After a brief, but sufficiently luscious winter, it’s proper bike season again. Planning on a full summer of Enduro racing followed by a full Cyclocross season, I’d come into the start of 2013 intentionally a touch under-trained, wanting to be fresh and fired up all summer and fall. Fortunately, there is plenty of bike riding to be done in the spring, and that’s just what’s been happening for the last month. Here are a few highlights from along the way.
Things kicked off with a trip to the Right Coast for the Michaux Mountain Bike School in southeastern Pennsylvania. Zach Adams is an entrepreneurial young chap who reached out to me to help with his fifth installment of this weekend skills clinic. Having heard a lot about the riding in the Michaux State Forest and being curious to see if I could help some folks ride their bikes better, I jumped at the opportunity. Turns out the riding is Eastern Woods classic and the bike community there is thirsty for knowledge. We had 54 riders at the YMCA summer camp for the weekend and everyone learned a thing or two. I learned more than that, and got some chunky rock riding practice in for good measure…
A few days after returning home from PA, I hopped in the trusty WRX with a couple friends from Bend to drive north, to the other PA. Port Angeles, Washington, that is. Home to the Dry Hill trails area and the opening round of the Northwest Cup Downhill race series, PA is a place I’d been meaning to visit for ages. If there is one thing I need to be doing this year to improve my skill set for the upcoming Enduro events, it’s racing Downhill. It’s a great excuse to have a proper downhill bike like the fresh Giant Glory that our team manager Frank got together for me just in time for it to get abused in some classic NW spring weather. My brain is programmed to ride XC bikes around world cup courses in a sustainable manner, which is the opposite of throttling through the woods with limited regard for terrain or safety. I’m getting there, and having a damn good time trying. I finished 23rd out of 40-odd racers with a clean run that left me impressed that some guys were 15 seconds faster than me through those woods… Props to you, legit Downhill racers of the world!
From PA it was a quick evening drive around the Puget Sound to catch a flight from Seattle down to Los Angeles for our Giant Team Camp. Where we would indeed do some training in the sunshine, in addition to a bunch of other necessary duties. These included getting sweet new bikes and taking photos while riding said bikes. We had some good times with our friends from the Media on the Beer Loop and productive meetings with the Product and Marketing Departments at Giant HQ. It’s pretty awesome to be back on the proper Giant Factory Off-Road Team. Working with experienced professionals on both the staffing and rider front is going to be exceedingly pleasant for the next two years of figuring out how to do this Enduro racing thing properly. From the speed and style he showed on the Suicide and Dead Cow trails, Josh Carlson will be a great wheel to follow down the Enduro World Series tracks. Hopefully I can teach him something too…
After a week in SoCal it was nice to pile into the new team Sprinter Van for the five-hour drive up Hwy 101 to Monterey for the season opening mainstay Sea Otter Classic. A bonus day off was spent riding in Santa Cruz’s Demo Forest with local pinner Aaron Bradford showing myself, Kelli, Josh, and some kid named Danny Hart around some lesser-known treats. Team manager Joe Staub and newbie mechanic Sebastian Boyington (heretofore referred to as Sparky, his nickname at the Bangor, Maine Ski Rack bike shop in our youth) joined us as well. Again, working with folks who are ultimately in this game to ride bikes is pretty awesome.
We were at the Otter to race though. And race we did. Josh Carlson and I elected to stay busy, contesting the Short Track, Cross Country and Downhill in an attempt to get a solid weekend of Enduro training on the books. I’ve always wanted to race the Sea Otter DH, being one that won’t kill me and will help work on jumping at speed. We jumped at slightly less speed than the winner, Aaron Gwin, but still finished mid-pack and learned a bit about bike setup. Short Track and XC were decently lackluster affairs as well, in amongst a busy weekend. Fortunately I got to ride a spicy new 27.5” wheeled Giant prototype, putting me on the funnest bike on the course. In between being in traffic sweet lines were taken and folks entertained. That’s what we’re here for, right? Also to win, working on doing that in a different fashion these days…
Sea Otter ended with a taco on the beach and some bird droppings on my head, signaling that it was time to head briefly north before swinging back into the Sun Belt for the Whiskey Fifty race in Prescott, AZ. This would mark the one time this year that I’d ride a hardtail, the snazzy new XTC Advanced SL 29er complete with silky smooth ride quality thanks to some clever tube shaping and seatpost configuration. It must’ve been this that put me in the lead group off the start and allowed my Enduro-focused training to settle into the 5th-place chase group once the attacks went. Or maybe it was the Beet Juice concentrate Jade Wilcoxsin set me up with at Cross Nationals. Either way, good racing happening until I suffered a JRA flat tire on a county road. Oops. A quick repair and some hard riding had me almost catch back to the top 10 and some serious prize money, but, well, it didn’t quite pan out. Fortunately, Kelli Emmett recovered better from a similar situation while winning and came in third, enabling her to buy dinner that night… I’d been hearing great things about the Whiskey race and the event promotion skills of Todd Sadow. Turns out they’re true, an event centered downtown in a vibrant community with a race course that reflects the incredible riding available just outside the city limits. Keep your eyes on this space, Todd is looking to expand this model and get cross-country racing back on track in the US. With a fair shake of cash on hand as well, $40,000 prize list for a sweet three-hour race? Sold…
It’s exceedingly pleasant to no longer be tied to ultimate spring fitness to maintain a World Cup Cross Country ranking from March through September. Easing into the summer racing season is something my childhood in Maine is much more accustomed to and I’m excited to see where this ideal springtime will leave me in the important events to come this summer and fall. Fresh is always fast, and I’m doing my best (thirty-one year old) spring chicken impression this year…
Thanks to everyone who makes it happen-
Mom, Dad and all the buddies.