Monday, June 5, 2017

Lion of Burlington

The Lion of Burlington is an annual HUP tradition. It is equal parts BBQ/gathering and equal parts shake off the cobwebs and get ready for CX season "training" ride. Most of HUP heard their CX alarm clock go off on June 1st and did not hit the snooze button. HUP is a CX racing team with an adventure ride/mtb racing habit. Michele and Ed have been hosting the LoB for some time now. Each year I emphatically say it is the "BEST ONE EVER" And each year it is true. Michele and Ed outdo themselves every year. They are such great hosts and put on a great ride to get everyone hungry for all the grillables. Michele Smith is the co-DS of HUP NECX. She is a Level 20 Trail Wizard. And the driving force behind HUP United in the NECX. She really has made the team what it is right now. And what the team is right now is something really special.

HUP has been around for about 10 years. It began as a kind of "anti-" team. By "anti-" team I mean a team that was not about sponsorships, free stuff, infighting and a me first generally bad attitude. It was about friends piling into small vehicles loaded with bikes and racing CX. HUP has outlived so many clubs and teams. And done more to grow the sport than a lot of those disbanded teams ever did. HUP has always been about the grassroots and growing from the bottom up, instead of the top down. Don't get me wrong we have some very fast people on HUP. Some very dedicated and skilled riders. And a lot of people who work really hard all year around giving back to the sport. I think what makes me most proud is seeing how close we all are and how respectful and supportive we all are of each other. I mean we all like each other. Even after ten years! That is a pretty huge accomplishment for a bike team. Trust me.

One of the early principles of HUP was this concept of "One HUP Finds Another" It really is the best way to grow. Lion of Burlington gives us a chance to all get together in a low stress atmosphere and reconnect. Racing is always hectic. We love to have the Death Star at CX races and have a great time at the races. But racing is racing. Hard to not have nerves before and to be fairly cracked after. Rides like LoB let us hang out pretty much all day. We stop and take photos. Laugh about some crash or weird thing we saw at the last section. Just have fun. Like I said, HUP has been around a while. And we have teammates all over New England. So it is good to have events where we all can descend upon someones house and have a great HQ for a big ride. The ride itself is a true mixed terrain ride. We ride through a Mall! We ride through a model airplane landing area. We ride some great trails. And we ride through a parking garage. We also ride by something that can only be described as a Scottish Hooters. Are people's lives really this empty that they want to go to a Scottish Hooters? The parking lot was suspiciously empty. Thank god.

We rolled out around noon in a parade style rollout. I would say maybe 25 of us? Maybe 30. At one of the first trail sectors we split up into Fast, moderate and fun groups. I ended up sweeping the moderate group. I ended up riding with Todd R, Chris F, Kevin, Thea, Chris, Mike Golay, Jeremy and my friend Guthrie. We really were a perfect group. Everyone was on the same page as far as speed and mindset of the ride. Very little attacking or going after KOMs. Thank god because no way I could write any checks like that at this point. The group had the entire spectrum of bikes and setups. Kevin was on a BALLER Santa Cruz CX bike and was rocking 47 slicks. We called them "hint of filetreads". On the other side of the pendulum we had Mike on his HT 27.5 XC race bike. I would say 99% of us were on some type of disco CX bike. My favorite parts of these rides is when you sort of session things. The group would come up to some obstacle or drop off or something and a few people would scope it out and then we would just have fun and try and ride it. The things Kevin was able to ride on big slick balloon tires was pretty impressive to say the least!

The saving throw of the day was when we were rolling along Redcoat Lane and we saw a Garmin on the ground. GARMIN down!!! We returned it to Chris and were rewarded with first dibs on the good beer when we returned to the BBQ. Not that there was any lack of good beer at the BBQ! You know its a magic cooler when you go home with more good beer in your cooler than you arrived with! I am going to need to schedule a ride just to get people to my house to help me drink all this beer!

Our ride really was uneventful which is a victory in my mind. One flat. One issue with #rareplants. But all in all zero problems. Just a blast on the bike. Can't even wait for the next ride/BBQ. Thinking it will need to involve some swimming hole somewhere. Plotting and scheming as I type this here blog post. HUGE thanks to Michele and Ed our Alpha-HUP and master hosts! When Ed goes tactical on the grill everyone is happy! HUGE thanks to all the HUP who came out to play and hang out. HUGE thanks to Zac Daab our founder and top supporter. He has always supported us. And continues to do so on a level that means so much to us. Michele and I are so grateful to ZD for all he does for us and the team. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ronde Redux

Rolling on the NTF bike path photo by Russ 
This post is alternatively titled HUP Plus Russ and Never Surrender. But I stole the title Ronde Redux from my friend Guthrie's Strava and like it. The Ronde de Rosey is a monument of NECX CX. It is a HUP/Zank colab that really is an excuse to ride in the woods all day on CX bikes and then retire to the Washington Square Tavern for burgers and beers. My co-DS and trail wizard supreme Michele Smith has been putting together the gps file for the event and helping steer all of us through the route safely for years. This year was probably her best wizardry. I would send her snippets of Strava files after I would do recon on a section. She put it all together to basically make a Greatest Hits of the #CBL. All my favorite places to ride melded together to one really awesome Ronde route. She knows more about route creation than anyone I know. Unfortunately she couldn't ride the actual Ronde. So we agreed a do over was required. We assembled a rad crew and set out from Cafe Fixe at 8 am this past Sunday.

