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Monday, March 1

Stacking vert like pancakes

All last week, I was staring at the forecast.  Again.  With The Pie outta town, I'd booked Boppit boarding hoping to make the most of the weekend.  Things were looking dismal... until they weren't.  Somehow, a shit show Friday was leading into an insanely good forecast for WNC.  An invite from Big 'n Buttery to go camping and double up on mountain riding was too good to ignore.  A whole lot of frantic packing (after down gearing from a rainy commute home) Friday night, and I'm ready in the most "sorta" way.   A no expectations kinda weekend.  I've packed four slices of pizza, two Pop Tarts, two La Croixs and seven beers (better to have some to share than to smack away hands).

I took no action photos.  Zero.  None of Brian (Big 'n Buttery) or Bryan (Less Big 'n No Less Buttery?).  Two days of zero sleeve weather in WNC in February.

Holy shit, these photos loaded in a random way... but what does it matter?  The usual Airstrip Trail photo overlook with the usual slice of pizza.

Been awhile since I slept like this...

The awning seemed like "tent enough."  The night sky was lit, like literal lit.  Tents are what they are, but staring at the sky beats all.  Socially distanced RV camping/awning poaching to keep the rain off my head part.  Pretty sure we slept ten hours?   Dunno.

Offering up pizza to the Bennett Gap gawds. 

Offering up pizza to the Buckho Gap devils.

After five weeks of Winter Shart Tarck, this weekend was everything I needed and more.  Climbing up Clawhammer for an amount of time equal to one Shart Tarck race.  Descending until my legs were quivering from the effort.  I member mountain biking... in the mountains...

Around fifty miles over two days with about 7,500 feet of vert.  Five whole weeks of Shart Tarck were closer to forty five miles... and 1,500 feet.  So not the same same.

This.  It's what I need more of... like a lot more.  Sooooo good for the soul (or whatever spiritual essence I have).  Legs sore but batteries recharged and time to start extending myself into 2021.

Thursday, February 25

Winter Shart Tarck Series '21: Post-Dumple

I don't know how many years I've actually done the whole Winter Shart Tarck Series since it started... seventeen years ago?  This is my first actual series win.  I had a shot all those years ago when I broke a rib after the first race and ended up third overall.  In 2014, I finished second in SS, last year fifth in SS, and the year before, third in 50+.  My records (if you can call them that) are pretty sketchy going all the way back.  I know I've interloped many other years, and I can even remember my very first WST race.  Sometimes I did little more than stand around in the woods drinking beer and yelling at people.  This was slightly more rewarding than that.

I'm bummed I didn't get to race Chase and all his (normal) residual cyclo rossing fitness.  There was no Rich T and all his "Rice Watts" to measure myself against.  Jason W was not there with his brute but very polite Canadianican strength to stomp my dick in the dirt (which I'm sure he was always sorry aboot).  I don't even have lap times to stare and compare because this was the first time on the new course... I mean the three new courses we were treated to, weather dependent.

In the pre-race conversation I had with Kevin in the parking lot Sunday, I was telling him how strange the series is as a concept.  In a stage race, you have to keep going back-to-back days.  There's not as much time to dwell on things between start lines.  With Shart Tarck, you have to be willing to keep showing up for five weekends in a row, deal with the possible shit weather (I don't remember a year this rough in a long time), come home to a trashed bike and mud covered clothes... and stay healthy.  I was so worried this past week every time I went out on a ride.  What if I cross wheels, or hit a downed limb, or stick my wheel in gutter, or make some other kinda numb nut move that puts me on the floor?  Four weeks between the first race and the last, plenty of time to throw away all that effort.

Mostly, I'm stoked that at 52 (almost) years old, I still take great joy in going totally aerobic (EDIT: dammit, I meant anaerobic.  Thanks, Rick) as a recreational activity.  I feel truly blessed that this body still does neat things.

Staying on the blessed side of things, thanks to Ride-A-Bike in Gastonia for generously sponsoring the single speed class. 

Guess I'll be making the drive out there on one of my weeks off to cash in (out?) and say hello mebbe.  Haven't been up that way since Pee Wee's was a thing.


R.I.P.

