Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Closer

Fatties drawing a crowd at The Beer Tree
Six of us closed out the 2013 season with a morning ride on the frozen tundra of Marsh Creek. Befitting an end of year ride, we had a little bit of everything. We had angry single speeders leading out. We had fat bikes, skinny bikes, mountain bikes, and CX bikes. We had mechanical breakdowns, flowy single track, and some rough stuff too. And we paid homage to The Beer Tree. Overall it was a fine wrap up to '13.

But today's ride was not just a teary-eyed and sentimental reflection on '13. We also looked forward. Kirk reminded us that we need to start thinking about the Cinco de Mayo ride because it is "just around the corner" (apparently time flies when you are having fun). We also commenced planning for the 2014 Tour de (pronounced too r duh). Already we know almost ten things about this soon to be epic event:

Blind taste test
  1. It will be about a 30 miles mix of single track, gravel, road, and small town urban decay
  2. It will involve forward positioning of supplies at strategic locations
  3. We need a logo and team kit
  4. It will include a stop at Rincon Tarasco
  5. Mark is the chairman of the 2014 Tour de planning commission
  6. It will include Harmony Hill, Marsh Creek, and a white knuckle ride across a decrepit railroad trestle bridge
  7. It will be the perfect antidote to the mid-winter biking blues
  8. The planning commission will meet at Victory Brewing some time we don't know when
  9. It will be stupid fun
Thanks for all the memories in 2013, and I look forward to more memories and adventures in 2014.

Chris

"2014 is going to make 2013 look like a picnic."
     -- unknown (I have no idea what that really means, but it sure makes 2014 sound interesting...)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Grippy to Slippy

Trails still grippy but soon to be slippy
at The Beer Tree.
Today's post Christmas ride started with Bryan's one-line email yesterday afternoon. It was succinct and it covered all of the bases. It said "Merry Christmas where are we riding tomorrow?"

The ride was badly needed after the previous day of unbridled gluttony and materialism run amok. Fortunately four of us were able to gracefully (more or less) get exemptions from family plans to exchange gifts, spend gift cards, and generally wallow in the soulless black hole known as the King of Prussia Mall.

Temperatures were in the low 20s and the trails were rock solid. The usual spots were pretty torn up and so just a little treacherous when frozen (unless you were Bryan on a fat bike), generally the trails were in great shape. We took our breakfast break at The Beer Tree and marveled at the partially frozen lake (beautiful), Kirk caught us up on the epic SSCXWC from earlier this month, and we debated the merits of centimeters versus inches (inches won) and attempted to measure Kirk's custom frame but failed miserably.

About then, our pithy discourse was interrupted by a lone snowflake that drifted down (presumably from a mile or more over our heads) and landed smack dab on the top of a metal flask that we happened to have with us and was sitting upright on the ground at our feet. We took this to be a blessing straight from the biking Gods and we were right because no sooner had we saddled up the the ride home when it began to snow BIG TIME. Huge flakes, Visibility dropped from miles to a few hundred feet, and the trails went from brown and grippy to white and slippy in about 10 minutes. It was a magical example of being at the right place at the right time

And most of all it was a great example of not being at the mall.

Chris

"You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning."
     -- Celia Rivenbark

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Everyone Loves a Parade

The mean streets of
Downingtown
 This time of year, the North East weather can be soul sucking for a mountain biker. Days of sloppy singletrack the consistency of peanut butter punctuated by periods of ice and, if we are lucky, a couple days of dry frozen trails. Too much down time between rides. Too many YouTube biking videos. The email traffic gets edgy and it's obvious we need to ride. Even a rainy day gravel grinder would be a welcome distraction.

Bryan and I turned today's ride into more than a distraction by grinding the gravel to The Cup in Downingtown. Our own private rainy-day parade. At The Cup we figured the Sunday morning crowd might not appreciate a couple muddy mountain bikers mixing with the Sunday crowd, so we got our coffees to go and parked our butts on a sidewalk stoop to drink our coffee and Snap, eat Christmas cookies, and watch the Sunday morning traffic roll down Lancaster Ave.

Coffee and cookies finished, we took our parade back to Marsh Creek and cracked a couple of Jai Alai's (a stiff IPA from Cigar City brewing) at the top of the dam while watching the mist gently waft across the lake. For the ride home we had Pandora streaming Christmas Jazz from my pocket, and finally Bryan and I parted ways with a fist pump and and a copy of his traditional annual Christmas mix on CD (old school).

Even the rain couldn't rain on our parade.
Jai Alai and Christmas cookies

Chris

"Keep riding, Nancy. It's just water and dirt."
     -- Huck And Roll

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pretty Hard Core

Pre-ride scene
at the bonfire site. 
The allure of this event is evident only if you fully embrace the adversity. Not surrender to it, but embrace it. Revel in it. More is better. Cold? No problem. Snow and mud? Good. Sleet and freezing rain? Excellent!

By that measure, the evening was a home run. The snow started around 5:00 and by 6:30 it was a near white-out. Awesome. These would have been perfect riding conditions an hour earlier, but now with 4-5" on the ground we knew it would be a challenge.

One of many stops to
check the "root."
Sure enough, twenty feet into the ride we knew we were in trouble. The tiny climb and turn onto the Struble railroad bed was impossible to negotiate. In fact the slightest turn risked immediate washout of the front wheel. This is gonna be tricky. Got to pay attention. Stop laughing. Focus or you are going to get hurt. Thankfully we had Rob breaking trail with his new fatty and those 4" monster tires. A half hour into it we found ourselves at the bottom of the Quarry climb with visions of warm Chili and a blazing bonfire dancing in our heads.

This is when Mike played the mountain biker shame card.

