Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fresh Tracks

To say this season has had benign cross racing weather, might be an understatement. The western part of Pennsylvania had a beautiful fall. The temperatures were mild and for the most part it was very dry. Most falls are not like this in this area, which makes cross racing a lot more difficult.

This week the weather took a pretty drastic change, which included getting a lot of rain and falling temperatures. The colder weather eventually even brought some long awaited for snow to the region. As a matter of fact, my local ski resort, 7 Springs, was able to make enough snow this past week to open for skiing this Saturday.

Since I can never do enough skiing, I had to make the short trip up to the mountain and do some early season turns. There were only a few slopes open, but it felt good to do some linked “S” turns down the mountain again. And, for the majority of the snow being of the man-made variety, the snow conditions were actually pretty good. 7 Springs is going to close during the mid-week to make more snow and do some grooming of the slopes, but will open up again next weekend. In the meantime, I may need to go up there one day this week to do some renegade runs with my backcountry skis. For some reason, skiing down the mountain is a lot more fun after putting out the effort to ski up it.

So, I got my first skiing tracks made for the season this weekend and as an added bonus, I also got to race my cross bike in the snow for the first time this cross season as well at the Raccoon Township Firehall Race. I did okay at the race, but crashed way too many times to do really well. I also used my single speed cross bike during the race because I thought it would be the better choice considering the mud, snow and cold temperatures. While the single speed was definitely the sturdiest bike choice, it definitely is a slower bike than my geared cross bike. But, my bike finished the race in one piece and without any mechanical issues whatsoever, so I am happy about that. Plus, it is always much easier to clean up a single speed after a race with nasty conditions than it is to clean a geared bike, so this made my SS choice even better for me.

There is one last local cross race next Sunday, which is at Raccoon Twp. Park. Considering that the long range forecast is calling for more cold temps and snow, I am sure this race will be as tricky as the race was today. I will more than likely do this last cross race of the season, but I must admit it was awfully hard staying off of the mountain today. I guess that I just need to remember how much bike racing will be missed in a month or so when the preregistration deadline comes around for the race later this week. I am sure that I will have many opportunities to make first tracks with my skis this winter after racing is done.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks again to Benjamin Stephens for another fine photo.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Staying Local

Yeah, I know it has been awhile since I last posted a blog entry. So, I figured I better post something now, or people may fear that I have been abducted by aliens or even something worse. Basically, I have been doing local cross races every weekend since my episode of bad luck at Iron Cross in October. Here is a brief report of what I have been doing since the middle of October.

But, before I begin my racing update, I need to tell the story of how my bad luck continued a couple of days after the Iron Cross Race. I was commuting from work to home by bike on a familiar trail on a beautiful Indian summer fall day. I was having a blast on the trail and rode into a rock garden I have ridden many times before with way too much speed. I then clipped my pedal on a protruding rock, which caused me to go over-the-bars and crash pretty hard. I landed hard on the surrounding rocks, mostly on my left side and back. It was one of those crashes where I knew I did a good amount of damage to my body, so I just laid there for a minute to recuperate and to inventory my body parts. When I was finally able to stand, I immediately felt pain in my left hip and upper ribs/back. To make matters worse, all my cuts and abrasions were filled with a black powdery coal dust from the trail, which I knew would have to be scrubbed out after finishing my ride home. The next 25 miles of riding were not much fun and pretty much every passing motorist gave me an awkward look when they noticed the blood on my face, arms and legs.

For the most part, my injuries healed up quite nicely. The injury to my upper left rib cage and back, however, caused pretty sever pain for a few weeks. I trained and raced through the pain during the past month and a half, but now with help from Delfine and Hiles Chiropractic, I am beginning to feel normal again. I know the injury to my back has effected my racing this fall. I had to stop the running I do during this time of year to train for cross because of pain. Additionally, every time I would pull on my handlebars or dismount during a cross race I would also experience pain. I am so happy to finally be feeling whole again.

Well, that is enough writing about my crash and injuries; time now to report about the local cross racing scene here in the Western Pennsylvania Area. Cyclocross is one of my favorite types of bike racing. It brings together my road and off road bicycle racing experience in to one short, hard package. For many years, I have had to travel either to the east coast region of the Mid-Atlantic, or to various parts of Ohio to do a good cross racing series. This year JR Petsko and ABRA put together an awesome 7 race local cross series. The ABRA Series coupled with the ever-lasting Month of Mud Series and Team Freddie Fu’s Murrysville Race, made for a complete season of local cross racing this fall. To make things even better, Gary Dugovich has add two more local cross races for the beginning of December. It is so very cool that racing cross has finally become easy to do on this side of the state without travelling for hours.

Most people know me as being an endurance racer. Racing cross has very little to do with endurance racing, so it is always a big change for me to go from racing in 100 mile races lasting about 8 hours to races lasting for only an hour or less. Because my main focus on racing is doing well at longer races, I decided to make cross racing more of an endurance sport this year by doing more than one category at many of the cross races I did this fall. Holding the high intensity necessary to do well in a cross race is pretty hard to do. I learned this year that doing it in two and even three races in a day makes it even harder. But, even though it is hard, I had a blast doing the extra race and think it has benefited my fitness, too.

Speaking of endurance events, going hard and staying local, I also need to mention the Dirty Dozen Race that I did this past weekend. The Dirty Dozen is a ride which climbs over the 13 steepest hills surrounding Pittsburgh, PA. The first DD Ride first occurred 27 years ago and was created by Danny Chew and his brother Tom. Since that first running of the DD, the event has become more popular each year and now attracts nearly 200 riders from around the region. The idea behind the ride/race is for riders to ride at a neutral pace until Danny Chew blows a whistle at the base of the climb. The riders then basically sprint up the climbs and points are awarded to the top five finishers. It takes awhile for all the riders to get up each climb, so there is a lot of dead time waiting around. As a matter of fact, the approximately 50 mile ride took over 6.5 hours this year. I have done the DD 3 times before, but my last attempt was 20 years ago, in 1990. It was cool doing the race again this year and I enjoyed riding with a bunch of friends up the super steep hills around Pittsburgh. By the end of the race, I had accumulated enough points to finish in second place overall, which was the same place I finished back in 1990. Isn’t strange how things change, but stay the same?
One of the 13 climbs from the Dirty Dozen.

So, in a nutshell, that is how my fall has been spent on the bike. I have really enjoyed staying local this year and look forward to doing the same next fall. I have finished off cross season the past five years by taking a road trip to the USAC Cyclocross National Championship Race. I have decided to skip nationals this year, since I have already travelled out to Bend, OR once this year. I am going to miss finishing off the season with a big bang, but at least I will still be able to do a local cross race that weekend.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks to Benjamin Stephens for the photos.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What a Ride

This weekend I competed in a unique "cyclocross" race know as Iron Cross. It is unique because it is much longer than a typical 45 minute to one hour cross race and is also one big loop rather than a multiple lap event. The race actually does start/finish on a real grass cross course with barriers and cross course making tape and all, but that is the only thing it has similar to a standard cross race. After leaving the starting area, the course uses a combination of single track trails, hiking trails, paved roads, gravel roads and rough fire roads to complete the large loop around Michaux State Forest. This variety makes for very interesting and challenging 62 mile race course.

I haven't done this race in quite a while because I have concentrated more on doing typical cross races for the past few years, but I decided it would be fun to give IC a try again this year. The course is definitely a lot more cross bike friendly than it was the first time I did the race and I would certainly say that a cross bike is the fastest bike choice overall, but certain rocky and technical sections on this course definitely had me second guessing the use of a cross bike over a mtb.

When I first decided to do this race a few weeks back, I had initially planned to use My Salsa Mamasita at the race because of the old memories I had of doing this race. But, after talking with others doing the race this year and reading on the Iron Cross Website that the use of a MTB is kind of discouraged (though they are allowed in the race), I decided to use my Salsa Ti La Cruz instead. Additionally, since I have been riding my La Cruz more than my Mamasita lately, I figured the Ti La Cruz would probably feel better to me anyway.

The beginning part of the race was going just as I had hoped and my Ti La Cruz was riding beautifully. I almost forgot it was a cross bike because it had such a smooth and predictable ride quality to it even on the technical sections of the course. The race started well for me when I was able to get away with four other riders on the first big gravel road climb. From this point, we all pretty much stuck together until the long and steep Wigwam run-up. Basically, Wigwam is probably a mile long hiking trail going straight up to a ridge top. I shouldered my Ti La Cruz at the bottom of the long hike/run and by the top had put myself into first place overall. I was eventually caught by two other riders behind me on the gravel fireroads after Wigwam and we joined forces to work together. I couldn't see anyone else behind us and things were looking good. After a fairly technical section of trail past checkpoint two, one of the riders in our group of three lost contact with us. At this point, we had about about 40 miles of the race completed and just over 20 miles to go. I was feeling very confident with my ride and thought at this point that I might be able to take the win.

