Friday, September 17, 2010

"Greasefest" (MS Mountain Tour Day Two)

As the shuttlebus wound its way up to Blue Lake, the clouds got heavier and the fine drizzle we had woken up to turned into rain.  Being on the first shuttlebus meant that there was no lineup at the United Cycle repair tent and I managed to get Mirko (an awesome bike mechanic) to have a look at my brakes as they were losing their gripping power.  After regailing me with tales of the amount of mud the mechanics had to deal with on the first day of the tour and the modest amount of beer they drank at the banquet last night, he made some adjustments.  His fine work gave me the confidence to ride again on what I knew would be very wet trails. 

The garden hose was available and I was able to recognize my bike after washing off the accumulated grime.  A lineup began to form of people like myself who couldn't be bothered waiting in the long lineup at the close of yesterday's tour.

I ran into Al, one of the Mountain Tour instructors and he described the trails up ahead and suggested that he may only ride to the first checkpoint at the Nordic Center.  He also mentioned that he had run into (figuratively) Ashley, one of our "classmates" on the trail the day before and how impressed he was with her riding abilities.  I had to wonder about my riding abilities when an experienced instructor was only going to the first checkpoint!

The pull to the Nordic Center was stiffer than I remembered and I did my best to ride the whole way.  Many cyclists pushed their bikes up and twice I did the same - the slick muck and steep grade pretty much made it mandatory.  My friend Peter was having quite a lot of trouble with chain suck and he had to keep pulling off the trail to make adjustments.  I first met Peter on last year's tour when we stopped to see if he needed help because one of his pedals had fallen off.

The storm that had struck the mountain yesterday knocked down trees and one of them was the first obstacle to be negotiated for the day.  A small traffic jam developed as each rider had to shoulder their bike and clamber over the fallen timber.  And it was here that we noticed snow on the side of the trail - so far we had seen it all - rain,snow,sun,hail.

The organizers have learned a few lessons from previous mountain tours - recording bib numbers so that no one gets left behind on the mountain and having volunteers stand on the trail at the most dangerous spots and give out a warning.   After the Nordic Center, there are a series of moguls that if not hit at the right speed can cause a serious wipeout.  On the tour last year, my daughter Jackie and I rode over a mogul and came across a crowd of people standing over an unconscious rider who had to be transported out of the woods and to the hospital.  This year, a volunteer watched how riders handled the first set of moguls and if they were having trouble or travelling too fast, she would stop them and urge them to proceed with caution.

With hundreds of riders on the trail, the narrow track became a greasy trough with the consistency of what one rider described as "Play Dough".  Another rider exclaimed at a rest stop that the mud "Sucks the life out of you!".  My transmission was beginning to act up from the mud jamming the front and rear derailleurs and the the rust forming on my chain didn't help either.

As the mileage increased, I found myself stopping more frequently to have short rests.  Erin - one of the "classmates" mentioned that she became a little anxious when she found herself in the middle of nowhere, soaking wet, tired and all alone.  Not a soul around her.  Not a sound except for the patter of rain on the yellow and green leaves.  Then, suddenly, down the trail behind her the excited whoops of some more bikers negotiating the slimy trail through the woods.  Yeah!  There is life out there!

To be continued....

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