Monday, June 9, 2014

For those about to Rock

Photo by Dan Blickensderfer

Raid Rockingham was this past Sunday. This was our second year doing the Raid. For most the term Raid implies some sort of surprise attack on enemy territory. In police jargon it is often to seize something from a criminal element. I think this event got its name from the French Raid Gauloises. Which was arguably the first adventure race. The spawn of all of this madness if you will. Either way I love the name. Raid Rockingham has a good ring to it. I tend to do most of my rides like I am riding through enemy territory so when my good friend Roger asked me to join him I didn't even blink. What is the Raid? Calling it a "gravel race" would be wrong. Sure we maybe rode on a few gravel roads. But like the Rasputitsa, Dirty 40 and a bunch of these races/rides it is so much more. I don't think this was a "race" perse. More like a group ride with 350 like minded dirt loving souls. A post about "gravel rides" is percolating in my few brain cells I have left. It is going to be epic. But for now let's just focus on RR. The Raid is staged in Newmarket, NH. Newmarket is a really cool little town right on a river. They stage and finish right in town. This is one of the aspects of these rides that really appeal to me. It really is nice rolling into these little towns and spending a day on a bike riding sweet roads and trails and then returning to the town and having a party and BBQ afterwards. Don't think these rides aren't hard though. No we aren't "racing" but it is spirited riding. Especially in the first 20 miles or so before things sort out/settle down. 

Like a group ride 15-20 riders roll out in staged starts with a certain pace pre-established. Now once you leave the parking lot some may have a very different idea what 18-20 mph means. Does it mean we go 18-20 mph the whole ride? Or does it mean we hit 18 or 20 once in a while? This isn't my first rodeo so my main objective always is to ride smart, be nice, watch out for others and keep myself safe. Safe usually means at the front. Especially when you are riding down a dirt path scattered with baby head rocks at 20 mph. We were in a great group. Roger and Dave from HUP were with me. My friend Dan who I have ridden a bunch of these types of rides with before was in our group. And there was a core group of IF riders. IF moved up to NH a few years ago. Their factory is right next to the staging for the ride and they are a big part of the marshaling and support of the ride. Plus they ride these roads and trails all the time. Pretty smart to put yourself on the front with them. Turned out Roger knew one of them from his days at Newbury Comics. Crazy what a small world it is. 

We had a nice paved road roll out to the first dirt sector. Last year this dirt sector seemed like the Forest of Arenberg. Last year when we hit it was like bombs were going off all around us. Sooo many crashes. Granted it was much wetter and there was a ton of mud. This year was very dry. But I was nervous. So I tried to stay second wheel with the lead IF rider. I think having the three IF guys calmed the group down. Last year when we hit dirt the speed went from about 18 to 25 in the blink of an eye. This year we kept it pretty steady. There was definitely some excitement about the dirt but no pointy elbows or sketchy riding. We locked into a great pace. Everyone riding well. This is part of riding that I love. When you are in a good group you calm down and just ride so much better. I think we had a more experienced group this year as well. No one seemed nervous on the dirt which is huge on these rides. Everyone says they love "gravel" until they are rolling down some goat path and hit a patch of sand at 20 mph and the bike goes all squirrelly underneath you.

There was such a cool mix of bikes. Gravel rides (oh god there is that term again....) feel like how cyclocross felt about ten years ago. Everyone brings there own interpretation to it. There are so many different bikes on these rides. Not one cookie cutter bike. Some are on carbon road bikes, some are on cross bikes, some are on touring set ups. Tire selection is ALL over the map. But it all works. And it is fun. For a bike geek like me it is like Christmas. I love to see barcons, and fenders. I also like to see some Ridley with deep section carbon wheels. What is nice, and again like CX 10 years ago, there is very little attitude. Everyone is there for fun. You can wear what ever you want. No one is going to give you grief because you wore the wrong kind of socks or your legs aren't shaved. Ok maybe some people will heckle you for hairy legs. And yes I finally cracked and shaved mine after being caveman style for the last 6 months. We get through the first dirt sector and come out on a really nice road and hop into a paceline. I literally haven't been in a paceline in about a year. Wow. I really have become a mountain man or something. It felt great though. You don't forget group riding skills once you have learned them. And there was a lot of road sections so it was nice to get in a group and take some pulls at the front and then slip back to the tail of the group and get a free ride at the back.

