I have been thinking of this post really before the actual events that are going to be described even took place. Pats Peak is a legit mountain bike course. One of the toughest I have ever ridden in my life. The ONLY race I have dropped out of purely for mental reasons in my life. I was physically able to continue, my bike was fine (although cursed) and I had teammates to support me. But I mentally was cracked by the brutality of the course. Lots of people mutter when you mention Pats Peak. Under the muttering you usually hear expletives and the words "never again"
Most of this hatred can be traced back to the Year of the Swamp. That was the year I cracked so severely. Never do a mtn bike in the rain. Like ever. And never, ever do an endurance race on a ski hill in the rain. Or more specifically in 2013 when it has rained for about a week. Add a week of rain with fresh cut singletrack and you get a Battan Death March with a very nasty Fort Williams style descent. That year I probably could only ride 20% of the course.
I was fine dropping out. It was the right call. But it didn't sit well with me. I moved on. I was never looking for another shot or redemption etc. That isn't my deal. I play at bikes I am not serious. None of this matters. Its only riding bikes. But I have been doing a lot of mtn biking lately. On a magical 29er built by Mike Zanconato. I am sorry but size does matter. As does a builders understanding of how a 29er works. Let's just say the Zank has changed my whole view of riding a mtn bike.
Riding with tons of friends who are really good at mtn biking doesn't hurt either. The idea to go do Pats Peak again started to get thrown around. At first it was just like hmmm Pats Peak is coming up. Jimbo, the OG of OG HUP, lives right next to the venue. We never get to see him enough. That alone is worth the trip. The Not-So-Hungry-Man breakfast at the Intervale Cafe right at the base of the ski hill is another great reason. Then I heard the news that Abel was going to be moving to Seattle in a few weeks. That sealed it. I needed one last road trip with one of the coolest wingmen I have ever known. Abel and I have had so many rad times. He is just the coolest most solid dude on the planet. And oddly we are pretty much bike twins. So I emailed him and pitched it. At first I thought how cool would it be to do it on one bike? Yeah I know. That is actually really stupid. So I dug the Seven Sola (the one that almost was my death 2 years ago and has now been relegated to a kids bike as all 26ers should) out of the basement. Scott Novick dialed it in put some great tires on it and we dubbed it My Little Pony
The plan was coming together! We had me, Abel, Scott, and Jon Nabel in the van. That is about as solid a crew as you can put together. I made the rad (stupid) decision to swap out front tires. I am not going to lie I was literally in fear of the descent. The descent at Pats Peak is legit. More enduro than XC. I am not a very good mtn biker. Not on rocks and dropoffs anyway. I wanted to at least have a chance at surviving. So off came the Ardent Race and on went the Burly Ardent. I have had great luck with tubeless. Until this time. The new tire was really hard to get on the rim. I ripped the yellow tape trying to put it on. I didn't panic. Just put new tape on. Somehow got the tire on and sealed. Except the bead never made that oh so satisfying POP. I love that sound. Luckily I had the internet to help (heckle) me. Consensus was I was very stupid to mess with tubeless 24 hours before a race but I was probably ok and not going to die. Of course when I woke up the next morning I was greeted with the above photo. I didn't freak out mainly because I had two PRO level mechanics in my van. Scott had it seated and holding air in less than a minute. I had forgotten to put the little valve ring on the valve. Ooppssies.
Van was packed, bikes put on the roof and we headed North. We got to the Intervale cafe in plenty of time. The breakfast at the IC is phenomenal. Donuts were consumed, Not-So-Hungry-Man breakfasts were inhaled. More donuts were acquired. NH is a wonderful place it also may have top billing as the weirdest state in New England. It is most of the time quirky weird but it does have its rough spots like open carry dudes at family style breakfasts. I am sure if a gang of ISIS (is ISIS a gang?) took over the cafe the lone dude open carrying a revolver would keep us and America safe. Yeah sure he would. Pretty sure my table could do a better job of handling that than some 300 pound dude who can barely fit his weapons belt around his waist but I digress.
This whole day was all about riding bikes all day with friends. Or at least riding from noon to 6 pm anyway! I didn't even notice Abel was wearing a Seattle t-shirt until I posted this photo up on the blog. Abel will be missed. His mustache, his penchant for awesome costumes and radness. His SSCX game was and is off the charts. He is a big reason why the Zank SSCX series has grown so much. I have too many amazing memories of Abel. Top of the list is probably the Night Weasels when it was an adult slip and slide. Seeing him run past me and ride those nasty muddy hills on a SSCX blew my mind. He was always up for some crazy road trip or adventure. He forgave me for that time I got us so lost in Adam's Farm that Kevin and I started bushwacking through a swamp.
