The Darkhorse 40 sits atop my "New England Mountain Bike Races I Care About" list alongside The Pinnacle. The difference between The Pinnacle and Darkhorse, though, is that EVERYONE knows how rad DH40 is. This year's race sold out in March, about 2 weeks after registration opened, capped at 400 racers. We can't be more than a few years away from a Vermont 50 style "full in 20 minutes" registration situation here.
This time around I made sure to get Christin involved, because I knew her love of DA BIG RING and DA NOT CLIMBING would mesh perfectly with DA HORSE.
The beauty of non-sanctioned MTB racing is simpler categories, so for men we had: Elite, Singlespeed, Sport, and Master. Thus! Fifty or more "elite" men lined up at 8:50. The promoter was ready to rock and told us we had "three minutes," which led to the field freaking out, because apparently everyone had a friend who wasn't lined up yet! (Start time was "9 AM"). Sure enough, over the next five minutes, at least ten guys rode up the start straight. PROmoter tip: starting early is NOT COOL.
Of course Hawaiian Shirt Mike is cool so we didn't go early.
Once underway it was the usual 2+ mile dirt road start, with enough climbing to get things SORTED. Kind of. Greg Whits and I hung out and talked about how cool we were and how we could see the front of the race.
At the singletrack we played a little game of "foot-down" where about 75% of riders got eliminated. I, however, did not!
Once onto the singletrack, the top ten riders immediately opened a gap on the rest of us because of THAT GUY. You know, THAT GUY who puts in a big effort right at the end of the road section, dive bombs his way into the singletrack, and then doesn't actually have a bike riding ability to hold the great position he just stole? Yeah. That guy!
Luckily with forty freakin miles to go, on a wicked humid day in the upper eighties, THAT GUY might just be saving your race. Of the ten dudes who got away... five of them finished in the top five. The other five melted like butter in a microwave and finished way back. I was bottled up, but it was... aight.
On the first rocky downhill, Greg was two riders ahead of me when he exploded like...uh.. an egg in a microwave. He popped up as soon as he hit the ground in that "I'm-full-of-adrenaline-and-I'm-ok" way. He was, of course, not really okay, because he had just broken his hand. Dammit Greg!
A mile or so later, dude in front of me decides to look down and futz with his water bottle in the singletrack. The Darkhorse 40 does not like when you disrespect it by breaking eye contact, so of course he clipped a sapling and YARD SALED all over the course in front of me. Much like Greg he adamantly proclaimed his okay-ness as I skidded to a stop to check on him, but alas he was never seen again.
I continued to be bottled up behind dudes. It was already effing hot. I was okay with this.
I decided that I was riding how you drive on snow -- easy on the gas, easy on the brakes. No sudden movements, smooth like water. Sounds a lot better than "riding lazy," right? My traveling companions were sprinting out of turns like Colin circa 2009, which is to say, too hard, too soon.
Eventually I filtered through the traffic and ended up with some clear air around mile 15. No longer contained by physical objects, I was unable to talk myself down any longer and started going hahdah, kid. I passed some guys who were reeling from the heat and their early efforts, and just about the time I decided I was going to pass everyone and win, some guy catches me from behind!
He was coming back from a flat and going fast. I upped it to definitely-unsustainable pace and we ripped singletrack together at ludicrous speed to finish the lap, catching more blown riders and getting informed that we were riding in "sixth or seventh."
Dude that's good!
Then the shenanigans started.
I was so hydrated that I decided to pee on the downhill on the gravel road to start lap two. I gave my endurance buddies a little gap, so that no one saw my pee-pee, and let it rip. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
I had just finished "tidying up" when A BEE FLEW IN MY HELMET AND STUNG ME! I immediately punched myself in the head frantically to deal with the situation. Then I tore my helmet off and rode into the ditch, despite the fact that I was on a straight, gravel, road.
My hopes that the bee was radioactive, and that I would gain some sort of honey-producing, flower-pollinating superpower, were crushed. The only superpower I acquired was the power to note that that one spot on my head hurt, every time I went hard for the rest of the race!
When all was said and done, my endurance buddies were now barely in sight on the road. I timed them at 25 seconds ahead, which is still basically a tie with 18 miles to race, right?
So then I flatted, just to make sure I'd never see them again.
I flatted right on the Greg-Whitney's-Third-Metacarpal Memorial Downhill, in fact. I was out of the saddle, but my tire pressure was low, and my sidewalls have seen probably a thousand miles of use, and I hit something bad with the back wheel. Whatever it was, I was dead flat and cursing within three seconds.
According to my Garmin I spent just under five minutes stopped fixing the flat. Is that good? Serious question. The major obstacle to flat fixage was the fact that, leaning over while stopped, sweat was pouring into my eyes at such a rate that I did most of the change with one or zero eyes open, working mainly by feel.
I think four elites and the top two singlespeeders went by during this time.
The second singlespeeder was my teammate Will, and I declared that I was "coming for him" as he rode past. He approved this plan, but then I took awhile putting all my stuff back together, and when I DID start going I felt like crap, so yeah, maybe I'm not coming for you after all, Will.
So flatting isn't cool, but it's kinda luck and kinda skill, so I'm not gonna make excuses (see title pic). Although if you want to take five minutes off my time on the results in your head....that IS cool.
For a while I entertained the notion of drilling it for the remaining hour of the race and making up all the time I had lost. Then I realized that the heat index was roughly one jillion and my primary concern was actually just getting to the finish.
At the mile 12 feed station the crowd was rowdy. They tried to give me water. I asked for a beer. The cheers were loud! I will assume that I had defended my crown from last year as the first elite rider to stop for beer.
While I was drinking my beer, a drunken aid station volunteer helpfully informed me, "your buddy [referring to Will] had two beers."
"GET ME ANOTHER BEER!" I yelled at the nice man. Will is a middle-school principal. NO MIDDLE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL OUTDRINKS ME, DAMMIT!
I chugged my second recovery beverage and decided that I would settle for a tie with Will.
Then I burped for, like, five miles.
If you want to take another minute off my time for "beers," that would be cool.
I burped and sweated and melted for the last eight miles, getting progressively less and less racey. But it was okay! The Darkhorse always ends as a sweltering deathmarch. That's why I love it!
At the end, I finished as 11th elite, in 3:19. Then I had to sit in my car with the AC on full blast for 20 minutes before I could do ANYTHING.
Will went on to have an amazing second lap, finishing in 3:14 and winning singlespeed by six minutes. He did not, however, have ANY beers at the aid station... it's just that drunken aid staff are really smart about peer pressure. Well played, Darkhorse. Well played. Burp.
I spent a while freaking out about how Christin had to ride, like, an hour longer than me, and was DEFINITELY going to die of heat stroke, but while I was freaking out I lost track of time and she finished. And she was not dying of heat stroke. She was actually totally stoked! Which was a relief.
Then we spent the next 12 hours feeling nauseous and then eating and then feeling nauseous again. Yay bikes!