Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Ring

Five years ago the first mountain bike single pull of the Ring was completed by Michael Carpenter and Kyle Lawrence.   Check out the video. Carp and Kyles Ring

Notice the hard tail Kyle is riding and the absence of dropper posts. Those two guys are the some of the best riders and endurance riders that I know.  They also are just tough and stubborn dudes. They had ridden in that area many times and definitely had a sense of what they were getting into.

Fast forward to 2015 When stranger to the scene Barry Croker did a solo completion on his racy Scalpel and carbon soled shoes.  He missed Waonoze, so asterisk to some, but I'm counting it regardless. You can  read about his ride here. Barry's ring  Barry went on to make other attempts to be thwarted by thunderstorms and maybe his riding partners.  Funny thing, he still plans on doing it again and maybe again!

It is something that I have wanted to do, and found myself telling some folks that it was a goal of mine.  I have done many rides up on orange loop including the Two Towers ride that is usually a stage of the tour de burg.  I've also done Short Mountain and Jawbone pretty often.  Honestly, I usually do those two trails by themselves, what we call low miles high miles.  The mileage is less that 4, but we end up sessioning and practicing moves because they are so difficult.

The riding on the Ring is the hardest, most difficult riding there is on the East Coast.  I feel pretty confident in sayin that.

As a step towards the goal, Carey Lowery and myself rode it as a two day in  November of 2015.  It was a lot of walking, but when you are fresher you can attempt to ride quite a bit.  After that two day, I felt the one day was realistic.

I found myself stating as my goal that I want to complete the Ring.  But somehow timing and motivation were always a little off.  I thought that I could do it in the Spring of 2017 actually writing down a few days on my calendar  but schedules, weather, injuries and strength were the issues.

In May, two really awesome riders, Carlos Grande and Sam Skidmore, slayed it in 15 hours.  That time is mind blowing.  But knowing that Carlos is one of the fittest guys I know with long legs and then Sam is probably the most natural and relaxed rider that I have ever seen, it makes total sense.

Now there are others who have tried and failed particularly of note are Jeremiah Bishop and Sam Koerber.

In June, Lindsey Carpenter, attempted the Ring as the first women to do so.  Lindsey is an exceptional rider and person with the strength and stubbornness to do it.  Coincidentally, she is the daughter of Carp and the girlfriend of Sam.  So the connection was strong.  She was doing well hitting 13 hours when her feet brought her down.  Lindsey got severe blisters and has had some painful issues with her feet and bunion surgery.  It was a harsh reminder that something like this isn't just about your riding ability, so many little things go into the equation. The boa on my shoes blew out a couple days before, so having to run new shoes was a major worry with this much required walking.

Something about the summer solstice truly inspired me.  Coming off putting on the very successful Canaan MTB Festival, I was energized.  I made the decision to do the Ring only two days before.  I didn't need too much gear more than a normal long ride except lights.

Planning is my weak point, but experience and knowing myself is my strong point. I decided to go it solo and self suffort.

I went the evening before and set my stashes.  I put food and water at Jawbone, Duncan Hollow and Veach.  I set up my stashes to do a reverse Ring.  My thinking with the reverse (counter clockwise) was that it would be a fresher perspective.  I had always done rides in the same direction that the normal route goes, so mixing it up would keep is exciting.  Verdict is still out on what direction is better, but I'm leaning towards the clockwise version as of now.

I stayed at Preston's house and then started the Ring at 1:30 on June 22.  I hadn't done a night ride in years and it was awesome.  I enjoyed Signal and Woodstock and Waonaze.  Short wasn't too bad, but I made a mistake with not leaving water at the start of it.  I was thinking that I wouldn't drink a lot in the middle of the night.  So I was really thirsty when I got to my stash at bottom of Jawbone.  Jawbone was the worst with so many briars, walking and fatigue.  Bears had pulled down so many service berry trees to get to the berries.  I would feel sickish and frustrated quite a bit on this part. Once again I needed more water. Miles and miles of walking done at this point. But I will say my Pearl Izumi Trans-Alp shoes were really awesome and that is no easy task over this terrain.

My bike did great!

Sure, going down Waterfall and Duncan was great, but climbing up from Waterfall was particularly brutal.  I drank out of the creek twice there and no beaver fever, so that's good.  I got to my stash at Duncan and  and was feeling  confident and revitalized because of the familiarity  of the next sections. I had also been texting just a little with Barry, Preston and Lindsey.  My phone loses battery pretty quick, so I had to watch it in case of a real emergency.

