Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Drowning of Jeff Buckley

A lot of people assume incorrectly that Jeff Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River.  That's actually not true.  It was the Wolf River, just upstream from the Mississippi in Memphis, where Buckley and his roadie stopped alongside the interstate at a rest area, stepped over the guardrail, and walked down to the banks of the Wolf for a swim.  It was hot, and there wasn't much to do - the rest of the band was behind, still in Boston, on their way to Memphis soon enough, but they weren't there yet.  Buckley, fully clothed and with his boots on, had gone swimming in this same spot a few times before.  It was hot, 90+ for the third day in a row, May 29th, 1997.  Jeff Buckley was singing the chorus to Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and he was stone sober.

In he went.

As human beings, we are mostly bound by the limitations of gravity, but not entirely.  There are a few circumstances when we are not.  Swimming is one of those.  The buoyancy that the human body can achieve in water, floating, is a huge part of what makes the experience profound.

Road riding is a lot like swimming in this same way.  In both cases, the sensation that you experience relates directly to buoyancy, and you can't find it doing anything else.  Floating, as a rule, is not something a human being is capable of but in water.  The same, too, for propelling yourself along at 50 miles/hour with only your legs and a couple of wheels.  Going downhill at top speed on a bike, like floating on your back on a summer day, is sensational.

Walking on the ice of a frozen lake.
Outer space.
We are able to remove our souls, momentarily, from the confines of our own bodies.  But gravity is still there, lurking.

When I lived out West, my roommate, Chris, bought a Ninja JXR-1000.  As far as road specific motorcycles go, it was the fast one.  This was 2005 or so.  Chris was ex-military, and he kept most of his experiences from his time in the Middle-East classified, locked up in secure room in the back of his brain.  Most Friday nights, Chris and his buddies went out riding.  Crotch rockets, I recognized, were a pure form of escape.

Then one night Chris came home, ghostly pale but unharmed, and he went to bed without a word.  The next day he sold his motorcycle.  Like combat, he never really talked about what happened to him that Friday night.  The speed at which life comes at you when you're going 150 mph is faster than he expected, I guess.  But he did say something profound, "Human beings, man.  We aren't meant for that."

He is right, of course.  From an evolutionary perspective, escaping gravity is just not what we're built for.  The locals in Memphis, they do not swim in the Mississippi.  They've learned to fear it, over time, generation upon generation of stories of people who have drowned.  The river there is full of snags, strainers, hazards below the surface, and the wake of passing boats creates unpredictable currents that are stronger than you think.

So, too, does our generation of cyclist pass along cautionary tales.  Don't ride Earlysville road after 4 PM.  Don't ride Old Ballard if it rains.  Don't ride 20 South...ever.  Hell, don't even DRIVE 20 South.  We are adapting, as mammals tend to do, to the timing and structure of the dangerous environment around us.

You might not have noticed, but mountain bikes are now trending this way.  Not unlike Chris's motorcycle, the speed at which the modern mountain bike is capable of going downhill has begun to exceed our ability to pilot it.  Not that they don't ride amazingly well - these bikes are miracles.  Modern geometry, long travel 29ers are easy to turn, a pure joy to ride, and they will run over almost anything.
Until they don't.
It's when these marvels of engineering suddenly stop that you've got a problem, because thanks to carbon fiber, DW-link suspension, and your 9-tooth cog, you're now going way, way faster than you think.

Jeff Buckley's body was found on June 4th, floating downstream in the Mississippi.  A toxicology report showed no drugs or alcohol in his system.  He was sober, thoughtful, happy, and just about to enter the best years of his life.

The rest of us, we are left with gravity.
We abide by its expectations, for the most part.  But our need for escape is strong, too, maybe stronger than ever - and not riding at this point just doesn't feel like an option.

Taillights, people - every damn time.
Bleed your brakes.
Consider one of those MIPS helmets.

The pursuit of zero gravity always, always ends abruptly.

Up, up, up.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Secret Trails

25 years of Dave Matthews.

Like him or not, the power of music to transport your soul down the pathway of memory is strong.  Chances are that if you're in your 30's or 40's, DMB was playing somewhere along the way, at least in the background, in a time and place that ended up being pretty important to you.

Watching this, I am reminded of one of the last times I rode bikes with Iron Mike Walling.
Mike was right behind me, and we both hopped over an old log in the trail - a log that had been a tree that had fallen on that same trail about 8 years before we were riding it that day.  We'd ridden that trail probably 500 times since the tree had fallen, loops upon loops over time, watching that tree slowly break down and decay.  The last time we rode it, the log was basically just a pile of red dirt, almost completely decayed, and Mike said something like, "Tell me that riding over that log doesn't make you feel old."

