Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Support Person

Nothing more metal than two hospital bracelets by CB
Ok there is a bit of a backlog in the old bloggity blog world of the #CBL. We have blown right past UnHoly Week and CX Fever and we have to make some decisions. The people have spoken and today we tell the tale of the #1 Support Person in the history of the Zank SSCX. The title of this post was going to be The Heavy Metal God of SSCX. I mean look at the photos. Which by the way are all by Katie Busick and courtesy of Minuteman Road Club. How many races offer all the races PRO photos for free download after the race? Not many I think. Not to get off track but MRC puts on one hell of a bike race. Two free beer tickets with your entry, the before mentioned free photos, team tent spots, rad course, free parking...I mean what more could you ask for? So it has been unseasonably warm in New England this Fall. Thanks climate doubters and hurricane after hurricane for bringing this tropical heat wave to the bastion of Fall. Summerfall is a term I do not want to get used to. Thank you very much. 

But back to the task at hand. I know my five loyal readers are very familiar with Mike Wissell. They need no introduction to this great man and what he is all about. But for the one person who may have found this blog by googling "mud" or "CX" or "NECX" or maybe hit surprise me on google and came across this hot mess I will do my best to introduce you to my good friend. Mike is one of the toughest guys I know. Lives for brutal mountain bike stage races. Gives back to his own team, B2C2, on a level most racers can't even imagine. Supports other racers on rival teams like they are his own teammates. Has been hosting Larz World's, a weds am CX training race, for as long as I can remember. How he finds the energy to do all he does is beyond me. But as I said before he is also one of the nicest guys on the planet. Stands up for what matters, has a moral compass. All the things you want in a friend. He dabbled in SSCX before. And by dabbled I mean would show up to a few of the Zank SSCX races and destroy everyone who happened to be racing that day.

This past summer we met at a great coffee shop to to talk about SS Mtn biking. I do have a fondness for all things single speed. At the time we were talking mtb. But he said he thought he would focus entirely on SSCX for the 2017 CX season. I obviously thought that was a great idea! But didn't really focus too much on it at the time. As CX season rolled around I got some very excited and exciting emails from Mike. He was in fact racing the SSCX series! And his enthusiasm for his frankenbike project got me all fired up. It kept morphing. Dropper post/drop bar CX enduro bike. Flat bars no dropper. It was the ultimate frankedbike. And what I LOVE about Mike is he would email me and ask "is it cool if I ride this freak show of a bike?" I was like dude that bike is rad!!! Honestly what I love about CX and 29er MTBs is they are basically the same bike. Especially when you are talking CX and 29er Hardtail. The wheels are interchangeable. The bikes are basically the same. It makes for some real fun set up Rubik's cube hacks.

One of the things Mike brings to the series other than his talent and racing ability is how much he cares about the race and all the racers. We all say we care but how much do we? How much do we give back? He cares a lot. Always checking in with everyone. Says hi to all the racers. And this season he started high giving racers after he finished. He wins most races. He is that fast. Not to say there aren't a lot of really strong racers chasing him. His mere presence has upped the competition in a way that I never imagined. But his waiting at the line high fiving everyone as they come in? That is being an ambassador on a whole other level. People love Mike's finish line high fives. I mean what is cooler than after turning yourself inside out for 45 minutes you see a smiling Mike at the finish and he high fives you? Awesome

Minuteman Road Club puts on a great race. I look forward to it every year. The Zank SSCX is a points race. The leaders denim vest is a highly coveted item. Once you wear it you do not want to lose it. Mike and his wife Caitlin were expecting a baby this CX season. To say we were happy for them was an understatement. But babies have their own ideas when they want to arrive. My two daughters clearly had their own ideas. One was premature by six weeks (that was exciting!) and one refused to come out. To this day they seem to have embraced this personality trait. Mike told me the baby was a bit late in its due date. The night before a double Zank SSCX weekend I got a text from Mike. They were heading to the hospital. He arranged the vest to be delivered to MRC. The points race was close. Bradford won Mansfield and with Mike gone it made the series a tie race. I had assumed Brad would be donning the vest at MRC. Mike was happy for Brad. We all were. Brad is like Mike one of those guys who do so much for our community.

As I was waiting in the reg tent for my number I see a pale rider coming towards me in the distance. Dear god it is Mike. The baby was born the night before at 1 am. Caitlin's parents arrived at the hospital that am and told Mike to go race. That is a family who loves and supports each other. And he had arrived at his SSCX family to celebrate not just SSCX but his new baby with us. I almost cried not gonna lie. But there is no crying in SSCX. We all lined up and had one of the best races of the season. Perfect conditions. A greasy, muddy SSCX slip and slide. Mike won. Mike got on that podium and put his vest back on. One of the most amazing days in the #NECX in my opinion. Little Milo has one rad dad. And one hell of a family. That little god of thunder should be proud of his dad. I know I am.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Kids are Alright

This post easily could have been titled "Bad Santa" But it was 90 degrees out. And it is September. So why was HUP riding a Gentleman's Race during Cross season in 90 degree heat in NH? Well kids team building isn't all trust falls and Navy Seal training. We are a bike club after all. We race CX. It is a good idea to ride the CX bike. Even if it is 90 degrees in September and the gods have left an "open" weekend in September. I personally love Fall. Not just for CX but for all New England offers. When I heard a Gentleman's Race was happening they basically had me at hello. I thought initially that the whole thing was an ironic jab at the Rapha rides of the mid-2000s. I did a few of them. They were fantastic. Then they literally jumped the shark. Like all things Rapha. But credit where credit is due. Those early Rapha rides reframed how we viewed riding. I still don't know what this riding is exactly. The two Rapha rides I participated in I did on a road bike with 25s. Now my default is a CX bike and 37s. As my friend Greg says "all bikes can be gravel bikes" Hell yes they can.

