Monday, March 30, 2009

From the Grass To the Dirt

Been along time since the last post. I am so busy a can't get to everything. Cross season ended for me just over a month ago and I must admit after 25 races I was getting pretty tired. Haven't done much since then. The 2008-2009 CX season was probably the worst for results in the 5 years I've been doing this but the most for fun! Went several places I've never been before and would likely have never went. Fayettville, Tn and McEwen, both beautiful places and great cross races.

I must say of the Winter races, Knoxicross 1 & 2 and Cross a nooga had to be
the most fun. Knoxicross at Victor Ashe park was held in true Belgian conditions, with two days of heavy courses. Saturday during the masters race it poured the rain and was in the low 40's (broke another chain), and the course was extremely muddy. On Sunday, the rain had stopped but is was colder, and the terrain of the park resulted in the rain run off filling the little valley where 1/3 of the course ran, the mud on the dirt road was thick and deep. Had to actually pedal hard down hill! Afterward everyone was covered in mud, and happy about it. Only cross racers!

Cross a nooga was a course that really suited me, and had I not got lazy after MSG, and continued to train, I might have had a good result! Both days the course was mostly flat, technical, with mud and sand, and very well marked. Even though I sucked, it was great fun. Had a blast Saturday night with everyone at Stinky Fingers.

'Cross-a-Nooga! from Craig Walker on Vimeo

Suffering form the usual past CX lack of motivation. Don't really care to ride on the road much anymore except to train with other people, so I decided to give mountain biking another try. Sold my GT Avalanche a year ago because it hadn't been ridden in two years. I usually rode my CX bike on the trails around here, but it occurred to me that if I still had my MTB I could at least add some MTB races to the TT's I'm planning on doing this year.

Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time: I was poking around Hampton Trails Bike Shop a month or so ago looking for a beater MTB frame (not going to put a lot into one) and found a great deal on a mid range Jamis circa 2000. Brian only wanted $100.00 for the frame, fork, headset, seat post and wheels! Already had a group of SRAM 9.0 gripshift on a downhill bike that a friend had given me to sell (still got the frame, fork, headset, wheels, seatpost if you're interested) so I was there. Add to that one of my oldest and best friends showing up at the shop and putting down the $100.00 as I was hum hawing around about it. So, essentially I got another MTB for the cost of cables and housings. What's funny is it rides better than any of the three before it especially the GT Avalanche I bought new in 2001! I've really enjoyed riding it and look forward to doing some MTB racing from the rear of the Cat 3's

I guess this it for a while, so much to do. Cheif Refing three collegiate races in a row starting April 4th, never been responsible for the whole shebang before, a little nervous. Also, in April is the start of the Asheville TT series and then MTB racing starting in May. Add to that my duties in the bike club, TBRA, organizing MSG and work (still barely have a job) and I don't have time to breath. Of course no one is making me do all this, don't know what I would do if I weren't busy. Well, I hope to enjoy my transition from the grass to the dirt. Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mr. CX Un-Cracks

Since my last post was at the start of MSG 2008, It's only fitting I bookend it with another. This has probably been my worst cross season as far as results, but the most fun in the five years I've been doing it. I've done 17 races since October 5th and everyone of them has been a blast. Of course all of the mechanicals haven't been a blast, but after about the fifth one in a row, I quit whining and decided I must need a lesson in humility. One benefit to doing that many races in two months is the weight loss. I thought I had gained weight but venturing on to the scale last night I was surprised to find I am 4lbs lighter than two months ago! Still got that inner tube although it is smaller, at 47 I'm thinking it's always going to be there, so I've quit worrying about it.

