Tuesday, February 27

The Noodlebar Necromancer?

First and foremost, this is Fappening.

More details to come, but probably starting around 3:00PM at Lower Left Brewing (mebbe 4:00?), and then heading north and then south because I want to end up at home before I fall asleep.  Stops will be determined sooner rather than later.  Just expect this to be no fun, and you won't be disappoint if you join us.


I had a productive weekend.  I put wrenches and attentions to four of the six bikes in my house.  My number one priority was getting this one out of Shart Tarck mode and back into (essentially) PMBAR ready status.

Squishy boi, shorter that Shart Tarck stem, way lower gear, and I'm giving the Rekon Race 2.4 a shot in the front.  A little higher rated than the Aspen 2.4 for cornering and braking traction, and easily swappable to an OG Forekaster 2.6 if things get sloppy... and I still have enough of those squirreled away for the foreseeable future.

That said:

After this year's Shart Tarck'in, I'm down to one NOS OG Forekaster 2.35.  This saddens me, but whatcha gonna do?  Eventually I'll find an emotionally equivalent tire.  Not time to mourn yet tho.

Going back to the topic of Watts but non-Fappening related, he'd been asking me to join him for some Uwharrie gravel for quite some time.  I've ignored his requests for what I call "reasons."

Generally speaking, I don't ride a garvel bike if I could be mountain biking instead.  That and there are literally trails... right... there... in the same woods.  The very trails we ride when everything in Charlotte is pretty much a swamp and the mountains are also too moisted. 

I'm only familiar with some of the gravel to be had there.  I know the gravel race that's in Uwharrie has plenty of out n' backs, which is not something I want to get into the car for three hours roundtrip to do.

Also.  Unnghhh.  Gravel.

But I miss my little (but bigger than me) frand, so I decided to give him the gift of my company.  I did not invite any fellow Charlotteans to join me, as the ride description was not much more than "gravel bikes, between 30-60 miles."  Turd found himself in need of a ride option, so regardless of the lack of particulars, he joined me on the drive from the Queen City.

I must say, Watts has left me impressed with his creativity and free-flowing interpretation of "gravel."  He used to refer to himself in a most ironic and face-slappingly bombastic manner as the Gravel Assassin. I would personally say he's quietly become the Underbiking Undertaker.

If you ride URE gravel and that makes no sense to you, that makes total sense because this is the opposite of a no nonsense route.  It's pure, unadulterated nonsense. 

I, figuring Watts was basing our route and conservatively short estimate of 30 miles based on my lack of enthusiasm for gravel, only brought a small handful of TJ's Sour Swimmers and two bottles of water.  I mean, it's only gravel right?

Mandatory time-killing futzing with things.  All part of the non-plan.

Up what one might loosely call a "trail" to a scenic overlook to see what we could see before turning right around and going back down said "trail."

Said "trail."
We were all over in familiar places where we used to tromp around on our "freeride bikes" in the early 2000's on the shitty ATV trails because better options weren't available for mountain bikers back then.  So many member berries.

Although, we were navigating with WPMS, Watts Paper Map System.

There are two riders in this photo.  There is supposedly also a trail in this photo.  Neither rider appears to be near this particular said "trail."

We were treated to non-trails that exist on no map known to man.  Steep rutted and rocky ATV paths.  We might have tickled the taint of some private property and borrowed a little time on some barely used hiking trails... if it meant getting from whence we came to whither we were going.  Some of the steep ups were such that I had a hard time keeping my front wheel planted on the ground.  We were on neglected trails that had been mostly destroyed by horses after decades of clop-clopping through mud bogs.  I feel no shame in our misgivings as once you see what unmitigated damage from years of horse use can do to some serious fall line trail, it's hard to imagine any harm we might have done to the oldest mountain range in North America (true story).  We barely saw anyone else out there for the six hours we spent in the woods, and with little more than a consensual "g'day" being exchanged.

We did stop to help a man pick up a bunch of garbage in the road that had already been bagged once but then ran over by some (pardon my stereotyping) piece of shit redneck.  I had a mental and emotional struggle when we just rode past him at first.  At my advanced age, I live out of guilt quite a bit, and that tends to make me wanna do more good and less bad as I hurtle towards the grave.  I'm glad my frands were willing to go back, and they were glad that they both had a spare pair of gloves (bastards).  Word to the wise, iffin you ever think this is a good activity.  Broken glass is sharp enough to easily rip through the side of a contractor garbage bag, so hold them away from your body when carrying, specifically far away from the only exposed skin on your calf.

