I like singlespeeds. Not as a political statement or as some kind of secret handshake but just because I like them. I have been racing single speed mountain bikes for as long as I can remember. I have a love/hate relationship with it. But Singlespeed-A-Palooza is ALL love. 100%. Singlespeed mountain bike racing is brutal. Going from couch to SSAP is probably not a smart life choice. But sometimes you are dealt the hand you are dealt and you make the best of it. SSAP was the 5th ride on my recently converted SS Zank 29er. The beauty of my Zank is it is super easy to go back and forth between SS and geared. But you of course have to actually swap it over and not be a lazy couch surfing slacker like I have been all winter. SSAP is one of those events you plan for and get stoked for months in advance. The race itself sells out in hours once reg goes live on Super Bowl Sunday. Most people are excited to see Tom Brady chest bump Gronk. I am posed over my computer with an itchy trigger finger waiting to get into my favorite race of all time. I am excitable. Lots of things are my "favorite of all time" But when I say SSAP is my favorite race of all time it is. No other race even comes close.
|Photo by Rosey|
What makes it so rad? First and foremost the people. The Mayor and Dark Horse cycles put the race on. The staff and volunteers are amazing. Honestly the best mtn bike race in the known Universe. How did the results go at your last race? Race results are instantaneous. And for a party race never are screwed up. Podiums happen within minutes after the DFL rider finishes. And that rider is celebrated. Actually every rider is. I have never seen so many supportive volunteers and staff in my life. So much cheering and cowbell. Upon finishing the race there is a BBQ and tapped kegs right next to the finish. And ice cream. ICE CREAM? Do you know how many ice creams 20 Pound Skull had last year? Like 5. I wasn't there last year to see it but its impressive. Nice payouts. Sick trophies. Primes to all fields. Everyone races the same course and distance. EVERYONE is on singlespeeds. There is nothing worse than racing on a SS and having to carve through geared riders. You really can not spin on a SS. So when the whole field is cracked people still have to use torque and momentum. Or walk. You have three speeds on a SS. Sitting. Standing. And Walking.
The other single most awesome thing about SSAP is the people. Hands down. Its like a reunion for me. Some people I see all year round and it is a great excuse for a Zankcation. But its all the other people you only see once a year or at these types of events. And Shoogs in top of that list. I LOVE Shoogs. Randy is one of those friends who just brings everyone together and is always so positive it is infectious. He and about seven other riders rode from Hartford, CT to the race. Sure a nice 100 mile road ride on SS Mtb is the best openers possible for a 28 mile mountain bike race! But the whole point of SSAP and the #singlespeedlifestyle is to live LARGE. To grab life and not let go and live it to the fullest. Anyone worrying about openers or being too tired to race probably is at the wrong race. Guess how many trainers I saw in the parking lot? ZERO. Next year at the Zank SSCX series I am handing out code of conduct fines for people warming up on trainers at a single speed race.
|Photo by 20 Pound Skull|
So back to Shoogs and his posse! Shoogs indeed has a posse and his friends made some amazing stickers to commemorate the ride and celebrate Shoogs in general. I got so many hugs and so many stickers it was beyond belief. It became a pretty fun tagging game all weekend. I tagged the airport dinner bathroom. I laughed when I saw Todd's montage above with my handiwork. Each year we have done SSAP we have rolled with a great crew of HUP/Zank and other folks from New England. And as my good friend Liz pointed out NY is NOT the NECX. I sometimes forget that. And its funny how so many of my good friends are from NY and I just assume they are part of the NECX. They are in my mind but I get it. I have always been pretty drifty with my attention to detail and silly things like geography!
There was much back and forth about who was going, where they were staying etc. We settled into a nice Zank crew. Rosey, Todd P, Myette and me. We packed four Zank 29er SS into the van and headed south. Newburgh, NY is how do you say this nicely? Ummm sort of sketchy I guess. Sort of a mix of Kentucky and just biker gang chic with a touch of urban decay for good measure. It is always fine. The actual race venue is fantastic. And the area around Stewart Forest is nice and safe. But the hotels we have stayed in the past are way too murdery for me at my age. I like being this age so I can say " I am too old for this shit" So we flexed some Gold Member Marriot Elite points and got a baller suite. It was by far the nicest place I have stayed down there. We always joke about the strip club called Paradise Island that is right across from the Airport Dinner where we always eat before the race. No sane person would step foot into that strip club is all I am saying.
We got down to Stewart Forest in time for a pre-ride. Dark clouds were on the horizon. Literally. We had been stalking our weather apps the whole drive down and it was going to be tight. The ride window looked good. But the possibility of flying monkeys coming out of the sky were high. We met Will Crissman and Liz Lukowski in the parking lot and the six of us rolled out. Most times when you pre-ride a race course you scout for the hole shot or maybe the finish. You do stuff to ensure your success. SSAP is a race make no mistake. But the course is meant to be enjoyed. The trails are perfect on a SS. They are a great mix of roller coaster tech and flowy single track. So we got a bit excited and just shredded. We definitely rode for too long and went way too hard. Chasing Will Crissman is never a good idea. But it is a ton of fun. So YOLO why not. The course was so tacky from the recent rain. There were definitely some deep mud puddles and some standing water. Some cheater lines were going to be necessary to survive. We found out back in the parking lot that Liz's fork had blown the damper. She basically was running a '90s era Mag 21 with about 20 mm of non-functional travel.
That night we went to the Newburgh Brewery which was a HUGE upgrade over the old restaurant we used to go to called the Cauldron. The Cauldron was like something out of Blue Velvet and it always felt like we were seconds away from getting into a bar fight or shot. The Newburgh Brewery was fantastic. Such a great space. Beer was fantastic. Food was great. And again the company was top notch. So many hugs from Shoogs and his posse. So many people bought or gave me beers I stopped counting. But as I was driving I would hand them to Todd and Liz. I swear it wasn't part of my race strategy. Ok maybe a little. Todd P or 20 Pound Skull is one of my long time friends here in the NECX. I have known him, ridden with him, raced with him and gone on so many adventures with him. We have a bit of a "rivalry" going. Not really as we are so closely matched but maybe that is what makes it fun. It is almost scary how closely matched we are. There have been a few times, namely in cross, when he has gotten way faster than me. But for the most part we stay pretty even. I love riding and racing with him.
At the brewery the Farm to SSAP crew rolled in. They had been riding for 12 hours. Twelve. Through a pouring rain. But they were all smiles. These people get it. More beers. More hugs. Cross Jesus was so jacked. His plan on Sunday was to not race but to ride around and cheer people on and be a great cheerleader. It is a tough race. He is a CHAMPION for doing that. Its one of those races were people actually cheer each other on during the race. Its too hard to just go into race mode and get your game face on. So we all line up on Sunday. I am sort of nervous but not really as Shoogs is trying to get me to drink whiskey out of a flask. Have I mentioned its 9 am? I am slightly hungover but not too bad. My legs are feeling like concrete blocks. And 3 miles of gravel road at 140 rpm are not really making them loosen up. Each bump up in the road gives sweet relief from the hamster wheel. I settle into a group as as we hit the first single track. SSAP is a great mix of awesome single track and gravel road. The gravel roads are actually nice as a way to eat and drink and get a quick recovery.
I am doing my usual SSAP jam. Shred the single track. Keep repeating the "No Brakes" mantra. On a SS, well any mtb really, you have to use momentum. Momentum is your friend. Its why I like SS. You learn so many great habits. And unlearn some really bad ones. Gears make you lazy. You can settle into stuff with gears. Not with one gear. So I am feeling pretty good. In a good group. Then I get to one of my favorite trails in Stewart called White Cloud. Its a nice single track that pops up for a bit then roller coasters down. It is "technical" in a sense but not really. It was blazed with three down arrows which to me means look out there is a cliff ahead. I guess I am conditioned to some of the stuff around my house that literally feels like it is trying to kill you. Just as I am heading in I hear Aumiller. He yells out "CHIP WAIT DUDE I AM COMING LETS SHREDDED!!!!" Then I hear his bike bell. And his saying "excuse me" "pardon me" "Coming through" and "I am not racing I just want to shred with my friend"
I can only imagine what the train of dudes thought as he went through them like butter. I was laughing so hard I literally almost fell off my bike. He gets up to me right as we get over the top of the climb. He is not even remotely breathing hard. He is like "dude, you are riding so much better than those dudes." "your skills are way better than those guys" I was so stoked to see Utah. We FLY down White Cloud. At total warp speed. His hoots and hollers just kept me pushing the limits. I almost got a bit too rad a few times but the bike stayed upright. We caught up to Thea and formed a little group of radness. We chit chatted for a bit and then popped into another awesome trail. I saw a rock wall up ahead and decided to air it out. I am not really a rad rider. My skills are better but I usually stay with both wheels on the ground at all times. So I hit the rock wall and try and do my best Thom Parsons rad skills session. Well I clearly must have hit the wrong rock or maybe pulled to much on the left grip because I am now pretty high in the air but my bike has done a tail whip and the entire bicycle is now sideways. Before I realize my error I hit the ground like I am sliding into first base head first. Luckily I somehow eject off the bike use it as a steel shield and roll into the grass without a mark on my body.
We all laugh our asses off. And continue to shred the great trails. Utah peels off to go find more friends and hand out beers he has packed into his bag. I pin it and try and catch up to 20 Pound skull. At the midway point beer stop I see Todd! Finally! He looks at me like he as seen a ghost! And takes off. Oh buddy, I thought we were going to hang out? I think he had been there for a while. I grab a beer. Say hi to some people. High five people coming through. Then get back on it. Things are starting to come a part. Couch to SSAP coupled with yesterdays hammer fest and some poor planning is starting to take its toll. Ok maybe my tail whip to body slam is affecting me. My legs are starting to complain. Basically saying "fuck you Chip and your bad life choices!!!" And I forgot my endurolytes. That was a huge mistake. I take on gu shots and try and hydrate but its becoming apparent my legs are not happy. So I go into CX survival mode. I get off and run/walk stuff that maybe I could have torqued up. But I start getting some leg cramps that are just a hair below rigamortis. I have had bad leg cramps before but these are weird. Its like an electric charge is going through my it bands. I am like well if I die at least I die at SSAP.
Then a Dark Angel/Valkryie appears in the form of none other than Anne Rock! Anne Rock is a LEGEND. And one of the most awesome people on the planet. We ride the last five miles together. I almost ride over her at one point because I am so out of my mind and took a high side over a rock wall and dropped in almost on her head. Thank god for XT brakes. Is it possible you can bend time when you are bonking on a SS mtb? I think you can. I felt a bit like I was riding a 29er in the Matrix. People kept telling me "you are almost there!" "Great job!!" Yeah this isn't my first rodeo people. No one was giving me any actual numerics. No one said distance or time. Or what was up ahead. As you can tell I obsessed over the course and had it loaded in my garmin...hahhaha that is funny.
So when I pop out onto a gravel road and realize it is the finishing straight I get a second wind and kick it into the finish. 2:40:34. The EXACT same time as Todd. How is that even possible? Some kind of SSAP time warp I think.
What an amazing weekend. High fives to everyone. Next year we are bringing an even bigger posse.