Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rock Cobbler Race Recap: AKA that time I learned about Valve Stems

Every year in mid-February I see all the posts and hear all the excitement from the people who raced the Rock Cobbler, and every year I think, darn, I missed it again! Well not THIS year, because I finally made it out to Bakersfiled to see what all the hype was about, and holy crap was it worth the drive!

Saturday started with a warm croissant, eggs, bacon and coffee in the van. It's February, and let's be honest, one of the things I like most about the races I do now is that I don't have to stress about every single decision like what to eat for breakfast. Are they serving eggs and bacon? Then yes, that's what I'll eat, it's not going to make or break me (XC be damned).

The 'really hard ride bordering on a race' started at the humane hour of 8:30am with a neutral roll out for 11 miles, much of which was on a bike path. Like I pretty much always aim to do, I pushed my way to the very front and inhaled moped fumes for the entirety of the roll out so I wouldn't get caught in the shenanigans in the pack (of which I heard there were plenty). I was nice and high on 2-stroke exhaust when the horn blew to start the race, and by the first dirt section I was still near the front. Unfortunately I wasn't near-enough the front because a few dudes running the first uphill in front of me caused a gap to open to the lead group of 20. As a result I spent exactly the first 1/2 of the 'race' within one and a half minutes of that group, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, trying in vain to make connection, until the sidewall tear disaster.
Just LOOK at that rad snake of riders! How cool is this image! I stole it from Derek Smith.
Basically this event consisted of equal parts road, and fire-road plus one insanely long, twisty luge-esque trail that snaked up a slot canyon blowing my mind the whole way. The fire road pitched up and down, sometimes manically throwing people off their bikes left and right and weeding out the riders around me until there was a select group of 5ish of us. Then the guys all stopped at an aid station and I kept rolling, right through some dude dressed like a taco's house! No joke, one minute I was on a dirt road, the next I was rolling through the back yard of Taco man, right past his pool, into his living room, out the front door, base heavy music pounding the whole time, pool party in full swing.

Eventually I caught some guys and the dudes who had stopped caught me, and another nice group formed, this time about 8 strong, and including my once hero Yuir. We struggled to pace line effectively, the two guys on mountain bikes got in the way, then out, then back in the way, and after much flailing we all just gave up and let Neil Shirley pull the whole group. Or maybe he got tired of armature hour and decided the front was less annoying than watching us try to be roadies.
Hey look, it's Yuri! Everyone's favorite draft! And my idol when I was a baby racer :)
Also from Derek Smith
Then THAT group stopped at the aid station located at the base of the 'long' climb, and I was alone again. As we approached the 'long' climb I caught a glimpse of the lead group and as riders began to pop off the back of the 20-something strong front of the race I acquired carrots to chase, or as I like to think of them wounded deer to hunt. I spent the entirety of the 'long' climb (all of like 20 minutes, yeah, not long) hunting down dudes, one by one rolling up to them, passing them with a huge smile, and riding off. It was awesome.

At the end of the climb there was a crazy steep dirt pitch and I took extra enjoyment out of passing two guys on that section, only to be passed back by them flying down the descent on the other side. Everyone told me before this thing that there would be ruts that could swallow me whole on this descent, so I was extra cautious... only to find there were NO LARISSA SWALLOWING RUTS! WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME EVERYONE?!

And then, just after I survived the very much not dangerous descent, in a stretch of field where there really was no trail, but course markings, my rear tire scraped a rock, and bam, I was riding the rim. The sidewall tear was the least of my worries though, because worse than getting a flat (I had a pretty big gap to 2nd place) was the fact that I had tightened the nut that holds on the valve core death grip tight on Thursday night with pliers, thinking that's how you get it to seal when setting up tubeless tires. WRONG! Death grip tight with pliers really just means you can't UNTIGHTEN it with your fingers when the time comes to throw a tube in the rim because you have a flat on race day. Poop. SO I begged a few dudes passing to try and untighten (hey, they all asked if I needed anything!) and when that didn't pan out, after wasting TONS of time trying in vain to get the damn nut off, I tried to plug the tear. I went through a few CO2's in the process, but thought I had the situation sorted out when reigning Rock Cobbler champ Amanda rolled by. Slightly panicked and shaky I threw all my stuff into the saddlebag and jumped on my bike in pursuit. Sadly, the situation wasn't sorted, and less than 5 minutes later, when I had just caught up to Amanda, I was riding the rim again and S.O.L. Fortunately I soon ran into a dude in a truck who happened to have pliers, I got the valve core out, tube in, inflated, back on my bike.
Just a picture, you know, because too many words. 
Not sure if I mentioned yet that I woke up Saturday sick as a dog, sore throat, head ache, congestion... and made the call to do the ride because hell, I was already in Bakersfield and the illness was 'just in my head' (haha, yeah, I'm an idiot). Anyway, after the second stop I decided the race was over and that I should just ride to survive the rest of the way back. There were moments when I got a glimmer of hope and started to chase, but then I made a wrong turn, or hit a huge sand pit and decided I didn't care anymore. The highlight of the remainder of the ride was the epic 'run up' where race organizers had us scramble up this crazy long 55% grade dirt hill. I fell on my knees at one point because it was so steep I could barely walk, it was freaking awesome! haha.

The last ten miles consisted of a dirt/sand wash littered with homeless camps, shopping carts, you know, Bakersfield things. I got lost at one point and ended up in a homeless dude's front yard, sorry dude. And then I hiked through these brambles and got all these sticky thorny things in my socks... it was an adventure that last 10 miles. The finish line came right around the time that I thought I could bear no more suffering/sand, and I rolled through feeling equal parts relief and disappointment that I hadn't won. Nevertheless, there was awesome 23 cheese mac-n-cheese back at the brewery waiting form me, plus super tasty pulled pork, and cold soda that felt like heaven on my throat.
O yeah, and there was a twinkie cake. Did I mention twinkies are still gross?
I am getting tired of writing now, haha, probably shouldn't say stuff like that, but I just need to say that SamBarn (the race promoters) do such an amazing job at every race I've been to. These guys obviously love putting on races because they love making us suffer/laugh/have a good time. I think everyone and their mother should go to a SamBarn race in their lifetime, guaranteed to have a good time, and a story to tell afterwards.

And that's my story from RockCobbler. If you weren't there, don't miss it next year, it's worth that drive to Bakersfield :)

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