30 September 2011

The Final Countdown

After last weekend's Def Leppard extravaganza, I've been a bit tapped out creatively -- but in honor of the fact that I once saw Europe open for Def Leppard, I figured it was about time for a "countdown" update of sorts!

Tomorrow marks 37 weeks -- "full term" in a medical sense. Sometime in the next 3 weeks -- THREE WEEKS! -- we will have another member of our family. Holy smokes.

In the meantime, we've been getting some together time, including this trip to Caesar's Head State Park, just over the border (but before you go down the hill) in South Carolina. I've ridden through here a few times now, but this was the first time we visited the overlook. It's pretty, and we're looking forward to checking out some of the hiking trails nearby when we get a chance!


One thing we haven't really done is prepare for the new arrival. I mean, yeah -- if Squirt decides to show up tomorrow, we're "ready" -- but really, we have a ton of little stuff to do for the kid. The bassinet is still in the basement, the kid's room is still holding storage, the crib isn't assembled yet ... I think both Kim and I are looking forward to maternity leave, when we'll have some time with Kate in day care and us at home with the little one.

In the meantime, though, the project list keeps growing, and trying to keep up with an almost-3-year-old ends up taking a lot more focus than we expect. Not that I'm complaining! Quite the contrary -- Kate has been in a super-good mood for a while now, and is in an awesome phase where she wants to help with everything and still (mostly) listens to her Mommy and Daddy. We visited "The Baby Place" at the hospital this week, and though I think she expected to bring home the baby at the end, she was patient and quiet throughout the hour-long group tour. I didn't once have to threaten to take her "outside!"

(By the way, for the record: Kate thinks it's going to be a girl, and we're going to name "her" Kate Lois. We keep trying to tell her that she's the only one with that name in the whole world, but darned if she doesn't want the baby named after her!)

So we're enjoying our last days as a threesome, and though we're not quite ready, we're also well aware that every expectant couple we know has popped 3 weeks early in the past month. I was expressly told not to tempt fate like this guy (delivery just days after this photo was taken) ... but then, when you get resultant adorable photos like this, how can you resist? (Yes, be sure to scroll down, past the blog header.)

Oh, and for those keeping score -- my money is on 10/18. Both Kim and her sister went into labor while a grandmother was on an airplane, and darned if Kim's mom isn't headed to Arizona soon ...

We'll keep you posted!

27 September 2011

Bittersweet singletrack

Mixed emotions this morning. Today marks the start of the Pisgah Stage Race -- 5 days of monster racing through my playground. This year's battle promises to be pretty epic: National Champions and Olympians vs. home-town heroes who can really shred. They reached their rider cap for the first time, with 85 brave souls toeing the line ... and I'm not there.

It's bittersweet, for sure. On the one hand, this race is awesome. Todd puts on a good show, and going up against the likes of Jeremiah, Adam and Sam and testing what I've got would be super fun. Not to mention the amazing courses that are out there in the woods -- I use the PSR maps as starting points for my own favorite rides, when I'm out in Pisgah just for fun, or for a solid day of training.

On the other hand, I got schooled last year, and I've learned a lot in the 12 months since. While I've definitely gotten faster -- a lot faster, thankyouverymuch -- thanks to some pretty deep digs on Thursday nights and a new ride that has me dropping Pilot for real, I've finally realized that I'm just not exactly a stage racer. Disregard the fact that I'm nowhere near challenging Jeremiah or Adam or Sam or Wes; I at least found some level of satisfaction in pushing myself day in and day out. PSR 2010 will forever be a highlight in my racing career.

But I finally realized some things this year. I'm racing different; I'm built different; I feel different. I'm not any less ambitious -- I still think a sub-8 at SM100 is on the table! -- I'm just more focused. And that focus takes me away from anything longer than a day or two in a row. It's tough to give up a dream, but I've had a hell of a run this year and have high hopes for my remaining events. I've finally come to fully realize that, despite my childhood thoughts of being a Tour rider, I'm not built for stage racing. You'd think I would have figured it out way back in the Stupidweek days, but I guess I was still holding out hope ...

That said, I've still got some fire in my belly. I might have thought about riding PSR "for fun," and may still do so in the future, but I have to admit that I've been pretty stoked to get a few results this year. There was some serious doubt coming into the season -- what with everything happening outside of racing, not to mention a complete flip in 12 months from Midwest flatland to Pisgah backcountry -- and I'm encouraged enough to set a couple of goals going into next year. Things are about to change pretty dramatically, but with a continued bit of focus, I think I can hit some things pretty hard. And I'm excited for that. They just won't involve more than two days of racing in a row.

So this week I'll spectate a bit. I look forward to Stephen's account of the racing, and I'm stoked to see a battle at the front for stage race supremacy. I'm bummed I'm not out there throwing elbows on Squirrel (ha, ha), but I also know that my energies are better served focusing on other things. And that I'll gain a huge amount of satisfaction from them, even if it doesn't involve dropping Black every afternoon. I'll use this week as motivation to drive the rest of 2011, and begin the preparation for 2012 ...

24 September 2011

Samford & Me ... and Def Leppard!

When Snotrotter and I ran into Broussard last weekend at the top of Cantrell, he informed us that driftwood had met up with Samford and was heading "some place on South Mills River, some big rock or something." Seeing as how that happened to be the one section of trail in the Pisgah Ranger District that I've not ridden, I started making plans pretty much right away, holding out hope that no one would beat me to the punch ...

I drove On Through the Night to make sure I made my date with Samford. In case you were wondering, while the world around you may be unstable, at least in Pisgah we're doing OK:

Sorry, just Foolin'. I figured this day was all about Action! Not Words, and so I grabbed my gear and headed up Clawhammer, a man on a mission. I warmed on the climb, and looked forward to passing through Buckhorn Gap on my way down to Wolf Ford: Heaven Is descending a long, wide-open trail in Pisgah on a Ride Into the Sun as the forest floods with light.

Before I knew it, I was at the bridge, and crossed over. A bit of Hysteria crept in -- this was the way to Squirrel; where was SMR? I crossed back over, and there, hidden behind some shrubbery, was the trail I wanted. I knew I had several thigh-deep crossings ahead in frigid waters, but I didn't expect to be riding through small streams and water falls that had taken over the trail in the rains of the past several days. But Die Hard the Hunter: I made my way along South Mills River Trail and kept an eye out for the Rock of Ages that driftwood had identified.

