Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Goin back to cali (part 1)

The Carbon Canyon / Chino Hills trails are just a couple of miles from my folks’ house, where I usually stay when I’m in Cali. I like them because they’re close by and they can work you over. Long fireroad climbs (sometimes very steep) and long fireroad descents, but not much else. I was there soon after a controlled burn, so it was like riding through hell— miles and miles of scorched black earth with no shade in sight and temps in the mid 90s. What little shade left was confined to a 3 mile corridor through Telegraph Canyon. So it was no surprise that all the wildlife in the park was hanging out there. As I round a blind turn I run into two bobcat cubs. I slam the brakes and stop about 10 feet from them. I don't know if these cats have a taste for manflesh, but the recent stories of mountain lions attacking bikers has me worried. They’re smack in the middle of the trail and they’re not moving. “This must be some new ambush tactic,” I think to myself. I’m scanning the area looking for their mother, and hoping to God that I don’t feel claws on my back and fangs in my neck. Meanwhile one of the cubs is checking me out thinking, “I could probably take him down, but there’s not much meat on him.” Reluctantly, they turn and scamper playfully into the brush. I put it in the big ring (yes I had gears, I am not proud) and haul ass out of there. The loose sand makes it hard to hold any speed. I’m constantly checking over my shoulder for the sight of fangs, thinking that if I did see them, there really wouldn’t be much I could do anyways. Eventually, I find the fireroad that climbs out of the canyon and make it back to the car with all my flesh intact.

Monday, August 22, 2005


I’m on my back staring at a beautiful blue Pennsylvania sky. My bike is somewhere off to the side. I don’t know exactly where. My nipples hurt. They’re puckered and raw from two and a half hours of incessant rubbing against the material of my Disney clearance-bin jersey (a gift from Rickyd). An open can of Red Bull comes rolling up to rest on my shoulder, spilling its remaining contents on said clearance-bin jersey. “Are you okay?” someone asks as I’m dragged off the trail.

Tussey Mountain Ski Resort, site of the 2005 Singlespeed World Championships. Gina is snapping pictures of a guy in bike-shorts-turned-daisy-dukes. I’m trying to avoid looking at a guy in fishnet stockings and pink skinsuit.

Greenwood Furnace

The race hasn’t started yet, but I feel like I’m gonna hurl. We had spent the previous night camping in the lush accommodations of Greenwood Furnace. Shivasteve had cooked up some of the best multi-grain pancakes I ever had and I was all over them like a Las Vegas buffet. Six pancakes and half a pack of bacon later, I wasn’t feeling so well standing by the car trying to decide between my team Bike Lane jersey or that Disney clearance-bin jersey that would later unleash hell on my nipples.

ShivaSteve can make a mean pancake

Standing around the start area I spy various mtb luminaries among the crowd: Gary Fisher, Keith Bontrager, Marla Streb, Travis Brown, and also this “luminary”. Event organizer Eric Roman delivers the pre-race pep-talk. “Welcome to Pennsylvania… 25.5 miles… 5 hour cut-off… Leman’s start… no upgrading bikes… thank the volunteers… go!” 400 singlespeeders take off running into the woods on the longest Leman’s run I’ve ever seen. I get back to the starting area and find a bunch of confused people looking for their bikes. Luckily, Gina and Maili have staked it out and direct me to my trusty Surly. We had a huge dc-area delegation in attendance: Rickyd, Stoner, Butch, Foley, Spearman, DT, riderx, Markie, Scardaville, Tris, Crouse, Jay, Erin, Becky, Shivasteve, Claman, Casey, Nick, Sol, and a few others. But I have no idea where any of them are after the confusion of the Leman’s start.

Disney sucks

Foley looking sharp in his custom wool City Bikes threads

The singletrack climb up to Tussey Mountain ridge is long but not too steep. I close in on Rickyd, but by the time we get up to the ridge I have to ease up. The ridge trail is challenging enough without trying to go at his pace. I watch him disappear ahead of me and relax for a bit. This is my favorite part of the course. Flat and narrow with lots of rock gardens and spectacular views to either side. I settle into a groove-- not really riding hard, not trying to pass anyone, just enjoying myself.

