So I buy myself a mountain bike right around the time that I was first married. The technology in the 80s was primitive compared to today but nonetheless, I was riding a steel frame, straight fork(shocks for mountain bikes were not invented yet), cantilever front brake and “U” brake for the rear wheel. The worst invention of all time seeing that the “U” brake caught all the mud, sticks, leaves, gum wrappers, and anything else it could suck up on a ride. I was in virgin territory in the woods of North Park with my new mountain bike.
Fast forward, the competitive juices started to flow again and the next thing you know, I am in a series of local mountain bike races called” The Month of Mud.” Now my friend Gary Bywaters started this frivolity and all of us local road riders and racers got involved and it was off to the races with a sport and competition that would keep me occupied up until the present time. None of us knew what we were doing in those days and the following is a synopsis of the flavor of “Mud”
The Brothers Grimm Venue- this was a track of land that had home made trails near the airport with a stream crossing that became a nemesis to many of us. As we watched Jay Humphreys fly through the stream, we were all inspired until I dropped my front wheel in a hole and catapulted over the handlebars, face first into the creek. Soaked to the bone is not the way to continue a race in 40 degree weather but I persevered along with the other poor saps who shared a similar fate
Trax Farms- By had us riding through the pumpkin patch with a climb that had us all jostling for position so that we wouldnt be sent off into the rotting pumpkins and cow patties. It was here that Joe Papp got his indoctrination to bike racing. Joe has achieved some notoriety as a road racer and some not so good publicity in the performance enhancing drug scandals. But suffice to say, after his mom dropped him off, the old guys took him under our wing and jump started him.
Knob Hill Park- this swamp of an area out north of Pittsburgh was notorious for soaking us to the bone in very cold conditions. By thought it would be funny to place pink flamingos along the course which drew some laughs from the crowd but didn’t serve any more than a reminder that this venue was anyting but tropical. During one race, I got lost and took a bunch of guys and Diane Blackburn, the women’s champ with me. The guys were cool as we made our way back to the course but Diane ripped me from head to toe. I gradually got to know her better but she was frightening on that day.
Brady’s Run- this place always was cold and had a real steep climb in the beginning. Sidebar- I was jostling for position on the first climb and squeezed Matt Eaton, the National Road Racing Champion off the trail and down into the woods in a heap. I felt terrible as Matt was new to mountain biking. I apologized later and Matt being the gracious soul that he is with his British upbringing, told me not to think a thing about it. I remember during the incident looking to my left at Larry Lynch after my misplaced elbow sent Matt flying and saying” National Road Champion………..HE GONE!!!” This crazy place always got snow which sent a lot of us over the bars on this off camber downhill that we lovingly called the “Descent of Death”. Any precipitation at all would turn this trail into a slick, slimy path of destruction.
For all of this trouble, mud, cold, snow and freezing conditions during the fall, By would have a rousing awards celebration with awards of the highest quality. First place was usually an apple. Second place was a bannana, and in third you were usually awarded a rock. If you were looking for good prizes in the late 80’s and the seminal years of the Month of Mud, you were in trouble. In following years, By would take some of his old race walking trophies and turn them into series champion trophies. Once you wiped the cob webs off of them, they were actually a decent memento of all the sweat, grime, broken chains, flat tires, snow, freezing rain that was the Month of Mud. Lots of racers of note got their start in the MOM. Gunnar Shogren- who eventually rode professionally for GT showed up from West Virginia. He would bring Rob Acciavatti and Susan Haywood with him. Sue was young and eventually rode professionally for Trek. Another kid would show up from Lancaster and slay all in his jeans and bike jersey. He was Mennonite and didn’t let anyone see his legs because that would not be modest. How things changed from those days for Floyd Landis who won the Tour De France only to be stripped of his title for taking testosterone as a performance enhancer. Yes, Floyd got his start in Western Pa with the Month of Mud and Jim Sota’s race series at Hidden Valley Resort called the Fat Tire Stampede and Fat Tire Fallout.
Local heroes also got their start at the Month of Mud races. Tim Sweeney, Barry Jeffries, Scott Root, EJ Sigety, Jonathan Moran, Chuck Grenlee, Sam Dyke from West Virginia, and a host of others who went on to race at NORBA events and other regional battlefields. Even John Humphreys, Larry Lynch, John O’Toole, Bob Bannon and yours truly battled it out in the veteran’s division back then. We had a blast heckling each other each week only to vie for the coveted apple in our age group.
Today the Month of Mud is a well organized series. http://www.monthofmud.org The hard work of Gary Bywaters in the early days spawned a wonderful series that is now sponsored by bike shops and manufacturers supplying the bike industry. The prize pool has significantly improved( no offense By). But as I see the younger, fit, lycra clad generation battling it out these days, I think back to the good old days when a bunch of young kids and older guys peddled and pushed their way to local glory on the trails of Sunday morning. A lot of us are still at it. We may not be racing any more but we love to ride our mountain bikes. Pleasant rides in the woods, no cars, nobody running you off the road and throwing chipped ham sandwiches at you and calling you names( yes- that happened to me. The sandwich had mayonnaise on it too!!) Go out and ride. Thanks for reading.