Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Breck Epic, Part III

It's 3:00AM.

We begin stage three in a little over five hours. I'm tossing and turning in bed; occasionally falling short of breath with a resting heart rate now double the norm. Fifteen month-old Amelia woke everyone around midnight, and I've been restless since. She was up long enough to shake the figurative cage, and now she's back to sawing logs.

Ryanne's parents are in the next room over. They've been a great help; caring for the little one through the Colorado nights. As if we absolutely need the support- Ryanne's in a class with no other riders, and I'm drinking beer at every aid station.

I think about the upcoming day. I wrote in Part I that my recollections of Breck 2012 were mixed up and jumbled together, more or less. One of the most vivid memories I retained, though, was the descent coming off the other side of French Pass, over the Continental Divide and away from Mount Guyot.

Over the course of the entire week, it's not the best downhill the Breck Epic has to offer. But for a few reasons, it was my favorite. It notched a little space in my heart and found a home there for five years. Yes, it was the first time I felt a good connection with my month-old Naked frame. And even more-so, it's where I gained a new level of confidence in descending that I hadn't been able to reach before.

But there was more to it. And I'm afraid that after living it a second time, the magic will be gone.

Even though I can't adequately describe the feeling.

I lift the beanie covering the green glow of the clock. 3:04AM.

...

"What's your favorite song?"

It's early in the morning. I'm at work.

I stop suddenly in a corridor. A young kid who works in the warehouse is standing in front of me. We're still under night lights; every other fluorescent cool since last evening. I'm normally the only person in the building at this time, so I'm a bit startled to see someone else.

"Well? What do you think?" He sounds congested.

His look reflects mine, though his mouth hangs open a little. And through the tiny vacancy, the smell of Butterfinger and blueberry vape smoke slowly escape. The aroma attacks me. And like dozens of plastic Green Army Men melted to a mailbox, it begins to overwhelm me. He starts to tap his finger against a can of Red Bull that hangs at his side. It looks big; a 20 ouncer that can't be more than half-full based on the tinny ticking that's now penetrating my ear.

I seem to be in one of those hazy chrome dream states where you don't know if you're actually dreaming or just recollecting a real-life moment.

I resume my blank stare. I can't seem to answer him, so I must be dreaming.

Although the Butterfinger really does smell like Butterfinger. I'm confused.

We play music in our house on an almost constant basis; near any style. I have fond memories of going to Hills with my brother and buying blank VHS tapes by the ten-pack to record Alternative Nation most nights. I loved Kennedy and her grungy angsty attitude in both real life and dreams. No confusion there.

From anger to love, music's an accelerant. It can make a good moment great and regrettably, do just the opposite; even more-so when it comes in the form of a coincidental accessory. You know, your sensibility at the moment you tune the radio to something that perfectly fits your current circumstances.

I shouldn't say a person can't have a favorite song. For a person sitting next to their sedentary friend on a hospital bed as they take their last gaze and Let It Be emanates through a staticky mono speaker?

I can't relate.

As it may be, we all have songs that crash a chord in life's specific moments; the ones that elicit the emotions deep-seated in our guts. It can be Lee Ranaldo ripping a ten minute mind bender on his Jazzmaster or randomly popping on Tears for Fears; 'tis no matter who you are or what you like. They don't have to be good songs.

You can listen to them over and over and over again, and they'll do nothing for you.

But when they materialize at the perfect moment to meet the matters in our lives?

That feel-good feeling you get?

That's how I felt when I last saw Mount Guyot.

Mount Guyot - 41 Miles / 8,100'
I'm knee-deep in the lifestyle single speed class. My father in-law picked up a twelve pack of PBRs for me. And the timing couldn't be any better. We have three aid stations today. So, three beers. I pack a vest in two of my bags. We're going up to 11,900 this morning, so I'll be sure to grab the windbreaker at aid one and haul it to the top in case of a quick change in weather.

Dicky and I line up at the start. Kenny from Canton shows signs of wanting to join the party.

We enter the loose double track climb. The grade isn't super aggressive, but it has its moments. The ground is hard. And it's littered with billions of bits of gravel or stones or tailings or whatever you want to call them.

Pebbles, I guess.

You remember the scene at the end of The Last Crusade when Indy walks across that invisible platform then throws all the sand and shit on it to remind him where it was all along? It's kind of like riding on that thing only going uphill.

Yeah, that's actually pretty accurate.

It's a prolonged climb. We funnel into some single track and continue our ascent. The three of us regroup at the top. We continue along a ridge and arrive at the top of Little French.

It's a really fast and loose downhill. We hiked up it at the end of the first day. You have to be pretty tight on the line, or you'll end up in some shaley sections that can really suck time.

I did get loose on a section, but I felt like I hit it pretty hard. For anyone into Strava, I ended up with a 3:52 on the segment. Jeremiah Bishop got the top spot at 2:51. Someone would later say at one of the rider meetings that the pros are fast not just because they climb well. I guess I'm just saying that again.

I pull into the aid station. The volunteer already has my beer out. He pulls the tab and presents my reward. I offer him first swig, though he declines. He states that he would love to indulge but needs to stay on top of his game. I appreciate this, as I know he'll be retrieving beers for me at future aid stations.

Dicky arrives and skids some gravel into the woods. Dust wafts into the trees. He remarks the oddity of seeing zero riders with flats along the side of Little French. The gray dust cloud still slightly visible as it creeps away, and his Coors is already half gone.

Kenny arrives and pounds the last few ounces of my PBR. He smashes the can with all his might, while at that moment realizing he just swallowed a bunch of Larabar backwash. Or maybe he's just learning of this now.

