Race Report: Cascade Chainbreaker - Pavlovian suck fest with a sandwich

My bike. Because it looked better than me.
This was the 3rd year I've done the Cascade Chainbreaker in Bend. I like the course. It's got a stupid busy section close to the start/finish that's great for spectators and then it winds out on some genuinely fun single track. It's got a few punchy climbs but not too much of anything, so the whole race seems manageable. When I say "manageable", I mean that in a sort of theoretical sense. If you started off by yourself with a full hydration pack, following a nice breakfast, you'd be able to ride the whole course and finish with a smile on your face in time for lunch. If, on the other hand, you started off with a mini hydration pack designed for a six year old, did so with 350 other riders, and someone was cranking the weather dial all the way over to broil while you were riding, the overall experience would be a bit more... unspeakably horrible. You might still finish in time for lunch, but you'd just cough up dirt and bitter disappointment all over your sandwich.

And that was pretty much how it all went down last Saturday (though I was totally wrong about the sandwich - more on that later). The first year I did this race it snowed the whole time. The second year it was in the upper 70's and I made the podium for the first time in like forever. This year it was 90 degrees, I was racing Cat II with twice the distance, and let's just say the podium was a long, long way away.

Lots of things made this race a challenge for me but the killer really seemed to be that I had forgotten what hot was. I knew it was going to be 85-90. I knew there was sketchy shade on the course. I watched a Cat II rider collapse last year with heat exhaustion. I had plenty of information and experience to tell me I should have been hydroloading like crazy and freezing water bottles for the race. But I had slogged through hours of rain and mud and nearly died of hypothermia a few weeks earlier at the Mudslinger and for the life of me,  I just couldn't reconcile those two realities. As I was getting my kit on I kept thinking "should I put leg warmers on?" despite the fact that it was already 80 out. I kept looking at the sky expecting something to dribble on me. When reality is that elusive to you, race prep is a bit more challenging.

I had decided that my regular hydration pack that easily holds three bottles of water was too dorky to wear and instead packed a bright red, tiny pack that only held a bottle and a half. I'm still not sure of the calculations I was using that resulted in my thinking that was a good decision. I don't know why I thought one hydration pack would look better on me than another and I don't know why I would make that fashion choice standing in the middle of nowhere with shaved legs and wearing matching skin tight spandex bib shorts and jersey.

But, that's what I did. So, brimming with an amazing lack of fashion sense, situational awareness, and probably early-onset heat exhaustion, I checked in with the rest of the Sappo Hill crew and lined up at the start.

I did do a few things right. I packed extra food and swallowed a few Endurolyte capsules before the gun went off. Despite the ridiculous pack, I was carrying 2 1/2 bottles and there was an aid station I passed twice. I probably would have been fine with hydration except the race turned out to be 28 miles long instead of 25. Those last couple miles were B movie shuffling through the sandy desert awful!

I staged myself pretty far back at the start knowing I wasn't going to be particularly strong my first full season as a Cat II racer and I didn't want to spend the whole race getting out of the way of faster riders. That worked for about 3/4 of the first lap. Then the fast Cat III riders started overtaking me. Then the really fast Cat I riders showed up to lap me.  I picked off a few riders here and there but by the time I was winding up the second lap, pulling off the trail to let people by was pretty much an unconscious act. The last guy I let by was only about 100 yards from the finish and it turned out he was Cat II.

I crossed the finish second to last in my age bracket. My bike sounded like a can of gravel, the dust having worked its way into every moving part. My child's hydration pack was empty. There were a few sips left in my bottle but the last mile of the race ran through the stupid busy section with sudden climbs, wooden features to ride over and constant changeups. There was no time to let go of the bars to drink.

Completely shelled, I dropped the bike in the bushes, found a cooler with a can of coke and sat down in the shade with another racer who had come in about the same time. We both shared the moment by coughing up dirt at each other for about 5 minutes. That hygiene ritual completed I headed back to the truck relieved that the day's effort and bad decisions were done. I rolled slowly back down the road past dozens of riders trying to clean dozens of miles of Bend dust off themselves with baby wipes. Piles of filthy towelettes were growing by every car and truck. I got to my truck and pulled my sun shower out of the back, hung it in a tree, stripped down to my shorts and took a nice shower. I changed into clean clothes and knocked back an ice cold bottle of water I had waiting in the cooler.

I may not have been fast, but I was clean and for a few minutes, better racers looked at me with unconcealed envy.

During the 3 hour drive back over the Cascades to home I had plenty of time to think about what could have gone better. I figured I lost 10 minutes to heat and maybe 5 to traffic. I should have eaten more before the start too. I was slower than last year at the lap split but my confidence was better in the few technical sections.

I pondered this until I got to Salem, about a half hour from home. By then it was 5:30 and I'd been eating nothing but gels, chews, and Honey Stinger waffles all day and I was about to pass out. I remembered there was a Sandwich Express - a local sandwich shop chain that I eat at quite often - across the road from the Bikini Espresso Stand that I was just driving by. I pulled a quick U-turn, rolled through the drive through and after an interminable 5 minute wait, departed with a 6" grilled ham, egg, and cheese sandwich.

It was the greatest sandwich I have ever eaten in my life.

I had inhaled the thing before I got through downtown Salem and I basked in the glow of gustatory bliss all the way to Dallas. That sandwich was the kind of cardiovascular nightmare that makes nutritionists shake their fists to the Heavens but I will tell you with complete confidence that every gram of that sandwich was put to good use by my body for the rest of the drive home.

I suppose I should worry a bit that eating a sandwich would be the most rewarding moment of a day of racing. On the other hand, it was an awesome sandwich and I should probably take my rewards where I find them. I have a feeling it's going to be a long racing season.


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