Charity rides are a dime a dozen, all surely worthy causes to raise funds for things that just don't ever seem to get nearly enough funding. But The Big Fix is unique in both the ride and the way it's raising funds. It's a ride to raise funds for Histiocytosis (see above link) that will see approximently 25 riders cross the country on fixed gear bikes. Right now if you donate $50 you will get a chance to win 15 pairs of Phil Wood hubs. That is NOT a typo. There will only be 200 chances taken for that whopper of a prize and as I write this half of the chances are gone. Act now, because not to long ago they did a similar thing with a Richard Sachs frame. I waited a bit to long and missed probably the only chance I would have of ever owning one of those beauties.
So, it's the holdiay season, maybe you are feeling generous, maybe The Man gave you a nice x-mess bonus, maybe you just want 15 pairs of Phil Wood hubs. Whatever the case, you can do good and take your chance right here.
Five of us from the Balto./DC area arrive in town Saturday night and pile into subscription guy Brad Q's house that he shares with new full time DR employee and IF chick Carol. We load in bikes and beer and proceed to carbo load with barely pop for Sunday's event. Earlier in the week I was afraid there won't be any snow for this years event, but by the time we crash Ma Nature has come through for us and the white stuff is falling.
I swear in years past the start time for the PBE is 10am. Not that it ever gets off at that time. This year start time is 11am and that seems to work much better for getting coffee and bagels in the system and getting suited up. Seven of us roll out of the house and head to pick up Justin, who was 1/4 of our Seven Springs 24 Hour team Mondo Guano.
At the firehouse start lots of people have arrived and are getting their collective shit together. We crack some beers and proceed to get last minute things in order. Eventually the pack gets rolling and we head down the road. I'm not good with numbers, but I'm estimating the pack was over 50 and under 75 riders. Grind up to the top of the first hill and get ready for the start. Stage one has a mass start climbing a short section of hill where the riders make a U-turn around some course marshals, head back down to where they started and hang a 90 degree right into the singletrack. Like many stages, getting in front early is key because options to pass can be few. Of course, not being the most serious race, most of us don't worry about elbowing our way to the front of the starting line, you take what you can get and hope you can sprint for the hole shot. At this point, with all of the riders gathered together for the first time you have a chance to take it all in and check out the costumes, freaks and bike nuts. Next to me is Topher, last year's One Gear, Good Beer winner, in some sort of silky pink jump suit, blasting tunes from an iPod & portable speakers from his hydro-pack. FYI - Tunes on a ride are good and we get to enjoy these most of the day.
With the word from DR chief Mo, the pack is sprinting up the hill. As we crank back towards the singletrack I make an effort to get near the front and figure I'm somewhere in the top ten as we hit the snow/dirt. This section is a nice tight and twisty wooded piece with little surprises like sharp dips and mud bogs. Mostly it's a full on work out, no big climbs but no place to rest. Early on we are bunched up and I'm riding the guys wheel in front of me looking for opportunity. It doesn't take long to pick off the first rider. With the snowy conditions most people are using the well tracked line which means fallen logs and the like are avoided and open up places to take advantage. The pack stays tight through most of the stage but I gain a few places and plan for the end. As the stage winds to an end it starts to gradually descend with a series of sharp turns and then finishes off with a final plummet that eats riders left and right. My only hope for placing is taking advantage of this. As we head into the turns everyone has picked up speed as the trail points south. One by one people start eating snow in the turns, crash and burn, and I'm gaining places. Adrenaline is flowing and everyone is yelling as the energy of stage one fills the air. Final turn, a right hander, deep and steep on a muddy fall line that leaves no room for error. At the bottom is an off-set root ball that must be tackled at a weird 45 degree angle to seal the deal or your fate. I manage to come down the hill sort of in control as a wake of bodies lies behind me and almost lose my nuts on the root ball as I negotiated it with one foot extended as an outrigger. Course marshals and spectators are cheering the commotion as I grab a second place ticket and turn to watch the rest of the riders. Now is when it gets interesting. Lots of crashes, lots of walking, plenty of cheering and jeering and a final capping of the stage when the lone tandem riders clean the section (including the root ball) smoother than almost anyone all day.