From the aid station, we deploy as warriors wearing Lycra. There is slight trepidation.

Before us lies French Pass. The traverse is nearly 1,400' of ascending over four miles. While not the steepest of grades, it carries its own set of challenges. And at this moment, it's time to become reacquainted with those demands. We don't hesitate. We begin our assault.

The mount is footed with a rocky roadbed. It winds between trees; the overgrowth masking the upper-body of the beast. Concentration is needed. Some lines are smooth, though most everything else is not. A momentary mind lapse is paid for with valuable energy needed to navigate the rocky terrain on the backside.

Dicky charges ahead and pushes the pace out front. He's soon off and hiking several hundred yards ahead. Kenny valiantly follows, though falls back with me in due time. This was preferred. He's good company.

The surrounding crop of trees dissolves behind us, and we're left facing the long pass ahead. The narrow path is dynamic. It's a deceiver, a charlatan and a phony. It's a three-mile-long chameleon. It's never fully rough, though it's never fully groomed. Off path, it's semi-tall grass strewn with chunky rock.

It never flattens out and though not a significant pitch overall, there is one steep section. Other than that, the grade changes, and it changes frequently; pretty-well comparable to Alicia Silverstone's style changes in Clueless. And it does so through and through. All the way to the end when French Pass makes a conscious effort to not be such a scatterbrain and starts sleeping with Paul Rudd.

In 2012, most riders hiked this section. Specifically, the riders who were alongside me. However, there are a couple differences this year. The first being that we had a staggered start. Pros/Cat 1/Single Speed categories all went off twenty minutes before the Cat 2/3 riders. Second difference? The SRAM Eagle groupset.

Many riders who I did not expect to see riding sections were riding sections that I did not expect to see ridden.

You know, the Eagle thing. Or maybe another thing I can blame on the single speed thing.

Kenny and I make it to the top. Dicky's descending in the distance. For the last hour, every time I looked at him his small body became smaller.

You'd be remiss to not appreciate the landscape. I take a moment to look around. Mountain sides to the left and right; more hiking for those who hadn't enough. Behind me, the valley from where we came. And emerging from it, a snake of riders; each of whom is waging their own campaign along the fickle path. The air is thinner, though few are taking breaths at this moment.

It truly is wonderful.

And last among the beauty- the person dressed and dancing in the GU rabbit/creature/whatever costume. Their effort and enthusiasm, impeccable. I can only imagine what they could sell if given a good sign and a well-trafficked intersection.

I breathe whatever oxygen my lungs can locate. Dicky slinks over the horizon. I step over the top tube; a position I hadn't felt in three miles. I turn to Kenny and remind him to revel in the midday victory. I wish him luck. I turn to the GU creature and flash it a peace sign. It reciprocates.

I'm outta here.

The beginning of the descent is a slim and precarious path which winds away in the distance. It's trench-like and shallow; as though it was mindlessly scraped into the grassy mountainside in such a way a kid carves a finger in the sand.

It's mostly gritty dirt and occasionally some loose rock, obstacles which create their own modulation; a vibrato of sorts. You remember all that stuff I wrote about a good song fitting a great moment?

Though there are better downhills, I really do love this one.

And yeah, the magic was still there.

It was during the end of the descent I noticed my rear brake was fading out. I realized the section was long, but I definitely wasn't using it so much to cause it to heat up enough to fail. I figured something was going wrong at that point, but after pumping it several times it started to build up pressure again.

I wasn't doing much of any bike maintenance. I'd end up going the entire week without tightening my chain or attaching a pump to my tires. Because, lifestyle class. I wouldn't bother to look into my brake issue until a couple stages later when I found a puddle of hydraulic fluid on the garage floor.

Out of the second aid station, we have another 1,000' climb ahead of us. Like the long hiker yesterday, I spent a lot of energy today trying to keep pace with Dicky on foot. I felt drained, though not terribly awful; pretty much just overcome with a shite aura.

Kenny's surging. He's pushing pretty hard, and from my vantage point it looks like he's keeping up with Dicky.

We begin descending a portion of the Colorado Trail that is very reminiscent of the East Coast. Much larger rocks than the norm litter the trail on its second half. They're a little slimey in spots from the overnight rain, but most sections of the segment aren't too much trouble. It helps that the grade is about 3-5% downhill the whole way through.

I ride through the stream into the third aid station, choosing not to ride the dilapidated railroad tie that was once part of a much larger bridge.

Dicky's sitting in the grass with his bacon and Coors. I start on my PBR and join him. We watch one of the riders from Spain try to ride the railroad tie. He goes down.

No sign of Kenny yet. I put some time on him on the descent. It was a warning of sorts to pull back on the last couple climbs of the day; like a gorilla that punches another gorilla in the jungle. He really is pushing it hard, and Dicky doesn't need the encouragement to go any harder himself. I don't mind riding alone, but I don't want anyone waiting on me either. And I don't want to feel wasted tomorrow.

Kenny arrives.

More chunky roadbed climbing. More washed out steeps.

Dicky's barely within eyesight on the last section. I don't see Kenny. There's no way he got in front of Dicky. Oh well. Who cares. He's not behind me.

We'd cross the finish line together, though I know Dicky was waiting at the end for a few minutes. He rode really well. And I was surprised by Kenny. In my mind, it was Dicky's strongest performance of the first three stages. And as it would be, likely the best stage of the series for him; aside from the celebratory day on Gold Dust.

I would come away from the day feeling satisfied. Though I felt tuckered on the last couple of roadbed climbs, I never felt wasted out of my skull. The next day would bring Aqueduct, the stage I probably struggled with most in 2012. But, I knew I was climbing much better this time around. There is a shorter hiker in Vomit Hill, though I felt confident to be able to dispose of the seven mile monster chunk climb out of aid station two that zapped me five years ago.

I grab a Coke and some chips then sit on a giant pile of river rock to wait for Ryanne to come in.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Breck Epic, Part II

If you missed it, Part I

The second stage of the Breck Epic is the Colorado Trail. In 2012, we had what Mike McCormack described as an anomaly.

From my limited experience, Breckenridge typically gets a tiny morsel of rain some time in the afternoon hours. And that's it. To experience a downpour like we see once a week in Pennsylvania? Well, that would be an anomaly.

Five years ago, we lined up at the start amidst a light sprinkle. It looked like the weather pattern was going to pass within a half hour, but it decided to stay put for about seven hours. Half of the field would go on to finish the day. The other half was pulled off course. Most suffered some degree of hypothermia. I came through the finish line and was immediately wrapped in a horse blanket. What came next? Hot tub.

The Colorado Trail - 43 Miles / 7,200'
I walk out to the garage. My Naked's leaning up against the well. No creaks in the bottom bracket yesterday, but a random dinging was noticed. I put a little grease on the seat rails knowing that won't do the trick, but I feel good about it any way. I give it the paper towel treatment to wipe off some dust from Pennsylvania Creek. The tires get a couple terse grabs, and I decide not to mess with them.

My chain? Feels extra slack. Just the way I like it.

I yank the purple bandana off the top tube that I rode with on stage one. It gets wrapped in a ziplock. I had written five names on five bandanas the day I got out to Breckenridge. My only criteria was it had to be a friend who wasn't out in Breck. My bandana for the Wheeler stage was left blank until the morning we left. I figured the Gods on Wheeler would tell me a name after I pushed my bike to 12,700'.

I slept well last night, and I'm yearning for the stage to begin. As long as it doesn't rain, I'll be better off than I was five years ago. There's a monster climb to the top of the Colorado Trail, but the payoff is just that- the Colorado Trail. It's a seven mile descent on pure and pristine singletrack. I'm beyond excited.

Ry, Ian and I ride down to the start. We confer with friends from Pittsburgh.

I find a spot in line and move a little further up in place. Dicky and I hadn't quite committed to riding the whole week together at this point, so I'm still not sure what he's expecting of me. It's like elementary school dating. Yeah, we're together, but when the couple skate comes around, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to go out with him or continue putting quarters in Galaga.

I think he wants to ride with me. But...I don't know. I still haven't seen him. I twiddle my thumbs a bit. I look at the ground a little, then give a few sheepish looks around. I see him off to the side talking to someone else. "Who is that?" I think. He catches my glance and gives me a modest look.

He walks over and stands next to me. He quietly says something about having tried to fix the groan in his bike. From his tone, I don't think he was successful.

We're off. We start the climb out of Breckenridge on the road. It's a short piece of pavement. The pros are already out of sight. Just gone. Stupid, stupid pace. All but a few of the single speeders are spinning on the flats. Dicky makes an analogy between bread once costing a quarter and remembering when he still used to be able to see the police car a few minutes after the start of the race.

Spin, spin, spin.

We turn left onto the dirt. It's semi-loose double track and 700' over 0.8 miles. Between breaths, what would become a week-long pattern started to emerge. When the ascents were under 8% or so, I didn't have too much trouble keeping up with Dicky. And even on the quick, steep punchy stuff I felt OK. But the prolonged steeper climbs...he just went faster. I'm 148 pounds, and I'd venture his "heavy" weight is ten pounds off that. That, and he's just a better rider going uphill.

But single speeds can move pretty quick on climbs, especially when the rider remains seated as often as they can, and notably on the loose grit. But on the line where I'd shift from sitting to standing, I'd find myself getting up with trepidation, while he'd remain down. Therein lies the difference.

We hit Heinous Hill. We're off and pushing. It's steep. It's long. And it's a washed out, bombed out, kick you in the face until you want to pass out kinda climb. Dicky's setting the pace out front. He's a fast hiker. You know, all that cross country running stuff helps. I look at the ground. But soon the sound of metallic clinks and clanks raises my head up and to the right. A mere mortal spins up beside me. He's huffing. Another clink and clank, and he's shifted into his Eagle. Though despite my body's short legs, he's no longer keeping up with our walking pace. It's too steep, and he inevitably spins himself to the ground.

We crest the top and rail the descent. I see the blue aid station tent ahead, though I still haven't committed to the lifestyle class at this point. You know, the whole couple skate / Galaga thing.

But Dicky still opens a cold can of Coors, and I help him with some of it. I munch on a few banana halves and make chit-chat with some of the volunteers.

First aid station-



The climb up to the Colorado Trail is next. It's 1,100' over two miles. A 10% average. We maintain a good pace on the beginning singletrack section. It switches back. Up, up, up. Another switchback. Up and up. The grade feels good and my tires are connecting. My legs still have some spring left, and I don't regret my gearing choice.

But even in Colorado, shit rolls uphill. The grade picks up a few points.

I groan.

We switchback again.

Dicky groans.

Then we navigate a rooty section.

Dicky's bike groans.

We're about halfway up. I'm feeling the effort put into the first climb and the subsequent hike up Heinous. Dicky's not talking to me, and I'm not talking to him. Even his bike knows this isn't a good time to say anything.

