Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Big gears, little brain

The pre-race flip off.
(Photo by Maura)

Quitting was about the only smart thing I did at last weekend’s 12-hour race. My goal was to ride from noon to midnight and determine how my mind and body would hold up in such an event. But at 7:30 p.m., with my knees throbbing in pain, I rolled up to the timer’s tent and said, “Check me in. I’m think I’m done.”

I spent the rest of the night blaming my creaky, aging knees, but that probably wasn’t fair. My creaky brain played a big role in ending my race early.

Exhibit A: About a half-hour before the start, during a casual conversation with friends, I set a goal of riding eight laps on the 11-mile course. This was a dumb mistake. I wasn’t fully familiar with the terrain, and setting such a goal was in direct conflict with my original plan to simply ride smart and see how far I could go.

Exhibit B: I forgot the meaning of “riding smart.” I always warm up slowly, so I felt good about keeping my first-lap pace in check. Plenty of riders passed me as they warmed up, and I was proud of myself for resisting the temptation to chase. But then I got stupid. After one lap, I started doing math—never a good idea, in my case—and calculating what kind of split times I’d need to rack up eight laps before midnight. I ramped up my pace to turn a faster second lap. Bad move.

I achieved the pace I wanted, but not the one I could sustain for 12 hours. Shortly before 6 p.m., I finished my fourth lap but knew it was time to adjust my goal. During my next lap, the goal became simple—stop doing damage.

As The Grouch later pointed out, the 24 Hours of Matanuska course contains a lot of hills that are very steep, yet short enough to tempt riders into powering over them with gear combinations that are too high. That’s hard on knees, and I pedaled right into the trap. Gearing down would have cost me the eight-lap goal, but so what? If I’d used my head, there’s a good chance my body would have held up for two more laps, which would have put me at a respectable seven.

Ultimately, though, the race answered a bigger question that has lingered in my mind since the depths of last winter: whether I should enter this year’s Soggy Bottom 100. With 7 hours and more than 50 miles behind me, the thought of riding another 50—even with good knees—held zero appeal.

I love doing the rides most mountain bikers call all-day epics. But for me, the line ends somewhere around six hours and 50 miles, depending on the terrain.

After that, it’s burger-and-beer time. And I’m OK with that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

24 Hours

I'll be spending the next few days eating ibuprofen and drying out rain-soaked camping gear as I sort through all the mental detritus of the 24 Hours of Matanuska. Being a guy who abandoned in pain after seven and a half hours, one of the things that’ll stick with me is the tenacity of some really tough racers. There were many, and I got pics of only a few:

Team Davis. With no competition remaining in the race by Sunday morning, they had their victory in the bag, and could have gone home for hot showers and sleep. Instead, they kept going out for laps on a course so slippery that even the best racers were reduced to pushing up the slimy hills. Their husband and dad, Mark, had fought off cramps for hours to rack up 10 laps in the 12-hour solo division Saturday night.

(Photo by Jill V.)

Tony B., who rang up 18 laps in the 24-hour solo division. I watched him roll out in the rain at 7:30 a.m. with a 26-inch wheel that had just been thrown on the back of his 29er as an emergency repair just to keep the thing rolling.

Jenny H. wanted 10 laps in the 12-hour solo division. She got them by cruising by the timer’s tent at 11:30 p.m. and going out for a final two hours of suffering. When she finished seconds after this photo was taken, she couldn’t even drink a beer. That’s what I call giving until it hurts.

The Grouch—and unofficial race mascot—who survived the 12-hour race on a fully rigid bike, but had the good sense to bring a spare, so he could cannibalize a front wheel after destroying the one he started with. (As odd as this blog already was, publishing a picture of a guy who wears a hockey mask and cannibalizes things might be a new level of strangeness.)

Petra proved she's a certifiable badass just by being there. Racing like one was just a bonus.

Kudos to everyone who rode. (Including the drunk dude who did it in flip-flops in the middle of the night.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Franco Finger

I don't know if it's the wind or a digestive problem from that strange cuisine, but the French sure like to know their outhouses aren't going to lift off when the countdown reaches zero.

My man Leonard stopped at this heavily fortified privy in France for a flip-off photo last fall. At least I think that's why he stopped—I don't know what he had for breakfast.

