Bikes and Beers and Bears?…Oh my!

1stThe cold of the morning was expected.  It was after all still March in the mitten.  I had gone through all of my pre-race rituals.  My bike was far too clean.  My coffee had far too much sugar and my legs shaved far too smooth (I don’t know why this is one of my rituals, especially before cold weather races where my legs are fully covered anyway, but whatever, everybody has their thing…right?).  Another common occurrence is the presence of very slow, somber music for the drive to the race venue.  Most people like to get pumped up with heavy metal or rap,  you know, something that gets them worked up.  I once heard that Jeff Jacobi plays “Eye of the Tiger” at max volume before every race.

2nd  Not me.  I prefer some mellow jazz, folk or blues.  Something nice and chill that gets my heart rate  close to that of a Blue Whale.  So there I was, cruising down M37 enveloped in the raucous musical stylings of Mississippi John Hurt when suddenly I realized that there was a line of cars both in front of and behind me, all with bikes on the roof, trunk or shoved in the back seat.  So I began honking and waving at these strangers like a giddy little school girl.  Some did not take notice as I am sure their eardrums were being pierced by a Neil Peart drum solo.  Or perhaps they were rethinking the amount of embrocation they had applied and if maybe they got a little too close to the, ummm, chamois zone with it.  But most people shared in my enthusiasm and honked or waved back before visually inspecting my bike, judging wether or not I was going to be a threat to their dirt road dominance.  This was not the first time that I had experienced this type of wonderful pre-race commute comradery with total strangers.  In fact it was all  very reminiscent of the yearly pilgrimage up 131 on the first Friday of November for this little race from Kalkaska to Traverse City.  That is when it hit me.  Pardon my French, but the Barry-Roubaix is a big fuckin’ deal!  In six short years Rick Plite has brought this event from 288 racers congregating at the Long Lake Outdoor Center to 2800 (holy shit) racers, over 1000 spectators and nearly 300 volunteers completely inundating the town of Hastings.  Lets face it, that is the most people that some of the town folk will ever see in one place at the same time…ever.

The days leading up to the race this year were a bit different than last year.  A decent thaw meant that we would not be skating up and down the three sisters with our ass cheeks clenched firmly around the nose of our saddles.  In fact there was enough mud to cause more than a few racers to get a more intimate view of the backroads of Barry county.  I, of coarse went through the same mental stress as most, trying to decide what tires on what bike with what gears to bring.  In the end I chose to stick with my trusty 616 single speed with a set of 700×40 Kenda Happy Medium cross tires.  Gearing was my biggest dilemma and after scouting the course the night before, realizing the softness of the terrain, I decided to gear down a bit the night before.  This was a very wise decision.  Come race time the course was the consistency of almond butter.
3rd Quickly I realized that I had far too much pressure in my tires.  At times I literally turned to slap the hand of the person holding on to the back of my saddle.  I was digging into the muddy road surface quicker than Matt Remelts jumps at a free pickle offering.  But I couldn’t bring myself to stop and let air out.  I was on a single speed.  I was carrying some decent momentum and there were a few sections of pavement where the extra PSI would really come in handy.  So, I suffered a bit in the mud, but gained some serious ground on the pavement.  About 10 miles from the finish I felt my legs cramping.  Not really a “oh shit I just touched my testicle to an open electrical current” crippling type of cramp, but more of a “no Rob, we don’t really want you to stand all the way up this climb” kind of cramp.  Keeping this in mind and knowing what the final mile had in store, I decided to conserve just a bit for the last stretch.  As we veered not onto the familiar course of last years race I heard multiple, muffled explicatives pass the lips of those that obviously did not keep up on the latest race news.  Back onto the last stretch of pavement and we were staring up the last long climb.  I downed the last few drops of Heed in my bottle, punched at my thighs, wiggled my calves loose(ish), and stood hard on the pedals.  On my way up I could not help but laugh out loud at the man cursing the climb “What the fuck is this horse shit?”.  To which I gleefully replied “It’s the Barry-Roubaix!”
4thI have said it before and I will say it again, the Barry-Roubaix is my favorite race and it gets better every year.  Rick and Cathy Plite and Scott “Muff Daddy” Tencate really do an outstanding job organizing this epic race.  The after-party alone is worth coming to downtown Hastings for.  The Founders beer flowed freely (for a price ;)), the cheapest post race brews ever; 3-16oz for $10!
5thdelicious pork sandwiches, tacos, pizza, music by Sweet J, a couple thousand of your closest cycling friends and a bicycle riding bear in a bikini!
6thWhat more could one ask for.
Founders Racing, as always, made their presence known on the podium.  Well done to you all!
– Rob Meendering
Men Open 62 mile with 166 competitors
Earl Hillaker     54th in open class  3:24
Shawn Crowley     85th in open class  3:39
Ralf Sharnowski  111th in open class  3:56
Josh Hogeterp    116th in open class  4:00
Master’s men 62 mile with 110 competitors
Dennis Murphy   98th place 4:36
Single speed 62 mile 22 competitors
Jeremy Karel       10th place 3:34
Founder’s 62 mile team 9th of 14 teams
Men Age 38-39
Matt Remelts  14th place of 75    2:05
Men age 45-47
Ernie Stafford 78th place of 117  2:45
Men age 53-54
Brad Bacon      31st of  57  2:33
Paul Popielarz  36th of 57   2:35
Women 30-39
Jane VanHof 5th place of 41   2:20
Women 40+
Marnie Tencate 3rd place of 58  2:23
Men singlespeed  with 48 racers
Jeff Jacobi   5th        2:02
Gabe Niehof   14th       2:09
Tom Stolz     17th       2:14
Rob Meendering  28th     2:28

