Monday, July 6, 2015

Pre-ride or Die

This Gnar Weasels post is going to be likely a hot mess of Full Auto Velocb ADD. I settled on the title Pre-ride or Die as I wanted the post to be PRO. Other working titles were Whiskey Foxtrot Tango and With a Little Help From my Friends. Gnar Caddie also had a good ring to it. At no point was it going to be called "Dino vs Tick" Gnar Christmas had huge potential as well. But onto the work at hand. Gnar Weasels unless you are hiding under a rock is the summer time jam of Weasels Inc. Weasels LLC or Incorporated is the most amazing group of promoters I have ever met in my life. Thom and Colin get the most face time if you will but their better halves Christin and as Thom calls her H-Ball bring so much to the event organization and general radness. Weasels Inc really is in true #NECX fashion a collective. Lots of moving parts and people helping out on so many levels. I guess if I was going to compliment Thom and Colin on one thing it would be that they set the stage for the party and then they let the people bring the funk. Gnar Weasels like the name implies is Gnarly. It is not a dirt crit. Thom and Colin are legit mountain bikers. And they both are wizards at creating an amazing course.

I had heard about Diamond Hill from some of my more rad friends. The way they talked about it put fear in my heart I am not going to lie. So pre-riding became mission #1. Its funny that we obsess about pre-riding a CX course to dial in the "lines" The worst that is going to happen to you on a CX course is you may have to brake in a corner. On a mountain bike course running at warp speed blind could kill you. Ok that is dramatic. Even for my usual hyperbole ridden writing style. Not kill you perhaps but destroy your bike or face. I met my good friends Sharon and Cindy the Thursday before the race and we had a great recon session. Again how this is where Colin and Thom are on top of their game. They had the course marked the week before the race. They welcomed people to go ride it. If you didn't take them up on that invite and the work they did you only have yourself to blame. Having a sick mountain bike course 45 minutes from Boston is amazing. Diamond Hill may be my favorite place to ride mountain bikes.

Diamond Hill is just this amazing mix of flowy loam and gnar. Legit gnar that could easily smash your bike and body but its curated if you will. All the tech has been built up and has good sight lines. It is well ridden and isn't some claptrap riding area where you are going to drop off some rock and die on downed trees etc. During the pre-ride I rode about 80% of it. Again it was huge. I felt so much more comfortable with the course after. The bonus ice cream at Ice Cream Machine didn't hurt either. I am assuming most of my 4 readers and loyal fans know who Thom and Colin are. Thom is the mult-media madman/genius behind Dirtwire TV. His love of producing rad video is unparalleled. During the week before the race he would post segments showing his better half H-Ball riding certain enduro bits. It really helped me during the race. For real. She is so smooth on the bike and watching her lines became this zen practice the day or two before the race. I would just picture the tech and go full Lizard Brain. It sounds weird but it helped.

Fast forward to the race itself. It was so awesome having a race on July 4th weekend. This may seem counterintuitive but as much as I love the 4th it is a shit show. Almost as amateur hourish as St Paddy's Day and Cinco de Mayo. Almost. Its nice to have a fun athletic event close to home to wash off two days of 'Murica. I got to the venue and see so many of my friends. My CX alarm clock has been ringing and frankly after this weekend I am hitting the snooze button. Mtn biking in New England is how I remember it when I first started racing back in the NORBA days. It really is as fun as CX. How can you not like a race 45 minutes from home, that has an Ice Cream shop at the staging area, a taco truck, a secret MOATS Mountain beer/heckle/enduro zone and a totally rad course? Gnar Weasels is the kick off of what they are calling "MTB Holy Week" It is a huge testament to the hard work of so many people that mountain biking in New England is seeing this type of resurgence.

We do our usual rituals. Stan's in the parking lot. Grabbing mechanics out of cars to check our bikes. Hugs. Number plates. All that jazz. Have I said lately how incredibly awesome all my friends are? For real. We line up and are ready to go straight up a nasty gravel climb. The 40-49 Sport men go off with my partner in crime and co-DS on HUP NECX Michele Smith in with 25 jacked up dudes. My plan was to catch up and shred together. With the 40-49 bumping elbows up the climb us wicked old semi-fast dudes lined up. No shocker there aren't a whole ton of 50+ dudes racing mtn bikes. We had 6 pre-registered and 10 on the line that morning. So I got on the front row. Having pre-ridden and hearing a weeks worth of freaking out about the gnar I knew the real brutal part was going to be the climbing. And especially the start climb. There really was only one line. The rest was just nasty loose gravel.

So when Colin hit his megaphone siren I took off. Holeshots are not my thing. Nor is climbing. But I went as hahd as I could. Perhaps Pats Peak had a residual effect as I took off up the climb and held it all the way to the hole shot. I started catching the 40-49 at the top of the climb. I am sure that field got pretty argy bargy and people had to get off and run. The first lap felt great. I just kept moving up and trying my best to not do anything stupid. I caught up to Michele at some point mid-way through the lap. 

