Monday, December 21, 2015

Who Will Be Last?

Mountain biking has given me much over the last decade. The freedom of two wheels rolling effortlessly down a dirt ribbon in the woods. Visits to breath taking destinations only a lucky few get to experience. Exhaustion or encouragement or a belly laugh when I need it and friends I never would have met except for biking. Biking is more than a distraction for me, it is a meaningful part of my life. And every now and then it all comes together in a hum-dinger of a memory like it did on Sunday.

It started with an afternoon milk-run tour of the west side, our train of 19 riders careening down the old Struble and then singletracking up to the quarry and eventually to the ruins for some hydration and a spontaneous round of "fatty smashing." The crowd was getting rowdy after a kinger and a double-stack round, but they went off their rockers when RI pulled off the never-before-attempted-in-competition rear wheel fatty smash. The crowd was howling but temperatures were dropping and we were out of beer so we decided to work our way back to camp and the food and the main event.

The food. Where to start? How about pulled pork with smoked jalapenos, braised short ribs and goat (would be cooked in a cast iron dutch oven in the bonfire), Italian sausage and peppers, and venison tenderloin reindeer chili. Fried chicken, Christmas cookies, and Dunkin donuts. Two tables, under the stars, piled high with food and no vegetables in sight. Mountain biker heaven.

With half a chord of wood and 7 wooden pallets to burn, the fire would be impressive as well and the pallets would present an interesting opportunity to host our first and probably not the last annual [mothers continue reading at your own peril] fire ride. Pallets expertly arranged over the fire - up, over, and down. We knew it would ride but the question that had not yet been answered was..."who would be the LAST to ride the fire?" Would the last ride be a case of good judgement or something else less good? There was only one way to find out so we lit it up and commenced to encourage (wasn't hard) a few brave souls to surrender to the fire ride. And ride it they did and I am happy to say the last person to ride the fire survived with nothing more than a couple singed eyebrows and can now bathe in the glory of that ride for many years to come (and can thankfully check "fire riding" off on the bucket list).

A Real Wangtangler
(a.k.a a valuable lesson?)
As if that were not enough, the fire ride would still teach us a valuable lesson about the butterfly effect - in this particular case a bent derailleur hanger that nearly sent MR to the Brandywine burn unit. Earlier in the week an attempt to realign a hanger on MR's fat bike highlighted a drive train issue that required a chain ring change which resulted in a broken crank bolt which meant that MR would be riding a bike with 2.2" tires this evening instead of his fatbike. So what? Fast forward to the bonfire. The first fire riding pallet was nearly burned through so another pallet was unceremoniously thrown on top. This not only fanned the flames of the riders and audience, but it also left an awkward step up from the entrance ramp onto the (now burning) pallet so again demonstrating good judgement we turned the entrance ramp lengthwise to improve the entrance angle and solve the step problem. However this created a new problem with the 2" gap between boards running lengthwise (in the direction of travel). So instead of guiding the front tire onto the platform it could conceivably grab the front wheel and propel and rider over the handlebars onto the burning pallet. Our rightful conclusion was that from that point forward only fat bikes with 4" or wider tires should be riding the fire. Now if you've been paying attention you know that MR who is accustomed to riding a fat bike was now riding a bike with 2.2" tires. Yes it was a close one (a.k.a. "A Wangtanger") and we may have learned a valuable lesson but only time will tell. [mothers may safely continue reading] 

Proud parents
The tradition of beer presentations heated up with the fire with over a half dozen entries. The creativity, the craftsmanship, and the passion for such an ephemeral moment was inspiring. The energy in the crowd as each artist sacrificed their personal creation. The blaze of glory as each creation was turned into pure heat and light. One catharsis after another, experienced as one by creator and the crowd:
  • BP's rocket - 8 feet tall, all cardboard and plywood, and capped off with some sort of firework. It was the first to burn and for a few seconds the flames were probably licking 30' high. It was so intense we couldn't even tell if the fireworks went off. 
  • KP and GP's baby - The defining presentation started with "we have an announcement to make." I turned to see KP tenderly lifting an infant from a baby carriage and cradling it. Juxtaposed with the raging campfire and the near carnage that had preceded (the fire riding), the image was beyond disturbing. Of course it was not a real baby (it was a large beer bottle with hot-glued baby legs and head) but the whole scene looked real enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. Then a frenzied GP raced that baby stroller up the exit ramp, full tilt. The carriage flew into the air and followed the most wonderfully graceful arc, landing in the fire a little off kilter and was immediately engulfed in flames. Seconds later it was completely gone. No trace. It could have been a dream, as if the carriage had never existed. Epic.
  • But the twisted takes on "best beer presentation" just kept on coming. For example JK's colorful shewee beer mug and SB's meat baby (long story there). There was MR's Christmas wine and beer rack and the JP's Mr and Mrs Claus throw-pillow-six-pack-protectors (Mrs Claus survived but, well, Santa not so much). 
  • We had great fun spinning the Beer Exchange Roulette wheel and I was flattered when some in the crowd began chanting "save the wheel" (there were suggestions of keeping it for '16 or hanging it at The Tree). I let the flattery go to my head for a few moments as I entertained the thought of spinning that wheel at The Tree but thankfully the right side of my brain kicked in and I rightfully consigned the wheel to the fire to be consumed like the many worthy presentations that came before it. It was glorious.
It's was pretty clear that the "best beer presentation" had transcended the concept of winning. This was performance art at it's best and the mantra "must burn to win" was shortened to it's cathartic essence "must burn" and everybody won.

This was an evening for the scrapbook and I just want to thank so many people for bringing their A-game to this ridiculous event.


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

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