Sunday, September 09, 2007

Validation, Detours and the start of Gripped

(photos borrowed from friends, www.iplayoutside.com and www.jonathanbruckphotography.com)

8 years ago Ken Bell moved back to Harrisonburg, Va from Arlington where I had met him. He attended college at JMU and wanted to raise his budding family in that college town. Besides the ideal location for his family and business, there was an incredibly strong mountain biking community led by the guys who would eventually open the Shenandoah Bicycle Company. Along with a semi-pro endurance freak named Chris Scott and his fellow riders, the idea for a 100 mile mountain bike race was hatched and brought to fruition. Ken caught wind of this and somehow talked me into competing the second year it was held, September 2nd, 2000. Over the years it's amazing what Ken has talked me into - but I am lucky to have a friend who either believes so strongly in my abilities or simply enjoys watching me tackle all the crazed ideas he comes up with - either is fine by me. The results from that rainy September day can still be found on www.iplayoutside.com but you'll have to scroll down quite a bit to see my name at 144th place. Back then there were less than 200 riders competing but ironically Chris Eatough would beat us all. I had no idea how that race would alter the entire course of my life, let alone destroy my ability to walk, sit or ascend stairs for many days after it. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, physically - and I was hooked. The problem was and still is, I'm no endurance athlete. Hell I wasn't even a good cyclist. I think I had done less than a dozen mt. bike races and refused to own a road bike. I was one clueless kid way out of my league.

Who is this Chris Eatough guy??? 2000 winning time:7:12:00 My time: 12:54:00 sigh.

In 2001 I added a few more days of "training" before the event but fell victim first to a broken chain and then a smashed derailleur. I rigged it with a piece of inner tube and finished with 3 gears and only slightly better than the year before in 133rd place. I think the best part of it was being mentioned in the 2001 race review on www.iplayoutside.com by Meghan Ryan who rode with me for a bit. I was thrilled to be named among such talent ("...Iggy's friend Jason..."). Eatough again had smashed the field of 235 riders including team mate Jeremiah Bishop. Here began a strong desire to fit in with this crowd that so impressed me but clearly it was never going to come from my race results. I was a true wannabe.

E-tough wins again. Winning time:7:29:36

Will I ever break the 12-hour mark? 12:10:19

2002 arrived and after what I then considered "serious training" I figured I was ready to not only break 11 hours but go after the coveted "10 HOUR" mark - this is what separates the boys from the men. The rockstars from the wannabes. Well as lady luck would have it, I ruptured a disc in my neck about 2 weeks before the race in a nasty wakeboarding accident. Ken suggested I shoot the event and "make a little movie" out of it since I couldn't compete. Seemed like a good idea since I had just started filming and editing for ESPN and was trying very hard to cut my teeth in a new career path. From this came the first SM100 movie and Gripped Films was born.

In 2003 I bagged riding competitively (and instead kayaked almost 200 days) and looked forward to making another movie out of the event. This time I had Ken help me with shooting and in January of 2004 we rented the Court Square Theater to show the movie. What a feeling that was.

2 months after that screening my phone rang and it was Ken with yet another challenge for me. "Dude, you should make a movie about Jeremiah and Sue trying to make the Olympic Team. I dare you to do it." I took the dare and made "Off Road To Athens" with Ken's help. The problem with shooting all those mountain bikers in such cool locations was I longed to get back into racing shape however making movies and racing bikes do not go hand in hand. For 2 years I sat out the 100, focusing on the new career detour I was on. In 2006 amidst the making of "24 Solo" I again signed up for the SM100 and came with my gameface on. I was full of inspiration from Chris Eatough and egged on by the massive volley of trash with Jon Posner about how bad I'd spank him at the race since he had never done it before. I was the one who got spanked after suffering through massive mechanical issues with my bike as well as massive cramping issues with my legs. I finished 3 minutes SLOWER than I had back in 2002 and a full 2 hours behind Posner.

2006 gave me 12:13:36 of torture.

2007 was going to be my year. 24 Solo was wrapped up and I had no new projects gobbling my time. I dedicated myself to the bike and applied all the little bits of information I gleaned from the best mountain bikers in the US. I was logging more miles each week than I ever thought I could, riding centuries on the weekends, racing during the week and constantly in the back of my mind was the fear it wasn't enough. I knew that with such effort - I would either have a breakthrough day at the race or vow never to do it again. The thought of another 12 hour day - which is quite painful when you're cramping violently 3 hours in - kept me dedicated.

