Monday, October 19, 2009

Diablo Race #5 (Vernon, NJ)

Nick and I headed to Diablo for the last race of the season this weekend. The weather forecast didn't look good - with rain and snow possible. Despite the cold, we made the best of our time and competed both days in both the Giant Slalom and Downhill races.

We walked the course on Saturday after our Giant Slalom runs to find a very interesting course. The upper section included several tabletop jumps and fast berms. That was followed by two sections of rock gardens that zapped speed and required heavy pedaling. The lower rock garden was steep, slippery, and super-technical. Once out of the upper area, the course ran into the familiar lower shoots seen in three of the previous races. That area seemed like a breeze after navigating the tricky rock gardens above. The race finish was again in the grass field - this time was by far the most slippery that it has been all summer, evidenced by several wash-outs on its off-camber left turn.

It seemed like the key would be constant pedaling through the rock gardens followed by some controlled sliding through rest of the course. The racers had two runs to put together a winning time, which was nice since the chance of slipping off course seemed especially high.

In my first race run, I went slightly off-course on a corner in the lower rock garden. In my second run I corrected that mishap and gained six seconds on my previous time. It was good enough for second that day, second for the DH overall, and even second in the combined (slalom & DH) overall points.

The prize package at Diablo was truly impressive. Each of eight classes was showered with goodies from Jamis, Shimano, JBL Audio, Scott, and Diablo's cash purse. I walked away with a bevy of gear, including a 2010 Dakar Bam 1 frame!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Snowshoe Race #4 (West Virginia)

This has been a great season of racing - with results better than I'd even hoped. I did have one major screw-up at the end of the season, however, when I sold my '09 frame before my new '10 came in - which has still yet to happen. For this race (and next week's final round at Diablo) I was on my friend's Turner. A great bike, just not a familiar setup.

During a practice run, I broke the chainguard on the Turner. This didn't seem to be much of a problem until my race run, when the chain came off and wrapped around my right pedal. Luckily, I had the pedals horizontal when it happened [about halfway down the trail], so I could at least coast over the rest of the course. I even hit the large rock drop, although a couple pedal strokes would have been nice before pitching over the face.

In the lower section of the course, there were a few muddy spots that slowed my momentum, followed by a long straight into the finish line - man, it sure would have been a lot faster with the ability to pedal. I ended up coming in 6th place, which is fine with me given the handicap. My position for the overall series held stable at 3rd, which was a great feeling at the end of my first season. One more race to go and then a long and productive winter of training ahead.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dude's Day 2009 (Snowshoe, WV)

Okay, so we had some last-minute dropouts, and perhaps the nonstop rain on Saturday wasn't ideal - but we still had one hell of a weekend!

Puck, Jarrod, Joe, and Andy headed for Snowshoe on Thursday and were met by Sergio (who drove from Detroit). On Friday night Joey, Dignon, and I showed up to find the whole bunch of them waste-faced and ready to party. The weekend was looking good!

The next day we watched the rain fall while we finished off the rest of the beer in the cooler. Eventually a few of us decided to get out there despite the weather. Joey, Puck, and Dignon did some four-wheeling in Joey's Jeep while we soaked up the rain and made a few runs on the mountain.

A trip to refill the cooler and a delicious dinner rounded out Saturday's festivities and the promise of less rain had us looking forward to Sunday. When we woke, the view from the porch looked poor, but by the time we'd finished breakfast the rain had stopped and only a thick fog remained. We geared up and headed out into the muddy, wonderful woods. The riding was phenomenal! Slippery and wet, but absolutely fun at the same time. Sunday's riding definitely made up for the constant rain earlier. Even with the inclement weather, hanging out in the condo and just spending time with close friends really made this trip great.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Diablo Race #4 (Vernon, NJ)

Sean and I headed for Diablo Friday night and arrived at the Wawayanda camp site around 3am. In the light rain we quickly set up our tents and headed to sleep. Bright and early the next morning we were woken up by a fellow camper - apparently we had set up our tents in his site and we'd need to move. With just over four hours of sleep, this may have been a blessing in disguise, since I doubt we would have rolled out of our tents any earlier.

