31 August 2011

It's on

I'm jumping out of my skin right now.

Yes, I'm on cup #2. But that's not it -- I've been in hypermode for about 5 or 6 days now. I'm feeling good, but I'm distracted, dazed, crazed. And it's only made worse by the mini-taper I've got going on right now.

Last week was crazy. It kicked off with me losing half my Customer Service staff, floated through a quick doctor's appointment that confirmed everything is good to go with Squirt, and culminated in a super-fun weekend of riding and hanging out with a bunch of great women (and one little guy!) that included chocolate cake (gluten free of course!), ice cream and Sit-and-Spins. Whew.

And then it hit me: This weekend is Labor Day. This weekend is the SM100. And though my bike is in perfect working order, it is due to be made more perfect, and I hadn't even begun.

I shoulda' started on Monday. Instead, I waited until Tuesday -- yikes. In addition to the planned re-cable and brake bleed, I discovered a fjork that needed to be pulled apart, a chain that needed to be changed, and tires that needed to be set. I don't know what it is about the race this year, but Dicky has me over-thinking my tire choice -- I'm not normally a "gear head" -- I like to set it and forget it -- but I've been obsessing about which rear tire to run for four days now, to the point where I'm having weird dreams in which Kate and my former SRAM coworkers tell me my setup is all wrong and I'm destined to die out there on Wolf Ridge. Really.

And then -- and then! -- yesterday the race organizer sends out the pre-race brief. And I'm mentioned as a Top 10 hopeful! This may sound so silly to a lot of folks, but this is really a dream come true for me. Ever since my first pre-race brief arrived in my email in 2008, I've wanted to be in there. Of course, it only amped me up even more, and my bike work last night took on an additional level of urgency ...

(The best comment made so far is that I should enjoy my 15 minutes of fame. So true -- about 15 minutes into the race we hit the first big pitch, and then it's game on ... that's when we'll know whether I'm really hopeful or not!)

So today is Wednesday, the bike is in more-or-less almost-ready-to-go shape, I settle on a tire, I go to set it up in the workshop at work, and BAM! it blows off the rim. Liquid latex is everywhere, the tire is coiled on the floor, and huge machine that is Cane Creek grinds to a halt while everyone investigates the bomb that just went off. And it's not even 9:30. What else might happen today?

25 August 2011

It's water day!

Joy of all joys, it's water day at daycare! In celebration of this wonderful experience, here are a couple of photos from the past few weeks ... ice cream and backyard singletrack oh, my!

And for those keeping score, Squirt is doing great and is even a little ahead of schedule ...

24 August 2011


So here's a fun thought: the weekend of Wausau24 marked my five-year anniversary as a mountain biker. Five years since my first fat-tire yard sale at Palos. Five years since I broke my promise to myself never to ride a mountain bike. Five years since my life changed completely.

That sounds so melodramatic, but it's true. Without mountain biking, there would have been no WBR, no North Carolina, no Pisgah!, and -- no lie -- probably no Kate and definitely no Squirt. The universe was pushing me toward this path that summer, sending some loud-and-clear messages that things were not alright and it was time for a change.

Thank goodness I listened.

And here we are, half a decade later. I'm still learning -- a lot! -- and still have a long way to go to polish my technical riding, especially at speed. But the trails of Western North Carolina are good teachers, the riders here are merciless, and like Keanu Reeves learning Kung Fu, I'm soaking it up and going back for more, every chance I get.

This weekend was a fantastic example of that.

For those of you who've never had a chance to visit, think of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest as "Pisgah Lite." There are enough rocks and roots to keep things interesting, but seeing as it's the closest trailhead to Asheville, the trails are a bit more crowded and quite a bit more "groomed" than what you find out in "Big" Pisgah. Even so, it can be challenging, and I'll admit there was stuff that I got hung up on when I first moved here last year.

So when my coworker told me about his little adventure race, I was sold: Bent Creek, on cyclocross bikes, with unkown checkpoints involving special tests, good food and fun folks, and -- of course -- bragging rights up for grabs. Throw in beautiful weather (well, at least until the storms rolled in!), and it had all the makings of a Hoffencross for the ages.

I'm sure the first rule of Hoffencross is that you don't talk about Hoffencross (somebody didn't get the memo), so I'll just speak in generalities here. The lead-in to the weekend was rough, with a bitch of a workout on Tuesday followed by two days off the bike for a quick trip to Minneapolis. Though we were surrounded by bicycles and bicycle stuff for 48 hours, and spent considerable time oogling the amazing infrastructure they have built in the Cities (top photo), my boss and I were without rides, and so spent time riding conference room chairs and bucket seats in our rented Toyota hybrid instead. Our flight home was slightly delayed, but we made our ATL connection and got back to the office with enough time to leave early for some bike building.

I haven't ridden trail on a 'cross bike in ... um ... five years? or so -- really, the first half of 2006 was spent tearing around Palos on skinny(er) tires and included a rough-and-tumble trip to the trails of Arizona and even a spin or two around the Kettles. But once I got on the Rush, there was no looking back -- though I ostensibly took up mountain biking to help my 'cross campaign, just one look at my left shoulder gives you a clue as to how that relationship ended up shifting pretty quickly ...

Anyway, I made it home on Friday with enough time to switch my trusty 'cross-turned-commuter back to full-on 'cross mode, mounting some age-old Michelins on even older wheels, setting the RD and swapping brake pads for a set that would actually slow me down on the hills around BC. We put Kate to bed, and I was off -- a quick loop out to Jackson Park, home of the North Carolina GP UCI 'cross race (yes, I can ride to a UCI race in my home town and no, I've not lined up for it yet), had me checking tire pressures and grinning from ear to ear remembering just how fun it is to ride trail on 700cc hoops. And damned if they didn't roll over everything! I didn't feel great after three days of travel, but I didn't feel awful either, and with the bike dialed, I was ready for the weekend.

As mentioned, Saturday dawned with beautiful skies and warm-but-not-hot temps, and a motley crew gathered at the starting point shortly before 10. We set out individual TT-style to "Choose (Y)our Own Adventure," given only two checkpoints from which to choose, and thus to begin our romp through the woods. I was a bit worried about my ability to navigate Bent Creek -- throw me in Pisgah with a blindfold on, and I can find my way to the next checkpoint purely by sound and smell, but I've only ridden BC a half-dozen times or so -- thankfully I knew where I was going first, and knew it was going to be tough. How tough? Well, there are only a few climbs in WNC that get you up toward a mile high in the sky, and I was starting with one of them.

Organizers Eric and Kelly threw in a few fun twists to the "mountain bike adventure race" format I've come to love so much. The first was that *every* checkpoint was mandatory. *Every* checkpoint had a special test. You couldn't win unless you completed the bonus checkpoint and its associated task -- not the most difficult test, but certainly the hardest checkpoint to reach. None of the checkpoints were intersections -- instead, you were given a trail name, and had to find the volunteer *somewhere* along that trail. (This got really interesting on Explorer Loop -- which way do you go to find Teenwolf's wife?) And finally -- and most maddeningly -- once at a checkpoint, you were given the next two from which to choose. You couldn't just plan your overall route and go -- you had to take into account that you may not know where the next checkpoint was.

And ... it was awesome. I definitely pulled out the map more than I wanted to, but I also caught lucky breaks on some route choices. I survived the special tests -- though having a personal trainer as a volunteer and leaving the test to her diabolical mind still has me sore, four days later. Not only did the bike (and wheels!) hold up fine, I was riding stuff on the 'cross bike that gave me fits a year ago on a mountain bike. I felt good physically, despite the travel, though the legs were a bit heavy since I just couldn't bring myself to break out the compression tights for a "local" race. In the end, I didn't get lost ... but I did lose, by just 3 minutes, to the repeat champion. I know exactly where I lost too -- for the record, if you find yourself at the intersection of 479H and 479, on a 'cross bike, climbing the wall and dropping *all* of Lower Sidehill and the new Sidehill Connector is not the fastest way to find the moonshine. Just sayin'.

I managed to make it back to the garage before the rains came, hung out and heckled fellow finishers for the next few hours, and then made the call to head home to see the girls for the first time in what felt like forever. Once Kate was in bed, Kim and I suffered through most of Romeo + Juliet; I remembered how much I dislike that play, and especially bizzare modern/Olde English mish-mash interpretations of it; and it was time to sack out in preparation for another long day on Sunday. Sleeping in is always so sweet ...
Sunday was a special test of another sort. Once I got back to riding again this month, I hit up Laurel > Pilot and then the Legends Loop (which includes Laurel > Pilot) the weekend before last, just to get on familiar trails, get the bike going again, and have fun on some tech downhill that wouldn't necessarily kill me. It went well, and though my fitness was lacking, I cleaned more of Pilot each day, getting within 9 feet -- just 3 yards, 3 rocks! -- of completing the rock garden after only walking one or two spots higher up. Sure, there were a few dabs, but Sunday the 13th was the fastest and cleanest I've ever gone downhill in my life.

This weekend, I figured I'd give it another shot, heading out for a Legends Loop-plus, climbing South Mills River instead of Horse Cove. In a complete reversal from last week, the fitness was on, but I was out of rhythm on the downhill, bouncing around a bit too much on account of being too tight with my body. It came to a head halfway down Pilot, when I dropped into a switchback too far forward and BURP! sent Stan's fluid splashing to the ground. My front tire had come unseated, and there I was with half a descent to go, worried about whether I would end up putting myself into the ground.

But ... but ... but! I got the tire aired back up, and started rolling again. And darned if I wasn't staying on top of it! It wasn't perfect; it wasn't pretty; I began to bonk pretty hard, but I stayed upright and hit the bottom half pretty hot. This was a big, big win for me, as traditionally when I get thrown off-balance I tend to stay off-balance, leading to some pretty knarly crashes and some ugly injuries that like to stick around. This time, though, I rolled it through, and though I hung up on the last two rocks of the rock garden -- just 6 feet left! -- I was feeling OK as I dropped through the river and onto 1206. I made the left turn, grabbed some food, and started to climb ...

SMR is one of my favorite climbs in all of Pisgah, and the fist part didn't disappoint. Then it got ugly, with mud bogs every few hundred yards, and the fun sort of went out of the ride. It got worse after the bridge, when I found myself in the midst of 3 miles of fresh trailwork, just as it started to rain. Pushing up to Horse Cove Gap was the only option, as my shoes became caked in clay and my fork and stays packed up from mud and leaves and sticks and debris. Holy crap did that suck.

The rain stopped, and I took a break in the stream near the top to clean off my tires and shoes. That helped, and once I dropped onto Squirrel, all was right with the world. One of these days I'll figure out those g-outs, though I don't plan on ever getting to the point where I'm three-pointing the logovers that fall after storms roll through. Laurel Creek was an absolute blast -- again, flying faster than ever! -- and even 5015 went well as I dragged my sorry ass all the way back to Yellow Gap after two full days of riding. The gravel back to the car was sweet relief, and the rest of the long evening was spent cleaning myself, my bike and our yard since it hadn't been mowed in a couple of weeks ...

The days are definitely getting shorter around here, but I'll tell you, breaking out the lights for a little romp down Trace Ridge really does the body and mind good some nights. I'm looking forward to a jam-packed September that doesn't include a trip to Vegas, but holy cow, Labor Day is next week already and as Dicky notes, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 awaits! Where did this summer go anyway?!

22 August 2011


How did it get to be August 22 already?

Holy cow. Everyone's getting ready for 'cross (except me), we've got a baby due in exactly 2 months, and things are heating up for the 2012 product season.


I need to get caught up a bit around here; seems that long race report took up half the month. Geez. I've got plenty to talk about -- 3-D "imaging," quick visits to the Great White North, Bent Creek on 'cross bikes, burpees ...

Stay tuned!

15 August 2011

Learning to Walk Again

Read Part I here: Decision Point
Read Part II here: Wrath of God
Read Part III here: Gimme Shelter
Read Part IV here: Hunny

Things get a little fuzzy in my memory after that. Jeff and I rode together for a bit, until he declared that the pace on the gravel was a bit much for him -- he, too, was concentrating on riding his own race. Huge props here: Jeff was in his first-ever 24, building up to his goal race at the 24 Hours of DINO, the Indiana State Championship. Watch for him there in a few weeks -- this guy can hammer for a long, long time.

I had my crew keep tabs on him, though, not knowing him or his strengths and worried about where we stood, even with a lap between us. We might have done well to look a bit more forward, as Ron encountered chain trouble and I pulled back a bunch of time pretty quickly -- though, eventually, he pulled away again and ended up getting an extra lap at the end.

The restart was nasty, in every awesome sense of the word. There was hub-deep standing water everywhere; rocks and roots were slimy and crazy-slick; and the mud just kept on coming. My crud catcher worked wonders, keeping my eyes clear of debris, and my bike was up to the task -- that is, until I popped a spoke somewhere in the late afternoon, at the same time the axle nuts worked their way loose. I could feel the somewhat squishy rear end get even moreso, and I knew we needed to do something -- BIG thanks to Tim, who instead of sending me back out on my slick go-fast tire, offered up his own well-equipped rear wheel that thankfully dropped in with no adjustments needed ...

The course had been rerouted past the worst of it up by Checkpoint Charlie: The first five miles were exactly the same; the mile six marker came just as we entered very familiar singletrack; and mile seven now marked 1600 meters of hell. The Snowshoe trail had turned to peanut-buttery mush, and for nearly a mile we were forced to battle through and risk life, limb and body on a series of undulating up-and-overs that had us sliding sideways every time we thought we could go forward. It was crazy, and though I rode some of it here and there throughout the night, for the most part I concentrated on staying upright and walking what I needed to just to keep moving forward.

I was staying pretty calm and just enjoying the ride. The course firmed up (except for Snowshoe), and I was turning pretty consistent laps -- I may not be fast, but damn if I can't keep going the same speed for laps on end. We had a bit of an unanticipated snag with my lights when the close-in trees kept hitting the power button and changing the light to full brightness instead of my planned race power level -- thankfully, my second battery was ready to go and we had enough juice to last us more than the night. Eventually, I even started running at full brightness anyway -- after about 1 a.m. I got so tired that it was the only way I could stay awake as I slogged through the night.

And what a night it was. It never really got cold, though I rode with a vest once darkness hit. Instead, the upper-60s/low-70s produced the most amazing fog -- thanks to the reflection from the lights, it was as if we were riding with dirty glasses on, it was that close. I much prefered it to the incredible dust that has hung in the air in previous years, but all the same, it was very strange to see hoar frost forming and yet not feel chilled at all. Thankfully, Cody had gotten his generator running again after the storm, which formed a welcome oasis of light at the pits each lap.

I remember being really happy with Tim's rear tire. I remember rolling into the pits every lap, and seeing my Dad there, awake and alert. Every lap. For 24 hours. I remember seeing Tim at one point sprawled in a camp chair -- he snapped to immediately, but still it was a pretty funny sight to see. I remember telling them, "These things are harder than I remember." I remember that my knee didn't bother me beyond just a bit here and there -- but by that time, other things hurt worse. I know I failed to execute at the Sector 1 rock more often than not -- the best was probably the full-on stop that had me falling over sideways in front of a small crowd of people. I also slammed my left shoulder into a couple of trees. But I also cleaned the mile 3 rock garden over and over, and got faster that mile every lap.

I also remember that I never had any mechanicals, not one, except my wheel change. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Tim for keeping me rolling -- he was on it, all the time. This is also where I need to insert a huge product shout-out to ProGold Lubricants, and their new head of marketing, Bruce Dickman.

I first heard of ProGold about 4 years ago when they sponsored a very early World Bicycle Relief grassroots initiative called "All Sevens." Four friends -- three from St. Louis, one from Bath, UK -- rode 700 miles in 7 days from Basle, Switzerland, to the start of the Tour de France on 07/07/07. ProGold kicked them a box of lube, and I tried it on a trip to St. Louis to visit them -- and I was sold. I've used it religiously ever since.

Or rather, I did use it religiously until I got to Pisgah. The ProGold formulation is fantastic -- lightweight, easy to apply, clean and clean-running -- and worked great in the Midwest. Once I got here, though, there was a bit of a snag -- when every ride is wet, your lube tends to degrade pretty quickly. I still use ProGold on the road, but for mountain biking this spring I had moved to something a bit heavier. I wasn't as happy with it, but it didn't run off quite as quick.

Enter Bruce Dickman. Those in the Southeast know Bruce well -- "The Mouth of the South" has been announcing races for years, and has built quite a following here. This spring, he went legit and landed an industry job -- he is the new face of ProGold. It's a good fit for this Georgia company -- there are a lot of lubes out there, and if anyone can get you to listen to why this one is the best, it's Bruce.

Anyway, Bruce hit the ground running, and introduced us to Voyager -- ProGold with heavier carriers. He sent a bottle for us to try, and I figured Wausau would be a perfect test -- boy was I right, more than I had hoped. I got worried when the rains came, as I hadn't really tested it much to that point, but my worries were soon assuaged -- Voyager was up to the task, even through the standing water, the grit, the grime and the slime of 24 hours of racing, 17 of it in the wet. Tim was pretty liberal in his application of it at first, but by the early morning, pre-dawn hours, he was able to back off, as the lube was holding well and he didn't want to gum up the chain. In fact, despite the conditions, I think we managed to go the last 8 hours without re-applying -- including riding through a brief but drenching rainshower mid-morning on the backside of the course. It worked so well that I even felt confident keeping my chain on the bike once I got home, cleaned it up and re-lubed.

It was a welcome place to be to not have to worry about my bike, and to just keep things pointed forward. I got pretty bad acid stomach after about 2 a.m. -- one of my gluten-free bars didn't sit so well -- and so bringing in calories became the biggest challenge I had to face. Oddly, a bit of cold Coke mixed into too-warm oatmeal was just what my body craved, along with lap after lap of gluten-free PB&J sandwiches. This was a flip from previous years, when I focused on sugars early and didn't want sweet by the middle of the night -- but was also a major change from dealing with the gluten problems I now understand to have been manifesting themselves all these years. Huge thanks to my sister-in-law Kari, who whipped up a double batch of Allen Lim's rice cakes and got them to my dad before the race -- I didn't manage to eat them all, but they kept me going and kept me cramp-free for many, many hours.

Eventually dawn came, and true to form, I didn't have that great of a lap. I don't know what it is, but whereas other competitors speak longingly and lovingly of the "dawn lap," I dread it. It doesn't matter what I do to combat it, my body begins to shut down and I feel like I'm riding through molassas. It only lasts a lap, though, and once the sun begins to warm the land, I get back in the game mentally and physically. Which is a good thing, as Jeff closed the lap-plus gap to me just after dawn, when I was struggling, but I was able to hold him in check for a couple of laps to keep him right at that magic lap-down point with only a few to go. He confirmed that he was far enough up to close it out at 10, but even so I stayed with him when he caught back up after a short rest just to be sure.

I rolled through the pits about 7:25, turning pretty consistent 1:10 to 1:15 laps. I had been doing the math for hours in my head, lap after lap, trying to figure out whether I'd need to do 5 or 6, 4 or 5, 3 or 4 more to finish. Tim actually told me I'd need to slow down if I didn't want to do an "extra" lap at the end, and while I agreed intellectually and had been trying to ride slower, my body was in go mode, and I turned another 1:10 or 1:12 to come through with more than another 1 hour, 20 minutes until the official end. You don't finish until you cross the line after 10 a.m. ... and it was only 8:35.

So I shut it down. I rolled out on a parade lap, determined to take as long as I could to get around the course. Jeff powered by me, looking super-strong, on the mile 4 climb -- and boy was I ever glad I had managed to keep him at bay through the night. If he's able to do the same at DINO, watch out ... I walked all of mile 7 on Snowshoe, not wanting to kill myself in the last tough stuff; and as I rolled out on the mile 8 gravel section, it hit me: I finally put together a near-perfect race at Wausau, and my Mom wasn't here to hear about it.

One of the biggest logistical challenges for Wausau each year was that it is always held on the weekend between my brother's and Mom's birthdays. Three years ago, Nine Mile 2008, it actually fell on my Mom's birthday -- and in a super-surprise move, she joined us for a weekend in the woods, tucking herself out of the way, in the shade, in a camp chair, and stealing bacon from the hotel for my SRAM coworker's little dog on Sunday morning. In my 10 years of racing, she had only ever been to three cyclocross races -- such was her dislike for a sport that put me in the hospital on more than one occasion -- and so for her to be at Nine Mile for 24 hours of racing was huge. Sadly, I detonated in the middle of the night, and spent most of the early morning hours asleep on a cot set up across from the pit.

The next year, 2009, was even more difficult. My Dad was again in my pit, but on the drive to Wausau my Mom called to tell me that my Uncle Leo had died. My aunt told my Dad to stay and help, while my Mom flew to California -- we dedicated Kate's first 24 to my Uncle, and everyone who was there remembers what an emotional rollercoaster it was for me and Dad. I rode much of the pre-dawn hours with my World Bicycle Relief teammates, before my gut went bad and I needed to stop for a bit -- though we eventually regrouped and managed to put Brad into 4th and confirming his place in the national points race. I finished 5th and Todd 6th, but then the race management that year decided to only put three places on the podium. It was a harsh finish after previous podiums went five deep.

This year, as I rolled the gravel through mile 8 and into the singletrack of mile 9, I started to sing. I knew that even with my Mom not there, she was there, and I could tell she was with me in every glimpse of sunlight, every buzz of a bee, every bird I heard as the forest came alive that morning. I had done it, had put together a solid race, and while she is a million miles away, I feel like I finally found my place and can't you feel me growing
stronger? I'm pretty sure I cried my way to the mile 10 marker, and beyond, but then I made the right-left combo out of the woods and up the little hill, and I had timed it perfectly: it was 10 a.m., and I rolled across the line in 2nd place, relief and joy washing over me. Tim was there, my Dad was there, and deep down, I know my Mom was there too.

Jeff finished a few seconds ahead of me, but one lap down. Ron had blown through a dozen or so minutes before and had gone for one more -- finishing with 21 laps on one gear, the first person ever to win the overall on a single-speed. My Dad and I began the long process of packing -- Tim and Ryan helped my Dad get the car ready, while I focused on getting the bike cleaned up and packed for shipping back to North Carolina. We had the good fortune of a hotel room waiting for us, and while my Dad had planned to be there in the early afternoon, I had always been holding out hope for a podium appearance that would delay our departure from Nine Mile for a while. As the day heated up, we made our way to the awards ceremony, and it was pretty fantastic to be there, hanging out with my Dad, eating barbecue and telling and re-telling stories from the race and laughing about all the wild and weird stuff that can happen in 24 hours. And then it was my turn, and we kind of walked up together, so he could take pictures. And that's my enduring image from the Salsa 24 Hours of Wausau 2011: My Dad, camera to his eye, snapping my photo with a big smile on his face. We had finally done it, a team effort all the way around.

12 August 2011


Read Part I here: Decision Point
Read Part II here: Wrath of God
Read Part III here: Gimme Shelter

To the pit, off the bike, dig out the warmest jacket I could find, cover my legs with towels, find a seat. Drink some milk and honey for a small recovery, snack on some food. Wait. Shiver. Focus on the positive. Stay off my feet. And wait.

My Dad, Tim and Ryan had dropped the tent to save it from the wind, and tied it down to the cooler to keep it from lifting off. So there we were, in some sort of Being John Malkovich world, crouching in a half-raised tent and trying to stay calm, stay warm and stay informed. Nobody really knew what was going on, and as riders began to filter back into the pits -- halted at the aid stations, some chose to ride back, others were forced to wait for the rescue wagon -- the word was wet, the word was cold: Even if my lap gamble hadn't paid off, at least I was warm and relatively dry longer than those who were stuck out on the course. Our Salsa tent was sandwiched between Cody Gunst on one side and Justin Lund on the other -- Cody had ridden in while Justin got a lift in the box truck. Each of us had our own strategy to deal with the stop.

Eventually, word filtered in that we were looking at a mass restart -- first at 4
p.m., then 4:30, finally confirmed at 5. With the rain tapering off, it was time to start moving; all told, I had 2 hours of down-time with no idea what it would do to my body. Would I shut down? Would I go good? What will that restart look like in the mud?

