Sunday, September 13, 2015

Playing Ahab at the Shenandoah Mountain 100

Chasing the White Whale
The last three years, chasing a PR (personal record) at the SM100 has had me feeling a bit like Captain Ahab. I’ve been chasing this dick of a whale down relentlessly, but each of the last three attempts, a good, clean, fast race has eluded me. I’ll blame my own botched nutrition strategies for the 2013 and 2014 efforts.

Dream a little dream

This year I had managed to get most everything sorted just after another classic SM100 dinner. I settled in, hoping for a good night’s sleep, and this year I actually got one. Well, sort of.

I was rolling out the race methodically, rallying on descents, and taking it all in, finally trading war stories and enjoying the satisfaction of a clean race.

Then I woke up. What a tease! I rolled over to catch a quick 30 more minutes of precious sleep. At least my breakfast burrito did not disappoint.

Never enough time
No matter how much I prepare, I always seem to run out of time getting to the start line.

I had just got my drops sorted and was ready to kit up when ole rumble gut demanded round two of number two. There was a ridiculous line for the port-a-potty complex, and unlike my gut, it seemed completely stagnant. Eventually I got it all sorted out, but it had cost me a good bit of time.

I scrambled into my kit, threw on sun tan lotion, and grabbed my glasses. Shit! They were still sweat stained from my pre-ride the evening before. Tires felt ok-ish, and I headed over to the staging area to find Chris delivering the pre-race talk.

It’s a festival, until race day
Climbing Festival is really not that hard, but it never fails to turn into a shit show during the SM100. There are some rocky sections that aren’t that difficult, but when the conga line starts moving more like a slinky, it’s easy to lose your momentum and spin out. Once that happens, you need to just push quickly to try and stay out the way. I was embarrassed to have spun out in front of Kyle from Harrisonburg. I’ve ridden this trail with ease on non-race days, but somehow it always seems to get fumbled at 6:45am.

I realized towards the top, that I was lacking a certain motivation to pedal hard enough to maintain my spot. Yeah, I was riding a bit lame. It just felt too early to embrace the burning legs that would be required to stomp the undulating bench cut and rock features.

Watts called me out for not riding the tech features. I laughed and tried to conjure a smart reply, but only managed some wheezing response before letting him by.

At least I managed to knock out and rock out the tech features. I traded places with Watts and dropped into the Tillman West descent with a renewed vigor. I was able to reel in the group I had lost touch with. The descent was way fun, but this trail always has a bit of a log jam of riders towards the bottom during the race.

Tillman transfer and the bitch called Lynne
The road spin over and up to the Lynne trail highlighted my fitness deficit, or maybe it was just a lack of will power. I was happy to see Wake steam by me while pulling a long train. He was having a great race and riding strong.

Lynne started out as a gut buster straight away. After burying myself on the road, Lynne offered me a game of Rochambeau, and then kicked me square in the nuts. Bitch.

Fresh trail work had re-rerouted a punchy little spot where a tree had fallen down and left a rocky hole. Chris and his crew of trail gnomes had done an awesome job getting the course ready.

A familiar voice began insulting my Richmond heritage and commented on the pressure I was running in my Thunder Burt on the rear. I should have payed more attention to the tire commentary from James and his State College knowledge.

Garth came storming by like the giant he is, and for a few moments was pushing my bike in a friendly gesture. Where does he get all that energy? Reggea Shark, him no wants to harm ya… him just wants your ganja.

Last year I rode almost all of Lynne with just a couple dabs, but I was hiking sooner than I had wanted to in this race. I rode a bit, stumbled some more, and watched more of my friends climb past.

A Dick called Moby, or The Whale
Redemption seemed in my grasp as Wolf Ridge unfolded, and I quickly set about regaining positions as I started hauling ass, making passes, and finally began having a good time. The Ahab in me had just got a glimpse of that white whale I had come to chase.

Then, it happened. The dick’s barnacles chewed through my rear tire on the first gnarly bit of Wolf Ridge. After what seemed an eternity fixing my rear flat, first attempting to plug and seal, then giving in to the reality of needing to tube it up, I set about the rest of the ridge. That’s when I realized the front tire wasn’t ship shape either. Damn it!

A constant parade of riders rolled by, all while I bent over my tire with my mini pump, furiously stroking away. I must have looked like a pervert in a dark corner of a park.

I started to give in to the inevitable. Once underway, I began slicing through the 10 hour pack. I was a solid card carrying journeyman in that group for my first 3 years of hundred mile bike racing, and I was soon reminded of the mixed bag of fitness and riding ability. On lower Wolf, the pace became agonizingly slow, as I turned into the caboose for a long train of riders. I might as well have turned into a pumpkin. At this point I knew it didn’t matter much, so I just settled in and stopped looking for the pass that would never come.

