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Thursday, October 17

Van of Constant Sorrow: Day Two

Wake up wrapped in the cool, white sheets in Scott's guest room, my legs stiff with exhausted effort, my head thick with good beer, my eyes blurry with dust particles.  Coffee and planning commences.

Watts is looking at the possible weather, practicable driving routes, potential trail systems, plausible sites where we can park a van and sleep... all while maintaining reasonable drive time and keeping within our goal of being in Bentonville by midday Friday.  A plan unfolds, the van is packed, high fives are given... and a few minutes after the van rumbles back to life, we depart Knoxville.

The trail system that Watts had found along our route is fine, or in his exact words, "shit trails in garbage woods."

It's not that they were terrible trails.  They just weren't destination, drive one seventh of the way across the country worthy. 


We rode mebbe twelve miles (the entire system) before getting back to the van.  Crack a beer.  Scratch our heads...

I told Watts that I'd be willing to ride all those trails again but backwards.  He's not willing by any means.  While he looks at what else we could possible fit in, I pick up the assorted litter that's been tossed from people's cars into the grass and walk it all of twenty yards to the nearest trash can and throw it on top of a pile of all-too-hastily wadded up dirty diapers.  I guess I wouldn't mind going somewhere else.

We load up (without de-chamoising) and drive to another trail.

Watts and I have different theories about how to ride a new trail system.  He likes to save the best trails for last in order to save himself from ending the ride on a ho-hum note.  Personally, I like to hit the best stuff first while I'm still fresh and then ride ho-hum trails in a ho-hum manner.  Since he's doing the lion's share of the logistics, I defer to his preferences.  I've told him that I had zero expectations at the very start of planning this trip, so I feel it's best to stick to that theme.

We get to the new trail head and quickly get to the business of riding bikes, starting with the greenest of the green trails first.  After some navigational challenges on just-okay trails, we finally get to one called "Downhill."  It says it's one way, but the first mile or so felt anything but "downhill."  We turn around and try to figure something/anything better.

Finally over to the spiderweb of black'ish trails and more navigating and riding what feels like a route going the wrong direction until we get to the end and figure out that it indeed was absolutely wrong.  We ride it the other way, and it's much buenos, but then I realize that we're in a new time zone and the sun is going to set... when?

Google says, "soon."

Doh.

We make haste back to the van because neither one of us wants to ride single track with an iPhone flashlight guiding the way.

I'm le tired.

Crack a beer and more head scratching and we're on our way to Natchez Trace to make camp.  We get there too late to check in, pull into a site, stand in hot showers hoping erosion will take the place of proper soaps, share the only towel we brought to dry off (my MAXXIS towel, me using the MAX end, Watts the XIS), drop the bed into place and fall asleep to the sounds of all the horses in camp making all their typical horse noises.

*chomp, chomp, neigh, fart, neigh, shit, chomp*

Wednesday, October 16

Van of Constant Sorrow '19: Day One

 "It's okay.  It will be fine.  It's okay."

Watts has just pulled up, I've loaded my stuff in the back of the Adventure Wagon, and he goes to start it back up.  Nothing.  Well, a little "whir, whir, whir," but no "chugga chugga."

"It's okay.  Just gonna give it some time."

Some time.  Some jiggling of the entire vehicle.  Let it roll back down the road a bit and get it off the hill in front of my house...

Whir, whir... chugga chugga chugga.

"See, it's okay."

We get as far as Knoxville in an uneventful manner.  Stop at Tennessee Valley Bikes to meet up with Scott and Daniel.  Scott's busy down in the underbelly of the shop learning about how to work on Bosch e-bike motors... because like it or not, it's coming.  Watts is nervous.  Waiting time isn't riding time, and he really wants to maximize the latter and reduce the former as much as possible.  We go grab some tamales and try to eat them without utensils for some reason. 

Scott finally emerges, we toss everything into the TVB Sprinter, and head to the trail head.

As I've been told a thousand times over, Knoxville trails are soooooooooo legit.  Every climb rewarded with some smoking descents.  Uphill switchbacks that allow you to cruise all the way to the top.  Views of lush valleys below.  Berms, braaps, and excite. 

But the pace...

Watts and Scott keep the pace high.  Daniel peels off to do his own thing and go back to the van... because he can.  I hop on the struggle bus and try to keep the furious pedaling duo in sight.  I'm not sure what made me so slow, and I had no idea how long we had been riding, how much longer we had to go... where in the hell I was exactly.  In my tired state, I miscalculated the distance between a couple low speed roots... and I go over the bars.

