Durham Dragons — Number One!

They say you can tell a happy biker by the bugs in her teeth — in which case I’m so ecstatic I should probably be medicated!

This past Saturday I took part in my very first mountain bike relay race ever — the inaugural Dirt Divas women’s event in King City, Ontario — and it was pretty much the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

The event, which began at 10 a.m. and ran until 6 p.m., was organized by a friend of our team leader, the ferocious Miss Shannon, and consisted of a series of 5k mad dashes through a forested area filled with hills, hairpin turns, steep drop-offs and (as the race marshals warned) vicious Attack Trees.

Mmmm....biiiikes.

My day began at 5:45 a.m. when I staggered out of bed, quaffed down enough coffee to convince my eyes to stay open, and began packing the car, affixing the rack and my bike & getting into my spiffy new bike outfit.

(Typically, the most difficult part of the day was actually trying to purchase ice for my drinks cooler from the 24-hour Sobey’s near me. I was pressed for time, so naturally Smiter’s Law No. 455, “If you need to make a purchase in a hurry, a Nitwit will be in line ahead of you”, was fully in effect. I will say only this: anyone who is buying three months’ worth of groceries, including 14 Hungry Man Pizzas, with nothing but a handful of crumpled coupons and a bag of nickels at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, is asking for a Smiting.)

Anyway, I finally managed to secure my ice and proceeded to make my way northwest to the race grounds. My teammates, Shannon, Sandra & Julie, were already there (presumably they did not have to stop & buy ice) and our little pavilion area, complete with comfy chairs & a table for all our gear & comestibles, had been set up. I stowed my gear, unpacked my bike and got down to the business of preparing for my very first race.

The first order of business was to affix a race card* with our team number, 42, to the front of my bike. The second order of business was, of course, a Nerd Moment(TM) wherein I explained the significance of the number 42, which, as fellow Nerds will be well aware, is the answer to the burning question of Life, the Universe and Everything and also Agent Fox Mulder’s apartment number in The X-Files.

(*post-publication note: our fearless Team Leader, Miss Shannon, tells me [between gasps of laughter] that I am truly a Certified Nerd for calling it a “race card.” It is actually called a “race plate.” I’ll be over here doing 20 pushups if you need me. DS)

Then, having decided the order in which we would race (Julie, Sandra, Shannon, Dr Smiter) we all proceeded to the start/finish line where we were instructed on the rules of engagement: keep on the track (easier said than done with Attack Trees on the loose), follow the trails (well-marked for novices & Confirmed Klutzes like myself – honestly, I can get lost in a closet), and when you come hurtling through the finish line, you must dismount your bike (hopefully not the way I infamously did last fall, resulting in 6 broken bones), run to your next-in-line, slap hands and that rider then takes off for her turn.

You're so next!

(In larger races, teammates exchange a “timing chip” instead of slapping hands; here we were a small enough group that the officials could visually count each exchange.)

There were a few “butterflies” at first — we were all, aside from Shannon, “race virgins” and had no clear idea what was in store, although Shannon assured us the trail would not be much different from what we’d already experienced in the Durham Forest. And as I soon discovered, one of the benefits of going last is getting to hear from each incoming rider what lies in wait on the trail, from the aforementioned Attack Trees to places where the ground suddenly drops away and tries to take you with it.

Julie, who was first out, returned growling & covered in gravel, having met a steep drop-off which tried to engulf her but settled for removing the chain from her bike. (As the race went on, we all eagerly awaited Julie’s “sit-reps” because they got funnier and funnier, culminating in her riding right through a blue “Shimano” trail marker/barrier at one point and ending up wearing it as a scarf.)

After a time, we settled into a comfortable(ish) rhythm of “do your 25-minute-ish lap, send next rider out, retreat to tent with teammates to consume large quantities of liquid & nibble a few carbs, check watch, return to finish line with teammates to greet incoming rider & send next out, repeat.”

There were burgers, hot-dogs, sausages & various other comestibles available for purchase but oddly none of us felt much like eating them till later in the day when the race ended. Partly it was simply too hot, and partly it was because with just over an hour between each person’s individual lap, there simply was not time to ingest and digest a large-ish meal before one had to head out onto the trail again.

Not recommended as trail food.

Remarkably, too, there were very few injuries of note. Sandra won the prize on our team with a series of nasty scratches on her arm and leg from an encounter with an Attack Tree, and both Shannon & I suffered the notorious “crotch smash” (or “a whack in the vuvuzela,” as they say in World Cup Soccer) after coming off our rides. (The insult to this injury is that one wonders, as one rides gingerly away with eyes moist and teeth gritted, whether one can discuss this kind of mishap with one’s teammates, as it inevitably involves chatting about Unmentionables in company.) (One can, it turns out, and one does. All’s fair in a bike race, I guess!)

At any rate, the day went by in a happy blur and to our delight, we came first in our division, meaning we got to stand on the “podium” (a picnic table) to receive our medals and some pretty sweet swag.

The Mighty Dragons!

(OK, disclaimer here: there were only two teams in our division, us and the other team. But we smoked ’em!)

And as we tucked into our burgers in the evening sunlight, we agreed that this was a most excellent introduction to the fine art of mountain bike relay racing: not too many competitors, so not too much scary jostling & passing & overtaking on a narrow forest trail; a warm, clear day (doing this in the rain and mud would have been considerably less fun); and a happy, dedicated crowd of women of all ages (one competitor is nearly 70, as it turns out!) who mostly just love getting together for some fun and friendly rivalry.

Kudos to Shannon, who also runs Joyride150, for encouraging the rest of us to take part, and for teaching us how to stay upright & smiling while under fire from Attack Trees. And kudos to the organizers and the marshals, who busted their butts to make sure we all had a good time, and were safe, happy, fed & watered, and able to leave in one piece to tell the tale.

And kudos to Jerome, one of my favourite spin instructors at Energia Athletics, for helping me get back in shape enough to do this ride without coughing up a lung or blowing a tendon.

See you there next year!

Smiter out.

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