Funny not funny would be the "trail" that we took at around mile 41.8 that I'm sure is "horse easy," but has to be considered at least "moderately difficult" on a mountain bike, and "basically stupid" on a garvel bike.

That was the best day I've had in some time.  Hard to be distracted by silly real life problems when you're bombing gravel descents at 35MPH+, riding down steep, horseshoe-pocked ditches, and maneuvering over loose loaf of bread to biscuit sized rocks.

After getting lost (a bit) on the way home, this was the best thing I could think of to stick inside me:

I will definitely join Watts in the future, and I will most definitely bring three times more food than I think I need so I can avoid sad roller dogs and whole chocolate milk on the way home to avoid a Titanic exploration sub-style stomach cavitation.  

And as a footnote, this is as of Monday morning:

The garvel bike is now in a commanding lead for 2024, but single speed miles are at least beating shifty bitted*... but sadly my running shoes will sneak into third place by the end of the week.

Who am I?

* No, tarck bike and bar bike miles are not tracked so whatevs.

Wednesday, February 21

Winter Shart Tarck '24: Race Five

Points-wise, last week kinda locked the top five in place for the GC in the single speed category.  Based on the less than full parking lot when I pulled in, I'm guessing many had been dissuaded by the colder temps and lack of potential to improve themselves in the standings.  It definitely had the "time to make the donuts" feels.

Had to embed the video for the yutes that don't get the reference.

Park, pee, warmup... donuts.

Ride around in circles in the parking lot with Keith, hardly doing what the kid athletes now call "openers."  Not really a proper warmup, but low motivation levels are definitely high.  Line up to the front left... don't see still in third place after missing race #4 Robert and wonder if he still crushed me enough in the first three races to still beat me in the GC... because this is the biggest issue in my life right now?

I don't even come close to the hole shot after not clipping in on my first two spins on the crank.  Unnghh.  By the time we start single filing into the chute, I'm ten riders back... a far cry from third wheel last week.


I mean, barring disaster, I'm fifth (or fourth) as long as I pedal my bike around the Bullwinkle-with-a-dong shaped course five times. I could take a handup if offered.  I could attempt to get some crowd-pleasing, somewhat pathetic air time off the one sorta-jump.  I could try to have "fun."

And this may sound dumb, but despite what feels like a pretty intense effort, my heart rate does not reflect it, nor my position in the field.  It takes me a few moments to realize that:

1. I can feel the pounding in my head that indicates maximum effort.
2. Usually my heart rate monitor strap dies slowly... usually when its cold... often times during the Winter Shart Tarck Series.

I swap the data acquisition device screen to the second page of rando stuff that doesn't matter in a thirty five minute race.  This was a good and a bad thing, as I didn't see the data that told me I was slowly dying (I don't even see 51BPM when I'm sleeping)... but then ended up acting fine for the last two thirds of the race.

Other than that, what else is there to say?

Someone made a pass on my that made me question why I bother racing, being that my circle of trust doesn't extend very far past the end of my nose.  I did manage to move up a few places after my shitshow start, but I ended up in a heated battle with Charles for a semi-irrelevant 6/7th place with 8/9/10th right there behind us waiting to feast on either of us if we blew up.  I kept passing Charles where it made no strategic sense whatsoever, only for him to just come around me at will.  Without my tachometer working (but it actually was, but how would I know because I turned it off?), my hard efforts were too much so, leaving me no high idle when I let off the beans pedal. 

I didn't mention that The Pie and Boppit came down to watch the final race.  I wanted a strong showing, although I know full well that her love for me is not dependent on how I perform on this day in my umpteenth Winter Shart Tarck race.  She's seen me win some things.  She's seen my lose some things.  She's also seen me quit some times and well as injure myself, so she's seen all the things.  Despite all that, hers was the loudest "Go Dicky" I heard all day. 

Yeth, I've been busting out the fresh yellow because YELO (You Enjoy Living Once)

Charles ended up besting my after my final poorly planned attack, but after all was done and dusted, I had this to show for my five weeks of Sunday distractions.

The Pie suggested I bring Boppit to the podium, but although he's a very good boy, he can't be trusted.

I love my stupid dog, and although he isn't my only reason for living, he is one of them.

