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.