We're like a family who fought over which Christmas tree to get. And now that we've got it, we're staring at the road ahead with arms crossed, driving a van with three missing hubcaps and rusted out fenders; the Douglas Fir that neither of us wanted lies innocently in the back as its needles fall out by the hundreds every minute. I can't wait to see all the sap that gets stuck in the living room's shag carpet that he just had to have. Maybe I'll be allergic to it, too. Another 300' to go. Merry Christmas, we're in the thick of the Breck Epic.

So, it wasn't exactly like that. But as the grade picked up, my pace fell off Dicky's. There may have been a couple sections he rode that I hiked, but when we both hiked, he was more expeditious.

I can now say there were two moments in the entire week where I really felt it. Not bonking or slammed against the wall, just really gassed out. I was hiking too quick and recovery wasn't coming as fast as I needed it to. If I could have gotten on my bike to pedal it out, I would have been better, but it just wasn't happening at that point. You know, too steep and too rutted out. Anyway, this was the first of those two moments.

We make it to the top of the Colorado Trail. I'm pretty sure Dicky let me go down first. But, I don't remember. Either way, the descent is one of the many reasons to go out there and ride. We just don't have trails like it in Pennsylvania. It is so well-built and over seven miles in length. You swoop and sway and switchback for more. It really does go on and on and on and on.

I reach the bottom, and all I can think about is my satisfaction in being able to ride that downhill during the day's perfect weather conditions. As last time was not so warm and dry, it nearly made my week right then and there.

The second aid station is in sight. Another can of Coors is cracked. I push the two remaining climbs that lie between us and the finish out of my brain. Though they need conquered, at this moment in time they are not of importance. I start to ponder the remaining four stages. And I contemplate my future with Dicky. Stopping for a beer at every aid station isn't going to significantly impact my times. And what do I care any way? I'm riding well and having a blast. As it may be, Dicky is pushing the pace when we're riding. I'm faster with him.

I can't decide.

Galaga. Or couple skate?

I look up at the cloudless sky, and my mind starts to wander.

A hazy blur turns clear. My fantasy has brought me to Skate Castle in Butler. The glass screen in front of me carries a glaze of pizza grease and cigarette tar. Behind it, the flickering flashes of exploding aliens. It's Galaga! My hand bats the buttons below as the joystick recoils in perfect synchronicity. My ears are intruded by the din of hot dog machines and crane game failures. My eyes reflect the glints and glimmers of the glowing lights around me. A row of quarters are on the rail of the arcade cabinet, designating who from the fourth grade crowd will be next to take control. They surround me. And we're all drawn to the eruptions on screen.

The taste of Coors hits my lips, and a ray from the real world invades my daydream. And in a spark of comprehensible clarity, I am enlightened. I turn myself from the screen as my uncontrolled ship is blasted to smithereens. I grab my half eaten popcorn ball from the console and push through the crowd as the kid next in line witnesses a pixelated Game Over scrawled across the monitor. I snatch a root beer from a boy in a Billy Idol t-shirt and take a sip before throwing it in the garbage. I test my toe stops, then head toward the rink as Steve Perry belts out Open Arms over the sound system.

"Are you ready to get the fuck out of here?"

I'm rocked back to reality. Dicky steps on the Coors can and shoves it in his back pocket. He belches loudly.

Then continues, "We got two more climbs, then it's time for more beer and no bike maintenance."

I look toward the trail ahead. There's nowhere else to go, and I have nothing to lose. I guess I'm with him for the rest of the week. I slip my gloves back on and notice the shimmer of popcorn oil catching the gleam of the Colorado sun. It's a sign of good times ahead.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Breck Epic, Part I

Burro Trail. Minnie Mine Trail. French Gulch.

Pennsylvania Gulch.

Maybe another French-something?

Oh yeah. Little French.

And Aqueduct. Ugh...

It's been five years since my last Breck Epic. And that's five years of trail names swirling in my brain. I've knowingly rehashed many stories about my first experience at one of the most difficult mountain bike stage races. I even wrote a blog about it.

But over the years, those stories would get mixed up and mashed down to a pulpy mess of internal confusion. I'd think...was Heinous Hill on Aqueduct, or am I remembering Vomit Hill? Was the big and gnarly descent on Guyot?

Wait.

They all have big and gnarly descents.

Either way, I needed a refresher.

Never done Breck? It's really well-run. There are staff members and volunteers everywhere. They've been there and done that. They do awards every evening and dish out race leader jerseys for each stage. They also conduct a thorough review of the following morning's stage. They take a lot of pride in their backcountry. They don't abuse the trails when they're soaked, nor are they easy on racers when there's litter left on the ground. Simply put, they really have their shit together.

As for the tangibles, you get the normal swag of a t-shirt and socks, but also a Castelli race jersey. The Panache I got in 2012 is still one of my favs. I wore it every stage this year. Also, there's an awards banquet at the end. And if you finish? The belt buckle, duh. That's what we're all here for.

Also, Breck's trails are pretty great. They're fast and flowy. They're fun. And, when you throw in some good-old Colorado climbing, they're challenging. You really need to put in a lot of time riding before you get out there.

The price? Early registration is $700. Over six days and all that's included, it's worth it. How about a clichéd example? You can't buy the feeling you get when you're finished.

I don't have my 2012 Strava numbers available to see how much I had ridden before my first Breck Epic. I know that I had front-loaded that year. I spent a lot of the earlier months commuting to work, but by the time June and July came around, my training faded. This was no good.

I hadn't ridden much in 2016, so I had some catching up to do. I spent a lot of time on the trainer the first few months of this year but also forced myself to be outside despite the temperature. I rode for fun. And when I was tired, I rested. I wanted to still love it in June and July.