Pfffftt! The rear tire blows up. No problem cos I’m prepared this time. I pull over and pull out a new tube, a 15mm wrench to undo the rear bolts, a 5 mm wrench for the disc brake… shit! No 5mm wrench. You think I would have learned my lesson from Big Bear, but I guess not. Unable to change the tube, I break out the patches and hope they hold. A quick blast of C02 and I’m on my way. Meanwhile, lots of people have passed me while I was sidelined: fatmarc, butch, manic, many more. Looks like I’ve got a lot of ground to make up. I get back on and start catching riders. The trail is narrow so passing has to be done creatively. Ride on their wheel, anticipate when they’re going to dab, and shoot around when they do. First up is manic. “Hey, Butch says you’re *never* gonna catch him,” he taunts. A while later I find Butch, stopped on the side mending a flat. Then I come up on Da Man, Jeff Jones. “Hey Jeff, nice bike! I’m on your list man!” I say as I ride by.

By the end of the Tussey trail I’ve got Erin in sight for the first long climb of the race. I catch up to him and he tells me that Ricky is about 3 minutes ahead. I’m surprised at such a small gap since it took me a while to fix my flat. Eventually I catch Ricky, but were both walking up something called “The Wall.” He needs help getting out of his body suit to relieve his bladder. I’m feeling a bit awkward with other riders eyeing the action, but I oblige him nevertheless and unzip the thing from the back. I push on while he takes care of business.

Now I’m zooming down an endless double track-- miles with no turns, just a straight gentle grade down the mountain. Sounds easy, but I’m going fast enough that the small rough spots on the trail are giving my kidneys a serious beating. Ricky passes me riding no-handed, the gold suit giving him the aerodynamic qualities of a cruise missile with love handles.

The climb up to Wildcat Gap was the toughest part of the race for me. It’s about 4 miles long and the pitch is mellow enough that you think you can ride it, but steep enough that it taxes you if you do. What also made the climb harder was that my legs were cold and unresponsive after a long downhill. I’m riding with Ricky and thinking how the heck I’m going to gap him. I’m spent and my legs feel like jelly. His gold suit is hurting my eyes. As a faster IF rider goes by, I see my opportunity and jump on his wheel. I stay with him for a little while but Mr. IF is too fast and eventually leaves me behind. When I finally ease up and look around though, I’m all alone. I refill my water bottle at the aid station near the top and grab a can of Red Bull which I chug while riding. As I near the entrance to the Wildcat Gap singletrack, I try to toss my half-empty can to one of the volunteers while turning into the singletrack. But in my fatigued state, this maneuver is beyond my ability. The can slips out of my hand, my front wheel slides out and I’m on my back unable to get up because of leg cramps.

Eventually I do get up, and with both legs still on the verge of re-cramping I throw myself down the ridiculous pitches of Wildcat Gap in the standard chest-on-the-seat-pray-my-rear-wheel-doesn’t-neuter-me position. As I get to the infamous rock garden near the end, I hear Gina and Maili cheering me on. I can’t look up though because I need all my concentration to make sure I don’t take a dive into the rocks.

Me on wildcat gap

The golden god


I make it through unscathed and begin the last long climb of the race. Scardaville rides past me. I let him go, perhaps feeling a bit intimidated by the fact that he’s been “training” and he came in second to Larry Camp at the last Wakefield race. No way I’m gonna keep up with him. But this is the point in the race where some people start to crack. Today, I wasn’t one of them. I get a surge of energy and start catching up to a group containing Markie, Scardaville, and my Bike Lane teammate, Crouse. “Nooooo! Not JoeP!” Markie screams as he sees me gaining. “Out of my way Dr. Mark, you’re slowing me down,” I yell back as I try to get around his zig-zagging tactics. I’m surprised to see Crouse at all during a race—he’s usually so far ahead of me right off the line. But this trail can kick the crap out of the best riders on any given day. And today it was just dumb luck that it wasn’t me.

Somehow I’ve left the pack behind. I’m looking for the singletrack entrance, anticipating an attack from the chasing peloton, but when I look back I don’t see anyone. Finally I spot the orange shirts of volunteers signaling the left turn down the mountain. The final descent to the finish is rocky and unrelenting; easily the longest mile of the day for me. It would normally have been a fun trail, but after 25 miles my arms feel like spaghetti and I just want it to end.

