I raced in my first race this past Sunday, the first race of the season in the North Carolina Hare Scramble series. I've never considered myself to be a fast or aggressive rider, but participating in one of these off-road races at least once in my life was something I wanted to try. A few of my riding buddies have raced a few and when they mentioned going up together, I thought what better opportunity. So I set out a few goals for myself. Being my first race, I really had no idea what to expect, from sign-up to finish. So it was good to have a couple of friends who had done it before. I set out a few goals for myself, in priority order: 1) No serious injuries - wanted to get home under my own power. 2) No major bike damage - don't want any large repair bills. 3) Have fun and take it all in - it's my first race, I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere, the sights, the sounds, the camaraderie with other racers. 4) Finish. I hear these races are pretty tough, a worthy goal is to just finish. 5) Don't finish last, if possible. So in the week before the race, I'm starting to get a little anxious. I don't have much time to practice on the bike and this makes me edgy. I keep telling myself that on my list of priorities, my finish position is not that important, so don't worry too much about that. I only had one day of riding in the week before the race. We practiced a few starts and some fast laps around a field, then some tight single track. I did OK on the starts and fast laps, but on the single track, I'm all over the place, not riding well at all. Feels like my front end is pushing. I'm tense. I think my sag adjustment is off. This is the Sunday before the race. One week to go. Monday I try to set my suspension's rear sag. Turns out I cannot get it dialed in, and it's off pretty far. I need a stiffer rear spring. I do a little research and figure out what spring rate I need and place an order. "It'll be there Wed or Thu." Cool, that'll give me plenty of time to get it on the bike and make a few test runs. Friday - spring is still not here. Doesn't look like it's going to make it before the race, so I set my static sag with as much preload as is recommended but not exceeding, and let the rider sag fall where it may. I don't get a chance for a test ride. It'll have to do. Sunday, we load up and head out to the track, 3 hours away. We get there, unload the bikes, and go stand in line for sign up. That takes almost an hour. I'm pretty anxious as I pay the signup fees and get my number and punch card. I'm officially nervous now walking back to the truck to gear up. My buddy Jerry says to not let it bother you, if you do it will affect you out on the course and you won't ride well. Easier said than done. We walk back to the truck, put on our gear, and realize we have no duct tape to hold the punch card to the handlebars, so we borrow some tape from another guy in the pit area. He's originally from Ohio and this is his first race too. We check our tire pressure, fill our camel baks, and ride up to the starting area. By the time we get up there, most of riders are already lined up. I find the row for my class and find a place to settle in, then wait. It's very noisy at the starting line. Folks are warming up their bikes, revving, talking over the exhaust, and it seems like general mayhem. The exhaust in the air is thick, it's hard to breathe. Then the announcer gets on a megaphone and gives a riders meeting, talks a bit about the trail, what to expect, watch out for the ledge at the end of the straight-way near the trailer, etc. I can only hear bits and pieces due to the noise, but it sounds like the course is not too muddy, even though it rained the day before. He ends with "OK, warm 'em up!". Everyone starts their bikes and lets them warm up for a few minutes. Folks are revving, popping their clutches and launching forward a few inches, then backing up and doing it again and again. The air is full of energy and anticipation. After a few minutes, the starter comes back out and gives the signal to cut all the engines. He waves a green flag high and shouts "30 seconds!". I hear the general murmur and din of the crowd, but otherwise, all is quiet. "10 seconds!!" The green flag waves and the first row roars to life, disappearing behind a cloud of roost. The race is underway. I'm in the 8th row, Senior C 40+ class. My heart is pounding in my chest. I can hardly breathe. The green flag comes out again. "30 seconds!". ... silence ... "10 seconds!!" ... ... Green flag! The next row roars into motion and another wave is off and disappears around the first turn. At the same time it both seemed like forever and an instant, and my row was next. I had no idea what to expect to find around the first turn. "30 seconds!" A million things are racing through my mind. "10 seconds!" Shit! The green flag waves, I press my e-start and off I go. I don't get a good start, I think I might even be last. That's OK, I want to get the feel of things and being near the back is fine with me. We round the first turn and go down a long straight, cross a gravel road and over the ledge that the announcer mentioned at the start, and then right into the woods. The track is rutted up pretty deeply already because the pros and A riders raced a few hours before us. I'm doing OK, not pushing myself too hard, trying to keep it on two wheels, and relax as much as