Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lost Boys

My love of riding new mountain bike trails with a good friend as a guide is unparalleled. It really is one of the joys of mountain biking. Reminds me so much of going to a new surf spot for the first time with a local. Our little band of misfits takes great pride in showing off their secret stash. Luckily mtn biking isn't as territorial surfing. Surfers would just assume kill you than show a new surf spot to the world at large. I get it. Surf spots get overcrowded in the blink of an eye. Even with the uptick in mountain biking popularity it is rare to see another rider in the woods. Especially on a week day. My good friend Agent Utah got a hall pass and asked if I wanted to go on a sick ride. I of course jumped at the chance. Chris happened to have a window to ride as well so the three of us jumped in the van and headed over to Sharon. Matt was really excited to show off Borderland. Or Boulderland as he likes to call it.

The plan was to do a soul ride on our fat bikes. No suspension. No rules. Just a fun park to park ride through some of the nicest trails I have ridden in a long time. Chris was on his 29er FS. We parked at Moosehill in Sharon. Ok things may be a bit nicer in Sharon than my side of 128....The visitor center was gorgeous. One of the cleanest and nicest spots I have been to. The plan was to check out the Bay Circuit Trail and ride it over to Borderland. Borderland is another park in Easton, MA. The mileage between the two was only about 12 miles. Twelve miles on rocky technical terrain is of course worth about 3 road miles but still, no biggie. Looked like it would be about a four hour ride out and back.

For some reason the idea of the Lost Boys popped into my head the second we rolled out of the parking lot. We really are a lot like the Lost Boys. No not the Keifer Sutherland Lost Boys but from J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan. It is shocking when you type in Lost Boys into Google and it isn't even on the first page of listings. People do realize where the term originated from right? Probably not. Its shocking how much we have lost culturally in the last decade. It popped into my head for obvious reasons. Here we have three grown adult men. All responsible, contributing members of society. But being drawn into the primordial woods to play. Not too many grown men play these days. Maybe we do suffer from a Peter Pan complex. Who knows. I for one never question this lifestyle. I feel beyond lucky to have friends like I do. Fifty year old men do not make new friends in the general population. In or Wolf Pack it is the norm. So we chase Utah through this magical loamy paradise. Just shredding. And laughing. It is a perfect day. About 60 degrees. Zero bugs. Amazing.

Moosehill is a cool mix of loamy singletrack and some swampy wetlands. Chris is laughing so much. I love riding with these two dudes. The fat bikes are probably a really stupid choice. But it was part of the whole idea for the ride. Just a chill ride on the chillest of bikes. We come upon some really sketchy wood bridges and walk all of them. This is a chill ride and the idea is to go the long haul. When you are trying to do a long day getting hurt 3 miles in is not a great life choice. Then we come upon Neverland. You think I am kidding. In the middle of nowhere we find this crazy tree fort. The actual tree house is probably 30 feet up in a tree. All the wood is from the Sharon DPW. We just start cracking up. There is a really sketchy rope ladder. We of course climb and swing around on it. We do not climb all the way up to the tree fort and to our certain deaths.

Who ever built this definitely new what they were doing. We laugh and think who possibly had the motivation to do this. Do kids even build tree forts anymore? Clearly some kids spend time in the woods when they aren't playing Call of Duty. Who ever built this gives me hope for this next generation. Thankfully and by some miracle the rope ladder doesn't snap and kill one of us. We roll out and I now think in my head this truly is a Lost Boys ride.

We pop out of the woods and ride through a gorgeous neighborhood. How is this 30 minutes from Boston? It looked like we were down the Cape. We were riding by a beautiful pond with docks and beaches. It was a crime no one was out enjoying this day on the water. Two fat bikes rolling on the pavement was pretty funny. We stopped to ask some nice person doing yard work for directions to Borderland. Lost Boys do not rely on Garmins to find their way. It wouldn't be in the spirit of the ride. Pixie dust maybe. Gamins? No. We find Borderland and I see why Matt calls it Boulderland. I am used to rocks. But the rocks near me are angry, hate-filled rocks that want to kill you. These rocks were smooth boulder type of rocks. Very little sharp edges. Smoothed from eons of glacial work to make a playground for mountain bikes.

So for full disclosure I am ok on rocks but not great. I get a bit nervous. It is 90% mental. And realistically being a good mountain biker is mostly from the neck up. You have to be confident and pretty zen. Riding with fear will make your worst fears come true. You have to be loose and think about where you want to go not where you don't. I am not that great at that part. Fat bikes are weird. They will roll over everything. But have their own ideas about where they want to go. And they rebound like nothing I have ever ridden before. This is all fine and good during the Winter and on snow. But when you are riding boulders and are up high and need to pick a line its a bit like being the captain of a large boat. Straight ahead is fine but adjusting your trajectory takes some time. Sometimes in mountain biking you have to be able to flick your bike and change your line in a second. Good luck with that on a fat bike.  I learn this lesson in spades. I am leading though a fairly tricky section. But we have ridden some way sketchier stuff. I must have not seen a squared off rock or something. I hit it at full speed and the bike rebounds up and dick punches me. Literally. I let go of the bars instinctively. And the bike throws me like a Bull. I luckily land in some bushes and miss both trees and rocks. I lie in the fetal position for a minute and do a body check.

