Apr 29, 2012

Schaeffer Farming - 21 miles

I've been pretty busy lately and haven't had any time to blog. Though I have some significant news: I started my new job and I bought a jeep. Life it seems, is beginning to smooth out for me (I hope). Riding truly brings me joy, perhaps that's why it's remained a constant throughout my life. Liberation,freedom; forward momentum. Yesterday was a great day to be on the trails with a friend and together Damien and I reeled in 20 miles of fantastic singletrack at Seneca Creek and Schaeffer Farms. As is becoming routine, we hit up the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Germantown for a cold barley-pop, good food & some catching up.

Apr 17, 2012

Mountain ride at Fair Hills - 21 miles

Awesome mountain bike ride today out on the race course for this weekend's XC race at Fair Hill. I popped out there hopping that the course would be marked and that I could get a few laps in and as luck would have it, that's exactly what happened. I pulled in to the parking lot around 1:00 and started gearing up. A guy and a girl (Adam & Heather) were hanging out after just completing a loop and we exchanged “Hey's”. When I asked if they were racing this weekend we struck up some chit-chat and Heather, offered to show me the loop. Sweet! They were both rocking Niner's and Adam's especially caught my eye. I've had my eye on Niners but hadn't seen a steel version like the one he was riding. I'm getting closer and closer to joining the 29 scene...

So, off we went. We made small talk while Heather (a Wooden Wheels Racer) lead me through the course and even pointed out some insightful tips in some sections. Thanks! After a lap with them, I rode it two more times racking up a fun 21 miles. The course is rocket fast. There's almost no technically challenging features, virtually no climbing (maybe 1500' per lap) and tons of places to pass people. I am really looking forward to this race.

I'm also really glad I reinstalled my big ring, front derailleur & shifter this morning. I'm going to need that 44 tooth ring on this course. Still, I don't care for what I see as a cluttered bar. I love the simplicity of my single speed's cockpit (Just a couple of brake levers). On the Cannondale, my entire bar is taken up with brake levers, shifters and a lock out control for my Lefty. But, oh how I love locking that Lefty out on the climbs and road sections! I've been riding without a front shifter on my bars for so long now that I found myself accidentally bumping the shifter paddle with my thumb at the most inopportune times. I stopped and moved my shifter about a half inch further inboard and all was right with the world again.

Anyway, here are a few photos that show just how fast this course is... Thanks again for showing me the course guys!

Apr 16, 2012

Michaux Trail Cup Race Report - 28 miles

OK, so my first mountain bike race of the season was yesterday. I raced in the 25 mile version of the Michaux Trail Cup Endurance Race at Michaux State Forest in Biglerville, PA just outside of historic Gettysburg. Zach Adams, the race promoter (and a fierce rival from my cyclocross racing days) warned all of the riders that it was a “killer” course, with somewhere around 3,200 feet of climbing but that the actual mileage was only 22 miles. I wasn't too concerned because I'd recently rode 21 miles at Schaeffer Farms and climbed over 4,700 feet. I've also been putting a lot of miles in on the road bike, running here and there, and blasting around Hashawa Park on the mountain bike quite a bit. In short: I felt prepared for what Michaux was about to throw at me. In reality, I had no idea what a suffer-fest this race would turn out to be.

Breakfast was two bowls of Crispix, a cup of Joe and a pint of OJ. I was pretty sure this would be all I'd need. In hindsight I'd wished I'd eaten a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs! I rolled in to the parking lot at 9:30, my race didn't start till 11:00 so I had plenty of time to get my number plate, warm up and calm down. I was pretty nervous.

After a brief racer's meeting, the race was on. The field was a mix of men and women racing together, though categories were segregated by Mens, Womens, and Single Speed. I was running my 1X9 set up and was glad to see that I wasn't alone. Lots of people were riding with only one chainring up front. Anyway, off we go, immediately bottle-necking into twisty singletrack. It had been raining on and off all morning, so the roots and rocks were slicker than snot and my new and unfamiliar tires bounced and slipped off them unpredictably. I wasn't sure if I had too much or too little psi in them. So, here we are now, a train of us, tire to tire, ripping through some of the most difficult terrain I have ridden in years. The rocks were not smooth, they were large jagged shards of granite. Each one, no smaller than the size of a football and most were larger. I thought for sure my sidewalls were going to get sliced. And as I'm thinking about this: PSSSSSS!!!! My rear tire slams a rock and goes flat. Shit! I pull off to the side, drop my pack, rip the rear wheel out of my frame and start prying the tire off of the rim. Meanwhile, racer after racer roll by. Each one saying: You ok? Or You got everything you need? I was all set though, I had packed two spare tubes in my pack and while I was pulling the deflated tube from my wheel I had the valve of my fresh tube in my mouth blowing air into it; just enough for it to take shape before I frantically, stuffed it into the tire. In it went and after about 100 spastic pumps I had it inflated, and my wheel back on the bike.

