Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Trails and Ales in Pennsylvania...

(This one's for ssweetleaf.)

Last Saturday my girl and I packed up Moby Dick, hung the ess-esses on the back, and made our way along the super slab up to Champion, PA to have a go at the Seven Springs 24 hour race course, exactly one week before the race was set to begin. We had contemplated attending the One Gear & Good Beer rally in the City of Brotherly Love, but decided to forego that typically congested venue for something with a little more diverse terrain and a few less people. And with the Outlaw rubbing tires with the SBT at the SSWC in Stockholm, and others otherwise engaged, well, the rally just wouldn't be the same.

After dumping our bags at the hotel, we drove about 30 minutes to the resort. Because the day was getting late, we intended to get in an exploratory ride, maybe try out one of the shorter, non-race loops outlined on the resort map, with the idea that we'd get up early on Sunday and hit the 12 mile course.

We arrived, parked the beast, and biked down to the resort to grab a course map. A quick chat with the chick at the desk revealed a twist that would make this year's event a wee bit different from those of years past. This year, the route was set to run in the opposite direction.

After hearing this little scoop and looking over the map, I decided to scotch the earlier plan and head straight for the race course, figuring we still had plenty of daylight in which to knock out the 12 or so miles of trail.

So, eschewing the $12-a-pop lifts, we made an effort to bike up the gravel road that would take us to the start of the race course. I think I got about a quarter of the way up before caving in to the twin evils of steepness and loose terrain that pitilessly cut pedal-stroke efficiency in half. I knew there would be plenty of climbing ahead, so we walked this bit of boring preamble and weren't bothered too much by it.

We started the ride proper just under the ski lifts, skirting the edge of a mini lake and following the arrows that guided us into the copse. Under the foliage, we encountered a nice little rock garden growing out of the trail, the slabs tilted pell-mell like the broken headstones of some ancient bone orchard. I got my girl to give it a go, and she did surprisingly well for her first time on real rock, negotiating most of the rough stuff with the aplomb of a more experienced rider and only throwing down a foot when it was absolutely necessary.

Once past the rock garden, we hit some singletrack downhills that gave way into twisty flats before pitching us some short, loamy climbs. We rolled on, eventually coming to a long climb that refused to die as it bent in a switchback and continued heading skyward. A tough one, to be sure, and we took a minute at the bend to catch our breath.

After the long climb, we got the payoff in the form of a long doubletrack downhill that was laced with fist-sized rocks that wanted nothing more than to roll with the bikes. Fast and loose and exhilirating.

Not long after this downhill, my girl got her first taste of tree bark as her handlebar greased a huge bole, one of two that pinched the trail like massive chopsticks. She took a slo-mo and largely harmless fall to the left, narrowly missing the spear-shaped root of a fallen tree. I was ahead just off the trail, poised to take a pic as she threaded the needle. Alas, I waited too long and only caught the aftermath.

We hit a few more fast and windy downhills, doing our best to read the unfamiliar terrain without scrubbing speed, mindful of the fact that the occasional lessons I was giving and the pix and rest stops along the way were quickly eating up daylight. A typical situation with me; I've sort of just come to accept it.

Eventually we came to the last climb, a half-mile sloper that criss-crossed lazily over the verdant grounds beneath the ski lift, punishing us with its seeming endlessness. I remember being somewhat glad just then that I hadn't been able to put together some bastardized version of The Big Meats to run this race next weekend. At some point, we both bailed and did some pushing, hopping on and off till we reached the top, where the trail opened onto a gravel road.

Presently, we lost the trail, the gravel road trifurcating with no indication as to which path we should take. I climbed some more, looking for the once ubiquitous arrows that had guided us to this point. Soon, my girl found the race route tucked off the road between two thickets. We followed it, knowing that our proximity to the start now meant that our ride, like the waning sunlight, was almost over.

The course finished with a half-arc around another lake, a bookend like the uncanny double in the plot of a Nabokov novel. In the distance, trees stood on their heads across its gently shimmering surface.

We ended up at the car just as the twilight was surrendering the day to the darkness. We celebrated the ride with a Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, perhaps the best of this style I've tasted to date. Pumpkin and spice up front, a nice hoppy tide in the finish; the perfect post-ride indulgence for this time of year.

POSTSCRIPT: The next day we headed out to Lancaster to visit the brewery of the same name. Had a couple pints and some dinner, then hit Square One Coffee to pick up a Red Eye for the road. As we left, I snapped a pic of this fixee, an old, fully lugged Basso, brought up to date with a modern parts mix. With its bare, almost staid tubing, it has a sort of understated elegance that's rare in this day of bike-as-bike-company-billboard—a trend that even Basso has since succumbed to.

POST-POSTCRIPT: On the post-ride ride back to our motel, in a desperate search to pick up more beer for the evening, we found a nondescript beer shack on the side of a poorly lit country road. Inside, amidst the Vegas-like glitter of neon signs and shiny commercial-beer packaging, we hit the jackpot when the owner directed me to the only real microbrew in the building: a stack of Appalachian Brewing Company's Hoppy Trails, conveniently assembled in packs of twelve. Can't seem to find this stuff down here in Virginia; even more odd considering that Victory, Troegs, Lancaster, and Weyerbacher all have a powerful shelf and tap presence here.

Needless to say, I picked up a case. Hoppy trails, indeed.


Tim Wise said...

SSweet post. Thanks for dedication, heehee. How hoppy was the Hoppy Trails? Hop Pocket level?

iconoclasst said...

Yeah, I'd say about like Hop Pocket. Very tasty, and I'd definately buy it again (actually, the first time I had it was on tap at ABC itself, so I knew what I was in for).

Just picked up a Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine at WholeFoods...9.7 % ABV. Figured for $5.39 I'd give it a go.

Mrs. Outlaw said...

Sounds like a tough but fun ride! Donna rocks on her SS Kona!