I have to sit down for a while and take a time out. Matt and Chris are both laughing there asses off. I need a bit more time so lie on a rock while they session these boulders. After about fifteen minutes I pull it together and we go and session a ton of really cool stuff. We find a section of the NEMBA trail that Matt called his "Nemesis" It is basically a rock wall along a boulder. You ride the rockwall that is about 4 feet off the ground. I took a pass as I was still not right after my trashing a mile or two back the trail. Matt and Chris give it a go. On Chris's second run he gets hooked up and pitches over the side. Luckily he lands on his feet and runs it out. More laughter ensues. We finish the NEMBA trail and are really close to the Borderland visitor center and the turn around spot. Matt sees a trail called French Trail and says let's go check it out. It is rocky but way easier than anything we have ridden. I am third wheel. I see Utah just go flying over his bars and land really bad down a rock garden. The problem was he caught his wheel at the top and body slammed about 6 feet down the trail. No one was laughing. You can always tell when a crash is bad. This one looked bad. And Matt was in obvious pain.

Chris and I got to him and did a quick check. His hand was bleeding through his glove. We didn't want to take the glove off. He said he felt a pop in his leg. I was hoping for the best and that it was just a bone bruise. But when I pulled his sock down to look at it and he winced at my barely touching his leg I got pretty worried. We got him up and started to walk him out. He really was having a hard time. There were a ton of roots and rocks and Chris held him as he hobbled along. I grabbed his bike and ran ahead of them looking for the visitor center. We got to a fire road and Matt got back on his bike and we rode out. We sent Chris on his 29er back to get the car. On the road the van was only 6 miles away. Chris deserves a medal for TT'ng back to the van. I get Aumiller comfortable at the visitor center and grab a first aid kit. Man we were lucky. We could have been so far out from the trail head. The hand is nasty. We bandage it up and wait for Chris. Chris arrives and we roll out and drop Matt off at the ER. I get home unload the van and then head back to see how he is doing. Just as I get into the ER and see Matt the Dr shows up and hands him his X-Ray. Broken leg. Poor bastard. He has such a great attitude about it. He is already taking about wanting to go back and ride Borderland. It was such a great day. So amazing to be able to have that time. Matt will be back strong as ever in no time. It is part of this crazy life we all live. Be safe, take care of each other and carpe diem.

Monday, June 6, 2016

All Aboard the HUP Pain Train

My good friend and co-DS of HUP Michele Smith along with her husband Ed host one of the most awesome rides/BBQs in the NECX. It is an annual HUP team ride. It is called the Lion of Burlington. Typically happens the first weekend in June. It is a CX wake up call if there ever was one. The ride starts and finishes at their house and goes park to park on some pretty amazing trails. In the spirit of the ride most ride CX bikes. But a mountain bike certainly is nice on some of these trails. I certainly was very happy to have disc brakes and tubeless tires on my CX bike. My CX bike is pretty much a woods killing machine so it is very capable on most "mtn bike" trails. HUP is amazing. Such a great crew. And it continues to grow into something even  more awesome each year. This year's ride was a good chance to meet a lot of new team riders and reconnect with friends and teammates we hadn't seen in a while. 

I would guess and say we had about thirty riders. Mostly HUP but a bunch of like minded friends as well. Basically if you love CX and getting lost in the woods you are a friend of HUP. Sure doesn't hurt if you bring nice beer to the BBQ as well. Baked goods work wonders also. It was so awesome seeing so many rad people. We did all our hellos and got kitted up. Roger had a mechanical on the way over so I saw he and Ed frantically trying to change out a derailler pulley wheel before we rolled out. We snapped a great team photo and off we rolled. Now rolling out with 30 riders and picking your way through the woods can be pretty hilarious. You always try and give each other space and be respectful but of course shenanigans are bound to happen. Once you get into the woods and you see downed trees that need to be hopped it becomes full #DBL in a blink of an eye. I may have put Roger into a tree hoping a log. But it was all in good fun and once again I was blown away at how comfortable HUP riders are in their natural element on CX bikes. This is how you get ready for CX season. Riding a CX bike in the woods is perfect for getting those bike handling skills back in top form. 

We bombed through some super fun dusty trails and popped out by the reservoir and regrouped. It is always very hard keeping 30+ riders together in the woods. Michele and Ed do a great job of herding all the cats but it is tough. We rode in a fun group with Ed for a bit. Some serious smackdowns were happening anytime we popped out onto pavement was a bit challenging for my out of shape ass but I was faking it and laughing my ass off at all the jokes and snark flying around the group. I love these people and there is no better way to spend a day in my mind than with this crew on CX bikes getting lost in the woods. Speaking of which. There was a bit of confusion when we were working our way through the second section of woods. Roger, Chris and I decided to pick our own adventure and split off. We were having way too much fun to stand around in the woods. It had been so long since I had ridden with Roger and Chris. We were definitely feeding off each other and Roger was definitely in full Shark mode. Everyone had a garmin file loaded up (well I didn't but I have an internal GPS that aways keeps me semi-lost, semi-found)

We were expecting Ed's group to catch up at any moment anyway really. We certainly didn't attack in a racing sense. We just were having so much fun shredding all the trails that we sort of lost track of how far ahead we had gotten. Roger rides this area constantly. And has been riding a shit ton this Spring/Summer. He is in the best shape I think I have ever seen him. Chris and I have been sitting on our asses eating pies for the last three months. You think I am joking. I am not. Any time we got on a road or straight path Roger would drop us so bad. I would laugh out loud as he was pointing out hazards in the road when he was at least 500 feet up the road. I just hung on for dear life and kept eating food and drinking water. Then we would get to a woods section and he would wave me through and let me shred. I will say Roger's woods riding game is on another level as well. He definitely was riding the roots and tricky sections way better than I have seen him on other adventure rides. We somehow had zero mechanicals. Zero crashes. It is almost like we had some dark angel on our shoulder driving us like the three riders of the HUPocalypse.

