Monday, May 25, 2009

This weekend I mixed it up.

Alright, so Friday and Saturday I worked, and didn't do anything. Sunday I started to do laundry, but decided it would be better to call the Snarski and go do some trail riding. We met at the Golden Eagle and shuttled Alder Shoots. While normally this is one of my favorite rides, it proved to be scarier than hell. When I called Snarski I stipulated that we should use hardtail 29ers for the ride. Let me tell you, when you are used to riding a trail with eight inches of travel front and back, three inch wide tires and a nice slack headtube angle, nothing else will do. Don't get me wrong, I still hard fun, but I walked several sections, including the bottom of the initial rock garden. We we got done, we decided that one trail wasn't enough and that in the spirit of spring we should try the much talked about Secret Trail.

Snarski obtained his knowledge of Secret Trail through continual harassment of some kid who drew him a map over the course of several days. I think the process took a bit because anyone under the age of twenty needs reminders to get things done, and partially because it took him that long to remember where the hell the trail was. Although the trail head is nicely tucked away, you'll know when you get there, largely because of the laminated sign nailed to a tree that says "Secret Trail". The sign at the bottom of the trail is a much nicer wood carved job that makes me wonder if someone decided that carrying a large wood sign to the top of the trail would be just too much trouble. At any rate the trail is excellent. It is a little rooty, with just enough choke points that it hasn't been torn up by ATVs. Some of the choke points are especially sneaky in that they immediately follow one another. Although I haven't done a large bit of singletrack riding, I'd say it is probably the nicest bit of trail I have been on yet. It is the kind of trail you could cream with a five inch full suspension cross country bike and completely slay with a six inch travel all mountain bike. Which reminds me, I need to get one of those, or both.

So today I decided I would take a road ride. I haven't done an actual road ride in like two years so I was a bit nervous. I was happy when I finished. When I walked in the door I realized I had actually done the loop in what was probably my fastest time ever. Pretty incredible considering how out of shape I feel. I had a realization then, riding rode gives me a feeling of satisfaction when I am done. More so when I have a hard ride and less so when I drag butt the whole way. Mountain riding is different, I can lag a whole ride out feeling hung over, but if I clean a hard line nicely I get immediate gratification. If I have a really good mountain ride, I feel awesome the whole time, not like I am suffering and trying to accomplish something. I think I prefer having my speed limited by the trail and my skills rather than my aerobic fitness level. Which is funny, because I'll still probably ride road this year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I meant to do that.

In interesting and only vaguely related bicycle news, there is a community in Germany that has banned cars. You can read the full article here. It sounds like a great idea. It is a new community, so everyone knows what they are getting into. It will be interesting to see if there is any follow up to what is happening in the community in a few years.

The moments in life when you almost die are hopefully rare, but often you look back on them fondly. Last night was awesome because not only do I have a story to tell, but I am uninjured. We headed out to the pump track last night for some evening fun and to check out the new single track they are cutting out in Goldstream. I’ll talk about the single track in a later post. Mostly because our pump track ride was so eventful.

Our winter rabbit came out, which I give him major credit for because he is used to going mach ten everywhere with his impressive spinning abilities. Needless to say, first time pump track riding was not his thing. He made all the mistakes people pumping for the first time make, but by the end, he was getting it. To his credit he was also learning on a full size mountain bike, which isn’t ideal on the rather small track. A stark contrast to that was our new flatland BMX kid. He was basically shredding the course to start, but seemed unused to riding with any amount of speed and was completely hampered by his total lack of brakes. I believe his best comment of the night was, “I’ve only cracked myself in the nuts once.” For me that would have been one time to many.

The best comment of the night came from our super star Reese. He’s that horrible kid that is good at whatever he does. He destroys cross country skiers all winter and kills the road scene all summer. Sadly he also has superior skills on a mountain or dirt jump bike. If he wasn’t such a nice guy, I am sure someone would have killed him by now, or at least started a website dedicated to hating him. I was complaining at him last night because he kept switching directions and was making it difficult for me to decide where to go when I dropped in. His comment back at me was a jaunty “I ride wherever I want!” In a true karmic event this was followed five seconds later by the dull thud of bodied smacking into each other. I looked over to see him and Snarsky laid out. Since everyone was ok, I immediately started harassing him about it.

My near death experience came much later. I packed up my stuff, shed my gear and helmet and was preparing to leave when someone pointed out that someone had done the work to add a dirt jump to the lower parking lot. Since the pump track is about eight feet higher than the lot next to it where the store is, this made for a beautiful roll in to the table top someone had installed. I borrowed a bike (I was too lazy to get mine out of the back of my truck) and hit the jump.

I made the following realizations at speed after I landed.
“Reese’s bike has no brakes.”
“Reese’s bike has one brake, which has a much short lever and is positioned much more inboard than mine.”
“I hope Reese’s brake works well because there is now a large trailer directly in front of me.”
“Reese’s bike does have a good brake and if I don’t crash from the rear wheel being locked up and sliding all over the fricken place, I may not hit the trailer.”
“I am going to go get my bike now.”