Unfortunately, my good ride soon came to an early end when I got a flat rear tire on a fast gravel road descent. I rushed to do a quick tire change and was back on my bike before another rider was able to pass me. I rode for about 200 yards and my rear tire blew out again. I wasn't sure what caused the tube to go so quickly, so I looked and felt the tire more closely on this second repair. I then tried to fill the tube with my CO2, but my tube value was too short to allow a compete air fill. I actually had to walk for a short while before another rider offered to give me a CO2 to use. This second fill gave me enough air to get me into checkpoint 3. I wasn't comfortable with the low amount of air in my tire because I knew more technical sections were up ahead, so I used a pump at the checkpoint to fill me tire to a higher pressure. I also picked up another tube and CO2 canister just in case I got another flat.

Well, my "just in case" was about a mile up the hill from checkpoint 3 when my rear tire blew out again. I immediately did my third tire change of the day and was about to put the wheel back on my bike when the tube/tire blew up in my hand. Completely frustrated and with no other options for repair, I rode my flat tire bike back down the hill to checkpoint 3 to do my fourth tire repair of the day. During my ride back to the checkpoint, I started to think that maybe I should just get a ride back to the starting area rather than continue with the race, but I instead decided that it would be better to make the most of the beautiful day and trails by continuing to ride the course. Luckily, the guys at the checkpoint had a spare tire and tube there for me to use and get me on my way again.

Of course after doing this many tire repairs, I was pretty far behind and out of contention for a good finish. I continued riding hard anyway, though, to get in a good workout and because I was having so much fun out on the course. By the time I came into the finish, I had managed to put myself into the top 40 overall out of 240 riders or so. I was pretty happy with this finish after having the issues that I did and was also very happy with how well my Salsa rode over the diverse conditions out on the course.

Interestingly enough, I found out after finishing Iron Cross that I will be racing on Stan's NoTubes Wheels for the remainder of this cross season and for 2011. I bet if I would have had a pair of the new ZTR Alpha 340 Rims set-up with tubeless cross tires for this race, I probably would not have had the tire issues that I did. Oh well, I guess this means I will have to try my luck at Iron Cross again next year with the Salsa Ti La Cruz and a pair of tubeless Stan's Wheels.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A homecoming of sorts

Well, I finally had a chance to put my Salsa Ti La Cruz to the test this weekend. On Saturday, I did the APCXS Waynesburg Cyclocross Race and on Sunday, I did the Month of Mud Grove City Cross Race. Both events were a lot of fun and it felt great to finally test out my cross legs again. It was also nice to not have to travel any great distance to get to these races.

On Saturday I decided it would be fun to try doing two cyclocross races at the Waynesburg Race. With the race promoter, JR, offering a registration fee of only ten dollars for each additional race entered, it was hard to pass up doing two races, especially when there was a single speed category available. Interestingly enough, I did not have a great start for my first race of the day in the single speed event. I was totally unprepared for the starting whistle to go off and because of this ended up going into the first turn near the back of the pack. I did a few hard efforts and by the middle of the lap I had worked myself up through the back half of the pack. I then came out of a turn and started to sprint to try to make up some more time. When I made this attack, my chain popped off my front chainring and I was forced to get off my bike and take off my rear wheel to get my chain back onto my single speed bike. By the time I did this, I was at the back of the 50 or so person pack again and knew that I would have a lot of work to do if I want to finish well. I was hoping for an easy race, so that I would be able to save some energy for the elite race later in the afternoon. I considered pulling out of the single speed race at this point to conserve my energy for the later race, but decided I would do a couple of real hard laps to see what happened.

In about two laps, I was able to work my way completely through the pack and catch the race leader and my teammate JPOK. I then figured I would ride with him for a few laps to recover and see how things developed. I started to feel okay again and started thinking that if I drop my chain again it would be nice to have some time to fix it, so I did some accelerations to get away on my own. My gap stuck and it was a good thing I decided to get away on my own because with three laps to go my chain popped off again. I lost a little time putting it back on my bike, but I was able to hold on to my nice lead and take the single speed win.

After the single speed race, I ate, relaxed and prepared myself for the elite race. I definitely used a lot more energy than I wanted in the single speed race, so I knew my second race of the day was going to hurt. Additionally, the field had a good group of fast riders to compete against that I knew would make the race super hard. For the second time of the day, I had another bad start. This forced me to hard, so I could work my way through the pack to get towards the front of the race. Unfortunately, by the time I got towars the front of the pack, the lead group was clear. To make matter worse, my legs felt slow and heavy and it took a few laps for them to feel like they wanted to pedal again. Eventually, I was able to get into a flow and was able to work myself up to fifth place, which was the last money spot in the race. I was stuck in this position for about half of the race and was basically in no man’s land doing an individual time trial. I stayed consistent for the remainder of the race, though, and was able to hold on to finish fifth on the fast, dry cross course.

The second day of racing at the Grove City Month of Mud race was anything but fast and dry. It started raining on Saturday Night and continued for us during the race. I was happy with my racing from the day before and thought for sure I would be one of the main contenders at the muddy GC Race. But, once the race started and the speed picked up, I knew pretty quickly that I was asking more from my legs than they were willing to give. I am not sure if it was the cold, wet weather of the day or my two races from the day prior, or a combination of both, but I could not get them to go fast. It was hard for me to watch the lead group of racers ride away and know that I was going to have to ride hard all alone again for a second day. I accepted this fate, though, and suffered for an hour, basically on my own, to finish in the top ten.

Win or not, it is always fun for me to go back to the Grove City M.O.M. race. Back in the mid 1990’s, when I owned a bicycle shop in Grove City, I did a lot of my mtb training at this park because it was so convenient. After riding in the park for a year or so, I thought it would be a cool place to put on a race. I think it was in 1995 that I was able to organize a Month of Mud Race at the park with the help of Gary Bywaters. Back in those days it was definitely more of a mtb race than a cross race, but some of the same trails are still used for the race held there now. I didn’t grow up in Grove City and only lived there for a few years total, but it still feels good to go back to place once called home.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks to Benjamin Stephens for the photo.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

I had a great time traveling to the second home of the King of Rock and Roll for the Interbike Trade Show this past week. Not only did I get a chance to see and ride the latest products in the bike industry, but I also had the chance to meet a lot of really cool people and watch the awesome CrossVegas Cyclocross Race. Of course, since I was on vacation, I was also able to get in some good rides during the week, too.

First off, I need to mention just how impressed I was with the new Salsa Bikes I saw and rode at the show. I was able to test ride the Fargo, the Chili Con Crosso, the Mukluk and Salsa’s new 29er suspension frame, the Spearfish. All of the new frames are different because they serve different purposes for riding, but one similarity they all have is that they are all super fun to ride. I wanted to take them all home with me and had specific ideas of how I wanted to use each one of them for different types pedaling fun. I would highly recommend checking out Salsa Cycles for more information about their new offerings. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to ride the new Ti Selma by Salsa, but if it rides even half as nice as it looks, it is sure to be a winner, too.

Probably the thing I enjoyed most about my Interbike experience was meeting the people at Salsa. It was very interesting to speak in person to the engineers who do the design work for the bikes I enjoy riding so much. It was also very nice to finally meet all the people responsible for helping me so much with my racing. In addition to all of the Salsa Guys being really nice, down-to-earth people, I thought it was cool that they are all bike riders and seemed to be as passionate about riding as me. I am very lucky to be riding for such a great group of people and for a company truly dedicated to making quality bikes.

CrossVegas, the first major US cyclocross race of the year, was amazing to watch in person. It was kind of hard not being out there suffering with the rest of the racers, but watching the speed and tactics of the race was just as enjoyable for me at this race. The large number of cycling fanatic spectators at the race and the singing Elvis impersonator at the venue made this event as interesting as the City of Las Vegas itself. I haven’t had a chance to do a cross race yet this season, so seeing this race made my craving to do a cross race even stronger.

After witnessing CrossVegas, I actually thought about driving 4 hours from home to do my first cross race of the season on Sunday when I returned from Vegas, but decided it would be better to stay local and do the Brady’s Park Month of Mud Race, near Beaver, PA instead. After doing the race and a nice long ride afterwards, I definitely knew that I made the right choice with staying local. The trails at Brady’s were in great shape and super fast because of the lack of rain here. I ended up taking the overall win for the day, but only after having won a hard battle against Evan Perrone. The racers of western PA and I are very lucky to have this long-standing and tremendous local racing series in our area.

