Almost Heaven

Why is it that it always rains sideways when I go mountain biking in West Virginia? I remember the NORBA races back in the day at Snowshoe when it poured biblically the night before the races and the course was a peanut butter mess with extremely high humidity. I suffered like a dog. The years that we all went down to Slatyfork for the Fat Tire Festival, we could hear the torrential rains swelling the creeks outside of the Jerico Bed and Breakfast http://www.jericobb.com in Marlinton and woke up to flash flood warnings. But we rode. This year we went to a great event called Dirt Fest run by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com in Big Bear, West Virginia and again, it rained cats and dogs on the Friday that we arrived. It was like “Almost Heaven” was saying to me,” Pat- you have to bring your “A” game down here and we are not going to EVER give you a gimme.” Even though we had brilliant sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the damage had been done and the slime on the rocks, boulders, and roots which define West Virginia riding, made Saturday morning the usual challenge. There are people like Tom Florcik http://www.trailflobikes.com and Sue Haywood who make it look easy and send it over the big drops. But I tend to be more cautious because as I always like to say, ” I ride to ride another day.”

So why do I keep beating my head against the wall and venturing into a most challenging environment? I do it for the beauty of West Virginia and the people who make the event so much fun. Dirt Rag Magazine has been around for over 25 years and was the brain child of Maurice and Elaine Tierney. I am happy to say that I have known MO a long time and have had many enjoyable riding days with him along with cohorts like Karl Rosengarth and Jeff Wuerthele. Dirt Rag arranged all the logistics with Big Bear which is a formidable task along with arranging a whole myriad of suppliers in the bike industry to attend with demo equipment. Along with great food by Doan’s Bones Bar b Que http://www.doansbones.com and the fabulous pizza supplied by Liz Klevens, the event was lacking for nothing. The movies and the beer supplied by Green Flash http://www.greenflashbrew.com and Oskar Blues http://www.oskarblues.com did not disappoint and the whole weekend went off without a hitch. No one seemed to mind the muddy but steadily improving conditions. But what really brings us back year after year? The People!! The mountain bike community is a friendly lot of “crunchy”, ” earthy” people who love the outdoors and can really ride the challenging conditions. It is not often that you see a group of ladies like Val from Asheville, NC, Chrissy from the Canaan Valley and Stephanie from the burg, pound fearlessly over muddy, rocky obstacles with smiles on their faces and laughter all around. Mountain bikers know how to have fun and at the end of the day, know how to kick back and enjoy the fading sunlight and the roaring fire complete with stories about the adventures of the day sipping a cold IPA. I love my crew and also love to gather with the “tribe” at events like Dirt Fest. The Chetlins, the Girones, and Sy were missing but they were in Bend riding. So, they had an excuse. Our local crew makes a contribution to the scene with characters like the Shark, Bob Bannon and John O’Toole- veterans of the sport, Johnny Mac and Bob Anderson- really skilled riders, Pete Hilton, Mike Connors and his son Riley-fun, good riders, and Angelo Ross- the originator of http://www.naturalcause.org . John Casuccio, Joe D’Oro, Michele with an “L”, Michelle with two “Ls”, all skilled MTB folks, and of course Jeff Balicki who got MVP for the weekend riding the heinous rocks and roots just out of knee replacement surgery three months ago. If you ever saw passion for a sport, look no further than this affable barrister from Pittsburgh. He worked hard to get back on the trail and will be ready for ski season for sure. It’s the people…..people!!!! That is why we ride. Sure it is challenging, it is hard, it rains like a cow peeing on a flat rock, but the people of Dirt Rag and the folks of the eastern mountain bike community make it fun with the camping stories, the crackling fires, and the beers. Barry and the guys from Dirty Harry’s make sure all of us ride in style and repair the damage after weekends like this. The local shop is part of the community and we should all support them.

So if you ride mountain bikes, find events like Dirt Fest and support the cause. You will not only have a lot of fun no matter what the weather does, but you will make friends for a lifetime sharing the passion of riding and the truly spectacular trails. Thanks for reading.