With about 30 minutes to go, we started getting ready. Tim re-set my bike for mudder conditions: new wheel, crud catcher, lube. As I stood up from the camp chair, I realized that my Honey Stinger gel flask had completly emptied all over my jersey and shorts, setting me up for the following:

Tim: "Here, let me get that." He walked over with a wet rag and began wiping down the bottom of my jersey.
Me: "Aw, man, it's all over. All over. Here, get my shorts."
Tim: "No worries, it's coming off."
Me: "Yeah, but it's Honey Stinger. The last thing I need is to be chased by bugs through the woods all night."
At this point, Jason, Tim's coworker who had been observing this whole thing, strolls over, and deadpans: "It's not the bugs you need to worry about. It's the hoards of angry Pooh Bears. They're viscious."

... and for the next 17 hours, wet chamois and all, it was all I could do to keep from laughing about angry Pooh Bears after my ass for Honey Stinger.

My dad had made his way to the timing tent, and came back with good news: My fifth lap had counted, and put me in second place behind Ron Stawicki, with only the two of us on the lead lap. None of us had been sure whether Ron, with his single speed prowess on full display, was racing the Open class -- turns out, he was, and had 12-ish minutes on me, even though I had a geared advantage. That news told me two things: first, Ron was out for blood -- he's wanted to win Wausau overall on a SS for years; and second, I had a tall order in front of me. In fact, I was honest with my crew, and told them that while I wasn't conceding by any means, I needed to ride my own race, and wanted them to keep tabs on Jeff in 3rd place vs. updates on Ron in 1st. I knew that if I started chasing Ron I'd put myself in a hole that I might not climb out of.

I pulled off a quick stop in the chalet, where the fire had it nice and warm, and lined up at the front next to Ron for the restart. It's been a while since I did a foot-down XC start, but I knew I needed to give it my all through at least the first few sections of singletrack if I wanted to stay upright and maintain my place. The countdown was on, and as Adam hit "1" I took off -- sure, it's been a while, but I remembered my Stupidweek crit training!

Here's where I need to pay Wes Dickson a debt of gratitude. Wes owns Sycamore Cycles in Brevard, and hosts a Thursday night, all-comers, beat-the-heck-out-of-yourself ride in Pisgah that has tested my limits nearly every week this season. I've ridden harder and faster on those rides than I've ridden in any race, only to blow myself up and do it again -- this is the mountain bike training I've needed to really round out the endurance riding that I enjoy so much. And in those first 3-1/2 miles of restart through small lakes, rivers, mud, rocks and roots of Wausau24-2011, every single one of those rides paid off.

I wasn't first into the singletrack, but I was in the lead group. I was maybe 5th or 6th wheel, and holy crap! I was staying with them! Ron was right there, just one or two wheels up, and damned if he wasn't getting away. I've seen him pull off crazy-smooth moves that I won't even try before, and I have to admit I was surprised as heck that I was staying even -- we were in near full-on WORS mode, slipping and sliding our way through the singletrack, and I was there.

We popped out onto the forest road and began to climb through the mile 4 marker. I did the math and realized there was still 17 hours to go -- 17 hours -- and pulled back a little from the pace we had been setting. I let Ron go as we hit the steep, and settled in with Jeff, getting comfortable and getting ready for a really long afternoon and night in the saddle. I was focused on my race, on what I could do, and concentrated on staying upright and moving forward as best I could through the wet and mud.

11 August 2011

Gimme Shelter

Read Part I here: Decision Point
Read Part II here: Wrath of God

So what do you do when there's four miles to go and Gozer the Gozerian is about to make a live appearance?

You give it everything you've got.

Like Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddmore (because no, you can't forget Winston!); like Maverick and Goose; like Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr., I strapped in tight and held on for a wild ride. The bike was set up for fast, dry conditions with a very low-profile rear tire, and I knew that as soon as that rain hit, I'd be slipping and sliding my way around the course. If I could only get to mile 8, where there was gravel, I might be OK. The last two sections of singletrack might be ridable still. If only I could get to mile 8.

But I was still in mile 7. I was climbing to the singletrack that ran behind Checkpoint Charlie -- already greasy and wet from logging operations and rain the week before -- when it hit. First the trees began to whip back and forth. The bushes roiled. The clouds blocked the sun, and midafternoon suddenly became late evening. A wall of wind smashed through the forest. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in the time it took to ride 300 meters.

And then the rains came.

I had made the singletrack, and just as I made the left turn I could feel a few drops. The top part was wet already; the bottom had rocks, and I knew I needed to be smooth to get out of there as quickly as I could. As I arced across the top and began the run down, the sky opened up, and a deafening roar descended around me. At first I couldn't tell if it was just a trick of the wind, but sure enough, by the time I hit the bottom, the rain had broken through and was soaking everything in sight.

I knew I was in for it when I passed Checkpoint Charlie and the volunteers had abandoned. There is nothing more frightening than passing an empty shelter strewn with provisions as the apocalypse engulfs you. Solitary cups, already filled in anticipation of passing them to riders, stood starkly white on the table against an ever-darkening backdrop. Litter on the ground that was to have been cleaned up was now being drowned in growing, flowing streams of muck and mire. I could hear trees begin to split, tell-tale creaking giving way to sharp reports as they splintered and smashed to the ground.

This was going to be the longest sprint of my life.

