If I'm going to brag, I should also demean myself a bit too. I've been riding mountain bikes forever, but have never been a great racer. I can blame it on several traits. I never train. I love to ride, but riding for the sake of improving fitness doesn't work for me. The minute I throw a leg over a bike I just want to get squirrely and have fun. I'm also lazy and lack self-discipline. Thanks to years of motocrossing when I was younger, riding bicycles is a cakewalk for me, but compared to honed cyclists, I'm still basically a kook. I also lack that competitive drive. I don't really care if someone passes me and if I'm tired I slow down. Years of entering races then finishing in the back of the pack proved to me long ago that I'd never be the next John Tomac.
The point of all this, like any other experienced mountain biker who does poorly in races will tell you, is that the true satisfaction of racing comes when you hit the downhill sections. After struggling through miles of racing we're usually slogging it out with the slower riders in the back who tend to be less skilled. Our edge is, although we're not great at climbing or fast in other sections when we hit the downhills we can rip. As we exact our revenge on these hapless riders, casually passing those we were battling with minutes ago, you can't help but feel a little guilty. We know these squids aren't a worthy competition, but it's so fun flying by someone who is timidly picking their way down a nasty section, especially when you're taking a sick line around them going twice as fast.
Of course, in the middle of the race, you need to be a little courteous because chances are they'll be passing you back come the next long climb. But towards the end of a race, you can just let it go and wildly pass everyone and try to scrap some self-respect as you move up in the standings from 263rd to 237th.
Which brings me around to the meat of this story, which is the time I passed seven riders on one hill. The beauty of it was two-fold. First, it happened near the beginning of the race and I was actually near the front of the pack. This means the riders were actually good and I didn't have the before mentioned guilt pangs of passing riders that weren't that great, to begin with. This was a legitimate pass on top racers who were my peers. Secondly, this occurred on an open part of the course, so not only did I pass seven riders at once, they all witnessed it in clear view. Unfortunately, there weren't any spectators there, my friends didn't see it, the pass wasn't caught on video-tape and ESPN was elsewhere.
Now for the setting: the course was in terrain littered with lots of rocks. Not loose, rolling rocks, but rocks imbedded in the ground. Rocks whose stubborn tops stuck out like thousands of iceberg tips in a sea of dirt. The singletrack section consisted of weaving around the immobile stones, in a constant dance of avoiding these wheel-stopping obstacles by carving non-rhythmic little arcs.
The first short climbs failed to separate the masses, and soon everyone was riding single file through this rock maze bumping into each other and playing follow-the-leader. As the flat top section rolled over the hill, I was relieved that the downhill would open up the field and end this frustrating pace. As we crested the hill I was disappointed to see that the lead rider wasn't too swift and the entire pack was stuck behind him as he crept down the first decent drop.
The course was on an old abandoned jeep trail, and years of hikers and cyclists had chosen the right side, leaving it exposed and packed. The neglected left side was completely overgrown and ignored, all but lost. Hidden beneath the weeds were those same damn rock outcroppings we had all been avoiding at all costs just seconds earlier. They were lurking there in this unused line, just waiting to attack.