HUP plus Russ=Michele, Russ and Chris
It was so great to see the crew. It had been way to long since we all last rode together. I told my wife I would be home by noon. And would love to go to Yoga at 6 pm. Spa Yoga sounds pretty nice. I mean they give you chocolate. As we rolled out we caught up on the usual things. Just chatted and rolled through Brookline. It was a beautiful day. Not to be a jerk but the early stages of the actual Ronde can be how you say "spirited" Any time you get 120 bike racers together even if it is for a benefit ride they get frisky. And even though you may know a lot of them they may do certain things on the bike that may surprise you. A four person crew like this is solid. You don't even need to rely on verbal communication. A hand signal. A shift of the bike. They know what you are doing. It frankly is what I value most in riding friends these days.

Disaster strikes in Cutler by Michele

We pop into Skyline and the trails are in great shape. We flow through the woods and come out by the golf course. We are having a great time. I ask if Michele wants to follow the route exactly as it was a month ago or whether she wants to freelance a bit. We had a ton of rain this spring so we had to reroute around some very wet trails. Most all of them were dry now so we didn't have to avoid anything. Michele and Chris both liked the idea of doing the route as it was designed. I was fine with that. Now for a bit of perspective for those who maybe aren't familiar with the Ronde de Rosey. It is a Park to Park CX ride. You ride from one park to another. Avoiding paved roads as much as possible. It goes from fireroad to single track to legit mtb trail to bike path and all shades in between. Cutler is a renowned destroyer of bikes and bodies. It is sneaky as it is a very mellow place to ride. But I think it is cursed. Like something super dark resides there and doles out beat downs when it is feeling agitated.
HUP There it is by Russ

The trail we call West Side is on the other side of 95. It is a trail. Sort of. It is overgrown and gets zero love. People throw trash out their windows onto it from the highway. I have found dead deer across the trail. But it keeps you off pavement so is a win in my mind. We are cruising along hopping logs and traversing stream beds. We are about 45 minutes into the ride. When disaster hits. Ok that is dramatic. Medi-flights weren't called in. But anyway. I am behind Michele. I hear a stick suck up into her rear wheel. Before I can even say "wait" The stick has Tomahawk chopped her derailler off. Ok then now its an adventure! We proceed to assess the situation. Rule #1 of a good crew. No one FREAKS out. Very important. We actually all were still in really good moods. Even Michele who's bike was just pretty much FUBAR'd. And it was. We take the mech off. Michele amazingly has a spare hanger in her kit. People LEARN from Michele. She carries actual things that are useful on an adventure ride. Spare hanger, duct tape, zip ties. I need to start doing this. And wearing sunblock. But I digress.

A quick trip to the HUP SSC and we are back on the road

Ok so we turn the bike into a semi-operational SSCX bike. And by semi I mean every time the chain is under load it falls off or shifts up and jams. We flounder through the woods until we punch out back on the road. Again, no one is getting mad. No one tossed a bike. No one is even in a bad mood. We roll back to my house and the HUP SSC. Luckily (and I still don't know how this is possible) Michele is my bike twin. I have two other bike twins. Abel and LPB. Bike twins are a beautiful thing. It means you share the same position so we literally don't change a thing on the bikes. We put her pedals on my green SSCX fix a flat and off we go. The fact that Michele is psyched about riding 40 miles of the Ronde on a single speed with disc brakes and tires she has never used is incredible. Again, my hero. And embraces the whole "Never Surrender" attitude. I won't lie. When we came home to my house and my wife and kids were eating quiche I was almost like "hey you guys have a great ride I am gonna eat brunch and hit the hot tub" But we were on a mission.

Always stop at lemonade stands by Michele
The ride takes on a whole new life with Michele riding Jager. That bike has secret powers. SSCX can be a blast in the woods. I hate climbing so any route I design will be light on the climbing and high on the rad scale. We find some really cool stuff out on the route. Stop to check out black snakes, road kill, all the stuff you miss when you are chewing off your stem trying to go as fast as possible. We stop at a Dunkins and refuel. The ride is going so great. Chris has become some kind of death magnet for snakes, birds and chipmunks. It is like the woodland creatures have been communicating and are attacking him at every moment possible. We somehow survive this attack by nature. Sometimes it does feel like the trails are trying to exact some pound of flesh for past or present transgressions.

