Monday, September 26, 2005

Hell Ride

(art stolen from

The Reverend Whitehair is always thinking of new ways to "enlighten" the local singlespeed congregation, or kill them trying. His latest batch of Kool-Aid was last weekend's Hell Ride. 40 miles of fixed gear flagelation on the roads of Ellicot City and Patapsco with a few forays into the back alleys of self-doubt and despair. Suffice it to say it wasn't easy, but finding salvation never is.

Every great ride has its moment in the twilight zone. A microsecond when reality nods off and loosens it's talons, and for a moment, you're free falling. Mine was on the last mile back to the cars. Joe, Markie, Jonathan, and I were in a pack screaming down the twisting descent of Gunn Road, Markie desperately chasing Joe to try to take the imaginary victory (or at least look good to the girls who were waiting by the picnic shelter). Only to me, in my oxygen-deprived state, it was the Angel Gabriel chasing Satan himself down the road to hell, a demon general on his flank, and me, the weary Dante, reluctantly dragged along for the ride. (alright, I promise to get a life one of these days)

For a more worldly perspective, check out Disciple Spearman's Gospel, or view the Peaks of Hell for yourself.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

L.A. stories (part II, Sweet Torture)

My uncle Gabby took it upon himself to save me from the suburbian hell that is Orange County, CA. Yup, the same O.C. that spawned that dreaded tv show. This was the guy who would sneak me into bars when I was fifteen and beg the house band to let me jam with them. Sometimes they would let me, but most of the time I just sat there watching Uncle Gabby consume scary amounts of beer. He would drop by the OC on weekends driving over from LA in his old BMW, his John Lennon glasses, his Father Guido Sarducci hat and matching moustache. Sometimes he would bring company.

I remember one evening when he showed up with three spandex-clad, big-haired, zebra-print-wearing, mascara-dripping rockers: Dolores, Tiffany, and Nancy. Dolores reminded me of something from Prince and the Revolution (on acid). Tiffany and Nancy looked like they would be right at home vomiting on the stage in the front row of a Megadeth concert. They were a band. I had guitars and drums in my room. It was perfect. I had to call my friend Darren. Darren and I were in a band. It was perfect.

Dolores was the drummer and Tiffany and Nancy both played guitar, ala the Cramps. “Hey, what’s your band’s name?” I ask. “Sweet Torture,” they say straight-faced and proceed to jam. Dolores knows only one beat, and it’s not the beat that goes with the one song that the guitar players know. I don’t even think the guitar players were playing the same song. But whatever they were playing, they were into it and it was loud. I’m surprised my folks didn’t pull the plug on our little noise orgy. I look over at Darren. He’s either in pain or trying really hard to stop himself from laughing. I can’t tell. “Yep, Sweet Torture…” I think to myself, “…genius.”

The fun stopped when we ran out of beer. So being the gracious host that I am, I took Tiffany and Uncle Gabby for a beer run leaving Darren behind with the other two to continue their sweet torture session. I don’t exactly know what went down in my room after we left but there’s probably a porno movie out there that comes close to what I was thinking. It would be years later that I found something on the internet written by Darren on his experience. I don’t remember much of what he wrote, except something about sitting quietly in the corner praying for these girls to take his virginity. Darren was a great writer.

I would run into the members of Sweet Torture occasionally over the next few months. I vaguely remember Tiffany chasing someone around a pool yelling “Dick torture!” But the details are fuzzy. I ran into Dolores while she was working as a bar waitress. I haven’t seen Nancy since that day. I wonder where these folks are now. I recently found Darren again through the net and I hope he reads this. Uncle Gabby died years ago. I miss him.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Douthat, Fall 2005

Threw the singlespeeds on the car, took the dog to the kennel, snuck out of work early on Friday, and presto-- Gina, Sagada, and I were on our way to the annual MORE Fall camping trip to Douthat. After slogging through DC traffic, we got there a little after dark, set up camp, and went to sleep early in anticipation of a full day of riding and hanging out with friends and family, and more riding.

Morning at Douthat Lake

Woke up with the sunrise to a beautiful Saturday morning, grabbed a slice of French toast from Scud's world famous traveling diner and got the bikes ready. The plan was to do a short (~2 hr) ride and be back to let Gina ride. After a group shot (click):

The MORE gang

I met up with the usual gang: Foley, Scardaville, Miller, JonW, Rob, and a few others. JonW is sporting a Trek Fuel turned singlespeed. Scardaville and Foley put the hammer down to draw out the faster riders to the front of the pack. What started out as a huge group of ~30 riders soon split into smaller groups as people found their natural paces. The plan is to ride Laurel View to Locust Gap to Stony Run, climb up to Middle Mountain, blah blah blah. I was never any good at directions.

