Thursday, 29 April 2010

Night Rider(s)

So, April proved to be a pretty epic month ride-wise. Me and Jason Rosson decided to see it out with a bit of night riding. I bought a nice Exposure Lights Diablo light last year and never used it. I thought it about time I cracked it out of its blister pack, strap it to my head and make haste to Camp Tamarancho.

I haven't done night riding since me and the Aardman fellas used to spend cold, muddy nights together riding Ashton Court. I'd forgotten how unnerving the forced tunnel vision is, or how ruts and rocks can suddenly come out of nowhere. Its also the first time this year that I've braved Tamarancho. Either I'd forgotten just how technical and challenging that place is, or the winter has not been kind and made it extra specially rutted and tricky. Either way, I made my way round like a freshly squeezed out bambi deer, desperately trying to stay upright.

I'll definitely make the night ride a part of my weekly routine. We have the Tamarancho Dirt Classic coming up soon. I can't think of a better way to sharpen my Tamarancho kung fu than by squinting my way around it with a couple of torch lights for company.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Shasta La Vista Baby!

The weekend of the 24th April saw me, Scott and Aaron travel north for the Lemurian Shasta Classic. A 26 mile race which starts from Whiskeytown lake, climbs 5200 feet up Mount Shasta and then takes you alongside Brandy Creek to the finish. With numbers like "26 miles" and "5200 ft" floating around, liquor is the last thing you're thinking about. Instead we opted for a quick motel breakfast and headed to the lake.

The race was organised into categories, but it didn't matter as we all took off in one big huddle. The first part of the course took us along the road to the trail head. 350 plus mountain bikes of all persuasion hurtling along must've been quite a sight. One guy shouted "Hear the knobbly roar!" which instantly became the quote of the day.

Once we hit the trail head the warm up began. A grueling slog up a few miles of fireroad. My bike - fresh from the tune up shop - clearly knew it was to be replaced very soon with the Nomad. The front derailleur refused to give me the granny ring and the rear couldn't decide what gear to settle on, so gave me a few choices whenever I put any sort of pressure on the cranks. Typically, it settled on the gear just hard enough to force a dismount. Not fun, and something which made me seriously believe the bike had a heart blackened by jealousy as the ride progressed.

Once over the first big climb it was time for some downhill. Some nice, rutted single track to warm up the bike kung fu skills. After that, a long, steady single track ride through amazing scenery and a few refreshing creek crossings. Its at times like this, out in the fresh air, rattling along in the open countryside, that you really do wonder what you did before you discovered the joys of 26inch wheels. The next bit reminded me. I used to avoid excruciating pain. Now, for some reason, I spend my weekends in it.

The second big climb was the longest I have ever pushed my bike up. I might've had a fighting chance of riding it had my gears behaved. But the biggest handicap was cramp. If you've ever seen the stiff legged goats on youtube you'll have some idea of how I looked. I wasn't alone though. The trail sides were littered with us poor soles, hunched over and looking bewildered at our squirming thigh muscles.

After a few rest stops and a few more Goo shots I reached the top of the second climb. I'm not sure how many miles we had to go as my trip computer had given up in disgust. It felt like it should be the home stretch, and it was. The descent back to the lake was a mixture of some serious X and XX grade drops and some epic technical single track. Putting mechanical issues aside (both bike and body) I grinned through the technical stuff and took in the awesome beauty of Brandy Creek.

I finished the ride just shy of the five hour mark. A good hour or more longer than Scott and Aaron. Its a fantastic race, but one you need to prepare for. I need to start hitting those San Francisco hills to build up some strength. Its Downieville in a few weeks for more of the same (and a couple of extra miles.) As I crossed the finished line I thought the best was over. Until I saw Scott and Aaron who welcomed me with a prize! yep, I'd won a T and a beanie in the raffle!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Whine Country

So, this last sunday (11th April) was the annual Napa Valley Dirt Classic MTB race. My good friend Doctor Jason Rosson told me about it - wide eyed. I checked it out online - looked fantastic. So we signed up. Having done my research, ie watching a few youtube vids, I had it in my head that the race was going to be 22 miles of buttery singletrack, riding in the idyllic Napa countryside with the sun on our backs. We'd stop every now and again to nab some grapes and congratulate ourselves on how well we were riding. An amazing day was guaranteed.

Cut to sunday am. Driving to Napa, relieved that I'd packed warm riding gear (including a spanking new Canondale jacket.) Its heaving down with rain. No worries I thought, the website said "rain or shine." It must be designed for this kinda weather..... Oh how wrong I was.

Within about 6 or 7 minutes of arriving at Pacific Union College I'm soaked wet through. I meet up with Jason and we hang around the start line until its time to go. I'm still optimistic and he's poised and confident. No ideas of the horrors we're about to endure. Jason's riding single speed so he heads off. 10 minutes later me and a bunch of other 19-34 year old males are heading through the college towards the trail head.

