Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Lion of Burlington

I think its pretty obvious by now what I hold up high in my pantheon of the biker life. Friends, Wolf Pack, family, Gnar, dirt roads, shenanigans, HUP. I am a pretty simple man. I will do anything for my Wolf Pack. This last Spring and early summer a shift has happened. I have been loving all the rides we have been cooking up. And friends have been putting their own stamp on the "Bandit" ride. The common denominator is of course cross bikes. In theory this is how you should spend your "offseason" as a cross racer. Riding dirt. Lots and lots of dirt on the CX bike. Just getting in the woods and getting those skills. But this season its almost become its own thing. Much to the derision of purists people are "monetizing" it. Hence all the "gravel" rides that are popping up. The simple fact is that riding dirt on a drop bar bike is fun. Whether its 100k of dirt roads or 35-60 miles of gnarly trails. And when you throw in a bunch of people who live for the less traveled path it gets interesting fast. The key to these adventures is of course having an open mind and just approaching it as an adventure. 

My good friends Ed and Michele invited us all to a HUP BBQ and CX ride at their home. I didn't really know what to expect. I tease Ed that he is a triathlete. Michele traces her CX roots all the way back to Boston Cross. Both of them are amazing. Great friends. Great parents. Last season they were an inspiration. They brought two kids to the races and raced their hearts out. In a very short time they have brought so much to our small band of misfit CX racers. I joke that Michele is one of the two to three people who can reel in my ADD. She has been a great mentor to a lot of HUP riders. So even though I didn't know what to expect I was super excited. I assumed the ride we would do would be pretty low key. One HUPster even showed up on a road bike. Luckily Ed had a spare bike that fit him perfectly!

We had about ten HUP, and about 6 FoHU. I even brought my wingman. I pretty much can't go anywhere without Nick at this point. Guy is a one man wrecking crew and is just one of my favorite people on the planet. We rolled out in a fairly mellow pace. And then it went full Gnar. I was way too busy trying not to die to really process what was happening. It had rained for about 5 days straight. There were flood warnings. People were in BRANDNEWBLANCO. It was so muddy and gnarly it was insane. And I was on file treads. Perfect! To say I have been impressed by the Clement LAS file treads would be an understatement. It is proof that casing and volume trump knobs every time. I was able to shred. There was never a moment where the tires held me back. So we hit these crazy trails literally 5 minutes from Michele and Ed's house. I would lose my mind if these trails were so close to my house. It was classic Gnarnia. You pop into some gap in what looks like a hedge and then voila amazing trails! This is one of the revelations of New England. In SF none of this would exist. It would all be condos or off limits to bikes. Nick crashes on some greasy rocks. Didn't seem bad at first but it was an Omen.

We get to a junction and regroup. Nick tells me his right shifter is done. Oh shit. Nick is unflappable. He whacks it a few times and we just keep rolling. We start railing through all manner of berms and drop offs. At one point I drop off some rocky ledge see a huge loose boulder in my direct path and think to myself this is it. This is when you get back in a pink cast. But once again the Honey saves my ass. A simple flick of the right thigh and the bike moves enough left to avoid it. Ed is at the front and smashing. Like HULKSMASH. My brain is sort of able to process that this doesn't make sense but I have way too much other stuff going on to figure out how a "triathlete" is schooling hardened cross racers, world cup level mtn bikers and some under 30 year olds. I am too busy laughing, diving into mud bogs and hopping logs to worry to much about how Ed transformed himself into a cross killing machine in the offseason.

After we punch out of that insane dirt sector I sit up and make sure we haven't lost anyone etc. HUP doesn't leave a rider behind. Ever. It is a rule of ours. And just good form. Especially when you are in the woods. Everyone makes it through with zero issues. This is impressive considering what we just rode through! I now realize this is going to be a legit CX enduro ride. To be honest it turns out to be way more technical than any CX ride I have been on to this point. And that is saying something as this years Ronde included a ton of dirt. We were basically riding mtn bike trails on our CX bikes. I still remember Pineapple Bob extolling the virtues of a cross bike being a "do everything bike" He said that to me decades ago and it holds true to this day. It is funny how much resistance there is right now towards "gravel bikes" A CX bike is the ultimate bike. You really can do everything on it. Will it be the perfect bike for each type of terrain? No. But you can do it. And a skilled rider can do it with style and class. So we roll past the Burlington Mall. People joke that we should stop at Lululemon. Can you imagine the response? We were about 10 miles in and already smelled really bad.

