How to Survive a Monsoon and Kick Ass at a MTB Race

It’s been a while since I updated my good ol’ blog so bear with me as I get back into the swing of writing. I’m going to jump right in to my first mountain bike race of the season story.
I headed out on Easter weekend to Schenectady from Ithaca: About a 3 hour drive to participate in the HRRT Easter Race at Central Park. I was excited to do a solo camping trip while up there and packed up the car with the essentials: tent, bike, bike gear, dog, sleeping bag. Then I headed out of town.
Now, in general, I am a pretty good planner. I’m a real Type A personality who likes to have calendars and watches and everything organized. But when it comes to planning trips, I’m a disaster. I ONLY think about big picture. I NEVER think about what I MIGHT need. I don’t have many faults (in my opinion) but this is one of them.
I arrived in Schenectady and checked out the race course in sunny 70 degree weather. Central Park is a very small but very technical little park with a lot of twisty, fast single track and a good deal of root sections and ladders that will make you want to throw your bike a few times. I had a blast and even though Central Park is only about one square mile, they managed to squeeze out 5 solid miles of good, fun and technical single track.
As the sun started going down, I decided to find a place to camp. No, I didn’t reserve a place ahead of time. I had looked up a few RV camps and figured I would just go to one and pitch a tent. Easy, cheesy. I drove to the closest spot and found that the only people around were snow birds in their cozy RVs. I called the office and they said they didn’t open for another week. Hm. On the west coast, May is the start of the camping season but apparently it isn’t until the END of May that camping starts in upstate New York. Rut-roh.
After calling three different places and failing, it was starting to get dark and my hope for an awesome solo camping trip was dwindling by the minute. I finally got a hold of a place called Deer Run Camp Grounds and they said they would let me camp there for $10. Sweet! It was about 30 minutes away from Schenectady but totally easy to get to.
I checked in at the front office/general store, I headed out to my space #154. It was a beaut of a spot. My camping space was a 10X15 space in between an RV with wind chimes and yard deer and a full size sun room and deck for an RV that would be back soon.
the camping spot
I’m going to be honest. I have had my tent for close to 10 years but have never had to put it up by myself. My tent is a definite two man operation. It’s big and takes a one, two, heave to get the thing upright and locked. I struggled for about 15 minutes while feeling the eyes of middle aged q-tip heads peeking out of heated and insulated blinds in their cush RVs. After a few tears sprouted to my eyes (yes, it’s frustrating sometimes doing things for the first time single…) my determination shined through and I got that tent up like a champ.

the tent is up! Beer time.

Feeling that I wholly deserved a beer for all that hard work under the watchful eye of retirees, I packed the dog into the car and loaded my GPS for the nearest bar. I found this place. A real gem. I walked into the “townies” door rather than the “restaurant” door and was greeted by a couple pool tables, a few townies and a long bar with a few good beers on tap. After chumming it up with the townies, getting a little buzzed and learning all about the operations of a small town like Mechanicville, NY, it was time to head back to home sweet home.
I’m going to digress for a moment and discuss my natural behaviors in camping. I show up and camp. That’s it. It’s never been thought out any deeper than that. When I used to camp in Washington state, we never used the stakes. We were always in the middle of the woods and protected by trees. We always had a million lanterns, a shit ton of alcohol and coolers full of food. I don’t know how it happened. It just always did. When I got back to my camp spot, this is what I found:

blowing in the wind...

A little buzzed and really happy I was doing a cool thing ON MY OWN! I just flipped the thing over and got right in. Hm. It was dark. Where was the flashlight?? Oh, right. I did all the packing. No flashlight. I used my phone to search through my bag for my toothbrush, leaned my body out the tent to brusha brusha, whiped my mouth on my sweatshirt (who cares? I’m camping!) and I snuggled into my sleeping bag (borrowed) and fell asleep.
Around midnight I was woken up by massive winds that were trying to flip my tent over again. The tent was literally up on it’s haunches and I was stuck in a crevice. I can fix that. I moved to the middle of the tent and threw my stuff over to the side that the wind was coming in at. Problem solved. I snuggled back into my (borrowed) sleeping bag.
At about 2:00 AM I was awoken by some MASSIVE thunder and some SERIOUS rain. It was clear that I was in the middle of a monsoon. All I could think about was my sweet precious bike that was getting soaked on the top of my car and the gnarly roots and bridges I was going to have to race over in the morning. Not much I could do about either at that point so I went back to sleep.
I woke up again at 3, 4, 5 and 6 cold and wondering when the wind and rain was going to at least just…subside. Rain and winds were whipping my tent for a total of 4 hours with no signs of letting up. Giving up on sleep, I threw my tent in the car and decided to head into town for some coffee and breakfast.

soggy tent

After breakfast, I headed over to Central Park to try and take a nap and wait for the rain to subside. The rain let up around 10AM and racers started showing up for the race. I was starting to get excited. And nervous.
I signed up, paid and got my number plate. Yee-haw!!
I spent a half hour warming up on a hill nearby and waited for the racing line up. One complaint I have about the race is that we were started as one big mob. A free for all. I stayed in the back where the ladies were supposed to be and rather than starting us by class, we were all let go at the same time…me in the back with some girls and the rest of the girls right up front. Bummer. For a race like this with rooty, muddy and technical single track, this can kill your chances completely. We started off and got bottle necked on the first part of single track. Being stuck behind about 20 other people, I hiked my bike and waited my turn to make it up the hill and over a bridge and a few logs.
My head was messed up. I was frustrated to start in the back. I was frustrated with my breathing. My legs were screaming. I was doubting my ability…
I pushed through and kept reminding myself to “pedal, dammit!” and just kept pushing along. About halfway through the first lap, I decided to just do my best (it was so SLICK!) and to get over what I could (it’s okay if you have to walk a bridge!) and hope for a better 2nd lap.
 I came through the finish line and headed back up the hill for my second lap. I slammed through the first bridge, made it over the logs and started beating the dirt and finding my rhythm. I started having fun. I started smiling to myself. I started whooping at other riders and cheering them on. I started to race.
I came through the finish line strong and proud. I had no idea what place I made but I had turned my thinking around, definitely had done better my second lap and just finished my first race of the season. AWESOME. I was just…happy. I love my bike. I love mountain biking. I love the community of mountain bikers.
Turns out, I didn’t do too bad. I placed 2nd out of 4 and had a great time with my new friends from HRRT and the Renegades at a local bar. If you ever want to ride bikes with good people followed by beers afterward, look up the folks at HRRT or the Renegades. Two totally cool groups of bikers. We talked about the next event – Dirt Fest and agreed to have plenty of beers there together as well.
I hopped back in the Suby and headed back to Ithaca. Life is good. Let’s go ride bikes.

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