Looking up at the impossible Quarry climb, he said something like "what's with the defeatist attitude?" There would be no warm Chili and bonfire for us now. No. Now we would have to climb. Damn Riley. So we climbed a lot and we pushed a little and 15 minutes later we were at the top licking our wounds from a few nasty spills but looking forward to a mostly flat ride through open fields back toward home and the chili and the fire. Only those mostly flat open fields were covered by a nasty crust that made pedaling even harder. Sonofabitch. ALmost two hours later the ride ended with a treacherous high-pucker-factor descent through the neighborhood on an unplowed ice-slicked road. Be careful, you are one tiny twitch away from a broken wrist or concussion or worse.
Fine dining alfresco
with bonfire in the background

Back at camp the 8' high bonfire pyre was aflame and stoked by the gusty winds and as (the other) Mike said "shit burned, and burning shit fell over, and everything else turned to ice." But that process took a few hours during which we were treated to:
  • Brats roasted over the fire (and doing weird things in the fire).
  • A new fire jumper filling the void left by a recent retirement. Did he just do what I think he did??
  • The competition for best beer presentation (see below)
  • Hot chili, then warm chili, then cold chili. 
  • Bourbon, Root, Snap, and assorted brews. 
  • A homeless person in spandex. Who is this guy and why is he wrapped in a sheet of plastic?
  • Day old donuts
  • Freezing rain
2013 winner of
Best Beer Presentation
Congratulations to Mike for his beer tree which won the Best Beer Presentation of 2013 by a comfortable margin. Everyone was impressed by the attention to detail (stainless steel screws) and especially it's ability to sprout an endless stream of microbrews for the thirsty judges.

The crowd +1'd to seven (not counting 2 casualties who were unable to make it out of their driveways due to the snow storm but were there in spirit and missed by all) and then the group slowly dwindled until three hard cores decided to throw in the towel around 1:30am. We've done it again.

Oh and yes, the firepit was still smoldering the next day around 2:00pm, twelve hours after the 2013 winner went up in flames.

Chris


"I'm going to put my pants on now."
     -- Homeless Mexican mountain biker standing outside in freezing rain around midnight at 2013 Bike-Bonfire Beer-a-palooza.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Perfect Storm

The view in front. Virgin singletrack.
Today we had the perfect storm. It was perfect because:

  • It was a Sunday which means no hunting in Pennsylvania.
  • I had a belly full of bacon and waffles.
  • I had just finished putting up the Christmas lights.
  • It was a snow storm and anyone who bikes in a four-season climate knows that riding in the snow in the woods is just awesome.
  • I got home in time to watch the 2nd half of a memorable Eagles home game played in 8 inches of snow. The way football is supposed to be played.
The view in back. A single track (mine).
In front of me was miles of virgin singletrack, covered by 3" of fresh sticky snow. In back of me was a single knobby tire track snaking through the woods. In the middle was me. Pure Nirvana.

Chris
"Cycling is like church-many attend but few understand"
     -- Jim Burlant

Monday, December 2, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #9 - Working on our Resumes

It is reassuring to know that silliness
spans cultures, politics, and languages
It was little more than a narrow alley in Zangzizhonglu. On one side was the Dragon King Hostel and on the other side was a restaurant whose name translates to "Hot Bean" and yes it was "hot" as in bright, loud, lively, and filled to capacity by a young vibrant crowd. We peeked inside on the first night and we knew we had to come back the next night. That next night we tried to get in for dinner and were told they had no room and we had no reservations. We left but did manage to slip in later that night for a light snack and drink and to make a reservation for our last night.

That last night we got a table in the overflow room and ordered a couple beers and just about everything on the menu. It was sort of a Chinese take on a tapas bar - small entrees for two served on skewers which came to our table 1-2 at a time. The beers and the food kept flowing and when the overflow room emptied we moved ourselves to the main room and switched to some sort of fortified rice wine (40% alcohol instead of the 50% firewater we had the night before).

It was getting late and the crowd continued to thin when I made a casual comment to Dan that we should think about heading over to the hostel bar. Without hesitiation Dan said "Let's stay until they kick us out."  I did a double-take and he repeated "We'll stay until they tell us to leave. Trust me. It will be great."  I racked my brains and realized that I had never been kicked out of a bar in a communist country before so in the interest of adding to my resume, I said "Ok, that sounds like a good idea" even though it didn't really.

But it was.

When the last of the patrons left, they locked the door and began cleaning up. We kept drinking and picking at our food.  The kitchen help came out to the dining room to have their dinner. We drank and chatted. The owner joined them for dinner while the waiters finished cleaning up. Finally when their dinner was done and it was obvious they were ready to switch off the lights, we got a glance and a polite gesture towards the door.

This is when it got really good.

We stood and situated ourselves on either side of our waiter and handed the phone to his (obviously) brother "asking" him to take our picture. Then the owner and another waiter decided to jump into the picture and next thing the owner and I were standing back to back so we could be measured to determine who was taller. More pictures ensued and then we were on our way out the door with our drinks (and their blessing) having made three new friends and rounding out our resumes.

Dragon King Hostel Bar
We took our show to the hostel bar across the alley. It was a little jarring because it was filled with mostly young Europeans and a Chilean trust-fund student who had just gotten off the trans-Siberian railroad (he has been travelling continuously for two years now). All of the discussions were engaging and centered around politics and travel and philosophies but eventually I realized that I had to get up and function the next morning and that I had somehow lost my wingman so I worked my way back to the room to crash.

I am out of breath just thinking and writing about that evening. It is so vivid and surreal at the same time, with amazing people and conversations and food and drink. An incredible ending to an amazing day I will not ever forget.

Chris

"Little hand says it's time to rock and roll."
     -- Bodhi

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Days #7-10 - Making the Best of It

Fashion Forward Face Masks
We knew it would be bad just before the wheels touched the ground.

Rewind about 10 hours.

Dinner was over and we were somewhere over the north Pacific. It was pitch black outside so I cleaned up and curled up for a good night's sleep. About six hours later I woke up somewhere over China and peeked out the window to see what looked like a beautiful sunrise. Except that it was a sunset!

After the meal (I don't remember if they served breakfast or dinner) we started our descent into Beijing. At about 2,000 feet I noticed a faint odor similar to an over heated clutch (I know that smell because I have a 17 year old who is learning to drive). The wheels touched and looking outside as we taxied to the terminal it appeared as though a light fog was blanketing the airport. But it wasn't fog I was smelling and seeing, it's the notorious pollution. We could even see it inside the massive airport, a heaviness to the air.

It was still there (obviously) when we returned a few days later. It is not a huge factor for a tourist, but by the third day we noticed some irritation in our throats. I'm sure living with it is a big deal, but I'm equally sure that once China decides to clean it up they will do it and do it quickly. One of the advantages of a command society is that decisions can be made and resources mobilized quickly.

