ES Fat Tire Festival Diary 07-18-08 to 07-20-08

7/24/2008 - Gary Lowden

Blue skies, 3 days of racing, food, more food, entertainment, beer (only one I swear), in a fun city with awesome course conditions - all made for a great weekend down at Eureka Springs for the running of the 2008 Fat Tire Festival.


Friday.  Got a late start heading down – you know that thing you have to do to pay for entry fees (work), well it got in the way a bit. After some slight panicking about being late for the Short Track sign ups, we swung in with 5 bikes on the truck and checkbook in hand with about 30 minutes to spare - so we split up and got S. hooked up and his bike ready to start the OMNI challenge; (Short Track, Downhill, Observed Trials & XC).  S’s Short Track group was the first to go off with the venue being 15 minutes of dirt criterium racing and then two laps to the finish.  The course was same as last year – a bit of gravel and dirt fire-road with some pavement thrown in for speed. To keep the pace active the officials threw in 3 primes for the first three laps; $30 $20 and $10. Dang if it wasn’t a skinny “SKC kit” wearing kid that came across first spot - all three times! He settled into a decent pace with another dude hanging with him, traded lead just a few times until the final bell went off and then took of at a full sprint uphill to blow the guy up and then cruised to a 1st place finish with plenty of gap. Awards were fun – held at a great restaurant called Sparky’s.  S. pulled in some more sweet prizes for 1st – with Z man being the quickest of the bunch - during the swag toss – leaping, diving and ducking to capture a few launched water bottles and a T-shirt.


Saturday. The morning was gorgeous… brew up a hot cup-o-joe, cook and eat some camp bacon and eggs, load up the DH and OT bikes – drop off S. to get a DH practice run in before the start and then haul @$$ to the DH finish to wait out the parental fear of your baby’s potential for damaged skin and bones. I took off walking up the course – dripping wet from the humidity and settled into a spot with a smooth run up to a 4’ jump and a sweet run out. Got the video cam out, on and focused awaiting the first indication that the Starter was sending them down. I’m slapping away at gnats and such – certain that I felt a tick on my leg – when I look up and there is a dark helmet and familiar shape flying past the unattended camera – all I could do was yell out “why the ale did they send you first? So… head drooping, I wander back to the finish, avoiding questions of “how did the video come out?” and await the second run for S. which goes off without a hitch, flat or loss of blood – everyone especially momma is happy as we head off to down some lunch and get over to the DH awards where S. takes 2nd in the Junior Division, (more prizes to take home with a big grin), and then we get both boys ready for the Observed Trials.


Sat. afternoon. Grouping up the beginner OT contestants finds that there are 12 of them - Awesome!!! A large group of spectators start following us around the 4 pre-set courses. S and Z are sharing a bike quite well and pull off some cool moves – on a very challenging course. I get lured into being a Scoring Judge and Carrie decides she doesn’t want to be around and moves off to watch the other group compete. We spend most of the afternoon working through the circuits 3 times with S and Z doing decent but up against a couple of other kids that lead the day. We have just enough time to shower and get back to town for Dinner at Pied Piper, (this is when I had my beer), and the OT awards where S and Z wind up 6th and 12th  in the OT comp. Awesome for Zack – and a winner in my book for just being willing to compete in his first OT. He was able to negotiate some of the hazards and definitely showed some starting talent for hopping on rocks on a bike. S. had an off day but definitely learned from the experience.


Sunday. Big event day! After an early morning cup-o-joe some scrambled eggs and mmmmm-sausage we load up the XC gear and get downtown with plenty of time to spare. I was a bit worried with my recent tendency to cramp up in the heat so I had been supplementing with HEED for the last three days – hoping it would help.


The XC stages up downtown – cool environment, lots of racers, spectators and such. The course winds uphill immediately – through the city streets and back alleys with a drop into another section of town, pavement, gravel roads and back up narrow tracks to a rolling pavement section prior to dropping into the park. From there it screams downhill with some rollers, bench cut and ravine sections with a short uphill and traverse before dropping to the ball fields, cross the creek and hit the DH course (but now it is uphill), and climb to the ridge top where you are awarded with more sweet bench cuts, traverses and a sketchy downhill section back to pavement. A short trip along this and then into a meadow precludes the climb up the seven sisters, (switch backs). After a short reprieve around the top of the skirt, up we go, down we go, up, up we go – looking back down at your cassette you swear there has to be just one more gear left. From here it is all downhill – kinda. Some great traverses, bench cuts, low rollers and on to, (my favorite), a final, tree lined, twisty downhill to the lake loop.  You’re now rolling on a section of fire road to the dam crossing and into the rocky, brutal trail that meanders just above the lake shore. Short steep ups and downs break up some winding bench cut sections and then drop you off onto the paved lane leading to the new finish – or (class dependent), start of your next two lake laps!


