Friday, September 5, 2014

Bro, do you even Shenandoah?

I almost didn't go.
Coming up on Friday, I was thinking that stapling my scrotum to a wooden bench would be less painful than doing the Shenandoah 100.
Not to beat a dead horse that was beaten so hard that it long ago became soil that grew food that fed a horse that totally died and was then summarily beaten.. but once again I was staring down the barrel of 100 miles in the mountains on a rigid singlespeed with absolutely no training save for a few "long rides."

And that... was depressing me.

I take a little bit of solace in being that guy who somehow manages to fake his way through this kind of thing. That guy who rests on the laurels of fitness built long ago...back when dinosaurs were terrorizing families and Sleestaks were obsessively hunting the elusive Altrusian Moth (you have absolutely no idea, do you?)
But faking your way through events you're ill trained for still sucks...real hard like.

But let's be honest... I knew I was doing the damned race. I knew it a year ago, even while I was making involuntary sobs with each barely turned pedal stroke, swearing I'd never do this to myself again... grinding my way up those soul-sucking little risers that follow the "death climb." You know... the ones that everybody always forgets to mention? Yeah.
Don't listen to those liars...The deathclimb is an ice-cube to a nipple compared to the pinecone strap-on that is those meadows.
(I... don't.... pine... what?)

And so... after thinking I was so very clever by not registering early, thereby potentially making it "just totally impossible" for me to get in to the event... I nonetheless found myself on just three days emergency contact, category, and tshirt size... and paypaling money to Chrisscottistan.

For the fourth year... although there's some debate as to whether it's the fifth?....La Dorita would be joining me for the weekend.
We left Saturday morning, with me trying to set a record for exactly how many times a person can start a two feet... stop... and then run manically back into the house to grab whatever thing they forgot. (Why is it that I'm really good at all the wrong things?) Once we finally broke free of this pattern, we headed north, stopping for lunch at Blue Ridge Brewery near Charlottesville, VA. There we drank some beers, ate some food and tried to talk about the politics and finer details of oral sex as loudly as possible for the benefit of nearby diners.

Then we continued on to the Stokesville Campground to find a spot and settle in.
We grabbed a space near the top of the grassy knoll... as per Rich's recommendation... and waited for him, Jordan and Bill Nye to pull up in The Hub sprinter.

Don't give me that shit... just because YOU decided to park next to the portapotties.

"By the way....the porta-potty with the blue door and no seat? I call dibs"

Did you know...that Ryan's name is NOT actually Bill Nye?
Of course you didn't. And neither did Bill.

Jordan knows what's up...And it's the portapotties.
Up the hill, just on the other side of the van.

Dan Rapp came over and hung out with us for a bit, clad only in a pair of tiny running shorts and looking entirely too fit for either Rich or mine's tastes. And then after much unsuccessful goading to get Rich, Jordan and Ryan to joing me (or join me, as it were), I went out and rode my bike for a bit, climbing the first section of gravel road and riding the first, fun section of singletrack. Glad I did, because somehow I had absolutely no memory of it from last year. And it gave me a chance to assess all the things I probably should have done to my bike before throwing it on the van.
I tend to push the boundaries of "run what you brung,"

I'm something of a wizard with photo composition, as I'm pretty sure no one has ever taken this picture before.

This guy was easily as big as my hand...
...which I was terrified to put anywhere near him, having heard that mantises eat hands.
Ride back to the campsite. Jump into the swimming hole. Head up to beertown.

I was doing pretty good with water, in that after neglecting proper hydration for weeks, I had been draining bottles since waking up that Saturday. Once the cooler was opened and the kegs of beer tapped, that kind of went out the window. Some might call it witless self-sabotage.... I call it willful realism. Because it's not like I had the legs to turn in anything better than a B minus.

"But why would I need a six pack when I have one right here?"

Are you really drinking Perri-fucking-er, Gordo?

 "Sorry guys. Only winners get personalized towels."

Rich was at least kind of a winner this weekend, as he joined the ranks of select toddlers everywhere in the elusive and prestigious Clean Plate Club.
Good job, buddy! 
Sir Dude...aka Peat... came by for some patriotic bear-hug action.
After many a beer and meatball, and saying hi to the many people we knew, the night was called and everyone climbed into their tents and campers for preracesexyfuntime. Aka. Sleep.

Woke up to the gong and to Chrisscottistan's everrepeating race mix blaring over the PA... and started getting ready to race.
As usual, I was not anywhere close to dressed by the time everyone else started rolling down the the line. Other people might be meticulous about their race prep. My thing is pretty much "Yeah... I'm just kind of pushing my gear into a semi-pile here.. sipping coffee and munching a bagel. Just relaxing and taking my HOLY SHIT!!! THE RACE STARTS IN 3 MINUTES!!!!"

What has an absurdly large adam's apple, one thumb and is goofy as shit?
I am such a fellow.
I lined up next to Dicky, gave other people's tires some squeezes to punctuate my anxiety about running the wrong pressure.... and we were off. There were maybe 3 crashes in the first 500 yards. Always good.
Then we hit the road and started motoring.
I try not to waste any more energy than anyone else is on the paved road leading out of Stokesville. (which is to say, still entirely too much), but I usually try to burn a match or two on the gravel road leading up. And with the new route, which turns onto some singletrack fairly early on, I'm glad I do, because I while it's still a total clusterfuck, it's not as bad as what the folks midpack hit. At least I was able to ride it, while other people were stuck walking. But either way, climbing singletrack at the snails pace set by geared riders is actually more draining than riding it hard. It's like a series of static squats, or wall-sits, where your legs are always firing and never get to extend or relax.