Meh.  I'm dying on day one.

This trip is off to the good start.

Shortly thereafter, Scott says that we're "basically" on the way back to the van, and a "short" time later, there we are. 

The others jumped into the quarry lake for a soak while I was reminded that my inability to swim for shit doesn't make me feel too super about being in water that's one hundred apples deep.  Dried up and properly lubricated, we happen upon the Bocsh rep in the parking lot, and we all head out for pizza and wings and beer and proper jubilations.  Eventually, we're back at Scott's house, and Watts and Scott talk literal "shop" interspersed with things I actually understand.

Watts "engaged" in deep (derp) intellectual conversation.

We end up in bed kinda late, which I blame on the fact that you just simply can't hang out with someone like Scott long enough.

I enjoyed my time in Knoxville and my last night in a real bed (and my last shower) for the next few days.  It's time to leave the safety of a roof and a cohesive plan behind and hit the road.

Thursday, October 3

Van of Constant Sorrow Tour '19

Things are gonna be real quiet here for a very extended period of time.  The next few days are gonna be dedicated to getting all my shit together.

While I was up in Greensboro playing bikes with Watts, someone asked me about our big trip to Arkansas coming up in a week.

"That's next week?"

Both Watts and I were somehow lulled into a sense of comfortable distance from the actual date of our departure towards some states to our west.  We thought we had more time to think about where we should stop to ride on the way to Bentonville, who we'd wanna hit up to play bikes with in what places, what to bring in his Adventure Wagon... basically 99% of the actual logistics involved, what with skipping town for eight days.

My bike is now ready for adventuring.

Watts will be rigid, so I'll be rigid... because when I wear jorts and a cotton t-shirt on a 90* day, he does that too... because misery... company... so on.  I know he'll probably just keep whatever gear he had on there already... because he doesn't work on his mountain bike.  Ever.  Except the day before PMBAR.

32 X 19 because I don't know which days might end up being 18 days and which could be 20 days.  If I had to pick one gear forever, this is it... if you were to ever ask me.

A genuine slide from being racer boi prepared to adventure rider equipped.  Swapped a spare CO2 cartridge mount to a full-on pump.  I had to borrow someone's inflation device in Snowshoe (I was being cheap with my canned air), and as I'm yorking back and forth on my valve trying to add air to my tire, I couldn't help but wonder why I left my Racerocket back in the room (because I never mounted it).  I specifically asked for this exact pump because it has an extendable hose so you DON'T end up damaging your valve stem while inflating.  Mebbe when I'm racing (and caring), I'll remount the spare CO2, but otherwise, not every flat is worthy of the hurry and expense.

The only 100% already nailed down part of the trip is our participation in the OZ Trails Off Road event (I guess some would call it a "race").  It's the last race of the Epic Rides Off-Road Series, one of the longest running, highest (equal) payout mountain bike series in the US.  It attracts big name riders while also catering to the schlubs like Watts and myself by having amateur races, live music, and quality entertainment like watching pros racing on a crit course on skinny'esque tires whilst we sip on sweet teas and yell encouraging niceties from the sidelines.

I'm just stoked as fuck to finally travel... in that general direction.  Aside from the time my friends and I drove straight across the country to Moab the Friday after 9/11, I've never been to any place west of Chattanooga and east of Denver.  I just don't like being in a motor vehicle for more than a ten hour stint, and if I get on a plane, I feel like I should be getting as far west of here as I can.

Now that Watts and I have had a few days to scratch heads and asses, we know we're headed to Knoxville first.  There are some people there that we're fortunate to call "friends," and it will be nice to ride with them without having number plates on all our bikes for a change.  From there, we have a couple flexible days to pick and choose where we want to be, and then hopefully, roll into Bentonville on Friday to stay at least a couple nights.

I'm mebbe slightly concerned about fifty mile course, not that I don't think I can do it...

It's just that I haven't ridden close to all that far in one go since the Breck Epic.

"... just under 4,000 feet of climbing through a succession of short, punchy climbs that gradually tax the legs and lungs"

Short, punchy climbs for this short, flinchy rider is only slightly better than "mostly flat."  Pretty sure I can fake it.  It's kinda my thing nowadays.

I'm imagining that the Van of Constant Sorrow Tour will not be the beer-fueled juggernaut that some might think it to be.  We both want to get in as much quality trail time as possible during our eight days of movement.  Watts is also quite the connoisseur of local cuisine and also way better at making his way around the country than I.  Quality over quantity all around.

