Friday, February 16, 2018

Memories of the old barn in Pomfret

I was thinking about barns on today's ride. I remembered our barn in Pomfret Connecticut when I was only about 8-10.  We purchased an old farm that was located off Rt. 100 and Carter road by Wolf Den park. It was a huge barn, by my standards as a kid. It was weathered brown and had a main level very close to the road with enormous doors. There was also a  small door you could enter. It was directly across the street from our tiny farm cottage that had not been touched, but for paint since the early 1800s. The floors were covered with slightly newer planks to keep you from falling through rotted sections. You could not go all the way to the back as the floor became rotty to non-existent. My friends and I used to jump over the holes where there were missing slats. The good part of the barn had stacks of every National Geographic, Sears, Saturday Evening Post and Mongomerey Ward catalogs on shelves. Issues reaching fairly deep into the last century when Sears would sell guns, car engines, tires, bras, corsets and wagons all in the same catalog. By the large row of flat-stacked magazines there was a bench with a layer of tools scattered with screws, nails in cofee cans, cigar boxes, and jars of rusty nails of every type. It was as dark, I don't think we had electricity. There were steel jaw traps hanging on the wall, and a grappling hook that I adopted and had a really good time playing with around the trees outside. Sometimes I'd pull it and it would not have connected. It became a dangerous projectile on the end of the rope hurling toward me. Below the main tool area was a crawl space where my mother went with a flashlight. She found Silver Candlesticks and some China that was dated to before Revolution. We later learned that British soldiers came down this road, sacking all the farms. I guess the person hid their valuables under the barn in the dirt and never came back to get them. As I think back, we should have taken a metal detector down there. Who knows what else there was?

At the opposite end of the barn, to the right of the doors, there was a wooden ladder up to a loft. The loft was dark and toward the back of the barn somewhat away from the window, so you could only see what was in it with a Flashlight. In the loft was a tangle of metal farm parts and tons of screws etc. falling out of wooden boxes. I think there was an engine up there of some old tractor or car. Someone had told us that there was also a complete surrey wagon kit there that was delivered minus the wood. Below the loft and the main floor there were steep steps down to a basement level entrance out the bottom of the south side of the dry stone foundation. There were milking pens for the cows on the back, and a couple horse stalls on the right. The milking pens had cement floors so it must have been added later than the rest of the barn.

This was an incredible place for a kid to explore as much of this stuff had not been touched since the 1800s. The woman we bought it from was an only daughter from the people who one house up the street. She was in her '90s when she sold the acreage and property to my parents, and had not lived in the house since she was about 30. She moved into her parents house when her father died and pretty much left this house, which was given to her, the way it was when her parents, parents had given it to them. There was no power initially, and a hand pump for water in the sink that had to be primed. It had a huge cooking wood stove in the kitchen that was rimmed with 4-inch nickel-plated edges. When we got the stove up to temperature the kitchen could approach 100 degrees, while the rest of the house stayed around 40-50. I have no idea why we went there in the winter. I was miserable as a kid. But summer was a different story. I had a three wheel mini-bike, a bb gun and about 40 acres to explore. I'd find farm tools on the walls, and more leg traps in the streams. My dad and I dammed up part of the stream and made a great swimming hole. My dad was like I am in a lot of ways, especially with his love of the outdoors and being in the woods.

Inside the tiny two bedroom house there was a desk drawer that had lots of foriegn money in it, and I thought we had struck it rich! But they were only WWI-era german dollars and worth fractions of a cent. My parents bought it fully furnished. I remember thinking it was like stepping back in time.  The basement was scary and I don't remember much other than a dirt floor and ancient rotting canning jars on shelves on the walls going down there. There large fields around the property and beautiful stone walls around the fields. There was a "back-field" across the stream far out in the woods. I found a brilliant green Vine snake back there that was almost tame from the time I caught it. It had a blue tongue.  Sadly, it fell out of my shirt pocket into our outside bucket well when I was leaning down over it to get the bucket.

But the old barn was the thing we thought was the coolest. My dad put a new roof on it to preserve it. I don't know if it worked. I've been back to the area a few times since I was a kid, and never found the property, house or barn. Maybe I just don't recognize it, or maybe it was leveled for a development. I don't know, but it is a magical image that comes back to me in my dreams as part of my house. I feel frustrated in my dreams that I never had time or money to fully restore it. Sometimes there's beasts in the basement milking pen, kind of like malevolent Eors or something. Not sure its a dream. But a good dream as it reignites my memory of that really cool structure with so much history.




Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Changing

Nobody wants to go to a funeral. Nobody wants to plan a funeral. Or to write their child's Eulogy. Or share in details the most painful, vulnerable moments of your life. 

Today I was changed through the power and transparency of a eulogy from a woman I do not recall ever speaking with. And I was given a task. We were given a task. To be more compassionate, and treat those you love as if you may never get a chance to tell them how much they mean to you. And to treat strangers the same way, as everyone has or needs someone who cares about them.

