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Perry Lake's Crocodile Rock
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Steve Irwin's got nothing on me...

Many of you know Steve Irwin as that adventure hunting Aussie from the Australia Zoo.  Seen regularly on the Animal planet taunting menacing bad tempered crocodiles Steve occasionally feels the crocs wrath! 

      Team LATRs Osborne member, 16 year old Josh Davison and I ventured over to Lake Perry for Lyle Riedys Crocodile Rock.  Race #13 of the Midwest Fat Tire Series on October 13th lived up to the number 13s reputation for suffering.  A pro MTB racer once said winning Mountain bike races is all about who is the most willing to suffer.  If thats the case several winning MTB racers gathered at Perry Saturday for a pre-ride and communal campout.  With overnight lows forecast near freezing, I would say a willingness to suffer was apparent in all.  A large bonfire and quantities of beer reduced the suffering for some.  In my case it was several Ibuprofens, long johns and two sleeping bags... 

       

Saturday afternoon Josh and I joined up with Henry Bullock, a novice rider from Kansas City, to checkout the course.  Henry was fairly new to mountain biking.  Sunday's race was going to be his first event.  Josh was going to be competing in his second cross country bike race.  Josh's technical skills were much improved from his earlier spring race at Wilson Lake.  

      One lap around the 10 mile loop made it pretty apparent where the ride got its name.  Whipping through trees across boulder strewn trails the course made me think of the armored bump strewn topside of those grumpy prehistoric reptiles.  Several technical rock descents and trails skirting a 20 foot drop to Perrys barren waterfront had all the drama of trying to feed one of Irwins 13 foot crocodiles with a set of shortened chopsticks!  Nursing the wounded shoulder and still a bit apprehensive of rocky trails after the crash at Blue Springs I didn't have a real Olympic feeling about the next day's event.

      Sunday morning broke crisp and clear, the frost on my truck and my frozen nose proved Merril Teller called it right forecasting overnight lows of 32 degrees.  The clear skies and unobstructed sun quickly chased the frost back into the shaded trees, but my outlook for the days race remained chilled and gloomy.  As I was dressing for the warm up ride Josh pointed a missing knob on my front tire.  Closer inspection showed several missing knobs from the croc's rocky bite.  Instead of a pre-race warm up I spent the time swapping to back up tires with a little less grip than I was hoping for.  I completed the two tire change and sprinted to the registration table with minutes to spare before sign up for my class closed out.  A quick spin around the parking lot showed all systems go, (nothing fell off).

      I rolled up to the staging area to join seven other riders that all looked a lot more prepared to battle with the croc than I felt.  I anticipated the starters count down well and got a good start off the line.  Slamming through the gears I got up to speed fast and went into the single track leading the field.  With the rest of the pack breathing down my neck we negotiated the first few turns and climbs of the course. Less than a mile into the race however I knew my lead was not going to last.  The aggressive start already had me gasping for air.

      About a mile into the race, our group started catching up with the tail end of the 30 year olds that started a minute ahead of us.  Bullock was riding cautiously but consistently in the trailing group.  He did an excellent job moving over as we sped by.  I heard a familiar voice behind me as fellow racer Rick Farrant closed the gap preparing to make his bid for the lead. At the next climb Rick slashed by me. A few pedal strokes later another rider passed me.  My pace was starting to slow as we fought our way through traffic.  

     Even before the two mile mark I was out of steam.  Mike Bell another eastern rider was on my rear tire and coaxing me to close up the gap between us and the new leaders.  I told him I had nothing left and relinquished the trail to the faster rider.  I gave Mike a weak encouragement of "go get em" as he disappeared around the next corner.  Now it was just me and the croc battling for survival.  I knew my pace was way off when our team's younger rider caught me at the start of another climb.  Josh's class started a minute behind our group and he was coming on fast.  He skirted around on a wider section of the trail and also disappeared into the trees.

Behind me I could hear the clanging of other bikes bouncing through the rock garden, further decimating my resolve.  Or maybe it was the clashing jaws of Perrys Crocodile I heard closing in.  Somewhere around mile 3 I saw Josh stopped on the side of the trail.  It looked like Team LATR was not destined for good things today.  I found out after the race Josh was having problems with a leaky rear tire.  The course wrapped around in a figure 8 loop.  At the halfway point seeing my trucks comfy cab in the parking lot made it pretty tough to pedal on into the final section. By now the croc had caught me and its occasional nipping on my heels was slowing me down like molasses as the temperature drops.  I knew from the previous days pre-ride that the second half of the course was tougher and more technical than the first few miles.

      My left shoulder was screaming for a break and my right arm was beat from trying to carry more of the abuse.  By now the croc had a firm grip on my rear tire, even the flat sections felt like I was pulling dead weight.  A few smooth downhills got my speed up just enough to remind me how cool it still was back in the shadows of Perrys woodland trails.  Occasionally I would over take another straggler or two from the earlier class but there were four riders in my age group ahead of me that I would never see again. 

      Battling with riders through the tight rocky uphills on the back of the course sapped the last of my strength and I was only hoping for the resolve to finish.  The croc had a vise like grip on my lungs and was starting to do her death roll.  Eventually the trail turned back toward the parking lot and the start/finish line that seemed like I left a day ago was a few short miles away.  I started perking up a bit and increased my pace slightly.  My arms were like limp noodles at this point and the bike was riding me instead of the other way around.  It bounced back and forth not always picking the best lines through the trail.  Coming down a rugged rocky section towards a difficult switchback turn I tapped on the brakes.  My left arm collapsed under the strain of braking and the bike started going down.  I managed a very ungraceful dismount that kept me off the rocks, but the quick defensive maneuver brought the sound of that all too familiar pop from my left shoulder. 

            I dug the bike out of the brush and limped it around the switchback ahead.  I remounted and

pedaled on beaten and demoralized.  By now the Croc had me firmly in her jaws and was sliding back into the murky depths with my spirit.  The next 2 or 3 miles I rode the smooth parts and pushed the bike over the rougher sections.  Thankfully the last mile or so was fairly smooth riding.  I managed a valiant sprint at the finish before rolling to the snow fence with my helmet on the bars and that damn croc picking her teeth with my shattered hopes of a podium finish. 

      Even with the less than stellar ride I managed to hold on for a 5th place finish.  Josh came across the line a short time later, after stopping three times to add air to his leaky rear tire.  He went from first to fifth as well.  Our new friend Henry finished his inaugural race second to last.  He survived, and gained a little confidence for the next one.  For complete race results listing check the Midwest Fat Tire website at www.midwestfattire.com

      The final series event is October 27th at Clinton Lake for the Race with the Devil.  I hope the devil is a little slower than the Croc was!

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