Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beacon CX

I had heard good things about the Beacon course, and although the race was quite a distance from home, I made an effort to make it happen this year. Art had an install half way between the race and home. He scheduled the install for Friday night, this way the trip down seemed more worth the time. Well, that is what we thought. Art was a tad behind schedule and rush hour traffic was insane. This is NJ .... what were we thinking? Six hours later, we finally got to our hotel to catch some sleep.

By this time the weather forecast had turned from light rain or snow showers to a full blown Northeaster. The weather guys were spot on, and it was raining when we got up. I certainly do not mind mud or cold, but cold and wet combined is not something I enjoy. Perhaps I never got over doing the freezing "Running of the Dogs" race years ago, but I am not looking to go there now. So as we had made the trip down, spent hotel fare and paid our entry fees, my thought was "It's only 40 minutes", so we went to race. Deep inside, I could not wait to be done, as I knew it would be cold. I stayed in the truck as long as possible to avoid hanging out in the rain, even as far as skipping a pre-ride and warming up on the trainer in the truck, but eventually we had to face up and go out and race in the rain.

Once on course, it really was fine for me. I actually enjoyed the handling conditions, but For Art it was not so much fun as he suffers from Raynaud's condition in his hands. Many sections of the course were completely under water, and others were all mud. I could not believe how hard it was to get up the amphitheater steps or even the barriers with all the mud. By the time I was done, temps were dropping into the low 30's, and Art was quick to get me to the truck to change out of my wet, mud incased clothes. This whole process was not much fun, and I certainly questioned wether I am indeed cut out for cross. Still shaking from the cold, I agreed to pack up and head home without even checking results as we were expecting snow up north. To my knowledge I may have been 4th in my race, but was too cold to really care either way.

As we drove home in the rain, I noticed the colors of the trees in south jersey were outstanding. I do not know if it was the contrast of the colors against the dark sky, but seeing them was a short special moment in my day. From there, we drove into a snowstorm, and were pretty stressed trying not to end up like the many cars we saw off the highway in ditches for the next five hours. It was a bit odd to arrive home to shovel the driveway and then take out the hose to wash muddy bikes and clothes.

As much as we both wanted to race at HPCX on Sunday, I could not bring myself to get up early an do all that again. The race itself is fun, but sometimes the clean up and sitting in the car wears me down.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Granogue CX

The race at Granogue is special to me. Last year it was my first of the year testing race, and got me sucked in to the whole cross deal. The course is a little more than a flat field with mud and some running. It has some hills, trails, textures and some pretty impressive scenery. Taking place on the Dupont estate, this race is quite unique and perhaps the witnessing of the tail end of a bittersweet era. For now, I am loving it for what it is, and giving thanks to all those of this era that have been generous enough to let a bunch of bikers come out and ride on their lawn.

This years race was no less symbolic, as I had my first crash. I have witnessed many falls while on course and always wondered why everyone fell down. I knew my time would come and Saturday was it. There was a good field for 45+ with several elite women racing down for whatever reason. I may have been a tad intimidated but also really excited to have the honor of racing these ladies. I was up for the challenge!

Day #1: I had an ok start, but always struggle sorting out before I can settle in. There were plenty of back and forths, mis-shifts and some spills in front of me, but finally I found myself chasing 4th place down, with 3 out of sight off the front. Near the end of my 3rd of four laps, I let it hang out a bit on the descent in hopes to bridge up, and in a fraction of a second, my front tire slipped out on a greasy off camber. As soon as the hood hit the ground, I was ejected off the front giving me a very clean landing in the grass just in front of my bike. I'll admit, I was a tad surprised that I had gone down, but nothing hurt, so I was back on the bike quickly and flying down the hill in hopes that my rear brake lever was still in working order, which it was.

I chased down for a half lap, but could not see the rider in front. I finally went to stand up a hill in a final effort, and my drive train halted. "What a time to brake a chain" I thought, but after looking down, I found the chain jumbled and off the chain rings. I got off the bike and moved to the side of the track. My chain came free and I quickly placed it back on but my rear wheel would not turn. I tried to stay calm and think. I decided to check my rear skewer, and sure enough, the wheel had pulled out of the drop out. In the mean time 3-4 ladies had gone by and I was hoping not too many of them where in my class. As it turned out, only one of them was, and I held onto 6th place, but it felt like a disorganized race for me.

Day #2: Art and I thought that my fall on Saturday had loosened my skewer or maybe I did not get it tight enough after my wheel swap from the warm up on the trainer, but once I was racing on course the small half of my cog set was all jumpy making it hard to concentrate or pedal smoothly. I should have checked all this out after my race on Saturday. Now I had to deal with it in the race. It took me a lap or two, but I finally figured I would shift chain rings more and use less of the cog set.

The run up was really exciting this day, because of the off camber mounting area where you had to turn and shoot down into a steep bumpy descent with a turn at the bottom. This made for some uncertainty and choices in risk, and was lined with spectators. I remember last year, having no idea how to handle this and just giving in to running up and down, which worked fine last year. I practiced mounting in this situation for this year and got it every lap on Sunday, no problem. Practice and confidence does really help! I was certain I finished 6th but I must have gone by someone without realizing it, and I took fifth. Art checked my bike on Monday, and I had pulled the barrel adjuster out of the DR body stripping the last few threads. I was thankful I was able to finish the race fairly well.

The weather was fabulous this past weekend. Warm days are winding down and although I enjoy cross, I am not looking forward to winter. It was wonderful to have spent both days out side soaking up the sun. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Some photos below of a hike Art and I took at Brandywine River Park on Friday afternoon, after driving down through many rain storms. A hawk was waiting for us in the tree in the first photo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

... And Snap, Fall Is Here

The last few days have been #10's on the scale of beautiful days. After what seemed like a month of rainy, humid and cloudy weather, New Jersyites have been blessed with warm sunny days. I was beginning to think that the soggy climate would brown the leaves and drop them without color. Today I was able to confirm that the colors have started.

Six weeks has passed with races every weekend, ... sometimes two races a weekend. Today was a treat to just take an easy ride in the park and enjoy the change of seasons. This is my favorite time of year to ride a bike in the woods. Soft reds were spreading upward out of the swamps and the trails were covered in many shades of leaves. Frogs leaped into puddles as I passed and the smell of autumn was on the trail.

The past two weekends were dedicated to mountain bike racing, and will probably complete my mountain bike racing for 2011. The Campmor H2H Leaf Blower and state championship was probably the wettest race I have done in 15 years. I am grateful that leaves are currently falling and helping to reclaim any traces of us racers. The promoter was very diligent to remove sensitive trails from the race and I am very thankful.

My equipment (Sram drivetrain and Industry Nine wheels) held together and worked flawlessly throughout two and half hours of over the axle water and mud, and wet rocks. Thanks to my Hammer Heed, I finished strong and cramp free taking 3rd in the Pro/open field and claimed the 40+ New Jersey Champion title. Thanks to all of you that cheered me on. Racing under these conditions reminds me how lucky I am to have such supporting friends and supporting sponsors.

Last weekend was the Bagels and Bacon Short Track. I thought this race would be good training for cyclo-cross, plus the venue and course is pretty cool, and was for the Boy Scouts of America. I really enjoy Short Track when it is technical and hilly like this course. I won a six pack of beer and was invited to eat unlimited amounts of pork and bacon afterwards. I may not have taken full advantage of that pork offer, but what a fun day!