I opt for those gnarly bits. I would rather be overbiking for most of the ride than underbiking on the stuff I live for. We assembled a team. I love how Michele described it. "The premise of this sitcom is that two older sprinters / rouleur types who have kids go to NH to do a gravel TTT with young, spunky, fit climbers. Hilarity ensues." She nailed it. Honestly this is why Michele and I work so well together. I had zero agenda. Maybe I did in some recess in the back of my mind. But it was simple. Get the two new young guns of HUP and the two veterans together for a rad ride. It worked out way beyond my expectation. Anyone who knows me know I go into these things with zero expectation. Come back with your shield or on it basically. We rolled up way early. Haha. HUP is a lot of things. One is prompt. The other is prepared. We have learned a few things along the way. So Joanna gets a text from Guthrie that they are the only ones in the parking lot. Hmm. Ok. So we search for a suitable second breakfast and come up with Bagel Alley. Oh hello.

We all place our orders. The kids pretty much shame Michele and I. Omelette bagel, legit second breakfasts. Michele and I share an everything bagel. We kinda pick on it. We might be a tad nervous. I was mostly nervous as I had zero idea what to expect. I was pretty sure this was a road ride. But my friend had told me there was some legit dirt. I always get excited about new to me dirt tracks. We get to Goodale's the second time and the parking lot is filling up. Some familiar faces. Some fast teams for sure. Hmm a fair amount of road bikes. Ok. Its on. The rules of the ride are simple. TTT format. All four riders stay together. Self supported. Time bonuses on the road. Bonuses include convenient store bonus, wild life bonus, mandatory selfies, and wounded warrior bonus. We nail all of them. Except the open wound one and the flat one. I can't believe how clean we rode this. Zero crashes. Zero mechanicals. Zero melt downs. PRO.

I won't lie. My legs felt horrible early on. Like lead weights. And we weren't even climbing. Things have been a tad stressful lately. No need to elaborate. We all have stress. But I had a magic bullet. I made the mistake a few times this summer of not bringing Endurolytes with me. Shit goes bad fast when I don't have those. I took four over the four hours and frankly it saved me. Zero cramps. Body felt fine once it woke up. After hour one things started coming around. We were moving pretty well. The one exposed highway climb was nasty. I mean I basically just stuck to who ever's wheel was right in front of me. I think it was Michele. But I can't be sure. I am pretty sure Guthrie pulled for 64.5 miles. Hahaha. Probably not. But I don't think I ever was at the front. God love this team. They know how to keep their elders safe.

What worked incredibly on this ride was the division of labor. Michele is a trail wizard. And an organizational ninja. She dialed the whole ride in. Guthrie was in charge of social media. Michele was in charge of the rest stops. Joanna was in charge of the wild life photos. I am not sure what I was in charge of. Which was a good thing. The first social media stop I was pretty sure we were going to get shot. But it was for the time bonus so YOLO. NH is a hot mess. I love and hate it. You will be rolling along some dirt road and see some compound for lack of a better word. And in front of that compound is an ACE Hardwares worth of lawn maintenance equipment. Guthrie wanted a team photo on a bunch of rider mowers. Thank god we survived. 

The route was so rad. A great mix of climbing and really fun dirt roads. The beauty of Southern NH is the climbing doesn't kill you. Especially when you are a flatlander like me. Its all doable. We kept rolling. Found the first store with the time bonus. We purchased $15.01 in goods. Maximum bonus. Two teams rolled in as we were rolling out. That was a bit odd. We had only been passed by one team at this point. Honestly we were not thinking of this as a race. We just were rolling under Shark rules. Keep swimming. No stopping. Michele cracked the whip to keep us focused. Guthrie and I had lots of crazy I mean great ideas for team photos. At some point we came across what can only be described as Zombie Santa. Not gonna lie it made me nervous. But we snapped some pics laughed and got moving. We started just clicking off the miles. Right at the end a team "caught" us as we waited for traffic. But we dug deep and beat them to the finish. What an amazing day. I love this team and what it stands for. Guthrie and Joanna are the newest HUP. Michele and I are like Rogue and Old Man Logan bringing the next generation of X-Men into the fold. This season is off to a rad start. HUGE props and respect to Michele, Joanna and Guthrie for indulging me in this boondoggle.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Full Hasselhoff

Cross in September is a cruel mistress. We get hyped all summer for it. Sure #crossiscoming is a running joke that we use to mess with people a bit. Especially when we start posting that hashtag in June. But we do really live for this time of year. All bikes and bike riding are great. I probably prefer adventure rides over actual CX racing at this point. I am definitely built more for long, slow endurance rides in VT...nobody can you see you suffer on a Class 4 road in Woodstock. It is just you and the squirrels. Who can be vicious. No doubt. But there is nothing like CX. It is part a reunion. Part rolling circus. It is our version of Beer League Softball as my friend the aging hipster once said. We always say "Cross is fun" And while yeah it is fun. Cross in September is brutal. Most years I come into September with some fitness. I usually do a mtn bike race or two. Do some actual CX training. Maybe run if I am feeling really spicy. Yeah not this year.