I made one mistake. Well I guess it was a mistake. 65 psi is not very comfortable on goat paths. But I didn't want to flat and knew we would be climbing a lot and riding pavement. It wasn't the biggest mistake but I did take a bit of a beating when it got rough. That is part of the deal though. And why I love this type of riding. You need to make decisions. Its not one type of terrain. I love how diverse it can be. We rode a ton of nice dirt road, some bumpy goat paths, double track, pavement. Just about everything except single track. One of the highlights last year was a section called Woodman. The sign that called out Road or Cross cracked me up. Like it is ever a decision for me. But hearing people argue or convince themselves why they couldn't go down the cross path was highly entertaining. QOTD from a guy in a giro aero helmet that matched his white kit. "I love CX but I don't want to flat.." oh boy. Woodman was way less muddy than last year but it was rad none the less. A bomber little jeep path with hub deep mud puddles. Roger and I flew through it and exited with a nice covering of NH grime.

It was a hot day and things started to get a bit weird out there. Not gonna lie. Roger and my #hobostyle raids on the rest stops almost bit us in the ass. There were two rest stops. Well stocked with sandwiches etc. But we were on a Raid not a gourmet century so Roger and I would roll in rifle through the boxes of gels and bars and fill our pockets with as much "food" as possible. Then go to the hose for water. At around mile 40 we heard music. And then what looked like wood sprites dancing in the distance. As we got closer we stumbled upon what I can only describe as some kind of Hula dancing hippy party. I thought I was hallucinating but Negacoach later confirmed there were in fact pregnant ladies Hula hoop dancing in the middle of a dirt road. The last water station had a blue grass band playing music for us. People were hanging out in their yards cheering us on. A couple of times I forgot the roads weren't closed and had to remind myself of potential disaster. Speed is such an addictive thing. Bombing dirt roads at 50 mph has to be one of life's guilty pleasures.

At one point Negacoach came flying up next to me. I recognized his voice immediately. Again one of the things I love about these rides is that its like a CX reunion. But you get to spend hours together in a non pressurized environment and catch up with your friends. Dave always cracks me up. He grabs my jersey and we hang out for a bit. He tells me we left Dave behind at the last rest station. Oh shit...I blame the heat. And the dirt descent bombing. And the Hula Hoop Ladies. It can be hard at times to keep the group together. Fog of War and what not. Roger's Garmin is acting all whack so we sort of know where we are but not really. The beauty of the Raid is its old school. You can easily follow the route without a Garmin GPS beeping at you at every turn. And you don't need a cue sheet. They put head high arrows at all turns and have marshals at the big intersections. They do a fantastic job. So we are unclear. We may have 10 miles to go or maybe 4. Who knows. Roger has been getting hangry for a cold coke for about an hour. He's keeping it in check but I can tell if he doesn't get that cold coke it may get ugly. We finally find some sketchy gas station that is open. And our spirits are instantly lifted. It is the BEST COLD COKE I have ever had in my life. One of those moments too. Just sitting on a dirty stoop drinking a cold coke with one of my true friends. Fantastic. Roger tells me to get off my ass and back on the bike. We roll out. And then we realize we are literally 2 blocks from the Start/Finish. We burst out laughing. 58 miles to get a cold coke. Perfect.

What a great day. Huge thanks to everyone at Raid Rockingham. The after party was even better this year. Up on a hill at some Church of Rock and Roll. Brilliant. 

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