Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016 BH Lynx 4.829 Review - This Mountain Bike is a Carbon Enduro Ripper from the Mountains of Spain

Due to about 4 years of use and 3,000 miles, I needed to replace my 27.5 Blur LTc Carbon with another medium travel trail bike that was less worn out. I had saved about $2600, but would have saved longer had the BH Lynx not shown up on Pricepoint for a screaming deal. As usual, with a bike that is 60% off, you have to do a little detective work to find out what the catch is... Other options were, used 5010s, a niner RIP9 carbon RDO that PP was also blowing out, and a more expensive longer travel Lynx 27.5 that seemed identical in geometry to the Trek Fuel... but with a much better spec but cost more money.

The spec on BH included an XTR 10 speed der, with an XT 2x10 drivetrain, XT brakes, Fox and Stans wheels. Solid. It was fully spec'd in its retail price range of $5,000 on the pre-Pricepoint.com market.

The Fox suspension, featured 120 float CTD up front, which gets mixed reviews, but I have one already and know it is buttery and dependable, (after my early model went back for a rebuild), as Fox is known for. The rear was a Fox Float CTD with a remote. You could not reach down and adjust the rear on the fly without it, as it is tucked in tight to the frame.

I noticed that the cockpit groupo is where they shaved the money with heavy narrow bars, lower end stem, and a stock seatpost. These would all have to go, as I could not picture this bike without a dropper, (which came stock on the highest level version of this bike). Wheels were Stans Arch, solid and decent Stans hubs. The wheels had Racing Ralphs, which I love in drier conditions. Super light and grippy, but the lower end versions are prone to sidewall rips (as expereinced on numerous occasions). They were shipped with tubes, which seems strange as the Stans wheels were tubeless ready. But all good nonetheless. I investigated the suspiciously low price and found out that PP was going out of business and blowing out their stuff. One factor that didn't have anything to do with the bike.

In comparing to the Carbon Niner RDO, which was similarly spec'd descriptions of the geometry seemed like the Niner was dated with long chainstays and top tube, which is a personal peeve of mine. That alone turned me off of 29ers until I got a Chumba HX2 and found out that 29ers with the right geometry could be twitchy scramblers and awesome. In digesting numerous reviews of the Lynx, I discovered it had some of the shortest Chainstays in the industry. It was a design by Dave Weigel, who I guess, is a bike geometry innovator who designed suspensions like the Fuel among others... Also, BH bikes have been around forever, were in the TDF this year and located in Spain. All of that made me more curious.

Knocks against the bike in reviews I read had little to do with quality of ride (except Mountain Bike Action - but what would you expect from them if its not a big advertiser brand?). Concerns were the weak Fox Float fork, relationship of the shock to the rear wheel, (which is disturbingly close), and quick release levers design, which didn't bother me. Reviews also said it could be "twitchy at speed" which is par for the course when you have a short rear end and a shorter wheelbase, that's preference, fit and riding style. It also had a stubby 660mm (I think) bar width, which also could explain the feeling of high speed twitch. I felt like I could modify all of these concerns. The tight shock proximatey to the rear wheel bothered me less when I read longer term reviews that said problems from this never materialzed. I would have thought they'd put a guard there if it was a problem, considering the company and engineering behind the design.

The more I looked at it the more I found things to change and like. First off, I liked that the entire front frame was a single carbon mold instead of epoxied pieces together. Lighter and more durable as I understand. The geometry was spot-on for my riding style, where I need asisstance from short chainstays to wheelie drop effectively. I don't care one way or the other about 650b vs. 29. A great bike is a great bike, and a shitty one is just that. Wheel size in my mind is not a factor, but the 29 meant my garage could eliminate the 27.5 tire size as I would now have 3 bikes with 29, 1 26er, 1 fat, 1 road....

So I took a chance on PP not going out of business until my bike got delivered and pulled the trigger.
It came sooner than expected and was boxed nicely.

There were little to no directions, but luckily, I knew pretty much how everything went together. Challenges included the integrated shift/brake clamp, even though it was my second encounter this summer (Yelli Screamy build for my son), and the dropper post remote internal cable run. The internal cable routing was easy to figure out, it was my first time with it and maybe this bike is different, but I didn't see the big deal. I immediately removed the bars and put on some Race Face NEXT carbons that I knew would feel better. 
BH not 24 hrs. old, built and raced
with expected results, but it was
still better than not racing.
My Tallboy was down and I had a race night the next day, so I assembled it quickly and had no choice but to race this one. On race night I did terribly. I was slow and the bike didn't shift properly. The back end felt sloppy when shifting on climbs. I adjusted the der and cables as I assumed this was the problem, but it still would not sort out on the next couple of rides. The rear end seemed to have a lot of flex, and clicked under duress... I felt like the bike was a lemon. I moved the rear end and the linkage on the end of the chainstays between the seatstay the linage would click in and out. I thought it must be missing a bushing, or it came loose. I tightened it, but I still got about 1/8th inch of play in the chainstay to seatstay, which explained the faulty shifting under duress. 
Once the weekend rolled around, I could dig into this problem. I had emails to Pricepoint and BH Bicycles with no reply from either. I thought I was screwed. So I began to take the bike apart removing the axle dropouts and the dropout holders, from the carbon. The way the linkage in the rear end dropouts are designed, is that one side has a thru axle insert with a smooth hole for the axle to slide through, and the other side holds a threaded insert. The threaded side insert is slightly thinner. First I cranked in the inner dropouts to the linkage almost too tightly. Still there was play. Then on a hunch, I reversed the dropout holders putting the thinner one on the left and the thicker one on the right. The internal axle holders threaded in perfectly. It's great when you find a problem like this and know it is going together right. You don't even have to try it to know it will work. It did. The factory had flip-flopped the rear axle dropouts, (but not the internal axle holders). I put the bike back together and it worked great.
Axle dropout consists of the internal Torx bolt and housing it screws into. This side is threaded, the other chainstay is where you insert the rear axle and screw it into this side. The housing that the Torx screws into turned out to be side specific and flip-flopped making for wiggle in the rear end. It was easily fixed by putting the two dropout housings on their correct side.

Now let's talk about the ride. The name 4.829, I figured out was 4.8 inches of travel, 29 inch wheels. What struck me as it felt like a 160mm rear end. In fact the front 120mm Fox forks almost feel to stubby travel-wise. So I decided to put my Xfusion Slant 130mm/110mm travel adjusts on there. The forks initially felt like shit. I realized it wasn't the geometry but the forks themselves were topping out hard at recommended psi, or not active enough when I let air out to stop the top out. I fixed these by letting all the air out and flipping them upside down and cycling them the full length of travel a few times. I'm not sure if it adjusted air pressure chambers, got more oil where it needed to go or what, but this fixed them and made them super smooth and plush again. 
I'm thankful for the 110mm position when climbing and the 130mm gives me a lot more confidence off things... I know its only 10mm either direction, but at least in my mind it seems to make a difference. I have gotten PRs in some of my favorite trails, (Rockland in Madison, CT) on this setup. One was a DH, and the other was a heavy climb. There seems to be more of a "bob" on the CTD even in locked out but it does provide a plush ride in Descend and a firmer yet moving on Climb... It's just not to the level of my Tallboy on lockout, but on super steep technicals, the back end stays put and is predictable with the advantages and feel of an old school Specialized FSR on ups, vs. a hardtail. In these instances the full suspension is preferable as it holds to the ground better. While I do prefer to climb on a hardtail due to energy conservation, in some instances suspension is hands down superior. This is demonstrated on the BH when climbing through babyheads and boulder gardens with loose pack sprinkled in. 

For railling down,  it has a low center of gravity which is a curse and a blessing. I don't think they have rocks where they design and test my favorite bikes, like Santa Cruz, because both this and all my recent SCBs have BB heights that invite rocks to shred your crank arms and pedals, jarringly, and they have a much harder time clearing logs in the trail. I guess you have to learn to ride differently with the speed advantage, but I hate this characteristic of new bikes, at least for New England old school singletrack. Other than that the bike is light and responsive, the front end comes up easily, yet can be pushed into a corner without any concering washout feeling. 

The graphics are pretty neat, but there's a lot going on. The toptube is white with large letters, the lower part is blue and red. There's some text like Tapered Headtube and PM Direct 160mm that seem kind of corny. Some Marketing-minded Spaniard thought all that English text might help I guess. Overall it's still a good looking rig. 

Cables R Us
My biggest complaint is that with addition of the reverb, cables clutter the cockpit in a big way with a tangle of black spagetti. It's hard to affix a race plate over them. I need to clean up the mess at some point. Another peeve is that the CTD remote for the rear shock keeps jumping out of its holder on the shock. I thought it would have to do with cable length or tension. Nothing seems to help so far. I am trying duct taping the cable to its housing holder now. So far that seems to work, but it has only been one ride. 

As an owner of many bikes in my nearly 30 years of this obsession, there's nothing I can't overcome with this bike and when I think of what I got for under 2,500 dollars, it makes me downright giddy.
It is not an XC race bike, but it is 27ish lbs with a dropper and has more opportunities to lighten itself up, like lighter or smaller than 180mm rotors, however it is a pure trail bike, with an enduro leaning geometry so it is pretty feather weight for this category. I still haven't worked up to hitting more than a 3 foot drop, but I am sure that will come, as I build confidence in the bike and how it reacts to a harsh landing or two. My first jump resulted in a giant snakebite, landing on a single pointy rock, "ting", but the wheels don't seem to have gained a flat spot as far as I can tell.  I would recommend this bike to anyone looking for a good deal for a quality carbon bike, designed by Weigel in the 3,500 range (as the Pricepoint.com deal will not be coming around any time soon). With the addition of a  Reverb, and some good bars, better tubless tires, and optionally a fork upgrade, this bike will show up in a big way in performance and handling that anything most bike companies (my beloved Santa Cruz included) can compare


Monday, June 27, 2016

Vision Quest 2016

By Thursday night, I was pretty sure I was going to forfeit my Root 66 Series lead, cancel travel to the Bear Brook in the nether regions of New Hampshire and replace that dream for a team event, Vision Quest, put on by John & Katie. I had a lot of peer pressure from the other riders who had committed to do the 75 mile dirt ride over 4000 feet of terrain and 0a good chunk of the state. I never liked the sound of it, or the drop bar bikes most riders used. But I did like the riders themselves, and the whole reason it existed was to raise money for John's Cousin Kyle and his family. Kyle has ALS and one day of suffering on a bike cannot compare to one day of suffering with that disease. So I accepted, but was pretty sure there would be no way for me to put a dent in the course.

