Hey all! I just rode the Singlespeed-a-Palooza 2011 race on Sunday, April 17.
It’s two 12-mile laps, mostly on wonderful singletrack. It had rained the night before, and well, it was wet.
I entered once before, but had a mechanical and only completed 1 lap and a fraction of another, so this is really the first unicycle-completion of the race. Very hard (not enough training), very fun.
Here’s the text in case my link dies.
April 17, 2011
Stewart State Forest, New Windsor, New York
24-mile Singlespeed-only Mountain Bike Race
The weather was fine the day of the Singlespeed-a-Palooza, 2011, but the previous night had brought several inches of rain. I was riding on the trail, but half of my 29-inch wheel was submerged in cold, muddy water, and I was scooping a fresh shoe-full on every downstroke of my pedals. I was pretty pleased with myself, maintaining balance for ten, twenty yards through the puddle-lake, then my tire hit the submerged root.
My training for this event fell far short of what it should have. Spring raced by, and instead of three or four weekly rides, I’d been doing only one or two. Instead of ramping up to harder trails and distances, I hadn’t pushed myself past the point of pleasure rides. Big mistake. Suddenly, race-day was upon me, and I wasn’t sure I could complete the two twelve-mile laps that constitute the race. Twenty-four miles is not an outrageous distance on a unicycle, (depending upon whom you ask), but on a trail, with rocks, roots, and, as it turned out, copious mud, I feared my less-than-conditioned bod might not prove equal to the task. However, I paid the money, and backing out was not an option.
I packed up my lunch, water, and energy gels, and drove from Albany to Stewart State Forest, near Newburgh, NY. Hundreds of vehicles were already there, so I had to park way up the road, sort out all my gear and food and cycle back to the starting area. I didn’t need the extra riding, but it’s always fun to see bikers’ reactions. The simple sight of me stopped conversations all along the row of cars, with the usual dropped jaws and double-takes, and this phenomenon continued right up to the registration tent.
I twisty-tied my race number into my spokes and lined up by the “sport men north” category marker, facing down a long paved hill. When the horn sounded, as I knew would happen, all the bikes flew down the hill, and I had no chance catching them, no matter how fast I pedaled my fixed 1-to-1 wheel. It was going to be a long, lonely day. I settled into a comfortably fast cadence, trying to ignore a growing ache in my left hamstring, until the guiding arrows turned me to the right, onto the start of the single-track.
Mud is a unicyclist’s greatest enemy. With all the rider’s weight pressing down on one point, the tire plows a deep groove, bogged down as if gremlins are digging their teeth into each knobby on the tread. Pleasantly, this first sampling of the track was not muddy, only damp, but my euphoria was short-lived.
My sugar-coated memory, from riding here in 2009, recalled a gently-winding, buttery-smooth, concrete hard, totally flat trail. Instead, I found myself constantly climbing and descending on a surprisingly rocky, rooty track, and a dark shadow of doubt crept across my blissful plan to ride 24 miles. A couple-mile loop brought us back onto the road, past the starting area, and dove back into the woods. Unfortunately, with all the bikers long-gone and no one follow, I missed that turn and followed the road another 1/4 mile or so, until one of the race volunteers chased me down on his bike and informed me of my error. Grateful for the correction, but chagrined at my wasted effort, I turned around and rejoined the race.
Re-entering the trail near the registration tent, with all its attendant race officials and volunteers, involved negotiating a short, tricky boulder garden, which I failed to do. My unicycle clanking loudly onto the rocks, I could feel their skeptical, even pitying eyes on me, but I carefully avoided meeting their gaze. I quickly picked up my machine, remounted in what I hoped was a confident fashion, and pedaled away, hoping to allay their fears of my sheer incompetence, or at least get swiftly out of earshot, lest they pull me from the race for my own good.
This crisis averted, I was getting warmed up, and into a good rhythm, when the trail turned into peanut butter. Immediately my wheel slid sideways off a muddy root, and I had a graceless, unplanned dismount (“UPD” in unicyclist jargon). Retaining enough balance to at least land upright, I splashed into the muck and so started the wet feet that would rule the day. Peering ahead, I saw nothing but a long, bending uphill of mud, of varying consistencies, well-churned by the wheels of the 199 bikes ahead of me. Not being a quitter, I hopped back on, rode a good six yards, and UPDed again, slipping off another root. After the next few tries ended with the same conspicuous lack of success, I noticed copious footprints in the mud alongside the tire-marks, and realized that at least some of the two-wheelers had walked this section. OK, fine, I’ll walk.
Actually, I jogged, pushing my cycle and trying avoid the wetter sections of trail. Finding a somewhat drier bit, I remounted, rounded a turn, and found more mud. This continued for what seemed the better part of a mile until I finally reached ridable sections. Phew! I got on and rode for all I was worth, wondering if I’d be able to catch the back of the bike-pack.
I didn’t catch up, but I was really enjoying the ride now. The trail wound through the forest, past occasional photographers, and through long sets of beautiful, sweeping turns of fast, dryish dirt. The climbs, when not muddy, were mostly gradual and not too brutally long, until the arrows pointed up a dirt-road hill, the longest ascent of the race. I love straight-forward climbs like this, however, and cranked up it happily, imagining I might, at least, be gaining some ground for a change. Perhaps my favorite part of the path climbed a hill and wound its way along a ledge though the forest, a cliff off to riders’ left offering a fantastic view down through the mature woodland below. I may have been dead-last, but this trail is beautiful, and I was savoring every minute.
