Part II Morning comes way to early, I wake up early and never get back to sleep right. Sleep I desperately need. Late night, lots of beers and 25.5 miles of rocky racing ahead of me. When I finally crawl out of my sleeping bag I'm feeling better than expected, a little groggy, not really hung over but in serious need of coffee. I'm an addict, it's my morning fuel and there is no way I'll function today without it. I pretty much need it within minutes of getting up and I have no idea if there's a chance of getting it here. Luckily, these strangers who have taken us in are treating us like kings. Stumble upstairs and the coffee is already brewed and breakfast is cooking. I guess the load of tasty beer we brought them was a good idea. A good breakfast, LOTS of coffee and a bit of water for rehydration and the troops start gathering their goods for the race. Open the car and it is smoldering with sweaty bike clothes from yesterday's ride baking in the morning sun. Good morning racers!
We head out on the highway to navigate around State College to the other side of town and while rambling to Markie Mark I miss a sign and we are going down the wrong highway. No exit in sight and next thing you know we are entering some area that's part of the PA prison system. A quick turn around and we are headed back the way we came, exit onto the right road. Or so I thought. Coming from this direction it appears we can get off where we want and we are once again moving away from our target. Shiiiiiiiiiit! It's getting close to race time. I pull off, check the map, it doesn't cover where we need to be but I take a calculated chance based on the little info that it covers. We are quickly back on the road we need to be but not sure which direction we should be going in. With a 50/50 chance we of course pick the wrong route, quickly realize it and swing a U-turn. Ask a couple hammering down the road on a tandem if we are headed toward Tussey Mountain and get the answer we want to hear. A few minutes later and we are pulling in, most everyone already there, bikes and freaks all over the place.
Pop the hatch and start digging through the giant pile of gear and crap that has already turned into an unmanageable mess in less than 24 hours. I manage to find 2 GUs, drop a couple of scoops of Endurox in a water bottle and stuff a Clif Bar in the Camelbak for a backup. I figure the Endurox will be my main source of food and part of my liquid intake. I'm in too much of hurry to look for the ankle strap I use to hold the bottle in the cage on these rocky rides. I bend the cage tight and we wrap up as they are rounding up riders for the start.
Over 400 racers and a lot of spectators gather in a gravel parking lot up the road, freaky get-ups everywhere, nice bikes, beater bikes, young and old, women and men, it's going to be a fun day. We drop the bikes and hoof it to another gravel lot for final instructions and the Le mans start.
I'm in the middle of the pack when we take off, head across the parking lot where the bikes are acting like an obstacle course, then onto a piece of singletrack where 400 racers are trying to run. then across the road and onto roots and rocks, across a little bridge and back to the bikes. Unless you were up front it was more like a moderate jog. I hate running, especially in bike shoes, and didn't want to blow my load in a foot race but in hindsight I should have made a better move for the front. Not for a winning position, but for later when the log jam would start.
The run was long, I've heard people bill it between a 1/2 mile and a mile. I'm leaning towards the lower end, but it didn't matter. I hop on the bike and start pedaling up the gravel road that will lead us 1/2 mile up the mountain. I want to get up ahead of as many people as possible but I try to keep things in check, it's a long ride and this is the easy part. No sense in going out like a bat out of hell only to be zapped later. Winners are predicted to be done in 2.5 hours, I make a mental note that I should do it in 3 or less. I've got no illusions of winning, there are real racers here, I just want to rock steady and put in a respectable time.
