Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lost Boys

My love of riding new mountain bike trails with a good friend as a guide is unparalleled. It really is one of the joys of mountain biking. Reminds me so much of going to a new surf spot for the first time with a local. Our little band of misfits takes great pride in showing off their secret stash. Luckily mtn biking isn't as territorial surfing. Surfers would just assume kill you than show a new surf spot to the world at large. I get it. Surf spots get overcrowded in the blink of an eye. Even with the uptick in mountain biking popularity it is rare to see another rider in the woods. Especially on a week day. My good friend Agent Utah got a hall pass and asked if I wanted to go on a sick ride. I of course jumped at the chance. Chris happened to have a window to ride as well so the three of us jumped in the van and headed over to Sharon. Matt was really excited to show off Borderland. Or Boulderland as he likes to call it.

The plan was to do a soul ride on our fat bikes. No suspension. No rules. Just a fun park to park ride through some of the nicest trails I have ridden in a long time. Chris was on his 29er FS. We parked at Moosehill in Sharon. Ok things may be a bit nicer in Sharon than my side of 128....The visitor center was gorgeous. One of the cleanest and nicest spots I have been to. The plan was to check out the Bay Circuit Trail and ride it over to Borderland. Borderland is another park in Easton, MA. The mileage between the two was only about 12 miles. Twelve miles on rocky technical terrain is of course worth about 3 road miles but still, no biggie. Looked like it would be about a four hour ride out and back.

For some reason the idea of the Lost Boys popped into my head the second we rolled out of the parking lot. We really are a lot like the Lost Boys. No not the Keifer Sutherland Lost Boys but from J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan. It is shocking when you type in Lost Boys into Google and it isn't even on the first page of listings. People do realize where the term originated from right? Probably not. Its shocking how much we have lost culturally in the last decade. It popped into my head for obvious reasons. Here we have three grown adult men. All responsible, contributing members of society. But being drawn into the primordial woods to play. Not too many grown men play these days. Maybe we do suffer from a Peter Pan complex. Who knows. I for one never question this lifestyle. I feel beyond lucky to have friends like I do. Fifty year old men do not make new friends in the general population. In or Wolf Pack it is the norm. So we chase Utah through this magical loamy paradise. Just shredding. And laughing. It is a perfect day. About 60 degrees. Zero bugs. Amazing.

Moosehill is a cool mix of loamy singletrack and some swampy wetlands. Chris is laughing so much. I love riding with these two dudes. The fat bikes are probably a really stupid choice. But it was part of the whole idea for the ride. Just a chill ride on the chillest of bikes. We come upon some really sketchy wood bridges and walk all of them. This is a chill ride and the idea is to go the long haul. When you are trying to do a long day getting hurt 3 miles in is not a great life choice. Then we come upon Neverland. You think I am kidding. In the middle of nowhere we find this crazy tree fort. The actual tree house is probably 30 feet up in a tree. All the wood is from the Sharon DPW. We just start cracking up. There is a really sketchy rope ladder. We of course climb and swing around on it. We do not climb all the way up to the tree fort and to our certain deaths.

Who ever built this definitely new what they were doing. We laugh and think who possibly had the motivation to do this. Do kids even build tree forts anymore? Clearly some kids spend time in the woods when they aren't playing Call of Duty. Who ever built this gives me hope for this next generation. Thankfully and by some miracle the rope ladder doesn't snap and kill one of us. We roll out and I now think in my head this truly is a Lost Boys ride.

We pop out of the woods and ride through a gorgeous neighborhood. How is this 30 minutes from Boston? It looked like we were down the Cape. We were riding by a beautiful pond with docks and beaches. It was a crime no one was out enjoying this day on the water. Two fat bikes rolling on the pavement was pretty funny. We stopped to ask some nice person doing yard work for directions to Borderland. Lost Boys do not rely on Garmins to find their way. It wouldn't be in the spirit of the ride. Pixie dust maybe. Gamins? No. We find Borderland and I see why Matt calls it Boulderland. I am used to rocks. But the rocks near me are angry, hate-filled rocks that want to kill you. These rocks were smooth boulder type of rocks. Very little sharp edges. Smoothed from eons of glacial work to make a playground for mountain bikes.