We come through another amazing trails section. Okay at first we couldn't find the "trail" It felt a bit like Jurassic Park. Everything is so overgrown right now. Its like nature has exploded the last month. Then we saw the a gap and punched through some overgrowth and found the trail. After some bushwhacking and debate about how long it takes poison ivy to take hold of your brain and turn you into a Zombie we hit the 3rd dirt sector. I was hanging back again making sure no one got lost. There was a high line and what appeared to be a river. I took the high line. I heard what sounded like a speed boat off to my right. And then Dana climbed up through the undergrowth to join us on the high line. Oh Hi Dana! As we dropped off the sketchy high line I heard a sound that did not compute. It sounded way too deep for a bike fjording a stream. As I come out of the reeds I see Nick riding across the river. He is at the fork crown. He is dubbed the U-Boat commander for the rest of the ride.

Michele and Ed are driving a very brisk pace. I am not sure exactly what is going on. Our "water stop" and bathroom break is very brief. Perhaps they realize just how much more ground we have to cover and that we need to get back to get the BBQ going. I actually appreciate having them doing all the thinking and policing of the ride. Its nice to for once turn my brain off and just ride. We get on the Battle Road and it as always is just amazing. It is simply gorgeous. Yes it gets busy. But it is one of those trails that has so much history and natural beauty. I love riding it.

I snap a bunch of photos. Snapping photos while riding is no joke. I get off and set up a few shots. I get a great one of Michele and Meg. It sums up what HUP is all about. The best part of these rides is being able to hang out with friends and talk and catch up. It was the first time I had seen Sara and Dana since they got married. Those two hold a special place in my heart. Love them both. And it made me so happy to be riding with them. JD was with us. Which is a HUGE treat. JD works so much when we are racing etc. JD does so much for bike racing its crazy. And during CX season its hard to get to hang out with him because he is in full work mode. I love any chance I get to ride with him and talk with him. He has so much knowledge and love for bikes and bike racing it blows my mind. The fact that post ride he was so excited about racing Dugast mtn bike tires at The Pinnacle warmed my heart. I share his love of all things euro. Trust me. If I didn't think I would destroy a set of those I would own them!

In Landlocked things get a bit weird. But you know the saying. When the going gets weird, the weird get going. Its so awesome riding "mtn bike" trails on our CX bikes. Again I am blown away at how well these fat file treads handle nasty muddy trails. We bump into two mtn bikers on full suspension bikes and they just look at us like they are seeing ghosts. No one has crashed and gotten hurt. We have had one flat. Poor Nick has been a human sacrifice for bad bike Karma. He has been riding a 46x18 for about 20 miles. And his shoe broke. And of course Michele had duct tape to fix it. Incredible. We fly through LLF. We are in a fun group. We have split up into two groups. One led by Ed and one by Michele. We get back to Burlington all smiles and covered head to toe in mud. Nick has brought an industrial size bottle of Tecnu. We hose off and pray we aren't covered head to toe in PI. Have I mentioned Ed and Michele have cross barriers in their back yard? Yeah they are pretty much the King and Queen of HUP NE. Actually they are in fact. As they shattered a Strava segment together on the ride. It wasn't any easy uphill road segment either. It was a nasty loose rocky climb. And they both attacked it with a vengeance. They are going to make people cry next CX season. I guarantee it!

After an amazing ride we have a fantastic party/BBQ. Michele and Ed were such gracious hosts. They were so happy to have all of us at their house. And that to me is the key to being a good host. It was so good seeing so many HUP and FoHU hanging out, having fun. Kids running all over the place. We even had a surprise visit from YASH!!! How special was that? What a great day. HUGE thanks to Michele and Ed. Thanks to everyone who showed up and got rad. So much fun. We need more of this. HUP is a special team. And days like this make me realize just how lucky I am to call all of you my friends and teammates.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Raid Rockingham

