Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fall Rides

The onset of fall in AK typically means rain, wind, and dimming days. Some years we get a reprieve from the first two (see: the falls of 2009 and 2010), but those are the exceptions to the norm.
Still, the transition season can be a beautiful time of year when we get the windows to ride, and now that I've had a few seasons up here, I've managed to sus out a few reliably good places to hit.

The end of good summer riding looks like this...all-natural leg warmers.

Dirt road riding in the fall is always a good bet.

Anchorage to Girdwood (Road)
Just as in the warmer season, you've got to pick your day for this. Winds can be strong, to the point of making this pretty much hell, not to mention it dives toward the weather vortex. I keep an eye on the AK Department of Transportation remote weather stations and web cams along the Seward (see sidebar or this blog), but when the winds lay down (sub 20 mph and not building is my only rule), this is an excellent ride. The shoulders on the Seward are wide for the most part, although sometimes littered in sand and small rocks. The bike path from Bird to Gird is incredibly pleasant, and surprisingly quiet most days. A century can be thrown together pretty quick by riding from Anchorage to Portage Lake.

Bird to Gird path.

Snow in the mountains above Girdwood.

Butte/Palmer (Road/Mountain)
I've always been a fan of riding the Keppler-Bradley trails in the Valley in the early and late season. What I've more recently learned, is that the Valley also has some really great road riding. When I say really great, keep in mind that I'm kind of a snob on what constitutes great road riding (see New England and rural Northeast). One of my favorite new rides is to start at a pull out off the Old Glenn Exit just south of the Knik, and ride the Old Glenn through Butte to Palmer, and then ride from Palmer to Independence Mine and back. The newly renovated Trunk Road has a lot of potential too, with fresh pavement, wide shoulders and a bike path alongside.

Old Glenn.

Hatcher (Road/Mountain)
Another new Valley favorite is to just do hill climbs to Independence mine and back. Depending on your goals, you can do anything you want or as many as you want depending on where you start. The climb is around 25 miles in length from the base, and it's pretty sturdy.
I haven't checked out the shuttle run single track in Hatcher yet, but I've heard good reviews.
Another fall time classic, is the possibility to do a cross country ski at Independence Mine in the morning, and road or mountain bike lower down in the valley in the afternoon. Snow is obviously a pre-req though, and some years it happens for Hatcher and some years it doesn't.

Skate ski in the AM, mountain bike in the afternoon.

Russian Lakes Trail (Mountain)
There's a lot of material on this site about Russian Lakes Trail, mostly because it's one of my favorite trails. While this area shuts down in late-June/early-July because of thick vegetation, after a couple good frosts, that stops being an issue. Depending on the year, mid-September seems to be about when this trail comes back into its element. We had a cool early part of September, and the cow parsnip lost their leaves. The Russian is generally pretty well drained because it mostly side hills and rolls over rockier, rooty soils. A word of caution, the area is a pretty heavily traveled corridor for bear, and I have been on this trail in October when it was so littered with bear scat, it might have been hard to identify as a maintained trail had someone just stumbled onto it. Don't expect to see any people out here this time of year either. It's pretty lonely.

Bright foliage, bright sky, snow on the peaks, and a dry trail.

Devils Pass Trail (Mountain)
Not quite as far a drive, as technical, or as lonely as Russian, Devils is also a pretty good bet in the fall. It too, for the most part, side hills, and is pretty well drained. The caveat, is that there are a few soft spots higher up in the valley, and the water crossings can get really torn up from horse traffic in the fall, not to mention that the trail may be littered with horse crap. This isn't to start a rant, but, just be aware that it may not be mud that just flung up off your tire and into your face...than again, it could be bear crap over on the Russian. It may be a tease to ties this in with Resurrection Pass trail. The sad truth is, that lots of Res are muddy if it's been a wet fall. The section from the Devils Pass Junction to East Creek cabin will usually be alright. Heading south toward Cooper is generally not a good bet - as said - if it's been wet. Use good judgement. Adam and I got pissed at the weather in early September and said screw it, and rode Devils-Hope-Devils. We got our rocks off, got a good 60 miles in, had fun, and then regretted t for a week after. Like a good night of drinking, we had fun riding, but the clean up sucked, and really made us both question if it was worth it. In retrospect, we probably should have just ridden Devils-East Creek-Devils, hit it hard instead of "all-day pace," and called it good.