I was able to ride 100% of the gnar. Most all of the A lines. I skipped two as I hadn't pre-ridden them and wasn't comfortable risking a crash. As I came through the start/finish I see Shoogs. He starts running with me up the climb. I literally love that man. He pulls out a flask and offers it to me. I shake my head no as I am already smashed to pieces from the heat and know anything but Skratch labs will kill me. He says in his nicest Shoogs voice "its only whiskey"

I slog back up that climb and hit the flow. Another good lap I start seeing some familiar faces. Then as we come into the big drop I see the MOATS heckle pit in full effect and get beyond stoked. Shoogs is again there tempting me with a beer hand up. Its lap 2 and on the top of a gnarly drop in chute so I miss that one two. Who am I not taking these hand ups?

Lap three Michele reels me in. She is in full on race mode. I am soooo stoked to see her. We get to ride almost a half lap together. She slingshots me through some dark moments. Lap three things started to unravel a bit. My race plate kept falling off my bike. Life lesson. Never use twist ties on a gnarly course when there are zip ties. She gets a bit of a gap on me right before the drop off into the MOATS heckle pit. I drop in and here screams and cheers and see Michele and another woman hung up on a big rock. I  yell "track, track" I barely clear it and then Shoogs traps me at the log hop over. I finally take his beer handup. God it tastes so good. I just want to hang out. Michele is on me in a flash. She yells "BAKER GET YOURSHIT TOGETHER" Hahaha I snap out of party mode and kick it back into gear. We come through the nasty muddy rock garden together and I get a slight gap over the wood bridge. 

Gnar Weasels unlocked. 3 laps. Almost two hours of pure radness. Michele and I grab a quick Ice Cream at the Ice Cream Machine with Russ and Uri. It was a good day indeed. So many rad friends. HUGE thanks to Colin, Thom, Christin, H-Ball and everyone who made it happen. 

And also thank you to JD, Russ and Meg for the photos in this post!

Friday, June 19, 2015

I Kissed a Girl aka #Boonehugs

"This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
It's not what, I'm used to
Just wanna try you on
I'm curious for you
Caught my attention"

I rode a carbon bike and I liked it. 
The feel of her stiff frame under my legs
I rode a carbon bike just to try it
I hope my steel bike don't mind
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I rode a carbon bike and I liked it
I liked it

Yes, I have gone to the darkside. No, I have never, ever ridden a carbon bike before. Like ever. Of any kind. I have been on steel from day one. Bridgestone to Bontrager to Sycip to Zanconato. My ONLY divergence has been to Aluminum (Rock Lobster and Zank) and Ti (WTB and Seven) Holy shit I have had some sick bikes. But I have become curious. I wouldn't even say its about weight. Although for a cross racing bike that becomes an issue. Its more about being curious about what a modern carbon bike would be like. So perhaps its time for a bike version of My Drunk Kitchen to come to life. Call it my Drunk Bike Tests p/b Dale's. I won't necessarily be doing the tests drunk although I am not opposed to that. But the reviews themselves will be a hot mess. This may finally launch my career into the bike industry stratosphere I can feel it!

This test basically came to be after "The Bike That Shall Never be Mentioned" died. Or more like cracked. Who knows what the technical term is. In any case I, who LIVE for CX was without an actual CX bike. Frankly, I was pretty much done with canti CX bikes anyway. I had ridden the Ronde on my Zank 29er, the Lion of Burlington on my Zank 29er and countless mixed terrain rides on the 29er. I have no time for a bike that won't stop in the woods. Zero. I have no patience for having to finesse a bony descent or pick my way over roots because cantilevers do not stop. Its ridiculous. I guess there are people out there who make do but why? Why would you settle when there is the actual technology to ride aggressively on mixed terrain?

So my good buddy David Deitch at Landry's offered me his Boone. Wow. DD is amazing. Not gonna lie. He and I share an odd bond through the destruction of very expensive bikes and bike parts. I am rough on equipment but he is like Shiva the Destroyer. I have seen him destroy tires in less than time than it would take you to mount them on your wheels.

So while in most cases I would be reluctant to borrow a friends bike in fear of breaking it or dinging it I knew DD would understand. Or at least not go full Terry Tate on me. I honestly don't know anything about the bike. It has an elastomer doohickey that is in between the seatmast and TT. You maybe can see already why I have never made it as a test editor at one of the big bike mags. I use words like doohickey and admit I don't know jack about the bike. I do know that engineers at Trek know jack and I trust that they know more about Jack than I do. So anyway you get what I am cooking. Super highly engineered CX killing machine. Katie Fucking Compton Geometry. What more do you need to know? It is pretty I will say that. So DD being a buyer at one of the coolest bike dealers in the country had some neat little Deitch modifications. Specialized tubeless mullet. I was suspicious of this at first. Tracer rear and Terra Pro front. The Terra Pro looks like a mud 2 which I approve of. But the Tracer looks a bit like a small block 8. That made me a tad nervous.