32 Teeth and the Chupacabra
In the weeks leading up to the race, my bike had started to feel heavy to me, so I looked for ways to lighten it up. I could have reduced my beer consumption, but that seemed dumb, so I switched to a 1x10 drivetrain with the help of OneUp Components and some elbow grease. I also swapped out my trail handlebars and grips and managed to knock about a pound off the bike while gaining the simplicity of a one by.

My chain ring was sporting the same amount of teeth as my grill. At least on my chain ring they are straight. Rolling back on Tillman, this felt inadequate as I spun out with 32/11 and got a taste of what my single speed brethren endure during this moderately descending section of road.

I was collecting my stash from Aid 2 where I happened upon Gordon and Wilson. Seems that Wadsworth had been attacked by the odd stomach Chupacabra. Or maybe it was the gods of single speed punishing him for that aero lid? I believe he ended up in the hospital later on with serious fever, a lasting gift from below the equator.

Fresh nutrition, renewed vigor, and another glimpse of the white whale, propelled me up Hankey Mountain. Howdy Ho!

Flat Out, No Brakes
I set about fixing my third flat with a relative calm, fully aware that I’d blown all chances of a PR out the window. Why did I decide to run such a shit rear tire for the SM100? Maybe my lack of proper inflation for a tire with such a modest amount of volume was to blame. That didn’t matter anymore. I pulled my last spare tube out, a 35c cross tube. Yeah, I know that seems like a stupid tube to keep as a spare. I installed it, fitted the bead back on, and inflated it to probably 35 or 40 PSI.

Riders trickled and zoomed by, heading into the first real technical bit of Dowels Draft. Another rider had pulled over where I was, and I mentioned the little known overlook that was just beyond the trail where we stood.

A calamitous racket approached and a guy was yelling “No Brakes!!!” as he careened down the single track past us with an understandably terrified expression, looking for a place to ditch. We watched him, mostly out of control and half off the bike, somehow manage to come to a stop in the brush and trees mostly unscathed. “I had no Brakes!!!” he said again. Yes, clearly you had no brakes.

You OK man? … “I lost both Brakes!!”

No shit. I said something like: “Wow, that was lucky. I’m glad you are OK buddy. Look out man, your bike is blocking the trail. You should probably walk the next section.”

We helped him readjust his brakes the best we could. I finished fixing my flat and set about dispatching Dowels Draft.

The descent was pretty uneventful for me. I was going at a fast pace and benefited from the good trail manners of the riders I caught. In my heart, I felt defeated, and I contemplated dropping out and riding back to Stokesville.

I was immediately overwhelmed by the friendly, eager, and uber efficient help of the volunteers at Aid 4. These folks hooked me up and really lifted my spirits. Thomas from SBC asked me what I needed, and set me up with a spare tube.

Right then I decided that I had to finish the race. I was not about to let down all the folks working so hard to help us all do the best we could. Besides, it was a beautiful day for riding, so I dialed it back some and watched the white whale slip away into the distance.

Yellow Jacket, Green Tunnel
I had heard stories of the Yellow Jacket’s nest towards the hike-a-bike stairs at the beginning of Road Hollow. The creek bed leading up to it was dry and pretty easy to ride across. I shouldered my bike and hoped for the best. There was no need to worry though, I’m pretty sure that nest had been cleared out. No one around me even mentioned bees and I never saw any signs.

Road Hollow is always a challenge during the race. Like the Lynne trail, it’s all ridable, but having sea legs from the road section can be a challenge for folks. I was pleased to clean all the rock gardens and only got hit by stinging nettle once in the leg. This climb is always a bit of a green tunnel with late summer growth and stagnant air.

Metro and I summited at the Bald Knob intersection, and I set to work on my favorite downhill out here. The trail was very dry, and some sections had gotten a little blown out. My bike bucked and skidded more than usual. No doubt my over inflated wheels were the main culprit. The 35c cross tube in back held up just fine and I worked my way over to Aid 4.

No PR today, just PBR

Several volunteers helped me with my drop bag and Wilson filled a bottle for me. Then I asked him, “Is there any beer?”

He had some PBR in his car, and this was great news, and I was giddy with anticipation. I took a few minutes to enjoy the best tasting Pabst I’ve had in a long time.

Ole shit road
I passed Steve from Richmond on the last little punch of a gravel climb that then leads downhill for a ways to the left turn towards West by god Virginia. Steve made some funny noises and confirmed he was cramping. Sucks.

I made my way to that left turn and started grinding up what I call “shit road”. The road is actually not bad at all, with a good gravel surface. However, the lack of shade and relentless succession of false flats wear you down with steeper grades than you realize.

