Thursday, May 29, 2014

2014 trans-sylvania epic, stage five

Today's stage was out of R. B. Winter State Park, at the far north end of Bald Eagle State Forest.  TSE base camp is at the far southern end.  It's about a 45 minute drive.

The stage was billed as "raw."  Meaning, I think, run on less-developed, less-used trails.  And "raw" was also intended to mean, I think, that the trails would be rough, chunky, and a little difficult.  For me, they were not.

This was easily my favorite stage so far.  Thirty-one miles of really, really great riding.  The second half of the course had a bit of fire road, but the rest of the course was on a variety of trails that were just awesome.  There were some challenging bits, to be sure, but nothing insane.  And nothing was very challenging for very long.  Think Michaux Lite.

These trails were so lovely, and in fact the area so beautiful--deep, dark forests the lushest shades of green--that I've vowed to return.  I want to bring my family there, because I'm 100% confident they'll find abundant quantities of fairy colonies in these woods and my goat kids, well, they love that sort of thing.   And I want to bring my mountain bike buddies there (Paul, I'm pretty much looking at you), because I'm 100% confident there will be similes a'plenty after spending some time shredding* this singletrack.

And so...  The trails were terrific.  My legs were feeling good.  It was time to slay some trail.  And I was proceeding to do so until...

How does the saying go?  If I didn't have bad luck I'd have no luck at all?  I think that's how it goes.  But let me tell you what I think of sayings like that.  I think about as much of them as I do as the shivering loudmouth in the parking lot complaining (very loudly) that "if I hear Clinton/Gore say one more word about global warming..."

Anyway, here I am cruising along this fairly flatfish section parallel to the highway, riding with the guys I want to be riding with, and I hear (and feel) something snap.  There's a little metal piece on modern Shimano MTB rear detailers that acts as a sort of second derailleur hanger.  When something goes wrong back there, this piece of metal gives way saving (hopefully) the rest of your gear from disaster.  Well, that's what happened.  That piece bent, and then the bolt holding it in place sheared at the hanger.  For those of you reading this who have no idea what I'm talking about it, let's just say that when this happens you're not riding your bike anymore.

The temporary fix for something like this is to remove your derailleur and shorten your chain so that you can continue to pedal, limping, to your car, your shop, a friendly house, whatever.  So I did this.  It's not a super simple operation, and took me I'm sure 5-10 minutes to complete.  In fact, I felt pretty lucky with how easily it came together.  And lucky that it held together for the next 10 miles.  I came rolling into the checkpoint asking for another bike one.  And so I was able to finish the stage on a loaner.

Washing the not-my-bike.  Major kudos to BMC for coming through with such classy neutral support.  I would much rather not had occasion to use it, but the bike was awesome all the same.

But back to the mechanical difficulty and its fix.  When you shorten a chain like this, turning a geared bike into, essentially, a single-speed bike, you have to pick a gear, one gear, and that's what you'll have until the end of the ride.  Thinking the course had a pretty aggressive sawtooth profile, I picked a relatively easy gear--28x25, I think--which was cool on the climbs, and fine on the descents (because no pedaling), but did very, very poorly on the remarkably long sections of relatively flat terrain I had to cover before the checkpoint.  I was spinning out at about 10 mph.  So even when I was riding I was losing time.  At least on the flats.

All a super bummer, but I did get to demo a new bike for half the day, which is fun.  And, as I said, the trails were awesome.  I'm not positive, but I think I finished about where I did yesterday...somewhere around 9th or 10th.  So a GC top 5 seems out of the question now, if it wasn't already (that was my goal coming in), but we've still two stages to go, and I've been feeling, really, better every day.  If that continues, then who knows if I can't finally put it together for a decent stage finish.

New derailleur, installed and ready to roll.

On my way back to base camp from the race I stopped in quaint little Centre Hall and ate a sandwich at Brother's Pizza.  Abbey wasn't with me, so I read something else.  On February 7th, sometime in the mid-1990s, Sam Rushforth wrote the following:

"From where Scott and I stand, the sun yellow-gods the valley below and lights the hillsides with a warm memory of fall.  The remaining autumn leaves of the oak and maple turn the slopes auburn in the evening slant.  The color tugs at memory, melancholy and distant.  I brush my mother's hair a hundred strokes on a windy childhood evening, a soothing tradition for both of us.  Her hair is long and auburn, with a slight curl.  I brush nightly for some years, acting also as the grey-and-white hair police, alert for any of the turning hairs, which must be pulled from the beautiful auburn mass.  At some point, through some kind of pitiful masculine conditioning, I come to know that boys don't brush their mother's hair.  What a shame.  It may have been the most meaningful thing I ever did for her (and for me)."

That paragraph was later printed in a local paper as part of a regular column.  Later, the same paper printed a letter to the editor, from the daughter of the columnist.  The letter is long, so let me share just the last paragraph:

"I look up from the column, tears on my face.  I am sitting in a coffeehouse and I am thirty-two years old.  I stand to leave.  Eighteen years after her death, I have encountered my grandmother, through my father's words, as the color auburn.  Cheeks still wet, I walk out of the coffee shop.  I decide not to color my hair today."

I'm exceptionally moved by that.  Wonderfully and exceptionally moved.

I'm not sure exactly why--I can't relate to any of it in any concrete way--except for the inter-generational connection.  I guess that's what I find moving, that a resident of one generation can steal a glimpse through a wordsmithed wormhole and touch the soul of a resident of another.

* Words used more in a day at Single Track Summer Camp than a non-mountain biker might expect to hear in a lifetime include, but are not limited to: shred, rip, rage, slay, crush.


Gregory Smith said...

". . . steal a glimpse through a wordsmithed wormhole" . . . my favorite phrase of the post. Another one of your moments of poetic brilliance. And that is a touching passage. I never brushed my mother's hair, which I now regret, but I can relate to sudden moments of catching glimpses of previous generations in myself, like trying to divine the origin of a path snaking off into the horizon. And I remember how Jen, my girlfriend while I lived out in Maryland, would always have me brush her hair, as it made her feel cared for because that's what her mother did for her while growing up.

MTN said...

"I can't relate to any of it in any concrete way...."

The art teacher at PCHS (a cool cool cool dude - he's invited to the never-happening commune) told a couple of English teachers this line he picked up at, of all places, ComiCon:

"The more specific and detailed the story, the more universal its appeal."

I think that's good writing advice, and your reaction to this story of the auburn hair is evidence.

Can't believe your string of bad luck.