Speaking of all that's blessed, I think the Winter Short Track (pardon me while I be respectful for a second) is one of the most incredible things our local MTB community can have.  It seems so strange to me that when I google "winter short track," I get one result.  I would think everyone everywhere would want the opportunity to do such silliness during the in-between season that is fuck-all February.   So many of my little friends come out of whatever hole they've been hiding in to poke their noses into the woods, play bike games, and yell at old friends... and let's not forget about the HUGE field of junior racers that show up every year.  It was kinda sad this past Fall when I realized COVID was going to take yet another thing off the calendar, so when it was announced it was back on, it was hard to not feel some sense of relief.  Granted, it was a much different experience this year, but what's been normal for the last year?

It's the dumbest thing ever and the best thing ever all in one.

But now it's over.

I'm staring at the calendar, scratching my head and my butt, tryna figure out what to do next.  I missed the two day race in Uwharrie last weekend... that I totally thought I would do... before I realized it fell on the last day of Shart Tarck.  Guess I wasn't scratching my head (or butt) hard enough when I was looking at the calendar back in January.  I don't need to race, but I certainly want to race.  These past five weekends have been the closest thing to a normal experience I've had since last March.

Well, aside from masks and all that.

So...

Tuesday, February 23

Winter Shart Tarck Series '21: Race Five

The Pie wanted to see me try at a thing, so the usual logistical "time to make the donuts" morning with Dr Mike is not the same same.  Blanket in the backseat for Boppit, geared tossed in the trunk to allow him room to wander about...

Almost left the house without my bike.

Get to Anne Springs Close Greenway and immediately fellow SS'er Kevin rolls up bearing fruit. 

We chat for a bit while I get dressed (how is he already kitted up?).  We talk about what an arduous series it's been this year.  This is probably the first time I can ever remember getting through five weeks without injury or illness.  If it wasn't the year I broke a rib cleaning my bike after the first race, it was one of the many times that I caught a cold that got all up in my lungs because I refused to take a day off work and commuting and racing and irritating my lungs with cold, dry air.  Was there a January/February when The Pie and I weren't taking our turns sleeping on the couch and hacking up mucus all night?

I guess social distancing and masks are good for that.

Dr Mike shows up and we head to the hill to warm up.  Roll over to the start line with about eight minutes to spare, and the only thing I have on my mind is trying to win one whilst my supportive better half gets to finally see it.  The Pie hasn't been to one of my races since I used to do so many hours of riding in circles.  A 24 hour race?  A 12 hour race?  Me sporadically coming into the pits all crazy-eyed and babbling about ibuprofen and Pop Tarts and caffeine and cookie dough and chamois cream and knee warmers and...

Such romantic memories.

So, despite having the series win almost in hand as long as I could avoid any unforeseen sad circumstance, I drill it from the start.  Shawn gets ahead of me and AJ jumps on my wheel as we head into the woods.  Shawn can really get that big gear of his working on the gravel road, but when we jump into the trail, it takes its toll.  Although the trail isn't muddy, it's soft in a lot of spots.  Energy sucking, tire grabbing, Play-Doh.  Check my heart rate... this is maintainable.

When we pop out on the gravel climb to the start/finish, I decide that it's time to... do something?  Obvs the smart thing to do would be draft off Shawn (if I can hold his wheel) for two or three laps and save energy.  That just means I'd have less time to make time, so in my head, that's not an option.  

I'm gonna go all out for the first three laps up the gravel road.  My thinking being that if I can fake it well enough, Shawn and AJ might think I can do this for five laps.  I mean, mebbe I can or mebbe I can't, but as long as they're convinced, that's what matters?

Lap two, continue the fake it till you make it plan.

Head into lap three and I can still see Shawn behind me.  I'm catching a lapped Clydesdale racer, so I decide to ride next to him right up until the entrance to the second trail... thinking if Shawn pushed his big gear to close the gap, he'll be stuck behind one of us.

I don't know how all that panned out actually.  It's too difficult to keep looking behind me to check on where anyone is. Drill, drill, drill.

I guess it's the fifth and final lap.  I've stayed outta trouble so far.  I've made it through five weeks of racing, and mebbe I "touched" a tree when my brake pads wore out, and perhaps Shawn and I tangled bars one week, but all I gotta do today is finish...

Come into the greasy left hand rooty turn that falls away to the outside with a tree at the exit to keep you in play, a turn I've gone around fourteen times without incident...

and I lose the front and and auger into the mud.

gawdammit.

All I needed today was to finish.  No reason to take risks or go stupid fast. 

But I did want The Pie to see me win a "thing."

Get up and I had hit the ground hard enough to turn the bars.  

gawdammit.

