Mohican MTB 100K
A bunch of Ontarians headed to Loudonville, Ohio for this annual mountain bike race in Mohican State Park. They offer 100-mile and 100K courses, and all of us wisely chose the 100K version. The race course includes the awesome 40 km single track loop that I'd run with Ang in the Mohican 50-mile ultra. Back then, we'd agreed the trails were great but they made us wish for our mountain bikes. This weekend I got my chance!
'Bent, Browner, Harps & family, Dee, Logie and Crash (Sarah Caylor) were the people we knew at the race. Most of us stayed at Mohican Lodge at the edge of the State Park, which felt like a vacation. Here are views from the dining room and the lodge walking paths.
About 600 riders started from the main street of Loudonville at 7 a.m. Our first 10 km were on roads with some good climbs, then we headed into the Mohican Park single track. Dee and I kept the same pace through that section; she had been sick and planned to drop out after a short ride. Browner disappeared over the horizon early on.
The swoopy single track was as awesome as I'd thought it would be. There were hills and rocks and roots but we were lucky that the majority of the trail was dry. It's so good to ride unfamiliar single track; it forces you to be alert and tests all your skills. It was a sunny day that started out cool and refreshing in the forest; later on it got hot - around 30C with the humidex.
This was my first 100K mountain bike race outside of adventure racing and I hadn't trained too much but the cut-offs were generous and I figured my endurance would get me through. The one thing I dreaded was a mechanical problem that I couldn't handle - especially something different about my new bike.
My first major mechanical problem began at 10K. My new bike's gears usually shift super smoothly but today I had trouble holding gears under load. When I tried to push up a hill or over a big root, the gears often went "ka-chunk, ka-chunk" and shifted randomly. Riders around me commented and grimaced; for a cyclist, that's like listening to fingernails on a blackboard. I couldn't get into my granny gear, and there were times I couldn't even reach the two gears below it. I tried to fix it by adjusting the cable on the handlebars. No luck.
A nice fellow stopped and tried to adjust it; he said the cable must have slipped off because it wasn't tightening up as it should. I would have to ride to Aid 1 and ask the bike mechanics for help. That meant riding another 25 km of hilly, rooty single track in this state.
It wasn't all bad. Downhills were still super fun and I could usually hold a gear on flat sections. The bike could be unpredictable if I needed extra power over roots or rocks but I was able to get up non-technical hills, although it was hard work and very noisy. On the bright side, the trails weren't crowded anymore. :)
By the time I arrived at Aid 1 at 35 km, the gears were ka-chunking on almost every pedal stroke and I'd decided to drop out if no one could help me. Luckily, I got help from two mechanics who put my bike on a stand and tried to tune it. Their assumption, like mine, was that the cables had stretched. I've had the bike tuned once in the month since I bought it, and I blamed myself for not taking it back for another tune-up. The first mechanic had trouble and brought in a more experienced mechanic who has a 1X12 on his own bike. I was at the aid station for 17 minutes and had plenty of time to eat and drink, which was one positive thing.
The mechanics didn't feel things were working perfectly on the bike stand but it seemed a little better in a short test ride around the parking lot so I headed out again. It was better for a little while, then deteriorated back into the same state. I decided it was unrideable today for some reason and I would bail out at a major road and head back to the finish.
This sounds like a completely crappy day but I was still enjoying the forest, the trails and the other friendly bikers. I was just really disappointed that I couldn't ride my bike properly on this fun race course. It was hard work pushing bigger gears and being surprised by gear changes. I also didn't know if I might be damaging something.
Then at 50 km, my rear wheel fell off. This explained a lot. It felt like a branch got tangled in the wheel during a muddy horse trail section and the bike refused to roll. I couldn't see any debris and the rear brakes looked fine although they didn't feel right. Grrrr, even my plan to ride on roads to the finish line wasn't going to work!
Then I noticed the wheel itself was jammed against the frame - and then I saw the thru axle sticking way out to the left side. The chain ring wasn't attached to the frame at all. Yikes. That thru axle hasn't been touched since I got the bike last month so maybe it wasn't screwed in tight when the bike was built or maybe it just loosened after lots of bumpy riding. I don't feel too silly for not noticing, given that two bike mechanics had worked on that wheel 90 minutes earlier, and they didn't notice it either.
A kind fellow who builds his own mountain bikes stopped to help out. It took a few minutes since the chain got stuck but he got me rolling again.
This was less than 500 m from the road where I planned to bail from the race course but this solved the gear problems that had plagued me for the past 40 km. Given all the adjustments that the mechanics and I had made, the bike was out of tune but I had most of my gears back, including the biggest and smallest. Yayyyyy!!!
That was 4:40 into the race so it was going to be a long day but I knew I could make the cut-offs and reach the finish, and I just felt so grateful. There were many places where it would have been dangerous for the axle to come unscrewed, and I had already resigned myself to a DNF so it was a bonus to be able to keep going.
It was a hot, humid afternoon. From Aid 2 to Aid 3, we had lots of gravel roads with some long, steep hills, and almost all of us were walking the big uphills. After Aid 3, we had some more climbing, then it felt like we reached Aid 5 in no time. (Aid 4 was only for the 100-mile racers.) Then we were back in the State Park for a final section of single track, doing some of the opening section of the race course in reverse. It was fantastic to have reliable gears this time but I was getting tired and a bit wobbly so I walked some sections I would have ridden in the morning. A few of the good 100-mile racers passed me in this section, which was also stressful although they were all super polite.
I was thrilled to cross the finish line after giving up on it hours before. I was also happy to stop because my neck was so sore! Nothing else hurt too much. They handed us beer glasses filled with water at the finish line, then we could mosey over to the Great Lakes Brewing Company beer truck and get a refill of a more suitable liquid.
It was great to see 'Bent, Browner, Logie, Dee and Crash Caylor there. Logie made the Masters podium in 4th place, and Crash made the Women's podium in 5th place riding a Singlespeed in an open Women's category. Wow! She finished a minute behind Harps, who was already in the pool at the resort with his kids by the time I arrived. 'Bent had a great ride and felt good. The RD insisted on getting a photo with him and his recumbent bike.
This was a fun, tough race course and I've learned one important pre-ride bike check. I almost never take wheels off my bike so I never had trouble with regular skewers. But now I've heard from several people, including Dee and Crash, about similar thru axle problems. Google also has lots of search results for "thru axle loosening". So now I know. For the first half of the race, I blamed myself for not getting another tune-up. For the second half, I blamed myself for not checking that both thru axles were tight. So it's my fault - oh well. Honestly, it was still a fun day - especially when it got better so unexpectedly.
I learned that in my part of the pack, I'm worse than most riders when it comes to downhills (I'm a chicken) and I'm better than average at uphills and general fitness. My technical skills are about average in that crowd although my AR background has given me better skills in deep mud and water. My knowledge of bike repair is definitely below average!
Great event - I'd recommend it. The course is well-marked and varied; there's a nice finish line ambience with live music, yummy post-race BBQ, free beer, etc. It was a fun weekend away with good friends.