There have been several highlights to this season thus far:
the USGP in Loiusville, the UCI race in Hendersonville, having a good group of folks to travel with, but the biggest and brightest highlight has been MSG. Especially the last Three races. I must say being a race organizer for this many races is very daunting at times and can wear you down, but halfway through it became very special to me. Especially since this may be my last year organizing the event. The best thing about it is seeing it all come to life on race day. Arriving early in the morning just as the sun is coming up, cold air, hot coffee, the camaraderie, the work, all make it really special. Over the course of a few hours the open fields and wooded hills become decorated with brightly colored course tape and sponsor's banners, all whipping in the wind like the parade ground of a medieval tournament. It's like a sleeping dragon that slowly appears from the ground to lay in wait for the first group of riders to jump on it's back and snake around it lap after lap. People start to trickle in and music starts to echo around the park and all is spontaneity, tension and energy, as the start line is populated with the first group to race. The races start and all to soon are over. Slowly, people trickle away until all is left is the dragon. Slowly coming down, once again the dragon fades into the mist to return another day. Designing courses, and the bringing it into realty has been very rewarding to me, and not to toot my own horn, I think I've enjoyed the MSG courses as good as any others I've raced on.

The final race was a blast and I'm sorry everyone who went to nationals missed it. The course included the infamous run up dubbed this year the "Redline Run up". This was the place to be as rider after rider struggled to gain the summit while being cheered on by the crowd at the top. By the time the Pro 1/2 race rolled through things were getting pretty rowdy as someone thought it would be a good idea(Kris Bedsaul?) to put dollar bills on the run-up. It was amazing to see the acrobatics involved in coming into the run up, trying to carry as much speed as possible, dismount, shoulder the bike, and pick up dollars all while running up a 25% grade! As if that wasn't enough, the challenge went up to see who could ride the run up and Santa of all people was up to the challenge! He Rode it at least four times that I can remember almost from a dead stop. Each time he made it the cheers went up and the bells rang. Other prizes were to be had by the end of the single speed-juniors race. The festivus tree was decorated with MSG socks for those showing great feats of strength to grab when gaining the top of the hill.

After the last race we all gathered in the pavilion for Nave burgers and dawgs, the awarding of prizes and the Uber Raffle. The Uber Raffle included, a certificate for a complete Chris King Wheelset, a Redline Conquest Pro Frame, an Alpha Q Cross fork, along with a bazillion other prizes totaling almost $3000.00 in retail value! This had to be the biggest give away we have ever had in five years of MSG. Thanks of course to our generous Uber Sponsors and to MSG founder Eric Wondergem who did most of the work gaining sponsorship from such quality companies. It's over now, at least for 9 months when hopefully another MSG series will be born and continue the tradition that was started by Eric five years ago. This was our greatest attended series yet with 693 entries! Thanks Eric for bringing the best of all the disciplines of cycling to the Tri Cities, thanks to all of the volunteers, thanks to Bart "Big Neckid" Nave for the excellent photography, and thanks to TCRC for whole heartedly getting behind the craziness! Thanks to everyone who raced and made this the biggest and best year so far! MORE COW BELL!!!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mr.CX Cracks

Cyclocross season is in full swing now, and attendance at all of the races I've been to so far has been phenomenal! The first weekend of MSG was a huge success with 242 entries over the two days of racing. It was so good to see people I hadn't seen since last Fall, a few I looked for were missing, I hope the show up in November. The course was demanding and the racing was hard and fast ( people just continue to get faster). It's amazing to me how fast you can go on a CX bike!

I had a great start to the season at the first race in Parrotsville finishing 4th in the 45+ field, however from that point on it's been all down hill, one of those teeth rattling bone jarring descents. MSG #1 pretty much sucked. I had a good start and was moving up in position until halfway around the course when I rolled my back tire and had to hobble back to the pit for a wheel change. At that point I was pretty well finished for the day I kept but kept riding. I've only DNF'ed one time and I didn't want to do it again. Managed two from last place.

