Friday, May 3, 2019

41

I turned 41 on Wednesday.  When you turn 41, a lot of people ask you basically the same thing: how do you feel?  Old?  Sore?  Are you falling apart yet?

Answer is: sort of, yes.  I mean, things hurt about the same amount as they hurt before, they just hurt longer now.  It's livable, but damn.  I rode Death Star 6 days ago.

And it's Friday, lunchtime, and my legs still kinda hurt a little.
That's what 41 is I guess.

41 is having turned 40 about two weeks ago, and then bang, Wednesday, you turned 41 too.  And about 5 days from now, you have to turn 42 also, so get ready and good luck with that.

41 is realizing that all the best things you got for your birthday, and pretty much life itself, you found in the woods.




41 is realizing that the component upgrade that will really make you psyched to ride your bike is already sitting in your spare parts bin, you've just got to find an hour to bolt it on.  And then it takes you a month to find that hour.



41 is one poorly timed handstand by your daughter at the exact moment you were bending over to pick up an Easter egg, and it puts you right on the floor.  FAST.


41 is ruminating over beers at dinner why all of the best people in your life you met through bikes?



It's a great mystery, 41 is.

I'll let you know how 42 is next week.

Up, up, up.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Points

My grandfather called them points instead of arrowheads.  The first time he took me point hunting, I was very young.  It’s one of my first memories, walking beside him through the pine forest near my house – the Paranormal course today -  after a summer storm.  The loblollies spread bright green overhead like a screen against the dark blue sky, and ferns the color of lime peels pushed up from below, from our bright red Virginia clay.  After a hard rain, the clay gets shoved around, layers upon layers of soil re-shuffled. It leaves the little rocks exposed. 

That first time, and right away he showed me a point, a big one, quartz, washed clean and white by the rain.  I scooped it up from right beside a huge loblolly pine in a clearing, an easy find. In hindsight, I’ve come to suspect that my grandfather planted it there so I wouldn’t go home empty-handed.  

He knelt beside me, held it between his thumb and forefinger at arm’s length, and he dropped his bottom jaw as low as he could to exaggerate his admiration.  Then he drew it in close, right up against our faces, and he spoke seriously, “This is an artifact.  Do you understand that?  The last person to touch this was a wild Indian.”  

Later, I became that wild Indian, or at least I tried.  I practiced with a little compound bow in my yard, arrows making a loud thwack against the pie plate that I pinned to a haybale.  I learned to feel the wind switch directions, to draw back when the wind gusts and shoot when the wind subsides, like a wave.  I lost almost every arrow in my quiver chasing grey squirrels. I painted my face.  

One October, I bought a 3-pack of metal broadheads, sharp enough to shave the hairs growing dark from my forearms.  They were bright silver, a dangerous mix of aluminum and steel, and I threaded them into the tips of the straightest arrows I had remaining.  My dad eyed them suspiciously, but he nodded his head, and he pulled me into the bathroom by my elbow and turned off the light.  From his pocket, he brandished a small flashlight, opened his mouth, and pointed the little beam of light at the back of his throat. Behind his tongue and above his tonsils rested a long, jagged scar the color of a pearl.  He confided in me that, a few weeks before, he’d been in a rush to go hunting, running up a flight of stairs with an arrow in his hand, and he had tripped.  
“Just a target point,” he explained.  “A broadhead would have come through the back of my neck.”

A month ago, I found a point with my daughter.  We were strolling through a stand of jack pines near the bottom of the twin lakes trail at Blue Ridge School, doing trailwork together again, right where it spoons the edge of a dry wash that had flooded the week before.  It was misty, overcast, grey: poor light for arrowhead hunting.  But as I raked the flooded debris away from a low spot in the trail, I kept an eye downward out of habit, searching the edges for the white speck of a point.  And there it rested, my daughter’s first, washed down from the mountain and cradled in the corner of a grove of beach trees.  She cupped the little treasure in both hands, the way she holds warm water to wash her face, smiling, and the clean point glimmered white like her toothy grin.   