I can. We wind through some pretty tough sections, and at 2.6 miles in, we hit the first bottle neck - a rugged up-hill climb with a tricky combination of slick roots and rocks that twisted through some tight trees. There were about 8 riders stuck in front of me and there was no way around. We had to wait our turn and then press forward. The course unwound like this for several more miles, areas of fairly open straights that ended in sharp 130 degree turns back up the side of a steep hill, several more switch backs, up more rocky sections with deep acceleration bumps. Line choice was pretty critical, some of those acceleration bumps would swallow up your whole wheel. Several times I hit a nasty hole and made a mental note to avoid that on the next lap, but the next lap came around and smack, I was in it again. I eventually learned to avoid that line by the third lap. About three quarters of the way through the lap, there was a checkpoint and they punched the card that we taped to the handlebars - that's how they would know if you cut the track. Hole punched - "Go go go!", with a hearty slap on the back from the enthusiastic check pointer. The woods section of the course eventually gave way to the "supercross" section. I've never even been on an MX track, much less an SX. The jumps were steep and with sharp lips to really launch you up high, and sharp down the back side too. I certainly have no illusions as to being able to do any of that stuff. Priority objective #1 was screaming in my mind! "No serious injuries!". So I lost lots of time in this section by rolling nearly everything. There were a few table tops that I got a little air on, but I decided not to push it here regardless, thinking about objective #1. Doesn't matter where I finish, as long as I finish. So I make my way around the SX section and then it's into the finish line gate. They beep the barcode on my helmet and the display in front shows that I'm in 16th place. Since I have no idea how many riders were in my class, the number is pretty meaningless to me. Once they beep me through, they yelled "Go go go!" and waved me off, and it was back into the woods for my second lap. My arms are pretty pumped at this point and my heart rate is high. But I'm doing OK - one lap down and I'm still surviving. And I'm having fun even though this is turning out to be one of the most grueling and intense things I've ever done. Second lap is much like the first, though the bottleneck is mostly gone now. One rider stuck in front of me, I try to go around on an alternate, but more difficult line through the rocks. I spin out, and my bike gets stuck on a ledge between two trees. What'd I'd give for a little traction. I finally made it over that, but now my heart was really going and my arms getting rubbery. I made it on up and around to the next switchback. I have a rider right in front of me and he goes down at the worst possible place for me because I am mid-switchback and need to keep momentum to make it around. Crap. I go down too. I get my bike back up and restarted - thank god for electric start, and I'm going again. But now my goggles are foggy and I can't see worth a crap. I pull a tear off - that doesn't help at all. Breathe! When I exit the woods and onto the SX section, I use the open track to rest and hydrate from my camel bak. I figure I can't go very fast since I'm rolling the jumps on this section anyway, so I may as well have it benefit me as a little bit of a recovery section at least. Third lap, I'm starting make stupid mistakes, nearly going off into the trees in a few places. I force myself to slow down and not get out of sorts. My arms are pumped and are now officially rubber. Got my card punched and around again I go. On the fourth lap at the card punch check point, the puncher says it's the last lap, make the best of it. I'm now wondering does he mean this is my last lap or will I be around to see him again? I'm praying to god that this is the last lap. I am spent. I make my way around to complete the final lap. The last time display still had me at 16th. I'm thinking I was last, since my position remained 16th the whole time. I'm a little bummed about that, but the combination of being both exhilarated and exhausted at the same time out weigh any disappointment at my finish position. At the finish line, there is a bottle neck of riders waiting to cross. I'm thinking it's first come first serve, wait your turn to cross, but several guys force their way on past anyway. WTF? Did I just lose a positions as I'm waiting here to cross the finish? I eventually beep on through, and it would be a little while before the results are posted so we went back to the truck, changed out of our gear, and then went back up to see where we finished. I eventually learned that I finished 17 out of 19 in my class, or 187 out of 231 overall. So I wasn't last, and I did finish! Even though the race was a lot tougher than I expected, I had a great time. I didn't bust up my bike or myself, and nobody used me for traction. So all in all I feel pretty good about that. I do wish I had a better placement, but I met all my objectives going in. It was a very rewarding experience and is definitely something that I will do again. Next time, knowing more of what to expect, I'll see if I can finish a little better. Oh, here's my glamour shot taken by one of the local photographers. I look like a pro!