I went full couch to CX season. So why is CX in September so hard? Humidity is a beast. I am built for winter. I am not built for going full out in 80 degree heat with 80 percent humidity. People are fast in September. All the damn roadies and mtn bikers have been racing all season. They are flying. I mentioned my summer was filled with soul rides in VT right? I have zero regrets. But I have been at this game for a while. Its amazing I can be this bad at something I have done for so long. The starts have been umm interesting to say the least. White Park is always fast. It is one of the fastest courses we race. Not sure if it is the stacked fields or just the way the course is laid out. But it is also one of my favorite courses. A great mix of turns and tech. Three brutal loose runups and a sick descent. I got there and met up with all my friends. Saw a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while. We camped out in the Chainline tent and got our groove on.

Did I mention it was hot? Damn. I wasn't really prepared for how hot it was going to be. I love my OG HUP Noir. But it is all black. My helmet is black. Just like my soul. But for now I am really not thinking about that. Way too may high fives and checking out all the new bikes etc. Eric writes his max heart rate on his wrist with a sharpie. I am not sure if this is for humor or to keep him from having a stroke. I don't go into these races with expectations. If you have zero expectations you really ensure you will have a great time no matter what. Sure there are a few people I sort of think yeah it would be cool to race with them today and see how it goes. But I am a mid-packer at best. Probably more like party at the back at this point. We do some typical controlled chaos of a call up. Volunteers on the front row. Points leaders on the front. The front is pointy. That is all I will say. I sort of get boxed out of the second row. I am too nice sometimes aren't I? But it is Beer League Softball and realistically it won't make much difference. Although in Cross and especially SSCX the start is everything. If you aren't at or near the front it is over. You are literally on your own for the next 40 minutes doing a solo TT.

So we go 0-60 in a blink of an eye. Wow my starts are really bad this season. I get clipped in and am seriously DFL. This is the second race in a row where I am off the back right from the gun. I guess riding gravel at a gentleman's pace doesn't really translate to full gas off the line. Who knew? Might need to work on that before Midnight CX...So ok I am OTB. No need to panic. Ok maybe I panicked a tad. But I kind of regain contact by the time we get to the playground. And I can see Eric albeit he is four turns ahead of me and accelerating. I start catching some people. Oddly the horrible runups slow people down enough that I can catch up. That is weird but I will take it. I get through the first lap and am pretty much seeing stars. I see Utah. He is like "CHIP LETS HANGOUT!!" I love hangs amigo but I have to catch some people bro.....we ride a lap or two together. We come through and I see 5 to go. No. God. How can you post 5 to go. Just don't put the card up. Or hand me a cold Dale's before showing me that...soul crusher. But I am riding with Utah so its ok.

Utah kind of fades. I think he went out way to fast. And he has cracked ribs. And he rode all the runups. He is a beast. I see a few people ahead. All cross races are about attrition. People explode. Crash. Implode. If you hang in you are guaranteed to move up. It is like the Hunger Games. So when I see Tim sort of looking rough I know something bad has happened. Turns out later he had trouble with his pedal on the sick descent and crashed and then may have been run over by Eric. As I said it gets crazy in the middle of a race like White Park. A little about the descent. It is probably one of my favorites in New England. You have to run up this blown out sidehill. Then get to the top and remount and pray you clip in. You pretty much drop in blind. After the second drop you can see and blast out onto the field and go full gas across the grass to the finish. It is a pretty unique feature.

So amid my soul searching and finding a reason to continue this beating I am taking I hear and see cool people. A mix of friends old and new and random cool Cx peeps. Some really funny heckles. Eric Marro seriously kept me from going to a really dark place with his comments. So I will own it. I went Full Hasselhoff. What is FH? David Hasselhoff is a god among men. An impressive amount of chest and body hair. And not afraid to flaunt it. I tend to be a bit reserved. I am a dad. My days of wearing a skinsuit are over. They say dadbods are hot. I can't really confirm this but I know I was about to have heat stroke so I did the only thing I could think of. I unzipped my jersey. If I could have ripped the sleeves off mid-race I would have done so. I instantly felt better. I mean I no longer felt like I was going to die. And oddly some people who I started to catch did not look so fresh. I mean if you look at the photos of me on the internet I look like a hotmess. But really I was coming back. I swear.

I did somehow claw my way back to being very close to Grant. I almost thought for a millisecond that I was going to be able to catch him and sprint it out for who knows what back of the pack spot..but it was fun chasing him and trying to use some tactics to catch him. It didn't work but it made the last lap a lot of fun. We finished up. I collapsed in the tent and contemplated what just happened. Wow. That was the most brutal race I have ever done. I am literally counting the days until the snow falls. Why is racing CX in the heat so horrible? I mean mtn biking happens in summer. It is never this bad. Who knows it must be some cruel trick of the Cx Gods. I mean Cx is supposed to be a winter sport. If global warming really does mess with our Fall we may need to consider a new mantra. NOCXINSEPT...ever. If September is the new August I may have to retire...