Laurel View Trail

Scardaville is going off like a bullet, leaving us behind on the twisty singletrack to Stony Run. I'm sitting in the middle of the group taking it easy. Most of us had just finished the sm100 a few weeks ago and I, personally, was looking forward to some nice casual riding to wind down my season.

The climb up Stony Run is long and twisty, but never too steep-- the perfect singlespeed climb. Singlespeed climbing is a lesson in moderation. Try to go too fast and you might be toast before you get to the top. Go too slow and, without the ability to downshift, your cadence slows to an agonizing slog. The trick is to find the cadence that produces minimum effort. But the point of minimum effort doesn't always translate to an easy time, hence, the stereotypical image of the singlespeeder gasping for air, tugging at the bars, and using all sorts of contortional body english to get up the climb. He/she is taking the path of least resistance, although it doesn't always look it. That was me climbing up the switchbacks of Stony Run. Oh yeah, while I'm going through my contusions, Jens and Evan pass me like I'm standing still.

Scardaville is waiting for me at the top. I had caught up to him but I couldn't hang on. Before the rest of the group arrives I take a quick detour to the Tuscarora Overlook with Jens and Evan. I head back to the main trail to find my group after I snap a few pictures. No luck. A group of hikers tells me that a group of bikers had already passed by a while ago, so I set off to try to catch them. Turns out that my group was still behind me and I was chasing ghosts. I descend on Salt Stump and Backway Hollow back to camp to meet up with Gina. Little did I know, the girls were already on their own little epic on the other side of the park.

Later that afternoon, I take Louis and Steve on the classic Mountain Side/Brushy Hollow loop. It was their first time on trails like this. It was probably Steve's first time on any trail at all. But what a trail it was:

Mountain Side Trail

Later that night was the potluck dinner. Last year Gina and I made Spam sushi. This year we opted for the more conventional abodo chicken. As usual, there was more good food that I could shake a broken deraileur at.

There was only time for a short ride the next day. So I headed out with the usual suspects for a quick loop around the lower trails. I got to try JonW's full-sussy SS. It was neato. Smooth as butter over the rocky downhills, but I miss the responsiveness and efficiency of my rigid Monkey on the climbs. And I like to climb. Anyone wanna shuttle me *down* the hill? heh heh...

It's only been a couple of days since I got back and already Scud's reserved the Douthat Guest Lodge for the spring. Looks like I'll be back.

Our "One Hour" Epic

Even Wakefield Tuesday regulars like Rose, Beth and I (Gina) get to ride epic rides every once in a while. Not on purpose, but it happens. We had our little epic ride this weekend at the MORE annual camping trip to Douthat State Park.

This annual camping trip is one of my (and Sagada’s) favorite trips. This was actually our fourth time here. We usually prefer the comfort of the log cabins but then we would miss out on the camping experience with MORE, so this time we decided to stay at the campsite. After all, MORE people are among the nicest bunch of folks that I only get to see once or twice a year. But back to our ride. After a good breakfast of oatmeal I headed out to Rose and Beth’s campsite. Beth’s family has an RV and Rose’s family are staying with them. I asked them what they want to do and they readily volunteered their husbands to take care of the kids so we can go ride. I went back to the campsite to change into my bike clothes. After I left, Beth informed her husband that we would be gone for one hour. One hour! I would have laughed if I was there. Both Beth and Rose have never been to Douthat so they had no idea what the trails are like or where we would be going. The plan was to do the Mountain Side, Mountain Top, and Brushy Hollow trails. I wondered if even Sue Haywood or Becky Bafford could do the route I had planned in one hour.

