I rarely if ever get political on this blog. This space is really a celebration of all things two wheeled and bike culture. But the events of the past weeks are still with us even if we have gone back to "normal." The Marathon bombings effected us all. We all came out of it "ok" but there were some really, really close calls. One of my best friends wive's was about 200 yards from one of the blasts and was knocked down, another good friend's friends were severely injured. The shootout and final apprehension of the bombers was about 100 yards from Seven HQ. Their parking area was used as a tactical center as the Police engaged the bomber hiding in the boat. I have been through some crazy events. Loma Prieta Earthquake, Oakland fire but this one struck so close to home. Even though I grew up here and am a card carrying Townie I still sort of identify as a West Coaster. Norcal to be specific. Always hold that place at heart as my center. But Boston and New England are funny. This place gets a hold of you and it doesn't let go. After the bombings there was no doubt in my mind. I am from Boston. I used to get a fair amount of grief from my cousins when I was a kid. They lived in Rozzie (Roslindale). Rozzie is Boston, in all its grit and toughness. I would say I was from Boston and they would laugh at me.
We all were on the edge after the bombings. We also sort of softened as we all came together. The running joke was how long do we have to wait before we can all go back to being Massholes. I think 48 hours was the actual time frame. That kid in the photo above, Mr Thom Parsons, aka Ultraenduryoguy, is 100% singlespeed badass. He is one of the handful of people who got me into singlespeeding. Ok let's rewind for a second. I did give it a go wayyy back in SF. And I hated it. I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever did. But here on the East Coast we are doing more woods biking than mountain biking. The singlespeed has changed everything. Thom actually took me into NTF and gave me some legit skills. I still think it was a public service to keep me from killing myself. SSPalooza is a totally unique mountain bike race. It is a singlespeed only mountain bike race. It is by far the coolest race I have ever done. It is held in Stewart Forest in NY. Stewart may be where the 29er ss was born. It is Valhalla to singlespeeders. Swoopy radness that just begs you to lay off the brakes and shred. This was my second time doing the race. And it was all I could think about for weeks. We had a HUGE crew heading down from Boston. Team Awesome rented a party van, HUP had two cars caravanning. Ok we started out caravanning and then Carrie smoked me. And I thought I drove fast. Thom and Will Crissman were there, the whole Zank nation. It was beyond awesome.
We all pulled into Darkhorse Cycles about the same time. That is the beauty of superphones and Garmins. Upon arriving we quickly realized we only had one functional bike in the car. Seized is not a word you want to hear muttered from the mechanic as he looks at your friends eccentric bb that said friend is supposed to race on in 17 hours. George from DH who is the promoter of the race spent about 4 hours wrestling with Todd's bb. Pretty much took years off his life. They lent Todd a Specialized SS that was the bike one of their shop guys was going to race the next day. DD (David Deitch) was muttering about a defective Schwalbe tire. It had a huge gash across its sidewall exposing the casing. It was brand new. Never ridden. He pretty much is cursed. His track record with Schwable tires is horrible. So we tried to deal with that disaster as best we could. Or Todd and David did while I hung out with Ray and checked out his sick Schwinn. He basically had a version of the bikes Joe Breeze and Otis Guy raced at Repack. Ray has a whole lot of style that is all I am going to say. After checking that bike out for a while I notice Andy's Seven. Beautiful Seven 29er with lazer etched logos. We all finally got kitted up and rolled out from the shop. Did I mention the shop is 10 minutes from the best trails for riding singlespeeds on the planet? Yeah how many bike shops are that close to trails? Pretty sweet. DD starts saying he hopes his chain stays on the cog. I pretty much ignore all this talk as I am so stoked to finally be on a bike and ready to shred.
We start rolling up the first fireroad and Dave's chain drops. This cycle continues for the next 11 miles. It gets interesting at some points as at about the 500th time the chain falls off DD starts a pretty epic bike throw contest. The trails are too nice to get distracted by a bike being tossed into the woods. Until it dawns on me that we actually need that bike to get back to the shop. So I suggest we cut this short and head back to a fireroad and cut our losses. Then we bump into Team Awesome. Have I mentioned how AWESOME Team Awesome are? Pretty much the raddest team on the planet. We didn't bump into the whole team just Ray and Phil. That is weird I thought. Then it got weirder. Apparently they lost one of the women they were riding with. I have seen this on The Walking Dead. It doesn't usually end well. We all regroup and head back. When we get to the Dark Horse she is sitting in a lounge chair drinking a cold beer and talking to "Donny" Donny is a very charming man from PA. His wingman, who I have forgotten his name, is a rather dashing Southern Gentleman and is showing off a pair or red leather chaps. Thankfully he left his Levi's on. They all seem very excited about the chaps. While nice we have more pressing things to deal with. George emerges from the shop with Todd's bike. He has somehow saved it. DD puts a new tire and new cog on his bike and tightens it all up. Our race has been saved. Thank you George and DH Cycles!
