But that's beside the point, let's start at the beginning...
The Great Moonbuggy Race started Friday with the high school division and finished Saturday with the college one...
We drove all day Thursday to make it, like 11 hours or so in a van. Friday we watched the high schoolers die on the obstacles in the morning and headed to the Jack Daniel's distillery in the afternoon for some site seeing. Quite fun! They took us in a lot of buildings where half the crowd could barely breath and had to run out and the other half of us (me included) just kept taking deep breaths and saying things like, "I'll be in this corner for the next several hours..."
Saturday we woke up and headed out by 7:00... big deal for college students! I was ready to go though. It's been a long time since I got to be in an athletic competition and I was in the zone, totally excited. We got there and walked the course and watched a bunch of buggies not make it through. It was mostly pavement but it had 17 obstacles made of sand and gravel. There would be piles of gravel two feet high in places and at the end of the course these enormous mogules started. There were three groups of them and the last ones were the highest and went downhill. Half the moonbuggies weren't even making it that far though, so it was tough to see a team show us how it could be done.
I think we raced around 11:00. Jarod (the pilot... I was the co-pilot who didn't steer but certainly pedaled) and I warmed up and practiced our leaning. The buggy only had three wheels because this year the mechanical department made a goal of keeping them all under 100 pounds. Jarod's team's was 135. Oops.
I felt decently confident though. The first obstacle was one of the hardest - almost no one had made it through that one. But I didn't think it looked that hard compared to the crap we'd gone through last sunday in the mud... if we made it through that we could make it through anything. Our number was called. I was wearing black tights, a tight red long-sleeved shirt, my bike helmet, bike gloves, and safety glasses. Jarod looked similar but decided against long sleeves because it was hot. Hey, safety first.
I was really really scared when we got to the start line and so was Jarod but we had both decided to go all out... it's better to totally destroy the moonbuggy than to not place.
So anyway we get the start signal and pedal like hell and totally own that first obstacle that killed everyone else. There's a one minute penalty for getting out and dragging your buggy across an obstacle. We were determined to get none of those. The next hard part was a steep downhill that ended with truck tires covered in gravel to look like craters and a 90 degree turn right after that. We were totally airborne on it but came down and managed somehow to make the turn... the crowd was going nuts and I was yelling my head off, "WE'RE PITT STATE! WE'RE GORILLAS!" I was thrilled. It was fun, more than fun, incredible... I'd pay money to do it again.
We make it through the most of the course without problems except I couldn't keep my feet on the pedals through like four gravel pits and Jarod's chain fell off halfway through (he got it back on without dismounting though... excellent!) Then we get to the finish hill with the three mogul obstacles. The first set wasn't bad. The second got scary, we were going fast and getting air. We hit the breaks a bit for the last one but they were steep, really steep. And the three wheels started to be a problem. On the second to last one, we were braking all we could and leaning as far as possible but suddenly we feel the whole thing leave the ground and it tips over and lands on its side... my side, and I'm pinned under Jarod, the buggy, everything, eating gravel. Jarod got out but I couldn't get my belt off so he pulls the whole thing up with me on it and I'm flipping out because we went offcourse and if you go to far off you get disqualified but the officials yelled at us to go and Jarod's yelling at me to help drag because now that we missed the obstacle we might as well pull it over the last two moguls. We pedal to the finish, it was like 20 feet, and everyone starts asking if we're okay. I was fine. Actually I was more than fine, we'd finished in like 4:20 or so which was fantastic and I was shaking with adrenalin, jumping up and down screaming and everything. I was covered in dust but didn't have a scratch on me. Remember those long sleeves? Yes! Half the reason I wore those was that last year our moonbuggy broke and our girl got horrible rubber burn from a tire, but I was smarter than that.
We got up to learn we were tied for third place. Crap. But the next run was coming.
In between, we watched two of Cornell U's vehicles totally own the course. They finished in like 2:50 or something. I don't know how they did it, but they had two four-wheel buggies that just ate the moguls like they were nothing, they didn't even have to break. Their riders wore these professional-looking mountain bike outfits with their school logos and everything. Damn. That was discouraging, we had no chance now unless we really went for it, maybe not even then.
At the start line for our second run I was no longer scared of the course, but I was scared we'd fail. To not place in the top three would hurt after all we'd been through, but then again, moonbuggies at our school are built for the educational process (hence the 100 pound limit this year) not for winning. We do win a lot but that doesn't mean anything. Technically. Sure.
So we take off and own that first obstacle again and I actually keep my feet on the pedals. We head down the huge hill to the next one and we're a little off center so I yell at Jarod, "Don't hit the rope!" and he steers right just in time for us to hit the obstacle off-center. We fly up in the air and land at an angle at the bottom and one of the front wheels (the one I'm on top of, of course) just snaps in half. It was composite. Plastic to save on weight. I get off and just yell out in frustration and everyone around us claps because they know we had a shot, it was just unlucky. And we get on the vans and go home.
I was mostly disappointed because I didn't get to ride the course again. I mean, it was really fun, and fast, and breaking on that second little gravel thing was frustrating. But we were safe and finished our first run at least. I'm not sure what we placed, but it was at least in the top 10. So many buggies don't finish at all or their riders have to get out and drag on every obstacle, killing their chance. At least we went through fast and gave the crowd a good show.
And now I'm back. Back to working on senior design 12 hours a day just when it's finally getting nice outside, back to wondering about my future, back to being stressed and tired and concerned. I was glad I got to take a few days off, bond with the manufacturing guys, drink some beer at night and have a good time, but I hope I survive the next few weeks.