Bless his feeble runt-to-success story heart.

Tuesday, February 20

Winter Shart Tarck '24: Race Five Predumble - What's Eating Dickbert Grape?

Obvs I ain't been totally "with it" lately.  My mind elsewhere.  Apology.

Long story short... *

* and now edited because it felt good to share for a bit, but now I've put most of the post in the bin.

So a lack of sleep, strong set of poor coping skills, a passionate desire to solve all the problems immediately, and a tendency to catastrophize everything while doing the ass-opposite of stress eating (not eating) has left me with an empty gas tank.  I had two very terrible runs at the end of last week, lots of staring off into space, and lack of desire to plan more than twenty four hours into the future.

Saturday, not wanting the "same old same old," I talked Dr Mike into going to Mountain Island Lake Park.  I'd only been there once, it was closed for a good bit, and now there's a bunch of new trails and features.  It sounded stimulating.

Not an action photo because I wanted Dr Mike to stand there for scale.  I'd seen pictures of this feature on FaceBook that made it look smol, but it is definitely STIL and BTIL.

From FaceBook... it looked miniature.

Anyhoo, we only rode about ten miles.  With the more interesting parts of the trail super-loaded with steep climbs, and my body revolting and my brain not necessarily focused on the task at hand, that was enough.  I couldn't really get my heart rate up (that will make more sense after the next post), so I was fine with calling it a day, satisfied that I got to see all the new stuff and say, "yes, that was very much new-to-me stuff."


This too shall pass... or everything is going to be okay...

I've heard it enough recently. 

Everything will be okay until it's not okay and just put that on repeat until you realize it always ends with not okay but still mebbe okay.

Wednesday, February 14

Winter Shart Tarck '24: Race Four

Somehow I'm parked next to Bruce.  We always park in the same general vicinity.  We're basically the same age.  We finish the race about the same time.  Chalk it up to a "birds of a feather" situation.

"Robert Marion isn't coming today."


I'd mentioned last week that I wasn't moving up in the GC unless someone in the top five missed a race.  Now that's happening, so I guess back to caring.

I make the decision to kit up sans single knee pad protecting my lower left bendy part.  I mean, I skipped it for the previous day's under-biking adventure, so whatever.  Ride over to watch the Sport Men come through the swoopy section to see how muddy things are getting on the course.  Everyone looks clean for the most part... until the leader's jersey comes by way back in the field, covered with mud up top and blood down low.  Guess it's slick out there... back to the car for the knee pad.

Run into Charles while checking on the beer tent status (the beer is NOT there yet).  

"Robert's not here.  Guess we're moving up."

"I'm not really here either.  Got sick last week, so I'm not racing today."

Well, guess I'm moving up.

Warm up and chat with Keith who's right ahead of me on points about stupid things like single speeds, sprint finishes, and meaningless points.  Head over to the start and unabashedly line up towards the left side of the start with Rob who has been crushing it lately.

Oddly enough, I get clipped in immediately and get the hole shot on the first two turns... only to have GC leader Justin and Rob get around me going into the woods.  Rob, Justin, and then me.  A whole lot better than what I've done in the past three races. 

photo cred: Pisgah Paparazzi
We're not even done with the first lap before we start running into the back of the twenty rider strong 50+ field, so tactics are going to come into play sooner rather than later.  Justin gets away, but I keep Rob in sight.  I'm feeling like an Almond Joy for all of a hot second before Keith gets around me and everything goes all Mounds on me.  It's now that I start doing maths.


Although Robert isn't here, he put enough riders between us for the first three races (one being the double points race with a stacked field) that the math might work out that I still can't move up in the GC just because he isn't there.  Now with Keith in front of me, I'm losing even more points.  I close it back down towards the end of the third lap, and decide it's either time to go full beans or none.

Full beans it is.  I manage to get a gap on Keith and also catch up to Rob's wheel.  I know there's two logical options on the last lap with Rob.

1. Stick on his wheel, let him pull on the gravel flats, put in one effort on the last climb to avoid the sprint finish which I had told Keith while we were warming up is my biggest nightmare.

2. Pass Rob on the first gravel flat, take the wind head-on allowing him to sit in, go faster than him on the last bit of single track, hope it's enough to discourage him from chasing me back down in the last minute and a half of the last lap.

Number one is the smart play, so obviously, I go with option two.