That night we do what all self respecting people do at SSPalooza. We go to the Cauldron for dinner! They have an oxygen bar and the walls are painted blood red. Its like something out of Blue Velvet. We spend about 3 hours there. Todd inhales a meatball faster than I think humanly possible. This meatball will cause Todd problems. Obviously. Many things happen that must never be mentioned again. Other than as cautionary tales. We get up early and all hit the diner and load up on eggs and bacon. Everyone knows singlespeeding requires lots and lots of bacon! At the venue we are taking what I call a "casual" approach to lining up. A whole swarm of racers are lined up. I am still talking to Ray and Bob. Someone yells or sets off a canon and we roll out. Now unlike other racing where you "hammer" from the start and things go from bad to worse real fast we all only have one gear. If you picked a big gear you can maybe go sort of fast. Riding a singlespeed two miles up a gravel fire road is hilarious. You can only go 160 rpm for so long. I just tried to stay with Ryan and avoid running over Bob again. A story for another post perhaps. Its a very civilized roll out. I might even call it a parade lap. Then we hit the singletrack. Hahaha it goes insane. But you are in a conga line and its SSPalooza and mountain biking and the first and only rule is to not be a douche. No chopping wheels, none of that Cat 3 closing the door or yelling at each other. But we are going full out now. We quickly start catching the Open women. I feel sort of bad but I need to keep moving up. I am afraid Todd and his meatball watts are coming for me.
I still see Ryan, then he does what Ryan does and just hits the warp factor 9 and is gone in a blink of an eye. The course is perfect for me. Literally perfect. Let me pause for a second and go back to the title of the post. The post title came to me while I was racing. It really became a mantra. Not in the sense of all the loss and pain we suffered and how we were strong in dealing with it but how Boston makes you strong. This Town hardens you. Not in a bad way. To outsiders we seem uncouth and rough. We swear a lot, we have weird accents, we dress terribly. But we are strong. And as a biker all the crazy riding we do makes us stronger. Stewarts trails are buffed. Literally. None of the nasty leaves and sticks we ride over every time we go mountain biking. We ride on horrible trails. Horrible. But they make you strong. So as I am flying over this stuff and doing things that I never thought possible I just thought about how lucky we are to be this strong. And not just as individuals but as a pack. We had so many riders down for SSPalooza. Its an unsanctioned race so they have their own categories. Open men/women, NY (north of NY), NJ (south of NJ) and fat bike. At the end when I was passing a guy he asked me if I was from NY or NJ. I said neither. I am from Boston. It was pretty funny. I rode everything. Thom taught me well. And I have stalked him ever since and listen to what he says about riding a singlespeed. You can't ride it like a geared bike. It makes you better because you attack things. To be good on technical terrain you have to attack it. Use momentum to get over everything. I had a couple of close calls. An Open women hooked a tree right as we dropped off a shale ledge. Thank god her bike swung out and open or I would have wrecked hard.
I started catching riders who started ahead of us or got ahead of me. Ryan was having a brutal day. I think he had two front flats. Abel was on the side of the trail. Deitch's bike was holding up but his stomach was not happy with him. I somehow felt great. When people heckle mountain bikers and say "People race mountain bikes?" They really are missing the point. I guess racing office park crits has more glory than I know about. Road racing is all about watts and fitness. I get it I really do. A mountain bike race is like a MMA match. It is all about attrition. You get kicked in the head. Repeatedly. Fast guys who should win hit trees, or they flat out, or their body cracks. You never know what is going to happen. That is why I love it. And you have to be smart. There is an aggression you need to have but if you are stupid or lose your concentration you end up in the trees or worse. I know I will sound like a dirty hippy but this Zen state is what I love about it. I really do.
At the beer/water stop I saw Jon Nabel cracked to pieces drinking a beer. He had tried to latch onto the Myette, Rosey, Aumiller Team TT and had paid the price. Those three were flying. Rumors of Matt and Rosey calling Zank mid-race to sort out the finish order may be untrue but I like to envision them ala Mapei heading into the velodrome at Roubaix. It was a beautiful thing to see Myette back to his old self and shredding after his horrible crash at Sterling last cross season. He won the Sport NY and brought home a gorgeous Trophy. Everyone had such a great time. Carrie who got a brand new Honey 650b the day before we left kicked ass. She came in top 10 in Sport Women! On a bike she had ridden twice. I don't think she had ever even ridden a singlespeed before. Much respect! And Leah..what can I say about Kittenbat. OMG. She esplodes her jersey moments before we leave the hotel but doesn't freak out. She shreds! Does this years race an HOUR faster than last year!!! Amazing.
What a way to kick off the 2013 #GETINTHEVAN World Tour. Not sure what our next stop is. HUP camp is next weekend so there is that. Then I will be counting the days til The Stewart 6-Pack. When I die I hope Valkyries come down swoop me up and take me to Stewart. Its better than any Mead Hall in Valhalla of this I am sure.