Its not like we were killing ourselves or anything. We stopped to take some cool photos and get food and water along the way. This ride is one of the more special ones I do each year. I really like to soak it all in. One of the cooler aspects is riding on Battle Road in Concord. I am a bit of a history buff. And seeing all of that history is just incredible. Roger found a couple of great new sections in that area. Battle Road is great but as it is a pretty significant national park it can be very crowded going full pathlete is never a good idea. It is a great road. Nice packed dirt with some really nice trees keeping you out of the sun. I swear this year we barely even had to look at our gamins. Between the three of us we knew this route really well. I started to get a bit bonky right before we got to one of my favorite sections. Chris and Roger were definitely riding very spirited on the roads. They would attack each other for townline sprints and climbs. I would just hang back and save my matches.

At the top of Grove street we dove into Landlocked Forest. LLF is a great open space in Lexington that is mostly owned by Burlington. It is called Landlocked Forest because Burlington residents are cut off from their forest by a highway. The land has been in jeopardy of being developed over the years and a section we road off of Grove Street looks like it is in real trouble. Please take the time to go sign the petition to save this section of LLF. These rides only happen if we have open space to ride on. As bikers we are always ever vigilant to make sure other riders don't damage the trails when wet, we work hard to keep the trails in good shape and work with communities to ensure our natural resources are preserved and can be enjoyed by everyone.

As before Roger waved we through. Just as I went into the drops I must have hit autoplay on my phone. The Black Eyed Peas start booming out of my jersey pocket. It was so awesome. The new RoboZank was built just for this type of riding. Last year I did the LoB on a mtb. It was fun. But to be honest I was able to ride everything I rode on my mtb on my RoboZank. There was one weird rock garden mid-way through that I wasn't 100% sure about but the bike just floated through it. 

We popped out on the highway underpass and I remembered I almost died at this spot last year. Amazing what a difference 44 cm bars are to 170 wide bars. Last year I clipped my riser bars on a retaining wall and almost went down a culvert. Drop bars are so nice in tight spots. We were in the home stretch at this point. Again we were sort of bummed no other groups caught up to us but we were having such a great time riding with just the three of us that it was ok. I honestly couldn't have asked for a better day on the bike.

We got back changed into our kit and got ready for a serious BBQ! We had so much food and so much great beer. It was so awesome being able to just hang out and hear everyone's story from the day. The CX gods were with us for sure. Our good friend Jenn sadly broke her frame. But luckily didn't do any damage to herself. There are so many weird little wood bridges. Jenn got caught up on one and went over the side. Unfortunately it was about 5 feet down into a swamp. Still can't believe she wasn't hurt. She must be superhuman! HUGE thanks to Ed and Michele and everyone who came out. HUP is looking STRONG right now. I love where this team is at right now. #CXISCOMING and I can't wait.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Faticus

First I have to apologize to my good friend and fellow blogger Fatmarc for stealing one of his handles. But I Faticus embodies everything that will be captured in this here post. And I named the above fat bike Faticus. I don't always name my bikes. But this name just came to me this week while ready the fatty. I have been called Fat Bike Jesus. It is obviously half taunt half jest. I like fat bikes. I like fun. Fat bikes are fun. I don't know about where you live but around here in the Northeast Fat Bikes were ALL the rage last winter. Or was it the winter before. I mean they were selling like hot cakes! Then everyone sold off their bikes in the Spring when they realized unlike myself, aka Fat Bike Jesus, fat bikes themselves can't walk on water. Or ride through deep snow for that matter. They are a ton of fun in Winter but you have to be realistic. And it is gonna be rough going at times. Its basically snowshoeing with touch of pedaling, but you can rail down some fun powder trails and launch yourself into a snowbank at random intervals. If this sounds like fun to you then fat biking is for you!

But fat biking isn't only for winter. I am pretty sure I invented the idea of racing fat bikes at CX races. Well, if I didn't invent it I certainly encouraged and supported it. Now if racing a SSCX on a CX course is stupid. Racing a fat bike on a CX course is stupider. Is stupider a word? Who knows. But again, its FUN. Actually, if you took the barriers down most CX courses would be a blast on a fat bike. But fat bikes are super heavy. And wicked slow. Or are they wicked slow? In a sense they are. But I had a fat bike epiphany at Singlespeed-A-Palooza. Fat bikes have raced at SSAP for as long as I have gone to the event. SSAP is my favorite bike race on the planet. This year I got a lesson in just how fast a fat bike can be. Let's think of what fat bikes are good at. They roll over everything. Once up to speed do not lose speed. They are basically like an out of control dump truck. And for their weight and size they are very nimble. Shit it sounds like I am describing myself.

Anyway back to SSAP. So as I am deep in the pain cave questioning why I would go couch to SSAP with really only two rides on my SS and feeling sort of sorry for myself I hear the tell tale sound of a fat bike about to overtake me. It is a very distinct sound. Like an A-10 Warthog coming in slow and low and about to light up everything in its gun sights. I hear a loud WOOHOOT CHIP BAKER!!! And get a well needed ass slap and in a blink of an eye my friend Fabian is gone! He is flying. So I try my damn best to catch up and latch onto the fat bike pain train. No chance. Fabian beats me by 15 minutes. That is insane! And sort of got me thinking. One my friend is a bad ass. And he is fast obviously. But two maybe fat bikes are fast.

So I put that in the memory bank and don't really think about it. Then for reasons outside of my control one of my only functioning bikes this past week is my fat bike. What is a boy to do? Obviously just shred the fat bike. There certainly are worse fates. I ride my fat bike all year. It is a ton of fun in the woods. Not so much riding to the woods as it is like driving a John Deere riding mower through town but you are going so slow people actually smile and wave at you. A fat bike is probably the only bike on the planet that actually makes non-bike people smile and say nice things to you. Its like having a lab puppy in the park. Everyone is happy to see you. So my first ride back on the fat bike is at Needham Town Forest. I am not shy about being open about my fear of NTF. Place scares the crap out of me. It is a legit black diamond riding area. I have gotten better in there but its always rough on mind and body. I go in with the mindset of just have fun and play around. I thank Thom for this. He has been posting some rad videos lately from sessioning NTF and it takes some of the fear out of the place.