Jane and Marnie, racing and training

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than riding my bike at Ray’s Indoor MTB park with 200 other women!  After teaching a full week of school, I picked up Marnie and the two of us drove down to Cleveland under grey, winter skies and in freezing temperatures.  Despite the winter cold, the anticipation of the weekend to come fired our excitement.  Both of us had heard tales about Ray’s and were eager to put our skills to the test and learn from the best female racers in the US.
An electric vibe greeted us when we walked into Ray’s MTB Park the next morning.  All the women were ready to ride and learn from the likes of World Champion Leigh Donovan and her group of top-notch coaches.  Marnie and I didn’t feel like waiting for the 9AM start, so once we signed in we took off riding and exploring.  We started with the beginner loop, eased into the cross country loop, tried out some of the skills sections and pushed our 29ers over the pump track.  A group gathered at the start, so we reconvened just in time to watch the local Trek representative propose to his BMX riding girlfriend!  Lots of loud, tearful cheers for the happy couple from the 200 women as he bent down on one knee and placed the ring on her finger! 
Jane at rays
The coaches introduced themselves to the group, and Marnie and I headed off with Leigh Donovan and Lindsey Voreis, a professional racer and MTB skills instructor.  Their positive attitude and encouragement was amazing!  Leigh and Lindsey walked us through common errors riders make when approaching certain lines. Then, they each rode the lines showing both good and bad technique with their own personal tips and then had us each practice the line until we mastered the technique.  Their tips and demonstrations were awesome!  We stopped and asked for help and they willingly gave examples, advice and support.  We learned how to ride pump tracks, overcame fear of teeter-totters, practiced riding on and over logs, and choosing different lines to get to the end.  
Jane and Marnie
One challenge we had was the bunny hop – both Marnie and I wanted to get that skill down.  So, after lunch, we met up with Tammy Donahugh, a pro-rider from CO, and with her advice of giving our bikes a donkey kick, both of us were hopping our 29ers around the room like a couple of cowgirls.  We had lots of laughs with that session!
Next we took a break from learning skills and just ripped around the courses a few times, putting our new skills to the test.  The riding exhilarated us and gave us the endorphine and adreneline break we needed.  After we wore ourselves out for a bit we headed back to Leigh’s session and met up with a new coach there, Rae Gandolf.  There we worked some more on bike handling on tough lines with more pro tips from Rae!
The spirit of the women at Ray’s inspired both of us.  From the encouragement of our amazingly talented coaches to the kind words from fellow riders who braved a line before we did and pushed us to get back on our bikes after taking a tumble, the women there were inspirational.  Now if only this snow would melt so we could shred some trails!
For photos…there is the pinkbike link, there is a shot of Marnie and I that you can grab from my Facebook Page and there are a couple of photos on this Flickr page: