Wednesday, November 28, 2007

La Ruta Pictures

Day 1 "yeah La Ruta!"
(When I still thought this was a good idea)

Day 2
(4 hours to go, then I can have beer)
"This mud isn't too bad"
Willy Wonka's chocolate waterfall
and the Costa Rican hulk
Morning of Day 3 with Reenie and Tom

It seems Heart Akerson needed to be free of at least one artical of clothing the entire race.

Read more about this truly original human here.

I'm sure Brian's shirt made a few people hungry day 3

Jon Nutbrown was just Hoping Sue Haywood would come and buckle his helmet on day 3

Climbing up front out of the coffee plantation, day 4

Climbing out back, from the coffee plantation, day 4

Saturday, November 24, 2007

day 4, the laundry list is long

It was the night post stage 3 and we'd been driven to a far off resort 1.5 hours into the Costa Rican rain forest. This resort was ridiculously lavish. A private fenced in community of perfectly landscaped white stucco buildings hidden deep in forest, private restaurant, pool & spa. Hell our bus driver had to stop twice to get directions it was so far off the beat in path.
We arrived at 7pm and needed to be back on the bus at 3:30 am. Simply not enough time to enjoy our surroundings.
Barbra, whom organizes the Cohutta race in Tennessee was there with husband Perry. Perry had just received a dozen stitches in the forearm late in stage 3 on Jeremiah Bishop's hill. I'm sure that Perry would have preferred to remain at the River of Pearls Resort and recuperate for a day or two, I know I wanted too.
One final early wake up call, one final early morning breakfast, one final early morning bus ride to one final early morning race start. Ahhghh CRAP! I forgot my wallet at the fancy resort! I exclaimed, more like I freaked out. Standing in the rain near the start line of day four, I had no idea what to do. All my money and credit card was in that wallet 1.5 hours away at the River of Pearls resort. What a boob! Tim D stood next to me.. He saw me freaking out. I respect Tim for what he said next.."don't worry man, I've got money to loan you, just get through today and things will work out." I also had Roger to help my dumb ass. Post race I realized that it was just a jacket that I forgot and I actually had my wallet buried deep in my yellow race bag. Thanks anyway Tim.
I had taken my congestion pill and a celebrex that Andrew Caputo had so graciously kicked down to me. Enjoying the medication's effects in this photo, still worried about my forgotten wallet. I had plenty of clothes on today and would not be caught out with a chill in the rain again. Rich Dillon stood near me with quite the fashion statement. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, arm warmers and a black trash bag for a rain coat. I complimented Rich on his kit and wished he was in this picture, it was just the humor I needed to smile on the miserable morning.
The first 5K was a gravel climb to start out. Tim D went with a big gear 32x18 mashing the pedals and turning his 29 inch wheels up the slope. I rolled with a 32x20 and concentrated my way up the hill. I think Rich was using a 32x18 for stage 4.
Before long we were enjoying extended downhill sections on gravel with wide swooping corners that begged for as much speed as we could provide. I was playing leapfrog with a cannondale support truck on some of these slopes. The spare Cannondale on the roof of the Chevy Blazer swayed wildly like a broken keel on an out of control ship as the blazer bounced down the rough gravel road. I thought something was going to snap, the bike, the rack, or the truck.
Speed obtained on the extended downhill was in the ball park of 50 mph and the hill went on for 10 miles . We definitely deserved this after three days of climbing hills. I was in the bomber position, sitting on my top tube with the bat wings out enjoying every second. On paved roads now with police stopping traffic at the intersections.
The episode I am going to describe next may just go down as the funniest 10 seconds in my life. I was on a residential dirt road moving slowly as I approached three young Costa Rican children in the road. They were staggered in line with their arms outreached and seemed to be marshaling me into a left hand corner. I thought, "wow, these three young kids are course marshals?" So I stopped and looked down the path they were sending me and said.."left here?" They looked at me blindly not understanding English tho to say.."yeah stupid down there." I raced down the path scanning the dirt for tire marks in the mud but saw none, and as I sped along, looking down at the ground my front tire came upon a rug, a green braided rug??...and I looked up to find my self IN SOME ONE'S HOUSE! The path had ended and I had ridden directly into some one's house! There was no door to the laundry room and I had fully ridden into someone's freekin house! Clean laundry hanging to my left and a teen aged boy watching television on a couch to my right. I looked at him with dismay and exclaimed, "LA RUTA?? He slowly moved off the couch and with a puzzled look said, "no, no La Ruta" He started to laugh, I started to laugh and he motioned me to the path that I had entered his house on.
His mother looking wildly out the window, she wasn't laughing. I turned my dripping bicycle around within the laundry room and in the process took all of the clean white clothes off the line with my handlebar. I bent over trying to pickup the clothes but my mud soaked gloves were making matters worse. I apologized profusely and the teen aged boy just laughed and motioned me to the street. I looked at the kids that had directed me down the path and they were now in a straight line formation with their hands skyward wanting only a high five...and not directing racers down into the laundry room at all. For the next mile I died laughing.
The guy bent over on the far right across the river is me. The spring on my front brake had broken and needed to be fixed. I had my tools out and spare brake parts were on the ground but I could not for the life of me get the pads re-installed. I didn't want to force the pads on and snap the piston nub so I tried to reason with the cylinder and sweet talk them on...nope no dice. I was there for four or five minutes until Doug and Roger appeared on the river bank. Roger said, "hey let me try" I asked.."do you know how to install the pads?" He quickly said no...but with in five seconds had them back in the piston.
The three of us rolled together along with a few friends that Roger had made through out the trip. Good to see he was really enjoying him self and pushing a fast pace on this dirt road riddled with pot holes. Poor Doug was getting his wrists shattered on this section, riding a rigid fork in the train of riders as we snaked around and smashed into deep pot holes.
The three of us were together for about an hour. Moving quickly on roads and sharing pulls within a large group on paved sections.
The day was flying by for me. At one point a woman we were riding near said that we were at 103 kilometer with about 17k to go. Wow this day was flying! I had just consumed a red bull and was feeling pretty high so I left the group and entered the final section of railroad beds alone.The rail bridges were interesting. This one pictured had a 1x8 piece of lumber nailed down for quicker passage. Some bridges did not have the safety of the 1x8. Most were suspend high above rushing white water and the act of stepping rail to rail had a dizzying effect. I think the bridges claimed the adventure aspect of the entire trip.
The first bridge I came upon I was with a group of four or five other guys. Looking across the 200ft span there was a train on the other side. People warned that it was moving, we waited but it did not show signs of movement. The guys in front went for it. My plan was that if the train was coming they would jump I just looked down at the rails and step one tie at a time until we were across. The train was indeed running and after we made it across the conductor went ahead and put the train in motion.The remainder of the rail bed wasn't as bad as I expected. Thankful I had my 29inch wheels on the bumpy sections and just sped along comfortably high on red bull. The beach appeared on my left and I knew the finish line was near. I felt a little bad that I'd ditched Doug and Roger but wanted to stay ahead of Rich in the off chance that I could beat him in GC.
Later, after it was all done and people were celebrating the brutality of crossing Costa Rica via mountain bike Rich said to me, " I officially hate you, you beat me by 7 minutes in GC"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Singing Songs and suffering emmensely

