Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Stonewall Farm Race

 This year marks the second season at Stonewall Farm on the new course. As I've mentioned in past posts, the old course was, frankly, not so great. Thanks to Chris and crew though, the new course is exceptional. It is super twisty and makes incredible use of the side hill that they have to give a race with a modest four mile lap that has a whole lot of punchy climb and a near thirty minute lap time. All this with a great starting straight leading to a tricky high speed corner and slight power up make for a fun, interesting and exciting race. Oh, and they have goats, sheep and chickens to boot.

This year, Cathy and I dragged two of our team mates with us to the race, Kyle and PJ. Kyle is new to MTB racing and this was his second race ever. If you recall, his first foray into the world of MTB racing, at Grafton Pond, began on the ground right after the start thanks to the work of some overzealous racers, who didn't fare nearly as well as Kyle did. PJ has been riding and racing in various incarnations of extreme and ugly competition for years but is a relative newcomer to the world of MTB XC racing. He has caught the bug though and we have shown him the light as to the Root 66 Race Series in New England. He gets it, as does Kyle actually also. Funny, it doesn't take long.

All week I'd been looking toward the Stonewall race as an indicator of fitness and form for the upcoming national championships, which take place in PA in a couple of days. I've been away from the nationals since the last time they were in New England, which was way back in 2008 at Mount Snow. At that race things went fairly well and I finished up third in my race, just behind JB. Since then the yearly event has gone west and has been held at significant elevation. Thus, I have stayed local. This year however I have had the championships on the radar as a primary season goal. This is obviously why I was looking at the Stonewall race anxiously to try and gauge where my fitness was. It had been pretty good most of the season save for a couple of transgressions where I took the volume and intensity a little too far, subsequently paying the price. A quick step back to regroup and then a hard block of big volume saw gains beyond the previous level. Needless to say, I was cautiously optimistic. I say cautiously as I don't believe in being over confident. Nothing good ever comes out of that.

Kyle rode to the venue with us in the van and we coordinated with PJ to all get together for a pre-ride as a team. Off the bat, it was hot. We were into yet another heat wave and it was supposed to follow suit and get really steamy, yet again. Despite the deluge of rain we'd had over the past month, the course was spectacular. Moist and tacky in some spots but not muddy and certainly not the dry, dust bowl that it was the previous year. It was however, evident that the trails were a little older now than last year in that there were roots and rocks getting some exposure. With the humid conditions, some were even a bit slick, making for some additional challenge to the already challenging, tight twists and turns. We all finished up our pre-ride course recon and then looked for shelter from the sun while waiting for the start. Cathy would race the women's Cat1 35+ race while PJ and I were in the Cat1 40-49 group.

At the start I saw that as usual, the 40-49 group was stacked with some stout competition despite the weekend seeing some additional races that detracted mildly from the start list. Direct rival Matt Boobar was on the line as was old friend and mentor Frankie McCormack. Frankie had been coming to the races with his two boys, Brendan and Cameron but at Grafton Pond he decided to jump in and race the elite race. This time he settled in with us old guys in the 40-49 race. This was great, more fuel for the fire. I hope that he has found a new MTB race home and I really like competing against Frankie. His sole presence gives any race legitimacy.

At the whistle my plan was to sit back for the slightly downhill 100 yard sprint through the field but then move to the front as the access road tipped up and lay down some watts. The plan worked perfect as I approached the corner in 4th but came out in position to hit the front and hit it hard. A steady gently rise led to a loose access road left turn and into a slightly steeper rise into the initial single-track trail head. Near the top I was feeling the burn in the legs and lungs as we had been full bore for a couple minutes. As such, I expected to be overtaken but it didn't happen and I hit the single-track first. Ride smooth and go hard I told myself, as always, and it payed well. By the time we dumped onto the next chunk of access road I had a bit of a gap over Matt, small, but still separation. After the next section a little more and so it went. It was a day of small gains with nobody wanting to give an inch freely. At no point in the first lap was I free and clear, I always had someone close enough to see in the switchbacks, which meant that they could see me as well. Dogged.

