Friday, December 21, 2007

Changing Gears

I guess it’s time I finally step and resume my title as the Snow Curmudgeon. The bikes are all cleaned up and hung on the wall for awhile. The only riding I’ve been doing is to that padded cell I get paid to sit in five days a week (sometimes four, or if I am “feeling sick” three).

But before we get to the forecast, an outdated trip report.

It doesn’t take a genius to know it has been snowing like all get out in the mountains the past week or so. Heck even Matt Zafino could figure that one out. So this past weekend I decided it was time to head uphill and see all the snow for myself. Other than the occasional flurries I hadn’t seen snow yet this year. I wasn’t expecting too much, as the telemetry showed about a four foot base, not quite enough to fill in the clear cuts and glades just yet.

Why not go ride the lifts you ask? This year I have forsaken the ski pass. Didn’t go for the Meadows 4x4 or a ten punch anywhere. I had originally started riding the lifts to learn to Telemark. I’ve never alpine skied before, with the exception of one day in Junior High at Vernon Valley Great Gorge, but I think it is safe to say that was more of an experiment in how easy alpine skis release when repeatedly crashed on rock solid man made snow. And in case you were wondering it was really easy, unfortunately the brakes didn’t stop the skis as easy. Moving on from that nasty memory, I took up cross country skiing, and when I moved to Oregon I did quite a bit of touring. Then I started looking at all the steep open slopes and thinking how fun they would be to ski down. After two years of trying to teach myself on x-c skis in the back country I decided to try it on the lifts. My first time riding the lifts was much like Junior High, only it was New Year’s eve and the bindings didn’t release. Any how, four or five years, two pairs each of leather and plastic boots and three pairs of skis later and I can pull off a decent tele turn and I feel like I have topped out the steep part of the learning curve. So I have decided to return to where I started, touring around and finding out what it would be like skiing all those open slopes out there.

Saturday marked the inaugural trip of the year. And I was feeling like a lucky man. We pulled into the sno-park and were the only one’s there. Meanwhile it was a constant line of cars up to Meadows. In addition I was joined by two beautiful ladies. Don’t get much better. Well, ok, a few more feet of snow would have made it a little better. Never the less we persevered and had a fun tour. We headed out to some slopes I hadn’t been to in years, since I started riding the lifts actually. It was like returning to your childhood home after being away for a long time, or putting on a well worn glove for the first time. It just fit.

We found a decent slope with sufficient coverage to get in some turns, and had a little adventure navigating through the trees at the bottom. Good times. And best of all, we saw some terrain with great potential.

Since the tour last weekend it has snowed like the bejeebus up there. There’s close to another three feet of snow, so all those little gremlin trees and stumps should be nicely tucked in their winter bed. Unfortunately I am stuck in my padded cell for the day, missing some awesome skiing. I keep thinking “it’s ok, there’ll be other days” but that’s like a band aid for a heart attack, useless. This weekend looks good too, but you know what, I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Atlanta to see my sister for x-mas. So I ain’t bothering with a forecast, figure it out for yourselves!

The Snow Curmudgeon

p.s. A future weather hint: I may go night skiing on Thursday, shhh don’t tell no one, sno with 1000’ freezing level!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The coal in my stocking

I was poking around at my bikes the other night, picking pieces of grass out of the deraileuer and hubs. Checking out what needs to be replaced and overhauled, especially after the last races. And that is about when it hit me, the season was over.

I remember after the last race at PIR, I stopped and talked with my friend Jim about not doing anymore races. He asked me if I wasn’t going to miss ‘cross, and with a big smile I said “NO” I am glad it is over. He nodded in agreement, but told me that I'd miss it in a couple weeks, that having a Saturday night or two to stay out late and not worry about racing will be fun at first, but I’d miss it eventually. Was he ever spot on!

The past two weeks I have been feeling aimless. The nerves and anticipation for an upcoming race are gone. I no longer check the weather forecast for Portland, just the mountains. No reason to go out and train hard. I feel lost, empty (except for all the crap I have been eating. And drinking. mmmmm holiday beers).

But does it have to end? There are those who want there to be ‘cross year round, or even a second season in January. There are even races in Eugene and up in Seattle in December. Why not? I’ve traveled to NJ and KY why not there?

Well, even as much as I miss it, I know it won’t be the same. One of the reasons that I think ‘Cross is so much fun is it’s short compact season. It is like a holiday. Hanukah for bike racing if you will. It's like the over-used saying of “if it weren’t for the rain would we appreciate the sun” only here it’s "if it weren’t for the road/Mt/track racing would we appreciate ‘cross?" Only happening for part of the year, it truly is like Christmas. And a muddy, rainy cross race is like a White Christmas...extra special.

