(I could have used Roxy's nav skills on the O stage!)
I was surprised in the days and then hours leading up to The MOMAR at how calm I was. Whenever I raced with Todd and even during my solo venture in Squamish back in May, I got pretty uptight and stressed about things until the race actually began. This time, nothing. It took me a bit to realize that this was the first MOMAR race I'd attended in years where I felt there was zero expectations on me, mostly placed there by myself of course! After proving in Squamish that I can't navigate my way out of a paper bag I knew it would be a long shot to grab the overall win, sans Todd, that I'd been dreaming of and hoping for. Damn you Nowack...I need you...please take me back!!
It's been just over a year now since I sold my mtn bike and started pursuing ultra running with 100% of my training time. I most certainly miss the bike from time to time, but the running is going so good that I'm not sure I'll throw down the cash again anytime soon. Thankfully Bryan Tasaka was generous enough to spot me his custom built Berg Bike for the race. The bike was sweet...but Bryan and I possess different geometries. After the smooth check in process, in which I love catching up with all the great people I've met through the MOMAR over the years, I took his bike for a test spin. It was my third time on a mountain bike in the last thirteen months, and outside of my daily bike commute to work, which is a 3min 600meter uphill ride, I really hadn't spun the legs lately either. Outside of the fact that I had to pull the seat post out by about 24 inches the bike felt great. Maybe I just hadn't ridden enough lately to know any different. From there it was off to the campground for a night under the stars.
Race morning and again no nerves. Todd would be shocked. One year prior I'd stressed him out and we ended up flipping our outrigger off the start of the race!
Maps were handed out and overall I liked the course. The bike leg was completely flagged which was great news. The urban nav is always a cake walk, so I was really looking at some nav on the first trek, slight nav on the second bike, and then an Orienteering course to finish it all off. I knew then and there that heading into the O stage I'd need a sizable lead over the field to have a shot at anything.
A Beautiful Day For A Paddle
With almost 300 racers sitting on the water for the enduro course it was like a wave pool when the horn sounded. Initially I was surprised at how I was handling my Current Designs Nomad kayak and I fell into a good draft behind Norm and Graham in a double surf ski. I quickly learned however that as soon as your hull escapes the initial pull of that draft it's like a handbrake has been pulled. I grabbed a second draft before being thrown out ten minutes later. My pedals seemed to be sticky and occasionally I'd zig zag while messing with them. That was just enough for me to loose contact and get dropped like I was sitting still. This continued for most of the stage until with about 1/3 left a double passed me with such a broad hull that you could have tucked two kayaks into its draft. I took it down a notch and glided behind, knowing the extra effort would be wasted energy at that point.
(The entire course in Google Earth)
I managed to be 13th off the water, first solo kayak, and I found myself exactly eight minutes back of Markez who was in the overall lead while paddling a surf ski. Bart, the Squamish victor, was second off the water and five minutes up, also in a ski, while the main pack was just sixty seconds ahead of me. I was quite pleased with where I found myself, for as I'd learned in Squamish, if ya can't nav, ya aint' doing yourself any favors by being the first person onto the course!
Onto The Run, Here Comes Grasby!
I had a quick transition and started hammered down the short road section that would lead us into a massive trail climb. I passed a few people, stalled on the first CP, but was paying attention which was an improvement for me, and then ventured into the biggest climb of the day. Things went well up most of the climb but at most intersections I'd end up referring to my map again, not wanting to get lost, and then the smooth navigators would catch up to me, point the way, and I'd set off running again. This repeated itself all the way to the top of the climb at which point the map did not correspond in my mind...which means it was probably perfectly set of course! I ended up waiting a few minutes for the pack to catch up again and as a group we started searching. Out of nowhere Jeremy Grasby blasts through, glances at his map and is gone again! We all followed suit, finding the CP shortly thereafter, but Grasby had already vanished like a ghost!
The road headed down from here so I opened up a bit and distanced myself from the pack again. After a few minutes I spotted Jeremy, about 400 meters ahead, running strong and confident. Internally I said to myself,
"There's your race right there! Catch him now or spend the afternoon out here running in circles!"
I pushed hard and caught up to Grasby in about two minutes.
"Hey dude how's it going! Mind if I tag along for a little bit here?"
"Naw, more the merrier!"
Ten seconds after that we flew past Norm, Graham, Jay, Jeff and John, who all finished in the top seven overall, and were all looking quite confused. Grasby didn't flinch,
"I think I know a short cut, this may or may not work out for us."
"Either way it's already faster than I woulda been!"
Sure enough just thirty seconds later he nailed it. Local knowledge goes a long ways in adventure racing! Grasby knocked off the next two cps like clockwork and while running along side him, with about a mile till the bike transition, he told me to get going. It didn't quite feel right, but he reiterated and I didn't hesitate. We passed Bart shortly thereafter and I managed to hit the bikes in 1st overall...thanks to Jeremy of course!
(Grasby out on Bike, John in off trek)
My First Mountain Bike Ride Since Squamish MOMAR!