(Editors lead note – gary really has nothing against roadies)


Staged and  ready to launch - BANG - and off we go! I get in the top 10 at the jump and we gap the rest pretty quick, up through the steep streets and past an ancient lady with a cup of tea, waving at us in a sort of ”what the ale is this” kinda look. By the next section we are already catching some younger dudes and just before we top out at the first hill, I have a guy with shaved legs catch up and move past me – out of the saddle! The next traffic jam occurs at a single track section on the final climb out of the city, mr. smoothie fumbles in the switchbacks and I get past him and also pass another smoothie – leading up to the pavement rollers they catch me, pass me - but luckily, I grab a wheel and hang on.  We hit the first downhill section with me sandwiched between them and I quickly realize that these guys are strong – much stronger than I – but don’t have a clue how to handle speed, dirt and downhill – I opt to sneak by whilst one of them skitters around a turn with both feet out of the peddles and his arse on the top tube. I continue downward, loving the speed and isolation for a bit – back onto the bench cut  and traverses until #2 catches me, and passes on a short steep uphill – Schiest! he's out of the saddle too!  He leads us through some fast and fun narrow rollers, entertaining me with plenty of his near misses, and we loop around on the flank of a small ridge prior to the downhill to the ballpark when he looses it on a straight section and whacks a small tree with body and bike. After suppressing a sick sort of chuckle, I make sure he is okay and then depart telling him to rest a bit so he can gather his wits – really hoping for time to get some distance between myself and mr. squirrel, (formally known as smoothie #2). I continue on all the while feeding and fueling like mad so I can keep the cramps away. I move smoothly up the downhill course, passing a few, back to the pavement and start into the meadow when – Schiest – here they are again. I hold them off through the seven sisters, and onto the first fire road climb – and mr. smoothie passes me (standing again!).  I gulp down a big lung full and wheeze out “dude you are awesome… way to battle back!” He ignores me…. We go down into the gulley and back up Mrs. Brutal Climb, (did I forget to mention her? this is where you always need one more gear). Mr. Smoothie takes off while I try to do anaerobic math to figure out if that puts me at 7th or 8th or whatever – I give up the math quickly and go about the task of keeping the rate up. I catch a few youngsters – and hit the final fast downhill – swooping, screaming and loving it. A short bit on the gravel road, across the dam and into the rocks – dreadful when they are wet – fun when they are dry. In this technical stuff I catch Mr. Smoothie fairly quick, and hang out for a bit looking for some comedic relief – not to be disappointed.  After a bit, I realize that we are probably slowly getting caught and so I move past - on a rocky down section – mr. smoothie opts for picking his way through on the right and I take two big drops on the left with a little yeee haw and as I head off, picking up speed, I hear a few ooofs and schiests and then no more, (found out later - he was okay – he just double flatted).


Happy I am to be old, happy I am to be in Sport, happy I am that I do not have to do another lap around the lake… Grateful that no cramps occurred, I come to the end of my race and, along with a 30 something dude, we cruise across the finish – me in 6th spot.


The boys.

S. dude lines up where he is supposed to…awaiting his start, a few others in his group hanging out and chatting. A dozen rows ahead of them the start official says – oh yea 15-16 yr olds you can take off too.  huh? HUH! Oh schiest! (wonder where he got that), 15 - 16 yr olds flying left, right, back, forward. S. lifts bike up, pushes to the right, gets on sidewalk, climbs over a few bodies, s’cuese me, s’cuese me!, runs along sidewalk, drops off onto road, superman onto saddle, start peddling! Quickly catches up to his main group passes them and just keeps on going to run down the 17+’s. Has a joy climbing and passing, and even more fun descending into the park, heads up the DH section, blasts the rollers and tight stuff, starts back down – gets to the bottom and flats, scrambles to swap tubes, can’t find tire iron, (people passing by – yep you  guessed it – schiest!), tries a stick, sunglass earpiece, anything… finds the tire iron sitting on the ground looking at him, (people passing by)… s! s! s! s!,  tube in, tire on, pumping like mad, gets back on, speed, speed, speed! Pedal, pedal, pedal! - under the bridge, through the woods and onto the bench cut leading towards the finish – bang! flats again!   Hmmm… I think I am close - my brother ran the last race – why not me? Finishes on foot for a sweet and sweaty 3rd place.


Z man.  What can you learn from a kid that lines up to a high adrenaline event, tons of pressure, excitement, noise, certain pain, sweat – maybe some blood… and winds up making friends, chatting with the dude next to him about PSP games, lizards, breakfast burritos, fishing and such?  Don’t take anything too seriously is what he is showing us…

Z takes off at the gun, climbs the town face on a 2:1 gear ratio – almost to the top, has to dismount and push a bit - gets back in the saddle, swoops down the pavement sections – feet & legs off the pedals at 45d angles to the road - climbs the single track out of town in the saddle, passes a guy ready to loose his lunch – debates whether to stay and watch… but racing mode takes over and he continues on… Hooks up through the pavement rollers on the wheel of an old dude, (probably 20 or so), spins like crazy until he hits the downhill and then aims for most of the rocks and bumps. Swoops to the lake, back up the hill, gotta dismount – gets a bit steep here… back through the bench cut and down the hill to the pavement, steps it up to finish in a sprint with himself and brings home 2nd place – what an awesome day for an awesome Z!


Whew! End of the day dragged out a bit -  but well worth waiting for with S. and Z. getting their XC kudos and S. getting 4th in the OMNI against nothing but Experts! Break down camp, load up, head home, collapse and get ready for next weekend…


OK… September 13th weekend is the next big one down here…Devil’s Den NWA Championship – XC and Observed Trials on Saturday, and that night hang out for one of the best awards ceremonies. Then DH on Sunday – make it if you can!