On the fun, fast, swooping descent, Don Powers (Dahn Pahrs) and I got stuck behind a rider who insisted on wasting every bit of momentum and speed he could, which was a little frustrating. I asked to get around him a few times, to which I got no response save for even more braking in turns where there was really no reason to be braking. Whatever. He was either being kind of a dick... (it's a race, bro!) or was just green enough that every bit of his mind-power was focused on not crashing. Wasting energy and risking a crash to get around a squirrely rider didn't seem that important.

As at Wilderness, my nutrition this time would be shoving chunks of Pro-Bars and Bonk Breakers into my face whenever I could. My bottles were filled with pineapple Skratch, a flavor for which I have a certain fondness... reminding me, as it does, of oral sex.
Which is pretty much the best. I mean... amiright?
(Hey Skratch... just send the royalty check to my Caymans account, because you know a ton of people feel a burning need to go and try some pineapple Skratch now.)

I felt pretty rough at the start, sweating copiously almost immediately. But eventually, despite the sweat never ending, I settled into a nice, difficult place.

Unlike pretty much every event I've ever done, where my mojo is a waveform of peaks and valleys...feeling pretty good followed by feeling more horrible than I ever felt possible... This time I just settled into a solid little place of feeling... not good. And I felt that way consistently, which meant I was able to steadily ride in that not-good place, all day long.
Some of the descents were, as always, a little hard on the rigid... but nothing like years past. If anything, for the first time ever, I was actually able to enjoy the downhills.
And the climbs were hard, but my soul was never truly crushed.

Make no mistake... My head tried to go to those dark places more than a few times. But when it would, I'd say "Nope. You know what? We're not going there, asshole... So fuck you!"
And I'd think about music...or skin...sliding flimsy cotton down legs... kissing hip bones, slender necks and tiny scars.
I didn't think about all the times I've failed so hard at being the person I want to be... or about everything I touch turning to shit.. or about the time I tried to die....
Or about any of those many things that turn me inside out on a routine basis.
(At least... not too much)
I just thought... "Fuck.This.Hurts."

I played tag with a number of people all day; Peat, Dahn, Jeff Plassman, Gabor Szilagyi, Ramponi, Young Mike. I never saw Rich, so I figured he was either way ahead of me or way behind me.
The last series of climbs was the only place I started having a really bad day, and I knew that if I just ground it out, it'd be over very soon.
And it was.

I rolled through in 9:03.. only the slightest bit disappointed to have not broken 9 hours.

I grabbed my pint glass, filled it up, and waited for some other riders.
While I was, Thom Parsons asked me some questions about the race... and I dropped some fbombs.

Cleaning off in the swimming hole, two locals came down... Salt of the earth looking dudes with long hair, cutoff shorts and a rough patchwork of tattoos. The kind of guys who love Skynard, cheap beer and pickups. We had a friendly conversation about the bike race, how beautiful this area was and growing up in the south.
After getting out of the water, they bid me a friendly farewell. "You take care now, brother."
And then... raising his fist, he said "And stay white."
Another swimming racer and I exchanged looks. "What else would I do?" the racer asked.
But I knew what the guy had meant... as much as I wished I was wrong.

As I was walking back to the campground, crossing the iron bridge, a pickup drove up beside me...
"Here you go, brotherman" one of the swimmers from before said, offering a Budweiser through the passenger window... which I accepted.
And then, he raised his fist again and said "White power."
As they drove off, they hooted and yelled it again, echoing back and forth between the two of them.

When they were gone, I opened the beer and poured it on the ground. The only weak response I could apparently manage. I kicked myself on the way back to the campsite for being so passive.

I came back, ate some dinner, drank a lot of beer, got a massage and stood near the wood.

photocred: Thom Parsons

That night, during the usual post-race party, I had no pep. I don't know why.
But the beer wasn't getting me drunk, my legs were tired, and I just felt sluggish.
"Remember when Watts used to be fun," Rich asked.

And I wanted to be. I wanted to slap myself, put on a happy face, and go and talk loudly with my friends... tell jokes and laugh hysterically.
But I just couldn't muster it, which disappointed me greatly.

So we went back to the van and went to sleep.

I won't even pretend like I'm not coming back next year. Dicky's making the usual threats... but I know I'll be here. It's a great event.

This Sunday, after going and watching some racing at the Carolina Cup here in Greensboro, I'll be flying out to Vegass for the annual Interbike thunderdome. And this time... I've been coerced into racing at CrossVegas.
Brian of Knog had asked if I'd be willing to wear a Knog jersey, drink a lot of free beer and ride a road bike in the grass in front of all my friends, frenemies and foes in the industry race. And after much hemming and hawing, I aquiesced.
The fine gents at Swobo will be providing me with a modified Accomplice with which to wreak some havoc.
In response, I might have promised them that I would win the race.
What they think I mean and what I actually mean might not be quite the same...
Suffice to say that I will be grabbing every dollar bill in sight... taking every beer hand up I see... diving into the crowd... and likely getting a little puke on their bike.
But I suspect that they're down.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Place That Scars You.