The bike course was completely flagged. I knew it would be my only true shot on the day at having a direct comparison to the field. I hopped onto Bryan's Berg and was out in seconds. I passed Jeremy, Bart and John as we initially doubled back the way we came. My lead was under sixty seconds to these guys...the race had officially begun!
The first few kms of the ride were on fire road and I wasn't sold on the fact that I'd be able to ride Bryan's bike efficiently. Questions within my head flourished around how I'd handle the technical stuff once I got there...and there's never any shortage of technical terrain in a MOMAR and especially one in Cumberland!
Sure enough I did manage to find a groove and with each section of trail that I 'cleared' my confidence in myself and my ride escalated. I knew Grasby was the fastest rider, even on his single speed he consistently puts in the fastest bike splits at the MOMARs he attends. So it was with some surprise that I found myself about 30min and 30% into the ride having yet to be caught by him. At that point I knew I must be riding strong and again this only buoyed my confidence, which is a big part of mountain biking.
For the first time in years there was a mandatory gear check on course. I hit it, was asked for pump and whistle, and while struggling to locate my air cartridge I heard a noise behind me. I showed the gear and was cleared to go, but Grasby nearly touched my rear wheel as he pulled in behind me.
"SHIT! He caught me!" I should also add that I dropped AT LEAST four seconds while rifling around trying to find my gear...I'll explain that a bit later...
As mentioned this animal that is Jeremy Grasby rides a single speed bike...as in the same kind you had when you were a kid...no gears...no gears...no gears?! Yet he consistently out performs the rest of us on our 27 speed bikes!! And the MOMAR has no shortage of very talented riders.
I dove into the next section of technical trail just hoping to hold him off. Eventually that spit me out onto a flatter section of terrain. As I shifted one by one into harder and harder gears,
"HA HA, take that single speed man!!!"
Shortly thereafter we hit the major intersection before the long, arduous climb up to 'Bucket Of Blood'. As I pulled into the CP,
"Nice work Gary, you're in first!"
"Yeah but Grasby is about three seconds behind me!!"
I then put my head down and got to work on the ascent that would eventually lead to one of my favorite descents from any MOMAR. I was working hard but all I could think to myself was,
'Wow, I can't believe how good I feel right now. I'm not even struggling with cramping like I normally do!'
I was in the middle of my best solo MOMAR race to date. I felt strong and once we reached the hike a bike section I actually started running it with my bike in tow. Of course this was fueled by not wanting to be caught by Grasby!
WHOOP WHOOP! I Love This Stuff!
The descent was AMAZING. I was locked into an rhythm like I hadn't experienced in years. Everything clicked, and I felt at one with the bike. I didn't hesitate an ounce and I attacked the trail at every turn. By the time I hit the main intersection once more I had apparently opened up a few minutes on Jeremy...of which he would promptly gain right back!
On the final trails back into Cumberland I was quietly pleased with myself for staying out front and holding off the pack. As I came around a turn in the trail there was a log ride of about 200 meters and maybe a foot wide. To fall off either side was but a two foot drop, but the time lost would be decent while getting back onto the trail itself. There was a clear cut alternate route around this log ride...I didn't even flinch, I just rode right up onto and smoothly across the log ride. It felt awesome!
ARE YOU SURE IT'S HERE?!!
I hit transition still in the lead and quickly headed out on the urban nav.
First CP, hidden in a tree...with no 'hints' as to where things might be hidden I ran into the Info Centre three times to bother the lady behind the counter...
"But there's nothing out there! Are YOU SURE they hung something??"
I was on the verge of assuming it was a mistake and continuing on without having found it when I forced myself into one final search.
"DAMMIT! It's buried in a tree!"
The following three CP's were smooth sailing but upon my return to the bike I could see Grasby, Markez, and Bart all on the same stage...this was going to be the tightest finish I'd ever been a part of!
Onto the bike for the final ride to the start-finish area and the dreaded Orienteering stage! There was one CP to locate on the bike. I remember at the MOMAR in 07 myself and Mark Fearman hit this exact location on our bikes with Jeremy Grasby. He showed us a short cut. I thought I could locate it but didn't want to take any chances this late in the race so I settled on taking the longer yet safer approach. Upon arrival at the CP,
"How many ahead of me?"
"You're the first!"
Then a rustling to my left,
"Grasby, I thought I might see you here!"
We both grabbed punched our passports and flew through the descent which spit us out onto the paved road that would lead us back to the lake where it all began just under 4hr prior. It exactly mimicked 2007 as I turned to Grasby and apologized for having gears,
"See ya in a few minutes I'm sure!"
Still In First, But Not For Long...
I hit the transition into the final stage still in first. It was all I could have hoped for. I'd given myself at least a shot at winning this thing, but it was all summed up with the next words I heard,
O course designer Carl Cogger to me,
"It's Gary...without Todd!"
"Yes Carl, I know I'm screwed now!"
