Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SSAP '11

The 3rd annual Singlespeed-A-Palooza is in the books.
Thank You Darkhorse George, Hawaiian Mike and everyone else involved. The Darkhorse Cycles events are always a super fun time and worth attending.

Thank You Ginger for your support as well as helping us (Bike29, Dejay, Cavanaugh) with our bottles.

Great to see everyone again. I look forward to the Darkhorse40.





The past few weeks have been extremely hectic at work and therefore, I have not had much time to ride my bike beyond the weekly Wed night group ride. My weekend started off on a bad note but that quickly changed when I hoped on my bike for a ride Friday evening with Charlie.

My bike was all set for dry Stewart Forest trails: Swalbe Racing Ralphs with a 34x17 and a brand new chain. Charlie was not racing SSAP on Sunday but duking it out at Winding Trails as he's gunning for CT SS Champion. So... We rode from our homes into the West Hartford Res and up and over Avon Mountain enroute to the Winding Trails course in Farmington.

I was a little apprehensive riding up Avon Mountain mostly on trail with such a big gear but figured I needed to see how it really felt. I made it up the crux section and out onto Old Mountain Road where we continued up and over the mountain.

"That didn't feel too bad."

I was beginning to think I can ride a gear like this. After all, Cavanaugh turns large gears and is faster than I so I should try pedaling bigger gears to go faster. It worked in last year's VT50 so why can't it work all the time? We took a few more roads and made it onto the rail trail bike path in Avon. From there it was a straight shot south to Winding Trails. Upon arriving at the back corner of the course we made a few phone calls to find Kerry.
It looked nice. Nice and Dry and Nice and Fast. We found Kerry and did a lap. The 17 felt good but due to the nature of the course being so twisty I consistently felt behind the gear. I did feel strong but the 30-40 min ride out there and a 25-30min lap with no water or food put me near my limit. Given that Stewart typically isn't so twisty, I wouldn't have done a ton of climbing (aka: Avon Mtn) and I'd be eating and drinking, I figured I was still okay for SSAP.

We then rode home but did a partial lap around the west hartford reservoir to get another 30mins in. It was now pushing 7:30pm and the sun was disappearing and the temperature was plummeting down into the lower 40s. So much for shorts and a short sleeve jersey...

Saturday I got my stuff together and Ginger, Omega and I hit the road for Montgomery County NY. The Bike29 crew from VT was expected to arrive late in the afternoon while Mike from Niner was already out there. The weather did not look good. Very cloudy skies with a high chance of rain. I was beginning to believe that this year's SSAP was going to be as wet and muddy as last year's.

We arrived around 2pm to say hello to Darkhorse George, Hawaiian Mike, Niner Mike and everyone else at Darkhorse Cycles. Rain was immanent so I got to work getting Ginger's bike and mine all set for a ride. We rode from the shop just as the rain started sprinkling and the wind started howling. It was frigid cold (again, somewhere in the 40s). Ginger's contacts were drying out due to the wind and the rain was pelting our faces but we persisted to get a ride in.

 
The Darkhorse Cycles crew set this year's race up starting and finishing on the north side of Stewart Forest like they did for last year's Darkhorse40. It worked out well for the 40 as its easy to get to, a paved road to park on and plenty of room for the post-race festivities. Oh, and its very close to their new storefront. I'd say a Victory on all accounts. I really like this new format, especially when its wet out.

Ginger and I rode the prologue loop and started in on the first 1/8 mile or so of the main loop. She had fun despite the harsh conditions we were riding in (kind of like last week's Grinder... I keep saying we'll ride in the sun, dry trails and warmer temps but that's not happening so far. I really hope this promise will not be broken..). With our feet getting cold (well, just mine) and contacts drying out we turned around and moseyed back to Darkhorse Cycles to warm back up.

Knowing how much it would rain I also decided to remove the 17t cog and throw on an 18 for the race. The 18, lately, has been my go-to cog for Stewart and I managed to get through the muck last year with it so I figured it should work fine.

