Pats Peak

I decided I would enter the Cat 2 single speed field at Pats Peak a few weeks before the Washington practice ride.  I had never ridden a bike here, but on paper it looked like the kind of brutally difficult effort I needed to put in the bank.

Also bear in mind that I just purchased a fantastic full suspension mountain bike this year.  For reasons I still do not understand, I opted not to race that bike, deciding instead that I would try to turn one gear up the side of a ski mountain for two hours.

I registered day of, and in the process caught a glimpse of the entry list.  It was only going to be three racers, and immediately I get that pit in my stomach.  It’s the feeling of “just don’t screw this up”.

At the starting line, I’m not feeling too encouraged.  Both of these guys have been racing a lot this year, and I on the other hand, have not.  In fact, my only mountain bike race in the last four years was a month ago.  So right away things are not stacking up for me.  But it’s of no consequence really.  All I need to do is finish this race and not embarrass myself.

We take off, and I the guy who I am certain will win this race takes off as expected.  The other guy I am very close to, and because I am turning 40 this year I do this “cagey mind game thing” where “I try to intimidate him”.  What this really means is I burn half of everything that I have blowing past him, thinking it will demoralize him and he will immediately give up.  That obviously does not materialize and within a few minutes he is safely past me and I am about to begin some time alone.

Pats Peak is a fucking terrible place to race a bike, at least if your bike doesn’t shift.  It is a never ending circuit of switching back and climbing, which is precisely what anyone signing up to race on a ski mountain should expect.  There was some riding, yes, but in large part, it was walking.  Lots and lots and lots of walking.  Too muddy, too technical, too steep, there was always a reason prohibiting you from spending more than a few minutes at a time actually pedaling.

The first of two laps was about an hour of this, with me never ever having sight of the other two racers.  I was firmly resigned to my third place position.  The only other racer I had contact with was a woman who had already finished, but was looking for some extra time on course because her event was cut short.  She would ride nearly everything I could not, on account of having a properly equipped bicycle.

About halfway up the mountain on my second lap, I’m in an actual “riding section” that traverses the face of the hill.  I have a bottle in my right hand, and my left is on the handlebar.  For some reason I am going a little too fast, so I grab some brake, which you’ll realize is going to be the front brake.  I immediately eject myself off the bike and through the tape into the tall grass.  As I collect myself on the ground, something has put a nasty gash in my inner thigh.  Great. This is fun.

I get back on and venture ahead, getting to a point where I just need this thing to be done.  I’m really not sure what kind of training value I’m getting out of this endeavor, as it is primarily hiking.  My energy feels pretty good, but it’s kind of useless.  Also my Garmin is now hanging by a thread, having been damaged in the crash, and it’s a constant distraction.

I finally get into the woods near the summit, where we’ll do a little more fucking around before we actually start to descend the trail system to the finish.  I’ve had enough of looking at this Garmin dangling from my handlebar, so I stop and remove it, stuffing it in my back pocket.  I’m tired of wondering if I’ll lose it, so this is strangely liberating.

Before I get going again I scan the area, and I think I see another racer well in the distance through the forest.  The switch flips and I start to give it a little bit of hell, wondering if just maybe it’s one of the guys from my field.  After a chunk of time, sure enough – I think it’s the second place racer I lined up with.  We come into a densely forested section that neither of us can ride, and I start to get that feeling.  The feeling that it’s time to race.

As we forge ahead on foot, he comes to a stop, and I pass him.  His seat and seatpost are absent from his bike, and I offer a word of sympathy before jumping back on and hammering away.  He immediately remounts, and here we are.  Two miles to go, and the podium is no longer decided – there’s going to be a fight.

I am drilling it.  I have never, ever taken so many chances on this bike in my life.  I am certain I will flat out the way I’m riding.  The tires are all over the place, washing out.  The other racer is right behind me, countering everything I throw at him.  But the one thing I can do, that he can’t, is sit.  And when I sit, I absolutely wring myself out, knowing it’s something he won’t be able to do.  I try to imagine how annoyed I would be in a particular section if I couldn’t sit, and then I sit and mash the fucking pedals with everything I have.

