Somehow I knew this was going to be Seth’s last race. The loss of muscle mass in his legs—indeed his entire body—was obvious. And it was worse this time. I tried telling myself it was due to a lack of protein, but I never was any good at denial. The kid simply lost all appetite for food, just as the doctors had warned us, and as Helen had feared. But the clear enthusiasm in Seth’s eyes seemed to outshine any loss in physical wholeness; he was genuinely happy to be here. His friends were thrilled as well, although they all seemed to share a grim understanding that Seth may not race again after today.


Helen, my wife of sixteen years, fretted over every detail of Seth’s preparedness. I tried reassuring her that kids of Seth’s age didn’t take racing as seriously as the adults, although I’m not so sure I believed it myself, and it didn’t seem to placate her at any rate. She kept right on with the doting mother routine: making sure he had enough water, double-checking his tire pressure, ensuring that there were plenty of gel packets taped to the bars. Wait. Gel packets taped to the bars? “Sweetie, it’s just two laps, and they’re only four mile laps. What’s he need gel for?” I asked. But I knew that Seth might actually need that sort of boost, so I stopped hounding her about it. Let her dote. She needed an outlet that reminded her she was still useful as a mother. But in fact, she was an insanely good mother even before the diagnosis.


Shortly before his sixth birthday, Seth began suffering persistent fever and night sweats. His pediatrician was certain it was the flu, but it simply would not end. A battery of tests ruled out that diagnosis and suggested a cause much darker and more fearsome. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I hated those three words, but I soon became an expert in their pronunciation. In addition to the plentiful information given to us by his doctors, I googled the disease and clicked through what seemed like a thousand pages of results, desperate for survival stories. Helen joined an online cancer forum and was immediately welcomed into a tight-knit circle of doctors, patients, and relatives of patients. The cancer had been moderately aggressive, but an effective chemotherapy regimen and bone marrow transplant finally beat it into remission before Seth turned eight. Thereafter, our son enjoyed a renewed vigor befitting a growing child, and at the age of nine he’d expressed an interest in racing. Like me, Seth was wiry, with a narrow torso, slender arms, and oddly—almost laughably—muscular legs. We just seemed to be custom made for cycling.


Helen and I had raced in the years before Seth was born, mostly as a duo team for endurance events and an occasional adventure race. We were ideally matched; Helen could ride endlessly at a moderate pace, and I could rip some fast laps, though I lacked Helen’s endurance. We managed to podium a few times during our peak years, but mostly placed upper mid-pack. To be honest, I think we lacked the singular, competitive hunger that separated the top finishers from the rest. We were fine with that. It was the racing community, the electric atmosphere of a big event, and the many cycling friends we’d amassed over the years that kept us in thrall to the world of mountain biking. When Helen became pregnant, we were ecstatic. Her race participation would have to be suspended of course, but she took satisfaction in pitting for me and cheering me on as I continued to compete.


That seemed ages ago. Now Seth was fourteen, and his cancer had returned. The prognosis? Not as promising as last time. But Seth’s attitude was infectious, and it made him popular and admired among the mountain biking community. Area cyclists of all ages knew Seth, and they knew about his present struggle with cancer. He lived for mountain biking, he adored his friends, and he seemed to love his parents without condition. It’s as if his positive outlook and endearing personality themselves were the biggest threats to his disease. The universe ought to recognize that, I thought. If there’s any justice at all. Helen and I reasoned that, as long as Seth was living life so fully, who were we to bring him down by discussing the reality of his fate? We could grieve in private. And we grieved a lot.


It was time for Seth’s race to start. He was waiting at the front with his two best buds, Dylan Holcombe and Thompson Garner. Helen was there as well, snapping photos with her point-and-shoot, seemingly bent on embarrassing our beleaguered son. Dylan and Thom hammed it up, as they often did, but Seth had donned his game face. “Mom, you don’t have to take so many pictures,” he pleaded, with as much seriousness as he could muster. But Helen continued to click away, pausing only long enough for the camera to regenerate. “Gimme a break,” she answered. “I like photographing you in your element.”


“I’m not a baboon, mom.”


When he took up racing, Seth had risen steadily through the ranks, but the tallest of the podiums had eluded him. That spot belonged to Kelly Lowden, it seemed. Kelly was a girl. Seth joked that she was in reality a he, as no mere girl could possibly be that fast. But fast she was, and the moment Seth made any gains in speed and endurance, Kelly would simply turn it up a notch, as if she were toying with him all along. “Son, it’s probably genetics. She’s just gifted,” I said, in a weak attempt to reassure him.


“Thanks, dad.” Seth paused and mulled this over a bit. Soon his sarcasm gave way to a question. “I’m gifted too, right?”


“Of course you are. You may just need to train more and eat right. Maybe her diet is better than yours.”


“Well, can’tcha make my diet better?”


“Talk to your mom.”


The fact is, our diet was fine. Seth’s sickness had prompted us years earlier to begin eating healthier: lots of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, less sugar and starch. The doctors had encouraged us all to eat a diet rich in fiber and protein, and we found that we could actually prepare satisfying meals without having to include lots of fats. Helen and I were thrilled at the resulting weight loss, but we feared Seth might wither away. Our son had difficulty adjusting at first, but he eventually came around and developed a taste for the meals Helen and I concocted. I wanted to believe that Seth’s inability to put on pounds was a result of the new diet, but I knew there was a more sinister cause.


“Go!” the race official barked, and the lineup of eleven racers was off. Seth and his friends were at the front, but it would only take a few short moments for Kelly to make her way to the lead. She had some sort of mechanical issue at the last moment, though her dad managed to get it sorted out. Her start was delayed by about thirty seconds, which she would likely make up in short order. The only racer who might pose a challenge was Thom, or “T-Gar” as he was often called. Or perhaps Seth, I’d hoped. But I knew that he had weakened in the last few months despite his training, and all the gel in the world could not overcome his compromised health. I had to admit to myself that his best chance of placing first in any race had already come and gone.


The race course snaked around quite a bit and there were several sections where it doubled back on itself. The result was a number of 180 degree turns whose apexes were only thirty yards or so from some other part of the trail, but a few minutes away by bike. This afforded the spectators easy access to various parts of the course, simply by walking among the trees and waiting for race participants to round a corner, where we would all cheer enthusiastically for our champions. We had done this many times for Seth, who would most often be among the leaders. Other parts of the trail were long straight-aways that slowly rose in a soft ascent and then rose again to make for a more grueling climb. This is where Seth shined. It was seemingly effortless for him to hammer up even the most daunting climbs, and it was the uphills where he often gained ground on the race leaders. All except Kelly.


By the time Helen and I made our way to the first observation spot, we could hear the clangor of the peloton. Thom was leading, followed closely by Seth. But I was dismayed to see that our son already bore a grimace which betrayed the pain he was enduring just to keep up with his friends. This early on? As I watched him disappear around a high turn, I couldn’t help but notice his paleness, his creeping loss of muscle, the ill-fitting jersey. Even his legs, once enviable pistons of strength, were now sinewy and far too lean.


He was scheduled to begin a new and somewhat experimental drug treatment in Texas the following week, an appointment which he’d begged Helen and me to delay for a few days so he could participate in this race. We hesitated initially, but soon relented. The race meant a lot to him and he’d prepared for weeks. He was already lean to the point of gauntness, I thought, and now another protracted chemotherapy program might undo him. The doctors, however, were more confident; this particular treatment promised to be less harsh, with fewer debilitating side effects. If it worked as they hoped, his appetite would improve.


Kelly had made her way past the stragglers and was mid-pack, several seconds ahead of a fairly competent rider, a boy named Martin Hertogen. Martin was another friend of Seth’s, whom Seth had mentored for a few months as he got the hang of racing. He started impressively at every event, only to fizzle out after a few minutes. He was therefore never really much of a threat, even at short track races. Some of the other boys began calling him “Hurt Again” because he would often claim that a sudden onset of muscle cramps was the only thing that kept him from taking first place. And now he was followed closely by the remainder of the riders, all of whom were poised to overtake him.