We also saw evidence that the Chinese can make the best of a difficult situation when they have to. I'm sure the genesis of eating scorpions and centipedes was rooted in hardship. Likewise, the stylish face masks that we saw Beijingers wearing around town were an opportunity to make a fashion forward statement in a difficult situation.

12 million people going about their lives, comporting themselves with humor and grace.

So in the end, not so bad.

Chris

"No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense. And that's just the bike messengers."
     -- Unknown

Friday, November 29, 2013

A View from the Outside

(Guest post from Sara)

I could never understand why my dad would want to throw himself onto some sort of two-wheeled metal frame and ride around in the woods for hours. He’d come home with bloody scrapes and would wake up the next morning with bruises the color of big juicy grapes…yet there would always be a smile on his face. I’d had my fair share of mountain biking; a couple instances in Marsh Creek, during which I was praying to stay alive, white-knuckled, as my bike crashed down the paths covered in very sharp, very solid, unforgiving rocks.

Part of me understands where this source of madness comes from; I’m a Cross Country runner, so I too understand the rush, and later the satisfaction, of completely destroying your body in a good workout. Even though I bump my head on one of Dad’s bikes each time I walk through the garage, I know this is something that makes him happy (and smelling like he’d camped out in a high school locker room for a week) when he comes home from a long ride. He disappears for hours until I find him outside, covered in grease, with what seems like hundreds of bike parts scattered on the ground. Because apparently it’s normal to just go outside and rebuild a bike.

But I have picked up some useful trivia. I have been well educated in the ways of Dime stack welds, 21-tooth cogs, and front and rear suspension forks. See how many other seventeen-year-old girls know that. I know how to fix a chain that’s fallen off and patch up a popped tire. All of which Dad talks about with the same amount of excitement that someone would have after winning the lottery. But I’ve got to give him credit; he’s found something that he loves, and he’s made time to do it, which is a lesson that he’s instilled in me. So although my bike will continue to gather dust up in the shed, (I haven’t been granted Garage Status with Dad’s bikes yet) I’ve learned a lot from his mountain biking adventures. Looks like there’s hope for me after all.

Sara

“You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted.”
     – Ruth E. Renkl

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #7 - Doing the Hustle

The Happy Traveler Gets Duped
Our first night in Beijing. The flag dropping ceremony in front of the Forbidden City had just ended and the festive crowd was taking pictures and heading off to the restaurants and tea houses next to Tiananmen Square.  A Chinese woman was practicing her English with Dan.  She asked if we’d like to visit one of the nearby tea houses to continue the conversation.  The short stroll to the team house was non-stop conversation with her and her two friends.  We found a table the next 30 minutes was nonstop tea (and eventually some wine) and conversation about life in China and the US, families, must-see sights in Beijing, types of tea, American cars, schools, etc.  We picked up the bill for 240 yuan (about $38) before they showed us back to the metro and gave us directions back to Zangzizhonglu (first night, we were still getting our bearings).

It was a memorable half hour, made more so when we got back to the hostel and were reading a poster in the hallway. It was one of a series of posters to educate travelers on local sights and hustles and yes, one of them was the “tea house” scam where you are invited to a local tea house and end up paying a ridiculously inflated price for the experience.

We looked at the picture that Dan snapped outside the tea house and confirmed it. They weren’t eager to have the picture taken in the first place (kept saying “not here, better pictures at the Square”) and the ring leader had discretely obscured her face the moment the shot was taken.

We chuckled and agreed that while we didn’t appreciate being hustled, the experience was still well worth the $38 so I guess everyone won on that one.

Chris

P.S. Even weirder (and this just occurred to me as I wrote this blog post), the next day as Dan and I were walking through town I started whistling that old disco standard "The Hustle" by Van McCoy. It's a catchy tune and soon I had Dan on board with it. It seemed like one of those random moments at the time but looking back at it now, maybe not so much!

"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." 
     -- David St. Hubbins (This is Spinal Tap)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 Fun Quiz

Artwork by Sara
With 2013 winding down and the annual Bike-Bonfire-Beer-a-palooza around the corner, I figured I would try to sum up the year with a fun trivia quiz. Don't think too hard, it's not rocket surgery.

If you skip meals and stand around the chalet for hours in bike clothes insisting you haven't had much to drink you might end up...
a) Leaving your breakfast next to the trail on Saturday morning.
b) Laying on the couch Saturday afternoon.
c) Like Jason.
d) In the MO7S fun quiz.

Never trust... 
a) A happy song.
b) A puppet.
c) A burp.
d) A fart.

Someone posted a sign at Marsh Creek that says
a) No trespassing.
b) Park closes after sunset (except for fishing).
c) Cranston Gap.
d) This way to The Beer Tree.

Who or what is "Dirty Penny?"
a) An ale brewed by Olde Burnside Brewing Company that is a mixture of Ten Penny Ale and their signature stout.
b) A Berks County cover band from Reading Pennsylvania.
c) Someone with questionable allegiances who induces brain lockup in groups of 10 or more guys.

What is a Heady Topper?
a) A malty and piney beverage bursting with 8% goodness that was lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont.
b) A beverage bursting with 8% goodness that was malty and piney and lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont.
c) A beverage lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont that was malty and piney and bursting with 8% goodness.
d) A malty and piney beverage bursting with 8% goodness from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont that was lovingly hand carried by Kirk.

The Beer Tree was retired in 2013 because...
a) We don't like beer anymore.
b) It was too "trailer park" for our tastes.
c) There is a new sheriff in town.
d) We switched to Root and Snap.

What cycling related miracles occurred in 2013?
a) At the 2013 Bud Mauger memorial ride Mark turned water into beer.
b) Dr. Oz discovered that red palm oil can reduce body fat and lubricate chains in muddy conditions.
c) At one of our FHHR rides Jesse turned vegetables into mint chocolate chip ice cream.
d) Lance Armstrong admitted he is a fraud.

At the infamous White Clay Rain Ride we...
a) Rode on rain soaked trails without being accosted by local trail Nazis.
b) Washed our socks in the runoff from the parking lot.
c) Stripped in the parking lot to entertain the 2nd floor yoga class overlooking the parking lot.
d) Were a little obnoxious to the waitress at McGlynn's Pub (but tipped her well).