Wake up, drive, ride, eat good things (even some vegetables), drink a couple things or no things, sleep, repeat.  I'm looking forward to burying myself more than a few times on the bike.  Digging a hole, crawling in, pulling the dirt back over myself.  I wanna come back with my eyes all bleary, my legs tired and weak, and my head bursting with memories of long rides on new trails with friends old and new.

I'm sure both Watts and I will be contributing to the suck of earth's resources known as social media, him much more than I (I just suck at it while I'm having fun).  He's @revoltingcogs over on Instagram.  Obvs, I'm @teamdicky.  I'll do what I can... or can't... or I'll fizzle out on touching my phone and just write about it all when I get back on October 15th or 16th.

Tuesday, October 1

JA King and Queen of the Watershed '19

Five stages.  All ridden in an individual time trial format.  Minimum thirty second gaps between racers... unless you wanna ride with a buddy.  You must yield to anyone who catches you.

I start in front of Watts, despite my having put more beers inside my much tinier body the night before.  He 's still getting over a butt injury and says he's "taking it easy."

Waiting to be told to go...

"How far is this stage?"

I get answers from the people around me that vary from five to ten miles.  That's truly helpful.

I go out at what feels like a hard effort, my head pounding in unison with my heart.  My over-inflated tires are bouncing all over the place.  The previous night's thunder storm (it rains in NC?) made the rocks and roots slick, the wooden bridges even slicker.  My rock hard rubber bits slide around like I'm riding on banana peels.  Not only am I getting beat to death, the trail is almost pan flat.  Just like at Anne Springs about a month ago, my lower back is getting super pissed at me.  We don't get along with trying to go fast on flat terrain.

And shortly after I began, Watts catches me.

Shit.

I let him around.  I try to hold his wheel.  I try to keep him in sight.

A whole lotta try with very little do.

He leaves me to my misery, a Cranberries song stuck in my head on repeat.  I have no concept of time or distance or geographical location... nothing.  Just pain and sadness, and then I pop out of the woods... and it's over.  Thank dog.  Thirty four minutes of bleeding out of my eyes.

"How are you doing, little buddy."

"I need a nap."

Roll over to the start of stage two.  Watts pulls a PBR outta a cooler.

"Want some beer?"

"unnggghhhh... "

I didn't but I did.  Anything cold would suffice and PBR is darn near water, so we shared and stood and sweat.

Start stage two, me thirty seconds behind Watts.  This trail has some climbing AND I have a fair idea how long it is... although my computer is back at Watts's house, so there's that.  I manage to pass a few people... one guy who just sorta stopped in the trail in front of me... thanks?  Regardless, this trail was actually fun and not so long that I was praying for a mechanical of mebbe a bear attack.

Over to stage three and Watts takes me to a secret cooler... full of IPAs.

Ooof.  My body rejects that idea right off.  Leave the cooler and then at the trail head, there are cold rags to make life better.  Good garbage, it's hot as fuck out here.  Cold rag and thank.

We decide to start together, me behind Watts.  He does his best to encourage me...

"C'mon, little buddy."

I hold his wheel, then lose it, then lose sight of him altogether... except as the trail spaghettis around and I see him... fifteen seconds ahead... twenty seconds ahead... thirty seconds ahead.  Meh.  The course is super chunky and beating the ever-loving piss outta me.  Stupid tire gauge... or stupid person who didn't pack the one that's never failed me.  I finish feeling like a whole heap of ass.

Over to stage four and I take up Watts on the secret IPA stash.  How much worse could I feel?

Oh, yeah.

The fourth stage is fun... at least it would've been fun had I the energy to push myself and had a clue how long I'd need to keep going.  The trail is fun but none too kind to my beaten and battered self.  At this point, I'm really just punching a clock and holding on for almost half an hour.

Stage five and the end is nigh.  Dorothy meets us there and she has COLD WATER... which was insanely good.  Also chips.  Also insanely good.  I could see the food trucks.  I could see the final finish line.  I just have to ride Little Loop (hooray) and Big Loop (what?).

Despite the "Big" descriptor, the entire stage wasn't too difficult or long... aside from what had to have been the longest climb of the day... and the surprise two-way traffic that I'm sure was talked about at some pre-race meeting somewhere.

That's probably was dead as I've ever felt after racing/riding 38-43 miles... in the hot sun... after treating myself so poorly.

The fact that the race entry  came a full-on food truck meal... so needed at that point.