I don't know if I have the kinda gap to try to fiddle it back in place.  I member how much fun it was to ride with crooked bars at the Wheels to the Farm event like a billionty years ago (it was not).  When that happened, I lost seconds tryna wrestle it back into place only to over-twist it to pointing in the other wrong direction that wasn't straight ahead.

So, finish out the woods tryna remind myself that I'm turnt left but going straight... hoping I don't get caught because I don't think a sprint would work out so well with this self-imposed handicap.  Kill myself on the beginning of the gravel, look back...

I'm okay.

I win.

phot cred: Supercycling
I don't normally do finish line shenanigans, but after five weeks of racing, sure?

Boppit always thinks I'm a winner.

Thanks, Boppit.  

Hooray, me.

Monday, February 22

Winter Shart Tarck Series '21 Race Five: The Final Amble

I knew last week was going to be a difficult one to get through.  After the race on Sunday, I was looking at a week of either staring out the window at active rain or watching my front yard struggle trying to absorb all the unwanted water like the shitty comparison paper towel in a Bounty commercial.

Or mebbe I allow Jerry to talk me into a 46 mile ride in 35° drizzle... that I tacked an extra 4 miles on because how could I not?  It's been such a long time since I rode until my hands felt like bricks, and they weren't froze all the way through until I hit 50.  Somehow, I was willing to go out again on Tuesday and got another 50+ miler in... because what else is there to do?

Oh yeth, trail work.

Jerry got me out Wednesday so I could help him put 2,500lbs+ of Turfstone pavers in a problematic area at Sherman Branch.


It was pretty much no surprise when I woke up with a small cold sore on Thursday morning.  What can I say?  I'm blessed with HSV-1, and so when I overdo it, my body tells me.  Staying up too late, not hydrating, not eating enough whilst exercising, etc. 

I guess on the plus side, I have to wear a mask in public, so no one has to look at me like I'm a leper.

Thursday, I did as little as possible.  Try to keep the volume on my "pew pew" movies at a minimum, so as to not disturb The Pie who's trying to work in the other room.  Organize the laundry room... because I probably haven't done that in six months?  Twelve months?

What month is this?

Oh yeth, Rain.  That's a month, isn't it?

I got talked into another 30 mile ride on Friday that ended up being a 42 mile ride on my new 46X18 garvel behk gear. 

Which like any single speed gear ratio, it was great where it worked and terrible everywhere else.  I can keep up with the fellas better in the flats, but I need to have a head of steam built up before I hit the bottom of a climb.

All together, the entire week added up to enough effort that on Saturday when Dr Mike and I went on a short in town ramble, my legs felt just about dead when we decided to do one "interval" to the top of Hooter Hill.

Proper prep for the final week of Winter Shart Tarck.

Tuesday, February 16

Winter Shart Tarck Series '21: Race Four... When Will It Rain?

Wake up... is it Sunday?

Look out the window at the water flowing down the driveway...

Yeth, it must be Sunday.

Grab all the things I laid out the day before, many of the items having been hosed out in the driveway only 164 hours ago.  Shove them in my messenger bag and wait for Dr Mike.

It's either drizzling while were getting dressed or bout to.  This is the way things have been for... when was the last time we saw the sun?

Oh yeth, that short period of time about 162 hours ago.

I'd asked Dr Mike on the drive over if I should be a "smarter racer."  Taking a solo flyer from the start and trying to hold it means never enjoying a draft on the open road sections.  I know the answer.  I just need to hear it from someone else.

Sigh.  I wonder how this might work out.

Minutes before the start, I take off my tiny hat and have Dr Mike shove it in my jersey pocket.  That will make the difference...

Until 1.5 minutes before the start and I realize that I need to take off my nitrile gloves that are under my HandUp gloves in the most panicked manner... because that will make all the difference.

Off at the start, and Shawn is pushing his big gear again.  I guess I'll drop in on his wheel... when I can hold onto it... which I can't really do when the road's going down.  Climb back up the start, and we're now a second apart.  Lap two and I hold his wheel better, but find out that the mud thrown up from his back wheel is gonna cover my glasses if I do this the whole time.  Get a little gap on Shawn, but by the end of lap three, we're back to one second and my lenses are getting crusted like popcorn shrimp.

Lap four and some guy comes around us... whodafuck?

Is this the guy from week one with the de-batteried AXS gorilla?  I can't tell.  We're all covered in mud from the back.  I decide now is better than never.