Full Hasselhoff by Russ Campbell

So here it is in all its glory. Full Hasselhoff by Russ. It is a hotmess but also a fantastic shot. Harkens to epic Rapha shots in Roubaix. Cross dangling. Sweat flying. In the drops. Damn it was a good day. Thanks to everyone who makes the NECX and the Zank SSCX Series so rad. Next stop on this world tour is Midnight Ride of CX. DONOTMISSIT. I know I always say we have something special planned. In this case I am 100% serious. You will not want to miss it. Thanks for reading

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Drops beat tops every time

Ok this is about a week late and a dollar short. But I wanted to get it down on the blog before the next race. The Zank SSCX series is some kind of redheaded stepchild, magic unicorn, drunk ginger leprechaun that comes out to play each Cyclocross season in New England. It was born on the beer soaked fields of White Barn Farm seven years ago at Ice Weasels. Jerry, Zank, Myette, Utah and I were drunk. Obviously. And I think Jerry said something like why don't we do this all season? Not the out of control keg party but the SSCX thing? Racing SSCX is cool. I can't say no to my friends if you haven't noticed. If I ever said no to you, which is doubtful with my track record, please don't infer we aren't friends. It just means my day job got in the way of my rad job....

Blue Steel FTW. We have water bottles. You know you want one. Or two. Find us at the races while they last 

But I digress. So this our seventh season I promised to tighten up the calendar a bit. I wanted to avoid the confusion of double race days. Although Thea, Kevin and Lesli will be forever my heroes for doing the Hartford/Quad double it is sub-optimal with a point series to have two races on the same day. Colin says mean things to me when we do this. So you know. I avoid that. No calendar will make everyone happy. I love all the races. I wish every one could be in the series. But a Baker's dozen or a dozen seems about right. Especially as we don't do drops. Participation is encouraged and rewarded. This season is lining up to be pretty sweet. Hartford secured the Saturday before Quad! That made my whole season. I love Ron Manizza. Mansfield Hollow is probably one of my favorite races in the NECX. He embraced our series early on. Really he was one of the first promoters who was like "Oh hell yeah you want a SSCX race? Let's do it!" And he has always supported us. And I have always supported him for that type of loyalty. When I heard Hartford would be on a different day than Quad CX I got very excited. And you know how excitable I can get.

 I sourced the two leaders denim vests. Utah did it last year. I felt obligated to do it this year. Utah walked me through it. Oddly Levi thinks a small women is TINY. And a MEDIUM Man is HUUUUUGGGGEEE. So yeah there is that. But the vests are legit. I rattle canned the hell out of them. I wanted to add some flair but only the vest holder can do that. It is like a ritual. Not unlike the Stanley Cup. You win it you can do what ever you want with it. Literally. And in our case it is encouraged. I want each leaders signature stamped on these denim vests. My life as you all may or may not know is about my family. People say that but in my case it is my J.O.B. My wife is a very successful businesswomen and amazing person. We have two amazing kids. They need my help. It is the best job I have ever had. But it creeps up on me and I sometimes get pulled in many directions. Syd the kid was having a rough day Saturday am. My friends joke that the kids don't get to have rough days on a race day but family first to me is not just a tag line. It is my way of life. I am like a Samurai in that sense. I would lay my life down for these three women. So we somehow end up with Syd the kid in the van heading south towards Hartford. She loves bike races. She doesn't want to race she just loves the scene. It is really cool. Lets face it.

I get it. Your bike race feels more important than anything else on race day. But its not. As my good friend Fatmarc would say this is Beer League Softball. So Syd is having a shitty day. We drive south listening to the new Tay Tay album. This actually becomes the soundtrack for my entire race which is awesome. In my head of course. Now if I flashed some Benjamins at Ryan Kelly he'd do this for me but most announcers won't play Taylor Swift for any entire bike race. When its in your head it lasts forever! So we actually are having a good time. Syd has never been to CT! And is loving it. We get a bit hungry so pull off at an exit that google maps has told us has a Subway. I get discombobulated. I say "Syd where is the Subway?" She says "next to the strip club" Ummm Wut? Yeah there is a strip club next to the Subway. And its busy. At 11 am on a Saturday. Syd and I play Stripper or Patron while we wait in line. My kids are oddly cool with strippers and strip clubs. God love this generation.

Thea the women's leader and queen of all HUP style 

So our trip to Electric Blue, I mean Subway sets the tone for the whole day. We get to the venue in Hartford and I get that feeling. Its like a reunion. Yeah sure I spend a ton of time with a lot of these Jabronis. But a lot of them I only see this time of year. And they are literally my second family. I park next to Lesli. We find the rest of the crew and set up a bit of a compound. These races are as much about the race and racing as they are about seeing your friends. I love that about Cyclocross and especially about our SSCX crew. The MAZ/Zank crew are all business. New team, new energy. All awesome. Mike Zank my friend, title sponsor and heavy metal god of thunder has been on a mission. And its all coming down to this moment. I love Mike. He's an amazing bike builder and family man and friend. He's also a damn beast of a bike racer. It is nice to see this all come together. That is what life should be about honestly.