We enter the singletrack, the dab-no-dab/three bridges section and it is an A-1 cluster. It's all rideable, but I'm track standing in a rock pile as people slip and slide walking the rocks. I'm forced to jump off, then get back on as soon as I can and nail the three bridges. This is a technical riders course and fortunately for me I live for that. For those who don't it was probably one long day of misery. Riders are getting jacked on the rocks left and right on the short descent and I gain a few more places before we are back into the climbing which will go on for a long time. At this point it is rocky, uphill and lots of traffic. Lots are riding but more are walking. There is nowhere to pass in this tight singletrack and those of us riding are calling out to the walkers to yield. A bunch of jackasses, about 6, continue to hold up 4 of us who are riding slow as snails because they can't give up there position. This isn't cyclocross boys and you aren't going to be able to walk/run 25 miles of this stuff. When you get past some riders you put down the hammer best you can, momentum is your friend in the rocks, and crank onto the next bottleneck. I see a rider pull over and puke. Too fast too soon chief, another one bites the dust. I settle in behind a guy on an IF for a while, nowhere to pass but he's keeping a pace just under what I want to but I'm not going to be a dick and try to plow through the bushes. I can see enough riders up ahead to know that I'd soon be right back where I am now. We catch up to a big cluster and the rocks once again get denser. One by one riders fall or are bypassed by those of us who can manage to stay upright. Overall there's about 7 miles of this, almost all uphill and massive rocks.
When I finally finish the ridge that was last years (ECNASSCU) I've been riding by myself for a bit now, trading places with riders here and there but mostly moving forward in position thanks to all of the rocky terrain. The ranks have thinned and I suspect a lot of soldiers have fallen. At the end of the ridge top we start a descent on some bench cut that's rocky and fast. I pass a few riders and let the brakes go, eventually latching onto a train that is hammering the fall. I'm on the tail end of a giant whip, inches off the guys wheel in front of me, a dangerous position to be in if someone stacks. The trail is only a foot wide and falls off to my left. I take solace in the fact that Marla Streb is in the middle of our train. I figure at least she knows what she's doing. Everyone else seems to be handling things pretty good to so I take my chances. We continue like this for a mile or so, Marla peels off to let air out of her tires and our group splinters one by one as we hit some extra technical patches. A climb thrown in gets me working hard again, I barely grunt it up a switch back that everyone else seems to be walking, proud of cleaning up but knowing I have probably hurt myself for later. More descending and then we are spit out of the woods into a gas line clearing that sends us straight down the fall line and over a mandatory boulder launch to a crowd of cheering volunteers. Race organizer Eric Roman gives me a shout out and I feeling the adrenalin from the downhill pumping through my veins.
I reach for my bottle of Endurox, time to refuel, there's a big climb coming. It's not there and I start to worry. Dehydrated from last night's drinking festivities and redlining it in the hot as hell day, I've been sucking down water like it's going out of style. Worry starts to set in, I'm not sure if the aid stations are going to have water. The Camelbak is already feeling light and I've got no bottle. I've seen plenty on the ground, right where mine now is, somewhere in the woods. I start the climb, dig out a GU and vow to pick up the next bottle I see on the ground. I never see another one all day.
Things start getting blurry after this. It's hot as hell, I'm nursing my water and the climbing just keeps going and going. I believe this was the longest climb of the race. It felt good to be stretching out and spinning some, the climbing wasn't too bad initially but then we hit some grassy double track, a bit rutted but not too bad, and the trail started going up steeper. I look up ahead and see every rider in front of me walking, strung out like paper dolls up the side of this mountain. The climbing hurts but it's not that bad yet and I dig in with determination hoping I can bag this whole thing. Of course, I have no idea how long it is and it seems to get steeper with every turn of the pedal. But a number of racers I pass cheer me on and that's all my ego needs to make me do stupid things like continue to crank even though my legs are beginning to pay a heavy price. I'm not going a whole lot faster than the walkers at this point but I feel like it's got to be over soon. I pass one guy who is startled by someone riding and he too gives encouragement. I admit I don't have much left and ask him if he knows how much further the top is. He's got no idea and when I round the next bend and the top isn't there I get off. It crushes me mentally but I figure I'm better off for later in the race. In reality I've already done serious damage.