It shocked me when my grandfather’s voice - my dad’s voice - spilled out of me when I spoke to my daughter there, and I told her everything I could remember.
That the Monacans used quartz because they could make a sturdy, sharp point without too much work. 
That they used to paddle up these creeks and rivers in canoes, the Rivanna, the Mechums, the Moormans, long before those rivers ever had those names.  
That they shot deer mostly, but also sometimes elk – elk! – and they floated their kills back downstream.
Her face was bewildered as she listened, like she didn’t recognize me.  I spat up facts about these things that no longer exist until she interrupted me, “Daddy?”  
But I couldn’t hold it in, all these things that I forgot I knew came spilling out from some kind of wound in my mouth, like blood.  
That the Monacans would trade quartz points with the Iroquois to the North in exchange for flints, churts, and warmer furs.  
That the Monacans and the Iroquois were all gone.  
That we’re standing on stolen land.  
Avery pleaded again, “Daddy!” 
I stopped, and it was absolutely quiet, just a grey mist falling through the dark pine trees. Avery didn’t follow up with a question.  She took my hand and we walked back down the wash to our car as the daylight faded.    

But lately when Avery walks in the forest to do trail work with me, she sings, and I see that she’s looking down.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Your Noggin



When I first heard there was some big Trek announcement happening on 3.19, my first theory was that Trek was releasing a semi-aquatic Mer-bike.  It was just the sort of winter we were having - storm after storm after storm...just an insane amount of water.  Every trail around here had at least 3 inches of water flowing down it.  I thought - and I stand by this idea - that a submersible bike capable of just riding the Rivanna (the river itself, not the trail) would be a hot ticket in this climate we had seemingly wandered into while the EPA was blackout drunk.  

That was 3 weeks ago.  Turns out the announcement was, in fact...

Helmets.

It seemed a little anti-climactic at first, but I think that's just because I was expecting a Mer-Bike.  And it hurts to be wrong sometimes.  But looking at the reality of it now, I'm pretty into it for a couple of reasons.

1) Enduro bikes - and shit, all bikes really at this point - are just really stupidly fast now.  Like, fast enough to be potentially lethal to the consumer, even without cars getting involved.   35 MPH and one tree, and if you do the math about what that impact will do to your brain, and then you start to consider just how many trails we're pushing 35 mph on these days, and yeah.

I've contemplated this a few times, some of it right here at the bottom of the bike internet.

Progressive trail construction, also, has likely contributed to the speeds we're going, but in a general sense most of us are in new territory when it comes to riding downhill on trails on a regular basis.   So a company like Trek that makes both bikes and helmets, and it financially and socially invested in not killing its customers, was due to step up the helmet game to hopefully offset the speeds they've enabled (and we have greedily gobbled up.)  Long way around to my point, but better protection was long overdue, and if it works this is a really good idea.

2) It's green, so I assume we can smoke it.

Can't wait to don one of these things and test out the limits of that "unconditional" warranty.

Keep 'em coming, Trek.

Up, up, up.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

You can't drive your tractor in here.

It's just that time of year.

On Sunday, I was riding my mountain bike on the road for less than a mile, just connecting between one trail and another out here in Earlysville.  Beautiful day, just a taste of spring...and I'm sure there were cyclists out pretty much all over the county.  A car driving the other way, in the other lane, swerved into my lane, horned the absolute shit out of me, not close enough to hit me - just trying to scare me.  And he rolled past - a white guy in a black car - hollering.

I was not surprised.

With the nice weather, people are getting back on their bikes and riding - some of them not super well - on our lovely county roads.  Plenty of motorists dread this, the return of cyclists to their roads.  They are prepared to defend their territory insofar as defending it means honking, screaming, and generally behaving like a tyrannical 3 year-old in a 3/4 ton pickup truck.

I rolled on, not really bothered by this, the annual flux of intolerance between otherwise like-minded, rural Caucasian males, him and I.  He'll settle down and so will I.

But before I turned off onto the next trail, I passed a little white cottage on the right, close enough to the road that I could see the interaction.  A little girl, maybe kindergarten or so, was piloting a battery powered, pink, toy tractor - one of those sit-on top toys that Grandparents buy their grandkids for Christmas - and she was trying to drive it through the side door and into the house.  Her mom, arms crossed, was insisting she not do that.