Saturday was a long day, and being on my feet from 6:00 AM to 6:00PM didn't help my race on Sunday. When I got up Sunday morning I could feel the tiredness in my entire body, and I hoped that I had enough to race later in the day. Organizing races is very stressful, and when you add to it officiating every race except for the one your in, it begins to be no fun and a lot of work. I had another good start and was gaining on the three leaders as I battled another guy for position, but after two laps I started to shut down. What energy I had was draining away, and each time through the second sand pit I didn't have the power to push through and got stuck at the end. After chasing down the guy I was with each time that happened I became frustrated and cracked. I walked through the sand, over the barriers and stopped to fix course tape. People would ask me what was wrong. I whined and complained about how tired I was and did just about everything but throw a tantrum, stick my lip out and stomp my feet. I was pretty embarrassed with my self afterwords. What was even more embarrassing was the sound of crickets when I went by the DJ each lap. Previously he had yelled out" Here comes Mr. CX", but like everyone else he realized that Mr. CX cracked.

This passed weekend we traveled to Fayetteville, TN for the new "Beat the Freak" series. This series has the potential to become a big series. The venue was great, Lincoln County High School, and the promoter Kevin Freeman is Mr. Enthusiasm. Never having raced in a cross race or organized one he did an awesome job. The course he laid out was wide and fast, a real big ring course, not very technical (not what MSG'ers are used to), but even without the technical aspect is suited me since it was long and flat. Of course here is where the rest of the bone jarring descent continues. Not being responsible for anything left me at a loss, and with to much time on my hands I didn't pay attention to time and rolled up to the start finish line and what do you know, they left without me, four minutes ago! This was a first for me. I've never missed the start of an event. I rode my ass of for last place, never did catch anyone.

Sunday morning I felt fresh, slept well, legs felt good, no heaviness in them. This will be my day. Everyone sure took advantage of my missed start on the day before to give me a little ribbing. I received constant reminders of the time from friends and officials all day, so I made the start well before start time. Another good start, in fifth place as we turned into the stadium, began to get past on the short steep pitch to the top, but i wasn't worried since I knew with the long flat stretch coming up I could turn the 50x13 to easily get back in position. So much for that plan, as I exited the stadium transitioning from pavement to grass in a hard left turn my seatpost clamp came loose and my saddle slid halfway down.

Each time through the Pit I switched bikes with Mike Seek till he got my seat adjusted. On one pass I got tangled up, hit the deck and rolled. Another last place. I'm starting to get used to it. Even with the crappy results, I still had fun, it is cross after all. My friend Mike Seek did great, his best effort of the weekend was winning the single speed race in a full on sprint. Going to Louisville this weekend for the USGP, can't wait.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


If any of you have laboured through reading this blog over the last year you'll have noted that It's pretty biased towards cyclocross. Not sorry for that, it is the best sport around, especially in any of the cycling disciplines. Which brings me to something else I noted at cross practice last night. Spontaneity. CX Practice started pretty much as usual, heart rate out the top of my head on the first lap of the pretty hilly course, trying to keep up with the faster guys, letting out air in the tires, running barriers, general asphyxiating fun! After about four laps I noticed a group forming near the barriers, people just chatting not really wanting to go as hard as we were. Demonstarting dismounting and remounting to new comers, doing crazy stuff like trying to dismount and remount on the right side of the bike. Over the course of conversation, people started riding as slow as possible around in tight overlapping circles, track standing when your path was blocked by another rider seeing who could stand the longest. Good hearted fun and laughter. We must of looked really strange to other people in the park ( if you are a cyclist of any stripe you are used to that though). Eventually, Mike Seek our unofficial leader and one of the Wise Micheals, started riding around light poles that formed a triangle and people started to follow. Spontaneity happened, and everyone followed suit riding around like crazy meeting in the middle heading toward the next light pole, whipping left an right to avoid colliding with each. Faster and faster we rode, all right hand turns, and the like a square dance everyone turned a rode in the opposite direction. Soon we were just riding in one big loop around two of the poles, and jumping the barrier at the third point of the triangle. Racing each other to the turn, cutting each other off, and laughing the whole way. This went on until the sun was setting. That's the longest I can remember staying on Wednesday nights. It was spontaneous! Imagine trying to do something like that on a road ride, and I know it's a different animal, but cross is so open to creativity and freedom of movement and such a social thing. You actually get to know the people that show up each week. Sometimes when I'm riding the road a lot I feel like I'm in a coloring book and can't go outside the lines. Thank goodness it's only three weeks till cross season starts, where the lines are constantly moving.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Running Behind

Well, this past Wednesday was the first of the 4 Cyclocross training races hosted by Ned Dowling and the folks at Biowheels of Asheville. The race was held at Jackson Park in Hendersonville, NC. I have to say, I was very nervous on the way over the mountains as to how things would turn out but also happy and exited that it is the beginning of cross season. On the way over I questioned my fitness level, I'm fit, but not in race condition and was even wondering if I should race the 30:00 "A" race.

