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Wednesday, September 20

'17 Fool's Gold (not quite) 60: Rear View Mirror

That was my third third place in four tries at the Fool's Gold 60 (or 50).

Brad Cobb has occupied a step or two above me on all those occasions.

Anyhoo, I mighta figured out why I actually race my bike just slightly after I kicked the self-doubt feelings outta my head part. I need it somehow. The adrenaline, the excite, the ups, the downs, the what have yous. It's truly some sort of addiction. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's giving into my vices.

I also know why I tend to get burned out early on in the "season," give up on being a "trier," and then somehow get re-energized later in the year... when I've already lost a certain amount of fitness and put on an uncertain amount of weight. Those hard races in May stacked so close together followed up by the Trans-Sylvania Epic. It just kills me. I don't recover, and burnout settles into my core being. And it's not even June yet.

I don't recover for multiple reasons, to include sleep, beer, age, lack of desire to participate in "active recovery" the day after a big event, and also preparation. I've read/listened to multiple sources about how to stay fast as you get older. It requires "effort."

More to the point, concentrated effort. It's not so much about time in the saddle, especially when you have decades of base miles (I haven't been off a bike for more than four days in a row since Sep '96). You gotta go hard and recover harder. My greenway and bonus commute junk mile mornings just aren't gonna be enough anymore... if I wanna be fast, even though I still probably rack up ten to fifteen hours in the saddle every week during the "season." Meh.

So strangely enough, I probably need to ride less in the future but make that time count for something. Stop staring at the geese and deer and the cute old couple pushing their dog in a stroller and bleed outta my eyes a little bit every now and again. So...

Have you seen the Icarus documentary?

It was good. Real good.

And if you were mostly interested in where the original intent of this film was meant to go, this podcast on Cycling Tips delved way deeper into the topic of a doping amateur cyclist.

And this part really made me aware of the things I'm up against as a 48+ year old "athlete."

"BF: Exactly. And it’s never ending. And then what you see, which is so interesting… And again, not to be pro-doping or anti-doping, whatever you want to call doping… “Okay, so I’m a 44-year-old guy. And by the nature of me being a 44-year-old guy, my testosterone level is like 400. And if you’re a 21-year-old guy, your testosterone level is, let’s call it 900. Now you’re talking about a level playing field. Well, if you’re truly saying that you’re competing on a level playing field, shouldn’t I be allowed to bring my testosterone levels to 900 so that I can compete equally — if I have the athletic ability and the training and the prowess — with the 22 year old? Why, because my body has stopped making a hormone that I need to stay competitive, why am I not allowed to supplement that hormone to actually be on a level playing field if that is the concept of what a level playing field is?"*

I had a short conversation with Thomas Turned about this after the Fool's Gold race.  At times, he was looking at me like I was an alien, but I think he gets it... sorta.  My point was more that it's incredible how much the body changes with age.  Amazing to think that guys my age are going to the doctor and saying "I'm tired all the time" and "I don't feel as horny as I did when I was twenty years old" and walking out with a prescription.  And it's okay for them... but not if you race a bike... or run a 10k... or compete in tennis matches... or league bowling?

Dunno.

Pretty sure that if  I get faster by actually doing what I should be doing next year (intervals, recovery, sleeping, so forth) Thomas is gonna think I'm on the T.  He had that look on his face, you know?

Anyways, I had a "blast" racing my bike at the Fool's Gold 60.  My only disappoint was that without the NUE hundie going on, nobody wanted to stay the night and drink a few beers... which is the other reason I do these events.  Races like those put on by Pisgah Productions, the Shenandoah Mountain 100, and the Lula Lake Land Trust 5 Points 50 coming up soon (which I did last year and will sadly miss this time due to a schedule thing) really hit the mark so well, it's hard to settle for less.

If I wanted to be bored, I'd buy a road (or garvel or grass racing) bike.

I want it all.  Is that too much to ask?

Oh, and I also don't wanna suck at making great bike race either.

* Don't judge the whole thing on that one quote.  Give it a listen or a read when you have the time.  Is buenos.

