She was ambivalent about mountain biking. Over the years she occasionally saw me come home a little banged up and I think it made the wrong impression on her. So I didn't press it until last Saturday when she said she wanted to go geocaching. "Awesome" I said, "and I think bikes will be the perfect way to get around the park." She flashed me that knowing smile and agreed.
So she got her first taste of singletrack, a handful of sloppy mud pits, some rocks, and plenty of roots and came out of it smiling from ear to ear and admitting that "yes Daddy, it was fun." So I am thrilled beyond words.
I just spent the day hosting some colleagues from San Diego. I have been to SD a few times and have to say it's pretty close to ideal if you like perfect weather, beaches, sailing, mountains, biking, and California mojo. But I was struck by how they kept commenting on how "green and lush" it is here - I guess SD is pretty dry and brown at this point in the season.
So as much as I still want to get out west and ride that desert singletrack and slickrock, their comments renewed my appreciation for the our eastern seasons, our root infested trails, and most of all the greenery (images from this morning's ride).
We knew today's ride was going to be a wildcard. We did not know it would be a beat down.
The proposed itinerary was the Sunoco trails with a crossing of the infamous extremely-high-and-rickety-abandoned-railroad-trestle south of town. The trestle is just too good to be ignored, so we figured there had to be some singletrack that linked the the trestle to the main Sunoco trail network.
We rode the trails down to the valley floor only to discover that the township has laid waste to most of the singletrack on the east side of 322. Construction, all in the name of progress no doubt. After mucking about in the carnage for a bit, we did the climb out of the valley back to the Skelp Level Road parking lot half inclined to call it a day and go drown our sorrows in cheap mexican food.
...but once in the parking lot we realized that we couldn't end on such a sorry note, so we decided to ride back down Skelp Level to pick up the railroad bed and double back to the infamous trestle. We figured this would be a 45 minute sojourn to the trestle and back. Little did we know it would unfold into a 120 minute beat down. Here is roughly how it went...
We got to the railroad bed in one piece but with brakes smoking. OK they weren't literally smoking but we could definitely smell them and they were HOT. That was sobering. We got ourselves on the railroad bed and eventually to the trestle. I would estimate it to be between 200' high and in generally crappy condition. Some of the gaping holes in it were definitely large enough to fit a rider (and maybe his bike too). This white knuckle ride dropped us on the other side of 322 and left us with a dilemma - ride back the way we came over the dilapidated bridge (the 45min option), or try the west side trails which are supposedly of questionable legality. We were on a roll so we chose the latter and were treated to more miles of hilly technical wet-root infested singetrack and stream crossings that left us both exhausted and exhilirated (but mostly exhausted).
Now if you know this area then you also realize this left us back at the BOTTOM of the valley for the second time today, with another serious climb to get back to the parking lot on the other side of the valley.
We felt good enough to throw in a bonus loop of single track at the top, but it's fair to say we were toasted by the time we got back to the cars. Advil tonight, maybe 600mg. We will be feeling this one tomorrow.
It was Ruth's idea to go to see the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium last night. I'm not sure what was more exciting - seeing the race or the fact that it was my wife's idea. She is awesome.
Anyway eveything I know about road riding would fit on a postage stamp. So last week I did my wikipedia research on criteriums and here it is for you other postage stampers:
Short course road race held on closed off city streets (in this case West Chester)
One hour duration (which amounted to about 50 laps)
Prizes (called "primes" - in this case cash each time a racer won designated laps)
High speed, hair rasing turns, lots of contact, and some spectacular wrecks
IMHO this is one awesome spectator sport. The first few laps of each race were hair raising, with probably 75 professional riders careening and bumping down the straights and diving into corners in tight packs mere inches from the specators standing behind fences and haybales.
The riders were averaging 35mph which made the laps about 90 seconds each. A "support" car (pimped out Subaru) would lead the pack with lights flashing and horn blaring, and a referee on a motorcycle trailed the pack. Announcers kept us appraised on the race overall and official clocks timed the overall race and the lead rider (so it was easy track the chase groups). Bike shops set up on the closed streets to raffle bikes and give away bike schwag, the sidewalks were crammed with spectators cheering and ringing cowbells, and the always excellent West Chester street scene was in full swing with restaurants and bars overflowing onto the sidewalks.
We parked ourselves outside the Iron Hill Brewery (very convenient) looking straight at the "pit" where a continuous stream of mid-race mechanicals were serviced by a SRAM crew (check out the left middle picture in the collage above - the racer is in the pit on one of those crazy isotruss bike frames). The first 10 laps of each race were intense and it was risky standing by the rail - lean in more than an inch or two and you were likely to be clipped by a rider. Being so close you really got a great sense of how each rider was doing (strong vs suffering vs resigned) and with so many laps you quickly identified with a handful of individuals to follow throughout the race.
It was an awesome evening even for a devout mountain biker, I highly recommend it. Put this on your calendar for next year.
P.S. Here are some more Pictures taken by someone with more camera and much more talent that I...
Just when I thought I had gunkholed every trail in MCSP, I found a brand spanking new single track in the park (picture of sunrise at the park entrance). I liked the new single track so much I rode it 3 times (up, down, then down again toward the end of the ride).
During by first down on this new trail I heard someone bombing the Rocky Climb but I wasn't able to circle back in time to see who it was (typically not many riders at that early hour). Was that you Sebastian? I am pretty sure it wasn't Mr. non-committal-that's-how-I-roll-drunken-bike-shop-guy (not mentioning any names) because his garage was buttoned up when I rode by at 6am.
Anyway Kudos to the enterprising soul who laid in that new single track - it is awesome.
Heart: Imagine the carnage of a night race. The stories, the bragging rights, and maybe even the t-shirt! The run-up to race day, riding the course every other night and watching my split times drop. Carb loading the night before, suiting up, a driving to the start area with the sunroof open and AC/DC cranking. Registration. The jostling as we congregate at the starting line. The race starts. The mad acceleration across the open field and into the woods. Trying to find the right spot in the pack - too fast and you'll explode - too slow and you'll get stuck in traffic. Now in the groove and riding race pace...
Brain: ...pushing hard, harder than on any of the practice rides. Bombing the twisty downhill section a little faster than I should, on the ragged edge of disaster. Now climbing again, legs burning, lungs heaving. Then down. And up again. Down. Up. Getting a little bit tingly - is it nerves or is it oxygen deficit due to the race pace? Time to choke down some energy (Shot Bloks are my preference) but breathing so heavily it just turns into a thick gluey mess in my mouth. Wash it down with some water just in time to start the next climb. Why am I doing this? I have a perfectly good time riding this course hard during practice or just for fun, but this is starting to seem like work. More up. More down. Yes, definitely work. Just make sure nobody passes me. Try to catch that rabbit up ahead. Up. Down. Finally drag my sorry self across the finish line, mid-pack assuming no major mechanicals.
Heart: That was awesome (now that it's over). The buzz after the race. Put on some dry clothes. Checking the finish times as they are posted - how did I stack up against others in my riding group? The appetite starts to crank up. One hot dog. Two. Three. Comparing notes with fellow riders - remember that sketchy turn, did you see that poor bastard who bonked on the last lap? What a blast, can't wait until the next race.
In my case the brain usually speaks loudest, but I have found it just takes one weak moment for the heart to break through and make a commitment that the brain can't undo. Stay tuned.