Monday, August 24, 2015

VT Overland Mullet

I had heard great things about the Vermont Overland Gran Pix. My good friend Michele gave it high marks. Michele is a trail ninja. If she likes an adventure ride it is going to be a good one. It is dubbed a "race" but coined an adventure ride. Basically a mullet. Business at the front and party at the back. My blog posts rarely if ever include the drive to the event but sometimes as they say just showing up is 90% of being successful. This late in the summer an overnighter away from family was not an option. So the plan was 4 am wake up call and drive 2.5 hours to VT. Not totally crazy even though I am NOT a morning person. Wheels were up at 5 am. To say I was tired was an understatement. On a good night the cat wakes me up twice and the dog once. Worrying I would sleep through my 4 am on top of all the usual nocturnal goings on and I got about an hour of sleep. It was drizzly. Then rainy. But by the time I got to NH it was nice out. My friend Derek Griggs chopped me so hard as he came onto the highway at  Portsmouth, NH! This is one of the weird coincidences about bike racing I love. How many times have you randomly bumped into best friends while driving to a race? Or pulled into the lot at the EXACT time as a teammate? Happens all the time. After Derek chopped me I won't like that I dropped him. My strategy was simple. Use the fog as a tactical advantage. We had some ground fog on the drive up. Like next level. I honestly thought we might die. Whether it was driving off the road or being gunned down by a semi-truck. We somehow lived. Not exactly sure what angel was watching over us.

The five people who read this know my ADD gets the better of me some times. I was so excited to use the new Bikereg app on my stupor phone that instead of doing what I usually do for races (print out the reg page. Yes I know I am a dinosaur) I used the Bikereg app for directions. It worked GREAT! Until I  pulled into Peter Vollers driveway. Ooopsies. I pulled back out onto Main street and started stalking for cars with rook racks. Saw one and chased after and rerouted to the Suicide Six Ski Resort! With a name like that you could tell we were in for a good day of adventure! It was so nice seeing a parking lot full of bike racers and riders. As I pulled into my spot boom my new teammate John pulled in right next to me. Like clockwork. We said hello, exchanged high fives and I went off to get my number. On the way over I saw THEWILCOX!!! My good friend David took a job with Rapha a while back. This meant of course he moved from Boston to Portland. He has been so missed. He is such a part of the #NECX. And now all of bike riding thanks to Rapha and his new job! He is so awesome. I gave him a big hug and we caught up. He handed me a welcome double (triple?) good.

Registration was hilarious. A mix of nervous riders who clearly were here to race and a party crowd. Saw so many familiar faces. The plan going in was to ride with a loose group of friends. The lead up to VOGP was a hilarious faux freak out about equipment selection. At some point it stopped being pretend and might have hit full freak out mode. I don't think so though. The main issue was we kept getting different intel from different riders. Most riders were committed to CX bikes with file treads. But people were texting me advice to go 29er. I have used the 29er on some of the adventure rides we have here in Boston. But those were more mountain bike rides that we do on CX bikes. I have been happy with that choice. But a 29er is not ideal with lots of dirt roads and climbing. My friend Todd won the bike choice chicken though. He opted for his sweet Zanconato steel 29er. He put 40 C tires on and destroyed us all.

My choice was simple. I resurrected my Rock Lobster recently do to some unforeseeable n -5 bike issues of late. The RL was given new life and has become a bit of a Franken bike. Fork from one bike, wheels from another. Its how CX used to be before everyone showed up with matching out of the box carbon wonder bikes. I went with Clement MXP tires instead of file treads. I have some very bad history with file treads and wet rocks. I think I still have the scars on my internal organs from the last time I crashed on file treads. The adventure ride/race began ala JAM Fundo. New readers who are unfamiliar with the JAM Fundo the start of the ride was staged in a parking lot. A very wide parking lot. With one "exit" And we were going to all be turning right. Yeah you know how this goes. We strider biked along with a horde or human powered machines to the eventual road. Then joined the congo line. It has been a while since I have been in a group this big. It was fine. Unlike some big group rides this ride with probably comprised of 90% cross riders. Cross riders are my peeps. We survive the first road sector and then take a sharp left onto the first dirt road. Of course its a climb. My heart rate goes through the roof. I guess waking up at 4 am, driving 2.5 hours and pounding cappuccinos is not ideal for warming up to pedal the bike.