The Wild 100

fader8IMAGE_1_12022009095949 One of the more interesting events that I have participated in was the Wild 100 Mountain Bike Race in Slatyfork,WVA. This was a point to point event with 6 check in stops in very remote corners of the West Virginia wilderness. The weekend always started with a camp out in the field behind the Elk River Touring Center. Most often the Inn was sold out but it was more fun to camp under the stars anyways. The next morning was a mandatory meeting at 6:45 AM where you were given a map to the 100 K course along with the notation for the check points. You had to make the check points by a certain hour or you were asked to board a pickup truck for the long ride back to the touring center. Only one time did anybody in my group not make the check in point. One of our guys one year was an ultra runner and wanted to try the event. He underestimated the difficulty and the need to ride miles on the bike. He was escorted out. He told us to keep riding.

Most of the years I participated, I had an interesting entourage with me. Maurice Tierney, founder of Dirt Rag Magazine, was our navigator. He was a pretty good map reader as well as being fairly familiar with the area. Some of the other Dirt Rag guys joined us along with my friend Dixon whose energy source on the ride, among other things, was blue bubble gum. At the top of Props Run, which was nothing more than a stream bed that went to the top of the mountain, Dixon could be seen loading up on blue bubble gum and smiling with matching teeth. Dixon is a character and deserves his own blog post. Props was always inluded in the course and some times you went down it, which was a bone rattling descent, or you went up it and pushed your bike for about half the distance. There was a lot of fire road and if you decided that you wanted to shorten the ride, you went into the woods to several places like Bear Meadows, or the infamous Tea Creek Canyon. The streams and water that you encounterd in the canyon were dyed with tannin from the leaves and the image of a cup of tea was very apparent in the color of the streams. But you had to pay attention here because the descent was off camber with a lot of slippery, slimy roots, into the valley where you had a check in point before you began a long climb out of the canyon.

Navigating wilderness trails and fire roads was a true challenge and you had to prepare well with a pack loaded with plenty of water, energy drinks, food, and lights in the event that you had an issue that would push you into the evening hours. Suffice to say I never had that issue but on the final fire road descent I was always bonking badly and jamming the last dust ball infested energy bar into my face to ward off the fatigue and the blue dots appearing before my eyes. The last time I saw the blue dots was when I did a time trial at Halloween on a very hot day dressed in a tuxedo. That was a heinous road climb up into an industrial park and the blue dots of maximum exertion apeared before my exploding eyeballs. Always avoid the blue dots. They are a sign of imminent disaster. I always avoided the big bonk on the last descent to Rt. 219 and successfully avoided he speeding logging and coal trucks which were dangerously close to us as we navigated our way back to the Touring Center. The outdoor shower was welcome but the temperature of the freezing stream water that fed the showers was anything but relaxing. However, all was saved with a great bar-b-que and awards ceremony followed by blue grass music on the deck. One more night in the tent and back to the burg. The Wild 100 was always a great experience.

This years event is not scheduled yet but if you call Gil and Mary Willis at the Elk River Touring Center, they might be able to tell you if they are scheduling the event or not. They are great people and it is definitely worth the ride to Slatyfork just to ride. The Inn is wonderful as well as the food and the hospitality. The riding, the fishing in the Greenbrier River, and the evenings on the deck with a cold beer are also memorable. http://www.ertc.com If the Inn is crowded, you can go down the road a bit to Marlinton and stay at the Jerico Bed and Breakfast. A wonderful place with pre-Civil War cabins that have been restored with pot belly stoves and lofts. Lots of Confederate memorabelia around and the proprietors grandfather always delights in telling us Yankee boys that there are 9 of us buried up above on the hillside. The earlier battles of the Civil War were held in this general area and sleeping under the picture of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson gives you something to think about as you doze off to sleep to the relaxing sound of the stream bed outside your window. http://www.jericobb.com

The riding in West Virginia is always challenging but there are hundreds of miles of great trails all accessible from either facility. There are lots of fishing events, music festivals and riding events at Elk River like Women’s Clinics conducted by local heroine Sue Haywood who is a member of the Trek Professional Mountain Bike Team. If nothing else, you might be fortunate enough to ride with Dixon and get some of his prized blue bubble gum on your ride. Thanks for reading.