It was mainly a Rival group but had sweet TRP High Road disc brakes. Again I am not an engineer. I am a highly excitable hobbyist who lives for riding bikes. Its a mechanical hydro set up. It works with regular mechanical levers but has a hydro reservoir so the pads automatically adjust for wear. My only experience on disc brakes on a CX bike has been with Shimano Di2. Those are the benchmark from what all other disc brakes should be judged. The Shimano road/cx hydros are the best brakes on the market. True one finger braking and more power than you could ever need.

It had been a while since I had been on a SRAM bike but I always liked the ergonomics of the levers and the solid shift action of the double tap. I won't lie the first couple of miles my finger would try and use the brake lever to shift. And then I would just be like come one dude what is this a drunk bike review? Oh never mind. I am a professional. That is my story and I am sticking to it! A quick position check in the HUP SSC (aka my garage) unveiled some interesting things about the bike. Like I said earlier it has a seat mast and what Trek terms an IsoSpeed "decoupler". Basically it isolates the top tube from the seat tube with a mechanical pivot to soak up bumps and rough terrain. In the spirit of My Drunk Bike Test I didn't know this was a part of the bike before riding it. I was more into the big carbon tubes and sweet paint scheme. And fairly worried I would assplode Deitch's bike and he would come after me with a baseball bat.

My biggest concern with the bike was the saddle to be honest. It looks a bit like an ass hatchet. I have used the same Selle Italia SLR for years. Not the actual same saddle. I destroy saddles at an alarming rate. But the saddle was very comfortable. Like probably the most comfortable saddle I have ridden. I would seriously swap out this saddle with an SLR on my own personal bikes it was that nice. I had a bit of a loop in mind. We have been on a mission to put together something we call "The Hell of the South" Its basically a 40-50 mixed terrain ride. Its pretty much mountain bike trails. But friends and I ride it on CX bikes. But having a bike (FINALLY!) with tubeless tires and disc brakes got me very fired up. There is a strava segment on the loop that is just a nasty little gravel climb. I didn't have high hopes of getting the KOM just was looking forward to how I could handle it on this bike. That all pretty much went out of my mind the second I turned into NTF. The Boone has a pretty long headtube for its size. The bike I was riding was a 52. But this allowed some serious riding in the drops. The bike was so fun on the burly trails. I am not gonna say it was as good as my mountain bike but it was close. At least on the fireroads. No I would not take it on the rock gardens or technical stuff. But I rode some rocks and dropped into a few chutes. 

It is weird looking back on the ride. Now that I know it had a damper it makes sense. I just assumed the great handling was the KFC geometry and the tubeless set up. But this bike seriously eliminates any need for a "Gravel" bike. I mean I have ridden "Gravel" bikes. They tend to be slow and don't climb that well. This bike had everything you want in a CX bike but just railed the downhills and soaked up a ton of the nasty stuff. My back has been a wreck all season. I didn't even realize it till I was home but my back never even gave me one complaint the whole ride. Ok so yes, I KOM'd Wilson Climb. It won't stand. Pete and Matt are waaaayyyy faster than I am. I don't know Rob. I assume he is very fast as well. Frankly once Will Crissman or Parsons sniffs this out its over. But I did it. Is it because of the Boone? I think so. Like I said the climb is gravel with some water bars. You can't really stand to climb as you will lose traction I was able to stay seated and drive the whole way up. The bike didn't even "feel" like a fast climber but Strava doesn't lie. 

I love this bike. I joked that Deitch is never getting it back. I may have to just dump one of the kids 529s into his paypal. I hear MassBay is a great school. The term #Boonehugs was coined by the Legend Jon Suzuki. Look for more My Drunk Bike Tests in the future!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Men Are Back

This demanded its own separate post. Photo by Christin. Art treatment by Russ. CXy time all thanks to Jerry......

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Little Pony

I have been thinking of this post really before the actual events that are going to be described even took place. Pats Peak is a legit mountain bike course. One of the toughest I have ever ridden in my life. The ONLY race I have dropped out of purely for mental reasons in my life. I was physically able to continue, my bike was fine (although cursed) and I had teammates to support me. But I mentally was cracked by the brutality of the course. Lots of people mutter when you mention Pats Peak. Under the muttering you usually hear expletives and the words "never again"

Most of this hatred can be traced back to the Year of the Swamp. That was the year I cracked so severely. Never do a mtn bike in the rain. Like ever. And never, ever do an endurance race on a ski hill in the rain. Or more specifically in 2013 when it has rained for about a week. Add a week of rain with fresh cut singletrack and you get a Battan Death March with a very nasty Fort Williams style descent. That year I probably could only ride 20% of the course.

I was fine dropping out. It was the right call. But it didn't sit well with me. I moved on. I was never looking for another shot or redemption etc. That isn't my deal. I play at bikes I am not serious. None of this matters. Its only riding bikes. But I have been doing a lot of mtn biking lately. On a magical 29er built by Mike Zanconato. I am sorry but size does matter. As does a builders understanding of how a 29er works. Let's just say the Zank has changed my whole view of riding a mtn bike.