Tuesday, September 19

'17 Fool's Gold (not quite) 60: Part Two

I decide now is the time to make Scott hurt.  A lot.  I need to give him all the sadness.  I try to hammer him out of sight on every single bit of trail pointing up.  I know Bull Mountain ends in a descent, and I'll need a decent gap when I start going down...

Or else he'll pass me, leave me, demoralize me into sad obscurity.  I wanna stand on a box, dammit.

It's a stupid goal of very relative measure.  I don't care. It's all I have.

Crest what feels like the time and hit the downhill.  I'm hanging it out there, and I'm thinking about how the bike and I are clicking so well... until I hit a root at the wrong angle, bounce across the trail, and almost end up shouldering a tree.  I take it back a notch.

photo cred: Dashing Images
I get down to the aid station and blow right past it.  I've already convinced myself that I'm doing this whole thing on two water bottles and the food in my pockets.  It will be close... but bike racing.  Rolling down the gravel and reaching back for Tummy Gummies, I see Scott closing the gap.

Shit.

We roll together on Doldrums Road and talk about how hard it is to keep it rolling on a single speed.  I assure him that the climb on the way back isn't as hard as the one we already did at the start.  I'm kinda lying but whatever. 

He groans.  I sense that this might be hurting him more than me.  I scooch forwards in the saddle, grab my bars next to the stem, and start time trialing my ass off... at all the RPMs.  I get a gap.

I get to the base of the last major climb.  I make sure that no matter what, I'm suffering.  Seated, standing, seated, standing... using everything I got.  I know that if I can't build a good enough gap here, Scott will blow by me on the chunky descent back down.  Even worse, he might catch me at the bottom, and we'll have to go rope-a-dope on the rollers back to the finish.  I so don't want that at all.

I somehow catch Kaysee on the way up, and I wonder if she's just holding on to a gap she established way earlier.  I don't think I'd be this close to her if she was getting at it.  Keep my head down and legs burning.  Because this is important?

I get to the top of the climb and start down the backside.  There's so much loose rock and random chunk gnar.  Tire management.  A flat tire and I'm off the boxes.  It wasn't the prettiest or the fastest descent, but it ended at the bottom, so ok.

There's an unimaginable amount of rollers on the way back to the finish.  I know.  I've done them before.  It's like the finish keeps moving further away the more I pedal.  I drill every rise and droop and tuck all the descents the moment I'm feeling spun out.  Left into the venue... just a little gravel before the energy sapping grass climb to the finish.  One more look over my shoulder.

No Scott.

I get on the grass climb and I can see Chad just up ahead.  He's moving slow.  So am I.  Unless he just passes out from exertion, we're finishing second and third.

He doesn't pass out, and neither do I.  Fin.

Scott finishes as soon I can get to Chad to congratulate him.  That was close.  And stressful.  And I paid for that experience.

I'll probably ramble on for one more day at least.

Monday, September 18

'17 Fool's Gold (not quite) 60: Part One

Leave work at 1:30PM for the lonely drive down to Ellijay.  Gas station chicken sammich, Doritos, and Coke for lunch.  Pick up my registration materials at 6:00PM.  An hour later, I settle into the hotel after hitting the Ingles for beer and creamer.  The hotel smells a bit like a cigar and wet shoes.  Taco Bell for supper.    Now the hotel smells a bit like a cigar, wet shoes, and sub-par Mexican food.

Beer, cable TV, organize my shit for the race tomorrow.

Everything goes so smoothly Saturday morning that I find myself sitting in my car, fully prepared and ready to race with 45 minutes to spare.  I roll down the windows and listen to conversations I think I've heard a thousand times before.

Head over to the start with fifteen minutes to go.  Place my bike near the front and head into the woods to pee.  I hear something over the loudspeaker.  Look over my shoulder.  The start line is being moved fifty yards further down the road.  My bike is now in the gravel by itself.

Shake it off, grab my ride and jam through the weeds to obtain a start position just slightly above my pay grade... right next to Brad Cobb.  He had somehow accidentally registered in both the 40+ and single speed classes.  He brought the bike with one gear.  Shit.  Unless he has a "situation," the rest of us are racing for second.

