Monday, August 28, 2017

Everybody Hurts

"When you feel like letting go. Hold on. Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hands up. You are not alone. Hang on." I am sure you all recognized the title and lyrics to the REM song correct? Really the prefect theme song for a gravel/adventure ride specialist like myself. Adventure rides are BRUTAL. In a beautiful way. Honestly after this summer all I really want to do are Adventure rides. And I am really not that good at them. I am a flatlander. But my favorite rides are in VT. In case you have never been to VT it is not really flat. I am of a certain age. I certainly am not skinny by any stretch. But what I do have is grit. I don't really give up. And I can "enjoy" suffering. The mental and physical suffering of endurance type events. I am not really great at actual suffering. I am kind of a baby actually. Racing is cool. I get a lot out of it still. Mostly the camaraderie and opportunity to see so many of my friends in one spot. It is my version of golf, or NFL ticket or NASCAR I guess. But I am not a racer anymore. But I race. But adventure riding or gravel riding or what ever you want to call it now that I get excited about. I have probably 3-4 events I really love. Rasputitsa, the NEBRA Adventure Ride, D2R2, and VT Overland. Those 4 really are what its all about. Totally different but all so beautiful. One day I will do all four in a season.

I probably get to do 2 of the 4 events and sprinkle one other in for fun to mix things up. This year I had D2R2 as the event I really wanted to focus on. We did it last year and had a blast. Did the full D2R2 experience. Camped out with friends, BBQ dinner the night before, great ride, swam in the river after the ride. It was perfect. I had reached out to a great group of friends to ride with and was going to camp with one of the best wingmen on the planet. And then like lots of great plans it went up in flames. I was riding through a field I ride through a million times when I got hit by what felt like a bullet to my leg. How I didn't crash is beyond me. Some of the worst pain I have ever felt. I look down and a wasp is stuck in the elastic band of my bib shorts and is lighting me up. I rip it off my leg and throw it to the side. I get the bike and myself under control and assess the situation. It hurt like a mofo but I seem "ok". I finish up my ride and head home. I take a shower. After the shower the leg looks funny. An hour later it looks less funny and really actually pretty bad. And is warm to the touch. So off to the Urgent Care.

Now anyone who knows me and my family knows we are no stranger to ERs and oddball quasi-medical emergencies. Never a dull moment in my house! I see the Nurse Practitioner and assume its fine. She is actually impressed by how bad it is and doesn't play around and gives me antibiotics and Prednisone. She warns me about the Prednisone. As does a close friend. But I am a chipper guy I assume it will be no big deal. Um yeah. It crushes me. Never felt so horrible on meds as that protocol. So suffice it to say I missed D2R2. Super bummed but no way I could have done that ride. I was a wreck. VT Overland was the next week and I figured a week of clean living should freshen me up for that ride. I was a little worried as I had zero energy from the meds and recovering from the infection/allergic reaction but I was optimistic. Especially as I was driving up with the newly crowned HUP Rookie of the Year! I have known Guthrie for some time. He is such a great guy. Strong as hell. Always smiling and positive. And always up for an adventure. HUP is a CX racing team. With an adventure ride problem. Guthrie really is the perfect HUP rider. So stoked he is on our team.

 I do some planning about how I am going to tackle VT Overland. I felt pretty ok at the NEBRA Adventure Ride. That was about 61 miles and had some climbing. But Overland is tough. Not just the climbing which it has in spades but the Pave Sectors. Adventure rides come in all flavors and types. VT Overland is spicy to say the least. I love the legit Class 4 roads they throw in. You need to have a really good skill set to handle them without crashing or walking a bunch. As I freely admitted early I am not a climber. But I am built for the descents and have good skills in the gnar. So I am 100% ok suffering up some nasty cramp inducing climb for a 50 mph gravel road descent. Speaking of cramps I was pretty nervous about cramping on this ride. I knew my body wasn't right after being stung. I couldn't source any Endurolytes. And didn't really feel comfortable using a product I had never used before so opted for boiled potatoes and Skratch. I also had some margarita clif blocks. I felt prepared and was really stoked to be traveling with Guthrie and his friend Joanna. A big part of adventure rides is rolling with a good crew.