My goal was 35,000' of climbing per month. I tracked my mileage to try and keep the ratio at 100' per mile. The hours would work out on their own. I did most of my after-work road riding on my El Mariachi with knobbies. My commuting was all on my Fargo with a pannier holding a towel, shoes, pants, shirt, socks and underpants. Loaded down, this weighs 38 pounds. I could have left many of these items at work, but I learned when prepping for Maine that riding with extra weight can quickly improve your strength and fitness. It was something I definitely needed. So, although difficult, I forced myself to carry this stuff.

I kept a lot of my early-year rides private on Strava. I knew I was riding my slowest times in eight years. I only focused on the miles and elevation that I was putting in. I didn't want to look at individual segments, so I blocked it all out. I tried not to look at others who were riding on the evenings when I was either too tired or working late. Mentally, I tried to shove it to the side and do my own thing.

While I had a lot of commuting miles, I had also committed myself to some really long rides. We ventured to Pisgah in March. I did the 2x12 at Big Bear with Scott. In July, I ramped it up a bit. We did a 55 mile day at Laurel Mountain with Don Hosaflook, Scott Root and some other guys. All but a few of these miles were in the woods on rocky singletrack. The following weekend, we made another trip to Laurel for another 5,000' day. I also got the KOM on the Super Hol-E-Fuck Downhill on Ian's bike. He came in one second behind me on my Naked. I really felt like I was starting to rise up. I felt good going uphill, and my descending skills seemed to have come back. My confidence for Breck grew.

At the end of July, I had 259,500' of climbing, which came out to about 37,000' per month. By forcing myself to reach these numbers, it prevented me from falling off in June and July as I had in 2012. I only focused on a couple of metrics, but it really seemed to help this time around.

...

Pennsylvania Gulch - 35 Miles / 6,000'
We line up at the ice arena start. I look around. There's a rider leaned back and stretching out on his bars. He's jovial; clearly a veteran. Some of the others? Not so much. I'm surrounded by cold, dead eyes; their owners attempting to visualize the struggle which lies ahead. I see one guy who looks pretty nervous. I want to explain that he's blind to the inevitable suffering. But, like a ship being swallowed by the ocean, we're all in this together. And though I've been in the water once before, it's only moments before I decide whether I'm staying in the wheelhouse or pulling a double gainer off the bow.

Mike McCormack gets on the mic. He says a few things about integrity and having fun. Then he reminds us not to throw our shit on the ground. I check my pockets. I got a Tulbag and a pack of shot blocks in case I end up where I expect I'll end up. Other than that, we have two aid stations on the first day.

We start the neutral roll-out onto the road. We have about 650' of climbing on pavement in the first two miles. It's the only significant chunk of paved road we'll hit the entire week, but it's pretty necessary to break the group apart.

We hit the hairpin turn about halfway up, and the pace picks up. I probably started a little further back in line than I should have. I know the first piece of singletrack gets pretty tight, pretty fast, so I step on it. I get past quite a few riders and hit the next switchback in the road. I look to my right and see the nervous guy far below. He's wearing some heavy layers which are now all unzipped. His head is red, and he's spinning his brains out. He's already blown up. He's done. The water's rising, and he can't get out. I think of Quint kicking at Jaws before he slides down the deck of the boat. I can't look any longer.

I hit the singletrack. It's rolly. Flowy. Downhill. I distinctly remember this lush green section being punctuated with blacked-out, oxygen-deprived brain cells. This time, it's beautiful. I'm breathing better and recovering quicker. We hit some steeps, and the train backs up a bit. I pass where I can, but it's still tight.

I find a group that's moving at a quicker pace. We stick together and continue our swirl to the bottom. We have to be close. I look at my Garmin. We're at about 9,800' elevation. As soon as I look up, I see the beginning of the Coronet Drive climb just ahead. At 1,200' over 2.5 miles, it's the first of two pretty difficult ascents in the stage.

The gearing on my bike felt pretty great. I had used a 32x21 five years ago but had moved to a 34x22 this year, which is only a smidgen harder. I normally run a 34x20 in Pennsylvania, so I think gearing down two in the back is pretty much the ticket for Breck.

Breck Epic provides three swag bags to be used as drop bags at the aid stations. Some stages have two aid stations, while others have three. The volunteers will carry whatever you want to the aid stations, as long as it fits in the bag. I have yet to test the limits of this claim.

Either way, all you need to do is drop your bags off in the morning. It's pretty swell. I wrapped the handles of my bags in green tape to help identify them when I picked them up in the evenings. It also helps keeps others from accidentally taking your bag. In each swag bag, I kept a basic repair kit. These were gallon ziplocks filled with a spare tube, two CO2s and a quick link. I also kept a vest in each bag. And after the second stage, I kept a PBR w/koozie in each one. More on that later.

I come into the first aid station. No need for the aid bag. I swallow two banana halves and start chomping on a third as I climb a rocky steep that levels out into some singletrack. Most of the section between aid one and two is singletrack punctuated with quick-ups and chunky litter. It reminds me a little of Blunder Trail and Goat at Kennerdell.

Oh, and there's also some really great downhills. Most of these have good lines, but the rocks are packed tight enough that if you go for a pass off the line, you're still pretty safe.

It's at the second aid station that my week changes. Dicky's standing off to the side eating bacon and "yelling" at random riders. He hands me his can of Coors, and I figure he's been there for about five ounces, which really tells me, or you, nothing.

We roomed together at Breck last time I was out, and we had gotten together for some riding at Pisgah and Single Speed USA in more-recent years. Like most people, I usually read his blog while going to the bathroom in the morning.