So for full disclosure I am ok on rocks but not great. I get a bit nervous. It is 90% mental. And realistically being a good mountain biker is mostly from the neck up. You have to be confident and pretty zen. Riding with fear will make your worst fears come true. You have to be loose and think about where you want to go not where you don't. I am not that great at that part. Fat bikes are weird. They will roll over everything. But have their own ideas about where they want to go. And they rebound like nothing I have ever ridden before. This is all fine and good during the Winter and on snow. But when you are riding boulders and are up high and need to pick a line its a bit like being the captain of a large boat. Straight ahead is fine but adjusting your trajectory takes some time. Sometimes in mountain biking you have to be able to flick your bike and change your line in a second. Good luck with that on a fat bike.  I learn this lesson in spades. I am leading though a fairly tricky section. But we have ridden some way sketchier stuff. I must have not seen a squared off rock or something. I hit it at full speed and the bike rebounds up and dick punches me. Literally. I let go of the bars instinctively. And the bike throws me like a Bull. I luckily land in some bushes and miss both trees and rocks. I lie in the fetal position for a minute and do a body check.

I have to sit down for a while and take a time out. Matt and Chris are both laughing there asses off. I need a bit more time so lie on a rock while they session these boulders. After about fifteen minutes I pull it together and we go and session a ton of really cool stuff. We find a section of the NEMBA trail that Matt called his "Nemesis" It is basically a rock wall along a boulder. You ride the rockwall that is about 4 feet off the ground. I took a pass as I was still not right after my trashing a mile or two back the trail. Matt and Chris give it a go. On Chris's second run he gets hooked up and pitches over the side. Luckily he lands on his feet and runs it out. More laughter ensues. We finish the NEMBA trail and are really close to the Borderland visitor center and the turn around spot. Matt sees a trail called French Trail and says let's go check it out. It is rocky but way easier than anything we have ridden. I am third wheel. I see Utah just go flying over his bars and land really bad down a rock garden. The problem was he caught his wheel at the top and body slammed about 6 feet down the trail. No one was laughing. You can always tell when a crash is bad. This one looked bad. And Matt was in obvious pain.

Chris and I got to him and did a quick check. His hand was bleeding through his glove. We didn't want to take the glove off. He said he felt a pop in his leg. I was hoping for the best and that it was just a bone bruise. But when I pulled his sock down to look at it and he winced at my barely touching his leg I got pretty worried. We got him up and started to walk him out. He really was having a hard time. There were a ton of roots and rocks and Chris held him as he hobbled along. I grabbed his bike and ran ahead of them looking for the visitor center. We got to a fire road and Matt got back on his bike and we rode out. We sent Chris on his 29er back to get the car. On the road the van was only 6 miles away. Chris deserves a medal for TT'ng back to the van. I get Aumiller comfortable at the visitor center and grab a first aid kit. Man we were lucky. We could have been so far out from the trail head. The hand is nasty. We bandage it up and wait for Chris. Chris arrives and we roll out and drop Matt off at the ER. I get home unload the van and then head back to see how he is doing. Just as I get into the ER and see Matt the Dr shows up and hands him his X-Ray. Broken leg. Poor bastard. He has such a great attitude about it. He is already taking about wanting to go back and ride Borderland. It was such a great day. So amazing to be able to have that time. Matt will be back strong as ever in no time. It is part of this crazy life we all live. Be safe, take care of each other and carpe diem.

Monday, June 6, 2016

All Aboard the HUP Pain Train

My good friend and co-DS of HUP Michele Smith along with her husband Ed host one of the most awesome rides/BBQs in the NECX. It is an annual HUP team ride. It is called the Lion of Burlington. Typically happens the first weekend in June. It is a CX wake up call if there ever was one. The ride starts and finishes at their house and goes park to park on some pretty amazing trails. In the spirit of the ride most ride CX bikes. But a mountain bike certainly is nice on some of these trails. I certainly was very happy to have disc brakes and tubeless tires on my CX bike. My CX bike is pretty much a woods killing machine so it is very capable on most "mtn bike" trails. HUP is amazing. Such a great crew. And it continues to grow into something even  more awesome each year. This year's ride was a good chance to meet a lot of new team riders and reconnect with friends and teammates we hadn't seen in a while. 

I would guess and say we had about thirty riders. Mostly HUP but a bunch of like minded friends as well. Basically if you love CX and getting lost in the woods you are a friend of HUP. Sure doesn't hurt if you bring nice beer to the BBQ as well. Baked goods work wonders also. It was so awesome seeing so many rad people. We did all our hellos and got kitted up. Roger had a mechanical on the way over so I saw he and Ed frantically trying to change out a derailler pulley wheel before we rolled out. We snapped a great team photo and off we rolled. Now rolling out with 30 riders and picking your way through the woods can be pretty hilarious. You always try and give each other space and be respectful but of course shenanigans are bound to happen. Once you get into the woods and you see downed trees that need to be hopped it becomes full #DBL in a blink of an eye. I may have put Roger into a tree hoping a log. But it was all in good fun and once again I was blown away at how comfortable HUP riders are in their natural element on CX bikes. This is how you get ready for CX season. Riding a CX bike in the woods is perfect for getting those bike handling skills back in top form. 

