Friday, October 31, 2008

Rocky Road

Birdman, Aerobinator and The Fat Cat got out for a cross bike adventure on Thursday The whole thing was one big photo op annd would have taken all day, had they indulged. There were long steep climbs on dirt roads, dead end thickets, Liver lacerating descents that left the family jewels feeling like the speedbags at Mick's Gym and even some redneck, bald tire bowling down Darnell Hollow Lanes. Things even got a little scary in the back woods. There's no feeling like the one you get when a pitbull rushes you from some deliverance shack until his nose touches your leg. He finally responded to the meanest voice The Fat Cat could muster. It was easy to see why when the owner threw a boulder at the beast. At least he wasn't wearing lipstick (the dog or the owner.) That's all I've got time for.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Love Story

I decided to commute home from Uniontown Tuesday, despite inclement weather. Giving the car over to my mother and making the ride a necessity seemed the only way to get the bike under me. I felt like something on the bottom of a shoe. Nevertheless, I had to get a ride in. One thing I knew for sure, I was not heading up the mountain.

Our relationship had become no closer than passing on the way to work lately, a subtle nod offered at best. How had it come to this, who really knows? Not so long ago I couldn’t keep my tires off her, couldn’t stop talking about her, now—indifference. When you know every curve of the old girl, every inch of her surface, not so smooth anymore in places, does that familiarity calm the swells of passion? When she knows just when you will push and just when you will roll over, is that when it is all over?

Despite having missed many rides, I felt an unexpected vigor. It was cold and raining: my best rides always come then. I came rather quickly towards my mountain. She had covered herself in a heavy veil. She wanted nothing to do with me and I wanted none of her. Just ride on by, Fat Cat, that would be best.

Of course, it would be nicer to get off the main road—you know with the traffic and the poor visibility. It wouldn’t hurt to just brush up against her on Barton Hollow. As I got closer she got darker. She knows I like that brooding side of her. Haven’t really seen that in a while, just blue skies and easy passage. It’s nice and all but… she’d become too settled—too vanilla. The girl I took up with last year was wild and unpredictable. You couldn’t get on top of her without a fight.

By the time I got to her feet at the bottom of Mud Pike, she had raised her nimbus skirt just a little. A tease? She still looked mad as hell up top but… Oh, it wouldn’t hurt to head up just a little ways, get my head up under those clouds a bit. See what kind of tantalizing nastiness might be going on up there.

The riding was easy. The higher I got the higher she slid her grey petticoat, just out of reach. It was as if she knew what I wanted. Just a little higher, just a little bit more and you’ll have it. Just as I was about to turn back in disgust, she fell upon me. It was like one of those silly scenes in the movies. You know, the ones where, in the heat of the argument, the woman starts slapping and punching the man. All her pent up fury is unleashed. They struggle a bit, all the while drawing ever closer. Finally, pugilism turns to passion as the lovers embrace in a torrid kiss, during which they crash onto the dining room table and—you get the picture.

There she was, resplendent in glistening white. The wind cut though my jersey as I passed the first snowline of the year. It was just like old times, the adversity, the unexpected, the beauty, the excitement. Then I stopped— yards from the summit. It didn’t seem right to just take her like that. We should slow down a bit, leave each other wanting more.

Seems she did not like being left in the lurch. As I turned back down the mountain, she lashed out. It felt like she had, in my absence, taken some sort of correspondence course in Transylvanian acupuncture. Icy needles stung my face, propelled by swiftly rising winds. She slowed my descent such that I was actually passed by a car. Oh, the indignity. As fast as I dropped down her slopes, she followed with her worst. It chased me all the way to the formerly calm base and into the lowlands. Yeeehaa—what a woman.

I took the easy way home, down the unfinished strip of the worlds biggest bike path (at least until 2010) highway 43 south. All along its wide open stretches, my mind wandered back to the mountain. What a welcome change from a long summer. I couldn’t wait to see her like that again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Not Bike

Although it may look like one from afar, a cross bike is not a road bike, especially with 30mm tires. The trip up Mud Pike Tuesday made this point clear. The really steep parts were definitely tough enough that intervals weren’t needed. A pace that would have turned out about 32 minutes for the 4 mile ascent produced a time of 35 minutes: about 3 or 4 minutes slower.

Although those knobby tires might lead you to think otherwise, a cross bike is not a mountain bike. The Fat Cat took Ernestina down our lady of unpaved roads, Quebec Run. He was bombing through the dirt and rocks much like he would down the summit on the Cervelo. Pfstsssss! Immediate loss of front tire integrity. This was no tiny snake bite. No close inspection required. This was a king cobra bite. Two gaping holes near the valve stem were quickly patched with much trepidation as to the holding power over such a yawning defect.

After picking his way to the bottom of the ridge, The Cat ran across another biker out there in the middle of nowhere. He was a mountain biker from the garden state. The two talked about how WV/ Southwest Pa was probably one of the best biking areas in the world, regardless of discipline. The Jersey boy compared us to Vermont. The only problem was that the mountain biking was too, technical, too hard here. That’s about right, and that’s the way we like it.

The ride up Quebec Run was more like it for the cross bike. In fact, it seemed oddly easy for the 39x27 gearing. This Summer The Cat did the same climb on the same bike with quite different sensations. At 3 or 4 mph, he was traveling at the speed of gnats, which were heavy in the hot air. He was huffing and puffing such that he was inhaling the little beasts by the pound. Finally, he resigned to walking the steep parts so as to have a free hand for the swatting.

Back on top of the Ridge, the Cat and his crosser decided to boom across Skyline. On this terrain Earnestina did a fairly good impression of a roadie. The intention was to go out and then turn back for a short, safe ride. Alas, the call of the unknown was too great.

There are legends of a forest road that dresses the mountain face like a scar. Ernestina begged for a go at Lick Hollow and The Fat Cat obliged, despite his better judgement. Scenic beauty and flowing track quickly turned to steep drops, furrows and loose stones (I think they call them “baby heads” in the Midwest). To top it off, the integrity of the questionable tire patch was akin to Robert Downey Jr. on rehab.

The front tire softened like a…(insert your own phallic simile here). At one point the Cat tried running down the rocky slope thinking it might just be faster. It became a race against the clock and The Fat Cat was not going to leave the kids waiting at the school door. The seat pack coughed up an old tube that had already been patched several times. Thinking that the time required to change the tube was not worth it if the replacement tube was bad, The Cat started on the quick pump and go strategy and soldiered on.

Again, a cross bike is not a mountain bike. Lick hollow was definitely mountain bike territory and it woulda been tough at that. There where ditches, boulders, rock outcrops, downed trees, crotch knockers and other sundry delights. How the rim survived under that deflated tire is a mystery. But survive it did and the mountain finally spit out Ernestina and her fat companion.

A fast run on asphalt back to Haydentown was interrupted only once more by a little pumping. Actually, good time was made. The Cat actually had to wait a bit for the kiddies to be released. Maybe a cross bike is a bit closer to a road bike than a mountain bike. One thing is for sure: for all the things a cross bike is not, there is one thing it definitely is—fun.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Return of the Native

Today’s ride was marked by the triumphant return of Talks-With-Legs, just off a string of European tour dates. Phallose also made the trip to Haydentown and he and the Fat Cat of Flanders were treated to sordid tales of foreign debauchery. There were raucous, drunken Belgies, soused Irishmen defaming poor Tom Boonen, cases of Croatian gender confusion and incidences of full frontal nudity. Oh, yeah—there were also climbs up some legendary peaks such as Alpe d Huez and there was The World Championship in Italy. Maybe that’s why the Grimpeurs rode a little more aggressively than usual, jealousy.

The Fat Cat did his new interval thing up the mountain, misleading Legs into thinking some quantum leap in climbing prowess had been attained in his absence. He was disavowed of such silly notions when Phallose did one of the bursts with The Cat. Staying with Phallose to the pull off blew Fatty up. Legs caught, passed and gapped The Cat to summit with Phallose, well ahead of their toasted companion.