Race Day. September 4, 2007. Time to rise...
After a solid year of worrying, cursing, training, stewing and stressing it was here.
Waking up might be the hardest part of the day. 4:30am I laid in my tent knowing it was about to begin and my heart rate was already racing. 5:00am Chris Scott makes the rounds banging the same gong each rider gets to smack at race's end. Then the morons who think it's funny to play obnoxious death-metal at dawn fired up their amps and assaulted the campgrounds. Not far from kindergarten potty-humor are these idiots who help ruin the mood by adding violent tension to the already tense air. Like I needed that. I cooked up some eggs and pounded a mug of coffee. Before I knew it I was rolling up to the start line, nervous as hell.

Local legend and Sm100 veteran Paul Buschi greeted me on the front of a line 50 riders wide and 400 deep. He gave me a great compliment of, "You look fit, REALLY fit!" This reminded me that yea, I put my time in this year. I'm ready for this thing. Minutes before the start now. Heart rate thumping. Chris Eatough rolls up and squeezes in beside me. Like last year I smile big - good to have a friend there even if only for a few seconds. No sign of Floyd but I knew he was there somewhere. Deep breath. "2 Minutes!" Deeper breath. If you don't race it's hard to know what those 2 minutes feel like. Your mind goes a million miles an hour as you sit there trying to ready yourself. Waiting. All those hours and days and weeks of training. Wating. I shake Chris's hand, wish him well. Waiting. Will it go well? Will I have good legs today? Will I bonk and cramp? Will I crash? Will the bike hold up? Waiting.... "GO!!!!!!!!"

And we're off. I concentrated fully on navigating the sandy and gravely fire road out of the campground terrified I might crash and be run over by the heard so tightly packed in every direction. This is the definition of sketchy. Once we hit pavement I sighed with a smile. Goal #1 achieved. That's when I noticed how fast we were going. It's like vertigo - those around you are barely moving but when you look to the sides you're barreling down the road at 25mph. The race leaders were already out of the saddle sprinting ahead. Huh? In a 100 mile race? That's what you call the "Floyd Factor". Everyone wanted to show him what they could do. Not this camper.

There's roughly 6 mountains you climb in the race. Half way up the first climb I was hurting last year from having tried to hang at the front of the pack. This year I kept to my game plan of slow & steady. Poz pinched my ass as he rode by snickering. I let him go and didn't even think twice, except that he pinched my ass. What's that about? I steadily pedaled past points on the climb where had I dismounted and walked in every previous race. I could feel the bike going up with less effort than normal. I was even stronger on the downhills, glazing over rock gardens and around trees.

Poz was on fire as well, just ahead of me on the first road section leading a paceline in full timetrial position.

I came through a minute later, following suit.

The second mountain is the toughest climb of the day but I was ready this year. What I wasn't ready for was the #2 numberplate walking his bike down the trail towards me. It was Chris, looking more pissed than I had ever seen him. "My rear wheel locked up! The freewheel or axel is broken! There's nothing I can do!" I was floored, Mr. No-Mechanicals in 5 years was out of the race he was favored to win. Just like that. I felt bad but not bad enough to offer my back wheel (which Poz had done, good man). Nope, this kid had too many personal demons he had to put to rest. Onward and upward we climbed 2,000ft to the top of that unforgiving mountain and then bombed down it, full throttle. Goal #2 was achieved when I passed the rock garden that claimed my chain and derailleur last year. I briefly saw a body sprawled out in the weeds, full starfish facing up. I yelled "You ok?!?" No answer should have stopped me but I kept on with a twinge of guilt. I later found out it took medics 8 hours to get the guy down. I still don't know what happened but I'll think of that for a long time. What should I have done with a freight train of racers nipping at my heels the entire way down the mountain? Tough call.

Speaking of crashes, Poz had a good one on the headwall of Dowells Draft.

This shot below was taken before his crash, lends insight as to how it might have happened...

Ken saw this and said, "No wonder you crashed POZ, jeez, it was a race not a jib ride!" Poz answered, "Dude, sometimes you can't help it. It was that kind of day!"

