Wednesday, December 31, 2014


It is the end of another year, on the calendar and on the bike. I have no idea what the bike stats were and frankly, don't really care. What I can say for sure though is that I managed to make it through another year, on the bike, each and every day. Day 1099 in a row. Three calendar years and four days. This year was also the first that I rode outdoors every day. The previous two years in a row I counted rides on the rollers, which I didn't do many of but I certainly did some. Realistically, those rides are valuable recovery training, recovery that is often hard to duplicate outside, especially in weather or cold.

We had so many wonderful days it is impossible to recollect them all. We also had a pretty fair number that the weather was not so great. Most recently, Christmas Eve. I got back from an early Christmas celebration at my folks at 7PM. It was 36 degrees, foggy and pouring rain.That was a tough one. There was the one this summer at camp, which is on a dirt road near the top of a mountain. It was also pouring with the added effect of thunder and lightening.

Probably the worst though was one of the first rides of the year, last January. It was 35 degrees and freezing rain, the roads were covered in slush and the sled trails glazed to glare ice. That was a tough ride, I'm going to say the toughest for me of the year. All in all though, the hardest part is just getting out the door. Once on the bike and riding it all melts away.

Anyhow, I had plans of wrapping the year up with a big memorable ride, another fat bike expedition in Northern NH. Instead, we stuck local and explored a little bit right here from the house in Bethel. What we found was a bunch of good snow cover and some crust that was almost perfect to ride on, almost. We also found a whole mess of really bumpy, rough and hard stuff. My hands, wrists and rear are killing me, We also found a bunch of ice and flooding. It's going to be a while still here, before the sled trails are up to snuff. Need some snow and then some packing and some grooming.

The cold temps are helping to freeze things up quickly though. Speaking of cold, today was for sure. High was in the high teens and when we got back from the ride, just after sunset, it was about 15 degrees. This is some of the first cold we have seen this year and it was biting for sure. Last night we got our first real taste with a night ride from Berlin, NH that ended with temperatures in the single digits. We had a couple very cool descents there but still a good ride with some good friends we've made through fat biking.

So, that's it for 2014. It was a great year in so many ways, none greater of course that the fact that we are here to see her go. May we all be in this exact same spot next year at this time, looking back favorably on 2015, bidding her adieu and looking optimistically at 2016 to be the best year ever, so far.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Happy faces starting a day's adventure
If last weekend's fat bike ride out of Gorham with the Coos Cycling crew was the start of a cycling rejuvenation for me, then yesterday's ride with Cathy was a rebirth or ressurection. It was back to the roots and reminiscent of some of the most memorable winter adventures we have ever had. Historically speaking of course, those adventures of days past were on sleds rather than fat bikes, but the terrain, views, solitude and epic expanses remained consistent.

Sunday evening Cathy and I decided to take a chance and head to Grafton Notch late in the day. The temperature had been well above freezing for days but was supposed to be headed for a drop. The notch typically has some of the best snow around and retains it better than places at lower elevation, naturally. Luckily as we got riding, just before dusk, the hard packed sled trails were pretty good. As the sun dropped they firmed up nicely and we had a great little ride on a gorgeous winter evening. On the drive back home I thought at length of how much I missed the adventures we had sledding out of Errol NH into the North Woods. Huge, barren expanses of nothing but wilderness.Vast, remote and unforgiving yet easily accessible. "We should drive over to Errol and ride from there." I said to Cathy. "We used to do it all the time on sleds.". And so the plan was laid for a destination ride.

Excellent trail conditions abounded
That evening I poured over the sled trail maps for the Umbagog Snowmobile Association and the Swift Diamond Riders snowmobile clubs. We have been members of each of those clubs in the past as well as our home club, Greenstock Snowsports in ME. Time to re-up I think. Anyhow, I chose a loop that had some pretty aggressive climbing based on recollection as well as some great trail and scenic vistas. I figured that the loop was about 30 miles and should be a nice quick run on what should be, based on the trail reports, good trail.