Its apparent almost immediately how much at ease the fat bike is on these rocky technical trails. There are lots of reasons. One is position I think. I am short. Like hobbit sized. A 29er is a big bike for me. But I love my 29er. It rolls over a lot of stuff and is fast. But a fat bike with 26" wheels allows me to use a riser bar and gives me tons of clearance. The fat tires smooth out almost more trail than a suspension fork. I have a tubeless set up so am able to run around 8 PSI. So within the first two or three technical sections I have already ridden better and cleared stuff than I usually do. It isn't perfect. Definitely more pedal strikes. And I smacked the shit out of the bb more times than I could count. But on a few sections that I have trouble with I was fast. Way faster than on the 29er. So the fat bike earned a nickname. Fatmarc I hope its cool. I promise Faticus will honor your namesake.

Friday, May 27, 2016

I am a Dirt Bag

I am a Dirt Bag. It has been a life goal. Or a mantra. Not sure at this point. You probably wouldn't think I was a Dirt Bag if you met me. You would think I look pretty "normal" Rugged good looking perhaps but not a Dirt Bag. Kidding about the good looking part obviously. I shudder when I see photos of myself. But I digress. Why do I consider myself a Dirt Bag? My parents were reluctant hippies. My dad was about as WASPY as they come. Grew up in Chestnut Hill. My Grandfather was an Army surgeon. Harvard educated. I went to the Chestnut Hill Country Club in a little man suit every Sunday. So how in the hell could I turn into a Dirt Bag and not a Lawyer or some other suitable gentlemanly pursuit?

The 60s happened. My parents like I said were wannabe hippies. They could never be true hippies as like I said dad was deeply trust funded and that would never go down. My mom was from a broken Irish home and worked her ass off to get through Nursing school to make a better life for herself and her family. But the ideals of hippies mattered to them. The music which I hated. The views which I took on by osmosis. We did lots of hippie type stuff. I grew up fairly non-traditional in a traditional setting which has it upsides and downsides. Around high school things sort of headed off track and fully to the Dirt Bag lifestyle. I quit hockey for karate. I went deep into the rabbit hole of eastern thought. I went to Art School. I windsurfed and dreamed of actually surfing. 

I took my High School graduation money and booked a trip to Maui from the back of a windsurf magazine. It was like I woke up from a bad dream when I landed in Maui and found my true self. But I hadn't accepted the Dirt Bag lifestyle yet. I didn't get it. I didn't get that you could just drop the fuck out and surf. My ties to my family and obligations to them would never allow that anyway but a boy can dream. The ocean and dojo became my salvation. When I returned from Hawaii things would never be the same. I probably should have dropped out of Art School and figured shit out. But as a true Dirt Bag I went all in and while registered as an "Illustration Major" I basically was a painter. I studied painting and figure drawing non-stop. But I was a crappy art student. My heart and soul was on the ocean. Every chance I could get I would take off and go windsurfing. Its not a cheap sport. I drove a beatdown Subaru that was barely worth what one sail would cost. I don't really remember eating or partying. Those things really weren't important. When I wasn't windsurfing I was hightailing it up to Boston to study Kung Fu now in South Station. I am not sure what my parents were thinking. But the roots of my life as a Dirt Bag were forming.

I somehow graduated. No idea how. I waited for my girlfriend to graduate UMASS while working in a Hospital. I would go to work with two black eyes, cracked ribs, split lips. No one asked too many questions about it. It was Boston after all. Once Pam graduated we packed my jeep with our possessions and headed West to SF. We had debated between Laguna Beach and SF for a while. Pam has two brothers. One lived in Laguna and one in SF. It was sort of like how Charlie Sheen's character was pulled in two directions in Apocalypse Now. We settled on SF because Laguna just felt too nice. And too focused on money. SF had soul. But Laguna is damn pretty. We made the right choice. Thank god we moved to SF.

The reality of moving to SF with a Jeep, 2k in cash and a microwave and zero prospects for work was some lifestyle shifts had to occur. The windsurfer was sold. Kind of crushing but rent had to be paid. Martial Arts was too expensive so that went out the window. I worked three or four jobs. Bartender at night, brunch place in the am, intern at a magazine in the design department when I could get the hours. Luckily, I had some actual design experience from when I was in High School. Art School gave me zero skills for the actual work force. What a shocker. The magazine I worked for was called California Bicyclist. It was a free regional rag that's strength was events. This was pre-internet. Finding races and events wasn't easy. We had a pretty huge circulation for a regional magazine.

My Dirt Bag lifestyle was about to go on steroids. The sport of mountain biking was created by Dirt Bags. Literally. They lived like surf bums or ski bums but on bikes. They lived hard. Meeting and riding with the founders of mountain biking was an eye opener. I was hooked. It was the closest thing to surfing I had a ever done. My first bike was a Bridgestone Mb-3. I coveted the Mb-0 but didn't have the funds to pull that off.

