Race Report: Beezley Burn

The time had come to shed the winter clothing and leave the fenders and the gore-tex home and head east along I-90 to the land of rolling hills, sand, and sagebrush. Although this wasn't my first trip to eastern Washington, I can't deny my surprise at the sudden shift in environment. One minute you're driving through a quintessential Pacific Northwest scene replete with jagged snow-covered mountains and countless evergreen trees stretching as far as the eye can see; and then, just a few dozen miles later you're in, well, to be perfectly honest, it kind of looks like a hillier version of the Texas panhandle. The shift is incredible, it's otherworldly, it's eastern Washington.

I made the drive out east Friday afternoon to the tiny farming community of Ephrata to race the Beezley Burn mountain bike race. It would be my last short-course race of the year and, since it was nearly 2.5 hours from home, I figured I'd get my money's worth and race in the Expert class. Besides, what's the worst that could happen... other than coming in last place? I struggled with the decision of which bike to bring as I had heard it was a pretty rough, rocky course, but one look at the rich, chocolatey mud that coated my full-suspension bike had me racking the 29er soft-tail afterall. After a quick photo stop at Wild Horses Monument near the Columbia River Gorge, I pulled into Lyon's Park in Ephrata right alongside a couple other racers in an RV.

One of the horses at Wild Horses Monument,
overlooking the Columbia River.

Jeff and Paul were really nice and let me pre-ride the course with them Friday night. Jeff was a former pro, racing in the Pro/Open class and Paul was a Sport racer who I had raced with a couple times already this year. This is a good time to tell you what I learned this weekend: When "soft-pedaling" with a former professional racer, it's only an "easy ride" if you too are a professional bike racer. My heart rate was red-lined trying to keep up with Jeff and it was a good several miles before I decided to just ease it back and study the course and not worry about trying to keep up with him. There was no point in even trying -- the guy had been racing since 1989 and was in awesome shape. Nevertheless, the pre-ride was invaluable. I learned where the hills were, which hills to big-ring and which to not, and, most importantly, where the rocky, technical sections were and how to get through them.

The course was 7 miles long with 755 feet of elevation gain and Expert class would race 3 laps. Based on our pre-ride, I began to have doubts about my ability to finish all three laps before the next race started, some 2.5 hours after my race started. I struggled to sleep through the night for fear of embarrassing myself come morning. Do I belong in the Expert class? Am I going to come in last? Are the Pro/Open guys going to lap me? Actually, I think my fitful sleep was more due to the uncomfortable air mattress I slept on in my Element.

I rolled up to the starting line at 9:30 am under clear, dry skies and temps nearing 70 degrees. The Pro/Open class managed to get the ten entries needed to secure the full $1,000 in prize money (donated from the town managers of Ephrata to the race organizer as an incentive to lure out-of-towners... genius!) and started just a few minutes before us... just enough time for the dust to settle. Literally. There were 16 people racing in the Expert class, with 6 of us in my 30-39 age group. The race started and 7 or so racers immediately sprinted out ahead while I found myself leading the charge in the second pack that had formed. The first half-mile was on a gravel road, then we quickly dive-bombed down a rocky, sandy section of steep singletrack before working around to the main Beezley Hill area. The course was 90% singletrack and, for the most part, the course winded up and down the side of a massive sagebrush-covered hill. As a rule of thumb, an average of 100ft of climbing per mile is considered an overall "hilly" ride. This was hilly.

Catching my breath after a steep down-and-up.

Grinding my way up another climb.
(Loving the way those uniforms came out!)

My goal for the first lap was to simply escape traffic, get into a good groove, and try and put some distance between me and whoever was behind me. I finished the first lap in a time of 39:11 and feeling strong. Another racer was drafting me down the gravel road stretch and my desire to lose him on the singletrack almost led me to wreck on the steep descent leading off the gravel road as I bunnyhopped into the downhill a bit too fast and almost endoed upon hitting a small bush. Fortunately, I was able to pull out of it and keep the rubber side down -- score one for the big wheels! There was a brief canal crossing one-mile into the race and I had time to look back at the guy on my tail -- the blue dot on his number indicated he was in my age-group. I had to drop him and I knew just where to do it.

The early section of singletrack was pretty flat and I was in the big ring pushing a pretty hard gear leading up to a steep climb. The guy behind me was so close to my rear wheel that I didn't want to alert him to the approaching hill by downshifting -- he'd hear the shift -- and I had a feeling that he was probably looking down and not aware of the steep, loose, climb coming up. Not sure if it would work, but I mashed my way up the hill without shifting in hopes of catching him by surprise on a hill he wasn't ready for. When I looked back a minute later, I had put about 50 yards on him. Coincidence? Strategy? I don't know, but I continue to pull away from him throughout the rest of the second lap. I finished my second lap in a time of 40:13, barely a minute slower than my first lap.

The third lap was uneventful. Although one guy passed me late in the second lap, nobody else passed me during the entire race and I reeled back in two people on the third and final lap. I was really pushing hard now, trying to make sure that I finished the race on a good note and, for posterity's sake, finish in under two hours. So much for worrying about not being able to finish before the Sport race began... I finished the third lap in a time of 39:58 for a total time of 1:59:23. 21 miles and 2330 feet of elevation gain and nearly all singletrack in under two hours. Mission accomplished!

I wound up placing 4th out of 6 racers in the Expert 30-39 category, although the two guys I beat both dropped out after the second lap so the official results look as if I came in last. Whatever. More importantly, I finished in the middle of the pack among all Expert racers. Not bad considering I'm not really training for short-course racing at all.

The race organizer, Jake Maedke, did a tremendous job staging this event and for securing a truck-load of free giveaways that were raffled off after the races. Everyone took home something ranging from a socks/lube/grips to a new set of Haye's hydraulic disc brakes or even a Park bike stand. As for me, I won a large tub of HammerGel, a DVD by the Collective, and a pair of socks -- my raffle prizes were worth more than I paid in entry fees! And the fun doesn't stop there! The New Belgium Brewing Company (Fat Tire Ale) sponsored the post-race BBQ. I didn't make it over to Jake's parents' house for the BBQ and beer, but I'm sure it was a good time. As for the Beezley Burn, it was one of the best organized and funnest events I've done. I'll be back next year, for certain!

Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Re/Max on the Ridge for supporting me this racing season -- the uniforms look great! I also want to thank Justin Kooy for graciously sending me the photos he shot while out on the course. Thanks everyone!

Did You Hear the One About Sony, the Goat, and the Topless Models?

Sony outdid themselves this time.

To celebrate the European release of the hit game God of War II, Sony threw a big party. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

The party was given a "Greek orgy" theme to tie in with the game's backdrop. Okay, a bit excessive perhaps, but that makes sense.

Topless body-painted women walked around hand-feeding grapes to attendees. You've got my attention, please continue.

A pit of live snakes was available for guests and their friends to challenge one another in grabbing the snakes bare-handed. Okay, you lost me with the pit of live snakes.

Guests were also invited to eat offal (pureed intestines and entrails) that had been stuffed inside the still-warm cavity of a real, decapitated goat whose head was barely hanging on by thin threads of tissue as its blood dripped onto the floor. Are you f'ing kidding me?

No, I'm not kidding you. There are pictures.

Sony, previously oblivious to how people may react to such a ridiculous PR stunt, have come to their senses and are in the process of recalling all 80,000 copies of their PlayStation magazine which features the photo linked above.

You know, as crazy and absurd and just plain wrong this party sounds, it doesn't sound nearly as crazy or offensive to me as charging $599 for a game console that has nothing to play on it.

Canon A630

It was time to finally retire the Canon A520 digital camera I've been taking with me on all of my mountain bike trips for the past 2 summers. The camera, despite being just 4 mega-pixels, did a fantastic job of capturing the action and the scenery from Costa Rica to the North Cascades and beyond. It had taken its share of drops, bumps, and dings and held up quite admirably for almost two years.

I'm a Canon guy. I've always been a Canon guy. When it comes to cameras, you're either a Canon or a Nikon guy and neither is really better than the either, as it seems to come down to a preference for the control scheme. When the decision was made to replace the A520, there was no doubt that I was going to buy another in the PowerShot A-series of cameras by Canon. Price and the ability to shoot manual (or at least shutter or aperture priority) would dictate which camera I bought.

After a quick rundown through the reviews and spec-lists at Digital Photo Review, I settled on the A630, the successor to the A620, which is one of the highest rated compact digital cameras ever. I opted to save the $100 and forego splurging on the A640, as I didn't really need 10 mega-pixels and it seems that everything else was equal between the two cameras. The A630 is an 8.0 mega-pixel compact digital with, I'm happy to say, many of the features of my bulkier Canon 20D SLR. I'm sure it doesn't have as wonderful an auto-exposure meter as the 20D, but as long as the picture quality is as good as the A520 (everyone says it's better), doesn't take as long to save a photo between shots (it can't possibly be any slower... this was one my complaint with the A520), and doesn't drain the batteries as quickly (the A630 takes 4 AA instead of just 2 like the A520) then I'm sure it will be a good purchase. As an aside, am I the only one who finds it hard to believe we can now get 8.0 mega-pixel cameras of this quality for $200?

I'll be bringing it with me tonight when I head out to Ephrata to pre-ride the sagebrush trails of the Beezley Burn race and, naturally, next week down to Utah. I'm sure I'll have a good idea of how it does before long.

Inspiration Seekers

Tonight, at 7pm in the Seattle REI, Kent Peterson will be giving a presentation on his mountain bike journey along the spine of the United States from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Kent set the single-speed record for mountain biking the length of the Great Divide Route a couple years ago and will be showing his pictures and talking about his adventure tonight. The GDR is nearly 2500 miles long and contains over 200,000 feet of elevation gain. The Great Divide Race, which Kent partook in, also has a very strict set of rules in place that mandate you do this race solo and complete self-supported -- i.e. no support crews, no supply caches, and no leaning on other racers for help.

I get way too lonely when I'm away from Kristin for more than a couple days so attempting the GDR race is something I refuse to even consider as a long-term goal. That said, I would love to ride it with Kristin one day, perhaps as a 40-day tour.

Of course, there's the small problem of her not being terribly fond of mountain biking that will probably prevent this from ever happening. But I can daydream...

More Gears of War Strategy Videos?

In the grand tradition of Horse Armor and Guitar Hero songs comes videos showing the location of the Cog Tags for Gears of War. As the proud author of the Official Strategy Guide for Gears of War, let me just say that I only learned of the Cog Tag videos via Major Nelson's blog which you can read here.

Although I tend to agree with the rabid masses that the price structure (and moreso the timing) of these video releases are a bit off, I also have the knowledge of what it takes to make these videos available. And it isn't cheap. You see, shortly before Gears of War released at retail, I was flown back to Epic for a third visit for the sole purpose of recording my boss-beating skills in action. I worked side-by-side with Epic's audio-visual expert at his HD capturing workstation and put my l33t skills on display for him to record. Then, after I left, the game's infamous lead designer, Cliffy B, sat down with my videos and recorded the voice-over you heard if you downloaded them. From there, the videos went to post-production then through what I imagine was a rather circuitous approval process, before finally being made available on Xbox Live Marketplace. And the production quality of the videos was incredible.

I don't know anything about the Cog Tag videos, as it's been months since I played Gears of War, but I imagine the videos were created in a similar process to the one I went through, albeit probably more streamlined at this point. Yes, the Cog Tags are indeed very easy to find (save for two or three tricky ones) and there have been countless guides available free online for months detailing where each and every one of them is located.

Right now everyone who has bothered to post an opinion about this release on Major Nelson's blog has done so with a hefty dose of rancor and sarcasm. If one was to judge by the people who posted their comments, then nobody is going to buy a single one of these videos. Just as nobody would theoreticaly buy any of the Guitar Hero song-packs or the cheat codes for any of the EA games. Yet these items do sell. The pricing for downloadable content is still in its infancy. Game publishers, strategy guide publishers, movie houses and television networks, etc.; they are all finding their way right now through the pricing maze and a lot of learning is going on. Content providers have to figure out exactly what we perceive as a ripoff and we the gamers have to understand that all of this stuff costs money to produce. If we don't like it, we don't have to buy it. And the less we buy, the more the prices of future releases will come into line with our expectations.

One need only look at the shift in pricing for the Oblivion downloads to see that companies are indeed listening to the complaints and reacting accordingly.

The Dummies Guide to Reinstalling the Moots YBB Suspension Assembly

During my roundabout bike ride home from the Honda dealership yesterday, I stopped in at Ti-Cycles to ask about the "pedal bob" I've noticed on my Moots. Several people have commented that there is a good 1/2 inch of pedal bob when I'm pedaling on flat, smooth surfaces. I rode alongside another YBB owner on Saturday and her soft-tail only compressed about 1/4" and she said that it looked as if mine definitely compressed too much on the flats.

My immediate thought was that my bike possibly shipped with the wrong spring, so I explained the problem to Brian at Ti-Cycles who promptly called Moots and relayed the problem. I was on my road bike so there was no way to take apart the YBB right then and there, but I was told to go home, follow the YBB rebuild instructions that came with the frame and see if the spring inside is yellow or red. Red is for lighter folks, whereas mine should be yellow.

Taking apart the rear-end of my brand-new bike was among the last things I wanted to do with the new steed, second only to taking a hammer to it! And lookee here... the manual says to use a "dead blow hammer" to reinstall the slider.

Do I really want to go here?

I put the bike in the stand, took off the wheels per the instructions, and undid the bolts on the coupler. A quick use of a flat-head screwdriver later and the precious grease-covered YBB "suspension" assembly was in my hand.


Great. The bike had the proper spring. Now I have a greasy mess in my hand for nothing. Time to reassemble.

I followed the instructions word for word but couldn't get the slider assembly back into the couplers all the way. I tried the rubber mallet. I tried a block of wood and a metal hammer (gently, very gently) and I tried giving it the stink-eye, followed closely by the evil eye. None of this worked.

So I called Moots. I was first forwarded to Dave who also rides a Mooto-X YBB and he assured me that the pedal bob I was noticing was normal. That some riders experience it more than others on flat, paved bike paths because they pedal more in squares than in circles. He understood my concern, but reiterated my initial thought that it was a very simplistic design that either allows for some compression or doesn't. It's either on or off and the oscillations in some people's pedal stroke can accentuate the compression... especially on flat, paved, bike paths. Oddly enough, it's exactly that type of terrain on which I notice the most bob. It'd be nice if they make a heavier spring available in the future, but my worries have been allayed. But there's still a matter of a spring that won't go back in...

Dave put me in contact with Sam, the man who did the final assembly on my frame just a few weeks earlier. Gotta love dealing with small companies -- can you imagine calling Trek and trying to reach the person who installed the bushings on your frame? Good luck trying! I digress. Sam walked me through the process of reinstalling the YBB assembly and was satisfied that I was doing everything correctly. He then shared some tricks of the trade that he's learned over the years, but this still didn't result in a reinstalled YBB assembly. We concluded that I needed a second set of hands and that I did need to go buy the "dead blow hammer". I never heard of this type of hammer, but he said it was a plastic mallet filled with sand. Sounds like a toy I had as a kid. Hmm....

Neither of the two hardware stores nearest me carried this mythical tool so I headed home to at least take advantage of the one thing I did now possess -- a second set of hands. Kristin applied pressure to the top of the seat-stays while I continued to use the rubber mallet. It still wouldn't go in.

Now, if you're a YBB owner who stumbled to this article by frantically Googling for advice to this very problem, you're in luck! I have the solution right here. Through much trial and error -- and a dose of unneeded frustration -- we figured out how to do this quick and easily. And without the need for any hammer!

Loosen the bolt on the lockout collar and make sure the set-screws are partially withdrawn so that the slider assembly is not bumping into anything. Now, using your hands slide the slider assembly through the collars as far as it goes, per the instructions provided by Moots. Now, instead of reaching for the hammer, gently reinstall the two bolts in the lower collar at the top of the seat stays. Using a soft-surface bar clamp, squeeze the slider assembly through the lower collar by putting one end of the clamp behind the bolts on the seat-stay collar and the other on the slider assembly. It doesn't hurt to have a helper apply steady pressure to the chain-stays during this process. The problem wasn't that the slider assembly wouldn't go far enough into the upper collar, but rather that the seat-stays were flexing upwards out of position. Use the seat-stay collar against itself to pull it downward over the slider assembly. Once you have the assembly flush with the bottom of the seat-stay collar, reach for the 4mm hex wrench and tighten the two bolts in the collar, alternating between the bolts one turn at a time. Re-tighten the bolt in the lockout collar (not all the way, obviously) and reinsert the two set screws until they are below the surface of the collar.

There you have it! Remove the bar clamp and continue to tighten the two bolts on the lower collar one turn at a time on each bolt to make sure it sets evenly across the somewhat pliable titanium.

The bike is back together. I know I have the right spring and that it's working the way it should. And I know that when I need to do the YBB rebuild in the future for real, I can easily do it myself. Hope this helps.

Gaming Hodgepodge

If you've been holding out on buying a copy of Viva Pinata until it goes on sale, you're in luck! Best Buy has the game for $29.99. It was one of my favorite games from what has become known as The Last E3 EV-AR but I was reluctant to pay $50-$60 on it for fear that it would end up like Animal Crossing and become hopelessly boring and choresome after a week or two. A couple stores we were in over the weekend had it for $49.99, then Best Buy it had at a good price. So I bought it.

I haven't played it yet, however, because I'm still playing Guitar Hero II. I'm making good progress 5-starring the songs on Medium, but I've hit a stumbling block on the Foo Fighter's "Monkey Wrench" in the fourth set. It might be finally time to hit Practice Mode and earn the Achievement that goes with it.

Speaking of Guitar Hero II Achievements, the 10 Gamer Points you get for watching the Credits may be the most time-consuming to get in the entire game. The credits drag on forever. They're nearly 30 minutes long. Here's what I did while the credits played...

1) Made a cup of coffee.
2) Had a bowl of cereal.
3) Went in the garage and pumped up the tires of my road bike.
4) Put my bike on the rack and gathered up my helmet, gloves, shoes.
5) Filled water bottles and gathered cycling food.
6) Cleaned out the truck of dirty clothes and empty wrappers and Gatorade bottles.
7) Had a second cup of coffee.
8) Put laundry in the drier.

And then finally sat down as the credits for "War Pigs" scrolled up the screen... just in time to watch the funniest addition to a credits list ever.

"No Pitchers Were Harmed During the Making of this Game"
"Except One"
"Joel Zumaya"
"He Had it Coming"

In case you don't remember me talking about it earlier this winter, Joel Zumaya is a stud relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who mysteriously became injured during the American League Championship Series last fall and had to miss a few games. It turned out he strained his throwing arm from playing too much Guitar Hero II (PS2 version). I was really glad I sat back down in front of the credits in time to see that. The laugh I got was worth more than the 10 Gamer Points, that's for certain.

In other news, I just want to say that Gears of War has made it very hard to play "normal" first-person shooters. Warning to developers: If your game does not allow us to blind-fire; see the trajectory of our grenades; have worthwhile melee options; or possess the ability to slam into cover and hurdle over things, your game runs the risk of feeling very dated. I'm currently playing a game that does not release until early summer, yet thanks to Gears of War, the game already feels like it's several years old.

Lastly, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is second only to coffee as far as my life's list of current addictions. It's so nice to have a game that makes owning a DS worthwhile again.

No Courtesy Car? No Problem!

Dropped the trusty Element off at Honda of Bellevue today to get it ready for our road trip to Utah next week and brought my road bike along for the ride so I'd have a way home. I looked at the maps last night and found a direct way to get home which would have been little more than 20 miles, although it would have required a couple miles on the shoulder of I-90 (legal east of Exit 17).