Off I go. I'm now dead last. Don't worry, I told myself, you've got 21 miles left, it's going to be a long haul. In the next minute I managed to catch two riders and pass them. I was just starting to get into the zone when all of a sudden I pinch-flatted again and heard that dreaded PSSSSSS of air rushing out of my rear wheel again. Shiiiiit! Off to the side I go again, this time, taking my time to replace the tube. I remember working more slowly this time, making sure I put my tools back in their proper pockets in my pack and rocking my rear tire so as not to pinch-flat again. I got back on the bike and told myself; calm down. You're out of spare tubes and if you have to use your patch kit, its' going to be a slow process waiting for your tube to dry before you can inflate it, so just calm down. I had to slow down and float over the jagged rocks and even walk some really jagged sections which was difficult in and of itself. I did not want to flat again and have to quit and walk back to the start area. And so on I went, methodically, picking lines of least resistance. Flow like water, I told myself.

Finally, the trail popped out onto a fire road and there were no arrows pointing which way the course went. I had caught up to about 9 other racers and we were all looking around and guessing which way to go. I decided to climb up the road and they all followed me. It felt great to get on to solid ground and motor for a bit. When I got to the top, I looped through the start/finish area again and popped out near the first torturous loop of singletrack in which I had just flatted twice. A girl with a flag stood at the entrance to this trail and I said “Again? Do we just keep doing loops of this?” and she said “yep”... so I rode the entire 6 mile loop again. This time, when I popped out on the fire road, I saw an arrow pointing DOWN the hill. I cursed out loud. I had just gone 6 miles out of my way and now, was surely in last place, I didn't see anyone behind me, so they must have been spared looping back on ground they already covered. DAMN IT! This has never happened to me. After the race, I found out that about 6 others had also gone the wrong way, and then quit. Apparently the sign marking the way to go had fallen and then been put back up by the time I came out the second time.

For the next 4 hours I rode carefully and gave it gas whenever I could. Each smooth section of trail or road section was a blessing because Michaux is entirely littered with jagged boulders. At times it sounded like riding over piles of broken dinner plates. Every once in a while I'd see a rider up ahead and make them my goal, come on', go get that guy. I'd reel them in and then just keep chugging.

Though we were warned that there was a lot of climbing, and that the course was “killer”, I feel that those words were a gross understatement. This was the hardest race I've ever done. Each time the trail dumped me out on to a fire road, it went up hill and not just for a little while, it went up and up and up for a mile at least. I was in my granny gear more than I'd like to admit and barely spinning the cranks at that. I would see racers up the road ahead of me barely moving and it felt like a snail race. When the roads did level out, it would quickly put you into the woods again, you guessed it; going up a steep rocky incline. I passed so many people pushing their bikes or on the ground changing flat tires. All of them with a good humored exclamation when I came riding by: You ok? “Yep, just doing some classic Michaux maintenance!” Or You got everything? “Where the hell do all these rocks come from?” I passed one guy who was walking back to the start with a flat tire. I asked if he was ok and he told me “Two flats are enough; I'm done.” I didn't have the heart to tell him flatted twice in the first 2 miles and was riding on luck till the end of the course.

I continued to pass people and when this happened on fire roads, we struck up short conversations about the pain and suffering we were enjoying. Many of the people I passed were doing the 50 mile version of this race and I couldn't even imagine such a thing. Even more impressive were the 50 milers I passed riding rigid singlespeeds! Yowza.

At about mile 20, I had eaten my three Gu packs and was fizzling out. I looked down for my fourth and last Gu pack I had tucked under my shorts on my leg only to see that it had fallen out. This was a crushing blow. I had drank almost all of the 2 liters of water in my pack and was starting to hit a wall. There was supposed to be an Aid Station somewhere on the course but I hadn't seen one and every person I passed asked me if I had. I was hoping to see it around ever corner. Just when I was thinking of pushing my bike up a steep section of fire road I saw a blue tent. YES! I pedaled on and dumped the bike at this oasis of carbohydrates. There were all sorts of snacks ripped open and strewn about. I grabbed at an open package of Keebler M&M cookies and shoved them in my mouth, then grabbed one of the 2 liters of coke and glugged a few big gulps down. A hand full of Lays potato chips were next. Ahhhh, salty goodness! And then more coke. I shoved two Keebler cookies in my back pocket and took off. I instantly felt energized.

