Wednesday, April 20, 2005

And so it begins...

BrotherL, whether he knows it or not, has thrown down the gauntlet signifying the official start of RACE SEASON in these parts. I've always used the Fountainhead trail as a measure of my fitness level. It's a well marked, one-way course so every now and then I'll go there and time myself doing a couple of laps. Around 50 minutes per lap will put you somewhere in the middle of the local singlespeed class. Get it down under 40 and you have a shot at the podium. BrotherL went out a few days ago and posted his time. So today I distracted the kid long enough (hey, look over there!) to sneak out the door for a Fhead quickie.

I got to the park close to sunset so instead of the usual two laps, I only had time for one. I park the car outside the gate so I don't get locked in, gear up, and head out. As I pass the trailhead marker I hit my stopwatch and start cranking. Without any warmup, I'm seeing flickering purple spots as I hit the first climb 5 minutes into the ride. Not a good way to start, but I keep at it. I'm pretty familiar with this trail so I put myself on autopilot and proceed to zone out. Bad idea. I had forgotten that there was a trailwork session here a few days ago in which some parts of the trail were rerouted. Halfway into the ride I run into orange flags delineating the first unexpected detour. About two minutes later I'm lost and heading the wrong way on the trail. The clock is ticking. The doubling back costs me a couple of minutes but I eventually find my way. Another surprise about a mile later. A big tree is down on an uphill part of the trail. It's ramped so I try to ride it, but fail. "Next time," I think as I run my bike up the rest of the climb. The last mile or so goes without incident and I pull into the parking lot a bit under 51 minutes from when I started. This is about where I was in the middle of last season. Not my best effort, but not bad for a first try. I feel strong enough for another lap, but lo, I see the Ranger going out to lock the gate. Good night Ranger. Good night friends. I'll see you all on the starting line.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Sometimes you sit back, take it all in and think-- life can't get any better than this. I spent the weekend at Douthat State Park with the extended family: me, the wife, the kid, and about 20 of the coolest people you'd find anywhere. The weather was perfect and the trails were awesome, to put it lightly. Douthat has some of the best trails anywhere. Long climbs up to spectacular views and long downhills that dare you to lay off the brakes for just a second longer.

I had been to Douthat twice before, but this trip will be the most memorable for sure. For one, it would be the first time I took my daughter "mountain" biking. Trailer bike in tow, the kid and I set out Saturday morning with Gina, Maili, Julie, Marianne, and Karen for the long climb up Mountainside trail to the Douthat overlook. The climb proved to be quite a challenge with the extra load, even with my wimpy 32x20 gearing and the occassional pedal push from behind. And although my knees will probably never forgive me, the pain was worth the look on my kid's face when we crested the final hill and she saw the view from the top for the first time.

After we get back to the lodge there's still time for a good 2hrs in the saddle before dinner. But this time I leave the kid with Gina and go out for a solo ride. Destination: the Tuscarora Overlook. After a quick look at the trail map I decide to take the shortest route, which is to climb up the Blue Suck Falls trail to Lookout Rock and then to Middle Mountain. Bad choice. Climbing up Blue Suck Falls, well, sucks. I'm either shouldering the bike through rock gardens or I'm pushing it through uphill switchbacks that I would have never cleared, even with gears. At one point I catch my hand on a thorny vine and rip open my thumb. So now I'm leaving a trail of blood for the bears to follow. The sufferfest ends almost too soon as I catch sight of a trail marker pointing the way to the abandoned cabin at the overlook. Stopping for a minute to take in the view I glance at my watch and see there's only about a half hour till dinner. I point the bike downhill and let loose the brakes. The descent down Stony Run seems to last forever. It's fast, relatively smooth, and most importantly, long. The scenery changes from open and exposed off-camber ribbons of trail, to shaded canopies resembling an oasis, sometimes at the instant you turn a switchback. While I missed riding with the fellas, being out there alone on a trail I've never seen before, screaming down the mountain, is an epiphany unto itself. If I wasn't such a shallow person I would think I experienced zen, if only for a moment.

Meanwhile, back at the lodge, the tomfoolery raged on:

(photo by BeckyB)

On the last day at Douthat I took it easy and let Gina ride with the gang up to the same spot where I had been the day before. They were smarter and chose a more rideable route to the top. JoeF, ever the lens man, took some amazing pictures capturing all the fun I was missing. However, the smile on Gina's face when she got back to the lodge told me enough about how nice the ride was. I was really impressed with Gina, Maili, and Julie at how well they rode those trails. Now, there's even talk amongst them of teaming up at some of the races. Let's hope so.

Like learning to ride all over again: Maili tries clipless pedals.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Old Crew Ride (Part I)

Old friends, old friends,
Sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
of the high shoes of the old friends

-- Simon and Garfunkel

Took a spin with the "Old Crew" at Gambril today, some of whom I haven't seen in quite a bit. These are most of the people who got me into this mountain biking thing. For when I'm 80 and have completely lost my mind, in the picture are (L to R): MikeW, LeeD, ScudS, Me, JoeR, DT, JoeF, RickyD. Regretfully absent are Bob, who is no longer with us (err in the DC area I mean) and Gary, who chose to spend time with his kid instead (yeah make us all look bad why don't cha). Notably present: MikeW who drove in from PA. Nothin' fancy. Just a good ride with friends. The way it's supposed to be.