Then I saw the weather forecast and decided to take the scenic route.

How scenic? You decide.

PS: There was just as much scenery on the bike path as there was off it while pedaling through the University District. Springtime is a beautiful thing.

TR Training: Week #22 Numbers

Total Ride Time: 15:40:39
Total Mileage: 180.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 11,267 feet
Total Calories Burned: 14,735

This was the week I had been waiting for since January. I finally picked up the new bike on Monday evening and from that moment on it was all Mooto all the time.

I actually only got four rides in this past week, but I made them count as you can probably tell from the above numbers. All the riding this week was done on the new 29er Mooto-X YBB (besides, would you ride this with a brand new Moots in the garage?), culminating in a 70-mile trail ride on Saturday with 4900 feet of vertical gain. I'm loving the bike -- totally digging the big wheels -- and although it's taking a bit of getting used to not having the plushness of my NRS beneath me anymore, it's not a bad thing at all.

In other news I received my new uniforms today, so I'll have my full racing kit on display when I head to Ephrata for the Beezley Burn this coming Saturday. Now if only I could decide whether to finally step up and race Expert class or stick with Sport, or whether I should race the Giant or the Moots. I'm loving the Moots, but I'm not sure I want to race it in a short-course race.

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Kristin's 50k Trail Race

Proud to report that Kristin had a great race at today's Mt. Si 50k Ultra-Marathon. She solo'd the 31.3 mile trail race in a time of 5:11. The weather was perfect for running -- low 50's, overcast, and not too humid -- and she nailed the pacing and nutritional elements of the race and was able to run strong and steady from start to finish. This was her first 50k since she and I both ran the Frosty 50 back in Winston-Salem, NC in January of 2002 (the infamous race with 6" of fresh snow and sub-freezing temps... can't imagine why we never ran another ultra after that one). It was really nice to not have to drive far to the event -- this one was held in Snoqualmie just a few miles from our house -- and took runners on a tour of trails we are both all-too familliar with. There wasn't a significant amount of elevation gain in the race -- about 10 miles of a nonstop 2% grade followed by a return trip right back down the way you came -- and the only walking she did was at the aid stations.

There were roughly 50 people in the 50k event, another 50 or so people doing a 50-mile version, then about another 120 or so 5-person teams doing a 50-mile relay. Kristin has given thought to stepping up to the 50-mile distance but that isn't likely to happen until she's finished with the MBA program she's hopefully starting this coming fall.

As for me, I spent the day running around the course, playing the role of the proud hubby, taking photos wherever I could. You can view the shots I took right here.

Mandatory Reading -- Addendum

My younger cousin Jackie who you may recognize from the Comments from time to time posted a very thoughtful response to the article I linked to in the previous post. Since I know most people don't bother to read the comments others leave, I wanted to highlight her reply, as it's one of the better commentaries I've heard on the matter.

Here's her comment:
"Normally I wouldn't voice my opinion about such matters, but I'm inclined to agree with the "gamers" on this issue. If we're all going to take "Dr. Phil's" words for truth, (bearing in mind that this is the man who has pushed forward the motto, "get real"), then we should not only point fingers to video games, but also to the war in Iraq and police violence and other REAL WORLD instances of violence. He and others are claiming that people are simply enacting the violence of the video games and that violence is GLORIFIED in video games. Is it not glorified in the media that we have soldiers overseas going after terrorists? There were many many signs that the person responsible for the VT shootings was ill and no video game or movie or cartoon or whatever could make much of a difference. It is such a tragic event and the whole world is pointing to video games and gun laws, etc., when the real issue is that the laws surrounding psychological help, especially on university campuses, are so screwy that this couldn't be prevented in the way it should have been. I will end my banter there, but there certainly is a lot more to say, and it is all counter
the argument these people are trying to make that video games are responsible."

Thank you Jackie for writing. You put my feelings on the matter into words much better than I could do myself. The one addition I would add is that the only aspect of pop culture that has ever made me want to strike out against another human being in a violent act was Dr. Phil, himself.

Mandatory Reading

Click me.

DINKs Afloat in a Sea of Toddlers

I was outside in the driveway washing my bike for the third time this week (resting the brush on the hood of my truck which I haven't washed in 8 months) when I overheard a couple of my neighbors talking.

Voice 1: "I just love the suspension this one has."
Voice 2: "Yeah, it is nice. How do you like those tires? I was thinking of buying those too."
Voice 1: "They're great. Good traction, but not too much resistance."

My ears immediately perked up and I tried to listen intently over the fence to the conversation. Do I have more mountain biking neighbors than I originally thought? Are there other guys home during the day to maybe go riding with? Oooh, here they come, I better introduce myself.

I was ready to launch into a friendly conversation about biking with some of my neighbors, but my plans were immediately dashed. The man passed the corner of my fence, pushing a baby-stroller, telling another similarly-equipped dad, "I JUST LOVE how this stroller rides!"

They were stoked... about strollers.

Better you than me, guys. Better you than me.

Free Bird!!!

Well I just made it through Medium difficulty in Guitar Hero II after 5-starring all the songs on Easy (nearly all of them on my first try... it's not hard) and I must say that I was pretty surprised when the final encore song turned out to be Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird". Especially since one of the loading screen messages in the original Guitar Hero was:

They don't really want you to play "Free Bird", they're just heckling you.

But I did play "Free Bird" and up until the tempo change that I didn't know was coming, I had a perfect run going -- 389 notes perfect -- then it all went to hell. I did squeak out the 200,000 point Achievement though on the very last note on the song, so it was worth putting up with it.

There are a few songs that I doubt I'll ever 5-star on Medium difficulty (or ever even pass on Hard mode, let alone Expert) but it's probably because I'm not going to invest much time in practice mode. Practice mode is a great addition to the game and if I really cared to master a particular song, it would be something I'd probably use consistently. But I just play this for fun, it's a nice diversion, and I'm really not looking to try and become a videogame guitarist for life. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- I look on at some of the scores on my Friends Leaderboard in awe as several of them are just off the charts.

As for the song selection, I stand by my initial claim that it, in a word, sucks. But it does have some fun songs to play. "Misirilou" by Dick Dale was a very pleasant surprise and some of the songs I didn't know -- and still don't enjoy listening to -- are actually quite fun to play. And while I knew "Rock This Town" by the Stray Cats was included, I didn't realize how fun, nor how fast, that song could be. That said, inclusion of anything from Megadeath is just cruel. I was able to get through every song on Medium difficulty on the first try, but a couple from the last two sets almost got past me.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the 80's edition of the game, especially after watching this on VHI last night, and hope it comes out by late summer -- it'd be really nice to sit back and recover from TransRockies with the plastic mini-axe in my hands.

60 and Counting

I know there are a few of you waiting for me to give some impressions on the Mooto-X YBB, but I'm trying to be patient and not be too quick to judge -- the differences are subtle and I want to make sure I understand them a bit before talking about it.

I took it out Tuesday afternoon for a 40-mile ride on mainly woodchip neighborhood trails and some regional gravel rail-trails. I also rode it last night on the 20-mile dirty training ride I do every Wednesday. I haven't yet to put it on any prolonged stretch of singletrack, so I'm not prepared to make any serious statements about the switch from a carbon/aluminum full-suspension 26er to a titanium softail 29er, but here's a couple of the thoughts I've had while riding the bike so far.

  • For starters, there was no moment in which the clouds parted, sunlight shone through, birds chirped, and I realized that I was riding God's personal steed. It's a bike. While very different from my Giant NRS, it's still a bike. It works fundamentally the same. I pedal, the wheel's turn. I may have expected some big hallelujah moment because of the cost, but it didn't happen. It's still just a bike.
  • Switching from Shimano XT components to a Sram Xo drivetrain is wonderful. The grip-shifters are taking me a while to get used to again, but the bike is shifting so much better than my Giant ever did, I can't begin to say how happy I am with the drivetrain choice.
  • Still working on the positioning of the new Ergon grips. Something about them just doesn't feel right to my hands yet. Gotta adjust their position again before today's ride and see how it feels.

Now for the good stuff... some quick impressions from the first 60 miles.

  • I've already noticed several times that the larger wheels hold the line straight through soft slippery corners much better, despite my 26-inch instincts telling me to expect the bike to get a little squirrely. Little by little I was getting my confidence in the bike up to where I would not touch the brakes and just trust the larger contact-patch to keep my upright and so far so good. There were some slippery high-speed turns in the twisty-curvy Redmond Watershed trails that the bike just railed through from one apex to the next last night. Very cool.
  • There's no doubt the 29er takes a bit more energy to accelerate with from a standstill, and I have found that I'm a bit more sluggish out of the gate and throughout the first couple miles, but that said, once I've warmed up and am going, it seems as easy if not even easier to keep the momentum of the bike going. Even when acceleration is involved, I didn't feel a noticeable difference in speed or effort in terms of making the occasional short burst, so long as I was already in motion.
  • I was expecting to have to dramatically adjust my gear selection for specific hills and I hadn't. Maybe I was just pumped up about being on the new bike I don't know (I haven't looked at my HR track yet) but at the most I was only shifting down one extra cog than normal during the climbs yesterday.
  • Speaking of climbing, here's the bike's bread and butter: traction while climbing. Granted, I hadn't hit any technical singletrack climbs with it yet, but I made a point of picking the rockiest, ruttiest line I could last night during the climb up "Horse Pasture Hill" and despite running the tires at 41psi, they stuck to the ground like glue and I went right up the hill as easy as if I chose the smoothest line. Impressive.

Aside: I like running high pressure in my tires so please don't email me (or, worse, leave voice messages with my wife) telling me to run in the low 30's. Or how wonderful Stan's are... I'm sure you think they are, just as I think running tubes at 38-40psi is wonderful -- and no I don't get flats either. It's called personal preference. It's all good.

