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Clinton's Ride with the Devil

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The Devil's Primordial Ooze by T Spradley

October 27th the Fat Tire series ended with the Ride with the Devil, at Clinton Lake near Lawrence KS.  The devil didn't want to come out and play, so he sent his demons of cold and rain to make sure nobody else would ride without him.  However he underestimated the resolve of a midwest mountain biker.  Steady rain, a low hanging fog, and mercury shrinking temperatures in the lower 40's gave the race venue a chilling headless horseman like atmosphere.  

            I spent Saturday night in a Lawrence hotel along with the speedy single speed riders Doug and Cameron Chambers from Golden Belt Bicycle.  The rains that were supposed to hold off until later in day were already spattering off the hotel windows when I woke up Sunday morning.  Doug and Cameron are a bit more of a morning person than I am.  An early morning call informed me they were off to breakfast then out to check out the course.  I was on my second cigarette and contemplating a shower.

            Driving out to the lake in a steady rain I half expected to see nothing more than a sign saying "race cancelled".  My spirits rose a bit as I rolled up to the registration point and saw race promoter Gerard Arantowicz standing alone under the dripping wooden shelter house.  We both sat and bemoaned the dismal weather and the possibilities of pulling a race out of the primordial ooze.  Gerard"s wife Erin showed up with the announcement that the phone had been ringing off the hook with riders inquiring about the race.  Doug and Cameron pulled into the parking swamp.  A few other riders started straggling in from the storm.  Then out of the fog bank a line of vehicles with bike racks and handle bars protruding from their silhouettes followed the wet asphalt road towards the shelter house, kind of reminiscent of the final scene in Field of Dreams.

            As the riders filed in so did the rest of Gerard's crew.  Soon Phil Smetak was warming up the grill and passing out hotdogs to warm up riders stomachs.  Jenny Clark joined Erin Arantowicz at the registration table and rider sign up commenced.  Course designers Mike Goodwin and Roger Harrison huddled up with LMBC members Brian Bass, William Flores and Larry Spray to discuss the fate of the now rain soaked course.           

            Because of the steady rains the majority of the lowlands and tree trails were soaked beyond being ride-able.  Soon Gerard and his track designers set out like mythical gnomes into the distant fog.  The growing group of determined racers huddled under the shelter house talking of other rides and avoiding the obvious conversation of the weather conditions and challenges to come.  The cold west wind blew the fog from the lowlands and Clinton"s frigid lake came into view beyond the tree line.  Groups of bikers slowly started warming up in the light drizzling rain. 

            A short time later Gerard's crew reappeared from the fog with the announcement that a ride-able course was now in hand.  In an effort to get the race in before the storm clouds gathered their strength and released more showers it was decided that all class would be on the course at the same time.  Expert, Sport, and single speed classes departed ahead of us in one minute intervals.  The pre-race adrenaline had displaced some of the gloom's chill, and finally our group rolled up to the start line.  Gerard counted down the seconds until our classes burst off the start line, all age groups leaving in mass. 

            The first few yards of the race were on pavement and then onto hard packed walking trails.  For a while, a short while, knobby tires sang on the firm surfaces as riders jockeyed for position and picked up speed.  A rider's dab on a rocky gully crossing bunched up several riders.  I saw a possible opening on the right side and managed to bounce around several of the jammed up riders.  After another short section of pavement, the terrain and the pace changed dramatically.  The terrain was soft sucking at rider's tires and the air in our lungs.  It got worse, soon the grass trails turned to muddy paths, a rocky steep banked creek crossing, and several climbs.  Up and down slick, muddy woodland paths, a long winding climb sucked the strength from your legs and left you praying for the next downhill. The course wound around the tree line and eventually back to the start/finish line for another lap. 

           Going through the wet lands back on the cycle cross hill the atmosphere had a crisp Halloween feel to it.  I half expected to see Ichabod Crane come flying around one of the blind corners.  I rode through it occasionally catching glimpses of riders I knew along sections where the course doubled back on itself.  A younger rider on his first outing and Leely Lundgren, a strong female rider traded leads with me several times throughout the course.  Leely eventually left me sucking wind.  All along the muck Gerard's support crew watched the road crossing and corners, calling out hidden obstacles and cheering each rider on as they passed by. 

            Brian had broken free of the crowd and as I crested the top of a long climb on my first lap I caught sight of him near the bottom.  He was the only other Team rider in sight and the only other rider I knew to be in my age class.  The mass start and various rider bottlenecks in the first mile of the race left me a little uncertain of where we were in our class standings.  Cale was riding a minute or so behind us.  Dan and Mark were still in the lowland's ooze, presumably running from the headless horseman.

            Not knowing whether Brian and I were leading or trailing others in our class kept us riding hard.  Riding the lowlands the second time around was like pedaling across a sponge.  The lower sections and creek crossing were churned into slick slimy mud pits by the legions of passing tires.  Riding through many of them was basically a controlled skid until your wheels hit firmer ground.  Splattered-on mud and grass started clogging derailleur gears and the familiar clicking of missed shifts emanated from the rear of the bike.  A few fast downhills and the short asphalt sections provided some speed and solid footing to throw off a little of the clinging terra firma. 

            While Brian, Cale and I battled it out near the front of the pack, Mark took on the role of team cheerleader and Good Samaritan.  He paired up with Brunsell for mutual support through the lowland muck, then stopped later to assist another biker having problems with a low tire.  Mark's good deeds netted him his traditional 6th place finish at 1:37:40.  Dan pushed through the hills and dells for an impressive 4th place finish coming in at 1:26:35.  Cale finished 3rd in his class.  The official timers missed his exact time but he finished at approximately 1:05.

            Brian Holdsworth had another good ride finishing second in our class with a time of 1:03:44.  I finally overcame my Clinton lake curse and managed to hold onto a lead, for a change, winning our class at 1 hour 3 minutes and 6 seconds.  In the series points chase I made up 4 points on Blue Springs rider Gerald Rau, unfortunately I needed 10. Rau attended two more races than I did during the season and I couldn't quite overcome his advantage.  He finished with a total of 159 to my 153 points capturing the Midwest Fat Tire Series 40+ Beginners title for '02.

            Cameron finished first in the single speed class.  Doug ran out of steam just before the end of the race and ended up in third place.  The devil never made an appearance but the Grim Reaper showed up to claim the last place finisher in a couple of classes.  Several riders had some good runs in the devil's muck, too many to list them all here.  Full race results should be listed on the Fat Tire Series website at www.midwestfattire.com.  Gerard provided nice plaques, t-shirts, cash and copies of his latest publication Differences to the winners of the various classes.  G and his support volunteers did a fine job pulling a race out of the Devil's primordial ooze. Clinton's little black ghost even seemed on his better behavior and left most alone to battle the elements instead of his trickery.

 

Clinton's Primodial Ooze...
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