Thursday, October 14, 2010

Iron Cross XXX Edition

With the NUE series and the summer with it all but a distant memory now, the plaid army has been waiting for the right race to invade. We salivate over the long, epic style events. Must be something in the water. So the not too far 8th annual Iron Cross had us storming down from Central PA like rabid squirrels after a bowl of nuts. Trail riding on a cross bike? Long fire road climbs and super fast sketchy descents? That's just another day in Rothrock for us. Off to Michaux!

We were rolling deep in the single speed division. Feeling fresh and fast from this years Month of Mud, Jordyn Drayton was ready. Back in town and back on a bike, Eric Roman came down for his first race in a long time. Looking for something longer than Cross Vegas, Bill Alcorn of fame, showed up primed. Then there was the idiot doing it on a fixed gear: me. Vicki Barclay was feeling strong and looking good in the womens field. Chris Ruhl, with purple hair and fresh tattoo, and the tall glass of water, Rich Straub were our men-with-gears division. We were armed with an assortment of rigs; from Roman's classic pink IF, Chris's touring Surly Cross Check, Vicki's fresh and super light Ridley, to my loud lime All City Nature Boy. For us, our cross bikes are more than just racing bikes. They're commuters, touring bikes, and death march crush machines. But I digress...

The woods of Michaux were on the cusp of full blown Fall foliage. The sun was burning clear and the air was crisp. It was a fine day for a bike ride. Race promoter Mike Kuhn could not have picked a better day. October, 10th 2010. 10/10/10. X.X.X.. Choose you're own "extreme" pun. That day, if they weren't spoken, they were thought. Brutal gravel climbs, a loose scramble up a gas line, and tight single track, not to mention, for some, the formidable distance, were plenty to call it extreme.

The race began with nearly three hundred pairs of cold legs sprinting into the "spiral of death", an open grassy field taped off in classic cyclocross style. With 62 miles ahead, blood still in your core and not in the muscles where you need it, the early up-hill barriers were walked over rather deliberately. Everyone went round and round, riders going the opposite direction only a foot or two away. It spreads everyone out then dumps you back on a gravel road to get into a rhythm. No significant elevation changes for a while, just a sandy beach to navigate and a stretch of the Appalachian Trail to poach. Long pavement stretches followed with some stiff climbs and scenic orchards. Aid Station 1 at mile 13 showed us that this race was well stocked and well staffed. Many thanks to the fantastic volunteers that day! Onward and upward we kept going. The trail sections were fast if you've ever been on a mountain bike. Roadies were easily spotted as I rode past and they walked rocky sections.

Then there was Wigwam. Quite an innocuous name for what it proved to be. Every cross race should have at least one run up. This tended to be more of a crawl. With bikes on shoulders, people scrambled up like ants up a wall. The view from the top was incredible if you cared to look behind you. It wasn't actually the top though. Another shorter walk-up slowed everyone again. Aid 2 awaited at the real top. The air was cooler up there and it became clear that you've gained quite a bit of elevation. Riding towards the next station was more of the same gravel rollers and country roads. The one long trail section was tight and twisty, with slick peanut butter mud, making it quite the grunt.

After winding round a bit on those country strips of asphalt, a quiet Aid 3 appeared. It sat there at the base of a beast. 5 miles that went up and up until you wonder if you're still in PA with elevation like this. A singlespeeders delight. A geared riders test in pace. You either let it defeat you early on and suffered the rest of the way or you blanked out your mind and took one pitch at a time. I chose the latter; zig-zagging up the steep pitches to make them more gradual. With this hill slayed, after several false summits, only a few small, yet challenging obstacles lay ahead. Much more taxing trail stretches. Another hot, exposed, eyes squinting from sun and sweat, walk-up (with the sweet nectar that is PBR handed out at the top). And more beautiful stretches of road to take in the colors.

The finish was back in the field where it all began. Only a few twists this time and one set of barriers, with everyone watching. You could either look the fool hobbling over these or try to show off for the crowd. Either way, it was hard not to finish with a smile. 62miles of grueling yet down-right gorgeous riding completed. Custom engraved wooden "medals", an ice cold Coke, a sweet tshirt, and a selection of Hammer recoverite were handed out. Cha-ching! "Don't forget to get your burrito and sweet tea!" they told me. Even better!

'Twas a good day for the plaid invasion. Vicki rocketed herself into 1st place for the ladies. Straub got himself a top twenty even after fitting in some modeling. Chris was our top finisher, proving to everyone that he still got the skills. Jordyn, Roman, and Bill rounded out the top ten in SS. I finished; which was really all I wanted to do on a fixed gear. I never knew spinning out while going down bumpy gravel roads can make you go temporarily cross eyed...

As if we didn't get enough, Kuhn had himself a schwag toss and raffle for the crowd of tired souls. Good stuff. Then the awards. Vicki climbed herself to the top of the podium and as a team we stood next to it in Second place. The winning team got two cases of Sam Adams and we walked away with a far superior case of Troegenator, so we at least felt like we won.

Photo's by Abe Landes over at