Sure enough, Samford was safe and secure, and I wasn't Too Late. I was worried he'd be cold and wet, so I offered him my PMBAR and Double Dare-approved safety blanket.
"No, no," Samford said. "I'm not hypothermic, just hypoglycemic. I need me some White Lighting; c'mon, Pour Some Sugar On Me."
I obliged, and then freed him from his Vault. First we took a Photograph for Maida:
and then I introduced him to Ted, the Only Friend I Had last weekend.
We settled him into my pack, and headed back the way I had come.

At first he was quiet, and I was worried he wasn't feeling so good. Eventually, though, he started to open up. "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad?" he asked. "I mean, that driftwood is an Animal. He made Promises to me about Women, and then left me High 'N' Dry there in that little cave. I shoulda' known after Broussard -- I was Wasted, and Love Bites, ya' know? -- but When Love and Hate Collide, it's like you just can't turn away. I thought it might be Too Late for Love, but I thought I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Ah, well, It Don't Matter, No Matter What they'll both eventually Answer to the Master for Bringin' on the Heartbreak like that."

I thought it was poigniant that he opened up to me, and I felt a bit sorry for the little guy. We reached the bridge, and stopped for a quick bite. My feet were cold from all the river crossings, and I thought about starting a fire to warm them. But no sooner had I pulled out the PMBAR and Double Dare-approved lighter than Samford grabbed it out of my hands.
"Fire! Fire!" he said, a maniacal look taking over his face. Quickly, I grabbed back the lighter. "Aw, man," he complained, "a little Pyromania never hurt nobody!"

I told him we had to be careful there in the Forest, and that my feet weren't all that cold anyway. "No No No," I said, "Let It Go."

"Hey, I know what let's do," he said suddenly. "Are you Excitable? Let's Get Rocked!"

"What?!" I asked, incredulous.

"Well, I heard they did some work over on Pilot last week," he replied. "Let's head over there and see what's cooking. I know a place nearby that always has something going on Saturdays. We're going to Rock! Rock! Till You Drop. No more of this human stuff; I want to hang with my own kind for a bit."

I was game, so we headed up the hill, and turned right to head down into the horse camp area. We very politely stopped to let a couple of groups pass, before we were out on the road and making the left turn onto Pilot Rock Trail.

Something snapped in him just then, and he was off like a Rocket. I spent the rest of the climb following Two Steps Behind, before he finally stopped to take in the view from the rock face.


While he chilled, I turned the other way for a nature break, but found myself with a bit of Stagefright. I turned back, but he was already up the trail ...


I quickly gathered my things and hurried to catch up. "Man, You Got Me Running," I said when I finally overtook him. "You might show a bit of gratitude, a bit of Love and Affection for bringing you up all this way."

Suddenly, he stopped. "What happened here?" he exlaimed. "Someone decided to cut out my favorite log in all of Pisgah, totally Armageddon It! It's like a Run Riot up here now! Do they think they can just Tear It Down? It's my Personal Property! It'll never be the same!"

"Oh, whatever," I replied. "Could you get over the log?"

"Well, no," he admitted. "Only a Koerber could Klean it. But I was trying, and man, I was getting close. I could have done it someday! Darn it! I'm madder than a one-armed drummer in a rock band. May the Gods of War reign down all over Blue Ridge Adventures! I'll never ride this trail again!"

"Unbelievable," I said. "You are so full of yourself. Let Me Be The One to tell you that Day After Day, Todd's no Demolition Man, and his crew do an amazing job out here, and by cutting out that one log they made this trail so much more sustainable. So Back In Your Face: Look how much better it drains now: It was beginning to Disintegrate, and now there's no Scar. If you think removing that one feature -- which wasn't a feature at all, by the way, but was created by happenstance when the wind blew that tree down, and caused a natural drainage problem -- ruins your trail experience, then you have a Long, Long Way To Go toward understanding trails. IMBA is not a Four Letter Word, though I know they've been Comin' Under Fire, and the trail is not Torn To Shreds. Now, don't Cry -- this trail will still put a huge smile on your face Everyday; you can still get your Rocks Off!"

Samford allowed that was true, and said he felt a bit Guilty, so we continued on and crested the hill, turning right onto the connector. Gravity didn't disappoint, and soon we were at the gap and turning left onto the top of Laurel Mountain Trail. This is the so-called Gnome Trail, and Samford was visibly excited about reuniting with his kind. We rode for just a few hundred yards and stopped.

"Aw, man," he said, "I'm sorry. We're early. There's no one else here. The party must not start until Tonight, Only After Dark."

I looked at my watch. "Dude, I wish I could stay, but I've got a pregnant wife and a little girl waiting for me at home. I gotta' book."

"That's OK," he replied. "I'll just hole up here for a bit. I'll Miss You in a Heartbeat, though -- thanks for the ride."

I didn't want to leave him hanging, so I offered to leave him with my orange Onza toothbrush, just in case he got some Action.
Then I said Goodbye, and turned and headed down my favorite descent in all of Pisgah -- let me tell you, Love Don't Lie, and cleaning the rock garden felt awesome, even with the changes. I headed back up SMR, and down Clawhammer, turning right onto Buckhorn Gap to finish out the ride. It was a great day To Be Alive, and I'm sure Samford will have some serious fun All Night!

If you'd like to join him, Samford is on the Gnome Trail (top of Laurel Mountain Trail), just past the second tree blaze as you head toward the Parkway from Turkey Spring Gap. There's a jumble of moss-covered boulders on the uphill side of the trail, and Sam found a nice little niche next to a rock running perpendicular to the trail, halfway between the tree blaze and a big tree with a nice root-over. Happy hunting!

23 September 2011

Floyd Friday

Most of the CC folks are up at Beech Mountain for gravity nats this weekend, so we here in the office are enjoying our first-ever "Floyd Friday," keeping company with Roger Waters, David Gilmour and the crew. Nancy, our shipping guru, and I share an appreciation for the finer rock of the past 40-some-odd years, though I think her catalog ends with Van Halen circa 1984.

So that was the big excitement today, until I came across this on Dicky's blog:



I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

I mean, don't get me wrong. Quicksilver was on constant rotation in the Strout family VCR back in the day. Even if Kevin Bacon calls it the "low point of my career" (can't you just see him sitting on those steps, fallen briefcase beside him, papers fluttering in the wind?), you just can't beat world-beaters on bikes with whistles, fixed gears that freewheel and circus acrobatics during working hours when you should be running a "command performance." And after all, before there was Morphius, there was Voodoo!

