[Also posted at MTBVT.com]
Okay, it’s not mountain biking, but it did involve riding on a lot of dirt. It was pretty cool, too. This weekend was the first running of the Dirty 40. I had registered earlier this summer and was planning on using my single-speed mountain bike set up with a rigid fork. With 40 miles of dirt roads and another 20 of pavement, that probably would not have been my best choice. I ended up taking my Jamis ‘cross bike, which worked quite well. This might have been a road event, but I did not fit the mold at all: fenders, tail light, hydration pack, unshaved legs and baggy shorts. There were quite a few others who, likewise, were on commuter bikes or, even better, mountain bikes, although, the majority of the nearly 400 riders were on cyclocross or road bikes.
As we rolled out, I was still debating whether I was going to run this as a race or just enjoy it as a ride. We had a “neutral start” for the first couple of miles leading out of Derby. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable riding in a big pack makes me. One of my gripes about road racing has always been that you can be doing everything right and some other knuckle-head can make a bad decision and bring you down. Not only do you go down, but you get to be run over by dozens or more riders immediately following you. Thankfully, my fears were baseless and nothing resembling that scenario actually happened.
The weather for the day started out nearly perfect. It was a little humid, which after a few miles on the road had me dripping sweat onto my stem and top tube. Due to the numerous climbs in the first portion of the race, I was a little concerned about taking in enough water. I settled into a bit of groove which was neither full-on racing, nor was it a leisurely ride. I connected with a few other guys I know which made for good conversation as well as a nice pace. We worked.
After a few more miles of climbing, the field was stretched out into numerous small groups. It was really fun motoring along in a pack on the gravel roads. The small group I was with started to pick up more and more riders somewhere after the 30 mile mark. We grew to well over 30 riders and the speed really cranked up. There was a small group of women racers that were generally up front and pushed the pace at times. When we hit the final aid station, our big pack splintered. I stopped to get some more water and took a minute to eat something.
I was told that we were pretty close to the 44 mile point by someone at the station. After a few minutes of adjustment, I hit the gravel again with no pack to ride with. In fact, I managed to put myself out on the road completely alone. I figured I’d be able to catch up with someone or have a faster group pick me up so I would have some other riders to work with. That never materialized and I rode all of the remaining 16 miles entirely solo. Riding solo wasn’t so bad, and I was able to keep up a strong pace. I would occasionally catch a glimpse of some riders ahead of me but was never able to reel them in.
Things were going well as I made my way over the final miles through Newport. Well, until we hit the final dirt road section which was, without question, the steepest climb of the day. As I rode up, I noticed many footprints from riders who had walked the hill with their bike shoes. Not fun. Shortly after the hill were markers along the route giving us a countdown of the remaining distance in 1km intervals. It was nice to have a little sense that the end was in sight.
I was spent, but not suffering as I rolled my way in to the finish at 3:35. After recovering for a few minutes, I was on the quest for some food. Quite a few people were hitting the ice cream shop in front of the area where we started. There was an apres-velo party down the road a few miles later that afternoon. I decided in favor of a burger and hot shower, which felt great after an awesome day of riding. They folks that put on this race did an amazing job. It’s pretty impressive to get the kind of turnout they did for the first time hosting a race. As I understand it, they raised several thousand dollars for the Halo foundation. Congratulations on a job well done.