While we're on the subject of thoughts that could cost you some sleep, I'm going to crew for Leonard as he solos the Fireweed 400 in about three weeks. Team Muschi Schmerzen is taking the year off after two campaigns in the 200 relay event, so I decided to get a front-row seat and watch what the real maniacs endure.

It should make every ride I do this year seem like a Sunday cruise. Who knows? Maybe I'll get flipped off a few times when Leonard gets irritable in the wee hours of what could be a 28- to 30-hour effort. Not that I'll still have the fine motor skills to operate a camera ...

Monday, June 21, 2010

One tenth

I was talking with someone today about Rover’s Run, and the bear-related incidents that have occurred on or near that trail over the past two ... well, now three, summers. She mentioned the often-discussed idea of of building an alternative trail that would be farther away from Campbell Creek and it’s tasty, bear-attracting salmon, and said she thinks some people at the municipality seem to favor this option.

That’s when I started talkin’ crazy and mentioned that if the city wants the trail farther from the creek, the city should pony up some money and fund the project. That’s not how things work in Anchorage, of course. If you want or need a new trail here, you have to spend a few years in public meetings begging for permission. You have to make sure the bike-hating Nordic ski community is happy. You have to raise a bunch of money to pay for the trail. Then, if you’re lucky, the city that would benefit from the project will grant you permission ... and you get to pay for a permit. Yeah, the city charges you a fee to build it a free trail.

As I walked back to my office today, I thought about my recent trip to Canada. As my friends and I rode multiple trails with Anthony—a local in Whitehorse, Yukon—the conversation was sprinkled with his mentions of when the city built this trail or that one, and how the city crew was constructing that fancy new mountain-bike bridge at the bottom of the gully.

Whitehorse is roughly one-tenth the size of Anchorage.

One day, we rode to a little skills park tucked away in the woods at the base of Grey Mountain. There were log bridges and teeter-totters cut from the local timber. We asked, who did this? His answer: the city of Whitehorse.

Back in town, there’s a formal, fenced skills park full of jumps, wall rides, and all sorts of tricky challenges that most of us will never attempt, much less master. (Ever try riding on a steel chain over a shallow pit? Me neither. And I can still say that.) Where’d the park come from? The city. Public funds were spent on a public recreation facility—for mountain bikers.

This happened in a city of 26,000 people in the freakin’ Yukon territory. A place with only two bike shops.

And what happens when a town invests in such things? Its residents have a blast riding their asses off, for one thing. And people like us travel there to ride. We spend money in the town’s stores and restaurants. People start bike-related tourism businesses like Boreale Mountain Biking (and then let Alaskans hang out in their yurts to drink margaritas, but never mind that right now).

We know to go there because such places get noticed. Word gets around in the bike world. The media covers the town as a destination that people should put on their travel lists. Hell, people in the United Kingdom read about Whitehorse in British newspapers and bike magazines.

Anchorage—Did I mention that it’s roughly ten times the size of Whitehorse?—could never do such things, of course. It’s not as if we have a huge, stunning blank slate of mountains at the edge of town, just waiting for trails to be built if the city and state ever decided to work together. It’s not as if we have hundreds of thousands of tourists passing through every year, and surely, none of them would want to bring bikes and have some real fun and get a little exercise while their relatives buy shitty souvenirs or go fishing.

It’s not as if we could tell the grumpy NIMBYs to shove it. It’s not as if we have the marketing power to sell our world-class terrain to the world. It's not as if we have thousands of hotel rooms ready and waiting for the bike riders who could easily get here from major airport hubs like Seattle, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis.

And it’s certainly not as if most of our municipal leaders have one-tenth the vision of the people who run Whitehorse.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For Jenna, Obama stays abreast

How much attention did you get from the police the last time you reported a bike being stolen?

Well, if you were Jenna Bush, the police would be investigating the break-in, searching for your bikes, and reporting the theft to both the White House and the Secret Service.

And you probably would have paid nothing for the bikes in the first place, since they came from Trek, the company that provided Daddy’s mountain bikes for free.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Best of Whitehorse: The Fingers

Last week's trip was another killer week of daily riding on new terrain with a fun group of friends. Of course, I can't shoot pics of friends without gettin' a few birds flipped my way. Here are the best of the week.