We packed up our new Borealis Fat Bikes Yampa carbon fatty wonder bikes and hit the USA club parking lot just off RT26 before Dixville Notch in the late AM to a wonderful warm sun under clear skies and well below freezing temperatures. I mounted up Cathy's new Becker Sewing and Design frame bag that Tucker made me custom for Cathy's bike. This allows her to carry extra clothing and gear without the necessity of wearing a backpack, which causes your back to sweat and ultimately, get cold. Trails were rock solid and despite the fairly low snowpack at base level, trails were smooth. The club had been actively grooming and things looked great for the most part. Given that it was a Monday in low snow conditions I was confident sled traffic would be low. We started out on trail 110 bound for Dixville Peak.

Dixville Peak looking south-west at bare ground below
Funny how general terrain feel has radically different perspectives based on how you access that terrain. On sleds I remember that there were some good climbs to get to Dixville Peak, roughly eight miles from the parking lot. Now let me tell you that when working for each and every one of those vertical feet by pedaling a bicycle up the ascents, you really get the true lay of land. That trail is crazy steep and all up. To put a definitive number on it, we climbed 577' in the first 1.6 miles, the first half mile of which was approach. Then we kept climbing, steep steeps with double digit averages and sections over 20%. The first section of climb was 2.7 miles at a modest 5% average netting about 800' of gain. Traction on the frozen granular was incredible though and much like riding sandstone, we just keep churning up without issue.

Boreal Yampa doing what they were made to do
Finally we made the main truck road section of trail 110W which was groomed flat and wide. The pitch eased and we rolled along nicely, finally breaking into the double digits for speed. The first few miles had proven challenging for sure and had taken the better part of an hour. We rolled along pleasantly on 110W for a couple miles and then came to trail 134N and the start of the real climb to Dixville Peak. I fondly recall the other worldly experiences near the summit of that peak on extreme winter weather days. Rime ice covering the short, scraggly alpine scrub. Winds howling, near zero visibility and a sense that you could fall off the top of the world at any moment. The reality of a northern mountain summit that is one of the first things the weather hits coming straight out of the relatively flat farmlands of Quebec. Luckily today was bright and sunny and the temperature was much more hospitable.

The climb took me about 35 minutes and was 2.8 miles at 9% average grade, picking up over 1100'. There were numerous sections in the high teen low twenty percent range, just to keep you honest. We climbed the south facing flank, in the warm sun, working hard and sweating. We were afforded a spectacular 180 degree view of the west facing region along the Connecticut river. Oddly, Colebrook south was devoid of snow having instead the pale brown of dead grass exposed across the fields of the panoramic landscape. The summit as well as the peaks of the entire range are now covered with wind turbines so you can no longer actually get to the true top of Dixville Peak. As a benefit though, the trail is now a full on roadway, required to get the turbines up the mountain and to maintain access to them. It used to be a relatively sketchy squirrel trail up and over.

On top we regrouped out of the wind as best we could, changed glove liners and put on a wind layer for the upcoming descent off the peak. Immediately we were thrust into the shade of the north facing flank. The wind picked up, the trail dropped precariously and became washed out rutted and icy. Sections of the descent were crazy steep, reviewed after the fact on the GPS nearing 40% grade. We froze solid almost instantly. Half way down the hands were gone and working the brakes was a chore with the frozen digits not cooperating. Near the bottom yet still in shade, I was starting to get worried. As we broke out to RT26 just below the Balsams the snow disappeared and what was once snow, was packed to ice. Our hands were blocks of that very same ice. We stopped in a sunny, sheltered spot to try and thaw a bit before pressing onward into the barren tundra.

Keeping in theme, the Balsams Grand Resort was devoid of activity. It appeared that portions of the grand old dame were being demolished, left in a state of decay and death. Sad. I'm not sure what thew plans are for her but though a rebirth was in the works under new ownership. I certainly hope so as the resort has been a pillar of the community for such a long time. I remember my cousin used to work there way, way back. From the Balsams we quickly climbed back into good snow cover along trail 134 heading north. The climb was another brute, ascending another 2.6 miles at 6% average, netting almost 900' of gain. Part way up as I waited to regroup, my frozen hands starting to defrost with searing, sharp pain bringing tears to my eyes, fear set in. I was afraid that we were not going to make it. Daylight was wearing dangerously thing and although we had lights and some spare clothing, we did not have the right clothing to deal with a dramatic temperature drop. Worse, we were swamped up, both hands and feet. I knew all too well that as soon as the warm sun was gone and we did one long descent after a sweaty ascent, we'd be all done.