In a few minutes time I’m gapping him, and everything is becoming a blur.  I’m riding the same sections that I saw on the first lap, but completely differently.  They’re nothing but in the way of me getting to the end of this race in second place.

As I get to the top of a small rocky rise, both of my calf muscles lock up in excruciating pain.  There is no way in hell I will stop to work that out.  I keep pedaling in this frustratingly rigid motion, as the muscles refuse to flex.  This has never, ever happened to me before but my only thought is that I will ride it out and hope they resolve.  They have no choice, because I’m not stopping.  Not now.

I charge full gas into the final technical descent, nearly eating shit at least twice over the handlebars.  I have to reign myself in, reminding myself repeatedly that I actually need to finish the race.  All of the adrenaline is firing.  I can’t see the other racer anymore, but the paranoia is too great.

Very close to the finish the trail switches back under a ski lift, and from out of nowhere come half a dozen racers directly toward me.  I have no idea what the fuck is happening, and I’m half delirious at this point, but I’m mostly confident that I’m in the right and they’re all wrong.  Either way, someone is going the wrong way.  We pass impossibly close at speed and one of them clips me in the ribs.  Somehow no one crashes.  There is some shouting among them, and it is quickly worked out that all of them took a wrong turn.  Near disaster.

Minutes later it’s the finish, and I have seized second place from the jaws of mediocrity.  I’m eight minutes behind the winner, and put seven minutes into third place.

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At the podium ceremony, I am made aware that today’s races are USAC State Championship events.  As it turns out, I’m the only one in the field who is actually from New Hampshire, and I am crowned the NH state single speed MTB champion.

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I am not interested in racing here again.

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The new radness

Lynx trail (the hard way, from the pond) on a singlespeed is a goddamn pain in the ass.  The trail is a pain in the ass anyway, but having only one gear to work with ups the ante.  In spite of having to walk a number of the second-half sections and largely giving up after the trail turned right, I was still 19/82 on the Strava World Championship Measuring Stick of Who Is Awesome At Bikes.  It was part of a loop I’d love to come back and ride more than one lap of.

Even in the daytime, it is creepy to be all alone deep in the woods on Lynx.  You have to ride a lot safer when you’re by yourself, and you’re more aware than usual – like how far away from your car you are.  And you hear things, and think you see things, and wonder what you would do if you encountered a huge crazy animal.  Fortunately the only craziness I came upon was a pair of fighting turkeys.

For the first time in over four years, I actually checked the air in this fork.  I bought the bike used in 2009 and never touched the suspension, because I am highly ignorant when it comes to these things.  As it turns out, the (+) pressure was off by 75psi, and the (-) was off 100psi.  That sort of explains why I always locked it out and occasionally swapped in a carbon rigid fork.  Now it’s much better.  Combined with this new Ardent 2.4, I’m a maniac.

This tire up front inspires so much confidence that it’s outright depressing.  Now I actually drive this bike through turns, instead of slowing up and hoping the front end doesn’t wash out.  There’s really no fear of it not being able to eat anything in its way.  The only weirdness I have to better understand is that it feels like it pulls to the side during a slow climb.  It may be a function of the mass of the tire.  But it’s really insignificant in context.

I’m not sure the Ralph is a great match.  As is usually the case when you put a high traction tire on the front of a bike, the inadequacies of the rear tire become pronounced.  The RR is not awful, it’s definitely a light tire, but it’s all over the place by comparison.  I have an old Ignitor I will throw on, just to see.

I really like the weight savings of my rigid carbon fork, but even with a 2.4 up front I sincerely doubt I will ride as free and fast.  I will still try it anyway to satisfy my curiosity.

I pulled a pair of ticks off my legs.  One was pretty big (not of concern) and I don’t think had bitten yet; the other was definitely a female deer tick, the size of a sesame seed.  I coaxed that one off with a pair of tweezers; it was biting pretty good but ultimately gave up.

It sounds like I’m getting preventative antibiotics.  The issue is that it takes time to have the tick tested for Lyme, and the test is reasonably accurate but not 100%.  And it doesn’t make sense to wait and see if symptoms develop, because people present differently; not everyone gets a rash, some people never demonstrate outward signs of infection.  But if you do get Lyme, your life could suck for a while.  So prudence here is to just take the pill and not have to think about it.  I really need to be better about bug spray.  It’s still early season, but it’s not that early anymore.