I woke up this morning to the usual yelling. Dogs barking to come inside, ‘Where’s my shoes?” “Who at the last piece of cinnamon bread?” etc. I said to myself, I’m not going to the funeral today. I told my wife, I wasn’t going. I thought I’d be taking the seat of someone more deserving to be there… But my wife said, "You didn’t go to anything" (I missed the candle ceremony as I had a bad stomach, and the wake due to taking Evan to a Celtics game). Then I saw my son looking polished and determined with his tie on, his pants a little too high due to yet another growth spurt, and I thought to myself what kind of example I was setting for him. With 20 minutes left before leaving, I showered, picked out a shirt, changed that shirt, put on a suit, got out of the suit, found a black shirt, my dad’s old blue suede sport jacket, and went with that.

In better times, Mike, Ethan’s dad, and I chatted comfortably in town and on social media about many things. He always took an interest in my Mountain Biking, as I did his competitive running. over the years from the sidelines of sports, a guac party his family threw every summer, and through many mutual friends, etc. 

I got to the church alone as Mary Beth had a busload (well SUV full) of Evan’s friends who's parents had to work. As I drove past, I saw a boy alone in a white shirt and tie in the bright sun and 20 degree morning chill, looking up at the steeple. He was 2 hours early. He is on my son’s basketball team, my mountain bike team.  The boys and my wife skipped the trip to the coffee shop and saved me a seat in the white austere congregational church behind my son and his friends and an hour or more to go before the service. Evan was seated in a row of freshman girls, beautifully dressed and in makeup, but most still looking more girl than young woman, as the first year of high school is not far removed from 8th grade. His closest friends were in front of him. At this point Guilford freshman still seem to silo their deepest friendships by elementary school. Everyone was chattering and playing with their phones. Many people walked in with coffee and water, something I wasn’t used to seeing, but this church was different. I understood quickly that judging was not in their line of business. I mentioned to my son’s friends mom that it had a comfortable “feng-shway” I am as sure of how to spell it, as I am to pronounce it. She understood, pronounced it correctly and agreed. I felt more comfortable than expected and a little antsy. I knew I was not going to cry today, just as sure as I thought I would not go to a funeral. I noticed the iced tea I had brought into church had left water drops on my tie. I wiped them away so nobody would think they were tears as I was not going to cry. 

At 10:00 the Song family walked into the church. I saw Mike. My eyes began to leak before I felt anything. Was I crying for his loss, or the feeling I might have if my own son was taken?, I wondered. I was not alone in leaky eyes. Tissues were distributed down the isles. Ethan was in my son’s class last week, but would not be attending. He was the reason the church, foyer, balcony, and every bit of space there was was packed with all the faces of Guilford and beyond. I looked at the young men in front of me. The freshmen were still recognizable as the boys who played sports, came over to our house to zip-line, or play basketball or jump in our pool. The seniors, who were once my oldest son’s friends before sports, social circles, personalities and interests spread them apart, were less recognizable without looking close. I tried to remember each of their faces as the boys they were, now in suits, shaving. Embarrassing as some would say “Hi Mr. Ghoreyeb” and I wasn’t quite sure who they were in the moment. The ceremony was opened with two young girls singing a song in harmony. I’m not sure what the song was.

Kristin, was Mike’s wife and Ethan's mother. I don’t think I ever spoke with Kristin. Not for being un-friendly, but the opportunity never came. She was always surrounded by so many friends, and we seemed to head in different directions at pickups and drop-offs. We share the same groups of close friends. We have boys the same age and we share the same community. Of course without ever speaking, we’re parents of all these kids in Guilford, and of course we’re friends as a result. Then again, maybe I have spoken with her. As I get older, I’m less sure of anything. For me, there are fewer absolute truths. 

Kristin approached the altar and stood alone shaking in front of the hundreds of people in the church. She looked as if she hadn’t eaten in days. But she was determined. She stared a moment at the hall full of people, the chairs in the foyer. There were also speakers in the basement and filled chairs there as well… She stammered shakily “I can’t do this…" Once again, then a third time, I thought I heard Mike say to her “We love you". Then she took a breath and began. I was transported from the church in that moment and found myself with her on the morning of the worst day of her life. She brought us with Ethan to have his braces removed. It was a big day. Like a great mom (what I say), she decided to “skip” school and celebrate. They went for breakfast. They shared an unusually deep discussion about Ethan’s life, about his dreams and aspirations, and how many children he planned on having (7?). That breakfast conversation, that day, was a gift, Kristin said. It was, in a way, preparation for the grief that would shake her life and our town.  As she brought us along through her day, she wandered to recount her son’s wit, intelligence, flaws and forgetfulness. Ethan didn’t wear shoes the day they were taking the ferry to Block Island, what was he thinking?. She wandered through life with her boy, weaving memories, then returning to lead us further through the moments of that horrific day. She let him walk his friends house. She heard the first responders race past toward the town docks. Then she saw the police grim at her door. The moments that followed were much darker. 

