26 October 2010

Big rubber

One thing that's been super fun this past year is the chance to experiment -- after many years of Midwest riding and more than a few lucky weather days elsewhere in the country, I found myself getting complacent about tire choice. My biggest challenge was to decide between Kenda Small Block 8s and Kenda Karmas ... or, if I was feeling wild, a mix of the two. Especially with the confidence of the 29er-26er mixed-wheel of my Siren Song, I could afford to go relatively low weight, low rolling resistance, low volume.

Enter Pisgah.

The first change I made when I moved here was to go to an all-Karma setup: 29er 2.2 up front and 26er 2.0 in the rear. That was my race set up, but on my knock-around bike I was running a 2.2 rear. I liked the way the bigger tire felt, but I also caught a break: we had drought conditions most of the year, and with all the gravel roads around here, the smaller rear served me well.

In the midst of playing around on my Siren this summer, I got the chance to demo an Ibis Mojo with a Cane Creek Double Barrel shock. Not wanting to spend anything on it, I scrapped together the parts I needed (matched by the generosity of our "demo program"!), including some of the oldest tires I had in my quiver. It was a sketchy setup, especially as it's a 26er, and I wasn't too confident on it -- despite the awesomeness that is the CCDB.

I finally anted up last week for some "real" rubber: a Karma 2.2 in the rear, and -- going against the better sensibilities of my XC, Type-A mindset -- a Nevegal 2.35 up front. And oh my goodness, it was heaven! The Nevegal is consistently rated "the best all-around tire" by the mountain biking media, and now I can see why. I had more confidence on the gravel roads, right off the bat, and by the time I was ripping the singletrack I was sticking like Velcro. It was amazing.

Now, as I sit here writing, it's pissing down rain, the first big storms we've had in weeks. The timing is perfect: the leaves have peaked and are now falling, and the wet is creating what is known around here as "brown ice" -- a layer of leaf cover on the ground making riding, driving (and even walking!) pretty treacherous. And it's just in time: We're racing for 24 hours* this weekend.

So for the first time in my racing career, I'm going "big" -- bigger volume, bigger knobs. I might should have tried it 16 months ago at Big Bear in similar conditions, but I was overconfident and under-educated in the finer points of tire choice. I'll be mounting up my 29er 2.2 Nevegal on my front wheel today, and already have the 2.2 Karma set up on the rear. The arrow center tread on the Neve will cut through the leaves, and the big side knobs on both tires will help as we carve our way through the massive Pisgah Forest. I may lose a bit in rolling resistance on the fire roads, but the confidence I'll gain may have me attempting to descend Farlow ... OK, maybe not quite.

In the meantime, Kim and I gathered up my gear last night, and I was thankful that experience counts for something -- it's been a year since I packed for a 24-hour race, and last night was the easiest it's ever been to do so. If nothing else, racing an event like the Double Dare just a half hour from home is relaxing ... in a Type-A, geek-out sort of way!

(* So, when Greg talked me into Double Dare [it wasn't tough], I looked at the web site -- which said we raced 12 hours on Saturday and 9 on Sunday. Guess what? It's actually 12 and 12, with a mandatory 6-hour break in the middle. So despite taking a hiatus from 24-hour racing in 2010, I find myself again lining up for an all-day-plus epic! Bring it!)

25 October 2010

14 October 2010

Batting for the cycle

Wow. What a difference a couple of weeks makes.

Last month -- a month ago today actually -- I was finally getting my head straight about racing and what it means to me, thanks in large part to some well-timed advice from a certain inspirational Siren. And, as with the call of the mythical Siren, the lure of The Next Great Adventure turned out to be too much to pass up.

The intervening weeks have been somewhat tumultuous, what with getting a grill (and a house to go with it!), spending a week in Vegas for the annual bike industry love-in, losing a family member, and getting ready for a large-scale invasion of Western North Carolina by family and friends taking precedence in mind and spirit. Work has been a bit zany as well, as it's wholesaler catalog season, and we're changing over all of our product for the next model year. My health hasn't been 100% either, as this thankfully mild cold I've got was preceded by a strange blackout that had me waking up on the bathroom floor when I got up from the couch too quickly!

And so riding has taken a bit of a back seat, though I've managed to get out just about every day for a least a short spin, and Kim has been more than accommodating as I've gotten my night groove back on. See, just as I was contemplating never competing again, a super-strong friend of mine named Greg asked if I'd be interested in taking on Double Dare -- Pisgah Productions' annual "Fall Gathering" and race event. It's a combination of new and old for me: It's a duo team race, taking place over 27 hours with a mandatory 6-hour break, and instead of laps it features checkpoints and wayfinding all over the Pisgah National Forest. Would I be interested? Heck yeah!