So what is all the point of this? The point is the outdoors sports media seems to be romanticising and monetizing the Dirt Bag lifestyle. I went on a bit of an internet tirade about a certain video that was posted that literally made my head want to explode. I am not trying to be one of those old dudes who are like you have no idea how it was in the day! My point is the Dirt Bag lifestyle exists right now. But it does not require one to be an Instagram celebrity. The Dirt Bag lifestyle can be freeing. Being shackled to a super phone and curating an instagram feed is not freedom. Nor is it aspirational or inspirational. It is a mockery of why Dirt Bags "invented" mountain biking. A legion of surf bums, ski bums, climbers, fly fisherman have led this lifestyle for decades. It is not without its dark side. But if you choose the Dirt Bag lifestyle the rewards are endless. The greatest one to me is just freedom. End of rant

Monday, May 23, 2016

SSCX is Coming

In the good old days when CX was a niche sport we didn't even think about CX until say around Sept 1st. Maybe August 1st if you were "serious" Newsflash. No one was serious. It was sort of an oddball offseason thing to do. My first exposure to early season training races was the DFL Cross Dressing Series. It was as the name would imply the opposite of serious. But CX is serious business now. The Zank SSCX series was created as a safe haven/counter point to all the crazy stressed out races a CX racer does in a CX season in the NECX. 

This season will be our sixth season running the series. That is an incredible feat. The fact this started out as a drunken idea at Thom Parson's family farm and morphed into what it is today is an exclamation point that people still do in fact like fun!

Fatmarc gave me my CX wake up call. Virtually of course. He posted a 2016 CX schedule. It is a bit early for me. I almost hit the snooze button. But when Fatmarc speaks I listen. So without further ado here is the 2016 Zank SSCX series presented by Mad Alchemy! It is preliminary. Meaning things could change. I found most of my info on the NEBRA webpage. We have 11 races this year. Some notable changes. We may want to add one or two more. If you are a promoter and are curious email me. If you are a racer and have feedback leave it in the comments section or email me. Thanks

The 2016 Zank SSCX series p/b Mad Alchemy:

9/11-Quad CX
9/17-CX at White Park
9/18-Sucker Brook
9/28-Midnight Ride of CX
10/9-MRC CX
10/22-Hanover CX
11/5-Paradise CX
11/6-West Hill CX
12/10-Ice Weasels-The Macdaddy of all SSCX series finale

As in year's past all are welcome on a singlespeed bicycle. How you make that pedal bike single speed or one gear is your business. We defer to each promoter on all rules, staging and time slotting of each respective event. We usually bring our little bag of tricks and offer our own podium prizes. We encourage equal "payouts/prize money" to both men and women. We encourage beginners and those new to SSCX. We welcome all racers to try SSCX. The series points are tallied in the old Verge series point system. At the season finale we have a HUGE raffle. The grand prize each year is a custom built Zanconato steel or alloy frame. Racers accrue raffle tickets for each race they attend. 

We look forward to another rad season of SSCX! Get those bikes ready people. I know its full on MTB and gravel season but start looking through the parts bin. At least wash the mud off the SSCX bike from last year's Ice Weasels! We will have more announcements soon. We have lots of rad ideas cooking right now!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


I like singlespeeds. Not as a political statement or as some kind of secret handshake but just because I like them. I have been racing single speed mountain bikes for as long as I can remember. I have a love/hate relationship with it. But Singlespeed-A-Palooza is ALL love. 100%. Singlespeed mountain bike racing is brutal. Going from couch to SSAP is probably not a smart life choice. But sometimes you are dealt the hand you are dealt and you make the best of it. SSAP was the 5th ride on my recently converted SS Zank 29er. The beauty of my Zank is it is super easy to go back and forth between SS and geared. But you of course have to actually swap it over and not be a lazy couch surfing slacker like I have been all winter. SSAP is one of those events you plan for and get stoked for months in advance. The race itself sells out in hours once reg goes live on Super Bowl Sunday. Most people are excited to see Tom Brady chest bump Gronk. I am posed over my computer with an itchy trigger finger waiting to get into my favorite race of all time. I am excitable. Lots of things are my "favorite of all time" But when I say SSAP is my favorite race of all time it is. No other race even comes close. 

Photo by Rosey

What makes it so rad? First and foremost the people. The Mayor and Dark Horse cycles put the race on. The staff and volunteers are amazing. Honestly the best mtn bike race in the known Universe. How did the results go at your last race? Race results are instantaneous. And for a party race never are screwed up. Podiums happen within minutes after the DFL rider finishes. And that rider is celebrated. Actually every rider is. I have never seen so many supportive volunteers and staff in my life. So much cheering and cowbell. Upon finishing the race there is a BBQ and tapped kegs right next to the finish. And ice cream. ICE CREAM? Do you know how many ice creams 20 Pound Skull had last year? Like 5. I wasn't there last year to see it but its impressive. Nice payouts. Sick trophies. Primes to all fields. Everyone races the same course and distance. EVERYONE is on singlespeeds. There is nothing worse than racing on a SS and having to carve through geared riders. You really can not spin on a SS. So when the whole field is cracked people still have to use torque and momentum. Or walk. You have three speeds on a SS. Sitting. Standing. And Walking. 

The other single most awesome thing about SSAP is the people. Hands down. Its like a reunion for me. Some people I see all year round and it is a great excuse for a Zankcation. But its all the other people you only see once a year or at these types of events. And Shoogs in top of that list. I LOVE Shoogs. Randy is one of those friends who just brings everyone together and is always so positive it is infectious. He and about seven other riders rode from Hartford, CT to the race. Sure a nice 100 mile road ride on SS Mtb is the best openers possible for a 28 mile mountain bike race! But the whole point of SSAP and the #singlespeedlifestyle is to live LARGE. To grab life and not let go and live it to the fullest. Anyone worrying about openers or being too tired to race probably is at the wrong race. Guess how many trainers I saw in the parking lot? ZERO. Next year at the Zank SSCX series I am handing out code of conduct fines for people warming up on trainers at a single speed race. 