Once everyone is gathered we ride on to stage two, down the trail, up the trail, through a graveyard, down a road and eventually to the parking lot for beer stop number one and the derby. After we refuel with some Troegs this massive pile of riders starts the derby. For those not in the know the derby works like this: ride around in circles trying to knock everyone else off their bike. Put a foot down and you are out. Non-riders form a circle. Circle gets tighter. Last man or woman standing wins. Fifty some people plus alcohol makes for a good derby. I lasted a while but did not get in the top ten. Felt a little bad when I t-boned Ricky and took him out, but when opportunity knocks you must answer. At the end of the derby bikes are lined up for a Le Mans start for stage 3 with the DR crew shuffling things up to make it interesting. And some friends take advantage too, which is how bikes wind up in trees...
Stage 3 is an uphill road stage with a flat sprint for the start that doesn't serve up any advantages to the single speeders. I settle in and rock steady, this has never been my stage. While some spin like hamsters on a wheel I take the slow and steady tortoise approach. I don't make the cut for points (close, but no cigar as they say) but by the top I've passed most of the hamsters. I'm still sucking wind though, tough climb.
Stage 4, the natives are getting restless and want to get started. If you've never been to a Punk Bike Enduro, you need to know it's an all day event before getting started. Combine a huge group of riders, mix in all ability levels, then have roving course marshals that need to get to various finish points and plant punks along the way and you begin to see why this isn't some fast moving event. My advice, dress warm and bring some trail side refreshments to keep you occupied. After much waiting and a rousing chorus of some perverted, bastardized X-mess carols, the stage is ready to start. Sprint down the road for a block or two, then a hard left into the singletrack. Another section where it pays to get out front early. As we head for the turn off the road I'm near the front despite a bad off the line start. At the singletrack entrance its like trying to stuff riders down a funnel. I'm in quick but get thrown off course by a gnarly rut that cuts across the singletrack at a 45 degree angle. I only eat a small helping of shit and quickly recover. This is a fast stage and I take a few chances to get back in play. It's fast and swoopy and the snow makes two wheel drifts the norm through the corners if you are pouring on the speed. As long as you know it you have a chance of surviving. Some do, some don't. We lose a few riders through here, but I've got no idea where I am in the pack, so I just keep getting it. A hard right sends us down as short fall line and then forces us into a hard left. A few more riders lose it here and eat some saplings and I glance back to see a couple of good spills in the snow after I've successfully made the last turn. The action is getting hot! Do you really think you'd see riders pushing it like this at a NORBA race? Hell no! The next section continues with some swoopy ups and downs and I just try to crank steady. I pick off a few more riders, things start to level out and it gets hard to gain ground. We are at the bottom of the valley and it's stream crossings, semi-frozen mud holes and motorcycle ruts. When I finally see the finish Jeff G. is holding out a ticket for me. As I crank forward, and reach for the ticket my helmet clocks a low hanging tree. Damn, that rang my bell! Thank god for helmets and the beer van that is near by. My ticket reads third place.
Once the crew is gathered back up and sufficiently lubed with beer, we start the trek to stage five. Apparently this got added in last year, and since I missed last years event, it's new to me. The pre-ride is a lonnnnnnnnng grind up the road. After we finally top out I share the flask of Jim Beam I've been carrying with Carol and Paul. This warms the core on this grey and snowy day. Not that the climbing didn't.