But I really think I liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt better as an alien. Sure, being a cyclist is all the rage in Hollywood, it's the next golf and all, but do you really think that's him hucking off a loading dock pulling a 360 in his escape from the long, bad arm of the law? At least Kevin did some of his own stunts, such that they were, and for sure Larry wasn't faking it when the truck pulled him up the grade in the now-famous street race scene. And Paul -- Paul! -- you just know it wasn't a stand-in in the bike-mirror-washing scene on Market Street, or there at the end when he finally got his hot dog stand.

I guess I'd just like a little more reality with my messenger-turned-hero stories: The grit, the crappy weather, the smell. Instead, we get a re-tread, with the girl, the African-American rival, the incredible flat-foot skids. Do you think they even have a dance scene?

Still, like Rich, I'm sure I'll be adding it to my Netflix Qwikster Queue here in a few months. And Kate and Squirt will grow up with yet another "biker movie" to influence their athletic and career choices. There's not much call for bike messengers in Hendersonville, but maybe someday they might aspire to be riding around Greenville or even the big, bad, mean streets of Charlotte ...

19 September 2011

Digging deep

I flipped on the interwebs today and saw that Brian Matter won Chequamegon in just a few ticks over 2 hours -- Wow! Serious congrats to him on a new course record and three in a row ...

... but did he do it while wearing lipstick, rouge and eyeliner?

Brian's ongoing Fat Tire Festival streak is what went through my head as I drag raced up to Bent Creek Gap on Saturday. The comparison with Chequamegon is apt: A cool Saturday in September, 40-ish miles of mostly widetrack, a power course ... but where Brian got to chase after Tour de France contenders and guys who can climb Snake Alley in a 53, we got to wear antlers with little bells, glow bracelets and makeup applied in the most comical manner possible. And, we gained about 6,000ft. of elevation in climb after climb after climb -- no Firetower for us, just relentless ups followed by mercifully fun downs!

Oh, and I didn't win. Damn.

To say that Saturday was, well, "interesting," probably doesn't do it justice. When the folks who brought us Hoffencross decided on a brand-new challenge in early September, I couldn't sign up fast enough. It was my shot at redemption -- navigational errors saw me lose H'cross at the last checkpoint, and darned if I wasn't after some serious bragging rights.

But then we found out more. And in true Hoffenchard fashion, nothing was as it seemed. Though we had the map ahead of time, though we *thought* we knew the routes, little change-ups were thrown, the biggest of which was a handicap system that saw me lounging on the couch for nearly an hour watching the other competitors roll down the driveway and into the woods. I started dead last, several minutes behind everyone else ... leave it to an accountant to figure out how to keep my ego in check.

On the flip side, I missed the early morning rain shower, and got clear trail ahead of me on the way out. The first checkpoint went well, and I met Ted, the only friend I would have for the day. Second was OK, with the fun-ish lead in climb well met, though the descent while wearing jingle bells left something to be desired. In fact, the next 2 hours of ringing in my ears has left me emotionally scarred ...

Checkpoint three was a nasty grunt, definitely more fun on the way down, and I could tell that I was keeping pace with Eric at that point, who was in the lead with a bullet. Down and out, and across and over and up, I reached the fourth checkpoint and was handed a napkin: "Dry your face." Uh, OK. And then came the rouge. And the lipstick. And the eyeliner. All of which had, of course, been tested on animals.

Awesome.

Oh, and Eric had flatted. I was only a few minutes behind him, and we were approaching the techiest climb and descent of the day. Did I mention he was on a cyclocross bike?

Up, up up we went, and as I hit each little plateau, I said a little prayer. My only real goal all day (besides winning) was to stay on the gas as much as possible -- I've not really done a race less than 4 hours all year, and I needed a hard short(er) effort to blow out some cobwebs and overcome the disappointment of the SM100. With each cove I got closer and closer to the turnaround, and with each cove, still no Eric coming down. I was gaining on him, my last rabbit!

I hit the last tough grunt, and there he was, on his way down. Yee-haw, I can do this! Grab a quick bite, pose for photos with the downhillers who thought we were crazy, get rolling. I know I've never dropped that trail, that fast, and mercifully I didn't flat (I usually do there for some reason). I was grabbing air like it was free, and ducked into a tuck as I hit the road and flew back down into the bowl. Quick right, up and out, across the road, through the stream ... and is that a guy on a 'cross bike? Is that a hot pink stripe on his ass? Is that Eric just ahead?

Game on!

I caught him just as we made another turn onto singletrack, and we chatted as we made our way up to the fire road at the top. I was being cordial, this was a gentleman's race after all, and I knew he held an advantage with his narrower tires and lighter weight. Plus, truth be told, I was hammered. By that point I was beginning to dig deep, and I didn't want to risk blowing with one more big climb to go.

We stuck our stickers at the last checkpoint and headed down the road. Eric can descend pretty quick, even on gravel and on a 'cross bike, and I did well to let him lead and hang on. I definitely had an advantage on the mountain bike, but not much, and we passed the gate and hit the wall together. And we went up.

And up. And up. And up some more. No two ways about it, that climb sucks. Eric put in a short dig, standing up to do so, and promptly sat back down. We leveled out a fraction in one spot and I put in five or ten hard pedal strokes to test, but then I stopped. Eric was right on me, I had nothing left, and I realized at that moment that we were lower down the climb than I had thought. We would admit later that we were both at the breaking point just then ... but we couldn't do anything about it. Except to hurt. After the cordiality of the earlier climb, we didn't say a word to each other for the next 45 minutes.

We reached the final checkpoint, taped on our streamers, and pointed our way downhill. All bets were off -- when I asked Eric what was the best way to the finish, he told me it was a race and I needed to figure it out for myself -- and I jammed down that hill. I kept looking back, hoping his skinny tires would slow him down in the loose corners, but no dice -- he was a steady presence just 2-3 seconds back, until we leveled out and all of a sudden he was next to me, hammering. He put in a dig, I covered. He went again, I covered again. And again. We were hauling, quick through the singletrack, onto the pavement, and I was still there despite my big tires. Whew!

We were forced into a truce on the last bit of pavement by some pedestrians, which meant it was all going to come down to the last turn into the singletrack. I went to the front on the gravel, dug a bit but he was there, and planned my attack for the gate. I went left, he went right -- and BAM! Eric blasted out of the gate in full-on sprint, a split-second before I could launch my own attack. Hot damn, it was on!

I gave chase, channeling my energy to a focal point just a few yards in front of me. Eric almost biffed the right-hander onto the trail, and I was on him. But then he was gone, as we flew through the woods in full sprint. I was riding blind, able to only follow the trail thanks to the hot pink stripe on the back of Eric's shorts. I hit berms, caught air, at one point flew almost vertically over a jump ... I was on him again at the left-hander over the roots, but he dug deep over the bump and at the street had me by 10 feet. Down, turn ... and it was over. I lost by mere seconds.