Vision Quest is 75-ish miles of trails stretching across Madison, Guilford, Durham, Killingworth, Haddam Chester, maybe Deep River, Clinton and Westbrook as well. It used to be 65ish Miles but rider Zac Hawk complained last year that it wasn't hard enough... So they fixed it. It consists of about 25% single-track, 60% dirt double-track, and 15% road. It starts at Bien Travel in Madison, drops into trails along the shore, then follows Route 1 to Guilford where it picks up the first stretch of off-road riding. The route presents a stretch of challenging single track, then continues north snaking through Guilford and Madison on forgotten fire and logging roads to Durham. Even when there are paved stretches, they are on ancient twisting roads with names like "Skunk Misery", "Roast Meat", and "Goat Hill."

There are three major refueling stations on the route. The first being at Rockland Preserve in Durham, which is after the first 10-15 miles. Next is after an East West traverse to the CT river valley in Chester where you can buy lunch and drinks at a small bakery. The last stop on the loop is about mile 60. The bacon station. This was a stop where you were almost back and you got recharged on hit meaty strips of delicious salt sticks. Those alone are worth considering for the effort.
 If I even started, it was unlikely I would get very far. I rode similar elevations the week before on my Nashbar Carbon road bike and found it very difficult to hit 40 road miles consecutively at pace. My typical rides are at either lunch or after work. If they go over 2 hours I'm pretty sure I'm missing a pick-up or drop-off or other obligation back at the home-front, so my distance is often limited. But that's okay. If you ride as hard as you can for an hour or more on tough terrain, it feels great, puts you out in the woods and you still have time to cut the lawn, pick up soccer players or go out to dinner. You can also ride nearly every day without need for recovery. But I thought about all the great people doing the ride, and the cause and I decided to give it a shot. Bike friends Mike, Kurt and Fabien were at the Thursday night West rock race, and provided further convincing. 

That night the weather was cold and awful with some rain. It seemed like we hadn't seen the sun for the entire week.  I felt triple-guilty about not going to my son's soccer game the next day. It was also the day before mother's day - compounded with the guilt for being away for a good part of the day from a weekend where so much always needs to  be accomplished around the house. FTW! I decided to skip all riding and blow off both Vision Quest and Bear Brook. That made me depressed, but you can't always do what you want. That's life.

The next day I woke up at 6:30 AM to a fox terrorizing the chickens. It was his second Saturday morning waking me up. I looked out the window to see the red guy about as big as an English Setter running around and around the chicken coop (dog pen with a cover), somehow thinking he might somehow find himself inside. Chickens are stupid though. And even though they are cheap, it felt like my responsibility to defend them. So on his first visit last weekend, I popped him in the side with a BB so he scampered off. This weekend all I had to do was open my window and he was gone. But I was now wide awake. I walked out to plan my day past by my bike stuff. I started cleaning off my tool bench and putting things away. My wife said "Why don't you just do your race? The soccer game is probably cancelled anyway. Its too wet." I wavered saying no, I made my decision (and one had to stick to one's decisions)... (like not going to Bear Brook? my conscience said). Anyway, there wasn't enough time to get ready. But after about two cups of coffee, it seemed like 45 minutes could be plenty of time to get ready. Plus I had been thinking about it all week, and knew what I would need.

So with the least amount of coaxing I changed my mind. I asked her if she would mind picking me up off the side of the road when I bonked somewhere in CT. She said she would and asked me not to die. The ruch began. In 45 minutes I got my rack on my car, showered, prepared for hours on the bike with energy bars, fruit, my cell phone, tools, toilet paper, fresh socks, gloves, a spare cell phone battery and a fully charged cell. I was wearing my Rad N Gnar Kit and waivering back and forth between a bike jacket and a fully waterproof raincoat both were orange. I went with the raincoat. Then I remembered sunglasses, energy gel, and money for Chester. I took a $5, (turned out to be a $50 next time I saw it). Then I remembered this was about Kyle and ALS... even though I donated online two weeks before, I grabbed some more for the donation jar. Off I went, feeling both nervous about the ride, and good about the cause. I never signed up officially. But my name was on the sheet. John knew before I did that I would show up. The family around Rad n Gnar was as per par for the course warm and welcoming. I gave quick hugs all around and realized I had lost my spare gloves in the rush. Katie, John's wife had food poisoning and wouldn't be able to ride, John's dad looked like he could do 2 laps, and Todd R. another Westwoods and Rad n Gnar bud was there ready to rip. I don't need 2 pairs of gloves anyway. Many other riders I didn't recognize, but I understood last year's crew was a pretty high caliber bunch of riders, including Graham, a guy who figured out how to make money from riding, something most of us dream of, Bill the bike fitter from Zanes, a guy who owns almost all the fastest times on road and dirt in Southern CT. A-team riders from team Laurel, each of whom spend most of their time after bike races on the CAT 1/ pro podium. Zac, a local guy who I look at as a 13 year old kid even though he graduated from U-U-Conn a couple of years ago, but has been riding with me since he was 12... Mike G. raced with me for a season, losing to me consistently the first half, then beating me by minutes the second before moving up a category, then not racing at all but riding 70 mile road rides and 50 mile mtb rides pretty regularly. I still try to ride with him when time permits. Mike had a 29er mountain bike as well. Possibly to slow him down enough to make it fair for the majority of riders who sported the latest and fastest Gravel Grinder bikes. Pete from Laurel and his friend, whose name I forgot, were sporting single speed mountain rigs. Zac pretty much made his bike. It had many extra and custom welds and a dual 24oz beer bottle cage behind the seat. He also had highly customized Jorts (Jean Shorts). Cut off and expertly decorated with a Unicorn shotgunning a beer and lightning bolts all expertly rendered with Sharpies. He is a more evolved version of myself as a Westwoods mountain biker, able to ride almost any genre of two wheels and pedals with a huge amount of skill, road, xc, freeride, bmx, downhill, enduro and whatever else there is concerning bikes.  But most bikes were generally "standard", store bought, or custom, drop-bar bikes. Everyone had rain gear on, or at least under armor. It was a clammy cold wet morning with lots of rain for the rocks and roots the night before. My dentist was there, Dr. Scott, ready to go on a Mountain Bike as well. As I've known him through the years, it has become almost like a social occasion to get my teeth worked on, and needless to say, its more fun to socialize with him as well. This would be my first ride with my dentist.

Kurt D. from Laurel/Amity was track-standing first with one, then with no hands, as we approached go time. His dad gave me my first mountain bike about 28 years ago on a promise to pay him when my Pell grant came through. Then all through college Guy (his dad), showed me how to work on it, and let me put it in the shop stand whenever I needed to. Another way I look at it is, he was a bike pusher who got me hooked on Mtn biking, like an addict on crack... but in a good yet equally expensive way of course....  The previous week, when my pedal stopped spinning and came off stuck in my cleat as I warmed up for a local race, Guy delivered a new set of pedals from his shop so I could still race. Amity Bikes is the best shop to buy a bike or part from. Not as good to race with. I never saw Kurt or Fabian or Alicia of Laurel after the the start of the race. They would finish light-years ahead of me. Laurel , the Amity team, is a New England dynasty at the races. John said it was likely because they all have to chase Kurt through the woods on their group rides.  And there were also a lot of people I didn't know, sporting day-glow orange, red and yellow in the cold gray fizz. Not quite rain, not quite fog.

We gathered for the pre-ride inspirational speech delivered by John. He reminded us why we were there, and focussed us on what we were up against. Kyle gave us some inspiration reminding us that a day of our suffering, . We could always stop if we want to, but he is stuck in the suffer zone all the time. He thanked us for our support, and said he would join us next year if he got the cure.   Next, we were following a pickup down rte 1 then Middle Beach Road toward The Madison Surf Club into mist. Most riders had neon rain jackets on. As the pickup pulled over, we banked right onto gravel by the ball fields then into a stretch of single-track. Almost immediately a couple of riders went down on the wet rocks by a stone wall. This gave us our first clue about trail conditions.

On to Guilford
We rode at a quick place down Route 1 and took a right at the water tower for a long road DH with a quick right into Bear-house Hill. Another right and we were on my back-yard trails in the East River Preserve, circling the large golden Shenandoah-like field and heading up the double-track dirt road. The pace felt pretty fast, but I felt good. I was feeling kind of playful and I thought to myself, "It's not a race" so when the rest of the crew turned right for a gravel stretch up the powerlines to an exit back onto the road in Madison, I went straight and hit a stretch of double/singletrack that came out about 1/4 mile closer. I envisioned cheering the first racers as they would go by me puzzled how I got there so fast. I stopped at the road head and fixed my disheveled Camelback, cheering on faster riders, but realizing the lead pack had already gone by despite my shortcutting. I waited for my slot in the pack which was behind Mike G. and some other riders.

