Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Battered, Not Broken

The fifth annual Liberty Jamboree was this past Saturday and like last year it was a blast....... when I wasn't falling down ravines, over logs or on high speed descents. Jim Casey, Pedal Shop rider and W.U.S.S pioneer, puts on this little event every year as the summer time equivalent to RiderX's Punk Bike Enduro. It takes place mainly in the McKeldin section of Patapsco Valley State park, however, the staging area and post Jamboree festivities take place on the property of his in-laws. For the last five years they have been gracious enough to host this event and deserve a huge thanks for their hospitality.

Part of stage one was on a tear-dropped shaped trail that riders could chose to go either way. That meant being very aware of two-way traffic and passing could get sketchy. As I came up the other side of the drop there is a small tree hop required and somehow I botch it and go OTB. I gather myself quickly and continue to ride hard. I make up the spots I lost and continue to push the pace. As I go to pass another rider I brush by a long raspberry branch that is extending deep into the trail. It catches my face and puts a couple shallow cuts on my cheek and lip. I end the stage in third place, but, the price was a bruised knee and a bleeding face. This was a re-occurring theme throughout the day for me.

Jim decided to make the stages longer this year to keep the racers moving and end at a decent time. The long stages meant you could make a couple mistakes and still have time to recover from them. Stage two was actually my best stage and I played it smart. I was in third place going into a long climb and cargo Mike got stopped by a stick at the base of the climb. The leader was right in front of me and I let him burn himself up on the climb. The rest of the pack was far enough away that they didn't pose a threat and I had a feeling the stage was almost over. Before seeing the finish, I pass to his left and kick in the after-burners. Stage two was mine, as was the not-so-coveted lead pony jersey. Now, let me explain the "lead pony" jersey. This was an old jersey of Nicks from 8 years ago. Much like the TDF, the leader of each stage must wear the jersey, however, unlike Le Tour, the jersey must be worn next to the skin and has not been washed since the inception of the Jamboree. So, 5 years, countless bodies and summer time sweat makes for one nasty ass jersey.....and it was all mine.....for this one stage.

Stage three was the first real downhill stage and it was looking pretty good for me, until I flipped over my bike and down a ravine. We were all screaming down an over-grown piece of gravel road that lead into a hard right turn and some very technical single track. Ricky and I keep thinking we have over-shot the turn when we see Nate pointing to our right. Unfortunately he is right at the turn instead of a little before it and we over-shoot it and have to double back, losing a couple spots in the process. I think I was in third at this point now and at the very first log I hit the brakes a little too hard to avoid striking the rider in front of me. Well, that extra tap on the front brakes was all that was needed to send me OTB and down the hill to my left. Crap, I'm having a rough day here. Three stages and I have gone down twice already....and lost spots in the process. I lick my wounds and limp to the finish as everyone asks about my tumble. I shake my head, know the day is early and I'll make up for it on the next stage.

We get out to the road and do a long parade over to the McKeldin main gate. Enter the park and re-group near the bathroom. While some people refill their packs, Mike and Ricky have a go at some picnic table hopping. Well, actually they were trying to hop up onto the table and both only got as far as the bench seat. From here we move down to the trails and the start of stage 4. This stage starts off with another screaming descent and I am out at the front of the pack. The trails over on this side are dry and loose and this section is highlighted with numerous rolling grade dips that make for some fun high speed jumping. There are large loose rocks on top of the dry dirt and some of the turns are thrilling and scary at the same time. RiderX and I were wheel to wheel on one particular turn, he on the inside and I had the high line. As we go into the turn I feel my front tire start to cut loose, just about the same time I hit a 2" thick flat rock that sends my wheel skyward and me to the ground.....HARD! At the speeds we were traveling the crash was very much a blur. I do remember putting my hands down, then I went into a roll and at some point I think my bike was on top of me. Needless to say I got pretty fucked up. I ripped through the right palm on a pair of new gloves, my right shoulder took a good hit and my left hand wasn't feeling very good either. I jumped to my feet cursing like a sailor and then waited for the pain to hit, which it did quite promptly. My day was over. The stem got knocked a little sideways and I have a few new scratches on the frame, but, other than that my bike fared pretty well. I slowly got on the bike and made my way down the rest of that sweet section of trail, pissed that I could barely hold onto the grips.