Stairway to Heaven by Michele

I am getting a bit bonky. Not full bonky town but close. I really haven't eaten much food. We have been riding for about seven hours. Ok our ride time isn't seven hours but we have been on the road for seven hours. Spirits are still high but I am now in full tractor beam mode to get back to the Tavern. All I can think about is that burger and cold beer. All we have left is the nice new aqueduct sector. As we roll on the pavement and are about 500 feet from the trail I see a lemonade stand. Damn I think. One of my sacred rules in life is always stop at a lemonade stand. I mean kids put their hearts into those. Anyone who is resourceful enough to do that deserves a few bucks. Even if the lemonade is horrible. Which it often is. So I lead us past it. Michele comes up and tells me the stand is for Gender Equality. I am like WUT? No way. I hop the curb and roll right back. I see their sign. I congratulate these young women for being a part of the resistance. We give them all our money. We leave with our pockets filled with brownies and our hearts filled with hope that the world is not totally going to hell in a hand basket. We get back to the Tavern just as Gerry is pulling up in his truck.

We share all our stories and enjoy a great meal and cold frosty beverage. Then we slip back into the night and our respective lives. We are so lucky to have this life and these great friends. Such a great day on the bike. Thank you to Michele, Russ and Chris for always being such a great crew.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shake it Off

The title of this post is not an homage to Taytay. This post is about pain. And injury. And the horrible job we all do managing both. "Shake it Off" "Rub some dirt on it" "HTFU" "Get up" We have all heard those things at varying decibels yelled at us in our athletic careers. Or our time riding and racing a bicycle. Grand Tour season means we get to see vivid photos and video of some poor bastard who hit the deck ripped all his spandex (and skin) off and rode to the finish line. Hard man. Tough. The envy of all. This isn't about me or cycling really. It is about being a good parent, dad and coach.

But like all things in my life the bike shaped me. It made me who I am. My earliest memory of childhood and getting hurt revolve around a bike race. I think I was 10? Maybe a bit younger. We lived on one side of a circle. My friend lived on the other side. It made for a perfect race circuit. The race started at my house. Two riders staged up. Then set out at warp speed. One took the low road. One the high. Who ever got to the Piersiak's house first won. We raced bikes when we got bored of rock fights, building forts in the woods and creating general mayhem. We were kids. It was a much more loose time in America. Your mom kicked you out around 9 am and didn't expect you home until it got dark.

So one day I was winning. Big time And I was sneaking little looks between the houses to see if Robby Sullivan was gaining on me. I was so stoked to be beating Robbie. We were arch rivals at this contest. I lost more than I won so this was a good day. My euphoria was about to be short lived though. As I bring my head around to look up the road I straighten up just in time to see a parked car right in my path. Luckily I am going so fast I don't even attempt to brake. There is no time anyway. I hit the car full speed and full on.

Now cars in the '70s were solid. Big. Metal. No plastic. I sail over the car and hit the hood. I sort of roll over it and land on my feet on the pavement. Well lost that race. Shit. I dust off my wrangler jeans and pick my bike up and start riding home. Pretty sure I had a concussion. Or just had my bell rung. As I am pedaling I notice my jeans are wet. Like soaking wet. Ok that is weird. I get home and find my mom. "MOM I CRASHED MY BIKE!" Moms looks at me. Ok you look ok. Then I lift up my jean leg. Massive cut across the knee. Blood is soaked all down the leg. It is making a nice red smile. My mom casually grabs a wash cloth and washes off the blood. Without washing her hands she pushes the fat that was sticking out of the wound and slaps a butterfly bandage on it.

She then waves her magic nurse wand and says I am ok and to go back out and play some more with Robbie until dinner is ready. This scenario on some level would replay again and again for my entire youth. My mom was a tough nurse from Rosindale. Her brother was a hockey player. They were dirt poor. Toughness wasn't a thing to be celebrated etc it just was. You were tough. Or you didn't survive.

But looking back and even reflecting on my adult life and my relationship with pain, injury and life choices I wonder just what type of dark passenger I really inherited. I really am not the type of person to look back and fret about things like that. At 50 you are in charge of your Karma. Own it. But when you have kids. And you coach other kids you start to change your view and think a bit about how you view injury, pain, toughness etc.

As a parent you want your kids to have a better life than you did. Even if you had the best life you want things to be better for them. And if you maybe had a tough childhood you want to make sure they live a pain free childhood. I know that is impossible but it is a good goal to have. The times are certainly different as well. And for the better. I am glad I am a man living in this age. I am more present than my dad or his dad ever were. I am certainly more "sensitive" than they ever were. And have been involved in the care of my kids from day one.