  • It was brought to my attention last night that the 1 inch YBB "suspension" tends to bob quite a bit while I'm riding. "More than your NRS does" I was told. I have to make sure the right spring was used for my weight, but I believe this is a function of design. It's not a sophisticated rear shock with air. It's an elastomer and a spring. I could be wrong, but it either compresses under my weight all the time or it never will and therefore be of no use to me. It's not meant to only compress on "big hits", but rather to offer a more comfortable, pliable ride quality. No, it's not ideal if it's compressing while I'm riding pavement, but honestly I barely even noticed it.
  • Titanium. I haven't ridden a long enough or harsh enough route yet to truly feel any difference in terms of ride quality other than to say that my back doesn't hurt me on this bike at all and that I notice less of the small tiny vibrations and bumps, but more of the larger bumps. That's pretty much what I expected going from a full-suspension to the Ti softail. That said, Kevin was telling me last night that from a ride he's done on a Ti rigid fork once, he promises me that after a very long all-day ride, that my body will not be beaten up as much on a Ti frame as it would feel on an aluminum or even carbon frame. I hope he's right. I'm going 50 today and 50-70 more on Saturday with this new bike so maybe I'll be able to sense something significant over the course of those rides as they have more singletrack than what I've ridden so far.
  • Lastly, let's talk weight. The bike weighs 26.9 pounds (average of two different scales), despite a frame that only weighs 4.25 pounds and it being done up with some of the lightest drivetrain components and posts/bars you can buy. I could have saved weight going to mechanical disc brakes instead of hydraulic, and there are probably lighter wheels out there that I could have bought, as well as lighter pedals, and a lighter seat. I don't care. Weight weenies out there will try to pawn off lightweight accessories onto me under the misguided impression that it will make a noticeable difference. It won't... without risk.

The bike is still nearly 2 pounds less than my Giant and I want a bike that is light enough to not be a burden to hike and climb with, but durable enough to not break -- hence the wheel/tire choice. I'd rather lose a pound from my gut than worry about buying 100 grams of weight savings on the bike. Also, one thing the weight weenies forget is that those sub-25 pound bikes are all fine and good for 1) short course racing, or 2) people who weigh 150 pounds. But for guys like me who are 6'1" and 175 to 185 pounds (or more) and who plan on riding 6-8 hours a day for a week straight... buying the lightweight foo-foo accessories doesn't make any sense.

14 and Counting

When I renewed my dedication to cycling back in November, I was coming off a busier-than-normal busy season with work. I wasn't getting out on my bike more than one or two days a month, I was travelling back and forth to North Carolina for work, and my weight was up to 197.8 pounds, which was flirting dangerously close to the weight we dare not say alloud.

The first few pounds came off quickly, as I knew they would, then I plateued at 190. It was a few more weeks before I finally went sub-190. Once I did, I stopped including my weight loss in my weekly numbers posts because it wasn't changing. I was stuck between 186 and 188 for nearly two months. I weigh myself most every morning, if I remember, and nearly every time I did since early February, the number has been in the upper 180's. I was really glad to not see a 190+ weight even once during this time, but dammit, I'm riding a lot, and I've cut back my beer consumption to an unhealthy, masochistic level of un-imbibery .I want to see some savings!

Finally, today, I broke through the second plateau in my quest and weighed in at 183.8 pounds -- 14 pounds less than where I was this time 5 months ago. It took a while, I've burned a lot of calories, and biked over 2,000 miles since then. But I also eat a ton of food too. And I eat whatever I want -- Oreos dipped in coffee are my weakness. I'm not "dieting" at all. If anything, I'm eating more now than ever, although I do admit to sometimes buying the baked Tostitos instead of the normal ones and yes, I will occasionally reach for fruit or boil up some edamame instead of chowing down on chips or cookies.

My goal was to get back to 175 by the time TransRockies comes along. I lost 9 pounds in one day during Mountains to Sound last year and, for the first time in 4 years, went sub-180 on the scale... for less than 24 hours. I think this year I might actually get there a bit more healthily and, better still, stay there.

Guitars, Pirates, and a Tiff Known as WWII

Well I finally did pick up the X360 version of Guitar Hero II last Friday and I have to say it is nice to play the game again, but the song selection sucks. I'm not going to pretend to be a big fan of classic rock or metal so the fact that I don't know much of the music in the game is not a big surprise. I bought it because it's a fantastic game regardless of the song selection and because GH II does include some songs by bands that I do like, namely The Police, Nirvana, The Stray Cats, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Guns n Roses, and a few others. Unfortunately, the professional rockaroke bands they hire to cover the songs for the game makes me wish they hadn't. This is age-old news to those of you who did not wait for the X360 version and, instead, rushed out and bought the PS2 version last November, but the renditions of "Heart Shaped Box" and "Them Bones" likely have Kurt and Layne turning in their graves. That said, the version of Pearl Jam's "Life Wasted" is pretty spot-on in my opinion. Actually, it might even be better than the real Pearl Jam version since -- surprise, surprise -- you can actually make out the lyrics. I'm currently getting absolutely schooled by just about everyone on my Friends list on the Leaderboards so I've got some gaming to do.

Professionally, I recently wrapped up the guidebook for Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End and no, I will not tell you how the movie is going to end. I'm actually not going to say anything about the game (other than being able to capture screenshots in 1080i is a beautiful thing) but I am going to comment on a new trend we're seeing in the strat guide biz. Whether it's because of the unprecedented success of the PS2 or the really high price of the PS3, I don't know, but companies are pushing "last-gen" games on the PS2 just as much as they are the this-gen PS3 versions. I know of several games that are getting full strategy guide treatment for their shiny new X360 and PS3 versions, as well as their dated PS2 offerings which in most instances are completely different games. This is placing an unprecedented strain on author and equipment resources as in many instances, there is simply not enough time to have one author do the work for both versions. With regards to POTC3 (which my editor affectionately pronounced "Potsie") I covered the X360/PS3 version of the game while another author covered the last-gen version of the game.

The book came out fantastic and is really two-books-in-one, but I'm glad I'm not the person in charge of allocating enough authors, editors, and debug systems to duplicate and sometimes triplicate the workforce for each guidebook. The transition from the Xbox/PS2/Gamecube generation to the X360/PS3/Wii has all the makings of a very slow tidal shift and doesn't appear to resemble the surge that existed in past generations. If you've been looking to break into the videogame business, this is probably a good time to make youself available, so long as you don't mind working on last-gen software. Same goes for strategy guide writing; this is an excellent opportunity for a competent writer who doesn't mind working on the "lesser" version of new games to show what they can do in a somewhat lower-pressure situation. Just don't ask me for a reference -- I repaid that karmic debt years ago.

In other news, I know most of you think the world needs another WWII videogame like we need another season of American Idle, but you might want to check out Midway's Hour of Victory. It's being developed with the Unreal 3 Engine (that means it looks great) and according to a developer interview I saw, they're purposely aiming for an over-the-top "Indiana Jones" style of gameplay instead of the gritty, dramatic "Saving Private Ryan" approach the more popular games in this sub-genre attempt. Apparently you can hot-swap between three different characters in the game and drive tanks. Check out the trailer here. It's coming out in June for the X360.

Kaiser Chiefs

I can tell you what I like about certain books, movies, and videogames, but when it comes to music I can't really put into words why I like certain bands or songs and dislike others. The more I try, the more I realize how fruitless my efforts are and how ridiculous I sound. So, instead of trying to explain to you why you should check out the UK band Kaiser Chiefs, I'll just tell you to head to iTunes and play the samples of "Ruby" and "Angry Mob". If you like either of them, then you'll be glad to know you can download the entire album Yours Truly, Angry Mob for $7.99.

While waiting for my bike to be pieced together yesterday afternoon, I stopped in at Easy Street Records on Mercer in Seattle (aka the BEST MUSIC STORE EVER) and whiled away an hour going through just about everything on this month's music station. That's how I came across the Kaiser Chiefs. I think I heard "Ruby" once or twice on my Yahoo Launchcast player. Anyway, there's a DJ Set & Signing for the Kaiser Chiefs next Wednesday at Easy Street, which I may go to.

In other music news, I'm an idiot. "American Jesus" was playing on the radio today and I immediately recognized the distinct sound of Bad Religion and got excited about the prospect of a new Bad Religion album. Umm... yeah, it turns out that song was released about 14 years ago. Kurt Loder I am not.

Speaking of Bad Religion, "Punk Rock Song" is an awesome track to mountain bike to and, as with most good punk music, is going to be especially appropriate giving the buildup to the coming presidential campaings. It's on the album The Grey Race, which in my opinion is one of the best punk albums ever.

TR Training: Week #21 Numbers

Total Ride Time: 4:49:16
Total Mileage: 40.7 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6,327 feet
Total Calories Burned: 5,874

Only rode twice this past week due to working round the clock and a back that wouldn't stop aching. Not much to report other than I rode the Thrilla in Woodinvilla on Wednesday, as always, and then headed out to the Olympic Peninsula on Saturday to ride the Lower Dungeness and Gold Creek trails -- one of my favorite loops in Washington. No road biking, unfortunately.

As you now know, I did get my new bike last night. Can I get a whoo-hoo? Whoo-hoo!

And all the bikers said woot-woo-woot, woot-woo-woot-woot, woot woo woot...

