Catchup

It’s been too long since I’ve writ here. Since then –let’s see, I’ve put 49 very muddy miles of mostly rough singletrack on my mountain bike and about 10 miles on my running shoes. The last time I was here, I was planning to clear the tangle on lower Strohms Hollow. Well, I did that. (And Mr. Luke at the bike shop kindly straightened and fixed my pedals for $3.) I went up the road in my pickup, kind of went around the locked gate, drove up to the tree, cut a path through it, and beat it out of there before the men in green suits found out. Someone else thoughtfully had cleared the tops higher up the trail. Now I could do the whole thing without dismounting, if I would only have the strength. Someday when the ground is firm, the trees are green, and the air is still cool, I will ride up there without stopping to puff or push. Now the trail is quite damp, with small streams running down the tire tracks. I recently learned that PA has more miles of streams than any other state but Alaska.

I found out that Michaux State Forest is actually quite famous, or infamous, among mountain bikers in the East. I feel privileged to have one of its yellow gates only three miles from my house. The Michaux Maximus 65 mile race course goes close to this gate, down Strohms Hollow trail. While reading about these races I ran across an interesting article written by a racer. I’ll copy and paste it below. I think it’s a great description of the love/hate relationship bikers have with PA mountain biking. I hope I’m not infringing on any copyright laws by doing this.

*Race report contributed by Brian Kemler, CityBikes Mountain Bike Team, Washington, DC
Race Report: Michaux Maximus Expert Mountain Bike Race
Michaux State Forest (Near Gettysburg), Pennsylvania 4/25/2004
*

*Michaux is the granddaddy of painful and challenging technical mountain bike races in the eastern US or anywhere else. Nothing compares. Many otherwise hardcore racers avoid it like a ‘ho with a case of the clap. Others are attracted to the danger, the challenge, and the rush of fear and adrenalin.
*

*The course is laden with 25 miles of jagged, shark-finned rocks, some the size of grave stones. Hiking it would be an impressive feat for your average couch potato. It’s hard to believe people actually ride bikes here – and that they do is testament to the unrivalled technical ability of east coast mountain bikers.
*

*They may have bigger mountains out west, but they’re not as technical. And as they say, if you can ride here, you can ride anywhere. Add to that a dose of freezing, torrential rain and you’ve got the recipe for an ambulance ride to the local outpatient medical clinic. Years ago one of my friends once broke his arm here under similar conditions.
*

*The rain was supposed to hold off till late afternoon. Instead, it hailed down upon the shivering racers as they staged us on start line at the foot of the mountain. I had dressed for the 75 degree weather the day before and started to have misgivings about racing at all. I decided to suck it up and soak it up.
*

*They set us off on the initial climb and I hung at the back of the first pack of experts and began to warm up. We crested the hill, hit a straight-away and then shot through a rain-slickened rock obstacle course. Racers fell or were thrown off their bikes and a couple of times I was forced off and into a sprint, bike on shoulder. Sometimes, this was faster than riding. The first third of the race I was strong, had a nice rhythm and was technically quite competent, despite a jarring ride running my tires way too close to 40PSI for comfort.
*

*After some technical climbs, we hit a long downhill and at 40MPH, the wind chill made it feel like it was 30 degrees. I forgot to wear my glasses so my eyes were not shielded from the constant slurry of mud being kicked up from my (water) wheel below. At one point I just closed my eyes, pointed the bike and hoped the force would be with me.
*

*The rain relented and I was passed and did some passing. Gradually, I lost the snap in my legs and settled in for a 3-plus hour ride. I tried to focus on getting into a nice groove, but after a while the rocks won out. My legs became sore and I ran out of food, lost all dexterity whatsoever, and over-hydrated as I had to stop to pee 3 times – a race first.
*

*I hit up another rider for a bagel halve and immediately my legs felt better. I still needed some more food, so I traded a CO2 cartridge for an “Edge” bar with another helpful competitor. Hopefully, this would give me the “edge” I needed. Either that or it would give me an upset stomach. It actually did neither.
*

*During the last third of the race I refused to speculate or inquire with anyone how far off the finish would be. It seemed to help not to have any expectations. I was out there for a long time, but had fun savaging the rocks, picking aggressive lines and riding competently on a course most people refuse to ride.
*