A few single speeders had joked about lifestyling the Breck Epic this year. You know, drinking beer at every aid station. Ripping the downhills. Suffering together on the climbs. Hanging out. And acting like we don't care when we really do, but can't do anymore than we can.

He proposes the idea over a few remaining ounces of watery booze and bacon grease. I accept.

We ride off into the woods. He instantly discloses and apologizes that his bike is making a groaning noise. I wonder why he didn't tell me about this before I committed to him, but I feel it's too early in our lifestyling relationship to do anything rash.

Though truthfully, I could never hear anything any way.

We discuss how we wished the second aid had been a little closer to the finish. It's about a fifteen mile stretch. We have a few good sections of singletrack to cover and Little French to climb. And by climb, I mean hike.

We hit the Veni Vidi Vici trail. Damnit. I totally forgot about this section. It's another reminder that every stage in Breck could end about three miles sooner. The way the stages are setup, you're led to smell the barn a bit too early. I stand up and pedal. Elation wanders away, and a new trespasser arrives. Torment.

It winds up the rocky ridge. An uphill bridge crossing just ahead.

"Ugh!"

*Thimp* *Thump*

I snap around. Dicky's bike is hanging halfway off the side of the bridge. His body is splattered all over the wood. The metal slip preventer makes it look like he's lying on a cheese grater. I laugh at him, and he laughs at himself. He scrapes up his little body as shreds of dignity fall to the side of the trail.

We continue through the rest of it, and we're dumped out on the Barney Flow descent.

Dicky already wrote about The Passing Incident. Breck Epic more or less commented on it, as well. And maybe I shouldn't refer to it as an incident as that implies bad things, which it wasn't, but it was interesting nonetheless. And because we encountered a similar situation on stage five, which I'll get to later.

The two of us got behind a woman who was descending a bit slower than we were on Barney Flow. I was directly behind her and called out that we'd like to get around her at the next opportunity to let us by.

No response.

Dicky rings his bell a few times. Nothing.

We come upon a road crossing which leads into the last mile of descent to the finish. Perfect opportunity to get around, I think. I say we're going to come up on her left. No response. As we're dumped onto the road, she stands up to accelerate into the singletrack. Oh my goodness.

We're descending at about half the speed we normally would. I'm not concerned about our time, but I do want to enjoy the downhill. Also, if you get caught, you should let the person pass at the next opportune time. Which, is pretty much what happened next.

So, we're cruising along in our three-person train at a point where the trail switches back a bit. A fourth person comes up fast and passes Dicky, me and the women in front. It's a woman and her pass was pretty impressive.

We eventually work our way to the bottom at which point the lead woman finally lets us pass, and we cross the finish line together. Dicky goes and finds the other woman who made the pass on the three of us. It was Katie Compton. Or, Katie Fucking Compton for those who know her personally. The two of them have conversation. I go lie in the grass.

Stage one was pretty great. I felt well enough to enjoy it, but it was still hard enough to kick everyone in the face. Stage two would be a bit different.

Not from the first stage, but still in the honeymoon phase-



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

(Almost) New Belt Buckle Time

The last couple months have held some really great rides. And notably, I've felt pretty good. Having had zero fitness in 2016, I'd say I'm on the up and up.

Commuting to work tolerably often has helped. It's a shite start, but we have fun with it; the inauguration of a new morning filled with hazy grades and Thurston Moore.

Riding on the road has been an occurrence with more frequency than ever, in spite of the dire need for improved conditions in Pennsylvania. It's a bit easier to fit into my schedule at this point in my life. I don't love it, but I do like it.

My road bike has been serving a four year sentence in the basement since the spectacular shellacking it took in West Virginia; alike a criminal who had been shot up, treated, then carted away to prison.

It was granted parole this past weekend for a century ride that was planned sorta last minute. Throughout it all, I bested my times on every hill that I've ridden a hundred times before on my Fargo; the considerable commuter weighing 38 pounds with one pannier and work clothes in tow. My road bike is a smidge over 18. Apparently weight does matter.

And all this evaluation completed after I chased a medium twist cone with two bowls of chocolate Cheerios. And then wine and more dark chocolate.

Why all the riding? Breck, duh.

And an attempt to get another one of these-



Breckenridge is where this whole thing started five years ago. Writing, that is. And I wrote at the beginning of this year that I would like to continue on with it. You know, writing more often. That, and perhaps a little more photography. My renewed effort has been lackluster. So far, anyway.

But, maintaining a blog with any sort of regularity isn't my thing.

Assuredly, Breck 2017 will offer moments worthy of writing. But at this moment, I'm simply satisfied that it's about here. Ryanne will finally appreciate the event that I've ofttimes spoken of. And there's happiness in knowing that. The camaraderie of strangers and the intimacy of alone ascending a new route; one and the other, it sustains a spirit all its own.

For first-time friends, it'll be a thrill.

My Naked was finished a few weeks before Breck in 2012. As it were, we became quick acquaintances. And though seeing my El Mariachi with its groupset has been oh-so very tempting, I really can't imagine riding anything else this time around.

As for myself, I can't say whether I'm in any better or worse condition than I was before. Not that it matters. I'll feel well enough to push the steeps and rip the downhills. And stop for a few beers along the way.

Apparently all the single speeds are now going to be placed with the Pro/Category 1 group. Which, ok. I'll be finished twenty minutes earlier than normal every day. And for a dad with newly-developed time management skills, that's pretty much a bike wash, a beer and every Back to the Future film.

