Tuesday, August 30, 2011

getting caught up: black bear, white oak, and the henry clay 30k

WV State Championships Black Bear:

We drive down to Brad the Birdman of Charleston's house on Saturday night. His pitbull attacks us with her cat-like affections and happy butt shaking. We watch Mad Max bounce around on bungee cords while fighting Blaster of Master Blaster in the Thunderdome.

The next morning a silver Audi A4 motor paces us down the road. I get right behind the car to draft. Everytime I get close, the damn driver speeds up. I finally say screw it and drop back. The other single speeders catch me, and we're passed by every class except the ladies.

We hit the gravel climb and I start towing Gunnar back up to the lead group. Near the top of the climb, we make contact with them. I run out of gas, and Gunnar drops me, without even a 'thank you' for that long pull up the hill. I fall back to Don Powers speed. The sky gets angry and slams us with rain and lightening. I hope a tree branch doesn't fall on my head.

An hour later, the sky finally clears. I ride down a few big scary descents and sprint into the finish. First in the single speed class, but not really first single speed. Damn that evil old man Gunnar. I'm not really from West Virginia either, but they give me a big State Champion Mug anyway.

An unknown racer is spotted with markings left by an affectionate female leach. He is teased relentlessly.

White Oak Challenge:

It dumps rain right before the race, but the sun comes out when we stand on the start line. We sprint out on a gravel road and into some slippery single track. I take the lead. Alright, I feel good. I'm going to race well today.

I ride into the start of the one hard rock garden on the course. There's a plant hanging across the trail. I ride through it. It's covered in thorns and almost saws my arm off. "Shit that hurt," I yell. The bend of my elbow is sticky with blood.

The rocks are too slippery to ride, so I jump off and start running.

"Woah woah woah!" yells Gunnar. I think he's still riding, so I move over to let him pass. He runs by me carrying his bike and chuckles. "Heh! I can't believe you let me do that!" Tricky old bastard. I don't see him again for the rest of the day.

The course twists up, down and side to side on the ridge. Most of the trails are smooth and slick from the rain. I drop my chain descending a little hill. Joey Riddle rides past me.

I can't get the chain back on. "You stupid son of a fuck," I say to the bike.

"What did you just call me?" Joey yells back, a little surprised and offended.

"Uh, my bike, I was calling my bike a stupid son of a fuck," I say.

"Try calling it a whore," he says.  

I get the chain back on and finish the race. Third overall, first in the single speed class, but not really first single speed. Damn that evil old man Gunnar.

Henry Clay 30k: 

We start up a road, and I'm dropped again. I make it into the woods something like 10 back. The rest of the start is downhill. The group is moving too fast to attempt a pass, but not fast enough to keep up with Tim de la Garcon. We hit the first little climb, and I swerve around everybody. I see Garcon and the guy in second cresting the top of the hill already. Bummer. They'll be near impossible to catch.

I run up part of the next hill then swoop into some single track. I'm actually riding really well today. I haven't felt this good since the Big Bear Ultra. Since Gunnar is putting on the race, he's not racing today. I finally feel good, and I don't even have a chance to redeem myself by beating the evil old man.

I go back and forth with Steve Rowand all day. He passes me on the wide open big ring sections, and I catch back up when we get back into the woods. Todd Latocha catches me on the last climb up the rail grade, and I pull him up to Steve.

I stay ahead of those two for a while, but eventually they come around me. I spin the last rolling trail into the finish. Fifth overall, first single speed, and really first single speed. Really good race. Everyone else who rolls across the line seems to be in high spirits.

I turn around at the awards so that Gunnar can tuck my prize into the back of my shorts. As I'm walking away, the money falls out of my waist band and scatters all over the ground. People laugh and children cry.

So there. Now I'm blogged up with all those XC races. Sadly, I will not be attending the Shenandoah 100 next weekend. It's just too busy in Ohiopyle land that weekend.

Pisgah Stage Race is coming up really soon (end of September. yikes.). Rob and Brad the Birdman have both signed up, so we'll caravan down and camp together. After the race, I'm writing an article for the Dirt Rag. Hopefully something ridiculous happens so that I have some good material.

And I've been doing some trail work to get things ready for the Ohiopyle Super-D on October 23rd. 1700ish feet of rocky descending in 8 miles. It'll be super sweet. More on that later.

Oh, last order of business. Slag Track tonight!

Frick Park Slag Heaps, 7:00 pm. Bring a gnarly bike. We're doing all the fun stuff tonight.   

Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Bear Ultra 50 Race Report ('11)

My front wheel sinks into a mud hole and I go over the bars. I land on some wet pine needles. Tim de la Garcon fades into the mist with the clanking of his derailluer.

