Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lessons Learned

After three washings, all the mud from Michaux finally came out of the jersey I borrowed from RiderX. It also did a number on my brake pads and damn near ruined a great weekend of riding, which I'll get to in a little bit.

It's been a few weeks since the last race and I've done some riding, a little trail-work, fixed a bunch of stuff and even acquired a big 'ol F-250 from Dr. Longtravel. The boy has started riding his bike and is doing so without the aid of training wheels. I am particularly proud of him for this as we never pushed him to ride and he came to this decision on his own. I guess seeing all the big kids tooling around at the camping trip got his gears turning and the bike looked like a reasonable way to have fun.

Work on the "new Blue" continued a couple weekends ago. We had a great turnout (again) and made some nice progress on the trail. A lot more benching and bunch of rock work was accomplished by the 20 or so people who came out to lend a hand. A week before I worked out a deal with Frank to buy his 89 F-250 (which was nickle and dimeing him to death) and we were able to use the truck to haul to required tools to the Sand Flats parking lot. The truck also served as the post ride bar with a fine selection of adult beverages provided from SSOFT sponsor Clipper City Brewing. Marty from the PATC also brought some post-work goodies to share with all the workers. We got a lot of good stuff done and had a great time talking story when the workday ended. If you want to make a difference with the trails you ride, I highly recommend grabbing a shovel and coming out to a trail-work day. They can be a lot of fun and very rewarding.

Later that night a bunch of us rode our bikes to Tom and Danielle's long overdue housewarming party. The ride from Frederick to Thurmont was about 10 miles and we had a spectacular night for a ride. Our hosts put out an elaborate spread and most guests enjoyed the warm spring evening outside on the front porch. After much food and ale we decided to head back before it got any later and/or our vision any blurrier. The ride back along the country roads was amazing as a full moon lit the countryside. Unfortunately, the moon didn't provide enough light to keep Jojo from "tee-boning" a deer as it frantically darted in front of her. Thankfully Jojo wasn't seriously hurt from the collision. Her helmet suffered a fatal crack and I know there was some bruises, but all things considered, we were fortunate to get a small chuckle from the incident.

The next day we loaded the kids up and headed to Black Hills park for a nice Mothers Days picnic. The kids had a ball on some new equipment that had a post modern look about it. We then moved over to the more traditional (and larger) play area. It was here, with its gently sloping grass hill, that Jonathan road his bike as a two wheeler for the first time. I'd get him to the top and he would wobble his way down and across the grassy field until he could go no more. With each run he went further and further, becoming more comfortable on his bike. I was beaming like a proud papa as my boy threw his arms in the air after each run proclaiming "I did it!".

"I did it" was the theme for my first fixed gear fat tire ride two Fridays ago. RiderX kept his annual MTB trip somewhat local this year and the festivities began from Douthat State Park in Clifton Forge VA. This meant a bunch of us who can't normally commit to a week long trip could roll out for a weekend and get in a mini biking vacation of sorts. DKEG, Darius, Mic and me rolled down to Douthat as 4 of the 15 guys staying at the Creasy Lodge for the weekend. Upon arrival I noticed some serious noise and grinding coming from my front brakes. I hadn't used the 29er since the Maximus and didn't realize that lone race ate away my new brake pads up front to the point of metal on metal grinding. The rear pads were paper thin and I moved them to the front after Baler offered the use of his 19T Tomi Cog. Ah, fixed gear to the rescue. Now, I've ridden fixed on the road and on my cross bike before, but, I've never rolled that way on my fat tires and never would have considered it an option with long, sustained descents. The kind of screaming descents you experience after each climb in Douthat. I must say, however, it was fun. I didn't kill myself, I was able to ride and fixed was awesome for the switchbacks. It was just when the thread stretched out and people let their bikes rip that I saw it as a hindrance.

When Jay got to the lodge, he had a new set of Ultimate's to install and let me borrow his Juicy 7's for Saturday's ride. I felt bad, however, when he discovered his new brakes were practically worthless due to an air bubble in the line. He rode the rest of Saturday with marginal rear brakes and I owe him a beer for his sacrifice. The Saturday ride was a big one (on paper) with our group hitting both sides of the valley. Lots of climbing was followed by high speed, screaming descents. I was happy to be freewheeling this day as the off-chamber bench cut of some trails at high speed increased the pucker factor. Eric, Kevin and I peeled away from the main group a little early to head down Beard's Gap. I did Brushy Hollow the day before and wanted to see how switch backs on Beard's rode in the opposite direction. It turns out this was a good call as the numerous switchbacks were a lot of fun and it got us back to the lodge just before a heavy rain hit the valley. A warm shower and cold beer hit the spot before the rest of the guys descended on the lodge. Later that day, after the rain stopped, a few of us tried to hit the lake for a little swim, only to be turned away by a ranger. We were directed to the stream below the damn instead. The cold mountain water was refreshing and cleared the brain before the nights heavy drinking began.