At the top, however, we were in a gorgeous softwood forest with ample snowpack and perfect trail conditions. Optimism returned, as did hope and sometimes, hope is all that it takes. Give a man hope and the change can be miraculous. As we descended down to the intersection of main corridor trail 18 the conditions only improved. The groomers had been out before the refreeze and despite having some sled traffic that day, the trail was wide, flat and hard as cement. We were treated to great scenery and nice easy, fast rolling trail for miles.

Miles until we hit the familiar intersection of trail 18E and 112N. Most of our local sled rides used to start on 18W and then take 112N on our way to Pittsburg when we would spend the entire day, dawn until after dusk, on the sled racking up a couple hundred miles in these very same woods. That intersection reminded me of the long, winding and steep descent we'd make on our way in in the morning. The ascent that we'd hit on our way out in the evening signifying that we were nearing the ride's end. On a sled that is, doing at least the speed limit of 45mph. On a fat bike, this climb was going to be brutal. Cathy knew it as well ans was starting to come unglued.

The climb dragged on for what felt like an eternity. The sun was nearly gone but sweat still beaded on my brow from the work at hand. Not brutal nose of the saddle just steady, big ring grind. By the day's standards a relatively easy 2.2 miles at 5% average grade gaining 726'. Cathy was a bit back so I opted to turn around at the top and descend back to her in order to keep moving. My fear of freezing was now at hand, what with the sun now being the ridge. The longer I could stave it off, the better. When we both hit the top of the climb we quickly pulled our wind jackets on and descended as quickly as possible down the long gentle slope. In my comfortable conditions this would have been incredibly fun but with the specter of the cold nipping at swamped up hands and feet, it was mostly about getting down and out clean.

As the trail intersected a side road, we accessed our options. The trail out would drop us a couple miles from the parking lot on RT26. This road, albeit a complete and utter sheet of ice, would get us half the distance again closer to the truck. Never take the apparent easy way out. Never. Although we made it clean it was slow and miserable and we generated no body heat tripoding down the road. Additionally, had we stuck to the trail proper, we'd have branched a side trail, which brought us another half the distance again closer to the truck. I knew that as we used to always take that trail, however, I forgot. Lesson learned.

We made it back to the truck and struggled to get the boots, zippers and various buckles undone with frozen hands. Finally we were changed into dry clothing and down jackets, heater blaring, and off toward home. Not before stopping at LL Cote for the sum of the day's remnants of their pots of Green Mountain coffee, a couple of Koffee Kup jelly doughnuts and a couple of Hostess apple pies. Forgot to mention, between the two of us we went through 2/3 of a large water bottle and a granola bar each in five hours on the trails in well below freezing temperatures. Seemed to be just about right.

The best adventures are often those that may have well been your epitaph is what I wrote as my social media status after the ride. Sure, I'm embellishing a bit but really, we were ill prepared for this one. Had anything gone awry, events could have taken a much different path. Still, we will remember this one for some time. Not the biggest or the baddest, but a good season opener I think, or a good close to the year.

Here's to an upcoming year that is more about the real adventure and the memories and living each day like it's the last. Thank you Cathy for sharing that passion and these adventures and not letting us, collectively, lose track of what really matters.

Adventures and kittens.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Getting started out from Moose Brook
It's funny how something as simple as a really, really good ride can have the effect of completely rejuvenating one. This especially after one has had a long string of fairly mediocre rides. Truth be told, in my case, I've just been pedaling along for some time now not really getting much out while not really putting much in. Part of the cause is that I've still got the consecutive days streak going, currently at 1095 consecutive days or exactly 3 years in a row. This I find, has in many ways turned riding into a daily check box item.