New England Trail
I was between two groups as we climbed the long paved hill on Route 80 and I still felt pretty strong. I like mountain biking, so it is a lot more fun with tolerable road stretches punctuated with trails versus the misery of pure road. We took a right into the trailhead for New England Trail, (formerly home to the Guilford Archery range). This starts as double-track then descends down a hill turning quickly and progressively more complicated rocky rooty single track. It was at this point we first caught the two single-speed riders Pete, from Laurel/Amity and another guy whose name I forget. I took a leak, had part of a Cliff bar and began riding once I was joined by another group of two women, Zac Hawk, and another guy, I'm not sure of his name. He rode a throwback looking adventure bike and had no helmet. We hit Race Hill, which is a rocky unkempt road in the back of Guilford, which connects to Goat Hill Rd. Which is even less kept up. Some challenging downhills on eroded double-track. We came across a giant logging machine at this point. The guy didn't see us and was waving a 3-ton tree/log around in the air of a crane cable. We were stalled wondering how to get his attention so we could pass. After a bit, he saw us and waved us by.  The trail turned really single-tracky and I started feeling much faster. I dropped a group behind and caught a couple of riders slightly ahead. This was now well behind Mike Gs. fast group with the Pete, and the other single-speeder, but still a good clip and making good time to hit the first station at Rockland. I never checked the time the entire trip so I am not sure when we got where.

Rockland Trailhead 
We went through a McMansion neighborhood to the Rockland trailhead and were met by Kyle and other volunteers cheering us in through the mist. There was oranges, chocolate Gatorade and water for us to refuel on. A lead group was long gone by now, but two other groups all gathered here. We left together gain in a larger group after briefly refueling. Here was another spot I could not resist striking out on my own. I took a right into Rockland trails and was planning on hitting the Downhill and rejoining the group on the road at 148. When I got into the Rockland single-tracks though they were very muddy and unstable. Feeling guilty I stayed primarily on the main double-track trail and bombed the DH to the parking lot on 79. I took the road to 148 just as the group of Mike G. and Pete hit it. It was raining and drizzling quite a bit. The single-speed guys hammered ahead and I stayed on the wheel of Mike and his group up some big road climbs to the left onto Bunker Hill, a small road which climbed up again then quickly devolved into dirt.

This was a long section of old dirt roads and single-track that led across Chester and across 81. There were goats, some challenging hills, heavier rain at times, and at some point, we hit Skunk Misery road, the greatest road name in the world, and enormous mud puddles. I wondered if it would hurt or help real estate on Skunk Misery being named such. Pete thought it would help. We got to a cross road and were unsure which way to go. We stopped for a snack and Zac and the single speeders met us from behind. Pete had led the charge up the hill, and in his climbing fury had missed the bunker hill turn. They had to backtrack to get back to us. He said "At least this year I didn't fall in that swamp puddle" Shortly after we were riding single file through yet another swamp puddle. Pete went over the bars and disappeared in the goat stinking water. Stunned, all witnesses quickly dismounted and walked our bikes around the puddle. It was cold, so it was only somewhat funny.

Another section I knew because I used to ride Cocknaponsett all the time, from the Beaver Meadow entrance. I, as usual, started to lose the faster group on the climb and felt sure the follow group was right behind me. This time I was wrong. I pulled out my queue sheet for the first time and was reassured we were on page 2. But the pages were hopelessly stuck together from being soaked.
Page 2 is fused to page 1 here. iphone has no signal.
No way to navigate other than wait for more riders.

I looked at Strava but the map would not load, just my track. I realized that I could not depend on myself to follow the route. I would have to stick with other riders until I wore out. I rode back looking for bike tracks, but then a follow group of two women cyclists. Stephen from Rad N Gnar came up. I stayed with them and we found the left of single-track and some other road and trail turns into Chester. One with a great Tinker jersey (Mexican day of the dead type skull in neon on black). I enjoyed following her up the hills and checking out the detail in the skull on the jersey. I get why riding a wheel on the road makes climbing easier. It lets you pace yourself and focus on something other than the always too distant top of the climb. It struck me that Tinker looks more like the skull-face on the jersey every year. We hit the coolest downhill of cascading smooth rock unlike the rock in our neck of CT.Like giant steps worn smooth, with a stream cascading down from the rain. The other woman cyclist on a cross bike was flying and went over her bars as we were ripping down a technical downhill. Of course, she was fine, being a mountain biker, you don't get hurt when you fall. I realized that is probably why we stick with it as if it was something you get hurt at all the time, you'd probably find something else to do with your time. As we climbed the a long hill I noticed we could see the CT river through the trees. One of the lady cyclists, shouted from farther behind that a car sprayed something out the window at me as they passed, but I didn't notice. I noticed my knee was starting to hurt because my new cleat was off kilter.

Lunch in Chester
I forgot about the quest for too long and got a grilled cheese with bacon and tomato. While I waited for my sammich I hit the tiny bathroom in the quaint little restaurant. The sink counter was sopped with a layer of mud covered by a layer of water. I guess everyone on the quest refilled their camelbacks here and didn't clean up after themselves. I tried to wipe the sink, but the mud on it was scratchy and uncooperative. I decided to ignore it as did those before me. It was great sitting outside eating the grilled cheese. The bread and bacon were primo. Briefly, I forgot the ride and was enjoying the company. I met a guy named Jacob, who I met before maybe, and his wife. I could have sat and chatted moving over to the Pattaconck for beers, but too soon everyone was off. I felt recharged and tried to pack and go as quickly as possible. I still had no idea what time it was.

The two ladies I rode in with, lost patience waiting for me and started ahead, but remained within site. I never closed the gap, but biked with Stephen for a while, he found the right into the woods off road again, and we climbed an enormous section of double-track through an amazing stretch of dramatic cliffs and hollows. My dentist later said he used to play Jeep tag in that area. The two girls, Jacob and his wife seemed just ahead on the forever climb. My knee was killing. I had to ride with my foot out of the clip, (not fun with an eggbeater pedal), which I did for the entire 20 or 30 miles back from Chester to Madison. I could have stopped and adjusted it, but thought I'd just make more problems potentially, so I continued on. Stephen slowed on the climbs way too much for me. I worried that I would never get back, so I started spinning ahead. But on the downhill, though I opened it up pretty good, I never saw the forward group again. I rode for a while with a guy who was fully kitted and making a fast pace. I followed him out to 148 and moved north from Chester toward Killingworth past Cedar Lake and the south entrance of Cocknaponsett. We turned left on the road toward route 80 passing the Chester airport with more climbing. I faded big time on the hill and Mr. drop bars disappeared ahead bearing right in the distance. There were little pink flags to guide me into another part of Cocknaponsett, with some long stretches of dead roads through the forest. I passed a man with a dog with no jacket, and could not imagine how/why he got there in the heavy rain. I looked for flags, but obviously missed them as I eventually came out on Route 80 nearly across from the turn toward Westbrook, I think it's 154 near Break-Neck hill rd. Another great name. My knee was about done and I was wondering if I seriously injured it.

Dashed Visions of Rescue 
I waited for someone to show up, but realized I must have missed the turn much farther back in the woods. No flags. It started to rain harder and I was feeling very lost and alone here. I decided to pull out my phone and call my wife for a rescue. I rode about 55 miles at this point, I think.

My phone immediately died before the first ring. I laughed at it. I had the spare battery I had packed for just this occasion heh heh. Celebration was was short-lived as I could not find the cable to connect it. I found some bread from lunch that I stashed in my pack. Nothing to do but ride back toward Madison. It was nice to start with a huge downhill past a large lake. Then a disheartening uphill climb my knee was 100% against. I thought of stopping at the little gas station at the circle for a phone, but decided to push on through. Instead of going right and seeking out the bacon station with no clue where it was, I decided to head to head left and go through Clinton on Green Hill rd. back to Madison. I continued down Scotland road to Route 1 and took the right to finish at Biehn Travel.

I was greeted with cheers! Katie said I was easily mid-pack... But I appeared to do better than I actually did time-wise by cutting out the bacon station. Not as disappointingly, I also missed the last stretch of trails, but ended up with nearly the same miles on my cut back. John smiled and congratulated me on my time. He said it didn't matter that I got off track, it was my own journey, at that point of blurred mental state, I agreed. I went straight to the port-o-potty and drained a few gallons it seemed. I checked the time. It was 4:30-ish... Wow! a few hours in the saddle. I forgot a change of clothes for the recovery beers and burgers. Living close decided to blast home and shower. I came right back to a crew of faces from the trail and those who set off in the morning and I didn't see after the first stretch, for a couple Scotch Ales in the parking lot around a fire, and celebrate with the others who finished. There were also burgers aplenty.

Vision's End
We gathered around a fire in the cold dusk eating burgers and drinking beer.  Mike announced it was my longest ride, and I was somewhat embarrassed due to the caliber of riders all of which probably do longer rides than this on a regular basis. Despite the fact that I have been riding mountain bikes since before many of them could walk. When I thought of it, there were 3 and 4 hour, even longer epic rides, but that was before I had technology to track it, so it doesn't really count in modern Strava time. It didn't matter though, I felt like we were now all on the same team and just won our first championship. Burgers were great, and beer, though I prefer IPAs, was cold and delicious. Zac pulled in and Stephen pulled shortly after I returned from my shower. Zacs beers were long gone, but he looked relaxed and ready to ride home if he needed to.

My knee pain almost vanished the following day as I adjusted my clip on my shoe. I was able to race later that week. During the ride my Santa Cruz Tallboy carbon had no complaints and performed admirably, coasting alongside gravel-grinders on the road, and eating tech sections for breakfast. I felt much more comfortable on that bike than I do on a road bike, so even though it wasn't a choice since I don't have a gravel bike, it was a good choice.

This was a challenge that helped raise awareness and money for ALS helping others and made me more aware of how far I could push my limits as well. Thank you John for sharing this vision with me, and supporting my effort, even though you are a far more capable rider.  Anyway, this is like a month after the VQ, and I had this saved as a draft before the ending... Like they say about the pain of child-birth I don't remember many details or the pain as much as the amazing sites great company and sense of accomplishment.