You can't drive your tractor in here, the lady yelled.  

What it all means, I'm not sure.

Ride safe out there, people.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Seeing Things



Saturday, February 1, 2003, and I was on my way to Sedona, AZ to go riding for the first time.  There were seven of us, quite a crew, and we had departed from Boulder right after work on Friday, the night before.  We'd driven - two Fords, an Explorer for people and my Ranger for bikes - as far as we could, nearly run out of gas, and stopped at a hotel very late.  We woke up early, the way that seven mountain bikers jammed into a tiny hotel room tend to wake up stoked, and resumed the trip SouthWest.

Sometime after dawn, I found myself squinting against the glare of the desert sunlight smeared across the dirty windshield of my truck, like the sky had gone bewilderingly, sandy brown. The huge green interstate signs crept by at 80 miles an hour, validating that we were still somewhere short of Albuquerque on I-40 Westbound. I was driving while Shaine peered through his thick glasses at the roadmap in his right hand and nervously turned the radio dial with his left. The Emergency Broadcast Signal had chirped across the radio station twice so far, shrill and loud, panicked. Finally, a shaky young man’s voice came through the truck’s speakers, and he stammered out the bad news: Space Shuttle Columbia had broken up while re-entering the atmosphere, 80,000 feet directly overhead, along with the jarring reality that we were on the Western edge of the debris field, and if we saw  anything, we were to call it in and not touch it. 

The radio went quiet, just the suck of desert wind outside, and Shaine ducked forward hard, craned his muscled neck low beneath the dashboard to watch the sky.  We traded stories about The Challenger disaster, 17 years before, and where we were and how it affected us.  I can still recall how Ms. Blackard, tears dripping black and blue mascara down to her chin, hustled us down the hall from our 3rd grade classroom across the evenly-spaced, square, black and white tiles. How her voice echoed through the empty hall behind us so shrill and tense that I almost didn’t recognize it. How I had tiptoed across the white tiles only, for luck, suspicious that somehow my little shoes might make a difference. Mr. Burnette’s classroom was big enough for every kid in school to have a seat on the thin, tan rug atop rubber cement stains and playground mulch pulverized so deep that it never quite vacuumed out. But, more importantly, Mr. Burnette had a big box television up high on a wobbly metal cart on which he rolled out the hard truth and awkwardly perched it before us. I couldn’t watch. 

Years later, in New Mexico, the kid came back over the radio and read the phone number to call if, perchance, we happened across any wreckage, and without irony, Shaine scribbled it down on a gas station receipt.

We rode in Sedona, Phoenix, Tucson, all over Arizona that week.  We saw roadrunners, javelinas, lizards of all kinds.  We shredded brand new single track, ate the best Mexican food of our lives.  But we never saw any wreckage from the shuttle, and for the most part, we didn't talk about it.  We found something else, however.  


I kept the receipt for a long time, Shaine’s shaky cursive so bad that I couldn’t read the number, black pen on white paper, and it always smelled like regular unleaded, even years later. But underlined, there was one legible word, Shuttle.

It was the beginning of something.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Post-Truth World

A few of you have checked in this week, trying to get the scoop on how Il Pantani shook out at the front.  I can only report that the scoop is still empty, and it's Sunday, a week later.  

There was rumor for a while that Logan Jones-Wilkins won it in a sprint.  Thomas Bouber even had shady, cell phone video to support this rumor - that video showing Logan first, then B-Slow, then Jeremiah in 3rd.  The evidence looked puzzlingly slow, but I don't know much about sprinting after doing Pantani in 2:45 anyway, so I just figured they were smoked and called it Logan's race, won.

Come to find out that Logan only claims third place.  Wadsworth purports to have been 4th, a minute back, and saw nothing.  And Strava might have indicated that Petrylak or Noah rolled in 5th, all of them well under 3 hours.  I hung on for less than 30 seconds of that, so I have no way of knowing what happened on the pointy end of the race.  So I texted B-slow to get the skinny, and so far no reply.  Jeremiah took a shower at my mom's house, then fled to California. So how exactly the finish went, no one seems to know.