The next lap I had to back it down a bit. This is often the way a race goes, at least for me, with the first lap being brutally fast and hard and the second often slower, so that some sense of recovery can happen. I could tell that the gap was increasing but I didn't want to let myself get lulled into any false sense of security. Must keep pressing on. Near the end of the second lap on the tricky downhill hairpin leading to a bridge crossing, teammate Kyle yelled a split to me. What I heard was thirty seconds, not the answer that I was looking for given that we were half way through the race and half a minute can wither to nil instantly in a mountain bike race. Must go harder, and so I tried. I later found out that what Kyle said was a minute and thirty seconds, not thirty seconds. That would have made me feel better though I'm not sure that it would have changed anything.

Eventually I made my way through many of the other Cat1 fields that started before us and eventually saw Brendan ahead moving well with a pair of other racers. It took what felt an eternity to actually reach them and when I did, it was in a twisty single-track climb. Rather than push super hard to pass I sat and waited, finally coming by on the long steady straight climb that brings you near the top of the course. After that I saw a caught some of the women and a few other racers who were working hard to keep moving with the stress and heat. I passed Cathy late in the race and she was working hard and looking great. Wish I had her determination, fortitude and ability to suffer. I only caught a few of the elite racers, who on this occasion were doing the same number of laps that we were. Of course I never got anywhere near the top racers in that field as you would expect. There are some really, really fast guys there. Too fast for this old man.

In the end I was fortunate and was able to stay out ahead of the competition. More over, the test was a success. The start was brutally hard and I was able to match it and recover from the initial shock quickly. The endurance held really well and I didn't get the heat and exertion headache as in the previous race. What does all of this mean in terms of the next race? Nothing really I guess other than I think that I have done what I'd hoped to do, training wise toward the end goal. This week I followed my plan and did some short rides with small blocks of intensity built in. The numbers were promising for the few intervals I did, at record power output levels. No huge gains but marginally better than in recorded history, which for me goes back to 2009 with the road bike anyhow.

Cathy finished her race feeling good and looking really strong. She has started to embrace climbing now that we have been drilling into her the fact that she is actually pretty good at it. In fact, this has exposed that the area to work on is with descending and technical sections. We will work on that as in reality, she can and has done really well in those areas, looking back on the days of DH MTB riding.

PJ also had a good solid race with a top ten finish, despite some creative riding through the sharp downhill hairpin near the end of the first lap, which had him sitting on the top-tube. Kyle had the breakthrough of the day though with a stunning performance in the Cat2 40-49 men's field. He has come a long way not only in the short year that he has been riding mountain bikes but in the couple of weeks since his first and only other MTB race, at Grafton Pond. This is what the team is all about, teaching old dogs new tricks and having fun doing it.

So with that, we will see how it goes. I will say simply that I am hopeful. I refuse to let myself be nervous or to make too much of this. A good performance would be nice but again, we will see. And that is all I have to say about that.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


First cucumbers of the crop are ready to go and the kittens could not be happier. I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned it before but our cats love, love, love cucumbers. Every afternoon at 4PM they get fresh, peeled cucumbers for their snack.

We picked the first pair of cucumbers from the garden yesterday. It looks to be a good crop and there should be many, many more on the way. This is way better than having the new garden taking the place of worthless grass, that I would just have to mow.

Meanwhile, our neighbor has been constantly watering his stupid lawn for the past week and a half. At least he mows it I guess so it looks OK but geeze, talk about waste. Grow food not lawns.

Friday, July 12, 2013

CX? Already? Really?

New bikes awaiting a build
It seems like summer just started and more over, that I just finished racing cyclocross and yet we are already starting to think about it in earnest. More than think actually, we are planning for it. The team CX bikes, Cannondale SuperX disc, have already arrived and I built two of them up already this week. Mine and Cathy's are still sitting in the box though, waiting for me to get to them.

I also got a stack of new Clement PDX tubular tires that will need to be glued up and installed on the new bikes, once the bikes are built up of course. This also means that I need to call Big Al and order a couple more sets of the Carver c38 carbon disc tubular CX wheels. Those are the same wheels that Cathy and I rode all last season with great results. Hard if not impossible to beat, especially for the money.

Four tires worth their weight in gold
Yes, the money is flowing all right. Those four tires retail for more than the tires we bought recently for the van. The new bikes are probably worth more than the van. Nobody ever said that racing bikes was easy, or cheap. This stuff is killing me and is going to force me to go get a job or something radical like that. That said, if I didn't have to have the best of everything it would be less of an issue so nobody else to blame. All good fun though.