Again.

Huge props to Eric for a well-executed race and final attack -- we were both givin'r there at the end, and we both did as much as we could. We were shelled -- we got to the house and just stopped, and another word wasn't exchanged for several long minutes. I dug so deep, in fact, that when I got home a bit later, I laid down on the bed and fell asleep in an instant -- while wearing all my clothes and my shoes!

My finishing time was two minutes over 3 hours, which looks like it would have put me about 760th in the 40 this year. But really, for me there is no comparison: Until Brian or Christian or Jason has to stop at OO and affix pipe-cleaner antlers with little bells to their helmets, Chequamegon just isn't for me.

15 September 2011

A not-so beautiful mind

Two trains of thought this morning, both linked by a common thread ...

First: I'm not good at math. I've heard that your neural pathways for math are developed by about age 7, sort of defining your capacity to comprehend math at higher levels. Not to say you stop learning -- I mean, how many 7-year-olds are doing advanced calculus? -- but just that the framework is there, and there's only going to be so much you absorb as you learn the mechanics of it. (Of course, by age 12, some of us should be expected to be disproving Einstein ...)

For me, that absorption stopped for good when I was 15. I had barely made it through algebra in 8th and 9th grades, and by the time we got to proofs in 10th-grade geometry, I was done. Mrs. Tiemeyer (spelling? not sure of her name now) was our teacher, and I remember her one shock of white hair and sitting in the back of the class, chair propped against the back wall, making race-car noises under my breath. But I don't remember how to do a proof to save my life. (And, in fact, I almost flunked out of college because of logical proofs, which follow the same pattern. I still say it was an attempt to control my thinking.)

I scraped through, probably because my parents required me to sit at the kitchen table and do homework every night -- 1 hour for every C, 2 for every D, and a whopping 4 for every F on mid-term or quarter notices -- and somehow made it into 11th-grade calculus. I lasted about four weeks, but it was clear by mid-semester that I was on my way out -- class was right after lunch, and though the teacher put me front and center in the room, I would pass out cold, folded over head-first onto my desk, fast asleep with drool running down my cheek, nearly every day. By Christmas, I was forced out, placed instead into "Business Math" -- the only math class where you could use a calculator, aimed as it was at remedial students. We had a great teacher, had fun with it, I met my graduation requirement -- and never took another math class again.

(Funny how the brain works -- all this was going on while I was in AP classes, taking two language courses, blowing out the bell curve on the state-mandated reading comprehension tests, and acing the English portion of the ACT. But don't ever ask me to do long division!)

Second: There is actually business in the bike business. Or rather, there needs to be if you want to be successful. The best bike shops and suppliers figure this out -- look at what Chris Kegel is doing up at Wheel & Sprocket, or Stan Day at SRAM, or the Burke family at Trek (Go Marquette!). Sure, it's a fun industry to work in -- bikes are awesome, and it's what attracts so many of us. But unless you make the transition from bike-cool to bike-business, you are not going to survive. Want to make a million dollars in the bike industry? Start with two million. The number of unique retailers in this country has shrunk by as much as 35% in the past three years alone, while some suppliers and retailers have been going gangbusters: it's not enough to be selling bikes, you gotta' be selling.

And along with selling comes number crunching, which brings me to today. We're about to close out the third quarter of the year, and begin budgeting and forecasting for 2012. When you're a communications guy, you don't need to do much beyond guessing what your pet projects and travel costs will be for next year. But when you're in sales, it gets a bit more complicated -- you're also expected to forecast what you think your customers will buy. And that requires some number crunching. It's great that Excel will do your calculations for you, but when you don't always understand what those calculations entail, it gets to be a bit of a bugger!

And so here I sit, massive spreadsheet open across two computer screens, analyzing and trying to forecast what my part of the domestic bicycle parts market looks like in 2012. It's a bit daunting, and is a far cry from the handshake-and-a-dinner that face-time sales entails. But what's awesome, what I've come to discover over the past nearly two years that I've been in this role, is that I enjoy it. I may not be good at math, but there's something exciting in the give-and-take that reveals a somewhat accurate prediction. And though sometimes it's the bike stuff that keeps me engaged, it's the business side of it that's turned out to be really, really fun. Because ultimately that's what's going to keep us in business; that's what's going to make us successful.

I just need to make sure to triple-check every Excel file before I let anyone else see it.

13 September 2011

Disconnect

I had a tough moment the other evening: Kim and I had settled down to watch a movie, and as the opening credits rolled, it came up that not only was this movie based on a Broadway play, but that the music was by Marvin Hamlisch. I've mentioned before how much Hamlisch's work is a part of my family's life: His scores formed a significant part of the musical backdrop of my childhood.

And I couldn't help but think of my Grandmother.

See, Nana probably loved this movie. She loved a lot of movies; none moreso than romantic fluff accompanied by impressive music. We lost my Grandfather, the absolute love of her life, when they were in their early 50s, and I think films in which love persevered through time helped her continue to feel connected with him for the next 20 years of her life. She used to get this far off look in her eyes sometimes, as she hummed to herself the music from Somewhere in Time.

But while I may guess at it, I don't know for certain whether she ever saw Same Time, Next Year, nor what she thought of it. I can imagine that she liked Alan Alda -- who doesn't? -- and that Ellen Burstyn's crossover reprise of her Broadway role appealed to Nana's theatrical sensibilities. And that's when it hit me: With Mom gone, we've lost a connection to an entire history of our family.

Mom wasn't the last of her family, not by any means. Her aunt -- my Grandfather's sister -- is happily living in California; my aunt -- Mom's sister -- is also in the Golden State; and my uncle -- their brother -- is here in the East. We see them all from time to time (my aunt just booked her tickets to see Squirt in a few weeks!), and for certain we preserve the stories and memories that form the fabric of our shared existence. But memory is a tricky thing, and stories get shaped and molded, and -- ultimately, unfortunately -- the little things get forgotten, get left behind.

I know that if I were able to talk to my Mom, she would have known off the top of her head what Nana thought about Same Time, Next Year. Mom's movie choices -- and by extension, mine until I was old enough to buy my own tickets, and even then, well after -- were heavily influenced by Nana's critical influence. I don't know if she shared that in quite the same way with my aunt, my uncle, my cousins. And so I realized, probably for the first time that deeply, that with Mom gone, we've also lost a strong connection to Nana. For sure, it was Mom's version of Nana, but still -- it's the collective memory we preserve, and now a large part of that is missing.

