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Solavaca Cat Claw Classic

There’s something about the Solavaca course that’s unique. The first time I rode it, I hated it. The second time, I loved it.

The First Time:
I was hungry and it was hot and I was pre riding it at a pace that was pushing me. But the story doesn’t really start there. I rode from where I was camping to the parking lot and met with my friends. Since we had two new riders with us, the plan was to ride one loop with the newbies and another just the more experienced riders.

I’d describe Solavaca as a mixture of Abilene’s flats, rock features, and tight turns with Waco’s quick, short climbs. You’re doing one of these things: short, rocky climbs; unbelievably steep, short descents; twisting through super tight trees; or going all out on very flat single track.

So on Saturday, we started going, I was just starting to get into the flow of things when one of the noobs got a flat tire, about half a mile from the start. We changed it, only to have the tube break at the valve stem. We threw another tube in there and were off again. We went two turns and started climbing up this hill. It was pretty steep and right at the top there was a little rock garden called Fred’s Flintstones. I wasn’t quite sure of the line and ended up hitting one of the rocks wrong and having to stop. As I started to move out of the way, the new rider behind me hit the rocks wrong too and fell over. He couldn’t unclip and his handlebars smashed into my rim into some rocks and bent it. After we all untangled, I looked at my wheel. It was bent!

Since I couldn’t move the wheel past the seat stays without a great deal of force, I sent my friends on without me and limped back to the start area. I managed to find the Richardson Bike Mart mechanic’s tent and explained my situation. The wonderful mechanic pulled my wheel off of the frame and, with one swift and painful move, smashed the rim as hard as he could against the ground. Then after a couple of turns with a spoke wrench, my wheel was rideable.

Right at that time, flat tire noob came walking by with her third flat. Since both of us sacrificed our ride to the mountain biking gods, we decided to just wait.

And waited we did. It was a very long wait.

But eventually the other two riders came back and Justin and I took off for a fast lap at 3pm. Being hungry, hot, and going at a faster pace on a very strange course makes for a less than stellar performance. The company was excellent though.

There’s this one climb called Cola de Gato, labeled as the toughest climb on the course. Which it might be, since at the end of the climb there are two stair steps. I wasn’t too worried about it, since with stair steps, it’s often less energy to walk the bike over than riding it. And less energy expended means that you can start riding faster, meaning it’s a faster way of going through the obstacle. On the other side of the Cola de Gato, there’s this section called Hairball. As you’re approaching Hairball, the ground seems to disappear. You see the trail you’re on, the trail 100 yards in front of you, but what you can’t see is the trail between the two. You just see a line. You’re traveling at speed towards a giant cliff that you’re going to fall off of and die. You grab your brakes and almost crap your pants. Luckily, it’s just a steep down hill, not a cliff of instant death.

I would estimate that right where the trail changes, the angle is probably a -50 degree change that then slowly levels out over the course of 100 yards, and probably drops about 100 feet. Right where it changes, there’s these rocks, and I bet if you hit them fast enough, you could actually come off the ground and fly. I noticed that there was a tiny gap between them, back up to get enough speed and then shot the gap.

I made it to the bottom in no time flat, and also in one piece. I did have another friend that didn’t, he bent his front wheel, but that’s his story and he should tell it.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. There was one step down that I hit a little too fast and almost smashed myself on the back of my seat. We ended up in the flats, and I had to push myself pretty hard to catch up with Justin. And then the course decides to throw you into some quick ups and downs.

We made it back in about 50 minutes or so, setting the bar for the race pretty high. Justin managed to beat it by 9 minutes, and I had some issues.

The Second Time:
Race day! These later starts give you a lot of time to fiddle around and watch the others racers race, checking out their lines and how they do things. It also gives you a lot of time to stress and worry.

I did get a good warm up in, much better than the Double Lake race. We lined up and started, and I ended up in 5th as we hit the tight single track. I was doing great, I was feeling great and was really thinking I might do pretty well this race. I made it over the Fred’s Flintstones easily and without any rim issues. We started climbing again when I noticed that my back tire was starting to get really squishy. Squishy as in the tell-tale sign of being flat. I had to pull over and the rest of the fast people passed me.

I was leaking sealant a few places on the bead of the tire; I must have burped out some air on the rocks. I got out my tube and CO2 out and decided to try to get it to seal again. I ended up spending ten minutes fiddling with it and eventually got it sealed and back up to pressure. I probably should have just thrown a tube in there really quick, but I guess those are the little things you learn as you go.

In the meantime, the rest of my age group passed me. The entire age group past that passed me, and the age group after that too. My leg was marked 2, since I was in the second group to go off, and I got back in the trail in the middle of group 5.

This race is now a race to not be in last place. Not since my first race has it been a high level goal of mine to not be in last place; it’s always been a given that I wouldn’t be. I quickly set my sights on the racer in front of me and just pedaled as hard as I could. I’d pass the rider, set my sights on the next. The rest of the race was more of the same, with nothing to interesting happening besides these things:

  1. I took two corners too fast and had to plant my inside foot down. I am super glad I was able to pull out of them.
  2. At the flat, smooth top of Cola de Gato, this kid hit a rock and endo’d over his bars. The volunteer stand-off to the side and I both asked the kid if he was alright and he didn’t say anything. The volunteer asked again, demanding that the kid answered, and the kid weakly said “yeah” and started moving. It was pretty scary that he wasn’t answering.
  3. When I saw my first rider with a 2 on his leg, I almost cried for joy. I told him that I was so happy to see him and that he was now in last place.

When it was all said and done, I ended up in 22nd out of 26 with a time of 57:41 – 7+ minutes slower than my pre ride time. I’m pretty sure that I would have finished around 47 or 48 minutes, which would have put me in 11th or 12th. 11th or 12th would have been much nicer and would have given me more than paltry 9 points for the series. Heck, the 15 points from the last race was nicer than 9. But there’s always Paydirt and I have 4 races that I’m planning on having dropped from the scoring.

Truthfully, I was not as upset at this race as I was about the last race. Mechanical issues are removed, in my mind, from my actual skill and effort as a racer. I actually raced hard, I rode some of the features really, really well. There’s this one hill that I just flew up and was at the top without even thinking about it. It makes me excited for my next race.

 

 

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