"Oh June-Bugs everywhere! Come on now little boy!" Gunnar shouts in his nasally voice. Damn old bastard. I've gotta loosen up. I can't be crashing on these rocks for the next 45 miles.

I get on Gunnar's wheel and follow him through the endless rock garden. The forest is foggy and quiet.

"Crack rock! Woohoo!" Gunnar yells. He disappears into a handlebar-wide gap between two cliffs. I roll in behind him. There's no light between the rocks. I drop off a little boulder at the end of the cave and land on my front wheel. My suspension compresses with a thud. Dammit fool. That wasn't smooth.

Gunnar is bounding through some wet rocks next to the cave and chattering loudly. I follow him through the rocks, over some huge boulders, and down onto a section of double track. Now I'm feeling good. I attack and pull away from Gunnar on a climb. He catches back up and swerves in front of me before we hit the single track again.

We climb up to the top of the ridge and wind through the pine trees. Back down some rocks, then up again. At the first water stop Gunnar pulls off, I assume to deal with his incontinence. I've gotta hit it while he's wiping his ass. I pedal hard and twist through the pine trees. Across the top of the ridge on a section they use for the 2x12 race, then down onto a trail I've never seen before.

I pop over a log then slide down a wet bank. The mountain laurel closes tightly around the trail. It's scratching at my arms. I grind out of the soft soil and get back onto firmer ground. Out of the woods by the Campground Convenience Store, then into to some winding single track next to the road.

I grab my bottles at the start/finish, then look down the double-track. There are arrows pointing in two directions. "Which way do I go?" I yell up to the tent. No response.

"Which way?" Nothing. Gunnar, Todd, and Mike are crossing the road and coming up to the tent. Damn.

"Hey, which way?" Now the other three are right next to me.

"Oh, go straight," somebody finally says. That's great. Now I have to try to get away from these people again.

"See little boy, I went slow and I knew you would stop. My plan worked perfectly," Gunnar yells.

"Glad I could help. Were you changing your Depends back there?" I say.

"Oh yeah, you know puttin some fresh glue on the dentures," he says.

The four of us ride together for a few miles, then Mike drops off. A minute later, Gunnar vanishes behind me. Todd catches up. "What happened to those two?" I ask.

"Mike flatted, and I think Gunnar dropped his chain," he says. Nice. The old man won't have a chance to catch back up if we hold this pace. Water starts dumping from the sky.

I'm soaked in under 30 seconds. That was abrupt. My gloves squish on the grips and my shoes feel like little sunken boats. We climb over a tree and crash through some more over-grown mountain laurel. Todd pulls ahead of me on a section of flat double-track.

I decide to stop for a pee break. I've been holding it for about 43 miles, and that's long enough. I count the seconds and look behind me, hoping that Gunnar doesn't appear from the woods.

Back on the bike and through some fun single track next to a couple trailers. I know I'm close to the end now. Across the dam, only a mile or so to go. I look back again. No Gunnar. I coast down the last hill and cross the line. No Gunnar. Victory! And third overall. Not a bad day.

Brad the Birdman of Charleston is already changed and standing under the tent. "What happened to you?" I ask.

"Oh my hand hurt, so I quit," he says

"Dude, did you see the guy that got impaled with his brake lever? He had this big hole in his chest and blood everywhere." somebody says.

"Wow, he stuck a brake lever through his chest? That's pretty gnarly. So you quit because your hand hurt a little Brad?" I say.


Don Powers rolls across the line with some blood on his legs. "I crashed 8 times, and I saw this one dude go over the bars and land on his head. He didn't even know where he was. Totally knocked out," he says.

"You crashed 8 times and that guy knocked himself out? Crazy. Brad quit because his hands were sore," I say.

The Birdman glares at me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pisgah Preparationing

Now that the Wilderness 101 is done, and the Big Trip West in the Tiny Gay Convertible long completed, the Pisgah Mountain Stage Race is the next big event on my calender.

I've never ridden in Pisgah, so for all I know the place is populated by frogs dancing in cowboy boots.

While this chart doesn't do anything prove or dis-prove the existence of frog people, it does show that Pisgah is the most technical of the three US stage races. If Jeremiah "I'm tough as coffee nails" Bishop's average speed was 11.9 mph, there must be some rocky and rooty shit out there.