Among the many very valid (as well as the vexingly obtuse) criticisms of my writing, the most prevalent regards my logorrhea...or my admitted tendency to be a bit more verbose than necessary.
(A bit?)
This from the (chosen) few who consistently read what I write as well as the (misfortunate) many who find themselves confoundedly and confusedly perusing this blog when whatever google search they were engaged in somehow dumps them here instead. (According to the stats, this month the winners are "Kelli Samuelson," (sorry Ty) "Golden Saddle Cyclery Cap," (sorry Ty) "Jana l Jordan," (sorry Jana L Jordan, whoever you are. And sorry Jana and Jordan!) "Juli Furtado," (Shit! I'm so sorry, Juli!) "Shenandoah 100 blog," (Sorry Chriscottistan!) "Revolting Cogs," (meh) "Watts Dixon,"(???!!!) and "Naked Guys." (sounds about right))

Nevermind my penchant for parentheticals or my stubborn and insistent use of ellipses at every opportunity. (I write my own grammar rules!) And nevermind my questionable ideas about what constitutes appropriate content. What I hear the most, outside of "I have absolutely no idea what you are even talking about" are two simple words: "Too." and " Long."

To this day, my favorite critical comment ever was on my exceedingly witty and mordant indictment of bicycle retail as we know it written for the Biketumor.

"Too long. I'm not reading all that self-indulgent shit."

Ha! Amen, brother. More so than any of you, "Other Zap" gets me. He really gets me.

That particular article began with a sentence that I had written a number of years ago, when I first started thinking about bicycle retail and the current challenges of "winning" at customer service. "Give the people what they want... In lethal doses." I'd said and typed those words a number of times as a kind of cathartic chant, but once I typed them in the heading on the Bikerumor Wordpress site, the sphincter was released and I was unable to leave the proverbial toilet for the next few hours. Every time I'd finish a thought and "wipe" I'd feel that rumble and sit back down.
(Wow. Nice image, Watts. I totally need a shower now.)

There have been a few like that, honestly.
For instance, that last post was a mite bit long.
This one will probably follow suit.
I'm only kind of sorry. I'm just not a fan of the short posts. I'm not good at them, either. (What? I have a lot to share.)
I also don't really care for narratives. Telling you a story about some race I did (as I'll do in a moment), or some event I crashed always ends up being an endless litany of "And then... And then.... and then....."
I like themes. I like concepts. I like emotions. I like all of the things that bike blogs typically aren't. I won't claim that I'm wrestling with anything particularly heady or heavy here, but I'd rather pretend like I am then talk to you about actual "bike stuff."

I mean.... Maybe you really do care what bits and bobs I vajazzle with, or what gear ratio I used to lose the race (again), or what tire I managed to catastrophically flat (again), or which plastic bike with plastic wheels is the most "vertically compliant and laterally stiff" (umm... this one?), or what new products we have in the shop that I think seriously kick honest-to-gawd ass. (Ok... that's actually valid. I should totally do more of that last one. Here's one of them, btw.) But regarding stuff, I'm afraid that my opinions on the various new things that are always pooped out by the industry just aren't particularly strong.
("Yeah... That's pretty neat, I guess. Are we going to go ride bikes or what?")

No. You, my friend, are obviously here for my sprawling reflections on life, thematically and loosely strung together by our shared two-wheeled muse
And if you aren't, then all I can offer you are apologies. (Super sorry!)

For the uninitiated, let me just go ahead and paraphrase every blog post I've ever written and probably ever will write... ever:
I was drunk... I didn't win the race... I'm pretty much a walking trainwreck of a man... I love my son something fierce... something something about Rich Dillen... I tricked a company into thinking I was a VIP... name drop here... name drop there... I was drunk... People ain't no good... my dog Mango ate the panties you left at my house... and did I mention that I'm a mess?

There. No need to even read any further.

And now that that's out of the way, let's ignore everything I just said and get to a narrative about the Wilderness 101.

We all have that unhealthy relationship that despite bringing us nothing but pain, somehow has a deep hold over our life. All it takes is a low cut dress, or well-fitting jeans, or a glimpse of tan-line or inner thigh, or a flash of flirty smile, or a gentle kiss or touch... and we forget every single low point or horrible thing we've endured and dive right back in.
The Wilderness 101 is that 3:00 a.m. booty call that I would willingly self-destruct to answer.

Why? I don't know.
Much of it has to do with Pennsylvania itself. There's something about it... like all of the best aspects of bucolic patchwork and rolling mountains and rivers combined into exactly what I never knew I wanted.
I can't really explain it, but have to admit...I'm totally sweet on PA.
It makes me giddy and reflective, like any good crush should.

So despite being signed up for ORAMM, which disappointingly happened to be on the same weekend this year, I instead decided to drive 8 hours to PA and to spend a brief night in the arms of that crush who will sadly never be mine.

This place sounds pretty cool!
(Just kidding... Sounds like a nightmare.)

I was totally going to rock down to this place... maybe take it higher... but I had other places to be.
Oh no!

Although, there were some snags.
Trying to leave Gettysburg on Friday morning, the Adventure Wagon (ostensibly known as Glenn Vanzig) decided that he (she?) didn't want to start. After about 30 minutes of me pondering what the hell my next step was, a random turning of the key kicked the engine to life. Um... ok.
Stopping for gas in Newport, the she (he?) once again decided not to start. After a half hour of sitting at the pump and turning the key in vain, I pushed the van into a spot and started crawling underneath. Long story short, it has to do with the ignition switch and the starter itself. Lots of heat and fried wires mean that there's no spark to start it.

Pretty sure that's not a good thing.

Playing with the wires and doing everything I could think of, I finally got him (her?) started and made it up to Coburn, snagging a spot next to my friends Shoogs, Jeff, Scott and the other Cadre bastardos.
Naturally, we started drinking beer, and I walked around, greeted the various race friends I have who make the annual pilgrimage to Coburn every year.

