Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Look Back

Last week I talked a little bit about looking forward; well this time of year is also a time to look back. Sometimes when I sit here going, "what in the hell am I going to write about today?" I forget that I was racing bikes for several years, having all sorts of wacky adventures pre-Big Bikes-blog. Somewhere in the pile of files I grabbed off my old powerbook (just before it booted up for the last time) is a document called, lamely enough, "My Cyclo-Biography." "Cyclo" instead of "auto." Get it? I am very witty. That document is a train-wreck of a story, piecing together my first few years of racing. In the deeper, darker, colder days of winter I will try to finish it and polish it up for yuz.

This is one I've pulled from the archives, my 2006 Sea Otter Classic SS race report.

First a blurb from a post-race email thread:

My favorite exchange of the race occurred during a downhill section of trail which was completely rain rutted and treacherous, the guy in front of me dropped his front wheel into a rut
then made the mistake of trying to get out of it, the result was an amazing vault over the handlebars. He managed to catch back up to me and apologize for crashing in front of me.
I told him "the thing to remember when riding ruts is if you should happen to
drop into one, just ride it out, don't fight it...y'know if you make a bad decision just stick with it, hey it works for our president right?" He replied "ya, I'm a registered republican."
I didn't have a wise-ass response so I just dropped him like a wet baby and never saw him again.

And...The race report. I edited the punctuation, but otherwise left it as it was.

Thom P.'s 2006 Sea Otter Classic

Single Speed Pro/Expert Race Report


When I picked up my buddy Jeff ( I.F. Grassroots newbie) at Oakland airport Friday afternoon, he mentioned something about a pleasant forecast for the weekend of Sea Otter. I stared off into the distance through the car window (while a pronounced tick developed in my left eye) and muttered something like " it rains, it always rains...they lie."

I'm a broken man, I came to Marin County last December to avoid another New England winter and we've had four months of east coast March-weather, complete with snow, floods, and mudslides. Sure enough it poured all the way down to Santa Cruz as we wove our way through prime slide territory to our borrowed beach house abode.

Saturday was a beautiful day, a beautiful day to watch a bunch of severely chagrined pros churn their way through a quagmire of stinking, tepid mud during the short track event. All I could was imagine what much of the cross-country course must look like. Preliminary reports did, in fact call the course a "muddy hell-hole."

Despite some flip-flopping on the subject of tire choice I stuck it out with my Hutchinson Pythons, perhaps not the best dedicated mud tire (cough! understatement) but yet bafflingly good in any conditions and they sure as hell don't pack up.

By the time Sunday's race rolled around the weather was not looking quite so clement the only reminder of the previous day's sunniness was the bright red knit hat line on my forehead and the feeling that I'd rubbed warm up balm on my neck.

It wasn't exactly the perfect storm but it was that kind of "arm warmers or not?" sort of temperature bordering on "should I pack my copy of 'Don't Die on The Mountain" in my camel back?"

Up until this point the only purely Single Speed event I had participated in was SSWC 2005 in State College which began with a Lemans start which figure eighted on itself then headed straight up a hill. At Sea Otter we started on The Laguna Seca RaceWay track, about seventy of us, in a pack, spinning our legs like mad, looking like a flock of hummingbirds in fast forward. Terrifying.

Travis Brown sat at the front of the group, riding at what seemed to me like an oddly reserved pace, then something happened...apparently someone attacked, flipping Travis' "Kill 'Em All switch," and he rode off into the mudset leaving the collateral damage to race for second place. I wasn't even in that race, what I was in was a world of gastrointestinal distress, bouncing down the trail like a miniature Hindenberg, periodically throwing up in my mouth a little bit, my belly distended like a two week old corpse floating in The Congo river.

The course was a grueling mix of slippery climbs, run-ups, and deceptively deep and sticky mud bogs which called out to me "Hey you, ride over me, you can do it tough guy, come on, just lean back and pull up, I promise I won't grab your front wheel and hurl you face first into the rancid muck like last lap, I've been in therapy, that's all behind me baby, give me one more chance..." Wham! Lights out.

Road course my Assos.

For the past month I'd been geeking out about the course pretty hard, I'd pre-ridden it once and familiarized myself with it's "metrics" on After much inner debate I decided to go with my training gear, a 34 X 18 not the "two to one ratio" which is so popular amongst the SS racers. I figured this race was going to be all about the climbing and at two 19 mile laps with 3200 feet of climbing per in muddy conditions it would be a de facto endurance event.