There are times you come to a fork in the road whether literal or metaphorical and you have to chose. Chose the less travelled one. Not an original concept. But one true New Englanders have always embraced. So when Team Honey p/b Jamison's Irish Whiskey came across this sign at the Raid Rockingham it was an easy decision. We stopped to take photos while a fast group was milling about. They had a look of fear in their eyes. They asked us if we were going down the CX Trail of Death. Of course we are. This is why we came up to this ride was our simple response. And we punched into the trail laughing our asses off. Behind us I could hear the group of gentlemen saying "but you will get wet.." #TWSS popped into my head for a millisecond quickly replaced by my radar lock on the sets of huge puddles that awaited us.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. Which is not unusual if you follow this journal of my and HUP/Honeys exploits. Rides like the Raid are what we live for on HUP. You throw words like gravel, dirt, rail trails at me and I am all in. Basically you had me at dirt. Roger Cadman is my gravel riding sensei at the moment. I have really switched up my usual summer riding plan. Typically I ride my road bike, do a few mtn bike races. But Roger is a huge randonee/brevet rider. He loves doing mixed rides and getting out there. Its pretty easy to get addicted to these types of rides. Just google gravel ride and you will see how popular it has become. It appeals to the cross racer in me. Its similar to cross in that you obsess over equipment choices, tire selection and preparation. The differences are enormous of course. CX requires zero food consideration and is over in 45 minutes. A "short" dirt road ride like the Raid is over in 3+ hours and requires a lot of hydration and food preparation.

I have been real open that I am NOT an endurance rider. I am a HORRIBLE climber. But I love it. I tend to love things I am horrible at. What good is loving something you are really good at? Maybe that speaks to the New Englander in me. We like things that beat us up and that we have to work at to be halfway decent at. I like these rides because it really gives you a glimpse at your true self as well as shows you what your friends are made of. These rides expose you. The more I do these type of rides the more I find myself gravitating towards certain friends. Roger and Nick are two of my friends who I just can count on. They may drive me and produce some hilarious in ride heckles but they know me and know how to bring out the best in me on these rides. So we signed up. Nick became the first Team Honey p/b Jamison's rider ever registered for an event! He did me and Honey proud! And as always is a great wingman driving to these things. He has an uncanny ability to process directions. He has an inner GPS that is unrivaled. And he brings Killer Mike for the soundtrack.

We didn't really know what to think of the Raid. I think we sensed what it would be like but had very little intel on it. My email box was filled with many freak outs about what bike to bring and what tires to run. For me it was a simple choice. CX bike with LAS file treads. I switched to my current CX bike before the Ronde de Rosey and I am never going back. It is the best CX bike I have ever owned. I made sure it had two sets of water bottle bosses just for this reason. The LAS file treads are big meaty cx tires. I knew they would be perfect. Rolling resistance on the road isn't great compared to a 25 but road isn't what I do these rides for. I do these rides for the dirt and mud and gravel. Its unacceptable to me to not be able to rail that stuff. The ride was organized in a parking lot and super chill. The promoter came through asking for who wanted to go in the fast group. We jumped in and it felt like the start of a Cat 3 race at Canton. So many familiar faces. Of course we took off at warp speed. My body was not happy. I had been fighting some scourge for a few days. Ok maybe at almost 50 I don't have what it takes for a 4 game #BROONS series like the one we just got through. Those last two games took years off my life. I was not feeling fresh. But I wasn't here for myself. To be honest I was here for Roger. Sometimes you ride for yourself other times you ride for your friends. This was one of those times where my only purpose was to be here with Roger.

We are flying and I am cracking. And then I see the first dirt section and a switch went off in my brain and I just accelerated into it and got to the front. It was hilarious seeing all the guys on road bikes and 25s smashing off rocks and going into the weeds. One guy came to a complete stop at a puddle. Did I mention we were going 25 mph down a rail trail? Yeah so I avoided rear ending him at speed and just put the pedal to the floor. Half way through Roger and Nick come FLYING by me. It was a thing of beauty. One other rider latch onto us. Did I think of it as the Forest of Arenberg ? Of course I did. That is what HUP is all about. Give us dirt and mud and gravel and we shine. It is like a badge of honor. To not do well in those conditions would be unacceptable. And like Arenberg this first dirt sector had the same effect on our group. We didn't see 90% of the riders we started with until the first water stop. The ride was so well supported. Great arrows showing the route, marshals at dangerous road crossings, they even had a port o pottie at each water stop. Very impressed. The route was fantastic. A great mix of road and dirt. As much as I resist New Hampshire is wearing me down. Its hard to not love a place with such nice roads. I have to say people were great on the route as well. We were bombing down lots of rail trail and gravel roads. Drivers were very careful. Dare I say nice? They really were. We passed through a few towns and the people on the sides of the road would clap and cheer us on. It was really nice.