Now, I won't labour over describing the ride. The part of my brain that deals with trauma has blocked much of it out. Needless to say it was, as the locals kept saying "brutal." About 4 out of the 22 mile track was fairly decent twisty single track that held up well in the mud. The rest was uphill slog, pushing the bike against a torrent of muddy water. The trails were seriously rutted which made the downhill switchbacks especially challenging when you're fading into a hypothermia induced delerium. I lost count of the number of poor souls I saw at the side of the trail shivering, waiting for the nice man with the quadbike ambulance and blankets. By mile 15 everyone's legs were getting cramped, but survival instincts kicked in and we pushed on.

After a few hard falls and some hairy muddy descents, I arrived at the finish line. Glad I'd made it one piece. I really didn't care about my time (which was just as well as I finished last in my category as it happens.) I found Rosson, shivering in his truck. He rolled down the window and I was horrified by his blood red eyes. He learned to wear goggles on a muddy ride the hard way. Jason saw my disgust at his eyes so decided to distract me by displaying his hideously disfigured hand. The poor fecker had dislocated a finger! (but still managed to finish ahead of me!?!) I offered sympathy to the poor dude.... but then realised I'd suffered an injury even more tragic. On one of my many high speed (ahem) tumbles I'd put a feckin' hole in my new Canondale jacket. Gutted. Jason shed a tear. We tried to console eachother. It was a great jacket.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Trail Fruit

When out on the trails, keep yer eyes peeled for these little fellas. You can't miss 'em. They're about 8 inch long and bright yellow. The locals refer to them as "Banana Slugs." We had no idea why until Jase had the idea of peeling it from the arse end. Sure enough, it had a firm pulp for insides that tasted just like banana! Who needs Cliff bars and gel shots out on the trails when mother nature provides the avid rider with such a bountiful selection of natural treats? Marvelous.

April 2010

It turns out California also suffers from April showers. Nonetheless we set out, one wet Sunday in April to make fools of those who say "you can't ride Skeggs in the rain." Well.... they're wrong! You actually can't ride Skeggs when its wet, slippery and full of soul sapping mud! See, Skeggs is full of epic climbs. Epic is a manly way of saying "really feckin' hard" Those climbs become even harder when you've only got one pack of Sharkies between the three of you. Imagine the Travelator on ITV's The Gladiators - its like that. Except the Travelator is covered in mud and roots and you're running up with with a bike that - in my case - weighs about the same as a Wolfman. You get the picture.

Still, we discovered the South Leaf trail (which they thoughtfully put right below the North Leaf trail.) Definitely one to hit in the dry. Some very challenging, technical climbs and great descents. Come on Cali'... where's the feckin' sun? Still, on the bright side, the drive back on the 101 cleaned the bikes up proper job.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Mikey's Blog

Mikey Ford has been riding bikes since before you could get them in colour. He's a true vet' and an all round great guy. He lives on the doorstep of some truly epic scenery and trails. He's been kind enough to give us a little insight into his world here :

Mount Tam'

For some strange reason, I'd avoided riding mount Tam until now. I'd always imagined a brutal climb, nice views, a quick fireroad descent and then home for an early bath. One weekend in March I was proven wrong.

Me, Jase, Scott and Aaron parked up in Mill Valley and started the single track ascent to West Point (about 1700 feet.) The climb was relentless and had some extremely tough technical sections but was consistently pleasant as long as you had the stamina. Luckily I'd had the foresight to pack some sharkies so I didn't need stamina - I had gelatin and sugars to keep me going.

The views along the way were beyond the scope of my poor iphone. It couldn't do them justice. Needless to say they're spectacular and worth the climb alone. The whole bay to breakers vista is outstanding on a clear day.

Once we hit West Point, we started the descent towards the general direction of Stinson Beach. The descent starts with some fun, fast fireroad and then turns into some epic single track where your only choice is to batten down the hatches, hold on and grin!

We then climbed our way back to West Point and descended back to Mill Valley the way we came. Again, great fun - but beware of hikers and sunday cyclists. The technical sections going down were no easier than coming up. A couple of tumbles were had and blood was spilt, but all in a days work.

Mount Tam - 1700 feet (x2) 25 miles....... and another cracking ride in the bag. Nice!

March 2010

So, we hit March and finally the mud starts to dry up. This means more of the day can be spent riding and less of the day scrubbing the nooks and crannies of bike parts. Brilliant. We decided to hit Skeggs point - or more specifically the trails at Corte de Madera open space, just south of Half Moon Bay. I'd ridden Skegg's last year with a couple of MTB rockstars on superlite full suss rigs. I spent the day on my pig-iron hardtail, tripping out on lactic acid desperately trying to keep up... the whole time I had the "F" word rattling around my head.... that "F" word was.... fun!

So it was that me and Jason found ourselves there this March, armed with bikes, a map and a cooler box full of goodies - all set for a day's riding. Skegg's is unique in that you start with a descent not a climb. You have a big climb out at the end, but lets not worry about that now. My memory of the trails was sketchy so we decided on a rough loop of the park to get a feel for the place.