I'm going to be taking it on a 40 mile spin on the SVT up to Twin Falls and back this afternoon, barring a rainstorm. I'm also in the middle of filling out an application for membership to the Snoqualmie Ridge Athletic Club that opened last month. The place is really nice, has tons of great 2006 Precor fitness equipment, and is only about 4 blocks from my house. Most importantly (to me) it has a number of classes that focus on building core strength which is my top priority. I hate lifting -- I always have, even when running track in college -- and I absolutely despise gyms and working out indoors (I considered euthanizing the woman on the treadmill Sunday during my tour -- it was sunny and nearly 65 degrees outside) but increasing my core strength is integral to being able to go long on the mountain bike. The monthly prices are steep, but if I factor in the cost to drive someplace cheaper and my increased likelihood of actually going since I can jog there as a warmup, then it's probably worth the extra expense. And towels are included. It just pisses me off that it's almost 20% more expensive than Rain, where Kristin goes in Seattle. It'd be cheaper if we got a family membership, but Kristin likes her gym and goes everyday with a friend from work. Got to love these businesses that take advantage of we, the captive audience of Snoqualmie Ridge. Grumble, grumble.

Lastly, I picked up the generic version of those hot patches that Shaquille O'Neil is always advertising on tv for my back and it really worked! I put it on about 9pm on Sunday night and finally took it off around 4am because my back was on fire. They last about 8 hours and I have to say, minor scalding aside, those things work. My back felt much better yesterday! Hopefully better posture at my desk (or just less time at the desk, period) and the new bike geometry will help alleviate the soreness.

Worse comes to worse, I can always check Costco for a 5-gallon tub of Advil.

Meet Mr. Moots!

Finally got to take delivery on my new bike today and I couldn't be happier. I didn't get home until nearly 7pm and it was raining a bit so the maiden voyage has been pushed back until tomorrow. In the meantime, here are the pics of the Mooto-X YBB you've been reading me ramble on and on about since January.

Ride Report: Dungeness/Gold Creek

I'm not one to let sleep deprivation keep me from having a good time. When Nick told me last Wednesday that Igor had posted a Saturday ride on the BBTC calendar for the Dungeness/Gold Creek loop, there was never a question as to whether or not I was going to join him. Sure, I had to work till 4:30 in the morning Thursday night (i.e. Friday morning) then was up at 9am and working on and off throughout the day till 2:00 Friday night, knowing I'd have to wake up before 6:00 on Saturday to catch the ferry in time, but I don't not ride that loop. It's one of my favorites in Washington and, besides, I had alterior motives.

Two years ago, shortly after buying my Giant NRS and getting back into mountain biking after nearly three years off from all things athletic, I took the bike out to the Olympic Peninsula to do this ride with Igor and some other hammer-head types. I was still completely out of shape, I was new to Washington mountain biking and I was in way over my head with regards to the steep hike-a-biking, the lengthy forest road climbing, and the very-exposed descent. Igor, who I later found out was one of the strongest riders in the club, had to do a lot of waiting for me that day.

Flash ahead two years to this past Saturday: another April outing at the Dungeness/Gold Creek trails, but this time I was a bit more prepared. Nick, who's riding Kokopelli's Trail with me in May, and Brett, my TR partner, both carpooled out there with me in my Element. They hadn't met one another before and, truthfully, I've only ridden with each of them one to three times myself. Fortunately, it was a really fun drive and everyone got along. Looking forward to the lengthier rides with both these guys later in the year.

As for riding the Dungeness/Gold Creek loop, Igor had us start at an old abandoned forest road that had washed out about 6 or 7 years ago. It's amazing what nature can do in an environment like the Olympic Mountains. The ribbon of slick-as-snot dirt and clay we followed for 2.5 miles to the main trailhead was as far removed from being a "road" as anything can get. There were massive washouts that resembed small canyons, numerous blowdowns, and vegetation had reclaimed all but a 6-inch wide strip of ground in some places. It was awesome, and it really served as a nice warmup before the three miles of hike-a-bike the the Dungeness River trail is known for.

I started out strong, trying to make a good show and keep up with Brett who was on his single-speed. In fact, everyone was riding really impressively to begin the ride. Brett was a monster on his single-speed; Igor was his typical self; and Stephanie and Nick were doing a commendable job climbing the switchbacks as well. We had one more guy in our group, Paul, but I didn't see him too much. Really nice guy though.

As you'll see when I post my numbers for the week, I had to take a few days off of riding this past week on account of work, but even moreso because my lower back has been killing me all week -- it still hurts now. I blame it on being hunched over my desk with really poor posture all week; that and a new desk chair from Ikea that I'm starting to hate as much as I initially loved. Anyway, it didn't take long before the severe grade, lack of sleep, and aching back conspired against me and I had to just get off the bike, let my heart-rate settle (pegged in Zone 5 for over a half an hour), and grimmace through the pain. We eventually came to the rocky overlook that is the traditional resting spot during this climb. I took off a layer of clothing (immediately felt better after that) and before long were back on the trail.

Nick took a bit of a header going through a pretty rocky creek crossing during the flowy descent down to the river cabin and it appears as if he at best separated some cartillege in his ribs, at worst fractured a rib or two. I was right behind him and saw the crash in that surreal slow-mo vision we get when something bad is happening. The endo itself wasn't too dramatic -- definitely a function of the blown-out fork he's been meaning to replace -- but it was the collision with the large rock after going over the handlebars that caused him the pain. Igor and I had a differing of opinions regarding which way Nick should head back after the crash. Nick pedaled on and gritted his way through the remainder of the Dungeness River trail to reach the forest road and Igor thought he should take the road back up and over find his way back through the maze of roads and trails. We had a map to give Nick, but I knew for a fact that some trails and roads were not on the map and Nick had never been out there before. I've done this loop a half-dozen times and I still think the roads out there can be confusing. Not only did I think there was a real risk of Nick getting lost, but I also felt that it would probably be easier for him to continue on with the group. He wasn't in need of mediacal care and both Brett and I have broken ribs while mountain biking and know there's nothing a doctor can do anyway. Nick loaded up on Vitamin I-buprofen and not only gutted out the rest of the ride, but kept right up near the front of the pack -- not bad for someone who guaranteed at the start of the ride that he'd be bringing up the rear. Ha!

I felt a lot better after stripping off a base layer and was able to middle-ring the entire road climb up to the Gold Creek trail at a fairly good clip . What I say next is not meant to brag, or because I'm in any sort of competition with anyone, but because I respect Igor as a rider so much and it felt really good to hear him say it. During the climb up the road, I looked back over my shoulder at one point and saw Igor coming about 150 yards down the road. I clicked down a gear and tried to hold him off. I looked back about a mile later and he was nowhere to be seen. I got to the top a couple minutes before him and although I'm pretty sure he could have caught me had he really wanted to, before he even stepped off his bike he looked at me and said, "You've come a long way since I rode here with you two years ago." That made my day.

The descent down Gold Creek, as always, is one of the best 6 miles of trail I've ever ridden. There were very few blowdowns, the trail had excellent grip, and although the switchbacks at the bottom were super slippery, Igor, Brett, and I cleaned nearly every one of them. The big-ass log I cleared two years ago was still there at the bottom of the trail and, fortunately for me, Stephanie was there to vouche for me that I had cleaned it on a previous visit with no run-up logs. It was way too slippery for me to attempt this weekend and, besides, once you clear a log like that you don't ever have to do it again.

We eventually came back out to the access "road" and the rain which had so patiently held off all day finally started to fall, thus making the final 2.5 miles back to the car a very slippery, muddy affair. It was a long day out on the peninsula with good riders, new friends, and we were able to get back home, with no mechanical problems and, what we hope are no serious injuries.

I didn't download the data from my Garmin into TOPO! yet but the ride was 22.5 miles and about 4400 feet of climbing and nearly all singletrack except for a 4 mile stretch.

When Good Nerds Go Bored

Okay, I have to admit that this is actually pretty cool. A team of 10 employees spent 5 hours placing 6400 Post-It notes on their office windows to recreate the first level of the original Donkey Kong.

You can see photos and a time-lapse video here.

The Skinny

You know you're riding your mountain bike too much when...

You come across a balance beam in a videogame and find yourself writing "Take your time and tiptoe across the skinny..."

This is especially peculiar since I don't even enjoy riding over skinnies on my bike. Ha!


Just got off the phone with Fabien. Nevermind the fact that the outstanding parts (handlebar and seatpost) were reportedly shipped UPS last Thursday from Colorado and that I could have pedaled the bike there by now to get them myself, they should finally arrive in Seattle tomorrow.

I have a true all-nighter ahead of me with work so I couldn't have driven down to do the final fit and adjustment today anyway, but knowing tomorrow should finally be the day I take delivery is the ultimate carrot on a stick leading me to finish this strategy guide.

Not to mention I'll be heading out to the Olympic Peninsula bright and early Saturday morning to ride one of my favorite rides in Washington -- the Dungeness/Gold Creek loop outside of Sequim. Doing a slightly expanded version that should put us at about 20 miles and nearly 5,000 feet of climbing. It sure would be nice to do it on a new bike.

Party Crasher

Was it not absolutely wonderful to see Felix Hernandez completely crash the Daisuke Matsuzaka love-fest at Fenway Park today? Who cares that Ichiro went 0-5, our boy King Felix (turned 21 last Sunday) threw a one-hit complete game shutout! ESPN was talking about Daisuke being the second coming of Cy Young and BAM, Felix hurls 9 innings worth of pitches that, in the words of David Ortiz, were "filthy". It's April, I know, but if you want to talk early-season Cy Young candidates (and I know some of you in Minnesota like to), look no further than the ace of the Mariners' pitching staff -- Felix Hernandez. Here's his stats so far this season:

Innings Pitched: 17
Record: 2-0
Strikeouts: 18
ERA: 0.00

So let's hear a big Nelson-laugh for the Boston fans out there. Haaaa-Haaaa!

Oh, and speaking of Boston Red Sox baseball, I have to tip my cap to Curt Schilling's blog. I don't like the guy when I see him interviews; I don't like his politics; and I will tear my eyes out if I see his bloody sock again, but his blog is pretty darn interesting. Unlike most other athletes, Curt doesn't mince words. He doesn't recite cliches or toe the company line. Instead, he posts exactly what's on his mind. Some of the best posts on his blog (www.38pitches.com) are the Q&A posts he does in which he answers all sorts of questions fans send him via email. Here's an excerpt from his post earlier today. Like I said, I don't like the guy, his team, and especially not his team's fans, but I do enjoy reading his blog.