After a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts and a second to look over the bikes, we were on the lift and headed to the top of the mountain. We made some warm-up laps first, then headed to the race course to see what we had to look forward to on Sunday. The course was interesting. Some sections that we've seen before, but one new area that looked very challenging. It was a large slab of rock with several exit lines that seemed to offer plenty of room for individual routes. We walked the obstacle and then I hiked back up to give it a try. It wasn't super tricky to navigate, but misplacing a tire meant falling off one of the elevated rocks that made up the "fast line."

The rain continued all day on Saturday, so we came back to Sean's truck often to dry off and rest. The weather report for Sunday was promising, so we decided to leave some of our practice runs for then.

On the way back to our campsite, Sean and I noticed a drive-in theater playing Inglorious Basterds. After drying most of our damp gear over the campfire, we returned to the drive-in to catch a flick.

The next day was a vast improvement on Saturday's weather. The sun came out and dried the course to an ideally grippy consistency. We took a few practice runs and then headed to the top for our individual starts. The course felt great - fast as hell. I did get a bit greedy though, coming into the rock slab way too fast I slid to the side of the course and had to walk around the slab since I'd blown past my entry point. Even with that mistake I snuck by with a second place finish.

Sean had a rough time in that section too. He cleared the slab, but his front wheel became stuck in the following rock garden. It ejected him immediately and he landed hard on his shoulder, elbow, and thigh. At first he tried to hop back on the bike to ride out, but he could barely lift his bike with the bruised shoulder, so he was forced to walk out off course and down the remainder of the mountain.

Despite our falls, the weekend was still a blast overall. There's just one more race left for the Diablo Gravity Series, then it's time to prepare for an even bigger season in 2010.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Snowshoe Race #3 (West Virginia)

After my last race ended in disaster, I decided to focus on overcoming my wreck and learning from my mistakes. It turned out to work wonderfully and couldn't have been a more fitting way to cap off a great weekend.

Along for this trip were Rachel, Puck, Joey, my brother Dave, my Mom Carol, and her husband John. We lucked out big time this weekend too, as we were able to stay in a friend's condo instead of roughing it again at our usual campsite. The condo was so close to the trails that we were able to ride/walk everywhere we needed to go. The weather was cool and comfortable, with only a few short rainstorms amidst the otherwise clear and sunny skies.

On Saturday we took several runs on the race course to get a feel for the terrain. The course was somewhat of a combination of the first two, including two of the road gaps and a new section that featured two large tabletop jumps. The technical area this time was found on "lower quickdraw." This section offers multiple choices of lines, so finding the fastest route was key. It's a challenging run, with sharp turns within the maze of rocks and roots. Even after emerging from "lower quickdraw" the course offered one last taste of technical riding in "lower hairball." This section was part of the previous racecourse, which I stumbled through rather embarrassingly last time. The final stretch of the course was the same as last race, including the rock jump that threw me face-first to the ground. I decided to take it slow over the rock and work on building my confidence in increments.

That night we went out for pizza in the village and played a game of spades at the condo before retiring for the night. Early the next morning, Rachel and I walked the course before the lift opened. It was helpful to take time to look at the lines and assess the best way through. At the final rock, I carefully studied the approach. The line is barely wider that a tire and the small rocks cause your bike to jerk side-to-side at speed, so coming into that area prepared is very important. After the course walk, we rode the lift back to the top and walked back to the condo to join the rest of our group for breakfast.

Pro practice had begun by the time we emerged from the apartment so Puck, Joey, and I headed to the Basin side to get a few runs in before the race. Puck left after one run to compete in the intro category. It was his first race at Snowshoe, and he finished in 2nd place! A great victory for the Get Loose Crew indeed.

Joey and I took a couple more runs, but unfortunately he suffered a flat and I had to split to get to the staging area of my race. My run went well, with only a couple minor slips and one complete stop when I reached another rider in "lower hairball." The crowning victory for me, however, was at the finish line rock. I approached the jump with my eyes focused intently on the run-in. As soon as I left the ground I could feel that it was smooth, and I landed comfortably in the lower section of the landing. Since I'd passed a rider on the trail, we had to wait until the end of my class to find the official time. It turned out to be 5:12, good enough for first place in amateur.