Avi by Jon Nable. Not at Hartford but made Syd's day with his in race commentary 

So we do our usual dance. We get it all together and we line up. I sort of line up next to who I want to ride with. Note I did not say "race" I have been literally sitting on my couch the last three months. Okay a slight lie but not totally untrue. Zero CX practice. Haven't raced or practiced CX since the past Ice Weasels. Why should I? This is Beer League Softball after all. So whistle blows. I am feeling ok. Then we hit some god awful paved climb. Fuck. Ok. It is all good. Oh shit. I am DFL. Ok maybe get moving. This was more about participation than results but you always want to do OK. Right? So I move up. Nothing douchy. I swear. Find a group. Party at the back. Then after a few laps lock in with the the Worcester crew. Pretty amazing racing with dudes you rode with the first time a week ago. The Worcester crew are awesome. Might be my new favorite group of riders. So we play some cat and mouse. I only rode with them that one time on a decidedly bananas course so unclear at what their strengths and weaknesses are. The beauty of being so old and having been at this game for so long is you get the mental part. The fitness part? Yeah that is a hotmess. But we settle in. Honestly I haven't had this type of mental race in decades. It is actually really rad. I ride pretty much four laps with Dave. We go back and forth. I get away on the run up. WUT?! It is a horribly steep wall so maybe short stubby legs help. Then he reels me back on the technical off cambers by the gazebo.

This course is incredible. Has everything. So many great pieces of a puzzle. So we go back and forth. Last lap I know what has to happen. But he does too. I don't gap him on the run up. I crash a bit on an off camber. I catch him at the barriers. We ride together to the Gazebos. I know in my head I have to get by him at the sand pit. But I REFUSE to do anything douchey. I mean why? Why would you do that? So we are right together. Paved chicane. Then straight away to the finish. I am on the tops. He is in the drops. Game. Over. Best sprint of my life though. I can't remember the last time I sprinted like that for a finish. I came through hot. He beat me by a wheel. Or less. Mike Wissell tackled me to keep me from crashing. Best. Day. Ever. I love all of you SSCXers. We have two new leaders. The series is just kicking off. Please join us for all this fun.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

3Cross Kick Off Party

3Cross Brewing Company in Worcester is a new sponsor for the Zank SSCX Series. They came on board last season and became much more than a sponsor. I take sponsorship very seriously. I often call it more support than sponsorship as I like to think of it as a two way street and a relationship/partnership. Honestly it is what I love most about this series. All our sponsors are our good friends. Last year 3Cross came in big time. And from the first race you could tell it was going to be a great fit. Both Jessica Howland and Dave Howland the owners of 3Cross are cyclists. They came out to the races and raced and hung out and it was awesome. The Zank crew all live very close to 3Cross in Worcester. The Zip Tie Fairy Lesli Cohen is great friends with Jess and Dave and would always tell me about their great rides. So it seemed only natural to have a kick off party and ride for the series at 3Cross. 3Cross was stoked about the idea and next thing we knew a great new tradition in the Zank Series was born!

Jess and Dave curated the route. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I kind of assumed we would be doing a bit of an urban adventure. Heavy on the pavement and cool factor but not a lot of trails. Wow. Was I wrong. We met at 3Cross around 1. It was my first time to the Brewery and I was blown away. It is a great location and the vibe inside is so awesome. Bikes everywhere. Classic Klein hanging from the ceiling. An old Yo Eddy. Lion of Flanders flag hanging in the corner. My type of place. We did what bike racers do and sort of mingled around. Got our kit on exchanged hugs. Checked out each others bikes etc. Once everyone arrived we all got together and did something I don't think I have ever done. We all got in a circle and Rebekah Weiner one of the ride leaders asked each person to introduce themselves and to answer a question. The question posed was "what would be your dream job" The answers were pretty great. And it was a really nice way to get everyone to know each other a bit more before heading out on an adventure ride together. It certainly diffused some of the nervous energy that all bike riders have before heading out on a ride.

We split into two groups. Jason led the group I was in that was around 15 riders. And Dave and Jess led the other group. Like all group adventure rides the two groups would morph into each other depending on flats, crashes, and other shenanigans. Honestly I still haven't processed what went down on this ride. Like I said I was expecting an urban alley cat type of ride. What I got was basically Feats of Strength like we did in Philly years ago at SSCXWC. Worcester has incredible riding. Like incredible. Who knew? The most legit technical CX trails I have ever ridden on my CX bike. Full CXenduro. And honestly I have never seen CX riders this smooth and confident on tech on a CX bike. I mean I ride with very talented riders all the time. But I have never seen anything like this. Jason was a perfect ride leader. Funny. Smooth. Fearless. Bloody. And on a SSCX. Thank god I brought my RoboZank on this ride. So Worcester has hills? Again, who knew? Lots and lots of techy climbing.

The first technical trail section (which in hindsight was a buff trail in comparison) things got a bit exciting to say the least. It had a great little descent that took its first toll. Kevin O flatted on some gnar. I assumed he was fine. The group held up and waited but I decided to ride back just to make sure he had it sorted. Along the way I bumped into Dave. We had a great chat and then we went looking for Kevin. Kevin had been absorbed by the other group. We all said hi and then zoomed off to regroup. We all had a nice chat along the way. I felt so at home with these riders. I can't think of anything that brings people from such different backgrounds and experiences together like the bike. I certainly knew a handful of the folks on the ride. But it was amazing how the whole group from the first moment was in synch.

We split into two groups again. When riding trails it really is important to try to keep group size to a minimum. Its better for all parties involved. What I love about riding CX bikes on trails is that you really have to think a bit more about everything. Sure a modern CX bike with fat tubeless tires and hydro disc brakes expands what you can ride you still are on a CX bike. The limits become real apparent fast. What I loved about Jason's feedback on the ride was that he would have us stop pretty often to regroup. Then tell us what was coming up. I especially loved that each time he would say "ok so the real technical stuff is coming up" I would just laugh inside thinking that wasn't the technical stuff?