Q-I do hope you plan on omitting the, as you called it , whining. Easter, 10am starts- give us a break. You chose your career- you cash the checks- you want to continue to play next year. All good and fine- but you need to choose one or the other.
A-No reason to omit it, and I wasn’t worried about what you’d think, just making the observation that being away from you family on the holidays sucks, no matter what you do for a living. If that bothers you then hang with them. I am assuming that if I made that observation as a 45,000 a year salesman you’d empathize? What’s the salary threshold in your mind that makes it offensive for me to be bothered about being away from my family on the holiday? Get the point?

Q-NFL players are on the road for Christmas and routinely play in sub-zero temps. Summer nights at the Fen don’t even compare…
A-Which means what?

Q-Way to skip over the ugly pitching last night. I understand why you might not want to talk about other pitchers but Pineiro looked like crap again. This is the stuff we want you to talk about- What’s going through his head? What does he say or teammates say to him? I feel bad for the guy but he needs to execute.
A-It’s one game. One game of 162. If it bothers you that much then there’s not much anyone can say to help you. I don’t know what’s going through his head, not sure I know anyone with that power other than some guys in Marvel Comics maybe. Thanks for the tip, I’ll make sure to remind him he ‘needs to execute’ next time I see him.

Q- quick question; when writing about the previous nite’s work as you have done after each start thus far, are you checking notes you made during the game or are you writing all this from memory?
A-Writing from memory which is why I might mess up some counts or situations at times.

Q-How does the cold affect you as a pitcher? Is the ball “slicker”, does it break more, or is there no effect whatsoever?
A-The major effect is how slick the ball becomes and how hard it is to get your hands sticky enough to get a firm grip. I don’t know that the cold has an effect on the ball once it leaves your hand to any degree, just the pre-pitch part of it is what I notice the most. On the plus side is knowing how badly hitters want to avoid getting jammed on cold nights and the fact that the ball doesn’t travel nearly as well in the air on cold nights.

The Guitar Hero II Cash-Grab Begins

Guitar Hero II released for the X360 last week at $80 and includes the hit game and the new X360-specific guitar. Fast forward just one week and the milking of the fans' wallets has already begun. Three separate music packs were made available today, each of which costs 500 Microsoft Points ($6.25) and contains just three measley songs from the original Guitar Hero game.

That's over $2 per song from a game that already sold more than anyone dared to predict.

The original Guitar Hero, with guitar, contained over 45 songs and cost just $50 (excluding guitar). That price included manufacturing, shipping, retail expenses, and so on and averaged out to about $1/song plus the manual and the other components of the game. Now they are going to sell those same songs, via download, well over a year later at a higher price?

Bullshit. Total bullshit.

At this price, to buy the primary 30 songs from Guitar Hero, you would end up paying over $60. That's 20% more than you actually paid for the PS2 version when the game was brand spankning new... back in 2005! And for just two-thirds of the songs!

I didn't complain about the price of Lumines on Live Arcade. I didn't raise an eyebrow at the price of Alien Hominid or the extra packs of cars for Test Drive Unlimited or Project Gotham Racing 3. But this? This is in a league of rip-offery that I thought only EA would ever make it to. Congratulations Red Octane and Activision, you've ruined the good will and word-of-mouth buzz that made your game so damn succesful in the first place.

And all this time, I thought it was going to be Harmonix's partnering with MTV that would bring Live Marketplace greed to a new level. Well done, guys.


To those who share a last name with me (or used to with Kristin), don't be surprised if you get one of these for Christmas this year.

Can't Write, Busy Working

After one technical difficulty after another, I was finally able to begin earnest work on my current project last Friday. The text, maps, and screenshots were originally scheduled to be submitted by Monday. Of course, that's assuming that I was able to start the book 2 weeks ago like everyone expected. Unfortunately, that's not how things go with this "next generation" of videogame consoles. Defective machines, incompatible firmware issues, etc., etc. It all makes it very tough to get the project off the ground sometimes. What makes things especially tough is that the book simply must release the same date as the game. It has to. This means that although there was nearly 2 weeks of downtime due to inoperable machines, I don't get that time back. Instead, I simply have to become an Olympian. I must work longer, harder, and faster than ever before.

Some professions offer hazard pay; I'm thinking of asking for aggravation compensation.

Nah, I'm sure that won't go over too well.

So that's where I am. Trying to wrap up a book in no time flat so it's not late. Like I said, no time to post on the blog today.

On the bright side, finishing up this book could be considered training for my 24-hour race next month. I'm getting pretty comfortable with sleep deprivation.

NetFlix, Gamefly, Extra Innings... See-ya!

All of the cycling I've been doing and the running that Kristin has been doing has come at the expense of our television and videogame time and we finally realized that we were wasting a good bit of money each month on subscriptions to Netflix and Gamefly that we weren't really using anymore. Case in point, the drawer beneath our television had 3 Netflix movies that we've had in our possession for nearly two months. The copy of MotoGP 06 that I had from Gamefly has been sitting idle in that same drawer since February. We're big fans of both services but there's just too much going on to warrant spending the money on them right now.

When it comes to Gamefly, the games I had already reduced my subscription to cover just one game at a time, but even that was too much. Between the occasional game I want to purchase and the Live Arcade offerings, I really don't need any others at my disposal. As it is, the obligation to play the Gamefly games has caused some of the games I did purchase to sit on the shelf ensconced in the same shrinkwrap they had in the store.

As for Netflix, we didn't fully cancel the membership. We love Netflix. Although the last couple of movies we've "rented" have come from the Xbox Live Video Marketplace -- downloading movies in 720p is too good to pass up -- Microsoft doesn't have a large enough assortment yet to encourage doing away with Netflix entirely. So, instead, we dropped our subscription down to 1 movie at a time, with a maximum of 2 per month. This only costs $4.99/month.

The hardest cut was the MLB Extra Innings programming. As you can tell from reading the blog, I'm a big sports fan. I participate in fantasy leagues, I go to games, I buy season tickets, and ESPN is to me what Nickelodeon is to a four year old. Alas, I simply don't have time to watch baseball all day and, honestly, between the nightly Mariners game on FSN and the occasional game on ESPN-HD, what do I need more baseball for? If anything, all it ever does it cause me to push off work until the late hours of the night. I told Kristin at the end of last baseball season to cancel the MLB Extra Innings for 2007 -- it's very expensive and we didn't need it. Funny thing happened though, in that DirecTV didn't turn it off until yesterday. So, surprisingly, I thought we were getting it for free all last week (maybe everyone was, I don't know). And I was very glad we were. I did want it after all, even if I knew my productivity would be threatened. And then it went dark. I thought about calling DirecTV and ordering it again, but I had to restrain myself.

I've written about my new bike and Kristin's new kayak being "lifestyle purchases". Well, this is the other side of that coin. If we're going to spend money on recreation than we have to give up some of the money we used to spend on entertainment. Sucks, but it's only right. And while cutting back on DVD subscriptions may not sound like much, that money adds up over the years.

I'm sure all three companies will be emailing us some awesome super-duper, top-secret offer to lure us back. When they do, I'll let you know what it is so maybe you could take advantage of it instead of us.

Rules of the Trail

Rode with a few new people yesterday for the first time. They were new to BBTC rides and new to riding with some of the people that were there. And I'm not sure they're going to be back. A couple of these guys were fast and pretty skilled and I really enjoyed riding with them, and look forward to doing it again, but it's most likely going to be on off-list rides. And it's a shame they likely won't do many more posted rides because the reasons for their (our) frustrations were completely avoidable.

Several times the four or five us got to talking yesterday about common courtesy during group rides. I think some people need a refresher.

1) If you get hung up on an obstacle or can't clear a section of trail, DO NOT slowly dismount and walk your way over it. DO get the hell out of the way so other riders can attempt it. As one rider said under his breath yesterday, "Just because you can't clear it doesn't mean the 6 guys behind you can't either!" Nobody remembers that you couldn't clear an obstacle, only that you wouldn't get the heck out of the way.

2) If you consistently hear someone right on your back wheel or routinely notice riders behind you stopping to allow a large gap develop between you and them, DO pull to the side and let them pass. DO NOT continue riding obliviously down the trail without concern for whose enjoyment you may be impacting. DEFINITELY DO NOT force multiple people to ride their brakes the entire way down the trail behind you and then try to tell them about how fast you are. As a different rider said yesterday, "I shouldn't have to ask to pass." I agree. Whenever I'm on a trail in front of someone, I always make a point to ask if they want to pass. Rode over 20 miles yesterday and didn't hear one particular rider ask that question once despite obvious frustration from numerous other riders.

3) DO realize that nobody thinks poorly about anyone who is in their rightful spot in the train, whether it be up front or at the back. Nobody minds the really fast guy/gal being up front on the flowy courses, nobody minds the big-bike folks with Spider-Man skills leading the charge on the stunt-trails, and nobody minds the slower rider being in the back. Do realize that nobody cares who the first one down the trail is. It's not a contest and nobody earns bragging rights. UNLESS you are not a fast rider and are, instead, making everybody's enjoyment suffer. Then people will talk.

4) DO call out the turns as you make them and stop to wait if the person behind you is far behind. Everyone seemed really good about this yesterday. Had over 16 people and nobody got lost or separated for more than a couple minutes.

5) DO have fun, smile, hoot, holler, and share tools and jokes while regrouping at intersections. DO use the frequent regroups as a chance to be social. DO use the time spent on the trail as a chance to actually, you know, ride your bike.