It has been a long run and a long season. Doesn't help that what I'd consider the best month of the year, was last January. that is because we were new to fat biking and spent a stellar winter with excellent conditions and endless explorations literally right out our door in Maine. I had one of the most epic rides in years, in the dead of winter on the fat bike. It was something new and something fresh. We'd just come off from a long and incredibly successful year of racing as well as riding. Really, last year was the poster child for great rides and adventures.

If last year was a boon, this year was a bust. Once we got past the new found love of the fat bikes in the snow and settled in to dry land riding, the luster wore thin. Sure, there were still some excellent super-bright spots. The Rasputitsa, the VOMAR, the two Maine gravel and notch weekends, the KT weekends, the NEK gravel recon rides, the Thanksgiving gravel ride in the Kingdom, CX fun in the snow at Sterling. We had some really good times. Unfortunately, wedged in between them were countless days of just towing the line, getting out on the bike and getting it done, whatever it is.

One thing that I notice this year especially is how few of the really great cycling adventures of the year were races. Truth is, almost none. That is certainly telling, though nothing which I didn't already know beforehand. Racing is good but the best memories come from the long destination rides or ride weekends spent with friends. Those are the ones you recall. It's hard to remember much about so many of the races. They all simply blend together and average out into either an overall good feeling, or an overall bad feeling. Some years are good, others not. Seems this was the latter. I'm not complaining or whining, just stating how trivial all that hard works ends up becoming.

Anyhow, the point of all this is that some times, the smallest thing can flip it around and give you hope once again. Hope that the overall mood is about to change and the passion is about to rekindle.That happened just last week in the form of a fat bike ride in excellent snow conditions on some great trails with some really good people.

Venturing out on sled trail
Cathy and I headed over to Gorham, NH for a ride with some of the folks from the Coos Cycling Club. These are the same people that put on the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race last year in January and are doing the same this year. They are also the folks that are responsible for getting MTB trails approved and built in the area.

We met up with Jason, Ben and Jamie last Sunday morning at Moose Brook State Park. We'd been out the day before and discovered that the trails in the park were only partially rideable  but that the sled trails were in good shape. With that, we opted to take sled trail to some of the MTB trails that the club maintains outside the park. Those trails were semi-packed and rideable in spots but some had been post-holed badly by someone walking without snowshoes when the conditions were warm. This meant we bailed and stuck to the sled trails.

I actually love riding the sled trails. To me it has all the allure of gravel road riding and in fact, a very similar feel. We've explored a fair number of the trails near us in Maine but hadn't ventured into NH, yet. That said, we are fairly familiar with most of the trails in the area as we use to ride them extensively on sleds. In fact, we know all the way from Bethel to Lancaster to Colebrook to Pittsburg to Rangely to Rumford pretty well. That's a pretty big block of real-estate with literally thousands of miles of trail and virtually no possibly way of riding it all on a fat bike in much less than a lifetime of winters. This year, we plan to add the NEK into the mix as well so we certainly have plenty to choose from.

Happy, smiling faces
Back to the ride. Jason and Ben did an excellent job of showing us around. We decided to hit a trail which I knew existed but had never ridden before on sled. It was a small club trail, the sled version of single-track, called the Bear Springs trail. It looked to be in good shape and it pointed decidedly up. This would be a great test for the new Borealis. Jamie needed to get home so headed back. The rest of us started off with Jason in the lead and me behind him. A couple hundred yards into the climb he bogged down and stopped but adeptly sprung out of the way. I made my way by and kept plugging at the climb. It was a good poke with some steep sections in the high teens and an average of 9% for the mile or so of climb. Not brutal given the good conditions but certainly a challenge.

We regrouped at the top of that initial climb and made our way quickly down a fast, flowing descent, only to hit another climb. The trail rolled on with ups and downs but nothing of the nature of that first climb. Soon we stopped and it was determined that we'd (I'd) overshot the bail out point which would be the quick way back. My reaction was one of joy, that we'd get to do the bigger loop over to Dolly Copp and back around to the railroad bed trail off RT2. The reactions of Jason and Ben seemed less enthusiastic as they recognized the full scope of the loop.