I don't know of any pictures of myself doing the Vision Quest 2016.  You'll just have to take my word I was there...

...Or maybe it was all just a Vision after all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hop Brook Dam MTB Race 2016- Late Recap

I think this is the 4th year I've come to this race with my son Evan, and now the third with his friend Shane and dad John. I attempted a pre-ride earlier in the week, but two-inches of snow hid most of the tracks, so I followed the reverse as described by Kurt D, the race organizer, on the phone, but lost the sharp left up the second major climb halfway in. I managed to ride some of the route, and entirely miss the rest.

The Cat 3 race was at 2 and the Cat 2 race was at 9. I wanted to start the year trying Cat 2, but didn't want to be at Hopbrook all day waiting for everyone else. So Cat 3 it was. I was riding my new used Tallboy Carbon frame. I traded in my 2015 black beauty for a year older white frame that is considerably less stunning to look at, but riding is another story. It feels stiffer and faster by quite a bit. It has carbon Easton wheels, and an Xfusion Slant 110/140mm fork. The AM fork would add some weight to my otherwise ultra-svelte ride, but I ride hard and I was looking forward to the DH head angles as I bomb downhills with disregard. It seems like my most recent fox forks leaked quite a bit and had to go home to the mother ship earlier than one would have expected... But now I had a 34mm stantion fork, I thought it might hold up better. Unlike my talas, where I only shorten travel on the climb, this would default to short travel except for long DH runs. Time to put theory to the test...

Starting out. We left our house at 11, ready to roll, and all four of us pretty smooth with the routine of loading and provisioning by now.  As we rolled through Naugatuck, Shane pointed out the sign "He Is Risen" and was asking about grammar and tense. There was a running joke We is arrived... lol etc.

 Evan had done a 10k trail run the week before to get ready for the race, combined with soccer, track and being 13 was enough ...meanwhile I had been carefully tracking my rides to make sure I was close to physically ready to explode when the whistle blew. The trails was relatively dry considering that the snow had only just melted. I was greeted with a hug from Sue (Kirk's mom) from Amity bikes as I picked up my number plate, and was glad to see Guy, (but only spoke briefly)... he was busy playing bikes with his grand-daughter. So I was glad to see his priorities were straight. John and Katie were there for more Rad support and John had just finished the Cat 1 race. He said Zak was still out on the course. I looked for Aubrey, but didn't see him, though he raced Fat. Lately the Hop Brook Dam race is more like a bike family reunion, with uncle Kirk coming in from his 5 grueling fast laps to flip burgers while waiting for all the other Cat 1 racers to finish.

The new Rad n Gnar kits looked awesome, but for some reason mine never has all that extra fabric around the torso that John Bien's does... (see pic).

 The first call to line up for the race came as I was watching the cat 1/pro racers get the free burgers, and ice cold free IPAs. I kind of felt like skipping the race part and just going for the burgers and beer in case they were gone by the time I was done. 

We lined up, and I saw a few familiar faces from years before. Most in the age group I came from (40-49), and a couple from my own group. Somehow I made the front line as I usually do. 30 seconds. 15 seconds.... 

GO. I fizzled more than exploded... We took off in reverse route up toward the previous year's finishing DH.  I was passed before we got to the hill. I think I had some nerves holding me up from being aggressive. A rider two people in front of me inconveniently fell and everyone left behind me passed running straight up the climb. I was second to last at this point.  I recovered at the hill top and hit my pace passing several riders as we approached the DH. Everyone seemed as fast. The first place and second place guys were in sight, but just barely they broke and we were caught behind the slower mob. Eventually, I caught one racer just after the road section and followed another around the corner under the power-lines to the first climb. I had calmed down by then my heart and breathing returned to manageable, and I passed several riders who had dismounted to push the steep gravel climb.   

At his point, I wasn't sure who was in which age group but  I remember passing last year's series winner on the inside as we crested the top. My lungs hurt. But no matter how far he pushed inside, I went deeper into the brush and continued around him. Once past, there was the DH. I opened up my front fork and gained some distance and recovered some wind. I was hoping to catch the first two guys, but they were pretty far ahead. The next climb was a long winding trudge littered with slower riders and pushing racers. AS you'd turn the corner and look for the hill to lighten-up, it would only look steeper until the next level you could not see. But when you managed to pedal those few last strokes to that point, the hill continued farther up to the next bend. But when I finally crested, I found it had an even better DH off the back toward the road and dam spillway. I gained some time it appeared and I saw the first two riders having problems in the rock garden at the top of the climb to a thin strip of rocky single track leading back toward the dam.

There was a young kid in front who would not yield for the other racers, so I was able to catch up a bit closer, and met the kid at an opening where passing was not a factor or loss in time. I ended the first lap following a slightly younger roadie, who said it was his first mountain race. I was drafting him through the start and recovering for the next lap. People were yelling "we've got a race", but I had no intention of passing. I drafted to the base of the start hill where the rider fell on the start. The younger roadie dismounted and ran up it and I rode up the right. He was fast and kept his lead, but not for long. He yielded as we hit the flat before the downhill.

I think this is the point where I passed last year's Hop Brook winner from Laurel. I didn't recognize him at this point and thought he was in another age group. I still thought I was in third place.  I was quickly passed by a quick 20-30 year old. As we hit the the DH I told him he better go fast if he's going to pass me here. He did. He totally smoked me on the straight 200 yard rooty descent to a hairpin turn at the bottom. I was recovered and pissed so went as fast as I could to try to catch him. No brakes. How could he be that much faster when I'm not slowing at all? Anyway its moments like that that put you farther ahead of those who don't have a rabbit such as that to chase. I felt comfortable in my pace as we hit the road stretch and began to prepare mentally for the approaching round of climbs. One can only prepare so much... I was dying after the first climb at the water bar when I rounded a dog-leg turn toward the steep climb to the crest, but I caught a glimpse of both the last season's series champ, and the Laurel guy coming up behind me with more energy than I thought I had. Within about 20 feet. I doubled-down, lungs and legs burned, super dizzy. But suddenly I was in the DH and I lost them from sight... until the next climb, they were slightly farther behind and I was slightly faster up. This climb I had more space between us rounding the top as my back and stomach were sore from breathing so hard. I passed my son Evan on this climb and then my friend John. John held my rear wheel for a while, but then as I gapped on the Downhill, the Laurel guy passed him. We ended this section of DH through a stream. I heard someone yelling don't slow-down here. But the Laurel guy behind me slowed and it in the stream and everyone disappeared behind me.

 I gained about 30 seconds on that group and was all by myself. I was wondering if I was in third or fourth. But then as I hit the single-track rock techs on the side of the spillway, there was the Laurel guy gaining ground as he approached across the flat field below. There was another (same?) kid who didn't want to Yield like last lap. But this time he seemed to be trying to hold me up. I took a chance on a mech and went deep into the woods and brush around him without slowing down. I think he swore at me, though I wasn't even close to him. Just the thought of not being able to block me probably steamed him, as I 've noticed with a lot of little racers. I was careful not to pedal until the crunching stopped in the rear wheel and I was pretty sure the twigs had cleared themselves.

Then to my surprise I passed a guy who I thought was way off the front as he pushed his bike and swore. His chain snapped! I said are you okay? but I thought, Lucky me! I was really encouraged and climbed up the gravel/tar? to the dam with new power standing as I sprinted, glancing back to see the Laurel guy looking at me in dismay from below. I think he was hoping to catch me on the road climb and across the dam. My drivetrain was working flawlessly, and I had some legs left to try to power away. My new build has been working well thus far.

I think I may have realized he was in my age group after all and was the guy who killed me by minutes last year. But now on the DH nobody could touch me, or so I felt. I opened up entirely, enjoying being heckled by a couple of Biens, and Fabien E. who was menacing me with a giant stick in the middle of the trail! I hit the finish and was quickly joined the Laurel guy who I only beat by 10 seconds.

It was such a fun race! I went to get a free beer, and the only thing left was a few Anchor Steams.... Not shabby. I had more in the car. Then I remembered Evan. I went back and waited with my phone to take his pic as he finished racing in against a Team Edge racer.
I wonder how I did. Nobody knew. I went to the car and got more beer for John and myself. The results had a problem and seemed to take forever.

Evan and Shane came in and ate 3 hamburgers each. There were none left for me. But then someone came up and said the results were posted and I won! WOW!!! that was unexpected. I never even placed better than 4th at Hop Brook!!!

Chris Logan announced "And the long overdue in age and races, first place: Tom Ghoreyeb!" I was flattered that he even knew my name, or noticed my years of drought there at Hop Brook. And it was the state Championship!!!  I could not believe it. The only way it could have been better is if there was cash in addition to the cool Hop Brook MTB Race T-shirt I won. And it actually fit!

After I podiumed the icing on the cake was Evan. He finished 2nd in his group! 

And so the season continues....  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Landmine Classic 2014, and Two weeks to Hop Brook

Well here we go with another year (2015) of Root 66 Mountain Bike Racing. Some things have changed. I have moved to the 50 to death category. Kenda is sponsoring an East series this year. I got a new rig to ride. But some things have not. My Rad n Gnar partners are back for another dose. I'm staying put in Cat 3 until further notice. Once I scope out the 50 year olds, and the affect the Kenda Cup will have on the races, I might move up to Cat 2. In fact, I might no matter what... but that leads me to recall how much fun the Landmine Classic was in Cat 3 last year, I better write this race down before I fully forget.

