10 MINUTES BEFORE THE START OF THE ROCK COBBLER IT STARTED TO SPRINKLE. In unison, the temperature began dropping. I ripped off my jersey threw on a base layer.
The sprinkle turned to drizzle. Back to the van. Off with the jersey and base layer, on with the vest.
I rode 100 yards to the Start area.
Now it was raining. Dark, full clouds lie ahead. I'm freezing.
Back to the van, again. Off with the vest, off with the jersey, on with the base layer and jersey and vest.
It's all of got...
... and I can hear the singer giving it all she's got...
... and the hommmmmmme, of theeeeeeee, BRAAAAAAAAVE!
A yank the van door shut, hide the key, jump on HVY MTL, and catch the group as it leaves Lengthwise Brewery.
It's 42 degrees, raining, I'm basically wearing underwear, the group is barely moving during our 14 mile neutral roll out. I start to shiver. The bars shimmer.
Is this brave or stupid? It's the Rock Cobbler 6.0... and it's exactly what we all signed up for: an adventure, a test, a tour... through beautiful open country, accessible only because Sam Ames makes it happen.
We finally survived the neutral, got up to speed, and hit the first long climb. The day before, when I test rode it, it was dry and hard and slippery. I thought a light rain would help. Ha!... it was slop. While I cleaned it many were already walking.
... and I was warm, finally!
I was about 30 guys back. Little groups of 3-5 guys slicing fast gravel and single track for the next hour. We could all see each other, and where to go.
(NOTE: when gravel racing, part of being prepared... of being "pro"... is downloading the map onto your Garmin. I did not do this. I will never skip this step again.)
About this point we took a narrow, shallow tunnel under a highway. Into the daylight, the guy ahead of me turned left. Just like the guy ahead of him, and the guy head of him... I have a maxim: the closer we get to the finish line, the dumber we get... and the left turn was a perfect example.
We raced on... up a hike-a-bike so steep I locked my brakes then pulled myself up a few steps. It was brutal. My calves burned. Lots of guys were collapsed at the top, a number of others scraping mud off their bikes so their wheels would spin.. the aid station guys didn't seem surprised to see us. They should have been. I refilled a bottle and got going.
There probably isn't a funner section of racing anywhere than down the slot canyon with huge banked turns that led us to the pavement.
We got a train of 4 guys, started swooping more guys, and barreling back towards Bakersfield. Full gas!... when some hill billy in a pick up rips past us, slams on his brakes, jumps out and starts yelling. I'm thinking, great a kook that wants off the road... but he's yelling, you're going the wrong way, turn around. We didn't hear that though and kept riding. He speeds past us and does it again. We can't believe it. Crest fallen, we turn the train around. We chug, neither speeding up nor slowing down.
We yell at the other groups still heading the wrong way... eventually we get back on course and just deal with it. We're about a half hour behind schedule.
It's a cow trail, above the mighty Kern river... a known killer in the spring and summer, a timid friend today. It's green and lush and slippery. In some places the trail is a foot wide, and 15' straight down into the drink.
I love it. This is my kind of riding. I forget about the extra miles and get back to racing. My buddies from home, Tim and Jeff, and I are up to full speed. The mud is real: thick and slow; then, sandy and gritty; fast and splashy. So fun!
The next aid station we are begging for lube. None. But, plenty of food. Tim whips out a teency, tiny lube sampler and saves us. Many people at this point bail out. Their bikes a barely working, the legs are gone.
We get on with it, and I'm so glad. Sure, we had a hideous 20 minute brutal climb. Many pitches to steep to ride. Mud sticky enough to pull your shoes off. But sooooo worth it.
Beautiful green pastures. Cows. Streams. Earth at it's best!
And it's getting warmer and dryer. It hasn't rained for 2 hours. This is the desert, and it's going to get faster every single minute.
I summit by myself. Blow through the aid station the bottom of a Dolomiti-like road descent, start up the next climb where I see a group of 10 about 2 minutes up the road.
It's Diesel time!
15 minutes later, after surfing through their shelled riders I catch.
There's still a lot of road and gravel and single track and whoops to go, but I'm able to recover a bit and eat. My buddy Q is here. It's a good group riding at a fast clip.
I know what's ahead. They don't. I've done it. They haven't. They're going to. I'm not.
It's the terrible hike-a-bike us rookies already did.
They head for it, I head for the finish. It's still 20 miles away, and the 84 mile ride I signed up for is going to wind up being 96.
Would I do the Rock Cobbler again? For sure... with the map on my Garmin.
A few tips: download the course so you have it - can't say this enough; bring extra lube; spray non-stick spray on your pedals, shoes and parts of your frame the collect mud... I'm sure next year will be totally different and I'll have all new mistakes to learn from.