The 2014 Gordon Barker No Brakes Race was a great experience. It was a bit chilly hanging around before the race but perfect once we got going. The start is a fast mile or so on a wide path and I had my usual slow start. At times I thought the race should be called No Passing instead of No Brakes. Feeling good, I worked my way through the field never really knowing what position I was in until the end of the lap. Having my girlfriend there to give me a bottle at the start of lap 2 was huge because I was able to maintain speed on a fast section and distance myself from two other racers I had been jockeying with. The rest of the second lap I only caught one other person but rode a negative split by nearly a minute. This was a great, fun course that was well-marked with plenty of volunteers. I finished in 1:29 for 4th in the Expert field. I guess you could call me the first loser because I didn’t get any prizes. After finishing, I was kicking myself for not doing more racing this year because it can be a lot of fun, especially on an awesome course. Oh well, there’s always next year . . .
I had been looking forward to riding this event for some time. Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland (PVSP) has become a real favorite of mine; I know the trails, it has a lot of everything: rocks, roots, climbs, downhill, technical, flow… everything you’d want in a 50 mile Epic ride. As familiar as I thought I was, I didn’t know it was going to be this good… or hard.
The Epic series that MORE has put on this year are three fully supported rides, pick your distance. The NoVa Epic, Patapsco and MOCO (in October)… go 25, 35 or 50, or some variation of those three depending on the event. See my earlier post on the NoVa. I’ve done the MOCO three times and this was the first year for the Patapsco, trails that I really know… I was excited.
A footnote to this day is that I always ride the Epics with my brother, Dave, former MORE president, lives in PVSP (literally) and solid riding partner. He was out of this one… as MC of the event he was handed a microphone and a personal cooler of New Belgium, he may have made the right choice. So, my other brother, B, who is by far the most talented rider of the four of us (hard to admit, but true) dusted off his Seven Sola and drove down from Rochester, NY to make it a family affair. Let’s go…
We pushed around 7:15 and from the Rockburn area and into some the goodness on the Avalon side of PVSP. As expected it was tight, twisty, some rocks, some roots… all as advertised. Drop all the way down to the river and along some craziness, a couple rocky hikes and out over the guardrail to do some road work. We were moving right along, feeling strong, hit the HUB aid station, drank a beer, chocolate covered bacon, all is good. I was familiar with all of these sections, we were moving at a great pace, B was riding strong, the trails were in perfect condition, it was definitely going to be an epic day…
Out to the Woodstock section of PVSP I could start to feel the difficulty of the trails, theres really no let up at Patapsco, you have to be on. A lot of up and down, rocks, there’s no chance to just turn it over unless you’re on the road. Some sort of challenge is in front of you regardless of where you are in the park. As we got out past the fourth aid station with the guys from Aviation Velo, you lollipop a loop back to that same aid station. I hadn’t ridden out on the Switchback trail, which was super fun and we could start to feel the day in our legs. We hit that aid station after that loop and B had to make the call. It was about the 30 mile mark, he had to scoop his kids and drive back to Rochester that night… that’s probably harder than the 50. He was awesome, rode so strong and we crushed… I push on…
Riding by yourself for a few miles in an event like this is fine, riding more than a few is not. I kept a decent pace for about 10 miles and felt fine, hooked on to different groups for a bit, passed a few, chatted and then I started to feel my legs go. One of the two main trail builders, Ed Dixon, told me the last 20 miles were the hardest, I was in trouble. I’d try to push through some rocky sections and my legs gave me the “return to sender”. Couldn’t climb, had to keep spinning to stay alive. In the Oella section I stopped, my legs had gone complete cramp, both, quads, hamstrings, calves, fail. Couldn’t get my right foot out of the pedal, I stood there for 10 minutes and then I was saved. Jason, Mike and Tom from XXL and Wicked Wash found me. “I’m so happy to see you” was all i could say.
Four saltstick caps, two hot dogs, two pickles, two dixie cups of pickle juice later and after 7.5 hours on the bike I was finished. I think some times your legs just need friends. That was hard.
Here’s the thing about this event: my two 4yr old boys rode the 4 mile PatapscoMini Epic with all of their cousins, aunt and grandfather. Trails for Youth put on a skills clinic. New Belgium sponsored with too much beer, the food was good. The aid stations were fully stocked by, I think, eight different bike shops all from the Baltimore area. The trails were perfect. The course marking was so good that you couldn’t get lost if you tried. The local law enforcement was there asking you when you were ready to cross the road, the volunteers were happy to be there, smiling, cheering you on… it was all so good. And, to finish it, REI and MORE handed a gigantic check to PVSP to the tune of $15K to build better trails… what?
Hats off to this organization and that trail system and to that community who is building what might be one the best trail networks on the east coast.
Can’t wait for the 65mi at the MOCO… but… next the SM100… and more pickle juice.
My alarm went off at 3:45AM. I kind of whimpered and hugged my wife, who’s 8 months pregnant and I think was awake anyway. I used to get up early all the time, but that was a bit much. I poured some coffee, made breakfast, filled up the water containers and drove, and drove, and drove a little more.