Jules sneaks in a last-second bird
before riding out of the frame.

Heather, the woman who started
this madness, lets me know how
she feels about efforts to photograph
her near-death experience on a bluff
above the Yukon River.

Ken, H and Anthony team up
for a late-night photo at our camp
in Whitehorse. The previous tenants
seem to have left a few beer bottles
laying around. We cleaned them up.

Next week, we'll have a previously unpublished
Finger Foto from the one and only akdeluxe,
standing next to France's most windproof outhouse.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Time for a sun dance

Jules kicks up a little dust in the Yukon.

“Man, I wish it would just open up and pour. This rain is just messin’ with us.”

I was talking to this guy on the phone Tuesday afternoon as a cold, depressing mist fell over Anchorage. He isn’t a mountain biker, so I knew it was pointless to explain why I hoped the weather wouldn’t get worse. We were on different frequencies: He wants his lawn to green up without the aid of a sprinkler, while I want the trails to stay dry.

Hell, the thirstier my lawn gets, the more time I can spend riding a bike instead of pushing a lawnmower. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfectly acceptable situation.

And the dry, interior climate of Whitehorse spoiled me last week. The trails were talcum-powder dry. I found myself riding too close behind the Bike Monkee one afternoon, and ended up hacking and coughing for 10 minutes. (And this time it was because of dust!)

When this week’s wet weather settled over Anchorage, my motivation took a dive. I couldn’t force myself out Tuesday evening, so I did what I detest—I rode a trainer in the garage.

Before any of my friends say it, I already know what that means: It’s time to toughen up, Buttercup.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Made in China

That young man on the left makes me proud to be an American ... and his uncle.

Yep, that incognito dude with the dark glasses actually shares some DNA with me, but he manages to overcome it. He also manages to come up with fine ideas like getting three friends to join him in a group flip-off on the city wall of Xi'an, China, during a recent trip I'm not allowed to describe in any detail, lest he end up in deep shit with educational authorities who may or may not have had anything to do his recent travel abroad—and who may lack the taste and humor to appreciate the beauty of the Finest Finger Gallery on the interwebs.

Maybe that's why he decided to dress like a G-Man on Secret Service Casual Friday. All the better to throw Mr. Hand off your trail if the excrement hits the air conditioning at Ridgemont High. And, just to make sure we keep it bike-related on this here bike blog, he threw in a photo of himself on the rig he rented for a ride around Xi'an.

The next time you find yourself on an ill-fitting rental, dear bike friends, just imagine what it feels like to be a six-foot-five dude on a bike built for the average Chinese commuter.

Stay tuned this week for the best flip-offs from a week in Whitehorse.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I scream, you scream ...

A week-long mountain bike trip at the start of the season serves two purposes. First, it builds some fitness and sharpens skills for the season that just arrived. Second, it reminds a guy of what he is, and what he isn't.

I'm an old XC guy. Give me some nice trail and a day to kill, and I can have a good time. Throw in a few moderate logs and small boulders to clean, and I can do something with it. Make the boulder piles the size of houses, and I tend to fade. Fast.

I have immense respect for riders who have the skills to pay the bills when the going gets tough, but I'm content with more modest challenges. Keep me close to the not-hideously-steep ground, and life is good.

I'll tell ya one thing, though. I never get tired of the frozen north, and the mountain bikers who ride it.

Same thing goes for the tasty ice cream in Carcross.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Wild times in Whitehorse

This is Anthony, Whitehorse's finest mountain bike ambassador, and his superdog, Starbuck. Two days into our five-day invasion of the Yukon, Anthony has led us on miles and miles of sweet Canadian singletrack—or about 10 hours' worth, at our speeds (he could cover it a bit faster).

Both rides started right behind his house. This guy knows the first rule of real estate: Location, location, location. This isn't his first appearance on this blog. And the way this week is going, it won't be his last.

So many trails, so many beers, so little time. This is turning into a shitty week for blogging, but an epic week for riding. Best of all, everyone's stayed out of the ER, so far.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Here's a Fabulous Flip-off that might not be aimed at me. I think Rose might have another message in this photo, which was taken on the gas-free trip she's making through Wisconsin on her new Salsa Fargo.

Have a safe trip, Rose, and thanks for the pic!