This was the first Bethel this year without the missus. I woke up at a somewhat normal time, 5 AM, and started the day off by finishing off all the food I was supposed to bring to Bethel. In my delirious state, I didn't realize that this meant I would have no food at Bethel.
The day was surprisingly calm with virtually no wind. This means winds were 5-10 mph at Bethel I think. It was so calm that we didn't tie the tents down and I didn't have to chase down windblown waivers around the registration tent.
I knew we'd be short handed and had to plan on all sorts of stuff - 3 hours of extra driving Saturday to pick up one or two of our helpers, another 2 more hours to drop them off on Sunday, things like that. But an old friend did the driving and volunteered to work the day (minus the one race he wanted to do).
It was the three of them (old friend, two helpers) who helped me clean the mess up at the bottom of the hill. Then, since we were in such a groove, I had everyone go around the whole course. We spent so much time sweeping that one of the helpers, designated to help with the camera, arrived at the line too late to record the Cat 5 finish. The officials, as we've learned over the years, are excellent at picking out literally 20 riders in a (loose) field sprint, and they managed to come through for us in this one.
My fatigue threw off my time frame and I thought I was racing in 30 minutes when in fact I had a couple hours. With the course swept, no tent to hold down (i.e. not windy), and two extra full time helpers, I managed to get my friend to drive me to Dunkin Donuts for some fuel for the upcoming races.
The sun rapidly warmed the area so that the low 20s that greeted us in the morning had transformed into low 40s by the time I took to warming up. Knickers, warm gloves, booties, and just a vest over an LS jersey (instead of a full blown jacket), and I was fine. The 3-4 race was aggressive, with the overall leader forced to chase every time something went away.
I thought he'd destroy himself with all the work he did, and I think the others thought so too. Ultimately the tactic failed because he made it up to a small group that stayed away. A second group formed behind it, and I thought this was the perfect scenario to launch the first group up the road - the second group would splinter as the stronger ones panicked and attacked it, causing it to disintegrate and drop back to the field. The lead group, strengthened by the best of the second group, would be amply motivated to drill it for a bit and - presto! - race over.
I did a minor launch to see if I couldn't be part of the bridging move from the second group to the first one, but by the time I got to the second group, it'd already disintegrated. Faced with crossing a 100-150 meter gap on my own after doing 1/2 a lap under extreme pressure, I backed way off and waited for the field.
Instead a small group caught me, I think the second group reconstituted. I couldn't do more than follow them half way up the hill and then I had to back off. I was totally on the edge. The field caught me at the top of the hill. After a few minutes of doubt, I anchored my position in the field.
With the break gone, the field eased, and the rest of the race was almost boring. It got exciting when a bunch of riders went to the front to keep from getting lapped. 5 or 6 laps of this and we managed to stay alive long enough to have a field sprint.
Like last time I was too far back when I jumped. But, with a lot of guys going backwards on the hill, I managed to snake my way through up to the guy who won the field sprint. "To", not "Past". No points though. Bummer.
I dressed down for the P123s after someone nearby said he couldn't believe it was 54 degrees. I looked down at what I was wearing and decided I should discard some of it. No vest, short finger gloves. I ate a couple Munchkins, drank some soda, sipped some water, and lined up for the main event.
The pace, sitting in, was manageable, and I found myself moving up at times (esp on the hill), and back at other times (like when people attacked).
I forgot how nice short finger gloves are when racing. I figure they're worth at least 200 watts. They allow me to stay on the drops indefinitely because they're more grippy and I don't feel like I'm going to slide off my trimmed down bars. They let me climb better because I don't slip on the hoods like I do with my cold weather gloves. And they just feel more tactile, kind of like how riding without gloves really lets you feel everything, not like the muted "gloves on" feel.
I hammered along in the P123 field, mainly on the drops, and felt pretty good. I started thinking that maybe I'd finish, wondering how many laps we had. I checked the lap cards the next time around.
I figured I'd see 15, maybe 14. Instead I saw 21, and suddenly I started to hurt. I told myself to get to 20. Roger. Suddenly the pace slowed. Things seemed manageable. Now 15 to go. Roger. I thought that maybe the pace would stay easy for a bit more, and then I'd dig deep to drive to the finish.
A friend of mine (not Roger) came up to me and told me he'd lead me out when the time came. I started thinking I'd be around for such a leadout. But my riding had become a bit sketchy, my fluency escaping gobs at a time.
Then some racers decided they really wanted to be in some break and started launching attack after attack.
One such attack left a gap in front of the racer in front of me. I looked back and briefly saw a strung out line of racers who would be very unhappy if I moved to one side and made the gap another 5 feet longer. I looked up and saw a yawning gap, small in most riders' eyes, a Grand Canyon in mine.
Grand Canyon = 30 feet in this case.
If I closed the gap, I'd be cooked. But my riding was ragged, probably not good for the field, and so after hesitating for maybe a second, I hunched down a bit, firmly grasped the drops with the nice short fingered gloves, and firmly closed the gap.
My legs exploded soon after and I sat up, pulled off, and sat down.
I lay down on the warm pavement, soaking up sun, when the pre-reg girl, sitting about 30 feet away, said something about a crash.
"Yeah, it's pretty bad, Gene ran down there, Mike ran down there."
I got up in a hurry, almost blacking out when I stood up. An ambulance drove onto the course, headed down the hill.
Ends up one guy had a possible concussion, the other a broken something (I'd later learn it was a collarbone).
I hate it when people crash at Bethel. It just sucks. And the broken collarbone guy, I like him. He's a good guy, nice, treats the missus friendly-like (she thinks he's a good guy too), and I've had some short but very, very good talks with him.
The rest of the day (that sort of killed what we'd done so far) passed by in a somewhat somber mood. It felt like the life got sucked out of me. Guys were telling me to give their prize money to their teammates so they could go to the hospital. Someone said he'd take one bike to its rider's house. All the things you never think about start getting thought about.
Getting hurt somewhere far away from home is not a comfortable situation. I once landed on my head at an EMT's feet during a crit in New Jersey. Despite my protestations, he insisted that the fact that I cradled my head with my hands (until he moved them) indicated to him that I had hit my head. He made me lay still, pinched my fingers and toes, and made lay down on a stretcher.
We drove to a nearby hospital - 5 minutes away in an ambulance that doesn't stop for lights, 15 minutes if you're a worried teammate driving to the hospital in a civilian car.
I sat in the hospital, wondering what happened to my bike (the EMT left it where I crashed). My shoes, gloves, helmet (ditto). How I'd get home (2+ hours away). How I would pay for it (credit card).
My worried teammate showed up a while later. He'd found my bike and stuff at the start/finish announcer stand, asked "Where is the rider that belongs to this bike?", and followed directions to the hospital ("Go down that road and follow the H signs"). Properly reunited with my gear, we headed home.
Later a friend of mine asked me why the side of my head was purple. I checked and sure enough, the whole side of my head was one big bruise. I guess I did hit my head, and later, inspecting my helmet, I realized the whole side was caved in.
Crashing in a race sucks. Getting hurt sucks too. But to injure yourself so you can't ride tomorrow or the day after or whatever, that sucks the most.
So, Mike, here's to getting better quickly.