Ending lap four, throw my jacket off over the fencing...

photo cred: Supercycling
look over my shoulder, see that I've built a gap...

"TWO TO GO, RACERS.  TWO TO GO."

Huh?  That would make six laps instead of seven like last week.  Are we going that much slower?

Time to allow that Ford VS Ferrari thing go through my head.

"There's a point at 7,000 RPM... where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless. Just disappears. And all that's left is a body moving through space and time. 7,000 RPM. That's where you meet it. You feel it coming. It creeps up on you, close in your ear. Asks you a question. The only question that matters. Who are you?"

I know I can go all out for ten minutes... so I do... for five minutes and one second... and as I pass by the announcer for the last time...

"TWO TO GO, RACERS.  TWO TO GO."

Huh?  Fuck all.  Guess they made a mistake with the count on that last lap.  So did I then... I guess.

Take a quick look back when I get a chance, and it looks like although that effort I made put a gap between Shawn and I, it looks like he's in a wheel-to-wheel battle for second.  So now the question is, will they get caught up in some cat and mouse game or are they gonna push each other the whole way to the finish?

And am I stupid enough to let off the gas and accidentally find out.  Back it down to 6,500 RPMs... keep looking over my shoulder... try to maintain the gap...

And in the end, win... but Shawn did manage to put down his second sub-five minute lap on his last hard dig to secure second place.

One to go.  Forty more minutes of bleeding out of my eyes to go.

Monday, February 15

Winter Shart Tarck Series '21: Race Four, You Thought Last Week Was the Worst Preamble Ever?

Watching the weather forecast last week was like watching paint dry... a paint that never dries... and ruins everything it touches.  I don't understand how cyclo ross bike racer peoples get all boner stoked on riding through diarrhea mud in the winter week after week.

At least I only had to be "The Mustache" at work for the first half of the day all week (first time after two months of full time staching), so it wasn't a forty hour week of total turd life casuing additional life force drain.

But anyways, the prospect of my next nine days off starting with a cold, wet Saturday, a cold wet race day, and then a shit-tastic week of fuck me weather did nothing to lift the spirits.  By the time Saturday morning rolled around, I was literally begging The Pie to let me accompany her to Target and Trader Joe's.  I'd been banned from the weekly hoarding trip after misbehaving on a pre-holiday sortie when I insisted on a crack of dawn attack with an "in and out and no one gets hurt" battle plan.

Apparently working from home full time and having 99% of your normal life canceled makes you want to enjoy the little things, like talking to a total stranger about Glade Plug-Ins on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

I didn't get it... until this past Saturday... when I woulda been totally stoked to talk to a toddler about his favorite Pop Tart flavors in the breakfast food aisle.

"Blueberry?  Bitch, please."

So after a very exciting stop at the Goodwill Store where I found a pair of PANTS to replace my '92 acid washed dad jeans for doing trail work and crawling around on my roof, I totally didn't mind standing in the vitamin aisle at Target doing some comparison shopping... because at least I wasn't standing in my living room looking out the window at the when-the-fuck-is-it-ever-gonna-stop rain.

I threw a fifteen pack of All Day IPA in the cart along with my adult chewable vitamins.  We got home.  I went back to staring out the window.  Should I just not ride my bike the day before Shart Tarck?  That's not what I did last week when I felt better than I ever have.  Obvs I have all the gear to go ride in the rain, but do I want to?  Knowing I'm going to do it semi-unwillingly the next day?  I might be desperate and do it how many days this week?

I put on my backyard flip flops, walked around the outside of the house (in the rain, obvs) to the crawlspace/murder room and dragged The Pie's trainer out of its crypt.  This object that vexes me so.

My tarck bike is the only thing that works in it aside from the shell of a bike that I assembled for her to use on this torture device when we got it for her to get over a running overuse injury.  I only used it once, around the same time that The Interview came out.  I thought I could watch the entire movie whilst... doing... this?  It's just like riding a bike, except...

What an insanely awful experience.  Needless to say, I finished the majority of the movie from my couch. 

This time, it took me longer to set everything up than the actual "ride" lasted... again.  Need a block of wood for the front wheel.... need a fan... need to figure out where to mount the unfortunately shortened resistance adjuster... need a place to set my beer... need an extension cord so I can watch Big Mouth...

