Sunday, August 31, 2008

SSWC08: Wine Country Worlds...

In which, in the interests of time, space, and a dwindling supply of creative juices, a recap of this year's Single Speed World Championship event (Napa, California edition) appears as a series of journal entries—recorded by an unreliable narrator—on pages flipped through at random by an impatient and rather dimwitted reader. Blame televison.

Page 2 - Lap 1
like overgrown insects, trundling our way up the loose earth and rock as if programmed by some ancient, unremitting instinct. The mandatory hike-a-bike section. This one is exclusive to the first lap, the hosts having routed it out and replaced it with a much longer, less steep, partially rideable "climb" for the last two laps.

There is no hurry, no worry, on the faces of the horde marching with me. We all push with the same determination, with the same smiles that threaten to decay into grimaces if the hill persists. It doesn't, leveling off somewhat at a sharp left turn, and more a little further ahead. It's hard to believe that this crowd—its members equalized only for the moment by the same plodding task—will soon thin out as feet are traded for wheels and speed and technical prowess become the orders of the day. At least for a while.

I reach the semi-peak, throw a leg over the saddle, and begin the first lap, confident that the pushing is over for a while. I stand on the pedals and rock the bike under me, back and forth in a mechanical rhythm as I climb, trying to put a little distance between me and the growing line of riders slowly stretching out behind me like the body

Page 4 - Lap 1
first lap's bonus loop. Before the start, it was described as being two miles long, technical, and loaded with tight switchbacks. The description doesn't disappoint. Like the steep hike-a-bike mentioned earlier, this is a first-lap exclusive, designed to pare away the posers and offer a good primer to everyone else as to the type of terrain we can expect for the remainder of the race.

After some tight, dusty singletrack, I start in on the choppy stuff behind a rather callypygean chick dressed comme un petit lapin. Already, riders are hopping off and walking the rocky switchbacks, along which onlookers gape and jape, hoping to catch a spectacular stack-up. She's a welcome sight, this lycra-clad bunny, amid the smattering of tighty-whitey wearing riders whose sartorial decision assures them plenty of room on the pass. She rolls well, keeping a good pace, but suddenly has a bit of trouble at a tight turn, taking the outside line and losing her balance over some baby heads. I sneak by her on the inside, careful to maintain enough speed to overcome the rocks, and close in on another rider.

Page 6 - Lap 2
catch up to the arguable godmother of mountain biking, Jacquie Phelan, who is dressed improbably (given the near triple-digit heat) in a brown tweed suit that has seen better days. A tie flaps from her neck like a flattened eel as she carves the occasional curve. I first met Jacquie last year at the World's in Aviemore, Scotland, where she mingled with riders at a pre-race event, chatting and dispatching any lulls in the conversation with a quick flip of her homemade skirt, from which launched a large and insistent paper-mache phallus (also homemade) to the sounds of snickers and gasps. Jacquie knows how to have fun.

We talk as we ride together, she in front, and between my own ebbing attempts at control, I manage to comment on her enduring grace over the rough stuff. Jacquie rides an old steel bike, painted pink and sporting drop bars—the same one, I think, that she rode on the course in Scotland. It is the oldest bike on hand today, and for this dubious quality its owner receives a healthy chunk of post-race shwag: a brand-new frame.

I stay on her tire, poaching her line as she leaves it behind like an invisible wake. We pick our way through a desertlike section of the course, where the soil, bleached by an imperious sun, is as dry and sterile as moondust. Leafless shrubs frame the trail-side, their roots clutch the infertile earth like twisted talons. It is here where the heat sets in, pulling sweat from our bodies as we wrestle the rocks. Nomadic dust-plumes, stirred to life by passing tires, settle on our dewy skin like a crusty coat of paint, or seek shelter in the hollows of our laboring lungs.

We remain in this formation, taking what comes along until we arrive

Page 9 - Lap 3
the moment when it all goes wrong. On the final technical switchback, on the final lap, less than a mile from the finish, it happens. (That whole freeze-frame arrest of motion seen so clearly in the rear-view mirror of the mind's eye is only a neural echo contrived as a mnemonic device. In reality, shit happens fast. Abracafuckingdabra!—present is past, and in a flash we are all rubes at our own little magic show, wondering what the hell just happened even as the afterimage fades, talking wildly among ourselves and, in our baseless conjecture, conjuring more than the magician could hope to muster.)

