Greetings from the “BRAVE” currently stationed outside Stan’s NoTubes Headquarters in upstate New York. Mike and I are taking the opportunity to make a visit and see the latest in upcoming cutting edge products coming from the revolutionary thinkers and tinkerers at the Stan’s NoTubes factory while recovering and catching up from a great weekend of racing our National Championships in Pennsylvania.
The last weeks have brought us home from Europe and into a busy time readjusting ourselves to living in a “real” house while preparing for this next segment of our racing season. Preparing our RV and outfitting it with all we needed to be ready for the National Championship race weekend and the subsequent month of racing on the eastern seaboard was really about all we had time for while at home.
Mike was happy to get back to his own shop where he spent the majority of his time at home preparing a selection of our Seven Cycle mountain bikes to meet the demands of this high priority trip. It took some trial and error to figure the best way to load all the equipment before we were able to come upon a situation that would allow us to inhabit, drive and work out of the car with at least some level of efficiency and comfort. Even with the storage capacity somewhat overburdened with assorted bike and vital travel materials, things are actually pretty comfortable, and it is perhaps not so strange that we feel right at home.
It felt good to set out on another month long race trip across the East Coast of North America. Summer is here and the time is right for camping and living the outdoor mountain bike lifestyle to the fullest! Details of the day-to-day, however, were not always smooth and our operations were complicated by an intense heatwave that stayed with us during our voyage across Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and throughout our time in the Holy Land of rocky riding in Pennsylvania. We made an effort to stay comfortable along the way being SANS air conditioning by supplementing with fans, bags of ice and fans to keep ourselves as fresh as possible in the sweltering conditions. Finding a propane filling station that would fill our “classic” RV became a bit of a wild goose chase due to some newer restrictions on what is considered safe, but we were reminded of the wonderful and kind human spirit and of how much easier it is to get by when you are able to speak the local language.
Our lead up to the race weekend went smooth enough as we made our way freeform across the east finding decent camp spots that were on budget and requiring no advanced registration. We rolled to the venue early in the week and checked out the race track which was held at a very small ski mountain – Bear Creek Resort near Allentown, PA. Mike and I were STOKED to find a fun and technically challenging track slithering through the shady rock carpeted Pennsylvania woods. It was a stark contrast to the past 4 years of nationals being held in rarified air and less than inspiring courses in in Colorado and Idaho. We were happy that the racing would place a premium on rider skill and technical ability as much as fitness. We spent the better part of a week getting settled, training and catching up with many of our sponsors including title sponsors KENDA Tires and Stan’s NoTubes – as well as many great friends we have been lucky to meet and be in contact with over the past decade of racing. It was truly a gathering of the tribe!
We opted to stay at a nearby campground since there were not hook ups for campers at the race venue (unacceptable) and we really needed to run our fans and blender (for icy drinks) and fridge that was now limping by only when hooked up to electric power. All likely to be expected in our vintage rig but tough to handle at the same. The heat and humidity were really overwhelming, but as the days passed we actually began to get used to the adverse weather conditions – being hot & sticky and sweating all day just became the norm. Luckily our shower held out for the weekend & we could stay on top of hydration with the right balance of electrolytes, thanks to vigilantly consuming Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink and the Elete Electrolytes.
Race day came and we were excited to be on form and ready! As the course was decidedly rocky and jarring I decided to break out my Duo Lux (26′ dual suspension bike) that Seven Cycles crafted for me a short 12 years ago (!) – Of course Mike had just retrofitted it with the latest and greatest parts – SRAM’s XX1, Stan’s NoTubes Podium MMX wheels and KENDA’s Small Block 8 Tires. As well as all the essential goodies – Crankbrother Eggbeater pedals, Fizik Aliante saddle, ESI Grips and the rest that would assure my advantage in this critical race. We got the build right and the tune just perfect bringing the weight down to 21.5 pounds which made for a modern, no compromises ride!
I got a great start from my front row call up and settled into a 3rd place position that I was able to maintain for the entirety of the race. I really had to measure my output in the heat but actually felt kind of great a few times while taking a few calculated but extreme lines and really enjoying the challenge of this “real” mountain bike course – something that is less and less typical in this newer era of XC racing. I was spurred to stay on top of draining an entire16oz bottle every 20 minutes since a few times I started to get woozy from the heat. It was imperative to have nutrition dialed for performance in these conditions. I stayed away from taking on too much caffeine as it has proven to cause me cramping in conditions like this but was well served by consuming one of the more balanced Guayaki Yerba Mate Organic Energy Shots that I felt helped to supply me the right balance of long lasting energy.