Roll The Bones

Rare action photo where I am leading another rider in competition
Photo: Riverside Cycles

The last time I raced a proper mountain bike race, on an actual mountain bike, was sixteen years ago and you’re all overly familiar with that experience at this point.  I will as well spare a retelling of tales from the two mountain bike races I participated in last year while riding a cyclocross bike.  And I won’t get bogged down in the logic of why I decided to race again this year.  Let’s just get into the meat of it: first singlespeed mountain bike race ever, first time back at it since 1996, HOW DID IT GO.

I had never raced Weeping Willow before, or even ridden a bike a Willowdale before.  All I knew is that people say “it’s fun!”.  Sounds fun enough.  I like fun.  I’m in.  21 miles, singlespeed, whatever.

Except I have never been in a mountain bike race this long in my life.  So it was time to FIGURE SHIT OUT.

First, how long would it take?  I perused last years SS results, which demanded only 17 miles.  For this year’s 21 mile effort, I estimated that it would take me between 2 – 2.5hrs.  If I’m having a great day, the former.  If I shit the bed, we’ll need the two and a half.  I didn’t do any kind of mph estimates or anything like that; this was purely guessing.

So then, what the hell do I eat?  That was tough.  I knew what to drink, and I knew I needed to drink A LOT. It was going to be hot as hell, and this is where I am at my very worst.  So it was time to do some Allen Lim-inspired math.

I had to make some assumptions.  For one, that I had only 1500 calories stored as glycogen, because I’ve done almost no training.  Two, that I would burn an estimated 1,000 calories per hour hauling a singlespeed 29er around at race pace.  Thirdly, that I would be on it the entire time, tapping nothing but carbohydrate for energy, and that heart rate would never settle to a point where we were fuel-mixing with fat stores.  Fourth, because the heat destroys me, I would have to drink a hell of a lot.

Next, I start with a zero amount of fueling, and work north from there until I figure out what I need.  With no food at all, we weren’t even getting to our stretch goal, so now we add some energy input.  Bottles of 80 calorie Secret Drink Mix.  A bottle an hour wasn’t going to get us there either.  Up the fluid rate, add some gel, and we barely get there.  Any longer than two hours and we’re in the hole.  But how could I reasonably consume any more than that.  It had to be good enough.  Maybe the burn rate would come down.  Maybe there was a little more glycogen store.  Let’s find out!

So we’re off.  A good sized group of 20+.  Inside a minute I realize my gearing choice (the only one I can run on this bike without a tensioner) is not good.  This place is fast, and my 32×19 is basically a Yugo as described by Samuel L Jackson in Die Hard 3.  The field is all but gone.  My only hope is that once things get technical and vertical, I can regain some ground.

Problem is, Willowdale isn’t like that.  There aren’t long, sustained ascents where you can tap into “hill climber mode” and pull back time on people who are suffering a lower cadence.  It’s up and down, and there is plenty of momentum to be had.  And even if I was climbing more efficiently, if that was even faster to begin with, harder gears had to be pulling back so much time on the miles of fire road.  I guess we’d just have to settle in and see how it shook down in the end.

Right away, I felt awful.  So tired, right out of the gate.  Stella had been up at 3am all week long, and I was definitely feeling it.  If only this race had been about a week earlier.  I didn’t think I would feel quite this bad this early.  Hopefully I would shake off the nerves, loosen up, and things would come around.

On brand new tires I didn’t yet trust, and having never ridden here, my first lap was super conservative.  I also neutralized a lot for riders outside of my category that started behind me.  You’ve gotta do that, even if it means pulling off and stopping for a few seconds.  A 50 minute first lap, and I was thinking, alright – that’s a little off pace, but we’re in the ballpark of our estimate.

Lap two and now I’m getting the hang of it.  Things are thinned out, I don’t have anyone behind me for a pretty long time, I know the course better, and these tires are definitely working.  I felt better, I was drinking a ton, and now it’s about time for our first gel.