An early checkout time and the previous nights rain made getting motivated for a morning ride tough. Everyone decided to have a hearty breakfast before packing up and heading out. A third day of riding in Douthat was not going to happen. This is probably a good thing because we saw a lot of high water as we left the park and I have to imagine the trails were quite saturated. This decision did open up the possibility to get in a ride elsewhere on our ride North. We passed a lot of great riding on our way down 81 and something different was sounding pretty good. The further North we traveled, the better the weather looked. The dark clouds over Douthat became increasingly thinner as we drove North.

The decision to ride Elizabeth Furnace was made and then Mic asked a very good question. How was I planning to stop? I gave Jay his Juicy's back when we were packing up and I didn't have a Tomi Cog with me. Armed with a couple web enabled smart phones we tried in vain to find a shop open on a Sunday, that had Formula brake pads....in stock. I did locate one shop that happened to be open, however, they didn't have any pads for my brakes. A fact that Darius will not let me forget. Lesson learned: if your going to own brakes that are not the most popular make on the planet, make sure you carry spare pads at all times! Hell, the real lesson here is: if you go away to a long weekend bike trip with a bunch of your buddies, make sure you look at your bike BEFORE the trip. Don't assume it is fine when you throw it on the roof. Anyway, lesson learned, we decided to go for the ride regardless of my braking situation. Half of the ride was going to be uphill, so, I didn't need my brakes then. The other half, well, I'll just take it easy with the front brake....and the paper thin pad material.....which I was really surprised was still there considering how little remained on Friday. All I can say is it was one of the best damn decisions I've ever made. The day got better and better, the sun was out and Elizabeth Furnace is just a spectacular place to ride. Aside from a couple wet spots, the trails were in great shape and everyone had a blast. Darius rode the hike-a-bike, a feat not too many people can lay claim to. He didn't clean it bottom to top, but, he rode a section, grabbed a tree, brought down his heart rate and then continued. He repeated this process all the way to the top. He did dab a couple times, but, it was a heroic effort none-the-less. Mic was holding on until the end and seemed to have a good ride in spite of a couple crashes. DKEG was a tractor as usual and was the only one to clear on of the longer stream crossing we encountered on Mudhole Gap. All in all, a damn fine conclusion to a damn fine weekend.

My Boy

Monday, May 4, 2009

Michaux Maximus

That race was BRUTAL!!!!!

Michaux State Forest, known for its abundance of rock, was the setting for the race. The weather has been wet recently and the forecast called for a coins toss chance of showers the day of the race. If this prediction resulted in rain, the soft, wet trails were sure to make a painful race pure hell. DKEG was looking for some company and I decided to venture north for my first mountain bike race in Nor-Chaux. I've done the Iron Cross a couple times now and ridden the trails with Camps and the Big Dog a few times. The Maximus, however, was to be my first go at a fat tire free-for-all.

The clouds were heavy with moister on the drive up and their bounty was released as we pulled into the empty parking lot. It appeared most people decided for the comfort of a warm dry home as we started to unpack. Jeff was parked to our left, Dan and a buddy parked to our right. We just shook our heads as we laughed at the stupidity of racing on such a day. As David and I prepared to register, I noticed a severe lack of funds in my wallet. "No worries, I'll just write a check" I thought and went to grab my checkbook........that was removed last Friday to pay for a radiator. This lapse in preparation may have been a sub-conscious desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else as long as it was warm and dry. David, not wanting to suffer alone produced an additional $60 bucks from his wallet and there was now no turning back. As we registered the empty lot became more crowed and I can only assume these people wanted to put off the misery as long as possible.