The course had to be reduced from 60 miles to 48.6 (or so) due to hurricane damage.  Less than 50 miles... that's like a XC distance in the endurance racing bizarro world.  This race is going to be over in less than four hours, so there's no time to sit up and take a breath.  If I'm ever not hurting, I'm not going fast enough.

The "neutral" start rolls out, and I'm quickly at my limit.  It's not enough to hold my position.  On the rolling pavement, the lead group of riders gets away.  Brad's outta sight.  Single speeders start passing me.  I go from second to third to fourth to fifth in no time.  The top three women are also in front of me.  What top end speed I've ever had, I no longer can find it.

We hit the meat of the first major climb.  This is where I need to make my biscuits.  Head down and hurting, I start picking spots back up.   From fifth to fourth to third to second... still no sight of Brad tho.  Meh.

Down the backside, and I know I'm gonna start bleeding time again.  The descent is fast with scattered chunk.  As long as the bigger riders I just passed can go down with a fair amount of skill, they're probably gonna come around me.

And then Chad does... and within minutes, I can see far enough ahead to know he's got more than 30 seconds on me without making an effort.  Meh.  We hit the doldrums flat'ish roads that get us over to the trail portion of the day, and Scott comes around handily.  Before we can start heading up to the Bull Mountain section of the course, another SS'er comes by on the backed of a geared train.  I'm back in fifth again.

photo cred: Dashing Images
We're headed to Bull Mountain instead of all the goods out on Jake Mountain.  This is what we lost to the storm.  Those trail were the reason I clicked the register button weeks ago.  I had so much fun last year... magic miles.  High speeds.  Also, more time for the old man legs to kick in.  No such luck this year.

As soon as we start making our way up to Bull Mountain, I turn it up all the way.  I go back into fourth place at a million miles an hour, hoping that I've dashed his hopes and dreams as I go by.  I do the same thing to Scott, but he makes a solid effort to hold on... he's just back there within sight.  For like... ever.

I start having all the detrimental self-doubting thoughts.

"Why do I bother racing?"

"What difference does it make if I beat this guy or not?"

"I could stop making my back hurt if I slowed way the fuck down..."

I'm here, this is the last time I'm doing this stupid shit for 2017, I'm gonna regret it if I don't give it what I got...

so back on the pain train, I guess.

Thursday, September 14

Flipped Scripts

I guess some things have been going on here behind the scenes while I've been blerhging about Breck Epic and the '17 Mancation.

I had actually been making a very half-assed attempt on my part to get a full suspension bike since mid-August.  Half-assed on my part entirely.  My gung ho has dwindled slightly tho, as complications in life like a busted wheel and a dead iPhone have reminded me that I like simple things for simple reasons... although I've "downgraded" my phone and the Meatplow V.6 By:Stickel is back up and running as of last night.

I can not lie and say that having this bike back together the way I like it doesn't restore some sense of irrational peace.  The physical manifestation of my ego as the Meatplow V.7 Vertigo is my id.  I need them both apparently.

"The id remains infantile in it's function throughout a persons life, and does not change with time or experience, as it is not in touch with the external world. The id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind. The id operates on the pleasure principle (Freud, 1920) which is the idea that every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences.

The ego operates according to the reality principle, working out realistic ways of satisfying the ids demands, often compromising or postponing satisfaction to avoid negative consequences of society. The ego considers social realities and norms, etiquette and rules in deciding how to behave. Like the id, the ego seeks pleasure (i.e. tension reduction) and avoids pain, but unlike the id the ego is concerned with devising a realistic strategy to obtain pleasure. The ego has no concept of right or wrong; something is good simply if it achieves its end of satisfying without causing harm to itself or to the id. "
source: simplypsychology.org

In short, the By:Stickel is me trying to be normal.  The Vertigo is me letting me be me... despite my best interests in self preservation.

Anyways, about the squish and dangles, I just don't know if I have it in me to make my life complicated on purpose... like I did the first time seven years ago (according to FaceBook).

Ah, mammaries.