On a normal day, riding up Kennedy's is a doable challenge, today walk walky. And then walk some more for the half of the ride.  Certain sections, I was so pumped to ride some technical trail.  Other sections I knew how pathetic it was that I couldn't.

I knew descending into Creasy Shelter and then having to climb back up to the ridge would be brutal, so I left a can of soup, cold brewed coffee, red bull and other treats at Veach.  I cut my hand on the soup and was getting eaten alive by mosquitos.  Climbing Veach is normally hard, but doable.  Today was walk walky.  Any pressure on the saddle hurt.  It wasn't too bad, but honestly after I got to the overlook, the real test began.

The ticks and deer flies swarmed me on  the east ridge.  The briars that had destroyed my skin on the west ridge were now being bitten by ticks, hit by my pedals incessantly and tormented by deer flies.  I really wasn't expecting to be picking ticks off me while I tried to negotiate this gnarly terrain.  It isn't that easy to get a tick off of you with cycling gloves on.  Oh, and at the slow pace that I was going, the gnats buzzed constantly in my ears and eyes.  Certain places poison ivy engulfed the trail.  Still waiting to see if I got it.

From Habron to Shawl is  total brutality at this point.  So many hike a bikes and rough terrain.  I did ride a couple of sections that I just thought, fuck ya.  An extreme low point came when the orange trail dips on the east side of the ridge.  Normally, when we are riding up there we don't do that, we just stay on the ridge.  But in order to follow blaze...I said FUCK there more times than any other place.

Doing the math, which I'm never good as I get tired, I knew that I could make it in a day.  I wasn't sure about my lights though.  I had only one light and used it for almost 5 hours in the morning.  I got to Shawl just when I needed to put it back on.  My hands weren't really working anymore.  I had to use my teeth to put it on.  I finally got it on and there was some juice.  Thank god I could descend with a light.  I rode some tough stuff on Shawl, I guess because of adrenaline.  I caught some air and though to myself , yeeha!  If I ever doubted that I am a mountain biker through and through that moment cemented it for me.  I still want to find flow and have fun when I'm on my last leg.

The car was so close, but had to do the proper blaze and finish the 3/4 mile on the only built trail on the Ring into the parking lot.  My car was still there even though I had thoughts that what if someone stole my car and I had to ride to help?

I hadn't really planned what I was going to do after, but Preston had sent a text to say I could stay at his house.  I needed two hands to get my car started because truly my hands took the worst of the wear.  I still was crawling with ticks and imagining more. I was so chaffed.

I got back to my car at 10pm after 20.5 hours of being out.  No record time, but first person to do the reverse Ring and first woman, 6th person to complete the Massanutten Orange Loop by mountain bike.

This whole thing started with a running race that has kept detailed records of the event.  Check it out. Happy Trail Runners

A hard thing about this was going right into a 3 day instructing and guiding weekend for 18 women at Elk River Touring Center.  I was exhausted and beat up, but realizing the power of the mind is greater than any physical strength or limitation.  Women constantly list finding confidence as the number one reason to take a clinic from me.  I tell them that you find confidence by doing things that are hard and outside your comfort zone and surviving them and learning from experience.  Completing the Ring, definitely gave me the confidence to know that I'm tough and do can hard things.  And it reminds me to continue to surround myself with people who dream and push their limits and basically "do shit".

Special thanks go out to Michael Carpenter, Kyle Lawrence, Charlie Snyder, Sam Skidmore, Lindsey Carpenter, Barry Croker, Preston Stempler, Zach Adams, Chris Scott,  Shenandoah Bicycle Company, Blackwater Bikes, Ibis Cycles, Shimano, Industry Nine, Pearl Izumi.

Face with tears of Joy

The Ring is 71 miles of the Orange Loop around Fort Valley, Virginia.  I've been riding up there for years and absolutely love it.  It is rocky, dry, technical, slow moving and lots of steeps.  Usually when I ride there I don't manage to cover much ground and always have to walk lines on the uphill and down!
That sunny east ridge of Massanutten. Photo credit: Eric Jensen
I only know of 3 dudes that have completed it in one day and one has an asterisk because he missed Wanoaze(but I'm still counting him).  Now could more people do it...yes, of course.  It's not that hard, but it is pretty hard.  It's slow going. It's certainly not for everyone.  And there really needs to be two categories of Ring rides:  Those who complete it in one day and those that complete the toughest moves on the Ring.( And I would say there are about 3-4 dudes that can do that)
Look at those deep, deep oak leaves!  The strenuous hike up  Waterfall Trail.
 Carey Lowery asked if I would like to do it.    She made  me commit and I really appreciate that. My nature is too laid back sometimes and she is a good motivator and very driven.  She hadn't even ridden Fort Valley before so had no idea what the terrain was like in person.  And she did great!  I think she'll be the first woman to do it in one day.
Chutes and rocks.  Photo credit: Kyle Lawrence

This doesn't even look hard, but it's picky. Photo credit:Carey Lowery

This is the word of the year.  Last year was vape.  I would of chose Boost.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How is mountain biking like sex?