Part of my ritual with this race is the Friday night meal at Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, an amazing little spot in nearby Millheim PA. For the past three years, my partner in this ritual has been the talented and wonderful (and legendarily heartbreaking) Hannah Banana...

...and I admit to being disappointed that she wouldn't be there to join me this year. (Don't tell her I said so.) I'd already failed at one of my rituals, a beery lunch at Otto's in State College, instead having spent that time crawling around under my van. I didn't want to fail again. Knowing that there was a good chance the van wouldn't start if I drove it to Millheim on my own, I solicited a ride with Mike and Laurie Ramponi. I've known Mike for a long while, as we typically trade places more than a few times during these races (that is until he finally passes me for good) and he's thrown up massive quantities of beer right outside my tent at least once.

After a great meal and a few beers, we headed back to Coburn Park for more beers, and eventually and amazingly, I  went to sleep at a surprisingly decent hour. (Shocking(ly))
And after a promising forecast of beautiful blue skies and dry trails, I awoke to this...

Did I say I love you?
I take it back. You're a lying succubus.

Not the first time I've done this race in the rain. Not what I wanted, though.
Alright. Let's go hurt for a while.
As usual, I went out pretty quick, feeling good. Coming down one of the long gravel hills, I couldn't spin my legs fast enough to stay in contact with the lead group, which I'd worked extremely hard to catch up to. I hovered in limbo until the second group came, then hopped on for as long as I could.
I really didn't have any expectations for this race, outside of finishing. I always have hopes of finishing well, but what's the old adage? You can shit in one hand and hope in the other and see which one fills up one of Rich Dillen's drop bags quicker. (Something like that?)
I'd gotten in maybe one month of real riding time, and that was made up of two long rides a week, punctuated by occasional short weekday runs. Sure... I'd like to do well, but the reality was I'd just be faking my way through yet another event, yet again. Whatever. All I really wanted was to steal a kiss from that minx. Maybe nibble an earlobe and cup a cheek.
And I did, as evidenced by the photo of me riding over the very same bridge that left me with a bone-revealing gash on my right leg the first time I ever did this race. This is the first year I've even attempted riding the bridges since then, so shaken was my bridge-riding confidence by that fall. And by the end of this race, when my legs are covered in mud, there's always a void revealing the scar tissue that the mud won't stick to. A nice little reminder.

I weathered some dark times, as usual....  At various points being swarmed by all of the many messes I've made in my life... the people I've hurt and the friends I've lost... my many failings as a person. Demons (and dishes) finding the cracks in my armor and taking every bit of power out of my already cooked legs. At a point, my climbing rhythm became a three-beat cadence, with each downward pedal-stroke punctuated with a word.
The driving mantra becoming:
...repeated over and over. (Good times!)
I don't know what everyone else's "dark place" is like during these races, but that's mine.
It's a therapy session that's just you and a cat-o-nine-tails. Are there any real breakthroughs? Who knows? But there's plenty of blood.
There were other times as well. Fun swooping sections of trail meandering through fern beds... Cresting a hill with a clearing and looking out over the mountains....Dappled sunlight on a rocky trail... Memories of kisses and touches bringing unwitting smiles to my muddy face... Thoughts of someones who either fail to see my failings or see them all too well and still want to know me and share something special making me grin and flush.... Thoughts of a laughing little boyo, dancing and jabbering on and on in a pure little voice about anything and everything, making me laugh out loud...
It's the gamut, and these races... They're the real deal. I'd say you don't know who you really are until you've done a few.

At the first aid station, as I rolled through with my quickly exchanged bottles, Justin from Freeze Thaw handed me a Heineken. I'm ashamed to admit that it was delicious and that it hit me harder than I thought possible. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I was feeling really good.. like, really good... even if my stomach was a little pissed. A little way down the road, my brain overrode my stomach once again (or is it the other way around) and I took a Dos Equis from the unofficial beer-station.
My one criticism of the race... they need more of that kind of thing toward the end. Not just the first half.
In years past, I'd used Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem and Sustained Energy. This time I opted to shove half a ProBar in my mouth whenever I could manage it. That and as many Pringles as I could fit in it at at time. Honestly... as easy as sucking liquid calories down is, this worked just as well. (Except for the flax seeds that kept getting stuck in my chipped tooth.

I'd opted for my custom CYSCO instead of the SIR 9 this go round.

I hadn't gotten an opportunity to bring the Cysco to one of the bigger events yet, and was looking forward to it. I felt bad swapping my Watson ti-bar out for the Niner bar, but wanted Ergon grips and some barends for something this long, and those don't really work well with the Watts bar's curvature.
I considered swapping out tires, but instead just left the Conti Mountain Kings on. Flats have been my nemesis at this event for three years straight, and I didn't want to deal with a brand new tire not sealing. Despite running entirely too much pressure, they did very well, and I didn't flat once.
I did, however, get beat to shit.
The overinflation, coupled with the extremely stiff Whiskey fork totally destroyed me. That fork does really well around the Greensboro trails, and in the shorter and faster courses, but it is not the fork to be riding in a 101 mile race on PA rocks. I definitely lost some time having to occasionally stop and manually unclench my hands from the grips. I might even have cried a little coming down the tail end of rocky doubletrack-hell called Panther Run.
(I am "Crybaby," after all.)
I'd been passed many times by many singlespeeders, and had no clue where I was in the running, but with less than a mile to go, I came across at least one of the people who'd passed me pretty early on, and I put in an effort that I didn't really have in my legs to pass and stay away from him. I came across the line in 8:40ish? Something like that?
Pleasantly surprised to have gotten 8th place.