I take the worst line (a habit): several large rock slabs stacked helter-skelter as though under the guidance of an impetuous and emotionally disturbed child, and forming a crude, jagged staircase. In a word, ugly. The fact that I've already successfully cleaned this postage-stamp rock garden—this exact line—on the previous two laps does nothing to deter me or wizen me up. I'm on autopilot now, the switch thrown by an unknown agent...and this is the first mistake, the one that opens the floodgates for the others that pour through in rapid succession.

In my weariness, in the surge of confidence that comes with the knowledge that I'm almost finished, knowing that beer is waiting, I fail to (mere speculation)

Page 10 - Lap 3
slide back far enough behind the saddle, fail to adequately shift my weight against the imperious pull of gravity, and bike and rider rotate around the front hub like a broken coupling arm as the front tire taps the last slab-step. Shit happens fast.

Parody of a handstand. Parody of a somersault.

Inverted in mid-spin, I'm vaguely, impossibly aware that some of the spectators' cheers have turned into "whoa!"s. My left hand-wrist-arm-shoulder take the brunt, give way, and something comes perilously close to punching out my left eye, settling instead on the lens of my sunglasses for a trophy. I tumble to the rocks, bike on me like a predator. A more discriminating rider—a rider I just passed—passes me on the left, on the line.

I get up quickly and pull my bike as far off the course as seems prudent, given the border of poison oak on either side. Something is wet, and I notice that blood has begin to coat my left hand like a stylized latex glove, oozing slowly from the wound in wayward tributaries that meet again in the valley between thenar and hypothenar. The gash in my wrist is a flesh wound; there is no tell-tale spurt timed to the beating of my heart arcing onto the stone all around me, and l see right away that the arteries are unharmed. I

Page 12 - Post-race
has removed what seems like yards of compression wrap and is busily spraying Betadine on the wound from a needle-less syringe. I ask around from my seat at the picnic-cum-surgical table for a beer—a good beer—and am all but enjoined to accept a URC1 from a gentleman at the Soulcraft tent next door. I take a sip of what turns out to be Lagunitas IPA and I'm happy. Happy enough to forget about the five or six riders who passed me just minutes ago as the field EMTs were wrapping me up post endo.

Heather punctures the area around the now-bloodless gash with a needle, numbing the skin in preparation for the sutures. She threads up what looks like a modified fishhook (an instrument with the rather disappointing name of "½ Circle Needle"), and I snap some pics as she plays seamstress, pulling the lips of the wound together and deftly knotting the monofilament. The beer tastes like another, and the boys at Soulcraft are only too happy to oblige.

I've got a knot on my shoulder2, some stitches in my wrist, another cold beer in my hand, and thoughts of Durango, Colorado already whirling around my brain. This one's over. Damn, it was fun!

Photo credits: 1, 4 - ahbrooks; 2, 3 - ibikergal

1. Ubiquitous Red Cup.

2. Type II shoulder separation.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Don't Wanna Hear From Ya...

...till I get a beer from ya! Tim derides my choice of eyewear the day before SSWC08. Yeah, I know, Jackie O and whatnot. But have a look at the beau monde inspired shades he's sporting. Bling-bling! Pot callin' the kettle black, I say.

Tim, good to see you again. If the idea of building up a wheelset around those beautiful Phil hubs seems too burdensome, well, shoot me an email. Pretty sure I could take them off your hands quite cheaply, ha.

SSWC08: great event hosted by great people. Curtis and crew deserve the utmost in props for a job well-done. Hoping to capture much of the atmosphere and feeling in a few handfuls of words soon. In the meantime, looks like the event made the NY Times.

Top photo credit: This guy

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Black Beauty...

For finishers only; highly coveted. I finished, but mine comes with a bit of a disclaimer. Full disclosure coming soon.

Oh, and there were red versions marked "DNF" on one side and "Amazing Healing Power of BEER" on the other.

Thanks go out to Paragon Machine Works for helping us overcome the metal end of the bottle.

The perils of sleeveless racing jerseys:

Hanging out in San Francisco more night in Cali.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Easily Led...

Here's a list of side-effects
Practice tested
Covering every malice angle
For example, you will sleep forever
You will never sleep again...

—Fugazi, "Fell, Destroyed"

Ah, California, how quick you are to please.

Got my left shoulder and clavicle checked out yesterday in Napa, just to be sure. All is well. Strong bones and muscle buffers conspired to make an ugly endo a little less ugly in the aftermath. No osteo damage; possible ligament trauma, but I doubt it, considering that I rode with it to finish the race and didn't notice a problem. Wrist and hand are now quite swollen, but I can't tell if that's from the original impact or a reaction to some nastiness around the sutures. Time will tell.