Actually, this blog post should be titled, "Why women mountain bikers are so freakin cool".  Answer to title question is at the bottom of the page.
Photo credit Carey Lowery of me at Racoon Mounain

I've been carving out some good clean fun the last couple of years doing mountain bike skills clinics for women.  The last ones that I did in the South were special requests by small groups of women that were really good riders with racing experience, but wanted to take their skills up a notch to get faster and more relaxed.  And these women were all fit and skillful, but also very successful at their  careers and achievements.  And they had really nice bikes!

Photo credit Carey Lowery

Riding with those ladies,  it reminded me how cool the greater  mountain bike scene keeps getting because there are more women involved.   Women make the sport cooler.  I remember hearing that statement a while ago in Whistler.  The speaker (a man) said,"Look around at your local bike scene?  I guarantee you that if there are a good number of women in it, it's going to be cool."  I like cool,  but you could replace that with better.

  I'd like to think that our bike shops, bike companies, sponsored athletes and trail workers should also have lots of women represented and they will be better.  I think women specific products are a great option.  All women group shop rides and all women skills clinics are of great benefit for all.

And I am very proud of so many mountain bike races out there, especially the big ones, that give equal pay out to men and women pros.  I'm so positive about women cyclists supporting youth cycling like Cutaway Girls Camp and The Little Bellas.  Many women have started or are running all women teams NoTubesWomen or are even offering sponsorships from their own pocketbooks.

I know that after I do a clinic the ladies are really great about sharing their feedback, sharing the pictures on social media(even using the right hashtags) and most importantly they know how to have a good time and SMILE!  Carey is one of those cool ladies.  They do a lot to keep the sport positive and vibrant.

**This was a joke that I heard when I was in Georgia teaching a skills clinic.     How is mountain biking like sex?  Answer:  Don't just sit there!  As an IMBA instructor, I had to change it to it's all in the body positioning of  course!  Or if you can think of something funny, leave it in the comments.

Monday, December 22, 2014

But, How did you feel?

  The Invitational is an annual event in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  This description is taken off the SVBC(Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition) website, right under the disclaimer that the club no longer provides insurance for or is affiliated with  this event. " A Harrisonburg tradition since 1995. The Friday Six Pack Downhills are a very fun, informal group ride in the mountains west of Harrisonburg. Each week in the fall is a new trail somewhere in the George Washington National Forest.  The Ride consists of a casual leisurely pace to climb up the mountain and then a very informal “race” back down the mountain. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to participate especially if you have never ridden in the mountains around town.
Each year the series culminates with an “Invitational” downhill, the Universal Fixed Gear World Championships, and an enormous party.  All those with one 6-pack and two trail works are invited!"
If you win one week, the next week you get the pleasure of riding the "Soft Ride"
Here's another blurb about it:

 This year, there were two timed Super D/Downhill sections and in my mind that makes it an Enduro. There was a timing snafu. The timers, who held stopwatches,  did not allow for all the ghost riders.  For some reason, they couldn't figure that out after a couple hours of Enron math working on it. Someone starts asking people, "How did you feel?" This also could substitute for a personality trait test.  Some of the guys were modest like Abe and said that they had a pretty good run.  But then some guys were cocky, like Oliver,  who said that there was no way anyone could of beat him on the second section.  He was completely sure that he not only felt fast, but was fast and therefore was the winner as long as his crash on the first section didn't effect his time too much.  Others knew the exact moment that they would have to settle for not getting the win.  Others had no idea how they felt, just that they had fun. The ladies were all smiling of course.

Old school: Stopwatch, Pen and Paper
I felt pretty and fast 

Now, in some crowds, that shit wouldn't fly. I'm imaging the Cupcake community of Michauxslovakia or the BroBro Community of SoCal wouldn't be too happy about those snafus. But things are different in Harrisonburg. The purpose of the Invitational is for people to come together to ride and have fun.  They simultaneously play up and play down the competition aspect of the race.  Like, names are picked out of the hat for starting positions, so in theory the fastest guy could start in the middle of the slowest people, which can be a real disadvantage. And peer pressure dictates that you are polite when you pass in the Burg.   But, if you win, you are local legend forever and then you are allowed to acknowledge the fact that you were indeed racing for the win.   But, if you didn't win, in no way can you express your disappointment. You are crazy fast to win one of these things and everyone knows that!  With so much respect on the line, its really fascinating to see people's mellow reaction to questionable race run times.  It doesn't matter anyway, I heard lots of people saying.  Its about coming together with your friends.