Riding with tons of friends who are really good at mtn biking doesn't hurt either. The idea to go do Pats Peak again started to get thrown around. At first it was just like hmmm Pats Peak is coming up. Jimbo, the OG of OG HUP, lives right next to the venue. We never get to see him enough. That alone is worth the trip. The Not-So-Hungry-Man breakfast at the Intervale Cafe right at the base of the ski hill is another great reason. Then I heard the news that Abel was going to be moving to Seattle in a few weeks. That sealed it. I needed one last road trip with one of the coolest wingmen I have ever known. Abel and I have had so many rad times. He is just the coolest most solid dude on the planet. And oddly we are pretty much bike twins. So I emailed him and pitched it. At first I thought how cool would it be to do it on one bike? Yeah I know. That is actually really stupid. So I dug the Seven Sola (the one that almost was my death 2 years ago and has now been relegated to a kids bike as all 26ers should) out of the basement. Scott Novick dialed it in put some great tires on it and we dubbed it My Little Pony

The plan was coming together! We had me, Abel, Scott, and Jon Nabel in the van. That is about as solid a crew as you can put together. I made the rad (stupid) decision to swap out front tires. I am not going to lie I was literally in fear of the descent. The descent at Pats Peak is legit. More enduro than XC. I am not a very good mtn biker. Not on rocks and dropoffs anyway. I wanted to at least have a chance at surviving. So off came the Ardent Race and on went the Burly Ardent. I have had great luck with tubeless. Until this time. The new tire was really hard to get on the rim. I ripped the yellow tape trying to put it on. I didn't panic. Just put new tape on. Somehow got the tire on and sealed. Except the bead never made that oh so satisfying POP. I love that sound. Luckily I had the internet to help (heckle) me. Consensus was I was very stupid to mess with tubeless 24 hours before a race but I was probably ok and not going to die. Of course when I woke up the next morning I was greeted with the above photo. I didn't freak out mainly because I had two PRO level mechanics in my van. Scott had it seated and holding air in less than a minute. I had forgotten to put the little valve ring on the valve. Ooppssies.

Van was packed, bikes put on the roof and we headed North. We got to the Intervale cafe in plenty of time. The breakfast at the IC is phenomenal. Donuts were consumed, Not-So-Hungry-Man breakfasts were inhaled. More donuts were acquired. NH is a wonderful place it also may have top billing as the weirdest state in New England. It is most of the time quirky weird but it does have its rough spots like open carry dudes at family style breakfasts. I am sure if a gang of ISIS (is ISIS a gang?) took over the cafe the lone dude open carrying a revolver would keep us and America safe. Yeah sure he would. Pretty sure my table could do a better job of handling that than some 300 pound dude who can barely fit his weapons belt around his waist but I digress.

This whole day was all about riding bikes all day with friends. Or at least riding from noon to 6 pm anyway! I didn't even notice Abel was wearing a Seattle t-shirt until I posted this photo up on the blog. Abel will be missed. His mustache, his penchant for awesome costumes and radness. His SSCX game was and is off the charts. He is a big reason why the Zank SSCX series has grown so much. I have too many amazing memories of Abel. Top of the list is probably the Night Weasels when it was an adult slip and slide. Seeing him run past me and ride those nasty muddy hills on a SSCX blew my mind. He was always up for some crazy road trip or adventure. He forgave me for that time I got us so lost in Adam's Farm that Kevin and I started bushwacking through a swamp.

After breakfast we went and activated the Death Star and got our race plates. One of my favorite parts of endurance racing is the little tent cities that pop up. We set up our tent right next to ENGVT. Adam St Germain, Jerry Chabot and his 14-year old son had come down from VT to race. We had Colin, Jim,  Gerry Finegan, Rich Wolfe and a bunch of friends. Christin and Erin were pre-riding for the XC the next day and provided lots of comic relief as well as DONUTS!! The title of this post may have to be switched to Forbidden Donut. I lost track of how many donuts we ate. Probably 3 dozen. Pats Peak starts with a Le Mans start. You know the deal. Bikes get laid down at the Start/Finish. Racers walk to a tree line and then Braveheart style you run to your bike! Um yeah this is not our first rodeo. ITSASIXHOURRACE. No running. Gerry, Colin and I walked to the bikes when the gun went off. I was in a solid DFL. We started moving up the fireroad and into singletrack. Gerry started to get the pace moving. We started passing people when we could.

Ok some serious love needs to be sent out to the people at Pats Peak and Jim. They worked their tails off to improve the course. Three years ago was a disaster. They listened. The old fresh cut was now a nicely worn in switchback in the woods. Nice bridges had been built over some of the more swampy areas. It was 100% rideable. People who like legit courses should put this on their list of races. It is a LEGIT endurance race. Brutal first half climb. The wooded switchbacks become much needed relief from the exposed fire road climbs. Each lap I would just suffer like a bastard on the climbs with one goal. Get to the eunduro downhill and SHRED! Not to keep going back to the horror show of two years ago but I got OWNED by that downhill. Some of it was the bike. I know its unpopular to say one wheel size is "better" than another but for me 26 inch wheels suck. On a 29er I stand a chance of a.) not dying and b) actually enjoying the downhill and c) going fast safely.