12 September 2011

Just what I needed

Thanks, Stephen, for the photo ... North Mills River yesterday with Stephen, Chris and Kristi, and then a family trip to Caesar's Head and Kate's first souvenir penny on the anniversary of a day I wish I could forget but will forever remember.

Someday Kate will ask me about it, and someday I might be able to tell her. But thankfully not yet, because even after 10 years there are just some things that are better left unsaid.

07 September 2011

Gut check

Sometimes I let technology get the better of me. I'm pretty adamant that I don't use the phone while driving unless I've got my headset on; I don't take calls or text when I'm with other people unless I excuse myself; I don't whip it out at dinner just to check the weather.

There are times, though, when I flip through emails or Facebook before I go to bed. Last night was one of them, which is how I came across a link to the MTB Race News coverage of the SM100.

Remember that four-wheeler with Mike Simonson on a backboard?
Simonson, who has little memory of exactly what happened, claimed he washed out at high speed, going over the bars before colliding with a tree. Sven Baumann, who was not far behind Simonson was on the scene first and immediately stopped to offer assistance. What he found was shocking as Simonson was covered in blood, mainly resulting from a large gash on his neck caused by a stick or something that lodged in the strap of his helmet, slicing into his neck. Doctors later discovered that the deep cut was just one centimeter from severing his jugular vein. Simonson also suffered a cut to his forearm, nearly severing tendons that could have resulted in extensive surgery.

However, despite the remote location of the collision, Race Director, Chris Scott and Aid Station Captain, Christopher Hoy, were prepared with emergency procedures and an evacuation plan in place. Amateur Radio operators were also on hand to communicate with emergency personnel who airlifted Simonson to UVA Hospital in Charlottesville, about an hour from the crash site.

Fortunately, a team of specialists were able to stitch both wounds, however, the worst news for Simonson and his wife Michelle was yet to come. Michelle had volunteered to help out at aid station two which was also aid six. Upon hearing the news, and as her husband was being airlifted, she drove to Charlottesville only to learn that Michael had also suffered four fractured vertebrae in his neck.
It took me a long, long, long time to fall asleep last night.

I'm not sure why Mike's crash is bothering me so much. Crashes happen -- I know, I've had plenty -- and they're just a part of the fabric that is bike racing. Even the really, really bad ones are just part and parcel to going fast on two wheels.

I think maybe what it is, is twofold. First, I was there. I was going down that hill as fast as I possibly could, loving every minute of it, only to come around a corner and see the aftermath. Even while racing, it was a stark reminder to me of how much on the edge some of those descents can be.

Second, and I think this is the kicker: Mike could have died. One of the main reasons I stopped road and track racing was for exactly that reason -- fellow racers were dying, and it wasn't always their fault. At least on a mountain bike, I figure(d), if I crash, it's my doing, not someone else's. And although the consequences of crashing in the forest might be severe, at least I'll be around to talk about it tomorrow.

But after this, now I'm not so sure.

When I saw Mike there on Sunday, I didn't know who it was. I didn't know how severe were his injuries. But it could have been anyone, with any injury -- my thoughts immediately went to Kim, and Kate, and Squirt -- I knew, deep down, that it could have been me. Because I've been there. It has been me. And I'm pretty certain I don't want it to be me again.

I have some re-setting to do in the next couple of weeks. I need to get my legs back on straight. This week, and particularly this weekend, is going to be more emotionally charged than most -- and the perfect antidote is a long day in the woods on Sunday, forgetting everything and focusing on being alive. I think I may just let my wheels take me over to Pilot, and see how I feel -- especially after last weekend, that may just be the perfect benchmark for the last few weeks of the year, physically and mentally.

In the meantime, there was some good news for Mike. I wish him well, and I really hope to see him on the starting line next year:
It was a long two days and nights before doctors were able to assure her that the spinal injury would not require immediate surgery. Simonson’s fitness was noted by doctors as a benefit and his vitals remained strong. Doctors believed that the vertebrae, though cracked, would fuse and heal on their own over time although more x-rays and visits with doctors in Michigan will be required to ensure that they are healing properly.

NUE Series Director, Ryan O’Dell, "At the hospital, I visited Michael after he was moved from trauma to his own room. He was not allowed out of bed or even allowed to elevate more than twenty degrees to eat or drink. But, in a testament to his strength of will, rather than focusing on his injuries, Mike, the now leading contender for the 2012 NUE Series along with Josh Tostado (Bach Builders), was already looking forward, talking about his plans to get back on the trainer as soon as possible so he could begin recovery and preparations for the 2012 NUE race season!”

06 September 2011

Un jour sans: Part II

I was right, and on the pavement it was all I could do to just keep rolling. Somewhere out there I ran into Jamie Pittman, whom I had talked into doing this race on account of how awesome it is, and was psyched to see the Fats colors way out here in Virginia. At least, I think this is where I hooked up with him -- in actuality, it may have been later, or earlier, or he may have been a dream and never really existed. I do remember that he recognized me first, and when I looked at his number plate and it said "James," I was totally confused and couldn't get my mind wrapped around the idea that "James" equals "Jamie."

I rolled into Aid Station 2 to a bounce of blonde curls and a HUGE "HI DADDY!" from Little K, handed off my now-empty gel flask to Big K, told her it was going to be a long day, hoped she got the underlying message, and floated on to grab two fresh bottles and my stash of food. I put a foot down, half-drank and half-poured a bottle, dropped my bike and ran back for a new fresh bottle, and then got going again. I think I've mentioned it before, but I'll say it again: I love the volunteers at this race, and the bottles-in, bottles-out trade is pure genious. Above all, I think the vibe from the help is what keeps me coming back, year after year.

On to the third climb, which this year has been used by big machines and was a spongey mess in 95% humidity at 9:30 in the morning. I struggled to hold wheels, was never too far off the group I was with -- I think Jamie was in there somewhere? -- but wasn't keeping pace whenever it went up, even a little. Experience paid off throughout, though, and I knew to conserve just a bit for the super-steep top section, where as badly as I wanted to get off and walk, I didn't, and I just kept the gears turning over. Through the meadows at the top, I kept hoping we'd hit the tree line that marked the downhill, but it was so far away ... so far, in fact, that I almost stopped once or twice to regroup. But I knew stopping would be death, so I kept it together as much as I could.

And then -- gloriously! -- it was time to go downhill. I was doing great, but then the guy ahead of me checked up on the roots, I got off-line, and I missed my goal of cleaning the downhill. Damn. I stood by as first one, then two, then five, riders passed me by, including Lee and Brenda, the power duo from Motor Mile. I would not see them again until just before the last climb, many, many hours later ...