Snake on the trail!
Sort of an inside joke for someone pissing on single track. Whenever there is actually a snake on the trail, someone blurting out “Snake on the trail!” elicits instant juvenile laughter from me.

I had just left Aid 5 and saw a minivan driving oddly on the fire road. They stopped and sort of backed up to the left side of the road. As I prepared to whizz by on the right, someone in the minivan blurted out, “There’s a snake on the road!”

You know that bionic action sound from the Six Million Dollar Man? Yeah, that sound!  It filled my head as I bunny hopped the shit out of that huge black snake. Then I just laughed as I turned right onto the fast, loose, and jump filled fire road connector towards Chesnutt Ridge.

Rowdy ridge and a tree hugger
Chesnutt was fun and a bit jiggy thanks to my overinflated and surly tires. I passed a few riders here and there. At one point I asked for a pass on a rolling up-ish section, and she said, “OK now, on my left” as she proceeded to stay directly in the middle of the narrow single track. Soooo, I bushwhacked around her and muttered something about making a little room when you are letting someone pass.

Then I caught another fellow at the lead-in to a fairly ripping downhill section, and he gave me a great pass opportunity as soon as he could. My gusto got the best of me and I found myself coming in too hot for the steep and dirty trail pulling hard to the left.

I was drifting to the outside and decided to put my weight heavy into the wheels and brake for all it was worth. I bounced and skittered right up to a tree and decided to sort of  dump the bike and hug the tree. It worked pretty good, but I got a nice bruise on my thigh from some unidentified part of my bike digging in. I laughed nervously and was relieved to not have wrecked any worse.

I got back on my sled and proceeded to charge down the hill to Aid 6 with a little more caution.

Five Lefts
Buck was just hanging out at Aid 6 and asked what had happened to me. Just one of those days brother. Then as we rolled out on the pavement, he told me how he had just ridden the Trimble Mountain loop for shits and giggles. Shut up.

There was a nice bouquet of wild flowers Buck had collected and placed on his stem somehow. I agreed that it was a sweet gesture his family would probably appreciate.

Years ago when I was having another one of “those days“ finishing the last climb, a rider started pestering me like a deer fly. I really did not want to talk the second time up Hankey. I was in a dark place.

Every left turn, he kept asking: “Is this the turn?”… “Where is the last turn!?” … “This turn?” Over and over, he kept trying to chat with me and asked the same pointless questions.

Shut the fuck up.
I don’t know how many god damn turns it is, but clearly it’s not this one. Grrr.

Thankfully, that did not happen this year, but I made it a point to count how many turns feel like they should be the last. The answer is, (drumroll)… Five Fucking Turns. So the next time you are climbing Hankey and agonizing over how many more turns are left… there are five.

Not so fast, but with a little grace

I was essentially solo rolling the last ridgeline and downhill. Hopefully, no one saw me walk that last little insulting punchy climb I call “bitch slap”.

Like all the riders, I was relieved to make that final right turn into single track at the top of the campground. There was some fresh flow trail mixed in, and I boosted a little jump for the cameras. I slammed the dropper and threw in a little mini whip over the last grassy hump and then rode a tired wheelie into the finish.

I found a quiet spot behind a tree and nursed on my last water bottle.

Not such a fast day for me, but I could not have asked for better weather, trails, volunteers, and companions.

Cleaning up at the swimming hole felt great, and I didn’t even mind the little fish occasionally nibbling on my legs.

I ate dinner with Garth and seemed to be the only one enjoying the Saison on tap. Then I made a point catch up with fellow racers and friends. A lot of great stories from the day’s journey were swapped and the podiums were presented.

Then I heard through the grapevine that someone might have died during the race. That was very sad and sobering news. I had hoped it was a mistake, but the gravity of the words weighed upon me and hung heavy over the remaining conversations I had. I decided to call it a night.

Back at my car, I prepared to make the drive back to Staunton and a warm comfy bed at my in-laws. I paused and looked around to make sure I was not leaving anything behind. That’s when I noticed it, stretching across the sky in a faint band.

On the East Coast we rarely get a good look at the Milky Way because of the humid air and omnipresent light pollution. I remembered back to when I traveled out west in Arizona. I had made a point to get away from the cities and stop somewhere on a country road to look up at the night sky. I stopped the car, turned off the lights and waited a moment for my eyes to adjust before stepping outside. When I finally did, I was completely humbled by what I saw. Never before had I looked that vastness in the eye. Unpolluted, unfiltered, this is what our ancestors would have seen. It was sublime and overwhelming and I was part of all that impossible vastness.

Probably ten years have passed since I had that first reckoning with the Milky Way.

