Daily Archives: 10/09/2018

Local Pride and a Star-Studded Soirée, Spencer Reports from a Top-10 at Trans Cascadia

Trans-Cascadia is a blind-format, backcountry enduro race held in the wilder corners of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Previously held in Oregon, the fourth-edition of the event made its way north to the deep corners of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington State. This year’s edition included a heavy-hitting cast of gravity heroes, including international stars Greg Minaar, Steve Peat, Loris Vergier and more. Factory rider Spencer Paxson was on site to represent not only for Kona, but for his local heritage, having grown up just over the hill from where the race took place. For Spencer, Trans Cascadia was a full-spectrum experience of modern mountain biking, from exploration to advocacy to participation. From helping vet the quality of the routes to volunteering in pre-race work parties to finally racing the event, Spencer shares with us his special account from this piece of MTB goodness. 

I credit the terrain around Trout Lake, WA and the greater Gifford Pinchot National Forest for inspiring my deep connection with sport and the outdoors. When I was informed that Trans Cascadia would be venturing to this area for 2018, I leapt at the opportunity to help out. From writing letters of support to the local USFS districts to participating in trail work days, my connection to the region gave me the sense that I owed a concerted effort to support the Trans Cascadia crew and their terrific event. My family’s history goes deep with these forests, including four generations of a family-owned timber and sawmill business and many years of my grandfather and father flying surveillance patrols for the US Forest Service. Not to mention my own experience growing up in these hills. Now, as the economic landscape continues to evolve, it is inspiring to think of mountain biking becoming a more important part of the recreational activities in the area. What better way than to usher it in with revamped trail systems and a world-class event!

I never dreamed I would share these trails alongside 100 other like-minded mountain bikers, let alone legends of the sport whom I’ve looked up to throughout my cycling career. To be clear, this was the zone where I would often go to be solo, or perhaps accompanied by a stalwart family member or friend. I even performed my marriage proposal on one of these trails! This was the zone where I fostered my “benign masochism” on long rides and bushed-out loops with heinous amounts of vertical ascent and frequent hike-a-bikes. But the reward of alpine vistas and remote singletrack was always worth the effort. Fast-forward a decade-and-change later and there I was sharing the same routes with a dozen good friends, trading high fives and trail snacks with the likes of Steve Peat and Greg Minaar, and being able to reassure others with local knowledge of: “don’t worry, it’s almost the top”.

Speaking of more meet-and-greet, the video above captures perhaps the best “nice to meet you” moment I’ve ever experienced. If you follow the big mountain ski world, you’ll get a kick out of it. If not, the running commentary is entertainment enough.

For all the fun that was had, the week was not without a healthy reminder of the fragility of pleasure and the sheer remoteness of the place we were riding. On Day 1, a long time fellow pro racer and friend dropped in ahead of me on Stage 2 and ended up losing control and impacting a tree. I had given enough of a gap on the high-speed stage that I didn’t notice that he had sailed off into the woods until after waiting at the bottom when he was nowhere to be found. After a few riders passed without seeing him, I notified the stage timers and medic and ran back up the trail. Sure enough, my friend was a few minutes run up the hill and laid out on a gentle slope below the trail. The thought that I had ridden past him without seeing gave me a pit in my stomach. A medic and I arrived on scene at nearly the same time and began to administer care (I have my WFR precisely because of these backcountry activities…it’s not much, but it’s far better than nothing). As difficult as it was to see a friend in so much distress, and as scary as the uncertainty of injuries was in the first hour, it was amazing to witness the clockwork of the Trans Cascadia medical crew and staff as they switched-on to expert care for my friend while keeping the rest of the event running smoothly and out of the fray. I can’t speak highly enough of the medical crew and organizers for rallying the way they did to ensure safety and care. After three tough hours, my friend was able to get up and move out on the back of a motorcycle. As for me, I coasted out the last two stages of the day, race brain totally fried.

Mike Thomas

Thanks to Day 1’s strong reminder of two-wheeled hubris, I had the mind to savor and respect Days 2-4. We were still deep in the woods, and any serious incident meant a long wait and (likely) helicopter ride at best. That said, topic for a future piece is the phenomenon of continued risk-taking in the wake of incident. There are so many angles to open up on that topic that I’ll save it for later, but suffice it to say, I didn’t feel like I slowed down despite the experience of my friend’s crash. And I wouldn’t have gone any faster, either. F#@(%…it felt fast!! And on average I was still 3% off pace. I’m happy leaving that remaining sliver to the forest gods. That said, over the next three days I managed to eke out a top-3 and a few top-5 stage placings, which seemed remarkable to me (and scary/exciting?). Maybe everyone else slowed down? Whatever the case, the local pride probably had something to do with it. Witnessing everyone’s enjoyment of the trails and terrain gave me that special form of joy that comes from sharing with others. In that way, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to have my ass handed to me on fairly familiar trails than by the likes of the international gravity stars in attendance.