After the race, the three of us took two more runs on the mountain and then headed back to pack up our stuff and drive back to Richmond. On the shuttle ride back to the top of the mountain, we rode with the 1st and 3rd place riders of the pro class. The margin between 1st and 2nd was the closest I've seen this year, with Chris Herndon being beaten by only three tenths of a second. The winner casually joked that it must have been because of the skin-suit he wore during the race. I've got a feeling he'll be sporting it next time too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Diablo Race #3 (Vernon, NJ)

For this race, Puck and I decided to leave town on Thursday night in his truck since most Richmonders were staying in town for Best Friends Day and we'd be the only two making the drive to New Jersey. That gave us an extra day to ride and time to stop by his Dad's house in Hightstown, NJ.

Diablo runs their lift until 7pm in the midweek, so we casually headed to the park on Friday and began to take some runs. Unfortunately, a storm rolled in after only two runs. As soon as thunder was audible, they shut down the lift. To make matters worse, we learned that Diablo offers no sort of rain-check for instances like this one. We waited out the storm in the parking lot and met a rider from Brazil named Sergio. Even after the rain had stopped, the lift remained static, so we headed to the campsite and called it a day.

The next morning was damp, but the sky looked promising, so we got an early start and began the day by walking the course to check out this month's race run. Surprisingly enough, the course was much simpler than the last one. The bottom half was almost identical to their first course and it seemed to be the shortest run they've had in a race thus far.

I spent most of the day making runs on the course, but took a few with Puck and Sergio to break up the monotony. We even found a few trails that we'd never seen before at Diablo - helping the park's reputation in our minds after being smashed by the overwhelming acreage of Snowshoe.

The ground was perfect - grippy and soft, without even a hint of dust which usually plagues the park. The temperature was much better also after the previous night's rain. Around 4pm, we were exhausted, so we headed back to the campsite with a quick stop at a local pizza joint.

The rain returned that night, so we each retired to our tents a bit early. The next morning was clear and within a few hours the sun was shining brightly above. Again the ground felt wonderful, so the rain wasn't really too much of a downer. We were able to hang out all of our wet gear while we rode, which was toasty dry by the end of the afternoon.

I took a couple of runs on the course to make sure it felt roughly the same as the previous day, and then returned to the parking lot to relax and mentally prepare for the race. At 1:29 I left the top of the mountain and crossed the finish line a mere 2 minutes, 26 seconds later. It wasn't a perfect run, but overall I felt confident about my performance. I was the first rider in my category, so I was able to wait at the bottom for the two main opponents to cross. Dennis Yuroshek and his teammate, PJ Mihalick (2wheelfreaks) were my most formidable opponents, but I snuck away with the win 5 seconds ahead of them. The best thing about the finish was that all three of us on the podium were riding the same bike - the '09 Giant Glory DH. I'll be selling my frame at the end of the season too, in case anyone's interested.

After the race, we said goodbye to Sergio and headed for Puck's Dad's house for a cookout, then back to Richmond for a quick rest before the next race - SNOWSHOE!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Snowshoe Race #2 (West Virginia)

After a great practice weekend, I figured this weekend's race would be almost a breeze, even at the pro/elite level. The only areas that I wasn't allowed to ride prior to race weekend were the two lower road gaps and the "wild zone," a rock garden that ended with a rather magnificent rock drop to steep chute.

On Saturday I took a few practice runs and felt fine on those areas. I knew I'd be a bit slower over the large gap than the rest of the pro field, but figured I could live with that. The rock garden in the lower half of the course was tricky, but not unnavigable. Saturday afternoon, however, everything changed. The rain began in the late afternoon and continued until Sunday morning. Half of our group left after Saturday since the rain showed no signs of letting up and had already soaked through their tent back at the campsite. The rest of us rode out the storm and woke on Sunday morning to a damp, but sunny day.

Immediately the difference in the course was obvious. Areas that were simple before became all-new challenges and the rock garden was especially tough to navigate, since keeping your line was such a battle. After a couple practice runs, though, I felt comfortable and adjusted to the conditions.

The race run was a bit different. The course had been torn up so badly by the race traffic that the lower half was almost unrecognizable. There was a stream running down the trail just below the "wild zone" and the "hairball" rock garden was more slippery than ever. My run was going fine until just before "hairball" when my rear tire slid out. I paused, ran up the muddy run-in a few feet, and tried to restart the section, which began with a jump off of the first rock. With no time to compose myself and neither pedals clicked in, I didn't last long before going over the bars. Again I tried to relax and restart, but doing so in the middle of a rock garden is extremely tough. A few more falls and one very long breath later, I was over "Roberta's Rock" and almost through "Lower Hairball" when my tires slid out again on the wet rock and ejected me once more.