I honestly didn't know what to expect the first time through the downhill. As we crested the climb I started playing yoga gymnastics with my brain. Clear your mind. Breathe. Chest down. Elbows out. Chin up. Let the bike flow like water. Look where you want to go. Point and shoot. All that stuff that we know but forget when we have been punched in the face for 30 minutes climbing. Luckily Gerry was fairly close by. His last words before he ripped the descent were "Chipper, the hard lines are the easy lines!!!" Such truth in those words. I am finally getting the hang of east coast rocks. Still suck but I am beginning to understand. What Gerry was saying is ride over a big boulder instead of trying to get around it. Getting around it sometimes puts you in really bad awkward positions that can hurt you.

I rode all of it. Ok one rock wall kept messing me up. But 99% of it. The big drop, the rock walls, the weird boulders. Even the spot were two years ago Kevin Hines had hucked over my head as I was lying in the mud wondering if I had just broken my ribs. And I wasn't just riding it I was enjoying it and riding it pretty well. I owe Gerry, Scott, Zank and a legion of other  people for helping me finally be an ok mountain biker. The rest of the race was pretty much a blur. It was a rinse and repeat of suffer on the climb, get to the descent, rip the descent, hand off to Abel. We had a perfect race. Abel is the best teammate on the planet. We would do quick check ins at the transition. To me doing 6 laps would be a "win" we were just riding this not racing it. But we were clicking off the laps. And we were having fun. That to me is all that mattered.

Then My Little Pony did the bad, bad thing. Again do I blame 26 inch bikes? Yeah. Yeah I do. Abel is a really good mountain biker. But the margin for error is different. He came flying down one of the rock gardens, got knocked off his line and then hit a boulder head on. The bike jacked up and he surfed the top tube over in an endo and hit his chest on a rock. How he wasn't seriously hurt is beyond me. When he rolled into the transition tent you could tell he was hurting. I honestly don't even know how he made it down the rest of the descent in that kind of pain. He is my hero for doing that. I would have just limped over to the Clark Brother's Racing tent and just sat there and drank all their beer. I made sure he was alright. He kept saying sorry. I was like dude I am sorry. And I thank god he wasn't hurt. Having a friend get hurt on your bike just sucks. I told him to go hit the tent and drink some beer and I would do one more lap. It was 5:30 at that point anyway and there was no way I was doing a thirty minute lap. I think we were doing 45-50 minute laps on average.

I rode a bunch of the last lap with Gerry and Taylor which was amazing. We bumped into Noah, Jerry Chabot's 14 yr old son. Noah is 14 and rode like a boss. The kid is so strong and super smooth. Juniors across the NECX better be ready-Noah is definitely bringing it. It was really cool seeing Jerry and Noah together. I won't lie I was pretty envious. It is a pretty amazing thing in this day and age to be able to do a 6-hour race with your kid. Noah is very stoic. Didn't complain at all. Jerry was really calm all throughout and just the raddest dad I can imagine. One of the things I love about this format is that its basically an excuse to ride with your friends all day. No pressure. No douchery. Everyone is cheering each other on. Its a sufferfest. People get it. The volunteers at each aid station were so cool.

One of the funniest moments was when I saw Christin out on the course. She was doing recon and pre-riding. When she saw me she got off her bike and sprinted up the trail into the singletrack. Holy shit she is a fast runner! I was half laughing half wondering what I did to get her to run so fast. Then as I came around I saw her setting up a photo. I tried to get rad and ride as smooth as possible but of course shoulder checked a tree and then self-arrested on a boulder. It was hilarious. What a rad day. HUGE thanks to Jimbo for luring us all up once again. I will be back. Its too much fun to miss it. This was the perfect send off to our good friend and teammate. Seattle you are getting one hell of a dude. Take good care of him for us. And now I need to start plotting and scheming my next trip West!

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Struggle is Real

The Struggle is real. Often we use that as a punch line to some silly joke about what ever "struggle" we are going through. And other times it is dead serious. We are so lucky living in New England. We have lots of open space in urban areas, we have great local advocates and a tradition going back to our forefathers of being in nature. The fact that we ride by the woods Thoreau crafted Walden always blows my mind. And its sort of a birthright to carry on his philosophy and apply it to our two wheeled reverence of the woods and trails. Mixed terrain riding in New England has blown up. In large part due to all these amazing trail systems that connect parks and towns. We are at the point where most of our rides don't have to include riding on a paved road. Or if we do its for a brief moment before we pop into the next almost Narnia like realm.