There were a few instances that I really made an attempt to move forward to challenge for a more valuable metal but the course conditions were really precarious. As it was so rocky and incredibly hot there was a lot that could go wrong with the slightest mishap. I ended up having good legs, good luck and my mind was in the right zone but almost by necessity did what I had to do to maintain the solid position that i had carved out for myself for the remainder of the day. My strategy stayed simple, putting everything I had into the climbs and riding the descents with a careful smooth focus. I was happy to secure the bronze medal by the end of the day because I knew I had given it my all at the race
Mike really showed some great form the very first few pedal strokes right through to the finish of his race. He started things out with an impressive hole shot over the best riders in America at the start and went on to race inside the top 5 for 2/3 of the race. Unfortunately he was forced to ride a bit more into the red zone than I was to make this happen and he paid the price with an untimely puncture in the 4th of 6 laps.
Mike was absolutely on a tear flowing the rugged trails on his 29er IMX hard tail while the great majority of the others would choose their dual suspension bikes to soften the hard course. Unfortunately he punctured his rear tire at the top of the mountain, far from the tech pit and had to run the entire challenging descent to the bottom of the slope before he could make a wheel exchange and get back to riding his bike. He was bummed to loose time, and suffered from putting his legs through this less than ideal effort, but kept it together as much as possible and stayed in the race. I know he was disappointed for what was shaping up to be a great result but despite his mishap he continued to fight it out and and still managed to pull off an eventual 8th place on the day. He truly was shining on the technical track and is already eager to return to this venue in PA where Nationals will be contested once again next year.
After our XC races and the podium ceremony we were both exhausted, but the weekend was far from over. We still had races to compete in for Sunday: I had the Short Track to rest up for and Mike was signed up for the Super D and Short track as well. Rather than rest, our evening consisted of bike and race preparation while we did our best to recover by slugging down welcome recovery drinks and pan fried tacos.
A 6am alarm woke us from our night spent perched in a semi legal parking area on the side of the mountain. We chose to stay in this convenient but not glamorous camp spot so Mike could more easily preview the Super D course as practice had been cancelled the night before due to nearby thunderstorms. Mike was one of the few out there that raced on a hard tail in this semi-gravity event and knew he would have to really have the lines dialed in to have a chance against those who would be racing on bikes more equipped to handle the riggors of this specific style of racing.
Mike was ” having a decent run” until he caught a rock wrong and awkwardly slid his bike off the course and into a trench on the side of the trail. Not really a crash, but in this short semi gravity event the clock is always ticking and every second adds up. Knowing his shot at a good finish was pretty much over he continued down the hill in “conserve mode” to try and save something for the short track that was still coming up later in the day.
The pro short track racing started at 3pm, so we enjoyed a few hours to relax and convert the bikes to short track mode as well as try and recover some more as we prepared to race once again in the heat of the day. We shared the use of our homely looking but oh so sweet ice vest to stay cool, though we both still found ourselves sweltering in the intense heat.
The STXC was fast and furious 30 minutes of tactical suffering and feeling like I did after the previous day’s XC, was content to be riding in the front group of 5 for the entirety of the race. Nearing the end, my competitiveness helped me find some deep motivation to go for a medal and I made a solid effort to come around to the front of the race. It was pretty close but I came up a bit short and had to settle for an eventual 4th on the day. as a consolation I was especially happy to find that there would be a 5 places on the podium so I could again properly thank and represent my sponsors and our team from the podium!
The Pro Men’s short track was something to behold, a dust bowl of nearly 70 elite men ferociously punching out sub 2 and a half minute laps inside tight metal barriers, filled with precarious gravely turns & taxing punchy climbs. Sound fun? Mike started strong and did his best to dig in for the body of the 30 minutes of suffering. He was able to stay in the top 20 (toughing it out for an eventual 16th) but in his own words was pretty beaten down from the previous days XC and perhaps more so by his mile or so down hill run to the tech pit – ouch!
It was a tough weekend of racing but also one of the most rewarding we have had in a good while. Having the opportunity to catch up with our old friends and sponsors and to be back in the states racing our bikes made the trip something special. By this time the we were so exhausted and the RV such mess that it took us till dark to just get out of the venue. We finally got ourselves together, and drove to a quiet campground just down the road with a close proximity to the Appalachian Trail where we slept fitfully but well enough knowing that for a change we had little to do the next day except to take a “recovery hike” on one of the coolest stretches of the AT that we have had a chance to see in a long time.
Our East Coast mission continues this week with a trip to visit our long time sponsors and friends at Stan’s NoTubes that have offices in legendary MTB town of State College, PA as well as up state NY. Our first ride in State College was far from a recovery spin BUT we were treated to a sample, really just the tip of the iceberg, of the abundant burly trails that are found in this part of PA. A memorable, rocky riddle through a dank steamy forest followed by a home cooked BBQ meal with friends was spot on for what we were trying to achieve this week – really what any summer mountain biking trip should be all about!!
Check out some great photos of the racing action taken by Dave McElwain, found in the race coverage of the US National Championships on cyclingnews.com.
More soon as we make our way to VT and Quebec for more racing!
All the best,
Mary and Mike