After so many spills, I figured that my chances of posting a good time were lost, so I decided to take the rest of the course easy and simply go as fast or slow as I felt comfortable. By this time I was near the bottom of the course and through the most challenging sections, so I decided to stay off the brakes and enjoy the speed. There was only one more obstacle in my way, a high-speed, low-elevation, rock drop that lands on the downside of a series of tree roots. It's something that I took slow last race, but had mastered during last week's practice. I felt no fear of the jump, so I decided to hit it hard and fast - big mistake! As soon as my bike left the ground, I could feel that the rear wheel had bounced too hard, and was going to throw me off the front of the bike. I landed face-first on the ground, cutting up the entire left side of my body. Luckily, I had no broken bones and my full-face helmet did its job wonderfully. The race run, however, was a complete bust and I'll be off the bike for at least two weeks.

I suppose even wrecks can serve as valuable learning experiences and this one wont soon be forgotten. It was a bummer, but could have been much worse, so I feel lucky coming out of it relatively uninjured. Even with that outcome, it's still nothing to ruin the weekend. Hell, to top it off, we snapped the best group photo I've ever seen on the drive back to Richmond.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Snowshoe (West Virginia)

We really lucked out this past weekend. Some of our friends from Industry Nine in Asheville, NC rented a cabin that was perched almost directly under the lift on Snowshoe's Western Territory. It was a great change from our usual tent and campfire style.

We even had access to a hot tub after a long day of riding.

The riding was more relaxed and casual too, and the conditions were perfect. Rain fell on Friday as we drove to the mountains, but it stayed dry for the next two days, giving the trails a tackier, grippy feel.

Most of the locals knew the probable route for next weekend's race, so I was able to preride some of it ahead of time. Next weekend's race will feature three road gaps on the pro course. Only one of them was available to ride this weekend, but I could at least take a sneak peek at the other two. It'll definitely be a great race to watch, with the builders creating the most challenging course they've had in recent years.

Once the riding was over, we all packed up and headed to our respective homes - Asheville, NC and Richmond, VA. It was great seeing some familiar faces and meeting a few more. Once the race season draws to a close, there will definitely be a trip to Asheville to ride and hang with I9 crew.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Diablo Race #2 (Vernon, NJ)

The last trip to Diablo was without the bus. It was a more focused trip I suppose, with no distractions to worry about other than the race itself. It was a great change from the regular weekend expeditions in the bus, but I've been looking forward to returning in the bus ever since then. On this jaunt we had nine people - Rachel, Kaycie, Ashley, Jake, Jake #2, Sean, Nick, Chris, and myself. The ride up took its usual FOREVER, but this time we had plenty of room inside thanks to my recently built bike rack.

We showed up to the campsite around 3am on Friday night/Saturday morning, pitched some tents, and grabbed a mere three or four hours of sleep before our first day of fun. We rolled into the parking lot the next morning and split off in our two directions - some to the water park and the rest to the bike park.

The race course was tough to say the least. The upper section was only one week old and had little to no traction. The center of the course was new also - although the challenge this time was not limited to a lack of traction. Instead, this was the rock garden. A haphazardly spaced field of boulders, jaggedly pointing in every direction. Finding a line was a real task, and staying on that line was even more of an ordeal. Eventually I did come up with a strategy through the section, but I'm sure it looked like nothing more than a stubborn tear through the center of the garden. Once out of the woods, there was little left of the course. A large step-up followed by a steep left-hand turn that dropped about twenty feet simultaneously. This feature was appropriately named the "crap shoot" since it very often resulted in crashes. I came off the side of the turn once in practice and feel a bit lucky to have survived. After the "crap shoot" the course went through a few tight banks and then spit out into the bottom field. This was where most spectators could watch as riders took their last few turns and flew over a jump before mashing the pedals to the finish line.

After a day of practice we headed back to our campsite to build a fire, cook some burgers and hot dogs, and grab a decent night's sleep.