On the flip side, I've started piecing together a CX and gravel road bike for a teammate from used parts and a new frame/fork I purchased for short money. It's not the SuperX by any stretch but will have disc brakes and will fit him. I've been pestering friends for used parts to mate with those I'm missing. Seems I'm always doing that in fact, be it for junior team bikes back when we ran the NEBC junior program or for things like this. I just really enjoy building something up from nothing, basically, and also love being the cycling enabler. It isn't about spending lots of money it is about allowing others to experience and hopefully share a passion. I'm sure that my friends are getting sick of hearing from me though. I know that I have pretty much wiped out my stash of useful parts, though I do still have a whole lot of odd sized stuff I'd be happy to trade. 32.4mm carbon posts, full carbon road forks, TT aero and base bars and the like. Also have a complete TT bike just hanging in the basement, looking for a new home.

Alloy frame, carbon fork, discs, SRAM mongrel
Even though Chris and the shop as well as Cannondale for that matter, treats our team really, really well, my teammate is one of those people that thinks of his family before himself and recognized that his kids were next in line for bikes once it was feasible. Damn those selfless people who don't blindly overspend. How are they ever going to fix the ailing economy? Good thing we have so many who realize that money grows on trees and they really are entitled to that new flat screen TV, Euro sports car and McMansion in the burbs. Where would we be without them after all? Hampster in the wheel.

Cathy on the dirt in the NEK last week
We actually have been riding the CX bikes quite a bit recently. I swapped the tubular wheelsets out for the seldom used stock Stans Alpha 340 disc, which after I replaced the rear bearing are working fine. On these we have mounted up some Clement LAS file treads. We have found that the setup makes for an absolutely excellent dirt road bike. Great braking, very lightweight and stiff yet comfortable. The stock gearing is also working out really well for some of the longer climbs and overall, we are just enjoying the heck out of the bikes. It is great to actually get some use out of the bikes beyond cyclocross racing alone.

It won't be long now, it never is. The season always sneaks up on us. This year the first local event is August 24th. That seems an eternity away but in truth, not so much. Plenty of time to switch gears from a training perspective, take some time off and just do some fun rides, which is all I do anyhow, get the gear prepped and ready.

Sure, plenty of time.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Camp

View from the road up to the camp
In reality, the search started way back in 2000 I believe. We spent a bunch of time up north so started looking for a place up there to use for weekend and vacation. One that was closer to the things that we liked to do, which at the time were MTB and ski. I was very familiar with the North Eastern portion of the state of VT, being from there originally, and so that was the first place that we looked. We took our time and studied the market, the same as I'd done with the previous two real estate purchases that I'd made at that point.

Eventually we found a place that looked to be promising and so we made an offer. It was a big piece of land, 80 acres in fact, with a pair of log cabins in varying states of disrepair. Great projects and a huge tract of land on which to build MTB and nordic ski trails. Alas, it was not to be. Even though we came in with a solid bid we didn't have all of the cash and so the seller went with a competing, lower, cash bid.

View from the down off the deck
That soured us a bit and we stopped looking. Fast forward a year or so and we started to get into downhill mountain biking. We went to Sunday River a couple of times and were introduced a bit to the quaint and charming Bethel Maine area. Around that same time I started riding more with a guy I'd know of for years, who it so happened had a home in the Bethel Maine area and readily extolled its virtues as well as the vast recreational scene including dirt bike trail riding and snowmobiling. We already had the dirt bikes, which were seldom used and I was just waiting for a reason to get sleds.

It wasn't long before Cathy and I started looking in the area. We quickly noticed that even though Betel was a really nice town next to a huge ski area, the real estate prices were very reasonable. For some reason that I too this day do not understand, prices in VT tend to be disproportionately high. There is no industry and there are few amenities to account for this. Blame it on the NY and MA money driving up the prices I guess. The first time out we saw a place that despite having some issues, which we could see past, was head and shoulders above the rest in the same price range. A few days later we made an offer and after some negotiating we settled on a price.

Driveway in, and back, and up
Luckily at that point we had the cash so the closing was quick and easy and then we were in, loving every minute of it. We spent the next year fixing this and that as well as tearing off the horrible shed addition and building a new shed that fit with the home. Soon there after we decided that we needed an addition, a mud room entry way that would also add closet space that the home desperately lacked. I designed it and we spent the next six months of vacation and weekends building it. The finished product is to this day one of our proudest achievements. We got heavily into dirt biking and snowmobiling and had lots of fun doing so and also carried season passes at Sunday River for a number of years. Over the years though we drifted away from the motorized sport and back toward cycling. More over, we got heavily into bicycle racing, which just compounded over time until it became nearly all consuming.