The road is narrow and we are staged right next to a short stretch of field that quickly dissolves into woods. I'm solidly in the middle when someone yells "GO". As we enter the woods I make a bold (or is it stupid) move on the bush whack route to pass a cluster of riders. As I'm running out of road I slide back into the trail, seemingly successful in my massive pass. But something goes wrong. Is it the whiskey? My skills? The guy behind me? Not sure, but I was probably at fault and two of us go down and start causing a back up. We quickly recover, but others have take my lead on the off the beaten path route and are barreling through the woods beside us. Suddenly a man on a chopper is air-borne! Later info reveals that the chopper pilot (spoiler: and eventually PBE winner) Lee Klevens was going for the pass much like myself when he encountered a nearly invisible telephone pole tension wire that he used as a launching ramp by riding his BB up that sucker at high speed. A few other riders went down and once everyone was assured to be without injury we all took off at high rates of speed once again. Soon enough we started an uphill slog that did not seem right to me. But what do I know, I haven't done this stage before, so maybe I'm wrong in where I thought this stage was going. It quickly turned into a tough hike-a-bike. A decent sized group had already passed and we just followed the worn path. After a bit we popped out on a road that I recognized as the start of stage 1, we crossed it and I knew we were on the wrong course. I kept going because other people were doing heading this way too and quite frankly I didn't know any other way to try to reconnect and turning around seemed silly. By the time we made it to the bottom of stage one most of us realized things weren't right, but a lot of us were on this course. Riders kept coming, some opted to turn back, but most of us forged ahead with a map and some of the locals knowledge. We eventually made it to stage six ahead of everyone else, only because it take so long to regroup between stages and possibly because the rest of the race may have been wondering where the hell a third of the pack disappeared too! At this point it seemed appropriate to have a Clif bar and finish the Jim Beam while we waited for the others. Next stages: Uphill/Downhill.
To cut to the chase, no one stripped down for this stage. The uphill portion was as brutal as ever, running up an extremely steep hill with your bike shouldered. I managed seventh, barely squeezing in for points. Downhill was the usual mayhem, lots of crashes, losing control, eating snow. I kept it together until the final turn and foolishly took it to fast, over confident and getting dumped in the snow as a penalty. Somehow banged the crap out of both shins in that little disaster. Wouldn't trade it for anything though, still a blast.
Stage 8 is a dirt road climb, long and hard. I take the tortoise approach again, go steady and hope the others burn themselves out before I do. No excitement on this stage, you just want it to be over. I manage a sixth and some points.
Stage 9, gather on the dirt road, short sprint, then a hard left into the singletrack. Another stage where it pays to be in front early. Unfortunately, I am not. I make a few passes early on and then need to just settle back and wait for mistakes. This section is tight and twisty and narrow. Very little room for passing. It's a grinder, deceiving since there are no huge climbs but it's constant work the whole way through, no rest for the wicked. I'm riding the wheel in front of me and anytime there is the smallest chance I make a move. Eventually I suspect there are only one or two riders ahead of me, I see one and gradually start to reel him in, but I don't have enough distance or gas in the tank to seal the deal. I wind up second on the stage. I find out later it's a young buck name Danny Wilson on a Soma fixed gear. Rock on dude . At the finish our points tickets are not there so we are instructed to stay in order. As Jeff G. comes by to hand out the tickets he's got some punks (worth 10 pts. a pop) under his arm. A guy (his father?) points this out to Danny and tells him to snatch them, all is fair in the Punk Bike after all. The kid doesn't seize the chance so when Jeff passes I do and wind up with 3 punks, a serious chunk of points. This is it, the final stage, it's getting dark and we rally back via the road to the firehouse and more beer and a big pot luck feast of food.
This year a whopping 25 points was given out to anyone who showed up for pre-Punk trail maintenance (an idea that I strongly support, anything to get people digging dirt). That sent chopper rider Lee Klevens to the top of the heap. Fixed gear Danny was second if I recall correctly. Trail maintenance points sent a few more up high. I decided not to turn in my ill-gotten punks and wound up sixth - didn't want to get my points that way; guess I'm not that punk after all.
And that's it, the 2005 DR PBE. Sound like fun? Well, put on your own. Dirt Rag has the recipe for you. Trust me, it's not as hard as you think.