Eventually, it does. Fatmarc is congratulating riders as they roll across the line. I finished in about 3.5 hours, just a minute or two ahead of Markie. Riderx and Nick had finished long before I did and were already back at the parking lot, probably finishing off the last of the free beer. Claman rolls up with Jersey pockets full of Old Dominion brew. He had injured his arm somewhere and had to bail out of the race. I linger a while and watch a few of my buddies finish up before riding back to the car.

But for the fastties, the race isn’t over. There’s still the go-kart race to decide the winners. The 20 fastest men, 10 fastest women, and 10 lucky slugs line up for the ultimate prize: the singlespeed world champ tattoos. The go-kart race is a brilliant show of speed, tactics, and plain dumb luck to rival any nascar race. I cheered, I hollered, I winced when I saw testicles bounding across the track. But when I regained my sight there were two new singlespeed world champions: Brian "Buck" Keich and Marla Streb. Congratulations to them, may God save their souls.

Thank you Mt. Nittany crew and volunteers. See you at the next ECNASSCU.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Of bikes and baguettes

Disclaimer: This is Gina's post. I did *not* go to an all-women overnight camping trip (because Gina wouldn't let me). -- JoeP

I’ve always liked cool weather. I would rather ride along the frozen Potomac in 16 degree weather rather than in 90 degrees with humidity. So it was with some apprehension when Rose, Julie, Maili and I set off on our overnight camping trip at Cedarville forest, with a forecast of HOT and humid. But great company is great company – no matter the weather. So there we were, roasting marshmallows on an open fire and eating baguettes with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and vegetarian chili. But enough about food, we also managed to do some riding. We wanted to do the green and brown trails but we didn't know where those trails began so we decided to do the orange trail instead. We were all glad it was an easy trail lest we get heat stroke, then we decided to go to the blue trail. We met a group of bow hunters on the blue trail and they “advised” us to go another way instead because there were more of them ahead. I was thinking that this is a bike trail too and we should be able to ride it but after hearing loud thuds from arrows in the distance, we decided to go the other way. I was not pleased but I would rather not risk my neck this time and ruin a good day.

The next day, after a quick pancake breakfast, we decided to pack up camp and head to Rosaryville for more riding. This is a really fun trail, and well marked too! We met three guys riding in the opposite direction. They were spaced five minutes apart with two of them asking if we saw their friends. I guess for most guys, it’s not “macho” to wait. Julie suggested to the last guy that he should try riding with women. Not that women are slower (okay, we were slower than them) but we tend to ride together and not keep gaps of five minutes. It was a very hot day and we were sweating like crazy. At one point, Julie squirted cold water on us (as if we were doing a wet t’shirt contest) and that felt good. Finishing the ride with a waiting cooler of ice cold Gatorade was heaven, but the best thing is we all finished it together and we’re gonna do it again… but next time we’ll make sure the weather forecast is in the 70s.

rose, maili, julie and gina's kona at cedarville

Monday, August 15, 2005

Like a sponge

i got a bad flavor
i got dirty clothes
i got a strange neighbor
who doesn't have curtains on her windows

i got a pet hedgehog
drinkin' jaeger all day
you got my crate combo and a baby on the way
but it's ok

it's gonna take a lot of time
before i can cross that finish line
and when i can't take the fall
i really wanna make that call...

--Ben Kweller (Commerce, TX)

"Daddy, what's yay-ger? Why do hedgehogs drink it?" asks the kid out of the blue. And then she goes and sings the whole first and second verses of Commerce, TX. Glad I put my NWA tapes away long ago.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Last year around this time, to within a week, I was attacked by yellow jackets while doing some gardening (shhhh). Stung 4 times. Gina was away, biking of course, so I had to drive myself to the doctor's office after I discovered hives spreading throughout my body. Within a couple of hours I was in the ER. My circulation system was shutting down. My fingernails were turning blue from the lack of oxygen. I was in bad shape. Doc said I was probably an hour from the point of no return when they stuck me with a horse-sized dose of epinephrine. If I didn't get preventative treatment, the consequences from the next attack would be much worse.

Because of my newly discovered allergy I had to abandon my plans to do the SM100. I didn't want to chance getting stung miles/hours from any medical help (and people *were* getting stung last year). I went through a year's worth of allergy treatments and today I had a real world test of their effectiveness. I got attacked by yellow jackets again.