Shortly before 9, I lined up with the single gear crowd and knew the day was going to be hard. If the trails didn't punish me, guys like Topher and Tomi would. A strong pack of 9 or 10 took off and I decided to play it safe and keep my pace under control. It was going to be a long day and I needed to keep plenty in my tank for the second, more difficult half of the race. The trails on the first 20 miles were tough but established trails. The first 20 actually went by pretty quickly. I cruised through aid station 1 with plenty of water. I stopped for a quick refill at 2 and headed into the "good stuff" Camp talked about. This "good stuff" was mostly FRESH CUT and soft....very soft and muddy and nasty and did I mention muddy. Flat sections of trail that should have been used for recovery were hard, slow and energy draining. I was actually praying for a gravel road climb after going through long stretches of this fresh cut stuff. Then there was the exposed moonscape rock descent through an area that had recently been forested. Wet slimy uber technical rock garden that went on for a long time. By the end of it my knickers were soiled and not from the mud. ;) Then, let's see, there was more fresh cut soft ass trail...that was muddy. Slimy peanut butter mud that would not hold your tires in a turn. Trail just moved away and sent you in every direction through the turns...and some straight sections.

Then there were the nasty ATV trails and their loose baseball size rocks that beat the hell out of your body. We hit several of these during the race, sometimes you'd climb one, sometimes you'd descend one. The final long climb was on of these ATV trails and I really thought that they would take it easy on us after we got to the top of the climb. Wrong, the course designer decided to take us down a final rock garden, not unlike the rocky sections of Salamander, for the final 1/2 to 3/4 mile. God, that sucked. I was cursing the sadistic bastard that thought this section would be a good idea. It was here I saw David, who peeled off and did the 20 mile course due to a hurt wrist. He was taking pictures of me as I cursed this rock strewn section of trail and the little shit who added it to the race. David told me I was doing great and was in 3rd place. I knew this had to be wrong because I only passed 2 guys from the led pack. There were about 8-10 guys in that group. Anyway, I pushed hard to the end and ended up in 6th or 7th place. I was just happy to finish. When I saw the other guys line up at the start, I knew a podium spot would be near impossible, so, I tried to ride smart throughout the day. I'm glad I did because there were too many places to get seriously hurt on that course. I pulled into the finish line, poured a beer and was glad to have the race behind me. Geez, that was the hardest freaking 40 miles I've EVER ridden.

Big thanks to my buddy DKEG for the encouragement, the $60 bucks to race and the pictures.

Friday, May 1, 2009

See Spot Run

Like a phoenix, my 26" Spot rose from the ashes of "B" bike obscurity and rocked the Thursday ride as a rigid 69er...or 96er....depending on your preference. Personally, I like 69er, but, that's just me. She's seen a little action on the last couple work days as my "B.O.B" bike because I don't have the 29er yokes, however, the old creaky bottom bracket kept her from any serious rides. All this changed when I found a set of Stylo cranks with a decent external BB in the bottom of a long forgotten parts bin. I installed the new(ish) cranks on Sunday and hit a quick lap around Schaeffer with the Big Dog on Sunday. Enjoying the ride, I thought I'd try out the rocky goodness of Frederick on the old girl.

The MoCo crew met up with Darius and DCTony for a sweet ride of the southern Shed and parts of Gambrill. DKEG, always the mother hen, brought along some swine flu prevention masks and we entered the woods prepared for anything. The rigid fork was scaple precise as we made our way down into the valley and I was once again in love with my first single speed. Tire pressure needed to be adjusted to lessen the beating my forearms were taking, but, other than that the new configuration was a joy.

Darius was riding like a man possessed and was clearing sections of trail I've never seen cleared before. By the time we got to Stegosaurus rock he was on fire and cleaned most of the lines available and some new ones never done before. Everyone started to get in on the action and soon we started looking for additional rock to crawl. A large outcropping above the main line provided a lot of amusement for everyone and we spent a lot of time sessioning this section of trail. Concerned with light we pressed on back towards the watershed. We took Jedi the hard way up to the cell towers and bombed across the utility trail. Lawnmower went fast and furious and I was amazed how well the rigid setup picked it's way down the trail. High speed turns were precise and the large tires absorbed the hits nicely. I jumped on Darius' wheel down and around Rusted Bug and we popped out on the road several minutes before the rest of the guys. From there is was the tight twisty fun of Busted Knuckles back to the cars.

As we cracked a couple PLB's everyone commented how it was one of the best after work rides in recent memory. We got a little bit of everything and a few unexpected surprises. Fast descents, long grinding climbs, rock crawling and flowing single track. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Photo by DKEG