Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Laatste Ronde

I think I alarmed some people when I started tweeting out hashtag #LaatsteRonde. This isn't unusual for me. I often alarm people on twitter. Mostly my family and loved ones. Twitter for me is a place to just let it go. 99.9% of my tweets are not serious. Equal parts HST-gonzo style "journalism" equal parts full auto ADDHD velocb. Velocb is not the real me. Obviously. Its a character I play that is a reflection of what I think the biker life should be all about. But I digress. My whole point tweeting etc is to engage and entertain. That is it. Hashtag #laatsteronde was a play on the dutch term we all love so much during cross season. It all goes down on that last lap in euro cross. I think people inferred this would be my last Ronde or the last Ronde. The Ronde will never die. Nor will I. Ok, I guess I will die at some point but I  won't stop doing the Ronde as long as it exists and I can push pedals on a bike.

A moar better hashtag may have been the Greatest Hits of the Ronde or Smell the Glove. But I wanted to have some fun with the word play. If you didn't own a TV or computer or maybe were on the moon or in Fiji we had a rough Winter in New England. Like Game of Thrones style winter. And with that brutal winter came the nut punch of a spring. Scott aka Rosey did the responsible thing and postponed it. Usually its held early in April. Spring in Boston can be one of the most beautiful times of year. Or it can be a shit show. This year it was a shit show. There was still snow. Once that melted off the woods were just one big mud bog. We care about the trails we ride on. A lot actually. So the thought of 300 crazed Visigoths trampling over our hallowed trails gave us all pause. I applaud Rosey for doing the right thing.

This delay also gave Rosey some time to devise a particularly amazing route. This year's route was a touch shorter than some previous years and done in reverse. 50 miles of mostly singletrack on cross bikes is nothing to sneeze at mind you. Especially since most of us were not in what anyone would call "race" shape after sitting on a couch all winter. But to me it was the best route I have done. This was my fourth consecutive year doing the RdR. I like doing it in reverse personally. The first year of the RdR we started out as usual at the Washington Square Tavern and hit Skyline park in Newton and then Cutler back to back. I like this for two reasons. One you get to the trails pretty quickly. And two Cutler and Skyline can be absolutely soul crushing after 5 hours on a bike. Cutler is a great place to shred on either a mtn bike or CX bike. But it is littered with spine adjusting roots and has hidden stumps dotting the buffed trails just waiting to send an inattentive rider flying through the air when you go from 20 mph to 0 in the blink of an eye. It has taken its toll on more than a few of my compadres.

For this year we decided to field a team called the Silver Foxes. An odd moniker as two of our team members were women and one was under 30 so had nary any silver on his head. I had a really good feeling about this year's team. The Ronde is done in gentleman's race format. It is a team time trial. Start with x amount of riders, finish with x amount of riders. You are only as fast and strong as your slowest and weakest rider. What I truly love about this format is you have to be like Seal Team 6. Everyone brings something to the team, everyone supports each other, you live off the land and survive together. Stripping away the usual testosterone fest that shows up on most group rides is a liberating feeling. Testosterone fueled teams end up imploding pretty fast at the Ronde. They typically turn on each other shortly after the first flat or the second time they get "lost" Half the reason to do the Ronde is to get lost. And then find your way back on course. Garmin's have changed the whole face of these rides. But its imperative that you have at least two per team so you can navigate the woods sections effectively. I prefer to have 3 on a team. That way you can triangulate the route and minimize the time spent fighting over whether to go left or right at each secret trail head.

We were the second to last team to leave the Tavern. The teams are handicapped. Slowest goes first and gets a head start. Fastest team leaves last and tries to chase everyone down. First team back to the Tavern "wins" I personally think everyone who shows up wins. The days of this being a "race" are hopefully over. With the rescheduling and busy weekend schedule we had a few less teams than some years past but personally I was happy it was smaller. 75 riders all heading out on an adventure together felt just right. It was much more friendly than some years past that felt like a Cat 3 CX race at Canton. Our team rolled out with Camelstache and the Mad Alchemy fun bunch on 29ers. They have ridden 29ers the past couple of years and its always great to see them. The RdR is billed a CX race but you can show up on any bike you want. People have shown up on road bikes. Its all about managing the ride and just doing your own thing. The only "rule" is unwritten and somewhat Darwinian. Choosing to ride a road bike on the Ronde may result in expected or unexpected negative outcomes. Aka flatting constantly or destroying your rear wheel. One rider who will remain unnamed showed up with Dugast tubulars one year. You can imagine how that ended up. Pretty expensive bandit race for that poor rider.

Skyline is one of my favorite trails to ride. I don't get to ride it much but it is a blast. Like a lot of these trails its a fun little woodsey section that is nestled in a suburban neighborhood. I am always amazed at how Rosey finds these trails. So on to the ride. I slipped to the front of what became a pretty good group and brought Kevin with me as I knew Skyline was pretty technical and would turn into a hike a bike with 25 riders all bunched up. We hit the first trail with the M/A 29ers. The five us shredded through the rocks and roots at a good speed. We hit a nice dropoff and then had to dismount for a downed tree. At the other side of the tree I let the M/A guys go to wait for the rest of our team. Ed, Roger, Michele, Kevin and I then got back in with Camelstache and flew to the end of the trail section. When we popped out we all grabbed a bit to eat and regrouped. The best way to do the Ronde at a decent pace is to let the faster riders ride the trails at the speed they feel comfortable with and the less technical riders go their own pace. That way no one gets over their head or hurt. It works unless someone gets lost. There are so many turns on the Ronde. And in the woods it can get confusing. One wrong turn and you are lost. We counted heads and noticed Ana was missing. Oopsies. We tracked her down pretty fast but it was a good reminder to try and keep the group together.