Scenic winter splendor
For me, I was having one of those rides that I just simply didn't want to end. Cathy was as well. Don't get me wrong, I was working hard and could feel it but I was comfortable, thanks in part to the new 45NRTH Wolvhammer boots that the shop scored me. I have historically been unable to keep my feet warm. These boots, knock on wood, have been awesome so far. Will see what happens when the temps really drop of course. I also managed to keep my hands warm, another challenging proposition and my core was fine with the zip/unzip and no wind layer. So yes, I was comfortable and very, very happy to be out and be alive.

Pressing forward the trail continued for a few more, generally upward miles and broke in a scenic outlook where we could see part of the Presidentials straight ahead. Soon we were down and at Dolly Copp road, a seasonal road that goes from RT16 to RT2. In winter it is a state snowmobile trail and is well groomed. Another climb was then on tap for us, this one also a mile long though a slight 6% average grade. Regrouped at the top, we made our way down the long descent back toward RT2 and the railroad bed trail which would take us back to Gorham. The descent was steep but the conditions and wind were such that you had to push pretty hard to go even 15mph let alone 20mph. All in all, a fairly slow day, conditions wise, with semi-loose granular on top of a fairly well packed base.

Tired but happy
When we hit the railroad bed, Ben peeled off and rode home. He was only a quarter mile away and was pretty well used up at that point. Jason, Cathy and I pressed on, back down into Gorham on the railroad bed. This is a nearly flat, almost dead straight, wide and smooth trail that gets lots of sled traffic. Luckily there wasn't that much on the Sunday afternoon early in the season. Regardless, we are very respectful and make sure to ride all the way to the right on the edge. One thing I learned years ago about sled trail is that the best trail is always, all the way to the right edge. For some reason people love to ride in the middle of the trail so that is the part that gets chewed up the worst. The edge tends to stay much smoother and is often, pristine. I also like being as far right, away from oncoming traffic as possible.

The trip back to town was very enjoyable with some near bridges, old mill remains and some scenic water flows. All this through a snow covered evergreen forest on a crisp, clear December day made for the perfect winter experience. We finished up tired but very, very happy. I'm smiling right now thinking back on it.

I need more rides like that. We all need more rides like that. Rides we reflect back on and smile or laugh. Ones that made us feel good then but continue to make us feel good a week later. That is why we ride bikes in the first place, isn't it? Just need to keep sight of that fact.

To be continued ...

Monday, December 22, 2014


I had a post all planned out for today. One that extolled the virtues of the incredibly rejuvenating,  refreshing and recharging fat bike ride that Cathy and I did yesterday. Good folks and an incredibly great day, one of the best day's on the bike in a very long while in fact. A post that will still happen, just not today. Some times, a day takes a dramatically different turn.

This morning I got a message from a friend that I used to race and ride with. The two of us seem to have some common bond, though I'm not completely certain what it is, and we keep in touch despite the fact that he retired for cycling some years back. I guess the bottom line is that I respect him, and honestly care. It doesn't hurt of course, that he loves and cares for numerous animals. Animals can tell the good people.

I feel like I'm a fairly good judge of true character as well though, and always have been. I've always  associated with only a certain type of people. This has done very well by me throughout life. For one, I never got into any trouble, particularly because of those with whom I associated. I'm also not the type that is easily impressed, especially by wealth or status. Maybe because I don't necessarily value those things. I'm more about the tangible things that you accomplish, on your own, through hard work, creativity and kindness. Building a really nice table out of scrap wood or doing some crazy epic adventure or helping a friend don something that they are unable to do on their own. That is what I am about and that is what inspires and impresses me. I am very particular about giving out my trust and more, my respect and friendship. Those words mean something to me and I use them very exclusively.

It was with utter shock and disbelief that I took the news from my friend of the passing of a mutual friend. Honestly, like so many friends, the friendship has a certain scope. Being cyclists, we have many cycling friends or, friends that we know through and associate with, primarily in the context of cycling and bicycle racing. That is the case here as well, though my respect did not end there. Still, the news touched me, deeply.

