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.

Wild Wonderful Rocky/Rooty West Virginia

It has been a few years since I rode a mountain bike down in West Virginia. I used to go quite a bit back in the day. But as other destinations moved ahead in the plans, it has been a while until last weekend. Our fearless leader, Mike Connors, said a few weeks back, ” Let’s go ride down in Davis.” I said great idea and off we went with 7 other MTB fanatics who were like minded. IMG_0958

I thought I would up the ante a bit by texting Sue HaywoodIMG_0964 and asking her to lead our group of aging athletes. Sue has quite a reputation as a world class mountain bike racer and currently is retired from World Cup racing. However, she runs clinics and workshops and is still very much active in the mountain bike community.Sue has relocated to her home town of Davis, and man can she ride. She gave us all we could handle. 17786_10151858587474203_1524945910_n
One interesting thing about riding with a person of her skill level is seeing just how fit she is and how she effortlessly rides over the most challenging roots and rocks. If you can ride in West Virginia, you can ride anywhere- “BELIEVE ME.” In our case, there was a lot of riding but there was a lot of running and walking too. That is the thing that struck me the most was once I was on those trails again, I remembered just how hard they were. And, we are older now and the challenge is even more acute. I remarked to Syed Hyder, my physician who was on the ride, that I was fine for about the first hour and then I started to get tired and every little thing had a tendency to knock me off balance. He agreed after we bumped into each other a few times. Good thing the doc was along for the ride. There are no letups or coasting on those trails and the challenge of a three hour ride with a world class guide was evident to all of us. The curious thing about aging is the recovery time is not what it used to be. After the first ride, we plopped ourselves down in our chairs in a field by Sue’s house and relaxed with the obligatory beer. But the enthusiasm on the morning of the next day was waning as we licked our wounds from the first day of hard riding in West Virginia.

To digress for a moment, I would like to say that Davis had not changed all that much and the quaint little town in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest should be on everyone’s bucket list. Blackwater Bikes, Hellbender Burritos, and the famous Sirianni’s Cafe are all obligatory stops for the visit and just walking around town is a treat. Things are a lot slower in Davis but in my mind, that is a good thing. The residents enjoy life in the Canaan Valley and look forward to each season of riding and cross country skiing at the Whitegrass Touring Center.

Now back to the torture. The second day, we rode the famous trails leading to the Moon Rocks. IMG_0993 This granite outcropping is famous in the lore of the Blackwater 100 motorcycle races and also a famous landmark in the now defunct 24 Hour mountain bike races held in Davis. I had not ridden this trail in 23 years and the challenge of the Moon Rocks has not changed in all those years. Fred Fischer and John McWilliams were the only two of our group to make it to the top without stopping which was quite a challenge. We all remarked how tough this section was and as the elder statesmen of the group, I was tarred and feathered by the Moon Rocks. If the rocks could chuckle, they would have as we all left for the trail ahead. Fortunately I regained my mojo following Ken McFarland and Jeff Balicki on his most beautiful Scot Genius bike which he rode like a champion. My good friend Pete Hilton and I took turns laughing at the difficulty of the riding but he kept me motivated by his smooth riding and friendly banter. Quiet Pete!!!

To digress for a second moment, we took in the Brew Skies Festival while we were there. Evenings were spent on the lawn in front of the Timberline Ski Area as we listened to local and national bands playing various forms of country rock with a bluegrass bent. Food tents were also in abundance with some of the local restaurants and breweries hosting the food and drinks. We were not disappointed as the mountain state has some pretty impressive lineups of craft beers and local cuisine highlighted by local fruits, meats and vegetables.

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I am trying to avoid the narrative here, but the last day started with rain. The sunshine that we enjoyed for the first two days was most welcomed because I had never seen the sun in any of my previous outings to the Canaan Valley or anywhere in the mountain state. Most of the races I had done or outings that we participated in, were soaked with biblical downpours. So to have two straight days of sun for me was a welcome relief. However, the last day reminded me of days past and several of us passed but Mike, Pete Hilton, Fred, and Dr. Sy were the tough guys and rode Big Bear Trails up near Morgantown on the way home.

I suppose the point of all of this, aside from a narrative trip report, is that it is important to keep challenging yourself no matter how old you are. If you can stay in relatively good shape, you can enjoy even the toughest challenges like the trails in West Virginia. I have too many friends who have thrown in the towel but not my crew. These guys are enthusiastic riders who defy the age factor and the odds and keep riding the roots and the rocks. Take a page from their book. Even the fast guys like Dave Gault and Eric Seamon(still in his 40s- he doesn’t count) were challenged. But the key is to just “keep riding” like Scot Nichol of Ibis Bikes always says. He never thinks he is 62. He just keeps on riding. Thanks for reading and for sure…….head to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.