An idea. Back in December, I started looking at dates for racing in 2017. We have a busy schedule with work, kids, dog, kids sports (they’re different), holidays, quality time and racing. March 5, in North Carolina fit into an opening in our schedule. Ran this by the other half of the management staff. She informs me that we will need to consider opening up the weekend to allow the logistics to workout. So, then I float the request over to my boss to have a long weekend at the beginning of March. Approved.
Training. Oh better get some of that going. Our winter decided to show up after two years of almost no snow here on the north shore of Boston. I am still without a fat bike so other conventional methods must be used to change the shape I was in to a similar looking shaped person that can do cool things on a bike.
Hardware. What kind of condition is my downhill bike in anyway? Pretty sure the last time I looked at it there was reddish brown dust still clinging to it from closing weekend at Highland Bike Park. After a top to bottom look over a discovery was made. My shock was dead, still weeping oil from what must have been a killer last run down Spencer’s favorite combo at Highland, known as TTDB. Regardless of the gloried past, this shock issue needs to get resolved. Less then two weeks later, and a few dollars spent with Cane Creek, the shock had new life and was squared away. Next, I recently developed a decent skill for setting up my tubeless tires on my enduro bike. So, I decided to install a set of new tires just because. Well, I hadn’t ever broken a tire lever before that day. Streak broken. I was trying to go fast and paid the price when I know better. Struggling with tires can be maddening, so in the end good technique and patience prevailed. I am now the proud owner of four new pairs of tires levers, just in case Hell freezes over. Then, a big beautiful box full of Deity products showed up for a complete new refresh of the front end.
Software. For 2017 I wanted to put together a racing jersey that would include my new and returning partnerships for the season. This was a small education in a few things. Quality of my artwork needed to be better so, I did what anyone these days would do, I went to Youtube and watched some how-to’s with Adobe Photoshop. Side note, what I found is that I should have spent the time learning Illustrator instead.
Travel. Our drive down to Burnsville, NC started Thursday night after work. Overall the trip down went to plan. Melissa and I took turns driving through the night. Early morning somewhere in Virginia we found ourselves a little punch drunk staring at a Waffle House menu trying to make sense of the hash brown bowls and maybe six other items. Funny that they don’t specialize in the waffle. Arriving at my sister Heather’s AirBNB and finally not moving was a relief. The back drop of Mount Mitchell and the sound of a river running through the yard were amazing. Pace (pronounced Pache’) was our tour guide for the weekend. He led us around the property and to all the touristy photo spots.
Practice. Early Saturday morning we made our way from Burnsville down route 19/26 to Marshall. We parked in a satellite location and loaded up on to one of their shuttles. After a brief moment of not being sure if the transformed school bus would be able to creep into the steep angled lot, we unloaded and promptly took care of registration and finding a spot for the days practice. Conditions at 9am were on the cool side, 31 degrees bright and sunny. We loaded up on the shuttle truck and drove to the top of Bailey Bike Park. The views from the top are amazing, 360 degrees of vista views of the Appalachian Mountains. The track walk was like walking on pavement, the ground was as hard as cement. The course layout is a mix of some high speed man made berms and rollers near the top and bottom, with the bulk of the middle of the course being steep natural terrain with a lot of off camber fail lines. We used the walk to review line choices and share notes with some of the other track walkers. With the track walk done it was time to get down to business. I loaded up on the next truck to the top for practice run number one. It’s at this point I will mention a phrase heard before I went to the top but only knew what it was after I had returned to the bottom. Frost thaw, this is what happens when the ground freezes over night and at some point begins to thaw. In our case, the first inch of top soil changed from black/brown cement to peanut butter. It was amazing and terrifying all at the same time. As the morning moved ahead and the sun got higher the course changed again and turned into hero dirt, loamy and tacky. One other thing changed too, I had a developing issue with my bike. The rear brake was fading in the middle of the course. Right after the bridge section there is a tight right hand off camber turn, zero brake to speed check. Basically the only tool I didn’t bring on the trip was a bleed kit. I asked around and no one had anything that could help. I tried a few more practice runs to verify this wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t. So, we packed up and headed down the road to Asheville and found a bike shop that was able to do a bleed on the rear brake. With that behind me and practice time over, we head back to our place to relax and get ready for some dinner. We made our way down to Asheville and pulled into the Asheville Brewing for a little food and fresh local beer.