Jason didn't lie either. The ride started out on pretty smooth flow trails and got progressively harder and more technical. This was actually really smart. We all got pretty loosened up by the time we hit the real tech. I mean the final decent we rode was hands down the rowdiest trail I have ever ridden on a CX bike. It would have been challenging on a mtn bike. I was right behind my friend Jed at the top. Probably too close as he hit something and then ended up surfing his top tube into the trees. How he didn't die is honestly beyond me. It was one of those crashes you see firsthand where everything slows down and you get tunnel vision and you think "oh shit, this is not good" Jed somehow found the softest trees to smash into. And laughed the whole crash off.

After making sure Jed was ok I got back up to speed and starting bouncing off roots, rocks and god knows what. As I am coming in way too hot I see Chris stopped at the top of a rock wall. Now I pride myself on being pretty technically savvy on my CX bike. RoboZank has certainly upped my confidence. That bike was purpose built for riding techy trails. But this wall looks nuts. I stop and look over. Yeah, full send rock wall. Of course as Chris and I are contemplating our deaths some local guy just comes flying past us and drops down the wall. Laughing. In a fluro pink jersey. So many people are laughing as they send it or crash. Some poor rider just ends up smashing through trees like some Sasquatch.

We all regroup at the bottom of the trail and just talk story. The list of people who rode that rock wall is impressive. All did it on CX bikes. Some on cantis. Rides like this prove once again that the cross bike is the perfect do everything machine. Can you ride everything? Well after this ride that is debatable and swings toward yes. But guess what if you are freaked out by something you can walk. I walked a ton of stuff. Zero shame in that.

One thing I really love about these types of rides is that they bring so many different types of cyclists together. Racers, adventure riders, mtbers, randoneers, its just a whole melting pot. Honestly I prefer these rides over an actual CX race. Big time. I love CX racing it is a wonderful hotmess. And it can be a great way to hang out with friends etc. But I would rather ride with friends for 2-4 hours and then hang out over a beer at a cool spot than race for 45 then everyone bails. The ride/fun factor ratio for me wins on these rides every single time. It also is a wonderful way to meet new cyclists, ride in an area you never would have even known existed before and expand what you can do on the bike. I was so impressed with Worcester and the cycling scene. And having a hub like 3Cross to have rides and fun roll out of is a gift. Dave and Jess are doing right. And the beer is fantastic!

 The ride and party were a benefit for the Greater Worcester Land Trust. And you could tell from the ride that a lot has gone into both preserving these trails and turning them into something very special. We raised over $300. Huge thanks to 3Cross, Jess and Dave, Jason, Rebekah, Lesli and all who came out to ride. HUGE thanks to those who sponsored the ride: 3Cross, Jake's Old Fashioned Ice Cream & Bakeshop, Vittoria, Cross Propz, Mad Alchemy, Mighty Leaf Tea and Kevin for making amazing Coozies. All in all a fantastic time. If you can join 3Cross for one of their Thursday night rides. You will not be disappointed.

Hope to see a ton of you this weekend. We have a double kick off weekend. First race at Hartford on Saturday and Quad Sunday. It is on like Donkey Kong my friends!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Everybody Hurts

"When you feel like letting go. Hold on. Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hands up. You are not alone. Hang on." I am sure you all recognized the title and lyrics to the REM song correct? Really the prefect theme song for a gravel/adventure ride specialist like myself. Adventure rides are BRUTAL. In a beautiful way. Honestly after this summer all I really want to do are Adventure rides. And I am really not that good at them. I am a flatlander. But my favorite rides are in VT. In case you have never been to VT it is not really flat. I am of a certain age. I certainly am not skinny by any stretch. But what I do have is grit. I don't really give up. And I can "enjoy" suffering. The mental and physical suffering of endurance type events. I am not really great at actual suffering. I am kind of a baby actually. Racing is cool. I get a lot out of it still. Mostly the camaraderie and opportunity to see so many of my friends in one spot. It is my version of golf, or NFL ticket or NASCAR I guess. But I am not a racer anymore. But I race. But adventure riding or gravel riding or what ever you want to call it now that I get excited about. I have probably 3-4 events I really love. Rasputitsa, the NEBRA Adventure Ride, D2R2, and VT Overland. Those 4 really are what its all about. Totally different but all so beautiful. One day I will do all four in a season.

I probably get to do 2 of the 4 events and sprinkle one other in for fun to mix things up. This year I had D2R2 as the event I really wanted to focus on. We did it last year and had a blast. Did the full D2R2 experience. Camped out with friends, BBQ dinner the night before, great ride, swam in the river after the ride. It was perfect. I had reached out to a great group of friends to ride with and was going to camp with one of the best wingmen on the planet. And then like lots of great plans it went up in flames. I was riding through a field I ride through a million times when I got hit by what felt like a bullet to my leg. How I didn't crash is beyond me. Some of the worst pain I have ever felt. I look down and a wasp is stuck in the elastic band of my bib shorts and is lighting me up. I rip it off my leg and throw it to the side. I get the bike and myself under control and assess the situation. It hurt like a mofo but I seem "ok". I finish up my ride and head home. I take a shower. After the shower the leg looks funny. An hour later it looks less funny and really actually pretty bad. And is warm to the touch. So off to the Urgent Care.