Luckily I don't have to push that long, but it feels like forever when you've admitted defeat. The steepness breaks a bit and I hop on and continue climbing, glad to be pedaling again. I hate pushing my bike almost as much as I hate to run. Soon enough I spot the 1st aid station and feel relief. I roll in and the volunteers are all over you offering all kinds of help. I just want water and I hurry to get my Camelbak off and filled. The girl offers me the gallon jug of water and I pound a bunch of that too just for good measure. I thank everyone and take off, still in race mode. I realize there's water pouring down my back and in my hurry to get going again I pinched a strap in the lid of the bladder. Off the bike for a quick fix and back on. Still climbing, yeah, this damn thing isn't over yet. When we finally top out I meet a couple of other guys and we get to take in incredible mountain views as we pedal the ridge, then start a ridiculously long jeep road descent that goes on and on and feels like it will never end. I'm going full bore, bare a touch on the brakes, any weird little surprise in the trail has the potential to send me spirally out of control and go down in a burning heap. But who cares, it is just too much fun to ride high speed and out of control, especially after that climb.
More climbing, again, it's blurry, can't remember exactly how long, but this is where I think the legs started getting tight, muscles feeling like they want to lock up. I never get this, it's weird and foreign and I'm wondering just what kind of issues this is going to cause and how long it's going to last. I suck down my last GU and curse the lost Endurox, my secret weapon that is long gone.
At the top of this climb I realize where I am, Wildcat Gap is coming up soon. I've been looking for it, thought we already should have hit it. Just a bit more gravel road climbing and then we are on top. I'm thinking I need more food input to make sure these cramps don't come back. I round the corner and there's aid station two. I don't want to stop, Wildcat is up ahead and I want to keep rolling. The great volunteers are asking what I want and I make the sign of drinking. "Gatorade? Water? Redbull?" they ask. My brain is misfiring, I'm still pedaling and coming into the feed zone. I signal again for drink. "Gatorade? Water? Redbull?" they yell again. The brain snaps back into action and I yell for a Redbull, figuring it's got the most calories. The kick ass volunteers hand one off to me on the fly and I start sucking it down. It's like an XXXtreme TV commercial in the making as Wildcat is approaching and I finish the can, hand it off to the volunteer who warns me its steep and nasty. Oh yeah, I know and I've been looking forward to it.
Wildcat drops something like 900ft. in elevation in 1/4 mile. It's rocky as hell, steep, off-camber in spots and the bottom is a rock chute that looks like someone backed a dump truck full of small boulders up to it and let the load loose. It's a brutal trail at any time and this late in the game when you are beaten, battered and tired it takes even more focus. As soon as I enter the top rocks a photographer snaps my picture and cheers me on. It's the kind of thing that helps get you stoked for the tougher stuff to come. Down the fall line, crazy steep and bouncing off of half buried rocks. The trail seems much longer than last year. No matter, you have no choice but to go down and keep it all together. I'm feeling good, a little tired, but on my game and that's all that matters. As I near the final rock chute I can hear spectators. They gather to cheer the racers and watch the carnage. There's a high victim rate here, I'd guess over 50% based on the last two year's stage races and the crowds love blood and bruises. I rolling, pretty high speed coming into this mess that's called a trail. Looking for anything that can be considered a line, looking way ahead where I need to be. The crowd is cheering, it feeds you and helps you keep the line. I hear Maili and Gina, I want to look up for them, nod to them and say thanks for the support, but taking my eyes off the line will spell an instant hospital visit. I make it through the rocks clean, no dabs and roll out onto the fire road knowing there's at least one sizable climb left and then another nasty downhill. I'm happy but tired and know it's not over yet.
As soon as I start pedaling the fire road, with only the slightest incline, the legs start to rebel. I stand and one set of muscles starts to lock. I sit and another set starts to lock. Not good. I turn a slow cadence, figuring if I stop pedaling it's all over but not being able to pedal at anything near what I should be able to. I've got energy, I'm not bonking, but a couple of those hills where I had to play tough guy are now having the last laugh. I slowly spin as a few racers pass me and feel like I am the slowest chump on the course, barely crawling, physically unable to overcome what my mind is telling me to beat. I remember the Clif Bar stashed in my pack and dig it out. Food might help and it certainly can't hurt. I start eating, the bar thick in my mouth and hard to swallow, the last thing I want right now but I know it's probably my only hope. I alternate between sitting and standing. The hill turns steep and the legs want to rebel more. I fight back, telling myself to keep going, it's got to pass. Lots of climbing at this point and it's all slow. The Clif Bar eventually seems to do some good but it might just be the placebo effect. No matter, the legs are relaxing. I want to hammer but figure I better keep it easy for a bit more. I round a hairpin I recognize and know the last downhill is not far off. I step it up a bit. Not much longer and the legs don't feel like they will totally lock up. Up, up, up, no rest for the wicked, a little more pain before you are released.