It pans out as one would expect.  Rob manages his biscuits better than I do, comes around me on the last steep pitch, and takes second to Justin.

In the end,  Robert did have enough points to skip a race and only drop back one place to third behind Rob.  Charles skipping the race due to illness means Keith moves up to fourth and I fall ass backwards into fifth.  

While I was talking to Charles (at a distance), I told him that Winter Shart Tarck is like a stage race that takes five weeks and only has three hours of actual racing... but it's what happens those 167.5 hours the rest of the week that can toss it all in the bin.  Illness, injury, family situations, unexpected commitments, etc.  Do Shart Tarck for enough years, you'll get around to at least one or two unfortunate incidents that make the work you put in all for naught... aside from having fun with friends in the woods and hanging out on a winter's day... which is usually enough for me to call it a "win" regardless.

One week to go.

Tuesday, February 13

Winter Shart Tarck '24: Race Four Predumble

The Monday after last week's race, I was mentally fried.  Can't explain it.  The crush of reality and constant reminders of mortality.  Morose shit.

On Tuesday, I woke up anxious over my to-do list of things, and despite convincing myself that the floppy front brake lever could wait until after Winter Shart Tarck was over, I couldn't help myself.  A bunch of Googling had reassured me that it was a spring thing and not a sticky piston issue, so it really wouldn't be affecting brake performance.  Its impact on my mental well-being loomed much larger tho, as this is one minor complication in my life that I might actually be able to solve, thus giving my a very small but much needed check in the win column.

So at 7:30AM, with only about 20-25 minutes to play with, I went for it.

I didn't really know what I was looking for exactly.  I've got one old broken lever blade I kept for parts, a new complete lever blade that I always travel with, and a complete rear lever assembly that I don't know where it came from for reference.  Hurried hands trembling from my morning coffee, reading glasses on my nose for working on the little things as I set to task.

Worth mentioning that the process was quite frustrating when I went to remove the tiny set screw and the ball end of my 2mm Bondhus key broke off in the screw.  I thought it had just broke free and couldn't figure out why it wasn't coming out.  It wasn't until I stuck a different magnetized 2mm Allen key in there, and it pulled out the tiny chunk of steel.

PS: I'm done with my Bondhus Allen key experiment.

Despite the unnecessary challenges...

Add another item to the list of things that I now know can go wrong.  No idea how it broke.  Had a hard time figuring out the how and where of getting the cadaver donated spring bits into the lever assembly.

I was wondering how old my current XTR M9020 brakes are, so I did a search on my blerhg.  Huh.  Seven years old and this is really the first issue that wasn't user error aka letting the bike hit the ground and breaking off the blade.  Also this:

Lesson learned.  Again.  I made sure to slide an old pin through the new complete lever blade backup so the springs will never fall out forcing me to reeducate myself in the future.

And yeth, I was able to get it all back together in time to not be late for work, but not quick enough to have time to get all the dirty mineral oil out from under my fingernails.  Fortunately, they have low standards for my appearance in the workplace.

One minor victory put a little gas in the tank.  The rest of the week?

I had my fastest run yet.  The next day, I had my longest run yet.  The day after that, I was feeling how dumb that was, so continuing down the path of the dumbs, I joined Dr Mike and Bill Nye for a long under-biking adventure down the greenway for a loop around the ASCG trail system.
This bridge is pretty crucial to the ASCG trails, and it's a shame it got taken out in a storm.  You can work around it, but it's a hassle... and who knows if the Treeshaker 6 Hour Race (which has become my Labor Day staple) can happen without this bridge.

Under-biking is stupid, yet I love it so much.  Managed to overcook one corner and take an unplanned trip into the woods.   

Sunday morning, I could feel all those things.  Ending a ride up the greenway from South Carolina trading turns in the wind towards the magnetic pull of Brawley's Beverage was not necessarily smart (but fun?).

At least I'm holding onto my commitment to not let Winter Shart Track on Sunday affect my choices on Saturday (or apparently any other day of the week).

And FWIW: I finally gave in and started editing my rides on STRAVA to reflect which bikes went on which rides... which all started so I could keep track of the mileage on my shoes so I could replace them before they start making my meat sticks hurt.  I changed all the rides (except tarck bike commutes and beer bike miles) all the way back to January 1st.

My biggest relief is that my garvel bike finally caught back up to and surpassed my shoes.  Note: I'm 43 days into not riding one of my money pits.

