By Marcelo Marcos and Tiber Scheer (Photo Credit: Matt Slager)
Enrico Fermi developed the world’s first nuclear reactor back in 1942 and recently I got to do my very first mountain bike race of the year on top of its buried remains near Red Gate Woods.
As a transplant to this city from Mexico, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the mountain bike community in the geographically flat Chicago. The REI Palos Meltdown has been the culmination of my positive experience with the area’s organized mountain bike collective.
Image courtesy www.palosmeltdown.com
The fact that the course was counterclockwise to how the trails are usually ridden, slightly worked to erase any sort of home field advantage. Regardless, it was great to find new lines in the reverse direction of the familiar trails.
Palos Meltdown is usually held during the latter part of summer (when trails are apt to dry a little quicker), and draws seasoned racers, Palos trail riding regulars, and dirtbaggers from near and far.
In recent years, the Meltdown has grown into a two day festival. Saturday saw the kickoff with demo bikes from some of the biggest names in mountain bikes. Local shops were on site offering special deals. Ride and race clinics were held as well as a group ride.
Photo credit: Monika Kowalska
Personally, I’ve been looking forward to this year’s Meltdown since the moment I got a flat in last year’s race.
Flashback to 2015: Week before the 2015 race, I am able to hit the trails and get some pre-rides in on the posted course. Race day, I’m doing great…top 20 or so in the novice category, ¾ in on the race I get a flat. I have the spare, CO2, I think I’m good. Wrong. My spare tube has a short stem and my CO2 inflator will not catch, too short. I end up running the rest until I spot someone with a floor pump. I’m able to make it to the finish…DFL.
Present day (or at least last Sunday). I have a proper spare tube, I’m good. I haven’t been out to ride Palos that much this year but pretty familiar with the trails, so not too worried. I had been riding other trails though. The courses had been posted for a while but for some reason I didn’t note the direction. This year the race was being run clockwise (I normally ride this counter). Hmmm…there went some comfort. Also, this year I decided since I was doing so well last year prior to flatting, I should probably be racing up a category.
30 minutes before start I’m watching the finish of the Novice category. I’m cheering on my son, daughter, teammates and fellow Chainlink ambassador Jasmin Welter as they head up the hill to the finish. This year, the race starts at the bottom of a hill, so I spent the last 15 minutes before the race doing some hill repeats to get my heart rate up and ready for racing.
Go time. Whistle is blown, I head up the hill leading out to the multi-track that leads to the trails. First stretch leads through some coarse gravel. No big deal, but it’s been so dry, a monstrous dust cloud is kicked up by the racers and many are coughing. I look down at my Garmin machine, it’s just showing elapsed time not speed, HR, etc. It’s on ‘indoor’ setting. So much for that, Pfft! Back to race, everyone is pushing to get in good position prior to the singletrack where the course will narrow and passing will be much more difficult. About a quarter into the race, I see a member of Team Spider Monkey rider down and off to the side after a “choose your adventure” spot. To the right of trail is a clean line, to the left are some logs fashioned into a sort of ramp. Sometimes, In order to get an advantage over other riders you have to take the more challenging route. Unfortunately, this spot not only took this guy out but several others as well.
Photo credit: Martin McGuire
Noted crashes aside, the course direction was not an issue. The bigger hurdle was positioning. Now, I’m not a really fast guy by any means but I am pretty good at the technical and the punchy climbs. Where I’d get dropped on straight aways or long climbs, I’d make up that time on the more technical root-y sections of the trail. Most of the race was spent calling on your left passing folks. Again, I was surprising myself, I was doing pretty well. AND…then I crashed, on a root. Going fast into a turn, I needed to steer sharper to ride over a root but I didn’t turn sharp enough. Imagine riding along a curb and turning slightly toward it to jump up it. Ain’t gonna happen and it didn’t for me. I took a spill, banged me up a bit. Brushed off, quick check of the bike, saw a ton of riders passing me by and then back on the bike.
After my spill, my race was largely uneventful; trying to gain back the spots I lost, unsuccessfully on being slightly gassed but still just enjoying being out there racing. Approaching the uphill finish straight, I was pretty stoked on getting through relatively unscathed. No flats, no mechanicals, Stoked. Huge thanks to all the Meltdown folks and especially all of the course marshals out there making sure everyone stayed on course and safe.
Visit www.cambr.org to learn more about Chicago-area trails, and events such as the Palos Meltdown.