Snowed Out in Cleveland

If you don't follow the Seattle Mariners or the Cleveland Indians, then you might not be aware of the ridiculousness that has taken place this weekend with regards to the weather in Cleveland. What was supposed to be Opening Day for the Indians on Friday turned into a postponed game in the top of the 5th inning -- the Mariners were down 4-0 with two outs and Jose Lopez was one strike away from the game going official when shrewd-moving Mike Hargrove got the umpires to postpone the game. The reason? Snow. Some will say that they should have just got the next pitch over with and ended the game, but the snow was coming down so hard nobody could even see the ball. The M's skipper spoke up and got the game postponed. So how did the rest of the weekend's series go?

Take a look at this from Yahoo! Sports:
The biggest impact on Monday's doubleheader between the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners probably won't be made by anyone on the teams' lineup cards. With almost a foot of snow covering Jacobs Field, meeting the goal of a 4:05 local start time rests on the grounds crew's ability to get the field into playable condition. On Friday, the Indians' home opener against Seattle (2-1) was postponed because of snow and low temperatures with Cleveland (2-1) leading 4-0 in the fourth inning. The game was one strike away from being an official game, and a day-night doubleheader was scheduled for Saturday, but even more snow made it impossible to start the game.

A traditional doubleheader was scheduled for Sunday, but by then nearly 10 inches of snow had accumulated on the field, according to the Cleveland Indians' Web site. "This is an unbelievable situation," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "We've had snow, we've had cold weather, but not everything at once, backing it up from day to day to day." The grounds crew's job is made even harder by the cold temperature which is keeping the snow from melting. The weather forecast for Monday has temperatures in the mid-30s with light snow expected in the morning. By time the second game is expected to start -- 20 minutes after the end of the first -- temperatures are expected to drop into the upper-20s with even more snow expected.

Read the entire article here.

25,000 Games Video

You've probably read one or two news posts last week about the massive collection of nearly 25,000 videogames that was gifted to Stanford University. Well, thanks to my sister-in-law Lindsay having sent me this link, you can now watch a two minute interview with the man in charge of cataloging the collection -- of which 80% is still in the original shrinkwrap. Amazing. Thanks for the link!

TR Training: Week #20 Numbers

Total Ride Time: 15:14:16
Total Mileage: 203.0 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 11,122 feet
Total Calories Burned: 15,841

Finally got a 15-hour week in and, for the first time since 2002, had a 200 mile week. Mileage was split in a desirable fashion between the road bike and mountain bike with 117 of the 203 miles being done on the road bike. And, speaking of firsts, thanks to Nick Valison I actually finally got out and did a Lake Washington road ride including the pedal across the I-90 floating bridge. Friday was in the upper 70's here and the trees were blossoming and the mountain was out, and it was an absolutely perfect day to be on the bike. Was really glad he emailed me with the suggestion to ride that route.

In other news, Brett and I agreed to do TransRockies together. So, yes, I do have a teammate once again and the guy is fast. Really fast. No reason to hold back with the training for fear of getting too fast for my teammate -- that will be impossible. He tweaked his back a little the other day and we couldn't ride together on Sunday as we planned, but hopefully we'll get a ride in one day this week and work out all the details.

Oh, and I stopped by Ti-Cycles again on Saturday and my bike is nearly ready. They just have to wait for the handlebar and seatpost from Moots (should arrive Monday or Tuesday) and then I can go in for the final fit and it's all mine. Finally.

The Nightmare

I dreamt last night that my new bike was ready to be picked up. In the dream, two of my buddies from NJ were in town visiting, hanging out and drinking at Redhook when my cellphone rang -- it was Fabien saying the bike was ready to be picked up. My friends had listened to me tell them all about this bike for probably far longer than they cared to so they didn't mind taking a drive across the lake to pick it up.

We get to the shop and immediately something is wrong -- the bike shop folks decided to gift-wrap my bike. It was completely covered in green wrapping paper with little puppy dog drawings on it. "This is odd", I said to my friends. It may well have been due to the pitchers of Copperhook Ale we consumed earlier, but they were already doubled-over laughing at me.

As I began to unwrap the bike, my heart rate quickened, and contrary to Geoffrey the Giraffe's advice, it was my smile that turned upside-down. The monstrosity concealed beneath the wrapping paper was not of human origin. It was not fit for mountain biking. Not fit for road biking. And, quite honestly, could very well burn your retinas if you looked at it for too long.

For starters it was not an unpainted, beautifully polished titanium. It was brown. Dog shit brown. With fluorescent green accents. My beautiful hand-built wheels with mango hubs were nowhere to be seen. In their place were a set of wheels arguably stolen from the spare props closet on the set of Mad Max. First of all, were plastic disc wheels. Not disc-brake wheels, but complete discs. Dishes, if you will. Solid wheels without spokes. Only, unlike the aero-wheels triathletes use, these were anything but aerodynamic. That had all sorts of plastic spikes and molded-on chains and skulls bulging from them. My mind immediately dreamt of the faintest gust of wind blowing me completely off Porcupine Rim.

As I continued to tear away the wrapping paper -- now with about 1% of the excitement I had just minutes earlier -- it became obvious that the bike had none of the styling or shape of a normal mountain bike, let alone the Mooto-X I so coveted. If anything, this bike resembled one of the LightBikes from Tron. The pedals were not in the center of the bike, at the bottom bracket, but were actually splined through the rear hub. You want a single-speed? This bike has no gears at all. No chain either. The pedals were fixed to the rear hub.

Then there was the handlebars. Or should I say bar? The bar had been cut in half -- there was no handlebar extending out from the stem on the right-hand side of the bike. It was at this point that I looked at the guy in the shop and asked him to please explain how this bike is meant to be ridden. He proceeded to lay down over the bike. Not sit on the bike, but literally lay down on it with his chest lying on the top-tube. He explained that you're designed to tuck your right arm behind your back "for aerodynamic purposes" while you gently steer with the left.

My Mad Max meets Tron bicycle was designed for oval-track racing.

It's funny how sometimes in a dream you don't argue or stand up for yourself or question something as obviously ridiculous as this situation. You just accept it as your lot in life and try to make the best out of it. My friends were laughing -- scratch that, they were more or less howling at me by this point -- so hard they both had tears streaming down their cheeks and were on their knees pounding on the floor. I felt tears welling up for a different reason altogether. I asked the only question that made sense in a time like this.

"Do I at least get a pack of Marlboros with this bike?"

Why I Don't Wii

I could (and occasionally do) freak out like this without needing to buy a Wii. If this is the future of playing videogames, somebody recommend me a good book. Pronto!

Worms, Mana, and Warlords

After nearly two weeks without playing my X360 due to work, cycling, and a wireless adapter that forgot my IP address, I'm back online. I just finally completed the 20th and final challenge in Worms HD on Live Arcade to earn the final Achievement for that game. I had to rely on the cheeseball tactic of using the blowtorch and girders to barricade two of my worms inside a safe spot at the top of the map and wait for sudden death to gradually drown the other worms. I hate playing that way, but after a dozen or more failed attempts at that challenge, I had to do it. Worst of all, when you pass a challenge in that manner, you don't get a time reported to the online leaderboards. So, for example, if you see someone on your Friends list post a time for challenge #18 but not #17, they didn't skip ahead somehow. Instead, it just means they won the earlier challenge during sudden death.

In other news, I finished co-authoring the strategy guide for Dawn of Mana for the PS2 -- I'll have copies available next month for those who want one. Co-authoring a guidebook isn't something that I'm tasked with doing all that often because, hmmm... how should I put this? I have a reputation for being a control freak with a strong personality. Yep, that pretty much sums it up. I've had some very, very good experiences co-authoring over the years (and one particularly bad one), but this was fortunately a pleasant one. The key is to make sure the other author and I have clearly delineated responsibilities ahead of time and that we agree to a TOC (table of contents) and chapter-by-chapter writing duties before beginning. This we did, and it worked very well.

I have to admit, though, that I was a little hesitant this time around because while I was responsible for the walkthrough, maps, and the main "how-to" chapters, my supporting author was none other than David Cassidy who authored the original strategy guide for Final Fantasy VII, back ten years ago. The FFVII guidebook has not only sold a bajillion copies, but is largely responsible for the success of this niche of the industry. David's name appeared front and center on the cover of that book -- which BradyGames still gets requests for to this date -- and garnered him quite a bit of celebrity amongst gamers, living rooms the world over. I was one of those gamers. David's FFVII book wasn't the first strategy guide I ever purchased (that honor goes to the guidebook for the original Myst) but was definitely the one that got my mind dreaming of making a career out of playing and writing about games. And that was a good two years before I made a real attempt at it. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, working with him on this book had the sense of being a "you've reached the big time" moment. Probably like what an up-and-coming actor feels when given a lead role in a movie with Nicholson or DeNiro. Now, obviously, with over 50 books to my credit and what often seems as first-dibs on the AAA projects, I think it's safe to say that I reached the big time several years ago. And by no means do I consider myself an up-and-comer in this biz. But, while I wasn't necessarily starstruck (I don't get starstruck by real celebrities either), I can at least recognize some symbolism in the moment and, I'm not ashamed to admit it, but a sense of professional pride and accomplishment as well. And perhaps one day someone will feel this way about working with me. Who knows?

Lastly, I have to admit to having shelved the books I've been slowly reading the past month or two and have once again surrendered my pre-sleep minutes to the Nintendo DS. I am totally hooked on Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. Especially now that I have given up the foolish (and masochistic) plan of starting over whenever I lose a battle. There's no way to not occasionally lose battles in this game and, in fact, the story and leveling system are built to expect you to lose the occasional battle. And sometimes these defeats are not-so-occasional. If you have a DS or a PSP, you must check out this game. If you've ever dreamed of a puzzle game with a story and some role-playing, then this is the game for you. If you've ever wanted to play a role-playing game but found the combat tedious, then this is the game for you. Actually, if you breathe and blink, this is the game for you. I don't know how to recommend it any more than that.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just been invited to the beta for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and have a game to download. Which, by the way, will be the last mention of it you see from me prior to the game's release this summer. You know, what with the NDA and all...