Happy to be in one piece, relatively, I decide to give Jim a hand as a course marshal and photographer. This gave me the ability to ride, at a safe pace, and still enjoy the day. I got some great shots of the action during this break and you can check them out here. I don't know if it was the ibuprofen Joe gave me, the beer at road or some divine intervention, but, I was feeling pretty good and was able to compete again on the last three stages, the derby, team time trial and the race to the reservoir. I did okay in the derby and got pretty far until my main man Darius decided to take out my rear wheel with a nasty pseudo-tee-bone maneuver. I didn't know what hit me until he went riding off laughing like a mad man. He employed these tactics to the rest of the field until there was no one left. Big D takes the derby and the lead pony jersey.

A requisite beer break before the team time trial and we should have handled things differently. The two ladies on our team were getting a little tired by this point and we were allowed to "assist" teammates on the hill. Instead we just cruise up the hill and do not provide assistance until the final stretch. In retrospect we should have helped push them sooner. It wasn't until the final wall that I swung back to help out our only geared rider and she was very appreciative for the assistance. Two of the other guys do the same and help our other female teammate, however, I know our efforts came to late to do any good.

Final stage, the run to the reservoir. I'm feeling pretty good now, about 95% and decide to actually hit this final stage hard. Unfortunately I am at the back of the pack before the start and have a LOT of places to make up. We're given the go and I pass a lot of people in the first 100 yards. The trail starts to get loose and rocky and I throw caution to the wind and let'r rip. On the hill climb I catch several more people and have moved into 5th then 4th. On the flat before the final descent I get another person and am now in third. We are back at the lollipop and I could have sworn Jim said the trail to the water was more on the left side of the circle, I see Nick go right and I gamble on the left side. I really need to stop gambling. As I swing around the bottom of the trail I see several of the people I passed head into the final section. My little gamble cost me three spots and any hope for some final points. I roll down to the water in 6th place, one spot out of the points race. Still, not bad for a guy who was lucky to be racing after everything that happened throughout the day. Nick takes the stage and I but mug Nate for an Outlaw, which I got. I'll take it and my cold beer into the water for a nice refreshing dip.

Back at the staging area (house) kids are everywhere and the festivities are just getting started. Barb shows up with the wee ones as I'm getting changed. The rest of the day is filled with burgers, beer and chasing Jackie around. The points are only part of the over-all race and we still have a hand of Blackjack to play. Again, gambling is a big part of the Jamboree and many_a_previous winner has been decided by a hand of cards. Mike, our over-all points winner, couldn't beat the house and walked away empty handed. Nick pushed, bet smart and took away the win and the lead pony jersey. Jonathan, last years winner, race and gambled smart and took the second spot and DC Tony did the same for third. Me? I take the "Ball Breaker" award home for the second straight year. Damn, I am consistent.

Photos by me & Joe W.

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's been a busy (and stressful) couple weeks, however, I have gotten in a couple fun rides. Two weeks ago a couple software packages didn't want to play nice and that meant increased heat from the firms partners. They couldn't bill clients which meant bills weren't going to get paid unless I figured something out....and fast. About the same time preparations for the MORE summer picnic were in full swing and a major part of the event was not finalized and required additional approval from the park.....which wasn't returning my calls.

By Tuesday I solved the software issue, with the help of a high priced gun slinger, and spent a long night getting our accountant data for billing. On Wednesday afternoon things were looking good and I was able to ride with the guys that night. Phil ripped a derailleur off on the return trip up Das Berg and had to walk it out, but, other than that it was a great night of riding and I was in need of the stress relief. Barb, taking pity on the fact that I was not going to make any of the rides scheduled during the picnic (hard to do as the chief organizer) gave me a pass for Saturday. This was perfect as Darius invited a bunch of people down from PA for a long ride in the shed. I show up at Sandflats at 9am only to find out the start time was moved to 10. No worries as I just kick back finish my coffee and wait for everyone else to show up. RiderX is first to roll up, on his bike, and informs me of the revised start time. DC Tony is next and I didn't know it at the time, but, he had a new frame, a box of parts and was planning to build it up his bike before our ride in the p-lot! Crazy, but, he got it together just about the time Phil rolled in, it was now 10:30. Our epic ride had to be scaled down a little, but, we still had a great time, I met some cool people and made it home BEFORE my pass expired. Major brownie points there.