I won, but Lizzy is the fun, fast future of this event

Even though it was supposedly a tie, Oliver felt so fast, that he decided he should take home the trophy

 Enduro is the new race of truth, because the clock doesn't lie even if it does take hours to calculate that truth.  Sometimes it's just more important in America about how you felt, your feelings!  If you felt fast and the timing got messed up, you are probably the winner and that's just another reason to love Enduro!

Hugh Jass lives in Harrisonburg


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Queens , Sirens and Bullshit

I love mountain biking.  I am always wanting to improve my skills to maximize my fun.  And reduce the crashes.  One of the main reasons that I teach mountain bike skills is to share what I know with other riders, so that they can have more fun and ride with more confidence.

Nothing beats seeing a woman with stoke and confidence

These last couple of weeks, I've had the opportunity to teach lots of ladies new skills and ways to improve upon the skills that they have.
The Pisgah Sirens!  These ladies could climb some mountains!  I think that I helped them conquer bigger logs, drops and they helped me with my left handed switchbacks.

Our traditional group photo taken on the Highland Scenic Highway for the Elk River Touring Center women's single track weekend.  These ladies gained efficiency over the miles of roots and learning to pump through long rock gardens.

These ladies were the winners of the raffle at the Bryce QOM.  They learned to catch air and train their minds to focus on body position instead of catastrophe.
I really would love to see more women in my beloved sport of mountain biking!  I am doing my small part by focusing on teaching women skills in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.   For the Bryce QOM, I contacted some companies to ask for product for the giveaway raffle.  The women would be psyched to get women's products and everyone loves swag and then the companies would get some exposure for their women's lines.  I was really pleased with most of the stuff sent.  Zoic ,  Bontrager, Mountain Khaki and G-Form sent some nice stuff.

 One rep sent  two men's medium t-shirts that were pink and had the name of the Giro d'Italia winner on it. I have no idea why he thought that would be right for a women's mountain bike skills weekend. And it's not that I don't appreciate the free shirts and the cost of shipping, but it reminds me that sometimes the bike industry just doesn't get it.  Just because its pink and free doesn't make it a women's product.

I get to see a lot of different women's bikes.  A couple of things that I continually see are bikes that are too big and often too heavy for the woman riding it.  These are mainly 29ers .  And yes, a small woman can ride a 29er...but not all 29ers are right.  Some of the geometry puts the front end too high and puts the woman too far down in the bike to be able to move the bike around.   The second thing is  brake levers that are not in the right spot and too far away for their hands.    Yes, some of this responsibility falls on the woman to buy the right thing for herself.  But I think it also falls on the bike shops, bike companies and friends that they ride with.

Selene Yeager had this to say on the subject What women want.  And I agree...You ask 5 women what they want and you might get 5 different answers.  But choice is important and just by having the choice of bikes, products, clothes,  clinics, races, events, groups...that shows that women are recognized as participants in mountain biking and cycling.  Sure, probably a million more men cycle than women, but its still millions of women and its growing every year.

I haven't seen "Half the Road" yet, but I am a huge fan of Kathyrn Bertine and her efforts to make more people aware of the inequality in elite racing for women.  It seems like women racers are in a very tough situation.  On one hand, they are the minority and don't pay their fair share of race entry fees.  On the other hand, they spend the same amount of money buying bikes, paying race entry fees and money on a license.  But still at most races, they don't get the same prize money.  And "professional" women racers are often racing for free while the men have a salary minimum.  Catherine Pendrel just won the Mountain Bike World Championships .  Do you think she won the same amount as Julien Absalon?  And do you think that she can afford to boycott races that don't pay equally?

I remember accidentally seeing what a male teammate's salary was, while I was a rider for the Trek/VW team.  It was more than double of what I made.  They didn't make me go to less than half the races, train half as hard, pay half as much health insurance, pay my coach half or ask me to do half the bike shop visits.  Or only deal with half of the bullshit that they dished out.

A friend who recently came into the world of mountain biking racing and sponsorship noted how weird it was that riders on a team were supposed to spend a bunch of time doing marketing for the team and the team's sponsors for free, even though the team and the sponsors all have paid marketing managers.   They were supposed to give over their social media identity to whatever company tossed them a bone.  People ask me to teach for free.  I really wonder if they ask to get their teeth cleaned for free or the oil changed in their car for nothing.