The beginning of fall colors at the beginning of September.

Cross Racing
I don't race cyclocross, it's not my thing, I like riding/racing over distance, in short bursts, I'm no good. I also question any biking that intentionally involves activities other than riding. That being said, it's a lot of fun. For me, it's a chance to go hang out with my pals and help out with course set up/timing/heckling.
I had a lot of fun at the two Arctic Cross (LINK) races I went to. You don't need a cross bike, any bike will do, the courses are hard and creative, and the camaraderie is great. The sport has been growing in Anchorage just as it has elsewhere in the States, which is awesome to see. Most the races this fall had over 100 people in attendance. At $15 their a bargain, and their quick and close by.

Lots more CX pictures here: LINK

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gear Review: Jones Carbon Solution Split

I’ve been lucky to have picked up some amazing new gear in the last couple of years, but the 2012 Jones Solution Carbon splitboard might be the single most revolutionary gear purchase I’ve ever made.
How do I even start?
When I got my first splitboard in 2009, after years of hiking with snow shoes and a board on my pack, I called the split revolutionary.
That happened, again.

The Solution was designed by world class mountain athlete, Jeremy Jones, and his team, for riding that is pushing the boundaries of the sport.
It should come as no surprise that this board performs as such.
It should also come as no surprise that this board carries a somewhat hefty price tag.
To compare this board to another world I know, this board is the equivalent in my mind of a carbon fiber framed 6-inch travel trail bike that can crush climbs and downhills with equal finesse.
My first impression of the Solutions was how light it was.
I paired the Solution with Karakoram Split30 bindings, and Burton DriverX boots.
This is overall, one of the faster, lighter set ups available.
On the first skin, I felt like I could climb like a champ. The lack of weight underfoot was noticeable, particularly on longer approaches and never ending ridges.
Also helpful was the minimal side-cut.
Side hilling on hard snow was fairly easy, and I noticed a lot less side slip of my downhill leg.
Also helpful on this front, to give credit where credit is due, were Voile touring mount riser blocks, which help the climber put more tourque into their edges.
These blocks also pick the toe of the boots off the deck allowing more swing for steep kick turns. The lower ride of the tip and tail also makes this board less likely to “shovel tip” into the powder on the front end, but easier to anchor the tail.

But snowboarders have been booting up skin tracks forever, so climbing is not nearly as big a deal as the downhill ride.
Let’s just say, that in three years of predominantly backcountry boarding on a split, I had basically forgotten what it was like to ride a real snowboard, but easily could have taken an ironing board down most mountains and not known the difference…that is to say, splitboards have not been known for their awesome rides.
The Solution breaks that type cast.

Even sawed in half as a split, this board begs for the steep and deep.
Riding this board on moderate terrain or thin powder is like using a sports car as a grocery-getter, you will not see the Solution’s full performance value until you’re staring back up at your own tracks in a 40+ couloir that was a foot deep and unsettled.
The ride quality and control comes from a few different factors.
First is the board’s reverse camber, which spread’s the rider’s weight out over the base, allowing the board to float higher atop the snow, even in deep and unsettled conditions.
Second is the forced wide stance mandated by the pre-drilled mounts.
Compared to other boards, the Solution demands the rider place their front foot much further toward the nose than other boards. This also helps with the above point in spreading the rider’s weight out, but also means the board is more reactive to subtle inputs from the rider. Lastly, the side-cut is marginal, and the board is nearly straight-edged compared to other boards, giving it a lot of steering power.

When all these features are combined you get a board that rides high and fast even in deep snow, and is fairly reactive.
When I say “fairly reactive” I mean, some people might call it twitchy, but keep this in context: the type of riding that the creator of this board is doing involves technical lines where one missed turn could be the last missed turn.
I can’t say I’m doing that kind of riding, and it took a few rides to harness all that power. There is a fine line between making nice arcing turns, and throwing up 15-foot powder sprays burning off too much speed because a bit too much pressure was applied to an edge.
I will admit, on the first few rides, I threw up some epic sprays when I hammered a corner too hard and cut my speed way more than I wanted to on aggressive carves. It took a few outing to get comfortable.
Once the balance is struck though, suddenly you can put the most old-school squiggle-butt skier to shame, or rip down a 1,000 foot face making fewer turns than there are fingers on a hand, with equal ease.
Maybe, just as one should be careful behind the wheel of a powerful sports car, one should not get over confident, but I know that much of the calm I felt at the top of some of last season’s prouder lines was, at least in part, thanks to what I had underfoot.