Next weekend I will finally be able to do some much anticipated cross racing on my Salsa La Cruz Ti. I will be racing at the first ABRA Cross Race in Waynesburg, PA on Saturday and at the M.O.M. GC Cross Race on Sunday. Hopefully all the racers in the Pittsburgh Area will be doing the same thing.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The short game

It’s always an interesting thing to switch from doing endurance MTB racing to cyclocross racing for me. I go from training for races lasting anywhere between 7 to 10 hours to training for races lasting only 45 minutes to an hour. It is a switch to make, especially in only one week. To make a quick transition to cross racing, my plan after doing the SM100 was to jump right into cross with both feet by doing the first MAC Race near Allentown, PA, about a four hour drive from home for me. After giving some thought about this during the beginning of the week and missing the Wednesday pre-registration deadline, though, I decided to do some local races instead. I guess this decision could be considered a short game also because I didn’t have to do much as much traveling. I must admit that after traveling all over the US this summer it was really nice to only have to drive up the road for about 30 minutes for a race.

Both of the races I did over the weekend were part of the Tour de Strongland. On Saturday, there was a mountain bike race held on the trails of Roaring Run Park in Apollo, PA and on Sunday a Road Race was held, which started and finished in Leechburg, PA. Compared to what I have been doing all summer, these races were much shorter in distance and they gave me a chance to test my “short game” out before cross season really starts rolling for me in October.

Having rode the trails at Roaring Run only a few times in the past, I decided to arrive at the race venue well before the start and do a pre-ride of the course. After a short time on the trails, I was glad I made this decision because I had forgotten about how technical these trails are. Comprising of rocky, twisty and tight single track trails, it is hard to get any flow going at Roaring Run. To do well on this course, it is a matter of riding smooth, but also being able to stay on the gas the entire time. Overall, I thought I did pretty well at this on Saturday, but Rob Spreng seemed to be dialed-in for the race and the course. I finished in second place behind Rob, but was happy with my effort on a course that really did not suit my style of riding.

On Sunday, there was another cross race in Cleveland that would have been fun to do, but I had plans with my family to celebrate my daughter’s 18th birthday during the afternoon, so there was no way I was going to miss this for the cross race in Cleveland. I wasn’t even sure I was going to race on Sunday at all until about 8AM on Sunday Morning. I had heard some bad things about the safety of the Tour de Strongland RR from other riders over the past few years and I had torn my road bike apart a few weeks ago for the season. But, after looking outside and seeing the wet Sunday Morning weather outside, I decided it would be more fun to do a hard effort at a race rather than a training ride. Additionally, I thought it would be a good way for me to see how my newly built Salsa La Cruz Ti Cross Bike felt during a race.

I had to rush a bit to switch out my wide cross tires for a pair of skinny road ties and I also thought about switching my big 42 tooth chainring out for a 46 tooth chainring, but decided to stick with the 42 because of time constraints. I made it to the race venue just before registration closed and did a short warm up ride before the race started rolling. I only recognized Bob Gottlieb and Jared Babik in the pack at the starting line and knew that these would be the guys to watch. The race started on some pretty flat roads in the valley, so the pace was pretty high initially. I was happy that I really did not seem too under geared, though, on this fast, flat section of the course. I guess all the spinning and riding I do on my single speed MTB was a help to me in this situation. Anyway, during this section of the course, I took a hard pull to see what would happen. After pulling the pack at over 30 mph for about a half mile, I pulled off and waited for someone to pull through. Apparently my effort split up the pack a little and things were strung out. Bob and Jared then went to the front and did another hard effort and actually escaped from the pack with two other riders. I missed this break and was bummed because I knew it would stay away. Bob and Jared dropped the two riders with them a short distance later and on a slight hill rise, I attempted to bridge the gap up to them. My attempt failed, so I had to sit back in the pack a bit to recover and I made a plan to try another attempt on the first big climb out of Apollo, PA. On my second attempt, I was able to get away from the pack alone and bridge up to Bob and Jared. I thanked the two of them for waiting for me, but Jared said to me, “we weren’t waiting.” I laughed at the remark.

The three of us shared the work for the remainder of the race until the last couple of miles when the cat and mouse games began. I knew my sprint would not be a match against these guys, especially since my gearing was so much lower than theirs. Jared threw the first attack leading to the finish and created a nice gap, but Bob countered and soon was able to latch on to him. I was left in their dust, but was happy with the workout I received during the race and with how my new cyclocross bike felt at speed. At the end, Jared took the win, Bob was second and I came in third overall with an average speed of about 27mph over 37 miles with 2200 feet of climbing.

After doing the two Strongland races, I was very happy with my decision to stay local this weekend and work on my short game at home rather than in Allentown or Cleveland. I have the rest of the fall to travel out of the area for cross racing. Unfortunately, I will be delaying my actual start of cross racing another weekend, as I will be leaving for Las Vegas and Interbike this coming weekend. I am going to ride while I am out there, but will not be able to race again until September 26th when I will have to choose between the Brady’s Month of Mud Race or traveling to a cross race in the Mid-Atlantic Area. Either way, I think my short game should be dialed in a little more by then.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, September 6, 2010

What you give

It’s funny what goes in and out of my mind during a 100 mile mtb race. There is a lot of time to think about stuff when riding a bike for eight hours at a time; that is for sure. Much of the time I am probably thinking about the race itself; but, other times my mind wanders into my past or thinks about the future to come. One thing I do for certain during each long race is replay some song in my head ad nauseam. At the Shenandoah Mountain 100 (SM100) this past weekend, the final race of the NUE Series, my mind chose to replay “What you give” by Tesla. This song choice may lead you to believe that I am some old school head banging heavy metal band fanatic infatuated with rock ballads. While I don’t mind this kind of music, it is definitely not my musical preference. I am pretty sure the main reason this song came into my head during the race is because my co-worker had Tesla playing from his ipod desktop player a few times this past week.

So, anyway, enough about the song made by the hair band Tesla and onto the racing action. The first thing I need to say about the SM100 is that it is an absolutely fantastic 100 mile mtb race. It is professionally run, well marked and held on some of the best trails on the east coast. Additionally, the volunteers who help out during the race at all the checkpoints are second to none. It definitely gets my vote for being one of the best 100 milers around. Add to all of these great things the fact that the SM100 was also the championship race for the NUE Series this year and you get one extraordinary event for 2010. For me, the race was even more important because it would also be the determining factor if whether or not I would win the NUE Series SS Champion Title this year.

After my disappointment at the Fool’s Gold 100 two weeks ago, I decided to step my training up a bit in preparation for the SM100. My game plan was to train really hard for ten days and then tapper off with three easy days of training. Well, the first part of my plan worked fine and I did beat myself up pretty good for ten days; however, my three rest days were not as restfully as I would have liked and I actually felt pretty worn out the day before the SM100. To make matters worse, my stomach and GI track were giving me issues on Saturday. I began to worry on Saturday Night about whether I might have pushed myself a little too hard before the race. Luckily, by Sunday Morning my guts seemed to work out the problem they were having before the race started and my legs actually felt pretty fresh, too.

I was happy that my body had worked out the issues it was having, but another potential problem suddenly appeared just after 6:30AM. My racing and traveling companion, Andy Gorski, and I arrived at the race venue at little after 6AM because we thought the race was going to start at 7AM. When we arrived, I went out for a little warm up ride and then headed back up to Andy’s car to put on the rest of my gear at about 6:30. Before doing so, I decided to take one last pee break, so I walked over to a port-o-john. After finishing my business there, I heard a lot of noise and then saw a huge pack of riders going by the car. I immediately realized that the race had started early and without me in it. I then had to quickly rush back to the car to grab my helmet, gloves and food supplies for the day. By the time I gathered all my goods, more than half of the nearly 600 racers had ridden by me.

I can’t say that I was in a state of panic, but I did know that I would have a lot of catching up to do in order to make my way towards the front of the race. During the first mile or two of pavement leading to the first climb, I had to spin my butt off to work my way through the mass of riders. I then had to bury myself even deeper on the first climb to get through even more racers and find the lead single speeders. Eventually I came up on Matt Ferrari and Harlan Price and was able to recover a bit from my hard effort near the top of the first climb. The three of us then basically rode together for about the first 25 miles of the race.

As the three of us were climbing up a slightly up hill paved road climb somewhere before checkpoint #2, I noticed a group of about five geared riders about 200 yards in front of us. I decided it would be nice to catch a draft off of them on the flat fire roads that followed, so I did a quick acceleration to bridge the gap. When I latched on to the back of the geared rider group, I figured Matt and Harlan would be right behind me on my wheel. I was shocked to see, however, that they did not make it up to the geared group. The geared guys started rolling fast and I was able to ride along with them and gain valuable time on Harlan and Matt.

From that point on, I was basically on my own during the remainder of the race. Occasionally, I would catch up to a geared rider and get to ride with someone for a short while, but the majority of the time I was out on the trails alone singing “It’s not what you got, but what you give. It ain't the life you chose, it's the life you live.” The song seemed appropriate and I just kept giving all I could to each pedal stroke. Eventually, I did enough pedal strokes to arrive at the finish. And, I arrived feeling very good because I had not only won the race, but also the overall NUE Series Singlespeed Championship for a second year in a row. Thanks to Salsa Cycles, Pro Bikes, SPK and Tesla for helping me achieve my major 2010 cycling goal.