The Grimpeurs blasted down Kirby with a top speed just under 55 mph. It could have easily been more had they not been a tad beat fearful of things that go bump under the leaves. One of these days some nut will disconnect the brakes and make 60mph. At the bottom, Phallose started some videography. You can check it out at It’s really pretty cool and has some original background music by Phallose and his crew. The Fat Cat looks like some grizzled old sea captain ala the Simpsons. If you pay attention you can see him check Legs off the road like Marty McSorley.

Gibbon Glade road was fantastic in its fall finery. The many steep punches were fended off with more gusto than usual and it was apparent that muscles began to protest early in some sectors. The Cats wheel began making a rhythmic rattle at low speed. By the time the Grimpeurs reached Canaan Church road, a spoke had simply fallen out, the nipple destined to roll about in the rim sounding out cadence for the remainder of the ride. The Fat Cat may be slow, but it takes a lot to stop him. He just taped the spoke to its neighbor, figuring there were still a bunch of good spokes left.

Right in the middle of parts unknown, Canaan turned to gravel. Damn that Google. Change of plans, take a right and get as much asphalt as possible. Turns out, it wasn’t much. Wirsing road blinked in and out of blacktop until it finally degenerated into a long loose climb. Its amazing how hills of gravel can be so taxing at such low speeds. “This sucks,” was muttered more than once. Projectiles shot from under 20 and 23mm tires such that one had to be careful of getting caught in the crossfire. Finally, in accordance with basic physics, the fattest guy got it—a pinch flat, that is. The Fat Cat and his back wheel were at war.

Skyline drive and its double yellow lines was never more anticipated or appreciated, especially after there was such disagreement between The Cat’s memory, Google Maps, and actual topography on Wirsing. It was still uphill to the top of Mud Pike, but the Cat could smell the oats in the barn. He and Phallose made a run for it. Despite the searing pain, it was great fun. The Cat took satisfaction in hearing Phallose voice his own discomfort at close quarters. Maybe it was oxygen debt that made the Cat and Phallose act like school boys and try and hide behind a shack so as to spring out behind Legs after he passed. The old boy was too wily, though. He thrust out a digit as he passed (not the third) and punched it down the hill. He left the brakes alone this time and no one could catch him. First ride back and first to the bottom, what a guy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hero No More

Aerobinator+Golfish= 1 Fat Cat. You can’t beat the laws of physics. On a hilly course in wild and wonderful West Virginia, the little guys will always beat up on the big guy. It’s kinda like boxing with a kid. The adult just throws little rabbit punches and puts his hand on the kids head to hold him back while the young upstart throws a bunch of impotent haymakers and gets all red faced. That being said, The Fat Cat thinks he did better than usual yesterday.

The three riders mentioned above pedaled around mountain momma for the Thursday edition of the Grimpeurs. Aerobinator was sporting a single speed and all the ladies were duly impressed with his manliness. It was another perfect day for biking up and down hills in the afternoon sun. The north wind bated its breath and the clouds played in someone else’s yard. The trees were simply bursting with the secret of their surprise costume party to come.

The Grimpeurs started downtown and headed for a run in with Diamond Road. The Cat held on to the top of that hill, but it’s not really long enough for a serious anaerobic crisis to develop. After that it was down along Aarons Creek and then a right turn up to Kingwood Pike. Aerobinator was not really interested in a single speed test of strength along the ridge to the left. The run up to the Pike would usually be enough to drop The Fat Cat but he just made it.

The riders drifted through farms nestled between rising hills on Coburn road. When the Road headed upward once again, Goldfish took a turn on the singlespeed. He powered up the first slope and the Cat busted a gut to keep up until it leveled off a bit. That was enough to unhitch him. For the first time all day The Cat lost sight of the other riders. Thanks to the horse trailer that gave him a draft for the last few 100 yards of the chase.