Hand in hand, Helen and I walked with a number of other parents to the next section of trail to await the competitors. I looked at my watch and gauged that it would be another couple of minutes before we saw the leaders. After about twenty seconds, however, Kelly crested a hill that would then drop her into a massive whoop-de-do, the far side of which was a challenge to even the strongest riders. This is where we liked to stand and encourage the racers, since they would be going much slower when they mashed up the steep incline to exit. We clapped and whistled while Kelly mastered the climb-out, as we would for all the riders. “She must have been hammering hard to take the lead so early,” Helen said. I caught Kelly’s eye when she pedaled past, but the look on her face did not express the customary triumph we were all used to seeing. It was a resigned half-frown, almost apologetic. Instantly I worried that Seth had crashed. “What do you suppose that was about?” Helen had noticed the brief, unspoken exchange as well.


“Eh, I’m sure he’s fine,” I offered, with no real sureness at all.


T-Gar was next to summit the hill, followed by another rider directly off his wheel. Was that Seth? No, it was Dylan. I cursed to myself that they wore identical jerseys. Why wasn’t it Seth? Moments passed. Helen and I looked a question at one another. Should we make our way down the trail to see if he was okay? Wait! Another rider. Again, not Seth. Grimly, we prepared to negotiate the steep gulley that formed the giant whoop. We had to check on our son. Suddenly, the familiar sound of drivetrain chatter stopped us in our tracks. A rider was approaching. It was Seth. While Helen clapped and shouted her approval, I tried to get a read of his condition as he began the sharp drop into the whoop. No good; he was head-down in anticipation of the climb ahead, and I was unable to see his face. But when he hit the nadir, he looked up. What I saw was an agony so visceral it was gut wrenching. His eyes were pleading and wet. He shot a look at his mother, who was now standing speechless, hands over her open mouth. Seth was spent, and the climb out of the whoop would prove a challenge. It had never been difficult for him in the past; he had mastered it after only a few months of riding at age ten. As we watched him struggle, a group of six riders appeared over the crest, bulleted down the drop-in, and spun up the rise in hot pursuit. Three of them overtook Seth as they pedaled out of sight through the trees and around a turn.


We picked our way back to the first lookout spot where we could greet the racers who were on their second lap. There was plenty of time to chat with the other parents while waiting, and some of them expressed concern for Seth. None of us were accustomed to seeing him so exhausted. When Kelly was the first to appear around a corner, she had both T-Gar and Dylan close on her heel. This is odd, I thought. She ought to be several minutes ahead of the pack, but her body language suggested she was holding back. I wanted to make eye contact with her again and gauge her intent. Was she playing games with the boys? She was faster and she knew it, but it wasn’t like her to constantly tease. Kelly did not meet my stare, and neither did her riding companions. As they rode past and disappeared down the trail, I could hear them talking in tones that sounded almost earnest.


The rest of the riders soon passed as well, but it was several more minutes before Seth arrived, beaten and dejected. He slowed to a stop in front of us and slumped on his bars, attempting to get a sentence out between wheezes. “Are you alright, sweetie?” Helen asked while stroking his back. “Do you need more gel?” I noticed both gel packs had been ripped from their tape mooring on the handle bars. Much of it had spilled over the top tube where it mingled with dirt and sweat. I wondered if Seth had actually ingested any at all.


“I need some gel,” he managed to say at last. “I spilled most of it.”


Helen fished a gel pack out of her pocket and handed it to him. “You don’t have to finish, you know.”


“I’m good. Just need to down this stuff.” He was getting his breath back by slow degrees. “I think I can catch ‘em.”


“Seth, you don’t need to pr–”


“I’m good I said!” Seth snapped. His frustration had turned to anger, something we rarely saw in him. After a moment, he was off again. He looked weak and awkward as he vanished from our sight. Suddenly, I found myself eager to be in Texas with Seth and Helen. Eager to beat this cancer back again. For good.


We turned around and went back to the whoop-de-do for the second time. All the riders crested the hill in a line, with T-Gar in the lead. They did not appear to be racing so much as hosting a beginner ride. When they reached the bottom of the whoop, they all dismounted and walked their bikes up and out. “What’s going on?” one of the parents asked.


“Nothing. Just tired,” answered Kelly. A few of the parents exchanged looks of disbelief. No one was buying that excuse. Whatever they were up to, Kelly seemed to be the leader. Naturally.


One by one they marched their bikes passed us, each determined not to speak to any of the adults. When they mounted up once again, they talked in muffled voices, looking back as if careful not to reveal a secret.


Seth arrived sooner than I expected, but he was not going to catch the rest. The whoop section was at mile three, and the faster riders could be at the finish line in five minutes after the climb out. But at the pace they had been going, it would be more like ten minutes, I reasoned. I had to help Seth up the climb after he executed the drop-in more tentatively than ever. If he couldn’t even ride the descents fast, he was done. None of us spoke as he wearily mounted his bike, but his eyes expressed a gratitude that needed no words . “We’ll see you at the finish!” Helen yelled at his back. He raised a hand in acknowledgement and formed a peace sign before clutching the grip again. Then he was gone.


“Those kids are up to something,” Helen said as we headed back to the pit area for the finish. I nodded in agreement but said nothing.


My thoughts were in Texas again. Would the new drug regimen show promise? What if it had no effect? Familiar fears were returning once more. I wasn’t thinking much about the race now. Just Seth. When we came to the long stretch of doubletrack leading to the finish, I couldn’t be certain I was seeing correctly. Dozens of the adult racers were straddling their bikes and lined up near the start. Only they weren’t lined up to begin their race; they were facing inward, across from one another. Now I noticed something else. There were heaps of riders strewn about on the trail in front of them. I felt that Helen and I just missed a serious racing accident by mere seconds. As we got a little closer, it looked like a yard sale to end all yard sales. But why wasn’t anybody helping them?


Helen too was in disbelief. “Oh no!”


“Seth!” I yelled, as I broke into a run.


“What?” The question came from behind me, however. I turned around to see Seth apply his brakes and ride up next to Helen and me.


“Oh man, what happened up there?” asked Seth. He was no longer breathing hard since he wasn’t killing himself in an attempt to place.


The crowd began cheering. I slowed to a trot. This is bizarre, I thought. Helen kept running, as if convinced that she was the only one willing to help and everyone else was in a deranged stupor. Then she slowed to a walk as well. She threw up her arms and started laughing. Now I saw what she saw. Bikes were in a tangled pile in the middle of the trail beneath the finish flag. Some of the racers were lying on the ground in comical contortions. Others had tires around their necks. Yet others had their bikes upside down, feigning mechanical failures. One kid was hanging from a tree branch, and another stood looking up at a bicycle that dangled from the same tree.


The cheering became louder. There were piercing whistles and everyone was clapping. Some of the adult racers motioned Seth to keep coming. I looked back to see him astride his bike in the middle of the trail, dumbfounded by the spectacle. I motioned come on as well. Greet your adoring public. He seemed to get the message, a smile forming on his stricken face. He pedaled into the thick of the crowd as it closed and fell over him. T-Gar, Dylan and Kelly pushed him and his bike toward the stage area, the throng parting like the Red Sea. By the time they reached the podiums, the melee was so thick it was difficult to tell precisely who hustled him up onto the first place spot. But there he stood, raising high a trophy that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Helen was in tears amid the joy. So was I, and so were many others. I knew he was loved, but I had no idea how much.