Now anyone who knows me and my family knows we are no stranger to ERs and oddball quasi-medical emergencies. Never a dull moment in my house! I see the Nurse Practitioner and assume its fine. She is actually impressed by how bad it is and doesn't play around and gives me antibiotics and Prednisone. She warns me about the Prednisone. As does a close friend. But I am a chipper guy I assume it will be no big deal. Um yeah. It crushes me. Never felt so horrible on meds as that protocol. So suffice it to say I missed D2R2. Super bummed but no way I could have done that ride. I was a wreck. VT Overland was the next week and I figured a week of clean living should freshen me up for that ride. I was a little worried as I had zero energy from the meds and recovering from the infection/allergic reaction but I was optimistic. Especially as I was driving up with the newly crowned HUP Rookie of the Year! I have known Guthrie for some time. He is such a great guy. Strong as hell. Always smiling and positive. And always up for an adventure. HUP is a CX racing team. With an adventure ride problem. Guthrie really is the perfect HUP rider. So stoked he is on our team.

 I do some planning about how I am going to tackle VT Overland. I felt pretty ok at the NEBRA Adventure Ride. That was about 61 miles and had some climbing. But Overland is tough. Not just the climbing which it has in spades but the Pave Sectors. Adventure rides come in all flavors and types. VT Overland is spicy to say the least. I love the legit Class 4 roads they throw in. You need to have a really good skill set to handle them without crashing or walking a bunch. As I freely admitted early I am not a climber. But I am built for the descents and have good skills in the gnar. So I am 100% ok suffering up some nasty cramp inducing climb for a 50 mph gravel road descent. Speaking of cramps I was pretty nervous about cramping on this ride. I knew my body wasn't right after being stung. I couldn't source any Endurolytes. And didn't really feel comfortable using a product I had never used before so opted for boiled potatoes and Skratch. I also had some margarita clif blocks. I felt prepared and was really stoked to be traveling with Guthrie and his friend Joanna. A big part of adventure rides is rolling with a good crew.

As I said earlier Guthrie is awesome. New to HUP but a good friend and someone I have ridden with a lot. He has that amazing mix of sick climbing ability, next level descending skills and a great attitude. Always funny and positive. I had met Joanna a few times before and knew her. She is a really cool person and super fit athlete. Her first CX race was Night Weasels last year. I remember walking the course with her and Guthrie and talking about the race. It didn't even occur to me that she had never raced CX before. Night Weasels is a tough CX course. Legit hard. She went out and crushed it. Won the Cat 4s straight up. She even wore her podium jersey at VT Overland. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball. All bike racers do that inner checklist before heading to an event: Helmet, shoes, etc. But we all have forgotten one key element to being able to ride. I remember once leaving my shoes at JD and Megs the day of the JAM Fundo. Joanna ended up leaving her shoes at home. 5 am roll outs are not easy and it is so easy to forget something. I give Joanna so much credit. I mean she didn't even flinch. She was in a good mood and just problem solving. I went to registration and asked for help. The response was incredible. Honestly it is the thing I LOVE most about these events. All the people involved want to help you. One of the volunteers called her daughter and asked her daughter to bring shoes to staging.

While we were waiting for the shoes all three of us kept asking people for shoes etc on the off chance the ones that were coming didn't work. At the end the best solution was running shoes and flat pedals. The promoters wife Kim Vollers literally took the running shoes she was wearing and gave them to Joanna to use for the ride. Joanna and Guthrie then went over to the Cannondale booth and the mechanic set up her bike with flat pedals. I was literally speechless that this worked. What was even more impressive was everyone's PMA. We all were joking and taking photos. Laughing about doing the ride in flat pedals. I mean DH racers use flat pedals? What could go wrong. We rolled out last to let 800+ of our close friends sort it out on the neutral start. So many people and so many cool bikes.

We hit the first climb and Guthrie and Joanna punch it! We just start floating up past groups of riders. At one point we hear a thick accent behind us reciting some Flemish. Then we realize he is reading the line off Guthries Blanco HUP kit. HUP kit has all kinds of easter eggs all over it. We are a Belgianophile team. And aren't afraid to flaunt it. Guthrie asks the nice man to translate the line for us. The Dutch guy says "As long at the Lion can claw, as long as he has teeth." All three of us start laughing. This really is the perfect way to get the ride started. As we climb we keep seeing more and more people we know. It really is so incredible how social these rides are. When you take away the crazy energy of racing and are just there for adventure and riding it just changes things. Sure you ride hard. And you suffer but it is beautiful because you are all suffering together. The three of us stay together for about half the ride. Joanna's ability to smash both the climbs and downhills on flat pedals and running shoes is beyond impressive. The downhills are probably the most impressive. I mean you hit 40 mph in a blink of an eye on these roads. And they are all washed out and nasty. I can't imagine not being attached to the bike.

I have a great second half mixed with riding with a group, then riding solo, smashing Pave Sectors like a boss and then having rigor mortis like leg cramps. I mean they were next level. But oddly if I got off the bike and just walked a touch they went away and I could hop back on. A little group crampo sort of merged together. And it really was amazing. We just supported each other the last ten miles. Kind words, smiles, recognition of the pain and suffering but also the reward of the views and descents.