Day three had me fooled for a while, but it became apparent halfway up this volcano that I was feeling beat up and becoming sick. Energy levels on a new low for the trip. I had enjoyed two days of really strong racing but today I was to pay the piper.
I was able to get through the initial jeep roads to the long paved section but that's where I hit a wall and started to pedal backwards. People I'd never seen started to pass me, my head pounded, I made involuntary groaning noises. I was trying to eat and drink my way back but food didn't help. So I just sat aboard thinking the downhill would save my day. A Costa Rican with plastic flat pedals and Nike sneakers spun by with ease, I knew I was beyond a spot of bother. "Screwed!" I screamed. Pineapple Bob came by me with a giant smile and words of encouragement. I smiled back and wanted that downhill now!Be careful what you wish for right? For the downhill I had conceived in my delirious thoughts was nothing like what layed on the back side of Irazu volcano. Dirt and gravel roads pointed up and down, then back up. I walked a bunch. But now it was cold and raining. My involuntary groaning noises now evolved into shivering motorcycle-like noises to aid in keeping some warmth but didn't help. I was foolish not to bring along a full rain coat, relaying on a simple vest and long sleeve wool shirt.
Doug Jenne rolled into view through the thick white fog and rain. He didn't recognize me stumbling along the rocky, riverbed like road. I was now walking the down hill portions too. Doug stopped for a moment, he sounded quite concerned realizing that my day had unraveled but there was nothing to do but keep on keep'in on I told my self.
I rode when I could, and walked when I couldn't. Singing songs and suffering immensely. "Up on cripple creek" was quite appropriate.When the downhill finally reared it's gnarly self I had crumbled like a skyscraper being demolished with dynamite. Even Roger had passed me not recognizing his travel mate somewhere on the side of the trail. My rockshox Reba pop lock had malfunctioned and was stuck in the locked position and my front brake pads were roasted down to thin steel slivers of the backing material producing high pitched screeching noises and very little brake action.At the end awaited a cold shower in a cement shed and some hot food. I was now aware that I was ill. Some sort of head cold thing. As luck would have it a Doctor from New England named Andrew Caputo saw that I was badly ailing with a flu and he volunteered some medication that I quickly accepted. A hand full of pills allowed me to start day 4 and feel a shit ton better. Thanks Andy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dia Dos

Another beautiful day fit for an epic ride in Costa Rica with 400 other adventure seeking people. The Machine was on auto pilot, big smiles, tight leg muscles and blue skies. We got to "sleep in" for an extra hour this morning. 4:00am wake up and breakfast then to the start for a 6:30 take off. This would be another great day of Single speeding over some challenging terrain. I bumped my gear down to 32x22..a ridiculously small gear for an all day adventure but the steepness of the initial red slopes demanded extreme stupidity. :-\
Race organizers thought it would be funny to funnel 400 racers through a deep mud puddle to start things out. It served to lessen the tension and spread things out on the road I guess, just hard to find humor in it at the time. I was with Doug Jenne trying to catch Rich Dillon on the initial road stretch. I enjoyed Doug's company through out the trip, on course and off. Super chatty and so am I.We caught Rich on the first gravel climb/hike. My focus was once again to stay on the bike at all cost and attempt to dock up to Tim D but I don't think I ever saw Tim on day 2. Rocket ship Dougherty was again on course to crush dia dos like he did dia uno. (That's almost the extent of my Spanish).

So once again the day was going well, plenty of energy, the correct gear in motion and some breath taking views. Thanks to Keven for more pictures. I should also mention that while Tim D was kicking the hell out of the un-official SS race he was also stopping to take photos with a camera he had aboard. Brilliant Tim! Way to make it look like child's play man.
On the road climb to the high point I was passed by an ambulance with the loudest siren I'd ever been deafened by..When it stopped up the road from me it was apparent that someone had mis-negotiated a fast corner and flown off a cliff. Ambulance crews along with two motorcyclist officials were scaling down a mud cliff to apparently reach the victim.
On the road peaks we passed through small town centers where the towns people came out in droves to cheer on the racers. School children lined the pavement with their arms out stretched, bubbling to receive a high five from our filthy mud soaked gloves. The kids let out shrieks of joy with every sopping wet high five that I planted on their skyward hands, spackling their light green school uniform in the process. Day 2 ended with a funny hike-a-bike ascent up what I call "Willy Wonka's chocolate waterfall". I was pretty hungry at this point and almost tasted the chocolate river it look so real. The bike was covered and weighted at least 70 pounds with a thick coat of chocolate. There was no way around it as we ascended to the top of the hike, trudging calf deep in thick brown mud. At the very top a burly Costa Rican gent was grabbing each racer's 70 pound bike and hauling it up as the final 10 feet was a hand over hand climb. He then lowered a stick for each competitor to latch on to and pulled each of us up that 10 foot section. With a big smile I said, "Si! Moy Bueno!!" "Gracias Senior Hulk".
Again, thanks to Kevin for all the photos to refresh my memories of dia dos. The day ended at a mall parking lot where the La Ruta Machine was set up to once again clean mud covered bikes and rub down sore muscles and feed 400 hungry racers. I should also mention that I was riding a broken front axle for day one and two. Just one of those parts of the bike that are not inspected that often and you just hope that are in one piece. Assembling the bike for day one I noticed movement where there should not have been and got this sinking feeling that I was screwed. The skewer was holding the axle together and the hub was riding on a very small shoulder of aluminum that was not exactly designed for abuse. I rolled the dice and came up aces, the angels of fate on my side for two days. Cicloquilly found me a 29 inch front wheel for day 3 and day 4. I was very relieved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