Photo by 20 Pound Skull

So back to Shoogs and his posse! Shoogs indeed has a posse and his friends made some amazing stickers to commemorate the ride and celebrate Shoogs in general. I got so many hugs and so many stickers it was beyond belief. It became a pretty fun tagging game all weekend. I tagged the airport dinner bathroom. I laughed when I saw Todd's montage above with my handiwork. Each year we have done SSAP we have rolled with a great crew of HUP/Zank and other folks from New England. And as my good friend Liz pointed out NY is NOT the NECX. I sometimes forget that. And its funny how so many of my good friends are from NY and I just assume they are part of the NECX. They are in my mind but I get it. I have always been pretty drifty with my attention to detail and silly things like geography! 

There was much back and forth about who was going, where they were staying etc. We settled into a nice Zank crew. Rosey, Todd P, Myette and me. We packed four Zank 29er SS into the van and headed south. Newburgh, NY is how do you say this nicely? Ummm sort of sketchy I guess. Sort of a mix of Kentucky and just biker gang chic with a touch of urban decay for good measure. It is always fine. The actual race venue is fantastic. And the area around Stewart Forest is nice and safe. But the hotels we have stayed in the past are way too murdery for me at my age. I like being this age so I can say " I am too old for this shit" So we flexed some Gold Member Marriot Elite points and got a baller suite. It was by far the nicest place I have stayed down there. We always joke about the strip club called Paradise Island that is right across from the Airport Dinner where we always eat before the race. No sane person would step foot into that strip club is all I am saying. 

We got down to Stewart Forest in time for a pre-ride. Dark clouds were on the horizon. Literally. We had been stalking our weather apps the whole drive down and it was going to be tight. The ride window looked good. But the possibility of flying monkeys coming out of the sky were high. We met Will Crissman and Liz Lukowski in the parking lot and the six of us rolled out. Most times when you pre-ride a race course you scout for the hole shot or maybe the finish. You do stuff to ensure your success. SSAP is a race make no mistake. But the course is meant to be enjoyed. The trails are perfect on a SS. They are a great mix of roller coaster tech and flowy single track. So we got a bit excited and just shredded. We definitely rode for too long and went way too hard. Chasing Will Crissman is never a good idea. But it is a ton of fun. So YOLO why not. The course was so tacky from the recent rain. There were definitely some deep mud puddles and some standing water. Some cheater lines were going to be necessary to survive. We found out back in the parking lot that Liz's fork had blown the damper. She basically was running a '90s era Mag 21 with about 20 mm of non-functional travel. 

That night we went to the Newburgh Brewery which was a HUGE upgrade over the old restaurant we used to go to called the Cauldron. The Cauldron was like something out of Blue Velvet and it always felt like we were seconds away from getting into a bar fight or shot. The Newburgh Brewery was fantastic. Such a great space. Beer was fantastic. Food was great. And again the company was top notch. So many hugs from Shoogs and his posse. So many people bought or gave me beers I stopped counting. But as I was driving I would hand them to Todd and Liz. I swear it wasn't part of my race strategy. Ok maybe a little. Todd P or 20 Pound Skull is one of my long time friends here in the NECX. I have known him, ridden with him, raced with him and gone on so many adventures with him. We have a bit of a "rivalry" going. Not really as we are so closely matched but maybe that is what makes it fun. It is almost scary how closely matched we are. There have been a few times, namely in cross, when he has gotten way faster than me. But for the most part we stay pretty even. I love riding and racing with him.

At the brewery the Farm to SSAP crew rolled in. They had been riding for 12 hours. Twelve. Through a pouring rain. But they were all smiles. These people get it. More beers. More hugs. Cross Jesus was so jacked. His plan on Sunday was to not race but to ride around and cheer people on and be a great cheerleader. It is a tough race. He is a CHAMPION for doing that. Its one of those races were people actually cheer each other on during the race. Its too hard to just go into race mode and get your game face on. So we all line up on Sunday. I am sort of nervous but not really as Shoogs is trying to get me to drink whiskey out of a flask. Have I mentioned its 9 am? I am slightly hungover but not too bad. My legs are feeling like concrete blocks. And 3 miles of gravel road at 140 rpm are not really making them loosen up. Each bump up in the road gives sweet relief from the hamster wheel. I settle into a group as as we hit the first single track. SSAP is a great mix of awesome single track and gravel road. The gravel roads are actually nice as a way to eat and drink and get a quick recovery.

I am doing my usual SSAP jam. Shred the single track. Keep repeating the "No Brakes" mantra. On a SS, well any mtb really, you have to use momentum. Momentum is your friend. Its why I like SS. You learn so many great habits. And unlearn some really bad ones. Gears make you lazy. You can settle into stuff with gears. Not with one gear. So I am feeling pretty good. In a good group. Then I get to one of my favorite trails in Stewart called White Cloud. Its a nice single track that pops up for a bit then roller coasters down. It is "technical" in a sense but not really. It was blazed with three down arrows which to me means look out there is a cliff ahead. I guess I am conditioned to some of the stuff around my house that literally feels like it is trying to kill you. Just as I am heading in I hear Aumiller. He yells out "CHIP WAIT DUDE I AM COMING LETS SHREDDED!!!!" Then I hear his bike bell. And his saying "excuse me" "pardon me" "Coming through" and "I am not racing I just want to shred with my friend"

I can only imagine what the train of dudes thought as he went through them like butter. I was laughing so hard I literally almost fell off my bike. He gets up to me right as we get over the top of the climb. He is not even remotely breathing hard. He is like "dude, you are riding so much better than those dudes." "your skills are way better than those guys" I was so stoked to see Utah. We FLY down White Cloud. At total warp speed. His hoots and hollers just kept me pushing the limits. I almost got a bit too rad a few times but the bike stayed upright. We caught up to Thea and formed a little group of radness. We chit chatted for a bit and then popped into another awesome trail. I saw a rock wall up ahead and decided to air it out. I am not really a rad rider. My skills are better but I usually stay with both wheels on the ground at all times. So I hit the rock wall and try and do my best Thom Parsons rad skills session. Well I clearly must have hit the wrong rock or maybe pulled to much on the left grip because I am now pretty high in the air but my bike has done a tail whip and the entire bicycle is now sideways. Before I realize my error I hit the ground like I am sliding into first base head first. Luckily I somehow eject off the bike use it as a steel shield and roll into the grass without a mark on my body.