A few downs: The carbon construction, while light, is also not as durable. The base shows no signs of wear that would be inconsistent with normal backcountry riding. I kept this board in the garage through the prolonged early season and out of the rocky Anchorage Front Range. The top sheet however, lost a few chunks of material due to what I would consider normal wear; mostly the two skis slapping each other while skinning or incidental hits to remove built up ice and snow (obviously I tried to use the karakoram bases as contact points when hitting the boards at transitions, and the soft handles of ski poles on climbs, but occasionally they will get jarred together or hit something harder; that’s what happens on wind-blasted ridge lines while storm skiing sometimes).
The black top sheet also warms up easily, allowing snow to bond to it easily, at temperature ranges colder than what might occur if the board was a brighter color. That being said, I like the clean look of the board. I have never been a fan of ski/board art, and prefer the utilitarian look of a clean top sheet and base. I tried rub on wax and cooking spray in the spring to reduce snow build up. Neither worked particularly well, though thanks to having the Pam “baking” cooking spray, my board did smell like cookies for a weekend.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I didn't fish much this summer compared to previous summers. King fishing was largely closed for most of the season, again, and a surge of fast-moving sockeyes made for a few days of good red fishing followed by not a lot of action. I tried get out of Homer with my friend Larry in July, but rough seas shut that trip down.
I wasn't too disappointed though, one of the nicest Junes and Julys made for excellent riding, and August had hardly arrived before it began to rain and dampen the trails. Time to fish.
Just in time, my dad and my sister came up to visit the first week of the month.

Sabrina hooks into an out-of-season king while fishing for silvers near camp.

Go make babies. We miss you guys.
We did a combo trip out of Seward. The combo trip is fabled in AK. You can catch limits of multiple species of fish. In my slimmer days, when groups would hit it right, they would come back with about 200 pounds of fillets apiece of ling cod, silvers, halibut, and bass. That being said, it takes some cooperation from the fish, and more importantly, the weather, to make this happen. I opted to take the two on a combo out of Seward with low expectations, knowing that we would get to see some great scenery, whales, wildlife, and maybe some fish.
We did OK.
 Otherwise we confined fishing to the river.
Sunrise on the river.

Skilak Lake.

A day's catch.
I also took my sister on a hike up Summit Creek. We had a nice window of blue sky and saw a big billy and a huge caribou. Pictures are here: Summit Creek Album

Headed back to Anchorage we made a detour through Girdwood.
The week after my family left, one of the biggest slugs of silvers hit the river in recent memory. The fishing was unreal. I high tailed it back down to camp Friday after work, and Ryan and I hit the water early Saturday for what could be one of the most epic days of silvers I may ever know, though I hope not.

A sight I like to see.
The day started with a triple, and we landed all three; followed by a double, where we landed both, thanks to numerous nets onboard and teamwork.
The day just got better.
A perfect storm erupted, where we had an awesome group of folks in camp, and bad weather out on the salt that blew off two groups that were planning to go halibut. We fished just about everyone in camp, limiting everyone. Ryan ran the boat, put us on the fish, and kept the bait fresh, while I tended net, managed tangles, and brained and slit gills. By the end of the day we killed 40 silvers, my hands were sliced to shreds, and I could barely stand. Pure awesome.

During the day this massive 33" rainbow hit. It just dove, and refused to surface, making us very sure we'd hooked a mid-sized king until we finally coaxed it to the net. This is easily the biggest 'bow I've ever seen in person.

A break in the weather and the action on Skilak.
The next day we only had one group to fish, but Colin came down, and a fellow in camp signed on to go fun fish with us after. The fishing slowed a bit, but we still had a blast.

I was back down at camp yet again the following weekend to help out with the United Rental event. While this is always a lot of work, the United guys are a fun group, and I look forward to seeing them and helping out every year.

Party time.

First light at the Pillars.

More or less, this is what the whole day looked like. I think there were around 130 participants this year.

Bailey, a fixture around camp on the weekends.
After three weeks in a row at camp fishing, I was happy to take a little time away and get some more riding in, but in late September Lizzy came back from her last hitch, and Steve and Rondi took us out on a cold and somewhat slow day to fish for big second run silvers. Bright foliage and scales ruled the day.
EDIT: Lizzy also taught Rondi and I a new way to bonk and bleed a fish in one, though the "Tarantino Style" is probably not approved by PETA or animal rights groups.