The past couple of years the house in Bethel had gone all but unused. Work played a big part of that. For a couple of years Cathy had a job where five days a week she needed to physically be in an office. That meant no more heading up late Thursday and work a half day on Friday from Maine. When she finally went back to a flexible work from home job, I got stuck in the quagmire of "my job from hell", which didn't lend itself to flexibility.

Fast forward to this past winter.We decided that maybe Maine wasn't right for us. We'd been talking about looking in VT again as that area was close to good biking and good nordic skiing. Maybe it was time for a move. Along the way at about the same time, I decided I'd wasted enough of my time being miserable and quit. After a long hiatus, we started the real estate search in VT again. At first we were unsure of what we wanted and were looking at some nicer places that unfortunately, cost more money. Sure, we had a budget and didn't want to have to deal with a bank so stayed within it. Even at that, there wasn't a whole lot of appealing stuff on the market. Still, we were watching and learning. Not much was moving and the statistics were pretty grim but there were things coming on now and then.

Perched atop the hill
Finally this spring there something new came on. It looked good, had some land, was in an area I knew all too well, being two miles from my parents and the home I grew up in, and was moderately priced. We took a look and decided to make what we felt was a reasonable offer. The owners didn't think it that reasonable but after moving slightly and showing them the statistics of why exactly we thought the offer was legitimate, they reluctantly verbally accepted. However, they needed some time given that they had a baby on the way, due shortly in fact, and had no place in which to move. We agreed and signed the purchase and sale. Time went by and they however did not. The owners backed out on us, choosing to let a cash offer walk away. In hindsight, despite what they think, our offer was too high but we were comfortable paying a little too much for what would be a long term hold, so I'm actually glad that it fell through.

Yes, it is small
Back to looking. All the while we had been spending more time in Maine. What we started to realize is that Bethel is friggin' awesome, for all the reasons that we ended up there in the first place. There is good road riding close by, excellent food choices and amenities and the town is still, very very desirable. Our house just makes us feel good every time we visit, based partially on all of the customizations and personal touches that we have added to it. I also finally had the time to work on a few other projects there, as I've been documenting here all making the place impossible to get rid of. With that we had rethought exactly what we wanted to do in terms of a place in VT. It was clear that we didn't want to swap the place in ME for a place in VT. That said, it would be neat to have a place there for the times we want to hit KT, visit my folks, race in the area or ride dirt roads.

We went back to looking as a background task and only looked at lower end properties. Of course when you are not really looking, something falls into your lap. We noticed a camp show up in Kirby on a route that we have biked and driven for years. It is the back way from my folks to KT, over dirt roads. The price looked good as did the property. We scheduled an appointment to see it that weekend. Just about the same time my mother forwarded the listing to me. Seems the property is on my brother's rural postal route and he though we may be interested.

But the deck is big
The place looked better than we though so after an excellent dirt road ride on the cross bikes, which went right by the property, and a discussion or two, we did some research. Once we had the data a couple of days later, we put in an offer that was very near asking. We felt this was fair and reasonable. Apparently the owner agreed as within a couple of hours he had signed the purchase and sale agreement. About a week and half later, which was exactly a week ago yesterday, we did a walk through and then met our teammate Kyle at KT for a quick ride at KT. Next thing we were scrambling to clean off at get to the lawyer's office for the closing.

The owner was a very nice man from Maine who was reluctant to sell the camp, but had some health issues that forces it. I truly hope that all turns out well for him. We are very glad that we didn't lowball him in his time of need. Fifteen minutes and very few signatures later we are handed the keys and head to the van to call and get insurance squared away on our new piece of heaven. Once that is complete we head back to KT to join Kyle, still in progress, on the MTB ride that turned into an MTB slog in the pouring rain and mud.

Cathy on Ridge Rd
The place isn't much and we need to do a whole bunch of stuff to get it to where we want it. That said, it is way better than camping. We have running water, electricity and septic. It is currently three season but we plan to winterize it. It is situated on an awesome dirt road which is also a stout Strava climb and is a few miles off from RT2. This part of VT is rich with dirt roads and we have countless loops with breathtaking views literally starting out the door. It is also a short ride on those same dirt roads to the Kingdom Trails. Plus every ride will end in a good solid climb regardless of which way we go.