After a few drinks, a few introductions and a few good laughs the Bike29 crew arrived. So did the steady rain. Mandy set out to ride the course while Jay-Pro and George engaged in the festivities at the shop. Ginger and I were getting hungry and couldn't wait until the 'official' dinner so we split off at some point to grab some food and check into our hotel and get cleaned up.


This is where I sank into another bad note. Somehow my cargo box decided it didn't want to be on-top of my car anymore. I found it hanging halfway off the Audi's roof when we pulled into the hotel parking lot.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

I got it back on the roof before either the box or the car got damaged. That was a relief. Turns out my Thule quick clamps do not want to hold tension anymore so the box can float around on the cross bars. I remedied this (for now) by putting the box back in the center of the car with our bikes on either side (bikes were on one side when we drove out there). This reminded me of when my quick release clamp decided to fail in Colorado last year. At that point in time I happened to look up through the sunroof and saw my Superfly swaying with the wind as I was heading up to Fort Collins from Denver. I almost lost my bike, two days before the Breck Epic.

Moral of this story? Periodically check everything. Things wear out after prolonged use. My bike trays are easily 10 years old and my cargo box is older.

So, yeah. I'm outside walking Omega in the rain and also fixing my car. Completely soaked and not a happy camper. The thermostat in our hotel room was also broken so I couldn't get the room warm. I ripped it off the wall (after realizing it was held on with tiny clips) and figured it probably needed new batteries or something. So, I carried it to the front desk and asked them to fix it. I was greeted with the strangest of looks but without questioning why I had the thermostat in my hand they replaced the batteries and it worked again. Victory!

After a hot shower Bike29 George told me they were all at the restaurant across the street from the bike shop so we headed over.  The rain was getting worse and by now there were some giant standing puddles in the road and parking lots. We arrived and Bike29 George was no where to be found. Hawaiian Mike greeted us with drinks as we settled into some more fun times with great people.

Darkhorse George kept asking around who Bike29 George (following the lingo? its not that confusing) was picking up at the airport. Ginger, Mandy and I knew but we managed to keep our mouths shut. Rumors started circulating that it was Dicky (which was hilarious). Moments later Dejay Birtch (straight from Sea Otter in CA) walked through the door and the looks on everyone's faces was priceless (somehow I forgot to take a photo). The Darkhorse crew and Niner Mike were beyond themselves. What a great surprise. It was good to see Dejay again and glad to see him back on the East Coast.

We found our way back to the Comfort Inn for more drinks. Meanwhile, T-Hom was at some scary bar and hotel somewhere else in town and couldn't escape to meet up with us. At some point he and his Boston Buddies did arrive at the Comfort Inn.
(photo: Mandy)

We could hear the rain coming down on the windows. It was raining sideways and we all knew tomorrow would not be all smiles. To bed late. Up super early. Its race day. The rain passed and left behind water soaked roads and even more soaked off-road bike trails.

"Yup, just like 2010."

"Embrace it."

A Panera Breakfast and we were off to the races. People were showing up as early as 7. We would see upwards of 250 racers. This is probably one of the largest singlespeed only events in the country!

Ginger and I found a good location near the start/finish for her and Omega to hang out during the race. We tied Omega up to a tree and I started riding around before the race started.



A few minutes before 9 the expert and pros went off. I was up front with everyone as we barreled down the pavement and onto a dirt road through the prologue. Rob Stine came to the front and started pulling with Monte, Dejay, Cavanaugh, Roger Foco, Dave Lyons and others close behind. I was probably sitting around 8th-10th.

I felt good and didn't feel like I was overextending myself at the start like I historically have done. I kept telling myself to setting into a pace that I felt I could sustain for the entire duration and focus on being consistent. Consistency has not been my strong suit in Stewart so I wanted to really focus on that despite whomever was infront of or behind me.

As we turned the first corner from dirt road to doubletrack I could not believe how far ahead the leaders were already. That was pretty amazing to watch unfold right infront of my eyes.