I ate it as fast as I could chew (not that fast, after all).  Then just hanging out in the shade, stretching,

watching the kid's race, drinking beer (and a lot of water).

Did I mention I got sixth place?  No?  Can't say that I'm disappointed in the result as much as I was disappointed with myself.  I didn't expect to hammer a bunch of locals, but it woulda been neat to feel like 50% less ass.

It was really a good time.  I'm hoping I can squeeze it in next year... and show up to the start in better physical and emotional condition, because even tho it was a course that didn't really match my "particular set of skills," it was still a blast.

Highly, highly, highly recommend this one in 2020.

all photos cred: Watts... of course... and also Dorothy

Monday, September 30

JA King and Queen of the Watershed '19: Preamble

Wasn't that a party?

My head is like a football.

Musta been the nine or ten IPAs.

I don't know, but look at the mess I'm in.

I get to Revolution Cycles around 6:05 and by 6:10, Watts has already slapped my first pint of Hazy Little Thing into my grubby mitts.  Conversations ensue. 

As I'm apt to do in noisy places, I nod my head during conversations and respond appropriately and sip constantly until the anxiety subsides.  This process can take between ten minutes and ten hours.  Gabor starts to tell me how long the stages will be tomorrow, but in minutes not miles... which only befuddles me because I know we will all ride the same miles but not the same minutes.

Sip.

I realize quickly that I won't remember anything he tells me.  Five things is a lot of things to put in my brain part.

Sip.

Eventually, the place closes but stays open because the paying customers are still paying, and I'm still sipping.


Finally, the sign flips and we go out into the night.


Beer here, beer there, fries smothered in things with the deep fried fingers of chickens... beer.

Sooner or later (prolly later), we get back to Watts's house, he hands me a La Croix telling me to drink it (I don't), and I head up to my tiny bed in the attic.

Wake up.  Cotton mouth.  Head thumping.  On any normal day, I would just get into the fetal position and roll around. 

Downstairs.  Water, coffee, eggs, toast... Watts ever the gracious host.
Start to think about getting ready for that 11:00AM start... somewhere that's not here.

Remove the computer mount from my handle bars.  My number plate is over at the shop still, and I can't fathom the idea of trimming the plate and making things nice.  Besides, I don't know how far each stage is, and I can't remember much of what Gabor told me about times... which can't matter, since he's a fast local with tree trunk thighs. 

Check my tire pressure with the gauge I just happened to pack in my bag.  Not a Topeak digital unit but some analog thing I bought at some point because it looked "old timey."  I air down the tires that I had over-inflated the day before to a trail-friendly 16.5 and 22.5 PSI. 

Or so I thought.

I trust a gauge over my foggy brain any day, even tho the tires felt way too firm with a squeeze test.  I wouldn't figure out until Sunday that the gauge was off by over 5PSI.  So minimum 21.5/28.5 PSI on a dumb rigid bike.  Dammit.

Anyways... Watts had decided that we could limit the logistics and ride our bikes to the start instead of driving to the finish and hopping on the shuttle (like all the normal people).  Of course this makes sense because I don't know any better. 

"It will probably be a half hour ride but maybe an hour.  I dunno."

So at some time that I don't remember because I don't have a computer, we leave the shop and head... in a direction, Watts occasionally pulling out his phone and navigating with his nose.  The temperature and humidity are rising quickly, and our stupid cotton shirts and cut-off jean pants are soaking through. 

Miraculously, we get to the start at 10:50, which is ten minutes early, which was hardly planned but entirely fortunate.  With an unknown amount of miles in my legs (10-15?) and my eggs and toast probably depleted, it's time to do what I guess I came up here for in the first place.

Thursday, September 26

Greensboro is Good and also Well.

Leaving work at 4:00 PM tomorrow and jumping on I 85 with all the other people who drive cars on highways heading out of Charlotte for the weekend (93% of the Queen City's population) careening towards Greensboro.  My direct destination will be Revolution Cycles, or as I like to think of it, the place where Watts makes cold beer fill my pint glass over and over and over.

How great of an idea is it that there's a number plate pick up social extravaganza the night before the race? 

How can this not play in my absolute favor, especially after forgoing my usual suppering time for a two hour drive in (possible) NASCAR related traffic?

Anyways, we all know Watts does a great job supervising my brain part and keeping me out of any potential trouble the night before I need to be capable of athletic exertion of some sort.


etc.

What could go wrongly?