The thing is, my stomach doesn’t seem interested in this.  I don’t know if it was the heat, or just working really hard with no real bike fitness, or nerves, or what was up.  But I didn’t feel like good things would happen with gel swirling around in there.  And that’s no good, because with the third lap looming, I am looking to be pretty fucked by then without food.

So I figure.  I figure with all of the fire road riding, I’m nowhere near the 1,000 calorie/hr burn rate.  And I figure maybe I’ve got a little more in the glycogen tank than 1,500.  So I roll the bones.  Let’s go the whole way on Secret Drink Mix and see what happens.  Who.  Gives.  A.  Shit.  I’m just out here to build some fitness.  So I keep drinking in earnest; so much in fact that I am burping every now and then, so I know something is happening in there, and it’s not for a lack of intake.

So anyway, lap two.  Nearing the end of the lap, there’s a big guy in a gray t-shirt standing in the fire road.  I’m going pretty good as I pass him, and he’s yelling at me.  Something something fucking something goddamn something brakes fucking something.  He was bullshit, that much was clear.  I rode another hundred feet or so, up a short rise, and something wasn’t settling with me for some reason.

So I stopped, waited for a few riders on my tail to pass, turned around, and went back.  I kind of wanted to know what that was all about.  So I slowly roll up to the guy, who has a cell phone glued to his ear, and he restarts his tirade.

Can’t you fucking see you’ve got an injured rider back there and you fucking guys are flying by with no brakes.  That was the essence of his point.

I look him square in the eyes and tell him I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.

“Is there an injured rider back there?”

NO.

“Alright then (mumble mumble can’t remember)”  He seemed like he had no fucking idea what he was doing, especially raving at participants like that, and now I was slightly aggravated.

WHAT THE FUCK – YOU CAN’T JUST STAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD FUCKING CURSING AT RIDERS FOR NO FUCKING REASON WHEN YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT or something to that effect.

I felt the beautiful, proud irony of admonishing someone for swearing while swearing myself.  I turned the bike around and off I went.  Time to embark on lap third.

Fucking guy.  I had seen plenty of crashed out participants that day, but I hadn’t seen one for a really long time at that point. And had I seen one in tough shape not already being assisted, I wouldn’t have just flown by like a fucking jerk.

Lap three.  My back is not feeling too hot right now.  Since I’m spinning out anyway on the fire roads, I sit up and ride no handed for long stretches, which provides some relief.  I’m still on track for about 2.5 hours, and I know in another 20 minutes or so, I should be bonking.  Well, if I were following my plan I would be bonking.  I’m “off plan” of course, so who knows what’s going to happen.  I still don’t feel like eating anything.

I am starting to get slooooooooooow.  I can rail the swoopy stuff fairly confidently now, and when I have to put in a good mashy effort, I’ve got it.  But the lights get really dim while I recover.  Sometimes I feel like I’m barely moving, just meandering about.  We are now in honky bonky land.  Hello familiar friend!  I have a caffeinated gel in my pocket for this very occasion, but I figure with only another 20 minutes left of this, it’s not really worth it.  I’ll suffer along and just pull this thing in.

Around this time, someone comes up behind me, and I automatically pull over for them and let them pass.  When I realize it’s actually another singlespeeder, I can’t believe it.  IDIOT.  I was giving way to elite and pro traffic for so long, it didn’t occur to me that I was actually still ahead of riders in my own category.  I get a little charge out of this, pick it up, but as he disappears, my will to fight returns to nothing.

Then it happens again.

So dumb.

It’s sure going to suck if those two guys were the only two guys behind you.  Of course, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened, and I ended up 16th of 21 starters @2:35; the other five probably spontaneously combusted.

I finish up, and go straight to the car.  I was happy enough with the way it turned out.  I had the balls to enter and the guts to finish.

So that was a good food lesson.  I think part of the problem was not eating enough beforehand.  It’s just not like ‘cross, where I’m up three hours before the race, eat right away, and then I’m all set.  I have a baby now, and I’m up much, much earlier, and always starving when I wake up.  And with races like this, I need to eat several times in the six hours I’m awake before they start, not just once.