Texas-New Mexico 2017 Journal

friday, september 1 – 8:23 am, drove to Nashville in intermittent rain. Two accidents in TN delayed me, so I arrived at 5:15. I got to t&l’s then rested until 7:00. We drank craft beer then met Adrian and Martha for dinner. I had a french dip. Visiting with a&m was awesome; Adrian had a cool story about transitioning from Frank Zappa’s band to David Bowie’s. We went back to t&l’s to play tunes

sat – Left about 8:30 for Texas. Arrived in Dallas 6:30-ish. We watched episode 1 of The Returned then ate tacos. Pete and I jammed for a little while

sun – Pete and I go to Richardson Bike Mart to look for a seatpost. Nada. Ate lunch at Jason’s Deli, then a rode at Erwin Park trails. Pete rode the ss and did well, but finally bonked right before the end. I ordered a seatpost on amz, to be delivered to Mom and Wendell’s address in SF. We ate bbq at Intrinsic then hung out in their patio area drinking beer and playing jenga with Ellie. Watched another ep of The Returned. Learned that Walter Becker died

mon – Pete worked, so I rode the Grapevine Northshore trail, 17 miles. Almost got overheated, but had fun. Pete came home early from work, so we went to the grocery and got food/beer, then grilled out. We ate shrimp, okra, cauliflower, and bread. Watch a couple of Louie episodes

tue – Trimmed Pete’s hair in the morning before he left for work. Went to rbm and bought a carbon bottle cage and talked to an employee about riding in the area. He convinced me to ride Boulder but to park at Redbird mall, so I did. good ride. Cleaned everything but one climb. Came back and started the spaghetti sauce. Practiced some guitar and played with Benny. Watched tennis with Kim

wed – Went for a run with Pete in the morning. I did not get too far, as my left knee started bothering me. Met Ben Cobb at Hoffbrau in Fort Worth, then came back and mowed p&k’s lawn. Got a few items at the store and made roasted potatoes with rosemary, sauteed asparagus, and Pete made teriyaki grilled fish. Watched tennis, then got ready for bed, but received tragic news from Anna. their cousin Eddie was killed by a self inflicted gunshot wound

thu – Hung out with Pete in the morning, then looked for a Schlotzsky’s for lunch but unsuccessful; they all seem to be closed down. Ate at a Thai place near 380 and i-75 before riding Erwin Park again. Sore legs made for a slow-ish ride, but still enjoyable. Came home and washed clothes, showered, read. Watched tennis with Kim and ate pizza. Pete came home after 10

fri – Met Pete at Burger House at noon for lunch, then went to Chris’ to record my guitar parts for Robin Proper. Watched a little tennis with Kim. Had dinner at Saigon Block with Kim and Ellie, then went back downtown for the Empire Cats show at Poor David’s

sat – Got up and packed for Santa Fe. Adam came by about 8:15 and we got on the road at 9:00 am. Ate at El Norteno’s in Wichita Falls, just like last year. Took 70/84 west to SF from Vernon. Listened to tunes, notably Abbey Road and personal playlists, then played ZZ Top’s Tejas as the sun set in the desert and we rolled into Eldorado. Perfect. A dinner of stew awaited as we arrived precisely at 8pm

sun – Installed the new seatpost on the Norco and rode Galisteo Basin trails in the am with Laura and Wendell, who managed admirably. Trails were fantastic: slightly more tech than La Tierra. Showered, then ate at Harry’s Roadhouse for a late lunch. Pete’s old friend and band-mate Tom Blackburn met us there as well. Later, Pete and I rode the greenway perimeter of Eldorado, then ate a supper of lamb balls, tabbouleh, and naan

mon – Rode La Tierra trails in the morning with Laura, Wendell, & Pete. Good times. Laura and I rode a bit longer to take advantage of the whoops, etc. while Pete and Wendell went back to the car. Did some grocery shopping at De Vargas mall Albertson’s, then ate lunch at Mom & Wendell’s. Pete made me a sandwich. We all lazed about (reading, resting, walking), then Pete prepped for pizza night. After a brief storm cooled things off we ate pizza and listened to some Joe Cocker. Later we played Beyond Balderdash. Pete wiped everyone out

tue – Got up and Laura and i rode Dale Ball trails. Had an awesome ride despite me taking a wrong turn at one point. the Norco seems to really shine on technical singletrack. Showered, then ate lunch at Pecos Inn and it was phenomenal. Took Oma to get a foot massage while Laura and i perused the contemporary galleries in the Railyard district. Later went to REI where I got a couple of new t-shirts. Rested at the Birney’s then went to m&w’s around 6:30. Adam cooked kabobs which were deLISH. Later we relaxed and listened to classic rock

wed – did some cleaning at the Bbirney’s in the AM, then to m&w’s where i made reuben sandwiches and sauteed asparagus for the crew. Hung out until 2:30, then took Laura and Oma to the airport. Was gonna ride after that but we decided to play disc golf instead. Went to the same course as in 2015. Had a fun and tight game. We all finished +4 so had to have a playoff. Pete won. Showered then ate an excellent dinner in Eldorado. Went back to the Birney’s and did some more cleaning

thu – Got up and did the remainder of the cleaning at Chez Birney, then got to m&w’s and did a little reading before eating a lunch of leftover pizza and sandwiches. Packed up, took some pics, then said our goodbyes. Hit the road around noon. Cool and cloudy out, and we had a tailwind. Listened to tunes most the way, and decided on a new format: play tunes by request. Rolled in to Lubbock around 7:00 and visited Grace & Don. New house is cool. Grace cooked: roast beef, mashed taters, broccoli. Crashed at Jenny & Chad’s place

fri – Got up early and said hi and bye to Owen and Wesley, then went and got my oil changed and tires balanced. Ate at Garcia’s with Pete, Adam, Grace, Don, Jenny and John. Had a good chat with John about art. Hit the road around 1:00 and took 114 to 380 back to Richardson. Uneventful trip. Pete drove the whole way

sat – Left Pete’s at 7:45 and drove drove drove. Got to Jeff & Rox’s at 9:30 pm

sun – Got up early and rode the Georgia International Horse Center trails with Jeff. They were sweet. Ate lunch with j&r at Los Hermanos then hit the road. Got home right at 6:00, in time to watch the Cowboys lose. Went to bed early

Race Report: Hobby Park SCS

Recently, Abby talked me into one of the Southern Classic XC events, to be held at Hobby Park in Winston-Salem. I agreed to do it, but had few expectations. Abby’s principal M.O. was to borrow the geared Santa Cruz hardtail in an effort to crush the women’s race and come away with the state championship medal as well. I should probably also mention that she really likes riding bikes, so she registered for two races at Hobby: the Cat 2 single speed race among a mixed field, and the standard Cat 3 women’s race. Her first race would be in SS at 10:00 AM so we showed up a little before 9:00 and nabbed a primo pitting spot, then we prepped for a little pre-riding. For this particular course, racers are immediately given the gift of Derby Hill, a short but steepish asphalt climb before it transitions into the singletrack. It got my heart rate up with a quickness on the pre-ride, but then settled down as Abby and I took it easy on an unfamiliar trail. The course was smooth with a few root drops and some fixed rocks here and there. Abby was on the S-Works and I was on the SC, and we were enjoying the flow of the trail. Another rider approached us from behind and we exchanged a few pleasantries. He clearly was able to go around us, but seemed content to shoot the bull for a few minutes first. When we rounded a corner and faced a steep technical climb, Abby dismounted and the rider went around us. We decided to turn around and save our energy for the actual race, and also to put a slightly easier gear on the S-Works. This turned out to be a very good decision.

Gary, Carrie, and Zack Lowden showed up a little later and erected a nice shelter that Abby and I took advantage of without really asking, because that’s how we roll. Also, it was cool to hang out with the Lowden clan.

I worked on my tan while Abby got ready for her first event. Soon, she was off, with only two other (male) racers in the field of SSers. I had agreed earlier to hand off a water bottle for Abby when she rolled in to start her second lap. As it happened, she did not need it and so continued on with a smile on her face. Another 47 minutes later and she completed race number one, exhausted but still enthusiastic. I proceeded to ply her with the lowdown on sections of trail that we had not pre-ridden, which were plenty. Her assessment was mostly more of what we already saw: nice berms, a few drops, burst climbs, and roots. I was getting excited and a little anxious, because I still had hours before the 2:30 start time. Meanwhile, Gary and Zack were preparing for their respective Cat 1 races, which kicked off at noon. I ate a lunch comprising a tuna salad sandwich and fresh berries, washed down by a creamy protein shake. The Cat 1 race started and after about 30 minutes, I made my way over to an area where racers would emerge from the woods and into the open before one last half mile among the trees and then to the start/finish area. I wanted to snap some pics of Gary and Zack at that spot and try to gauge their condition as well. Zack came out first and he did not look happy, so I did not take a photo. A few minutes later, Gary popped out and simply muttered “horrible.” When I made my way back to the pit area, I saw that Zack had exited the race early, and Gary was doing the same. Neither felt well, so they wisely cut it short, to race another day.