Lizzy caught all the big ones...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Scott Scale 910

Purchase Date: April 2013
Uses: XC racing, XC riding, occasional trail tiding
Purchase Location: Chain Reaction Cycles, Anchorage, AK

The Scott Scale 910, when it was shiny and new.
I purchased my medium Scott Scale 910 this spring from Chain Reaction Cycles in Anchorage (not to be confused with the online retailer), after many years of service from my 2003 Giant XtC. The latter was due for some upgrading, and the costs to do so no longer penned out compared to the new tech available on the market.

A big reason for a new purchase also, was that I wanted a carbon frame for my hard tail, and it was clear that it was time to get on with the times, and move to 29-inch wheels for this rig in my fleet.

My inclination was to either go with another Giant XtC or a Scott Scale. Ultimately, the decision to go with the Scott was driven both by my satisfaction with my 2011 Scott CR1 Elite road rig, and shop preference.

This is a 1-season review, but so far, so good.

As a short rider, I’ve been skeptical of moving to 29r wheels. My biggest concern has been the nimble-ness I have on a smaller 26-inch wheel set.

Riders who didn’t grow up riding the rocks and wet roots of New England on 26-inch wheels, or taller riders, may fail to appreciate the nimbleness the same way I can, but I have always loved having the ability to move my rig side to side as deftly as it rolls forward.

Additionally, the smaller 26-inch bikes are superior at short accelerations.

In a racing or group ride context, I have found myself at times frustrated by riders on 29rs who try to “roll” undesirable lines through technical sections, or lag in their accelerations.

It is no surprise that particularly in the former context, these were places I often made my move for a pass.

But the 26-inch wheels left me spinning up a high cadence to hang on in fast, smooth sections, and when the trail presented broken up obstacles, the 29rs easily cleared them and carried their speed, while a single sink hole in a trail easily sucked up a ton of speed from my 26r.

The trade off for me was to go light. The Scale 910 is just that, and while I feel a slight reduction in my ability to “flick” my bike due to it's size, its not significant. Nor is it a slow climber.

The added, and so-oft touted rolling prowess of the 29r wheels is indeed a perk, and sometimes give the hardtail a near full suspension feel. What helps with this as well is a long wheel base. This bike can float technical sections far easier than one might expect from a hardtail.
Two other big plusses have been the installation of a flip-loc for the fork with three settings. On up-and-down trails inter-mixed with smooth and super rooty stretches, I work the flip-loc as much as my brakes and shifters.

Another big plus is the Sram XX 2x drive train. At 95 RPM I can push this bike at 25 MPH, topped out.  That's plenty fast for most XC riding. The draw back is that should I chose to do gravel road riding, I may want that third ring up front, though the Denali trip last spring seemed to refute that.

I was also pleasantly surprised with this bike's performance on longer backcountry rides. On the whole this would be a poor choice for a backcountry rig, but on loops and rides that feature less technical trail, or sections of gravel, like the Russian Loop, it's pretty fun.
Major disappointment: tubeless tires. I just wasn't getting anything from them. Weight savings? Lower tire pressure? Whatever, they were unreliable, messy, and too much work.

Expected disappointment: stock Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires. I'm just going to vent this out over the Internets: Schwalbe mountain bike tires suck. I have personally witnessed the sidewalls on three different pairs Schwalbes blow out, one of those pairs being my own. I also saw one of my own Schwalbes get what was arguably the lamest puncture flat in the history of the sport of mountain biking: from a pointy pebble ON A DIRT ROAD. News flash Schwalbe, I ride dirt roads several times a week ON MY ROAD BIKE, and I don't have this issue.
Sadly, lots of bikes come stock with Schwalbes, I assume in part because they're cheap, but also because of the "OOOH, this is light," effect. Ride'em for what they're worth, watch them closely for wear, and after two months, expect to be in the market for something new. I recommend Maxxis tires.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Racing 2013

I can’t get enough. I need to read reports. I need to see strategy, and when the day finally comes along, it’s all I can think about.

The funny thing is, I hardly do any of it compared to when I lived back east, nor do I try to do it right.

When I race these days, it’s an excuse to do a really fast group ride, where someone else determines the route, and it's OK to push really hard and try and leave everyone else behind. Then, after, we have some fun and hang out, high on the endorphin rush.