I started teasing Roger about Cutler and how much I love it! He hates it. Ok maybe hate is a strong word. Boston is weird. It is divided by a river and a couple of major highways. Cyclists tend to hold their side of the river in esteem and hate the other side of the river. Both have true gems and both have some woods that only a mother could love if you will. Cutler is like that for me. Its like a roller coaster for bikes to me. But I can see how some see it as a root infested toxic waste dump. It does sit right next to route 128 and can be littered with trash at times. But its euro chutes are a blast. Rosey had put in a lot of the more technical stuff and I was laughing inside knowing how pissed Roger would be. I set up to take photos at a particularly large log to see if people would hop it or run it. Roger's FU log photo was the shot of the day. He does hate logs. But we actually had a great time in Cutler. It was in great shape. Well except the backside which is always a mud pit. Kevin and I were one of the few people riding the mud. We almost got through all of the mud puddles intact. Til the last one. Its always the last one isn't it? Kevin sort of got hung up on a log and I came in a touch too hot then launched as my front wheel went hub deep and I ended up ass over tea kettle into some nasty mud. Kevin and I laughed our asses off. I was happy to get a mud baptism early on.

After Cutler we got back on the road and headed to Needham Town  Forest. And had our first flat. Then our second. While fixing our second flat Camelstache rolled up. Love those dudes. Matt, Abel, DJ Roberto and Mark. We got ourselves regrouped and heading back onto the next road section. One of the most fun parts of the Ronde are all the teams that ride. So many friends. And you ride with a group for a while and talk and share stories and catch up. Its like a #NECX reunion. Most of the people we haven't seen since last cross season. We had one more flat after the next bit of trail in Ridge Hill. At that point we decided an exorcism was in order. We did a bit of a Black Mass that used some bar tape as a sacrifice and purged all our bad flat karma. We hopped onto the Wellesley Cross Town trail and started heading out to Weston. The trails kept getting better and better. We bumped into Geekhouse which was awesome. Love seeing that crew. Rode with them for a bit. As we started heading into Weston things started to unravel a bit. The pace had been a bit high. Call it the built up enthusiasm for waiting all winter to do the Ronde. But we made a crucial Ronde error. Its better to go out a bit slow and then see how the team feels and then open it up. So to my horror we had cracked three riders. I felt horrible and started playing out scenarios on how to get them to get a second wind.

This is to me one of the elements of the ride I love. Teammates can sense another teammates bonk and give them food or a gel and the rider is back in black. But in this case it was best to just stop and get a quick lunch. So we stopped in Weston and had a nice lunch together. Topped our water bottles off and split the group up. We implored our three friends to save some beer and cool raffle prizes for us for when we got back to the Tavern! It was tough seeing Abel, Ana and Roger pedal off but I totally understood. And frankly thank god they did. As Michele said later it started feeling like the Heart of Darkness not to soon after we left them behind. We were now down to 6 strong riders. The pace kicked up to another level. Michele and Robert started pinning it. Ed and I started cracking. I hit the jets and caught up to Rob and asked nicely for DJ to please go a tad slower so he didn't kill Ed and I. We had at least 30 miles to go after all. I suspect they would have left Ed and my bodies along the highway at that point as the 4 of them had that look. A look you don't see that often. Usually reserved for a rabid wolf pack.

In Waltham things got a bit weird. The trail had gone cold. We had three Garmins chirping at us. But could not find the trail. Until Rob or Ed found it hiding behind someone's house. New England has more trails per capita than any where on the planet. I am sure this is a fact. I thank the deer, native americans and pilgrims for this gift of dirt. Once through all this we got to possibly my favorite trail in Boston. The Greenway. Descending it felt like something out of Star Wars. And Wookies and Ewoks have better luck in the tight twisty stuff. Kevin somehow got grabbed by a tree and yardsaled without dying. His entire back of his jersey was shredded. But the big HUP Wookie is indestructible. At one of the pavement sections we had to wait to regroup a bit. So I lied down on the pavement and closed my eyes. I was ripped out of my quick nap by Michele standing over me looking none too pleased. She said "Are you Ok? Get up and get on your bike!" Hahahah oh yeah

So we get our little Seal Team 6 back on track and just fly the final 12 miles. We have to totally yogi off of Roberts Camelback. The name Camelstache comes from Camelback + Mustache. No its not slang for Camel toe. We pop pills. Salt pills. Eat all our last food and drink our last sips of water and then go on an urban assault unlike anything I have done in a while. We somehow survive and roll into the Tavern. What a great day! HUGE HUP hugs to the best team on the planet. Love, love, love my team. HUGE thanks to Rosey and Gerry. Can't even wait until next year!