Wompatuck State Park 2014: Oh the cruel things that happen to racers who throttle back into Cat 3 at the Landmine for a wished for gimme.  Here in the land of CAT-3 - crappy prizes and derision from other racers, you'll also find local riders who know every wet and windy root in the swamp.  As the sandbaggers review the Landmine, they will smirk at the tiny elevation changes, and chunks of road.. less enthusiastically, they'll also be surprised to find hundreds of yards of technical rock and root gardens, pump tracks over live ammo bunkers, washouts and random potholes... And they'll also find riders waiting to ride over their stunned bikes and bodies as we wind through over-crowded with most racers oblivious to race etiquette, in the track.... Don't get me wrong, I fully expect to get trounced when I move to Cat 2 by these uber-fast spidermen. But in my opinion, beginner is a misnomer for us at the front of the Cat-3 pack...  We anticipate sandbaggers, people who ride the same place every weekend for years and find a race there one weekend to trounce all takers. They'll find roadies who would race 2 cats up on skinny tires who want a dirt podium finish to round out their season.  By now all of the unusually talented riders have had to or decided to move up for real prizes and faster competition and glory... leaving behind  a few aging racers like me who need to race but also need to attend soccer games, cut the lawn, and expect generally to be misunderstood by the rest of our world who generally aren't into bikes or understand the need to race... I (we) are the people who don't want to (can't) ride for hours, but want to race a flawless hour of all out sprint to glory in the small pond. A dropped chain, a missed line and you're done. 

For some reason in any other sport, athletes wind down their career as they accumulate years, weight and injuries, But in XC racing, you are expected to increase the suffering as you age. And many can do that as they are forced to give up beer, meat, and other reasons for living. For me, I'm lucky. Rules say I get to stay in Cat 3 because I  move up to the 50+ this year. I'm happy to stay put to see how my injuries and pounds stack up in relation to my races as the summer progresses... Cat 2 may be in my future if I stay healthy and get lean. Otherwise, I'm a good fit here in the dregs of XC racing with a few fast vets who get that there's competition at the head of the pack they can't find at the back of cat 2... and a plethera of newbs who move up or stop racing after a taste of stress.

Landmine race photo
Back to the Landmine. It's a huge race at Wompatuck Park in Hingham, MA. The park is the remnants of a large military base and munitions dump. There are bunkers and live fire drill ranges littered throughout the woods. Before they fade completely from my 50-year old memory banks I need to get this down better late than never.... It rained hard the night before. (Think slimy course wet root and rock).We camped in the park. Evan didn't make it he was sick. His friend Shane came with Ian, his friend John and myself. Shane's dad John (another one) came up later and we set up his palatial tent in the rain. We saw a few other friends from our neck of the woods just down the camp street... There were free cliff bars a the ranger station. Shane and John planned on racing 1st timer. Ian and his friend John planned on riding around casually in a non- race fashion and seemed to enjoy the hamburgers and drinks. I was registered to race my last Cat 3 40-49 level race.

Next morning was sunny but wet. We are up late and have to drive like maniacs about 20 minutes to the nearest dunkin donuts to feed the boys. We rush back to the race with the lineup already in progress. Next, we're staged and ready.... 15 seconds... The whistle blows... Yelling, cowbells, shifting.... In the front of the pack or the we try to extend ahead of the clogs and mistakes that block the fast ones who don't get ahead in time. As usual, I follow Andrew Jacobs into a forward slot. We're not first though... We climb over and around the overzealous holeshot riders who wash out on the roots, ripped lycra legs akimbo... They seem confused as to why we wouldn't wait for them to get up and get going so they can beat us properly. Ha, they maybe faster on a dirt road, but experience counts. Respect the wetness, and plan you tire's PSI for jello-slime glazed rock and root....

We have to pass as fast as the eight now seven now six guys in front of us while letting the roots take your front end and back end to the left and right. Now pass the paced 25-milers, who are a pleasure to chat and cheer, they know to move that you are running two different paces... But now there's a glut of first-timers who are still on the course. They think they can block you and somehow win. Reckless passing wins the day. Now we're blending in other groups of cat 3 riders who wait too long to let you through... Leaders extend the seconds... If you wait, you drop farther back.

Andy, my new friend and season nemesis, has taken the spot of first from me in overall series points by out-riding me sometimes by minutes and often by seconds in every race we run. My goal is to beat him this time. It's my last chance until he moves to CAT 2 and I turn 50, which could be a few years if ever (for the cat 2 part).  His jersey flickers closer and farther through the trees. I get within feet of him in the clogs of slower riders, only to lose him again as he gets by and its my turn to weave and wait for passing spots.

Oh no!!! My teammate Katie is hurt on the side of the trail..."Are you ok... do you need help?" "I popped my Knee, Just keep going," she says smiling (Katie is always smiling). I call "medic" as if we're in a war, (I saw a couple of first-aid guys a few turns back). I see Andrew dropping down a hill to my left. I keep going because I feel like if I lose him now there's no catching up.

Andy introduced himself to me at Hop Brook with bars and elbows and a drill-sergeant yell at the start of Hop Brook. That booming voice was a lesson in persuasion for space to pass. The words were polite but the aggression made you jump left or right. For some reason that time I held my position at Hop Brook and we both nearly bought it into the lake from stubbornness. Eventually, he passed and that's the last I saw of him until we both laughed after the race. We looked forward to the rest of the season's battles. I was defeated but not disappointed. I didn't think I'd measure up to his speed looking at the Hop Brook 2014 results. Later in the season he became my rabbit. We had a showdown where I had him beat at Hodges, I had strep throat but I didn't feel it in that race. I passed him when he overshifted his chain, then he got me on a hill, then I did a reckless rock jump into the single track passing him again with about 400 yards to go...  but there was that Yell as we entered the ropes at the finish. Nerves got me and I yielded with yards to go.... Another race lesson learned. I would have taken the series and the jersey because I had more races and points...  But then I had to miss a couple for birthdays work and family obligations. That gave us the same number of races... And because he beat me every race, he deserved to win.  He gave me lessons in tenacity, endurance along with the loud assertive alert "Pick a side" to promote a fast pass.

Here we are again in the mix at the Landmine. He won the series. I wanted this race. Although. I watched his jersey through the trees for much of the race, I could never fully close the gap. I don't remember anyone passing me but for this one guy on a carbon Fat Bike, (which made total sense for that race because fat bikes love wet roots and could be super light, I found out later).  In the final mile or so of rock-gardens interspersed with root gardens, all slimy and warmed now that the sun was baking away the rain, I was glad I was riding my FS 29er bandit. It let my slice lines through the gnar, and go over stuff when my lines didn't work out entirely. Now lungs are burning, I felt like that was all I had left for the season, when I rolled across the metal bridge, into the sunlight and around the high bank berm at the finish. I saw Andrew and felt better when he told me he puked.

According to the electronic timing, (not par for the Root 66 series) I finished the race in 3rd. Andrew was 2nd. Great! Podium! ..... Ha.but since the miracle of  electronic timing is also flawed, it gradually corrected itself and Andrew became 4th . I was 5th. Locals held the top spot on the podium, there are very fast riders who only enter this race.

I was still happy to finish where I did even though I didn't beat the Andy the rabbit...  When you consider the hundreds of people we passed through the fog of war, the treacherous slimy course conditions, shouts and cheers in "wicked Massachusetts" accents, riders far behind us that usually lived  categories and average speeds far above, and that we finished in good health and generally pretty satisfied, it was a great race and a perfect end to the 2014 season. I pick up my bag of Cat 3 winnings for 2nd in the series, pretty good this time... but not the coveted jersey. That's okay. It belong to me this year. (Only winners get sprinkles Johnny). That's the way it should be. Katie and John, the couple who started the team, got engaged, and hurt 1 knee, also got series winner jerseys.
Katie waited until after the awards to see the doc about her knee, and John carried her to the podium.

Now its time for Hop Brook and 2015. Andy is an age group below, and now a category above, so I'm not sure we'll get to race. But it was sure was a good competition while it lasted. Herewego!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Millstone Grind Root 66 2014

Man, I didn't want to drive that far. But I was doing okay in the Root 66 series, in fact I still think I lead 40-50 cat 3. And there was free Heady Toppper for the racers. My son Evan said he would go when I promised quarry swimming camping and seeing the Ben and Jerry's factory...

We bought a lot of camping shit like flashlights, air mattresses and flashlights and headed out with the Mazda CX9 loaded up with camping and biking stuff.

We left about 11am on Saturday. It was a long drive as expected to Barre, with one stop at the Vermont Welcome center. A volunteer there suggested we see the grave yard in Barre... We were not too excited about that.  We hit white river junction then went past the camp ground exit to hit Ben and Jerry's. The tour was horrible and over-priced, the Ice Cream afterward was incredible! It started to rain.

We headed south back toward the race, and Millstone camping area as indicated on the web. We stopped in the little store in a depressed hilly town, with hints of Granite quarry everywhere you looked. The guy in the store sold maps and owned the campground as well as the cabins/inns on the land. Somebody else owned the bike shop. We bought a map and didn't see anything we needed at the shop.

We followed the directions to the campground. It was still raining on and off. We set up our site quickly. We went to pre-ride the course, but my 11 year old worre out about one-third of the way, so I guessed I'd have to onsite it for race day. My Blur LTc was running fine, as per usual, it almost never complains and is ready to go when I am.

 We decided we wanted to go to the quarry to swim. It was close by on the property, but we discovered we forgot towels. We needed towels so instead of swimming, (and maybe because it was cold), we decided to head into East Barre to the TJ Maxx for towels. It was important to cook a camp dinner so we were not going to stop in town for food. We bought towels at the greatest TJ Maxx I ever saw about 15 minutes away.

Then we realized we were passing the graveyard on the return trip. Evan said we had to go. Amazing. Stone cutters created statues for everyone. Beautiful sculptures, all looking like they were forged out of the granite last week. Closer looks at the dates revealed they were much older. It was amazing... Race cars, Soccer balls, full life images of the deceased to scale... pets very cool.

We got back to the camp, made a fire and ate our camp dinner. It continued to rain on and off.