After what seemed an eternity, I made my way to some asphalt rings where other Cat 3 racers were warming up. I went round and round countless times, like a hamster in a wheel, in an effort to get my legs loose. The saddle on the S-Works felt a little odd, but that was likely because it was much too padded. It was too late to make a change now, and besides, the race was only one lap. I could endure a less-than-ideal saddle for one six-mile lap. It would be a rare moment when I actually sat down, as it turned out. Finally, it was time to line up. I found that there were 10 or 11 of us in the 40+ field, and I did not know any of these dudes. And naturally, I was the only one on single speed. Rumor had it that this trail was not very friendly to the one-geared bunch, but here I was. I thought maybe I’ll just phone this one in and take it easy. Treat it as a ride, nothing else. But when the official said go! all that shit was out the window. The geared bikes pulled away as I started to spin out, but when a sharp left turn came up, I regained a few spots by hugging the inside corner. Then it was time to face the dreaded Derby Hill. I had some decent momentum as I shot skyward, and found that I was easily able to overtake about three more competitors before getting funneled into the narrow singletrack. Now it appeared there were only six or so riders ahead of me, and their pace was too slow to settle in behind. I could see that the leaders were pulling away from the racers immediately in front of me, and I would need to make my move sooner rather than later. But there are not many spots on this trail where passing can be done safely. However, I did not have to wait long, because the fellow in front of me dabbed on a turn and I took advantage of his misstep and shot around him. I went around a couple more guys in a similar manner when they struggled with the first serious technical climb and had to dismount. Yet another rider was waylaid by a mechanical, but I found out later that he was in a different age group, so no matter. At last I appeared to to be gapping the others and was in the clear. Could I actually be out front? It was difficult to tell since I did not get a good visual on who the leaders were right out of the gate. Nevertheless, I was all alone for a few more miles, so I backed off just a touch so that my heart rate would calm down a little. The rest of the trail was indeed much like the first portion that we pre-rode earlier. There were a few climbs that I considered walking, but somehow managed to reach down and just power through. Now I was enjoying some smooth descents, punctuated by an occasional drop or smooth berm to rail. I had the S-Works humming, its trusty Kenda Nevegal biting nicely in the corners and the Ardent out back, rolling with minimal resistance. I popped out into the open a few minutes later, the same spot where I photographed the hapless Gary earlier in the day. I knew that it was only about 3/4 of a mile until the finish, but first, back in among the trees for a few more punchy climbs and root drops. The last few hundred feet of the race course were a blast, so I turned it up a little as I crossed the finish, hoping I had first place locked up. But it wasn’t so. My initial suspicions were correct: two racers gapped the starting pack so quickly that I never saw them. However, I did manage to make up a little ground on the second place finisher throughout the race. Perhaps if I’d been on the geared hardtail, I could have been a little faster, but some brown-haired chick had borrowed it for this race. And it was not long before that chick came rolling into the finish, far ahead of her competitors. Abby nabbed first easily, and she appeared to be rather enjoying the moment as several of us milled about the timing area.

So I got third place, which I’m happy about. I think I could get into this series if I could cat up, since the beginner group only does one lap, and many of the venues are quite a distance from Raleigh. It would be difficult to justify a long drive merely to race one lap. If I could win a top spot in a future race, I could move to Cat 2 and enjoy two-lap events and therefore make it worth the drive.

Before heading back, Abby and I found an appropriate feeding spot in the middle of W-S called La Perlita Tacos Y Restaurante. They neither spoke nor understood English well, and Abby had a difficult (and a little humorous) time trying to convey to the server what vegetarianism was. But the food was delicious and we scarfed it down with a fury befitting two champion mountain bikers.

Race Report: 6 Hours of Lake Norman (SES #1)

After some uncertainty about the weather and trail conditions at Lake Norman, it was finally announced on Friday that the race was a go, so off I went to Statesville. The bike was clean and lubed, I had a new popup shelter, the cooler was packed with adequate nutrition, and I felt ready to race. The drive to Statesville was uneventful, though dealing with bad North Carolina drivers can be stressful if I let it get to me. Which I did. Once in Statesville, I found a Ruby Tuesday’s up the road from the Sleep Inn, so I got a table and found that I had worked up a powerful appetite. After round one at the salad bar, I demolished a peppercorn steak and grilled zucchini, followed by round two at the salad bar.

In the hotel room, I tried to watch an episode of The Office on my Macbook, but the hotel wi-fi was slower than a sloth in syrup, so I turned on the tragic lantern and watched Bill Maher. Sleep would come fitfully for most of the night, as I struggled with the room’s HVAC to deliver the right temperature and an acceptable white noise level at the same time. Not easy. I awoke around 5:30 AM after a night of what felt like a wrestling match with my pillow. But this was no surprise; I rarely sleep well at hotels.

The free breakfast was nothing to write about, so I won’t.

It was about this time that Abby texted me, asking if the race was truly a go, since she was driving though rain. I assured her that there was “no rain here” and that the forecast looked promising. As I stepped outside to load the bike onto the Siouxbie, I found that I had unknowingly lied to Abby. There was a slight drizzle, so I checked the forecast once again and was surprised to see that the current conditions were clear, and there was no precip in the future. Somebody was not telling the whole truth.

I arrived at the staging area for the race and discovered I was the first competitor on the scene, so I strolled over to chat with David about the weather. No, really. He reassured me that the event was definitely on, so I set about unloading the car and assembling our pit area. I got a good spot in the shade of a huge tree, although oppressive heat and sunshine were not going to be a problem on this day. The drizzle had abated, but it remained cool and cloudy. I wondered about the trail conditions. David had mentioned there may be some slick spots on the Hawk loop, so I contemplated a pre-ride of that section, but I needed to finish setting up first.

A woman racer had arrived in the meantime, and had begun unloading next to our spot. Her shelter was a super heavy-duty type, and I was immediately envious. She appeared to be struggling with it, so I offered to help. It turns out she was the female portion of one of the other co-ed duo teams: Ann from Bike Law. We made small talk as I readied myself to pre-ride the Hawk loop. Before I could mount up however, I received another text from Abby, asking me to drop a pin at my location. She had mistakenly gone to a different parking area on Lake Norman, which was almost an hour from the actual race location. I could sense her frustration; like me, she prefers to arrive early and get the necessary prepping out of the way, then do a pre-ride. That probably was not going to happen for her this time.

As a few more racers arrived, I headed out to reconnoiter the Hawk loop, which, like the Monbo loop, would be ridden in a CCW direction this year. I found to my delight that the trail flowed very nicely in the opposite direction, and I had to resist pushing it too hard. There were a few damp spots here and there, but very little puddling.  Another text from Abby assured me that she was on her way and would arrive soon. When I got back to the pit area, more racers (including Abby) had arrived and were busily setting up. I chatted some more with Ann and gave her my report on the trail conditions: 76.6% dry. She chuckled a little and mentioned that Lake Norman trails were her “home” trails. Also, she looked fast.

Soon it was time for the pre-race meeting, which was held in the lower lot near our encampment. This would also be this year’s starting area, necessitated by the odd-year CCW trail direction. It would not afford the racers very much separation before diving into the singletrack, but it was not a huge crowd anyway. The fast riders gathered near the front, but it was a mass start with no pauses between classes, so I was fearful it might be a bit of a clusterfuck. It wasn’t, as it turned out. I took the first lap, which wound through the pit areas, crossed the main park road, and shot up a gravel doubletrack before narrowing into the singletrack of Hawk loop proper. I was nested comfortably among a pack of riders who were motoring at a pretty respectable clip, but I could tell riders behind me were itching to pass. I let a few go around me at an appropriate spot, then found that I could easily match their pace, which was rather dangerously fast. Naturally, this lap was nothing like the pre-ride. Shit was whizzing past with a fierceness and I had eyes only for the trail; at this speed, you need 100% concentration. I have found that, as I have gotten faster over the years, it’s not so much a matter of “can I pedal fast enough to be competitive,” but rather “can I handle my bike at these ridiculous speeds.” At least at the beginning of a race.