Again this is reminding me a lot of the JAM Fundo. It is elbow to elbow on the climb. Riders are so close to one another. Luckily no one does anything stupid. Ok I do a few stupid things but it is in the futile attempt to stay in contact with my little group of friends. My main plan to be honest was to ride all day with Eric. Eric is pictured above eating a deep fried bacon doughy bit of goodness above. We have been trying to get together all summer for a ride. It just hadn't happened until the VOGP. So my main goal was don't lose Eric! The first couple of climbs were typical dirt road climbs. Punchy but not to bad. Then we hit the first sector of "pave" aka singletrack and things blew to pieces. Todd made a vicious attack on his 29er gravel bike and was gone. Never saw him again. Eli went into full chase mode and like Todd was gone. Eric and I regrouped and found a pace we could handle. We met one of Eric's friends Alix a bit down the rode and created a little group. Eric and Alix had ridden Raid Rockingham together and were a two person comedy act. They kept me laughing through all the suffering.

To say the course at VOGP was beautiful would be an understatement. It is in my top 10 of courses. Maybe top 5. It mixed all the elements I love in a mixed terrain ride. Killer dirt roads, cool towns, single track! Tech. Mud. Bourbon...wait bourbon? Ok that is not 100% confirmed but I am pretty sure we did either bourbon shots or shots of Sailor Jerry. The VOGP as stated earlier is a race. Make no mistake. JD was scoring it and he is as legit as it comes in the scoring game. And one of my fave people in the world! And Ned Overland errr Overend was in attendance! How crazy is that? Through in Tim Johnson, Crystal Anthony and her brother and you have some serious firepower. The rest of us weren't racing. Obviously. In the spirit of all good adventure rides the crew at VTOGP set out some great aid stations. Not just the usual random water stop with a Clif Bar and energy gel but a legit gourmet century type stops. There were two actually. The first one was stocked with the fried bacon donuts. Incredible. Next stop had all kinds of maple goodness and what was described as "maple water" When I downed the shot my throat burned. In a good way. I looked at my partners in grime Kat and Alix and was like what was that? What ever it was it gave me wings. The closest we could get to an answer was it was maple water soaked in old rum jugs. So good. It might have been bourbon....

Eric, Alix, Kat and I rode the entire course together. I can't thank them enough for one of the best days on the bike in a long time. I am hooked on the VOGP. Again its up there with the top ten rides I have done in my life. Yes the climbing at times was BRUTAL. The 3 of them knew the course and would have conversations in hushed tones about the spikes that would be coming up. I was thankfully totally oblivious! All I did was deal with what was in front of me. The climb at mile 40 though was something. We climbed, and climbed and climbed. But the company kept it light and we all were nicely suited to each other pace. The part I love the most though is the descending and singletrack. All four of us race CX and mountain bikes and ride dirt roads. So bombing down high speed descents was a non-issue. One thing I will say. If you see caution signs on an adventure ride pay attention. In general you should be paying attention but most riders get so stoked on the pure thrill of descending they can get themselves in trouble fast. We saw a few tire tracks leading off the road and saw one gentleman take a legit gravel nap. Eric almost had to bunny hop over him. Good times!

One of the highlights of the day though was when my friend Michele gave me this. Picture above is a brand new IF measuring tape. Somehow this summer I lost my 20 -year old IF measuring tape I picked up at Interbike one year. I loved that tape. Losing it bummed me out. It turned me into a bit of a mental case. I won't lie. I am weird with some stuff I won't sugar coat it. This was literally one of the nicest gestures a friend has ever given me. Michele is so awesome. Not only a great friend but a great teammate and leader of HUP United. So lucky to have her as my teammate and friend. Such a great day on the bike. And like that my friends my gravel season is over. Now time to focus a bit more on CX itself. Running starts today. Skills start this week. Yes I will still do adventure rides. I will put this out there now. I am doing Iron Cross this year. So the riding has to match up with the Mac Daddy of all adventure rides. HUGE thanks to Eric, Alix and Kat. Couldn't think of three cooler people to spend the day suffering and laughing with. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Mashup