We spent a little time there last week, ditching to help the over abundant water supply drain off and cutting some overgrowth to help get more sun in. We have lots and lots to do but I honestly welcome and look forward to the challenge. However, I need to finish up my current project in Maine before I really tackle the VT projects in earnest. Who knew being unemployed would be so darn busy, or satisfying? I thank my wife and our realistic lifestyle for making it possible.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow

Thanks to Mother Nature and her abundant supply of heat, humidity and rain this season, the garden is growing quite well in fact. As I've mentioned before, this year we got back into gardening with some (six) simple 35x96" raised beds that I built from pine 2x6" with 3/4x3" strapping top rails coated with Danish Tung Oil and then I added PVC conduit with zip-tied plastic fencing climbing trellises. For the soil we used a good mix of peat moss and screened compost from the local garden center. This has proven to have been a good choice as it is rich and fertile and drains well while holding the mosture pretty well.

Our crop selection consists of a fair amount of beets, cucumbers, peas and lettuce with the staple tomatoes and peppers, some squash and some onions. We also have potatoes planted and growing in bags off to the side. Not a huge crop by any stretch but one that is manageable and should produce some good results.

In fact, it has already started to produce. We have been eating lettuce and beet greens as well as some peas from the garden for a couple of weeks now. The lettuce is going nuts with the Romaine almost completely ready to harvest and the leaf lettuce steadily producing in abundance. We have been thinning the beet greens and adding them to out fresh salad mix but are getting to the point where the remainder will be left to mature as beets.

The peas are producing well but not in huge quantity at this point. Not sure if that is just a matter of the number of plants and area or not as I don't have much experience with them. We will just wait and see I guess. The cucumber have started to produce and hopefully it will not be much longer before we can start to harvest. The cats go through at least three full sized English cucumbers a week for their afternoon snack so if we can replace that with fresh from the garden it will be a big bonus for all of us. The tomato are also getting bigger and fuller rapidly and I'm guessing will start to initially ripen within a couple of weeks.

The peppers, squash, potato, beets and onion still need some time so it will be a while on them still. I have been replanting as I go, at least with the lettuce and beets, so we can continue to harvest throughout the season. Again, nothing Earth shattering going on but it is nice to see the fruits, or vegetables as the case may be, of our labor on a plate in front of us at dinner time.

I can also claim that no public water has been used on the garden at all. All irrigation has come directly from rain either in the form of the consistent falling rain or in the few drier times, from our very slick and economical rain barrel water collection unit that Tipsy graciously got me from the High School he works at in Nashua, and I set up under a downspout. Also no chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides have been used. Our greens are green.

So far we have also had no issues with the wildlife, but it seems to be the squash and pumpkin (which never took off anyhow) that the squirrels have a liking for. The deer are too busy eating the bumper crop of poison ivy and other crap that is in great abundance this year, so have left the lettuce alone.

It has been fun so far and is certainly productive. Practically speaking of course, I'd guess that it will take a couple of years to recoup the outlay for the beds, potato bags, soil, rain barrel and seed. The seed was minor but I used a couple yards of soil and a few bags of peat moss. The good thing is that we should get a few years easily from the beds with the addition of some manure in the fall and then cover them up for the winter to set.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

State of the Shed

Front view with faux shed door
So for the past few weeks I've been laying it down pretty steady on this shed project at our place in Maine. It isn't a huge project by any stretch but I've wanted to do it for years and have been trying to chip away at it when we are up there. Fortunately, with me not gainfully employed, that has been quite a bit this summer. I could not be happier about it either.

Progress is never as fast as one wishes it seems, when it comes to things like this but I am happy to say that progress has been steady despite some sidetracks. Those sidetracks include both time spent in MA doing the chores and other things that need doing here as well as the diversion recently of acquiring additional property in yet another state that itself has a whole host of projects associated with it. More on that story in a later post that I'm working on. Basically, I now have projects for at least a couple of years, straight.