It did not, at the time, make me feel old.

But an old log doesn't grow a grey beard, and it can't sing like Dave Matthews.  

Quite separately, though relevant, I did something on a mountain bike ride about 14 years ago that I've always regretted, and I'll tell you about it now.

I was riding with Shaine, Kirk, some of our crew out in the mountains above Boulder, CO.  This was probably like 2004 or so.  Mountain biking in Boulder county has long been a subject of contentiousness - so much of it isn't actually allowed.  But in 2004 we had this huge ride that we used to do - we called it "Busta' Ned" - and we had it dialed.  Basically, you caught the N Bus at 9 AM from Boulder up to Nederland, got off at the High School at about 9:40 AM, and you rode singletrack back into Boulder.  The ride, like most summer rides in Colorado, took all day.   It was probably a 40 mile descent, losing 5,000 feet of elevation along the way, and I guess it was about 80% singletrack.  I haven't done the ride in 10 years, I guess.  Some of it, I'm told, is long gone.  At the time, much of it wasn't 100% legal.  Semi-legal, hidden trails in Boulder County - this stuff was like gold back then.  And like any claim that you stumbled upon in the mountains, the conventional wisdom was that you kept it a secret.

So we were riding back down from Nederland one afternoon, huge beautiful blue Colorado sky against green Colorado pines.  Magic dirt, just the kind of ride you'd want to do if you were a visitor - and we came upon two people who were just that: Visitors.  Newbs to town.  A husband and wife, I don't recall their names, but they were from the midwest somewhere and they'd heard about this Nederland-to-Boulder singletrack, and they were about 1/2 way down the route trying to figure it out, and they were stuck.  The next trail was anything but obvious.  We came up to them, and everything was polite and fine, but when they asked us about how to get down, we lied.  We straight up lied to this wonderful couple, a part of our tribe, these two great people just like us, that maybe we would have been friends with if we'd just showed them the next trail...we told them that we didn't know the way down.  They rode down Magnolia rd back towards Boulder, a steep gravel slog that kind of sucks, and we took the secret hidden stash of singletrack down behind their backs, to the south, back onto the West side of Flagstaff mountain and on into Boulder.

I felt absolutely empty.

Afterwards, Shaine and I debated what we had done for days.  Years even.  I think we still talk about it some.  In Shaine's view, the trails that we were riding were not legal, and more importantly, they weren't ours.  We had no right to share them with complete strangers.

That may be true, but I 100% and wholeheartedly disagreed, and I still do.  They weren't ours, I insisted.  We had no right to hide them either.

On a flight back from Sacramento recently, the guy next to me tapped my leg and pointed out the window.  There, much to my surprise, was a HUGE double rainbow - one of the biggest, prettiest rainbows that I have ever seen.  In your life, if you maintain a list of the top 10 rainbows that you've ever seen, which you should...this one would have been a top 5, for sure.

Anyway, here's the point - if he hadn't pointed it out, I would have missed it.

Sharing the beauty of nature with other people, even complete strangers, is a fundamental part of what it means to be a human being.  Humans have the unique capacity to observe and share natural beauty in ways that animals do not.   At the very least, it's the cornerstone of most environmental conservation in the modern world - the deeply rooted reflex of, "Wow.  Hey.  Holy shit.  You have to see this..."

I do everything I can to not cut the logs now, to allow and enjoy Dave Matthews as he grows old, and if I find a secret trail I share it.  While we're all still here.

This world, it is not mine.

Up, up, up.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bike Ridin' Weather

Now THAT is some fine bike-ridin' weather.

Spring has finally sprung, and the 22936ish has not one but two races to offer you this weekend, plus a couple of demo trucks chock full of more bearings and adjustment knobs than you can possibly turn on your own.

Bonus full moon on Saturday eve, under perfect clear skies.  Chance of shredding?  Nigh 100%.

Because if you can't have fun on a demo bike, you might as well be already dead.

Pivot, conveniently, is happy to let you know upfront, via the magical interwebs, exactly what kind of heat they are packing in that rad demo van.  His 69er disdain notwithstanding, my Chris Cocalis bro-crush remains in full effect.