The rest of the day was spent looking after the wee ones and getting ready for the MORE picnic the next day. RSVP's topped out at 130 on Saturday night which meant I didn't have enough food. I hit the store, load down my SUV with a crap load of stuff and got it mostly loaded in preparation for my early departure the next morning.

Sunday morning sees me driving to Patapsco around 7:30. I had to get a bunch of ice first and I consider myself lucky Barb and the kids are driving seperately. My truck is packed to the gills and I could barely squeeze a water bladder in by the end. At the park people are already there for the morning epic rides and I enlist the help of many to unpack my mule. I enlist a few more to help with setup and start to wonder when my two volunteers will show up to help, they never do. A few riding buddies are willing to skip their rides to help,but, I'm alright at this point and send them out to the singletrack. People are now showing up with food that needs to be kept cold and yet oddly enough they don't have coolers or ice.....WTF??? Now I'm stressed and the next person who asked if I needed help didn't know what hit him. Brad, from the 12 Hours for St. Jude, says he's not planning to ride and asks if I need anything. Ice, lots of freaking ice. I was told people were bringing ice, but, that one 8 pound bag hardly counts as ice for a picnic of this scale. Brad rolls out and returns with enough ice to sink the Titanic all over again. We ice down the perishables and he becomes my defacto right hand guy for the rest of the day. He totally gave up his day to help me out and he isn't even a member of the club. MORE owes this guy a huge thank you. We fire up the grills and get to cooking. The burgers are thick and frozen, so, they take a while to cook. The dogs on the other hand are flying off my little gas grill as fast as we can burn them. One woman actually commented about that and I had to refrain from smacking her with my spatula..........freaking bitch. Trish was another person who helped save my sanity that day. She is one of MORE's old guard and organization is her middle name. She ran a tight ship and I was damn glad to have her. At the end of the day we served up over 130 burgers, 170 hot dogs and a crapload of other things people brought for the potluck. The rides went great, the kids rodeo and ride was a hit and the pavilion we rented was perfect for the picnic. Somewhat shaded and right next to a tire park for the kids to play in. Barb brought extra stuff for the kids to play with as well. All in all I think it was a big success and I have my friends to thank for keeping the rides fast and fun. Next up, the Liberty Jamboree V.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Head's Up!!

Like some fellow riders I'm hoping to spread the word about a stolen bike.

Stolen from Washington DC on July 20th a Blacksheep titanium single speed with S&S couplers and a truss fork. This bike should be very easy to recognize and I highly doubt there are many like it in the wild.

If you happen to see it listed on Ebay, Craigslist or riding down the street please post up here or email me at wrench177 at gmail dot com.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Time to move up??

The MASS Fair Hill Classic is one kick ass race! DKEG wanted a little company for the 2 hour drive to the north-eastern most point of Maryland and this past Sunday I was happy to oblige. The Delaware Trail Spinners organization put on this little event and I may have to put it on the books for next year as well. A 22 mile course that is almost all single track and NEVER doubles back on itself. The expert/elite racers got 27 miles of the same, never repeating goodness.

Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area was the stage for our epic little race. Upon arrival David commented on the number of racers at the event this year. "I guess this race has become popular" was one observation as we rolled into our parking spot at the back of what seemed like a sea of bike toting cars. My first comment was "shit....these guys look serious", as packs of lean sinewy racers rode past trying to warm their muscles before the start. Not 2 hours before DKEG and I were scarfing down a fine McDonalds breakfast and talking about the beer we brought for after the race. Somehow I don't think these guys did any of that......ever!

After parking we rolled down to the registration building, yes building....not a tent, and proceeded to fill out the requisite forms to race. I noticed they actually had two Single Speed classes, one Expert and one Sport, both open in terms of age. All the other classes were broken down into a multitude of categories, as usual, based on ones racing age. So, now I had for the first time in my SS racing life a choice to race Sport or Expert. Hmmmm?! I was now in a bit of a pickle. I've been having a good year so far and my times have been right up there with a number of the expert geared guys. At least the geared guys in the races I normally enter. They don't generally look like the speed demons I witnessed on arrival, they look a little a bit more like me. Maybe not as gray up top, but, about the same level of fitness and general lack of seriousness before a race. That is the pond I am use to swimming in. This new one was.......different. More sharks and far fewer guppies.