But I am getting way off track. This is supposed to be about Syd. Syd loves hockey. And lacrosse. Two sports I love. Two very tough sports. Syd has been hurt in hockey. A concussion. Separated shoulder. But as she has become a better skater and gotten a grasp of the game she has been pretty injury free. Knock on wood. I have always tried to balance telling her she is tough and celebrating that and letting her be not tough. But I sometimes probably put out that being tough is good. Syd has had a fantastic Lacrosse season. She plays goal. Goalies are like magical unicorns. Especially a good one. At her last game she stopped 11 shots. Only let one in. That is unprecedented.

The goalie in lacrosse is in a tough spot. I would say a save percentage of 50% is good. There is a saying that if you as the goalie stop two shots you can help your team win. That is how frequent the shots go in the net.

On that last game she got chopped from behind and fell. She seemed fine. Finished the game. Like I said its tough. She gets hit by balls in the leg, arm shoulder. Her pain tolerance is high. She was fine Saturday after the Friday night game. Then Sunday am she couldn't walk. I assumed it was a sore muscle etc. So I did what I do. I got her some treatment. Figured out a solution. Got her a brace. Taped the leg and off we went to LAX.

She had a good game but was obviously hurting. We went to see the Dr the next day. Orthopedist the next day. I breathed a sigh of relief it was just a strain and a hammy. No breaks or torn ligaments. Two weeks of rest. Ok no worries. A bummer but it is what it is. We did the same routine we always do. RICE. Tape. Stretch. Etc. It was getting better but not really. So we went to the Physical Therapist. At PT as I was describing past injuries and the PT was doing an assessment I had an epiphany. One of those the room goes real quiet and you sort of get tunnel vision moments. What are we doing I thought? I am pulling out all the stops to get a 12 year old in net for a town league LAX game. She is in pain. Her body is not working right. So I texted my friend Michele. She always gives the best advice. This article she sent me pretty much made me cry.

So, I let go of some of my old demons. Being tough is dumb. Especially when you are 12. We are shutting it down. I hope she feels better and can go back to LAX before the season is over but if she doesn't it doesn't matter. Getting healthy and healing is all that matters. I learned a valuable lesson from this. They say pain is a great teacher. It truly is. And in this case my 12 year old and her pain taught me one of life's great lessons.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

That which does not kill you makes you stronger

Kanye wrote those lyrics. Totally. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Ok maybe some german guy stole them for some techno song. I don't know. I am going with Kanye. He knows suffering. I mean look who is married to. But I digress. The point is no truer words about cycling have ever been rapped. Kanye was probably rapping about the GAME. Not sure what the GAME is but that is probably what he was rapping about. I mean the GAME could be basketball but I think he's too short for basketball. Boxing? Hmmm nah his wife could kick his ass. Anyway. For our purposes the GAME is the Biker Life. I came to the Biker Life a broken man. I never rode bikes past the age of 16. Once I got my license it was all mustangs and what ever other car I could beg borrow or steal from my family. Even the nerd kids (who I was one of) never rode bikes post 16. Ok that one kid did. The same one who wore a helmet when he rode (WTF?), ate a macrobiotic diet and his family composted. Yeah you can tell he was really popular in a town all about hockey, keg parties and muscle cars.

I played hockey. And lacrosse. Got into martial arts and windsurfing. Went to college. My college (RISD) had ZERO sports. But did have a cycling club. I thought they were weirdos. No way I was joining a cycling club when I could sneak into frat parties at Brown. So how did I end up in the Biker Game? After college my girlfriend and I packed all our belongings into my jeep and headed west to SF. It was the summer of 1989. We made it out in one piece and still together. There was a dicey moment in Colorado where she almost ditched me but we stuck it out. We found a place in the Marina in SF. Cute little place with a  deck. Rent controlled. This was before the whole disaster so rent actually wasn't that bad for two twenty year olds with entry level jobs. We lived a very simple lifestyle. I sold all my windsurf stuff. Ironic because I was now 5 minutes from a world-class windsurfing location but you have to eat and pay the rent. So I took up surfing. Much cheaper and still a lot of fun. I worked three jobs. Sometimes four. I had a job as a clerk downtown for a law firm. I say clerk but it was really gopher. Go get lunch. Drop off fed ex. File stuff into boxes. Total glamour job. But they were nice so I stuck with it. 