Finally I spot the final turn into the singletrack. Back into the rocks. Another long, technical, teeth rattling downhill. Half of the ride I've been feeling the tires have too much air in them, but at least I haven't flatted. By this time though, the body is fatigue from being pounded. This downhill is fast and pretty much all rock and I know it's the end, so there's no sense holding back no matter how much my body is feeling pounded. A few riders get picked off by the rocks, good for me since there is nowhere to pass. The guy in front of me is going at it cyclocross style on the tougher stuff. I want to pass but there are no options and what's the point in yelling out. This thing is just about in the bag and he's doing pretty good with his run. We aren't racing for places, points or dollars and I'm not going to be a dick. I start to hear voices. It's got to be the crowd at the end. A few more rock gardens and we pop out into a pile of people. It's over and I'm stoked.
A quick time check and I squeaked in under the 3 hour mark. I'm smiling, I should have done a bit better but who cares? I had a blast. The course was everything I like about an epic ride: lots of rocks, tough climbs, technical downhills and a lot of cool people along for the ride. I loved every painful minute of it. I'm pretty sure the ride broke quite a few riders and anyone who had doubts about the quality or difficulty of East Coast terrain was probably schooled the hard way. Note to self: 1) Learn how to run worth a crap and get out in front early. 2) Fuel up right.
WOW, that was long. Maybe a part III if I can get it together.
Feeling Good //
Thursday - August 25, 2005
After two days of rest from the SSWC I was feeling like a champ on the Wednesday night ride. It was like I was injected with EPO, the hills felt like they were flat. More to come on SSWC, the ride plus post-ride beer swilling left no time to work on part II of the report.
In the meantime, you can check words by Keith Bontrager who raced and who said to put these trails on your "must ride" list. Also, check a brief post by the first man to cross the finish in the bike portion, Jesse Lalonde and words from Marla Streb who was not the first woman across the line on the bike but took the championship in the end.
And one last thing: have you ever seen anyone get really upset about a bash guard? Welcome to the world of pointless whining on the internet. So a guy makes some bash guards, tries to inject some humor in his web site and people just don't seem to get it. Buy them if you want or don't, that's what makes this country great, freedom of choice. And of course, freedom of speech does too, which I personally love. Sure, people have a right to complain, I'm just saying it seems like a waste of energy. I met the guy behind the site at SSWC and he seemed alright by me. But what do I know, I'm just some jackass punching words into a web site...
SSWC Part I //
Tuesday - August 23, 2005
We arrive in State College, PA for the Single Speed World Championship race in the early afternoon on Saturday and head straight for Mt. Nittany Wheelworks to check in. Things aren't too crowded but a good number of riders and single speeds are milling around the parking lot. We immediately spot Mike H., Dave B. and some others from the Baltimore trails. Race organizer Eric gets us setup with our pint glasses, socks and number plates and we get the details for what is going on later. With an address in hand we head out to look for the floor we are going to crash on tonight, a friend of Pedal Shop rider and Liberty Jamboree chief Jim C.
We roll into this stranger's neighborhood and the WUSS boys have already arrived, perhaps taking their team name a bit too serious as the main mode of transportation are mini-vans. Introductions are made, beers are cracked and Andy and Kristin, our gracious hosts, make us feel at home right away. After a few beers and a call from Mike H., I'm ready to ride and try to rally the troops. The only takers are the SSO crew, the others decide to head in to town and get registered. A bit of scrambling to gather gear and we blaze off to the other side of town for Tussey Mountain to meet Mike, Dave and their boys.