Sunday was race day! Sean had suffered a fall on our last run the previous day, so he decided to volunteer as a course marshal. Nick did the same in order to get two free day passes for our next trip. I took three practice runs while the rest of our group rode the rest of the park. Jake came back to the bus with a bruised leg and had to end his day of riding a bit early. Soon, however, the races began and I headed to the top of the gondola. My run down the hill was quick, but I decided to play it safe when possible since staying on the bike would be faster than a high-speed wreck. I rode about half of the rock garden with one foot on the pedals after barely saving myself from sliding off course. When I popped out of the garden I pushed the pedals as much as possible, sliding into the dry and dusty corners. My tires were slipping on the loose gravel and sand, but it was a feeling I'd become accustomed to in practice, so I just held on until they found some traction. When I passed the finish line the announcer reported my time and position - second place! There were still several riders to go, but my time held firm and I walked away with a great result.

We packed up the bus after the race, Ashley cooked the remainder of our hot dogs and burgers, and we were soon on the road. About an hour past midnight we pulled into the Rowlett's parking lot, tired and satisfied - looking forward to next weekend's adventure.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Snowshoe Race #1

One of the best trips to date - for sure! Where do I even start? How about the mud...

It was wet and slippery on Saturday when we prerode the course. Just the kind of conditions that I love. We took runs all day, taking breaks in between to relax at the bus.

That night at the campsite we returned to hear the whistle blowing on the Cass Scenic Train, which conveniently ran just behind us.

After that, we walked a mere fifty yards or so and found quite a surprise - zoo animals! When Sean and Puck initially returned from their discovery, the first thing out of Sean's mouth was "don't fucking go over there - it's a fucking tiger!" There were actually a bunch of animals - a leopard, coyotes, two bears, and ducklings - just to name a few.

The next day (race day) we headed back to the mountain in the bus while Greg took his cross bike down the mountain to Cass and then straight up again (10% grade) to meet us in the Snowshoe parking lot. That man's a machine!

After seeing the pitiful "dual-stunt course," Sean decided to race downhill instead. He and I took a quick run down the mountain to survey the conditions and soon after it was time to race. Sean went first and came in mid-pack, a very good result for his first race.

My start was after Sean's. I put in a pretty good run, making only a couple minor mistakes and having to sit once in a while to catch my breath on the fire road sections.

When I reached to finish line, Puck and Sean were sprinting down the hill to meet me. "I think you're winning" said Puck. Knowing that there were still plenty of riders to come, I had my doubts; but as we watched riders file in it started to sink in - I might have a chance of winning! I could hardly believe it - I came in first - over 15 seconds ahead of the next rider in my class! It was a dream come true.

On the way home, we stopped at the Confederate Breastworks to take in the view and unload a few bikes to do a quick bomb down the hill.

A few hours on the highway (with one tire losing its tread) and we were back in Richmond - an unbelievable weekend of fun under our belts.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Snowshoe (West Virginia)

The bus is still in the shop after an electronic malfunction, so this weekend's trip was aboard Joey's Jeep Cherokee.

We left Richmond on Friday night and arrived at Snowshoe around 12:30am. Our friend Dave let us use his condo for the weekend, but the first night we crashed at his friend Darryl's house. The next morning we grabbed the key to Dave's place and headed over to make breakfast and prepare for the mountain.

The conditions at Snowshoe are well known to be muddy, rooty, rocky, and above all - slippery. I switched my tires over to Kenda Excavators in advance, and it seemed to pay off. The rain had stopped a day before, but the ground was still treacherous. I particularly enjoy riding in mud, so I was happy, even when I did slide out from time to time.

We kept making runs on the basin side, since the western territory had only a shuttle bus and we'd gotten a relatively late start on the day. It worked out well, and we put in a decent amount of runs.

When we returned to the condo I started making phone calls to find the rest of our party, which had left Richmond on Saturday. After checking in with them, Joey cooked us a FINE meal - steaks with roasted red peppers and broccoli - delicious!

On Sunday we got an earlier start and were on the mountain by 10:30am. Our group of seven riders stuck together for awhile, then eventually we divided into our own groups to ride our personal favorites.

At lunch, we met a couple guys from Asheville and I decided to ride with them once on the Western side of the mountain.

The trails there are much longer and varied and the shuttle bus can be timed almost perfectly to pick up as soon as you reach the bottom. The guys from Asheville, Thomas and Scott, showed me some great trails. After I'd found Nick and Joey again I took them to that side to show them what we'd been missing. On the shuttle ride back to the top we ran into two of Joey's friends (originally from Staunton, VA). We decided to make one last run with them to end the day. At around 5pm we were back on the road, headed home to Richmond. It was a great practice weekend and I'm looking forward to next week's race.