The rest of the descent was awesome, and I was faster than I've ever been. Think Squirrel on crack -- only even more fun, and more fast. And for once I was having fun, instead of being scared out of my mind. Wa-hoo!

Into Aid Station 3, grab new bottles, and off we go. Five miles of pavement, I'm pretty sure I'm with Jamie here, and I know that after the river crossing and partway up the next climb is the halfway point of the day, at least geographically. I've gone through there sub-4 more than once; this year, it was a struggle to hit 4:35. This is also the climb where I get stupid, where I lose my front wheel, where I've injured myself and created deep, lasting scars ... this year, thankfully, I was under control. I rode about as much as I have in the past, walked some when the power just wasn't there, and was doing OK until almost the top, when WHAM! DAMN! F*! I'm getting a bee sting on my right Achilles tendon, through my sock. Holy crap! That hurt!

I made sure there was no stinger, though it was irritated for the rest of the day, and part of it may still be in my sock. Jamie had fallen back somewhere along there, and instead I was trading places with Scott, another guy from the TN Cup -- the guy who had walked off the course at the H8R. We'd been off and on since the second climb -- he would get ahead of me, crash or flat, and I'd catch up. We continued this way until the last descent, when a decisive flat allowed me to stay in front through the campground. But in the meantime, he got ahead of me on the fourth climb, only to crash and let me in front on the descent. And what a descent it was -- finally! Brailey's Pond without injury, absolutely FLYING on the way down. It almost made up for how long the climb was (I'd forgotten -- I didn't make it this far last year) ... almost ...

Into Aid Station 4, quick chain lube, new food and new bottles. I rolled out, and the suffering began. The sun had come out, adding a baking factor to the high humidity, and the long, long, long slog all the way to the base of the big climb was pretty horrible. I couldn't keep up with the small groups that formed around me; hell, I couldn't keep up with the single-speeder who was dragging us along -- in a pedal section! I did what I could to limit my losses, as guys blew and guys flew -- we'd pick up a body or two, drop another one or two, until finally we hit the rollers near the real climb, and I was toast. Done. Finis. I remember Kelly in there somewhere, riding strong, but even he was having a tough go of it on that road -- one gear, one long, long slog.

I made the turn at 6:25, and started to play games in my head. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I hit the aid station by 7:15, I could get a sub-9. I had no idea how far away it was, only that the sign at the base said the road was closed 10 miles ahead -- so it couldn't be more than that. Right?

I got about 10 minutes into the climb, and I was cooked. I had to stop. I pulled over in a small cove, found some shade, and stood there for a minute to collect myself. I poured water over my head, drank some, and took a few deep breaths. My body was almost completely shut down -- no matter how hard I pushed, my heart rate would not go above 143, and I was climbing at 138-140 -- by comparison, two years ago I was worried I couldn't get above 152. A couple of guys passed me, and as I remounted, I thought to myself: "Self, you just need to keep Dicky behind you as long as you can." Not serious, mostly in jest, I had seen him hours before as he passed me by (on the first climb? Second? I don't remember), and I knew he was behind me after I re-passed him somewhere along the line on some long pedal section.

But then, like Beetlejuice, no sooner had I uttered his name than he was there.

We rode together for a minute, but every time the road pitched up, he powered ahead. I'd catch him on the little flats, but he was on a mission -- there were a few singlespeeders just ahead, and one of them was in sight. He cajoled me with thoughts of Coke and pizza, gave me a bad time for being allergic to pizza crust (rubbing it in how good it tastes), and generally commiserated with my misery -- his knee was flaring up, and he was just out to finish, as I was. It worked out well, as suddenly we were at the aid station, hitting it at exactly the 7-hour mark. He was faster out, wanting to stay with his rabbit, and though it hurt my feelings for a minute, I made him my rabbit, and did what I could to keep him in sight the rest of the ride.

I sort of remember being sky high from year's past, but this year that ridge just seemed to go on forever. I entertained myself with thoughts of riding up there with Andy Applegate a few years ago, and just kept on pushing toward that summit. I was chasing Dicky, I was chasing Scott, the TN Cup guy, I was chasing my demons. And I knew that downhill was going to be a sweet reward.

Meadow after meadow after meadow came and went. Holy crap had I forgotten just how long that damned ridge was. It seemed to never end, as each tree line marked not the descent, but yet another grueling pedal section. It was somewhat sloppy, I was hot and bothered, and I just wanted it over with. Where was the top, damn it?!

And then -- FINALLY! -- it was time to go downhill. I had forgotten how rocky it was, was again very thankful for my tire choice, and was enjoying every minute even as my brakes faded and my arms and chest burned from the effort. The singletrack flew by as I bounced from rock to rock, until it opened up and there were guys standing there -- "FOUR WHEELER AHEAD" -- and why are there a bunch of dudes pushing a 4-wheeler down the slope, are they hunters or something or holy crap that's a body on a backboard thank god I'm sill riding and not sprawled on the side of the trail ...

I had to check up behind the medical team, giving me a moment's respite. I hear it was Simonster who went down -- not sure of status, and hope he's OK. I dropped into the widetrack, kept on rolling, enjoyed the shout-outs from the volunteers, and rolled into Aid Station 6. Quick bottle change, out and going, dump water on myself, drink, dump on the ground ... one climb, repeat the bottom of climb three, don't need extra water to slow me down, and then turn left and we're almost done ...

I caught back up to Lee and Brenda on the pedal section, and we chatted for a few moments. We made the left onto the climb, passed through the gate, and while I didn't want to be anti-social, I was still harboring hopes of a sub-9 finish -- I set my own pace and kept on, keeping the pedals turning. Scott caught and passed me, I was doing mental gymnastics with my watch, and before I knew it, I was turning left. Hallelujia!

And then reality set in. First, we kept climbing. I remembered from a few years ago that there is a short climb once you get to the gravel part of the downhill. What I didn't remember was the two steep climbs that come *before* you reach the gravel, and when I saw the second one, I knew sub-9 was not going to happen. Still, I wanted to keep Scott behind me (he had apparently ripped his valve stem off with a rock, only to have Stan's seal it!), and though I was completely blown physcially, I was keeping it together on the downhill enough that I couldn't hear anyone behind me. Only I thought I did, and every small rock that pinged off my wheel was Scott, or Lee, or Brenda -- and I was almost too tired to care.