97th Percentile

To the surprise of nobody, I did not win the Yahoo Tournament Pick'em contest. Apparently, ignoring NCAA basketball for four months and then spending five minutes filling out a bracket is not a recipe for success. My single tournament bracket did, however, finish 56,606 out of the 1.9 million brackets that were submitted to Yahoo, thereby placing me in the 97th percentile overall.

I also finished 34th out of the 1,348 people who labeled themselves as -- excuse me while I swallow the bile that just creapt up my throat -- Fans of Holy Cross. That's right, I stuck with my Patriot League roots when picking a fanbase to join. And speaking of the Patriot League, if you're a fan of college sports in any way, you really should read "The Last Amateurs" by John Feinstein. It's a very entertaining and interesting look at a season of Division 1 NCAA Basketball in the Patriot League and, best of all, my alma mater, Lafayette College, won the League Title the year Feinstein was following them around and they almost, almost came close to knocking off Temple in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

From Publisher's Weekly:

Army, Navy, Lafayette, Lehigh, Bucknell, Holy Cross and Colgate: these seven colleges make up the Patriot League, basketball's smallest Division I conference. In this book, NPR commentator and bestselling sportswriter Feinstein (A Season on the Brink, The Majors, etc.) gives an exhaustive account of the Patriot League's 1999-2000 season. He illustrates that exciting basketball can be played in front of crowds that can be as small as 1,000 and that rivalries such as Lafayette-Lehigh can be just as intense as those played by colleges in major conferences on national television.

But Feinstein's intent is to do more than just provide details about the year's important games; he uses the Patriot League as an example of "what college sports are supposed to be about." Feinstein maintains that the conference's members are among the few colleges that can call their players `student-athletes' with a straight face. Patriot League colleges hold athletes to rigorous entrance and academic standards and most scholarships are offered on a need-basis (although some schools are giving a limited number of basketball scholarships). Moreover, players regularly attend class since they are smart enough to know that there is little chance they will
be playing ball at the professional level after graduation. Feinstein's portraits of these players and their coaches, his exploration of why they stay in the game and their encounters playing against soon-to-be-pro athletes of other teams bring an unusual emotional depth to this account--which, like Feinstein's earlier books, should make a run toward, or on, the lists. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

She's Even More Beautiful in Person

The email I received earlier from Fabien at TiCycles was all I needed to get my butt out the door today. I threw the box of parts and my "Mikesee" wheelset in the truck and drove into the city to drop it off for the build.

Having never actually seen or touched a Moots in person, I was immediately blown away by the craftsmanship. The finish, the welds, and the lightweight fauxe delicateness of the frame surpassed all of my expectations. And I say "fauxe delicateness" because while the frame feels and looks as if it is as fragile as a piece of fine crystal, it's titanium. And titanium is anything but fragile.

It's scheduled to be built on Thursday, but there are naturally some caveats. Although my suspension fork and headset were there waiting for me, Moots failed to send along the handlebars and seatpost I ordered with the frame. I have my doubts whether or not the handlebar order actually ever got placed since I emailed that one in a week after the frame order, but there's no excuse for the seatpost to not have been included, as I paid for it with the frame back in January. Fabien tells me that Moots is backing out of the handlebar business so I may have to go with an Easton or FSA handlebar instead. I like the Easton handlebar on my Giant NRS, but both of these brands insist on splattering their bars with red and yellow graphics. The Moots is elegant. I don't want crappy red and yellow graphics messing it up, but I don't know if I have a choice at this point unless Moots is still making handlebars.

Right now the plan is to build the bike on Thursday and I'll go in and get fit for the stem and steer tube height. At that point they'll cut the steer tube, finish up the build, and hopefully I'll have the bike by the weekend. It depends on the seatpost and handlebar issue at this point.

And while I could theoretically just put a different bar and post on it to get me through the weekend, I don't want to. I've waited this long. I want the bike as I envisioned it. I'm stubborn like that. But so far, so good. So very good...


To: Doug Walsh
RE: Your Frame Has Arrived

Hey Doug,
Bring your parts in! :)


Race Report: Capitol Forest Revival

I was in the garage gathering up my biking gear Saturday night when I heard the unmistakable sound of sleet hitting the side of the house. Here we go again. Come morning, I would be making the drive to Capitol State Forest, a notoriously muddy swath of mountains and conifers outside Olympia, to race in what was quickly becoming a reeneactment of the Valentine's Massacre race in February. Forget about April Fool's Day, this was Groundhog Day. Again.

Sure enough, it did snow in Capitol Forest the morning of the race, but I didn't let that stop me. Nor did it stop Kristin and my good friend Eric from coming along to take the photos you see in this race report. We were on the road by 6:30, fingers crossed the rain would hold until later in the morning -- this week the Sport class guys were racing first.

We arrived 90 minutes later to find some sun and scattered rain, but mostly it was just cold. Fortunately this didn't last and the weather actually turned quite nice before the 9:30 start. I brought my road bike and stationary trainer to warm up in the parking lot rather than crud up my bike on the muddy trails before the race even started. I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course (again!) but I mapped out the elevation profile in TOPO! and knew what to expect as far as hills were concerned.

Me warming up in the parking lot.

After some minor misdirection regarding the proper location of the start line, we were broken into classes and ready to race. As promised after the first race in this series, I took a spot near the front of the starting grid and went hard right from the start. At least for the fifty yards before the tortuously slick climb began.

At the starting line. I should have my swanky
BradyGames racing uniform before my next race.

The trail quickly jogged to the right and began a long, switchbacking climb up a slipper clay-caked trail that had been reinforced with hundreds of cinder blocks. Did I mention that the trails we would be riding today are actually meant for dirtbikes and 4x4 quadrunners? This initial climb, right out of the gate, was very challenging to pedal and walking it even moreso. The two times I had to dismount and push my bike, both saw me slip onto my stomach in the dirt. It was too slick to even stand in some spots. I went hard at the start of the race and entered the switchbacking clay-climb in 6th in my class but soon felt like the whole world was passing me by. I didn't care though because I knew once I got in a groove I would reel them in. Sure enough, as we climbed the trail got a little steeper, but it also got drier and I was able to pedal past several folks pushing their bikes.

After a muddy, puddle-strewn descent we popped out on a gravel road. A false flat. I switched into the big ring and started gaining ground on a couple of guys when I noticed on my altimeter that we were actually climbing. I had to laugh, as I felt like it was a flat section of trail. I eventually dropped into the middle-ring for the remainder of this two mile-long forest road climb that gained about 1000 feet. Joe Martin, an attendee on the Wednesday night training rides I do, passed me at the five mile mark. He started a minute behind me in the 40-49 class and had some words of encouragement before commenting, "There's some fast f***s here today!" Yes. My thoughts exactly. This wasn't the same group from the February race.

I rode alone for quite a while and kept my mind occupied by watching the heart-rate numbers on my cyclopcomputer. I had managed to keep my HR right at about 85-90% of my max for the first 50 minutes of the race and now, as I crested the top of the fire road, it was time to descend. I soon finished a little singletrack climb -- narrowly avoiding a pretty bad wipeout in a clay-slickened turn -- and found myself enjoying a very fun, swoopy semi-technical singletrack descent off the top of the mountain with incredible views overlooking the rest of the forest. It was a great day to be on the bike. I caught a couple guys on the descent who had passed me earlier in the race and soon caught up to Joe at the 10 mile mark. He was having some chainsuck issues thanks to an earlier crash.

I raced ahead, finishing the final noteworthy climb of the day and now it was time to descend the switchbacking clay-coated ridiculousness that we climbed at the start of the day. I was flying. I was pulling ahead from the two guys behind me and finding a nice line through the puddles and moto-gulleys in the trail. I was big ringing my way down this descent and then my day turned sour. As I approached a short steep rise in the trail, I quickly downshifted to an easier cog, inadvertently crossed the chain, torqued it too hard, and snapped the chain roughly 2 miles from the finish line.

I had a spare tube with me and CO2 cartridges. I had an allen wrench set with me. I even had some spare quick-links for a chain. I didn't have a chain tool, though. I quickly worked the chain out of the rear derailleur and began running. It was only two miles, I'm still in this! I was able to coast down what little descent there was left, but the trail was too muddy and rough to not push. So I started running and once I started I didn't stop. All the way to the finish, I went. Funny thing about this is that even if I did have a chain tool with me, I probably would have just ran it anyway. That's what happens when you come from a running background -- two miles to the finish? No sweat! About 20-25 people passed me while I was running the bike in during those final two miles. Each one offered some words of encouragement or sympathy, and I tried not to let it bother me too much. This is mountain bike racing, it doesn't always go your way.

Two miles of pushing the bike isn't the best way to spend a day.
Note the broken chain in my left hand.

That smile is fake.

I ended up finishing in 16th place out of roughly 30 or so competitors in the Sport 30-39 class. Judging by Joe's finishing position in the group that started after us, the number of people that passed me after I broke my chain, and the number of people I caught and passed during the earlier climbs, I feel very confident that I was in the top 5 of my class when my chain broke. I would have minded this misfortune a bit more if I was racing in the full series and really cared about my points. However, that aside, I must say that this was probably my last good chance of the season to earn a top-5 finish. The rest of the events I'm entered in are very long endurance races, in which I will be entering unchartered territory both physically and mentally. This may have only been my second mountain bike race in 6 or more years, but it's something I have done before. I would have liked to be able to point to a top-5 finish, but so it goes...

Aside from the chain breaking and the rain starting up as I hoofed it to the finish, the race went very well. I know what I can handle effort-wise and I felt really strong mentally on the bike, as well as physically. The training with an HR monitor is paying off a lot sooner than I thought, if for no other reason than it keeps you from cheating yourself. I knew what HR I could push and for how long, so I didn't let up on the climbs and that helped a lot in the end.

Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Re/Max on the Ridge for supporting me this racing season -- I hope to receive the uniforms soon! Also want to thank Kristin for coming along to cheer and my friend Eric Floyd for the photos and encouragement.