I knew it was all about he second lap yet when we went off the line I tried my darndest to remain in contact with the leaders for as long as possible.

The fact I'd been putting in the long miles and not the hard miles became apparent as I went anaerobic and immediately felt like I was going to blow chunks all over my gorgeous Citron yellow paint job. Obviously staying at the front wasn't working out for me so I opted to bide my time and reel folks in on lap two.

As I completed lap one, I was told I was maybe in 14th place, this was OK by me, all I had hoped for was a top twenty placing, I told myself all I had to do at that point was not completely explode or crash so badly that I couldn't get up...sweet.

Oh that, and beat Ron Bolds my self-appointed nemesis, which shouldn't be too hard considering the fact that he is, (and don't quote me on this, I do suffer from numeric dyslexia) 74 years old, that and he races in sandals. After rounding the raceway for the second time I began firing on all cylinders, picking off guys steadily on the singletrack climbs and mud bog sections, working my way into the top ten by the half way point.

The last section of the course was called "The Long Climb Home" and I don't know how this worked out but by the time I hit it for the second time there were literally hundreds of riders strung out along that thing. I began picking my way through the mob, keeping my eye out for other SS riders, as I passed one geared rider he said "Hey, there's a single speeder just up there."
I replied "I think I'm in the top ten, I'm happy, whatever." He wasn't having it "Be happy when you're done, go get that guy!"

I acquiesced, stood up on the pedals, stomped on them, cramped in both calves, and promptly sat back down. I finally gapped up to the SSer, sort of hid out on his wheel for a bit, catching by breath, then hopped on the wheel of a passing geared rider on the next false flat. I thought that would be it for him but when I looked over my shoulder he was right there, he was on me like a grizzly bear on a man in a meat suit. I hit each climb as hard as I could but he kept closing it down, I made a move before the last section of singletrack, cutting off a geared rider, putting him between us, hoping that he would slow this madman down long enough for me to make my get away. Wrong, he was obviously a superior technical rider because he had come around the other rider and was right on my wheel through the tough stuff. I don't know what happened but I ended up with a small gap as I hit the pavement of the raceway, a few seconds later the dude comes whizzing by me drafting off a hard charging geared rider, I jump on as well and we round that last corner going thirty plus miles per hour at approximately five billion RPMs. The other SSer broke left a bit early, as he hit the wind he slowed way down, I moved onto the geared guy's wheel for a second, SS tried to come back in but clipped his front wheel on my foot, it was hectic as hell, I broke right , head down, blind from the mud in my eyes, legs flailing like mad, I even threw my bike as I hit the line first. When I looked up I saw, to my horror that there was a huge group of people congregated at the line, I grabbed two handfuls of brake, my right lever going straight to the bar, my front brake activating enough to put me into a nose-skid, coming to rest between two spectators, who caught me before I fell over.

The other Single Speeder and I tried to express how awesome we each thought the finish was through a series of unintelligible gasps, grunts, handshakes, and even hugs. He introduced himself as Dejay Birtch. honestly I couldn't have been driven to the brink of a massive coronary by a nicer competitor, a class act all the way.

I ended up 7th which was way better than I'd hoped for and had a killer time doing it, except for the throwing up in my mouth part, that I could have done without.

That's Dejay Birtch right on my wheel. The kid to the right was walking his bike in the middle of the only piece of trail with anything like traction on it. I told him to move...with feeling. I look at his face now and feel bad about it, but hey, as Paul Curley says, "that's bike racing."

If you clicked on the Dejay Birtch links (like the one you just ignored) you may have noticed that his blog "Single Swizzle." Which used to be dedicated to the celebration of single speed culture and endurance racing is now a fashion, shopping, and jewelery blog. He kind of came apart after losing out in that sprint all those years ago, shaving his substantial and unruly sideburns and growing a gel-quaffed faux-hawk. But the world of single speed mountain biking's loss is the fashion world's gain, what would they do without Dejay's "Top Ten Shopping Tips for Teen Girls"? Where he gives invaluable advice like:

"The web is a fabulous way to see the world. Using your computer allows you to get all kinds of information on all kinds of things."

That point was illustrated here today. Thanks Dejay, we'll miss you.


CB2 said...

Looks like you want to eat that kid's brain. said...

Ha ! Perhaps we've stumbled upon the next eating challenge..Braaiiinnsss.