Funny how similar it all was to last year. It was a hot summer day only weeks before the SM100. Gina was away again, biking of course, and I was at home with the kid, gardening (shhhhh). They came out of nowhere and I got stung 3 times. This time, however, no hives, no breathing problems, nothing. I drove myself to the doctor's office just in case, but it wasn't necessary. SM100, here I come.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


"You're fired," Stoner tells me as we ride/limp into the Signal Knob parking lot. Rewind about 5 hours and we, Butch, Charles, Stoner, and myself are in good spirits heading out from the same parking lot for an Elizabeth Furnace epic. Stoner, Butch, and I are all riding Monkeys. Charles was on an old-skool Serrota with day-glo paint and pedal clips. In solidarity with our singlespeed addiction, Charles promises not to shift. Cool. We have it all planned out. We would climb the fireroad to Woodstock tower, ride the Massanutten trail to Signal Knob, and come down on the Bear Wallow trail to end the loop. None of us were familiar with the trail system, but we had a map. Jason and Charles, who both had never been to "the Furnace" were relying on Butch and I to navigate the route. That was the fatal flaw in the plan.

The ride started of well enough. Fireroad climb to singletrack to more fireroad, and then a sign pointing the way towards Woodstock tower, just like the map said. "I can't believe people get intimidated by this place," Butch says as we find all the appropriate landmarks, "it's so easy to get around." Ten minutes later and we're lost. From midway up the mountain, we had taken a wrong left turn that sent us all the way to the foothills. We have to climb back up. Not so bad since it's all smooth fireroad, but taxing nevertheless. A minor inconvenience compared to what was to come (but more on that later).

The Massanutten trail from Woodstock tower heading east is quite simply some of the best riding I've seen. Miles of twisty, rocky ridgetop, East Coast goodness. Butch and I take turns in the pole position using our faces to clear the morning spider webs. More than once I feel one of those critters crawling on my lip. A quick slurp, and spit usually gets rid of the unwanted passenger. After about 5 miles we take a rocky white-knuckle descent back to the fireroad. Here we run into Dieter and Sean who I met at the MORE camping trip to Stokesville. We chat for a bit while Charles fixes a flat and then we're off again.

At this point Charles is running low on water and decides to head back to the cars, leaving just Butch, Stoner, and myself to tackle the climb up to Signal Knob. Ironically, about a hundred yards up the road we spot a pipe gushing water from the side of the mountain. I'm a bit worried because there appears to be some kind of "outhouse" uphill from the pipe. With just a bit of hesitation, Butch is slurping away at the pipe. "Tastes good," he says. That's enough convincing for me. I step in and drink. The water is cold and refreshing, and it tastes good like Butch said. We fill up our bottles and head out, knowing that any moment we all might be curled up on the side of the trail with stomach cramps.

The climb up to Signal Knob is pretty easy except for the last mile or so, which is pure hell if you try to actually ride it. I rode as far as I could, but in the end I had to assume the singlespeed climbing position: hands on the bars, feet on the ground, leaning forward to walk with the bike, head hung in shame.

We regroup at the summit and plan our descent. According to the map, we should take the yellow trail to the white trail to Bear Wallow. Not able to find a yellow trail we take an orange trail instead which leads into a mile of gradually uphill continuous rock garden. As we trudge on, the rocks get bigger. At some point we get off the bikes and push them through what seemed like miles of boulder fields. The long carving downhill back to the cars that is Bear Wallow never materialized. Instead, we are in hike-a-bike hell scraping brake rotors, cranks, frames, ankles, and knees on granite rocks with no end in sight.

We force ourselves to ride through stretches of it simply because we're tired of walking. After a while, we see hikers who said they just passed a sign that said 1.7 miles to Buzzard Rock Overlook. After all our careful planning to avoid this trail, we were we smack in the middle of it. Nothing to do but push on. Luckily, about a mile or two from the cars, the trail eases up again and we gratefully bomb down what little downhill is left.

"JoeP, you're FIRED!" reads the first email from Stoner the next day. I laugh as I survey the arrays of cris-crossed cuts on both arms and legs from where the thornbushes had overgrown the trail. Can't wait to do it again.