Sure... one day I'd like to do better. Maybe even snag a real podium spot... but whatever. That would mean actual work and training, and ain't nobody got time for that. Except Gordon Quadsworth. But he's not human. (He smiles too much... that's the dead giveaway.)
Anyway... what I really need to work on is training my face to not always look stupid.

photo cred: Jeremy Palermo

Although much like the chances of me scoring a podium at Wilderness....
I think we both know that's hopeless.
Post race, after hanging out in the river with the other singlespeeders, getting a massage from SSWC'05 winner Buck Keich, eating a few burgers and drinking a lot of pints of Elk Creek Copper Ale (I lost count at eight), I sat with the Cadre boys until the wee hours of the night. Mike Ramponi read everyone's collective minds, and utilizing the abandoned PA system, made a nearly incomprehensible announcement about ordering a "shit ton of pizza" from nearby Millheim.
I didn't think we had it in us to coherently form anything close to a cohesive plan to obtain said pizzas, but we pulled it off... and just before midnight, we were stuffing our faces and breaking into our own stashes of beer, having long killed the kegs.
I eventually crawled into my van, full and happy and tired.
The next morning, Vanzig started up with no issues, although to be on the safe side, I left her running every time I filled up with gas.

Rightly so, because the moment I got back into town and pulled up to the shop, I instinctively turned off the ignition. And could not get her started again... for days.

And then.... And then... And then....
... the story was over, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Having just returned from a time at the beach, I've got a mountain of things to accomplish at the shop. But everyone is finding their footing and things are finally falling into place. The taps are up and running... We're pouring beer... Selling tons of bikes.... Solidifying our already solid niche.
Having underutilized sunscreen as a result of the expected rain, I got a good bit more sun than I intended, just as I had in PA and in Utah.
And as stressed and burnt as I've felt for the past four months, I'm coming back feeling pretty good.
Maybe it's denial, but I'm looking at it all and I can't help but think:
I ain't burnt. Just golden brown.
Let's go start some fights.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Puerile as the Driven Snow

Why I'm going to do this, I'm not really sure. Nonetheless, before we begin, I'm going to go wayyyy back and include the following un-edited snippet of what was going to be Frostbukake part 2 before I just lost interest and moved on to greener (well, greenish) pastures. Much like you will do in 3, 2, 1.....

Extracting myself from the bizarre mess I'd made of my bedding (all sheets removed to expose the mattress, then piled on top of me in the opposite order... the geologic law of superposition reversed by an inebriated juggernaut)... I slid along the hallway wall to the bathroom. Waning drunkety aside, the door to the bathroom proved a conundrum, opening in the most unintuitive way; either blocking the toilet or the sink or the shower or, funnily enough, the entrance to the bathroom.
Which I realize was it's job, but door... this was hardly the time.

"Ugh. I feel... Ugh. I feel... alright" I said, steadying myself on the sink and splashing cold water in my face. 
Feel alright, maybe. Look alright? Hardly.
Dehydration, lack of sleep, alcohol and genetics were conspiring to make the increasingly conspicuous bags under my eyes comically swollen. Enough so that my vision was actually blurry.
It was bad enough that I wandered, unclad, into the hallway to find ice... then lay down with said ice applied to my eyes. 
Once I'd reigned it in, or as it were, given up, I wandered downstairs to find some breakfast and coffee. 

My memory of last night was fragments of moments. Flash to David of Golden Saddle and I still at the bar, talking to someone... maybe many someones....but I don't remember who. And David, his eyes no longer working in sync, wasn't looking at people or things so much as through them, his gaze(s) focused on a horizon hundreds of miles behind my left eye.
Familiar faces came and went. 
Someone told me that they'd read the Revolting Cogs and that they enjoyed it. Or maybe they told me that I was a total hack and they hated it. It was one of those, I'm sure of it. And I made a lot of words with my two lips, two lungs and one tongue.... but there's no telling what they were. Important things, I'm sure.
Flash to hitting the wall and leaving the bar, mid-sentence.
Flash to me in the elevator pushing a hopeful selection of buttons.
Flash to me walking down the hallway toward my room.
Flash to me getting back on the elevator.
Flash to me walking down the right hallway toward my real room.
Flash to me leaning on my door and inserting various business cards and other objects into the lock in a vain attempt to gain entry.
And darkness. Until now.

Yesterday had been my day to mess about and see a little of the city.
Today was my day to get some learning.

My first session of the day was Profitablility.
The hope was to gain some perspective on my P and L statements. I mean... I read them and know what they say... but sometimes they honestly just don't seem to clarify anything. Best month ever shows a loss. Worst month ever nets profit. Old "stockholder loans" still on record that are just as meaningless as when I purchased the place.
Having just finished taxes and feeling absurdly unsuccessful at explaining the bizarreness of my world to my accountant (shaking her head at me with bafflement and frustration), I wanted some sort of external compass, specific to the industry.
It was helpful, if only to hear some very similar stories echoed by other dealers and to have some common-sense strategies reinforced by the presenter. But outside of a mounting feeling of anxiety (desperately wanting to be back at the shop going over some things in the books before they left my head entirely), my hangover was truly beginning in earnest.
With five minutes left in the presentation, I had to make a choice: Get up, conspicuously and abruptly leave.... or stay and risk a scene involving me, my peaking nausea, and the garbage can I'd been eyeballing for the past 20 minutes.
I bolted.
Resting my head on the cool counter of the sink in my room, I then had to make another choice. Succumb to the nausea and hangover and alternate between the bed and the bathroom for the next hour or so.... or get outside.
Before I could think, I started pulling on my running clothes. Walking toward the front doors, I saw Greggers who looked at me incredulously. "I fucking hate you," he gushed. Whether because the idea of a run outside in the current conditions was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard, or whether because the idea of moving in such a fashion would not agree with HIS hangover, I don't know.
All I knew is that I needed to get outside and get moving before bad things happened in the hotel.
I stepped outside and started running.