Happy Trails

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fool's Gold

Like one of the many miners that flocked to Dahlonega, GA in search of gold during the early 1800s, I also traveled to the area this past weekend in search of gold at the Fool’s Gold NUE Series race. There were no big changes with how the race was run from previous years; however, the weather this year was beyond bad. Heavy rain fell the night before the race and then continued by falling heavily during the beginning of the race. This downpour of rain combined with the high mineral content of the soil in the area caused the brake pads of many racers to wear out before the completion of even the first 50 mile long loop.

I figured there would be a good chance of going through a set of brake pads during the race, so I had an extra set available at the halfway point just in case I did need to change them out. Unfortunately, the conditions were so bad that my pads completely wore out shortly after I passed checkpoint number two. At the time this occurred, I was riding in fourth place overall and was the second placed single speed rider. Needless to say, I was feeling really good and was prepared to complete a race that I knew was going to be very long and hard due to the horrible conditions.

When my pads had finally lost all braking power, between checkpoint #2 and #3, I had no choice but to walk all the downhills. I can’t explain how frustrated I was to be forced to end my race so early, especially since I had checked the condition of my brakes at the beginning of the day and had preparations in place for just such an incident at the midpoint of the race. Eventually, after doing some walking and some riding, I was safely able to make it to checkpoint #3. When I arrived, I was amazed to see the mass of riders there suffering from all sorts of mechanical issues and realized at this point that there would be few if any riders able to finish the complete 100 mile race.

By the time I made my way back to start/finish area, the leaders of the race had finished loop number one, but the race was stopped at this time by the race promoter for the overall safety of the riders. I do think that stopping the race was a wise one because it was certainly unsafe for riders to continue and in reality I doubt that few if any of the racers would have been able to continue anyway.

Out of all of the NUE Series Races that I have done, this is only my second DNF. The last one was last year when I cracked my bike frame at the Mohican 100. It is never fun to abandon a race, especially when it is due to a mechanical issue. The only positive things I can take from my race being cut short this weekend is that I did not get hurt at the race, I did get to talk to some really cool people while heading back to the start/ finish area and also did a ton of training for cyclocross by constantly dismounting/mounting my bike so many times while trying to make it safely out of the woods. I thought I had a good chance of winning gold this weekend for the NUE Series, but my quest for the treasure was only met with a huge pile of fool’s gold.

The next and last race of the NUE Series is the Shenandoah 100, which will be held over Labor Day Weekend in Harrisonburg, VA. This is the super bowl of the NUE Series and there will certainly be a lot of fireworks at the race and especially in the single speed race. Only Harlan Price and I have a shot at the overall series SS win, so the championship race will be very important for both of us. Hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate a little more for this race and allow the race outcome to be determined by actual racing and not because of bike issues. I have had my fair share of fool’s gold this season and would really like to take home the real stuff the next time.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Sweetness

It was a pleasure for me to compete in the sixth race of the NUE Series, the High Cascade 100, on August 7, 2010 in Bend, Oregon, on and around the slopes of Mt. Bachelor. I realize that many of the blog entries I write are about the pain and suffering I endure while competing in 100-mile bike races. Believe me, there were times when I was also hurting at this race, but for some reason the HC 100 never made me feel completely spent. I find this to be quite remarkable because my finishing time was close to 9 hours, which is a much slower time than I typically ride at most of the NUE Series Races. But, looking back at the race now, in hind sight, I can understand why my time out on the course went by so quickly and found the race to be such a great experience.

The HC 100 starts off at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in the morning with a mass start up a road climb. I arrived at the starting area with about 15 minutes to spare before the race started and was actually still getting all my gear together when the race promoter, Mike Ripley, started calling people to the line with his megaphone. I was barely able to make it to the starting line before the large pack of 200 riders began rolling out of the parking lot. With no warm-up and also having the sensation of needing to pee, I decided to go pretty hard up the first road climb to put my head and body into race mode. I do this often at the beginning of a race. Not so much because I have a plan to ride away from everybody, but because it clears my mind of other thoughts and at least puts me in the front group where I feel I need to be for a successful race.

After leaving the pavement, the large pack of riders turned onto a rough dirt fire road. Almost immediately, a cloud of churned up dust made visibility on the course nearly impossible. An email sent out earlier in the week by the race promoter suggested that riders should consider wearing a dust mask for the start. I had one packed in my jersey pocket and was real close to putting it on, but did not because I was afraid to take my hands off my handlebars in order to remove it from my jersey and place it on my head, since it was hard to see what was coming up on the trail. Since we were still climbing, things split up pretty good anyway, so the mask was really not needed after the first off road mile or so.

Eventually, the long initial climb came out in the parking lot of the Mt Bachelor Ski Area. I looked over my shoulder while riding through the parking lot and noticed that I was the lead singlespeed racer and did not see any others around me. I also noticed that the cold morning temperature of around 35-degrees had caused my fingers to go numb. This is not a great feeling to have before entering the first long technical section of singletrack. Shortly after entering this singletrack containing many section of lava rock outcrops, I saw two of the overall pre-race favorites ( Schaulk and Tostado) fixing flats on the trail side. After getting a flat the weekend before, I could empathize with the frustration they were probably feeling and also began to worry about the possibility of one of my tires being torn by the razor sharp lava covering this section of the course. Perhaps it was this feeling that caused me to ride a little bit conservatively through the many lava rock outcroppings on the trail. In any regards, I soon heard someone heckling me from behind. I looked over my shoulder to find Team Niner rider and fellow singlespeed racer Deejay Birch fresh on my wheel. Deejay was the only other SS rider I knew in the race and I also knew that he would be giving me a run for the money at the event.

Deejay and I rode the singletrack together for about 30 minutes or so, before his bike started making a bad squeaking noise. He stopped to check his equipment over as I continued down the trail. At this point, I knew there was a lot of time remaining in the race, so I didn’t push myself too hard. I figured the break from head-to-head competition would provide a chance for me to eat, drink and return to riding the more technical stuff a little more conservatively. During this time, I was also able to get some great views of high alpine lakes and enjoy the natural beauty of the Cascades, which would have been hard to do with another rider with me. Before I knew it, I was done with the first loop and arriving back to the main checkpoint and transition area. I did a quick grab of a filled camelback and two bottles, before rushing off to do loop number two.

Without a doubt, loop number two was the toughest of the three and this immediately became evident on the first trail leading out of the transition area, which is called ‘Ugly.’ This trail is basically a logging road that climbs partway up the mountain again. It is called Ugly because it is cover by 3-6 inches of moon dust, which covers hidden roots and rocks under all the mess. I was so happy to be on a singlespeed with all the dust being kicked up. I could not imagine the havoc it would cause to the drivetrain of a geared bike. At the top, things did not get much better as the trail descended down into a pit filled with small to medium-sized loose lava rocks. I was able to handle the descent down with no problems, but the steep climb out of the large pit was covered with the same rock and it became a hike-a-bike portion for me. It was at this point that I realized I forgot to remove my long sleeved Salsa jersey at the transition area and I began to notice it was warming up fast. I thought about ditching the jersey by a tree or bridge and picking it up later, but figured instead it would be better to wait a little while and leave it at the next checkpoint, which was only about 20 miles away.

Loop two continued to climb up the mountain and I eventually came to a section the race promoter warned all the riders about at the pre-race meeting. Apparently, there was an angry grouse at this section of trail and she was reported to be very protective of her territory. I checked for the bird and was glad that she had decided to let me pass her home without consequence. Other riders reported after the race that they were not so lucky. After making it passed the angry grouse section, I came to what I thought might be the top of the climb. I decided to stop here and resolve two issues I was having. The first priority was to remove a small stone that somehow had entered my shoe and felt like it was digging a hole into the bottom of my foot for the last 15-20 miles. After removing my shoe and knocking all the junk out of it, I took care of issue number two. During a 100-mile race, there are times when it becomes necessary to relieve the body of excess liquids. I figured this was as good of a place as any to allow myself this relief, since it appeared that I was all alone and in the middle of nowhere. It always feels good to take a quick pit stop, but sometimes it is hard to allow the time for the relief.
Not long after I jumped back on my bike after my pit stop, I heard the familiar heckling of Deejay behind me again. It was actually good to hear his voice and I yelled back at him, “Where have you been?” We then rode some of the best singletrack on the mountain together for about the next hour or so. It seemed during this time that we were in a constant state of descending. But, I knew eventually the long fun ride down the mountain would end and when it did I knew we would have a long journey back up to the top. My guess about the course wasn’t wrong, but I had no idea that the course was basically going to go up for the next two hours of ride time.

It was during all of this climbing that I was able to get a pretty good gap on my closest SS competitor. It was also another great section of amazing trail, which eventual lead all the way back up to Mt Bachelor and even passed a handful of snow piles along the way. The pristine beauty of the high mountains has always been a favorite of mine and the Cascades did not disappoint me with the views I saw on that trail.

