Monday, September 21, 2009

the last weekend of summer with twice the bike fun


it started with a comment on a facebook post... scott asked if i'd be bringing some of my new homebrew down to to the MORE camping trip at douthat. i replied with a quip about the beer having to sneak out and catch a ride with someone else since i couldn't make it down, but at the same time it started me thinking. i was already signed up for charm city on sunday, but heather was planning on taking sam up to see her parents at the end of the week and probably wouldn't be back until saturday afternoon at the earliest. would there be time for a 1 day trip to douthat? i went back & forth... the riding is sweet, but it's almost a four hour drive and even more with traffic, so would it be worth it, and would it make charm city hurt even more on sunday. in the end i decided to give it a go, so friday morning i loaded my biking into the car, along with some minimal camping gear and parked up by the office and waited to start my weekend.

stage 1: douthat & beards mountain

a friday after work drive down to douthat (or anywhere that required driving I-66) is always a frustrating experience, and this one was no exception. it was past 9 when i pulled into the lakeside campground in the park but the frustrations of the drive washed away in the sea of friendly faces, both old and new. i pulled a chair up to the campfire, poured a cup of homebrew, and started catching up.

talk quickly turned to riding and jason started talking up a ride that headed north, along beards ridge, out of the park and into the national forest on a trail that gets little use and until a couple of years ago was all but forgotten. i'm a sucker for a ridgetop ride, so i was very quickly sold on the ride.

12 of us started out on the ride the next morning, with a few riders who thought they might break off at some point depending on the ride and the pace. we started by climbing up the eastern ridge of the park (beards mountain) on the beards gap trail in the park. it's recently been rebuilt by trail dynamics from north carolina, and while i hadn't ridden up that way before, they've definitely done a really good job. it was a tough climb with some tight switchbacks, but mostly rideable and took us most of the way up the ridge.

at the top we made a right and went north on mountain side to the northern end of mountain top trail. mountaintop we turned right an finished the climb up mountaintop but instead of going right to the top we stopped at an almost invisible intersection that marked the start of beards mountain trail.

beards mountain started with more climbing, up to a knob on the ridge, and then started weaving along the sides of the ridge. after a short downhill we started in a fairly overgrown section that rolled up and down for a while. after a mile or so of this the fun started when the trail started heading downhill more intently. there were some sketchy corners and a few little climbs thrown in, but the trail was mile after mile of grin inducing ridgeline downhill. this kind of trail is the reason i love the riding in and around douthat.

there were a couple of navigational problems to work out along the way where the trail got a little indistinct, but with a couple of maps, some good eyes, and a GPS or two we managed to find our way to the split at the end of the ridge. there are two options at the end of the ridge. drop off the western slope and you can ride back into the park on fireroads in 5 or 6 miles. drop off the eastern slope and you get a couple more miles of downhill, but there's no easy way back across the ridge to the park. luckily we had lined up a ride and knew chris scott would be waiting for us at the bottom of the trail for a shuttle back to camp. a couple of riders took the western route to get a bit more riding in and the rest of us set off down the eastern spur.

the downhill that followed was pretty sweet. there was a little sketchy trail at the end of the downhill, but nothing too tricky, a couple of narrow bridges on the trail and a nice swinging bridge at the cowpasture river that had a few of our group humming the indiana jones theme. chris rode into the clearing while we were regrouping and most of the group took quick dip in the cool clear water of the river.

the ride wasn't actually that long and while there was a good 3550' of climbing in the 13 miles of the ride and some of the riding was slow going where the trail was overgrown, it wasn't a ride that would be beyond a lot of riders, as long as you've got a shuttle lined up.

todd has pictures of the ride here on flickr.

stage 2: charm city cyclocross

after a quick lunch back at camp -- and a change out of my wet shorts -- i packed the car back up and hit the road. i made pretty good time, in spite of being a little more tired than i'd have liked to have been for that drive, and made it back home around 8 and got my gear ready for charm city cyclocross the next day. i ended up being lucky that i'd done a shorter ride at douthat than i'd expected, as my legs felt pretty good.

up early the next morning, if not bright. a couple of cups of espresso along with a quick breakfast perked me up and before too long i was on my way to druid hill park in baltimore on time.

i've only managed one cross race in each of the last two years so made sure to arrive early to take a couple of warm-up laps to remind my legs what cross was is all about. by the final warmup the instincts were all coming back. while the mens cat 4 race was going i went back to my car for a refuel and to dump the arm and knee warmers, and vest, and to check in with Heather who was hoping to come by the race on her way back from Philly with Sam. she'd called while i was out warming up, so i called back. she was on here way, but wasn't sure if she'd make the start. i kept my legs spinning and checked out the start and prologue loop, made a pit stop at the conveniences, and then checked the time. 10 minutes to start time. time to head towards the line.

staging was by bib number and well marked so i took my place as the grid started to fill up and the waiting game began. two dcmtb team mates where nearby -- dave vannier was just to my left and corey twyman was in the next row up -- and some bike lane friends were just behind us. joel gwadz was a couple rows ahead and trevor and jonathan from family bikes were a row ahead as well. 1 minute to go, 30 seconds, and we're off.

i'd like to be able to write a detailed account of every lap, but they blur together so seamlessly in the race induced haze that it can be difficult. i lost a lot of places in the first couple of laps. riders seemed to be coming around me way to easily at first, but after 2 laps things stabilized a little. Heather and Sam had missed the start while they were looking for parking and i missed them on the first lap, but by lap two i'd found them near the sandpits, cheering me on.

after i settled into a grove i managed a couple of passes. a c3 rider, an adventures for the cure rider, and i was holding of the riders behind me, but i was starting to have some traction issues wit my rear tire. i'd put a little more air in my back tire after my warmup after having problems with a sharp turn onto pavement near the end of the course, but was now having trouble with ton some of the corners. eventually i took a spill on lap 4 in a big fast right hander and lost a couple of places while i got my chain back on. somewhere in the race i started having twinges of pain while running up the stairs on the back side of the course, i wasn't feeling that bad, at least not anything out of the usual the scale of cyclocross pain and it didn't look like i'd be lapped. i managed to finish fairly strong to heather and sam waiting for me at the line.

after a little chit-chat with team mates and some time in the playground with sam (*1) we drove downtown and had lunch, and some recovery beverages, at pratt street ale house. just took a look at the results, and it looks like i finished in 74th of 96 starters. not great, but i'll take it. next race: maybe hyattsville on the 11th, or granogue on the 17th.

next weekend: sailing lessons...

*1 - note to race promoters: please make sure all race infield areas include a playground.

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