We had towels, but it was raining hard. We went to the quarry to swim but as we were walking up the trail a sink hole started opening up in the middle of the path almost right beneath our feet... we decided maybe it was too cold and dark to swim.We went back to the tent and went to sleep. Instead of the rain letting up, it increased and poured heavily at times. Our little 4 man tent didn't leak a drop.

It was still raining the next morning. We made oatmeal and went to the race course. As they were lining everyone up, Evan went off a jump and shinned himself with the new Wellgos... He was very worried, and I had to apply bacitracin and hope I could get to my start in time. It all worked out in a nick of time.

At the start, I realized my tires were about 28psi, and the roots and rocks of the granite tailing course were quite slick. I as worried it would be stupid to let air out 5 minutes before the race started, and I'm superstitious about making any changes on race day. So I decided to ride with the air pressure up. Big mistake. I also saw my major competition Andy Jacobs and lined up with him. He was a few points behind me in the series still, but he was faster than me in most races, even if it was only by seconds in some. I really wanted to beat him. But I also liked him a lot, and we talked about everything from bike parts to computer programming until about 20 seconds before the race start. I forgot about my tires.

The race course started up and across a field of wet grass. There were six of us in the cat, a small group for the races, but anyone who would race here would have to be skilled because it was steep, rocky and technical. We also started with the 50s and maybe a few others... so it was hard to tell who was who as we tore into the woods. I lost my breath in a panic on the hill and went from second to fifth of about 12 in our group in the blink of an eye. I got some back as soon as we hit the single track by choosing lines around those that failed across streams etc. My wind was back, but the majority of the first leg of the race was a long climb up the mountain.

In Cat 3 there are always locals and ride the trails all the time but never race, then the regular racers who may or may not have pre-ridden. The difference most of the time is that the local guys are used to riding, but not racing. Most start off fast but then fade, but may not enjoy the race etiquette of allowing the faster racers to pass. That is never a problem for Andy. He was one rider ahead and yelled as he made his move willing the slower racers, (I think by now we had run up against the younger cat's slower pack) out of his way as he shot by assertively The racer ahead of me and myself followed his slipstream... I didn't make it past all of them, however. I got caught behind one or two slow and surly guys, who took a lot of urging to "go faster they're getting away" to finally concede that they were not going to win the race this year and move over.

By this time, Andy and the other racer were out of site. This is always the mistake I make with him. But I felt really good. Maybe the wimpy preride with Evan saved my energy and I was climbing like a demon. I was not tired. At the top of the first hill was a long section of back and forth wet rooty turns over granite. It's here that my over-inflated Racing Ralphs told me how they felt about slimy roots. I went down once then twice, maybe more... but still felt great going as fast as I could. I caught and passed quite a few other groups... Now I'm by myself in the middle of the woods trying not to let up, and to catch the guys in front of me and not get caught. It's pretty quiet, with a few brake squeals and yells in the distance.

As I come up toward a few switchbacks I see a rider from Cat 2 I recognize through the woods. It's Kelly, a fast woman who is always on the Root 66 podium, seemingly. I know shes an E.R. nurse. She's bending over with someone looking over her shoulder. I think she's trying to help a downed rider, and I'm nervous about what I see when I turn the corner. Luckily, she's just working on her bike, the person helping her is her husband. I laugh as I go by and try to relate that I thought she was working on a person not a bike. I wish her luck. Her second cat 2 lap shows faster than my one cat 3 lap, so maybe my luck wish worked.

I came out of the woods and saw Evan cheering. He took a what later proved a crappy picture of me and seemed really distracted by something behind me. I thought it was a crash, but he later told me a couple of deer came charging out of the woods and almost hit other racers. They weren't expecting the field to be filled with spectators and bolted in a few directions. Anyway, back up into the woods the race went on, more people to pass.

Incredible wooden bridges dozens of feet over green quarry rocks and moss. Angular rocks from abandoned quarries everywhere in piles. Large granite cliffs straight down to black lakes of water jumped out of the woods around many turns... Technical and fast. All pedally and ridable.

Then at the end, (I had no idea where the end was)  two teenagers caught me from behind. I thi k I passed them once already on the climbs, but they were back. I noticed how well their tires held in the corner as I went down again, or slipped with a close call, only to mount up and accelerate to drop them repeatedly. Stupid Over-inflated Racing Ralphs.

Finally, one teen rider snuck by and started to make a gap. The race course is straightening out now, fast and flowy double-track to single track... and later a series of long straight downhill runs with jumps and rocks.  The kid in front of me had obviously ridden here before. He knew every turn. I went much faster than I would have normally, but I trusted that if he could go that fast so could I. We burst out into the field and hit some wet turns to the finish. Me seconds behind him, his friend and his twin brother fractions behind me. Andrew and the other Cat 3 guy who jumped at the start were a minute ahead at this point.

The rain had fully stopped now, and I saw Evan. He said I was third. He came with me and Andrew to the beer tent and cashed in our tickets. The soda was free for Evan, the Heady Topper was free for Andrew and myself. The number 2 guy had to leave for his daughter's soccer game as par for the course for our age and category.

We met some other regular racers from other cats and ages and recapped the excitement and fog of the race. Evan had his shin looked at by the ambulance driver who said it was fine. I noticed quite a few scrapes.

Next was the podium where I got third, then a long ride home. Evan said it was a great weekend and wanted to camp all the time from now on.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Root 66 Race the Wrock CT State Championship

Race the Wrock CT State Championship

Okay, so its been a while since this race... Here's what I remember...

 I was feeling a little heavy and slow still since it was early in the season, and got my usual spanking at Hop Brook and Winding Trails... (I think). My boys had soccer games so I had no fan family to cheer. I had a Rad and Gnar jersey and felt a little foolish since it fit too tight, and I was the only one from the team in CAT 3 from that team. We hadn't proven ourselves yet, and I felt like I stuck out with the Ghandi Bot on the back so close to the brewery that had no idea we were such fans of the product...

It felt like home turf though as I drove up from the SCSU area... This is the place where I learned to MTB... I remember riding up West Rock then down some gnar on the front before class some days. I'd go to class stinking of mud and sweat and sit in the back.

I showed up a little early at the nature center to get the lay of the land. There was a bald guy in the parking lot who looked really fit and started giving me pointers on how to race this course. I think it had rained the night before, so it was slick. The mountain is loose and trap rocky like the boneyard, with more vertical. Saw Guy D. of Amity bike registering and Fabien yelling at his sons to get out of the car and stop playing video games, like I often do to my own kids... I don't think I knew too many people at this point at this race. Registration was down being a new course, or not a roadie course, so I was a little disappointed, thinking that I'd do really well if this race was as gnarly as advertised and wanted to beat a lot of people if possible, rather than a handful in my class... The road start was very deceptive as we line up sparsely for Cat 3. There was this guy with stuffed animals on his bike and a Giro switchblade. I later realized that it was StuntMonkey from around the forums. But not until much later....

Jill prepped us and Chris started us off as usual... Then it was a blur. We climbed up the first switchback on the hill, and I somewhat took my time. We cut left into the trail, and I lost track of who was in which class and age group, so I just pedalled through the soupy muddy trail. There were a couple of streams and it seemed like a lot of the riders were getting hung up. Some tried to run with their bike,s but this type of sharp loose rocky chunder makes it better to stay on the bike because running is just as slow over moving baby heads....

We crossed the road, I passed a couple of  guys on the short up and there was the first small dowhnhill... This is where I poured it on, but it was loose and muddy. Then a long technical climb leading over route 15 and a carry up and over the guard rail onto Wintergreen drive. I followed the bald guy up the road and he gained some time on me, I think somebody a class younger than me passed me here. I always die on road climbs. Then we  hit some track to the first water tower, and I passed the bald guy. It was probably temporary I thought. I was hurting. But then it started to dip downward toward lake Wintergreen. It was all slick and baby heads, just the way I like it. I saw some lines and hammered through just the right angles. Mike Gluz was there, I remember and cheered as I passed. I passed some more guys and came out onto some sloppy single track that seemed to go on forever. I passed two older guys on this and felt like I was hammering, but when it smoothed out or there was a climb the two older guys would show up and pass me. Then streams and rocks, I'd pass them... Then smooth and up and they'd pass me. Eventually, we came out on a long double track leading back towards lake Wintergreen. I put one guy away on this. But  I could not catch the other guy... I would not loose him either, at one point I think we were spinning in the high 20 mphs and a stick caught my front spokes, it split and shot about 50 yards ahead toward the fast older guy. We came out at the top of the dam, he was a few seconds ahead, but he stopped when he saw that we had to Roller the front of the dam about 200 feet straight down.... Wee!. Okay now I put this guy so far behind me I was ready to kill into the finish... But then there was a climb on the other side back up to Lake Wintergreen Drive and I faded. He passed me there, damn. I could not lose him. I passed another guy in my cat trying to catch him, and we sailed into the finish about 40 seconds apart. I know he wasn't my direct competition, but that is what racing is all about. It turns out there was another guy behind me that kept catching and losing me, but never came close enough to pass. I was his competition and never knew he was there....

So now all that is left is the road dh to the finish. I ripped it and later found out I came in second... I went back to the nature center and waited around for the medals. There was this girl washing her bike and she did a half assed job, considering it was such a nice bike. In my CAT 3 race knowitallness I told her she should do a better job when she got home she said "I... oh never mind".... It wasn't until I saw her line up with the pros that I realized she had raced the cat 3 lap as practice. It was Crystal Anthony who was a super fast pro, and I was telling her what to to with her bike, like a big stupid knowitall.... lol. Anyway, I got the state championship 2nd place medal a bag of cat 3 prizes which included the free lube that they were giving everyone anyway etc. And the 2nd place rt 66 medal which I didn't have. The only sore spot was the guy that soundly beat me for first was a Cannondale employee and raced Cat 2 30-39 the week before at Winding Trails... This was Cat 3 40-49, but I guess he just turned 40 so was allowed in. He was confused the Jill said. If it had been close I would have been mad, but he beat me soundly whether he belonged in  cat 3 40-49 or not. So I was happy with 2nd. I was hoping I'd have another chance at him later in the season, but it never came to pass.