Wednesday, February 7

Winter Shart Tarck '24: Race Three

Quick review.  With this race being double points, it's now doubly "important" that I beat Keith who is currently tied with me for fifth place overall.  I also need to keep an eye on Shawn because he could easily leapfrog me with a good ride.

Does any of this really matter in the big scheme of things?  No, but it's a distraction from recent personal crap, so I'll take it for what it's worth.

While warming up, I became distracted by my left brake lever.  It's flopping about, so I'm worried that I'm getting a sticky piston or something... and it just irks me on some level that I didn't notice it until now.  

I line up to the far right at the start, which is not the best side of the course to be on.  I don't have a personal assistant, and I need to be able to throw down my warm layer somewhere other than in the mud on the left side of the course.  A very large man child I don't recognize takes the line to my direct left.

I got a decent start, but the man child got a little overlappy with his bars and mine, and that kinda put me in a place in my brain I don't like to visit.  "Thuh fack are you?" is what I'm thinking.

I let that millisecond get stuck in my gray matter long enough to lose focus, and then to make matters worse, someone tried to go down the steep, fast, and loose chute to the gravel road side-by-side with me.  My mood has been soured.  Thusly, I ended up going into the first trail in twelfth place, worse than my regrettable week one start.  Everyone, and I mean everyone who matters points-wise were many places ahead of me.  Coming through the finish line on lap one, I was quietly quitting in my head.

On lap two, everyone I needed to mark was still right there in front of me, as opposed to being ten laps ahead of me as my mental projection of how poorly things had panned out was currently being formulated by the sad lobe in my brain.

Then... I tried.

photo cred: Leslie M
By the end of second lap, I could see that the top two were in their own world, the next four (including the man child) were locked in on each other... and then there was me dangling off the back in a "heated battle" for 7-8-9.  Arrhg.  Lap three done, and I'm finally alone... with Charles just ahead but right outta reach.  We're almost riding the same pace, but the bigger issue is Keith who is pulling away little by little.  Sigh.  With Charles in between us, Keith will gain four points. I can't see me closing that 15-20 second gap, and even if I could go all in and catch him, he'd have saved some extra biscuits to beat my dick off at the line.

Dammit.  Seventh place, but more importantly, I'm sitting in a solid sixth place now... which is where I ended up last year in the overall... very timely occurrence so close to Groundhog Day.  Obviously, if someone in the top five misses a race or has a mechanical (so not likely in the single speed class), I still have a shot.

Or I could use my "get outta jail free card" and skip any nasty races from here on out if I choose to, being that I'm not in the top five, so what difference does it make.

But sixth is just so frustratingly close, and I don't really like quitting (the loud kind, not the quiet variety).

We'll see.

Now, about that brake lever...

Tuesday, February 6

Winter Shart Tarck '24: Race Three Predumble

Not much to say this time.  The Pie was outta town for ten days, leaving me in charge of me to make good decisions... for me.  I went out a few times and had beers that cost more than what beers should cost.  I squoze in three runs, one being the longest I've been on yet, and with a bunch of best efforts (according to STRAVA).  I'm not fast, but I'm getting faster.  It was a good week that culminated with this:

Best to have all your mechanicals before leaving the parking lot.  Parts falling outta Burke's fork, loose cleats on new shoes, a cog swap, a wheel that fell out... the usual.  Still not as bad as what happened on the ride I didn't go on that day in Wilson Creek with seventeen mechanicals between nine riders that resulted in a six hour ride with three hours moving time... so I'll take this over that... even if it serves up weaker blerhg fodder.

Burke's first trip to ride DuPont, well at least the trails anyways.  He's more of a garvel guy.  Hard to overemphasize just how slippery the crossing at Corn Mill Shoals is to the uninitiated.  Even more so when the water is up. 

I left my knee pads on.  Regret.

It was a right proper DuPont loop, with all the flow up front and all the gnar at the end when you're tired and your feet are wet and cold.

The ride served its purpose.  Fun was had, and I'd promised myself that I wouldn't let a race on Sunday impact my desire for happy fun times on Saturday.  That said, despite my desire to normally "get some" on some of my favorite climbs, I kept my ego (and heart rate) in check.

I never see those kinds of numbers on a mountain bike ride, especially in the mountains.  Considering that it's already been announced that this Sunday's race will be double points, we'll see if I did a smart or a dumb thing.