Race day, full day. 6am, we would be traveling half way home today so we were up early packing everything up. Loaded up and now back in the satellite parking lot. Lock the vehicle and pack onto the school bus for the short drive to Bailey Mountain. The lot is fuller today, with more vendor tents and pro team cars, trucks and trailers. We found a spot to setup our stuff for the day. It was cool like yesterday, so thoughts of frost thaw were on my mind. I observed a few early riders coming down the course and it looked like the hero dirt was still in our presence. I loaded up on the truck to the top of the mountain. It was a beautiful day at the top, cool, clear and getting warmer. Practice run number one of the morning was going great. I was hitting my lines and finding some were a little easier after the pro practice session from yesterday. Through the rock garden section I was able to open it a bit better then yesterday. Into the table and the left hand turn, small rock section to the big sweeping right. Over the triple, hard left to the straight away over the bridge. Break check before the off camber right hander….no brakes. To say I was disappointed isn’t a very good description, but it does sum things up. At that moment I also realized whatever was wrong wasn’t getting fix here or today. After returning to the finish area, and finding Melissa, we talked about what was happening with the bike. It’s now been maybe a minute since power disappeared in the rear brake, check again, its back and feels perfect again. This was a long trip, not very cheap and I had a lot of expectations. Training had gone well and my conditioning riding the course was great. I had been hitting my lines much better then I thought I would on this kind of course. So, the decision was to take the biggest risk of the weekend and trip and still race. While preparing for the race run there were a few straight aways I thought I could scrub speed with my front brake, if the rear brake was just not able to work long enough in my run I would try to use it less. With all the steep and off camber sections I would need to use the rear brake. So, the goals have changed from competing to completing the race.
Race run. Mentally I had a plan from top to bottom, plans are only as good as their execution. 1:11pm start was almost here. 1 min, GoPro on. Sent text to Melissa letting her know I’m starting soon. 30 seconds, last check of helmet and gloves. 15 seconds, settle down in the starting gate. 10 seconds, mentally tell myself to go at 5 seconds. 5 seconds, time to go. The top section went well, getting through the first steep off camber section with the A line step down to the left and right turn without hitting the tree. Rock garden coming up next after the wide left hand turn. Wider turn, longer way around but I figured I would be able to break early and roll through the rest of the turn. Now fully engaged in the rock garden and the exit with tabletop. Break check…still good. Out of the next few berms and into a small straight away before the small rock garden which leads to the triple jump, break check after the jump and left hand turn. Straight away to the bridge gap jump, last moment I roll it to stay in control of the speed. I’m now at the spot where I have lost the rear break every time before, the right off camber turn…break check, good! All I have is the bottom flow section and the finishing shoot to the finish line. Now leading into the shoot which I will need to turn right down the hill, I cross the last off camber section while controlling my speed with the rear brake. Brake check before the right turn downhill blast, nothing, no brakes. Commit to the turn and then pedal pedal through the finish.
Result. Best timed run of my weekend, which makes me a happy. Race result, near the bottom of the group. The rest of the afternoon I have mixed thoughts of sections of the course I could have ridden different just to come back to the fact it might have pushed the break issue. I do this over and over watching riders come down. Reminding myself that I had a mechanical issue which became the only thing I could think about. Watching the Pros come down was awesome…Neko, Greg, Charlie so fast. There was a point after the last of the pros went to the top of the mountain that one rider came back down with the truck. He had a bent brake rotor and couldn’t complete his race run. At this point most of our efforts have been put completely into perspective.
Headed back. Packed everything up and loaded up onto the bus back to our car. Few of the pros were talking about their results and it was interesting hearing them talk. They both shared openly that they should have taken more risks on the course for a better result. My take away is it is possible to ride a course well or near perfect but without taking high risks they won’t get the results they are looking for. Back at the car, load everything up, change clothes and hit the road. Leaving Marshall, NC headed north on route 26 is one of my favorite stretches of highway. You seem to climb forever through the hills and mountains looking down into pockets of peoples lives and history. Our plan is to drive halfway home to Boston and stay overnight. Our destination is Halfway, MD (can’t make this up). After an early morning, racing and driving seven hours we finished the day dragging a few bags inside, pushed the bike up a flight of stairs to our room and passed out. The next morning was more of the same. After packing up and eating some hotel breakfast type food I wheeled the bike to the car and we hit the road for another seven hour stretch to Boston. The only notable segment of this drive was along the beautiful Hutchinson/Merritt Parkway which goes through New York and Connecticut. The bridge construction and landscaping is notable and the Heroes tunnel was a treat. Exiting the highway and driving through our home town we get gathered up in a bit of traffic and we realized this is the most traffic we have hit in 1800 miles. We pick up our dog, Gozer, and complete our traveling for this trip.
Reflection. In the days afterwards people ask me at work, “How was the trip?”. From a cost stand point, a bit extravagant. Results wise, I would have loved to have placed better. From a total overall experience it was amazing to travel like we did, with Melissa, and share the adventure of the unknowns of a new area with the excitement and stresses of the racing weekend. Bikes are and have been and continue to be a big part of my life.
I loved it.
I loved it.