On October 17 I got out of work a bit early to drop off some things for the office at Fed Ex. It was a gorgeous day. SF is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As I was walking towards to the Fed Ex office it was like a wave rolled over the city. I am sure it was some trick of my brain or something but I swear I saw the road come up in a wave like you would see in the Matrix. Then the buildings started shaking and all hell broke loose. Like I said we had just gotten to SF. In one of my jobs they had given us "Earthquake Training" That consisted of a pamphlet with panicked office workers hiding under desks or in doorways. I am one of those people who value safety so I pay attention to that stuff. For some reason one of the graphics in the pamphlet clicked in my brain. As the buildings were shaking and people were running my only thought was run for a doorway like the stick figure in the pamphlet and live!

Well, this of course was 100% the wrong survival mechanism. Yeah, if the whole row of buildings had collapsed maybe that would have been smart. And while the buildings weren't collapsing stuff was falling off the buildings. Facades, some glass. As I was running back towards the Fed Ex building a piece of brick about the size of a football went by my head and smashed into my leg as I was running. I was sure I broke my leg but I was running so fast I was able to dive over the counter and tuck myself under the counter with all the workers. Totally surreal moment. The shaking went on for a while. My leg was pretty jacked up. I couldn't walk. I think I held the hand of one of the Fed Ex workers as the building groaned above us. I was pretty sure I was going to die.

But then everything went quite. Then sirens and car alarms kicked in and it sounded like a disaster zone outside. I convinced the nice worker who's hand I was holding to drive me to the ER because my leg was broken. She put me in her car and drove me out to the Sunset. When she dropped me off a whole triage unit rushed out to see only me. They literally said are you the only one? I told them my story and they examined me and took X-rays. Somehow I did not break my leg. I walked home to see the Marina engulfed in flames. My apartment was fine and my girlfriend was in our living room eating all our survival supplies. You are supposed to have 7 days of food and water. We had a cocktails party worth. It was gone by night fall. The following weeks were something out of a dystopian novel but in no time things were back to "normal" I however was not "normal" I was suffering from pretty serious PTSD. And my leg was pretty messed up. While it wasn't broken I had a bruise from my femur all the way to my foot. I couldn't really walk.

I ended up losing my job downtown because I couldn't go into a building downtown. Felt like my whole world had collapsed no pun intended. I found a good therapist. Her office was on the outskirts of downtown. She was a super nice lady. We would take little walks towards the office buildings and then talk and sit down. I used to make her cry in our sessions. Therapy worked but it really didn't fix me. To help with my leg the PT suggested bike riding. I thought that was silly but borrowed a bike from a friend and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin. And that is when my life changed. I fell in love with the Marin Headlands and mountain biking. I found a job at a small rag called California Bicyclist. The crew that worked at Cal Bike were the most rad people I had ever met. And it set my life in an entirely different trajectory. The Biker Life saved me. It took years to shake off the PTSD. But it finally went away. The Biker Life continues to boggle my mind. It is not easy. It seems to be the hard way. But the rewards are endless. All my friends are bikers. I have more friends than I deserve. I have a community that I can count on and that gives so much back. I am so lucky to have been hurt that day. If that hadn't happened I don't even know how my life would have turned out. Thank you to all of you who have made this life so great.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Roll with a Good Crew

I have been on two cycling "teams" in my life. I use the term team loosely as most of the "teams" I have been on are more like clubs. Or a crew of friends on a mission to bring the funk to all things on two wheels. This cycling life has been a wild ride I will say that. It all got started out in Norcal in the late '80s early '90s when I got a job at a regional rag called California Bicyclist. It was like joining a cult. I started in the art department and worked my way up to editor. It transformed my life. From that point on 99% of my friends were bikers. I somehow found my way on one of the coolest builders in NorCals teams. Still not sure how I tricked them into letting me on the Sycip team. Mostly I think it was because Jeremy Sycip and I just were really good friends. I had some amazing times on Sycip. The first two years home in Boston I rode for Sycip. It was pretty rad racing in New England for a Norcal frame builder. I guess that red kit stood out or once again I made a good impression on the cool kids because somehow I snuck onto HUP United. I remember meeting Zac Daab at Providence Nationals. Next thing I knew I am one of the boys in blue. Bizarre how life works. 

While on HUP I have made some amazing friends. Best crew I have ever been a part of. In the ten (has it seriously been 10 years?) years I have been on HUP, I have had some incredible times on the bike. Rapha Gentleman's rides have gone amazingly well and epically bad. The Ronde de Rosey was born. We helped grow the women's team from 2 riders to 10 and a female DS of HUP NECX. We helped launch a lot of brands. We helped build this community we call the #NECX. HUP taught me what a team is about and what a community is all about. Zero drama, ride for your teammates, be there for people no matter what, be inclusive, no whining, live large, be nice and don't be a dick. I came to New England sort of fast and kind of hungry and with a chip on my shoulder. Twelve years later I am slow, my dad bod is legit but I am way happier than when I moved here and count myself as one of the luckiest people on the planet to have so many amazing friends, a healthy and happy family and the biker life. 