I don't usually do the old mashup post. This blog is more cyber diary than media platform but its a 500 zillion degrees out and I am pretty sure I have heat stroke so why not. Its better than just sleeping on the couch while the cat stares at me. And speaking of cats. I love cats. I think Stevil is pretty rad. One of the things I like most about Stevil is his love of his cat. If you aren't familiar with Stevil's cat its required some medical care from time to time. Well it looks like Buddy needs an echocardiogram. I can't even imagine what the street value on that test would be. And while Stevil is pretty much the king of the interwebs he is not rolling in the Benjamins if you get my drift. Stevil is a true artist and one of us. If you love cats and the culture of cycling go to All Hail the Black Market and buy a tshirt or water bottle. Stevil designs some really cool stuff. You will be the envy of all and you will know you helped out Buddy get better.

Which leads me to my next missive. I have been meaning to post this little ditty for a while. My good friend James Scott relocated to Colorado. It seems all the good ones are heading out of dodge lately. James is such a great guy. Super chill and always up for some crazy ass adventure on the bike. He has been a fixture at the Ronde de Rosey from day one. He is so chill you may not know how much he has put into the #NECX. Blue Hills Cycling Club has put on a bunch of great bike races over the years. Road, CX and mountain. We owe them a lot. When Pete MacLeod told me James was leaving and that he wanted to surprise James with a secret 'Hell of the South' ride I was all over it. Pete and I scouted out a really fun mixed terrain route. Then everyone somehow kept it a secret!

My summers are often controlled or semi-controlled chaos. Other than my high paying job as Minister of Mayhem of the CBL my primary job is manny. Ok stay at home parent. Its a fun job but can be sort of crazy. I knew I couldn't take the whole day off and join in with all the BHCC shenanigans but had hoped to intercept them at Cutler as they rolled through with James and ride with them for as long as I could. I got a text from Pete saying they were running a tad late. That was ok I had the route so I rolled out from Cutler and headed to the BHCC pain train. It was hilarious. I would go a few blocks in West Roxbury then text Pete. Then check my Garmin. Then roll. This went on for a while until I saw a huge group of riders emerging from Turtle Pond. I did a U-Turn and hopped in with them. It is so cool meeting another cycling club. We tend to isolate ourselves a bit and only ride with our friends and teammates. I love meeting new riders and sharing a club ride. I get to see how they operate. A club is like a living Borg hive mind. It has a pulse and a vibe. I could tell right away I was going to enjoy riding with this crew.

We somehow didn't die riding down the VFW parkway. Still unclear how we survived that. I got to catch up with James and chat with Pete a bit. I also saw my good friend Pat Flaherty who is the manager of the new Needham Landry's. Pat and I go way back. This was his first ride since breaking his leg last winter. Dude is a one man house of style and it was a blast to ride with him. We had a spirited ride through Cutler. At the Dedham side we had what was I think flat number 4 for the group. They were running out of tubes and daylight. When we popped back out on South Street we had another flat. Pete and I talked real quick and agreed we needed to start cutting out some woods and just beeline it towards Dover and Adam's Farm. We rolled into the parking lot at Caryl and may have scared Deitch a bit. Too funny. At Caryl we stopped in a mulch pit and Pete unveiled a beer stash to rehydrate. It was great drinking a last cold beer with James and the BHCC. I led them through Noanet and then said my goodbyes and peeled off before I turned into a pumpkin.

Thanks Pete for letting me join in on these shenanigans. It really was one of the highlights of a very rad summer. All the best to James. I know he is going to love CO. Hopefully we will shred some gnar together in the near future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

24 Minutes of Great Glen

I won't lie bringing my family and kids to 24 hours of Great Glen was one of the best parts of the entire summer. Possibly the last ten years. Ok maybe that is a stretch but I don't know. The weekend had a profound impact on the kids. Kids today are bombarded by so much crap. Crappy food, crappy TV, crappy internet, blah, blah, blah. It feels like a constant struggle to let them have a "normal" childhood. And by normal I mean one connected to the outdoors, being active and feeling strong and good about themselves. Not to be sexist but this is even more important for girls. Girls get bombarded by so many negative things. So many body image and self esteem issues that can be helped by being strong and loved. The new normal is being stuck on a couch playing Super Mario of 8 hours a day. No thank you. Not on my watch. 

