Friday, December 7, 2007

PDX Part Trois: "The (Epic) Mud Crit"

Sunday morning we drove to the course and see that it is very, very wet. If the mud was peanut butter Saturday it had morphed into thick clam chowder Sunday. The ruts were gone, just about everything is a bog with some deeper than others. That downhill spot from the day before where you slowed to a stop was now a hub-deep watering hole. The course was laid out a bit differently, but not radically so, and the rain was much steadier. The thick mud from the day before was pulverized by the rain and racing, leaving a soupy but strangely fast course. Tires sunk straight through the mud to the hard pack ground below, providing much better traction and speed despite the deep slop. I coined the term "mud crit" and will be collecting royalties on its future use.

Shino had been declaring his season over the day previously, but did show up to race the Cs again on Sunday. Zank nearly bailed on his race but with some encouragement he was in the grid and ready to go despite the cold heavy rain. The preferred warm up for the day was to sit in the heated car until 5 minutes before the race started and then ride right to the staging area. Zank's race was great fun, and rather than sitting in the car to watch we got out there and cheered like lunatics for all the NE guys. I lined up on the right this time with Terry just behind for the master's race. The first lap was cold, wet, fast and absolutely great. This was a real race... where fitness and technique were equal contributors to one's success. The FMBs hooked up and the legs responded when asked. PNW guys seem to rest on the pavement sections, something I noticed on Saturday, so I took the opportunity to hammer there to create gaps. I saw Brant Hornberger just ahead doing the same: gapping guys on the pavement. The rain and wind picked up and the crowd was going nuts. My senses were firing like crazy: sounds, taste, smell and what little vision and touch I had left were taking in this whirlwind of information all while my CV system and legs were working overtime to keep me plowing through it all. Just then, a drum line started playing really loudly.... like I didn't feel I was on a battlefield already. At that moment this became an epic race. The drums were the coolest thing ever at a cross race and perfect given the conditions. This heightened the experience, and I was able to dig deeper into my personal pain cave to summon some more speed. Let me say that Chris Milliman knows how to cheer on a tired cross racer. Bravo and thank you Chris! This was the sort of race where you were either "all in" or justifiably unhappy and uncomfortable to be outside in this mess. With a lap to go I told the guy riding near me that we had a good gap over the next guy and that we shouldn't do anything stupid to take eachother out. I got ahead of him and stayed there for 24th overall, a good result in my book.

It took quite a while to warm up and get dry but we stayed to watch the elites as the weather got worse with really high wind gusts and more (you guessed it) rain. We had some beer with us but Chris and Tia brough more (yea!) and we had fun talking shop and playing in the mud. We ended the evening with a nice dinner out and flew home the next morning having left none of the PDX cross scene experience on the table.

PDX Part Deux: The Muddy Curmudgeon

Saturday morning we were off to the venue for the races. It was grey and rainy and a quick recon showed that the mud is thick and sticky when you are trying to pedal but slippery when you turn. Riding through the mud was pointless, it stopped you in your tracks. So you tried to follow the deep ruts to reduce the rolling resistance but those were twisted and crooked, so as your tires hit the walls of the ruts they jerk your bars to the right and left, challenging you to hold your line. Meanwhile, your rear end was trying to hook up but the slick surface causes the wheel back there to break free. If a jerk at the bars and a spin at the rear wheel happened together, you were going down. There were two smaller bogs, soupy mud pits that guaranteed you were going home dirty even if you keep your bike up for the entire race.

Shino entered the C race flying the Quad Cycles colors of Arlington, MA. He looked strong and placed well taking 6th. Nice. Afterwards he was dressed appropriately for the weather in his muddy cycling jacket, jeans, down vest and canvas sneakers. This guy lives in Portland. Zank's race was next and he rides well in the slop to a top 30 finish. Our pals from NE all did well, with Marc Bavineau, Pierre Vanden Borre, Scott Rosenthal, Jeremy Dunn and Pete Smith all in the top 20. That'll teach all you Portland freaks! I love hearing Richard Freis calling the national races and beaming about the NE guys. Our juniors got schooled though, those PNW kids love the ick.

I was 4th row for the elite master's and the guy two spots away leans over, introduces himself and tells me he enjoys my race reports. I forget his name. I got bogged at the whistle as the guy in front of me throws a pedal. I slowed, then accellerated to the left to make up some spots. Just past the S/F line there was trouble to the right and the field starts to drift left towards me. This was where the course bends right and I'm deadeye at a huge blue plastic barrel. I hit that mother at nearly top speed. My world explodes as does the barrel and tape and a few other guys around me. Quick damage assessment showed the bike fine, the thumb fine, the right hip rashed and the left index finger jamed so I'm staying in this sucker... it's time to chase. I rode back up through the field in the first 1/3 lap to probably around 40th or so. The mud was thick and the bike is getting heavier with each lap. There was one section coming off the pavement into a downhill on the grass where you were flying at the transition but by the time you get to the bottom you were getting rearended as you had come to nearly a complete stop thanks to the thick mud. The rain morphed to snow, and the mud hardened a bit but not enough to change the experience much. The crash and subsequent chase back on left me a bit frayed, and I dumped two times in a row on a tricky downhill, collecting leaves and extra mud in the bike in the process. That was it for me, I sat up and rode easy through the finish, knowing that I would get hurt if I keep pushing so hard and that I could come back to fight it out tomorrow. I roll in 64th and after crossing the line someone yells "are you the muddy crumudgeon?!" Hmmm....