It had been a long day filled with emotions, struggle, and perseverance. I was wrestling with the seriousness of the news I had just heard, not knowing how to express the sadness I think we all felt.  I stood there gazing up, my mind was heavy and I was searching for something that would make sense. Then this song by Joni Mitchell started playing in my mind:

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me

I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Photo Credit: James Wheeler -

Monday, July 27, 2015

Double Down at the Wilderness 101

The adventure for this year’s Wilderness 101 started around mile 25 for me. I was blazing down the 1st descent on double track. I had started the first off road climb at the tail end of the lead group and was charging hard on the descent to regain a few positions. I was enjoying the warp speed trip through the green tunnel.

Spun out in my big ring and little cog, 38/11 was pretty fast. On this descent I kind of miss the 42 or 44 gearing of a triple ring. Another rider passed me and we were both just flat out hauling ass. At one point I was staying off the brakes a bit more, and started to reel him a bit. I wanted a clear line of sight, so I decided to line up a pass in the other lane of the double track.

The surface of this descent is deceptive. It can reel you in with the apparent smoothness. However, it’s punctuated with occasional rocky bits, branch pieces, and slick spots. All of these features can easily be concealed by ankle high grass.

I’ve descended this section during my 6 other previous Wilderness 101 races and have always had an awareness of the speed, and the risk. I noticed a wiggle from the rider in front and started to change double track lanes.

When your front end washes out, you experience a distinct and odd transition as physics takes over. In common parlance, shit hits the fan.

Only the green tunnel truly knows what transpired as it bore witness to my meteoric collision with terra firma. Maybe I bounced, but I knew I had hit my head with alarming force. I was acutely aware of the seriousness well before my carcass had completely stopped.

I paused for a moment and took stock of the situation. There were some spiders in front of my face skittering about on the ground.

Everything seemed to work as I raised my torso. My helmet had done its job. Dirt and grass bits dropped fell off my visor. Fuck, this may be a deal breaker for the day. At least I had remained conscious and didn’t felt like I had rung my bell. I could have been hurt a lot worse.

Where was my bike? I looked back and saw it sprawled across the double track. Man, I had better get that thing out of the way. I scampered over, picked it up, spun the front end back to the correct direction (forwards) and got out of the race line, just in time as a few riders zoomed by.

Where were my glasses? They must have come off. I found them down the trail where I had carcassed. I cleaned the dirt off with my water bottle and put them back on.

My bars had been knocked about 10 degrees out of alignment with the front wheel. I opted to ride to the end of the descent and straighten them out. My neck hurt, but seemed functional. Left thumb felt wonky, but no sharp pain. I was surprised as I caught and repassed about 3 or 4 of the riders who had zoomed by.

I stopped at the gate, busted out the multi-tool, and set about fixing my askew front end.

One of the riders I had just traded places with got to the gate and commented something like “Wow! There was so much carnage on that trail!” I think he was referring to all the riders who had fallen victim with flat tires and at least one busted rim. I chuckled inside because I don’t think he had any clue of my perspective. “Yep, lots of carnage” I thought.

Jim Mathews asked me if I was OK as he rolled up to the gate, commenting that it looked like I had taken a pretty good fall. I let him know I was alright and finished fixing my bike issues as he vanished into the distance.

I got back to work riding up the gravel climb over towards the three bridges single track section. Maybe I could still pull off a decent day? I decided to see how I felt by the time I reached the single track. Previous crash experience has taught me that adrenaline is a powerful pain suppressor and can mask serious injury for 20 to 30 minutes. Time would tell.

My neck hurt as I powered out the climb. I tried standing and seated efforts, but holding my head up hurt a bit as my neck ached. Something was a bit off with the left thumb as well.

My bike coasted up to the folks directing traffic into the single track. I had decided to call it a day. Head and neck injuries are nothing to fool around with and I was not in the mood to risk it for another 70 miles.

Chris rolled up on the moto and we discussed various options for riding back to Coburn where the race start and finish were. Fortunately, I had changed my mind as I had prepped my gear for the day, and had brought my smart phone. The kind folks marshaling the course gave me a few options and I headed off for my 23 mile ride back on some gravel and mostly paved road.

I made it to highway 322 and figured that taking highway 45 back to Millhiem and then over to Coburn was the most direct route and was safer than 322. My ride back was fairly pleasant, but it was a decently long pull. Getting buzzed by duallys belching diesel and bad manners was a bit unnerving, but there was a fairly decent shoulder.

I had plenty of time to take in the scenery.

Rolling into the finish from the wrong direction felt strange. It was way too early in the day. It was weird to see the race venue devoid of almost any people. Very peaceful.

I took a selfie, and fed my ego by throwing it on the “gram”.

I got cleaned up and headed to the Elk Creek cafĂ© for some lunch. Burger and fries tasted a lot better than two bottles of Perpeteum. I noticed some of the idle waitress glancing my way a bit. That’s when it dawned on me I was probably developing a nice shiner. Yo Adrian!