we survived

La Ruta is a dangerous behemoth of a machine. Once this monster is set into motion the momentum is impossible to slow or change direction, just hold on, stay healthy, and don't stop. La Ruta's Ignition was switched on in Jako on Nov 14th and there was no way to stop it until it snaked it's way over the middle of Costa Rica and buried it's head deep into Caribbean waters near Limon. It seemed to have an insatiable appetite that gathered energy from it's participants, leaving destruction in it's wake for some. Moving swiftly over tall emerald mountains and blazing it's way down red rivers of mud. Not only a challenge to stay healthy and out of harms way, but also a challenge to keep all the possessions you required in a big yellow bag and not lost or forgotten along it's path.
The La Ruta machine's arms were in the form of buses that transported racers to far off villages for a quick nap and a refreshment before delivering it's next challenging stage. Logistically La Ruta was a colossal nightmare that required an army of yellow shirted workers to labor around the clock to keep the muddy wheels lubricated and spinning free. In my opinion they did a great job. But there were many stories of lost or stolen bikes, incorrect course markers, broken buses, broken spirits, broken bones, broken bikes, crashes galore, injuries, sickness, general despair, but also many satisfied ride junkies that wanted a beat down and got just that.
This monster machine did not sleep and never ran out of gas, and only hoped you would give up, run out, get sick, get lost, grow delirious, or fall through a train bridge. Roger and I emerged on the beach four days later, a few pounds lighter with allot of memories to share. Here is how I recall the trip...

Day 1; big fun
Racers converged in Jako, Costa Rica. A small, dirty surf town on a strip of beach on the Pacific side of the Country. I was glad to say goodbye to Jako. Moving inland away from the warm, sunny surf & blue skies the landscape changed dramatically as we moved east. Mud slopes shot up hundreds of meters, an introduction to racers what we were to endure for the next four days.
SS'ers united in the start gate at the Best Western Hotel early that morning. Vicious Doug, Tim D, Dicky, Vassago Kevin, Sean, MTBTom, 2:1 Deven, Pineapple Bob, and my self. ( I think I'm forgetting 1 ss'er?) oh duh, how could I forget Tom Greene!
Roger was making friends fast with his positive attitude and big smile that lasted till the end of the event and all the way home. I was fortunate to be Roger, attitude is everything when it comes to making the best of what could be a really bad time. Harry P possessed that same attitude and it was a pleasure to ride with HP on Day 2.
So day 1 was long, 7 hours and 20 minutes for me. Loads of climbing, extremely hot and humid. no crashing, but saw a guy fall into a ditch at 30 mph early in the first day of riding.
Tim D had a flat tire on top of the second mud hill. He'd pass me back an hour later on a super techy mud downhill single track with his bell ringing, he was the only person I saw ride it. I walked. Later I learned that a fellow Bostonian named Rich Blair with the MTB Mind team fell and tore up his knee so bad it needed 60 stitches. Rest up man, sorry to hear that.
The crux of day 1 was a 20k road climb that soared to a height of 1200 meters. I found my gear selection was right on. 32x20 was working out very nicely. I was able to keep with geared riders on the downs and climb out of the saddle for the ascents. Wish we had monstrous climbs like this one at home.
Work crews were paving the mountain road half way up and had allowed riders to pass on the left. The asphalt had recently been steamrolled and was sticky for 5k after the work site. The pungent smell of petroleum in the air and constant sound of my bike tires tearing away from the hot asphalt sounded like a 5 kilometer piece of Velcro tearing in two. I bet the race organizers arraigned for the road work for day 1 to add to the difficulty. I enjoyed it.
The final 20k of day 1 was tough but I stayed on course somehow. Gravel road climbs. Lots of folks got directed off-course by incorrect markers and people sending them on last years hike-a-bike hell. They were not pleased after day 1 on the bus ride home.
I didn't have a camera for the ride so I've been stealing some pictures from the web, Sean's blog, Jason Sager, and Canadian cyclist
Now I need to go rest and take another antibiotic pill. More to come on day 2, 3, and 4 when I wake up.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