But then, mercifully, I crested the ridge and was on my way down. I pushed as hard as I could on the gravel pedal section (which wasn't very hard), and was so thankful when I finally saw the arrows pointing down. One more rocky section, a couple of fun, semi-tricky drops (only when you're tired), and then I was in the campground, the race was almost over, and I could finally relax with no one else in sight. Through the field, ring the gong, and I was done. Finally. I pulled through and collapsed onto the tread of the Bobcat that was there, the one piece of shade I could find. The Ks were there, but I was so shell-shocked that I could barely acknowledge them. I think I said one thing for the next 30 minutes:

"That was hard."

I eventually gathered myself, and Jamie's wife introduced herself. Jamie finished, and I made sure he gonged, got his Chris Eatough Coaching water bottle for being a first-time finisher, and got his pint glass. I grabbed some food, congratulated Christian, and the Ks and I headed to dinner. It took a while to feel anywhere near normal, though oddly I understood the conversation Christian had with another racer and a volunteer entirely in French while I was in line for soda. And my ankle was swelling fast -- by the time we drove home, I had a full-on cankle that wasn't letting up. And I hurt. Everywhere. Just finishing took about all I had. But I did it.

And somehow, it doesn't bother me that much. I get more worked up by broken bikes than empty bodies -- days like this will happen, whereas broken bike parts or crashes are preventable. Sure, I'm disappointed, but I'll try to look at the positive: My second half of my personal worst at SM100 was nearly as fast as my second half of my personal best -- I'm riding the downhills that much faster now. I actually ran a negative split on Sunday. So I have that to look forward to: If I'm not yet at Eurobike next year, maybe -- just maybe -- I can keep my diet together, hit Stokesville in perfect shape, and that sub-8 will be mine ...

Dialed

Like I said, everything was darn-near perfect for the SM100 this year, except for me. So here are a few notes to myself about what to do if I get another shot at it:

Bike
Slant Six front, 22 psi (0.5 psi higher than normal)
Karma 2.2 rear, 23 psi (0.5 psi higher than normal)
Fork at 115/110 -- didn't get full travel, maybe 110/105?
Shock at ~140 -- maybe 23-24% sag, try 138?
New cables
Bled brakes
New cleats
New chain
Voyager lubed the night before, wiped down at hotel that morning, re-lube at Aid Sta 4

Nutrition
Start: Flask with Honey Stinger, 3x bars (easy to eat and handle), 1x 90-calorie chocolate cookie snack pack

Aid Sta 2 (reached at a slow 2:25): More bars, Honey Stinger gels (never ate)

Aid Sta 4 (~5:30?): Honey flask, couple of bars, unopened snack pack

Started with a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade; switch to just water throughout, getting refills/new bottles at every aid station

Schedule
Get up at 3:35-3:40, eat, leave by 4:45, start somewhere near 6:30-ish
Don't eat beef the night before
Probably ride pre-ride at home before leaving on Saturday. Packet pickup is at 4 p.m. You know the first climb, especially now that it's graded -- just remember the rocky section on the spine, and that there are a couple of small-ring steeps that are clearable if the trail is tacky

Un jour sans: Part I

The French have this great expression when it comes to a tough day on the bike: they call it "un jour sans." Literally translated, it means "a day without" -- but like all things French, especially when it comes to bike racing, it really means so much more.

Sunday was, for me, un jour sans.

I maybe should have known Saturday, when my pre-ride with Jason and Zak from the Charlotte area went so well. I've got this inverse relationship between pre-ride and race day, and though I never try for it, a really tough, bad-feeling pre-race usually means I make great -- or at least good -- bike race. Or maybe ealier Saturday, when we were stopped on the side of I-81, just 40 minutes from Stokesville, as we were battered by gale-force winds and hail for the better part of a half hour. Or later, when the waitress at the restaurant just couldn't seem to get our order right.

But the moment when I really knew, when it all became crystal clear, was about 20 minutes into the race, on the first small paved rise through the housing development, when the dogs came out to say hi. Usually, I'm sitting top 10, or at least top 20, there just before we turn onto the gravel. This year, a huge group came up on the left, pushing the pace and taking Christian with them, and when I went to respond ... I had nothing. No, not nothing exactly, but ... the lack of something.

I kept after it, through the rollers, and where in past years I would lose spots because I didn't know how to ride gravel corners, this year I was losing spots every time we went uphill. We made the big left, and instead of being in the second group -- sitting top 30 or so -- I was in the fourth or fifth group, already somewhere in the late 40s or early 50s. Then we made the tight left, onto the real climb, and although they've graded it and it rode faster than ever, I was sliding, sliding, sliding backward -- until, toward the top, I was caught by a group of single speeders, some of whom were sporting Camelbaks.

Ugh.

Now, don't get me wrong. I admire single-speeders, though I doubt I will ever be one myself. And many of them can climb a hell of a lot faster than I can. But when you're shooting for a sub-8-hour finish at SM100, which will put you within spitting distance of the top 10, finding yourself among a big group of them -- and getting passed like you're standing still -- is not a good sign. At one point, I got too close to one of them as he struggled over the big rock at the top, got myself sideways, and knocked someone behind me off his line. Apologies were going to be the name of the game, all day.

I still had hope, though, and I managed to ride the ridge at the top with just one dismount, forced upon me by someone else who missed the first rocky up. This was the cleanest I'd ever ridden up there, in part due to the absolutely perfect trail conditions, and in part due to a solid bike set-up. The singletrack downhill was faster than ever, but then the small rise when we hit the gravel just hurt that much more ...

I spent most of the first loop questioning my tire choice, questioning my recent diet, wondering just what the hell had gone wrong. I was slow and getting slower -- which was pretty difficult to stomach. For the first time probably ever, *everything* was dialed -- except for me. The bike was nearly perfect (a little too much air in my fjörk, but nothing dramatic), my tire choice would ultimatley prove correct, my nutrition was spot-on (one bottle on the bike, one in pocket, drops at Aid Stations 2 and 4 with more food, water only and NO CRAMPS!), the trails were amazing ... and I couldn't make the most of it. It stings, bad, mainly because I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to race up there each Labor Day -- if my career continues to progress, I'll be at Eurobike sometime in the next few years instead ...

We hit the gravel, and I suffered my way in a small group to the base of the second climb. And then suffered my way up it. I missed the switchbacks -- again -- because I just couldn't get on top of even my smallest gear. And then I walked some, rode some and walked some more -- again, not much worse than years past, just slower. Way slower.