After leaving the Mt Bachelor checkpoint, it was mostly downhill again leading back down to the ‘Ugly’ trail, which then led to the main and final checkpoint. I was shocked as I rode down Ugly and saw other racers just starting a trail that I had entered about 4 hours earlier. I felt like stopping to warn them of the obstacles ahead, but decided they would be better off not knowing what loop two had in store for them. It felt great coming back into the transition area and the final checkpoint, leading to the super fun loop number three.

Since loop number three is only 13 miles long, I did a pre-ride of the loop the day before the race with my fast friend Josh Tostado. It was great having at least an idea of what to expect going into the last leg of the race. But, at the same time, I had no idea what my gap was on Deejay and feared the possibility of being caught with so little course remaining. So, to maintain my lead, I stayed on the gas and tried to keep things smooth on the BMX-ish style loop. This section of the course is so awesome because it has tons of banked berms, large tabletop and double jumps, and basically just has a nice flow to it. There is no way to become bored with riding on this trail, even after completing 87 miles prior to starting it.

I was able to finish loop three without any trouble and secure the hard-earned singlespeed victory with a winning time of 8 hours and 55 minutes. After finishing, I rode up the parking lot a short ways turned around and then noticed that my friend and competitor of the day, Deejay, had finished a short two minutes and one second later. On a course containing so much climbing, I was surprised to see that my finishing time was actually good enough for a 6th place overall finish out of 200 riders.

It was a great feeling to finally get another win at a NUE Series Race after struggling at many of the races this season. It was also nice to not have to dig so deep within myself to find the energy and courage to finish a race for a change. These feelings coupled with the course layout and the amazing singletrack trails of the race may lead for me to refer to this race as the sweetness, instead of the HC 100. Yeah, it really was that good.
Happy Trails, Gerry

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Wildness of the Wilderness 101

Out of all of the NUE Series 100 Mile MTB Races, the Wilderness 101 in Coburn, PA is one of my favorites. The course has a great combination of everything to make the race interesting, fun and challenging over the big 100 mile loop. The race starts off on a long climb and basically goes up and down for the rest of the race, as the elevation profile of the race course pictured above shows quite nicely. At the 101, most of the climbs are of the fire road variety and the descents are usually rocky and technical trails, which creates a good mix of riding terrain in my opinion. This year the perfect weather of the day and the super dry course conditions made the race course even faster than it usually is.

Here is my version of how things went down in the single speed race.

After the first big climb, three other single speeders (Matt Ferrari, Justin Pokrivka and Montana Miller) and I separated ourselves from the rest of the large single speed contingency at the race. Justin was the first to drop from our single speed group on a big climb before the Three Bridges Trail. Matt was the next victim to drop from the pace as Montana and I exited the technical trail onto a fast fire road section. Then, a few miles from checkpoint #2 (around 42 miles or so into the race), Montana could not hold the pace being set by two geared guys we were drafting and was also dropped. I had a quick stop at check point two and quickly jump on another geared riders draft out of check point #2 without any other single speeders in sight.

I was feeling good at this point in the race and thought that I might have an easy victory ahead if I continued my fast ride and rode smart. But, I soon found out the race was far from being over when Matt and Montana caught back up to me before mile 55 or so. After a hard effort on a big climb before check point #3, I was able to get clear from Matt and Montana again, but knew that they were probably still hot on my trail. So, I did a quick pit stop at checkpoint #3 (around mile 62) and was able to leave the checkpoint before any other riders arrived.

The climb out of checkpoint three is a hard one. It is a steep single track trail covered with roots and rocks. It is a hard trail to climb with a geared bike, so using a single speed on it is pretty brutal. Half way up the trail I tried to get over a section of big roots while standing out of the saddle to get more power out of my pedal strokes. During this attempt, my rear wheel lost traction, which caused all of my body weight to go forward and for me to then go over the bars. I hit my knee on my handlebar stem during this crash, but was able to walk off the pain after pushing my bike for about 10 yards up the hill. I was happy that I was not seriously injured and that my bike also made it through the crash without any damage.

After the hard climb out of checkpoint #3, the course goes into some technical single track, which eventually leads to a super steep downhill. I decided to ride the downhills fairly conservatively after getting my gap on the other single speeders to avoid race ending mechanicals and crashes. I might have been a little too conservative, though, because my Pro Bike Teammate, Justin Pokrivka (J-Pok) caught me by the bottom of the descent. I let him ride by me in the technical single track that followed the descent because he rides the stuff like a mad man.

This section of technical single track was followed by another fire road climb; however, and I was able to gain my time back on J-Pok and actually put a little time on him before entering the next section of single track. But, soon after going into the single track J-Pok was on my wheel again and I again gave him room for a pass on the trail known as Beautiful. This is probably the most technical trail in the race and J-Pok easily put some time on me again by the bottom of the hill. Knowing that another friend and geared racer Andy Gorski was close behind, though, I knew catching a draft on the fire road section leading to check point #4 would not be a problem. Andy did a great job pulling me along and I was thankful he was around for the help.

After our quick stop at checkpoint #4, Andy and I started climbing the long rocky trail that followed. When we started the climb, we could see J-Pok about 30 seconds up the trail. Andy told me to go ahead and that he would see me at the finish. So, I left Andy behind and climbed hard in an attempt to catch J-Pok again. By the top of the climb, I finally caught him and even put a little time on him before descending back down the ridge.

I knew that I would have to descend fast to keep pace with J-pok, so I let my bike fly a little faster down the descent this time. About part way down the descent, I heard a loud popping noise and figure it was either a rock busting my tire or Justin's. At the bottom of the hill, J-Pok says to me, "Hey, do you know you have a flat." I said, "No, I thought it was yours." I probably was aware that my tire was losing air quickly, but said "no" to J-Pok because I was in a state of denial about it.

As much as I like doing the Wilderness 101, I have had constant issues with getting flats at the race. I have flatted at each of my last three attempts at doing the 101. Before the race, I made sure the tires on my bike were in good condition and even filled them with a higher pressure than I typically run to eliminate my chance of getting another flat this year. Unfortunately, however, this year turned out to be no different than my past three 101 attempts and I was again forced to fix my flat at about mile 70.

When I stopped, J-Pok was courteous enough to stop with me and ask if I had everything. I said that I was good and had what I needed for the repair. He then asked if I wanted him to wait for me to fix the flat, so we could ride in together. I appreciated his offer and wanted to say yes to his kindness, but instead I said "No, go ahead. This is your day, man. Go get it." J-Pok took off and I began my frustrating tire change.

I thought that if I rode hard after my flat repair I might have a chance to catch J-Pok again. I did chase hard for the next 30 miles, but I never did see my teammate again. At the end, J-Pok finished the race strong with a finishing time of 7 hours and 30 minutes. I came in about 4 minutes later in second, but very content with the outcome of the race. J-Pok is a good friend, a good racer and was definitely the fastest racer of the day.

The next 100 mile race for me will be the High Cascade 100 in Bend, OR this coming Saturday, August 7th. I am really excited to race on the trails around Bend. I have heard great things about them and it will be cool to experience them first hand. Hopefully, I will be recovered from my Wilderness 101 effort to have another fast race there, especially since I will be going against the Team Niner Duo of Fuzzy and Deejay. Wish me luck!

Happy Trails, Gerry

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Breckenridge 100

Yes, I did a blog post about my experience at the NUE Series Breckenridge 100 Race, but it is not posted here. If you want to read it, please check out the Salsa Blog. Happy Trails, Gerry

This picture shows the main mountain at Breckenridge, which is the first really long climb of the race from about 9000 feet to almost 12500 feet in elevation at the top. The mountain trails lead up to and over Wheeler Pass. What a great way to start a race! And, yes, that is snow on the mountain top.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Double Header

There were two endurance races near home this weekend that I really wanted to do. On Saturday, the first annual Hilly Billy Roubaix was held in Morgantown, WV and the Wayne Ultra Endurance MTB Race was held outside of Marietta, OH on Sunday. I have never done two back to back endurance races, so I figured why not give it a try.

The Hilly Billy was the first race of the weekend and it was a 72 mile on and off road adventure through the hills of northern WV. The recommended bike for this race, according to the course designers, was a cyclocross bike because of the mixed terrain and the lack of anything truly consider technical. Without currently owning a geared cross bike, I decided to register in the single speed race. I have used my single speed cross bike for muddy cyclocross races, but I must admit the idea of doing a long on and off road mass start race with it was a little intimidating.

In addition to the tough terrain of the Hilly Billy, the hot weather also added to the difficulty of the race. But, even with nearly 7000 feet of climbing ahead and the temperature rising quickly, the race still had a very fast start. I had to draft and spin my butt off to hang with the geared guys until the first gravel climb a few miles after starting on the pavement. The climb almost immediately started to split the pack up. While struggling up the steep climb, I started wondering if I could push the big gear I had chosen through out the rest of the race.