The 2013 Cinco De Mayo Friday Happy Hour Ride was unfortunately marred because...
a) It was actually Tres De Mayo.
b) The pink paper flower on Kirk's helmet made his butt look big.
c) Mike wore a pearl necklace and did an imitation of Mike Honcho.
d) En Cinamino fell asleep on the ground wearing a sombrero.
e) Brian had to eat salsa off the bottom of Jesse's Sidi riding shoe.

"Clean Getaway" is...
a) Pretending you are going to the bathroom at a lame party and instead slipping out the back door and going home.
b) A coin operated laundromat in Kalamazoo Michigan.
c) An indie cycling movie produced by an aspiring local film maker.
d) A pretty basic song written by Maria Taylor.

In April when riding at Marsh Creek, Mike popped...
a) A ladybug into his mouth and swallowed it.
b) A wheelie in the parking lot.
c) His acromioclavicular joint.
d) Both eardrums during a rapid free fall descent of the rocky climb.

Who said "don't be a dumb ass and please don't sue us"?
a) Samsung (to Apple) after they stole the pinch-zoom smartphone feature.
b) Dirty Penny speaking on behalf of the Kingdom Trails Association when we decided to ride their rocky rooty trails in a torrential downpour.
c) The guy with a megaphone standing on the tailgate at the start of the Crazy Train ride.

At the 2013 Crazy Train ride, the organizer told us...
a) If you only have three bikes, you do not have enough.
b) The event allows you to ride only one bike, but you brought three. Choose wisely.
c) The terrain calls for you to ride three different bikes, but you can ride only one. Choose wisely.
d) I licked one of the pretzels in this box. Choose wisely.

Bryan likes fatties because...
a) Once they start moving, you can't stop them.
b) They are fun to ride slow.
c) It's fun, and all your friends think it's stupid, but they still want to do it too.
d) Size actually does matter.

Chris

"I have too many bikes"
     -- Said by no cyclist ever

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #9 - Let's Get Sober for a Minute

We’ve read about it, we’ve argued about it, we’ve been indignant about it, and we (most of us anyway) have no idea what it really means. Government oppression. As a casual 3-day tourist I barely scraped the surface but I saw evidence of it and honestly it was chilling.

It started as a minor inconvenience. I could (seemingly) browse the Internet but certain sites were blocked. No Facebook! For 3 days I was unable to see or update my precious timeline. YouTube would not work for me. Like Americans, the Chinese are glued to their social media but it is a state-sponsored service where they are tracked, edited, or blocked. The NSA debacle has spawned outrage in America, but doesn’t come remotely close to this.

On our first visit to Tiananmen Square we got a taste of state intimidation. A large crowd was in front of the Forbidden City (a “public” area on the square) watching the nightly flag ceremony while police were randomly administering pat-downs and demanding government identification just for being in the square. They didn’t bother with us Westerners, it was directed at their citizens and it seemed excessive but it was nothing compared to the last day.

The morning of the last day we headed to the Forbidden City. This is the giant walled compound with the famous painting of Chairman Mao over the main entrance. We approached the entrance on a long narrow walkway, lined on both sides by soldiers at attention, precisely spaced, wearing stern expressions and crisp uniforms. At first I was puzzled but then horrified as I realized every 3rd or 4th soldier (same spacing, same attention, same expression) was in plain street clothes. The message was unmistakable – “We in at the table next to you, in your work place, in your family room. We are everywhere and we are watching you.”

The Facebook thing was sobering and the random ID checks were chilling. But the plainclothes spies on display and the knowledge of what could happen if you crossed the line with them was horrifying.

It’s not hard to see past this if you choose. The city is bustling with families, young adults, seniors, teenagers, and Chinese tourists. Lovely people. They are enjoying the sights, the food, the shopping. They are riding bikes and laughing and sipping tea. It actually seems much like home in so many ways. I really don’t know how they live their lives in the shadow of this oppression. To a lightweight American like me it seemed like such a contradiction.

We are so incredibly lucky and we don’t even know it.

Chris

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #9 - Tastes Just Like Chicken

The Wangfujing area is known for a crowded outdoor market with all sorts of inexpensive trinkets and weird street foods. We knew we found the right place because the bustling crowd was all locals and we had broken the “never eat street food” rule the prior day with no consequences so we were feeling lucky...and we were very hungry.

The sights, smells, and sounds were amazing. All sorts of food was being prepared on the spot in boiling pots and sizzling stoves. There were food stalls with whole cooked chickens (by “whole” I do not mean a Purdue oven stuffer, I mean a chicken complete with eyes, beak, and feet, plucked and cooked and ready to eat on the spot). There were dumplings and piles of noodles. There was squid and octopus. There were lizards, seahorses, centipedes, snakes, and even pupae on a stick. As I turned the corner, a vendor was handing Dan some change and a stick with three fresh scorpions. They had had been alive 5 seconds before, had just been flash fried for a couple seconds and were (like the chickens) ready to eat. He shoved the stick into my hand and started the video (below).

We’d been eating all sorts of unidentifiable things for breakfast lunch and dinner, so I was in the right frame of mind, except, well, this thing had a stinger! I pushed that thought aside (actually I pushed all thoughts aside) for two seconds and then shoved it into my mouth. It was crunchy on the outside and of course gooey on the inside. The taste was mild, quite good actually. Dan downed the next two and we agreed they were BY FAR the best scorpions we had ever eaten, did a fist pump, and dove fearlessly back into the bazaar.


Chris

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"
     -- unknown

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure Day #7 - Lost in Zangzizhonglu

Dan working his magic with
the locals (and help of the Internet)
With our abrupt exit from Philippines we didn't have time to properly pack or print directions to hotel. So when we popped out of the Zangzizhonglu subway stop, we had no idea where/how to find our hostel. It was a coin toss to decide which way to go. We glanced at each other, turned right, and started dragging our roll on luggage down the street.