I ended up seeing JB4 and Katie the King and Queen of Rad and Gnar racing, and they were up next in the CAT 2 race that they soundly demolished. I also saw Zac Hawk there with his dad, and watched him start the single speed... He dropped out of  root 66 racing shortly thereafter in favor of jumps etc. But he's still a great rider.

Anyway, this race replaced The Wrath of the Boneyard, which I was sorely disappointed, (and came in first in the rain last year), was cancelled... But if any course could replace that one, this was it! Awesome day. Awesome race. Two medals  and a bag of bike stuff to boot! I stopped for a growler of Ghandi Bot at New England Brewery on my way home, but the line was too long, so I settled for a six of Sea Hags and went home to cut the lawn instead.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Root 66 Race Series - A New Twist to My MTB Obsession

I got in a few races this year with the Root 66 Racing Series. Started the year where I left off last year, mid-pack at Hop Brook, where I lost 9th to this guy I rightly beat, due to someone running across the finish line and causing me to serve out of bounds.

As usual I thought we were first and second place. I usually think I'm doing better than I am. It doesn't really matter though. It's great to gather with equally obsessed people and talk about bike parts and trail lines. Something my wife and kids can't generally tolerate. (When I ramble on about Chris King, they generally think I'm talking about a co-worker).  I handed ninth to a guy named Mike. He would follow me through a later race at Winsted Woods, where I took second and he got third,  then move on to spank me rightly in the Massachussetts Races, (Domnarski's Farm, and Hodges Village Dam).

As a consolation, I did take first place for CAT 3 40 to 49 at the gnarliest race, Wrath of the Boneyard in Meriden. It rained and provided me with horribly muddy and slippery conditions that gave me  the technical edge over the climb-happy roadies.  It was one of those races where you feel like you have unlimited reserves of energy. The first lap, I broke away from everyone with some teenager from a prep school in Mass. He was into DH riding and we stayed clipped-in throughout the nasty gravel pits and root gardens. I passed him on the climb feeling invincible, and started to slack off a little to reserve my energy, until a 50 year old rider came up like a ghost behind me and passed me with another guy from my class at the end of the first lap. But the nasty wet and slimy DH gravel, trap baby-head, roots returned with a blast of downpour. Now the trail was even looser and less predictable. I passed the roadie-types and remembering how they caught me on the climbs, I forced as much distance between us as possible in the techs. As the climbs approached, I latched onto a kid who was killing the climb, with spikes on his hard tail's top tube. I urged him on as he slowed, but when I finally passed him I noticed he was out of gas. I was surprised that for some reason I was not. As we got to the small downhill before the last climb, I noticed the ghost and maybe another rider behind me closing. I clamped down and pedaled with everything I had to even extend my lead for the win, although I didn't know it at the time. Wife and kids were there to cheer. I got the gold and the state champion medal that day. And some grips.

The rest of the summer, I rode casually, went to Colorado, skipped a race or two for no reason. I noticed that I remained the points leader. I was planning on finishing the season in first place. But then the Millstone grind came around, in North Nowhere Vermont, my mom got sick and was in the hospital. I was torn whether or not to ride up with Mike, for 5 hours. He had just beaten me by like 10 minutes in a cramp-filled outing at Hodges Village Dam.

I barely squeaked by in 6th place and was disoriented at the finish. I did some math and figured I could probably skip the Millstone Grind and remain in first place as we went into the Landmine. But I'm bad at math and Mike discovered that he was not listed for a race after the Millstone. He finished first in VT...  So by skipping Millstone, which might have kept me in first or second, I'm waiting for the Landmine insecurley in third place. My mom is fine now. I've been riding harder and hoping I can finish this last race with no cramps or mechs.

My steed is holding up
I've ridden a 2012 Racing Red Santa Cruz Blur LTc all season with 650bs, and it been solid and fun. I think the edge it gives me comes from running a 36 front crank double. ... That and the red which everyone knows is the fastest color. The fork is starting to feel a little clunky, so it might need a rebuild after serving me well for the season. And the frame linkage or rear Sun Ringle wheel is clinking when I bear down on the pedals. The linkage is the most likely culprit, but the rear cassette seems to quiet down when I crank it tight to hub. Anyway only needs to stay put for one more race.

Now I'm rooting for Mike to win it all. Though I'm not even sure what that means in terms of medals and prizes. Usually cat 3 is the bastard step-child of root 66, prize and podiumwize.... But it might be nice to get a water bottle or shirt or something nonetheless.

Mike just gets faster. (Domnarski's farm)

I'm 48 and this could be my last (only) season racing, but it sure added some excitement to the year. I can also say that I'm the state champion for my age and CAT 3 since I won gold at the Boneyard. I have a gold and a silver. No bronze, so if I can finish the season in third place in points, that will round out my podium placement. Ten its back to local rides and adventures with my kids, looking for arrowheads and keeping westwoods tidy. But if that doesnt scratch my itch, maybe ill come back for my last year in 40-50s to race all the youngsters before I age out... But lets not think too far ahead for now... Landmine.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The best of rides the worst of rides...

It was the best of rides.

"I'll be back in around an hour or so." "You can go for more than an hour" said my wife. 

Most of my rides are an hour or slightly more of solitude. Just me, my playlist, my Strava (as a motivator), and my bike, (which must be tuned flawless or I hate it). 
I drove into dunk rock past the usual rider circus at the lower lot, to my customary spot in seclusion at the top of Dunk Rock. I wondered if those were the people on the blogs that came from towns hours north to tell me they read that I shouldn't park at the top  for reasons they didn't remember or got wrong. (23 years parking in my spot and I'm not moving until I get towed)... 

I don't use pads right now, cause I'm riding too much to fall at the moment… (Noticing that I never realize when I haven't been riding enough to know to wear pads and escape injury). But today I know I'm okay. It was supposed to rain. But it's nice and a little cool. First weekend of October. The leaves are starting to turn but not overwhelm my slightly wimpy (for westwoods terrain) X-king knobbies I bought for racing. They will be gripping the first layer of leaves and sliding all over the ledge rock in a week or two.

I unload and pack-up . The wide dirt trailhead feels like home as I put in my earphones and clip-in to my pedals eager to dip into the woods. I usually start my rides with a jump off the rock at the trailhead…if my back isn't too sore…But there are other riders…

Will they complain where I parked? I pull my ear plugs…. 
"You can ride with us if you want"  - Some guy with a beard said… I think he was in a race with me earlier this year… I think I know most people I meet…. But I'm usually wrong. I say, "Want and Can are two very different things…   I hear collective laughter… 

They stop and name names. I get Brad, another Tom, Todd, Vin (I think)…. That’s all I remember… There were 8 riders, I count… I say "I'll do my best to keep up but don't miss me if I break off the back."  Nobody hears or cares, and someone says "c'mon".

Suddenly I'm riding with a group!
A rare occurrence due to an aversion to planning, busy kid schedules, and being spoiled by being minutes from Westwoods.
Not sure if I'm gonna like this… Groups are too fast or slow or spend too much time taking pictures of each other, offering advice I already know, or choose trails I hate. Or get flat tires or sticks in the gears…Or I do.

We bank right off the blue trail onto the smooth concave green ridge trail toward the green square trail. I know it well, smooth to start, progressively more rocky tech as we crest the ridge and drop down toward the swampy green trail, and the pace is fine.

When we hit the rocky downhill to the green square dirt-road type trail, everyone seems to accelerate and drop into the tech downhill faster than I think I can manage, but somehow I do. Sometimes slippery tires act like skis on roots and leaves. I'm starting to like the group. Not too much talk, except for occasional obnoxiously funny one-liners. Good pace. Covering ground.

The slime planks lead west
We all cross the stream on the green trail over a tow board bridge then bang a right onto the orange trail. Soon we’re in the massive indian cliff/caves…
I love/hate this trail lately. Great green mossy swamp on one side, Massive rocky cliffs on the other and in between a rooty wet slimy rock goat path.
I went over the bars in the winter on it and it is just too eroded for my overinflated slippery/soapy brand spanking new 2.2s as the guys in front on 29ers rip it up.
One of the rider in the back comments to me, "those guys are really good riders". I like to think I’m a good rider but I’m getting spanked in this section. After a substantial bit of gnarly rooty rocky eroded wet single track, we come to the 200 yard two-plank bridge. I hope we will ignore it and go up the hill… 

Instead we go right into the swamp mist onto the slimy bridge. It's wet and greenish as if frogs clean off the old slime on the planks…

I'm second. The first guy is pushing with his foot and balancing through the fog… 
I see slight slips on his track on the bridge where his tire slides slightly with each foot push. It's that slick. He rode the entire rock garden orange no sweat, so I feel some sort of redemption cause I'm the only one pedaling at least part of the green slimy planks. The X-king treads are suprising me here with slick traction.
We end up at the bottom or the white-dot trail on the west side of the swamp. 

There are hikers with Appalician Trail member patches sewn on their farmer jackets, binoculars and a map…
The group doesn't notice them. The group is amped to be off the bridge. One guy on an older carbon frame yells "Hit that shit" The AT jacket people smiled nervously and searched their map.

Each of the eight slams his rig into a cliff edge either levitating like ghandi smoothly up and climbing the 200 yard steep over rock and root,  or like me, just smashing rings and splailing legs way out as we clumsily reverse back off it.
One guy shouts rapper sound effects like "Ping Ping Ping"… I didn't quite get it, but his delivery cracked everyone up and punctuated the entire ride.
Seemed like everyone is loving the ride so far.  