When I heard the news that this was going to be the last 24 Hours of Great Glen I had to bring the kids. My wife, and yes she is wife of the year after this, also agreed to come along. I had fear in my heart I won't lie. I was worried they would hate it. They loved it. In large part to the promoters and staff and also in huge part to the mountain bike community. 24HOGG is unlike any cycling event I have ever been to. Truly a community and truly family friendly. What was truly awesome was that my amazing wife who I love more than life itself didn't have to kill herself to entertain the kids. There were so many fun activities for the kids to do it made it a whole lot easier than it would have been. 

Syd the kid is my youngest. She is amazing. Full of energy and a real character. She is like a puppy in many ways. She has been wanting to race bikes for a while. When she found out there was a kids race she really wanted to do it. But I of course forgot to bring the bikes. Ok I didn't forget them I left them at home because the van was at max capacity and my roof rack is less than trust worthy at the moment. My teammate and good friend Michele offered Syd her pit bike and spare helmet and set her up for the race. There were 107 kids in the race! Can you imagine? That is the size of some fields at Gloucester. Megan Skidmore the social media director at Great Glen led each heat of the races. They broke it down by age group and it was incredible. Syd crashed into some girl or the girl chopped her in a corner. Who knows. Both girls came up laughing. Syd was so stoked. She wants to race mountain bikes. She wasn't the only kid who did their first mountain bike race either at Great Glen. And most of them came away hooked. That my friends is how you grow mountain biking and raise little shredders!

After the mountain bike race she entered a Cheese Doodle Tossing contest. Basically the staff sprayed shaving cream in the kids hair and then other kids threw cheese doodles at them. Most cheese doodles in the hair wins. Syd is the Great Glen Cheese Doodle champion. I can't thank everyone at Great Glen enough. Same goes for my friends and wife. Syd's older sister Zoe wants in as well. This is huge. Zoe hates anything remotely athletic or competitive. I would never push my kids to race. But if they want to race I certainly would support that 100%. I love this event. I am so bummed it is the final year. I am hoping enough people talk to the promoters and thank them and tell them how much we love it and what it means to us that they would consider keeping it going. Trust me it takes a super human effort to put this race on. They have it dialed. And they can't lose money. I certainly would help support them in any way they needed. If it means creating some fund that protects them from the rainy years and low turnout I say we do it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

12 Hours of Great Glen

A boring title for one of the best weekends I have spent in a loooooonnngggg time. Michele Smith, my partner in crime and co-Captain of HUP United, and I set out to do the 2-person coed 12 Hours of Great Glen. This was the 20th anniversary of the race and the races final rodeo. This race is where it all started for me with HUP United and east coast mountain biking. What a difference 7 years makes! That first year in 2008 I raced on a 5-person 24 hour team with my new HUP teammates. It was an amazing trial by fire and set the stage for so many things. Over the years I would do it twice more. Those years we did 4-person teams and they always were so fun. 24 Hours of Great Glen is one of the most special events I have ever been to. When I heard it was the final year I had to go. Why do a 12 hour at a 24 hour race? Simple answer. I am old. Shocking but true. When I was younger I could stay up for two days straight drive home and it was no problem. At 50 with two kids, a dog and a cat I am so sleep deprived most of the time I can barely function. The last time we did a 4-person 24 I almost fell asleep on the drive home. Not cool. The other getting old factor is my night vision is terrible. Like next level terrible. More on that later.

Other than the old part I really wanted to have a family weekend. My family doesn't camp. And they don't go to bike races. It works out. We have an amazing family and do so much together. And I don't want to be one of those people who drags their wife and kids to stuff that they don't want to do. But when I told Syd the kid and Zoe about it they really wanted to go. Calling it camping is a stretch. It is a festival. Basically the Burning Man of mountain bike racing in New England. Well without the acid and molly. 24HOGG is an incredible family event. People always talk about bike races being family friendly but they really aren't. A few are passable but basically there aren't a ton of things to do at a bike race for kids and families. At Great Glen they put just as much effort into the family/kids events as the race itself. Have I mentioned my wife is a saint lately? The woman is amazing. Love of my life. But she really, really hates camping. And doesn't like being cold. But she volunteered to come with us. To say she saved the weekend is an understatement. Without her I would have lost it and the kids probably would have had a horrible time. She was a rock star acting as tent boss, soigneur, and go between for Michele and I. 