As I said earlier Guthrie is awesome. New to HUP but a good friend and someone I have ridden with a lot. He has that amazing mix of sick climbing ability, next level descending skills and a great attitude. Always funny and positive. I had met Joanna a few times before and knew her. She is a really cool person and super fit athlete. Her first CX race was Night Weasels last year. I remember walking the course with her and Guthrie and talking about the race. It didn't even occur to me that she had never raced CX before. Night Weasels is a tough CX course. Legit hard. She went out and crushed it. Won the Cat 4s straight up. She even wore her podium jersey at VT Overland. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball. All bike racers do that inner checklist before heading to an event: Helmet, shoes, etc. But we all have forgotten one key element to being able to ride. I remember once leaving my shoes at JD and Megs the day of the JAM Fundo. Joanna ended up leaving her shoes at home. 5 am roll outs are not easy and it is so easy to forget something. I give Joanna so much credit. I mean she didn't even flinch. She was in a good mood and just problem solving. I went to registration and asked for help. The response was incredible. Honestly it is the thing I LOVE most about these events. All the people involved want to help you. One of the volunteers called her daughter and asked her daughter to bring shoes to staging.

While we were waiting for the shoes all three of us kept asking people for shoes etc on the off chance the ones that were coming didn't work. At the end the best solution was running shoes and flat pedals. The promoters wife Kim Vollers literally took the running shoes she was wearing and gave them to Joanna to use for the ride. Joanna and Guthrie then went over to the Cannondale booth and the mechanic set up her bike with flat pedals. I was literally speechless that this worked. What was even more impressive was everyone's PMA. We all were joking and taking photos. Laughing about doing the ride in flat pedals. I mean DH racers use flat pedals? What could go wrong. We rolled out last to let 800+ of our close friends sort it out on the neutral start. So many people and so many cool bikes.

We hit the first climb and Guthrie and Joanna punch it! We just start floating up past groups of riders. At one point we hear a thick accent behind us reciting some Flemish. Then we realize he is reading the line off Guthries Blanco HUP kit. HUP kit has all kinds of easter eggs all over it. We are a Belgianophile team. And aren't afraid to flaunt it. Guthrie asks the nice man to translate the line for us. The Dutch guy says "As long at the Lion can claw, as long as he has teeth." All three of us start laughing. This really is the perfect way to get the ride started. As we climb we keep seeing more and more people we know. It really is so incredible how social these rides are. When you take away the crazy energy of racing and are just there for adventure and riding it just changes things. Sure you ride hard. And you suffer but it is beautiful because you are all suffering together. The three of us stay together for about half the ride. Joanna's ability to smash both the climbs and downhills on flat pedals and running shoes is beyond impressive. The downhills are probably the most impressive. I mean you hit 40 mph in a blink of an eye on these roads. And they are all washed out and nasty. I can't imagine not being attached to the bike.

I have a great second half mixed with riding with a group, then riding solo, smashing Pave Sectors like a boss and then having rigor mortis like leg cramps. I mean they were next level. But oddly if I got off the bike and just walked a touch they went away and I could hop back on. A little group crampo sort of merged together. And it really was amazing. We just supported each other the last ten miles. Kind words, smiles, recognition of the pain and suffering but also the reward of the views and descents.

The final descent down the grassy ski slope of Suicide Six was unreal. I made it. Honestly there were times I thought I might not finish. Seeing Anthony and Heidi at mile 40 with waffles and water bottles and some crazy ass rap music blaring out of a black SUV brought me back to life. Just a great, great day. 10 out of 10 and would do it again. I know its CX season. But my mind is going to be up in the hills in VT. Huge thanks to Kim Vollers and the whole staff at Overland for making our day so great. They literally saved the day.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Couch to NEBRA Adventure Ride

Adventure Ride sock game on point. By Michele
I consider myself a "Gravel Specialist" Or a semi-retired, recovering cyclocross addict. We all have our internal story lines about who we are and how we identify ourselves. So when my two worlds collide I get very excited. If you are unfamiliar with NEBRA or the NEBRA Adventure Ride. NEBRA is New England's local association for USAC. They work to grow the sport of cycling in so many ways. A ton of my friends are a part of this organization so I am always happy to help them in any way I can. If it includes a cool adventure ride in Western Mass curated by Resultsboy it is like the icing on the HUPcake. This is the second year of the ride. It is like a baby D2R2. With a little bit of a VT Overland influence. Dirt roads, jeep track, some gnar as well as some fairly brutal paved climbs all add up to a really fun day on the bike. Last year I did the short ride. This year I was peer pressured into doing the long ride.