And then there was the first puddle. Probably not even 1mile into the race. Guess it was better to get it over with up front. I went onto become thoroughly soaked for most of the duration of the race. It was insane how much larger the puddles in the prologue got overnight. Wheels were already getting swallowed.
(photo: GTLuke)

As I came out onto the pavement we then went opposite of our start and passed the start finish on a gradual paved climb. Somehow I managed to settle into a nice cadence which propelled me up that road at a decent clip while not killing my knees. It was strange to me for so early on I typically am breathing very heavy and my knees are on fire from the intensity. I felt that but to a significantly lesser degree. My breathing was controlled and my legs felt strong but not overworked.

"Good... Lets keep it this way and keep on trucking."

I stood up as much as I could to get that extra kick of the pedals. The trails in Stewart are fast and punchy so a bigger gear and standing up seems to help me a lot on the punchy stuff. As we crested the paved road climb we ducked back onto some singletrack which didn't seem too muddy. Tacky yes. I took it easy through the turns trying to figure out how fast I could push it before losing grip with the tires. The Racing Ralphs felt pretty good. My bike felt great too. This gear allowed me to have my rear wheel as far forward in the sliding drop-outs as possible which allowed a short wheelbase. Coupled with my crabon Niner fork (45mm offset -vs- G2 51mm) the bike felt fast (and handling was very responsive. just like I enjoy for east coast terrain).

The trail turned upward and also turned mucky. Mucky like peanut butter. It was tough to climb this hill up towards Scofield Ln with such sticky mud but I managed. I wound up standing up most of that climb and seemed to be pulling away from the people being me (but the people ahead of me were pulling on me). I was in what I call "no man's land" not even 20minutes into the race. Out on the gravel roads like Ridge Road I could see people far off ahead of me and a bit closer behind me. Ridge Road is where the first annual SSAP started. Monte has a nice photo on his blog (right side under 'Dirt Peleton') from that event's start.

Right onto Weed Road and we were now where the Darkhorse races historically used to start. Right at the top of that nasty climb up Weed Road. We ducked into the Orchard singletrack on the left right at the top of that climb. I had a good pace and was still feeling good. This was fun but I was worried I'd blow up at some point because I always seem to do. I'd try to coast and rest where I could but course out here lent itself to continuously pedaling so I'd keep going faster.

The roads are where I would always slow down and everyone else would speed up. Historically, I've felt this is where I lose a lot of time and fall back in the standings. This year I tried to keep pedaling as fast as I can on the roads with little periods of coasting. It was hard to accomplish as I climbed up Ridge Road but I knew I had to keep the pace even on the climbs if I wanted to hold my own. I did just that while hoping I wouldn't blow up later in the race.
(photo: Erika Johnson)

The rest of the course up through the old factory (where my blog's header picture came from) pretty much went this way. We didn't go through the factory again as we weren't allowed to this year. Down that road and a right turn onto a double track that climbed a tad through this field. At the base of this climb was a stream crossing with a wooden bridge on the left. I saw the guy pretty far infront of me take the bridge and it looked like it was a slower route so I opted to go right through the middle of the stream. After all, I am already soaked.

Ever see those images of surfers surfing the 'pipeline'? Well, I kind of felt like that. That stream was deep. Hub deep at a minimum. I carried so much forward momentum coming into it that my tires parted the water and it flew out and over my head. I felt like I was in my own little 'pipeline' or 'tunnel of water' as I went through the stream. The water came down as quickly as it went up and I now officially became drenched. My gloves were now soaked completely through and water was dripping down through my helmet and all over my face.

"That was fun!"

After the stream there were a series of little step climbs as we gained some vertical. At this point in the loop I typically lose strength to muscle up these climbs and am slowing down a lot. This year, I felt myself slow down some but still had the strength to muscle up the climbs.

"If I could stay on the bike it would make me faster than running or walking."

"Stay on the bike!"

We eventually crossed over the dirt road we rode down in the prologue and did a tiny loop within the prologue loop before coming back onto the paved road to the start/finish. GTLuke was hiding somewhere in here snapping photos of people riding down this rock face and into a giant puddle of water.

from this
to this
to this
(photos: GTLuke)

I then came across the start/finish and realized I drank one and a half bottles so I only had Ginger give me one bottle for the 2nd lap. I also finished one flask of Hammer Gel and had another flask left. With a flask of gel and 1.5 bottles I tried to remember to drink and eat on the 2nd lap. I think this was one of the critical keys to my maintaining a consistent lap.