The pack thinned out even more to a group containing me and just a handful of others after heading down the first loose gravel descent and then entering the first of many muddy sections on the course. They race promoter said everything we rode during the race was a WV State Roadway, but this “road” was at best a quad trail with many 2 foot deep mud pits. The nastiness of this trail changed my mind about my decision to use a single speed, as I could only imagine the noise and problems a muddy chain and derailleur would be making all day.

It seemed as if the majority of this race was either climbing up steep gravel climbs or descending back down the other side. Occasionally, there would be a fast road section or some muddy stuff to go through, but the majority of the race was all about climbing, which always seems to be good for me. At times, I wondered if I was going to be able to keep my big gear turning up all of the steep climbs without blowing up. But, it seemed to be working for me and by the halfway point in the race I was all alone in the front and leading the race overall. I never thought that a single speed bike would be the best tool to use for this type of race, but it certainly seemed to be helping me with my job. It gave me no choice but to ride hard, really hard.

I continued to climb hard and spin out the occasional flat section as fast as I could for the remainder of the race. By the time I finished the race, I had a lead of over 11 minutes over second place and by over 20 minutes on third and forth. I was completely amazed at how well I did with only one gear. Winning a race overall on single speed against 100 other racers almost made me feel like superman for the day. The following day, however, my superman thinking quickly disappeared at the Wayne Ultra.

I felt fine on Sunday Morning and was really psyched to go back to the Wayne Ultra after being the overall winner of the race last year. The trails at the Wayne Ultra are super tough. They are technical and constantly shoot you up and down steep trails. The distance of the Wayne is only 45 miles, but because the trails are slow riding, technical trails finish times are four plus hours. Anyway, feeling good about my win at the Hilly Billy and being the past winner of the Wayne, I didn’t think I would have any problem pulling out a second win for the weekend at this race.

The race started on a paved road and headed up a big climb to the first section of single track. I felt good up the first climb and stayed directly on the leader’s wheel, entering the single track in second place. I knew it was a long race and the heat was already feeling more than uncomfortable, so I let the lead rider go and a couple other riders also as I tried to find a more comfortable endurance type pace. The pace stayed pretty face, though, and I didn’t want to drop back too many positions, so I stayed on the gas. I don’t think I could have felt any hotter than I did during that time. Sweat had completely soaked through everything on me and my body was definitely not happy about what I was asking it to do. I started making stupid mistakes on the trails and seemed to be going backwards faster than forwards by about the midway point of the race. I had also gone through the majority of my liquids and was not feeling comfortable about pushing myself to the point of complete exhaustion after the effort I gave only a day earlier. I am not one to pull the plug often, but I came to realize that if I continued on with this race, I might be paying for it for a long time.

So, I made the hard decision to DNF. I then rode back to a fire road I saw off the course, looked at my GPS and decided to ride east because I knew that it would eventually get me back to the starting area. I rode for maybe a mile more, most of it up a long fire road climb, and then had to get off the bike and just sit in the shade for about five minutes to rest. Eventually, my heart rate and all finally seemed to calm down, so I got back on my bike and rode about 10 miles back to my car. When I saw that the temperature gauge in my car had hit 95 degrees, I understood better why my body was starting to shut down during the race, especially when the humidity was also so high. I figured that doing two hard endurance races in two days would be a hard thing to conquer, but with the weather adding an extra level of severity, it became too much for me to achieve my goal.

I am still glad that I attempted doing both races. I definitely had a blast at the Hilly Billy and even though I did not finish the Wayne Ultra, I did have fun riding about 20 miles of The Wayne Single Track Trails up to the point where I pulled the plug. I would highly recommend both races to anyone interested in doing them. They are well promoted, well marked and well supported by all the race volunteers. But, if I can make one request to both promoters, please consider coordinating your calendars, so that each is on a separate weekend. Doing double header endurance races is something I don’t want to try again soon. Happy Trails, Gerry

Thank to Benjamin Stephens for the photo above and to see more of his work from the Hilly Billy, checkout this link: Ben's Flickr Page

Monday, June 21, 2010

Almost Perfect

Sometimes things go pretty well at a race. Other times plans are made, but things don’t go as expected. This past weekend at the third stop on the NUE Series, the Lumberjack 100, I had an interesting mix of the good and the bad. It all worked out in the end, though, as I was able to finally win a NUE Series Race this year after my two failed earlier attempts.

The weekend started out pretty good as I was able to take Friday off from work and start the long trip to Michigan on Thursday. On my way from PA to Michigan, I picked up my long time friend Sologoat in Ohio. Back in the mid nineties Ernesto and I used to travel to many races together, but it is a rare occasion for us to travel together now. It is always cool to catch up with an old friend and share life’s stories.

We traveled about half way to our final destination on Thursday Night and stayed at one of my infamous crusty carpet inn internet special hotel selections. I am usually happy to just have a bed and a shower for use and really do need any special hotel luxuries, so typically these hotel choices work okay for me. On this occasion, my choice seemed to be a good one for sleeping, but the “continental breakfast” was a far cry from anything worthy of eating. But, being the miser that I am, I was soon more than content to consume the offerings of the establishment. The funny thing is that Sologoat walked in about an hour later than me and had even fewer stale donuts from which to choose from on the breakfast bar.

Our travels continued on in pretty much the same uneventful manner on Friday. After about 4 hours of driving, we finally arrived at our hotel in Cadillac, MI. We decided to check in first, so that we could leave some of our stuff behind before continuing out to the race venue in Wellston, MI. When we arrived at my second crusty carpet selection of the trip, the lady behind the hotel desk was involved in a heated argument with another employee of the hotel. It didn’t seem to faze them that there were customers waiting for them to stop their argument. This should have been my first warning to move along to another hotel. But, the lady finally calmed down, gave me two keys and then warned me that if the room was not clean it was because check in time was not until 3pm. BTW, it was 2:30pm at this time. I figured the lady was just joking around with me and I exited the lobby to walk down to my room. I thought the number the lady wrote on my key envelope read 104, but after trying to enter the room 104 a few times without success, I checked the number again to see that it actually read 124. I then tried my keys at room 124, but had no luck there either. At this point, I decided to go back to the hotel lobby and ask for clarification on the room number and ask for new keys if my guesses at her writing are correct. She doesn’t believe me that the keys don’t work and sends a maintenance man with me to confirm my key usage is being done properly. The maintenance man also cannot get the key to work, so I walk back to the lobby to get some new keys. This time I am finally able to get into the room.
A "Cocktails" sign in front of to love it!

So, of course, we go to the room and it is not clean. As a matter of fact, it was a mess. And, judging from the receipt on the empty pizza box in the room it had not been cleaned since the weekend prior. Being the calm and collected person that I am, however, I walk back to the front desk to find out if it will be cleaned while we are away on our pre ride of the course. I am assured by the owner of the hotel that our room will be cleaned, so off we go for the pre-ride.

Before doing a 100 mile race, there is definitely not a need to do many miles. As a matter of fact, it is much better to rest up to prepare for the race than do a long ride. Ernie shares my thoughts on pre race rides, so we both decide to ride for about an hour and checkout the beginning of the race loop. Well, we get moving along and come to a section of the course where the race traffic will be sharing the same trail. The trail is separated with course tape at this point and we figure this will be a good point for us to stop our preview of the course on the way back through. We only had about 40 minutes of riding in and figured that we would only have a few more miles to do at most before coming back to this point on the course. As it turned out, though, I was wrong with the mileage estimate back to this section on the race loop. Of course, we didn't figure this out until after after I had already told Ernie let’s just go for a few more minutes about 5 times. Our ride time was at nearly two hours at this point and we had no clue as to where we were on the course. We finally decided to stop and read a trail map posted on the trail side. By looking at the map, we figured we would only have a few more miles to go to get back to the car if we took a fire road instead of the marked trail.

We followed a sandy fire road for awhile and then climbed up a long gravel hill quite a distance before eventually coming to a fire tower on top of the hill. There were no well used trails and no trail maps around this tower, so we had no choice but to head back down the long gravel climb. We eventually found some more course markers on the fire road and decided to follow them. From the map we viewed earlier, staying on the fire road seemed like the best option for us. But, now time and mileage was still ticking away and we did not have a clue as to where we were going. We became encourage, though, when we saw some houses in the distance. Unfortunately, as we rode by the homes most did not seem to be occupied, but finally we did find one with a few cars parked in the driveway. Just when we were about to go up the driveway to ask for directions, we saw a car coming down the fire road and decided to flag it down instead. In the car was a very old man. I asked him if he could direct us back to the Big M Ski Area. He mumbled something about going back the way we just came and taking a trail back to the area and nothing more specific. This did not seem like a very good option to me or Ernie because we knew it would take a long time to figure out if we were going the right way. So, I then asked the man about just staying on the fire road instead. He says, “Well, you will have to go about a mile or so and then will come to a paved road. Go left and then the ski area will be on the left.” It was a no brainer as far as Ernie and I were concerned and we took the second option of staying on the road. We ended up with 2.5 hours of riding and about 28 miles in our legs. Not what either of us really wanted the day before the race.