Further study is needed to determine the exact physics that allow for a nose this large in a face this narrow without gravitational warping of the surrounding features.
It was cold. Single digits.
Which for an southern boy is pretty cold... Colder than I was used to. But it was helping to blast the hangover out of me, one risky fart at a time.
It had snowed in earnest the night before, and the sidewalks weren't particularly navigable. That meant running in the road with no shoulder. On ice. Finding my way to the trails of yesterday was out....So I created a loop that took me along service roads and through parking office parks and warehouses. It was still beautiful to me, as there was snow on the ground and the sky was blue.

When I finished the run, feeling infinitely better, I cleaned up and headed to my next workshop, BRANDING. In truth, that wasn't my next workshop. I was signed up for WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE. It was frustrating that they were at the same time, as each one seemed appropriate, but I had to choose. So I barged into the standing-room-only branding workshop and found the one seat that no one noticed.
I wasn't sure what to expect, but knew that while numbers and profitability aren't particularly interesting to me (Uhhh.....what?), branding is. More than anything, I take to that. I mean....I'm a decent mechanic (super awesome). And I'm a decent sales guy (super awful). But I'm a bit of a nutter when it comes to marketing, as my vision of the image I want to project doesn't necessarily jibe with current trends of what's popular or effective. I'd rather throw shit against a wall my way until I like what I see. (I made this!)

Jason, the presenter, passed around cards and asked each of us to write on the cards what differentiates us from other shops. I forget exactly what I wrote, but "non-elitist", "wildly androgenous" and "maddeningly erotic" come to mind.

You'll never guess what 90% of the folks in the room wrote.
"Great Customer Service"

Yep. 90% of all shops are totally different from each other because they all give better customer service than each other.

So... a little factoid. 90% of shops say they provide "excellent customer service. Do you know how many people say that these shops give "excellent customer service?"

There's a pretty massive disconnect between what many a shop think they bring to the table and what they actually do. I think we do an excellent job on some levels, but damnit, I've dropped so many massive flaming balls on the customer service side of things that making that claim doesn't even enter my head. (Revolution Cycles NC: home of tolerably good customer service!)
The workshop was decent in that it jump-started some thoughts on how we've branded the shop. Greggers had managed to snag me a one on one session with the head of branding at QBP. In it we talked about various models and how...

And just like that.. we're done. I never even got to the part about what I learned, or about Handsome's Shop-Bike-Shootout...

Sick skid, bro.

...or about the actual show, or riding fatbikes in the snow, or about peeing in One on One's mop-closet or about drinking too much beer and putting both my feet in my mouth (again and again) and some other amazing misadventures in love.

So, now that I've wasted just a little of your valuable time telling a half-story about a time long past, let's get to the things that just recently passed.
I was thinking about Frostbike because I spent the early part of last week in Utah as part of SADDLEDRIVE; another event hosted by QBP and which I was fortunate enough to attend.

First off, going to Saddledrive meant a great deal to me.
By no means are we one of QBP's bigger accounts. But they still felt like my humble shop was worthy of not only an invite, but of the expense of flying me out there and putting me up so that I could ride some bikes on amazing mountain roads and trails, and hang out with other dealers...all the while being fed copious amounts of great food and all the free beer I could drink.
That a company would invest that much time and money in me and my shop means a lot. Sure, they want me to carry their product. But they want me to carry it at the level that works for me. And outside of wining and dining me, they've consistently shown us that the respect our relationship as a business.
I've never had a company value our commitment this much, or give that much of a shit about us as a shop. Usually companies just want us to bump it up a level or get lost.
It's refreshing.
I'm fairly stand-offish about overcommitment to any one company in this industry, as I've seen too many of those "relationships" go south when that company just keeps putting the screws to you.
"We've got a dealer down the street who said they can move more product." or "Well, according to demographic data collected by people who have no real clue about your city, we expect this much in annual sales, and if you can't meet that, then we'll just open another shop five miles down the road, because "the data" says the town is big enough."
Despite my squeamishness regarding commitment (you don't know the half of it, brother), I can definitely say that Q will be be getting much more of my business this year.
They've invested in me, which is something no one else has ever done.

And it doesn't hurt that their bike lines are fucking amazing. Every year they get better and better.
Salsa's knocking shit out of the park this year. Surly's doing what they do best... bongs, farts, chainsaws... and you and I both know that's gold. And then Jeff and All-City are putting some party and attitude back into riding. (#fartyband) Bout time.

I arrived in Utah Saturday afternoon, a day before the official event started. I figured it gave me a day to decompress, hammer out some emails, brainstorm on the shop, go on a run and check out the town.
Standing at the airport with Tyler Loosenuts, I almost immediately ran into Ty Hathaway and Kyle Kelley of internet golden boys, Golden Saddle Cyclery. We quickly realized that the complimentary shuttle service we'd anticipated wasn't happening, (maybe because... I don't know....we got there a day early?). So Kyle did some math and made some arrangements and we piled in a cab to our hotel in Layton.