The next hour was spent strolling down blind alleys past small shops and restaurants, drinking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this strange place and looking the Dragon Hostel or someone that might speak a lick of English. Along the way there were so many locals who tried to help us by walking us across town to find someone who might know a lick of English, or to find some random small hotel (our bags were universal language for someone needing a place to stay). Some just wanted to practice their English (“hello” was the extent of it).

Our home for the next three nights
Eventually we met our lifeline. He was huge weathered fellow who had just parked his motorcycle in a narrow alley. He had shoulder length hair and was wearing glacier goggles and a long dusty trench coat. I will call him “Mad Max." Max spoke English and used his smartphone to point us in the other direction and we soon found Dragon Hostel tucked about a 100 yards down another dusty alley, and received a lovely warm welcome from the bi-lingual kids running the hostel.

This would be the winning formula for the next few days in Beijing - avoiding the safety of tour guides and western establishments - eating, drinking, putting ourselves in challenging situations and generally hanging out with the locals. I've done this sort of thing before in Europe but never in an environment as alien (to me) as Asia. It guarantees a vacation full of surprises and indelible memories and this week would be no exception.

Chris

"Keep riding, Nancy. It's just water and dirt." 
     -- Huck And Roll

Monday, November 11, 2013

Awesome Asia Adventure

Tienanmen Square and The Forbidden City
Getting hustled in Tiananmen Square, eating unspeakable things at a street bazaar, and getting kicked out of a Chinese restaurant/bar are just a few of the memories from last week’s awesome Asia work/pleasure adventure. It is too much to cover in a single blog post, so I’ll start with this chronology post and follow up with posts expounding on individual related topics ranging from bathrooms to political oppression (we saw shocking examples of both).

The chronology:

  • #1 Friday - Philly to Manila via San Francisco and Beijing. About 24 hours in the air, six shuffling through airports.
  • #2 Saturday – Still flying and shuffling.
  • #3 Sunday – Explore Manila, lovely outdoor dinner with the local management team as US based team members trickle in (they were delayed by LAX shooting and Tokyo earthquake).
  • #4 Monday – Get fitted for custom tailored pants and a Barong. Workday starts at 9:00 pm and ends the next morning at 5:00 am. The Manila team greats us at the front door with corsages and take us upstairs where they perform a Philippine folk dance for us. This is followed by all day meeting with the entire 50+ person team where they just knock our socks off with their energy and intellect. They are a formidable team that will do great things with us, very exciting.
  • #5 Tuesday – Second workday. The typhoon is in all the local papers and is a topic of conversation but not a real concern. Yet. Another incredibly productive day with the team. They continue to impress us.
  • #6 Wednesday – Third workday. The approaching storm has been dubbed a “Super-typhoon” and is scheduled to hit Friday night. We’re scheduled to fly out early Saturday morning. We have morning meetings with the management team but by lunchtime (just after midnight) it is suggested that we consider evacuation due to the typhoon. We reluctantly change our arrangements to leave early Thursday morning. Both teams are a little emotional over the decision. 
  • #7 Thursday – The US based team enjoys some time together at Manila airport before heading our separate ways.  Dan and I head north for a couple days in Beijing. We get lost in Zangzizhonglu, visit Tiananmen Square, and get hustled by two school teachers and an accountant.
  • #8 Friday – We risk food poisoning with some street food, make friends with a 6 year old on the train, and visit the Great Wall.  Dinner and a 100 proof bottle of something unspeakable ensures we have a good night sleep.
  • #9 Saturday – Forbidden City, Olympic Village, and a food bazaar near Wangfujing where we eat something gross that was still alive 15 seconds earlier. Dinner at a very loud and hip restaurant packed with young Beijing locals. Another bottle of something strong, only 80 proof this time but a bigger bottle. We eventually kicked out by the owners (past closing time) but not until we get our picture taken with them. We end the night at the hostel bar talking politics with a Chinese and a Chilean student who has been on the road for two years.
  • #10 Sunday – A very long haul home, made even longer because travel agent or airline bungled reservation so we have to buy one-way tickets on a later flight in order to get home. We’ll have to sort out the finances later. Trip ends on #11 Monday with a redeye from LAX back to Philly.

Those are the basic facts but the actually experience was intellectually and emotionally powerful in many ways which I will attempt to explain in subsequent posts. It was a trip of a lifetime.

Chris

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose"
     -- Dr Seuss

Friday, October 11, 2013

Self Selection

Sunday dirt surfer
Self-selection is what happens when you take a diverse population (people, fruit flies, white mice, whatever) and select all the individuals that share a common trait. You might breed them to accentuate the trait or maybe just lock them in a cage together to see what happens.

I lived in that cage for two incredible weekends this fall. First in Vermont, then again two weeks later in central Pennsylvania. Each time we took a group of 10 to 17 individuals (people, not fruit flies) with diverse backgrounds, temperaments, abilities, genders, tastes, walking abilities, and sleeping habits and forced them into close proximity for 72-96 hours. The result was pure magic, food for the soul, memories for a lifetime, a respectable amount of dirty laundry, and enough empty microbrew bottles to fill a couple construction dumpsters.

Eviscerated X-Kings
I suppose there are other selection criteria you could use, like astrological sign or political party or favorite football team but I bet they'd be boring groups by comparison. Too much or too little in common. I've been dabbling in this mountain biking culture thing for a few years now and I have found it to be the best self-selection criteria for a guaranteed good time, bar none.

I saw it all weekend long, but it really clarified for me Saturday night with seventeen souls relaxing around the campfire enjoying a bottle of root. The easy conversation, a couple of guys truing a taco'd front rim by firelight. Those will be enduring memories for me.

Next-to-last slice of
blueberry pie at Boxxer's
Now I've included Mike's 11-point summary of the weekend in this post because it's less sappy than my drivel above and only a mountain biker would understand half the points which just proves my theory anyway:
  1. Arrive early at Boxer's so you can get their blueberry pie before it's gone.
  2. Stegmaier Pumpkin Ale is the most bestest pumpkin ale ever.  Word.
  3. Don't skip meals and stand around the chalet for hours in bike clothes insisting you haven't had much to drink, or you'll end up like Jason.
  4. "Flatch" is aptly named and remains the King of all things flatulent... despite honorable attempts by others to dethrone him.  Uh, not me of course.
  5. Who says spare tires are dead weight?
  6. Coffee with a funky name in a 20 oz. French press is like effing race fuel.
  7. If you think a monster truck is chasing you down the Dark Hollow trail, do not panic.  It's only Bryan on his Moonlander.
  8. Martin's fires are not conducive to jumping.
  9. Mrs. Smith of pie fame doesn't hold a candle to Todd's Mrs. Smith.
  10. Stanimals are real.
  11. Never trust a burp.
Chris

"It's only a stinger. Walk it off."
     -- Todd (if he says this, then you might want to consider calling 911)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

YNP wrapup



Sara's seven minute YNP wrap up. Such a great memory, it made me a little teary-eyed.