Chris Hornbecker

In the end, we grimy bunch of mountain biking adults spent 4-days feeling like 19-year-olds with no curfew, no homework, and European drinking privileges. Our cups runneth’d over. I bathed in cold streams and lakes each evening, ate delicious food, and shared lifetime good laughs and high-speed trail sensations with old friends and new ones. As for the racing part, I got myself to 9th place (FULL RESULTS HERE). The morning after the race, a bunch of us loaded into a truck and started the long drive back home. On the way we stopped in sleepy little Trout Lake. There was the gas station and cafe as it always had been each morning before school started, the mountain looming over the valley. I was a visitor in my own home this time, but there was a new twist that felt good. It had been put on everyone else’s map, and in this capacity, it felt really good to share it. I hope people come back. I certainly will!

Thanks for reading.

Photo credits: Mike Thomas and Chris Hornbecker

Kona Dream Builds: Chainline Bikes are at it Again With This Simple Honzo ST

The crew at Chainline Bikes are not letting up with the epic custom builds (they have more head-turners coming down the pipe) and this Honzo ST is the first one we have seen utilizing the brand new 2019 colorway and damn it looks good! It’s a simple build, but that’s in keeping with the bike’s ethos. An XT drivetrain and brakes, Kona’s bar, stem and pedals, Ergon grips, a Rock Shox Pike fork and Maxxis tires are all you need to hit the dirt and have a shit ton of fun on the Honzo. Sure you can get more bling, but this right here is going to definitely get it done.

Charm City CX: Two Podiums, Two Race Reports (Part 1- Rebecca Fahringer)

Last year was my first Charm City experience and I really enjoyed it. I loved that it was a power course with slogging climbs and swooping turns, and the crowd was energetic and very interactive. It was actually the race where the most people approached me with hellos, equipment questions, and congratulations. I am pleased to report that it was an overall positive vibe that was 100% replicated this year!

 

The weather was slated to be cooler than last year, but no rain was in the forecast. Despite this, there was quite a bit of mud on the course due to some broken water lines. The muddiest sections were along the pits before the (larger-than-last-year’s) flyover, down by a road crossing, and then coming back up to that road onto the finish straight. Despite these sections, the rest of the course was nice and tacky.

Course pre-ride on Friday we really thought it was going to be a file-tread weekend. The grass had been cut, everywhere but between the tape, and the wet spots were just wet grass. Some corners were slick, but we expected once the grass torn up the dirt would provide traction. Watching social media from the host house on Saturday morning, we were seeing the muddy bikes but were still skeptical. Showing up to the venue we saw the lines for the power washer were long, and after a lap of our own, we found out why. Those small sections of wet grass or little running streams turned into huge mud bogs. 

It was decided to be an All Terrane day to help for some grip on the grass off-camber turns and when dropping into and climbing out of the mud bogs. There was a little thought and discussion as to whether or not the mud near the pits was rideable or if it should be a run, but most decided to just run in. 

I had a front row call-up. The biggest contenders were Maghalie Rochette, Kaitie Keough, Ellen Nobel, Caroline Mani, and Sunny Gilbert. Lucky for me, Caroline was sick. Unlucky for me, all of the other women are very fit right now. The start for the race is a long climb that ends will a nice steep punch. I settled into the top five to seven wheels, knowing I wanted to be further up but telling myself to be patient and not make any stupid moves to crash anyone out.

Bad decision. 4th wheel was a rider that turned at about half of the speed of the front 3 and a huge gap opened up. I saw it happening but I couldn’t pass her and the other rider behind her in the turns without risking a crash. Then, I went to pass on a straight section before the mud bog, a risk I was willing to take, until Jamey Driscoll who was standing beside the course delivers this PSA “they moved the course! Course change! Stay right!”. Apparently, while we were on the line, the course got restaked, making us take a turn in to the mud. No worries, us women are used to completely new lines due to new course designs that aren’t discovered until our first lap.

I again wait to pass. I can’t remember when the pass happened, but there was a 13-second gap between me and 3rd at the end of the first lap. Another 6 seconds back to the blocking rider. That was a huge deficit. I was never within a direct sightline of Kaitie Keough, who was in 3rd dangling between myself and the front 2 riders.