He laughed, assured me I'd be fine, then handed me my map. I was dumbfounded, I mean truly flabbergasted at what I was starting at. I had held a true O map like this just once in the previous three years. All I kept thinking was,
"Shit...shit...shit...this has to make some kinda sense...shit! That was followed up with, just chill, stay calm, don't move till it starts to make sense, you'll be fine, just give yourself some time."
It was like staring into one of those old holographic type pics we all had back in the late 90's. You stare and stare and stare until a dolphin kissing a whale appears before you...but there was no dolphin yet and Grasby had already come and gone with his map!
"Ok, just pick an easy CP, find it, then you'll work your way into the map."
I walked through the start-finish area, got made fun of by Dave Norona on the mic, and was then convinced I could finally make out what was going on. I took a small trail up to a parking lot, took a secondary trail to a higher parking area, turned the map a few times here and there, confirmed some stuff...yup, trees there, bushes there, this must be the trail...I took a slight side trail up to what should have been a CP in a small depression...BOOYA!! Right there in front of me was the CP, I'd found one! I was doing alright, the map was starting to make sense to me! What happened next was astonishing, I mean truly downright amazing, in fact I'd even suggest that to get hit by lightning might be more likely...I'd found the WRONG CP. I mean we could gather them in any order, so it still counted, but I had just spent five minutes of very precise movements based upon what I saw upon my map. I orientated it all, took a slue of trails and eventually chose a tiny side trail that lead me to my current location. I had found CP H while I thought I was looking for CP G...they were about 400 meters apart. CP G was on the other side of my map all together, in fact I had to open up my folded down version to actually locate where the hell I currently was.
"OK, not quite sure how that just happened? Not really needing answers now either, just more CPs. At least I know now where I am on this damn thing!!"
Then I heard some rustling and Grasby appeared out of nowhere, now searching for his third control on the orienteering course. He to me,
"Hey, you looking for H?"
"Umm, yeah, yeah totally, like I just totally found it right up there...and it was intentional too I'll have ya know..."
We then set off in the same direction for the next two controls before I ran slightly ahead for my now fourth passport stamp. I already knew that Jeremy would now stand atop the MOMAR podium, and he rightly deserved to do so. I was concentrating on just staying on that podium myself. As I found the next control and was working my way towards it Jeremy trailed just behind. I grabbed and punched, then looked up in shock,
Grasby, Markez, Jarmula, Thibault, and Cockshedge were all approaching the same control from different directions!! Internally I started to freak out, then talked myself back down.
My next decision was intentional but most likely ill thought out. Most headed in the same direction, I knew at that point that they were all ahead of me how many controls they had found and to surpass them I'd have to go solo and hope that as a group they struggled to find one or more before the finish. This was the end of my race. I set off to find what ended up being one of the harder punches and after spending minutes in and around the right area Grasby came up from behind me, located it, helped me do the same, and then took off to claim his race.
I located my next without issue and had but two remaining. We were all in the forest just up from the finishing area and could hear M.C. Dave Norona loud and clear,
And The Winner Is...
"Jeremy Grasby is looking like he's about to claim the overall title at The Cumberland MOMAR!!"
That was fine, I knew he'd do so, I had two controls left to go, just gotta...
"Norm Thibault and Graeme Cockshedge are in as the first double and second across the line!"
"Ok, not a problem, I..."
"Bart Jarmula is gonna be the second solo!"
"Ok if I can just locate these in a hurry..."
"John Markez snags third place solo male!"
"DAMMIT!!!!!!!!!!" I believe I actually let out a shriek, a tear or two, and then started stomping my feet through the forest...stupid nav, stupid AR, stupid teammate moving to Norway for a year and making me look...stupid!!
As I struggled to find the second to last CP Bryan Tasaka actually grabbed the mic,
"Gary Robbins! Where are you?!"
I laughed, it was funny. Norona had a go at me too, but I deserved what I was getting at that point. I grabbed my final two controls and ran across the line for 4th solo male, 5th overall. It was the closest MOMAR I've ever seen. Top four were separated by just 2m28s! Then there was me in 5th, having taken ten minutes longer than the rest ahead of me to find my way through the O course. I would finish 8m30s behind the winner. Todd, come home, I'll pay for your flight!!
(The irony of having Todd with his hands in the air behind me as I stand in defeat in front of my own celebratory pic!!)
I'd actually go as far as to say that this was my best ever solo MOMAR race, it also just happened to be my worst result in about four years. My only solace...I had the second fastest bike split, just three seconds slower than Mr. Single Speed himself. Berg Bikes, big thumbs up!
MOMAR, Bryan Tasaka, it's love-hate at this point...mostly love though. Thanks for another incredible race course and party weekend...I actually body surfed on the dance floor at the after party...which would explain why it took me three full days to recover from the weekend!
Till Squamish, have a great winter MOMAR racers-organizers-volunteers you've topped yourselves yet again and it was an incredible way to cap off the 10th Anniversary of the best Adventure Races in Canada (Sorry Geoff, I'm biased!)