Trek, on the other hand, does not appear to do have a list of what's in their truck, presumably because it's so big they don't actually know what's in there.  Their demo trailer is about 385 feet long, so I think it's more a question of what's NOT in there than what actually is.

I've ridden a bunch of Treks and Pivots.  When asked by close friends to confide which I actually prefer, I tell them the truth - "Yes."

Though I can tell you that if I lived at the bottom of Torry ridge - like RIGHT at the very bottom - I'd have two of these:

TWO, not one, because it's easy to assume one of them would be the broken down subject of a crash replacement at all times.

And I'd be in the hospital.
So lucky for me, and lucky for Trek, I don't live there.

But for one weekend only, I plan on riding like I do.

Sign up, show up, giddyup up up.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Beaver Spring Fever - Sunday, April 29th


9 and 1/4 miles per lap,  dedicated to chewing on your legs.  Sunday, April 29th.

Before we get to the nitty gritty, I will here deposit all of the bizarro Beaver attack news that you people have sent me over the last year.  I don't know what it says about me, or you, or the world at large that this blog is now the de facto authority on Beaver aggression.  But here you are:

I think the course is a lot longer than it was last year.  Much of the new stuff is also way, way better, having been successfully beaten into submission by the army of junior racers we have around these parts.

You can sign up here. can wait, watch the weather, and then sign up on race day, thus ruining Marky Mark's entire weekend.

Of note, there will be not one, but TWO demo trucks on site that day, dishing out the toys in exchange for a temporary glance at your personal credit card.  The Pivot Demo truck, in fact, I can see parked from where I am typing this right at this very moment.  But those new Trek's with the Re-Active bizarro valve, the ones from outer space, won't show up until the weekend.

Someone dropped me a note, mentioned how old I have gotten, then asked a great question:
"Can I just race a demo bike?"

Good thinking.  No sense riding the Beaver and taking a beating on your own bike when you can just ride a demo bike and blame it for your lack of talent and winter lethargy.  The answer: I don't know.  Maybe the powers that be at Trek and Pivot will chime in here with their thoughts on allowing you to semi-puke on their demonstration carbon bits.

It would be useful, after all, to get a sense of how well the vomit flows down the top tube at high speed.  Hashtag, aerovomit.  You read it hear first.

Those CAMBC burgers: Easily digestible.  For a good cause.  But do they adhere to carbon if pre-chewed?

One way to find out.

Sign up, Show up, get up up up.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

JGST Video

Short, awesome video put together by Ryan Little with the JGST highlights.
I'm not sure if I'm more inspired by the people who come together to make an event like this happen, or just simply by Ryan's abilities as a filmmaker.  The whole "we knew that kid when..." concept seems insufficient.

Regardless, it feels pretty great to live and operate in a community like this.
Will keep you, the public, apprised of the semi-ginormous check that we all played a part in creating, to be sent out to Colorado soon.

Until next time, rubber down, heads up up up.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

James Gist - MTB Race Pioneer

This past fall at the final race of the VAHS series at Woodberry Forest up in Madison, something like 300 kids showed up to race mountain bikes.  It was a jaw-dropping volume of shredding, bigger than almost every other MTB race in Virginia in 2017, all except for the SM100.  

Even 10 years ago, the idea that 300 high schoolers (and middle schoolers, actually) would show up to a mountain bike race would have been pretty far-fetched...unless you were James Gist.  

A little of the history of youth mountain bike racing here in Virginia can be found below, and the big man on the Northern Fringe, Nolan himself, sent me an explanation of how James' work back in 2007 has evolved into the thriving race scene we have today.

From Nolan:
James was pretty instrumental in helping Tony and I get the blue ridge triple threat off the ground.  As far as I know (and I am sure someone will correct me) it was the first high school race series in virginia.   Started in 2008 ran for two or three years.  In my humble opinion it paved the way for the current junior MTB scene.  If memory serves me correctly James was the CAMBC president at the time, and he and Fenton showed Tony and me how to do stuff.  The series was BRS, O-Hill and Walnut.  

2007, Blue Ridge School

Social Progress.  The aging of the human body.  The passage of time.  Every lesson in history like this tends to give me pause. 

This one gives me hope too. For every school shooting out there, which there seems to be an awful lot of right now, there's a guy like Nolan, or James, or Fenton working to bring bikes into kids' lives in a way that might help them learn to peacefully navigate this bizarre, dangerous new world.      

Which is the only world we have to offer them.  

Shred on, kids.  
Rubber down.  Heads up, up, up.