I did decide to mess with the positioning on my Meatplow V.7 Vertigo.  I realized that I've always had my custom bikes built with longer-than-normal-for-a-man-four-apples-tall head tube.  That started way back in my high-posting days.  Now, with the advantage of a drooper, it seems like I should be able to descend confidently even with a lower handlebar position... because... science?

Lower handle bar = increased front traction.

So I bought a 10° rise (negative in this case) Thomson stem, replaced the taller Cane Creek Viscoset upper cup with a standard 110, pitched the spacers, and did the driveway wheelie test... which proves nothing really.

I went for a ride at the sorta demanding local trail, Rocky River, AKA Steve's.  Punchy climbs, berms, fast descents, rock fields, steep roll-ins.  A good mixed bag.  From the first turn, I could tell the bike was handling better, but...

I'm so old.  My back hated everything, not to mention that the extra weight on my hands combined with the rigid frok?  I was ded.  For 13 miles.  I was gonna quit the ride when we got back to the parking lot, but Jerry was willing to wait while I flipped my shit, and I rode 7 more miles on a boner stem.  I was immediately relieved from my pains.

So, what did I learn?

Mostly, what I already know.  I might try to drop my stem this winter... gradually.  I never measured everything before and after (like I shoulda), but I'm guessing I went more than an inch lower.  Too much all at once, for sure.  Or maybe too much altogether unless I start doing yoga or taking HGH to slow down the aging process.

The bike rallied with the boner stem tho, so I guess I'm leaving it on there for the Fool's Gold 60 this weekend.  Yeth, I decided to extend my "season" a bit.  I miss being on the start line with racer boi aspirations.  It's been since the Pisgah 111K back in May, unless you include the first 1/3 of Stage One at the Trans-Sylvania Epic.  I miss the rush of feels.  The panic.  The pain.  The relief when it's all said and done.  It really does make the post-race beer taste all that much better.

We'll see.

Tuesday, September 12

'17 West and Also Other Virginia Mancation: Part Seven

I wake up Sunday morning to the sound of the gong. I decide that I will stay in my hammock just a bit longer, then see if I can poach some coffee before heading over to watch the start of the race. A big difference from the last eleven years of my life on this day. No anxiety. No hangover. No stumbling around in the dark preparing a disappointing breakfast.  No applying cold chamois cream to an unwashed taint.

I get my coffee, head over to the start, and watch all the racers ride off towards the finish line... so many hours away.

Go back to our campsite, wake up Bill Nye. I'm sure sleeping underneath moist towels all night has brightened his outlook on life.

Watts, Scott, Bill Nye and I anxiously await for the arrival of the Take Aim Cycling Sprinter van. None of us want to ride 21+ miles fully loaded down to Aid 5.  Harlan shows up on time... Harrisonburg time. Which is pretty close to anal compulsive, but just late enough to let you know that time is just relative, man.

We pile into the van. Harlan decides to take us over the scenic route. We ride towards racer traffic. Much excite... knowing that I'm not one of them. Scott's the only one in the van that's never done the race, so mebbe he has some FOMO based jealousy. The rest of us are enjoying the vicarious living.

Harlan was kind enough to take us out of our way to Reddish Knob, he and I being the only two of our crew that had been there before.

photo cred: Scott
Harlan shows me exactly where I would die if I ever tried to ride off the stairs from the top on my rigid frok bike.

photo cred: Scott
Big Ben, Parliament... again.

We then drive back down from the top and over to Aid 5, Harlan keeping the drive at full-excite levels as we teeter close to the edge of the road after jumping out of every other giant mud hole.  We get to where we need to be before most of the volunteers and the actual aid station stuff gets there.

Bored, we do what men do.  Make fire.

Once we have the fire going well enough to engulf the entire area in a choking cloud of smoke, we go ahead and pop open our first beer and sit down in the camping chairs.   "Bring the party" may need to be redefined for 2018.  We were partying like four trailer park dwelling sexagenarians.