As much as we benefit from some great efforts to not only keep the trail systems alive and well we have to always be vigilant. I remember riding through Wellesley on an area called the North 40 one day. It is a loop my good friends Steen and Rob showed me. It really was the first mixed terrain ride I had ever been on. I was beyond hooked. But on this day as I was rolling through the shaded path I came across what can only be described as a blast zone with a Caterpillar sitting in the middle of it. Wellesley residents mobilized quickly. The North 40 as it is called is owned by Wellesley College. Wellesley College decided to sell it to a developer and let them turn it into a bunch of condos. Progress is our number one enemy in keeping open space alive.

There was enough blowback on the project that Wellesley College agreed to sell it to the town and let it be conserved as open space. A win for all of us who need places that aren't paved. The world we live in is becoming more and more disconnected from the real world. We spend sooo much time glued to a blue screen. We spend so much time sitting in a car or in a cubicle. Our kids think video games are real. You think I am joking. I am not. The cure to all of this is the outside. We can't all drive to the mountains or beach. What we can do is ride our bike or walk from our house to the woods. Our souls need these breaks. We can recharge, get fit and healthy and see and hear things we never would have even noticed before.

If the North 40 was a win, Cutler so far has been a loss. A big loss. We all knew the 95 Add a Lane project was going to impact Cutler. I assumed it would affect what we call the West side. The West side sits on the West side of 95. It runs parallel to 95 along Greendale. It is a fun little trail very few people know about. But it is a perfect respite from the hectic roads of Needham and Newton and offers some real challenges for a cyclist. I love that trail. I was bummed thinking it would be destroyed. My biggest concern was and still is the highway exchange they are putting on Kendrick. Kendrick is such a high traffic ingress and egress point for so many cyclists funneling through on their way out to ride Dover or in from Needham to ride Cutler. Highway exchanges are so dangerous for cyclists. Roads are bad enough. Throw in a highway on/off ramp and you have a recipe for carnage.

My hope was/is that the MassDot would build a protected bike lane or flyover to keep us safe. It looks like from the project documents that all we will get is a wide lane and perhaps the on/off ramps will be sharp enough to force cars to slow down. What it won't solve is rush hour traffic right hooking cyclists as they try and navigate a busy bridge full of frustrated drivers after a long day sitting in a cubicle.

But to my horror neither of the above scenarios was the worst thing that could happen. I had seen trail stakes along one of my favorite trails in Cutler for weeks. I assumed they were there to mark the trail for surveying reasons and to preserve it. That trail is such a fun roller coaster that serves as the perfect connector from Kendrick to the inner part of the park. Cutler has become much more popular over the last couple of years. Its a testament to just how important this park is. But its nice to have an alternative trail to avoid dog walkers, runners and other trail users. It also was a great trail for snowshoeing in the winter. I have so many memories of that trail.

That is all we will have now as it is gone. I rode over the other day and to my horror it had been bulldozed. I almost cried. It felt like that commercial from the '80s where the Native American on a horse looks at the horror of progress from his horse and is speechless except for the tears rolling down his cheeks.

A lot of people are outraged. The more word gets out and people see how bad it is there will be more outrage. The good news is that we have had some positive first communications with some people we are hoping can fix this. The trail will never come back. It is destroyed. But what I hope is that its death can be the catalyst to bring some much need attention and resources to Cutler.

Here is what needs to happen.

• The trail needs to be rerouted and fixed (or a new trail built) to connect the original trail to the inner trails of the park

• The erosion throughout the park needs to be managed and fixed

• The boardwalks need to be rebuilt and repaired so they last more than one season

• A new boardwalk needs to be built to connect the "Island" to the railroad tunnel.

• A plan on how to keep the trails preserved into the future needs to be crafted.

It is so hard for me to swallow this. I am going to try and look at the good times we all shared instead of the heartbreaking loss we just endured. I am hopeful we can rebuild and develop a trail that is just as good as the old one.

In the interim contact DCR, MassDot and Nemba and let them know you are not happy about the loss of one of our trails and to help push them to develop a new trail and to repair Cutler to the level it once was.

Here are some phone numbers and contact info:

John Jacoppo, DCR

Tom Bender, S Coast District Ranger - 617-698-1802 X 212

Kevin Hollenbeck, DCR District Manager, 617-333-7404 X 105

Monday, May 18, 2015

Do You Feel Lucky?

This past weekend saw the resurgence of my long retired mountain bike racing career. When did I actually retire from mountain bike racing? I believe it was in the late '90s. Right before my oldest was born. When we moved east it was all CX all the time. I dabbled in a few races. Saw the folly of west coast mountain bike design on east coast rocks and bought in hook line a sinker to the soul ride aspect of mountain biking in New England. Its shocking I don't wear baggies or a back pack on every ride. The only thing keeping me from going Full Enduro is that I am a horrible technical rider and fear oozes out of my pours. 