“Come on, man. That rode has gotta go somewhere doesn’t it?” When you hear this statement, ignore it. The cute little road just across 119 lured us in with blacktop and a scenic descent, only to crap out into a morass of gravel at the bottom. All we did was buy ourselves an extra climb. Aerobinator offered up the quote of the day. “That road was like a marriage. Nice and smooth in the beginning, but ultimately a rocky dead end.”

Back on track, the group braved 119 to Goshen road. They whipped on down to Hornbeck and then onto 4H Camp Road. It was pretty fast along the roly-poly track of 4H. The Cat hung on by the skin of his teeth. Whether it was the profile of the road or a small bit of malice on the part of his companions, the Cat couldn’t quite find a wheel to suck and had to do all his own work.

Apparently, Goshen Road was miffed that the Grimpeurs left it. When they got back to it, the damn thing rose up into a freakin wall. The aerobinator didn’t seem to be having much fun on his single speed and even did a little weaving across the grade. Even with that, he and Goldfish distanced that gasping Cat. But, they did stay within sight—a small victory.
There's the view I'm used to.

All the work being done, the Grimpeurs drifted down Little Falls towards the river. The corridor of high foliage, hinting at red and gold in the furls of its greenery, relaxed the pace. It’s one of those short stretches of road that makes you want to stay as long as possible. At the bottom it was a bike path jaunt along the Monongahela River and home.

Yes, it was a relatively short ride, but there was cross practice in the park later on. If you want a laugh, go out to Marilla park and see the Fat Cat turn to Jello trying to carve around a tree on a hillside covered with nutshells.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hero For a Day

Funny how a random occurrence can set the tone for the day. The Fat Cat woke up feeling neither good nor bad on Tuesday. He was a clean slate, just waiting for the world to make its mark. The Grimplets were unusually benign and did little to scuff the slate or decorate the board. After dropping the lads off at school, The Cat approached the forty stairs behind Cheat Lake Elementary. Just before he started his climb, the school band struck up a rousing rendition of “The Magnificent Seven”. The Cat bounded up the stairs with the accompaniement of his own soundtrack: Da da-----------da da da da, bum bum bum bum. By the time he reached the top, he felt like all was possible. The mark had been made, indelibly.

Killer Bee was in the parking lot and at the ready when the Cat arrived at the foot of Mud Pike. If there had been a thermostat on the old Oak draping over them, they could not have dialed up a better day for riding. Blue skies, still air and temperatures that sought neither to overheat nor chill graced the Mason-Dixon Line. As the two riders started up the hill, Killer Bee informed The Cat that he had ridden everyday for the last 10 days, dwarfing The Cat’s 3 or 4 ride weeks. The Fat Cat didn’t know exactly what to make of that. So, he just took it to mean that Bee was well trained and looking to kick butt.

Kinda tired of slowly falling off pace and getting dropped by his pals, Ole Fatty decided to do climbing intervals up the mountain, like last week. It went swimmingly. He put giant gaps into The Bee and then got to rest until he caught up. And, what was that— was that the sound of rasping breaths and strained grunts? Why yes it was. But, it wasn’t coming from The Fat Cat for a change.
Other riders have frontsides! Who Knew?

Whether it be from over training on the part of The Bee, or weight loss on the part of the Cat, the tables turned and it felt good. It was like he was riding with his usual self in tow. It was The Fat Cat who was taking the pulls and cutting the wind while the other rider rested behind. It was the Cat who powered up the hills and then looked back to see how far behind others were. Whatever the circumstances of the metamorphosis, The Fat Cat was someone else for a day. It was a good day.

The Grimpeurs forged new routes through mountains and valleys whispering colors that would be at full cry in a weeks time. Kirby road took them to the bottom of the ridge's east side. After a short ride up Elliotsville road the Grimpeurs veered off on virgin paths. Gibbons Glade Road offered short steep climbs and topography so grand that The Cat didn’t much mind the squabble between the Cervelo’s chain and the cross bike’s rear wheel and cassette. What’s a worn tooth and a jumpy turn of the crank when you’re off the front and the sun is shining through stands of tall trees and peeking around the shoulders of pigment splattered hills?