So with DD on the mind, I've gotten back on the bike, forcing myself through sheer will to work through the post-Show blahs that invariably set in. Thankfully our office is located smack-dab in the middle of some of the best riding in the country, so in addition to some great trail rides on the weekends and in the dark, I've managed to do some pretty fantastic road rides, grinding my way up the local mountains and whipping myself into some semblance of shape. I feel good, and a ride last night over Bent Creek Gap and into BC for some trail time with Greg is confirmation that a year off from night riding was exactly what I needed.

(Hard to believe it's been exactly a year since Moab, and my last night ride. What a year it's been!)

Somewhere along in there, my mind began to wander. My first few night rides have gone well -- better than expected actually -- and all of a sudden I was contemplative. What happens after Double Dare? What about 2011?

And then it hit me: Pisgah36. A 36-hour "Adventure Mountain Bike Race" in Pisgah, formerly known as "The Most Horrible Thing Ever." Part Double Dare, part lap race, all solo challenge, P36 might be one of the most difficult races I ever attempt. And it sounds like fun.

But wait! There's more!

During a fun spin on Tuesday, it came to me. I realized there may be something more. Another chance. An opportunity at glory, even if it's in my own mind. What all those expensive management books would call a BHAG: a "Big Hairy Audacious Goal." The chance to become The First Person Ever to do something -- because, let's face it, that's what's been driving me all these years.

I'm going to bat for the cycle.

What? How's that? I don't like baseball -- what the heck?

Here's the plan: I'm going to be the first person ever to attempt -- and finish -- all of the Blue Ridge Adventures and Pisgah Productions races, plus the PAS DuPont Save The Trails Challenge for good measure, in a row.

Now, ideally, I'd do them all in the same calendar year. 2011 just may be that year, and I'll start off in January with that goal in mind. But 12 months is a looong time, and with Interbike changing its dates, the on-again-off-again nature of Double Dare, and the horror that is post-trail-work Kitsuma, there's no telling if I'll get this opportunity again. In fact, P36 may be a challenge depending on trade show dates. So, since I'm already partway through the cycle, I'm going to try to go all-in:

ORAMM - Save the Trails - Pisgah Stage Race -
Double Dare -
SWANK - P36 - PMBAR

Seven races, seven challenges, seven steps on the path to something that's never been done before. I'm already partway there, with finishes at ORAMM in July, StT in August and PSR in September. DD takes place Halloween weekend, with SWANK the next (though registration was already closed when I hatched this harebrained scheme, I think I've found a transfer partner), and P36 and PMBAR are slated for next spring. So with Greg's help and a bit of luck from the Pisgah weather gods, by November 8 I'll be almost there, with a WNC winter to prepare for a day-and-a-half of adventure racing and a fun duo challenge.

I wonder what the Siren thinks of that?

(This obligatory shot of Kate being Kate brought to you by the Country Christmas Cookbook, which she likes to read before bed. Since photos of her seem to be more interesting to you, the readers, than photos of my bike, or of the mountains, I figured I'd throw this in here for your sake. Enjoy!)

11 October 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Part IV

Stage 5
I woke Saturday with mixed feelings: I was relieved that the last day of racing was upon us, but I was also sad to know it was ending. I enjoyed my time in the race "bubble," and the return to real life and the craziness that was to follow wasn't as much as anticipating a long day on my home trails. The goal for the day was to just have fun, time markers be damned, and to focus on riding these trails at race effort as best I could.

For the most part, this was a familiar day for me: A road start north on 280 > Turkeypen Road > Vineyard Gap > Riverside > Bradley Creek > 5015 > Yellow Gap > Laurel Mtn - Pilot > 1206 > 276 > Club Gap > Avery Creek > 477 > Clawhammer > Maxwell > Black > FINISH! I'd never done Vineyard to 5015, and I hadn't been on Avery for 8 months (since the original Death March!), but the rest were home trails and roads, and I was really looking forward to the challenge. Most of all, I wanted to ride Laurel Mountain at race pace, even after four previous days of racing!

We started out, and I just tucked in. I used all the roadie mojo I had, hiding out near the front and letting the pack pull me along. At one point, Stephen came by and tapped me on the rear, signalling a massive lead-out that kept me in the game exactly when I needed it. That's what teammates are for!

We hit Turkeypen, and I settled in. I was climbing pretty well, and just concentrated on turning it over. The road went OK, but once we were on Vineyard and it got steep, I started to slow. Riders started coming by, Sue included at one point, and I just kept on moving. Peter was ahead of me, so I knew another day in front of him was out of the question, so instead it was all about focusing on the task at hand and keeping on, keeping on.