Upon arrival and seeing the course set up with lots and lots of turns and a ride/run up, self said to self "you gotta go 45" then you'll have a benchmark. Even though this was only a training race I still got the jitters lining up with about 20 other riders. All but a handful that were Pro's and CX3's. Mike and I took our rightful place in the back with a few girls. Girls that looked like they could beat us. The start was pretty fast and we all got gnarled up in a big wad at the first narrowing of the course. Why is everyone pulling away from us? next thing I new I was even behind the girls. As things usually go for me after a few laps, things settled down, and people started coming back to me as I pushed to catch them. Realizing that this is a training race and not wanting to burn matches I'll need later in the year, I went hard but not to hard. I eased of and let the people go that I was gaining on. I did however get into an impromptu competition with one of the ladies. I caught her and passed her, and a few laps later, as I was getting lapped for the second time and moving over as a courtesy to the faster riders the girl on the MTB went passed me. Now racing, even a training race, is more fun if you have someone to compete with. I certainly can't compete with pro 1/2 guys and most of the CX 3's, but it was fun to push a little harder and swap places with someone on the course.

The course was the perfect training venue, all the elements that you need to master were a part of the course. Hills, ride/runup, lots of tight turns, sweeping turns, a long flat, a transition from grass to pavement, pavement to gravel, and of course two sets of barriers. Anyone who is a beginner needs to do the next race on September 24th. Far better to hone skills at Wednesday Night Cross than at an actual race.

All in all I didn't do to bad:

  1. made the 45:00 (back hurt toward the end)
  2. felt good the whole time
  3. rode the ride/run up each time (dabbed once at the top)
  4. didn't get beat by the girls
  5. wasn't last
  6. and, Dwight Wyatt didn't lap me.(close but no banana)
I can tell that I'm definitely behind where I was last year, but maybe I'll be in better shape toward the middle of the season when things really get tough. It sure is good to get a race in and back on the CX bike.

PS: go here read my bud Dwight's blog. He did a much better job of descriping the experience (especially the snot), plus there's pics!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crossin' on the Creeper

I'm really happy with my cross bike. It has to be the most versatile bike I have. It can be ridden on paved roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, mtb trails, and of course raced in a cross race. A few years ago I rode my Bianchi on the Virginia Creeper Trail and was so happy with it on that kind of terrain that I never road the MTB on it again (sold it a few months ago). Ever since riding on the Creeper I wanted to ride the entire trail from Abingdon to White top and back, which is 66.8 miles. If you ride on the road a lot that doesn't sound that impressive, but riding on the surface of a former rail road bed requires a lot more effort than a smoothly paved road.

We were supposed to start riding at nine from Abingdon, but I got to Jeff's late, and then he forgot some of his stuff, so by the time we got there it was 9:40. Mike was taking a look at Jonell "AC" Johnson's chain when he realized the one link had completely separated from the outside of the chain, so rather than send her back home we shortened the chain and finally got underway around 10:00 AM. There was a lot of traffic on the trail, good looking runners who must have been kin, they all had "Shorter" on their shirts. After weaving through all the runners we rolled pretty fast at around 15 to 16 mph. The trail was beautiful, a corridor of trees and then open fields. When we arrived at Alvarado I looked up the road and thought I saw a dog crossing the trail when someone else saw and yelled bear! It was huge, about as tall as my saddle is from the ground. Probably around three hundred pounds. I joined in the chorus of "bear, bear, bear!" as people back in the parking lot we had just past began walking toward where we were. The bear ran across the road and up hill, stopped, turned and looked at us for about 20 seconds and then wondered off in to the bushes. Fortunately, it must have been a male since there were no cubs around. I'd have been hauling ass in the other direction if there had been.