Or at least their hotel. My hotel was around the corner. Reason kicked in before I let myself get too bummed, the Hilton Garden seeming infinitely nicer than the Hampton Inn, but come on... free hotel? A block away? Shut up, Watts. I think what really had me bummed was the Hampton Inn's pool. A tiny, indoor tub. Discovering that the Hilton's pool was also a tiny indoor tub was the tipping point to regaining perspective. That and the two pitchers of beer (Oh shit. Was it three?) that Kyle, Ty, Tyler and I proceeded to drink at Roosters, a local brewery right around the corner.
By the time we left, I was in a good place. So good that walking a mile or two through strip-mall hell to find a liquor store seemed like a pretty good idea.
After traversing many a parking lot, and within a stone's throw of the liquor store, we found our progress momentarily impeded by a cracked-out woman in a bikini angrily yelling at a cracked-out man in the parking lot of a bar.
Honestly... What choice did we have?
We walked into the bar.
4pm in a Utah bar called Goodtimes.
I have no doubt that some good times have, indeed, been had in this establishment...



... but outside of us, and the evidence on the walls, I was hardpressed to see it.

I think it might have been when the guy with the eye-patch pulled out a tattered bible from the filthy backpack resting on his walker, and opened it to reveal a stack of faded pictures, most of a baby, and then confided in a quiet voice to another bar patron that he'd already lost everything, and that losing a game of pool didn't mean shit to him, that I felt the waning veneer of my goodtime start to slip in earnest. #realitybro

Despite the young barmaid's entreaties, we finished our drinks and left, making our way to the liquor store. I felt (nay, knew) that my day and night might take a giant shit in the bed if I bought a bottle of booze, having already stashed a growler of beer in Tyler Loosenut's fridge, so Tyler, Ty and I waited outside until Kyle emerged with his whiskey. Then we walked across the strip-mall wasteland back to our hotel and right into the QBP staff dinner that totally wasn't for us, but that we crashed anyway.
It was delicious. Thanks Q.
We all ate and drank beer until dark, then made our way across the street to do more of the same.
Then I hit the jetlag wall and went back to my room and passed out.
Next day, after breakfasting with the Salsa and Surly folks, and with no plan save for killing time until the event started proper that evening, I found myself riding up to Snowbasin with John Fleck, sales manager of Surly. We stopped for coffee in Ogden, a town I could probably handle living in, then got to the venue and snagged some Surly bikes to ride.
The day was looking pretty damned good.

A motley assortment of Instigators, Ice Cream Trucks, and Krampuses (Krampi) rode up to the top of some big hills and came bombing down. 
So much fun. So different from the riding back east. Super buffed out and swooping. Nothing technical save for some soft, loose dirt. Epic vistas, crawling through Aspens.... such a change from the claustrophobic, winding singletrack of the east. I could get used to it.
After a nice long loop we headed back in where I reconnected with Ty, Kyle, Trevor and Jeff (who'd spent the past day broken down in Jeff's bus somewhere between MN and UT). 
We all ponied up for the gondola and took some Surlys to the top of the mountain and started heading down. 
It was pretty damn awesome.

#goldenshowercycles #fartyband

Until I flatted about a half mile down.
I grabbed a beer from Ty's backpack, sent the boys on down with a slap on the asses, and started pushing my bike back up the hill to ride the gondola back. Ty apparently flatted soon after...Kyle flatted closer to the bottom... and Trevor tore all the skin off his hands because he didnt wear gloves. (We were pretty much totally prepared, obviously.) Only Jeff made it unscathed. There was optimistic talk of another run, but felt the time crunch of needing to get back to Layton for the official opening Saddledrive dinner. Especially if we were going to go swimming.
Heading back to the hotel, we stopped at the reservoir and baptized ourselves in the urine of a million mormons.

Is it naked time, guys?

Refreshed and "clean" we made it back to the hotel just in time for dinner, where we greeted the many ne'er do wells we'd anticipated seeing. Then on to the Summit Lounge for the ALL-CITY welcome party. More free beer and people. Though I confess to having no pep. As three of us stood silently in a circle, I drank my umpteenth 3.2 percent beer and decided that my wall was hit. 
G'night erybody. 
(A curious law in Utah that has everything to do with made up laws made up by a made up religion determines that excepting beer served at breweries (like Roosters), any beer on tap in a bar cannot be above 3.2% alcohol. Which means that you're bloated and painfully full of liquid calories long before you feel the slightest hint of drunkety. It wasn't until the next night that I discovered the secret: Don't drink draft beer at bars in Utah. Only craft bottles and beer at a brewery (so Roosters was a go). Or liquor, but even that's super-regulated with 1oz pours. No doubles, mind you, but you can order two shots.)
Anyway... cool story, Watts.

Next morning, I hauled myself and my riding gear down to breakfast, tried to crush as much water as possible (and coffee) and rode the first bus with Andrew Forron of New River Bikes out to the event. Ty, Andrew and I went out and climbed some hills, then bombed back down again. 

It wasn't technical, but damn, it was dusty. If you were following within 30 feet of the rider in front, you couldn't see the trail at all. Which meant that occasionally you hit the one rock in the trail blindly and temporarily went into the brush. Andrew might have gone bushwhacking a few times.
Outside of attending the Salsa presentation, I rode bikes all day, almost manically so, trying to milk my time in these mountains and on these trails and on the bike for everything I could. After reluctantly returning the last demo, I joined all the other attendees on the patio for Happy Hour, QBP providing us all with free beer and wine.