The 24 Hours of Canaan

photoNiteRider2 So I am at the start line in Davis, West Virginia representing the Vet division entry for Greenlees Mountain Bikes. The atmosphere is electric as the clock winds down to signal the start of this 24 hour team relay on the old motocross enduro course at Blackwater. Only there are no throttles in this race. All legs and lungs as the group lined up at the entrance to the river crossing at the very beginning of the course. West Virginians make mountain bike racing hard and Laird Knight was no exception in his innaugural races in this format. http://www.grannygear.com As the gun went off, we all ran towards the river with our bikes on our shoulders and waded accross the thigh deep water until we reached the trail on the the other side. Soaking wet, we were now in the race and the bumping and positioning on the trail was in full swing. As we found our pace, I let the adrenaline calm down a bit and got myself into a good peddling rhythm with some other guys as we made our way on the course. The next obstacle was a group of rocky ledges called “The Moon Rocks” which were a challenge to even run much less ride. It was followed by a swampy,thigh deep bog which represented another hike a bike until the trail emerged again. The finish of the course was non-eventful until we reached the end of the lap at the river crossing again. The portage of the bike began again and exhausted I reached the exchange tent where Chuck Greenlee was waiting to take the baton from me and begin his lap.

The important thing in 24 Hour Racing is to try to get some rest because your next lap was usually in another couple of hours. You had to clean and maintain your bike for the next ride( we had the luxury of shop mechanics from Greenlees and Dirty Harry’s) helping us. http://www.dirtyharrys.net We also had to get something to eat and then lay down in the small motel that was in Davis at the beginning of the course. Usually you had another afternoon lap before you had to rest again and then the real racing began- the night laps. Riding a mountain bike at night on rocky, muddy treacherous trails is a challenge seeing that 90% of all mountain bikes are never taken off road much less at night. I had some experience riding in North Park at night but racing at night is a whole other kettle of fish. In West Virginia it is eerie at 4 AM in the woods. The race is pretty spread out by that point and your light is fixed on the trail ahead of you. When someone came up on you it made you jump a little and when you came up on someone ahead of you, it was creepy too. Often times you heard things in the bushes beside you and you couldn’t help to wonder if it was a bear, or something else that goes bump in the night. One guy came up on me from behind and his light was burned out. He asked if he could folow me and I said sure. It wasn’t long before he fell off and I felt bad leaving him but I had a responsibility to my team mates to get back as soon as I could. Kind of like the guys who climb over people on the way to Everest or the selfish skier who says,” no friends on a powder day.” Oh well.

Our group was doing real well in the Vet division and as we approached daylight, I saw Tim Sweeney,my roomate, getting a cup of coffee in our room. The next thing you know, he falls over in his bed with the coffee spilling all over the place. He had passed out and I quickly tried to revive him to no avail. So, I managed to get him into my Blazer and started to drive towards the hospital in Oakland, Maryland. Tim would groggily come to and then pass out again leaning on my shoulder. I had to drive and push him towards the window. I was going about 90MPH on Rt.219 because I didn’t quite know what to think about Tim’s condition. All I knew was that I better get him quickly to the hospital. As I made my way to the emergency room, a nurse met me and I explained what had happened. She was a mountain bike racer as it turned out, and said that Tim was dehydrated. Tim was an expert racer and as all of our guys did, gave his all on all three of his laps to that point. Several of our guys had done the same and could only ride three laps. Unfortunately they were counting on me to do more because I paced myself and had some gas left in the tank for the morning laps. Knowing my fate, the nurse said to pick Tim up at the end of the day and I should go back to do my next lap. So there I was driving 90MPH again down 219 only to peel into the parking lot to my team mates yelling to hurry up because it was my lap. I didn’t even have time to explain why I was driving and they pushed me towards the river for my fourth lap.

Coming into the finish area after 4 laps, I was spent and the other guys asked me if I could do one more. They were so fast that they had expended all of their energy on three laps and I was the last guy to be able to make up more laps. Cramming some bananas down my throat and downing some Gatorade, I got on my bike and went out for my final lap. Being slow and methodical and saving energy in endurance races of this type can be a blessing or a curse. In this case, it helped our score, but in my eyes, it was a curse because I was trashed. Wading through the river for the last time was cold and I began to cramp. I made it to the other side and laid down for at least an hour talking to friends recounting the race and the harrowing drive to Oakland,Md. I always seem to get into some kind of pickle in events and this 24 hour race was no exception. We won the Vet division, our experts won their division, it was a successful jaunt to Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia for the Greenlees boys. Tim spend the day on a gurney but was glad that we did well. Racing or just riding in West Virginia is not for the faint of heart. I went back for another year and did some other 24 hour events over the years. But the Canaan experience is one that I will never forget. Tim won’t either. That gurney ruined his back. Thanks for reading.