Chris

"If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you're lucky enough."
     -- unknown

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Shooting the Gap Part II

Forearm is showing
some wear and tear
I tried shooting the left side of The Gap but my handlebars did not quite fit.

This is what I have to show for it.

I think from now on I will stick to the right side.

Chris

“You do something stupid, you gotta act like it didn't hurt"
     – unknown

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Magic Kingdom

Longtrail. Those are hops bushes
behind us and IPAs in front of us.
Vermonters know this remote corner of their state as simply “The Kingdom.” We came to know it by names like Tap and Die, Troll Stroll, Sidewinder, Widowmaker, Kitchel, Skydive, Freefall, Coronary, and Coronary Bypass.

It started with ten guys, twelve bikes, three vehicles, and a nine hour ride. That’s a story right there, but for me personally there was an unexpected side story. We drove past childhood memories in Vermont like Queechee gorge where my sister and I used to drop pine cones off the bridge and count the seconds before they hit the river below. And the White Cottage where we’d stop for lunch with my grandmother during our annual summer pilgrimage to Maine. These memories were striking because so much has changed since I last saw these places as a teenager, but ironically one of the few things that hasn’t changed in all those decades is the simple beauty of a bicycle and a fall weekend with friends. A universal truth reaching out across the decades, connecting me to myself as a little kid…
The caravan at Longtrail.

Our pilgrimage included a stop at the legendary Long Trail brewpub in the heart of the Green Mountains. The table for ten was next to the beautiful Ottaquechee River in the shade of a very large hops bush. The Budweiser truck in the parking lot was a bit of an eyesore but even those guys get thirsty for a real beer once in a while. The pork shanks (a.k.a hocks) were the best pub fare I’ve ever had the pleasure of washing down with an IPA. Basically it’s a BBQ pork lollipop - slow-cooked and flavorful like ribs but with more meat and less mess.

Friday morning we awoke in The Kingdom to a steady drenching rain. Two coffee makers were brewing, biking videos were playing, and there was a lot of studying of Doppler RADAR. The green light came at the visitor’s center around noon when Penny told us the trails were open “rain or shine” and so we allowed ourselves to indulge in one of mountain biking’s greatest sublime pleasures – sloshing through muddy single track and over wet roots in the warm rain. There is something liberating when you surrender yourself to the wet and the slop, this rain ride was one of the highlights of the trip.
Front wheel is braking hard,
rear wheel about 18" off the ground.
If you don't think this could end
well, then you are correct...

The rain stopped the Saturday morning and by Sunday (and four huge loads of muddy laundry) the sun was out for our third day in The Kingdom. Troll Stroll was super-tight singletrack with lots of bermed turns and rollers descending through dense forest. Tap and Die, was a little more open, and a little faster. Both were masterful pieces of flowy single track artwork, we could have ridden them all day.

Sidewinder was a jaw dropping double black diamond uuberpipe. It started innocently enough, then we hit a bit of a traffic jam. I was near the end of our train, the word was passed back that someone was “sort of stuck.”  They eventually got unstuck or something and the train lurched and started moving again. We could not see what lay ahead but we could hear a lot of yelling and whooping, and a couple of blind turns later we knew why. We were dropping into a massive ravine (the uuberpipe) and then rocketing up the other side, then swooping back down. Over and over, each swoop getting larger, the ravine getting deeper and deeper and adding energy to each cycle. With each swooping dive, the bike could compress at the bottom due to the centrifugal force and you would rocket to the top of the next. Again and again. The walls of the ravine were so steep you could not dab at the top of a turn or you and your bike would tumble into the debris field at the bottom. There were a couple people who had crashed or somehow bailed, they were wallowing in the bottom of the ravine trying to avoid getting hit by the riders careening from side to side.
Trail feature on the downhill course
behind the house

Those were the signature trails, but there dozens of other trails all memorable. Webs which wound through a dense pine forest over a carpet of pine needles. A long tough root infested climb dubbed Coronary Bypass. Kitchel which was a steep free ride descent with rollers, tabletops, and HUGE bermed turns. It was the first machine built trail in the network and smooth as butter. So many others.

That little kid I remembered on the drive up would have totally approved of the weekend. He would have loved the bikes and the mud and the stories around the campfire. All of the jokes about Cranston and Dirty Penny and trombones would have been right at his level. He would have been right there with his three dollar bills on the kitchen counter. And the scrapes and bruises would have been tangible evidence of his epic adventure, stories to tell his buddies back home. The simple beauty of a bicycle and a fall weekend with friends…
Our home in The Kingdom

Chris

“Like dogs, bicycles are social catalysts that attract a superior category of people” 
     -- Chip Brown

“Kick his ball(s)”
     -- Leigh's Dad

YouTube link below but note it will not play on mobile devices (tablets, phones), must be played on a PC. I made the effort to assemble the video so the least you can do is make the effort to find a PC to play the dang thing...




Saturday, September 21, 2013

Shooting the Gap

The trail gnomes have been very busy. Yet another named trail at Marsh Creek. I'm sure there's a story there somewhere...

Chris

"Every Ride Has A Story"
     -- Unknown

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wouldn't this be amazing?

I've always thought it would be funny to start a Friday Happy Hour blog post with something like "there we were, standing in the middle of the woods after our ride laughing and drinking cold microbrews, when two beautiful bikini clad maidens appeared out of nowhere calling our names and bearing gifts of Red Devil Beet Vegan Bundt Cake and locally grown Asian pears."

I mean, wouldn't that be such an amazing and bizarre opening line for a blog post?


Well yes, obviously that would be an amazing opening line. The only problem would be, where would I go from there? What could I possibly use next week to capture the readers' attention (all 3 of them)?