If I had a single focus this season, it was the Arctic Bike Club’s Kincaid Series XC races, of which I raced five of the six in the men’s Sport division with a group that ranged in size from 15-30. Turnout, for these races was generally pretty high, record high in the beginning of the season as I understand, and the sport division grew fiercely competitive by the season’s end. The result could best be described as addictive racing.

Races were held every other Tuesday starting the first Tuesday in June through August 13th

Each course was a little different, and usually featured a mix of technical and rooty single track, smooth fast single track, and ripping fast double track. The specific mixture and amount of climbing varied in each race, keeping it fresh, and giving riders with stronger suits in certain areas a chance to excel not just in specific sections of a course, but also a chance to get a leg up in some races compared to others.

I started the season really strong and came in with good condition. Race 1, which was probably one of the easiest of the season as far as how hard the course was (in my opinion) didn’t feel like very much of a race for me. The first “choke” was actually a steep double track climb that had a rather long lead up, allowing the pack to first string out, and then blow itself up. I found myself at the front, and soon enough in the lead, not too far into the race, and felt like I coasted into first with a near 30-second lead over second place. A tough corner helped to throw several racers off, including myself, so I stayed hot on the pedals for much of the race, worried I might have lost a position; and I managed to rock my saddle backward, making it only partially usable.
Channeling Marco Fontana's saddle-less third place ride in the 2012 Olympics.
The saddle issue was probably more of a gift though, as it forced me to stand up and power more than anything else. It was also my first chance to really try out my new Scott Scale 910, and I was very pleased with the rig’s performance. 
The ease of the win would set off a season-long dilemma on whether I should move up to the Expert div (the local races offer three categories, Expert, Sport, and Beginner; as well as a Masters category for riders over 40 and a “short course” offering that might be sort of the old NORBA equivalent of the “first timer category.”)

Race 2looked to be another easy win as well, right from the outset. Turnout was again strong, and the course, though it featured more single track, didn’t seem particularly challenging. I liked this for the first two races, as I think it helped set the season off on a slightly more positive note than might have been the case if these races were suffer fests that just crushed people's souls. Many racers still seemed plenty challenged by these courses, so really, my assessments were just that…mine.

The course was really fast, and conditions were starting to dry out quite a bit thanks to a lack of rain and record heat. Cornering was optimal, and I was hammering.

Midway through lap 1 I was holding a steady gap on second place Zach Huff and Masters division champ, Darin Marin. Even though the two were not technically racing each other, every time I looked over my shoulder, they seemed to be duking it out, attacking the heck out of each other and trying to close the gap on me, causing me to hit the gas every time I sensed a surge.

As we closed in on the end of the first lap, the course went through some twisty, rooty stuff.

I had thought I heard a weird noise from my rear tire earlier in the race on a sharp corner, and it did seem soft. As I steered though a 90-degree twist on the roots, my rear tire let out a belch, and went nearly flat.

Darin and Zach quickly slipped past.

I pulled out a CO2 cartridge and shot air into my tire as a few other riders went by, though I knew not all were Sport. As the tire inflated, I suddenly decided I didn’t want to over inflate it, so I pulled the nozzle off.

Big mistake.

The tire still didn’t have enough air in it. I took off as the course made a horseshoe through the Kincaid Stadium, and went to climb a steep embankment.


The steep slope was too much and the tire belched again.

Now I had insufficient air in my one and only CO2 cartridge to fill the tire. I thought the race was over, and stood still for a second. Then I remembered I had a pump in the car, and I was a fairly short jog to the start/finish, so I figured I would at least ask if I could use a pump or not. Of course, any jog in cycling shoes with a bike is less than ideal. When I got to the timing area I asked the race director, and learned that in fact, the race provided neutral support in the form of some pumps and tools.


I pumped up the tire and headed on my way, having been passed at this point by all 29 of the sport men.

While I raced at a conservative pace, out of fear of burping my tire again, I was able to climb my way back up to 6th place.

The fact that I pulled this off, and didn’t even feel like I was giving it everything I had on pace, only further influenced my thinking that I should move up to Expert if I placed top three in the next race.

As for the flat, it was one of many lessons learned on using tubeless tires, which were new for me this season. The thinking there was less than positive, but bike issues are a part of racing, especially in mountain bike racing, and I’ve long ago accepted that.