I ducked back into the woods onto some great singletrack, feeling better mentally but only a little bit better physically. I was exhausted and my coordination was suffering. My reflexes were slow and my lines were bad through the rocky sections. I had to ride smart if I wanted to avoid flatting and walking the last unknown length of the race. I had no idea how far I had left to go. My odometer read 21 miles. I knew I had more than a mile to go, but how much more?

I continued at a steady pace, passing a rider here and a rider there. I was beginning to think that I might actually be close to a top 5 finish, despite the 6 mile detour at the beginning of the race. Just then, the trail pointed down hill. Steep, and rocky downhill. I got back behind the saddle and pointed my toes to the sky, with both brakes nearly locked up. It was so steep that I was kind of steering with my rear wheel, like a rudder of a boat while large rocks and boulders tumbled down the trail next to me. My forearms and hands were so tired from squeezing the brakes, and my calves were screaming from standing in the pedals. When is this going to level out? Down, down I went, nearly pitching myself over the bars more than a few times. When the trail leveled out it was extremely rocky and I wanted to sit on my seat to rest my calves but I couldn't risk flatting again. This race is killing me! Eventually I popped out onto another fire road and was glad to be able to recover and spin the cranks for a while but I was just crawling along.

I crossed a deep river section and was greeted with a huge steep hill, up a section of power lines. Ahead I could see two riders carrying their bikes and walking very slowly up the hill. I got off and stood next to my bike, swaying back and forth. My odometer read 26 miles. I began to push my bike and thought for a moment, I can't go on. But, I've never quit a race and I didn't want to start now. Up the hill I went, like a slug on a salt lick. I reached the top and entered more rocky singletrack. It was really rough going, I could barely sustain forward momentum. It was a constant, start, stop, start, stop...

The next 2.3 miles were spent in a state of delirium. I was so close to bonking and each steep climb broke my heart. My legs were going through spasms and I felt a charlie horse coming on any second. Still I rode, even when I was going just a tad faster than walking speed. This has to end soon I kept thinking. Suddenly, I saw colors through the trees, reds, blues... I heard music and an announcer. A burst of adrenalin kicked in and I sped forward! This is it! The end! Yes! Out of the woods I popped and out across the finish line I rolled. Hallelujah! I crossed the line and dumped over on my side. I just laid there on my back, panting, motionless. What an incredibly hard race that was. After a few moments, I sat up and flipped through my cycle computer to see my stats: Mileage was 28.3 (I went 6.3 miles out of my way – due to a fallen trail marker), time was 3 hours and 58 minutes, average speed was 7.1 mph.

As I finish typing this, it is now the morning after. I'm sore and I'll spend the day recovering. I'm a bit upset about the trail marker and my extra mileage. I feel confident that I would have placed in the top five, but what can you do? I didn't want to complain to Zach, the promoter, because there really isn't anything he can do about it. It happens. It's OK. I am curious to see where I placed but the results are not posted at Bikereg yet. As painful as it was, I am proud I finished and I got one hell of a good hard day of training in. Next weekend is a much easier race at in Elkton, MD; the Bike Line Spring XC Race.

Apr 14, 2012

Let's do this

Tomorrow's the big day. First mountain bike race of the season for me. I'm racing at Michaux State Park up in PA in the 25 mile version of the Michaux Trail Cup. Only tonight did I realize that I've raced at this place before. I earned 5th Place at the Iron Cross Lite which was held here back in 2006 (Check out that race report and images of a younger, fitter me right here). I have to admit, though I feel fairly prepared for this race, I am nervous. I don't want to get destroyed! Hopefully my training will pay off tomorrow when all hell breaks loose. Either way, it was fun stuffing my guts with mas quantities of pasta tonight.

I spent a little while today preparing my bike for the race. I picked up some new tires because I read that this place is very rocky. My Kenda Small Block 8's wouldn't have been ideal for this course, so I scored a great deal on some Mythos XC II's. The forecast is calling for rain, so I'm glad I have these knobbier tires. They're nice and skinny too. They're 2.2” tires but look more like a 2.0”. Believe it or not, I had a really great experience today at the Big P (Performance Bike) in Parkville, MD. I usually only go to this shop to buy tubes but today I got hooked up and enjoyed talking with a guy who, come to find out, is a friend of a really good friend of mine; Hoffman. He even gave me the low-down on what to expect at Michaux tomorrow. Right on. I popped the new tires on over a delicious new beer from New Belgium Brewing, their Shift Pale Lager. I suggest you try a can of shift at your earliest convenience. Along with the tires, I also scored a great new pair of shoes. Every 5 years or so I buy a new pair of Sidi Dominators, but this time I decided to go with a much more affordable pair of Shimano mountain shoes. Though they're not made of fine Italian leather like my Sidis, they feel amazingly comfortable and have a nice rubber tread instead of the rock-hard plastic tread of my Sidis. Fantastic. This may prove to be especially fantastic if I end up pushing my bike a lot tomorrow. Here we go!