We get to the top of the steep hill and they can't decide left or right. There are layers of trees down on this hill from the various blights.
Old rotten evergreens, newer oaks and some fresher ashes. The hurricane last year helped add to the mat of sticks and twigs around the trail.
The ground under and around the trail is amazingly rocky and lacks topsoil due to cycles of hard rains that are stripping off any hint of smoothness.

I didn't like that bridge back to Westwoods main system. Unsafe and slimy. But I'm thinking hopefully about the west side of Moose Hill Rd.. Im thinking we don't have to risk our lives on that slimy foggy swamp again.
While the group is undecided I offer the trails West of Westwoods, (which is still Westwoods, but is also in Branford somehow). 
But I'm fairly honest and say I cannot guarantee a loop. I only know out to route 146 or out and back. Some guys vaguely remember a loop. 
Everyone wants to go to there... 

The abdomonizer
We hammer left up the more technical up hill section. I'm leading now, not in skill, but knowing the trails. One guy in a Bern helmet is testing my lungs on my wheel.  We pull out onto Peddlars trailhead. At the brief stop we attempt to jump, and resultantly defile an abandoned abdomonizer that sits in the trailhead on Peddlers. Forks flex and plastic flies as the abdomonizer flails towards cranks and derraileurs. After it has been sufficiently defiled, we head tout on the road towards West of westwoods.

When we hit Pedddlars I notice the significance that there's a little dog with us. I noticed before, but he was a great trail dog, so not in my face like my labs who are no longer allowed to go for rides… But good dog does not so much have a sense of the road. Not his fault. 
I tried to be nonchalant,  but when cars came, I'd ride into the middle to slow them down and frustrate the drivers so they'd slow down just out of paranoia for the lil white jack russell looking thing, who seemed to be doing the same thing for us. 

As we approached the entry road to West of Westwoods, I talked with a guy who got his blur off of ebay for $700. I love ebay. Nice bike.
As we turned onto the road to West of Westwoods I asked Brad if he was in any races this year that he looked familiar. 
He looked like a guy who rode with the Berlin High school XC team… Maybe a teacher...
He said that he hadn't raced for a long time, but I looked familiar too. Must be the common trails.  (chuckles)
Meanwhile a couple of the guys were riding wheelies  for the entire road.

The real ride had not even started yet. 
We dipped in and shit got fast. We climbed and headed out at an extreme pace. We waited at the hill tops for some guys to catch up  and then catch their breath then hit it again. 
The trail starts like Westwoods main, steep narrow and technical. But it opens up wide and rocky after the first climb.
There are less trees and general foliage, but more bigger rocks. The trail shape is firm and fast.
Now my wheels are spinning fast… finding the notches between the rocks at speed. I'm riding faster than I normally would in some of this gnar.

Some of these guys are riding as faster, yet effortlessly hitting shit with style…. Improvising off random rocks to launch over downed trees in the way of the trail … Random drops into piles of sticks that would snap my der in a flash. 
- all stunts on-site and in the moment…. 
Now it narrows into rocky techs. There are stone mounds made from settlers, indians and quarry diggers.
There is an active quarry in the distance. 
The weather is getting better. 
We start to seek a loop back, but are in no hurry to turn around.

The lost loop
I say I would love to uncover a loop to Moose Hill, but each time we come to a likely candidate, I say "nope. I tried that one". After a while, I doubt myself and we try routes I've tried before…
We cannot find a loop and keep heading toward the south trail. We realize the little dog will not do well on Route 146 so we must head back. 
We cross a field that has overgrown and rips my shins with raspberry prickers. We then turn around and rip back through it.

We spend a lot of time chasing dead ends not facing the fact we have to head back entirely the way we came but there is a good deal of stuntry and banter 
to make the trip back relaxed. Good riders. Loud as the only people on earth, as we often feel deep in the woods. 
This is a special part of Westwoods as well. I don't know these guys, but I'm really having a good time. 

As we start our descent there's more delays. My tire keeps softening. I hit it with CO2 tire viagra… Some of the guys in the back seem winded. I ride in the back at times and the front, but we stay together pretty well.
The hot dogs at the front are good at waiting as well as flying. 
No matter where you ride with these guys, the pack is always together.
But now it takes quite a while to return to the Moose Hill Parking lot. 

Back in Westwoods at Moose Hill
Brad says he has to get back soon and asks how far we are. I offer that we can take a fast downhill or a windy tech trail that takes about 15 minutes longer…
For those who know Westwoods and Moose Hill - I'm thinking Pink to Purple to Yellow ridge vs. the Blue DH from the Moose Hill straight to the Dunk Rock parking lot. 

Everyone defers back to me and says they'd like the extra 15 minutes if its more fun… I remember staring at Brad and wondering if he's gonna come or not. I think I know what he's thinking….
But I then hear my wife "You can go for more than an hour"
He says "let's just go"

I get a second burst of energy and head off to "sink the pink" - trail that is.
We hammer it pretty tightly and the fast guys don't make the steep climb up the rock before the purple cutover.

All the guys toward the back kill it. Brad makes everyone look like amateurs with his climb up and to the right leisurely pedaling at the top. 
We cut to Purple and do the remainder of the DH route without incident in a tight group. Those who can / want to hitting the drops.
There's some confusion at the left up the ridge. A few guys overshoot the turn to the steep cliffy ridge trail. We call them back up the hill. 

My favorite trail
Though they know Westwoods, nobody in the group has done this trail before, and I'm thrilled I get to show them my favorite trail. 
We bang the left up the yellow hill and start out. I worry a little about the dog because the immediate right of the narrow trail is a 100+ foot cliff drop, but dogs are better than humans at avoiding that type of stuff.

Now I'm thinking about the great riders at the front of the group and I want to hit my lines as hard as I can and somehow attempt to get close to one tenth of their skill level…
There's a tough corner that can be taken from an all out drop to a tech wheelie drop to a wide roll. And soon after another that does not prepare you for a quick scamper up a hill, that you need to be ready to spin up.

They are off the back a few seconds, but as I glance back they are finding their own lines, between the cliffy boulders, on-sighting lines impressive than my own practiced routine…  (not suprisingly), I move aside at a quick steep climb I never have the wind or power to make so they have a shot. One rider on a 29er hardball  makes it another on a 29er does not. I push up the lip and we continue to the top of the ridge to wait for the rest of the group.

One by one they show up. I am amped for the DH part of this trail and can't wait to see these guys tear up the roller from Yellow to Green.
Now all but two are at the hill top. There's calling back. No answer. I notice I've been gone for over three hours. 

I hear my wife "You can go for more than an hour"… But three-ish with a lot to do that day is pushing it…
While one guy goes back to see what happened to the other two, I call my wife. She's not entirely happy with me. 
About 5 minutes later the rider returns and says that Brad is not feeling well and its the same thing that happened last week. "I gave him a power bar and he felt better."

Each of the guys said they were going back to wait with Brad. "Your wife didn't sound happy Tom, you can break off if you want" I agreed, but I said somebody had to come with me to find out how to get back to the green trail. If they didn't find the unmarked right, they'd follow yellow trail back up the ridge and add about 30 minutes to their ride.

Vin, (I think his name was, they guy with the Bern helmet and little dog) said he would follow. We hit the last stretch of loose steep babyheads and washout with a vengeance, and even though he needed to get back, he said it was a great stretch. 
I got home and was tossed into parenting stuff for the remainder of the day.

That night I got on Strava and checked my ride. It was a long time, with only about 2 hours 20 minutes moving time. 

It was the first group of riders that held a decent pace and the only real holdup was my soft tire, other than the guys at the end of the ride.
I drink about 4 Sea Hag IPAs and fire up the laptop...
I added a note to the Strava map saying how great a ride it was and what great riders I rode with.

This should be the happy ending. 
But Wednesday night I read on Facebook in bikerag "Who was that rider who died in Westwoods on Sunday?"
Hahaha what a coincidence, I thought… I replied I was in there with a group of 8 and didn't hear anything, but there was one guy who didn't feel well at the end….
"Sounds like him" - reply
I delete my posts and shut down. Fuckers were joking about it. 

Not funny anymore.
I could not sleep that night. Called the police the next morning from my cell while driving to work. 
Dispatcher said it sounded like my story matched the witness statements, but I'd have to come in for a report.
Instead I looked in the obits for Wallingford. There was Brad staring back at me, minus his helmet and bike.
His obit was as vague as they all are but mentioned Guilford and mountain biking. 

It was the worst of rides.
Thursday, I could not get through the day at work. I leave early.  Like that movie (Shawn of the Dead I think) where the main characters solve all their problems by going to the pub. My problems are solved by riding in Westwoods.
I rode when my dad died. 
I rode when my unborn twin baby girls died. 
Whenver I got a pink slip, it was waiting in my car while I rode before telling anyone. 
How do I deal now?
When what I am trying to forget is  so close to what I use to forget? 
When my favorite place holds the worst reality and scene my imagination could conjure up.

I thought about Brad. Fuck it.  I re-rode that ridge trail fast and flawless I'm sure he would have been  right behind me if he could be. 
I rode more too. I rode until my lungs burned. 
My thoughts moved to the dozen or so spear points and arrowheads I found throughout the Guilford woods over the years. I found my first one in the patch of woods not far from where Brad left us. 
I think if there are spirits, there would be spirits of those who made those points who hunted and lived and died there.  
I thought that if there are spirits of the woods,  Brad would be part of them, and I will think of him each time I ride my favorite trail.
I continued to ride hard on some slick rock tech, and found myself at lost lake as the sun was getting low. 
I took a picture that everyone who goes to Westwoods takes off that rock over lost lake.
It 's a long view across the lake. You can see the railroad trestle in the distance. 
There's a canal like series of rocks that leading from the stream below to the island.
The water is still. The tide is high so the air smells fresh with a hint of salt.

I didn't know Brad for more than a couple of hours. But I'm pretty sure he would have liked the view.