So I guess I'll just end it there. But wouldn't it be amazing?

Chris

"You guys are awesome."
     - Hiker that we passed on our way home (we didn't stop to argue).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Heady Topper

Alchemy at work on the early arrivals.
That Friday Happy Hour alchemy was at work again, spinning straw into gold. Or in this case spinning partly cloudy skies, a lot of ringworm infested mud, eleven riders and their crude steel contraptions into that slightly magical and twinkly moment of respite between the long workweek and the busy weekend. It is more than the sum of it's parts, but for the record here are some of the parts we had:

  • A new bench-cut ribbon of singletrack (it's a big hit, particularly the stretch through a wonderfully scented pine grove).
  • Four pints Heady Topper (lovingly hand carried by Kirk from the Alchemist's lair in Vermont) which was malty and piney and bursting with 8% goodness.
  • A setting sun reflecting off the lake and making the trees behind us all twinkly.
  • The people (eleven of them at the peak), because they really are the key ingredient and without them, you'd just be standing in the woods drinking a beer alone which I'm sure is one of the twelve signs of something not so magical.

You know the Alchemist is really cooking when it turns 6:00 and one or two people grab their helmets to make an honest attempt at getting home on time and an hour later they are still standing there, intoxicated by the Alchemist's twinkly Friday brew.

Yum.

Chris

“Like dogs, bicycles are social catalysts that attract a superior category of people” 
     -- Chip Brown

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Belvedere and Cheap Hookers



It started with Belvedere and high brow discussion on the politics and pitfalls (potentially fatal) of trail building at Marsh Creek. We developed some cleverly double-talk regarding "Friday Evening Services" (a.k.a. the Friday Happy Hour Ride) and we even dabbled in the finer points of road riding tactics.

But alas the bikes in the driveway all had knobbies on them, the Belvedere was in a plastic water bottle, and the cheap hooker was 12% DEET and not interested in small talk so we around 9:00 we saddled up and she led us into the dark depths of Marsh Creek Madness.

The Gang of Eight. One is behind the camera.
Captain Belvedere is on the left.
Our first stop was the race marshals stationed midway up the rocky climb. They looked thirsty and they had a bird's eye view of a blind turn diving through loose sand into a 100 yard rock garden. We saked the marshal's thirst and cheered the racers before striking out for our final destination.

The ride to the ruins was generally relaxed pace, but occasionally punctuated by frenetic mad dashes to avoid interfering with racers on the course. We could hear the the music pumping and the crowd cheering in the distance.

At the ruins, the stonework was festooned with hundreds of Christmas tree lights. A temporary platform had been constructed 8' in the air between two trees straddling the trail. The trail dove under the platform before hitting a 1' drop into a 90 degree left hand turn. The entire area was bathed in a soft glow from the Christmas tree lights, and the trail was lined on both sides with revelers cheering on the riders. Two or three people stood on the platform waving what looked like flaming torches (and I hoped were actually glow sticks) whenever a biker dove under the platform. The scene was both bizarre, exhilarating, chaotic, festive, and a little bit dangerous (echoes of Belvedere and cheap hookers).
Racers descending lower Rocky Climb

Decending into this raucous scene as a spectator was amazing. The singletrack is downhill and very tight, like a glowing tunnel through the underbrush. But then we burst out into the clearing around the ruins and people were lining the trail, they were in the trees (platform), they are on the ruins, they were everywhere and they were cheering and the music was pumping.  For the racers who were spending over an hour on the course alone in their thoughts and their pain, rolling into this scene must have been like a bizarre hallucination before they dove back into the woods and the dark for the rest of the decent.

We ditched our bikes, settled in, and started passing a magnum of Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale. One of the racers got swept up in the moment and got some air off the drop. He wrecked in the turn. The crowd roared their approval and support and he was back on his bike and rolling in seconds. Another tried to make a pass around the trees. A couple riders skidded to a barely controlled stop next to a drink table and helped themselves to some complementary electrolytes before continuing their race.
Once a year, the ruins turn into a city of lights

A little after 11:00 pm the gap between racers started to grow. Our supplies were depleted and Rob's swimming pool was beckoning. We saddled up for another frenetic dash down the race course and then picked our way along the old railroad bed in the dark (ouch) back to the neighborhood and the coolers and the pool.

We ended the evening with a nice soft landing, floating in the pool under the stars, reveling in our shared appreciation for bicycles, swimming pools, and laughter.

Now it's just 364 days until Marsh Creek Madness 2014...

"I got drank"
     -- anonymous liberal arts college professor

Saturday, July 13, 2013

YNP Day Eight - A Tall One

Game Creek Sweetness
We are now retracing our steps back toward Jackson so we naturally begin reflecting on the trip. In particular, how six short days ago we were just starting off with no idea what lay ahead of us. We were struck by how we now felt so different from “those people” of just six days ago. That is how much the trip rocked our world emotionally, intellectually, physically, and I dare say spiritually. This is a very special place.

Back in Jackson the girls went shopping while I rented a Santa Cruz Tallboy from Hoback sports and hit the mountain trails. I was able to catch some single track from the edge of town (how cool it was following a gal on a Trek Fuel EX with a yoga mat in her Camelback across town). I rode Cache Creek Trail to Game Creek Trail (with a minor detour on Putt-Putt). It would be a 1,300 foot climb followed by a 1,300 foot decent (obviously). I was loaded with red corpuscles after 8 days at altitude and the climb felt pretty good. I was sweating plenty but because it was so dry, it evaporated almost immediately. The trails were spectacular, great flow and views and shoulder height wildflowers. 

At the top I took a breather while another rider joined to take in the view. We chatted for a bit and she gave me some advice on a modified descent route with “great flow” that would dump me about eight miles from town. The eight mile ride back would be a bit of a chore but she said it would be worth it. As she started down, she said to let her know if I wanted to pass. I thanked her but said that would be unlikely. 

The decent felt endless with expertly bermed turns, and breathtaking views that made it hard to concentrate on the trail. I could not believe I had actually done all that climbing, the descent felt like much more than 1,300 feet. Finally back in town I topped it off with a pile of pig from Bubba’s BBQ and a badly needed shower.