After about an hour we rolled into Damascus and took "AC" over to Adventure Damascus to get her chain replaced. We talked the whole to time to Dave, another South African American. He seemed pretty surprised when I asked him if he was from South Africa, and seemed happy that some one in his adopted country new of his home country. Once the chain was fixed we started out of Damascus and up to White Top, which is a steady grade that runs for almost 17 miles getting steeper the more you near White Top. I've never seen so many herds of unhelmeted riders of the larger persuasion, putting along in a coast as we actually climbed faster than they descended. Got a lot of strange looks as we passed on road bikes at a fast pace. Many people gave the thumbs up. I think we were the only people on the whole trail going up hill? Climbing at the pace we were, on the rough surface, and knobby tires, hunger made it's way into the situation and I new if we didn't stop and eat on the way back I was going to bonk. Never get this way on a road ride. No one else objected to the idea.

After a very fast descent from White Top, slowed intermittently by the herds, we stopped at Taylor's Valley and ate at the Creeper Trail Cafe. That place has to be a gold mine since every time I've been there the place is packed. Had an awesome hamburger and french fries, really hit the spot,
lots of annoying music playing though. On the trail again Jeff and I were "attacking" each other as he puts, but that was short lived as the awesome hamburger tried to come up. Racing each other put us ahead of everyone, so I made the obligatory stop at Mojoe's coffee shop while everyone caught up. Nothing like a good cup off coffee in the middle of a 70 mile ride. There should be coffee stands on the side of the road on every route we ride..... I digress. On the way out of Damascus I noticed the only Rail on the whole trail. We were riding pretty fast at about 20mph when I dodged it. Billy hit it and blew a tire for the second time on the day. "AC" decided to ride on ahead while Billy repaired his tire. Repairs completed, we started off to catch "AC." The flat tires, and the urge to just be done with it must have taken hold of Billy. We started off at reasonable pace off 20mph when Billy came around like he had a bee up his shorts and accelerated up to 24mph! 24mph on a pea gravel surface, with knobby tires? I never thought I would be riding on the Creeper trail in a pace line at 24mph. After about a mile he finally swung off and we slowed to a reasonable 21, since that was as fast as I could go. We caught Jonell pretty quickly. The last eight miles were about as hard as anything I've ever done and with three miles to go Billy took off again and I went too. We were of the same mind " I'm ready to get this done". It rained for a few miles but just as we got back to Abingdon the bright sun returned.

This was a great ride, something different and great training.
I rode 73 miles and averaged 15mph. The combination of the distance, terrain, and pace, kicked my butt. I felt like a had done a road ride with multiple mountain climbs. Can't wait to do it again, may even ride slow enough to enjoy the scenery.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Been A Long Summer

This summer has been pretty hectic and seems to have flown by. Had a lot of good rides though some of which were very demanding. Haven't raced any and only done one TT. I feel stronger than this time last year, but I can't climb anymore? I guess loosing two months of riding in the spring has gotten me behind and still haven't gotten down to the wieght I was this time last year. Cycling is such a hard sport. Most of us have to put in a lot of effort just to be mediocre.

The best part of riding this summer has been the buddies. Thursday nights especially when we all pile into Buck's pizza after the ride for Pizza, Libation, and Laughs. We've had a lot of laughs and it's amazing what you see sometimes, like the picture my friend Jonell took. Gas prices are high, so I guess if you have a BIG KID you're feeling the pinch and have to get rid of them. Maybe they could work out a trade with the parents of little kids?

The end of summer means the start of Cyclocross. I've been up to my elbows in organizing the ole' MSG and a new race this year near Greenville, TN: Meadow Creek Mountain Cyclocross. Lots of good things coming this fall can't hardly wait. Running will have to start soon, as well as weekly CX training at Kiwanis park. Cool thing is there will be a training series in Hendersonville. I can't wait for that.