It takes more than a freshly cut tree covered in lights and ornaments to make a day special, it’s the chance to spend a day with some wonderful and sometime not so wonderful people, and compete to see who made out with the best presents that's makes Christmas what it is. And so it is with ‘cross in Portland. From what I saw in NJ and KY, it just isn’t the same. It can be a great course with all kinds of weather and good competition, but without the friends and enemies, it just isn’t the same. So for me, going to Eugene, or Seattle just wouldn’t be the same. It can never compare to a Cross Crusade.

At the awards party, I was talking to a guy from Boulder about the cross scene. He said that Boulder has a huge bike racing scene, and draws large crowds and fans, but Portland has something else. “More of a freak factor?” I asked. “Yeah, but I would have put it a little more gently” said he. It’s true, it is one big 3 ring freak show out there. Other places think we’re weird for having a Single Speed class, much less a unicycle and Clydesdale categories. Just check out the cartoon in the Velonews with Katie Compton on the cover. And as much as I think Unicycles are ridiculous, I also recognize it is part of the atmosphere that makes it all so special.

The other aspect that I think makes ‘cross so fun is it’s uniqueness. I sometimes get asked what kind of racing I prefer, Road, Mt or Cross. And I always answer ‘cross. If I could only race one season, ‘cross would be it. I can always go out and ride my bike on the road, and I can Mt bike all summer for hours at a time. But you can’t go out and ‘cross. Sure you can ride a ‘cross bike on the road and on trails but it is not the same as a race. Being forced to run through 6 barriers, or run through 6” of penut butter mud. It just can't be recreated.

While I will miss cross, I can go away being really happy about my season. I had set my personal goals to finish top 10 in the Crusade Master series, and to score some points in the USGP series (a top 20 finish). I accomplished both of those. I squeaked out the top 10, and that was with a bunch of mechanicals and what not. And in the USGP, I finished in the points 3 times, with my best finish at 10th. This put me tied for 19th in the final series standings. Not too shabby for a hack.

It’s hard for me not to start thinking ahead to next year. What goals do I want to set? Should I go to any of the USGPs? What about going to Nationals? Stay local and try to finish top 3 in the Crusades? Or maybe race Sr. Men and try for top 20? But it is way too soon to really think too hard about any of that. For now there’s snow in the mountains and I have some skiing to do. I’ll miss seeing all the same people out there on Sundays. I look forward to seeing a bunch of them at the Mt Bike races in the spring, but you can guarantee, that while I’ll be having fun racing Mt Bikes or maybe even some road races, I’ll be thinking about ‘cross.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Wanted: 2 of each species

My neighbor, Noah, has been out in the rain building this big boat in the backyard, and he says he’s looking for a male and female of each species to put on this boat. Man, I live in the weirdest hood….

As for ‘Cross, It continued to rain all Saturday night (it still hasn’t stopped), and by Sunday morning it had warmed some, but not a lot, maybe 42 degrees. But it was wet. And windy.

Margi was racing the Women’s B race which was at 9:15, so I headed over a little early to watch her race. They changed some of the course, in the middle area, where it snaked up and down the Columbia Slough dike. Areas that had been slick and thick mud bogs on Saturday were deep puddles of soup. The course changed from a graceful slick track to a grinding plod. The advantage was that the mud, being more soup-like, seemed to clear right off the bike. I wandered around (from tent to tent) cheering for Margi as she suffered through the mess. She did great, kept a good attitude and smile, and finished 16th. Pretty good for a B race with a lot of women from out of town. Watch out next year ladies!

