Another late post…but it’s a story to tell. Hopefully it’s the last race in the white stuff for a while! Homage to Ice is a mountain bike race held by Substance Projects, in Mansfield, Ontario. Mansfield is a great place full of sand, hills and endless single track. It also holds one of the earliest mountain bike events of the year. With a 25 km and 50 km distance (two laps of 25 km), it’s guaranteed to be an eye opener, and for many, the first mountain bike ride of the season.
Let’s not forget it’s also spring in Canada! That means anything can happen. Last year had ultra dry conditions. This year…well it was shaping up to be a mixed bag of everything in one day.
Heading up to the race course (2 hour drive) blatantly exposed what you don’t want to see when heading to a race; snow squalls, then sunshine, followed by another snow squall, then storm clouds, all with crosswinds strong enough to relocate my van on the road. That beautiful white stuff that we’re happy to see at Christmas time was collecting on the hillsides (in April) and the temps were never going to be anything but frigid! A good day for mountain biking if you live in Canada!
Getting ready for the race was a repeat mode from the drive. Blustery winds tipped bikes over that were resting against cars. The countryside was barely visible with the pelting snow that also mimicked acupuncture needles on any exposed skin. People ran for cover in their cars as their bikes lay unattended and at the mercy of the elements. Conditions were not ideal!
I tried to do a quick warm up down the road even wearing my down jacket, but the force of the wind almost blew me over. My face, even covered with a buff, froze. My lips resembled a visit to the dentist…stiff and incapable of forming words. Even my teeth hurt after attempting to breathe open-mouthed. I was starting to wonder if I had jumped through a worm hole and landed in Siberia! Retreating to an inner trail, hints of snow revealed that winter wasn’t over yet and the trees were bending like toothpicks against the forces of nature.
Everyone stood shivering as we waited at the start line hearing the rules of the race. It was evident…mountain bikers are a little twisted. Regardless of the conditions, we all got in our cars, drove quite a distance to stand in the freezing cold and were psyched about grinding our way through potentially snow-covered trails.
The start is what it has always been…a lung burner with a long, painful climb that guarantees to make a few implode. I stayed mid-pack and kept a moderate pace knowing there was 50 km of racing and blowing it in the 1st kilometre would mean 49 km of suffering. The pace didn’t matter, my lungs still burned from the cold and the phlegm bots were forming in my throat.
The trails went up and down, twisted and turned, over and around logs. Sandy double-track connected all the single track. Areas of elevation revealed lightly snow-covered hills with hints of spring green poking through. Throughout every section of pine forest the scenery was surreal…rusty-pine-needle coloured snaking trail, curving through snow-covered terrain. It was a magazine cover picture that was distracting enough to almost hit a tree.
Feeling great in the first lap even though my husband and I did a five hour road ride with 50 km/hr winds the previous day, I was enjoying my fitness. Holding 2nd place, I just kept reminding myself to keep it together. Shortly after, I was going into my 2nd lap and saw Linda Shin (an incredible racer and endurance queen) off in the sidelines…she had a mechanical and was out of the race. “Holy Sh*t! I’m in first,” went flying through my head. With no one in sight behind me, I was psyched.
The kilometres kept ticking away as I wove through the picturesque trails. Then, without warning, daggers stabbed my thighs. Full-on cramping and my legs were trying to retreat to somewhere in my upper body. Trying to ease on my pedalling, I used one leg at a time and tried to keep moving. The pain was intense. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt anger. “Keep pedalling or stop…but stop crying,” I told myself. My pace had turned to a crawl and it wasn’t long before I caught sight of two women.
They eventually caught up and I let them pass. It was survival mode and my goal became finishing. With 10 km to go, there was still a lot of riding and it’s never over until you cross the finish line.
The cramping came and went in waves…consequences of a big ride before a race. I knew it but I didn’t care. I went for a big ride with my husband and we shared a lot of quality time together and no race would take the place of that.
Looking forward to a bit of reprieve from the winding trails, there lay a wide-open section…a place of easy riding and an opportunity to hydrate. Well no…things had changed! The wind gusts were enough to tip a tractor trailer and I was tilting sideways as the piercing snow, sandblasted my face. There was no letting go of the handlebar even with one hand. I had choice words for that moment but I’ll leave them out for sensitive readers!
Finally reaching the sublime, frosted forest it wasn’t long before the finish line so I did what I could and pedalled to the end. Dismounting my bike was a bit of a task and I rode to the fence to gain support for fear of my legs cramping and tipping over in front of all those that finished before me.
Waiting for the results…I had no idea until the podium calls were made…3rd place in Open Women. I raced all age groups for women and managed to podium. Redeeming myself from my onset of food poisoning at the same race last year…it was shocking to hear my name. King Beer and a cow bell for a prize was definitely worth the trip. Substance Projects holds very family friendly, fun events that brings people together, enables everyone to enjoy a day out on their bikes and a chance to push themselves. I did all that, enjoyed it and I am looking forward to next year.