RaceDaysMilesElevation GainOverall WinningTimeOverall Winner Avg Speed (mph)Tandem TimeCash PurseSolo Entry Fee
Transylvania Epic723529,860'13:11:5617.916:34:25$10,000$999.99
Breck Epic624037,000'18:16:1213.2N/A$0$995
Pisgah Stage Race519528,000'16:21:3911.9Yeah Right! Not on these trails!$15,000$700

So, in order to prepare myself to race five hard days on a single-speed 29er hardtail, I decided to acquire a geared 26er all-mountain bike.

Enter the Prophet. This thing used to be a rental at WV, but I don't think anyone ever rented it. It was probably too nice to lend to the hyper-destructive Boy Scout groups we get.

When I'm sitting in the un-airconditoned garage at work, my brain isn't functioning at it's highest level, so I think my thought process went something like this:

Pisgah is going to be really technical. 

I bet a full-suspension gnarly bike would be really good for that place. Why are these people looking at me? But I don't have a full suspension gnarly bike.

Maybe I should buy the Prophet since it's full-suspension gnarly bike, and then I should get fast on it. They're still standing there. I'm hungry.  

Once I'm good at riding the full-suspension gnarly bike, those gnarly skills will carry over to my Niner, and I'll be good-er at riding that to. They look impatient. Maybe they want to rent something. I'll speak to them once I'm finished thinking.  

After I'm good at riding the gnarly bike and good-er at riding the hardtail, I'll beat Jeremiah "I'm tough as coffee nails" Bishop and everyone will want to rub my feet. 

And that was it. I had spare money from the Race the Pflug won, and the Prophet was cheap, so I bought it. I wish that it was one of these, but it was available and affordable. Now I own an archaic single pivot beef machine.

So far, it's taught me is that large heavy bikes are not good for short-track racing at the slag heaps.

I brought it to one of our little Tuesday night races, and was easily dispatched by Tim Mold, Don Powers, and Aaron. It was worse than racing 'cross on a fixed gear.

Unfortunately, to someone with a brain as beautiful as Don Power's, gears and suspension = a bike faster than a single speed race bike. I've ridden a few miles on a single speed race bike, and I happen to know that this is not the case. But Don Powers doesn't care. He'll yell about the day he beat me at slag track on Tuesday night for the rest of forever.

But the Prophet has proven one theory that I've had for a while, but have never been able to test: squishy bikes are really fun on chunky descents. I'm really enjoying the workout I get from muscling this thing up a hill, and even more enjoying shredding back down. Now that I know I like squishing bikes, if there were some way for me to rustle up a RIP9, and put a Paul Tensioner on it, I think that would be my ideal bike for racing fun at Pisgah.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Wilderness 101 Race Report 2011

"What's your vegetable today?" Colleen asks. We're sitting in the the middle of a crowded Cracker Barrel. There's a sign for 1% - a Modern Milk on the wall.

"Rice," the waitress says. Some old people are buttering biscuits.

"Rice? Rice is your vegetable?" Colleen says laughing. I put my head down on the wood table. Stop badgering the waitress Colleen. The poor woman doesn't care that rice is a grain.

"Yesm. Rice," she says impatiently.

After we eat, we leave Altoona and finish the drive to Coburn. It's 9:30, so we're some of the last ones into the campground. I pick up my number plate and drive the tiny convertible aimlessly around the packed field looking for the campsite where Don, Aaron, Rob, and Rob's Connecticut friends are set up.

I see a dark figure walking towards the car. "You drove right past us. I was like, what is he doing. Go park over there," Don Powers yells and points.

I swing the tiny convertible onto some grass next to Aaron's Mini Cooper. We grab our tent and bags and follow Don Powers. Everybody is sitting in the dark under an easy-up. I can't make out a single face. There isn't much conversation. I fill my bottles, drop off my drop bags (two bottles, one gel flask, and a cliff bar in each one), and lay down in the tent. The stream and bugs are louder than the 300 people camped in Coburn Park.

I have to piss three times during the night. Damn suggestive stream. I make sure to go next to Aaron's tent.

It's light already. Colleen shakes me. I groan. I hate these early starts. I check my tire and fork pressure. Pull on my riding clothes and head over to the port-a-potties. The line is huge on both sides. I count the people. 15. Dammit. I stand there for almost 20 minutes while people slowly file in to the bathrooms.

It's almost 7. I stand next to Garth Prosser and Matt Ferrari in the big pack. The Land Cruiser pulls away, and the neutral roll out begins. Garth waves to me to follow him up to the front. I look down at his seatpost. He has a little wrinkly guy with an erection zip-tied to it. That's odd.

The Land Cruiser pulls off and the pack turns left across the bridge. The Pflug immediately takes the lead on the climb. Holy shit. He's drilling it already. I jump on his wheel and hang on. We pass all the geared guys and start pulling away from the field. The Pflug is setting the pace at around 18 mph on this steep climb. This is ridiculous.

Four miles later we hit the crest. He hasn't slowed down at all. The gravel road flattens out, and the fast geared guys finally start to come around. The pace ramps up to almost 30. I hang on for a few miles, but then I have to let them go. I can't spin on a flat road like this. It's going to kill me. I drop back to my comfortable 15 mph pace.

The remaining 20 miles to aid station 1 are terrible. I'm by myself almost the entire time, spinning along the gravel roads dejectedly. I can't wait for the climbs to start.

I finally make it to the aid station, grab a couple bottles, and start the second big climb of the day. I'm hoping that I can start catching up to some of the guys that were able to hang in the fast group longer than I could. I hit three bridges, screw up the rock garden, then roll back out onto more gravel.

Through Aid 2. I've only seen a couple other single speeders. I'm not sure what place I'm in now. More gravel and gravel and gravel and gravel. Man I forgot how gravely this race was. They should call this the NUGGET series. National Ultra Gravel Grinding Endurance... but what's the T?

I ride the big climb out of Aid 2. That was long. I start the descent. I pass at least 12 guys that are off to the side of the trail fixing flats. The downhill is sweet. I'm cruising down the bumpy rocks, making a little turn at the bottom, then it's over.

Gravel gravel gravel gravel. The stupid little rocks crunch under my tires. I climb the big hill up to Aid Station 3. That was also long. I grab some gels and bottles from my drop bag. Colleen is under an easy-up tent pouring little cups of Coke and swatting away swarms of wasps. I ask how far ahead the Pflug and Ferrari are. 25 minutes and ten minutes. I have 40 miles to go. Man, it's going to be really hard for me to make up any of that time on all these roads.

I hit a cool section of rocky single track on top of the ridge. It winds around through the trees and over some rocks. I pass people through the rock gardens, then I come up behind a guy that's riding pretty slow. I better get around him before this long downhill starts. There's no place to pass safely unless he lets me.

"Hey man, can I scoot around you?" No response.

"Can I get by?" No response. He's still going really slow.

"Hey, can you let me pass you? We're not even racing. I'm on a single speed and I need to make some time down this hill." No response.

"Dude, can I please get around?"

"What? You want me to stop for you?" he says angrily.

"I want you to move over for a second so that I can pass," you stupid inconsiderate shit (I add the last part in my head.) He doesn't move, and we start the downhill. Now there's no place for him to go. He picks his way down the rocks carefully, I ride his back tire, extremely frustrated, burning my brakes. What a meat head. Why couldn't he have let me go by? I could have ripped down the hill, he could have gone easy, and we both would have been happy.

He finally moves over at the bottom of the hill. I ride 200 feet of trail unimpeded, then I'm back on the gravel. Under the overpass of Aid 4, and up the last big climb of the day. I catch up to another single speeder, and we ride together for a while. National Ultra Gravel Grinder Endurance Tuff Series. Time Trial Series. Trombone Series. I give up.

Down some gravel then on to a bumpy road thing. The road is just steep enough that I'm spun out, but just flat enough that I need to keep pedaling. It's not such a hot piece of trail. Into Aid 5. 12 miles to go.

I ride the a rail trail, climb the last hill, walk most of the silly rock garden on the Fisherman's Trail, then cruise along the other rail trail. Since this is my third 101, I'm entirely prepared for the dark tunnel. I take off my sunglasses. I can almost see through the thing.

I spin the road into Coburn Park and bang the gong. 8:10, 6th single speed. Same place as last year, slightly slower time on the changed course. I feel way too fresh. I walk over to Ferrari and ask him how he did.

"Oh, alright," he says.

"Did you finally beat the Pflug?" I say.

"No, Gerry took it again, how'd you do out there?" he says.

"I didn't blow up, but I went too easy this time. I just can't find that balance," I say.

"You'll have it down in like seven years," he says.

I walk over and lay down in the creek. People start trickling in. First Aaron, then Don Powers, and the Rob. All of the Connecticut guys DNF except for one. It gets dark and Chris Scott is still calling out names as people finish the race. We're sitting under the easy up with some citronella candles.

"At Mohican, this dude hit a chipmunk. It was just laying there on the trial twitching around." Don Powers says, "So I was like, alright, I'm Dahn Pahrs, I'm gonna take em aught. So I do a quick little turn and run it over. Just put it out of it's misery. If I see somebody suffering on the trail, I'm gonna take em aught. Cause I'm Dahn Pahrs. I threw up eight times today."