We really are a family, the cycling community. Spending so many hours racing and riding with and against people, you develop a bond that is like few others. You see each other in very emotional times and in very vulnerable states. In some cases this breeds resentment but in precious others, it fosters respect and admiration. The kind of respect that is earned, not granted. I will argue, the only true type of respect.

And that was what I was thinking of as I heard the news of the passing of one of the most admired and respected gentlemen I have ever have the pleasure of knowing. He will be sorely missed. He is sorely missed.

Cathy and I ventured up into Grafton Notch this late afternoon to do a solitary ride and reflect. We didn't go with the intent of reflection but I can say without question, that is what we both did. Grafton Notch is one of the most peaceful, scenic and vast spaces around. This time of year, with snow on the peaks it is breathtaking. We rode the stark white snow in the dull twilight and stunning backdrop, silently thinking of our lost friend.

Lost, but not forgotten. You have touched so many and inspired even more to strive harder and farther, both in your encouragement and your actions. You have, as I have written about on numerous occasions, pushed me personally to more and to greater.

Thank you.


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

And so it has begun, the most wonderful time of the year. The off season, the time of year when we are not actively competing in anything but who has the most fun. We got this. really, we are all over it. Pretty sure we have a reasonably good idea how to have fun.

Of course it is also Christmas. What a great time indeed. Tonight we introduced the new Borealis Yampa Fat Bikes to snow. We didn't have the chance to go all that far, what with the time and all. Seems the town of Bethel delights in plowing our drive in, in really good shape. It has also been a while since we have been here and Bethel has been getting a bunch of snow. The bank at the edge of the road, which was nearly 3' high, was frozen solid. Luckily the old snowblower started right up and though it struggled, as did my back from manhandling the ancient unit, we got it cleared just as Cathy showed up.

In other excitement, some old lady clipped a pole in front of the house this afternoon in bright, sunny and dry conditions. This resulted in the Oxford County Sheriffs Department's finest closing down RT26 for 4hrs on the Friday afternoon, before Christmas, in Bethel. They used our one way side road, which is a nice clean and short bypass of the incident, to divert traffic in one direction. The other direction they were sending on a 15 mile detour. Infinite wisdom and incredible resource squandering. Doesn't take much to understand why they are so loved currently though.

Anyhow, awesome time tonight just getting out. With the rain there was puddling on some of the trails, which hadn't frozen up yet. Not much and nothing too deep. Mostly the snow was styrofoam and anything that had been packed by sled or snowshow prior to the last storm was rideable. Planning to go hit Gorham tomorrow with the Coos Cycling Club crew. Should be a hoot. Will report back on what we find. Feel like we need to get it in before the Christmas Eve warmup they are predicting for next week.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Looking Back

Given that it is throwback Thursday, some reflection seems appropriate. It amazes me how far we have come and how fortunate we are. We live in one of the best areas in the whole world for cycling and bicycle racing. We have one of the best cycling related communities anywhere on the planet. We have countless public parks and conservation lands in which to ride our bikes as well as endless rural roadways just a stones throw from the major metropolitan area. We also have literally, the choice of more races than any one person could possibly do.

Not a trail ride, that's Cathy at Canton 2006
Blessed are we, those who love the bicycle and the lifestyle that goes with it. We, I, often lose sight of this, submerged in our own goals and aspirations. We introvert and focus on training plans and doing the workouts the we believe, or hope, will help us to achieve whatever lofty or elusive goal we currently have dangling in front of us.

It is a shame really, that we so often forget to take the time to just play bikes, to use a term coined by some friends. For most of us, that is what we are doing, right, as it isn't a job. We are just out there having fun and playing, on our bicycles.

I miss the group rides that used to happen almost every day. I miss not having to worry about what kind of ride I did Thursday or Friday so as not to jeopardize the race on Saturday. Don't get me wrong, I love racing bikes as well; wouldn't do it if I didn't. Partially though, I love the people, the crowds of friends that we only seem to connect with at the races. At the close of every race season there is always a sadness that it is over.

This is the 9th season in a row that we have raced bicycles. We raced previously back in the 90's but that was MTB almost exclusively and no where near the extent to which we race now. We've met so many great people and have done so many things. There have been literally hundreds and hundreds of times that we have donned a number and lined up to race. Looks like I've currently got 220 CX races in since 2006.