The descent off of Vineyard was ... well, fun is the right word, but I was completely unprepared. I made it about halfway down before I lost my nerve on the waterbar-after-waterbar-after-waterbar chute, and moved over to let another host of riders past, including Wes and his teammate. No worries, though, and it was on to Riverside, perhaps the most dry it's ever been. The 15 water crossings were more like 6 or 7, and I chose to walk the deepest ones rather than subject my new chainrings and chain to a soggy beat-down. I lost time, sure, but who was I racing at that point other than myself?

That said, me and another rider traded places through the riverbottoms, until we hit 5015 and it was time for me to motor again. I caught Wes near the top, and he confessed that he was glad I had gotten out of their way: "I knew you'd have trouble on that trail," he said. "Classic Pisgah with all those drops." His teammate was riding strong that last day, and the three of us started up Laurel together, with Sue not far behind.

I can't say that was the fastest I've gone up Laurel, but it was certainly the smoothest. Following Wes and his teammate, and eventually Sue as well, was a master's course in trail reading, and it was all I could do to keep them in sight. About halfway up, the Sycamore guys were beyond my reach, while Sue had caught just before the climbing got tough. Evan was in there too, and he and Sue hit the hike-a-bike just before me. I gave them some encouragement, and as we crested the top, I was alone.

And oh, boy was I alone -- for the rest of the race. I had my best descent ever off of Pilot -- yes, I walked the rock garden, but cleaned the rest! -- and as I dropped down to 1206, I realized just how alone I was. I started grinding, using my local knowledge to full effect, punching the rollers and relaxing on the short downhills in preparation for the assault on Club Gap. Onto 276, thankfully downhill from this direction, and then before I knew it I was turning left and climbing again ...

Club Gap went much better this time! I didn't clean the whole thing, but came close, only losing the line on two little steeps and riding the rest. That felt good, and I enjoyed Avery as much as I could, knowing I had only one climb to go. Avery isn't in the best shape, but it's not horrible, and I had fun hitting the stuff that only a few short months ago was the stuff of nightmares for this recently expatriated flatland FIB ...

Onto the gravel and one more climb to go ... my goal for the day was to finish Maxwell in the big ring, and I did! I was a bit surprised, but it felt good to put that out there, and cresting the last little steep just felt awesome. The hike-a-bike was mercifully short, and the descent was amazing -- I finally hit that point (that also comes about 2 a.m. in a 24-hour race) where I was so tired I just rode stuff I'd never try when fresh -- and I cleaned them! I still walked the two stairs, but other than that, I bombed Black faster than I had all week, and rolled across the FINISH line as a FINISHER of the Pisgah Stage Race! Woo hoo! Todd came up seconds later and handed me my FINISHER's medal, and what a sweet reward it was!

Kim and Kate arrived a few minutes later, and after a few minutes in the river and them getting to see Stephen FINISH, we headed to Dolly's for my other sweet reward ...
... and since I don't think that photo does it justice, here's a close-up:
Oh, yeah. I hit that. And I cleaned it.

(For the record: Large (6 scoops) coconut-mint chocolate-cappuccino chip banana split *with* sweet nuts, whip cream and cherries. Oh, yeah. People in line to get their own delicious treats were in awe.)

We then headed up the road a few yards to do something I've been wanting to do for months: Take my photo at the iconic Pisgah National Forest marker. Complete with my WBR-Siren jacket and Kate in tow, the photos turned out great! (But, alas, they're on the other camera, so will get posted later.)

Though it was time to head to the Brevard Music Center for the post-race festivities, we decided some barbecue was in order -- so as a just dessert to Dolly's, I polished off a BBQ plate at Hawg Wild across the road too. Oh, boy, was it fantastic too ...

We bundled up the little one and headed to the Music Center for the after-race awards and party. It was a fantastic time, as Todd put on the best post-race event I've ever been to. We had a ton of fun hanging out with Stephen and his family, and Nolan and his family and friends, as well as reliving the race with all the other FINISHERS, as well as tons of locals there to enjoy the event. Poppie's provided amazing grill fare, and yes, I polished off a couple of burgers (no buns) and a hot dog ...

In all, I didn't finish last in my class, as we had one more abandon on the last day, due to illness. I managed to beat some of my pre-race goals, I didn't crash all week, and I rode well in spite of a rough pre-race preparation period and some intra-race hesitation on trails I need to work on this winter. Most of all, I'm happier than ever to be racing again, and for that I owe a very special thanks to Mary for hitting the switch and shining a big ol' HID light to show me the way. Thank you!

Most of all, I think what I'll remember is twofold: That I did OK for myself, and that thanks to the wonderful after-race party, I got to participate in Kate's first-ever bike race of her own. And for that, the Pisgah Stage Race 2010 will be forever a highlight of my racing career. Thanks Todd and Blue Ridge Adventures!

05 October 2010

Pisgah Stage Race: Part III

Wow, it's been, what? 3 weeks since the race started on Pinnacle Mountain. Really? Only 3 weeks? With everything that has happened since, I would have bet more like 5 or 6. Anyway, where was I?

