Yes. I was a HUGE Doors fan as a kid. As an exchange student in Paris my ONLY mission in life was to visit Jim Morrison's grave. My Tunisian host was confused by this but played along. We made our pilgrimage and it was a life altering event. I may have left roses on his grave. Those words still resonate. No One Here Gets Out Alive. So true. And when Thom and Colin started tweeting that we were all going to die at Gnar Weasels I made peace with it. I am a fairly fatalistic person. I frankly didn't think I would live past 30. How the hell did I get so old? This was never how it was supposed to end up. But, while people were literally losing their minds over the thought of going to race ALL the Gnar. I was secretly getting excited. One. Colin has some weird ass mind control over me. Thom is a close second in this department. Throw in KSweens and Christin and yeah you had me at hello. So I was all in. But I was not so secretly afraid it would either a.) kill my whole team b.) my whole team would quit bike racing after this debacle c.) they would all come looking for me with baseball bats cause I thought this would be "fun" d.) all of the above. Ok before I get too far. All the good photos in this post are by my good friend Russ. Russ WON his race! And did a ton of work on the course and obviously shooting incredible photos. His rad Gnar Weasels gallery is here
But you know what? While HUP will always be a cross racing team first our appetite for dirt is becoming fairy insatiable. We have had some hard knocks. But getting smashed builds character and toughness. And nothing brings a group of people together like adversity. So yeah, lots of people were like FUCKYOUCHIP I am not going to Gnar Weasels and risking death, dismemberment, tooth loss, brain damage, spinal injures or the destruction of my cross season. M'kay. Wow. All I said was hey come and ride some rad trails with us and maybe have a beer or two. I kid. I am a kidder. In reality I was fearful for my own safety and anyone who sucked more than I did. And I was fearful of those who thought they were rad and would do something so rad they would have to be hauled off on a backboard. Yes I blame this on The Ring Of Fire. What the Hell is TROF? It was a sick old school mtn bike race in Northern California. And where Tom Ritchey almost died and did serious damage to his trademark stash. Basically TR got way to gnar and put his face through a tree. That story still haunts me. The race was coined TROF because my good friends who worked at Ibis at the time cleared the course and got the worst case of Poison Oak in all of history. Head to toe. Brutal. It was at the time, for me, the most technical mtn bike race I had ever done. In the words of Igrette from Game of Thrones, I knew nothing. But what it had on top of all that gnar was an amazing party/festival feel. You wanted to be a part of it. Missing out was not an option.
Much has been written throughout history and mythology about fear. Some great quotes. Henry the V comes to mind. Herodotus. Braveheart. Dune. I have used them. All of them. For Best Buddies rides and for Verge races. To motivate you need material. But I won't lie I have lost my mojo a bit. Getting old yada yadah yada. Little flicker of my past self has been haunting me. My old moto of "come home on your shield, or with it" hasn't been resonating so much. 529s. 5 year plans. College. Retirement. It drowns out the siren song of the wolf pack. So I turned to the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna's tale. Why the Gita? For a race like Gnar Weasels its the only way. You have to go full Zen (I know the Gita is not Zen) . Turn the brain off. Stop judging your "performance" and try to flow. I knew it was going to be a beat down. I did not want to die. One of the stanzas that has always resonated with me is "..if you refuse the call to a righteous war, and shrink from what honor and duty dictate, you will bring down ruin on your head. Decent men, for all time, will talk or your disgrace; and disgrace, for a man of honor, is a fate worse than death" I blame a lot of this on comics. Obviously. But you get where this going. Sure Thom did his best "reverse marketing" approach on all his social media channels warning us we would all die. It had the desired effect. Those not comfortable with "dying" stayed home. Those who were ok with it showed up to party.
And it was a party. I have no idea what hold Thom and Colin have over me. They may have planted a chip in my head or something years ago. But they get me going. They could do a Lawn Darts Weasels and I would show up with fricking body paint ready to GO! I some how lured a A-Team of HUP/Stampede/Shred Bettys/ GPM to attend this here soon to be Classic Mtn Bike race in the NE. To most of us on the eastern seaboard the pinnacle of mtn bike race promotion comes from Dark Horse cycles. They just know how to do it. Great courses, great crew, beer, fun, equal parts party, equal parts bike race. Gnar Weasels was all of that. They (Weasels Productions) have set the bar pretty high. Is it at SSPalooza level? No. But for their first effort its pretty damn close. Beer Marshals, Taco Truck, Low key atmosphere, 100% Gnar. I LOVE a race that rewards the racers who have actual skill over watts. This may seem counterintuitive as I have zero skills. In fact I suck. Have I mentioned my epic crash on the warm up? Um yeah. So we go out to pre-ride. I am cruising along feeling good about myself. I see a nice boulder. SWEET! I rail up it. I get to the top and run out of momentum. Have I mentioned it rained the entire am? Yeah so I push down the pedals and my rear wheel spins out. I start falling backwards. I clip out and put my feet down. And like a cat on ice I start trying to get some traction to arrest my fall. Did I mention I still had my toe spikes in my dragons? Metal toe spikes do NOT interact well with wet rocks. So I do the only thing I can do I got flat and superman down the boulder. The shame burnt a lot more than the flesh that had been ripped off my forearms.