As well, I need to find a way to eat during these efforts.  I hadn’t factored on not feeling like eating.  Maybe the next time, when I’m more relaxed, that will make a difference.  The drinking was fairly successful though.  I plowed through that stuff (4-ish bottles all told), and I had not so much as a spec of salt on my face afterward.  That never, ever happens.  Clearly the sodium content of SDM is on target for what I need, so this is pretty encouraging.

Also encouraging was that my estimates were good, and that I either didn’t work as hard as I thought, or I had more in the glyco tank than I thought.  I bonked after I thought I would with 200 calories less input.  It’s somewhere to start.  Cross is a no-brainer – onboard fueling is useless.  Time trials are progressive efforts and easy to calculate for.  This is a new beast for me.  If I spend this year figuring it out, maybe next season, when I actually have time to ride again, I’ll know what I’m doing.  I don’t feel like I’m that far off; just some simple missing pieces.

Revolutionizing the Mamasita: The Finished Product

They are rad.

I don’t own a compressor (for the Stan’s setup) and really just wanted to get riding, so I stretched out some 26″ tubes the night before and used those to cheat about 100g off the pair of standard 29er tubes I had on the shelf.  The wheels themselves weigh somewhere in the mid-1700s.  29″ Crossmax wheels weigh this much, so in that regard I’m already happy.  The rim is 24mm wide with eyelets, and I opted for Sapim CX-Ray spokes, which are expensive and wicked awesome.  I now have three pairs of wheels from Revolution (road, CX, MTB) and they all have these spokes.  I figure if you’re going hand-built, why not.

The first ride was last night; about an hour and a quarter, getting tuned up for my first SS MTB race this coming Sunday.  Once I had the tire pressure worked out and the fork where I wanted it (I haven’t run a suspension fork in a while), things were really good.  A few times on FOMBA‘s flowy Woodpecker trail, I remember several situations that left me thinking “wow these are fast”.  I would punch it and the bike would just go.  This is what I was looking for.

I spent a lot of money on these wheels, but that was the idea, as I look at these as something I will have for a very long time.  Also the bike has one gear and a $17 bottom bracket so it probably all works out.

Now to tackle saddle, post, bars, stem – all of which were on the bike when I bought it; just a random collection of parts.  The stem weighs nearly half a pound and that has always driven me crazy.

Drivetrain is where I want it though.  Old, heavy, ultra-reliable.

(Catching up?  First ride, what happened, picking hubs, tires.)

Revolutionizing the Mamasita: Tires

Deciding on the hubs was time consuming, but not what I’d call super difficult.  Tires, on the other hand, were impossible.  Day after day, scouring forums and tire websites trying to figure out not only what I wanted, but more to the point, what did I want them to do.  Be racy?  Light?  Crazy traction?  Do it all?  The number of options borders on absurd, but you can NOT have everything.  I had all but settled on another pair of what I already have – Maxxis Ignitor – but I found no shortage of stories where sealant had caused unwarrantable problems.  So rather than play the odds, I went for Mr. Racing Ralph.  Everyone’s doing it.  Who cares.  This will be my first foray into tubeless, and Schwalbe seems to have their act together.  If things are super gross out there and the Ralphs don’t make sense, I’ll probably take my old wheels anyway, in which case the Ignitors will already be mounted and ready to go.

Revolutionizing the Mamasita: Hubs

Part 2 of bringing my mountain bike back to life.

Jon and I went back and forth on the hubs.  Would we go White Industries and run a freewheel, would we take the cassette route.  My STX-RC crank mated to a random square-taper bottom bracket yields a weird chainline, so cassette made sense for all-round flexibility.  I had originally ordered an American Classic singlespeed cassette hub, but the engagement was really aggravating.  It felt inconsistent and imprecise, and while I’m fairly sure my AC road wheels operated that way, we agreed it would be a bigger deal for technical single speed mountain biking.  So I went all in on the only hubs I’ll ever need in my lifetime.  When you think about it that way, it’s not so bad a decision.

Revolutionizing the Mamasita

I bought my Salsa Mamasita in 2009.  I loved that bike from the very first test ride, and in spite of us having some absolutely smashing rides, I’ve resented it ever since.

Chubbs says it’s all in the hips; I contend it’s all in the hoops.