Stage 4
I have to admit, it took me checking out some other blogs on the Interweb to remember what Stage 4 was all about. This was the Friday stage I put out of my mind in my post-Stage 1 interview on Cyclingdirt, and for good reason: Stage 4 was a suffer-fest.

When I previewed this course, I messed up the opening climb, and ran into Sam and his dad on the way back down, big-ringing it up one of the toughest "moderate" slopes out there. Other than that, though, this was set to be a pretty fun day, even if it was pretty much all uphill!

From the gun, I knew the name of the game would be survival. I got the jump on Thom, for what it was worth, but immediately had to settle in and just do what I could. Thom had a creaking bottom bracket by this time of the race, and it wasn't long until I could hear him behind me ... creak, creak, creak ... I told him if he wanted to destroy my soul, he should just take up residence there behind me, shadowing me for the rest of the day ...

Onto the roots of death, something straight out of Princess Bride, and I admit I was hurting. It was inspiring to watch Sue clean the heck out of that section, but ... I was hurting. I meted my efforts accordingly, and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that the descent on Turkeypen Gap would provide some needed respite.

And it did! I know a lot of folks aren't big TP fans, given its remote access and nasty steeps (uphill) in the middle, but I dig that trail. Sure, there are a couple of hikes if you're not feeling good. But there's also some very rewarding "big ass" moves toward the end, and the early steeps (downhill) are super-fun in the soft, loamy soil. Especially now, since some of the flow has returned after a rough winter of downed trees.

Toward the top of Black, I had passed Peter, who was seriously sucking wind from the bug that had infected his lungs. I figured he was metaphorically breathing down my neck, and so when Evan caught me near the parking lot, I asked him how Peter was doing. Evan was just cruising, given his mechanical-and-bail on Stage 2, but he was still fast, and his answer surprised me, "I haven't seen him since Black Mountain." Hmmm. OK -- I'm not one to revel in the misfortunes of my competitors, but new goal for today: Stay ahead of Peter. Dude can rail, so I had my work cut out for me.

I followed Evan down to the river, cleaning the singletrack for the first time ever, and led him out up the lower part of Mullinax. He went into cruise control, opting to climb easy, while I motored ahead as I approached the Roots of Death #2. I was in for a shocker -- two *very* happy hecklers, reeking of fermented hops, screaming at the tops of their lungs! It was absolutely fantastic, as I heard the first but didn't see the second until I was deep in the red, and as he ran alongside with his cowbell ringing, I figured I couldn't let him down ...

... and I cleaned it! Another notch, first time I've pulled that off. Good deal!

Though he threatened to stay with me all the way to Horse Cove, I knew Squirrel was too narrow for us both, so I put in a dig to shed the cowbell. (Never thought I'd write that in a blog post!) I gave him a wave, knowing that it was their encouragement that spurred me on, and on I went onto Squirrel.

For whatever reason, I prefer Squirrel heading west. This was opposite of the direction we went on Stage 2, and was one of the first after-work Pisgah rides I'd ever done. Evan caught me somewhere in there and cruised on past, though he didn't disappear as quickly as he had in the past. We chatted for a bit, but he chose not to stop and search for his cleat ...

I made the turn onto Horse Cove, and was thankful for my coworker Jim pushing me to ride more of it in our pre-ride a few weeks prior. Wes had caught me by then, and motored ahead, and though I cleaned a fair chunk of it, I wasn't quite as nimble as he after so many days in the saddle. Peter still had not caught up to me, so I didn't want to dawdle, but I did take half a breath to admire the view off to the left from about halfway down. Amazing!

Onto 477, and I surprised myself by staying in the big ring all the way up SMR. I'm liking that climb more and more the longer it stays dry and not chopped up from all the horse activity, and by the time I popped out at Buckhorn, I was ready for Black. Black > Buckwheat is a challenging, fun ride I've managed to do a fair number of times, and let me tell you, local knowledge is key! I cleaned the whole thing except for the steps up and the *big* rocks down for the first time, and dang if it wasn't super fun!

The gravel descent back to the stables wasn't quite so, given our drought in the area, and I was happy to get through the aid station and onto Clawhammer. Just one big climb and a short hike to go, and then it was all downhill ...

I again surprised myself with an all-big-ring ascent up Maxwell. I figured by this point in the race, I'd be dying on the side of the road, but wasn't quite dead -- yet. The hike was mercifully short, and I cleaned just a bit more of the Black descent than I had on Thursday. Amazingly, I edged out Peter on the day -- though he was suffering, I was certain that his technical prowess would have had him hunting me down. It was just enough to push me on even when I wasn't feeling so great.

One other thought kind of dominated: One more stage to go!