After letting the leaders gap me a bit, I eased back just slightly on my pace, but was still cooking quite respectably. Then it happened. I hit a soft spot that was already rutted by the lead racers, and down I went. Hard. I slammed my left temple on a log that was parallel to the trail and my glasses disintegrated on impact. My first thought was “I’m going to lose consciousness,” but I didn’t black out. I picked myself up and found I was in a daze. My bike was in the middle of the trail, a fact that was happily pointed out by passing racers, who were also kind enough for a perfunctory “are you okay?” which I translated as “I hope you’re okay, because I’m not stopping.” I mumbled “yeah” in response, despite blood spewing forth from my temple. I found bits of my glasses and discovered the left lens and earpiece were missing, so I set about looking for them among the dead leaves and loam near the log. I was in a slight panic, knowing that I could not finish the lap without both lenses. But even if I found the lens, my glasses would not sit properly on my face if the earpiece was broken off. I hastily shot off a text to Abby, telling her that I crashed and she would need to finish the lap, then continued looking for the missing lens. I did this for a few minutes, then it dawned on me that I was probably wasting precious minutes. By this time, the last of the racers had passed me and panic turned to desperation as I thumbed another text: “stay at the pit. I’ll be right there.” I groggily mounted the Highball and affixed my crooked eyeglasses as best I could, then made my way out of Hawk loop at a comparative crawl. I kept thinking to myself Abby’s gonna have to ride to the spot where I crashed and resume the lap from there.

The remainder of Hawk loop was only about a half mile before it intersected the road section. I told the course marshal that I’d crashed and was headed back to the pit area. He mumbled something that I didn’t hear, but I did not care. Abby had frantically prepped for the emergency handoff and was dutifully waiting at the starting line when I rolled up, bloody and still in a fog. I told her repeatedly that “you’ll have to ride backwards about a half mile into Hawk, then turn around and resume the lap from there.” It wasn’t until later that I realized how absurd that was. Of course, she only needed to ride where I had emerged from Hawk (where the course marshal was stationed), then ride on to Monbo and complete the lap normally. Which is what she did, and with a quickness born of necessity.

After Abby sped away, I let the Troutman EMT attend to my wounds. She asked if I had any spring water to clean the wound, and I mused to myself, don’t you? I poured some water out of my race bottle and then dabbed my bleeding temple with gauze. I asked if she had some antiseptic to clean the wound and she replied that the Troutman EMTs do not carry such a thing. Then I inquired about triple antibiotic, and her answer was the same: “We do not carry that. We are only equipped for major accidents.” Jesus, really? Then I remembered I had my own first aid kid, so I cleaned and dressed the wound myself while the forlorn EMT waited helplessly by her truck. I wanted to let her feel as if she was helpful, so I had her apply two pieces of bandage tape to some gauze and my temple, but I had done most of the work. Later, I would wonder why she did not even give me a basic test to determine if I’d suffered a concussion. I don’t think the city of Troutman thoroughly trains their emergency personnel, but whatever. She was nice.

After finding my backup glasses in the car, it took a few more minutes for me to calm down and overcome the shock of the crash. I wondered how Abby was doing. I have to give her credit: her first concern was my well-being, but her instinct for strategy was in full flower as well. If she pushed hard enough, she could complete the lap in under an hour, then take off for another if I was not up to it. But I was up to it. Adrenaline levels had abated somewhat, but I was more determined than ever to make up for the lost time. Sure enough, Abby rolled in at 10:58 and looked at me with a mixture of concern and questioning, that question being are you good to go? I signaled a thumbs up, then pushed away for my first true lap.

With no racers around me, I settled into a quick but steady pace. I kept a lookout for the spot where I crashed and wondered if I should stop and look for my missing lens. Of course not, you idiot. Push! The course had firmed up a little and Monbo loop was flow central. My gears were topped out on a couple of sections near the back side of the loop, as I overtook several riders and rode atop the Highball like Cauthen on Affirmed. You might have to look that up. I attacked the climbs and passed a few more racers, wondering distantly if any of them were in the duo co-ed group. There were some numbered red signs for emergency waypoints, and I remembered vaguely that they ended at #22 or #24 on this particular trail. I had just passed #20 and was on the hunt for #21. After a brief doubletrack section, I plunged back into the narrow bit and looked for the final red sign. It was indeed #24, and shortly thereafter, the road back. I hit the asphalt and cranked down, then lowered into an aero position and passed a couple more competitors.

Ever alert, Abby was waiting for her lap at the transition area. She made sure I was okay, then rocketed away. I found that my lap time was a respectable 44 minutes, and if I could maintain that pace for future laps, we’d be okay. I chatted some more with Ann and found that she and her partner were in second place and that Abby and I were in fourth. Just push some steady laps, and trust that Abby will do the same, then maybe we’ll be able to work our way up to third. I’m not gonna even talk about the first place duo; they’re pros who did not have a great deal of competition at this event. The more interesting battle would be for third, which just happened to involve Abby and yours truly.

I did some stretching and foam rolling before my second lap, and was ready to hit the trail again and find a comfortable rhythm. Abby turned in about a 47-minute lap and I was off once more after tagging up. It was a bit of a lonely lap, as I did not see too many racers. I did manage to overtake Jeff Dennison at the beginning of Monbo, on a gentle, undulating climb. He was rocking the single speed and appeared to be having a good time. At the end of monbo, I assumed a tuck position for the road descent and pushed even harder than the first lap. As I approached the bridge, I eased into a coast and felt the breeze in my face. Suddenly, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and to my left. It was another rider who caught me on the downhill. He was a clydesdale who apparently had a sizable weight advantage, but I dropped him once we headed into the last tiny singletrack section before the pit area.

Abby took her third lap, then I settled down to rest and get some food in me. I learned that we were closing in on third place, then started doing some math to determine how many laps we’d get and how much time there was to spare. Abby returned at about 2:02 PM and I promised my lap would be about 45 minutes, which would be plenty of time for her to take the final lap without having to kill herself. For this series, racers must be back no later than 4:00 on the nose; one second more and your lap does not count. Very unforgiving.

For my third lap, I fell in with a couple of guys who were pacing one another, so I asked if I could tag along. They were happy to have me, and we made small talk for most of the lap. The three of us caught another rider on a climb, and I realized it was the female half of the third place team. With that pass, she became a member of the fourth place team. Gradually, my riding compadres managed to gap me about two thirds of the way into Monbo, and I watched them slowly recede into the distance. I then passed another rider who was stopped on the trail, fiddling with his bike. I asked if everything was okay and he said “yeah,” and I rode onward. To my chagrin, he very slowly closed the gap and rode my wheel for a few minutes. I asked if he wanted around me, and he said “nah, this is a good pace.” I wondered why he did not want around me, even in very passable areas, but I tried not to let it bother me. Later, while on the road descent, he rode up beside me and we exchanged pleasantries. I asked what category he was in and he replied “I’m not racing…just out here enjoying the trails.” I was a little annoyed, then I thought to myself well, this guy showed some restraint, actually. If he’d passed me, I might have felt humiliated that a non-racer was faster than me…boo hoo. Then he told me he was a racer; he just wasn’t racing that day. I guess that’s okay.

I rolled in at about 2:50 for Abby to take one final lap, which would be our seventh. The female rider I passed was far enough behind that her partner would not be able to overtake Abby after their switch. His final lap was over 47 minutes and Abby’s was barely 50 minutes; slightly slower, but fast enough to hang on. This meant that we had third place nicely wrapped up, with a bow on top. We were happy with that result, especially given the early setback. The fourth place finishers (whom we know) will want some revenge at the next race in June, so Abby and I will need to stay on top of our game.

I felt a stab of pride when David called out our team name, “Velocibraaptors,” which I admit is a little silly, but damned if it’s not unique. Abby and I then mounted the podium (generic “Podium Finisher” mugs raised high), got our picture taken, received a $75 check, then went in search of Mexican food. It was a good race.