After about 10 minutes, Beth and Rose came rolling to my campsite. They have with them one small bottle of water each. I replaced Beth’s bottle of water with a Gatorade, put two bottles on my bike, and off we go. We saw other MORE riders on the way to the Guest lodge where the trailhead was, but we let them go. We decided to go at our own pace considering that it’s Beth’s and Rose’s first time at Douthat and I’m still nursing a bruised shoulder from the last Tuesday ride at Wakefield (Craig pushed me when I was jumping over a pile of logs – oh wait, he was way ahead of me). Early on, we decided that we’ll give a prize to whoever can whine the most. I think it was a toss up between me and Beth. I enjoyed riding Mountain Side last time with Julie, Maili, and Karen but this time my bad shoulder and aching back made it more difficult (see, I should have won the whining contest!). After Mountain Side we reach the intersection of Brushy Hollow and Mountain Top feeling good and we saw Bob Caverly and his two amazing biker kids heading down Brushy Hollow. We debated a bit whether to follow them or go up the mountain. We decided to go to Mountain Top. Heck, we can’t just go to the side of the mountain, we need to go to the top! This decision sort of reminded me of the time Rose and I rode C&O in the middle of January with 80 percent of the bikepath covered in ice. Within one hour, we had a dozen falls and plenty of sliding between the two of us with an 80 year old woman telling us to go easy on the brakes. Okay, I digress but something like that. We got to the summit of Mountain Top then we went back to Mountain side close to the guest lodge. But we wanted the downhill of Brushy Hollow so we did Mountain Side again just to go to Brushy Hollow. With my last half-bottle of Gatorade rationed among the three of us we started to climb Brushy Hollow to Douthat Overlook. Rose is ahead of us and Beth and I kept looking at the last drop of Gatorade in my bottle. My pockets are full of acorns for Sagada and Beth stuffed her chest (she doesn’t have pockets) with acorns too (our 5 year olds love acorns!) but too bad we don’t have teeth like squirrels because we were starving. Luckily, as we’re pushing our bikes on yet another switchback, Jens and his friend come by. We must have looked and sounded pathetic because they stopped and gave us their Gatorade, power bars and fig newtons. There’s nothing we can give in return but acorns so we just thanked them again and watched in amazement at how fast these guys can go. After more Gatorade and fig newtons, we had a renewed surge of energy and pushed on to the summit. After fixing Rose’s flat tire, we are ready for a nice downhill back to camp.

Our one hour ride became a four hour ride but it was all fun. Probably not for the hubbies though who were worried sick that one (or all of us?) have fallen off the side of the mountain. Every thirty minutes or so, Beth would remark that Steve (her husband) would be so worried by now but somehow it didn’t register to me and Rose. Both our husbands are kinda used to us getting lost in Accotink and Wakefield and not making it back on time. Or they probably thought if we could put up with them, we can survive in the wild if we get lost. But Steve drove his suburban around the park looking for us and later on, they sent Joe to find us. Joe found us on Brushy Hollow and after making sure we were ok, rode back to camp to let the others know. We rolled into camp a bit worn, but happy to have completed our little epic. Now it’s our turn to take over kid duties. The hubbies grab their bikes and head out to Mountain Side, leaving the kids to us. Acorns anyone?

Btw, thanks to Scott, Margaret, and everyone in the kitchen crew!

Sagada, Krysten, and Amanda at Douthat Lake

Sunday, September 11, 2005

L.A. stories

My recent trip to L.A. brought back a lot of memories of my time there. Lot's of stories to tell. I'm gonna start jotting some them down here for fear that someday I'll forget.

circa 1993: It's 7 in the morning and my cats aren't letting me sleep. They're hungry and throwing a shoe at them doesn't shut them up. So I walk to the 7-11 to grab some cat food. As I'm trying to decide between Purina and Meow Mix, I hear, "Hey... PR?" I freeze up. PR means Pinoy Real, a local Pilipino gang. And in L.A., your life could depend on how you chose to continue a conversation like that. I turn around and see a Latino kid (couldn't have been older than 15). He's got his hand in his jacket pocket and he's looking me over but keeping a safe distance-- far enough that I can't touch him, but close enough that he wouldn't miss if that were a gun in his jacket. I immediately break eye contact. "No," I say, grabbing whatever can of cat food I can and walking toward the check out counter. I'm digging through my pockets for change trying to look "in control" but also trying to get the hell out of there fast. I'm a nervous wreck, but so is he. I get the impression that he's one of the new recruits out to prove himself to the veteranos. I'm probably his ticket in. He follows me to the checkout counter, mad-dogging me the whole time. I can tell the store clerk is edgy. It's then that I notice his crew out in the parking lot. They're in a car with the windows rolled down, engine running. They're watching both of us. I finish my business at the counter and make a conscious effort not to make eye contact with the kid as I turn for the door. I walk into the parking lot fully expecting something bad to happen. One of the guys in the car gets out. As I walk by he acknowledges me with a knod. Respectfully, I return the greeting and keep walking. I make it back to my apartment two blocks away feeling like I just walked 10 miles.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Somehow, I don't really know how to write about my first Shenandoah Mountain 100. The words escape me. I can't find words long enough to outlast those long fireroad climbs; no words futile enough to capture my desperation at trying to keep up with the gearies on the flat road sections; no words exhilirating enough to do justice to the descent down Dowell's Draft. And no words humbling enough to describe how I felt when I crossed the finish line.

I'd been training for this race all year. I got my V02max test, a heart rate monitor, an indoor trainer, and put together a training schedule. A month later all that junk was sitting unused in my closet. It felt too much like "work". So I stopped taking data, stopped checking off workout lists, got rid of my cyclocomputer, and just started riding, a lot. When the day came, the plan was to treat this race like just another long ride, and I think that put it in a good perspective.