The second descent is awesome when you're ready for it, and I was. I was flying, probably using my brakes a bit too much, but also enjoying it more than I ever have. This was the first place where I was really thankful for my tire choice -- I blew down the chutes full bore, passing people sitting on the side of the trail trying to get themselves collected after flatting on the sharp rocks hidden under the turf. Eventually I dropped into the lower soil section, and pulled over to let a rider or two by -- and wouldn't you know it? There was Cheryl, on fire for yet another NUE win.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again -- I don't mind getting girled. There are some wicked-fast women riders out there. But I've managed to hold off Sue more than once, and usually don't see her until Aid Station 4 -- nearly 5 hours into the race. This time, though, here was Cheryl, at the 2-hour mark, and I knew two things for sure: She was killing it, and I was toast.

I followed her through the flow, and we popped out on the road. "I can't climb, and I can't descend," I told her, "but I can motor if you need a wheel." "Awesome, man," she said. And we were off.

I dragged her from the bottom of the second descent all the way to the small crest at Aid Station 1. Two more signs hit me in quick succession: first, I didn't see that many outbound riders on this long section of two-way traffic, meaning I was way further back than I have been before; and second, when we hit the downhill, Cheryl hooked up with a small group, and I couldn't keep up. This has happened before, but this time, I knew for certain that once we started climbing again, I wouldn't be able to catch them, as I had in years past. I was doing the mental math, hoping against hope that I was mistaken in some way, but I just knew, at that moment, that it was all going to be for fun. Only fun has never, ever hurt so damned bad.

02 September 2011

Routine habits

So I made a joke at the end of yesterday's post that I didn't know where to eat dinner tomorrow night in Harrisonburg. See, we've been going to Cally's for years -- there aren't many races I've done year after year, but this is one of them -- dining al fresco, listening to the tolling of the town hall bell, has become a Saturday tradition/routine/habit for Kim and I, and now Kate.

But then, thanks to the wonders of the Interweb, I found out this morning: Cally's has closed. It's becoming a Capital Brewery. What?! How could they do this to me? To us, the SM100 family? Don't we bring enough business to downtown Harrisonburg each Labor Day to sustain the business for at least a few more weeks? (They closed on July 10.)

Apparently not. I guess I know our true place in the world after all.

Oh, well -- again, thanks to the wonders of the Interweb (thanks Erin!), we have a new favorite: Jalisco's. We'll try it for the first time tomorrow!

Speaking of routines, I am well aware that I am a creature of habit. I'm naturally pretty high-strung, even moreso after some strong Breakfast Buzz from Kinetic Koffee, and I find in routines a natural repose that keeps me from exploding. Taking a cue from Dicky, I spent this morning pumping up my spare tubes to make sure they didn't have any holes, picking out new CO2 cartridges, and tracking down all the little bits and bobs that I will need to make me feel better on Sunday morning about attempting to make great bike race. The irony is that if I get to the point where I have to actually use any of this gear, my "great" bike race will have undoubtedly already fallen to "mediocre." Meh.

Tonight it'll be a quick bike wash, as yesterday's Sycamore ride down Buckhorn Gap was again a sandy mess, then packing the food and clothes I will need to sustain me for three days in the Shenandoah. Not unlike Stonewall (whom my grandmother insists is an ancestor), I plan to employ "audacity and rapid, unpredictable movements" while in the Valley ... I'll ignore that Uncle Jack started off with a loss at Kernstown ...

... and speaking of "rapid, unpredictable movements" -- last night's ride was pretty fantastic. We had a huge group, and we were motoring ... on cold legs from a few days of rest I couldn't hang with Wes and Brian (or the Kid from Brevard College) on Clawhammer, and I played it a little too safe on the gravel descent of 477, but in between I was railing Buckhorn like I never have before, and I opened up the throttle on the flats in full-on TT mode ... enough to get my front end wobbly ... it felt really, really good to be going that fast ...

So now it'll be back to my routines, as we're only 24 hours from pre-ride and the show starts not too long after that ...

01 September 2011

My obsession

Lessee ... 72 hours from now, with any luck, I'll be making my way down Dowell's Draft at lighting speed (or, at least, "lightening" for me), past the right-hander that ended my race last year and over the rock drop *without hesitation* that I've walked for the past three editions of the Shenandoah Mountain 100.

In case you were wondering, I love this race.

What's weird is that this year I'm obsessing about it. I don't know why, but for the past eight or nine days, I've changed my rear tire choice (in my head) about a million times (there are only two choices), I've gone back and forth about whether to tear down and rebuild my bike yesterday, today or tomorrow, and I just can't settle down enough to relax and focus on ... relaxing.

Föck it. I'm going to steal Kim's eyeliner and dress up as a Roman footsoldier. Do you think they make Crank Bros. cleats to fit gold, pointy-toed elf shoes?



At any rate, I finished working on the bike last evening. Recabled, bled, re-chained, fjörk re-lubed, torn grips replaced, sprayed with cheap beer ... all that's left is a shakedown ride tonight with the Sycamore crew, a light wash and lube tomorrow, and we'll be good to go ...

Speaking of shakedown rides -- I used my Kate's singletrack for the first time last night to dial in the bike. It was so much fun ... for the first 70 feet or so. Then I hit the first switchback -- dang! When you're 3 ft. tall and riding a Strider, it may be all well and good, but when you're 6'2" and riding a full 29er ... well, let's just say "tight" is the operative word here, followed immediately by an off-camber, small-log step down and then an off-camber, rock-to-log step up. If Kate does decide to take up bike riding, watch out little Koerber ...

For the record -- and I'm putting this out there to feel better in my head -- I've decided to go with the Karma 2.2 on the rear. The front is a brand-new 2.2 Slant Six -- had to go new since the one I mounted in March is losing its tread in one spot. (Good enough for training, notsomuch for a race.) For the rear, though, I was going back and forth on a Karma or a Small Block 8 -- SB8s are fast on the long gravel and road sections; Karmas offer more bite on the downhills and more sidewall protection in the rocks. They're a bit heavier, but the peace of mind they offer more than makes up for the slight disadvantage I'll have on the open sections. And Karmas roll fast -- their rounded profile means you're actually sitting up on a few knobs, rather than across the full contact patch of a SB8. This will be especially important if the Harrisonburg area gets any of the predicted rain called for in the next few days ...

(This was weighing so heavily on my mind that I actually went back to old blog photos to see what my setup was in the past. Brad ran SB8s front and rear a few years ago; I've done both Karma-SB8 and Karma-Karma ... with the Slant Six now, thankfully I only have to worry about the rear ...)

This, by the way, is my preferred Pisgah setup, though I'm using my race-ready, lighter-weight rear wheel instead of my burlier "training" hoop that I ride on the weekends. And thanks to a personal special delivery, I'll be running smooth as silk all race long ...

Now, if only I could decide where to eat dinner on Saturday night ...