2006 M35-39 Nationals (look who is in background)
I'd put together a Redline Conquest cyclocross bike earlier to explore trails on and on one wet NEBC Saturday morning Bedford Library ride that summer, John Mosher asked me if I raced CX, then proceeded to convince me that I should. I still remember that first race in 2006, SuckerBrook CX. Since I was new and had no idea what to expect, I did the 35+ B race. It was hard but I had pretty good ride, spending the day in the lead group of three and finishing third right behind Todd Savage. I still have the trophy proudly displayed at home. That was the last B race for me and I jumped right straight into the A master's race, a massive shock for certain, one that sent me right to the tail end of the race.

Funny to think back to then, and look at the somewhat larger me in Smurf blue NEBC kit riding the 25# Redline with semi-slick clinchers. It seems that overdressing was a massive theme for us back then rocking knee-warmers and long sleeve thermals in anything below 60 degrees. It got me hooked though and hooked hard. Both of us in fact, as every step of the way Cathy was right there with me. Team Rowell, as it has been ever since and always, nearly every weekend in the fall for the past nine years.

Anyhow, my point is simply this, as much as I self analyze and get down on my own personal performances, one thing is true. Cycling and bicycle racing has changed us in so many positive ways. Our lives center around it, and the cats of course. It has become so much more than what we do, it is what we are. Thank you all for being a part of that and in turn for letting us be part of that community, family.

Peace and love.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Highs and Lows

I'm convinced that it is true that 70% of competition, particularly bicycle racing, is mental. Realistically, that is probably a bit overstated and makes some general assumptions about base fitness level and all, but when all else is close to equal, the mental quotient is huge. Having a good day on the bike versus having a bad day on the bike often relies heavily on the state of mind and attitude in which you approach the event. There is no surer way to guarantee that you are going to lose a race than to think that you can't win in the first place.

I've enjoyed some great results and a number of really good years in a row. This is let me to enter almost any race I've done under the assumption that I was going to come out on top, or at least if not on top in certain races, in the hunt. That seems to have changed a bit this year and what had become an incredibly consistent streak of good fortune turned inconsistent. Wins became elusive. My confidence slipped. And slipped. And slipped. Soon the attitude changed and soon I was questioning my ability, not believing in what I could do in the first place.

Part of this was pure and simple burnout. This year marked the longest consistent "in competition" phase ever, directly following last year which was nearly the same.  Our first race this year was a fat bike race in January. CX ended mid December so there was very little break at all. We continued right into early spring gravel racing and then to MTB, road, more gravel and full on CX. Last year we did CX right through until the Master's World Championships on February 1st. Then a quick change of training to get ready for the early spring road racing, and MTB and the full on CX. Basically, it has been two full years now of pretty much constant competition with big targeted events like Master's CX Worlds and two separate MTB National Championship events, one each year. This doesn't even touch on the full Root66 MTB and Verge and SSCX series last year, as well as full Verge, SSCX and failed bid at the New England Elite BAR series this season. Needless to say, it has been a busy couple of years.

This year I viewed the CX season as a way to salvage what had been a pretty mediocre MTB showing. Yes, there were some highs but there were also some lows, none more so than Nationals. Don't get me wrong, the season started with some incredible, beyond expectation results first at the fat bike race and then at VOMAR and the Rasputitsa. In between though saw a complete breakdown at Battenkill. The early season MTB was also troubled as was the early road racing. Eventually MTB improved but not before more setbacks. However, fitness was on schedule for the state and then Regional Championships as well as Nationals but a moment of inattentiveness and a simple crash threw a wrench into that. Later this summer, the gravel races I'd targeted also became disappointments, first with the VOGP just crushing me and then double flatting at the Dirty 40. The latter was very disappointing as I was in good shape when the first flat occurred and I am optimistic that I could have gone the distance. Through all of this, there was also the team turmoil that was transpiring. Internally, there was dissension and power struggle as well as complete lack of cohesion. Everyone liked the idea of being on a team but nobody actually wanted to be part of a team. We had a team of dissimilar individuals, most of whom wanted to do their own thing.