 We did it! (click to biggenize)

Mountain Biking, Music, and Well-Being

Like many people, I have a habit of permitting true happiness to remain largely elusive. Too often, I conceptualize happiness as something that’s always on its way, something that will be attained once certain conditions are met, or goals achieved. I think to myself, if we had a second home in the mountains, or in Santa Fe, and we could be there whenever we wanted, I’d finally be content. Or I will say to myself, if only I had a job I loved, I could be happy. However, I am finding that as I age, genuine well-being is not so much a state that can be reached and maintained, but instead comes in random moments that must be appreciated while they last, which is usually briefly.

This past weekend, I camped out with my good friend Jeff Lankford, whom I had not seen in a couple of years. Our primary purpose was to see the band Sigur Rós in Asheville, and to do some mountain biking. Actually, I think it was mountain biking first, then attending a concert as a nice side benefit. I headed toward Asheville on a Saturday morning, just as the outer arms of Hurricane Matthew thrashed the middle part of the state, the part I had to drive through. It was a bleak beginning of a long weekend, and I dreaded the prospect of trying to sleep in a tent, something I have never been good at doing.

Two and a half hours into the drive, the rain fell away like a curtain being pulled aside, and the stress from driving in a downpour soon vanished as well. I arrived at the camp site to an awaiting Jeff, who helped me set up my tent, then we headed into Asheville for dinner. That night, the wind howled through the trees so fiercefully, it produced a pleasing sort of white noise that helped me drift into a decent slumber. The next day was full of good mountain biking in the Bent Creek area, but some of the climbs cruelly exposed our limits of fitness, and we had to rest often. We spent the next day in the Mills River vicinity, where the riding was even better. We slogged up some fire service roads to gain access to singletrack, then rode along ridgelines and sidehills and enjoyed some truly beautiful scenery. Late in the ride, Jeff and I were riding at a pretty good clip down a fire road, and suddenly I had a revelation: I can let myself be happy in this moment. I thought of the circumstances: I am on a camping trip with a good friend, we are mountain biking on an unfamiliar but exciting trail system, we will be going to a concert soon, we will be eating good food and enjoying downtown Asheville, and we will be drinking some quality craft beer. These are things that are happening right now, or will be happening soon. I can go ahead and let myself be content. I don’t need to wait around for what I perceive the conditions ought to be for happiness; they’re here right now. It was fleeting, but I was happy as hell.

I experienced a similar moment while at the Sigur Rós concert. This is a band that I have always appreciated, though not loved, and therefore not overly enthusiastic about seeing. But things can change, and change they did. It’s peculiar how one can be indifferent about an artist, but once they are seen in a live setting, they are the only musicians that matter at that moment. I think it’s the spectacle, the immensity of the production, the bombast of the event, that makes this so. So I was once again able to be in the moment. The band was incredible. The light show was impressive. Circumstances coalesced into the ideal, and I enjoyed another moment of bliss.

Texas Road Trip Journal

Tuesday 6/4 – Left Cary at 7:45 AM and headed southwest to Ellijay, GA. Arrived at Mulberry Gap around 3:00 PM, took a rest in my closet-sized cabin, then rode Pinhoti #2 trail. It was a long climb and I needed a few rest stops along the way. After about seven miles I turned around and bombed the descent. Good fun. Showered then ate a meal of steak, baked potato, green salad, corn-on-the-cob, jalepeno poppers, and bread. Friggin’ delicious. My plan was to ride again in the morning, but I then decided to get an early start to Houston and maybe surprise Anna at her work.

Wednesday 6/5 – After another fantastic meal provided by the MG staff, I hit the road. I took 85 to 20 to 59 to 12 to 10 and then stayed the night near Beaumont. I had to scrub the plan to surprise Anna, since she was not working that night. Instead, we rendezvoused Thursday morning at Salata on I-10 in Houston and beat the lunch rush, then went to Starbucks and relaxed some more while catching up. It was a brief visit but a good one. Anna seems to be happy and doing well. I then headed to San Antonio where I found Elizabeth’s stashed key and settled into her place. After watching a few episodes of The Office, I went to bed. Chris and E showed up in the wee hours.

Friday 6/7 – Met Chris (nice guy) and got some excellent Mexican food on the south side of SA where Chris grew up. Met his mom, Juanita, as well. We then went to the mall where E bought a Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air sound system. Before going back home, we visited some of Chris’ relatives who live near Boerne. It was a graduation party with lots of food. Everyone was very kind and generous. We then went home and set up the Zeppelin and watched some Game of Thrones.

Saturday 6/8 – Got up and rode the trail at OP Schnabel near E’s place. Luckily, I found someone named Gary who was willing to shepherd me along the intricate trail system. We got a good 12+ mile ride in. Felt awesome. After returning home and cleaning up, we attended a San Antonio Missions baseball game. They lost but we a had a good time.

Sunday 6/9 – Went to a giant flea market with C, E and C’s mom. It was pretty hot, with a generous host of fat people milling about and perusing all varieties of junk. After that, we went back home and I hit the trail once more at Schnabel. There was no one to lead the way this time, so I was not able to retrace the path from the previous day. I did alright, but still managed a wrong turn at one point and got lost. I found my way out just as the skies opened up and unleashed a vicious Texas thunderstorm. After cleaning up, we went to a sports bar to watch the Spurs lose to Miami. I drank quite a bit and E bought two rounds of shots to boot. We had a grand time.

Monday 6/10 – I set out to ride Government Canyon trails, but they were closed due to all the rain. Instead, I rode an exercise bike at E’s apartment gym. Boring. We ate a hibachi supper at Osaka, then returned home and finished the third season of GoT. Amazing. E and C needed to get to bed since they had to get up early and leave for Austin/Boston.

Tuesday 6/11 – Said my goodbyes to E and C and slept until about 9:00 AM, then did some laundry. Headed to Fort Worth via 281. No way was I getting on I-35. Got to Barbara’s and settled in. Took B to Milano’s in FW for some good Italian fare. Watched some more of The Office on the laptop and helped B straighten out some issues on her PC.

Wednesday 6/12 – Met old friend Jana Johnson at La Madeleine at 8:30 for breakfast. It was good to catch up; had not seen her in 18 years. Then had lunch with Ben Cobb at Hoffbrau steak house. Went back to B’s and prepared for a ride at Sansom Park MTB trail. It was very hot. I took my standard two bottles of water, but I ended up running out because the trail had been lengthened during the intervening two years since I rode it last, and it caught me unawares like. I thought I was going to pass out from the heat and the stupid burst climbs on the Lone Wolf section of singletrack. Anyway, I survived. B took me out to Railhead for some Texas BBQ. Dee-lish.

Thursday 6/13 – Said so long to B and drove to Dallas to meet Pete for lunch. We went to Pie Five near his work and had a quality pizza. I then went back to P&K’s place to hang out with K’s mom Linda and little baby Ellie. She is getting cuter all the time, but she did not know what to think of me. Maybe she was confused because I resemble and sound a little like Pete. I’m talking about Ellie, not Linda. Ate a pork roast dish that had been cooking all day in the crock pot. It was the first home cooked meal in days and it was fantastic. Later, we met Adam at Lakewood Landing where John Harrell also showed up.

Friday 6/14 – While P&K were at work, I went to Erwin Park in McKinney to ride the trail. It was the only MTB trail in the ‘plex that I had not yet ridden. It was way out in BFE, but what a sweet trail! East coast-style hardpack with a few roots and some easy climbs. It twisted around in the woods for a bit then broke out into open prairie, where the heat blasted me real good. I was bunny hopping roots and stuff at a pretty good clip when I came upon a somewhat gnarly root system at a slight left turn in the trail. I hopped it with ease, but was not prepared for the small trench running diagonally along the trail afterward. My front wheel landed awkwardly and over I went. Hard. I tumbled a few times and probably did three or four rolls before coming to a stop. I bashed up both legs and got some scrapes here and there, but my ribs took the brunt. I was in pain. I wanted to cry but there was nobody around to give me any sympathy. After lying there and wincing for a bit, I got up and mounted the bike, which thankfully was unhurt. What sucked was, I did not know this trail and I had lots of miles to go before getting to the car. I managed okay, but took it real easy. The fun part was when I encountered a series of whoop-de-doos, but I refused to walk them. Any exertion whatsoever and my ribs were aflame with hurt, both from breathing deeply and from standing and mashing. I made it back to the car sooner than expected, where I laboriously changed clothes and headed home to P&K’s. K went to a girls’ get-together that night while P, A and I ate black bean tostadas and listened to music. I feared I would not sleep well because of my bruised ribs, but I slept okay.