But back to the bike selection. People who chose road bikes and 25s were disappointed I have to think. Or I would have been. Sure you could do it. And maybe there is a group of riders who feel its more "epic" to do these rides on a road machine. But why do that to yourself? Why not bring a bike equipped to do well on the road but excel on the dirt? I was really impressed by the Clement tires. This was my first ride on them and they worked great. Its opened my eyes a bit. Roger was on his Winterando and 28s and had no problems at all. Nick was on a CX bike like I was. My favorite section was definitely the CX Trail of Death. I could ride that all day. Hub deep puddles, some deeper to be honest. Nick almost took a swim at one point! I wasn't having my best day. Nick pushed me a fair amount both physically and mentally. He even helped drive out the Selena Gomez song that was in my head early on with some Killer Mike. Two of my favorite quotes of the whole day:

First one was as we hit a Strava segment. Roger screams F Yeah STRAVA!!! And just goes full warp speed. I happened to be trying to eat a Bonk bar at the time and almost choked to death because I was laughing so hard.

Second one was as we were descending towards the end. I was completely cracked and fumbling for a gel pack in my pocket. Roger was slightly ahead of me and Nick. He sees the arrow and takes a hard left. Now I am descending at about 30 mph on dirt side to side with Nick. Nick looks over at me and says "Get your shit together Chip!" I bring my hands back onto the bars and barely make the turn. Laughing the whole time of course.

What a great day. And the reason Roger was driving such a hard pace? I had to make it back to a wedding in Boston. I got back to the car completely shattered, changed, pounded a coke and flew back to Boston. The day was literally all about friends and doing your best to be there for them when they need you. I made it back to Boston in plenty of time to make it to Jeff and Lodrina's wedding. It was such a beautiful wedding. The two of them are amazing. I love them both and wish them a lifetime of happiness.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Destroyer

"I am death, shatterer of worlds, annihilating all things." That gem is from the Bhagavad Gita. An Indian Prince asked Shiva if he could see his true visage. Shiva strongly suggested against it. I had a bit of an epiphany the other night while on a ride. My brain is pretty slow on the uptake. I am that guy who always remembers the punchline long after the delivery would be actually funny. So the fact that I never connected the dots in this case shouldn't be a very big surprise. I have been pretty upfront of my fear of Needham Town Forest. Some openly mock me about it. Fine. A few have the actual skill to back that up. But I stand by my respect of NTF. Its not a place to be taken lightly. People want gnar. I get it. I do too. But NTF goes a tad beyond gnar. On weds I met DD and Joel in the parking lot. They were running a bit late so I was alone in a wooded parking lot clad in spandex. Awkard. To say the least. A couple of other mtn bikers pulled in the lot. They were a very enthusiastic bunch. They quickly asked me if I was here for their ride. I tried to be polite. I was nice and asked them what their ride was all about. A rider joined them and asked about NTF. "Is it technical?" Dude in camo shorts and a bmx helmet laughs and says "yes" New guy asks, "How technical?" Camo shorts sort of mockingly says "the most technical place you will ever ride" New guy is getting a bit agitated, "harder than Harold Parker?" Camo guy. "much harder than HP.." New guy gets nervous.

I sat on a rock watching all this unfold and laughed my ass off. Inside of course. No one clad in spandex should be outwardly laughing at anyone in a wooded parking lot unless they want to get their ass kicked. It was actually empowering. Here was a dude who clearly knew what he was talking about and he was giving NTF the grade A gnar stamp of approval. Deitch finally arrived. We get our act together and roll out. I do my best bull in a china shop impression. Smashing into all the things. Even riding through a downed tree. DD lays down a good mid-ride heckle "This is why you can't have nice things Chip..." I tune him out and continue smashing. Until we get to a section I have never ridden and let him go a head. He does what he does best. He really has some sick skills. Watching him ride techy terrain fills me with some hope that I can actually ride it one day.

We get about .25 miles. To a very familiar spot. Dave decides to try his luck at riding a log of death. He doesn't die. But I feel like we are pushing our luck and I hear the other group smashing through the woods headed our way. So we move on. We get to the tree of fear and Dave's tire demon rears its ugly head. Dave has a gift. He sort of has blamed it on Schwalble Racing Ralph's super light casings. Looking back every time I ride with him he breaks something. His kill rate on tires is staggering. Tonights victim was a brand new Specialized Ground Control. Dave said it was indestructible. Um it died the same quick death of countless RR at Dave's hands. The puncture was through the tread. Stan's is shooting out like a geyser. Dave grabs a can of something and starts his own personal NTF Foam Party.