Aside from the category shakeup, those who normally smoke will still get smoked. I'm kind of in the group that rides through the spot where the smoke has more or less dissipated, but is still kinda stinky.

So, looking past my upcoming ass beating, where will that leave the rest of 2017?

There are a lot of good bands coming through Pittsburgh in the fall, which is pretty excellent. I'll likely get on some lighting stuff and photo framing. Also, dad things.

And cherish some moments spent with friends both old and new.

Yeah, that all sounds about right.

Oh, and work.

I imagine I'll be keeping up on the riding, too. An overnighter on the C&O would be nice. Or, a daylong group ride to New York. Something quick and fun; good friends and less Lycra required. Maybe two daylongs.

I may very well carry some of this into next year. I purchased the ACA Tour Divide maps, but they're currently bound up on the back of a motorcycle that hasn't been run since last summer. So, just assume I'm not doing Tour Divide next year, nor riding my motorcycle.

Nevertheless, daydreams deliver desires, and desires leave you desperately wanting. Even if you don't know what it is you want.

Except glory. We all want glory. It's everything else that's confusing.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Love to Mother, Part III

If you didn't catch it, Part I
And- Part II

"Many times we've been out drinking
Many times we've shared our thoughts
But did you ever, ever notice
The kind of thoughts I got?"
-Bonnie Prince Billie


Photographs.
I'm incredibly fascinated by photography.

Candid images of friends (or strangers) are precisely wonderful. I'm a devotee to the innumerable yet stereotypical snaps of mountain landscapes. And what else? Well, valleys are neat.

Although, so are dark alleys. And to those who debate whether or not photography is a form of art? It is.

However, portraits of the famous (or not so famous) are my most cherished.

The cliché expression is that through photography, we are offered a lifelong snapshot of a moment in time. Of course, that is only if the photograph is preserved and not lost.

And I'm going to tell you the story of one such photograph that has held command on my life for nearly fourteen months.

In April 2016, I wrote nearly 10,000 words to fundamentally announce the name of our daughter. Plainly though, that came to be after what would be a narrative on the life of Amelia Earhart. I pored over every adjective, adverb and use of alliteration. I studied each paragraph as though I was consuming the complexity of Dante’s Inferno. I threw so many words and thoughts into the fire, only to go to sleep and arise to a blank screen. It was to be quality over quantity, but then quantity became a necessity.

Now fifteen months later, do I stand by all I wrote? Yes.

But I can also write that much has happened since.

This weekend, History Channel is airing a two hour documentary on Amelia Earhart. It is the byproduct of many years worth of work by two men, Dick Spink and Les Kinney. The program focuses on many facets of evidence, however the centerpiece is an Office of Naval Intelligence photograph purportedly showing the fliers on Jaluit Atoll with the Japanese Koshu Maru (ship) in the background. The Electra is hoisted on its stern, as was reported by eyewitnesses in the summer of 1937. And, as it was described in my previous post.

Most every news organization has run a story on this at some point today.

Les found the photograph at the National Archives after logging nearly 3,000 hours in the building. Just how large are the Archives? According to their website:

"There are approximately 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data."

And this is the moment when this post takes a turn.

I had become aware of this photograph about eighteen months ago, in January 2016. So, I knew of its existence before I wrote my narrative several months later in April. But I had not seen the original (or a copy), nor did I know where Les discovered it.

After knowing about it for five months, on May 31, 2016 I made a one-off, single day trip to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. In the morning, I went through double security, got my background check completed, was issued my researcher's license, and I learned the painstakingly difficult process of pulling records.

By 2:30PM, I had located the original photograph.

Surprised? I was, too.


Property of the National Archives.

This was one of the many scans I took of the photograph during my day at the Archives. I also took photographs holding it.

It was among many other photographs in a bound enclosure. Most of the nearby photographs were shots of Jaluit Atoll from on land. There were several taken from out in the Pacific. There were about six photographs stamped ONI, along with this one.

The Aftermath.
The particulars of that day I have long since shared with some of those close to me. My father was intrigued enough that he made a trip to the Archives with me to see it for himself. This was on June 9, 2016, which was the second and last time I had been there.

On one hand, I want to believe my friends and family understood the significance of it all. If anything, they learned I have a great fondness for Amelia Earhart...as if her face being tattooed on my arm hadn't already given it away.

But, like anything, if you have a considerable affection for something, very few people will love it as much as you do. And while I'm smart enough to understand that, I still found myself longing for guidance that originated from the same plane that I felt my mind had wandered to. It wasn't there. So for this expedition in my life, I found myself alone most of the way.

I will state the photograph is categorized in a record group with many other photographs. The record group lists a date range of years that begins in the early 1940's and ends in middle 1940's. However, very importantly, I soon learned this has zero to do with when the enclosed photographs were actually shot.


The photograph in question is not dated on the front or on the back. But, there are other photographs in the same record group that are dated in the early 1900's and 1910's. So, the record group date range only refers to when these photographs were gathered and categorized, most likely during the Marshall Islands campaign in WWII.


After initially coming across the photograph, there was a moment when I had an inclination to do something with it myself. But, I knew I could not answer the questions and stand up to the scrutiny as well as the other guys could. And ultimately, I got a great piece of advice: It wasn't my photograph.


Yes, the photograph belongs to the National Archives. But, it is Les Kinney who deserves the credit for discovering it. Not Jeremy Palermo.

It was some time in July of last year when I told Dick I had the photograph. It was an unfortunate and challenging conversation. He was in Washington state, and I was in Pennsylvania. I can assure you had I hung up the phone, I would have still heard his heart drop 3,000 miles away.