So after that I am obviously freaking out. Shit. How could I crash on that? Brian McInnis sees me on the way to the start grid and gives my tires the Medford Handshake. We take a BUNCH of air out. Oops. I get to the start line and everyone is nervous. Kittenbat has my 29er Zank SS. Her old bike is a bit of a disaster. Gnar requires suspension and tubeless tires and actual brakes that work. But yeah, as much as I knew this bike was going to change Leah's life I was nervous. The good news is she and I are like the Wonder Twins of bikes. Somehow our fit and style on a bike is a cookie cutter of each other. I knew she would shred on the Zank. But we talked a bit on the line. Then I heard the call up to my group and had to go. At the start grid I bump into Gerry and his crew from the Washington Square Tavern. Damn. I have been trying to ride with Gerry forever. The fact that the first time I was going to ride with him was at Gnar Weasels was mind blowing. So Gerry sees me and says "Chip!!! Ride with us!" Hell yes. After my near death on the slick boulder I needed all the help I could get.
Air horn goes off and we are "racing" I am just riding with Gerry hanging out as he smashes through all the riders ahead of him. I stay in contact with him for about 20 minutes then he hucks off some boulder and is GONE.
The first lap is a lesson in just flowing. Bad shit is happening all around me. If the course was dry it would have been pretty fast. But as I have stated a million times I suck at technical mtn biking. I am getting better and if I have ridden somewhere I can fake it but first tracks with a bunch of amped up mtn bikers is a bit out of my paygrade. I keep just letting the bike do what it does best. I resist my usual urge to smash through everything and pick lines and find my way around. There is literally zero flow. No place to pedal. Its all Gnar, all the time. I pass DD fairly early on. His bike has betrayed him once again. I am going to create a Kickstarter just for David and send in the photo above. Dear X, my name is David. Yeah I am sure you have a whole crew of "R&D" experts to test your products. They ain't got jack on me. I am the Nightrider! I'm a fuel injected suicide machine. I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out of controller! Send me stuff. I will destroy all your products. The products I don't destroy are indestructible. Dave showed up in Jorts. And looking like the bastard child of Adam Craig and one of the Village People. I LOVE him for it. He does what I wish I could do. In all facets of radness.
So I see DD and his destroyed machine on the side of the trail. I keep slogging. Wet root, rock garden, drop off, rinse repeat. I am channeling Thomas Frishknecht and Rachel Atherton. It is sort of working. I keep telling myself to breathe. I only almost die once or maybe twice on the first lap. I come through the start/finish and pull off at the water stop. Brian McInnis magically appears on his party bike as I am hyperventilating. He says "that is a great idea." "Grab a GU and drink something" Ok ready he says? Ready? I was just hoping to not die and finish one lap without embarrassing myself. But he is so damn upbeat and seems to think that I can do this that I get off my ass and get back on my bike. I follow him for a bit. He lets me get in the front for a bit. I hear him behind me yelling at me "CHIP! SLOW DOWN" In my addled brain I snap back to reality and see I am about to go off a 4 foot drop. I surf the ridge of the boulder to the end of the ramp and avoid death. Thanks Brian! I see Shane. He is deep into the Beer Marshal beers. Like 3 deep. He wants me to stay but I am like dude if I stop the mosquitos will drain my body of all its blood. So I keep moving. I bump into a dude who looks totally out of it. He also looks like an expert. Very athletic. A lot of expert and elite riders had been riding up the course to warm up so I just assumed he was one of them. I ask him if he is ok. His answer is not confidence inspiring. He says he hit his head and can't feel his foot. I am like WHAT?
I suggest perhaps dropping out and heading back to the aid station. He says he doesn't want to quit. This is the effect Thom and Colin have on people. They get you so pumped up you don't care if your body is totally destroyed you want the Red Badge of Courage of finishing the hardest mtn bike course in New England. I bid my friend godspeed. I come across numerous trail zombies on the final lap. At one point I hear some rider coming up on me fast. I saw the Gnar Weasels 7 mile sign not too long before. So I am thinking FUCK I have to race this late in the game even though I am SMASHED. Ok fine. No way I just did this race to be pimped with 200 meters to go by some jackass. He gets close and I ask him why he is so "fresh" He says he isn't racing and just happened to be riding and thought it would be fun to jump in. Fun? I have been killing myself to keep some dude at bay who isn't even racing and its fun? Kidding. He was actually a really nice guy. I rolled in totally shattered. But so stoked.
To recap. Hardest Race Ever. In my life. Most fun race ever. Leah winning on the Zank Hovercraft? Yes Leah WON!!! On a bike she had never raced before. That speaks volumes about what Mikey Z knows about SS 29ers. I am never seeing that bike again am I Leah? Its ok. You won. You get to keep that bike. Gerry smashing it and then hanging out with his crew. Love that man. He does so much for the NECX and seeing him in HIS element was amazing. His dog Bruno is pretty rad as well. Major shout outs to everyone who showed up and got rad. NO ONE DIED!!! That is bananas. And speaks volumes to how tough you all are. Even racers who destroyed their bikes or bodies had smiles on their faces. The DNF % had to be off the charts. In the short time period I was Beer Marshaling we came across two racers having less than great days. We handed them an ice cold Harpoon and got them back to staging. Dan's quote was hilarious " after I endoed and folded myself in half I figured it was time to call it a day" All with a smile on his face. We need more of this. It is both old school and new school. Thom. Colin. KSweet. Christin. You all rock. Kick ass race. Can't wait till next year