Saturday 6/15 – Ribs still hurt but I don’t think they are fractured. Went to Jason’s Deli for lunch with P, K and E then to Best Buy where P bought a new MacBook Air. Sweet. Hung out back at the house then went to the store to get food for a cookout. Adam brought Italian sausage from Jimmy’s and we pigged out. Spring and Laura Driscoll also came over. A, P and I watched a couple of Futurama episodes, then A had to go to work. P and I listened to music, trading songs and playing DJ until about 1:00 AM.

Sunday 6/16 – Slept kinda late. I got up and made french toast for the crew. It was a yum. P set up his new MacBook. I don’t remember what we did for lunch, but we ate supper at Teppo Sushi and it was aces.

Monday 6/17 – Said goodbye to my bro and Ellie then hit the road at 9:00. Drove almost to Knoxville, TN. Checked into a motel around 10:00, just in time for Cracker Barrel to close, so I got two bean burritos from Taco Hell. I had sworn that I’d never eat there again, but I was desperate. This town had no alternative; everything good was closed. By “good” I mean Shoney’s.

Tuesday 6/19 – Got home to Cary around 3:00 PM. 3,258 miles.


Saddle U-P-G-R-A-Y-E-D-D

My neighbor, who has some connections in the MTB industry, just ups and gives me this cool saddle the other day. It’s a San Marco Aspide Superlegerra, and as far as I can tell, it retails anywhere from $300 to $500 and weighs a paltry 100 grams. I have two rides on it so far, and I must say, I have no real complaints. The slipperiness was an issue on the first ride, but did not seem to be a factor when I did Rocky Road yesterday. Hmm…maybe because that trail demands a lot of standing and mashing as opposed to seated pedaling. Like Crabtree does. The firmness is noticeable of course, since it’s full carbon (even the rails), but it has some pliability to it and therefore soaks up some of the trail chatter better than I expected. The real test will be on a more relaxed ride where I’m seated most of the time. That won’t happen tomorrow at Beaver Dam, which means more standing on the pedals, especially on the South Loop. I think I will like the saddle, but the question is, does the benefit of its lightness outweigh (heh) the cost of its slight discomfort? Time will tell.

Here’s a shot of the saddle. Kinda purdy, huh?



By the way, the two D’s in “upgrayedd” is for a “double dose of pimpin’.”


2013 Burn-24

Here is my report on the 13th and last Burn-24 endurance race held in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

I arrived at the infield around 10:15 Friday morning. It was cool and blustery, with hardly a cloud to be seen. Only a few other racers had gotten there before me, so the choices for a camp spot were plentiful. I chose a location  on the northern edge, close to last year’s spot and up against the treeline. The aggressive breeze made it difficult to erect the tent by myself, but I finally managed. If anyone happened to be watching me, they probably laughed. After getting things unloaded and set up, I pedaled my bike around the perimeter of the infield and snapped a few pics of other participants in various stages of setting up their own stakeouts. The Lowdens arrived to join me sometime around 4:30. After unloading and setting up the remainder of our gear, they took off for a course pre-ride.

We ate supper at Ruby Tuesday’s in Wilkesboro before dusk. I opted for a salmon dish and the salad bar, where I constructed a ferocious melange of spring mix, assorted beans, eggs, nuts, onions, broccoli, and balsamic dressing. I was unable to finish the salmon because the salad had filled me up. I wanted fuel for the race. Spencer and Zach Lowden wolfed down their grub like a couple of starving POWs. Those boys can put it away, and they were going for as many calories as possible.

Gary ate something or other.

When we got back to the site a few other groups had arrived and were setting up. The infield was starting to fill, but this year’s race was not that well attended. The boys got on their bikes and practiced track stands and wheelies while I mulled over sleeping arrangements. We decided to put the boys in my new Big Agnes tent while Gary and I slept in our respective vehicles. With the seats down, I can fit a blow-up mattress in the ‘Ru. But no matter; I hardly slept a wink, as is my wont when camping. I think I was too wired for the race. Actually, I managed maybe two hours of sleep, because when I awoke, I remembered some lame dream I had.

I got up and heated up some oatmeal while Gary set about making breakfast for him and the boys. The Lowdens brought plenty of food and graciously kept all five of us fed for the duration of our stay. Carrie had prepared a giant vat of spaghetti that was delicious and filling. It kinda made me want to throw my homemade stew into the woods and forget I even brought it.

The Lowdens and I discussed our race strategy and finally decided on a single-switch relay for the first round, and then double thereafter. The order would be: Spencer, me, Gary, Zach, Ahmet. Speaking of Ahmet, where was he? I got a text from him saying that he may not arrive until after 11:00. Race check-in ended at 11:00, so I was worried that he may miss the deadline. The officials at the registration tent assured me that it was okay if he was a little late. He arrived at about 11:03 and got checked in without a hassle. We then attended the 11:15 race meeting where they announced that this would be the last year for Burn-24. The race was named after Burn energy drink, which went belly up a few years ago, and now this event was about to do the same. The announcer offered no reason as to why.

Ahmet did the running portion of the LeMans start and Spencer got a good push off the line and up the gnarly hill, which usually gets jammed with racers walking their bikes. Spencer managed to stay out in front of the congestion, passing other riders and avoiding a dismount. He had a powerful start. I did the next lap but did not feel very good at the beginning. My brain wanted to set a faster pace than my lungs would allow, so I eased off a little and tried to settle into a rhythm. It ended up being a pretty slow lap. After a few more laps, we checked the standings and saw that we were in seventh place out of a field of 25 in the three to five man division. We would remain there for the entire event.

We doubled up on the laps after the first round so that we would all have ample rest time. I was still wired however, so the time passed too quickly it seemed. My second and third laps were better than my first, but still well off the pace from years prior. What the hell? I guess this is what happens when you don’t train properly, and the older I get, the more training I need. It was my fourth and fifth laps, started just after midnight, that hurt the most. I felt a hint of muscle cramps in my quads towards the end of my fourth lap, so I pounded the water down in an attempt to drive them back. It worked for a short while. The race course starts with some climbing right off the bat, so as I started my fifth lap, I was concerned that the cramps would return too soon. I managed to spin through the pain, but dreaded the climbs in the middle portion of the course where my legs would really be taxed. I was not able to keep the cramping at bay on these climbs, so I stopped and rested a few times while trying to drive the cramps away with more fluids. This would be my worst lap. Barely under an hour.

I pulled into our site around 2:45 AM, beaten and sleepy. After some perfunctory stretching and re-hydrating, I laid down in the Siouxbie in an effort to get some rest, perchance to sleep. Right. Not gonna happen. Also, my bladder was now catching up to all the water and Accelerade I had quaffed during my two laps, and I had to pee every fifteen minutes. How was I supposed to sleep? Without going into detail, I was able to use a large styrofoam cup and relieve myself while laying down in my car, then disposing of the waste (which at this point was much like water) discreetly out the passenger door. I made sure to use the door that faced our neighbor’s camp site. This strategy helped, but I was still unable to sleep, perhaps because I was fearful that my next laps would be a repeat of the previous two. With the urging of Gary and Ahmet, however, I swallowed a few Sport Legs pills in hopes that they would prevent more dreaded cramping. Soon, it was time to get up. No fair! I got zero sleep! In a weary haze, I pulled on my racing gear and refilled my water bottles. It was a frigid fifty degrees or so by this time, and I was eager to get on the trail so I could warm up. As I made my way to the timing tent, I started to feel much better. My head was clear and my legs felt inexplicably good. I tagged up with Spencer and off I went. First climbs out of the way and no sign of cramping. I even had a little power in my legs. Something about the cool overcast morning and the welcome light of day after a long night that perked me up. I passed lots of racers this time, whereas before, it was about 50/50 passing and being overtaken myself. The middle and last downhill sections were at breakneck speed, as I railed the turns more precisely than any prior lap. For the first time during this race, I did not dread the upcoming consecutive lap. But as it turned out, there must have been some discussion about our evolving strategy during my last lap, because I was told by a waiting and kitted Gary that we were now doing single laps again. It was with a mix of relief and slight disappointment that I headed back to our site, but I found that I had just completed my fastest lap. I felt energized and looked forward to a possible seventh lap to finish the race with.