We bombed through some super fun dusty trails and popped out by the reservoir and regrouped. It is always very hard keeping 30+ riders together in the woods. Michele and Ed do a great job of herding all the cats but it is tough. We rode in a fun group with Ed for a bit. Some serious smackdowns were happening anytime we popped out onto pavement was a bit challenging for my out of shape ass but I was faking it and laughing my ass off at all the jokes and snark flying around the group. I love these people and there is no better way to spend a day in my mind than with this crew on CX bikes getting lost in the woods. Speaking of which. There was a bit of confusion when we were working our way through the second section of woods. Roger, Chris and I decided to pick our own adventure and split off. We were having way too much fun to stand around in the woods. It had been so long since I had ridden with Roger and Chris. We were definitely feeding off each other and Roger was definitely in full Shark mode. Everyone had a garmin file loaded up (well I didn't but I have an internal GPS that aways keeps me semi-lost, semi-found)

We were expecting Ed's group to catch up at any moment anyway really. We certainly didn't attack in a racing sense. We just were having so much fun shredding all the trails that we sort of lost track of how far ahead we had gotten. Roger rides this area constantly. And has been riding a shit ton this Spring/Summer. He is in the best shape I think I have ever seen him. Chris and I have been sitting on our asses eating pies for the last three months. You think I am joking. I am not. Any time we got on a road or straight path Roger would drop us so bad. I would laugh out loud as he was pointing out hazards in the road when he was at least 500 feet up the road. I just hung on for dear life and kept eating food and drinking water. Then we would get to a woods section and he would wave me through and let me shred. I will say Roger's woods riding game is on another level as well. He definitely was riding the roots and tricky sections way better than I have seen him on other adventure rides. We somehow had zero mechanicals. Zero crashes. It is almost like we had some dark angel on our shoulder driving us like the three riders of the HUPocalypse.

Its not like we were killing ourselves or anything. We stopped to take some cool photos and get food and water along the way. This ride is one of the more special ones I do each year. I really like to soak it all in. One of the cooler aspects is riding on Battle Road in Concord. I am a bit of a history buff. And seeing all of that history is just incredible. Roger found a couple of great new sections in that area. Battle Road is great but as it is a pretty significant national park it can be very crowded going full pathlete is never a good idea. It is a great road. Nice packed dirt with some really nice trees keeping you out of the sun. I swear this year we barely even had to look at our gamins. Between the three of us we knew this route really well. I started to get a bit bonky right before we got to one of my favorite sections. Chris and Roger were definitely riding very spirited on the roads. They would attack each other for townline sprints and climbs. I would just hang back and save my matches.

At the top of Grove street we dove into Landlocked Forest. LLF is a great open space in Lexington that is mostly owned by Burlington. It is called Landlocked Forest because Burlington residents are cut off from their forest by a highway. The land has been in jeopardy of being developed over the years and a section we road off of Grove Street looks like it is in real trouble. Please take the time to go sign the petition to save this section of LLF. These rides only happen if we have open space to ride on. As bikers we are always ever vigilant to make sure other riders don't damage the trails when wet, we work hard to keep the trails in good shape and work with communities to ensure our natural resources are preserved and can be enjoyed by everyone.

As before Roger waved we through. Just as I went into the drops I must have hit autoplay on my phone. The Black Eyed Peas start booming out of my jersey pocket. It was so awesome. The new RoboZank was built just for this type of riding. Last year I did the LoB on a mtb. It was fun. But to be honest I was able to ride everything I rode on my mtb on my RoboZank. There was one weird rock garden mid-way through that I wasn't 100% sure about but the bike just floated through it. 

We popped out on the highway underpass and I remembered I almost died at this spot last year. Amazing what a difference 44 cm bars are to 170 wide bars. Last year I clipped my riser bars on a retaining wall and almost went down a culvert. Drop bars are so nice in tight spots. We were in the home stretch at this point. Again we were sort of bummed no other groups caught up to us but we were having such a great time riding with just the three of us that it was ok. I honestly couldn't have asked for a better day on the bike.

We got back changed into our kit and got ready for a serious BBQ! We had so much food and so much great beer. It was so awesome being able to just hang out and hear everyone's story from the day. The CX gods were with us for sure. Our good friend Jenn sadly broke her frame. But luckily didn't do any damage to herself. There are so many weird little wood bridges. Jenn got caught up on one and went over the side. Unfortunately it was about 5 feet down into a swamp. Still can't believe she wasn't hurt. She must be superhuman! HUGE thanks to Ed and Michele and everyone who came out. HUP is looking STRONG right now. I love where this team is at right now. #CXISCOMING and I can't wait.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Faticus

First I have to apologize to my good friend and fellow blogger Fatmarc for stealing one of his handles. But I Faticus embodies everything that will be captured in this here post. And I named the above fat bike Faticus. I don't always name my bikes. But this name just came to me this week while ready the fatty. I have been called Fat Bike Jesus. It is obviously half taunt half jest. I like fat bikes. I like fun. Fat bikes are fun. I don't know about where you live but around here in the Northeast Fat Bikes were ALL the rage last winter. Or was it the winter before. I mean they were selling like hot cakes! Then everyone sold off their bikes in the Spring when they realized unlike myself, aka Fat Bike Jesus, fat bikes themselves can't walk on water. Or ride through deep snow for that matter. They are a ton of fun in Winter but you have to be realistic. And it is gonna be rough going at times. Its basically snowshoeing with touch of pedaling, but you can rail down some fun powder trails and launch yourself into a snowbank at random intervals. If this sounds like fun to you then fat biking is for you!

But fat biking isn't only for winter. I am pretty sure I invented the idea of racing fat bikes at CX races. Well, if I didn't invent it I certainly encouraged and supported it. Now if racing a SSCX on a CX course is stupid. Racing a fat bike on a CX course is stupider. Is stupider a word? Who knows. But again, its FUN. Actually, if you took the barriers down most CX courses would be a blast on a fat bike. But fat bikes are super heavy. And wicked slow. Or are they wicked slow? In a sense they are. But I had a fat bike epiphany at Singlespeed-A-Palooza. Fat bikes have raced at SSAP for as long as I have gone to the event. SSAP is my favorite bike race on the planet. This year I got a lesson in just how fast a fat bike can be. Let's think of what fat bikes are good at. They roll over everything. Once up to speed do not lose speed. They are basically like an out of control dump truck. And for their weight and size they are very nimble. Shit it sounds like I am describing myself.

Anyway back to SSAP. So as I am deep in the pain cave questioning why I would go couch to SSAP with really only two rides on my SS and feeling sort of sorry for myself I hear the tell tale sound of a fat bike about to overtake me. It is a very distinct sound. Like an A-10 Warthog coming in slow and low and about to light up everything in its gun sights. I hear a loud WOOHOOT CHIP BAKER!!! And get a well needed ass slap and in a blink of an eye my friend Fabian is gone! He is flying. So I try my damn best to catch up and latch onto the fat bike pain train. No chance. Fabian beats me by 15 minutes. That is insane! And sort of got me thinking. One my friend is a bad ass. And he is fast obviously. But two maybe fat bikes are fast.

So I put that in the memory bank and don't really think about it. Then for reasons outside of my control one of my only functioning bikes this past week is my fat bike. What is a boy to do? Obviously just shred the fat bike. There certainly are worse fates. I ride my fat bike all year. It is a ton of fun in the woods. Not so much riding to the woods as it is like driving a John Deere riding mower through town but you are going so slow people actually smile and wave at you. A fat bike is probably the only bike on the planet that actually makes non-bike people smile and say nice things to you. Its like having a lab puppy in the park. Everyone is happy to see you. So my first ride back on the fat bike is at Needham Town Forest. I am not shy about being open about my fear of NTF. Place scares the crap out of me. It is a legit black diamond riding area. I have gotten better in there but its always rough on mind and body. I go in with the mindset of just have fun and play around. I thank Thom for this. He has been posting some rad videos lately from sessioning NTF and it takes some of the fear out of the place.

Its apparent almost immediately how much at ease the fat bike is on these rocky technical trails. There are lots of reasons. One is position I think. I am short. Like hobbit sized. A 29er is a big bike for me. But I love my 29er. It rolls over a lot of stuff and is fast. But a fat bike with 26" wheels allows me to use a riser bar and gives me tons of clearance. The fat tires smooth out almost more trail than a suspension fork. I have a tubeless set up so am able to run around 8 PSI. So within the first two or three technical sections I have already ridden better and cleared stuff than I usually do. It isn't perfect. Definitely more pedal strikes. And I smacked the shit out of the bb more times than I could count. But on a few sections that I have trouble with I was fast. Way faster than on the 29er. So the fat bike earned a nickname. Fatmarc I hope its cool. I promise Faticus will honor your namesake.