Everyone was saying that I was closing the gap, but I never seemed to make ground on her, and the most I could do was try to stay away from Sunny Gilbert who was dangling a few seconds behind me. I succeeded and finished the race in a solid 4th, which was one spot better than last year.

Going into Day 2, once again following a win by Kerry, I was determined to make a podium – I knew I was capable. I took Kerry’s burnt pancakes as a sign from above that I could do it. The course was very similar, but the mud pits grew even larger yet. I didn’t make any equipment changes, except adding a bottle into my jersey pocket and an ice sock tucked behind my neck. My start was fantastic. I got my pedals, remembered to shift and pedal, and ended up 4th wheel entering the course. I made a pass to punch it into 3rd, and there was only a small gap up to 1st and 2nd.

I was STOKED! YES! I CAN RIDE IN THE FRONT GROUP!! I was so excited, that I rolled in the mud. Heading up into the pavement I was too stiff when I hit the ruts exiting a mud pit and just fell over. I quickly grabbed my bike, started running, and hopped on. I looked down and saw everything seemed to be in order with my drivetrain, so I got out of the pedals to catch Sunny who managed to pass me despite trying to take up a lot of space when I fell as to not get passed. I could not quite catch her wheel. I spent most of the race dangling in 4th.

I settled for the spot, saying at least I am tying with yesterday. But I looked back and saw Georgia Gould charging hard behind me, closing the gap. Crap. Georgia is retired. I would need a really good excuse to get beat by her (she is an incredible athlete and honestly totally capable of winning the freaking bike race, but, this is my only job). I used the motivation of not losing 4th to see I was actually closing in on Sunny. When I heard she was within 10 seconds I decided I could do it, and I was willing to lose 4th place trying.

I caught up and picked my moment to pass. Once I did, I could tell she was cracked, but I worked hard keeping the pace high and keeping my head in the game. And I crossed the line with my first UCI podium of the season – finally. But what is more, is that I crossed the line without any regrets and only one “what if”. “what if I didn’t crash on the first lap?” But we don’t ever race in a perfect world and rarely do cyclocrossers get clean races. I was stoked. I am going to keep this mental motivation through my week of race and training into DCCX, hoping that Cycleution Coaching helps me get in tip-top condition for the Pan-American Championships later this month. A podium there would mean the world to me! Or at least the continent.

Charm City CX: Two Podiums, Two Race Reports (Part 2- Kerry Werner)

All I could think about all week was the top step. With Stephen on the mend, the podium was wide open and I was hungry. I wanted my first C1 win but I also didn’t want to overthink it. Luckily, I was around family all week so it wasn’t a heavy topic occupying my mind. 

The drive was only 2hrs from my parents’ house in southeastern pa to the Baltimore Airport, where Becca was flying in. With relatively no traffic the drive was smooth and we were at the course by 1pm, which was way too early. The mega fly over was still being built and the course wasn’t fully taped yet. So we occupied our time by swatting mosquitoes and organizing equipment, which was more or less just thrown in the trailer after Jingle Cross. 

After a pre ride we were off to the host house. A quick stop at Traders Joe’s, for pancake mix, then chipotle for dinner and we were all set. Katey and Joe (owners of Joe’s Bike Shop) were nice enough to put us up over the weekend and dealt with us bringing loads of stuff into their house, using their washer and dryer, and making stacks of pancakes every morning. 

I was prepping to leave for the venue on Saturday morning when Bruce Buckley sent me a photo of someone’s bike…

What I thought was going to be a file day actually turned out to be a real mudder. There was some rain earlier in the week in Baltimore, which the ground was holding, with an iron fist. Overcast skies were preventing anything from drying out and after the morning amateur racers went off the ribbon of dirt around the course was continuing to be slick. There were also two mud bogs on course. Apparently, there was a broken drainage pipe under the ground just past pit one and another broken drainage pipe towards the end of the lap. The first was being churned up and thickening all morning leading riders to run from the exit of pit 1 all the way to and up and over the fly over. The second mud pit was providing us with standing water, half way to hub deep, that you couldn’t see the bottom of but was relatively straight forward. The ground after the standing water was the most tricky part as we were tracking water past the puddle, which was turning the ground to peanut butter and kept you searching for traction on the short little climb after the puddle.

These were perfect conditions for me. I was looking forward to having a few corners slick and my legs were feeling ready to twist the throttle.