Jeremiah Bisquik comes flying through first, and we become slightly more engaged.  We even turn our chairs around so we're not longer facing the fire but the actual race itself.  Occasionally, one of us gets up and assists a rider here or there.  Watts grabs a bottle of chain lube, hoping that if he does X number of applications, he would merit a slice of pizza.  I just walk over and grab one, just to prove that it can be done with zero merit.

photo cred: Scott
Dan G went the hard route for pizza, he rode 74 miles to get to it.  SAD!

We stay until we're outta beers.  The thirty pre-teens with lube bottles and rags seem to have all the needs that are beneath Harlan's station attended to, so why not get with the riding of the bikes?  We decide to follow the course... up through the Killing Fields and then down the mountain.

Beer burps almost to beer vomits later, we descend, doing our best to not get in the way, but mostly catching riders the whole way down.  Out through aid station 6, and we head back to camp.  Hungry.

I go to swap back into the civilian clothes I carried back down from our "party" at Aid 5.

"Fuck."

"What?"

"I left my flip flops in Harlan's van."

Put on my casual shoes and then Bill Nye and I prepare our final Ramen meal of the week.

"Fuck."

"What?"

"I forgot my fork and my chop sticks."

Fortunately, we had about nineteen options for his culinary tool issues.

I'll be selling my pink ano'ed chop sticks on my Etsy store later this week.

From there, it was the familiar downward spiral that is just about everything it ever is after the Shenandoah Mountain 100.  Beer, stand around, beer, sit around, beer... bed.

And like that, the '17 West and Also Other Virginia Mancation was over.

Thank dog.

Monday, September 11

'17 West and Also Other Virginia Mancation: Part Six

I published Part 5 last night because we really did nothing that day, and I'm trying to catch up and get 'er done.

Back to the story...

I have wheel(s) to replace the bad thing that happened. I will ride again on this trip.

The 29" rear wheel barely fits with the 34X20 gear, but it's not like we're gonna ride in mud... right?

I tell Bill Nye to load up our drive to Stokesville on his phone before we leave.  We have WiFi at the condo but then we head into the United States National Radio Quiet Zone.  I do the same.  We might need all the halp we can get.

I drive.  He sleeps.  My phone says "no bueno" somewhere in WV.  His goes on.

We end up at the gas station on the paved part of the Shenandoah 100 course.  I stop for last minute groceries and a case of PBR.

Bill Nye wakes up.  He thought we were gonna stop in Bridgewater for supplies... and that's where his phone was headed.  I explain to him we're coming in from the other side of the world.  He tries to re-navigate on his phone.  Nothing.  We're blind.

Somehow, we pull into camp anyways, there but for the grace of dog.  It's drizzling.

We decide to set up our hammocks before we try to ride.

"Fuck."

"What's up?"

"I forgot the rain fly for my hammock."

Bill Nye fashions one out of the tent we brought just in case things were super ugly, and we suit up to go ride a decent loop in the area.  Our ride might have been on the ambitious side, considering the possible weather that might roll in at any moment.  In theory, we'd be repeating some of the route on the next day when we "bring the party" to Aid 5.  Toss the spare car key in the hide spot on my car... because that's what you do at the Shenandoah Mountain 100.

We leave and are headed along the blue highlighted line in a clockwise direction... until we hit the part in the red oval:

Freshly graded but yet to be graveled road that had been seeing some rain.  We sink down into the peanut butter over our rims at certain points.  I keep hoping that it will change over the next rise or around the corner.  I hike ahead, looking for hope.  There is none.  I turn around and get back to Bill Nye.

"It's not getting any better."

"Fuck."

And I thought my reduced tire clearance would be a non-issue.

We head back down from whence we came.  At least there's a lake at the bottom.  Splash, splash.  Dip, dip.  Ride out back out of the lake access area...

and go past a building with a powerful outdoor spigot.

"Fuck."

We go with a much less ambitious route now, backwards outta Aid 6, hike up a ways, bang a right on Grindstone(?).  Get back to camp at about the same time I thought we would with about a fifth of the miles. 

"Fuck."

"What?"

"My hammock is soaked.  I gotta set up the tent."

*sets up tent*

"Fuck."

"What?"

"I left my sleeping bag in Snowshoe."

