their kit on the podium. The new venue turned out to be just fine. I'll miss the grass in front of the band shell but a few folding chairs, some beverages of questionable origin, and a family's worth of medals more than makes up for that. As much as I wish the Cat III course was longer, I'm headed to Cat II next year so it's not my problem any more.

One of the best things about Spring Thaw is the great vendor support. I got to test ride a carbon fiber Felt 29er. I asked Carolyn if I could buy it. She said no. As I might have mentioned, she's the smart one in our family.

I find inspiration in all sorts of places and especially with all sorts of people. A real high point of the day was getting to meet Melissa Norland who writes the Tri Fit Family blog. She's the nicest person who will ever kick your ass in a race. A mother of two young boys, she still competes at an elite level. We find so many excuses not to excel - jobs, family, time, the list goes on. It's great to meet people who quietly remind you that they are just excuses and you can always find time to be magnificent.

Maddie came home that night. She set a personal best in the 800 meter so she was pretty happy. She gives us her bedroom when we come down so she camps out on the futon in the living room. We went up to bed with Wargames playing on the DVD, dozing off to the sounds of global thermonuclear war. Sunday morning Joe made scones and gave Maddie a leg massage. Maddie looked like she wasn't going to venture too far from the futon that day. Carolyn is about to give running a try and Mallory was giving her advice and some background on the awesome orange minimalist running shoes she had just purchased. Apparently, after years of thick-soled, cushioned running shoes, they've decided that those old Tiger Nairobis I had in the 1970's that are like running barefoot, are much better for you after all. What goes around, I guess. Yes, things are changing. But change is good.

Cheers to that.

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