So when two of my best friends in the #NECX told me they were forming a new team and asked if I wanted to be a part of it I didn't even hesitate. Pete Smith of Mad Alchemy and Mike Zanconato are two of the coolest guys in the industry. Both have had such an impact on my life. Both have supported all my crazy shenanigans no matter what. And if you know me you know how off the wall I can get. This past year Pete moved home to New England after living in Colorado for a bit. It was so nice to reconnect with Pete and his family. The new team came together as a mash up of the Zank team and Pete's crew. With a few familiar faces in for good measure. It really is a group of tight friends first. All the riders are super strong, experienced and are just awesome people. I have known most of them for a very long time. The Zank crew are like brothers to me obviously. I am like their older really slow brother but you get the idea. I am so stoked to be a part of this team!

The new team is called Mad Alchemy Zanconato. The focus is on adventure. Road, mountain, gravel and of course cyclocross. Single speeds will be a huge part of this team. The Zank SSCX series is really where it all came together. We have some amazing sponsors in: Mad Alchemy, Zanconato Custom Cycles, Jakes Ice Cream, Tip Drip Lube, Selection Naturel, Craft USA, Challenge Tires, and Lazer Sport. The team consists of Pete Smith, Mike Zanconato, Keith Burgoyne, Lesli Cohen, Erik Saunders, Jason Howes, Liz Lukowski, Matt Mollo, Matt Myette, Roni Vetter, Peter Bradshaw, Ryan LaRocque, Scott Rosenthal, and myself.

For an idea of the types of races and rides we will be doing check out Carl's calendar. It really is the most amazing resource for all the great rides in New England and its environs. For now I just want to leave you with the thoughts that I have loved my time on Sycip and HUP and owe both those teams everything. Without them I would not have lived this amazing biker life. I will always be a part of HUP. My blood runs with HUP bleu. I will still be lurking around the Death Star. But I am also really excited about this new chapter. I am counting down the days to the Ronde de Rosey and the first chance to ride with this new crew and fly our new team colors. Until then follow our rad adventures on Instagram at Madalchemyzank.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Danger Zone

Liz Lukowski Glitter Bomb by Jon Nable
This photo of Liz Lukowski running through the Danger Zone at Ice Weasels by Jon Nable captures all that is great in the Zank SSCX series. A super rad racer just having a blast in a glitter body suit being chased by one of the best mechanics in the country. SSCX can and should be a place to let your hair down. Or wear wigs and body suits. Liz gets it. She is probably one of my favorite people in our circle of friends. Tough as nails, creative, adventurous spirt and just brings the funk. She texted me the week before Ice Weasels asking what type of wig I wanted. I wasn't really sure what she meant. I joking replied I wanted a Hockey Mullet wig. Preferably blonde as I always wanted to be a blonde. I had a head of shock blonde hair from ages 2-7. Sadly my Billy Idol hair do turned darkish brown. So sad. So when Liz pulled a wig out of her race bag and told me to zip tie it to my helmet I didn't ask questions. Once I affixed said wig to my helmet I noticed it made me look like I had a muskrat attached to my skull. It wasn't a bad look. Made me look a bit like Davy Crockett. It complemented my 20 year old Crusty Cruiser Cup Swobo wool vest very nicely. How that vest still fits is beyond me.

WWCD by Meg McMahon
I got to Ice Weasels and was hyped. Like very, very hyped. This season has been really special. Lots of reasons. So many people to thank. I set up the HUP tent next to Chainline Cycles. They really have become such good friends. I love Eric, Kevin, Keith and Sam. Sam finally returned from being oversees and it was so great to see him. The Chainline crew don't mess around. They had two heaters. One which almost blew the roof off the tent but a mere detail when its in the teens and you are standing around all day cheering on bike racers. I had come down the day before to help out a bit. Upon inspection of the course and in large part because I am counting down the days til SS Mtb season I got the brilliant idea to convert my geared 29er to a SS. The course at Ice Weasels is rad. Super techy. I raced it last year on the SSCX and had no problem. But I knew it was going to get nuts. And when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. So I converted that 29er to a SS. I knew 32 x 18 was going to have zero chance against 42 x 19 in the upper grass fields. But it really didn't matter. I was in this to shred the berms and ride everything. I did a quick lap in between races and felt really good about my choice.