She said that it's so hard because biking has captured all of our hearts and that is why we do it.  But knowing that the bike industry and teams(or lack of)or clubs pull at our heartstrings to make us say yes. How do we get more respect, better pay, equal prize money, cool products and more of the right kind of exposure?

 I always tell the women that I teach(who have paid me for my job) to spread the knowledge.  Take another women out for ride and teach her what you learned.  Spread the joy!  Which reminds me of the "dude" who wouldn't give me a mountain bike lesson because he thought that I was going to tell someone else what I learned.

I guess I better go now and ride my bike!

“It’s only a small thing, compared to the reach the men have, but that is the point of elite sport: for people to see it and be entertained, or inspired, or start cycling, even if it is just riding around the block." -Emma Pooley.

Slatyfork Enduro

WVMBA (West Virginia Mountain Bike Association) knows how to put on a sweet bike weekend.  I got to race a 37 mile wet, wild knarl Ultra race that took me 5 hours one day.  Then the next day, out of the same parking lot, I got to race a truly backcountry Enduro.  

This is the finish of the last timed section of the Slatyfork Enduro complete with warming fire and a mountain man to take your time.
For me, I like to have two bikes for such a weekend and for sure different tire selections.  But with the Trigger "Quiver Killer"  I can certainly do both on that bike.  Of course, I do put the Zoic baggies over my Verge pink Lycra shorty short racing bibs.   For most of the WV crew though, they don't change a thing.  I really like that in this day of niche racing and specialization of gear.

Tea Creek Mountain Trail was one of my all time favorites

Its the way of Enduro podiums to have a beer in one hand and then raise the other.  

If you haven't rode Tea Creek Mountain Trail...Do it!

My sweet Trigger

Monday, August 11, 2014

National Championships

I've been on the  Stan's No Tubes Women's Elite Team for the past three years now.  It's a really cool team because all the women are dedicated to personal bests in their racing, but also give back to the bigger community of cycling.  It's also great to have the backing of our main sponsor Stan's No Tubes and get to ride sweet wheels like the carbon Valors.

I also learn so many tips and tricks hanging out with Richie O'Neil and Mike Bush.  I learned that many people burp their tubeless tires because they don't have the right rimstrips in there.  So if you don't have a Stan's wheel set, put Stan's rim tape in there, which helps build up the rim to make a better seal.

  I don't race as much as the other girls, so I don't get to see my teammates much.  Nor do I get to see our sponsors at the races much. So, I knew that I had to go to Nationals in Pennsylvania to support the other girls and see my Stan's family.  Feeling like a tweener knowing that I had no fitness to race in the Pro Women's XC or Short Track, but couldn't really downgrade to an age grouper.  There was only one event for me to do...The Super D. Vicki Barclay was kinda in the same position.  She couldn't race the pro class because she is Scottish, so she raced the single speed class and won!

I personally love Super D and think that USAC is crazy to drop it.  It is really the quintessential event for anybody.  Unlike Enduro, which they will adopt next year, Super D can be done by anybody, on any bike , with any level of fitness.  Enduro really does require a bike with more travel and you need to have the fitness and skill to survive the longer, more technical stages.

The course was fun and short.  The East Coast really does have such great technical terrain, I wish the pros got to race the goods like that more often.  I honestly think they want to, but a lot of the bigger races are out West.  And riders have very little say in the direction of the sport. And the "Heckle Pit" is only on the East Coast.

Anyway, I hadn't the fitness to win the race.  That is the bottom line.  The short pedal sections made my legs burn and I knew that I wasn't sprinting up them like a winner, more like a chubby slug.  I did have a mostly smooth run in the rocks.  It was fun and my Trigger again proved its versatility.

Georgia Gould, skinny in her skinsuit, won by five seconds over me. I was pretty happy to not have embarrassed myself.

I'm a  big fan of both Georgia and Lea Davison.  I watched them both race at the London Olympics and I knew that they would be in a class of their own at Nationals.  They both work so hard and have great personalities.  I had goosebumps as I watched them at different spots on the course.  They were both riding the rocks fast.  I knew it would come down to some attacks on the steepest grassy switchbacks on the last laps.  It was special to be able to see both Georgia's mom and Lea's dad on the same switchbacks (in different spots, though) cheering for their girls.

I was very inspired by my seeing my teammates Nina Baum and Sarah Kauffman, too give it their all in the pro class.  They have the courage to race and train and put it all on the line while holding down full time jobs and being very active in their communities. Hopefully Sarah will have a speedy recovery from her collarbone injury!