Despite these sudden bursts of insight, I didn’t retrieve my helmet and other protective items when I went back to get my bike. So two jumps later when I almost crashed hard (I am getting a bit old for this kind of thing), I would really have had no one to blame but myself. The jump wasn’t lipped as nicely as it could have been, probably from being rallied on a daily basis, so I wasn’t getting the air I wanted without some work. On one of my last takeoffs my timing was horrible. I had way too much speed and pulled up way too late. I was almost fully airborne and basically yanked my front end straight up. I landed in a manual at speed. Although it was kind of cool, my manual/wheelie balance basically sucks and I knew there was no way my front end was going back down. I bailed off my pedals and landing sprinting. Because I don’t actually know how to crash well off a jump, I of course held onto my bike’s handlebars. Somehow I managed to keep everything together and not simply sketch out into a pile of flesh and aluminum. I ended up walking with my bike popped up on its back wheel in front of me. Super Star’s sudden exclamations and yelling let me know it must have looked cool. Sadly all I got out of it was I should definitely be wearing a helmet and my failed attempt at big air had ended in some bizarre trick I wouldn’t be able to replicate without months of practice and lots of luck. Sure, I meant to do that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Technical Single Track in Fairbanks?

Even among cyclists, there is often discord. Roadies don’t get along with the dirt guys, dirt guys don’t like the BMX kids, BMX kids for the life of them can’t understand what is impressive about a middle aged hipster on a fixed gear road bike with no brakes riding off a curb, etc, etc. I think in areas with larger populations, it is not so much of a problem. Everyone has plenty of like minded people to hang out with and if there is not much mixing between groups, it is ok. In smaller towns (like Fairbanks) this does not work as well. You might only have a few guys that ride any particular style, and we all thrown together because we ride bikes. While larger places may have the Western Metropolis Area Freeride Association as one of the six large thriving bicycle groups in their area, we have Fairbanks Cycle Club, and that’s pretty much it.

FCC puts on both road and cross country races throughout the summer and is responsible for consistently organizing the bigger rides every year that bring out people who don’t normally ride bikes. They do a great job considering the circumstances. The problem is that as you can imagine, the leadership is small and they cater toward their own preferred type of rides. Again, I can’t blame them for this. If I had the energy to get off my duff and organize something, I’d make dang sure it was an event I wanted to participate in. The rub in this case is that most of the riding the FCC crew does is aimed at endurance riders. I went to one of their meetings a few years back and they were lamenting that they were having a hard time attracting younger riders. I understood the problem as most of the younger folks I know who ride don’t do it to sweat, they do it to shred a sweet line or pull a hot trick. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large road and cross country seem to be riding styles that are a flavor acquired with a bit of age (once you realize that broken bones are starting to take longer to mend).

All of this explains why I was pretty excited when FCC brought IMBA up here to do a presentation and a trail building clinic. I could not attend (I had to work) but since the meet and greet presentation was at my shop job, I got to witness the start of the trip. The slide show included plenty of dirt jump parks, technical singletrack, and actual downhill trails. As I watched the presentation I became slightly depressed since it was unlikely that anything of the sort will be built anytime soon. However, according to one of my FCC inside sources, it appears that attitudes inside the FCC may have already changed. I may have just missed it since I was not around. The new trail construction that began during the weekend clinic was aimed at building a sustainable (IMBA’s key buzzword) intermediate level technical trail. It’s slow going of course, apparently there are only a few people who actually understand the concepts of building a sustainable trail (me completely not included), everyone else was there to take direction and dig. However, since the proper permitting and relationships have been started, if the trail gets built right, it will be there for decades instead of years.

Hopefully I’ll be heading out to the site this week some time and check out what’s been laid down so far and what they have planned. If it’s all it’s cracked up to be, maybe I won’t be riding as much as I thought this year. And the fact that I did not buy a new all mountain machine won’t be depressing me nearly as bad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The first Ester Dome Winter Downhill

The ride that started it all happened three years ago. It wasn't organized; there were just two of us that decided to see what our favorite trail looked like in the winter. Strangely enough there was actually a wedding going on when we arrived. We scoffed at the rows of Subarus lining the road up to the trail head. We made hippie jokes and cracked comments at expense of folks that had gathered and hiked the half mile to the next hill top where the ceremony was taking place. Then as our shuttle was backing down the road, it slid off and got stuck in the snow on the side. We tried in vain for twenty minutes to push or pull the truck out. All was looking lost when the ceremony ended and we were suddenly surrounded by twenty or so wedding goers.

Needless to say, I have never been so happy to see a small army of hippies. We had the truck unstuck in under two minutes. Although they say that people in numbers can move mountains, I do have firsthand knowledge that they can move an F-150 in short time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taking one for the team.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is again participating in the Heart Walk. I think most of the people who know me in any capacity are up for abusing me in some way if possible. Thus I offered myself as a target for charity in hopes that people would actually donate money to make me uncomfortable in some way. Our department’s initial idea was that people could pay to throw a pie in my face. While probably attractive to some, the idea didn’t sound very sporting to me. I just couldn’t see doing any trash talking if all I was going to do was sit there and get pied. Also, it seemed like it would get old for everyone after I took the first few. I like riding my bike, so our second idea was that I could ride my bike around while people tried to hit me with pies. This idea sounded much better to me. Not only would I be riding a bike, but I’d at least have a sporting chance, thus trash talking would be appropriate. I soon realized that a pie plate hurled like a frisbee would probably do enough damage that it wouldn’t be fun for me if I actually got hit. Someone made the suggestion that people could throw water balloons, and the idea was cemented.

Last week was beautiful, sunny, clear skies and record high temperatures in the 70s. This week has not been. So when we started setting up this morning and it snowed a little, I knew I was in for a real treat. I can’t imagine having more fun. Riding my bike in a circle (my designated area was six parking spaces big) and taunting people while the try to hit you with water balloons is awesome. I recommend it to anyone. I got nailed quite a few times, including once in the melon, by not nearly as many times as I watched and grinned as balloons passed harmlessly close to me, or braked hard and watched a balloon fly past my bars as someone was trying to lead me. All in all we raised several hundred dollars for a good cause and many of my friends got to take some well earned shots at me. Plus riding a bike NASCAR style is much easier than working.