Myette in Beast Mode by Meg McMahon
 A days worth of racers had smoothed the course down pretty nicely but there were some pretty tricky sand sections and the ground was in a thaw freeze cycle. You had to look out for some sneaky slick spots or else you were going to lay it down pretty good. At the start it was full party mode. Utah was giving out Rolling Rocks out of a messenger bag. The people with something on the line were up on the front row ready to rock. The rest of us were goofing off. Until the whistle went off and then it was utter chaos. Not sure if people were just drunk (duh) or amped but man there was some shady chopping and poor line choices. We somehow survive to the first pinch point. Chainlink fence on the left drop off on the right. Time to party. This was really my main reason to go with the 29er. It wasn't a matter if someone crashed in front of me it was when. Hopefully it wasn't on some insane drop in or high speed descent. Things sorted out pretty fast. I was locked in with DJ Robert. Bert is one of my HUP teammates and often brings along the beats. He gets a playlist on his iPhone and then putt a blue tooth enabled speaker in a water bottle cage. Nothing like racing SSCX to Mettalica.

Lesli and Jesse by Meg McMahon

 We get to the Danger Zone and it is pure Chaos. Last year's Danger Zone was wild. Someone had put Roman Candles on the barriers. Now this sounds very dangerous. It isn't. Not if you have half a brain.   It is a classic example of threat analysis. You know what is more dangerous than Roman Candles? Physio balls. Or Yoga Balls. Or in this case Sex Balls. Thanks PDX. So I somehow get through alive. Lots of ass slaps and cheers. Shouts of "GIVECHIPTHEGOODSTUFF!!!" I love all y'all but I am #sportsdad. And I had places to be after this little shindig. Dad can not show up to a hockey game later that evening smelling like booze and drunk (or high) off the "good stuff" Its not the '80s anymore. Sorry. For this Weasel I was keeping my drinking to a minimum. A pre-race Rolling Rock and a post-race bourbon ball. That was it. I was high off the race trust me. I didn't need supplementation. Things settle in a bit for a lap. I am just loving the course and having a great time. I get down near the river and see a frenemie who beat me last year on this course. He was a target. I was excited to see him. Until I see him hit the deck and look like he just broke his leg. I don't think I have heard screaming like that before. As he is writhing on the ground in pain and screaming. My brain sort of refocuses and things slow down. I am going about 18 mph. I am about to hit him full on. Usually racers get off the course. Then he grabs his bike and the wheel is heading right towards me. I somehow either hop the wheel or get around it and somehow don't die.

SSCX Viking by Meg McMahon
 I knew my spidey sense was right about my bike choice for this day. I get back on it and try and chase down Zank. I know its not happening. He is flying. But I catch a few people. And am having a ton of fun. On the swoopy turns into the finish I see my friend Roni. She is in a hot pink glitter body suit. I go by her and almost crash my brains out as I am blinded by all that glitter. I stop for her at the barriers and we exchange high fives. She is so awesome. I take off and am caught by my own bike right before the skate park. I start laughing. I had loaned my SSCX bike to my good friend Guthrie. He is an awesome guy. Just a blast to be around. I can't believe I am about to be beaten by my own bike! I look at it as converting one more geared rider to SSCX. We ride together for a bit but that green SSCX bike is just a magic unicorn and it is gone in a blink of an eye.

Welcome to the Terror Dome by Meg McMahon
My last trip through the Danger Zone gets a bit handsy. I guess the Danger Zoners were tired of me not taking hand ups. So when I am humping my bike up that nasty runup a slew of hands just pull my bike and me up the hill. Then the bike is gone. It goes into the crowd. I have to run after it and grab it and run back out of the crowd. I am covered in beer and god knows what else. As I am trying to remount one more super fan is attached to my bike. I honestly don't think I just instinctively put my hip right under his thigh and send him off into the trees and crowd. I remount and head down the drop off. I can't even believe the mayhem that just occurred. I can't even stop laughing to be honest. The Danger Zone was off the hook this year. So much fun.

Clothing optional by Meg McMahon

I finish up even more hyped about the race than when it started. That is a sign of a special race. When the dust settled Pete Smith the overall title on the men's side. Melissa Downs won the overall title on the women's side. The season ends on such a high note I can't even begin to process it. This season has been amazing. HUGE thanks to Pete Smith and Mad Alchemy, Mike Zanconato, Melissa Downs and Bob Stine, Lesli Cohen, The Chainline Pain Train, NECT, The Zank crew, Agent Utah, all the racers and promoters, Feedback sports, Castelli and Starr Walker, Roni Vetter for the podium pies, Thom for his rad Dirtwire TV coverage, Jon Nable for being official photographer, 3Cross for the amazing podium beer. Thank you to everyone. You all are amazing. We are already plotting and scheming for 2017. I can't wait til next season. If you have ideas on how to make this crazy circus even better don't be shy. You know where to find me. See you on the flip side my friends. And always keep it SSCXy