In the meantime, Doc suggested Vicodin for any pain, writing me an Rx and quickly adding something about me not having to fill it if I felt I didn't need it.

Yeah. I laughed, too.

In the excitement of my opium dreams (for I was habitually fettered in the shackles of the drug) I would call aloud upon her name, during the silence of the night, or among the sheltered recesses of the glens by day, as if, through the wild eagerness, the solemn passion, the consuming ardor of my longing for the departed, I could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned --ah, could it be forever? --upon the earth.
— Edgar Allan Poe, "Ligeia"

SSWC08 write-up on the way.

Bottom photo credit: R. Deleyos.

Monday, August 25, 2008

One Stitch, Two Stitch...

Taking one for the team: Third lap, final technical section, momentary lapse of concentration, ass not far enough abaft on a steep rock staircase.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

SSWC08: A Taste of the Main Course...

Okay. First, an apology. No pix with this post. Brought the cameras, took some pix, left the USB cables at home. Have to beg, borrow, or steal one sometime next week, assuming I can find a ringer. In the meantime, "words are all I have to play with."1 Dust off your imagination and put it to use.

The course. Ran it today. Well, most of it. Word has it there's an extra loop added only to the first lap that's supposed to have some tricky rocky downhill section. I believe the words "high" and "carnage" were used most frequently in descriptions, and always together. We didn't know about the loop, so we didn't sample it. The loop we ran was challenging, no doubt. There are some uphills that are essentially mandatory hike-a-bikes—loose and steep and long enough. The first climb, the one at the beginning, is gravelly and long, but rideable, certainly for the first lap, possibly for the third (it's a three-lap race coming in somewhere around 27 miles in all, I believe), depending on how much energy you want to throw into it. The rocky sections—there are indeed rocks in Napa—are largely rideable, but require skill, experience, and, for me, a bit of luck here and there, and tug indelicately on the knobs when the trail turns downhill. Point and roll...commitment is the word. Switchbacks aplenty, tight and steep and back-to-back. Some exposure on narrow singletrack where control is king. A great course, from what I've seen, and Curtis and the boys deserve an early pat on the back for putting it all together.

The White Brothers Rock Solid carbon fork. Well, damn, some visible rearward flex when the brake pads bite, and the idea of this action occurring at the same time as the front wheel contacts an immovable object gives me a bit of pause. Still, the light weight is a welcome factor and the deadening properties of carbon fiber definitely help to take the edge off of the rough parts.

The back pain. Miracle of miracles, woke up this morning and it had pretty much faded to a mere echo. Still there, but nothing like what it was, and completely ignorable at this point. Half a tab of hyrdorcodone last night and a few beers2 were my pharmaceutical carbon-fiber, taking the edge off the pain long enough for the spasm to relax, forget its association with my lower right back, and allow me a good night's sleep. Better living through chemistry, indeed. Still a full tab left for post-race, ahem, therapy.

The celebrities. Frame design visionary Jeff Jones is on-hand and his (get ready, Anna) eponymous creations are everywhere, including under the asses of two Outlaws. I am, I confess, semi-paralyzed with envy at the beauty and performance of these flawless titanium toys. Jeff is a blast to talk with, and listening to his take on frame design is, well, fascinating, even for the lay(wo)man.

Jacquie Phelan has been out and about, socializing and plucking her trademark banjo. And, evidently, beating me to a blog post. Go read it.

Oh, and Tim is here, as well, taking a break from an uber concert in nearby Frisco to partake in the race.

That's it for now. Gotta finish my beer (Rogue's Santa's Private Reserve) and ready some things for the race. Less than 12 hours till start time, 8 of which are going to pass in the blink of an eye. Gonna be a wild ride...

Oh, and a spoiler of sorts...pretty sure SSWC09 will be held in Durango, Colorado. How that decision came about eludes me, but whatever forces conspired in its manifestation gathered themselves in a location no less proletarian than a local bowling alley. Nice!

1. Part of a back-handed plea for absolution by Humbert Humbert in Nabakov's Lolita. Check out the annotated edition and let it blow your mind.

2. From Wiki, and a PSA of sorts:

"It is not recommended to mix any amounts of hydrocodone and alcohol as doing so could cause health problems. APAP is metabolized solely by the liver. Therefore the risk of fatal overdose due to hepatotoxicity can occur with significantly lower levels of APAP when mixed with ethanol. Also the mixture causes serious damage to the liver, kidneys, and stomach wall. It also increases the potential for coma, respiratory problems, and can damage the CNS.[6] Due to the feeling of euphoria it provides, these potentially negative consequences are often ignored by physically and/or psychologically dependent users."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Going to California With an Achin'... my back.