Everyone is suited up and circling like sharks when we pull up so we get things in order quick, do a map check and head out. We are going to hit up the first long climbing section of the race course, then peel off and circle back to the cars for a 13 mile loop. We pass a bunch of other riders who are in town for the race, say some hellos and start climbing a fireroad we used to access our camp two years ago. It's about a 1/2 mile climb that's nice and steady and good to get the legs working. At the top we enter the first rock gardens, home of the dab-no-dab section for the past two East Coast North American Single Speed Championship of the Universe races. The rocks are followed by three tricky bridges. You might remember Stoner had a two page spread in the Dirt Rag table of contents of him hitting this section last year. I make a mental note that it would be real good to be up front for this section because not many people clean it and it's going to be a cluster. I also figure no matter how far up front you are, unless you are one of the first few, it probably won't matter.
We work the three bridges in short order, rip down a quick little decent and then head up real steep real quick. A quick map check tells us we've turned to soon and we head back down for our next right. I'm leading and this climb is much more mellow, at times it doesn't even feel like you are climbing. Plenty of rock sections but if you stomp the pedals you can work them pretty good. I love it, just like back home in Frederick: rocks, rocks and more rocks. I settle into a groove and keep steady cranking. After a while I realize no one is behind me and wonder if something happened. A short wait and here comes the pack, I was just feeling good and making good time. Back at it again, through some really gnarly stuff interspersed with some fast, tight singletrack. We pass some riders here and there in the other direction including Luna rider Marla Streb. Pop out on a fire road and meet up with some Texans who are having a blast. Check the map and head back out to grab the next piece of singletrack that is fresh cut and loamy with rocks here and there. Still climbing, yes we are, feeling like a little more work, but nothing extreme as far as steepness goes. Eventually make it onto the rocky ridge that was stage 1 of the ECNASSCU last year only we are running it in reverse. This is just one giant rock garden, probably a mile or more, some parts easier than others, all of it working you, keeping you on your toes. No time for daydreaming. We loose one rider who bails early but the rest charge on. At the end of the ridge we peel to the left, the race course goes right. Both go down. We rip tight tasty singletrack and my foot catches a hidden stump that sends we over the bars into the shrubs. Almost gracefully, in slow motion and unhurt, I roll out of it, everyone has a good laugh and we continue the descent. Jumps, drops, fast turns and big smiles lead us to the bottom and we make our way back to the car.
We get back to our bunkhouse and find the WUSS boys have hit the grocery store to get some feed. More beers and some swimming in the pool to cool the bones, complete with diving board retardation and then the BBQ is fired up and we grub some tasty vittles and head into town. Missed the scavenger hunt/alley cat that was going on but we got a trail ride in so we are happy.
We head to the Big Easy where late registration is going on and are met by massive piles of bikes including some very cool rigs. Of course, I forgot my camera. Poke around the 'net, someone has surely capture some of these rigs. Inside there are a lot of bikers, but it seems a bit thinner than expected. Seems some people are taking this racing thing a bit seriously and conserving themselves for tomorrow. Find B-more riders Tim and Dom there, Fat Marc and his Fairhill boys, and lot more riders places like PA, MA, VA, NY and who knows where else that I've met at these types of events. It's great to see, a gathering of the tribe. Lots of beers were drank and when things started to thin out (a bit early it seemed) we moved over to Zeno's where there are lots of good taps and the word was a good rockabilly band was playing. Well, they weren't exactly rockabilly but they were good and go by the name of Angry Johnny and the Killbillies. Check them out when they drive their hearse into town. Lots more fine beers, Dogfish head 60 Minute IPA for $2.50 and loud, gritty rock and roll. We bug out about 1am and grub some gnarly fast food on the way home to fuel up for the next day's race.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story.
SSWC 2005 is done! //
Monday - August 22, 2005
Stick a fork in it, the Single Speed World Championships are done. I'll write up some of the finer details later, right now I need to let the body detox and piece it all together. The course was A-1 primo east coast riding, tough as nails and take no prisoners. A total of 25.5 miles, not sure of the total elevation but you see the map and profile here. The weather was great, the people were awesome and the whole thing went off without a hitch thanks to Eric Roman, the crew at Mt. Nittany Wheelworks and a whole bunch of selfless volunteers. To all of them, I raise a cold beer in their honor.
For an outsider's perspective, you can catch the local newspaper story on the event over here.