Roni looking absolutely fabulous by Laura Kozlowski

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blurred Lines

I got the idea for this post from my friend Stacey's facebook post about SSCXWCXPDX. Apparently a lot of people out in the Pac NW like to do the cycle-cross pedal contests with flat bars. It created quite a ruckus. It wasn't a real ruckus. Honestly none of these bike related "arguments" are real. 99% of the people are just ribbing each other about this or that. The mechanical purists feign outrage at zip ties and tensioners. The OG curmudgeons get agitated over disc brakes and tubeless. So let's do this for once and for all. What defines a cyclocross bike? Is it the bar of choice? brakes? Tires? I guess this whole conversation could spin out of control real fast into the realm of what is cyclocross. I spell it without a hyphen. You may like the hyphen. You might even like to call it cycle-cross. I once was at a race where they called us psycho-cross racers. Its all good. We are all one big family bound by mud and the confines of yellow tape in the octagon that is a two mile cx course. Unless you are in Oregon. Then the course is loosely defined by orange cones. Which we have video evidence of being very, very dangerous. Possibly more hazardous than any A line in NTF. 

So first, thank you to Stacey for inspiring this post. Second, thank you to everyone who had some fun with this and posted great pictures and made a otherwise boring day yesterday pretty entertaining. So let's do this. What is a cyclocross bike? I define a cyclocross bike as a bike you would use to RACE cyclocross. CX is a race after all. Even if like me you are old and slow once you pin that number on and the official blows that whistle ( or doesn't in New England as we love the secret start) it is on. Even if you are last you still are racing someone. Maybe it is even your inner demons to finish the race. It is ok to have fun in the confines of the yellow tape. It is encouraged obviously in CX. Ok so we have loosely defined CX as a race type of event. And in a race your goal is to get from point A to point B the fastest. And the secondary goal is to finish. These are often closely tied together. Going super fast and riding stupid ends lots of racers days early. Bikes break, tires flat, bodies hit the deck. Sometimes slow is fast. So we want to finish the contest in one piece and go as fast as we can.

The best bike for this in most cases is a CX bike. So what is a CX bike. The lines about what a CX bike is and isn't have been blurry from day one. Early on really they were touring bikes. Then it became less of a niche sport and builders started creating the demon step child of a crit bike and a nice handling touring machine. The current CX Race bike is in my mind the perfect bike. It is made to go fast but to also handle very well. The bike has certainly benefited from some mechanical advancements. Disc brakes while maybe not accepted or needed on an actual road bike can be a big advantage for CX. And to blur the lines a bit it makes a CX bike more woodsy. The line between 29er and CX bike begins to really get fuzzy. One of the great things about the adoption of 29er wheel size for MTB was and is that 29 and 700 c are interchangeable. You know can have a set of wheels that work on both your "MTB" and "CX" bike. Not to go full blurred lines but and I know this word will make you all nuts Gravel events have even made things weirder. My good friend Todd crushed us at VT Overland one year on a 29er with a carbon rigid fork and 40 mm tires on 29er tubeless wheels. Let that soak in for a bit. Yes, he ran flat bars.

So does the bar define the bike? The wheels? I think people are morphing toward flat bars in CX races like SSCXWCX because they are more comfortable. If you are riding (note I did not say racing) in a big group in mud with physio balls being hurled at you its a good thing to be in a comfortable upright position. Flat bars make it easier to ride while wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume. No argument there. Are flat bars fast? Mike Wissell is fast. I don't think the bars made him fast. For me I would not want to race on flat bars. I am not just saying this but I feel more comfortable dropping down some technical section in the drops than I would on the top of flat bars. I feel more in control. A CX race can be very technical but it has to have fast sections. To go fast on fast sections you need to get aero. Sitting upright is like strapping a parachute on your back. A CX race should have a run up or 2-3. Running up a hill with a flat bar is an easy way to get your teeth knocked out. In my opinion. Try shouldering a mountain bike? It doesn't work so great. Cause that flat bar keeps whacking you in the head. Drop bars just ask you to tuck that bike on your shoulder and run up that hill. Honestly for how much people worry about getting hurt by disc brake rotors I would be much more worried about crashing and taking a flat bar to my spleen. That has to hurt.

Tomac was always my hero. Frischi as well. Those two defined Mountain biking to me when I was getting into bikes. They always pushed the equipment envelope. I find it hugely ironic that Frishci once raced flat bars at a CX Worlds and Tomac raced drop bars for a season on the World Cup of MTB. It just shows that equipment choice is just that. A choice. What works for you may not work for me. We all love to define things and put labels on things. I still don't know what a gravel bike is. I think its a CX bike with fat tires. I like the term as it is elegant but I know it drives people nuts. Probably because the label doesn't fit the bike or the activity. I hate gravel. It sucks to ride on. I like dirt roads and loam. And a river. I love riding next to rivers. Ok and watermelon stops. And beer. Ok now I am getting off track. But you get it. Its fun to give each other crap now and again. You all rock.