Bill Nye grabs the shit blanket outta the back of my car and our two wet towels and tosses them in his tent so he can cover himself in moistness and chain grease tonight.

Clean up, make plans to go into town for Thai food (they just call it "food" in Thailand), and gather up Scott to go with us.  Yummy food, head back to camp, drop off Scott, think about heading back to the pavilion to drink beers...

"Fuck."

"What?"

"I left my GoreTex jacket at the restaurant."

"Fuck."

"What?"

"I left the spare car key in the hide spot when we drove off and it fell out... somewhere between here and Bridgewater."

Bill Nye goes out to get his jacket while I walk the entirety of our route inside the campground all the way out to the main road and back in the entrance as twilight fell hard into darkness.  Nothing.  I stop at registration to see if anyone found it, desperate to find the thing that's gonna make this trip cost hundreds more...

"Yeah, was it a Honda key?"

Perfect.

Bill Nye successfully retrieves his jacket, and I my key.  We grab a mess of beer and make our way to the shelter, where perhaps others can be put in charge of our safety.  By the end of the night, we are the six or so people making all the noise the night before the SM100.  It's nice to be on this side of the equation for a change.

And also, instead of riding out to Aid5 to "bring the party," we now have a plan to get in the Take Aim Cycling Sprinter with Harlan and not slog 20+ miles of gravel and pavement the next day.

Bueno.

Sunday, September 10

'17 West and Also Other Virginia Mancation: Part Five

I'll get through this episode as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I wake up in a bed.  No sheets.  Just a scratchy blanket and a Teflon coated pillow.  Had I checked the closet the night before, I woulda found the linens.  I was too preoccupied with my wheel issues.

I am sore.  All over.  Carrying a bike for seven miles yesterday makes all the things hurt today.  My butt hurts when I sit on the toilet.  My shoulders hurt when I put on my shirt.  My hips hurt just existing.

Pulling out my phone, I have two out of office replies from Industry Nine (Euro Bike) and one "call me in the morning." I was trying to find out if they would be in Snowshoe for the Enduro™ race.

Final answer?

No.

Texts sent out to Watts and Scott.  Both could bring me a wheel to Stokesville on Saturday.

Texts to Kronic back in Charlotte followed up by a phone call from a land line because of the United States National Radio Quiet Zone are successful.  He's gonna scoop the wheels off the Vertigo and transport them to Snowshoe tonight.

Buenos.

Now what to do?

The weather is looking iffy for a day of lift-assisted riding.  Still, Hubbs takes me over to Big Bike Mike's to look at my borrow options.  I think I'm going with the Kona Stinky (Stab?  Stoker?  dunno).  It's old school, but it has two wheels that are round.  That's good enough for me.

Up to the bike shop on top of the mountain around 11:00AM to get a feel for what's up.  The guy behind the counter doesn't try to pretty things up at all.

"It's gonna stop raining around two o'clock... and then start back up at five."

Meh.

"Hey, Bill Nye.  How do I look in this yellow helmet I'm not going to buy because I don't need it but I'm trying it on because I'm bored.  It's almost noon by the way, so almost an okay time to just start drinking beer."

"Okay."

Back to the condo, grab a few beers, head down to the hot tub.

NO DRINKS ALLOWED.

I'm sure exceptions are made in such troubled times.  Nobody's down there anyways, so whatever.

Out of beer and prune-toed, we head back to up to the condo.  Watch Chapelle Show.  Bill Nye is so bored that he takes a shower.  Hygiene as a hobby.

The rain and fog and mist and drizzle and wind last until it's dark outside.  Then it continues.  We can just no longer see it from the window.

Eventually, Hubbs convinces us to leave the confines of our dwelling and head to the top of the mountain for a concert.  An outdoor concert.

We get there, the wind is whipping, we dive into a bar, beers ordered, bump into Mo and Skip from Roanoke, hear some of what the band dishes out (without standing too long in the chilling winds), and then head back down to the solace of our confinement.

I fall asleep with no wheels.

When I wake up, I see them sitting in the corner on the living room chair.  Thanks, Kronic.  I'm sure everything is going to go much smoother now...