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.


Blogger butch said...

Rub a little vasaline on them nips and they'll feel nice and sexy.

2:21 PM

Blogger Fort James said...

Thanks for the props. Of course, Butch said nothing but I was talking crap like that to everyone!

9:11 AM


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