Back in mid-January, the weather in New England had been unseasonably nice and it was looking like we were going to have a mild winter. I had completed the Rapha Festive 500 at the end of the year and felt like it would be a good winter of riding although it was starting to get cold in January. Someone mentioned the Rasputitsa gravel race (probably Chip) and I thought it looked like it could be fun. There was one little blizzard as we neared the end of January (and the registration increase!) but things still seemed okay. So I signed up, thinking it would help keep me riding even through the cold. Little did I know that we were about to get hit with a record amount of snow basically keeping me off the bike for six weeks. So March rolls around, I’ve barely ridden and Rasputitsa is a month away. Game. On.
I stepped up my riding and by a week ago, I started to feel I’d at least be able to suffer through things. But everyone that I’d been talking with about driving up with was bailing and so I started thinking along the same lines. But on Friday afternoon, I was reminded by my friend Kate that “What would Jens do?”. And that settled it, I was going.
I drove up and spent the night in Lincoln, NH on Friday night to avoid having to do a 3 hour drive on Saturday morning before the race. I woke up Saturday morning, had some hotel breakfast and drove the last hour to Burke. As I stepped out of the car, I was hit by a blast of cold wind and snow flurries were starting to fall. And I realized that my vest and my jacket hadn’t made the trip with me, instead being cozy in my basement. Oops.
I finished getting dressed, spun down to pick up my number and then waited around for the start. It was cold but I tried to at least keep walking around, chatting with folks I knew and considering buying another layer from one of the vendors, although I decided against.
But then we lined up and, with what was in retrospect not my wisest choice of the day, I decided to line up with some friends of mine who were near the back. But then we started and I couldn’t just hang out at the back and enjoy a nice ride. Instead, I started picking my way forward through the crowd. My heart rate started to go up, though my Garmin wasn’t picking up the HR strap, just as the road did. The nice thing was that this also had the impact of warming me up and not feel cold. The roads started out smooth but quickly got to washed out dirt, potholes and peanut butter thick mud. But it was fun… I hadn’t spent time on roads like this before but it was good. I got into a rhythm where on the flats and climbs, I would push hard and then on some of the downhills, I would be a little sketched out and take it slower. So I’d pass people going up, they’d pass me going down. But I was making slow progress forward.
Until Cyberia. I was feeling strong. I was 29.3 miles in of 40. And I thought that I was going to end up with a pretty good time. After a section of dirt that was all up-hill, we took a turn to a snow covered hill. I was able to ride about 100 feet before hopping off and starting to walk the bike up hill. And that is when the pain began. My calves pulled and hurt. I couldn’t go that quickly. The ruts were hard to push the bike through. And it kept going. At the bottom of the hill, they had said 1.7 miles to the feed zone… I thought some of it I’d ride. But no, I walked it all. Slowly. Painfully. And bonking while I did it as I was needing to eat as I got there and I couldn’t walk, push my bike and eat at the same time. I made it to the top and thought that maybe I could ride down. But no, more painful walking. It was an hour of suffering. It wasn’t pretty. But I did it. But I was passed by oh so many people. It was three of the hardest miles I’ve ever had.
I reached the bottom where the road began again and I got back on my bike. They said we had 7.5 miles to go but I was delirious. I tried to eat and drink and get back into pedaling. I couldn’t find my rhythm. I was cold. But I kept going, because suffering is something I can do. So I managed to basically hold on to my position, although I certainly didn’t make up any ground. I took the turn for 1K to go, rode 200 meters and saw the icy, snowy chute down to the finish… I laughed and I carefully worked my way down it and then crossed the finish line. 4:12:54 on the clock… a little above the 4 hours I hoped for but the hour and 8 minutes that I spent on Cyberia didn’t help me.
I went back to the car, changed and took advantage of the plentiful and wonderful food on offer before getting back in the car and starting the three hour drive back home.
So how was it? AWESOME. One of the most fun days I’ve had on the bike. Incredibly well-organized and run. Great food both on the course (Untappd maple syrup hand up, home made cookie handup, home made doughnuts at the top of Cyberia, Skratch Labs bottle feeds) and after. The people who didn’t come missed out on a great day on a great course put on by great people. I’m already thinking that I probably will have to do the Dirty 40 in September. As for next year? Well, with almost a week behind me, I’m thinking that I’ll probably tackle Rasputitsa again… although I might go for more walkable shoes than the winter boots I wore this year and try to be a bit smarter about Cyberia. But what a great start event for the season!