The Mama I rode on those first few rides wore a pair of Salsa Delgado Race 29er rims; near as I can tell those were in the 455g range per hoop.  I didn’t know that level of specificity at the time, but I did know that they spun up sweetly.  I could tell the minute I got that bike out of the driveway; the way it just seemed to accelerate.  It felt like I wasn’t putting in more than I was getting back.  That shit put a smile on my face.  It’s a big reason why I ended up buying the bike.

But the wheels had issues; nothing tragic, just irritating.  One or both of them had some minor hops, and the seller (also a shop owner) agreed to have them trued.  After a painful amount of waiting (weeks), some determination was made that the hops could not be cured, and he offered to rebuild the wheels altogether.  Sounded like a good plan to me.  I let him go about the task and picked them up some amount of time (weeks) later.

My first ride on those wheels was rather unforgettable.

Sheer disappointment.

These did not feel like they did before.  They were a chore.  Laced to the same White Industries hubs, the rims looked pretty much the same – what the hell was going on?  Why do these feel like riding through quicksand now?

Different rims.

It seems someone made a decision to use Salsa Semi rims for the rebuild.  While they looked similar to the Delgados, they ring in at 570g.  We’re talking a quarter pound difference per wheel, at a point on a wheel where weight is the most perceptible.  Certainly to me anyway.  I knew immediately something was off, and now I was stuck with it.  That was my mentality anyway.  It had been such a battle just getting the wheels taken care of in the first place, I just wanted to ride.

So I did; for years I rode them, but I never really had that feeling of euphoria again.  Every now and then when I hop on, I still disappoint myself when the bike doesn’t take off like it did that day in March.  That sounds a little insane, but I remember what that was like, even three years later.  That day was like the rebirth of mountain biking for me, and it’s a fairly permanent memory.

Probably two seasons ago now, I cut the rear shifter cable and ran the bike singlespeed.  That was some serious shit.  There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment you get from killing something you didn’t think you could on one gear.  It’s a whole other experience, building up momentum and just leveling climbs because you have to.  Last year, I found the Mama’s magic gear, and at this point I’ve got the hub spaced out with a bulletproof 32×19 setup.  I’ve tried, and I can’t throw it.  This is good.  I could race this.

But not with these wheels.  I don’t want to.  If we’re going to do this, I want my old bike back.

So I’m collaborating with Jon at Revolution Wheelworks.  He’s cooking me up something off-menu that’s more than worthy.  In a few weeks, hopefully I’ll be able to show them to you.

Something I tend to do a lot with this kind of stuff is just suffer along.  Just deal with things that bug me, and then seasons pass and nothing changes.  If you have the means to change it, what a waste of time.  None of us are guaranteed anything; a lot of people will say “someday I’ll do this, someday I’ll do that” but no one really knows what the hell that really means.  It’s a pacification mechanism used to rationalize complacency.  Fuck that shit.  You could cross the street an hour from now and get clipped by some airhead on cellphone and never ride a bike again.  How’s your someday looking now?  You have to enjoy this stuff while you can.  Whatever it takes to get you there.

A Fine 29

Last night was only my third ride at Bear Brook on my Salsa Mamasita. A quick-handling 29er is where it’s at ladies and gentlemen.

I can’t begin to explain the sense of supreme confidence instilled by a set of wheels that, on paper, really shouldn’t impart that much of a difference over traditional hoops. The sense of roaring along the road with markedly less effort. The simple fact that every climb seems to take less time as you incrementally cover more ground. And the lines. If your chosen line is interrupted, there is usually little consequence. Momentum. Probably the 29’s greatest asset. Several times last night I would stray off line through some technical section of trail, only to say “aw…..f*ck it”, take a little off the front wheel, and just power through whatever was now in my way. Line it up, let it go, and we’ll make it, one way or another.

What’s to get used to? Well at slow speed up a steep section, you’ve got a bigger wheel to cut back and forth when the going gets dicey. You adapt to it, because your whole life you’ve been riding what now feel like tiny kiddie wheels. And you welcome the adaptation, because you get so much back in return that it’s almost ridiculous and unfair to your 559mm-clad compatriots.

Hopefully we get up to the Kingdom Trails before the snow flies. I can’t wait to see what this thing can do up there.