I signed up for the JA King and Queen of the Watershed knowing very little about it.  We park somewhere, hop in a bus, get out, ride... race... repeat as often as necessary?

Finish elsewhere.

I've been trying to figure out how to get this on my phone or that stupid Wahoo thing I bought (that will be sold after I do these next three races), but I'm at a loss:


Stagger, stagger, stagger, crawl, crawl...

I'm as good at maps as I am literary categories at trivia night.

Also, new information that came in the pre-race email... each race segment is basically an individual time trial.  No silly multiple head-to-head mass starts a la The Tour duh Charlotte.  I'll just ride until my eyes bleed and hold on to my not-quite-flat-brim-approved 780mm bars riding on unfamiliar trails for some amount of distance five times over.  Enjoy the direct afternoon sun and low 90° temps at a party pace in between.

I have no expectations of glory.  There are so many clean living, short sock wearing, single speed athletes in the Piedmont Triad area that I'm sure to be crushed.  It doesn't help matters that they also know the trails 100 X better than me.  I'm going to try and negotiate a Friday night beer time bonus, but I'm not sure how that's gonna go over with the promoter.

Speaking of the promoter, "every dime of your registration will directly fund mountain biking trails."

That's nice.  E'ryone can put their lycra-clad racer boi hate on the shelf for a brief period of time and recognize.  We'll be racing and doing good (good like Superman does, not well).

Sorry. Good/well is one of my podcast pet peeves, along with front fork and dampening.

Safe to assume that I'll be back on Monday with a full race report... or the beginnings of a multi-chapter tale... or a well constructed preamble with poor follow through.

You'll get what you pay for and no more.

Tuesday, September 24

Boost this post

Some more new stuff showed up while I was too busy to write about anything other than my pursuit of happiness.  I'm trying to get around to it as I can, and after I actually get a chance to use it.  I mean, if I told you how great my new GORE ShakeDry jacket is when it hasn't (barely) rained in a lifetime here, that wouldn't be very genuine, now would it?

The Topeak Tubibooster.  Essentially, a very fancy bottle that you can fill up with your floor pump to more easily inflate tubeless tires with a blast of air.  Sound like something I've talked about before?

Conceptually, the idea is brilliant.  Most riders I know already have a floor pump, making an expensive pump with a built in tank (like the JoeBlow Booster) partially redundant.  The direct connection of the tank to the valve means that air flow isn't restricted.

Obvs it would be pointless to not compare the two because I can.

The TubiBooster (TB from hereon) has a 1 liter capacity, the milKit Booster (mB) is available in .6 and 1 liter sizes.  Although their site says .6 and .75?, I can only find those two options available.

The mB is very light (154 grams), as light as any of those aluminum water bottles you received as swag from a 10k or team building exercise.  The TB is built like a scuba tank (852 grams).  I've dented those swag water bottles (totally mishandling them), but if weight were a concern when packing luggage, obvs the mB has an advantage.  The head of the mB is mostly plastic, the TB is mostly metal \m/ .

The mB has a maximum filling pressure of 160 PSI, while the TB can take 200 PSI.  Obvs, the TB has the potential to pack more punch, but the point is moo (like a cow's opinion) for me, as my pump only goes to 160 PSI anyhoo.

The mB can fit in a bottle cage for bike packing and whatnot, but I have no idea if anyone would actually do that.  Amateur homeless personning people are a strange lot, so I wouldn't put it past them.  If they could wear their dangle mugs as helmets... they would.

The mB can double as a water bottle (with included lid), while the head of the TB unit can do this:

Which seems like a handy feature.  I've lost CO2 heads on long trips (or had them fail), so a backup would be buenos.  Travel with the TB and be able to fix two different kinds of catastrophes.

As far as using them, they're about as similar as they could be.  Fill, stick it on the valve, push down.

BAM.

Both of them work with the valve core in the stem or removed.  I did have some issues with something (the actuator?) sticking in the head of the mB from time to time, but a quick poke with an Allen wrench and buenos.  Could be some sealant up in there... something that might not have happened had I been running one-way milKit valves.  Who knows?

The mB retails for $60 while the TB is $70 (although a quick google shows that they can be purchased for less because that's how the world works?).

IMHOMO, a mountain biker should have one of these things.  I have a compressor, but sometimes people are sleeping in my house and my tank is empty.  Also, traveling with a compressor... ummmm... isn't always practical.  If you've never had an issue seating and inflating a tubeless tire with a floor pump, you are truly blessed.  May the sun never set on your empire.


For the rest of us, get one of these for your workbench and...