On our way back to the hotel, we started betting on whether the room would be cleaned or not. We both thought that it would still be dirty, so we did not place any wages on the bet. Surprisingly, we were please to find that the room was cleaned while we were away. Unfortunately, though, nothing else that night would go right except for the all-you-can eat fish dinner we had a little later at a restaurant near our hotel.

After our delightful dinner, I had the “smart” idea of changing my gearing to something just a bit harder, so that I would not be spun out on the flat sections of the course. At the time I made this decision, around 9pm or so, it seemed like a good idea. At around 10pm when I was cleaning up the mess I had made, it did not seem like a very good idea. In hind sight, it all worked out fine, but I would have probably been fine with my initial gear selection.

Things only became worse when two over sized vehicle escort drivers (male and female) arrived in separate vehicles and were given the room right next to ours. It seemed to me that this was there first night off the road in a while and they were ready to have some fun. And, to make matters worse, they had a dog with them that would not stop barking. Ernie and I discussed about asking for another room before climbing into bed, but the barking had stopped briefly and I was not too excited about facing the hotel management again. About 45 minutes into this decision, the barking started again. It was around 11:30pm at this time and we had our alarms set for 4:15am, so things were not looking good. Needless to say, the barking continued most of the night as did constant door slamming, loud music and other unspeakable noises. If I slept for an hour that night, I would have felt lucky. The best part about this hotel story is that when we got up in the morning the only two rooms occupied on our side of the hotel was the one we stayed in and the one occupied by our neighbors.

Even after a having a horrible night of sleep, I amazingly still felt good to go in the morning. The race started fast like I expected and I was happy with my bigger gear selection. I was able to enter the initial single track in the first lead group. Perfect, I thought to myself. We started climbing the first long section of rolling climbs at the beginning of the course and I worked my way up in to third place briefly. Not so much because I wanted to be there, but more because I had to keep my big gear rolling. I saw Schalk and Tanguy riding next to me and then had the feeling like my heart was about to explode. I decided my best option at this point was to wave the other riders around me, so that I could settle back into a more manageable pace. A lead group of about 8 riders (all the race favorites) then got a gap on me and a few others. But, I was not too concerned because from what I could tell, I was the leading single speed rider. Soon after things in the chase group calmed down a bit, fellow Pro Bikes Rider J-POK came spinning by our group. I decided to join him and soon we were all alone.

Justin and I then came upon Mike Simonson on the trail side fixing a flat. I screamed “Get it fixed fast Mike” and continued riding with J-POK. Shortly thereafter, Simonster caught us on a fire road and I decided to jump on his wheel for a bit. J-POK had some trouble at this point and missed this key draft. I rode with Mike for a few miles until we went up and over a few steep rolling hills. His pace was way too much for me to match on my SS, so I settled back into a more reasonable pace. I then rode alone for a long, long time, about 40 miles, I would estimate. But, I was cool with this situation because my riding seemed to be going very well and I was enjoying my ride on the fun single track.

Then, for unknown reasons, at around mile 60 or so, I veered slightly off the trail on a fast downhill into the grass on the trail side. Suddenly, I had my life flash in front of my eyes, when I hit a tree stump with my front wheel, which was hidden in the grass. The stump sent me air born and I landed hard into a dirt embankment at a trail crossing. It was one of those crashes where you need to take a quick inventory of your body parts when you get up because you’re not sure if something might be left behind if you rush off too quickly. I was in pain, but everything seemed to still be attached. I jumped on my bike and started riding again. My bike seemed fine, but my elbow was very tender and was already swelling. Of course, making the decision to do the race with a rigid fork was not making my elbow feel much better after my crash.

Trying to fight off the pain in my elbow, I attempted to find a more comfortable riding position on my bike. Nothing was working too well, but I found that descending without holding the right grip very securely made my descents much less painful. I decided to ride the last 1.5 laps pretty conservatively because of the discomfort in my elbow. I managed to endure my discomfort for the rest of race and hold on to lead even with my pain, however, for a very satisfying SS victory and my fastest time at the LJ 100. So, overall I would have to rate my race as an almost perfect experience except for my crash and my lack of sleep the night before the race.

On a side note, Ernie and I decided to cough up an extra 10 bucks each on our trip home and stay at a hotel where we could actually sleep. Not that it would have been too hard to sleep that night anyway considering what I had just endured over the past 24 hours. And, oh did I sleep well that night.

The Lumberjack is a super fun 100 mile race and Rick Plite, the race organizer, does a great job at putting on the event. It is certainly another race that I would recommend for you to put on a list of must do races.

Happy Trails, Gerry

Thanks to Jack Kunnen for the first photo and Sologoat for the second shot.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Big Bear 24 Hour National Championships (NOT)!

As many of you know, Granny Gear Productions has hosted a 24 hour endurance mtb race at Big Bear, WV for many years. I was excited to learn last year that this race was going to be the USAC 24 Hour National Championship Race for 2010. I think many east coast riders were also excited to finally have a shot at this race without doing too much traveling. However, early this spring a sudden announcement came out, which stated the 24 Hours Nationals were being cancel at Big Bear and were instead being held at Moab, UT once again.

If you have never had a chance to ride the trails at Big Bear Camp Ground, you are missing a treat. There is a great network of fun, technical single track trails throughout the property. The main man behind this network of trails is Mark Schooley. After 24 Hour Nats were canceled, Mark stepped up big time and decided to promote a relay mtb race on the same date as the canceled 24 hour race. After a couple format changes, Mark decided to call the race the Big Bear 2x12. Basically, the race was designed for teams comprised of two riders to do a multiple lap relay race. The technical race loop was 12 miles long and had expert duo teams completing 3 laps per rider (6 total for the team) and sport teams doing 2 laps per rider. The one catch to this race for expert teams was that only first place received money for the win. Second and third placed would only receive a trophy. And, to ensure that the race would attract a good amount of fast riders, Mark offer $1000 to the winning team of each expert category (duo men, duo women, duo coed and duo single speed).

Wanting to have the best chance possible at winning this race I had to consider my single speed teammate choice very carefully. After much consideration, I decided to ask Weston Schempf if he would be interested in doing the race with me. Wes was totally psyched about doing the race and I was also excited to have one of the fastest single speed racers around on my team. Next up was naming our team for the event. But, with Weston’s name ending in PF and mine starting with PF, we decided to combine the two names and call ourselves the Schempflug Effect. Which, if you google it, actually has something to do with photography.

So, on race day Wes and I came up with our game plan for how we were going to do our laps. Wes started first and what a start he had. He actually took the hole shot going into the section of single track like the experienced cyclocross racer he is and then finished the lap a few seconds off the time of the fastest geared guy. I was up next for my first lap of three, but instead of doing only one lap I decided to do two laps. Not only did this give Wes a chance to rest up for his next two laps, but it also let me do a longer sustained effort, which is better for me than shorter efforts. Our game plan seemed to be working pretty well and by the time Wes went out for the final lap of our race we had a 7 minute lead over second place.

The first two laps of the race were pretty fast and dry for us except for a few slick spot in some wet areas. But, by the time most expert classes were beginning their third laps, the wind blew in a rain storm. It didn’t take long for the fast course to become a really slick one, especially with all the roots and rocks on the trails. Wes had a Stan’s Crow Tire on his rear wheel, which I tried to get him to change prior to the start of the race because of the technical nature of the course. I told him that a more substantial tire would hold up a lot better on this course, but Wes stood by his tire selection. On my last and super muddy lap, I couldn’t stop wondering how Wes was going to ride this slick stuff with basically a bald tire on his bike. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I returned to the relay tent to learn that Wes had switched his rear wheel out for my Salsa Semi 29er Disc Wheel mounted with a knobbier tire for his final lap. Ironically, however, Wes nailed a rock on the longest and most technical descent of the course on his last lap and got a flat tire anyhow. He then had some trouble with his tire change after breaking his one and only tire lever. Fortunately, though, he did get things back in order before being caught by the second place team and was able to take the win.

I can’t say enough good things about this race. The payout was incredible (if you won that is), the trophies were awesome beer steins and for a first year event it organized perfectly. If this race becomes an annual event, I highly recommend finding the fastest guy you know to team up with you for some good racing times next year. In the end, I am actually happy that 24 hour Nats were replaced by this event. Not only was this event a lot less painful, but it was a better way to prepare for the Lumberjack 100 next weekend. Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Dark Place

As a friend of mine and fellow single speed racer, Ron Sanborn, said to me while we were waiting in line to clean our bikes after finishing the incredibly muddy NUE Series #2 Race, the Mohican 100, in Loudonville, Ohio, “My mind was in a very dark place at many points during the race.” I could not have agreed with the description Ron gave of his mental state during the race more. The Mohican 100 was intensely tough this year after the area received many days of saturating rain, which included heavy rain falling the day before the race and on the day of the race. Riding in wet, muddy conditions for 8 plus hours will make an already difficult race almost impossible at points.