But CX as much of you probably know is rad. The people, the races all of it. There has been a HUGE influx of CX riders into mtn bike racing the last year or two. I have no idea why but this year I really want to "race" mountain bikes. I LOVE riding mountain bikes but racing them is a challenge that is perfect for building a little yellow brick road of success to CX season. Ok I have no idea what that means but it sounds cool. I have heard for years just how awesome Weeping Willow is. Willowdale has been on my bucket list forever but I had only ridden it once before Sunday's race. My good friend Derek gave Rusto and I a guided tour of the place about two weeks before the race. During the pre-ride I got all kinds of FULLAUTOVELOCB about racing. 

I finally did the sensible thing and put actual gears on my Zank! Putting a 1x11 on the Zank transformed how I am able to ride. I wish I was strong enough to ride a SS the way some riders can. But I am not. The Shimano XTR/XT set up rocks. 32 Wolf tooth up front, 11-40 in the back. Perfect range for spending time in the Flow Zone and climbs like a mountain goat. Only limiter is you spin out the 32 x 11 but that isn't my game anyway.

Sometime between that pre-ride and the eve of the race Russ unleashed an MTB Clash upon me. I think it was a thinly veiled intervention to ensure I made it to the race. I have a bad habit of flaking out of races. Its not that I don't want to race its just that life sometimes gets in the way. But Russ's MTB Clash got me all excited. I woke up at 4:30 the day of the race. The van was already packed. I had double checked everything. I haven't put this much thought or preparation into a CX race in 5 years. For a CX race I just throw everything in the van and hope I have enough beer and cupcakes for everyone. You can tell I take CX VERY seriously! I get to the venue at 6:45. I don't do anything at 6:45. Well anything sporting. I walk the dog. Make coffee. Read the paper. I do not pre-ride for a Masters race at 6:45. But I did. I kitted up and headed in. The course was amazing. A fog was hanging over the fields and the dirt was perfect.

I rode a few sections a couple of times to figure out the lines. I remembered Gerry Finnegan's advice to STAY LEFT. And it worked. Only thing I decided to not ride was the wall picture above. It was/is rideable just not a smart racing move for me. Faster for me to dismount and run. Its the CX racer in me I guess. I try my best to be a good mtn biker but when its faster to run I run. This is a race after all. Fastest from Point A to Point B (without cutting the course of course). I finished the 3-mile warm up lap and went back to staging. Finally people were arriving! I got a text from Russ telling me our MTB CLASH WAS OFF! Russ got taken down by some nasty bug or another. I was honestly bummed for him as he has been training his ass off for this race and would have crushed it. He certainly would have crushed me. I am a melted ice cream cone of a man right now. This Winter was not kind to me. But who isn't out of shape right now. First rule of racing is no excuse and no whining.

I saw SOOOO many of my friends. Honestly this is why I am so stoked to race mountain bikes. All the cool kids are at the mountain bike races. It is like an #NECX reunion. Not everyone is there of course but so many are. Between mountain biking and adventure riding its like the season never ends. Weeping Willow was a BIG race. I always have heard that the numbers are large. I think there were probably 250-300 racers in the Sport/Novice category. What ever the actual number the staging area was packed. Racing Masters 50+ is weird. I lined up with so many dudes from CX. The second I saw them its like my brain's inner tractor beam locked onto certain riders and jerseys. I won't lie as we moved up to the start line I got nervous. Not Gloucester nervous but like alive. I started hearing sounds and noticing things. I tried to ignore all that and focus on Gerry's advice. Stay Left.

I don't know if all mountain bike races are this way but the start definitely had the New England secret start beat. The whole field accelerate at warp speed as I was looking at my shoes. I missed clipping in and tried to get in without crashing myself or half the field out. I started accelerating as fast as I could chasing the CX racers I knew. I was pretty bottled up until we hit the first flat fireroad. For how sketchy it was I felt shockingly safe. Masters mountain bike racers may be more chill than their CX counterparts. I moved up pretty easily and then got stuck in a bit of a conga line. I still felt ok as I had a visual on the NEBC kit I was homing in on. The first half of the first lap was a blast. Again the Masters are predictable and don't do stupid things. There was a bit of a fitness versus skill gap that was getting a tad frustrating but I just relaxed and tried to stay within myself and kept reminding myself to not do something stupid.

I made a pretty dumb mistake after the first rock wall. I was getting a bit frustrated by all the soft pedaling as I wanted to move up and get contact with my friend from NEBC. I tried to make a move in a tight (too tight) spot and predictable took myself and another rider out. Shockingly he did not start screaming at me and ripping his bike off my bike. Mountain bikers are weird. Anyhoo. We detangled and began chasing again. We formed a ten person group that was about 2 minutes off the leaders. This felt awesome. We were moving really well through the climbs and again no one was doing anything totally boneheaded.

The most awesome part was that my good friend Eli was in the group. He and I haven't had much time to hang out. We were making jokes and having a rad time. Like I said I felt surprisingly good. I really liked how EFTA marks out the course with mile markers. It really does help you be a bit more focused about pacing etc. At the mile 8 marker we hit a nice single track. I was tail gunning at this point and I hear a rider come up behind us. He calls out "TRACK" I actually laughed out loud.

