Friday, September 16, 2011

Coal Cracker Classic

"Someone must blog about this race." As I crossed the finish line of Sunday's Coal Cracker Classic in Tamaqua, PA I was filled with a mixture of disbelief, relief, and a bit of pain from a pretty classic endo I took earlier in the race. I caught the glance of a teammate, and words were not exchanged, we just shrugged our shoulders, shook our heads and began to laugh.
We weren't sure what to expect when we headed north to our second to last 2011 MASS race on Sunday. It was a course with new trails and pre-riding was forbidden as part of the race was on private property. We got up there, set up the tent, kitted up and headed out for a warm-up.

Ron, Mike O. and I headed down the hill into town, up the initial hill (street) climb and into the woods where the trails began. We continued riding uphill for the next half mile or so before we turned back and headed down to see the finish area. As soon as we got there we knew something was up. Most of the sport riders were gathered in a large group, confused and frustrated. As it turned out, some of Tamaqua's finest locals removed some of the race signs in an attempt to be funny. Many sport riders were lost and their races ended early that day. CCC's race director gave them an option to race another lap later that morning.

We rode back to the tent and shared the update with our teammates. I put my phone in a plastic baggy for the first race ever, threw it in my jersey pocket, and decided I would make a go of it. Our course was different than the sport course. We had a 1 lap, 20 mile loop to complete. We'd heard that none of the expert signs were removed, but I had my phone just in case I found myself in no-man's land for a few hours.

At the start, we climbed for awhile before hitting the new trails that traversed the ridge. After the record breaking rainy week we'd had with flooding, the trails were loose, technical and made it tough to get into a rhythm. I'd never been so happy to see a dirt road section in a mountain bike race. After a lengthy section of smooth dirt road, we headed back into the woods for several more miles.

The rocks reminded me of Michaux, but many of the ascents were too steep and filled with boulders to ride, and the descents were loose and gnarly. I exchanged comments with a couple of guys about how exciting it was at one point to be on the bike for even a 15 second period. One replied that he'd never walked so much during a race. I agreed and found out later many of the elite men/women felt the same. After an endo on a rock face, some bottom bracket destroying puddles and more hike-a-bike action than I've yet to experience, the race came to a close at around the 2.5 hour mark. I was so happy to hear those cowbells and cheers.

CCC photos courtesy of Mike Campbell

As I looked around and listened to the conversation of the expert/elite riders, I found that we were all basically on the same page. It was great to check out some new trails, but nothing could have prepared us for that much time off the bike, grunting out several miles with our bikes above our heads. We all came out of there with some classic stories and unforgettable race memories.

Hats off to all who competed in this year's Coal Cracker Classic. Next year? That's yet to be determined.