Rear view with sliding door, deck, entry and window
The good thing is that I love doing that stuff, much more in fact than I do being chained to a desk in front of the computer. Sure, if I whored myself out to the highest tech bidder I could make "big bucks" and pay someone else to do this type of work instead. Yes, that was what I said for years and although true, it just isn't right for me. I want to be the guy actually doing something tangible, producing something that I can actually look at and touch. Something that will be there tomorrow or in six months or six years. I want to be the person who is tired at the end of a day from physically moving my body, burning calories and getting sh!t done not tired because I've been sitting on my fat a$$ all day banging on a keyboard in cyber reality. What is the point? Hamster on a wheel spinning away its sad life away.

The simple shutters trim the windows nicely
OK, back to the shed. As mentioned before, the plan is to take the shed we built shortly after we bought the place and convert it to studio or living space. That first involved finishing off the lean-to shed so that it could be used as storage which also meant moving doors from one shed to the other as well as adding a door and window that I had leftover from a renovation.

The next step was to then close in the old shed door spaces and the old wood pile alcove and re-frame for windows. The old sliding door opening would be framed and a faux door would replace it to keep the aesthetics correct. The wood pile alcove would be removed and framed for a window and the shed door opening would be re-framed for a window as well. This also meant residing and trimming the openings to match the existing siding. The other thing I had to do was to install the triangular step/deck platform that I built a couple of weeks back. That went in pretty easily and mated up perfectly. I even had time on one of the hottest, sweatiest days, to relocate and consolidate not one but two wood piles yet again. This time however, it is to their permanent home. I hope.

Shed doors and ramp on the side
Done, done and done. The ramp from the old shed doors was also cut down and dropped into its new location making easy access tot he shed for the snow-blower and mower. The outside is completely set and we even took the time to whip off some spiffy little shutters out of strapping material that we had and painted them red to help trim out the shed. Cheap and easy but pretty darn effective. The only thing missing are window boxes with flowers and the thing would be the absolute Thor of quaint appeal. Wicked pissa, if you will.

The reality is that it really does look pretty cute. Next on the list is to re-wire it, re-frame a couple of small sections of rafter and slap a small window in the gable end, if I can find one. Then add some insulation and another layer of under-layment and button the inside up. Some pine trim, some paint, and a cheap floating floor and Bam, project complete. I know, it sounds easy and quick and I realize all to well that it will be neither.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Belated Grafton Ponds Report

This was the second year that the Grafton Ponds MTB race was run in Grafton, VT. The race is part of the Root66 series and has quickly identified itself as what I would consider the best course of the season. Real mountain bike trail designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. New school if you will rather than the old school, hiking, Jeep or ATV trails designed by and for non mountain bike specific use. Don't get me wrong, any trail is good trail and back in the day, we didn't know any better and were happy to have any trail at all, but some, these included, are markedly better than others. More about the course can be found here in an interview with ThomP of

Anyhow, we convinced a few of our teammates to come out for this race by touting the virtues of the course. This meant that joining Cathy and I would be Teri, PJ and first time ever MTB racer Kyle, who was actually new to MTB all together just a short year ago. PJ would be doing his first Cat1 race in the same field as I was while Teri and Kyle would race the Cat2 race.

The weather leading up to the event had seen some rain, a lot of rain in fact, so we were a bit anxious. Additionally, we had entered our first real bout of heat for the year and nobody was quite sure how we would all deal. Luckily when we arrived on site it was hot and the conditions were very good. Not all out dry but not muddy by any stretch. We got the registration tasks taken care of and then Cathy, Kyle and I suited up for a pre ride of the course.

There were only minor changes to the course from the previous year and everything was in pretty good shape. Cathy peeled off before the full lap was done to save some gas for the race while myself and Kyle, who was a bit nervous completed the full lap.The course was still extra fun stuff, which would undoubtedly make for a hard race. You see, when its fun you want to go fast, faster than normal maybe even, which means that although you are having copious amounts of fun, you are suffering like crazy at your own hand. Couple the heat and course with the fact that we had a full field of the normal seasoned racers, including Matt who had soundly beaten me the past couple of races and it was going to be tough.

The race starts with a flat section of field that goes into a 90 degree turn and then starts climbing up a couple of risers. From there it winds around the edge of the field into another field that then starts a steep little climb into the single-track. I knew that just as last year, it would be crucial to get to the woods first. That meant the initial straight and first shallow hill were not that important to lead on and in fact, the hole-shot into the first corner was detrimental as the actual hole that you are shooting for, the single-track, was a solid 1/4 mile up the trail. My plan was to be moving up on the lead-in to the climb before the upper field and then hammering the last climb to drop into the woods in the lead. That was exactly what I did last year and it worked out well.