Race 3 and I was ready to make a come back. The course featured more technical sections and climbing than the previous two. It also started with a steep climb that choked down fairly quick to some rooty single track, that included a run up that was guaranteed to be the site of a big pile up.

The start was one of the most competitive I can remember, with several racers I wasn’t familiar with slamming it hard out of the gate.

I hit the front pretty quickly though, and avoided the pile up and chaos. Mid-way through the first lap, I had dropped the entire group. Realizing that the win was all but in the bag, I dropped it down a notch and started racing conservatively, knowing the biggest risk was another bike issue or a crash. I caught up with an expert racer and paced with him, feeling very confident as we neared the end of the first lap.
Coming through a fast intersection I nearly missed a turn, but thanks to my adopted pacer, only had to slow down and wheel back around into a section of technical rooty single track.

All of a sudden, Darin, women’s Expert Jessie Donahue, and a rider sporting cotton shorts and a t-shirt blasted out of the woods and  into the intersection. I slipped in behind Darin as Jessie let me in, and noticed that the cotton shorts rider behind her had a Sport number on his plate.

At that second, Darin had a spectacular crash over a root at high speed, where both he and his bike did a complete summersault, but somehow, both managed to land on their feet and rubber-side-down, respectively. I don’t know how he did it, nor do I think he did either, but Jessie and I were cheering as we blew by.

Back to racing, I hit the hammer, realizing that I had dropped my pace too soon and was now going to have to fight for first.

Eventually, the cotton shorts rider slipped past Jessie, and the race was on. This unknown rider turned out to be particularly strong on the fast single track and the climbs. My ears were tuned as he faded and surged in different sections, and I attacked on the technical single track and the open double track, as these seemed to be weak points for him. I was able to partially shake him mid-way through the second lap, but instead of backing off, I held steady, and then gunned it to the finish, scared he was storing a surge attack for the uphill finish.

Such was not the case, but I learned soon after that this cotton-wearing rider was none other than Luc Mehl. Luc is an incredibly accomplished backcountry traveler and racer. His resume is impressive to say the least, and his cotton attire is a testament to his laid back personality.

I caught up with Luc again later that week for a ride, and learned he didn’t know that we were riding for first, but thought instead we were fighting for something like 5th. He was pumped for a re-match at race 4.


But the good news was, even though I wanted to move up to Expert, I suddenly had a good reason to stay in Sport. Luc wasn’t interested in moving up. He doubted, as I did for myself as well, that with an additional lap, there would be as much racing so much as riding.

I think, in the end, this was proven to be less of a concern than we both believed, but so it goes.

Race 4 was hands down the toughest course of the season. It featured a heap of climbing, several steep run ups, and lots of technical single track.

It also came three days after the Fireweed, where I had ridden about 90 miles in the form of a 40- and 50-mile leg on a two-person relay team. The Fireweed was a blast, and it elevated my form, especially my road form, but despite my best efforts to recover and flush out my legs after the event, I was hurting on race day.

I warmed up by pre-riding the course as I usually did. The pre-ride gave me a knowledge boost and a proper warm up prior to the starting gun, but this time, I really wished I hadn’t. Seeing the course hurt me, both physically and mentally.

I don't know if the boys smelled blood, but the race went hard off the gun. I made it out front, but I didn’t drop the pack as I had in the previous three races. We tore into some sandy switch backs early on, and I slipped out in a corner, shouting loudly out of fear I would cause a pile up.

Fortunately, Clinton Hodges III was behind me. He shouted encouragement and I got back on my way; but now he was right behind me and I couldn't shake him. My cornering felt sub par, and I needed to breath a bit, so I told him to scoot up so I didn’t hold him back. He and Darin shot off the front. I kept up with the two as we made a long climb to the bluff trails, acquiring a wasp sting right on the bridge of my nose along the way.
Just before we got to the bluff trails, I noticed a group of Sport men were closing a gap behind me. This group consisted of Mike Kelly, Luc, and John Trimble. Darin and Clint disappeared after we a run up into the bluff. After getting thrashed on the bluff, Luc, Mike and I began to hammer double track and fast single track back to the start/finish. I was doing a lot of pulling and couldn’t shake them, nor reel Clint back in. As we swung onto the final stretch of double track that lead into the start/finish, Mike made a big attack.