Funny thing is, it doesn't matter.  Set aside, for a moment, the fact that racing bikes at a thing like Il Pantani is really just about having fun, and consider first that we're living in a post-truth world, folks, right before it actually falls apart.  Your podium placement at a gravel non-event in some backwoods corner of Greene County means so little now.  Truth is whatever your instagram says it is.  

If it matters to you, Thomas Bouber went home with the Maillot Pistachio, and - if he can get his biceps into it - I think he'll rip the sleeves clean off.  I kept the knitted shorts, because I've raced in them for 4 years running now, and at some point when it comes to bike shorts it's like a common law marriage.  You're bound by habit mostly, but also, you can't get them off.    

Lemme know if you know something I don't know.  Or not.
What a strange time to be alive.  

Up, up, up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Pantani Lurks, 2/10/19 at 10 AM

Il Pantani will go live, hot, fast, and heavy...this Sunday 2/10 at 10 AM.  2019.
Shortly after, it slows waaay down.

The year of the Pig is upon us.

Whatever this weather pattern we are currently experiencing actually is - human driven ecosystem collapse maybe, or just a natural part of the end of days  - it will come to a decisive end by Sunday.  Pretty good chance we will be rolling west on frozen gravel when we hit Wesley Chapel.



And really, would you have it any other way?  Pantani at 74 degrees just feels, I don't know, inauthentic.  Like if Pantani went up Ventoux at 650 watts, got to the top, and it wasn't windy or exposed or terrible, and then some asshole from Texas tried to gift him the stage.

There are no gifts, people.  Weather included.

Parking, start line, and the finest porta-shovel known to man will all be at the Paranormal field, which is off of Markwood Rd right across from the Claymont subdivision.  There are no facilities there, no water, just a shovel and some TP and a semi-imposing lack of dignity.  If you need an actual shitter, like a real genuine emergency, I want you to know that the top drawer of Shawn's bedroom dresser is always, ALWAYS, open to you, and I really mean that.  Bombs away.

10 AM, the proverbial gun will go off, so don't be late.  After that, it's hard to say.  Being that Pantani is a non-event sort of event, there's no actual course markings, road closures, or any of that.  It's just a group ride, except for those of you who it's not, and chances are pretty good you know who you are.

Here's the route.  Again, interpret this as a suggestion for glory, not instructions to hand your team car driver.  I hope that you know that I hope that you know what I mean, and we'll have to leave it at that for now.

A semi-description of how the ride typically unfolds can be found here.
Additional misinformation can be found here.
In fact, there are gobs of information mashed into various corners of the internet, some of it true.  Very little of it is actually helpful, and none of it is current save this: Sunday, 2/10/19 at 10 AM. All you need to know.

If you still want to know what it's like, don't ask people like this.  

B-Slow, for example, sent me a text yesterday confirming his intent to ride 35 mm tires.  No idea what bike he will actually be strapping those things onto, but it doesn't matter to people like you and me. He's on a different playing field, basically playing a different sport.  Whatever he does, don't do it.

Qwadsworth, too, has confirmed his attendance, for the first time in, shit, a decade?  I'm not sure.  But assuming he shows up with something attached to a lauf fork, I don't recommend you emulate his behavior either.

Dave Flatten has won every Pantani that I would classify as having taken place in HORRID conditions.  What does that mean for Sunday?  Mightn't Jeremiah Bishop show up and pay Flatten back for that cheeky finish sprint 4 years ago?  Then there is Petrylak, Serton, Chris Michaels, others...greatness, left to right.  It's a hard thing to predict who will make it back first.  Logan Jones Wilkins, if Strava doesn't lie, has been crushing hundreds of miles of gravel per week.  But does he even know who Marco Pantani is?

These and other questions, to be answered Sunday, not sooner.

The rest of us, what can we even do?

I, for one, will be preparing my outfit.
 

See it in person on Sunday.

Up, up, up.