I crested the small hill and started down the other side. I knew this section well from previous years -- I remember the climb up to Checkpoint Charlie being a nasty reminder that sometimes even little hills can be painful. But in this direction, it was almost all downhill -- with rolling ski trails giving way to tight singletrack giving way to the timing chutes. I gave it all I had.

Miraculously, my tires held, as the gravel soaked up the first of the rain and the singletrack shrugged it off. Standing pools were beginning to form, and as I roller-coasted my way through mile 8 I screamed and hollered with delight as I poured on the power and splashed my way through every low spot on the trail. The temperature drop and sudden rain had come as blessed relief, and damned if I didn't feel like I was 7 years old again, testing my limits in the Middle School field on an old banana-seat Sears Free Spirit Special!

Mile 9 was a blur of buttery-smooth singletrack turning to peanut butter, as I skidded and slid my way over the bridge, through the big ground hole, and up to the mile 10 marker. Just 3/4 of a mile to go: a short, fast gravel section and super-tight singletrack separating me from the end. I gingerly made the turn onto the fire road, I clicked down and stomped on the pedals, I shouted and screamed as I passed the campground with water spraying everywhere from the pools I was riding through, and I made the final left turn and focused only on getting to the timing mats. I've crashed in this section of singletrack before ... concentrate ... keep it smooth ... turn ... flow ... no brakes ... right turn ... left ... small hill ... there!

The tents appeared before me out of the mist, as volunteers ran for cover and the crew scrambled up into a big box truck for shelter. "THE RACE IS BEING POSTPONED EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY," came the voice over the loudspeakers. "SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY. THE CHALET IS OPEN FOR SHELTER." Shelter? All I could think of was getting across the line ...

... and I did! Just as I came through, I was waved off the course. No one was being allowed out, those on the course were being halted at the aid stations, and waterlogged volunteers and racers were huddling under blankets and running for the chalet, where it was dry. I wasn't quite sure what was going on -- and more importantly if my lap had counted -- but I knew my immediate need was to get to my pit as quickly as I could to get warm. No sooner had I crossed the line than I noticed how cold it was, and I began to shiver violently as I coasted out of the timing zone and down Main Street.

09 August 2011

Wrath of God

Read Part I here: Decision Point

I tore out of pit row with no idea what was to come. As it stood, temps were in the mid-90s, there wasn't much wind, and the sun was shining bright. The new course layout took us first quickly south, then east across Redbud Road, through the sweet singletrack that winds forever on that side of the course. Then we headed back west, still in tree cover, until we crossed Redbud again and plunge back into the forest with a super-fun, fast bunnyhop into a quick drop. Then we climbed up the roots to the rock drop/climb, before plunging back to the undergrowth and twisting our way out to the fire road. At this point, we approached mile marker 4, as we climbed up the fire road before traversing across to the base of Ho Chi Minh.

I cleaned the widetrack steep, made the turn, and cleaned the rocky start to the singletrack climb. I was on a mission, riding smoother and faster than I had all day, but I still wasn't sure what was going on -- what storm? What weather? The thoughts in my head were getting louder and louder. Those of you who have been around long enough may remember 24 Hours of Nine Mile 2006, documented in 24 Solo, as Chris Eatough won the national championship while dodging lighting strikes and trail flooding that turned the forest into a flood plain. I wasn't there that day, but I remember watching the radar while at the Pony Shop in Evanston, seeing massive red blob envelope Wausau and put my friends' lives in real danger. So I knew that if the volunteer said "weather," we could be in for it.

And we were. I crested at the mile 5 marker, made the turn on the gravel, and felt the breeze. I could see clouds now above me. The wind picked up. I kept on turning the pedals, as fast as I possibly could. As I passed the checkpoint at Four Corners, the Mountain Bike Patrol were on the radio, and though I asked them how long I had, I didn't get a response -- and it wasn't time to stop.

I made the false flat, and kept after it to the singletrack at mile 6. This was the one section I knew from previous years, in this direction, and while it used to give me absolute fits, the Spearfish ate it up as I coasted in, tailwhipped the first roller (really!), and slalomed through the trees. Quick transition to the second half, and I was juking and jiving my shoulders through, rolled the rocks, made the right turn, popped out to the road, and OH. MY. OH MY. OH SHIT.

The sky was boiling. Boiling. From that vantage point, looking west/northwest, wind swirling the field below me, I was staring at a massive wall of black, the backside of the course about to get swallowed up as if it were night. Lighting was flashing, thunder was rumbling ...

... and all I could think of was Ghostbusters.

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

I had four miles to go.

08 August 2011

Decision Point

The story of this year's Wausau24 really comes down to about 5 seconds. That's all the time it took to seal the deal, less than 4 hours into a full day of racing. Thank goodness, sometimes gambles pay off.

I was more relaxed than I've ever been, for any race, going into this year's event. Which was weird, considering that the cards were stacked against me in some respects: I haven't raced a full 24 in two years; I had double, fairly physical, tradeshow duty in the week leading up to the race; I was traveling and had shipped everything I might need to Wisconsin; the course is backwards from what I used to know so well; my dad was my only confirmed crew member, and wouldn't be able to handle wrenching duties should anything go wrong.