On a bright morning, in an austere yet beautiful church on the most beautiful green in Connecticut, on a sunny yet cold Monday, Kristin Song showed us her heart. She opened her soul and brought us to where we thought there were no words. No words to describe the horror of our shared loss… no words to make the pain any less or to give purpose to such a loss... No words to bring Ethan back, or provide comfort or closure...  Kristin, bravely, intelligently and beautifully gave us those words... Somehow shaping them around the unimaginable loss of her youngest child. She showed us a beautiful life through the lens of a loving mom. She shared with our community the treasure she lost, and asked for our care and love to be shared beyond the Songs. She said in Ethan’s memory, we could help make a better world by extending the kindness and love our community shed on their family. She asked to refocus our love for her family and youngest child among all of us in attendance, and not just to share it, but to live in a more forgiving, empathetic and loving way.  She wove memories of the horrific day with her best moments with Ethan. She shared his passion for animal rescue, his remarkable heritage, close friendships, favorite things, finally tying it neatly with an unexpected quote from the Lord of the Rings: 

Pippin: I didn't think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what? Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise. Pippin: Well, that isn't so bad. Gandalf: No. No, it isn't.”  
Those were the words she she used to bring us gently back into our pew and conclude her youngest sun’s eulogy.  It was clear to me. These were the words; these, and the words before them. They are what we, (I was) searching for when we said (and wrote) “...there are no words". These words shared the pain, a path toward healing, and most importantly, shared intimately the life of Ethan Song, all tied up with a quote that carried more weight than the author may ever know. And words that Ethan would love. 
..But maybe this is just my perspective. I’m not really sure of anything anymore… Maybe I was alone in feeling like this was most powerful thing I may have heard. I question this because my son and his friends said they thought the most powerful moment was when dad Mike sang "Let it Be”.  I feel like I have perception issues, I talk too much sometimes without listening enough, or so I’ve been told... Or maybe I got filled up at that point emotionally and could not feel anymore… 

The rest of the service alone, without Kristin’s part was an incredible service. It was a powerful, sad yet joyful celebration of Ethan. It was a testament to this family blessed with so many gifts and cursed with one horrible misfortune. It was a memorial service faced by group of cousins, siblings and parents who rallied for their family and their grief. Flags of Korea, Israel and the Untied states, flanked by a Guilford sports jersey were displayed at the alter symbolic of a colorful and faceted family.  

The service offered emotional recollections from their daughter.* Her thoughts and words were heartfelt, clear and powerful; showing the love a big sister has for her littlest brother. I have an older sister. I remember when she left for college.  I get that close bond.

Ethan’s brother, also in high school, recounted his disdain for his sibling just as my oldest son feels the same frustration with Evan. Always late, effortlessly charismatic, less serious yet somehow living life effortlessly… And still yet the terrible loss he felt. Who would say “I love you” to their little brother after all? Nothing should ever happen where you would need to in the first place... It’s an unwritten law of sibling-hood! It was clear to all how much he loved his little brother.

Ethan's closest in age of many cousins tearfully recounted their adventures as a family who often skied and vacationed together. Now he would be the youngest cousin. His uncle, Kristin’s brother, recalled the horrible sadness he felt at the moment Ethan left the earth and later called his sister only to hear the voice of her minister on the other end of the cell phone. 

There was a moving tribute from pop star Nick Fradiani, our local celebrity, who sang a moving rendition of Hallelujah with his dad. Famous or not, he’s part of our community. We celebrated his American Idol win, and cried together for our loss here today.  

Ethan’s grandmother is a holocaust survivor, who recently gave Ethan her “Jude" star from the death camps, that he kept as a badge of honor. She bravely read a letter from Ethan which was delivered to her the day after his passing discussing his mid-term results and his empathy for Anne Franke with his grandmother. She wanted us to hear his words and see his colors. Her poise and close relationship with her grandson were quite moving.

Mike Song is a well known and successful motivational speaker. I was sure he would have crafted some words to sum up the service. But he probably (rightly) knew his family and wife in particular had said it all.  He said, “ I prepared nothing. There’s nothing left to say”. I wondered if Mike's Grandfather, a Korean war veteran, was also buddhist; as Mike chose a song which despite mentioning Mother Mary, felt to me in spirit to resemble a Buddhist chant. He sang "Let It Be". He sang for/to his son.  He was accompanied by his acoustic guitar and the voices of our community. When there were no words left, there was a Song. 

However, nothing for me was as moving as Ethan's mom. Kristin found the missing words, the energy she shared and the care in which she offered them, was to me the greatest gift. Today I cried. I didn’t go to a funeral. I went to a celebration of a life.  Thank you Ethan. It was a pleasure to meet you and share the love you felt from your wonderful family with myself and the world.

*Correction was made: Emily, who spoke so touchingly, is a nursing major at UConn and the Song's oldest child. The screenwriter for Disney is Mike's sister Elena, who of course was in attendance.



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





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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.

Herewego
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.

Cocknaponsett
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.


Suffertime
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.