Tuesday, July 26, 2016

2016 Tour de Burg - episode 2

Track and Fault

The 1st road day of the Tour was ready to start. Joe, Mike, and I headed out towards downtown, ready for a long day on the road. 100 miles or so with some big climbs. I had learned my lessons from last year and packed some rain gear and spring time arm warmers, and a vest. Just in case, because the forecast looked like some rain.

I took us on a side road towards downtown to avoid having to cross the interstate on and off ramps on Rt. 33. Little did I know that on this road awaited a train crossing that was nowhere near perpendicular. I bunny hopped each rail of the train tracks that lazily crossed the road. I called out the tracks to Joe and Mike. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of road bike wreckage behind me. I looked back. Joe was rodeo riding a big slide, and Mike was on the ground.

Shit. I felt bad about the wrecks. I chose the route, and my crew was surfing ash fault. The tour must go on.

We rolled into town square and I wondered where everyone was? Hopefully there had not been an early start. Mike’s leg had a proper amount of blood on it. The peloton lazily collected itself.

Photo by Pl assman

We party paced the back roads to the Stokesville Church. There was a KOM mixed in and I watched the chase commence while shifting into my small chain ring. Compared to last year, the peloton was huge. Tim from SBC was helping to shepherd us on a classic moto. Braapp!

Photo by Pl assman

Breastworks and Gator Skins

 After a short regroup, the 1st road stage for the day started and we headed out FR95 with punchy climbs and then gravel. I was glad to be running my 28c Gator Skins converted to proper ghetto tubeless, 70psi. I felt slow on the first set of road and gravel sections, falling off the back of a paceline. At least there were no flats for me, and I soon joined another pace group on Rt. 250. We climbed up towards the breastworks and I mused how the descent would be on a road bike compared to the motorcycles I used to tear through this section on. The breastworks descent did not disappoint. Lots of great corners with good sight lines, and a very clean surface. Then another short climb transitioned to a fast descent into the aid stop.

Samiches and beer were great fuel as well as some cheese sticks and a wide array of snacking goodness. A couple in a side by side ATV stopped by and Carp worked his magic to broker peace with the natives. As long as the lady who owned the property on the river side of the road did not show up, we were golden.

Photo by Pl assman

A lengthy party pace section had the peloton moving like a lazy slinky. Speeding up and slowing down to it’s own slummy rhythm. I really enjoyed all the awesome valley views and chatting it up with good company. We made our way to the next waypoint to regroup, before starting the second stage for the day. The weather was getting rainier and a bit chilly here and there.

Hey, were movin' on up... movin' on up

A fairly constant grade of maybe 10% on gravel greeted us on the climb back up to the Virginia border. I attacked a bit better on this climb and hammered my way to the next part of the climb that’s in the SM100. I think people call it the death climb, but at that point for me it felt like resurrection as I gained back some important GC time on the way up. So much easier on a light cross bike! I powered up the gravel the same way I had the previous climb, out of the saddle, mostly because it felt the best on my knees and lower back. Also, because I was going faster with this strategy.

Photo by Tomi McMillar

Finally got a piece of the pie

We finally crested at the stage finish on Reddish Knob. It was wet and chilly up there. Unfortunately the splendid views were mostly shrouded in haze. All that was left now was to descend the long and very fast paved descent to the aid stop at Briery Branch damn. Stang said he wanted to follow me. I think he believed I would bomb the road descent. I did not. The road coming off the knob was damp, and there were several tight turns with potholed pavement sections. I braked in preparation for the 1st tight turn, and the brakes barely worked. I puckered, popped a foot out, and tried not to crash. Much scaries. The next series of tight turns presented the same problem and I almost ran too wide in a couple. My cross bike has frikin disk brakes. WTF? I adjusted the cable slack and that helped some. Next time, hydros.

The rest of the road descent was a balancing act of maintaining speed and over braking for turns to make sure I did not run off the mountain with my levers to the bars. Fear is a powerful thing… So is recovery with a fine pilsner. The tour goes on.