We headed to the northern part of the park and hit the Fir trail. Fir trail is a swooping length of double track with some fantastic jump opportunities and some steep descents. The alternative (as we found later in the day) is to take Resolution and North Leaf. Both very technical descents which add to the fantastic variety of riding you get at Skeggs.

We left the park (after a brutal climb out up the Methusela trail) wanting more. People had told us - misty eyed - about the Steam Donkey trail. We also took Giant Salamander one way when it was clearly better to hurtle down it the other. So we'll be back. In fact, I want to christen my Nomad here. Its the perfect playground for a new ride.

Santa Cruz

So, one sunny saturday in late Feb (or maybe it was early March) me and Jase found ourselves nipping down the road to Santa Cruz. Our mission was to pick up his newly ordered S-Works Stumpy and then christen it on the local trails known as "Mailboxes."

After an hour or so of suspension tuning we were ready to hit the trails. Jason on his new steed, me with new clip in pedals. The first trail we hit was closed for the winter. We gave it a try anyway and three miles in we were kicked out by the parky. Almost ready to call it a day as a bad job, we noticed some locals riding off into the woods across the road from where we parked. These trails - as it happens, were college grounds and therefore not closed. The day was saved!

I'm still not sure if these trails form part of the mailboxes or not, but they're a fun ride - though not for the nervous. The trails are tailored for downhill and the place is littered with uber fast 16 year old kids with full face helmets and burly downhill rigs. Not easy to dodge when you're trying to climb up the downhill trails, with new clip in's that are a bit too tight.

Needless to say, we had a few mishaps (mainly me falling sideways everytime I needed to stop) but a great ride all the same. Will deffinitely have to return once I've retired the hardtail. Yep, my trusty Orange P7 will soon be replaced. Whilst Jase was settling up on his purchase, I found my next. A Santa Cruz Nomad (X9 kit.) I'll be getting it very soon.... from Santa Cruz (its spiritual home.) I say spiritual because the frame's are made in the far east somewhere apparently.

See, people tell you the camera never lies. But in this case it did, because that trail felt a LOT steeper in real life. No, seriously...

China Camp

China Camp, in Marin, is guaranteed to induce a few grins. Ride there with Scott and Aaron and its likely to induce a fair amount of fear too. These fellas like the rough stuff. The best thing about China Camp though? It stays pretty much mud free during the winter. Fantastic. Somewhere to tide you over until Tamarancho dries out.

Actually, I just remembered.... the BEST thing about China Camp is this place ; Bogie's Cafe. Somewhere to grab a decent plate of food after a hard ride. They even have some fellas playing ukeleles as you sip coffee. Nice.

February 2010

The sport of Mountain Biking holds appeal for many reasons. Its a chance to spend a decent chunk of the weekend with your mates, out in the fresh air, amongst great scenery that you hurl yourself down on expensive pieces of mechanical kit. It really does tick most boxes for blokes of a certain age. (That age being, when you realise you need to work hard to stay anything like "in shape" and you need to do something with your mates other than drinking.....)

Having not long since introduced Rich to the sport, it was time to bring another one into the fold. Jason took to his first ride like a duck to the wet stuff. He borrowed my Orange P7 (Kat's bike was too scary for him - she always manages fine but lets not dwell on that) and loved it.

Jason has since experienced a natural evolutionary process. First ride out - he's going to fit his old mountain bike with some Craigslist forks - bish. Second ride out, he's borrowed a mate's full suss that he might be buying for about 1500 quid - bash. By ride three (or maybe it was four) he's gone and bought a brand spanking Specialized Stumpy S-Works - bosh! Job done. Nice one Jason. Welcome to the fun!

January 2010

My second year living and riding in California started with a few rides at Annadel state park in Santa Rosa. Annadel has some epic single track and decent climbs so a good ride is always guaranteed. However, I managed to bring some British weather with me to give the locals a taste of MTB riding UK style - ie, ploughing through mud. Annadel holds up well in the mud, but you still have an hour or two's worth of cleaning to do after each ride.

Jaime and Rich. Rich, on his lovely new Gary Fisher 29er is a recent convert to the art of MTB riding. Jaime is an Annadel vet' of over 15 years. He rides a superlite hardtail faster than any man I've seen and knows the trails like the back of his hand. A quality ride is always guaranteed with these fellas.

Obligatory post-ride scrub.


So, 2009 ended with the (now) traditional Boxing Day ride. Starting out at Bob's mum and Dad's place we eventually set out to ride some beautiful Shropshire trails. It felt colder than last year's ride (a year in the California sun will do that to you.) But we were well prepared having done a quick Halfords detour for last minute goodies on the way. The eating & drinking tea to riding ratio was about 3 :1 but we all had a great ride. I'm already looking forward to next year's.

Jim on his Yeti 575. Yep, that's ice..... yep, it was feckin' cold.