My only goal going into the race was to finish, but right at the starting line my instincts kick in and I start eyeing the competition, drawing up the battle plans. I have a good idea of who I can hang with and who I should just let go. Crazy Markie, Rastaman Butch, and "Supafly" Foley have been riding strong all year. So has Scardaville. Erin the Great, when he's on his game, can blow our little peloton apart. All of these guys have posted faster times than me at our local races. But I tend to do better at longer races so it was really anyone's game. Larry "the Terminator" Camp? Slap me for even thinking about it.

The signal to start is given and 350 riders are following the pace motorcycle down the road. The little gear on my singlespeed is no match for the gearies on terrain like this so I settle down for a ride at the back of the pack. As the trail turns upward into a wide double track I step on it a pass about thirty people, a group of singlespeeders following my lead. Before I know it I'm on the first singletrack descent. I have the tires pumped up extra hard to avoid flats, so combined with the rigid fork, the rocks are turning my skinny arms to jelly. I have to ease up and yield to the squishy bikes. This would become the theme for the rest of the day: pass people on fireroad climbs, get passed on everything else. Luckily there were lots of long fireroad climbs and I was able to hold my own.

The race is as much an excercise in mental fortitude as it is in physical endurance. My mantra of "finish, finish, finish" over and over in my head seemed to make the miles and hours go by quicker. The constant back and forth between Crazy Markie, MarkW, ChrisC, and myself also makes it more interesting. Before I know it I'm closing in on checkpoint #3 (about 40 miles into the race). By this time Markie is either smelling blood in the water, or he's getting desperate. He blows through the aid station while I take a break and rest. I'm wondering whether I should chase him down or stick to my game plan. After a minute of deliberation, I let him go.

The stage from aid station 3 to 4 is just one climb and one descent. Sounds easy but my legs are starting to cramp. As I pull off to the side to punch at my legs, a mysterious singlespeeder catches up to me. He motions to his jersey pocket, I reach in and pull out a handful of magic white electrolyte pills. I normally don't take candy from strangers, but I'm desperate to lose the cramps. I down one and the cramps ease up. Excellent. I finish the climb and descend into aid station 4. I spot Gina among the volunteers and my spirits are up again. The Pedalshop boys are there in force, wrenching bikes and dispensing the suds. Markie is nowhere in sight. I wonder if it was a mistake to let him go. I grab a handful of pringles, drain a coke and set off on the dreaded 18 mile climb to the highest point of the course.

The big climb to checkpoint 5 is the make or break point of the race for me. If I can make it to station 5, I know I'll finish. I hit the road, the Mantra going round and round in my head. After a while I spot Markie far ahead of me. But he's doddering and I'm closing in on him. When I finally catch up to him I make it a point to pass him quickly, to take away any incentive for him to chase me. The effort almost kills me but it works. I ride into checkpoint 5 with no one on my wheel. It's here that I first see Foley. He's been ahead of me the whole time. Scardaville is there too.

Foley, JonW, and I set out together from the aid station on the heels of MarkW. From this point on the four of us would never be more than 2 minutes apart. Jon and I would go back and forth many times before he would drop me on the descent to the finish line. But back to the race. We pull into the final checkpoint together, about a minute ahead of MarkW. Looking for the kill, MarkW is a blur. He blows through the aid station Jeremiah Bishop style, slowing only to grab a coke. Jon and I, slackers that we are, take our time and leave together.

Ahhh, the final climb of the race: Hankey Mountain. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I found myself in the middle of a cheap fling in mid-climb. It was a classic summer romance. Boy meets girl, girl sucks boy's wheel, boy sucks girl's wheel, boy finds girl sucking someone elses wheel, boy drops girl. See ya! When I think it's all over I find JonW, sucking my wheel. Now it's getting weird. I let him go by knowing that he will be faster than me on the descent to the finish line (he actually caught MarkW). I take my time and enjoy the last few miles knowing that there's no way I won't finish now.

I crossed the line in 10 hours and 50 minutes. I was happy to finish. My stomach, after a diet of coke, red bull, gatorade, and electrolyte pills, was on the verge of revolution. Although I was hungry, I couldn't eat. I went back to my tent. I was tired but couldn't sleep. My body was in a state of confusion. Sometime in the night, I hear a massive cheer erupt from the camp. Scud had finished. I finally drift of to sleep. In my dream, I'm flying down Dowell's Draft again. Somehow, it wasn't as good as the real thing.

The gold at the end of the rainbow

Cheers! JonW and me show off our new sm100/ODB glasses