After breakfast we went and activated the Death Star and got our race plates. One of my favorite parts of endurance racing is the little tent cities that pop up. We set up our tent right next to ENGVT. Adam St Germain, Jerry Chabot and his 14-year old son had come down from VT to race. We had Colin, Jim, Gerry Finegan, Rich Wolfe and a bunch of friends. Christin and Erin were pre-riding for the XC the next day and provided lots of comic relief as well as DONUTS!! The title of this post may have to be switched to Forbidden Donut. I lost track of how many donuts we ate. Probably 3 dozen. Pats Peak starts with a Le Mans start. You know the deal. Bikes get laid down at the Start/Finish. Racers walk to a tree line and then Braveheart style you run to your bike! Um yeah this is not our first rodeo. ITSASIXHOURRACE. No running. Gerry, Colin and I walked to the bikes when the gun went off. I was in a solid DFL. We started moving up the fireroad and into singletrack. Gerry started to get the pace moving. We started passing people when we could.
Ok some serious love needs to be sent out to the people at Pats Peak and Jim. They worked their tails off to improve the course. Three years ago was a disaster. They listened. The old fresh cut was now a nicely worn in switchback in the woods. Nice bridges had been built over some of the more swampy areas. It was 100% rideable. People who like legit courses should put this on their list of races. It is a LEGIT endurance race. Brutal first half climb. The wooded switchbacks become much needed relief from the exposed fire road climbs. Each lap I would just suffer like a bastard on the climbs with one goal. Get to the eunduro downhill and SHRED! Not to keep going back to the horror show of two years ago but I got OWNED by that downhill. Some of it was the bike. I know its unpopular to say one wheel size is "better" than another but for me 26 inch wheels suck. On a 29er I stand a chance of a.) not dying and b) actually enjoying the downhill and c) going fast safely.
I honestly didn't know what to expect the first time through the downhill. As we crested the climb I started playing yoga gymnastics with my brain. Clear your mind. Breathe. Chest down. Elbows out. Chin up. Let the bike flow like water. Look where you want to go. Point and shoot. All that stuff that we know but forget when we have been punched in the face for 30 minutes climbing. Luckily Gerry was fairly close by. His last words before he ripped the descent were "Chipper, the hard lines are the easy lines!!!" Such truth in those words. I am finally getting the hang of east coast rocks. Still suck but I am beginning to understand. What Gerry was saying is ride over a big boulder instead of trying to get around it. Getting around it sometimes puts you in really bad awkward positions that can hurt you.
I rode all of it. Ok one rock wall kept messing me up. But 99% of it. The big drop, the rock walls, the weird boulders. Even the spot were two years ago Kevin Hines had hucked over my head as I was lying in the mud wondering if I had just broken my ribs. And I wasn't just riding it I was enjoying it and riding it pretty well. I owe Gerry, Scott, Zank and a legion of other people for helping me finally be an ok mountain biker. The rest of the race was pretty much a blur. It was a rinse and repeat of suffer on the climb, get to the descent, rip the descent, hand off to Abel. We had a perfect race. Abel is the best teammate on the planet. We would do quick check ins at the transition. To me doing 6 laps would be a "win" we were just riding this not racing it. But we were clicking off the laps. And we were having fun. That to me is all that mattered.
Then My Little Pony did the bad, bad thing. Again do I blame 26 inch bikes? Yeah. Yeah I do. Abel is a really good mountain biker. But the margin for error is different. He came flying down one of the rock gardens, got knocked off his line and then hit a boulder head on. The bike jacked up and he surfed the top tube over in an endo and hit his chest on a rock. How he wasn't seriously hurt is beyond me. When he rolled into the transition tent you could tell he was hurting. I honestly don't even know how he made it down the rest of the descent in that kind of pain. He is my hero for doing that. I would have just limped over to the Clark Brother's Racing tent and just sat there and drank all their beer. I made sure he was alright. He kept saying sorry. I was like dude I am sorry. And I thank god he wasn't hurt. Having a friend get hurt on your bike just sucks. I told him to go hit the tent and drink some beer and I would do one more lap. It was 5:30 at that point anyway and there was no way I was doing a thirty minute lap. I think we were doing 45-50 minute laps on average.
I rode a bunch of the last lap with Gerry and Taylor which was amazing. We bumped into Noah, Jerry Chabot's 14 yr old son. Noah is 14 and rode like a boss. The kid is so strong and super smooth. Juniors across the NECX better be ready-Noah is definitely bringing it. It was really cool seeing Jerry and Noah together. I won't lie I was pretty envious. It is a pretty amazing thing in this day and age to be able to do a 6-hour race with your kid. Noah is very stoic. Didn't complain at all. Jerry was really calm all throughout and just the raddest dad I can imagine. One of the things I love about this format is that its basically an excuse to ride with your friends all day. No pressure. No douchery. Everyone is cheering each other on. Its a sufferfest. People get it. The volunteers at each aid station were so cool.
One of the funniest moments was when I saw Christin out on the course. She was doing recon and pre-riding. When she saw me she got off her bike and sprinted up the trail into the singletrack. Holy shit she is a fast runner! I was half laughing half wondering what I did to get her to run so fast. Then as I came around I saw her setting up a photo. I tried to get rad and ride as smooth as possible but of course shoulder checked a tree and then self-arrested on a boulder. It was hilarious. What a rad day. HUGE thanks to Jimbo for luring us all up once again. I will be back. Its too much fun to miss it. This was the perfect send off to our good friend and teammate. Seattle you are getting one hell of a dude. Take good care of him for us. And now I need to start plotting and scheming my next trip West!