The day went on, sometimes very slowly and sometimes faster than I wanted (the downhills always end too quickly). I passed the places that held onto me last year and made mental note. These strongholds of negative memories and bad juju were one by one being put to rest. Equalized. Made good again. For a brief second I heard my name yelled - Kenny and his son had climbed to the top of the Dowells Draft descent and cheered as I roared past - how cool is that? I was amazed at the racers in front of me who were not so daring on the downhills who quickly pulled aside when I would approach behind them. That is the kind of person who does this race, courteous and encouraging. Of particular note was a single speeder named Keith Ridenour who I traded spots with all day. He'd grind past me on the climbs but graciously let me pass on the descents, often times cheering me on. So many times these folks would repass me on the climbs and we'd chat. It renews my faith in humans to have this alternating respect on the trails. It's good stuff.

Goal #3 was to arrive at checkpoint 3 with a smile.

Got that in the bag. I heard Poz had crashed and was beat up but pressing on just a few minutes ahead of me. I gulped a pbj and rolled out just in time to see Floyd blasting by having finished the Brailey's lollypop loop. He was less than an hour in front of me after 5 hours of racing - not bad! I churned out the next mountain, danced down the ripping descent and rolled into checkpoint 4, still smiling. Then came the death-climb...

Checkpoint 5, ok I wasn't smiling and wanted to puke my lungs up. But that's ok, everyone feels like that at 5 since we've just climbed for 20 miles. I was in a bit of a daze getting some food in my gullet when my riding buddy Shawn pulled in with heat and told me we were gonna rock the rest of the course. This fired me up and we charged up the rest of the mountain (3 more miles of false summits and discouraging headwalls). We reached the top of the 7 mile downhill and I found my smile again. Shawn led it out until I took the lead for some of the fastest, most intense and even dangerously entrancing downhill riding I've ever done. No, I mean it. Re-read that. I can't emphasize enough how amazing that felt. Runners talk about feeling "high" after a marathon or a few hours of running. This was hour 8 and I was euphoric to the point of not wanting to touch the brakes. Had Shawn not come around me on a short climb to retake the lead I might have drifted right off that mountain. Riding ahead of me, a bit more conservatively, he kept me from complete intoxication and certain carnage.

We rolled into checkpoint 6 and Shawn grabbed the Pedialite Dori had for me (key element in my success, that stuff rocks - thanks 'Lil D!). He realized it was mine, reluctantly gave it over and asked for a coke. The volunteers at this race are the greatest people on earth. They got Shawn and I cokes in hand without my feet even touching the ground. Now that is service. One more mountain to climb and even tho Shawn dropped me like a hot potato I came into the finish with that familiar smile and a wheelie to boot. I have left the wannabe title behind and even tho Poz nipped me by 10 minutes I cut over 2 hours off my best time.

9:48:52 - Validation at last.


I think the "P.O.Z. Speed Chops" helped me ride faster. It's science. I'm thanking Shawn for keeping me in check on that descent.

I've read a bunch of people's writeups from this day and all are worth the time. I hope you feel the same about reading mine. Big thanks to the kick-ass group of people I ride with for all your encouragement this past year. Thanks also to Chris Scott for hosting what continues to be the greatest race I've ever attended, thanks to Floyd for not being so proud as he can't return to his roots for a sound ass-whooping (not only did he get 3rd but told me later, "That was HARD AS HELL!"). Thanks also to the encouraging, friendly and courteous racers who make this the best 10 hours on a bike - people like Paul Buschi, Thomas Jenkins, Joel Gwadz, Jon Posner, Jens Nielsen, Sue Haywood who broke her own Women's Course Record with a mind-boggling 8:11:10 and Wayne Stone who commiserated with me on the hour-long climb up Hankey Mt. and TJ who gave me props for my films on the way to CP5. Lastly, thanks to you for reading about this journey. I'm going to revamp my personal website soon and will continue the adventure there since 24-solo is winding down and these posts have less and less to do with that film. Check www.jasonberry.com in the near future. In the mean time check www.mountaintouring.com for more info on this race.

Until next week...

4 Comments:

SquidBuzz said...

Thanks for the history of Gripped. Cool to read that.

The race sounds like one hell of a ride.

I will add it to my list of events to do. =)

10:07 AM  
camps said...

Nice history, thanks for sharing all that.

As for wheelies, you should see Keith ride a wheelie. He could probably wheelie/manual down Dowells Draft if he wanted to.

10:58 AM  
Tyler said...

Great job!!

And a great write-up as well, I definitely enjoyed reading it.

1:29 PM  
Shana said...

I am still looking for a few free hours in my schedule to sit down and read this. I promise I will!!!

6:45 PM  

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