going up?

I've been telling people at work that I'm off to Costa Rica for a vacation. I forgot to tell them that this is what vacation looks like. Thanks to Jason Sager for the photos, now I've got something to think about tonight on the flight bypassing the race and bringing my scuba gear!Where did I put those cleats again?
On the bright side, who needs gears in a congo line!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Kill'a Kit

Huge thanks to the guys and girls at Cambridge Cycle and Chris Igleheart for these spiffy race duds that I'll be wearing for La Ruta next week. Love the design. I feel faster already!
What a strange power there is in clothing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

how to get CO2 to Costa Rica?

La Ruta is FINALLY right around the corner and almost time to get this show on the road. Hallelujah! I can (almost) stop waking up from nightmares about trying to push a 36x 16 over the Irazu volcano..or worse..dreams of being severely under-geared, spinning at 180rpm all day and night, finishing dead last, organizers rolled up the finish line, food all gone, missing the last bus to the hotel, sleeping in mud, then to be wakened the next morning and forced to do it again in the same chamois. NO, really..those thoughts never entered my head.
I'm excited to be in this situation and looking forward to riding my bike for four days across a mountainous landscape and through dense rain forest of Costa Rica. It will be something to remember, glad there are so many friends and acquaintances in the race. Wish there were a few more. Lets get this party started already! Give me another week and I'll be crying for it to end.
This week has been very layed back. Very few rides. No commuting days. :( Just tapering for a race , a loooong race. Just hanging in and trying not to eat all of the left over Halloween candy. I had a nice ride last weekend with Tal and Jess over in Willowdale and BP for a few hours. We cheated the rain a bit as hurricane Hugo held out till 10:30am. Got some quality hours and more importantly had fun.
The rest of the weekend is a blur. Lesli decided that it had been way too long since having a bash so we invited some people over for an international food party with a emphasis on Ethiopian food. I took care of the international beer selection.
If you are not familiar with Ethiopian food - you should be, cause your missing out. Lots of tasty vegetable dishes, exotic spices, eat with your hands, no forks, using torn pieces of enjira to pick up and eat the food like a burrito. Just watch out cause enjira (a flat bread) expands and will put the hurt on if you don't take your time. Similar to Indian food witch happens to be among my favorite food on the planet.
Now more about the beer..two notable beverages come to mind. Hakim Stout is an Ethiopian dark beer, flavorful, hard to find, if the opportunity presents it self..go with it. One of the best stouts I've ever had. Another notable beverage is a German Wheat that has been brewed for the better part of millennium,(since 1040) but was new to me. Weihenstephaner Festbier . Tastes like a strong unfiltered pilsner. Next time you want something lighter than a lager or ale but with a distinctive taste try one...or just buy it cause the label has a picture of buzzed German nuns on the label ...good conversation piece at a party. Can't go wrong there.
And just in case you haven't heard...
Not like Whittingham and I didn't figure that one out long ago :) but thanks for that news Kerry.

and finally, the simple life of Gus.