Leaving for the Worlds in the wee hours of the ayem. IAD to SFO, direct. Still have to box up the bike—which amounts to deconstructing the new build I just threw together this afternoon—and pack my gear and clothes. Oof!

Perfect some kind of mystery back pain, lower right side, sharp stab that hits every now and then depending on my movement. Not like me, but there it is. We'll see if it lingers into Sunday.

Taking the laptop with me, so I'll try to throw together a recap (or part of a recap) of the event soon afterwards. Until then...

"But it was that beautiful cut of clouds I could always see above the little S.P. alley, puffs floating by from Oakland or the Gate of Marin to the north or San Jose south, the clarity of Cal to break your heart. It was the fantastic drowse and drum hum of lum mum afternoon nathin' to do, ole Frisco with end of land sadness—the people—the alley full of trucks and cars of business nearabouts and nobody knew or far from cared who I was all my like three thousand five hundred miles from birth-O opened up and at last belonged to me in Great America."
—Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cross-Check Cosmesis...

Tom—cold-steel craftsman over at the eponymous Palermo Bicycles—has been hard at work on the comparatively unglamorous job of replacing the dropouts on my vintage Cross-Check.

With a new addition to his family, plenty of new frame orders (the guy makes some beautiful bikes!), and my add-on request for rack spool braze-ons1, time has been short at the one-man, Baltimore-based operation. But the frame repair is now nearing completion. Finish-filing and sanding are done, and a coat of paint is the only task left before the frame is ready for pick-up2. Timing is right; I need a change from the bent-over riding position of the more refined Casseroll, which is a bit more delicate over the oft-times pothole plagued streets of DC on the daily commute. Not to mention, the impending cooler weather means plenty of overnighter opportunities hovering on the horizon, and the Cross-Check is ideal for that kind of thing.

Tom ran into a bit of a snag during the repair process. Seems the dropouts Surly uses are Campy knockoffs—inexpensive copies of the Italian bits that still get the job done, but on a budget. Tom wasn't able to locate replacement knockoffs, so he went one better and procured some genuine Campagnolo parts, at no extra charge. Nice.

If you're on the prowl for a custom road or cross bike, or if you have a fractured frame that needs a little lovin', check out Tom's work and be impressed.

Photo credits: Tom Palermo.

1. These are standard features on new model Cross-Checks. They dispense with the need for the pipe-hanger set-up when attaching a pannier rack to the seat-stays.

2. Pix of the finished repair coming soon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cog Heaven...

Two things robust.

Ordered a 19-tooth TomiCOG on Friday after emailing Tomi to let him know it was for the Worlds and that I'd appreciate a bit of hustle in the shipping. Tomi said no worries, he'd take care of it. Came home today to find a Jiffylite envelope waiting at the door. Service!

The sheet of cardboard to which the cog is attached? A section of a Hopdevil Ale sixer carton. Perfect.

Ride Global/Drink Local/Keep It Simple/Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Droppin' Weight for the Worlds...

Thanks to a buddy who doesn't seem to get out on the bike much anymore, the Karate Monkey is going on a diet of sorts. Dropping a pound with a simple switch from the OEM Surly fork to a new White Brothers Rock Solid carbon-fiber disc fork...appropriately embellished with a little DIY decaling1.

Now, carbon fiber ain't really my thing, what with the whole catastrophic failure and degradation from environmental factors stuff (search on "American Airlines Flight 587" for a morbid example) . Compared to steel and aluminum products, I consider most CF parts to be disposable—two years and it's into the landfill. Not exactly green. That said, I've been running an Azonic CF1 handlebar on the Inbred for a little over two years and it has held up well, though it hasn't seen too many bad crashes. Still, every time I take the bike out for a ride, I think about how much I like my nose, teeth, and chin exactly as they are. And seeing DT's Easton Monkeylite snap off in his hand right in front of me a couple years back didn't exactly flood me with confidence in things carbon fiber (to be fair, that bar had seen its share of abuse, trust me). Confidence is king on the dirt, so the Azonic bar is going bye-bye in favor of an On-One Mary bar, which will make its racing debut along with the Rock Solid next weekend in Napa. (Nothing like demo-ing new parts at a big ride, ha.)

The Rock Solid will see limited situations, enduro rides, things of that nature. From what I've read, it's got an excellent track record, even under the cloven-hoofed crush of clydesdales weighing 7 stone more than me. The light weight and damping properties will be welcome assets in Cali, assuming the thing survives the baggage handlers at the airports.