We somehow get back to the parking lot. That is one of the beauties of NTF you are never that far from the lot. So repairs thankfully are easy. DD puts a tube in, we meet Joel and head back out. As we "redo" the prologue section we bump into the Foxboro crew. They are up to some high level shenanigans. They are trying to ride up a chunk of slate rock that we typically go down. Of course the only guy who makes it is on a singlespeed. Then one of their crew decides to drop down the rock of death as I call it. Colin once heckled me severely at the bottom of it. It was a priceless heckle. "Chip, I can smell your fear from down here" That cut deep. But while words may hurt, axe head rocks actually cut through flesh and bone rather easily. As I have said a million times I am a horrible technical rider. I use NTF as a playground or a crucible. Its the only way for me to enjoy riding in there. If you go in thinking you are going to shred or ride it fast it will chew you up and spit you out. So when I see a guy on what looks like a hybrid going at the chute of death I say to myself "self either this guy really is good or you are about to witness some serious carnage" He clipped in and then proceeded to hit a tree. Thankfully it was a nice tree and kept him from falling down the rock face to his death.

But this experience really made me think. These guys are on crappy bikes in shorts and t-shirts, are crashing like its their job and are laughing their asses off and having a great time. It dawned on me. This is why I love mtn biking and mtn bikers. They give zero fucks about what people think. They might be a bit fat, they ride ugly at times, but they are in the woods having a blast. Ok back to my story. So I sort of forget about Dave's tire disaster for a second. But then I start doing the rewind on just how frequently he has destroyed his bike when I am with him. I may be some kind of curse. I mean the list is insane. Too many tires to count. A destroyed full suspension bike in LLF. The SSAP debacle. I hope he doesn't read this because if he puts 1 and 1 together he is going to come up with CHIPBAKERISCURSED. And he might be correct. That time I shattered my arm to pieces in SF. Yeah I had used a smudge stick on my mtn bike. Like the day before I broke my arm. I sold that bike by the way. I don't care if it was built by a mtn bike Hall of Famer it was cursed. It was my fault. You don't mess with that type of magic if you don't know what to do with it.

But none of that occurred to me at this point in the ride. At this point I just wanted to ride. I took Dave and Joel over to some stuff we never have ridden before. I found it the other day by accident. For a place that is 5 minutes from my house I have a very limited knowledge of the trails. Its easy to get lost in there though. Its all these secret trails that are more maze than trail system. If a Minotaur burst through some trees with a battle axe I would not be surprised at all. The new trails had a really good flow to them. A bit less axe head ridden. And maybe a touch less out to kill you. We had been in the woods for a while and we were all getting a bit bonky. I started doing my best to direct us back towards the car. Dave saw a nice log to hop. Its like the log ripped him out of the air and body slammed him to the ground. Of course his leg was pinned between the log and his bike. The ONLY thing that kept him from snapping the leg in half is his consumption of bacon. I am sure of it. Builds strong bones. Ok once we determined Joey umm I mean Dave was ok I took us back on fire roads and fireroads only. We passed a ton of sick trails but I could sense tonight would end badly if we attempted any more gnar.

When we got back to the car we saw two of the Foxboro crew. They were smiling and putting a bike back on the car. The bike was missing a crank arm. Dave even in his injured state fixed the bike and sent them back into the woods for more gnar. It was a rad night indeed. I am loving mtn biking more and more. Still not "good" at it. But I think mtn biking is sort of like yoga. Being good at it is very relative. The main thing is riding. Keep striving to get better. I still am amazed when I do something and don't die. I have been riding a geared bike which is a total eye opener. Going from riding a singlespeed to gears is wild. I am noticing some bad habits creeping back in. I have to remind myself to ride like a singlespeeder and attack the technical sections. I have to remember to ratchet. The new bike is amazing. I am a true believer in thru axles. Its stiffens up the front end so much. Especially on a 29er. I honestly didn't think I would notice a difference but its night and day. It tracks through rock gardens and technical sections way better than a quick release fork. And yes, I have been liking the gears. Granted I only have 11, but its nice to be able to have some gears to set up certain climbing sections or when I am going park-to-park. Its opened up riding for me.

And its sexy. Sexy is important with bikes. At least in my mind. I hope Dave will keep riding with me after this revelation. I swear I am not the 5th rider of the apocalypse. At least I think I am not. Sometimes I do feel these little nubs growing out of the top of my head but I am sure its just from all the times I was dropped as a child...