I was actually given a higher number for the race, 14, but for some reason they don’t necessarily start in that order, and as a result I was 2 places back, but still in the second row, right behind two real fast guys. Once again I didn’t do what I prefer, which is line up on the outside, and I paid slightly for it. I am not the fastest off the line, but I can usually rally after 50 yards or so. If I am in the middle, a bunch of guys with a quicker first jump get past me and then I am trapped in the pack with not a lot of room to advance. When I line-up outside I can just slip around people and move back up. This meant I was probably back in the upper teens to 20th going into the first turn. From there I went to work to grind through the slop and try to move back up. I was told halfway through the first lap that I was 15th. I continued to work up and on lap 2 or so I got up to 10th, right behind Tim Butler, sound familiar? I thought “here’s my chance to get revenge and beat him”. Too bad thoughts don’t always translate to reality. I had 2 guys behind me that were breathing down my neck and I could slowly feel Butler moving ahead. At one point I got back to within 20 or 30 feet of Tim, but I am not sure what happened as he pulled away. At the same time the guy behind me closed in. He went for a bike change and I heard his pit crew say something about a bad shifter. Shortly after, he passed me. He was a strong rider, and I could tell he was rider better than me. I thought if I could get on his wheel he could take me back up to Tim and I could get my revenge. But then that bad shifter came into play and he slowed up, I went around him, and as we came near the pit again I heard the official yell “Number 23 right here for a second” I decided to try to make a move and gave her all I had to get away from this guy, but like I said, he was riding strong and back up to me in less than half a lap. We went back and forth a bit as he continued to have bike problems and slipped out a couple times. With two to go he got around me for good. I just tried to stay with him so I could hold off number 12 who was not too far behind. On the last lap I knew if I held him off for half a lap I’d pretty much have it. For some dumb reason I thought how I had been having such a clean race so far with no crashes, and while cruising the stretch along pits I was thinking how I had been riding that section so strong. So of course right then my front tire washes out and I crash into the pit fencing and my brake lever gets caught in the fence. As I struggle to free it number 12 rides past me. I try my best to get him back but I just can’t do it, I finish 12th on the day. Still a damn good weekend, I’m psyched with my races and how I felt. Sure I could have done better, but I’d say that unless I won the race. In the end I’d say a success. AT the finish I asked 23 why the official stopped him. Apparently he went through the pit and his bike wasn’t ready, and the rules state that if you enter the pit you must take a bike change. So the official, a real jerk, made 23 stop for a few seconds to make up for it, even though riding the pit without a bike change has no advantage.

After spending the next couple hours freezing in the rain, drinking beer and watching Georgia Gould win the women’s race, and Ryan Trebon ride away with the men’s race, I went home attempted to clean up and headed out to the end of year Cross Crusade Awards party. It was a prom theme, so Margi was wearing a sexy black prom dress and she’d bought me a stylin blue suit for the occasion. And if you ask me, I’d say we were the best looking couple there, but you didn’t, so I won’t.

Margi was the winner of the beginners Women field, and for a prize they gave her a new bike frame! That’s right she won a Lemond Poprad frame and fork! The funny part is that when she was shopping for a new bike she was torn between the Lemond and Kona. She settled on the Kona, and now she has both! Either way I am very proud of her for taking up cross and doing so well. Now if only we can get her remounts up to speed ;)

I got a bag of swag for taking 9th overall in the Master35+ A field. But even if it was just a pat on the back or a swift kick in the ass, I’m just happy to know I competed with those guys all year.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Yeeee Haw!

Got 10th place today! I am pretty damn happy with that. I have felt for the series that I was worthy of a top 10 if I was given the chance from the start. Well my good start position paid off. I was the last guy in the front row, on the outside just where I like it. I had a good start, sitting about 6th wheel going into the first turn. I lost a few spots on the first lap, but gained a few in the next couple laps, with the front losing a guy or two due to mechanicals. After about the 3rd lap, it settled down to me and local racer Tim Butler, we battled it out for the rest of the race, and in the end he took me by about 20 seconds. I would have liked to have beaten him, but oh well. I was much closer to him than 11th was to me. But we were no where close to the top group. By the end of the first lap those guys had one heck of a gap, it is amazing how fast those guys are. I still finished just over 2 minutes behind the leader. How do you make that up?

The course was a fun one. Some slick corners, a few short steep climbs, open sections and a few good muddy sections. In some places the grass was soft and slow, and others it was quite fast. It was a cold day. We didn’t get any snow but it flurried throughout the morning with the heaviest part during our race, but nothing too drastic. Once the race gets going, I have no idea what the weather is doing. I only really know it was snowing because I’d occasionally inhale and choke on a cold flake or two.

By the time the Elite men started, the rain moved in and it has been raining off and on since. Pretty hard at times with a good wind. I think that is good for me, as I tend to prefer a soupy messy nasty course to a slicker course. Of course I say that now… the proof will be in the pudding (what the hell does that expression mean?). The funny thing is that I think I will end up with a slightly worse start position tomorrow, since three guys with lower starts beat me, while I only beat two guys that were ahead of me. Not too big a deal though, it will still put me on the second row, and with the wind we will have tomorrow that might be a good thing.

In the big races, Georgia Gould gave Katie Compton what may have been her first domestic defeat this year. In the men’s Tim Johnson won big over Trebon.

Looking forward to tomorrow, my last race of the year, and then the Crusade Awards Party tomorrow night.