The Barton Race is held at a gravel pit out near Estacada. Yes, a goddamned GRAVEL pit. This leads to an inevitably high amount of carnage, both of human and two-wheeled variety.
I have a mixed history with this venue. Two years ago, during my first year racing, I was part of that carnage before my race even started. The weather was miserable and there was a ton of exposed slick rock. During the pre-ride, I was practicing the infamous downhill when my brakes caught and I careened into the an actual gravel pit at about 16 miles an hour (landing squarely on the X spray-painted on the pit). Dislocated my thumb and gave myself a concussion.
Last year, the weather was beautiful and the race marked the first time that I raced a B race without getting pulled a lap early. I was cooked, but ecstatic, after that extra lap.
I was really excited about this race this year. The weather was looking favorable (rain, rain and some more rain) and the quality of my performance is usually inversely proportionate to the quality of the weather.
We got out to the race venue around 7:45 (I will admit for the record that it does not take an hour to get out to Barton...noted for next year) and Beth and I rode most of the course twice before they let the beginner men loose on each other. The carnage began almost immediately.
D had another stellar race, throwing down some hurt on all of the other big fellas and winning by about 50 seconds.
Our tent had a perfect view of an muddy off-camber descent that was picking off every 10th rider or so. At first it was sort of entertaining, because everyone was walking away. Then a B rider had to be taken out in an ambulance after face-planting at the bottom of the hill. Heidi and I looked at each other in a bit of panic and I decided to find somewhere else to be until the course was cleaned up.
Turns out K-man broke his collarbone at another section of the course. The rock of fear began to harden up and roll around in my stomach.
The off-camber section was removed for our race, but we still had to contend with the longer, steeper descent that had vanquished me two years ago. I rode it fine at 8am, but by 2pm it was a sloppy, slick mess.
The start was almost 3/4 mile of gravel road followed by double track. I had a great start and was sitting at about eighth coming into the single track. Our whole field was slowed up on the single-track when we ran up on the back of the Masters 35+ field. This allowed the top fifteen or so riders to stay pretty bunched up for most of the first lap.
A gap opened up between the top four riders and the next six as the pack hit the gravel road for the second time. I had a good feeling I was sitting somewhere around 10th. Now I just wanted to ride clean for the next 1/2 hour (figuratively clean, not literally clean, the latter would have been impossible).
There were a few places where I knew that I would be able to close or create gaps: the gravel road, the parking lot and the monster descent. I time-trialed the former as much as I could, and, as for the latter, as scary as it was for me, it was apparently far more intimidating to others. The key was head into it without hesitating, to sit back as far as possible and keep the hands light on the brakes. My back wheel jumped or skidded each time, but each time it was a clean ride-followed by a huge sigh of relief. (Note: If you don't have a moutain bike, get one and ride it. Especially at short-track. It is much easier to learn handling skills on a full-suspension rig with big tires.)
By the third lap, I was battling with EJ from Portland State. I'd pass her on a straightaway, she'd get get me back on a slick corner (since I'm using D's wheels with the fatty tires and wider rims, we're having to keep my back brakes soft and I made up for it with an overabundance of caution on gravel corners).
Neither of us were able to create a gap that stuck until the final 1/4 lap. I was able to get by her on a run-up (thanks to Jeff's bastard plyometrics), remount without face-planting and hauled ass as hard as I could along the levee for the finish.
Effort was good enough for 8th place. Maybe I'm finally breaking out of my slump. Whew. And it was the most fun I've ever had on a cross bike-sloppy, nasty, muddy, crash-free, mechanical-free fun.
(Thanks to Tim, Anne's husband, for most of these pictures).
If you're interested checking out some more fantastic photos of yesterday's race venue, click here.