Now on to CX and the season started off with a great day at Quad CX, doing the elite race and getting 2nd and then the SSCX race for the win. This set the stage for me doing the elite 1/2/3 races at the BAR Series events, which often were also SSCX series events, meaning I did a lot of back to back racing. I was also racing the Verge series for master's and my performance there was not outstanding. A couple of months in, all of this doubling up was taking a huge toll on me, both physically and mentally. I couldn't recover from the three races I was often doing in a weekend, throughout the course of the week. Performance started to fade as did my luck, and my morale. At Canton for instance, I was having a pretty good race in a tough field when I broke my chain half way through the final lap.

Even single-speed races, which I'd had incredible luck with in past years, became struggles. Part of this is attributable to an increase in competition but part was also just me. Part was luck as well though as I had more mechanical issues this year than I have had in a long time. To throw fuel on the fire, I'd missed taking over the Verge series lead on day one at Northampton because I gave up in the sprint finish. I barely claimed the vacant leader's spot the second day by default, leaving me less than proud of the achievement. I'm the type of person that doesn't feel right or take pride in any achievement that I didn't rightly earn. I think this is part of why cheating at anything competitive in which the prize is simply honor is such a mystery to me. You're not fooling yourself and who the heck else matters?

Going into last weekend after a very disappointing performance at Regionals, I had convinced myself that I was done and that it was time to pull the plug on a very frustrating season. Then it snowed and the incredibly good weather that had plagued me all season changed. This past weekend at Sterling I was somehow blessed with the conditions in which I have historically had the very best luck possible. The snow suits me. For some reason, I can go really fast in it. The slipperier and nastier it is, the better I seem to do. Maybe it was all the time I spent in the white stuff as a kid growing up in Northern VT. Heck, we rode our bikes in it even then. Maybe it is all the sand we practice religiously in each and every week during CX season. Frankly, I don't exactly know but I can't think of a snow race in which I haven't come out on top or very close to it.

The race Saturday worked out like a dream, pretty much perfect. I think part of the reason was that I got angry, at myself. I literally rode around gritting my teeth and swearing at myself to go harder, go cleaner and go faster. I got a gap and had the luxury of marking my pursuers and keeping pace with them. It's been a long time since I've had the fire burning down low, the competitive rage. I can't tell you how many times this season I've finished and apologized to Cathy for my performances, beaten not only physically but mentally. I'd simply given up, not believing that I could win. How far I'd come from believing that I was going to win every race I entered. Anyhow, finally felt good about the performance and about earning the race leaders jersey. It was also my first "W" in a very, very long time and the first all CX season in a geared race.

Sunday was more snowy weather though the temperature rose and conditions changed from frozen and slick to soft and mealy. Still, conditions that were much better for me than the incredible number of grass crits we'd been treated to thus far in the season. The start of the race was not as decisive for me as Saturday but within a lap I worked myself to where I needed to be. I never managed much of any gap but it proved to be enough. My luck and my attitude were changing.

So here we are. One more pair of series races to go. It's going to be a tough run but I certainly have more confidence now than a week ago. I'll see how CX practice goes this evening but I don't think that I will push it super hard. A really good performance Saturday is my target goal, which would take some pressure off for Sunday's race.

As for lessons learned, I think I'm back to swearing off the double header races. I do like the longer and consistently harder elite races though, at least at the smaller venues. I also adore the single-speed. That said, this year and all of the single-speed turmoil has left me jaded and reluctant to jump back into the races next year. At this point I'm thinking that I will try doing a full season of smaller venue elite racing on the SSCX bikes. Cathy did some this year as have I at a couple of events. In certain cases we are actually faster on the SSCX bikes. Plus, we get a shot at earning our entry fee back if we do well enough and there is a certain bit of notoriety to choosing to race the SSCX bike. I'm also going to avoid all together the events that do not fit my skillset and which just frustrate me. I learned that long ago in road and MTB and it is high time that I apply that same rule to CX.

Besides, less racing may make for better overall performances.