The weirdest thing about the 12-hour 2 person format is you never see your teammate. On a 4-person team there is a lot of sitting around, chatting, eating and hangouts. There are no hangouts on a 12 hour team. Michele and I talked to Colin before the start and he told us if we wanted to do well we had to do single laps. I knew the laps would be around an hour so that meant an hour on and an hour off. I was pretty confident if nothing went wrong we could do 12 laps. A lot had to go right for that but Michele is about the most solid bike racer I know. And I have a knack for hanging in there and at least being prepared in the bike department. I didn't do my usual freak out leading up to this race. Instead I just methodically planned and got shit done. And relied on so many friends. My PRO wrench Scott Novick dialed my Zank and lent me his lights. To say that was huge was an understatement. That dude and Landry's in general takes such good care of me its not even funny. So going in the goal was finish and do 12 laps, support our teammate Jon Nable who was doing 24 hour solo and have a fun weekend with the family. 

To say we got hit with the lucky stick as far as finding a camp ground is an understatement. We got a late start Friday and of course got stuck in traffic. Colin sent Michele and I an email with a google map image and a cryptic message to put our stuff in the orange box. I drove in and found the Bikereg row of tents and cars. I didn't want to crash there party and it looked pretty tight so I pulled out onto the field. I didn't really see any familiar faces but saw a huge compound with familiar tents. I got out of the swagger van and walked over and saw it was Don Seib and his family! Don and his family were awesome. They moved a car and helped us find a spot right next to them. Then Shoogs showed up. My stoke level kept increasing. I love Shoogs. He helped us set up the tents. Did I mention my family has never camped before? Syd the kid shared her love of knives with Shoogs and Shoogs taught us all how to set up tents. After that we went down to the big tent and Syd got to ride a mechanical bull. This weekend was shaping up to be epic.

That first night was cold. Maybe 50? But when we woke up it was perfect weather. We went up to the Auto Road Visitors Center and had the best breakfast sandwiches on the planet. The view looking out on Mt Washington certainly didn't suck either. Michele rolled in around 10 and we got our plan. I had already volunteered to do the run. Most 24 hour races start with a Le Mans start. Have I mentioned I hate running? I think I have run once since CX season. Perfect. I lined up next to Uri and Nable. We were surrounded by a man in a lion suit and a guy with Daisy Dukes that had Naked Cowboy painted on his ass. One of the great things about 24HOGG is the diversity of racers. I love that aspect of this race. Sure you have fast hardcore racers but you also have the party crowd and people just out for a good time. I some how did not pull a hammy on the run. The photo Michele took is hilarious. Jon and Uri are tall, thin and look fast. I look like Chris Farley. We got on the bikes and went off into the scrum. The course was run reverse this year which was interesting. Again this was my fourth time racing Great Glen. All three other times the course was basically the same. Lots of climbing, fire roads, cool singletrack, wood bridges, Blueberry Hill and the Plunge.

Back to my friends and family. Without them this could never have happened. Jon Nable as stated earlier was doing the 24 solo. That is beyond my comprehension. He is probably my nicest teammate. Always has a smile. Always in a good mood. He is also a very good cook. He offered Michele and I a batch of his homemade Skratch fuel. When I knew I was going to do this race I emailed Gewilli because I knew he had the race fuel thing dialed. I am a disaster with race food planning. This probably isn't a shock to anyone who reads this. I took G's advice. I had my own stash of fuel but Jon's was a lifesaver. The first couple of laps flew by. They were going around 50 or 54 for both of us. Michele and I were basically doing the same times which rocked. It made it very easy to get into a rhythm, Do a lap, get into the tent, eat, drink, adjust bike back out. We were doing great. I also was riding EVERYTHING! There are a few parts of this course that scare me. Not the Plunge that everyone talks about. The Plunge is a challenge and if things go bad it can be really bad. We had a teammate a few years back get knocked out of the race when he went over the bars on it.

But I don't fear the Plunge. What I have always feared are the wood bridges. I have gotten way better at wood bridges. But there is one on this course that has always gotten into my head. It is at top of the climb after Blueberry Hill. It is a pretty wide bridge but it is over a chasm. The drop is probably 10 feet into a waterfall that has carved out the rock. I have never ridden it in the 3 previous times I have done this race. But, like I said, I was feeling the wood bridges. Maybe its the Zank has sick mojo, maybe I have gotten a bit better riding who knows. I was so stoked I didn't die. Joking aside it was a pretty big accomplishment for me. At lap three things got a bit dark. Not sure if it was the heat or the run or the climbing but my left quad started telling me some very bad things. Things like "fuck you Chip" and "I am putting a stop to this NOW!" I finished my lap and got back to the tent.

I am not shy about how awesome my wife is. But she saved my ass after that lap. I ate two pickles, one of Jon's rice cakes and drank a bottle of Skratch. Then Pam took a cold bottle and rolled it across my quads. I popped two advil and a endurolyte. Boom. Back in action. Literally saved my race. The highlight of the race was getting to ride the Dusk lap with Jon and Uri. I was on my 5th lap and they were on their 7th. Ouch. It was a pretty funny lap. I did almost run over Uri after the fly over which was hilarious. The flyover was right after the transition and the three of us rolled out together. When I got to the top of the flyover and dropped down I saw Uri stopped at the bottom. I think I yelled "LOOKOUT" or something inaudible. Thankfully I somehow missed t-boning him. The Dusk lap was so cool. At about the half way point I turned my lights on as in the woods you couldn't really see. Or I couldn't as my eyes are horrible. We rode the Plunge in darkness and finished up the lap together!

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest factors in doing the 12-hour was that both of our night vision is pretty bad. I do think its an old age thing but maybe its staring at a blue screen too much who knows. It is what it is. After that half lap with lights I got back to the tent and swapped over to the other set of lights. I was about to get an education in night riding. I sort of noticed it on the Dusk lap that my ability to ride took a dive. It could have been fatigue but not having a full range of vision was messing me up. The next lap in full darkness was bananas. I overcooked the first wood bridge. Like I went in wayyyy too hot and used it like a jump. WTF. Luckily this bridge wasn't over anything sketchy. I rode off fine. Then I went off one of the skinny wood bridges. The most hilarious crash was off Blueberry Hill. A woman flew off a bridge in front of me. I asked her if she was ok and then proceeded to go fly off at the EXACT same spot! So at that point instead of beating myself up about sucking so bad I just made a tactical decision to walk all the wood bridges. My times were literally the same as riding. That was pretty bizarre but makes sense. My run/trot was as fast or faster than either crashing or picking my way along a skinny wood bridge in the dark.

At about 11 pm we got a text from Michele's husband Ed. Ed is awesome. I call him Captain America. I can't really transcribe exactly what his two texts contained but they were perfect. And were just what we needed to finish that 12th lap. Ed gets the motivational speaker award at the HUP banquet this year! We finished a solid 12 laps and in third place. Michele crushed it. Especially that last lap. She is my total hero. That last lap was a test of will for sure. Not easy after 11 hours to head out and ride in the dark over nasty wood bridges. That lap sealed the podium for us! So proud to have been able to race this together with Michele. She is such a great friend and teammate.

Standing on that podium with her with my family watching was incredible. That was my first podium ever. It seems stupid but it was such a great feeling. It was the best weekend.  I really hope Great Glen finds a way to keep doing this. They run an amazing race. There really is nothing else like this.

A few last thoughts. As much as this was about a race it was about much more. I didn't know how my family would like this. They loved it. Again in large part to the staff at Great Glen and the atmosphere they created. They had so many kid and family activities going on while we were racing.

I want to thank Great Glen, the Seib family, Shoogs and Michele for being so great with my family and kids.

Syd the kid had an amazing weekend. She did her first ever mountain bike race in huge part because Michele lent her a bike and helmet to race with. Meg the social media person at Great Glen led all the kids races. She is a hero. Both my kids want to race mountain bikes and go to more events like this because of what a great time they had.

Syd was also the cheezits tossing champion. Basically they had a contest to see who could get the most cheezits stuck in their shaving cream covered hair. It was totally hilarious. I think Pam even enjoyed the weekend. She would run up to the Plunge and cheer as I came down. Would run all over with the kids. Sadly she did not get to make it to the Moats beer garden. I promised her a trip to North Conway to visit the Brewery. I probably owe her a trip to Kripalu as well.