Twelve miles takes a lot of minutes however. I was starting to wonder when-the-heck I’d finish this first lap, and I was starting to feel thigh cramps flickering when I stood on the pedals to climb hills. I knew this might happen, especially since I hadn’t trained enough, but I was hoping the muscle pain might not appear until later in the race. I attempted to hold off the cramps by eating up some of my electrolyte-bearing energy gels and remembering to drink water, and that seemed to work, for the moment.
I soon encountered the first of several puddle-lakes. Ahead of me, the trail disappeared into opaque, brown water, with no way to judge its depth. Already fairly damp-footed, I pedaled into the pond, and, to my surprise, rode all the way through. My confidence thus bolstered, I cranked right into the next mega-puddle, as well. This one was deeper, and the deceleration pitched me forward off my seat. Barely managing to get my feet under me, I immediately noticed a stark difference between damp socks and walking through knee-deep water. Sloshing out of the puddle, each foot seemed to weigh thirty pounds, and I began to ponder the consequences of not keeping my feet under me, should the situation arise again.
I navigated the next puddle-monster successfully, “Now I’ve got the hang of it”, and plowed aggressively into the next. That’s when I hit the root, and, this time, lost my footing. I got my hands up quickly enough to keep from totally submerging, basically ending up in a push-up position with the water the same depth as my arm-length. My legs and the entire front of my body got completely dunked, but I managed to keep my backpack out of the water.
I jumped up, gasping from the shock of the cold bath and spluttering muddy water out of my mouth and nose. I removed my glasses, now dripping with muck and useless, and tucked them into a jersey-back pocket. I slogged out of the lake and resumed riding, now and then squeezing brown water out of my gloves. The upside of this saturation was that I could now just walk directly through any further such obstacles without fear of getting any wetter. And, mostly, that’s what I did, not wanting to do any more swimming.
I was maybe 3/4 of the way around the first lap when the first biker, and eventual winner, lapped me. I was descending a hill, approaching a road-crossing, complete with a race-volunteer, when I heard the telltale squeal of disk-brakes behind me. Mike Montalbano, nearing the finish of his second lap, flashed by me at about 30 mph, and careened through the next water-hazard, sending a huge wave to either side like Moses parting the Red Sea. “Go Monty!”, the volunteer shouted at the rapidly receding biker, and, as I slowly passed him, allowed me a surprised comment of “You’re crazy, man!”
The latter portion of the loop was punctuated by more huge puddles, more mud-slathered hiking, and a few tough hills. Several more bicyclists lapped me on their way to finishing their second lap, almost all of them giving some kind of encouragement, including “You are the f___ing MAN!” I saw a few walking up the worst of the hills, which somewhat assuaged my shame of doing so. At one point, near the end of the lap, my thighs cramped so badly I dismounted, the muscle spasms actually forcing me to sit down and stretch before I could resume.
Right near the end was a small, rocky climb, followed by a short, steep descent into another of those brown puddle-lakes. Standing on the right was photographer “GT Luke”. As I approached, he said “don’t get wet because of me!” What the hell, I was still soaked so I just went for it, riding down and into the water. I surprised him, and myself, too, by riding all the way through the hub-deep, 50-yard-long puddle. I was rewarded with an excellent sequence of photos on his website the following day.
More water, more gels and I finally found myself on the stretch of road leading up past the finish line. As many bikers were now finishing their race, wild cheering ushered me up the last hill, to which I had to reply “just one more lap!” Passing the finish line, I saw a pack of cyclists who’d just finished and I asked if any of them had some extra gels or the like. One of them, I think it may have been the actual race-winner, handed me a partial package of some kind of square energy chewy things. I thanked him, stopped for half a foamy beer, and rode back into the forest for my second lap of the course.
The lap passed slowly, and was a bit more lonely, as the photographers had all cleared out by then. I kept sucking down the chewies and gels to keep my cramps at bay, and sipping at my water, now afraid I might run out. I learned from the first circuit where to ride and where it wasn’t worth the effort. I still enjoyed the long dirt-road uphill, and the gorgeous, wooded, ridge-top ride, but I walked through a few more of the water-logged bits and uphills than I had the first time around. Somewhere past halfway, I saw a couple out biking with three big, happy dogs.
They were surprised to see me, as they may have thought, understandably, that all the racers had already passed. Between their leisurely pace, and corralling their dogs, I was able to keep with them for a few miles, but then they rode straight where the course arrows pointed me to the left and I lost contact with them. Alone again, I focused on grinding, and trying to estimate how far along I was. When I came to that hill-and-puddle where the photographer had been, I knew I was getting close. Finally, I hit the road which led a half-mile or so around a curve and up a hill to the finish line. The timing tent was now abandoned, and I saw that the award ceremony was already underway just ahead at the registration tent area. Finally someone saw me coming and I rode into the crowd to a big cheer and Mike announcing that the unicyclist had finally made it.
With my time of 4 hours, 36 minutes, I was about twenty minutes behind the last bicyclist, who had already received the D.F.L trophy. (Dead-F___ing-Last). I had earned that award, but I assume they thought I was dead in the woods already and wouldn’t be collecting it. I did get a nice beer glass (full of good beer) for my troubles, and hearty congratulations from many bikers who’d just finished the same ride and couldn’t believe I’d done it on a unicycle. That made it all worth it.
It’s a fantastic race, well run, and all the volunteers were great as well! Thank you to all of them!
Equipment: Kris Holm 29-inch Unicycle, 150mm cranks, Maxxis 29x2.4 tire