Scott and Andrew

Not a bad view.
From there.... Q bused everyone out to Cemetery Point for a beach party, dinner and more beer and wine. Everyone except me, Josh, Nick and Andrew, as we were busy drinking even more beer under the All City tent. As Kyle, Ty and Jeff all disappeared on bikes, Nick asked where they were headed. "Instagram Circlejerk" I offered. Nah...Turns out it was to film a promo video. 
Same difference. 
"Speaking of instagram circlejerks, do y'all think John will like this picture I drew for him?" I inquired. 

"Hmm... Prolly not?"
Awww.... But I spent like two whole drunken minutes on it! And I even brought it with me to give him!
We all piled into Josh's car and made our way to the beach party. As soon as we got there, I went straight into the water. Floating there, looking up at the hills, I felt a massive flood of feeling wash over me, maybe even fighting back some tears. (so what) This is what I miss and crave in my life on a daily basis. Mountains to dwarf all the buildings and problems, and a body of water in which to lose myself, be it a river to run over my head or a lake to immerse myself. Greensboro has none of these things. 
I don't trust towns without rivers or swimming holes. And all the "nice" or "cool" neighborhoods or restaurants in the world can't fill the void of a sky without stars. 
You know it and I know it.
It's why I hold Greensboro at arm's length. 
(Like I hold everyone.)

When the beach party was over, we piled back onto the buses. Greggers, myself, a little stealth and a backpack executed Operation: Grab-All-The-Unopened-Wine-Bottles-Off-That-Unattended-Table-And-Bring-Them-On-The-Bus... and a merry time was soon had by all.
Mayhaps too merry. Because by the time I finished my first beer at Roosters following said bus ride, I was in trouble. 
I was also in a pair of very short running shorts. Which is why the waitress dubbed me: Mr. Shorty Shorts.
I'm told that I gained another name that night as well. Someone, I'm not sure who, apparently took to calling me "Crybaby." 
Ha! Love it.
It apparently stemmed from my jabbering about the dangers of continuing to drink red wine, as it would likely result in me spending the rest of the night sobbing hysterically. 
I guess some people take the things I say seriously. (rightly so, because I'm dead serious)
But considering that I totally found myself sobbing hysterically earlier today watching this fucking video, I guess it's actually a pretty reasonable nickname. 

I might have made some messes that night. I think a few people did. My heartfelt apologies to everyone. 
I think we're going to be ok. 

I woke up at 3am, lying sideways on the bed with all the lights on, in a state of partial undress: One sock. Boxers. Tshirt still hanging off one arm. 
For the first time in Utah, I'd drunk myself into peaceful oblivion. 
I slept in as late as my body would allow (7am) and headed down to breakfast and on to another day of reflective riding. All day long. 
I rode anything and everything I could. This was my Salsa day, and even still, the line and wait was huge. I took out the Spearfish carbon. And the Horsethief. And the Beargrease. And The Mukluk. I never got a chance to ride the Bucksaw, but I wanted to. 
I'll be honest. I'm not a fat-bike guy. We haven't had much call or demand for them in my neck of the woods, and I tend to view them as a quirky little anomaly. I've never harbored any ill-will or vehement opinions on them. It's a bike. Bikes are fun. Next.
But I have to say... out of all the bikes I rode the entire time.. the one's I enjoyed the most were fat-bikes. They were. I loved the Surly Ice Cream Truck. It handled like a trail-bike. Yeah, the q-factor was all jacked and your feet are way wide apart. But coming into turns and rolling over rocks, I had tons of control and traction. Maybe more than on the super cush 29ers. 
And I loved the Salsa Beargrease. If I lived somewhere snowy, I'd ride and race the crap out of that bike, trying to hang with beasts like Jesse LaLonde in what look like incredibly fun events. 

photo cred: Prenzlow Perspective
As I rode as hard and as far and as high as I could, my head was full of music. One moment a reflective love song by the Pixies. The next a reflective love song by Tartar Control

That night, after a long day of riding, and another welcome Happy Hour, we ate dinner at the QBP Utah warehouse, played cornhole in the sunset, and rode the buses back to our hotels. 
Then we made our way to the Summit Lounge for one last night of drink and merriment before we all went our separate ways. 
Karaoke was in full effect, and much to the chagrin of the few locals in there, we pretty much owned it. Greggers and Sam, in particular. I'm so proud of those boys. 
I bid farewell to all my faraway friends and went back to my hotel room, packed and ready to fly out early the next morning.
Unsettled and still a bit confounded, I boarded the plane flew straight home and into the spindly arms of my little boyo, having missed the everloving shit out of him. 

When he's not with me, it tears at me so much that I kind of have to shut a part of myself off. It's hard to explain. And not that other father's don't miss their kids... but I think you have to be a single dad to know what I mean. The point is, I was so damned happy to be back with him, if only for one night before I took off for PA and the Wilderness 101, the one event I've been able to do all summer. But that's next time.

At the end of my last day in Utah, after I'd returned from my final ride and called it quits, I found myself, as I often do at these events, at the Surly tent. Sitting on the grass, drinking delicious beer that was definitely NOT 3.2%, and looking up at the mountains and the sky, I took stock: 
I like what I do. I like the opportunities I'm afforded, and the people I get to meet. And I like the industry, as silly and boring and stupid as it can be. 
Maybe I'm not connecting the missing dots in the evolutionary history of the whale, or discovering missing links in the fossil record. And maybe I'm not writing important worldview-changing treatises on the human condition, landscape connectivity or evolutionary theory. And maybe I'm not making dick in the way of money, or living in the town I want, or living the life I always knew I would. 
But all of my many stumbles and falls and messes aside.... I get my moments. And I know it. 
It's a good gig.

(Now I'm totally going to cry.)