Meanwhile, Gary and Ahmet discovered that our team was still in seventh, but only mere minutes from overtaking the sixth-place team. If each rider could make up a little more time, we could move up a place. It happened that Spencer was slated for the penultimate lap and he was our best chance at closing the gap on the sixth-place team. However, it quickly became apparent that if I were to do the last lap, we would likely lose time and forfeit any hope of catching the team ahead of us (which was encamped, by the way, just two spots down, though they were unaware that it was us who were closing in on them). I expressed my concerns about this, but Gary was very encouraging, so I mounted my resolve to crank out my best lap of the race. We then found that we were only seconds behind the other team, and that if there was any chance to move up a spot, Spencer was our best hope. So Zach and I rushed over to the transition tent, me with a gel pack and Zach with a fresh water bottle in order to replenish the incoming Spencer. As we waited, Gary strode up and announced that the other team’s rider had just tagged up for the last lap. Damn! Where was Spencer? He came rolling in about 35 seconds later looking flushed but still energized. We shouted that the other rider was only a few seconds ahead and that he should go another lap to overtake him for sixth place. This news appeared to disappoint and invigorate him simultaneously, so I handed him a gel pack and watched as he pedaled away in hot pursuit. The possibility of a close finish just became very real. He had just turned in a smoking 35-minute lap, and though he is only 19 years old, he is a seasoned racer and there was no doubt he could produce a similar lap this time as well. Zach and I waited at a spot where the singletrack ends and the gravel doubletrack begins. We were hoping to see Spencer ahead of the other racer, but we were not altogether certain what that guy was wearing, or what his bib number was. We remembered that he had some yellow on his jersey, but little else. After a few minutes, a racer wearing a yellow jersey came flying through. Was that him? We were not sure. Another 40 seconds passed and Spencer appeared. Thirty six minutes!

Whether that rider was the one to catch or not, we never really found out. But the other team’s racer fought to keep the gap between him and Spencer for the entire lap, so we held on to seventh place. Later we joked that if Zach had not been forced to come back to the camp site in order to replace a contact between two of his laps, we would have bagged sixth. Naturally, there a lot of IFs with this sort of thing, the biggest and most obvious one being that if I had trained smarter (or at all for that matter), we would have placed much higher. Or if I had not gotten muscle cramps on my fifth lap. Or if

But we had a good time, and the Lowdens were perfect race partners. They all possess positive attitudes and are very encouraging and helpful. The Burn won’t happen again, but it’s likely to be replaced with some similar event that uses the excellent Dark Mountain trail system, so not all hope is lost.

Quads vs. Calves

I used to have really skinny legs. Now my legs are still thin but the quadriceps have come a long way, thanks to cycling. Here’s what the sport can do for your upper legs:


However, riding a bike–and riding it hard–does very little for the calf muscles. I’ve heard that even body builders loathe calf-building exercises because it’s so difficult to add mass. I have accepted that my calves, although more toned due to cycling, will remain skinny until I die:



What a fun and rewarding weekend. Both Laura and I participated in the “Curse at the Crab” endurance race at Lake Crabtree County Park. Laura teamed up with Trina Cook while I raced with Ahmet in the men’s duo category. Ahmet and I both lucked out and had our entry fees waived by doing some volunteer work in preparation for the race.

After a breakfast of oatmeal, a boiled egg, and some mixed fruit, I joined Steve Rogers and a few others to help mark the course early Saturday morning, which required us to tape off a few sections and to use flour for making directional arrows in the dirt. That work served as both a feel-good volunteer effort and as a warm-up for the race, as we had to ride the entire course in order to complete the marking. I got home at about 11:45 and prepared another carb-and-protein rich meal for lunch: a peanut butter and banana sandwich, raw broccoli, brown rice and a gigantic iced tea. Okay, the iced tea had very little nutritional value, I suppose, but it slaked my ravenous thirst and got me pre-hydrated for the event.

Laura and I then began packing up for the race. I crammed the rapid shelter, cooler, card table and many bike-related items into the Siouxbie. I got both of our bikes in tip-top shape for the race, too. We got to LCCP right around 1:00 PM, just in time for the kids’ race. We found a good spot in the transition zone and proceeded to erect the rapid shelter. Soon others began filing in and staking claims near our spot. A couple of young ECU students set up right next to us. Eric and Chris were their names, if I’m recalling correctly. They were extremely kind and enthusiastic, as was just about everyone else in attendance. I am always impressed by the friendliness and generososity from those who attend these cycling events; even at highly competitive races, everyone is willing to share resources and offer kind words of encouragement. I love this sport.

Ahmet showed up a little after 2:00 PM and began getting pumped for the first lap. The race started about a quarter mile or so down the paved park road in order to space the riders out and permit the faster participants to make their way to the front. Although Ahmet swore that this race would be “just a training ride for Burn,” his competitive impulse got the better of him and he was fifth or sixth onto the singletrack, close behind the leaders. Those leaders finished the initial lap around the 27-minute mark and Ahmet came rolling in at about 31 minutes. He signaled that he was good to go another lap, which gave me an additional half hour to sit around the pit area. Screw that, I thought, as I mounted my bike and pedaled around the parking lot in an effort to warm up my legs. Laura did the first lap as well, while Trina fiddled around in the pit area or chatted with the timekeepers while awaiting her turn. Laura was toward the rear of the pack when the riders dove onto the singletrack, but I was pleased to see her smiling as she whizzed past me. She turned in a 40:26 minute first lap, which I thought was quite respectable. It turned out that she and Trina were well-matched for this event.

Like clockwork, Ahmet crossed the timing line again at 31 minutes, just a few seconds difference from his first effort. Now it was my turn. I rocketed away on my S-Works, then became immediately mindful not to crush it too hard right away, so I soon settled into a medium-fast rhythm of about 75% effort. I turned in two laps of approximately 33 – 34 minutes…always a minute or two slower than Ahmet. He did his next two laps, followed by another pair from me. It was exactly 7:29 when Ahmet began our ninth lap, so he narrowly escaped having to use his lights. He returned at 8:03, which would not give either him or me enough time to do another lap before the 8:30 cutoff time. Unless he really pushed it. He didn’t think he had a 27-minute lap in him, and frankly, I’m glad he didn’t try. So I took off for our tenth lap with my lights blazing. I was pretty spent, but I needed to turn in a decent lap, I thought, not really knowing why. Well, it’s good I did not completely phone in the last lap, since the second place team was only eight minutes behind us in the standings, although this was unbeknownst to us at the time. In fact, neither Ahmet nor I ever checked the standings during the entire race. Remember, we were treating it as a “training ride.”

When it was all over, we chowed down on sandwiches provided by Jimmy Johns and began breaking down our pit area. No one in our little group seemed very interested in awaiting the results, so we went home. I checked the bike forum the next morning to see that the results were already posted. Somehow, though, the timekeepers missed our fifth lap and credited us with only nine. I petitioned Steve Rogers and he eventually corrected the mistake, which gave Ahmet and me first place, eight minutes ahead of second. We finished in 5:39 with ten laps. Steve is somewhere in Chapel Hill holding on to our coveted trophy. Maybe I’ll pick it up one of these days. Laura and Trina churned out eight laps, although the results only show seven. More timing errors from the observers in the tent. I’m still not sure why, at $45 a head, this race was not electronically timed. At any rate, we all had fun, and it felt good to get first in our category. The truly fast riders managed 11 laps at roughly 32 minutes average lap time. Bastards.

Here’s Laura, clearly having a good time:






Results for men’s duo: