Monday, May 30, 2011

Adventure by Bike - like, for real Part I

This past Memorial day weekend I went with Lucy and Ava to Landenberg, PA to hang with the extended family.  Visits to this lush part of the country started just about 15 years ago beginning with the classic "meet the parents" occasions full of nervous energy, trivia, good food, wine and all the stuff that goes with the territory. Through all the years I have only twice brought along a bike.  Once a little riding  along White Clay Creek with a FS mountain bike right next to the original house on Good Hope Rd - the next time a little road riding on the nice curvy hilly back roads on the Road bike.

This time I brought along the Vaya - and fitted her out with some WTB "Terrainasaurus" tires I picked up on sale.   They're typical hybrid type tires suited for moderate trail use and roll fairly well on the pavement.  Additionally I went online to the Garmin site and downloaded some rides I found close to the neighborhood.  There looked to be a nice ride further along the White Clay Creek that I had never checked out in the past and possibly a nice endurance road ride.

All ready to pursue some  "Adventure by Bike".

Saturday morning I headed out and followed the Garmin prompts on the main roads towards the entry area off Sharpless Rd.  Along Sharpless I couldn't help but think how suitable the Vaya was. The road was an old narrow farm road with a mixture of bad pavement & washboard laden dirt. 

They got some big trees round here..  Historic site / graveyard close to entrance.

I popped onto the trail along the river and zipped alongside on some smooth wooded double track.   A perfect morning ride accompanied by the sounds of birds.  Lots of horny birds..  

After awhile the trail crossed a road and then headed into an open field.  This part of the trail had some odd double track.  It was like two single-tracks right next to each other.  What's that all about??  

Continuing along the trail I finally reached the end (after a few stops along the way for sightseeing) in Newark, DE and then headed back across a bridge to the other side of the river.  Heading back I saw a little single track trail heading off and up the hill to the right.  So - I tackled the climb only to find some of this stuff - Oh yeah....!  Now we're talkin!

It was a perfect little single track loop through the woods that popped out behind a Bank America corporate building.  I turned around and headed back down then got onto the main trail and headed back home thoroughly satisfied with the 22 or so miles. 

On arrival I created and destroyed this bad-boy:  Cheddar cheese bagel, cream cheese, bacon and bananas.  Tasty. Very tasty.

Later, talking to the family they asked where I went.  I described where I had ridden and this prompted "Ken" (verrry extended family) to offer: "There's alot of mountain bikers that ride on the other side of the road opposite the Bank America building". 

Huh, that sounds interesting...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

RACE REPORT: Weeping Willow - EFTA series #2

While trying to make a lousy connection between the race and Willow Koerber - I came across this line:

"I am not the sexy World Cup Bike racer anymore.  I am just Willow.  All my life that has never been enough, now it has to be."

Geez'm Willow.  Now your making me cry.  Trust me, your going through some significant changes right now.  You'll come out of this a brighter star than ever.  As a matter of fact, just today I learned a little about what you women go through.  I wore bib-shorts for the first time and can say without reservation - I don't know how you deal with straps on a regular basis.  They're annoying as hell.  From now on when you let the puppies loose, I'll do my best not to stare.  I won't assume that you're trying to express yourself or cause any unnecessary disruption. 

Love, Alby

So the race went like this:

Alot of people showed up - it's a pretty fun course, not too far from lots of things. 

Due to the popularity of this race, I knew some heavy hitters were bound to show.  That made me no more or less nervous than usual - the benefit of continually being an anxious, obsessive twit.  

The day before I did my usual pre-raceday routine: A quick (30 minute) jaunt on the single speed around some trails about a mile from the house.  For the first time I brought along a GPS and measured stuff. A couple of the grades go beyond 23%.  Who knew.  Somehow here in flatlander paradise, I chanced upon some acreage with tres bueno training terrain.  The course serves as a good general indicator for how I am going to feel.  I cleaned all the hills, but performance wasn't quite all there.  After the ride I got in and my right knee didn't feel so hot.  Great.  I'm feeling so-so and now I've gone and made things worse.  I iced the knee and called it a night. 

Conditions at the race were close to ideal for racing.  Cool & damp.  The kind of weather marathon records are made in.  I suited up like usual but this time brought along a water bottle stand thingy like them Eeeeleetes use.  The plan was to do my two laps then go do another to see how I'd do as an Eeeeeleete. 

Screw you Rapture - check out my numbah!!

Waiting at the port-o-john my ass was slapped.  I was a little shocked by this.  Turns out this is part of being on the same team as Rick

Staging was nicely executed.  The organizers created  a kind of clockwise rotation - nothing like last year.  Additionally they ran the course in the opposite direction.  In theory this may have worked to my benefit.  I prefer turning left.

The Vet II group was comprised of at least 30 guys.  At the start someone piped up: "Hey everyone, this is going to be a long stretch of double track, no need to go crazy at the start and cause a crash".  That sounded reasonable enough to me.  Besides, I figured everyone would go easy at the start so's not to burn too much rocket fuel. Let the dopes do all the work -right??   At the signal - my figuring was given the meanest backhand ever.   The bastards at the front made off like raped apes.  Cripes guys, really!!??  

I was in maybe 9th or 10th and the lead group was pulling away.  The fellow in front of me wasn't giving chase which furthered complacency on my part.  Finally, I made my move and said something like "Them sumbitches are moving - huh??" while passing.  Response:  Aside from the sound of spinning mechanical stuff - silence.  Right... Onward!!   

After finally catching back up,  the group swung into the singletrack.  Sure enough, some folks got hung up on moderately technical terrain, which meant getting off the friggin bike.  From now on, I ain't hanging in the back or even mid pack.  It screws with your mojo.  

The thing about this singletrack was that there were widow-maker roots *everywhere*.  One such root caused abrupt disembarkment.  I sputtered & cussed while the main group sped away.  While getting back on the bike I heard Steve Segenchuck who was following say "You lost your bottle" .  Aaaaarrgh...!!  I went back got it and continued behind Steve.  While following he says: "what are you doing back here??"  My clever, quick response:  "I DON'T KNOW!!"    This section proved to be the most difficult.  Zipping through here I hit one tree really hard with my shoulder.  Almost the kind of hit you'd administer if say.... your shoulder popped out I thought to myself.  That's the third freakin' week I have hit this shoulder.  For the record, I was turning right.  See the pattern??

At this point riders were thinned out everywhere.  Yet again, I had no idea who I was passing & where.  I reeled in rider after rider keeping a lookout for Brian Currier.  He won last year and can always be relied on to finish near the top.  Throughout the whole race I never saw his Claremont Cycle jersey.  Turns out he hit a tree and dislocated his shoulder (He's OK - saw him at the finish).  I know just the technique for putting that back..  Hit more trees!!

Not what you want to see at a race.  There were at least three folks carted out in one of these.

Overall the race included a few climbs, but nothing too tough.  There were a few water crossings, a couple of bridges and plenty of doubletrack sections to open things up and pass.

In the end:  1st Vet II and maybe somewhere within the top 5 amongst all the CAT 1's.   I totally wimped out and decided against running another lap to compare to the Eeeeleets.   I'm such a loser.

Even more shameful, I brought along 750ml of some 9.5% Belgian Blonde Ale one of the sales guys at work gave to me.  I planned on drinking it if things worked out.  They did.  It kind of distracted me from the usual picture laden race report folks have come to depend on.  I spent the afternoon hanging with lots of good folks talkin', drankin and eatin'.    

Sorry about this.  I humbly submit the best I could come up with:

Soooo...  About them thar Eeeeleeets..  Looking at my time I would have had my plumbing cleaned by Roto Reuter this time around.  Maybe just a couple more CAT 1 races?  I dunno.  I just like racing.

Check out the definition of Elite:

Elite (occasionally spelled √©lite) (Latin, eligere - "to elect") refers to an exceptional and/or privileged group that wields considerable power within its sphere of influence. Depending on the context, this power might be physical, spiritual, intellectual and/or financial.  In some isolated cases, outright wattage is applicable.

Next up - either the Big Ring Rumpus or Domnarski Farm.  Tough choice here.  I haven't done Domnarski and it's closer (technical too - the Rumpus is kind of a dirt crit) but....  They have MONEY at the Rumpus and it's EFTA  It's not easy having choices like these.

Possibly before those:  The Coyote Hill Classic.  I might have family obligations that weekend though..

Friday, May 20, 2011

"I thought of that while riding my bicycle" -Albert King the Third

A blatant ripoff of one of Einsteins famous quotes, but it goes to show how blatantly obsessed with this biking thing I've become.

This morning's commute was alot shorter than normal - thanks to entertaining a conscious stream all about me and stuff.  After all, that's what blogs are about for the most part.  It's human nature and I'm OK with that.

Am I too old? 

Should I enlist Johnny Bold?

Sign - "Lots for Sale"  Should steal it for Lucy - she'll need it someday.

Misty - intoxicating green perfection.  Why don't more people do this??

Is a geothermal heating system for fools or visionaries?

2 seasons and possibly ready for Elite?!  Yay me - my head needs popping like similar pustulent growths.

How is it some EFTA Elites are  USAC CAT 1's?

Neauveau pro - kinda like Neauveau riche

Wife selection.  Pure luck or calculated?

Elitism in general - let's define that for posterity. 

Charlie Sheen "fallout" & ensuing judgement

The phrase "Not to make your head big."  Your head shrunk by saying that..

Constant fear of the "worst case scenario" - cancer or just dropping dead for example.  

I can safely say I will never come close to Tommy Emmanuel.

Better to have raced and lost than to have not challenged yourself at all?

Being identified by what you do "bumper stickers"  Used to thumb my nose at those..

Rather be rapid than vapid

51% commitment to doing another lap this weekend = gonna need a bottle rack thingy..

That's what we do. We're a little nuts.

Happily - I made it to work without weaving in front of anyone.  I need to start paying attention to commuting while commuting.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

RACE REPORT: The Gloucester.. err Glochester.. umm Gloster... Glocestershire.. Oh screw the spelling: THE GRIND

Ahh.. my hometown..  Glocester, RI..  I'm proud to call it home - as we're one of the mostest ruralist locations in the state.  You can bet the state makes sure we pay out the schnoz for it too..

While there was a nice hilly race going on in CT - there was simply no chance of missing "my" local race.  The race that got me back on track in terms of fitness & passion. 

Described as a race through a rooty, rocky swamp,  The Grind makes short work of riders who haven't honed their skills.  In 2009 The Grind was my first MTB race and it made short work of me.  I thought I had some decent skills - but during a "simple" pre-ride I racked up at least 5 crashes attempting to ride out the rock gardens.  I wised up during the race and ran a few of the sections where it made no sense to risk things.

For example - this beauty of a spot will never be forgotten.  The course ran the opposite way in 09' - and this was the exact spot where I performed a classic "where'd my bike go??!!" Superman flight much to the delight of the Expert guy pre-riding behind me.

Trust me, it's trickier than it looks - Psst... The water crossing is faster.

The night before I tried putting my tools and crap in various locations with various fixtures. - The Grind is not a race to take lightly when it comes to equipment failure & backup systems.   Here was where I intended to put the multi-tool.

From there I was going to strap a "Big Air" CO2  canister on the seat-tube and strap a spare tube on it too.  I finally just accepted that this little touristy geeky apparatus was the best solution.  Everything is inside, it's easy to get to - and shouldn't fall off.  (Note the strap for added protection)

You might think it's silly looking - but it works.  

I had also very much in advance decided on riding the hardtail instead of my aging & cushy Yeti FS bike rolling Nevegals.  Last year I had my butt handed to me in Sport by a guy riding a late 80's rigid Univega.  Time to man up, take a few Advil and go hard. 

After a pre-ride with Andy Gould - whom I often happen upon while pre-riding it was time to head back and try to do muh hometown proud. 

At the start I chatted with a few fellow racers.  They're getting to know me from the few  ROOT 66 races I've done and a couple even insisted I move up towards the front for the start.  I might be OK at this biking thing - but I will never touch these guys when it comes to sportsmanship.  Can't win everything I suppose..

After the youngsters took off - it was our turn.  This time - I wanted the hole shot or at least a spot near the front.  Nothing worse than getting stuck in a conga-line through the the kind of terrain The Grind has to offer.  At the signal I layed on the juice and quickly tucked into 2nd place. The course went around a LH turn on the grass and headed back across near the start with a wide open straight-away.  I made my move and turned on the coals - 1st position into the woods: Acquired.   

Now into the woods - I kept telling myself  "chill the eff out"  - "Not worth dumping it this early"  I could hear the riders behind me - which certainly turns your "cool" into "Why the hell am I here?!".  It's alot of pressure to lead like this - no lie.   Within a 1/4 a mile or so - I broke rhythm and lost my line or something.  I didn't so much crash as simply lose all composure - and from there - lose my bloody damn chain. Again.  Much cursing ensued - and I was passed by 3 or 4 riders.  I heard one say "relax man, we got aways to go".  Hmm.. Dude's got a point there. 

Interesting tidbit on cursing - supposedly it helps with pain.  Here is Kari from Mythbusters proving so.. 

Most of the middle of the race kinda went blurry from there.  I recall passing one fellow in the zig-zag section on the grass - he says "Alby!" - I say, "who are you??" - "I'm Chris! - I have you marked"... Woah.  I'm like "marked".  In Rhode Island that could could turn out really, really bad.  At the same time I'm kind of flattered.  I keep on keeping on and we trade spots here and there- this guy is a good rider.  I keep managing to screw up in a few technical areas, but finally get by and get on with it.  Around midway through the second lap - the sky opens up.. Big time.  Result - if it wasn't slippery enough for you before... this should do the trick. 

Further into the second lap I chance upon last years rival - Shawn Smith.  I catch him just in time to watch a spectacular wipe out (sorry Shawn, really though - it was the best one I saw) Not only did he wipe out, but he continued to have difficult  simply getting up floundering like a fish.  (Sorry Shawn, this is the stuff many lackluster careers in comedy were built on).  He is undamaged (what, do you think I'd just laugh at a guy / situation if the dude was hurt?? - shame on you!!)  as I make my way past he says "Gould is just ahead - maybe 30 seconds".  This is all the motivation I need.  Andy has been killing it this year.  Along the way I catch up with a rider on a 26" FS bike - this guy can ride - he is nailing lines to the point where I can't help but compliment him.  I ride at his pace for some time and we get to a grassy section in between the wooded single track that includes some bermed corners.  Between the deluge, the slippery grass and speed - he cuts a corner a little too tight and starts going down.  Before he even hits the ground he is cracking up.  The rider:  Steven Crossley - yeah, that guy.  Steve rips.  I pass on the outside and keep a grindin'.

About 1/4 of the way into the third lap - I see him in the Blue Steel Cyclery jersey:  Andy Gould.  He is trailed by three younger riders and they are all moving pretty good.   About halfway through I get past these guys and finally, finally... I catch up to Andy.  I make a pass where reasonable using quite a bit of bug juice and within a minute or so say "Hey Andy, feeling strong?" In other words "I'm spent - wanna go?" He replies that he is just fine and I carry on the rest of the race being ever so careful not to do anything totally stupid.  Despite almost really screwing up in a few sections it all works out.  Easily one of my best races. Ever.

So there you have it.  1st Vet 2 - 2nd overall  Expert by a measly 7 seconds.  Damn you and congratulations Joshua Krzyzek. 

The prize:  Money!! My first ever money!! From a race!!  Almost got my entry fee back!!  YAHOO!!

I love, love this race.  Grassroots racing doesn't get any better.   A few sites from the scene.

Muddy masses discussing slipping, sliding, crashing, blood & gore at the finish.

Virtually guaranteed mud at the Grind

Awards Ceremony - this is where they give out MONEY!!

Folks hanging on the back porch -big thanks to the Peckhams.  Let's hope the tradition continues a few more decades.

Kevin & Steve chatting it up with Maz

Gaggle of award winners & watchers

So I get home - and tell Lucy and Ava "I won money!!!"  Ava's instant reply:  "Awesome, you can take us out for dinner"

She looks so sweet just reading her book.  Inside - there is much, much scheming.. 

I gotta go clean the mud out of my eyeballs.  Do you think Steel Magnolias or Beaches will do the trick?

See y'all at the Weeping Willow.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

RACE REPORT: Orchard Assault. Or: Lucky, lucky, lucky..

All week I went back and forth on what to do for riding over the weekend.  It was either hook up with Jeff, Jon and the road crew and go for a 4-5 hour road ride (excellent training) or go do a race (also excellent training - but a different kind of intensity nowhere near as long).

There were a few votes against racing:
  • I lost my tools and CO2 canisters / inflator at the Lung Opener - replacements have not arrived yet
  • I really need to get in some more of the long road rides - I think they may have really helped push my fitness this season
  • This would be the third consecutive week I have gone racing - I feel I should ease back for a couple of weeks
A couple of things.. well maybe three of four pushed me towards the race: 
  • My sister lives right in Amherst (kick ass town BTW) - it'd be nice to swing by & see how the old girl is doing (she's 9 years younger than me the little tart)
  • Alec Petro signed up - and well,  I kinda want to see where I fit in at this point - he is a serious moving target to focus on - always somewhere near the top
  • The weather was shaping up quite nicely for the weekend
  • I just got some new summer tires for the car = nice smooth ride.
  • OK, I just reaaally like racing.  Lucy knew how this would go down a week in advance.
So I headed out kind of lazily at 10:30 am thinking I've got plenty of time to make the race by 1:00 pm.  Between having to pull over to tighten my lug nuts (I always seem to forget one wheel) and the massive excitement / events in downtown Amherst I arrived at about 12:15.  That's a little tight.  I registered just in time to see Steven Crossley get his award for 1st in the sport class (yep -more USAC upgrade woes) then ran back to gear up and did a quick reconnaissance ride around the 2.8 mile loop. 

First impressions:  This thing is going to be harder than I thought.  There were some very punchy climbs and a couple of power robbing mud holes / wet grassy spots. Today's exercise regimen will be interval training it seems.  

The  UMASS Amherst folks did an exemplary job of utilizing the terrain available and marking the course (Painted arrows on the grass!? That folks- is top notch) Having not done any 'Cross racing - I sensed this might be a similar layout- everything was close in and there were spectators in a few key spots along the way.

Further evidence of the quality:  They provided Zip-ties.  Like. Wow - for real.

The start was at the bottom of the access road heading up to  the observatory that worked to thin the field out before hitting the single track. After the start horn (which sounded more like dying murmur - too many blasts I reckon) I held position somewhere midpack.  By the time we got to the single track just past the observatory there was a log jam getting into the woods.   It sorted itself out pretty quickly and we were into the best part of the course - nice tight singletrack with bermed corners here and there and a few whoop-de-doos thrown in. Fun - Fun - Fun!! 

Whoop de doo! Picture don't do it no justice.  Click on the pic, zoom in on it - then use your imagination.

Upon exiting the first bit of wooded singletrack the course went along an off-camber slope paralleling one of the campus roads - I was about half-way down it and I hear the guy behind me say "Your chain is off!".  I am thinking "OK, this happens pretty often - I'll just shove the front derailleur all the way towards the big ring and drive it back on".  Umm, wrong!  I look down to see where things are and like the man said:  My chain was "off" as in gone, MIA, bye-bye  highly efficient propulsion system.

Aww crap... So much for trying to tail that Alec guy.  I pull over, the guy following says "sorry man" while passing -  I then toss the bike aside and wait for the rest of the field to pass before heading back up the trail to find my chain laying in the middle almost perfectly straight.  Remember the tools I lost at the Lung Opener?  I ain't got any.  What do I have?


A matching pair of these wedged under the zip tie holding my fork brake cable. It don't get no luckier than that!

I thread the chain back through the driveline, link the chain back together and head up the first steep climb.  Not far after the climb one would find a nice mudhole lined with spectators waiting for some action.  I disappointed them some - and headed along a super fun downhill section with some muddy-bermy corners  that zinged you into a moderate but longish uphill (remember this thing is only 2.8 miles long). 3 times at the top of this grassy hill I would meet / pass Shawn Mottram going the opposite way who was having a far worse day with repeated mechanicals.  We all watched him start with the Pros:  "pop" goes the chain - at least twice during the race.

Presenting my top secret sweet line through the mud hole:

The course continued from there into a open grassy area down around a LH turn then further down into a RH turn that you could roll out without the brakes  if ye had the nads.  From there - through a very wet grassy section - into an uphill and then into the next fairly steep climb that wound its way right back up next to the observatory.  This climb always had a few spectators egging us on.  During one climb a nubile college babe shouted out: "Hit it hard like your girlfriend!!" - while motivating, I found it left the mind to wander which was a little distracting.  

Little by little I reeled in a few riders along the way.  At the top of the climb one turned left and headed down a grassy field.  You could get all aero in this section and really haul  some butt.   It ducked you into a wooded double track section with a gravely left hand turn.  If you nailed the line - you could ride through without the brakes and carry some speed into a RH turn that went through some more muddy wet grass.  The grassy course then headed back up towards the observatory and included one little steepish climb. 

Smiling for the camera - photo by Uri Halevi

Heading back towards the observatory - photo: Uri Halevi

From the top:  Rinse and repeat - 7 times.  Somehow I managed to lose count and ended up doing 8. Damn those nubile college girls.

End result - one very muddy bike & body, 4-1/2 minutes behind Alec and a surprise visit from my mom! She happened to be in town picking something up from my sister and swung by. 

I did get 2nd in the 40-49 age group - but I don't think there were more than 3 of us to begin with.

Afterwards I went for another lap - the course was just plain fun - and kind of a taste of what I imagine CX to be.  I know what you are thinking and can say with certainty:  I was not looking for any "motivating" nubile college girls.  I think.

I hung out with my sister for the remainder of the afternoon.  Thanks to my sisters... err... "connections" with one of the owners of the brewery I was sent home with a bottle of Element Extra Special Oak beer.  

If you haven't tried this stuff - give it a go.  It is seriously good. No bias here - promise. 

Maybe this fall we can coordinate beer from Element Brewing and some  CX racing in Amherst.  I hear CX and beer is like squirrels and nuts or the opposite of:  "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle".  Oooh.. I kinda maintained a theme there.