The final descent down the grassy ski slope of Suicide Six was unreal. I made it. Honestly there were times I thought I might not finish. Seeing Anthony and Heidi at mile 40 with waffles and water bottles and some crazy ass rap music blaring out of a black SUV brought me back to life. Just a great, great day. 10 out of 10 and would do it again. I know its CX season. But my mind is going to be up in the hills in VT. Huge thanks to Kim Vollers and the whole staff at Overland for making our day so great. They literally saved the day.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Couch to NEBRA Adventure Ride

Adventure Ride sock game on point. By Michele
I consider myself a "Gravel Specialist" Or a semi-retired, recovering cyclocross addict. We all have our internal story lines about who we are and how we identify ourselves. So when my two worlds collide I get very excited. If you are unfamiliar with NEBRA or the NEBRA Adventure Ride. NEBRA is New England's local association for USAC. They work to grow the sport of cycling in so many ways. A ton of my friends are a part of this organization so I am always happy to help them in any way I can. If it includes a cool adventure ride in Western Mass curated by Resultsboy it is like the icing on the HUPcake. This is the second year of the ride. It is like a baby D2R2. With a little bit of a VT Overland influence. Dirt roads, jeep track, some gnar as well as some fairly brutal paved climbs all add up to a really fun day on the bike. Last year I did the short ride. This year I was peer pressured into doing the long ride.

HUP There it is. Courtesy of Lesli

Ok for full disclosure. I got the email where DJ Robert instructed the team to wear Blue. As you can see from the photo above I may have missed that part of the email and grabbed my usual OG Noir. I wear the black for all the right reasons. It did make for a pretty hilarious team photo! I will say that. It has been a while since we have had a HUP crew like this all together. My excitement got the better of me I won't lie. I had told my friend Matt that we would do the short ride. Now for the record there was most definitely NOT a 35-mile option. He kept saying we were doing the 35 and I was like wut? So we rolled out with a HUGE HUP posse. I had full intentions of sticking together with the team. So when we got to the split between the 45 and 70 I went straight with the team. Then waited. Matt looked at me with pretty much a death stare across the road. And then reluctantly pedaled over to us. He was not "happy" He had just come off a week's vacation that from what I could tell was one non-stop cocktail party with maybe one ride with Jerry in to break things up a bit. But how could you be super mad about riding with the HUP train?

Rest Stop Boss Meg by Lesli

My legs felt like shit. Seriously. I have been doing ZERO riding. I have been on my bike maybe twice a week. Dadding is hard. Summers mean full on dad duty 24/7. So both Matt and I were doing this ride pretty much right off the couch. Now once you get past say 30 shit gets real. It is sooooo inspiriting to see aging athletes who stay fit and get faster as they get older. But yeah I peaked back before we had kids. The last year I was "fit" was maybe 2013. That was a long time ago. It is hard to fake a long ride even when you are young if you haven't been riding. Over 40 it is rough let's just say that. But luckily we had a lot of help from our friends. Meg, JD, John, Oscar and Steve set up some great aid stations. Each aid station was so unique and reflected each hosts personality. I brought along Endurolytes and Margarita Clif Blocks. I was not going to die without a fight. Robert's potatoes also were a life saver. The team rode so well together. HUP is so special. It is just such a great crew. Matt may have cursed me a few times but riding the first half with the team was so great. Some really hilarious moments.

HUP Train kept a rollin by Michele
I think the highlights of the first section were riding under French King Bridge and hitting the sand box section at warp speed. Guthrie and I went through those sand pits like bosses. I will say this, the team is going to be flying this September. Matt, Michele and I would get popped off the group on the extended paved climbs. It hurt. A. Lot. But it was worth it. We would always be rewarded by some screaming descent or great jeep track for all our hard work. At aid station two I knew Matt and I needed to pull the eject cord on trying to ride the tigers tail of the HUP train though. The good news was at aid station two you could rejoin the 45 loop. It wasn't a true bailout but we really weren't doing that bad. And it was mostly downhill from there right? The second half had some really awesome sectors. My favorite was definitely Rattlesnake Gutter. It was a gorge basically. Rough gravel descent that was kind of off camber. Looked like one side had washed out. We had grouped up with the Pedal Power/Atomic Roaster crew. Matt and I are built for descending so it is hard to sit back when a choice descent like this opens up in front of you like a magic unicorn. I knew the three riders in front of me were CX racers and would not totally freak if I past them. So to make it funny instead of obnoxious I used my best Quebecois accent and said "excuse me I will be taking zee French Canadian line..." and high sided the berm and then dove into a gutter and then went to Warp Factor 11. It was incredible.

Couch to Adventure Ride is no joke by Lesli

We all rode back in together. Myette, Pat and Lauren did a three up sprint for the finish. I think Pat won. I was so hypoxic I could barely even see straight. Lauren just kept laughing and laughing. She really is the best. We got back in safe and sound. Zero flats. Zero mechanicals or biomechanicals. 61 miles. Just under 4 hours. Matt is pretending he hates me but I know he's glad he did our long/short hybrid route. HUGE thanks to HUP for being so amazing. HUGE Thanks to NEBRA, Colin, JD, John, Meg, Oscar, Steve and everyone who made this ride possible. You have to do this ride next year. It is soon much fun.

Live to ride, ride to live by Guthrie
A couple of quick thoughts. One. See the above photo? My teammate and friend Guthrie rode that on the long loop like a boss. Then commuted to work the next day on the same bike. Jesse rode a single speed. Two ladies drove up from Boston with City bikes and flat pedals. They had googled "fun bike rides in Mass" and found out about the ride. They are heroes and the type of people we need to welcome and bring into cycling. It really was the best story of the whole ride. The two of them had fun, smiled the whole time, never complained, thanked everyone, had pizza and beer and hung out after. A lot of bike racers could learn a thing or two from them.