HUP There it is. Courtesy of Lesli

Ok for full disclosure. I got the email where DJ Robert instructed the team to wear Blue. As you can see from the photo above I may have missed that part of the email and grabbed my usual OG Noir. I wear the black for all the right reasons. It did make for a pretty hilarious team photo! I will say that. It has been a while since we have had a HUP crew like this all together. My excitement got the better of me I won't lie. I had told my friend Matt that we would do the short ride. Now for the record there was most definitely NOT a 35-mile option. He kept saying we were doing the 35 and I was like wut? So we rolled out with a HUGE HUP posse. I had full intentions of sticking together with the team. So when we got to the split between the 45 and 70 I went straight with the team. Then waited. Matt looked at me with pretty much a death stare across the road. And then reluctantly pedaled over to us. He was not "happy" He had just come off a week's vacation that from what I could tell was one non-stop cocktail party with maybe one ride with Jerry in to break things up a bit. But how could you be super mad about riding with the HUP train?

Rest Stop Boss Meg by Lesli

My legs felt like shit. Seriously. I have been doing ZERO riding. I have been on my bike maybe twice a week. Dadding is hard. Summers mean full on dad duty 24/7. So both Matt and I were doing this ride pretty much right off the couch. Now once you get past say 30 shit gets real. It is sooooo inspiriting to see aging athletes who stay fit and get faster as they get older. But yeah I peaked back before we had kids. The last year I was "fit" was maybe 2013. That was a long time ago. It is hard to fake a long ride even when you are young if you haven't been riding. Over 40 it is rough let's just say that. But luckily we had a lot of help from our friends. Meg, JD, John, Oscar and Steve set up some great aid stations. Each aid station was so unique and reflected each hosts personality. I brought along Endurolytes and Margarita Clif Blocks. I was not going to die without a fight. Robert's potatoes also were a life saver. The team rode so well together. HUP is so special. It is just such a great crew. Matt may have cursed me a few times but riding the first half with the team was so great. Some really hilarious moments.

HUP Train kept a rollin by Michele
I think the highlights of the first section were riding under French King Bridge and hitting the sand box section at warp speed. Guthrie and I went through those sand pits like bosses. I will say this, the team is going to be flying this September. Matt, Michele and I would get popped off the group on the extended paved climbs. It hurt. A. Lot. But it was worth it. We would always be rewarded by some screaming descent or great jeep track for all our hard work. At aid station two I knew Matt and I needed to pull the eject cord on trying to ride the tigers tail of the HUP train though. The good news was at aid station two you could rejoin the 45 loop. It wasn't a true bailout but we really weren't doing that bad. And it was mostly downhill from there right? The second half had some really awesome sectors. My favorite was definitely Rattlesnake Gutter. It was a gorge basically. Rough gravel descent that was kind of off camber. Looked like one side had washed out. We had grouped up with the Pedal Power/Atomic Roaster crew. Matt and I are built for descending so it is hard to sit back when a choice descent like this opens up in front of you like a magic unicorn. I knew the three riders in front of me were CX racers and would not totally freak if I past them. So to make it funny instead of obnoxious I used my best Quebecois accent and said "excuse me I will be taking zee French Canadian line..." and high sided the berm and then dove into a gutter and then went to Warp Factor 11. It was incredible.

Couch to Adventure Ride is no joke by Lesli

We all rode back in together. Myette, Pat and Lauren did a three up sprint for the finish. I think Pat won. I was so hypoxic I could barely even see straight. Lauren just kept laughing and laughing. She really is the best. We got back in safe and sound. Zero flats. Zero mechanicals or biomechanicals. 61 miles. Just under 4 hours. Matt is pretending he hates me but I know he's glad he did our long/short hybrid route. HUGE thanks to HUP for being so amazing. HUGE Thanks to NEBRA, Colin, JD, John, Meg, Oscar, Steve and everyone who made this ride possible. You have to do this ride next year. It is soon much fun.

Live to ride, ride to live by Guthrie
A couple of quick thoughts. One. See the above photo? My teammate and friend Guthrie rode that on the long loop like a boss. Then commuted to work the next day on the same bike. Jesse rode a single speed. Two ladies drove up from Boston with City bikes and flat pedals. They had googled "fun bike rides in Mass" and found out about the ride. They are heroes and the type of people we need to welcome and bring into cycling. It really was the best story of the whole ride. The two of them had fun, smiled the whole time, never complained, thanked everyone, had pizza and beer and hung out after. A lot of bike racers could learn a thing or two from them.