I threw on the Maxxis All Terrane’s, at 22 rear- 20 front, and headed to the line wearing the #1 number. 

I really wanted the hole shot so I could push on the early corners and see if people were struggling early on in the slick conditions. I got it and kept the pace high. 

After the first lap I pulled off and Curtis, Bolo, Van den Ham, and Driscoll were there, but the cracks were forming behind us. 

We tested each other all race but could not make it happen. With 2 to go we were still all together though the hurt was on everyone’s faces. Bolo got to the front and pushed a big effort, riding through the mud pit into the flyover that everyone else was running. He immediately opened up a 5 bike length gap and I knew that was the move. Up and over the fly over then I really had to work on the other side to catch him. Luckily, there were turny bits and not tons of pedaling. 

I latched on and went up the mansion climb with him. Then I slotted in front of him just as we went over the top. The turns after the top were fast and awkward, I pushed the pace and opened a small gap. One of those gaps that isn’t big enough to look back at, you just know it’s there from other people yelling at you and you hope to god you can just pour on a little more to make it more substantial. 

That’s what I did but I may have only gained another second or two. We hit the last corner maybe 3-4seconds apart but with that gap into the finish straight there was no way to contest the sprint. 

Holy crap! First C1 win! And I had to work like crazy for it, which made me even more excited about the race. 

It made it all the more special that my mom and dad were there, my new wife, and in laws. While Baltimore isn’t home for me, a lot of the spectators know of me from racing in the area when I was younger and they sure made me feel at home. Gracias!

We all grabbed some food at R. House Sunday night then packed it in for the night. 

Sunday was the same deal. We showed up at the venue around 12. Then got out for pre ride at 1:30. The track was tacky and dry in spots. The sun was out baking the ground and turning those slick corners into hard packed speed boosters. 

The files were perfect, Maxxis Speed Terrane, except for the mud bog before the sand pit, the one with a slight uphill after the exit. Riding through it was fine but trying to get back up to speed after it was a struggle. The lack of knobs on the top were not finding traction in the slick peanut butter. 

Taking that into account I figured it wouldn’t really matter. If the tires were only bad on that one spot it would probably not be an issue. I figured I could minimize the damage and the lack of tread would help me on the rest of the course. As it turns out, I was sadly mistaken.

The gun went off and Tobin had a rocket start. I slotted in behind him for the first half a lap or more. It became apparent on lap one that I didn’t have the best tires in that mud bog. But oh lord the files were so money everywhere else. 

I was getting gapped by 2-3 seconds every lap on the short climb after the mud bog but when I would lead into it I could keep everyone behind me and it wasn’t an issue. 

The same group stayed together for the first half of the race. Then MVdH came off, then Bolo, and it was Curtis and I. Then Curtis made a mistake and I was solo off the front with 2 laps to go. I had a solid 5 seconds on Curtis and Jamey, who latched on. 

I held the gap but Jamey bridged on the mud bog that I was struggling on. Then with 1 to go Jamey got to the front and started throwing hay makers. I was on the limit trying to hold his wheel. He would gap me, then I would close it, then he would gap me and I would close it. 

I hesitated for a split second and missed an opportunity to get in front before the mud bog and that was the end of the race. He opened up a 2-3 second gap coming out of it and there was no time and not enough left in the tank to close it. I sent a hail mary over the planter, jumping in and out trying to make up some time, but it had been a wash. I was gassed and didn’t jump the exit fast enough to make up ground. 

We hit the last corner and he still had 2 bike lengths on me. I don’t think I could have sprinted him with that gap, but then I slipped my rear wheel on the entrance to the pavement. I rolled it in for second.

That one hurt, not just physically but mentally. I wanted the sweep and felt like I had the legs to do it but one too many efforts to cover ground from my tire choice left me with a match or two short at the end of the race. 

 

I guess that is the silver lining though. I had the legs and felt good all weekend. It is also cool that the racing is so tight. Both Saturday and Sunday weren’t decided until the last lap and we weren’t group racing. We were trying to kill each other all race. It’s cool to see that on a given day 4-5 guys could come out on top. 

Charm city is the first two races of a 4 race series called the Parkway CX Trophy Series. The promoters of Charm City and DCCX have teamed up to make a series, based on time. With the win Saturday and 2nd on Sunday I have a lead in the overall, hence the white jersey in Sunday’s pictures. 

There is a grand up for prize money for the overall win. So after taking the next weekend off all focus will be on hitting DCCX and holding on to that. I have managed to sweep DCCX the last 2 years so I am hoping to keep the streak alive.