By MARK FURMAN
Of the Baker City Herald
Corey Jonas tried to explain that the worst part of the ride is normally the best part.
It's andquot;the first bobsledandquot; or andquot;gully,andquot; or andquot;ditchandquot; a desert wash at Virtue Flat OHV area that invites mountain bikers to make high-speed banked turns as the ditch snakes its way downslope.
But not today.
Correction: Race day.
andquot;You can't even ride the gullies you have to walk,andquot; Jonas said Saturday after the Baker City man finished fourth in his division in his first-ever mountain bike race.
Participants in the first Oregon Trail Classic mountain bike race since 1997 dropped into the andquot;bobsledandquot; a few minutes into their race. But instead of smooth, high-speed riding, racers landed in a six-inch-deep river of mud and started going nowhere fast.
andquot;It's like a big mud hole, and you try pushing but you wind up carrying the bike and it weighs 50 poundsandquot; with the added mud, explained Michael Bading from Boise in between picking grit from his teeth after the race.
andquot;I've promoted 100 races, over 15 years,andquot; commented Wild Rockies race organizer Ron Dillon, andquot;and this is the third muddiest.
Wild Rockies last promoted a race at Virtue Flat in 1997, drawing 304 competitors.
Dillon and his title sponsor Motion Potion resumed the race this year, but the weather kept the crowd away. The field of runners, walkers and mountain bikers, mostly from Boise, numbered only 78. Dillon blamed the weather for keeping people home; a race three weeks earlier attracted 252 participants.
andquot;I wanted another early season desert race,andquot; Dillon said of the decision to resume the Virtue Flat race.
What he got was rain, mud, grit and smiles from participants.
andquot;The chances are excellent that we'll be back next year,andquot; he said.
The mud and misery at Virtue Falt didn't dampen spirits Saturday. Done with their race, mountain bikers in the first heat congratulated each other and shared stories about believing their bike was broken only to realize the gears and wheels had been jammed with dense, chunky mud.
At one point, andquot;a piece of sagebrush mudded to the fork,andquot; Kim Mahaffey of Baker City recalled. andquot;It sounded like a baseball card, when you were a kid and put them in your spokes.andquot;
Jonas almost missed the race entirely.
There was some confusion about whether the race times were Mountain or Pacific time. Jonas showed up at Virtue Flat just as his classification was about to begin, but Dillon held the race for one of the andquot;hometown heroes.andquot;
andquot;I showed up late and threw my money down, ran to the car, put my bike together and then this guy says my chain is off,andquot; Jonas recalled of his late entry.
Jonas had almost missed the race. And, like many racers from Idaho who skipped the race, he could have stayed home and avoided the mud he'll be cleaning off his bike for months to come.
Mel Ilka of Caldwell disagreed with that reasoning, however.
andquot;If you stayed home,andquot; he said, splattered from head to toe with mud, and grinning ear to ear, andquot;you wouldn't be having any fun.andquot;