I got my bib, strolled around, said hi to some friends, got changed and headed out on the bike. I didn’t have a lot of time so I found about a quarter to a half mile of the course and did a few laps to wake the legs. I felt pretty good about me as well as my chances for the day. About an hour or so later reality left our televisions where it belongs and came to visit me, and it brought its friends, pain, dropped chain, flat tire, increasingly more slippery roots, and I can’t be sure but I think heat stroke may have done a ride by and kicked me while I was down. Oh, and they took what bike handling skill I had when I wasn’t looking. Sheesh!
Okay, I’m gonna stop you there and say this. I had fun. The trails at the Craftsbury, VT Outdoor Center are challenging, good and fun trails. I saw friends and raced bikes.
The race started with an about 300′ flat approach to an about 50′-60′ super steep wall of a climb, and about 1000′ across a field and into the woods. I was sitting in sixth place about to go into the woods when I watched a stick, about 6″ long and 1/4″ thick come off my front tire and suddenly my chain was off. I said, you’ve gotta be kidding (real word replaced) me. I got it back on and had the pleasure of being in the last position of my group. The trails on the first third of the course were pretty darn tight in places and really twisty as well. Tons of roots. A bunch of rocks. I swear someone was walking the trail with a bucket of motor oil dumping it on everything. And it got more and more greasy as the laps went by. I’ve got to say, people who race these races are awesome. I’ve seen many of them many times and you get to know who people are, or at least where they are in comparison to yourself. I would never force a slower racer out of my way, as that’s a good way to hurt someone, but when I got behind a slower racer they pulled over to let me try to regain position. Awesome! The middle leg involved, as I remember it, not all, but a bit more carriage road and the bulk of the climbing. The last third, most of the trails were fast and flowy. A lot of descending and lots of berms I was riding what is essentially a giant BMX bike, a rigid Redline Monocog, and it is such a ridiculous amount of fun on those trails.
Where I finished doesn’t matter. Okay, of course it does, but the amount of fun I had on the trails is inconsistent with my placing…
I have lay out a cautionary P.S.A. here. Be careful racing in the heat. I ate and drank every lap, anywhere I could, and perhaps it wasn’t the heat. I never felt bad (or worse than usual) while racing, but a little after the race I started to feel like I needed to sit down, but couldn’t stay still. I didn’t feel quite right. About an hour later I was sitting on the back of the van talking to a friend, feeling really lousy. I had to interrupt him and head for the bathroom. I was getting woosy and couldn’t focus on him and keeping it together any longer. It wasn’t pretty ugly so I’ll spare you the details. I took a nap for a few hours and sipped some water and felt a lot better. Again, perhaps it wasn’t the heat, and instead just a coincidence.
I gotta give a big thanks to NEMBA for letting this happen and to the rest of the NEMBA Racing team for having me and being a great bunch of people.
Keep the rubber side down, Joe.
After a long layoff I finally got back to racing at Harding Hill. TVR turned out to be kind of a disaster; I raced sick and the main pivot went on my Superfly 100—again. Between five weeks to get a new bike going and other commitments a few months had passed. Forecast on Sunday called for 0-10% chance of rain which was surprising given the threatening skies. Shortly after getting off I-89 it started to rain. This bummed me out but at least it wasn’t pouring. After not having raced here for something like 10 years I didn’t remember the course so between that and the slick conditions in the woods I just wanted to stay on the bike. All the experts started at once and about halfway through the first lap I started moving up. I had no idea what place I was in but had a guy riding behind me nearly the whole race. My lap times were all within a minute of each other so I was consistent. In the final technical section I took a safer line and got passed. So I ended up 2nd in the 30-39. The fastest expert time was in the 40-49 but the top three overall experts were separated by less than 30 seconds. I’m hoping to do the Craftsbury race and maybe a few more.
After 4 years of gossip both good and bad from friends that had done this race in previous years I had to give it a try. The word on the street was there had been a lot of trail work since the 1st race 4 years ago.
The drive to Sugarloaf alone was worth the trek. Living in the Mt. Washington Valley sometimes I forget you can still find things worthwhile farther north. The drive up rt16 through Pinkham Notch, Berlin along the Androscoggin River, and through the Umbagog Wildlife Preserve is a really unique and beautiful stretch of New Hampshire. After Berlin I encountered more wildlife than cars for the next 2 hours.
The race announcer during the morning race meeting mentioned the course offered the “best and the worst” the area had to offer. I think he was right. The 1st hour was on some really impressive single track that was obviously labor intensive with extensive rock work, nicely built up berms, and well thought out switchbacks. It was really fun going up and down this single track and it felt like it would never end.
Most of the course was dry but there were some mud holes on some of the double track and snowmobile trails that required a quick gamble to either ride through or walk around. I lost the bet on one hole and tried to ride through only to go in axle deep and endo into the black pool. I completely immerged the whole right side of my body with a thick layer of goop that I got to enjoy for the next 4 hours. That event also changed my plan of being aggressive to just finishing the race in 1 piece.
Okay, the only thing that was ugly was me covered in black mud. Of course there were sections of the never ending grovels up hill, hidden water bars, and some loose rocky sections, but that seems to be par for the course on long endurance races.
Overall, I thought it was tougher than the Hampshire 100 and Vt50 but it also offered more varied terrain and between the opening single track, the multiple river crossings, and the final miles up the river side it really made a beautiful course that kept you on your toes for much of the race. I’ll be back.