We all laugh our asses off. And continue to shred the great trails. Utah peels off to go find more friends and hand out beers he has packed into his bag. I pin it and try and catch up to 20 Pound skull. At the midway point beer stop I see Todd! Finally! He looks at me like he as seen a ghost! And takes off. Oh buddy, I thought we were going to hang out? I think he had been there for a while. I grab a beer. Say hi to some people. High five people coming through. Then get back on it. Things are starting to come a part. Couch to SSAP coupled with yesterdays hammer fest and some poor planning is starting to take its toll. Ok maybe my tail whip to body slam is affecting me. My legs are starting to complain. Basically saying "fuck you Chip and your bad life choices!!!" And I forgot my endurolytes. That was a huge mistake. I take on gu shots and try and hydrate but its becoming apparent my legs are not happy. So I go into CX survival mode. I get off and run/walk stuff that maybe I could have torqued up. But I start getting some leg cramps that are just a hair below rigamortis. I have had bad leg cramps before but these are weird. Its like an electric charge is going through my it bands. I am like well if I die at least I die at SSAP.

Then a Dark Angel/Valkryie appears in the form of none other than Anne Rock! Anne Rock is a LEGEND. And one of the most awesome people on the planet. We ride the last five miles together. I almost ride over her at one point because I am so out of my mind and took a high side over a rock wall and dropped in almost on her head. Thank god for XT brakes. Is it possible you can bend time when you are bonking on a SS mtb? I think you can. I felt a bit like I was riding a 29er in the Matrix. People kept telling me "you are almost there!" "Great job!!" Yeah this isn't my first rodeo people. No one was giving me any actual numerics. No one said distance or time. Or what was up ahead. As you can tell I obsessed over the course and had it loaded in my garmin...hahhaha that is funny. 

So when I pop out onto a gravel road and realize it is the finishing straight I get a second wind and kick it into the finish. 2:40:34. The EXACT same time as Todd. How is that even possible? Some kind of SSAP time warp I think.

What an amazing weekend. High fives to everyone. Next year we are bringing an even bigger posse. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This and That

I am usually pretty good about keeping this blog up to date. But I have been pretty bad lately about posting. So today's post is going to be a "throw it at the wall and see if it sticks approach" Last time I posted was around Good Friday. Did Jesus punish me for my sacrilege? Probably. The whole Jesus just loves us and is the Happy Jesus is probably inaccurate I mean just look at the world right? Shit Joan of Arc heard God's call and saved France. How did that work out for her? This totally random analogy will make sense later. I promise. So let's get this party started. I am damn lucky. I have said that on many an occasion. I have some of the best friends a person could have. The Zank crew are special. Never really had a crew like this before. Which is saying something considering all the cool friends I have had in my rich life. We don't get to see each other enough. #dadlife, work, etc gets in the way. But Zank had a get out of jail free card and we weren't going to waste it!

We assembled the Justice League and headed to Sutton. The trails out there are some of my favorites. Technical but with a great flow to it. Makes you a better rider. Michele (adopted Zank team rider for the day), Utah, MRR (celebrity guest), Rosey, Myette and Zank met up at a secret Zank location and headed into the woods. Sadly Suzie could not join us. Its not easy being a trail dog. Sometimes you end up on the IR. The assembled Zank mtn bikes would have made a damn fine handbuilt show I will say that. Two SS, one 27.5 and one 29er.

Myette led the way and set a sick route. It was probably the hardest 15 mile ride of my life. But so perfect. Afterwards we sat down and ate pancakes. Exchanged hugs and said our goodbyes. Friends like this are what make life amazing. I honestly don't know any other "hobby" that brings people together like this. We are damn lucky to live the biker life.

On to our next hashtag.  #dadcation was just a concept at first. Myette asked me if I wanted to take a road trip on the kids school vacation. Like all things #CBL I was all "hell yeah" But like most things in the #CBL unless fire alarms are going off or kids are puking it is sometimes hard to pin me down to commit to something. We exchanged a bunch of emails and texts. DC. Portland, ME. All kinds of ideas. After about the 10th email Myette took the bull by the horns and found a sick Air BNB in Quebec. When he sent me the link I was like no way is this place for real. I have seen a lot of Chevy Chase movies. I have seen both European Vacation and EuroTrip. I did not want to end up in the Vandersexxx Erotic Club with the wrong safe word.

But reading the AIR BNB page it looked legit. Yes, alarm bells were going off in my head but how bad could it be. The beauty of a #dadcation is you have two dads. Shit goes bad dads can figure it out. Oh, what is a #dadcation? It is possible a few of my readers are unfamiliar with this term. Its when two dads ( I guess there could be more than two) take their kids on vacation without the wives. This is probably terrifying to most dads. Dads nowadays are way more involved with the kids and day to day kid care. A generation ago kids would die, go missing, dads would be arrested or all of the above if two dads attempted to take their kids on vacation without the wives. How would the kids eat? Who would clean? How would I get "me time?"