After the race I was treated to some yummy beer and good times with the Half Fast Velo guys. The parking lot scene was something like a miniature version of Rt. 1 in Foxboro. There were 3 dozen easy up style tents, half of those with heaters in them and half again with further creature comforts like keg beer, grills, sofas, fire pits and rows and rows of trainers. The Half Fast guys kept feeding me beer and after two or three I was feeling no pain from the wreck, clearly just what the doctor ordered. We joined the largest crowds of the day to watch the pro race which was odd. In NE the course is usually pretty empty for the pro event but here it seems people actually wait for it. After sobering up, I mustered the courage to present myself to Terry's family who had preparred a feast for us boys. We dined on pasta, salad and bread with some of Terry's pals and had a grand time. Outside, the rain was picking up.

Tomorrow... Part Three: "The Mud Crit"

Thursday, December 6, 2007

PDX Part One: The Mayor of Portland

Portland was great. The flight was short and cheap and the bike made it in one peice. Our host Terry was super nice and his family was friendly, patient and accomidating. We didn't have to worry or think about a thing and hope we weren't to much of a pain in the a$$ to them. A big thank you to Terry, Michelle, Katie & Jackie.

Our flight out was uneventful and pretty fast. I sat next to a super cool older couple that was going to watch the Davis Cup. The conversation made the flight seem very quick. Thursday night we went out for pizza and stuffed our bellies with delicious pie and some tasty Fat Tire ale. With the travel, the time change and winter daylight it was a long, dark day.

The "sunrise" was a welcome sight Friday morning but the sky was grey and angry. It only drizzled lightly as we headed into the city to sample the local culture. North, South, East, West? The lack of sun had me confused as to which way we were pointing, rendering my normally sharp spacial intelligence useless. This really threw me off, but Mike seemed ok with it all. Our host pointed out elements of the the cycling friendly infrastructure that weren't obvious (so much of it was): dedicated bike paths, bike only bridges, an abundance of bike racks, etc. There were people riding everywhere, and everyone of them knew what they were doing. There were business men with racks and panniers, messengers on simple machines zipping this way and that, hard core cyclists with head to toe gore tex and dyno hubs, and women in high heeled boots trackstanding at intersections waiting for the light to change... that's straight sexy.

We stopped in at Molly Cameron's Veloshop, a functional establishment lacking obvious bling factor, but on closer inspection you'd notice the FMBs with the custom Racing Ralphs tread. Next was Bike Central, a fixie/track/messenger joint with a cool selection of frames, parts, clothing and bags for those who'd rather pass on derailleurs. The owner and his gf/wife were chatty, and we learned a good deal about how serious these folks take their non-geared cycling. With the discovery that Mike was a framebuilder, his campaign for mayor of Portland was launched right there at that shop. It seemed that where ever we went, Mike was the center of attention with old friends or people who were familiar with his work and just wanted to talk to him. Portlanders "get it" when it comes to cycling. The hot chocolate at Stumptown roasters wasn't on par with that of Dunkin Donuts, but it was far superior to that from Starbucks. Apple powerbooks dominated the laps of those seated enjoying their warm beverages in that place.

Back to West Linn Friday night to pick up Terry's pal Chris (a solid individual) and then into the city again for some delicious Mexican food at Cha Cha Cha. On the way there, I noticed that the daily life of the Portlander did not stop due to rain. I saw at least a dozen landscaping crews planting, pruning, and even blowing leaves in the rain. Construction and sewer projects continued as usual as well. In NE rain means you take a day off and wait for a better one, which will probably come in a day or two at the most. There... what are you going to wait for.... June? Two final "it rains alot in Portland" notes: despite very heavy rains through the rest of the weekend, the roads, sidewalks, lawns, and just about everything else looked as though they had just started to get wet. I didn't see any standing or streaming water anywhere, no erosion, no real evidence of sustained rainfall outside of the thick vegitation and heavy moss growth on everything and anything not moving. A good rain coat and some rubber boots were pretty much all that you needed to stay comfortable, and everyone (except Shino) had them on all the time. Secondly, the bike shops there carried more rain gear than I've ever knew existed. Nice stuff, and clearly 100% required equipment. Ok, enough on the "Culture of the Drenched."

Friday night we went to an art exhibition at the Vanilla bicycles shop in East Portland, "the soul" of the city per our host Terry (who referred to the West side as "the money"). Sasha's shop was cool and nicely appointed and the art on display didn't look out of place or forced. It looked as though the art was there all of the time, and who knows maybe it was, I never asked. The fixtures of Sasha's shop (for those unfamiliar) were crafted tastefully, blending form and function, creating a gallerly like appearance of their own. The sliding main barn door, tidy hand made wooden drawers, vast shelves, organized tool areas, many cool jigs, a somewhat bohemian loft area and a few bike/parts display elements at the front of the shop that clearly weren't brought in just for the show. This place was "manicured," if I can be so bold as to use that word to describe what amounts to a metal/machine shop.

After meeting some really nice people (including Shino, Big Chanty, & Tony Periera) and listening to them talk about bikes, racing, Vanilla and Mike's ongoing campaign for mayor of Portland, it was clear to see why Sasha has a 4-5 year waiting list. They make beautiful bikes with sweet custom dropouts, clever and creative design elements, and great color choices. Anywhere else and there might be some interest, but he does this in a city that is gaga about cycling and he serves a popluation that is willing to lay out the cash to get one. He's also come up with some brilliant business strategies, such as the Speedvagen, which has only intensified the demand. If Zank wins the Portland mayoral race, moves to Oregon and figures out a way to market his frames along the precision/engineering/detail angle the way Sasha has the art and beauty of his, they would be splitting that waiting list. I'm not saying that Vanilla's aren't well engineered or precise or that Zanconatos aren't beautiful, only that these seem to the be the spot they occupy in the consumer's eye. In actuality, they are built in nearly the same manner with the same tools. Portlanders appreciate beautiful and functional bicycles.

Stay tuned for part 2... "The Muddy Curmudgeon"