After stopping to take in an old school house nestled in amongst the high farms and distant cabins, The Fat Cat vowed not to take any more pictures. Too bad. The best was yet to come. At a ‘T” in the road where gps had no reign, the Grimpeurs were left to fly by the seat of the pants navigation. They were happy to take a right and hope for the best.
Canaan church road was only too willing to oblige. It snaked though miles of naked forest: a patch of planet free the cloak of civilization. The Fat Cat actually felt guilty, taking it all in while others were taking in soup and a sandwich. He wished his kids, his wife, his friends— everybody could be there in that moment.
Canaan church road finally gave way and set the grimpeurs right back on Wharton Furnace road, near where they had come down the ridge. In yet another reversal of fortunes, Killer Bee refused to slog up the mountain on Kirby and The Cat was perfectly willing. I tell you this not to slight anyone, just to point out the absurdity of it. One could almost feel the Earth reverse its spin.

The Grimpeurs two headed out of the mountains via Wharton Furnace Road and Rt. 40. Traffic down the Summit was heavy and slow, ripe for a 50+ mph rocket bike to pass. I don’t know what those oldsters in a mini van were thinking when some maniac on a blue bike squatted against the wind and pedaled on by their window. I bet they are still talking about it.

The Fat Cat pulled Killer Bee back home along the foot of the mountains on Hopwood-Fairchance road. As Bee turned up Cave Road The Cat told him to make sure he wore himself out again before the next ride. It’s fun being in front for a change.

At last, with grimplets in tow, The Fat Cat came back upon those forty steps that started the day. This time each one caused the thighs to protest and the kids easily beat him to the top. What a workout, what a day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Riding Backwards

The vanquished.

La vainqueur

Not really, the pictures just dictated the captions. Last Tuesday it was just Lord MonkeyButt and The Fat Cat. Monkey boy was feeling beat from a hard day on the bike Monday and The Cat was hydrated, fed and well rested. So, there was no shame in watching the polka-dotted backside of The Fat One repeatedly slipping away—right?

The Fat Cat plans on doing a new cross race in November. That is actually ideal for his normal, upside-down training methods. He tends to lose weight and get faster during the winter, when no one can see it, and then get plump and pokey over the spring and summer. Anyway, all that being said, the circumstances were perfect for some delightful climbing intervals Tuesday.

All up Mud Pike The Fat Cat spun into mini lactate crises and then caught his breath while MonkeyButt kept a steady pace to catch up. With just Papa bear to go, the Grimpeurs decided to quit the mountain and coasted back down for a lowland tour (MonkeyButt says he is sick of the highlands). They used the gps on an iphone and followed the maps through uncharted territory. Surprise, the route was very hilly and served up a lot of nice climbing interval opportunities. Polecat Hollow, Nilan Hill and Bunker Hill were all in the mix. Lord MonkeyButt especially liked that quad busting hairpin coming up from the Dam on the Cheat River (read sarcasm here).

Thursday was more of the same for The Fat Cat. It was climbing intervals all along the ridgeline from Sabraton to Masontown WV. Musta been the low temperatures and the biting wind that kept all the other Grimpeurs indoors. All the sudden everyone had fevers, or urgent yard care duties. The inappropriately dressed Cat had to do intervals just to thaw out from 15 minutes circling the parking lot in case any stragglers showed up.

Out on the road he thought he was doing great, really tackling the hills and making them pay for all their past slights. That was until he tried to knock off the local bully, Breakiron road. Even if he had lost 10 lbs, The Cat was still no match for its 19 and 20 percent slopes. Has Chris Carmichael ever said, “A top speed of 5.6 mph would be a good goal during your climbing intervals.”? You can just imagine the “rest” speed. But, who cares? Because the really great thing about intervals is that intense euphoria you get after the ride is done. That stuff should be illegal.

Well, that’s the week in a nutshell. I know its not artistic, poetic, comedic— just ick, I suppose. Fear not, though, there is light at the end of the workload tunnel.