All these options were still on the table of course. But I have known Myette for a long time. His kids are awesome. My two kids have spent a fair amount of time with them. But they haven't spent 4 days in another country together. Or 14 hours in a van together. I honestly wasn't worried. Which probably is just my nature. We packed the #manvan up to the gils and headed to Quebec. Have I mentioned I have never been to Canada? Luckily Myette and Zoe both speak good French. I was an exchange student in Paris when I was 16 so I was pretty confident I could dust off the old Francais and be able to communicate.

The first thing I asked Myette as we left. Ok second. First was do you (and I) have the passports. Second was do we need notes from our wives to take our kids out of the country? I was actually not kidding. I think he thought I was joking. We basically stopped at every Dunkins on the drive through NH. I think the kids were worried about withdrawal. We stopped in Newport, VT for our last breathe of American air before leaping into the Abyss. Could two dads handle 4 kids in another country for 4 days without losing the kids? The checkpoint was super easy. The second I hit the boarder I started channeling Super Endurance Guy. Super. Became get the idea. Having never been in Canada and being an ugly American I assumed that once we popped into Canada it would just be an extension of VT. Mountains, green etc. No. Not all all you ugly american pig dog. Imagine the Badlands. Or Watsonville, CA. Throw in Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome. It was hilarious. The first truck stop we stopped at was bizarre. It looked like a 7-11 was taken over by some type of Texas Chainsaw Massacre family. Full on taxidermy everywhere. Wolf pelts. Bears. The kids went crazy. And bought so many Kinder Surprise eggs I was sure they would be puking within 5 miles from the station.

What is a Kinder Surprise egg? You can't handle Kinder Surprise eggs! Ok imagine a cadbury creme egg without the creme. In the hollow creme area is a plastic container that houses a toy. Yes, I get it. Oh my god the children. They will all swallow the toy and DIE!!! No one. And I mean no one could swallow this yellow toy holder. America is stupid. We deserve Kinder Surprise eggs. Actually never mind. In light of the current political climate it is a good thing Kinder Surprise eggs aren't in American cause so many kids would die.

But I digress. Quebec was incredible. My new favorite city in the world. I want to move there and open a Cat Cafe. The beer is amazing. The history and euro flavor are incredible. It is WALKABLE! We parked the car for four days and never used it. We walked 10-14 miles a day. Ok the first climb up the murder stairs almost killed Syd. Pretty ironic considering she is the "athlete" in the family. The kids loved it. Such good food. They got to shoot guns. Ok AirSoft guns but guns. It was probably the most surreal moment of the trip. Four kids ages 15, 14 and two 11 year olds who have never touched a gun in their life. The each get a gun. Air propelled plastic bb but legit replicas. None of them need any instruction. Safeties off, full auto shooters stance. Pop, pop, pop. America is safe from the Zombie Apocalypse my friends. Thank you first person shooter games.

Ok on to the next topic. #RailTrail or save the trails or what have you. Trails, woods, Rail Trails are all dear to my grinchy heart. I haven't been on an actual road ride in about 4 years. Other than the annual VT trip with Pam to the Equinox in which we ride road bikes I always take the CX bike and do park to park rides. I am lucky in that there are so many good parks, woods and paths near my house. I can do a 40 mile loop on a CX bike that is about 80% trail. Needham just began a rail trail project that will open things up even more for me. A small section is done and it is fantastic. Cuts out two busy roads for me. Since it has been finished there are so many people on it. Not swarms but way more people are on bikes and in the woods than before. The concept was to take the trail from Newton Lower Falls to Medfield. It would be incredible. Dover is sandwiched in between Needham and Midfield and have always been against this idea. But I started seeing Rail Trail signs pop all over Dover. And at first the signs were only Vote Yes! I was blown away. 

I paid close attention to it. The Vote No signs started popping up. But were definitely in the minority. On May 2 the town voted and it passed! So psyched. Dover deserves a high five! Please, please thank the Town of Dover and its residents for approving this. Be nice. Be good ambassadors. This is one step in what will be a really great thing for the area. It will get so many people out on bikes and outside. 

 On the topic of trails. Cutler as you know is being impacted by a major highway project. Basically the highway is being widened and a highway exchange is being added to Kendrick Street in Needham. I am all for progress. And it helps Needham to have corporations moving to town. But It has worried me. It makes me nervous as far as how cyclists egress and ingress to Needham and Dover on the road will be impacted and it makes me nervous how the trails will be impacted. Some of the trails have already been graded over. It is a bummer. But there are some really great people working to ensure Cutler is preserved and improved. I spoke with the Chairman of the Needham Town Council last week. He had some really great news and is pro-Cutler. It was so great to hear his thoughts and bounce ideas off of him. In the coming months and year we will be working with DCR, Needham, NEMBA and local people and organizations to make Cutler even better than before.

We took a quick recon ride last Saturday and talked about ways we could improve it and make it better. If you have any ideas or want to help please reach out.

Singlespeed-a-Palooza is coming fast. Fairly frightened. I am in about the worst shape of my life right now. Bizarre winter and bronchitis have just set me back. I am just accepting it and trying to ride and at least be healthy and fresh for it. The Zank is back in SS stealth mode. My first ride on it after about a year on a SS Mtb was with Thom P. It was hilarious. Much hijinx. It is a blast. But DAMN ITS HARD! SSCX is one thing. But a Mtb? On technical east coast trails? Holy shit I forgot how hard it is. Sooooo much torque! Second ride was with Utah who was on his new 27.5+ bike packing rig. We were a motley crew I will say that. I could tell he wished he was on his Zank....Ok we are pretty much caught up. A ton cooking. I will try and be better about posting. Keep the plastic side up and the rubber side down til next time...