That was exactly how the start played this year as well. On the approach to the climb leading to the single-track I went to the front and hammered. I believe that Matt hesitated and entered the woods a couple spots behind me. With the room to move I ripped the downs hard, carrying momentum into the ups and flowing well through the fairly technical, especially at that speed, rolling single-track. At the first check I could see that I had a little room, though Matt had made his way up and was chasing hard. I stayed on the gas and very soon began catching racers from the younger fields that had started before us. I continued moving well by riding at my max. With the heat and exertion my HR was pegged.

By the second lap I was starting to see the signs of fatigue from the heat and stress and the dull headache was starting. Stay hydrated I told myself and drank madly from my Camelback. Yes, that's right, I race with a Camelback even though it isn't cool or trendy. How trendy is dehydration and how practical is drinking from a bottle covered in mud or dust? I've been there and done that and went back to the Camelback years ago. I use a minimalist 70oz that has enough storage for extra CO2 cartridges and a multi-tool. The rest goes into the jersey pocket.

Enough about that though, I managed to keep moving hard through the lap while still steadily picking off racers from other fields and most importantly staying ahead of Matt and the other chasers. Soon I could tell that I was starting to near the end of the Cat1 field as I was getting to the fastest of the young guys, Brendan. I caught Brendan, whose dad Frankie was still up the trail in the Elite race and told him to jump on and we would go try and get his father. He replied in the negative but shortly there after, as I was sitting behind another racer waiting to pass, he caught back on. We both got by the racer, along with ThomP from the Elite race and had a great run through some of the more technical, tight single-track that made its way to the bridge at the river.

That marked the far end of the course and began the technical and highly taxing cross slope single-track climb to the field from hell. This was a fairly shallow climb along the edge of the field which kicked up at the top before dumping you onto an access road descent. The climb was in the open though and on the last two laps, entirely in the blazing sun. The trail was tacky making it seem even harder and it came just after the difficult cross slope climb. From there we made a hairpin corner in another field and then traveled a flat access road to the final woods section that dropped down and over a bridge dumping you out at the bottom and into the finish chute.

On the start of the third lap I took a bottle from Kyle, just in case, and continued to move. A bit into the lap I could start to see Frankie just up ahead who was moving along quite well. Soon I caught Eric who marked the end of the Cat1 field and for the first time that I can recall, opened into some consistent clear trail. Most of the rest of the lap I had nobody coming back in front of me save one or two Elite racers or women. I also didn't catch Frankie until the start of the final lap, despite not really letting off the gas at all. That meant he was indeed picking up later in the race. I could tell that I had a respectable gap on the field but kept plugging away. The final lap saw the catch of many of the women so I was again working in some traffic. My headache was still there but had gotten no worse. I suspect that drinking most of a full bottle on top of probably 60 of the 70oz in the Camelback helped curtail it.

All through though the legs felt pretty darn good and responded well. Hot and tired I finished up the race managing to pry out the desired result I'd been reflecting on for the past few weeks. In the end the gap was comfortable but not huge. A testament to the fact that the Cat1 40-49 group has a whole lot of depth.

Cathy finished up strong in the hot weather, beating her time from last year by a large margin. She impressed me as always with her tenacity and fortitude. PJ did great in his first Cat1 race as well, confirming the fact that he is now racing in the right place. More race for the money I say.

Kyle had the unfortunate luck to be racing in a huge field of testosterone driven middle-aged men whose skill and common sense don't quite match their understanding of basic physics. Off the start Kyle settled into the narrow dirt path in the field. Approaching the first corner, a someone decided they wanted to be in the narrow dirt strip as well, regardless of the fact that the space was already occupied. They hooked bars with Kyle and took him and another racer down. Luckily Kyle was relatively OK but unfortunately for the others, they were not. Shrieks of pain were heard as one racer writhed in agony from an injury. Kyle and another racer caught in the melee reflected on protocol but determined that not being medical staff, pressed on with their race now nearly a half minute behind the field. Regardless, he finished strong and will I hope, be back for more in the future.

Many thanks to the folks at Grafton Ponds, to the West Hill shop guys and to Chris and Jill at Root66 for yet another stellar event. This coming weekend is the Stonewall Farm race I believe. Another super event on some fine MTB trails.