Dinner at Carp’s was excellent and I had a great time catching up with everyone after a long day on the road.


Joe was sheltering under the rear hatch of Charlie’s minivan. I finished up prepping my hydration and kit choice. Then the crucial move for the day. I attached a fork crown mounted SKS front fender that actually blocks spray. West Virginia riding buddies clued me into the crucial difference between a real fender and the fashionable muck gards that are so enduro right now. A real fender works. Muck guards? They look nice, and you get sprayed in the face.

Photo by Tomi McMillar

“Go under the bridge across the stream.” Carp explained. The fast was to get across the stream to the trail climbing up Lookout mountain. I was pretty familiar with climbing Lookout this way, and mentally prepped for the steep rocky ascent. The climb is tough in the dry, more so when damp and wet.

I stumbled a bit here and there on the climb, trying to wake the dead in my legs. So, I hunkered down and focused on staying smooth while negotiating the rest of the ascent. I managed to rally a bit at the first summit and charged with more earnest intent on the undulating rocky trail flanking the rest of Lookout. Then, the rain really set in. A small river was streaming down the single track as I finished the climb and started rolling the fire road on top of Hankey. The final push up towards the top of Dowels Draft is always steep. Water cooling from the rain made it a touch easier.

The magic’s in the moss

The new top of Dowels is hella fun with lots of pump and flow. However, you need to watch it, as you can overdo it and jump off the mountain if you misread the lines. I rode conservative, the climb had taken a lot, and I had blurry fogged up muddy waters vision through my half useless glasses (prescription). Then a hard right on what I only know as Magic Moss trail. Essentially this was my first time descending “the moss” and it was plenty tight and off camber in some places, ripping fun in others. Chris caught me quick so I let him by and followed the best I could. I went all outriggers when I slipped the rear on the very narrow trail and was relieved when we got to the newly built section on Dividing Ridge. More fun than a barrel of monkeys once it really started descending into sweet new bench cut rolling and flowy jumpy smile stuff. I heard a whistle and let Carp and Skids blow by when they caught me.

Photo by Tomi McMillar

All that was left after the descent was pounding out the last section of gravel to the stage finish and recovery aid station. The standard amount of sandwiches and beer did me well. It was really raining at the aid station, we were all getting cold. I found a corner of the pop up cover to refuel and rally.

Next, a nice long party pace over to the North River climb. Soon we regrouped and started the second timed stage for the day. Bobbles and stumbles on the little water bar at the trail head elicited the appropriate heckles. North River climb was nice and mellow compared to Lookout. Several fun stream crossings, and some real techy bits at the top before popping out onto the fire road heading to Buck Mountain.

Welcome to the Jungle

Buck mountain was beautifully brushed by the director and crew. The mountain was riding very well. But, lots of grass hidden rocks and moderate uphill sections made the riding a little tricky. So did my sea legs from the previous lookout stage and climb up north river.

Descending was interesting with the wet conditions. It was not raining anymore, but everything was a little slick and I soon got used to the front wheel glancing off slipper rocky bits. Skids passed me and I watched him slip away into the steeps. Buck Mountain gets pretty steep, but there was a sweet loamy line getting burned in by all the racers in front of me. I was riding a bit cautious and just barely reeled in Matt towards the bottom. Then, I charged the first rocky creek crossing and made it almost all the way out. I slipped my front tire on a rock and fell flat on my ass. Ouch.

I collected myself, started riding, and realized my right hand controls were now pointing upwards a bit. Oh bother. I just used a little body English and got them back in position. The slippery and often smooth rock littered trail we were riding was keeping me on my toes. Nate and Buck passed me and I felt slow. At least all of the knee high stinging nettle had been wacked down by the excellent course prep. The second aid stop was a welcome sight indeed.

Photo by Tomi McMillar

The Secret to Secret South

All that remained for the day was a non-timed segment up Tillman West and then the fun and technical ridge line on Secret South. Lee and I chatted it up as we climbed to the ridge line. There was a bit of a bottle neck on some classic Cookie trail rocks. We passed the cell tower and headed over to Secret South.

I love Secret South.

Years ago, I discovered it for myself after riding the classic Cookie trail backwards. I really enjoyed all the tricky rock sections and tough moves in between narrow passages created by trees . The ride pace started going agonizingly slow for me and probably for some others too. It’s not that I wanted to race Secret South. Keeping your momentum going on this trail is key. It takes some committed riding and just plain old punching it out in a few spots. However, once you start backing off, the trail starts kicking back. I gave it the business when I could, and then slowed down and complained when I got held up. Not my best moment of patience and trail etiquette. Sorry.

I rode over the big rock feature near the descent and dropped in with a smile. Almost immediately I felt the rear getting all goosey and pulled over with a flat. Karma I guess. Soon the flat was fixed and the ride came to a close back at the Stokesville Church. What a day!

The evening was filled with bike cleaning and another great tour dinner. I had almost forgotten that it was the 4th of July. For me it was Tour day 3. I didn’t even recollect what day of the week it was.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Epic sh*t man… would they understand?

What we do in the shadows...

All that style, all that body.  Credit: Dave Tevendale

Rain pooled around our feet in a brown soup. Nearby it gushed down the mountain side in bloated runoff streams. “I’ll bet it’s rained 2 inches” Dave said as we hunkered down under a tree that didn’t do much to stop the rain from filling our shoes, and removing all stoke. It seemed like a strong thunderstorm was stuck on top of Narrowback mountain. We headed back towards Stokesville, only now realizing the wisdom the teenage girls in the back of a pick-up truck had told us we were going the wrong way. A deer almost ran over Dave and I. Our phones were buzzing with emergency alerts for flash flooding.

Credit: Dave Tevendale

“Should I go for a tall boy or a regular?” I asked at the store we were taking shelter at. “Tallboy, always.” Dave said. Maybe 30 minutes or so waiting out the rain, and then we rode up Lookout and Hankey to ride the new Dowels Draft and Dividing Ridge trails. It felt a lot like Stage 3 of the Tour de Burg… minus the rivers while climbing Hankey. The weather cleared nicely and riding Dowels and Dividing Ridge was perfect.

We gathered at the gravel road and realized we needed to get going as it was 7:30pm or so.

Back at the White Oak lot, I was busy cleaning up while Dave and John were talking to a crew that had set up base camp for trail runners. Turns out, some Ultra, Ultra trail running. One lady was out on course working towards her goal of 7 loops of White Oak! 200 miles or so. Now that is some Epic shit.

Dave asked me if I felt blown out, or did I have more in my legs. I did not realize his intent at first and said “Yeah, I feel pretty good.” That’s when he revealed the scheme to me. Things were about to get interesting as he told me not to change out of my kit. I really wanted to get that wet nasty kit off.

John drove us back towards our second stage that would start at Skyline drive off route 33. We saw a lot of flooding and streams well over their banks as we headed back to Harrisonburg for fuel. Some fields had their crops knocked over, while across the road the corn stood tall and strong. Strange.

Credit: Dave Tevendale 
Ordering a burrito at Chipotle in your bibs and a base layer shirt with cutoff sleeves is surely the height of fashion. Essential fuel for a late night spin across Skyline Drive to Simmons Gap. I’m sure my get up of arm warmers and a vest (no jersey) showed my panache. There was no way I was putting that nasty jersey back on. John dropped us off at the entrance gate, and Skyline was ours. I admired views of valleys lit up with lights below. The sound of knobbies kissing pavement hummed through the humid air as our lights punched a hole through the darkness.

I was having a hard time following the tire rut in the grassy double track. My headlight needed adjusting, but that would have required taking a hand off the bars. I waited till I could slow down.

Dave mentioned we were on Shifflett Road and then I realized we were climbing the Pantani gravel route towards Flat top. We were now having a bizzaro world Pantani ride, in the dark and super humid summer night. I tried to peek through the pulsing red blob that was Dave’s rear blinky light. My glasses were smudged and foggy… I have a prescription. Blinky light off, I could now see much better following Dave.

We dropped into the topside of some trails at Blue Ridge School. I followed down some technical and mildly over grown single track, struggling to see the trail with a too dim and poorly aimed headlamp. Spicy. After falling in a grass hidden miniature rock garden, I got back to it and was really frustrated with my light situation. When I finally got a chance I checked the settings on the headlamp I had borrowed and realized I had it set to the lowest light setting. Click.. Click.. Ahh… now we are cooking with gas! Bombing flow trail with some rock flavor mixed in is a pretty good way to finish a special ops midnight assault. I gave it the business.

Maybe 30 minutes later we were back a Dave’s house. My car was there, but all my stuff was not. We had started our carpool from Dave’s house in John’s truck. Just then I realized the full implications of having to drive to John’s house to retrieve my gear bag and all my supplies from his truck as I took off my kit. I would be driving around, lurking up to John’s truck, after midnight, in my underwear. I imagined how I was going to explain this to the police. Epic shit man… would they understand?

Credit: Dave Tevendale

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Tour de Burg - episode 1

I’m a little late getting my 2016 tour tales together. So my plan is to use the same tactics I used at the TDB… attack from behind!

Dr. Prepper

For Plassman, the week leading up to the tour is full of excitement and planning… and getting shit done. Preppers would be proud of me. Well sort of… I didn’t bring  guns, a machete, or canned goods to the party. Unless beer counts as canned goods? You bet your ass it does. And I brought my Leatherman, so there.

God damn! Bikes aint gonna git themselves ready. Tire swaps, wheels trued, gravity dropper shafts cleaned and lubed. Wrenching yourself gets old fast when your prepping multiple bikes. Beer helps. Dreams of Tour glory kept me going.


I worked half a day to keep some vacation in the bank. Then I stuffed my Mazda to the gills, and headed to the Burg. I checked into Motel 6, and the light was not left on for me. Get it straight Tom Bodet. I set about deflating the Mazda and filling the room, trying to get my stuff in order, but not trying that hard.

Mike Coco arrived and was unloading next to me. It was 5:00pm, and I knew we needed to get a move on. Rolling time is supposed to be 6:00, so we should have just barely got there on time if we left soon. We headed out, and heavy traffic conspired with Siri to steal some more precious time. Hauling ass on back roads and my inner child salivated as we neared the Stokesville Church.

Shit, there were lots of cars, but no people. Frantically, I got ready for the Trimble loop, and soon we were rolling out FR 95. Upon arrival at Trimble, I saw a rider dash into the woods. A motley crew was gathered, each rider waited for his or her turn.

Carp saw me and hollered for Plassman to grab his plate. “You can go whenever you’re ready.” Yeah, rock star treatment, nice! So I rolled up, plated up, and rolled out.

On the climb I passed a few riders as I chased Dickey up the climb and watched him disappear. Dan gave me some good natured grief, and later admited he thought I was someone else. I’m sure I’ve earned it any way. Joe Fish stormed by me, and I settled into a semi comfortable climbing pace. Near the top, I passed a few riders and then Abe motored by. He sure was rolling fast.

The descent was fast, fun, and loose. Late afternoon sun cast a mottled mix of shade and strong light on the semi grass covered single track. It’s some tight old school single track too. I rolled a fast but cautious pace, not wanting to bin it at the prologue. Near the bottom, I caught a rider and got held up a little bit, but it was not going to make much difference at that point so I settled in for some fun.

A great pizza dinner at Thomas’s house was followed with opening ceremonies and descriptions of the big day ahead in Fort Valley.

Joe and I headed back to the room and knocked back a little whiskey before resting for the first full stage.

Fort Valley

The day starts with a soon to be morning ritual of breakfast at mister J’s Bagels. I’m going to assume the manager was working this morning, and she was all business. They still call out orders over a PA system, and it sounds like a subway station. I have faded memories of ordering food this way from the 80’s as a kid. Would you like an apple pie with that?

Sue gave me some shit for parking in one of the cherry paved lot spaces at Camp Roosevelt. Parking slum. While kitting up, I realized I had forgot a critical nut for the GoPro mount. Some days don’t need to be captured in HD anyway. The mind has a way of remembering that makes the story that much better.

There was a strong WNC crew representing, and a few of my friends from the high country commented on my backwards mounted rear tire. I said it was on purpose, but the more I thought about it, I realized I had just said to hell with it when my self-generated pile of bike maintenance had kept me up till 1:00am one of the previous nights. At least the logo matched up with the valve stem.

The first timed section began with a rolling start up a paved climb before launching into a bench cut and medium rocky trail heading up to our first summit. The riding got a little more technical, and I half committed to powering up and over. I had been battling a knee injury all spring and wanted to ease into the tour this year to avoid blowing anything up. It worked, and I did not blow up the climb either. I found myself hopping off and pushing more than I like. Then the descent started in earnest. I dropped in, but refrained from a full on attack, that whole warm up plan again. Eventually I settled in and started riding a little better, but was frustrated by an aching back. I got a little more aggressive on the bike and shit started sticking better. My hip pack was a bit loose and that was distracting, but not as much as when the hose dropped out of my mouth (yeah, that reads a bit funny) … and dangled off the pack threatening to get balled up in my rear spokes. Luckily, my hose stayed out of the wheel, and I got it back in place.

There was a lot of carnage on that 1st ridge. Seemed like Adam must have had at least 3 flats, and plenty of others were busily fixing trail side tire drama. There were some pretty decent rider injuries as well.

Mike Boyes and I traded places a bit on the long ridge and descent towards the end of the 1st section. The recovery zone was great. I did however manage to lose at water cooler roulette. I filled my hipster pack with hose flavored bleach stank water. Shit was nasty. Later, on the 2nd ridge when it got hot, I drank the stank. I can still taste it if I think about it.

The parade over to the 2nd stage was lead out by the sprint chasers. I heard one of them almost ate a trailer in the sprint melee. Back in the party pace group, there was some carnage as well. Stang was limping along with a serious chain and or derailleur issue. Then, I think we missed a turn after passing the emergency squad that was dispatched to a minivan buried in the green off the side of the road.

Road drama resolved, we re-grouped before the 2nd stage. We climbed a very steep gravel road to the start point and got ready, many folks shedding extra water weight in the bush. I manually shifted my single ring, from a 32 narrow wide, to a 26 small ring I had left on the double when I converted to 1x10. Like manually locking out a 4x4. Diggity. Then we were off, up a water chewed up track.

A number of folks bustled ahead, and I patiently worked my way into the ridge that soon turned into what seemed like a continuous rock garden. Some big ass rocks for sure, and plenty of hair raising death chutes. I loved this trail. Riding all that technical terrain kept my mind fully engaged and I didn’t think much about the physical effort of racing. I focused more on the Zen of piecing the rock puzzles together.

About two thirds of the way through I got a second wind and started charging a bit. Riding aggressively felt much better than the defensive strategy I took on the 1st ridge. Soon enough the final two descents were at hand. The 1st descent was plenty rocky, definitely rowdy, and a bit cheeky to boot. Some hikers had stopped on a rock and took photos / video as riders passed by.

A mild gravel road connected to the second descent where I checked in for the Super D. I charged in, but soon bobbled a bit on a weird rock section I tried to ride straight over. It was a little rough over the backside, just like my body at that point. I charged again and got hung up in one other spot. After that, I just took the straightest lines possible, even if that meant over the larger rocks. Finally I was riding along with some decent urgency. The rocks gave way to more loam, and finally a clay toned ribbon at warp speed. It sure felt nice to hit the tape slalom at the finish. Tour stage 1 complete. I was relieved because I knew it was arguably the most technical day of the Tour. Bang, done!

Dinner at the Little Grill did not disappoint. There were probably double of the number of people there compared to last year, and basically the staff crushed it. I wolfed down two Mexican plates and the same count of brews. Back to the hotel, to prep and rest up for the next day’s 100+ miles on the road, up and over some big ass climbs.