*At the end of the day I was tired, though not completely burned out. All in all it was a good inaugural race for 2004. It was cool seeing all the current and past members of City Bikes out there with all the other mid-Atlantic mountain bike heads. Next stop: L.A. then Revenge of the Rattlesnake in Davis, West VA two weeks hence.
*

Sunday March 2, a few of us went to Big Flat on the top of the mountain, and rode down the near-vertical power line trail on the back side. It was probably my fifth time down, so I had the advantage of knowing the terrain a little better. I bombed down, letting momentum get me over the slabs and inertia keep me vertically orientated. This actually worked quite well, somewhat to my surprise. There’s a nice viewpoint at the bottom where I could watch as two of the others cartwheeled over the handlebars after getting the dreaded ‘wheel wiggle’. There was to be a shuttle parked at the bottom to take us back up the mountain, but it wasn’t there. So we biked up the road. Many times before I had said I would never ride up this road because it was so long and so steep, but I did it. And it wasn’t too bad. Last Saturday I did it again, again unplanned.

Sunday March 9, Jonathan, Jordan, and I went over and rode parts of the rough, technical section of the Maximus race. We did Grave Ridge, with the gravestone slabs mentioned in the article above, and then went out to Bendersville Parking Lot, then rode back on some very technical rocky singletrack along Piney Ridge. We could have stayed on this trail for six or eight miles, but went out to the road to finish the day before dark. The gated road was wet sand, not at all nice for biking. Wet sand sucks in bike tires, and we did five or six miles of this, I’m not sure how. We walked our bikes on some of the downhill stretches, it was that bad. Remember, stay away from Piney Ridge Road in winter. This was the initiation run for the shiny new Crank Brothers Candy C pedals and new shoes that I found at REI on Saturday. They refused to clog with mud, and the corners are nicely marred already from the rocks and logs of Grave Ridge. After 35 miles on them, I’m still! amazed at the ease of use, and wonder why I didn’t get them years ago. I could have saved myself months of agony trying to ‘learn’ to ride clipless on my Wellgo’s. Myth: Clipless pedals require many hours of practice to master. (If this is truth for you, you’re using the wrong pedals.) Truth: Clipless pedals are much easier to use then clips and straps. Don’t delay, go clipless today.

Saturday March 15, I rode up Strohms Hollow and met up with Jonathan and Jordan on top for another 8 miles of mostly very rocky singletrack. We had some good rides, and some fast, narrow downhills. Jordan and I finished with a fast ride down Strohms Hollow. I’d guess I was close to 35 miles an hour by the way that my cadence topped my biggest gear. As soon as I figure out how to safely secure my newest toy -a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, to my bike, I’ll know for sure.

My previous GPS –a Garmin Geko, got culled from my shelves in an eBay raid. Every so often, I root through my shelves and drawers containing outdoor and computer gear, and pile the least-used or outdated items in an eBay pile. It literally is a pile. ($700 worth in the last six months.) When the pile gets big enough and I have a spare evening, I photograph and write descriptions for everything using eBay’s TurboLister program. (This is essentially a listing tool that allows me to save the data and settings for all auctions on my computer, also allowing me to list everything with a single click when the time is right.) The next Monday evening at 9pm I list the whole wack on eBay. A week later I have less gear and more money. Then I buy all new stuff (this isn’t the plan, but usually happens). My greatest success is with climbing gear -especially cams, which sometimes sell for twice what I paid for them on the discount rack at Tent Trails in New York City. My old Specialized MTB shoes I bought from Performance on clearance for $7.99 8 years ago, just went for $40 plus $9 shipping. That old Rock Shox fork that I never could throw away brought $32. A headlamp I won as a door prize; $32. My less than worthless Wellgo SPD pedals sold for $5.50. A 14 year old frame pack; $45. And on and on…

I planned to kayak the Yellow Breeches Creek with Pete this weekend, but will probably go to New York City instead. It’s much more civilized, and, in many ways, more comfortable there. This time I’m looking forward to browsing the Strand bookstore and eating hummus and grape leaves at Mocca café. I know that it’s time to dust off the kayak for the spring water levels, but I’m finding that I tend to lag just a little in that area. When I think of being wet with cold water, in chilly damp air, it has a way of taking most of my motivation away. I know it will be fun because it always is, but the initial plunge is so difficult.

stats