I needed to stop after fifteen minutes because I realized that after my tarck bike sat outside the big buildings all week in the rain, I'd just jizzled lube all over the chain... and now it's spraying all over the floor and the wall behind me.

I can see why people snap selfies on the trainer.  Anything that can break up the monotony of taking something that you love and reducing it to self-flagellation seems like plenty of motivation to find any distraction that might take up as few as twenty seconds.

I lasted forty minutes.  That includes the time it took to clean the grease spots off everything... the first time.

The rest of the night was spent watching a Quentin Tarantino documentary... which then inspired The Pie to pull up Inglorious Basterds... which meant that buying All Day IPA at Target mighta been the smartest thing I did all day.

I told myself.

BTW: I can see why people are always selling these things used online.

BTW BTW:  Bless your heart if this is how you do what you do.  You're a better (different?) human than me.

Thursday, February 11

Winter Shart Tarck Series '21: Race Three

As much as I thought I had my shit together, I show up to pick Dr Mike up at 11:00AM...

Except that it's actually 10:00AM.

I really am losing touch with reality.

We pull into Anne Springs Close Greenway, and I see cones where there were no cones before.  Then I see racers coming up a gravel road from the left... not where racers have gone before either.

*sigh*

It looks like the rain has done another number to the course, and it's been entirely rerouted.  Mostly gravel with a short section of trail (ran backwards).  I'd feel better about this had I not seen people already coated in mud heading back to the parking lot.  Apparently, that one section has all the mud we need.

Dr Mike and I have no idea where to warm up... membering how important warming up is after showing up to the start line totally cold last week.  We find a tiny hill and sprint up and down it.  Back at the car to drop a layer, and I see Bruce S coming in from his 45+ race and grabbing his single speed.  Guess he's getting a two'fer in again.

Jerry once said to me that if there was a category for people who started in the first race of the day and kept going all day long, Bruce would win that race.... or at least have the most consistent lap times... or something.

I'm a terrible listener.

Anyways, line up and go into the course pretty much blind.  Shawn is right there on my wheel.  Unbeknownst to me, he was ready for this new course and geared up to 34X16.  I see the first turn ahead, set up for mebbe a 90° turn... and it's a 180°.  Cripes.  Close call number one.

We get into the slop section of trail.  It's dicey to say the least.  Zero traction brown Crisco.  Out of the woods, bomb down a gravel hill, slight left turn and Shawn comes by my right... sorta.  We both get all tossed about in the ruts and bang bars.  

What follows is as Canadian as it gets.

"I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry."

etc.

Whilst we're doing that, a guy on a derailleur converted hard tail gets by both of us.  Pretty sure it's the guy who jumped from ninth on week one all the way up to second last week.  I jump on his wheel...

Gravel gravel, 180° turn, slop, gravel... and I can hear his derailleur starting to protest the current conditions.  Excellent.  I put my head down and give it... something?  My heart rate is through the roof. I'm barely seeing anything under 175BPM, and I saw an all time high (since buying a Wahoo) 189PBM.   

Laps three and four were a blur... aside from the fact that I could see the diesel engine of Bruce S closing a gap down to me when I could eyeball him in the hairpin.  Poop.  At the rate he's closing in, I'm not gonna stay out front for three more laps.  By the time we get through the fifth lap, I'm sucking his wheel.  He gets away on the sixth lap, and everywhere his diesel is working for him (in the thick mud and up the gravel road into the headwind), he's putting in gaps that I'm killing myself to close.  Mentally, I've checked out and settled for second place.

On the seventh and final lap, and I can see Bruce getting away from me... but I decide that if my heart was able to make over 185BPM for a sustainable period of time earlier, my body should be able to do it again?

I go into Chris Froome mode and just stare at the computer.  I pass Bruce and determine that I will keep this up until either I simply can't any longer or Bruce blows up trying to stay with me or... I...

I'm catching myself trying to actually win.

Earlier that day, I told Dr Mike that I really missed the old days.  Whilst I might not have been able to keep pace with Chase or Jason.. or even get a top three, I at least enjoyed mixing it up with Chris, Nick, Colin, Jamie, Charles... 

It felt like "racing."  Riding a million miles behind Robert Marion at the first race and then riding entirely off the front at the second one felt more like... a stupid hard ride.

And so I ironically found myself where I thought I wanted to be... which felt rather good.

Well, it felt good when it was over.  I won... and it actually felt like I won a thing.... because I tried and stuff.

Two more to go.