Apr 12, 2012

Flowing through Schaeffer - 15 miles

Today's ride was great all the way 'round. Cool temps, beautiful scenery, excellent trail conditions, abundant wildlife, and my legs were feeling pretty fantastical. I covered 15 miles of singletrack today and stopped to take photos, explore a defunct Skeet Range and pretty much had the place to myself. Though I started my ride at Schaeffer Farms, I quickly left the park, crossed Black Rock Road and entered the new (to me) Seneca Ridge Trail. My friend Damien and I stumbled upon this trail the last time we were riding at Schaeffer and its my new favorite for flowy cross country riding. It's also pretty neat because there was a forest fire here within the last few years and several trees are burnt & blackened. It's kind of surreal to ride through the really burnt out areas. Aweome trails... awesome. The Cannondale just eats it up here. Light and nimble she is. mmrrph, sound like Yoda I do.

The Skeet Range is a creepy place. The shacks which once slung clay pigeons out for shooters to knock out of the sky stand like guard towers over an overgrown field of tall grass and broken pigeons which crunch underfoot. Shotgun shells of all gauges lay here and there and trees grow up through the sidewalks that lead from station to station. A little bit of research taught me that this range, the National Capital Skeet and Trap Club was closed in 2005 after much litigation which started in 2003 when incredible amounts of lead shot was found in Seneca Creek. Check out this article; it's pretty interesting. Imagine scooping up handfuls of lead from the bottom of a creek bed...

As I said, I did take some pictures. I couldn't help it. It was a beautiful day. I purposely boosted the saturation, contrast and vibrance of these images and like they way they came out. I typically don't bump these properties nearly this much, but I dig it.

First race approaches

I'm registered for the Michaux Trail Cup Endurance Race that's going down this Sunday in PA. You could register for the 25, 50, 75 or 100 mile course. I opted for the 25 miler. I think I made the right decision. It's my first mountain bike race in a long time. Years. Five years. Half a decade ago. Based on the results from this race I will either stay a Cat 3 or bump myself up to Cat 2. We'll see. As of this morning there are ten guys racing in my category. I see their names on Bikereg but I don't know any of them. They could be speed-racers, they could be beginners, who knows. Part of the fun of racing is finding out just who you're up against when the tires start rolling. I know it will hurt, I know there will be a lot of climbing but I also know that it will be a lot of fun, and that's the whole point of racing, in my book anyway.

Aside from my physical condition, I'm only mildly concerned about my 1X9 set up. A 32T up front is the biggest ring I have. My only ring. If there are any long road sections I might be in trouble trying to keep up, or hopefully, stay ahead. ha! optimism! In the woods, I don't think it'll be a problem; I'm pretty zippy with this gearing set up.

Apr 11, 2012

A run is better than a walk - 3 miles

And also better than no riding at all. Today's weather was FUNKY. I started mowing the lawn and had to quit twice because it began snowing & sleeting. This blew my riding time out the window so I had to settle for a run. I so hate running. At least I got my heart rate up and kept it there for a while. That's what counts in my mind. I don't think I'm really building leg muscles with the how infrequently I run.

Apr 10, 2012

Windy training ride - 15 miles

Super windy day here in Westminster, MD, but I need to get some miles in this week in preparation for the Michaux Trail Cup cross country endurance race this weekend. I'm still not sure whether I'll register for the 25 or the 50 mile version of this race. It will be my first race in over 5 years and the sensible rider inside me says woah now, take it easy tiger. You're just baaarely in shape! But the burly, hairy chested, quads-o-fire Guy inside me says You want that pain; you neeeeed that pain! Quads-o-fire Guy is a jackass. I will have to see how froggy I'm feeling in the next day or so. I've got a few more days to register. Regardless, today's ride was a good one, albeit short. I meandered here and there around my neck of the woods and passed three other LSV riders, though I don't know who they were (See meandering image below). I've gone and hyped up today's ride (in my mind) by Photoshopping a glorious 15 on to today's post-ride image for my own personal and necessary confidence boosting. Must... ride... more... I don't want to get shelled by a bunch of beginners at my first race.


This past Easter weekend, I took a trip out to North Olmsted, Ohio to visit friends. Saturday morning I decided to take a walk with my camera to see what there was to see. Looming above most of the area was a water tower. I decided to make it the subject of a series of photos, just to keep my photographic eye in shape. It's been a while since I've done any dedicated photography, and little projects like this help to keep me out of ruts. When I step back and look at the series as a whole I feel an invasive/controlling vibe to the set. I get a sense of: You're being watched. The legs of the tower seem to be beaming down which adds to this alien vibe.