I think for many riders the race was more against the course than it was against other riders. Sure, there were individual battles taking place between riders on the course, but I am pretty sure most riders would agree the race was more about surviving the nastiness being thrown at us by Mother Nature and hoping that the mud on the course would not cause a fatal bike mechanical than it was about beating the guy next to you. In conditions like these, the single speed is a viable weapon of choice. Overall, my Salsa Selma accepted the challenge quite well. I did have my issues at times, both physically and mechanically, but my trusty single speed helped guide me through the muck and the mire to a respectable 3rd place SS finish and to 13th place overall.

There were so many points in the race where I just wanted to quit because things were such a mess. I started questioning why I torture myself this way race after race, year after year. I couldn’t come up with a good answer, so I just kept riding, waiting for the pain to come to an end. Eventually, everything that hurt, including my mind, went numb and my only focus was on finishing the race, not allowing the course to beat me.

As I entered the last four miles of single track, which was more like a flowing stream of water at that point, I actually became euphoric about conquering the course. It didn’t matter what I was riding over or through during this time because I knew I had won my battle against nature and I was feeling good. The feeling of overcoming such a difficult test is a good one, especially since many did not finish the given challenge.

After the race, the darkness that entered my mind faded into the past as I was able to share stories of the race and hang with many friends that endured the same hardship. I am sure there are many people that would consider riding a bike in the mud for 8 hours and 53 minutes over a 100 mile course as being somewhat insane and at certain points during the race I would probably have agreed with them, but it is almost impossible to describe to anyone never experiencing such a thing just how rewarding it also feels to push yourself to the limit and finish something so hard. Congratulations to everyone else that suffered along with me at the Mohican 100 and was able to push through all the mess to finish the race. It is one challenge that I will never forget. Happy Trails, Gerry

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mohican Preparations

I stayed with my game plan the past couple of weeks and did my racing on the road instead of on the dirt in preparation for the Mohican 100. I raced at the PA State Championship RR near Bloomsburg, PA on 05/22/2010 and did the ABRA Tour of Tucker County this past weekend in Thomas, WV. My game plan of staying on the road to keep healthy and fit held up pretty good for the most part, but I did have an unexpected battle with sickness last week that I was worried might ruin my chances at having a good Mohican 100 Race.

So, anyway, my bad luck all started when I woke up at 4AM to travel 4 hours up to Bloomsburg, PA for the State Road Race. I raced for about 8 miles in what seemed to be a pretty fast master’s field and then all of the sudden, without warning, I blew my rear tire. I immediately raised my left hand and pull off to the right side of the road to receive a wheel from the wheel truck. The change was not a real fast one, but the part of the course we were racing at that time was. I chased as hard as I could for about 3 miles, but there was no way that I was going to catch the fast pack.

Not wanting to waste the day after getting a flat I decided to keep on riding anyway, so that I could at least get in a good workout. I soon joined up with another rider who also suffer from a flat tire during the race and we rode hard together until the end of the first lap. After finishing the first lap, we decided to do another fast lap together and then I decided to do one more hard loop after my flat tire riding companion decided to pack it up. Doing a ride after my flat did help clear my mind of the frustrations I had about my flatting and made me feel a little better about getting back into my car for the four hour ride home. My bad luck may have started on the bike, but the bad luck soon continued by attacking me by the end of my long drive home.

During the drive home, my gut did not feel right and latter Saturday Night it was impossible for to keep and food in my body. Even now I am not sure if I got a case of food poisoning or the flu, but I can tell you that it knocked me down for a few days whatever it was. Being the way I am, I tired to ignore my symptoms on Sunday because I had planned to do a long ride. Well, being the way I am, I did the long ride anyway. It took just about every ounce of energy for me to complete and probably only made a bad situation much worse. By Sunday Night, I was so sick that I was unable to eat, was shaking from being cold and had a screaming headache. I took so many trips to the toilet on Sunday Night and during the day on Monday I started thinking about staying seated on the thing rather than heading back to bed. Thankfully, I was able to call off work on Monday to try and recover from my sickness, which definitely did some good. I also stayed off the bike on Monday and Tuesday, which was easy to do because I had no energy to do anything.

It wasn’t until last Thursday that I started feeling somewhat better. I was already pre-registered for the Tour of Tucker County (ranked as one of the hardest road races in the United States), but I was having apprehensions of doing it because of how I was feeling. But, by Saturday, I figured it would be best to give it a try and see how my body responded. My goals were simple: attempt to ride hard and hope that my GI track would withstand the extra stress of riding hard. I managed to exceed my expectations by actually being one of the main riders to create a five person breakaway on this major climb that was eventually whittled down to me and another rider by the last climb. Additionally, my gut felt fine and I didn’t have to finish the race with a chocolate stream running down my leg. However, being the non-sprinter that I am, I mistimed the last charge to the finishing line and wound up in second for the day. I was stilled pleased, though, because only a few days earlier I thought I was on my death bed.

Things seem to be back to normal for me now. I followed up the tough Tour of Tucker County Road Race with 3 hours of single track riding on Sunday and a hard 4.5 hours of riding on Memorial Day. Hopefully my spat with bad luck is done now and I can have a smooth week leading up to the Mohican 100 NUE Series Race this weekend. I am so psyched to do the Mohican and feel very fortunate that my health turned around quickly enough for me to prepare properly for the race. Let the count down to the weekend begin! Happy Trails, Gerry
BTW, thanks to Benjamin Stephens for the photo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wide tire fun...on the road???

After a little indecision about where to race this past weekend, I finally decided on doing a road race called the Fawn Grove Roubaix, near York, PA. The race was held on a 14.5 mile loop and had an interesting concept of combining fast paved roads with about 5 miles per lap of gravel roads. With a course description of some tough climbs also being included, I figured the race would be a good match to my racing strengths.

A couple of days before the pre registration ended on the race I talked with a racing friend, Blair Saunders, about the course, since he did it last year. Blair said that a cross bike would be best suited for the race because of the rough gravel road sections on the course. I told Blair that I recent sold my cross bike, so I would not have one for the race. He said that a road bike is not the best option because there is a good potential of getting a flat tire on the gravel sections of the course.

After discussing the course with Blair, I started doing some brain storming and decided to race my Salsa Mamasita at the race with cross tires mounted to my 29er wheels instead of standard mtb sized tires. I set up my wheels with Hutchinson Piranha Tubeless Cyclocross tires and filled them with 60 psi. Since I was not too sure about my bike selection, I packed my Salsa Podio Road Bike and took it with me to the race also.

On race day, I took my Mamasita out for a quick pre ride of the course specifically to checkout the gravel sections on the course. After I encountered the first section of gravel, I was pretty certain that the Mamasita was the best choice for the day. Like Blair told me earlier in the week, it is better to work harder during the race than chance getting a flat; and, after driving over 3 hours to get to the race, I totally agreed with his thoughts.

So, anyway, Blair and I lined up at the starting line with him on a cyclocross bike and me on a mtb with wide cross tires, while everyone else on the line was on standard skinny tired road bikes. At that time, I was definitely feeling like an outcast and a minority, since I was surrounded by road bikes. Things didn’t seem to get much better for me after the race started either, with the first section of the course being on fast pavement and having a couple of climbs. But, after entering the first section of gravel road, I was soon feeling much more confident about my bike choice and was happy I made the bike selection that I did.

I wanted to be one of the top riders into the first gravel section, so that I could stay away from potential crashes. I initiated an attack one climb too early, though, so I ended up entering the first gravel road about 15 riders back from the front. The race totally blew apart in the first couple of gravel sections. Tires were blowing, water bottles were flying out of cages and riders were drifting all over the place trying to find a good line. At the same time, I just smiled as my Mamasita picked a straight and clean line through the carnage.

My smile was short lived; however, because hanging with the faster road bikes on the paved climbs was intensely hard to do on my heavier bike with wider tires. Blair was in the breakaway group with me, but ironically he suffered a rear flat about part way through the first lap. Eventually, the breakaway group was whittled down to me a two other riders about part way through the second lap. The two guys I was with were absolutely hammering me in our three man break and on one road climb actually powered away from me. I had to dig really deep to bridge back up to them at the top of the climb where the pavement ended and another gravel road section began. I think the other two riders were pretty shocked that I latched back on to them after they had dropped me. From that point, I decided to save my energy a bit and not do much work in the break, so I could survive the fast pace on the road sections. I am pretty sure they understood my decision, especially since my high gear was only a 42x12 compared to their standard road gearing.

The three of us finished the third lap and the race together. I did not contest the sprint at the finish, since my two roadie friends did the majority or the work during the race…not that I would have been any match against them anyway. I was pretty happy with finishing the race in third overall on my Salsa 29er and I bet there will be some other riders making the decision to do the race on a bike with wider tires next year.
Happy Trails, Gerry