I sat up a bit and said "What category are you in?" He said "Novice" I almost fell off my bike laughing.  Then a switch flipped. I have this Little Ball of Hate inside me. Sometimes it comes out to play. I blame Hockey. And being a Townie. So the in-race heckling began. I started out pretty much with both guns blazing. Here is pretty much how the exchange went:

Me: "You are in Novice?"


Me: "DYUDE? WTF? You are the Novice race leader? Why the hell would I give you the track?"


Me: (this is where it gets a bit poke the bearish) "Wait a second you just rode through the whole Sport women's field and are now at the front of the Masters race? And you are a Novice?"


Me: "You are the biggest fucking sandbagger on the planet if you just caught us"

KOAS: Silence

Me: "We are actually racing and chasing. You could sit on the side of the trail and eat a sandwich and still win your race"

KOAS: Silence

At this point I can sense I have maybe poked the bear a bit too hard. KOAS is sort of vibrating behind me. We pop out and there is a log ride on the right. KOAS who now is about to become King of the Dickheads goes inside the log ride and HOPS THE LOG in front of our group. Definitely a Novice pass. Well this sort of move doesn't sit well with my other Masters brethren. And they take up my in-race heckling and take it to 11. KODH is now in with ten Masters who were just having a very Gentlemanly race. It is now like turn 1 at Noho and the gloves are off. We make the turn onto the final fireroad run into the start/finish and KODH's one moment of glory in his otherwise pathetic life. KODH now decides to unleash his man fury on us. He dive bombs the right side of the road and hooks a Blue Hills riders elbow. He goes down and takes the Blue Hills rider with him. They hit the gravel at warp speed. The Blue Hills rider pops up in full MMA mode and grabs the guy and shakes him. I hear screaming and expletives. Eli and I put our heads down and thank god we didn't get mixed up in that crash.

Fast forward to the end of the race. Great day. Great race. I came apart on the last lap but it was still soooo awesome. I put this whole incident into the "What happens in the woods stays in the woods" until there was a little chatter on the tubes about a Novice rider beating the whole Sport category. I go and look at the results and see our friend did a sub-45 minute lap. With a crash and MMA match. That is some next level bagging people.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Golden Ticket

Greetings my fellow Trail Wizards!!!! Its been a while. Sorry for my absence. I could bore you with details but suffice it to say its been a tad busy in the #CBL. This week is going to be beyond rad. Soooo much cool stuff on tap for (Un)Holy Week. But for our purposes I will try and keep my ADHD from going full throttle and stay on message.

First up. This coming Friday at the Providence CX Festival the UCI and USAC are handing over the reigns to their C1 course and letting us dirtbag SSCXers have a go at it! The course is NOT to be missed. It is one of the best course in the country. So much swoopy radness and good times. The winner of the Men's and Women's SSCX will be awarded a Golden Ticket to SSCXWC14KY. I am sure you have heard of SSCXWC14KY right? It will be off the hook. The Colonels know a thing or two about throwing a rad CX party/race weekend. They have some cool things in the works. 

So to recap. Come to Providence next Friday. Win. Get a Golden Ticket. Now not to be a all about the details but lets say you win the SSCX race but don't plan on going to SSCXWC14KY please do the right thing and hand it down to a racer who will go and represent the #NECX. I am hoping a big crew from New England heads down to KY and shows the world what we are all about. We have a lot of other cool stuff to hand out and award from the KY crew. VIP passes, stickers and Boss Hog hat will be awarded to some lucky SSCXers. Come join the fun Friday! It will be a full day and evening with SSCX, Madison and the Builders' Ball. You will not want to miss it!

Next on tap. I have made some new friends. Calling them friends is an understatement. More like brothers and sisters from another Mother. I can't even put into words how I feel about the Philly crew. I love them. There I said it. I know this is uncomfortable for people from New England to hear. We are raised to HATE Philly. But I can put aside my sports ball (and puck) rivalries that were preached to me from birth and date within the Division a bit if you will. I have never met a more rad crew. Our exploits have been well documented. Really its just the beginning. Much cultural exchange will occur in the coming years and months. For now I want to introduce you to our newest project. We are coining it the Trail Wizard. The Trail Wizard was born or possessed us all somewhere in Weston as we were suffering from heat exhaustion doing recon for the LWC FLD OPS MA. We decided to launch a Trail Wizard fund to support local trails in both New England and Philly. Phase one in the Trail Wizard fund is a limited edition All Roads Honey frameset raffle. It is painted in a special scheme that harkens to the woods and is pure Trail Wizard. Please buy a couple of raffle tickets to support the trails. The raffle can be found here at bikereg. May the odds be in your favor.

In coming months we will have more details about the Trail Wizard fund and more mashups presented by LWC and the #NECX. If I could clone myself I would be heading down to IronCross next Sunday and shred some PA gnar with the newest members of my Wolf Pack. But sadly that technology doesn't seem to be there right now. For this go around I will be there in spirit hooting and hollering with the LWC/Philly/PA crew. Cheers