January 29, 2017 marked the 3rd Annual Sugar Shack Hustle Fat Bike race at Shady Grove Maple Farm. The event, run by King Street Cycles in Waterloo, was five loops of a 2.5 km course through a maple forest between Kitchener and Guelph.
I happend to talk with Andy, one of the organizers, a few days before the event, and I asked him what the course was like this year. “Muddy”, was his response, “REALLY muddy”. Being optmistic, I told him that the forecast was calling for some cold days leading to the event, so maybe the mud would freeze.
The night before the event, a couple of inches of snow fell, and temperatures dropped well below freezing. When I showed up to the venue on Sunday morning, it was cold (-7C according to my Garmin), but I was happy that the trails would likely be freezing. Then I thought about last year when there was a thin layer of snow over ice on much of the course.
For 2017, I was seeded fifth…. er, I mean, I got plate #5 (because I signed up 5th…. down from last year when I was seeded first… but I’m not nearly as fit as last year, and 4 people beat me to the store to sign up).
I got there early enough to preride the 2.5 km course. It’s a fun loop through the sugar bush then out on to a gravel road and up a short hill. Ride, climb, repeat for 5 laps. On my preride, I passed some of the spectators. I had to stop to take a photo because I didn’t know if they were real…
While this event was just 12 km, it would be a test of my recovery. All of my rides since my concussion accident had been slow and easy. I planned to see how I felt and adjust my speed and intensity accordingly. My first lap was nice and easy as I let the group of nearly 100 riders spread out around me. I felt good as I hit the gravel road on the first lap, so I increased my intensity a little and passed a few folks. My second lap was faster, but by the end of it, I was starting to feel a little dizzy, so I took it easier. By this time, the leaders of the race were completing their 3rd lap! I tried to pace my 3rd and 4th laps. Up ahead of me I saw my friend Scott C., near the end of the 4th lap. I passed him on the gravel road at the end of the 4th lap (admittedly, I do have a little competitiveness left…). On the 5th, I rode a bit harder, knowing it was the end.
My lap times got progressively faster (according to Strava), which surprised me. But overall, my lap times from last year were considerably faster than this year.
A lot of my friends were finished by the time I crossed the line, including bro Jeff, who finished 3rd, but officially 2nd (the second place guy didn’t have fat enough tires apparently). There was a bonfire that I huddled by, as I cooled off and shared battle stories with my comrades.
I love these grass roots events like these with smaller crowds. It’s competitive, but it doesn’t seem to have the attitude of a lot of races. For 90% of the riders, it’s about the friendship, the physical activity and the personal challenge. There were great draw prizes and sponsors. And great company. Thanks to Andy and Lori and the gang at King Street Cycles, the other volunteers, sponsors and everyone who rode in this fantastic event. Already looking forward to 2018!