Now that I've been out for a shade over an hour I still had energy to motor up that road climb as I entered lap two. Ginger said I was around 11th. Wow. That's awesome. I finished 25th last year.  I did my best to maintain my pace but the course was not the same as it was on the first lap. Rightfully so as upwards of 250 racers have now traveled on it.

That mucky climb on lap one? It was 10x worse now. I juggled back and forth between running and riding. I tried to ride most of it but felt myself slowing to almost a standstill. Two guys caught up to me and passed me. This was probably my lowest point of the race but I snapped myself out of it rather quickly.

Onto Ridge Road and I could see those two guys not that far ahead but could not catch back up. I focused on turning those pedals over as fast as I could while also drinking every chance I had. I could not afford to have any cramps start setting in as I still had a big chunk of the lap to finish.

Surprisingly, despite that mucky climb, I rode more of the course on lap two than I did on lap one. I can not figure that one out but was stoked to stay on the bike.
which lead to this
which lead to this
which lead to this
(photo sequence: Eric McPhee)


"Look Ma.... No brakes!"

Fingers are no where near my brake levers. In fact, I rarely used my brakes this entire race (including rolling over blind hills like above). I tried to roll through the turns as much as I could. I'd use the front brake sometimes but if I was using a brake it was the rear brake as I entered into the turn. As a result I only had one or two panic stops for coming into a turn too hot. Now, one could argue that this method slowed me down and one can argue that it made me faster. I don't know which is right. All I know is I was comfortable and happy with how I rode.

Lap two continued about the same as lap one. Same pace and consistent power in my legs. My arms were getting a little fatigued but nothing that didn't affect my handling of the bike. As I grew closer to the end of the second lap I grew more afraid of cramps on-setting out of now where. This prompted me to eat and drink even more. I did my best to also be consistent with eating and drinking for pockets of large doses of food and water don't help much.

At some point two more people passed me. There was nothing I could do even though I didn't want to slip further back. I had just enough in me to continue at my pace and if I upped my pace to match the guys that just past me I would have been at grave risk to blowing up before the finish.

Why am I so worried about blowing up? I did just that in last year's Darkhorse40. I went so hard the first lap that on lap two I cramped and went from a forward momentum pace to a backwards momentum pace. I fell from top 10 to 30ish. I did not want to do that here and felt I could let a few people go as long as I could continue riding as fast as I could. Again, trying to be consistent. Once I figure that out I can work on surges here and there (ha. yeah, right).

More photos from GTLuke as I rounded out the second and final lap.

Yes, my eyes are closed. I rode most of these deep puddles with my eyes closed. That's the only way I could keep them from getting blurry with mud. Mountain Biking with glasses never seemed to work for me on the east coast. I think its because of the humidity we see. In muddy conditions like this? They probably would have made it one lap and then would have been full of mud.

There were a few people closing in on me from behind but I desperately wanted to hold 15th place (where I currently was). Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bike29 jersey. I couldn't tell if it was Jay-Pro or T-Vo. Either way I wanted to say ahead of them to a) make my teammates work and b) give George something to laugh about.

Onto the pavement and it was flat for a while before it pitched up slightly. I would either die here or hold my own. Knowing the finish was right around the corner I put my head down and buried myself with ridiculously fast cadences of those pedals. I was able to maintain the flat without backing off but once I got to the slight incline I couldn't sustain this cadence 100% and would back off for brief seconds at a time. Continuously looking over my shoulder to see if the other guys were gaining on me. I seemed to have held the gap.

Head back down and I pedaled feverishly despite feeling the legs starting to cramp. I could see the finish and everyone could see me. I felt myself slowing down.

Would I get there or would I falter a mere few yards from the finish?

My legs were starting to cramp but I told them to continue pedaling. My pedal strokes were no longer round but seemed like mush. I tried standing up to kick a few pedal strokes but would collapse back down on the saddle as my legs couldn't support me.

Pedal Damn It!

Pedal Little Fucker!

Oh wait... that last one's for Dicky. Not me...

I made it! I finished and was able to hold off anyone behind me in that last stretch. Hold off as in 6 seconds!