And as the summer wore on, there were dozens of phone calls between four or five people, and it seemed like the right move for me was to go radio silent. So, I did.

And as I write this, it all seems quite long ago. Perhaps the specifics of my day in the Archives will come in a later post.

Or, just catch me somewhere.

It's a weird feeling, as you might imagine. This morning I saw hundreds of published articles on the newly discovered photograph, though I've had a copy of it hidden away in my laundry room for more than a year.

Today, millions of people are now aware of the photograph. On my day at the Archives, I applied for security clearance, learned the complexities of how to pull records, then managed to discover where it rested. All within seven hours. If every person who now knows of the photograph were given a single day to do the same, I don't know how many, if any, would walk away with having found it. I simply cannot adequately explain the enormity of Archives.


And Now.
For the last fourteen months, I have struggled with the notion of having it. When I first learned of its existence, I wanted to see it for myself. But, I knew if it was legitimate, I would see it in due time. Five months later, along came the fantasy of actually finding it. This is the type of daydream that is not supposed to come to pass. But, it did.

And since that moment, I don't believe I have gone more than thirty minutes without thinking about that day I had in Washington.

For it is not the method in which how I found the photograph that keeps my sleep light, it is simply the why. Life is full of coincidences. I don't believe this was one of them.

Now that it is out there, I have a sense of relief. I'm able to openly speak of everything that occurred, though I was never bound to anything legally. In a way, I feel perhaps I was meant to find the photograph and not do anything with it. Maybe it was a moral challenge. The truth is, Dick and Les have both contributed more to the Amelia Earhart case than I could ever supply myself. Had I released the photograph, it would have put their work in jeopardy. This isn't about me. And it's really not about them, either.

I wrote to Dick this afternoon to express my well-wishes. I asked for his blessing that I be able to finally write about this. He returned the favor with positive comments of his own.


The Young and the Adventurous. And her Photographs.
As I mentioned, I love photography. Yes, there is a now-famous black and white photograph from the National Archives that I've spent quite a long time staring at. Is it truly Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan? You'll have to first watch the documentary, and then ask me in person. You'll get a thirty minute response.

But anyone who has been in my house knows we have a lot of Amelia Earhart photographs on the wall. Some studio. Some candid. All pretty wonderful. And they're all originals, dating to the 1920's and 1930's.

I think Ryanne likes them. But I still have yet to get an open opinion.

Mother hasn’t said much.

Mother-in-law, however? She seems to enjoy the style, though I’m not confident the content has authority over her opinion. She likes black frames; that, I am sure of.

I wrote a lot of notes for this inevitable blog post many months ago, as I knew this day would come. I feel some closure, but I'm still not sure my place in this whole world. 

I have started a project, which is the Amelia Earhart Original Image Archive. It is essentially the recording and physical storage of still-existing, original Amelia Earhart photographs. Mostly press photographs, studio photographs, etc. It'll all be cataloged online with the front and back of the image displayed (press photographs have a paper tag with news information and such). It should provide good research material for anyone ever doing a project on the once-great aviatrix. I guess that is my way of paying respect to someone who I admire.

Eventually, I may work with others who also own original photographs to see if there is a way we can come up with a standard for preservation and documentation.

And through it all, Amelia Jane is nearing the fourteen month mark. I am learning much from her and am amazed by the beautiful mannerisms and characteristics of her personality. I don’t have gross expectations for her to live her life as her namesake had; for it's her own life. All I wanted was to give her a name that meant something to me; though I still may not understand all the reasons why.


And Then Some.
After reading more of the initial news reports (and before seeing the documentary), it seems most are circling the barge on the back as being the location of the Electra. This really isn't accurate. In the summer of 1937, a medical corpsman was led onto the Koshu to treat two American fliers, a man and a woman. He distinctly remembers the man's blue eyes, a color he had never seen before. The woman was dressed like a man and wore pants like a man. All the Japanese men on the ship were excited as it was actually the woman who was the pilot of the plane. This wasn't common. 

The medical corpsman stated that he saw the civilian twin-engine plane on the stern of the ship. He said the front of the aircraft had a tarp/covering over it. He went further to claim the plane's left wing was snapped off. This man would continue telling this story until he died in the 1990's.

If we are to believe his story, the plane would have to be on the stern of the ship, not the barge. This was a point that I had brought up to others, many months ago. I am not arguing that a part of the plane is not on the barge (ie: a wing). However, there is a plane on the stern and it's missing its left wing.

I'll likely get on with my thoughts about the individuals in the photograph in a later post. However, something that I have thought about for well over a year is how the image was framed in by the photographer. You see, taking a photograph seventy or eighty years ago was not inexpensive. What was the photographer shooting? If they wanted to capture a group of people on the dock, they would have moved much closer to make for a clearer picture. The photographer was as physically close to the individuals as they could be to still capture the entire ship (with plane) in the frame. Had the photographer wanted to get any closer and still capture the ship in the shot, they would have had to move to the left which they couldn't do, as they were already at the edge of the pier. I believe getting into the mind the photographer helps add credence to the fact that the individuals and the ship/plane are linked.


Bilimon Amaron stated the plane was on the stern of the ship, hoisted in slings.

He went on to say the front of the plane had a tarp/covering on it and that one of the wings was snapped off. In 1989, he told Earhart researchers Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak that it was the left wing.

Nose of plane on left side. Moving to the right, the black section would be a portion of the windshield. Though, if Bilimon's assertion that a tarp/covering were on the front, it could possibly be obscuring part of the windshield, which looks to be the case.

Continuing to the right is the plane's left engine. The left wing ends just where the ship's vertical flag post is.