I've decided to go with a 32:19 set-up for the race. Gonna be super spinny on any flats, but from what I understand about the climbing there, it might turn out to be a little on the steep side.

Now, the big decision...fixed or free? Perhaps a little trail tasting in wine country in the days before the event will help me decide. Stay tuned...

1. The decals provide more than just esthetic pleasure; from what I understand, they can be structural fail-safes when the host material gives up the proverbial ghost.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Illustrated Man Delivers!...

Got home this evening after pedaling off the dregs of a weak hangover (Paradiso last night, go figure) only to find a stout Priority Mail package on the doorstep. Took it in, noticing the Virginia Beach return address and the name "Jimmy Miller" written in soft-shouldered letters across one edge of the lid.

Ah, yes. It's here.

Gently cut open the box, tore through several layers of newspaper packing, and there, nestled snugly side-by-side beneath a bonus t-shirt bearing the eponymous skeleton on a scorcher, were five little bottles of that most coveted of hot sauces, Speedy's #44.

Set the box down just long enough to bolt out the door to pick up some soft tacos. This sauce wants action and it won't be denied.

Speedy's. Meticulously hand-crafted in small batches and individually bottled with all the love and care a beer-swillin', dirt-ridin', tat-sportin' culinary artisan from Virginia's Hampton Roads area can bring to bear.

Speedy's. Hot. Sweet. Bold. Savory. Complex. Iconic. Mysterious. Full-bodied.

Speedy's. Upgrade your food.

Thanks, Jimmy (and Mrs. Jimmy), for the sauce and the shirt! I'm hoping five bottles will get me through the rest of the month, but the way I pour it on, that's a bit of a longshot.

Want some Speedy's? Shoot an email to speedyshotsauce AT gmail DOT com.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Spittin' Chicklets...

So, not much to post about lately—my apologies to those who seek comparatively entertaining refuge here for five minutes each workday.

Just did an 89-mile roundtrip overnighter (which I've dubbed the Gettysburg Growler) from Frederick, MD, to Gettysburg, PA1, and back with a flock of Outlaws, camping overnight and getting guttered Saturday night at the Appalachian Brewing Company. First time hauling gear on the fixie over anything other than relatively level rail-trails. Oh, and first time doing it on the Casseroll instead of the Crosscheck2. On the way up, we ran into an angry storm that hurled gumball-sized hunks of hail and had us all huddling around a flask of tequila in a borrowed barn near the road to shake off the shivers. On the return trip, Joe—never happy unless he's suffering—made sure to throw in a 2.25-mile virgin climb up the Catoctin ridge that turned out to be steeper and looser than originally anticipated. A real body-lunging battle from start to finish that made me thankful for the 42x17 gearing I managed to force into an almost perfect chain-line earlier in the week. A quick stop after the climb at locally famous Candyland3 in Thurmont for refreshments and a sixer of Hop-Ocalypse IPA, and it wasn’t long before we were back in Frederick, all smiles and sore asses. A good time with a lot of great people that had me laughing under the influence on Saturday night nearly to the point of apoplexy, mostly at my own nonsensical and highly exaggerated recounting of some episodes from the Lodi race.

The other bit of news is that the fine folks hosting this year’s Single Speed World Championship finally dug down deep in their electronic inbox and found my email from several months back, in which I asked if it would be possible to sub for some friends who, it turns out, won’t be making the ride. Bottom line: Cali, here I come. Nothing left to do but swap out the broken-toothed ring in the pic above, throw on a new Salsa CroMoto fork4 I snagged on the cheap, and recable everything, then decide whether I really want to take a 26er to a ride where a 29er might be in order. That, and actually get my lame ass out on some dirt (for only the fourth time since Big Bear) between now and when the big bird takes flight.

1. Some folks rode much farther, leaving from—and returning to—an area just outside Baltimore, MD. Props to 'em.

2. I expect to have the Crosscheck back from Tom soon. I'd asked him to braze some rack spools onto the seat-stays in addition to replacing the dropouts, a task that, along with a new addition to his family (congrats, Tom!), added time to the original repair work.

3. Ah, Candyland, where one can find all manner of candy AND booze, back to back under the same roof. Yeah, they've got the eternal child covered, no doubt.

4. Gotta love this little quote from the SSWC08 blog (italics mine):

"Course scoped out, GPS'd--it is gonna be a tough mother. You rigid fork folks are in for some fun!"

That kind of fun is spelled P-A-I-N...