I finished the race in 15th place. 10 places ahead of last year. 15 minutes behind the winner, Monte.

"Only 15minutes?"

Yup. 15mins and change. My time of 2hrs 12mins 42sec versus Monte's time of 1hr 57mins 21seconds (results are here). That right there is worth it! I am stoked. Cavanaugh came in 7th, 5 minutes ahead of me! That is how close we were.



I hung out a bit, chatted with Ginger, Dejay, Monte and Cavanaugh but started to shiver. After all, I was sop and wet and it was cloudy and windy out. I wanted to say and see the women finish and also see T-Hom and Bike29 George finish but I had to get back to my car to put on some warm dry clothes. My legs felt okay. No cramps but they did feel heavy.

"Did I leave anything in the tank?"

I don't know. I don't really care. I was please with being consistent (from at least what my analog watch told me) and pleased with how I felt the entire race. I have not ridden this well (from my perspective) in Stewart Forest.... Ever.
After I got cleaned up (as in: wiped down with a damp towel) I rode back to the finish to find Ginger and Omega and help her gather everything up. We then joined everyone in the after-race festivities (beer and hot dogs) and we all told our stories of how the day went. The sun also started peaking out through the clouds.

The pro/expert women's podium: Rebecca and Donna from Niner/Ergon taking 1st and 2nd.

The pro/expert men's podium: Monte taking the win and Dejay 2nd


After the festivities Ginger, Omega and I got in the car and headed over to her parent's house for the afternoon. On our way we stopped for some home-made ice cream.
A cup of Mint Chocolate Chip with crushed Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Yum!

As we were making the 5minute drive from the ice cream place to her parent's house I couldn't help but notice my Audi was sluggish. Why did I have to press the gas pedal so much? Turning the corner onto their road and opening the window I found out why. (Bad note #3 for the weekend) The passenger rear brake caliper was frozen against the rotor. When I stopped in their driveway smoke was billowing out of the wheel wheel and it stunk to high hell.

As Charlie Brown would say: 
"Good Grief"

20,000 miles on these brakes and now something goes wrong. Needless to say I was frustrated as this car has been nothing but reliable since early last summer (after all, I drove it to CO and back without any problems).

While I waited for the car to cool Omega decided to cool off himself. He went for a swim in the pond behind their house.

We then went to see her brother and cousin as they were back in the 'pit' waay behind the house doing some stuff...

Her brother came up to me and said

"I've got something for you"

And just like that.... 30something rounds in both hands were gone lickity split.

Ala 'The Outlaw Josey Wales' style

Thanks Ben!

Once the car was cooled off I pulled the wheel off to find only one of the two bolts that hold the brake caliper on were present. When I applied the e-brake at the ice cream shoppe I somehow got the caliper and carrier lodged and it wouldn't come un-done. Hence the smoke. By now it was 5pm on a Sunday and I could not find a hardware store to buy an 8mm x 1.0 pitch bolt to replace the missing one. I decided to bolt it back together with the remaining bolt and take it very, very easy on the 45min drive home. Good thing for us there was hardly any traffic and we made it home safely.

What a whirl-wind of a weekend. Only to have Big Brother calling early Monday morning... Ugh, another 13hr day. Hence this very long story a day late but not a dollar short.


I often wonder what I could do if I focused more with my riding. Then again, I ride because it is fun to me. I don't want to be forced into having to ride because my 'training plan' says I do. Hence why we were up late on Saturday having a good time with friends telling stories and having a few drinks. I find ways here and there to be faster on the bike but that is a by-product of everything else. Yeah it may take longer to get to that level but I'm having fun doing it...

4 Comments:

Blogger CB2 said...

Excellent write up

4/20/2011 12:24 AM  
Blogger Big Bikes said...

4,625 words.
Sorry, had to count. It took me all morning, can't imagine how long it's gonna take me to actually read it.

- t

4/20/2011 9:02 AM  
Blogger dougyfresh said...

haha.

it made my poor iBook G4 start overheating.

4/20/2011 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Jay-Pro said...

Great to see you there, and I was too cold to chase you!!

4/21/2011 10:21 AM  

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