Let me back up. Mike had so far placed fourth twice and fifth once in races 1-3. I was a bit surprised to see him hammering in the front suddenly. I was even more surprised when he attacked on double track, as he was riding an Intense Spider with minimal lock out or shock stiffening capabilities. His technical skills were strong, and he did well when the trail got tough, but this was hard tail territory. Up to this point, double track had been Mike’s nemesis, and as he powered past me, I watched his bike bob away in disbelief.

Luc latched on too, but my legs told me not to respond if I didn’t want to explode. The best I could hope for was that Clint, Mike, or Luc, was going to hit a wall on this tough course.

I brought them all back in sight a few times on the long climb to the bluff, but again, I could not close the gap, and they disappeared. I rode the rest of the race alone, wondering what was happening up there, and trying to give it some gas in the closing section in the hope that I would pick one of them off.

Nothing of the sort happened though. Mike was able to stay in front of Luc, and the two passed Clint.

Despite feeling pretty crushed physically, I was super stoked to see both Clint and Mike in the top three.

Clint had a tough start to his season it seemed, and as said, Mike was locking it down in 4th and 5th but seemed unable to break that position.

It was a turning point in the season for all of us I think.

I was gone for Race 5, working in Valdez. As with any good series though, the total is determined by throwing out each competitor’s lowest scoring race. Basically, this means you get a free pass for work, weather, or just a bad day, and helps to level the playing field a little bit.

Mike Kelly posted a win in race 5, and Clint notched third, but Luc was absent. Essentially, what this did, is make Mike all but untouchable for the series lead, and lock Clint and I into a battle for second in the overall series that would be decided in the final race, race 6.

This is one of the cool things about series racing, it changes the goals in a race and assigns targets and enforces strategies.

The race 6 course was a nice happy medium without a huge amount of climbing. The race launched from Little Campbell Lake, so there was no room for a big attack at the start or sprint finish at the end, and had enough techy sections and hammer head sections to keep everyone happy.

Turnout was a little light, but most of the major players were there for the Sport div, including Luc, Clint, Mike, and John.

Even though Mike and Luc were big threats in the race, my only concern was racing Clint. He was 15 points down in the series from me, so I had the upper hand, and the pressure was definitely on him. Clint is a smart racer and I knew he had to have drawn a target on me.

We took off, and the first choke came fast. Luc pretty much instantly disappeared, and we never saw him again. He ended up taking down the Sport div by two minutes, ending his season on a heck of a strong note.

Meanwhile, a battle royale of sorts broke out between Clint and I for second, in both the race and series.

I was able to stay in front of Clint through the entirety of the first lap, but he pushed me hard. Toward the end of the lap we hit techy, rooty single track, and I finally put a small gap between us.

I was able to make him work hard as we went into lap 2 to close that gap, and probably fended him off for at least half of it, hoping his legs would tire, but growing increasingly impressed with his stamina as he failed to disappear.

I knew that he knew he had to get in front of me before we hit the techy stuff that dominated the last mile or so of the course. Despite the battle going on between the two of us, Mike, John, and Darin managed to catch up about mid-way through lap 2, and shortly after, Clint made a soul-crushing attack to get a hole shot into a long section of fast single track. I couldn’t match Clint’s attack, but Darin went for it, and I grabbed Darin's wheel going in.
We all rode the section hard. My mind was shut down into intense focus, but I was stoked by Mike’s whooping behind me as he followed suit, and launched a table top.
We stayed within 5 seconds of Clint.

Exactly what happened in the last mile or so of techy single track is hazy to me.
I think Mike and I passed Darin on a short section of double track going into the techy stuff, then there was a brief tangle with an apologetic Expert rider who was struggling with the trail and held Mike and I up for a bit. Somehow, we re-closed the gap on Clint.
With an eighth of a mile of the finish. I was back on Clint’s wheel and ready to make what would have to be an aggressive attack on off-camber roots.

The opportunity presented itself.
I went for it.
Then I was skidding on my hip.

Mike and Darin rattled by me.

I tried to recover, but my riding went to the dogs, and I slipped out a few more times. Trimble passed by too, and I realized I was riding worse by trying to ride hard, so I rolled it into the finish.

In that moment, one could say the situation was sad, even heart breaking for me, and maybe it would have been, but the energy was just too high.
To have a whole season feel like it came down to a 20-foot section of roots and a risky move, that’s awesome racing, and that defines cross country mountain bike racing.