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 croc's wrath!
Team LATR's Osborne member, 16 year old Josh Davison and I ventured over to Lake Perry for Lyle Riedy's 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 that's 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 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 it's name. Whipping through trees and across boulder strewn trails the course made me think of the armored bumpy 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 Irwin's 13 foot crocodiles with a set of shortened chopsticks! Nursing my 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 race.
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 day's 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 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 did. I anticipated the starter's 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 the leaders in our class 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 around the slower riders.
Around the two mile mark I was running 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 one minute behind my 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 truck with it's comfrotable seats in the parking lot made it pretty tough to pedal away into the final section. By now the croc had caught up with me and it's occasional nipping on my heels was slowing me down like molasses in December. I knew from the previous day's 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. I think 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 Perry's 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 firm grip on me and was beginning 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. 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 Sugar 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 Sugar out of the brush and limped her around the switchback ahead. I remounted and pedaled on beaten and demoralized. The Croc had me 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 ½ 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. Two minutes ahead of the second place points holder in the series I maintained my lead in the series with a slim three point margin. Josh came across the finish 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.
The croc inflicted a few wounds from other riders much worse than my broken pride. Jennifer Tilley was nursing a battered right knee after winning the expert woman's class. Another rider visited the portable first aid boxes before departing for more sterile surroundings for a couple leg lacerations. New friend and fellow Sugar rider, JL Cleland danced across the Croc's back in the 50+ sport class finishing second. Team LATR's Pittsburg connection Don Sotta finished 4th in the Croc's 40-49 Sport class. Don made a mid season jump from beginner to Sport earlier this summer and has been posting some impressive finishes. A second place finish at his first sport race on Knob Knoster's rugged course followed by a 3rd at the teeth shattering trails of the KC cup has shown Don skills are up to the challenge of the Sport class roster. I am not looking forward to chasing him next year!
Even after being swallowed whole by Perry's Croc I, like my old buddy Steve Irwin, just can't help but know I will being going back and trying to grab that rock biters tail again. Lyle and company put on a good event, nice awards, swag, and enjoyable company around the campfire. Perry Lake is definitely a beautiful Lake to visit, and there is an abundance of firewood for those 40 degree campouts!