Our booth table was becoming a shrine to excessive binge drinking with empty glasses littered across the top. Finally common sense prevailed and we pulled the plug on the night’s fun a little after midnight. Some of our guys in the group had to be up early to register and because the RV was parked next to the course it was obvious that we would be getting a PA wake-up first thing in the morning. Our designated driver shouldered his responsibility like a true champion and entered the address into the GPS to guide us back to Mercer Park. However the Tom Tom lead us into the heart of Trenton. And what should have been at most a 20 minutes drive took at least an hour and half of cursing, farting and general unpleasantries before we finally arrived back at the RV. By the time we hit the rack it was well after 2:00 AM.
Like any other booze binge I’ve done the following morning is always a chore. My dad, who is Irish and enjoys drinking, would always give me shit when I was hung-over, like it was a weakness. “Hey, you hung over? What’s wrong with you boy?” Perhaps I’ve gotten soft living the good life in the States. Whatever the reason I could feel my kidneys and they were pissed. Then like predicted, the PA started up at 6:00 blaring club music. We all stumbled out of the RV, some going to register, the rest of us heading to the public bathrooms. As expected, even at such an early hour they were already destroyed. It was as if Dante’s seventh layer of hell had risen and opened up in the men’s bathroom in New Jersey.
Coffee is an imperative in the morning. Luckily we had the forethought to have someone who was driving up in the morning bring us a to-go container of liquid motivation. The course was a disaster and getting worse by the minute. The 35+ category was not rolling out till noon and with every passing hour the conditions worsened. I once again reevaluated my options. There was no way in hell that I was going to put in a good performance. I’d gotten maybe three hours of sleep, was slightly hung over and had never ridden in mud. The only sensible option was to continue drinking. The cooler was opened, so we cracked open beers and watched the racers stream by. We had the perfect spot; up against the fencing between the finish line and the first left hand turn onto the mud. We also had a great view of the riders as they tried to navigate the off-camber section of the course. There were sure to be crashes and we were prepared and a little buzzed.
As the morning wore on the actual race became secondary to the heckling, ball busting and drinking that was going on in our compound. I decided to get off my ass, leave our area and go to the pit. Cannondale, Specialized and Kona all had their trailers set up with the bikes out for inspection. However, it was still too early for the big dogs to leave the comfort of their hotel rooms. It was just the mechanics making tweaks and generally getting the bikes ready. And with the conditions being absolutely shitty, riders would be pitting their bikes every lap, so having multiple bikes ready was not an option but a necessity.
About an hour before my race I decided I’d better stop drinking and kit up. I had on my long sleeve Infinity Racing skinsuit, giving the illusion of someone who knew what the hell they were doing. My additional piece of equipment for this weekend was my Road ID bracelet. I was not worried so much about crashing and being knocked unconscious, more likely passing out somewhere and the Road ID would be able to identify me for pick up later. I even brought a wind trainer to warm up on. On the surface I looked competent and had even received compliments on how skinny I looked. I even did a few 30 second intervals on the trainer to get the blood pumping. However I still had dry mouth, was hungry and was unmotivated. I really just wanted to hang out, drink and heckle. But I was there with the bike, so I might as well do it. Cush was also in my race and he seemed to be as motivated as me. We rolled over to staging and waited for what was going to be a painful 45 minutes.
The countdown started at 30 seconds. Usually this is when I get butterflys in the stomach, but this was not the case today. The course had been reduced to a mud bog and it was evident that there was going to be some serious amount of running. I was not trying to impress anyone and just wanted to finish this race and get back to being obnoxious. As we got down to 15 seconds the race official stopped counting aloud and I knew that any second it was go time. Boom, we were off. My spot on the grid was near the back but for whatever reason I wanted to improve my position and frantically tried to move up on the asphalt section of the course. I wormed my way past a handful of riders and hit the first turn onto the course. As expected it was a shit show of riders teetering over, slowing down or just crashing. I was forced to dismount and run. And that was generally the theme of my whole race: ride, get bogged down, dismount, run and remount. With every remount my rear tubeless tire burped a little more air till it was completely flat. I pulled into the pit to discover my comrades in arms posted up there with Cush’s spare ‘cross bike. They were willing to give me a SRAM wheel to keep me in the fight but I decided to pull the plug and drink. They had the common sense to bring beer to the pit. So there I stood cold, muddy and slightly dejected to have to withdraw due to a mechanical. The rest of my equipment stood up to the abuse. My SRAM Rival group was covered in mud, yet it still shifted like a champ. After pounding a beer I walked back to the RV to continue drinking with the rest of the gang. Cush had soldiered on and rode a lap drinking a beer. Yeah, we were serious.