On the positive side, title sponsor Salsa Cycles went out of their way to help my dad and me make the race. The idea that I'd be back at Wausau really began to take shape way back in February while at the Quality Bicycle Products Frostbike tradeshow in Minneapolis, when there just happened to be enough space on our return pallet to fit a Spearfish frame, size L ...

I finally got the bike built in May, and have been really digging it ever since. Salsa's got a good thing going, at a good price point, and the 29er with just a bit of full squish has really taken to the trails of Tsali and Pisgah in a big way.

I've been having a lot of "Adventure by Bike", and when the folks in Bloomington asked if I wouldn't be interested in doing a small "Adventure" for 24 hours at Nine Mile, it was an offer I couldn't refuse!

The leadup week was spent "altitude training" at two shows in Utah, both of which happened to have plenty of Salsa folks around reminding me to save my legs. Taking their advice, I missed out on a couple of opportunities to test other bikes in their fleet, including the beautiful-looking Selma and the bigger-hit Horse Thief, which would make an appearance in Wausau complete with a Cane Creek Double Barrel Air ... In the meantime, the Spearfish, an extra set of wheels and more than 30 pounds of gluten-free food were on their way to Wisconsin via the Big Brown Santa!

I flew into ORD, where my dad was waiting; we arrived at Nine Mile in the late afternoon. My fully assembled bike arrived soon after, and I was able to get out and pre-ride with just a small amount of getting-ready fuss. As hoped for, pre-ride was horrible, with minor bike adjustments leading to swarming mosquito attacks followed by a big stick in my rear derailleur causing shifting issues followed by more swarming mosquitoes! Thankfully bad pre-rides lead to great races for me ... After finally finding good Mexican food (after years of trying, and thanks to the course guy for the recommendation!), we passed out in the comfort of the race hotel until it was go time.

Eat, get ready, chill out -- it's pretty rad when your personal mechanic is the product manager who specced your bike. And his riding partner is a hammer and also there to help. Tim and Ryan would prove to be the final pieces of the puzzle for my pit, and together with my Dad kept me rolling all night long. Then it was time to line up ... and we were running. I was doing fine until the turn, when I got behind the flailing boehmeth -- oh yeah, I remember this guy! Three elbows and a flinging heel later, I was able to get away from him, just in time to funnel into the timing gates and out the other side to our bikes. Our bikes! This is a riding race!

I was maybe 15th into the singletrack, maybe a bit more, with a solid but not spectacular start. I was determined to carry the relaxed vibe onto the race course, at least at first, and see where it would take me. Apparently, farther than expected, as I rolled through the second lap in 2nd place! Third, Jeff, had just caught me, and we chatted for a bit -- but Mike and Ben in fourth and fifth were just behind and were quicker on the draw out of the pits.

So Jeff and I rode in fourth and fifth for Lap 3 and most of Lap 4, when we caught up to Mike and Ben right before Checkpoint Charlie -- about 2/3s of the way through the lap. Mike was beginning to fade, so I made my way to Ben, who absolutely killed the singletrack and eased up a bit on the gravel. "OK," I thought, "I can play this game," and I shadowed him into the chutes.

And that's when it happened: the decision point. Turns out, we had put 2 minutes into Mike and Jeff, the next pair of solos, and as I rolled to my pit, a volunteer stepped up to speak to Dad and Ryan. "Did you hear about the weather?" she asked.

I looked at Dad and Ryan. "What?"
"Severe storm coming in."
"How long?"
"An hour, maybe less."
My lap times were 53 minutes. I looked at Ryan. "Do I race it?"
"Yeah, race it."

I was off. Our fate was sealed, one way or another.

04 August 2011

Team Skink

Some of you may have noticed something different when tracking the results from Wausau24: My lap times were listed under "Team Skink." After three seasons racing for Siren Bicycles and in support of World Bicycle Relief, for 2011 things have changed a bit ... sort of.

Because of my role at Cane Creek, I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to experience a variety of bikes and components from different industry partners. To say it's a dream come true is an understatement -- Pisgah is the perfect testing ground for mountain bike equipment, and our parts cover a range of applications, so we get to ride a host of different parts and frames in some of the toughest (read: best!) conditions imaginable.

Thus, "Team Skink" was born, named after the lizard that is native to our area and has appeared in the Cane Creek logo for more than 20 years. We even saw one on our back deck the day I got home from Wisconsin! These little guys are super-quick and resourceful -- exactly the way I'd like to race. So rather than riding one brand exclusively, this gives me a chance to take our testing to the next level -- on the race course.

As you can guess, I still actively support World Bicycle Relief, and isn't it great that Siren is a valued industry partner?! That said, at races going forward, I'll likely be wearing our new Cane Creek cycling kit, or something event-specific -- this was the case at Wausau, where title sponsor Salsa Cycles went out of their way to acknowledge CC's involvement with the event and really took care of my dad and me out at the race.

So watch this space for an upcoming Wausau24 race recap, and down the line a bit of a deeper look at some of the fun stuff I get to ride these days ...