What do we say to the god of dirt?
It was a glorious day in Louisville: The sun was shining, the winds were turbulent, and Full Send Racing’s mustaches were perfectly groomed.
As the team warmed up in preparation for the battle of the best line through the dirt and up the Climb, we compared tire sizes and PSI like it actually made a difference. 25s, 28s, 70 PSI, 75 PSI – we were all just scrambling around, wondering if we’d have an untimely end.
I expected a Cat 3 field the size of last year’s – a solid 17 racers. Instead, five of us lined up, shoulder-to-shoulder, emotionless, as if we were marching to our deaths. Maybe that was just me — imagining the dirt I was up against, the 17% grade climb, and the nimbleness of my contenders.
At the blow of the whistle, we charged.
Much like Daenerys, I threw caution to the wind and led our paceline on to the dirt. A strategic racer, maybe one who had a Hand, would have drafted off the racers in front of them, using as little energy as possible. It’s the smartest competitor, not the strongest, who wins. Or the one most fire-retardant.
I led us through the two miles of packed dirt, washboard dirt, and sand, up and over the infamous climb.
Racing on dirt is how I imagine riding one of Dany’s dragons: uncomfortable, spasmodic, and if you grip too tight, your upper body’s sore the next morning. Besides worrying about my performance, dirt still scares me. I’ve never actually fallen on dirt, but the fear of falling, the hospital visit, and the damaged kit and ego cause my undue anxiety. Like when Dany tells Jon as he jumps on the back of her dragon and asks how do you ride it: You don’t know how until you do it. You don’t get better riding dirt until you start riding more dirt.
As we raced along the course, it became clear we had a couple of Sams in our pack. You know, the ones who are more deadweight than a benefit. We were told it’d be more efficient for the Cat 3’s if they grouped us with the Master Women’s 40+ because they were 2.5x our size. The Cat 3’s were outvoted and we ended up pulling some a majority of the way until, like Sam, they were packfodder.
Dust, like the dead, poured through and over every obstacle and crevice as the wind picked up. The wind made the fairly flat road feel like we were climbing a mountain. One by one, as we carried on, we’d see racers on the side of the road — flatted tires, broken spokes, shirtless, and sweaty as if they’d truly gone through a battle. The dirt road took many victims that day.
I came out of this race like Jon Snow at the Battle of Winterfell: I didn’t win, but I didn’t lose. I screamed a lot (mostly in my head), I was covered in sweat, I fended off a heard only to see someone else, someone more nimble and stealthy, and half my size, take the win.
What doesn’t kill you…. Makes you wish it did.
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