On my Instagram feed, I got a like from which gave me a chuckle. Apparently #rockybalboa has at least one close follower. I also saw a post from Watts Dixon. His day had ended with a destroyed rim, I think from the same descent. Man that sucks!

I sat in my car to give my neck a rest. Tumble weeds would have rolled by if I had been sitting been in the wild west. Very quiet. I was a bit surprised as Keck Baker came rolling in. Whoa, that was fast! I checked my phone, seemed like a time of about 6:30!

Witnessing the first finisher in person struck me as odd. Very quiet with the only cheer coming from a sole voice at the timing station congratulating Keck.

Within a few minutes more racers started coming in. Wow, all the times were so fast!

My race day didn’t turn out as planned, but fortunately I was not hurt too seriously. My shiner was really starting to come out, and the rest of the afternoon was a great opportunity for catching up with friends and hearing about how their races unfolded.

Here are some preliminary results::

Open Men
1 6:27:00 Keck Baker ChampSys/Cannondale p/b Battley Harley
2 6:37:00 Christian Tanguy Rare Disease Cycling
3 6:43:39 Dereck Treadwell
4 6:45:00 Ryan Serbel Toasted Head Racing
5 6:45:01 Gordon Wadsworth Blue Ridge Cyclery p/b Reynolds GM Subaru
6 6:54:00 Andy  Rhodes Black Dog Bicycles
7 6:54:01 Ronald Catlin RBS TREK MTB TEAM
8 7:02:01 Adam Hill Velocity Cycle and Ski
9 7:10:04 Michael Danish
10 7:12:06 Stewart Gross Griggs Ortho/Boulder Cycle Sport

Open Women
1 7:13:11 Vicki Barclay Stan's NoTubes Elite Women's Team
2 7:59:41 Carla Williams Joe's Bike Shop Racing Team
3 8:27:53 Lisa Randall SuperSport Athletic Wear

Single speed
1 7:14:07 Bob Moss Farnsworth Bicycles/Crank Arm Brewing/Torrenti
2 7:16:14 Matthew Ferrari Freeze Thaw Cycles - Stans NoTubes
3 7:18:57 Mike Montalbano Toasted Head Racing

Yo Adrian!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

2015 HOO-HA! Enduro

The 2015 Massanutten HOO-HA! Enduro was great. I had a lot of fun rolling the Enduro lifestyle and racing with my friends. My day was not without some challenges, but that’s bike racing. I’m stoked and would race it the next weekend if I could!

Here’s how my day unfolded:

I woke up at 5:45am and grabbed my stuff from my in-laws house in Staunton. I contemplated eating breakfast and making some coffee, but I had planned to arrive early at the venue and do a dry run on the 2000 hours trail. I’ve only ever climbed the 2000 hours trail during previous Hoo-Ha XC

When I got to the Burg, I wasted some time trying to find a coffee place, and a restroom. I had my phone with me, but I was not in too serious of a mindset. A spot of research the night before would have saved me some time. But hey, I was rolling Enduro style and it all worked out with a nice cup of java once I stumbled upon Panera.

Soo… I arrived at the event sight closer to 8 and decided just to chill and get ready. Soon I was looking at familiar faces and caught up with some fast guys, Justin Mace and Adam Williams. Also, I talked a bit with another Adam in the neighboring car who was getting ready. If I remember correctly, this was his first Enduro race. He was understandably concerned about the having right equipment and strategy for the race. My advice was to just relax and ride your own race, and most important of all, have fun.

I realized I had spent too much time fooling around and used up my opportunity for making some dry runs on the seeding course section. Again, lesson learned here was that if I had planned better and acted a plan out, I would have been better prepared. But I do that all the time for 100 mile races and stage racing, so for this Enduro I was just living the life… but probably a little too easy.

Stage 1 - Seeding run

The seeding run was an abbreviated and quick section of the third stage. We started in number plate order and jumped into a short pedally section, before diving into the woods. It felt really weird to hit stuff on the Trance trail bike as I’ve been riding my Turner Czar, and Anthem 27.5 a lot lately. So coming from an XC biased muscle memory, the front end sure felt a little lazy and sketchy. Also, there were some slick spots on the trail that didn’t look as squirrely as they were.

I seeded about 12th and this turned out to be a good position right behind a local fast guy, David Taylor. During my other stage runs, I never had to ask for a pass or get called for a pass from someone behind, which to me tells me the seeding process worked great.

Stage 2 – Kaylors Knob Stage

We climbed up the trail we would be descending all the way to the top to Kaylors Knob. The ride up gave us a preview of the trail we would be descending. However, I knew that  it would look and feel so much different when you climb it and at 1/3  to 1/4  of the speed you descend it. At the top it got significantly rockier, and this showed us what the tricky start would look like. We waited a while for everyone to get up to the top, walked the start section a bit and chewed the fat bout the best lines to take. I got chilled as a breeze blew in and my damp kit cooled me down.

“Ten Seconds…Three, Two, One, …” I fumbled slightly getting clipped in and the rocks at the top snuck up on me. No major falls, just a few silly bobbles and plenty of seconds wasted. Starting the top at a slow and smooth pace would have been wiser. I had some learning to do.

Lesson number one: Relax and ride well as your primary objective.

Lesson number two: It’s really hard to jump into the zone when you’ve been waiting around for any length of time.

Once through the rocks, I started to pick up the pace and was riding pretty well. However, I miss interpreted a course marker and again wasted valuable seconds stopping and turning back to the correct my direction. Now the trail started heading down and I had some fun on techy bits requiring committed moves. In one spot, I threaded the needle between two trees with both sides of the bar scraping. Pucker.

As I got rolling faster, I reminded myself that I’m vacationing very soon, so I better not wreck bad and screw that up.

Again, I felt a little out of my comfort zone on the trail bike, it was not responding as quickly or solidly as my XC rigs. Not necessarily slower, but it felt slower. Towards the bottom, I thumbed to shift into a harder gear, and got nothing but air. This was on the gravel section and I glanced down. The shift paddle was gone! Shit. Not bent, just not there. I still had the downshift paddle, but could not shift to a harder gear. So I just started spinning my brains out, and I rolled the final bit single speed in too low of a gear.

I refilled my water bottled, and drank a beer

Stage 3 – Upper and Lower Ravine Stage

I weighed my options with my missing shift lever, I could not figure out how to actuate the shifter into a smaller cog. It was stuck in the 24 tooth cog. With my two front rings (22/36) that gave me either a 22/24 combo or a 36/24, with the former combo pretty much useless on the course. So it looked like I would be running a single speed 36/24 which was not really quite hard enough of a gear.

The rock gardens that seem to pave the top of the ridge leading to the descent were a little tricky, and I made a mistake and hit my wide bars on a tree, trying to punch it out with my left hand.  The tree always wins. At least I didn’t go over the front and recovered with just a dab.

Next up, exciting rock sections as I entered the downhill section. I bombed through the 3 or so rock drops that were all a bit of a blur, and I’m glad my Trance sucked this stuff up well. I was riding the top third of the downhill well and was able to carry descent speed even with my light gearing. Then I washed out the front end in a corner, scrambled to my feet, and started spinning away like mad. Soon I realized in the crash that the rear shifter has shifted into a easier gear in the crash. Well poop. Now I was rolling with what I later found out was a 36/32, spinning my little legs out whenever I could. The gearing gave me other problems in a slick rock garden with pedally sections. I struggled with spinning out from the easy gearing on the damp rocks.

And so the rest of the stage went for me, zooming down as long as gravity could work it’s magic, and spinning like a mad man when things leveled out. I focused a lot more on pumping stuff and laying off the brakes. This was a great learning experience, I just wish it had not been in the middle of my Enduro runs. I finished with the knowledge that I had probably lost a good bit of time with the wreck and my light gearing.

I refilled my water bottle, grabbed a slice of pizza, and drank a beer.

Stage 4 - 2000 hours trail

Having endured (or enduroed?) the fiasco of the rear shifter actuating to too easy of a gear in the crash on stage 3, I realized I needed to figure out how to shift it into a harder gear for stage 4. So I weighed my options. I had neatly trimmed my excess cable on the rear derailleur when I set the bike up. When I loosened the cable clamp I could only get it to shift one gear before I ran out of cable when the crimp came to a stop. So then I used the barrel adjuster to get one more extra gear. Ok, back to my 36/24 gearing. This time I used the low limit screw to prevent a shift into an easier gear. Ten cogs in the rear, and almost every one of them useless.

I’ve ridden the 2000 hours trail, but only as a climb in previous Hoo-Ha XC races. Man, did it look different going down it fast, with the gusto and speed afforded by 150mm of travel.

I rode most of the top well and was going a decent clip through all the switch back berms and rolling bits between. Then the trail crossed the road and started to level out. I spun like mad and I knew I was getting reeled in by another rider. I put my head down and really focused on trying to pump anything I could and stay off the brakes… and I spun my little legs like mad. So far, I had managed to keep the rider I had glimpsed at bay, and maybe even gain a modest amount of a gap back, but then the trail spit out onto the final  1/4 mile or so of flat gravel. I spun like mad, but at some point there was no more speed to gain from 200 RPM. Finally, a bit of short climb! It was odd, but for me this was a blessing, I could finally use my legs to accelerate!
After cresting the short climb, there was maybe another 300 yards to the finish, and I spun to no avail on the slight downward grade. I got caught by the rider chasing me right at the end. There was nothing I could do about it, except smile.

I got cleaned up, and drank a beer, and then another.

Then I had a great time hanging out with all the racers and comparing experiences from the day.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Karl’s Kaleidoscope Race 2015

Ever since my first time racing this event last year, I've been looking forward to returning to the adventure, diverse race course, and scenic event that is Karl’s Kaleidoscope race. The race is nestled in the valleys and hollers surrounding the south western Virginia town of Marion. Surprisingly well sponsored and supported, the race offers competitors a well-planned and stocked race course. Custom handmade kaleidoscopes offer a glimpse of the passion and love of for the event, and reverence for the race's namesake, Karl Kalber.

Just like signature Kaliedescope trophies, this race includes the full range of the mountain bike spectrum. The course incorporates groomed cross country trails, gravel and country road touring, and classic back country Appalachian mountain single track. It's a big day adventuring through varied landscapes with surprises and even southern charm around the bend and in the hollers.

A lively morning sun greeted me at Hungry Mother State Park with mild temps, clear skies, and a wonderful view of the lake nestled in valley. Heading to registration, I saw many familiar faces and friends from last year’s race. As I signed in for the expert course, I noted that the race always has more than enough supplies, right there at the start. Need some gels? There's plenty available. There are also other nutritional options available to power you through the race.

Back at the car, while kitting up, I overheard a conversation with a local rider and another racer. His warm southwest Virginia accent and pleasant personality provided a preview of the southern hospitality all racers would experience. The laid back atmosphere of this event was a welcome way to start a 50+ mile XXC mountain race and I felt at ease while I got dressed, mixed my bottles, stashed my energy food, and rolled around the park's paved road for a warm up. I noticed lots of fast looking folks rolling about, some familiar faces, and others I did not quite recognize. But all of them looked fit and fast!

The race director, Mark Prater, gathered us for a very thorough explanation of the course with marking descriptions, route notes, aid stations, and other valuable details. As we waited for start gun, I got a chance to quickly catch up with one of my fellow racers, and last year’s women's expert course champion, Laura Hamm. Her full suspension race bike was a change from the full rigid she was racing on last year, and I marveled at the dual integrated lockout control. I'm a big fan of talking to a friend at the start line as it really helps get rid of any nerves or unnecessary anticipation.

Ready...Steady...Bang! The race is on, and I put in a short lived and moderate sprint to position myself behind the lead three or so riders. Cory leads us out in a very moderate and enjoyable single track pace line. The first mile or so of gravel single track snakes a long side of the lake and descends down to a wooden bridge next to the spillway for the lake’s Dam. I'm glad the pace was comfortable because it gave me a chance to take the awesome lake views in.

As we got into the park’s trails, the pace was still surprisingly mellow. I resisted the urge to jump ahead, because I knew on the 1st major climb everything would fall into order. And so the first piece of the race spectrum began. We started winding up Hungry Mother’s wide bench cut trails that are a smooth surface of crushed shale. Some of the initial climbs have a few surprisingly steep pitches as the trail carves up the contour of the mountain. The tree canopy was thick and provided some nice shade, but occasionally there was enough clearing to allow great views of the lake.

I stayed close behind the lead group of five riders for most of the initial climb, and could occasionally see the second group below me on the switch backs. The climb eased and topped out, so I got to work going fast. The trails around the park flow well, and can be very fast. However, you’ve got to be careful, because some of the turns can be sharper than they look and if the turn is bending around the contour, you could easily fly right off the side if you overcook it. However, turns where the trail banks into the curve of the mountain can be ridden flat out. The deep bench cut provides a natural berm that’s almost vertical. Heavy and fast on the insides, and more conservative on the outsides. The shale has some grip, but due to the loose over hard-pack nature, you can get sliding in a jiffy.

I lost touch with the lead group and stayed in front of the second group. A short section of paved park road took me back to more climbing and descending near the start/finish. I made a point to firm up my fork and hammer out as much of the up and down bench cut that remained. Some sections of trail were lined with large purple Rhododendron blooms. Very picturesque. Eventually, the final section of this bench cut descended down a less winding section with lots of little booters. Jump, pump, jump, pump. Braaap!

I headed back on Rt. 16 for just a stitch and then climbed back up the trail next to the Dam and the lake. When I got to the country road I rolled solo as I climbed past the Alpaca farm.

I refueled on cliff blocks and tucked in as I tried to cut a small profile through the wind. This section of the race reminded me of Ireland. Rolling hills and mountains free of trees with grazing livestock and lots of rocks mixed in.

When the race course turned off pavement and onto a gravel road, I quickly came face to face with a small cow in the middle of the road. I said, “what’s up cow?” as I got close, and then it buggered off across the road. Next,  I found myself approaching the posterior of a farm tractor out for the day’s work. Timing was just right as the dirt road split and he went right, where I needed to go left.

Zooming along this dirt farm road was a little precarious because of a fair amount of small rocks. I passed a rider who had gotten a flat, then I realized I had just blown by a turn. I was surprised to hear another rider skidding behind me, from the same mistake. Turns out, Ben Coleman had made a wrong turn earlier, and was catching back up to the leaders.

I tried to ride through a really deep and muddy stream crossing and ended up with a dash of mud and pebbles in my left shoe. The course then seemed to go right through a farm construction site where I think new fence poles were going in. I felt a little odd through riding this spot, but everyone seemed cool about the situation.

Ben I and I were now rolling on a paved country road, and we talked about the beginning of the race. Then we came upon a guy with a stop sign. We asked, “what’s going on up there?” … We rode past, to the signal man’s dismay. There was a tree trimming operation, and 5 or 6 guys working, a couple playing soccer, and a few more looking at their phones…

After we were through the work zone, I suggested that Ben and I work together, and we took turns with 30 second pulls, all the way to the single track. We passed over a possum tail that was in the road. Just the tail.

The Crawfish Trail rolled through multiple Rhododendron tunneled stream crossings, with a few twisting and turning bits thrown in for good measure. I bobbled on a particularly rocky stream crossing where my poor line choice bounced me about and Ben slipped away. When Crawfish made a crossing with the Appalachian Trail, four through-hikers gave me some encouragement and told me the others were not too far ahead.

I motored through the rest of the single track and tucked in for the remaining gravel and pavement road leading to the day’s big climb up Walker Mountain. When I stopped and filled two water bottles, the volunteers told me I was in 5th.  I got back on and started cranking, hoping to hold off the single speed rider that was probably going to pass me. It didn’t take too long.

Bob Moss caught up to me fast, and motored by as we passed the forest road gate and headed into the long double track climb. I kept him in sight for a little while but he was motoring up that climb like a beast. A couple of hunters I came across said “careful, there’s a bear up there in the holler… keep your eyes peeled”. That added a little excitement for the next ¼ mile or so as I scanned the woods.

The only thing about the climb I found annoying was the constant satellite of a deer fly or two, orbiting me as I rolled along slowly. I had to periodically swat at them as they tried to make a meal out of me. When climbing, you are going too slowly to outrun them.

Finally the ridge section of Walker Mountain began and a cool breeze was a welcome relief. Several more moderate pitches awaited and then the ridge and descent started. The trail at the top was very, very, faint. Ribbons of sheriff’s crime scene tape marked the way, every couple of trees! So I rode it like I stole it. Next up, there was a fun and technical set of turns. These were followed by a short hike a bike section, and then the downhill opened up. Some very fast single track chutes seemed a bit rougher than last year, with fewer leaves and more water erosion with rocks. The purple Rhododendron bloom tunnels were just a pretty as last year. I was careful to go as fast as I could, but not be so reckless as to invite a pinch flat.

The descent eased, and I popped back onto the Crawfish Trail I had ridden earlier. This trail was definitely more fun this direction and I enjoyed riding it.

Soon, I was dispatching rolling double track that was nicely shaded. I drank the last of my water and refueled. Crossing through another service road gate got me back onto a gravel road that finished with a nice, fast, downward section. Deep water ruts added excitement.

I stopped at the aid station, refilled my bottle with Gatorade, and got back to work as the volunteers cheered me on… “go, go, go!”

I recognized the hillside quarry at the turn in the road. A backhoe stood still like a rusted dinosaur, waiting to be re-animated for the next stone wall. I knew there was not much road left before turning right onto another connector of double track, punctuated by a few sections of secret single track, and one oddly placed tanning bed on a junk pile.

Finally, the trail joined up with a gravel road that runs in front of a house that looks like a castle. The scenery once again reminded me of Ireland, and I smiled because I knew I was closing in on the paved road through the park, and the finish.

Riding on the pavement, a couple of over the shoulder checks showed told me that no one was closing in. I was happy not to turn myself inside out as I rallied to the finish!

Mark Prater greeted me with a high five, and handed me a nice cold beer while I told him my stories from the day. I was six overall, and generally pleased with how I rode the race.

I was surprised to find out there would be a single speed category, and that bumped me up to 5th place, and into money and prizes!

Karl’s Kaleidoscope is always a great day of racing, and I’ve met some fine folks along the way while competing, and experienced the warm hospitality that’s always present at this great event.

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 Pisgah Stage Race Stage 1 Rider's Eye

After the dust settled from the stage race... I had a chance to make this cool video. Check it out!