Chris

Friday, July 12, 2013

YNP Day Seven - Grizzled

Mom and cubs departing
I am eager to experience more of the Old Faithful Inn and Geyser Basin before we leave, so I sneak out of the room at 5:00am for a two mile stroll around the basin. I can see maybe half a dozen other walkers in the area. It is so peaceful and I enjoy taking in the springs and geysers in solitude.

Heading back toward the Inn I (barely) , it is a little after 6:00am and I am thinking about a warm coffee. I notice another walker stopped on the left side of the path. He is looking across the path. I look to the right and about 20 yards away is a mother grizzly and her two cubs. I freeze. I recall you are not supposed to retreat hastily if you encounter a grizzly. She knows I am here and doesn’t seem threatened, so I stand my ground. She is rotting under trees for food. She is no lumbering giant. She appears to be a very agile and quick giant. Occasionally she turns and stares at me directly, then returns to her business.


The other walker steps behind me while laughing nervously. I figure I can out run him so I pull out my camera and start shooting. We stay and watch for about ten minutes. I start wondering how I will ever get back to the Inn – it is 300 yards straight ahead but she has sealed off that route, I will have to back track about a mile to get to the Inn and my coffee. Eventually she heads off across the geyser field, moving quickly with her two cubs tagging along behind. The other walker and I lock eyes - we are both a little rattled and frankly there are no words to capture what we just witnessed – so we smile and part ways.


It’s about 6:30 and now I am pretty jacked up. I return to the Inn to see bleary eyed people shuffling to the dining room, sipping coffee, looking at smartphones. They seem (are) oblivious to what is happening outside. I want to yell at them. I want to grab them by the lapels and shout to them “WAKE UP! It is happening RIGHT OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!”

At Isa lake which drains into BOTH
sides of the continental divide.
I see a family gathered in the corner, preparing for a hike. The two little girls are sitting there, looking sleepy and a little bored. I stride over and start showing the girls the video. They are mesmerized. The parents are alarmed (who is this man and why is he talking to my daughters?) but as soon as they see the video, they are thrilled and so thankful.  Back to the room and I wake the girls and take them through the whole story. We bring the camera with the precious video to breakfast. I show it to our waiter. I show it to the father and son at the table next to us, and to the family by the door. They are all captivated and very thankful. As I am leaving the dining room I am chased down by a small group following me out of the dining room including the restaurant manager, some waitresses, and customers. “Sir! Sir! Are you the one with the grizzly pictures?”  I show the pictures as a small group forms around me.

Later I am stopped outside the Inn, a fellow gives me his email address (“would you mind emailing me some of those pictures”). Checking out, the gal at the front deck pulls her fellow employees over to see the pictures I am sharing with her. Bottom line is I was incredibly lucky to have that encounter and take those pictures (and by some accounts lucky to have made it back to the Inn).
Tangent: On reflection this is also a real tribute to the job done by the National Park Service. The fact that these three bears were digging for berries under a log just a few hundred yards from a large hotel and restaurant is amazing. They weren’t sniffing around dumpsters. They were still wild. That is the magic of this park. We saw evidence of this many times during our trip.
Jackson Lake
We leave for our cabin at Colter Bay and dinner at the exclusive Jackson Lake Lodge Mural Room. But before dinner we slip into our bathing suits and head to Jackson Lake for a swim. The weather had been sunny, dry, mid 80s for days now. The water was refreshing but remarkably warm (my opinion, not the girls) given we were in the shadows of the snow capped Grant Tetons.

Dinner was outstanding. The girls donned dresses. I put on long pants (first time in eight days). The Southwest Molasses Spiced Elk Loin with Poblano cheddar grits, braised red cabbage, juniper berry-gin sauce and huckleberry gastrique washed down nicely with half a bottle of Clos Du Val Cabernet. The Huckleberry Crisp and espresso were the crowning touch to a fine day with two of my favorite people.


Chris

Thursday, July 11, 2013

YNP Day Six - On the Brink

Girls Gone Wild (on "The Brink")
We head to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon for our hike to “The Brink”. This trail leads down 600 feet to the very edge of the Lower Falls (twice as high as Niagara Falls). Standing that close to so much power and violence is both scary and beautiful. Sara tests her altitude acclimated lungs and sprints the 600’ vertical back to the trailhead. Ruth and I walk.

Driving to Old Faithful Inn, the weather is spectacular (80s, blue sky, low humidity). We stop for a while at the quiet Ned Perce Creek to watch the cuthroat trout feed and jump from the water. Entering geyser basin we stop to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. We are walking up a slight hill and the spring is still above eye level, but already we could see the colors reflected in the steam rising over head – vivid yellows, oranges, reds, blues, and greens. It is a massive boiling tie-dye design flowing up and out of the bowels of the earth. We just gawk for the next 20 minutes.
Grand Prismatic

We arrive at the Old Faithful Inn and are bowled over upon entering the main lobby. It is impossible to describe but I will try. It is massive, all rough hewn post and beam construction – a wide open space six stories high with landings and staircases hanging in mid-air 60 feet over the lobby floor. A massive stone fireplace rises from the floor all the way through the roof. It is grand, classy, and woodsy at the same time. It feels like you are in a massive forest. This is classic American architecture making a powerful statement.

Relaxing on the huge outdoor porch overlooking Old Faithful before dinner, we play cards (manipulation, Oma would be proud) and sip cocktails while Old Faithful puts on a show in the background.

Chris

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

YNP Day Five - Boiling River

We wake up for an early morning hike to the beaver ponds (we’ve seen bear and bison, now we’re on a moose hunt). We don't see any moose but it's a beautiful hike with lots of bird life and some great views of Montana.

Before leaving Mammoth we stop at the Boiling River near the Wyoming-Montana border for a quick dip. The Boiling River is the confluence of the Gardiner River (very cold) and a boiling hot creek that springs from the ground a few yards from the river. The two merge and the result is a most bizarre swimming hole. The water has not really mixed - it is flowing rivulets of freezing cold water and rivulets of scalding hot water. It’s not homogenized; you are both hot and cold at the same time. Totally freakishly awesome.

We end the day at Canyon Lodge in a quiet backside room with the sounds of the wind a water wafting in through our open window.

Chris