In a moment of cowardice I check the "Sport" box on my registration form and felt a little ashamed. Sandbagger is a term I would hate to be labeled, but, I've never raced expert SS before. Really, we were just all lumped in together as one big, hard freaking class that I usually got bitch slapped in. However, I am having a good year.

DKEG and I head up to the start to check things out. The Elite and Expert guys have hit the trails and now the waiting game begins. We roll up to and around the starting line, check out the first little bit of single track and head back to find some shade before our start. Around 11am we are told to start getting ready and find your way to the line. I line up with 25 or so single geared mates that look much more familiar than the mutants that scared me earlier. They are a jovial group and we talk about gearing, trails and the scorching temps we are expecting throughout the race. My nerves are much better and I go through the mental checklist before the start. 150 yards of dirt road before the single track gave the faster guys an opportunity to open up a little distance before the train hit the woods. Not wanting a repeat of the Bakers Dozen I decide I'm going to redline it until the woods and then hold it for as long as possible before settling into a sustained race pace. At the countdown I hit the gas and get the hole-shot. I quickly get to the head of the pack and continue to open a gap well before the single track. Feeling great I decide to push the pace and try to put some distance on the faster guys that are sure to catch up sooner or later. It wasn't until mile 3.5 that the first guy in my class caught me. A fast SOB by the name of Adam. He paced me for a little while until a geared rider went down in front of me and then he seized the moment and passed to my right. Back on my bike I was right on his tire and now it was my turn to pace him. We continued this for a few more miles and then he slowly started to pull away from me. About the same time the number three guy was making his move and started breathing down my neck. At one point I ask if he wanted to pass and he stated he was just going to hang back and pace off me. Crap, I lost the top spot and now number 3 is going to pace my ass.....this sucks. We hit a section of trail with some extended climbs and it is here I start to put a hurting on Allen (number 3). I slowly start to extend the gap between us and by the time we get through a couple climbs he is almost out of sight. I continue to get glimpses of Adam and know he is still within my grasp if I can hold my current pace.....we are half way through the race, mile 10.5. It was about this time that I catch up with two geared guys from Vet 1 or 2 and they a pacing one another and really burning up the trails. I jump on their little train and the three of us begin to really hammer through the course. So much so that once we popped out onto a gravel climb Adam was 25 yards in front of me. I bid my geared buddies farewell and was right back on the leaders wheel. He asked if I wanted to pass, but, our choo choo took a little out of me and I was happy to be back on his wheel. If this guy was going to win the race, he was going to earn it. Actually, I told him that, half joking, as we navigated the twisty trails. We were at the 15 mile mark, 7 more to go.

I'm 2/3rd's of the way through this race, my legs are feeling great and we are pushing a blistering pace, what the hell is going on?? I never feel this good. Was it the early bed time? The hearty breakfast? Damn, I'm liking this! Now, don't get me wrong, I don't have much left in me, but, I have enough for this race...at this pace. The rest of the SS pack is no where in sight and it could come down to the wire between Adam and me. Two miles left and he kicks it up a notch and opens up a small lead. He tries to pass a geared rider a couple times, gets shut down by trees and that has sapped some of his energy. In an open spot we both pass the rider and I am right back behind him and in good position. A quarter mile from the finish a cobblestone bridge stops him and he hops from his bike to pass a rider and climb the bridge. I don't know why, but, I do the same. He tells me, "if I were you, I'd be attacking right now". My reply was that I didn't have anything left to attack with and I was just trying to maintain. We get over the bridge and enter the last short section of single track before the finish. He continues to push the pace and I am only a couple bike lengths behind. Last descent into a hard left turn and we open up onto the final stretch. Adam crosses the line first and I follow.....6.88 seconds later. At the finish he comments on how that was one of the best races he's done in a long time, I had to agree. Incredible weather, fantastic course and great competition. I couldn't have asked for a better day......well, maybe a little better.