My Hillary Step

At the end of the parking lot, past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park soccer fields and beyond the gate, a narrow dirt path divides in two.  One goes right, around the hill, and through a grassy field before disappearing from view.  Locals prefer starting the ride on the trail to the left.  A short steep ascent of the ridge takes you to the best trails in the quickest fashion.  This particular trail is rocky, but passable for experienced riders, at least until the very top.  If there was a Hillary Step at the Tyler Mill Recreation Area, this would surely be it.

The crux is narrow, and no more than a short patch of trail, but it features exposed roots and bedrock shiny from years of use, that refuse to give tires any purchase.  The approach is steep already, but this section is perfectly vertical and requires the front wheel to be lifted up and over.  A single tree on the left won’t allow for more than one bike through at a time, but does provide something to hold onto should you veer too far left, and over the edge.  Above the trail is too wooded to offer an alternative route.  There is no line to choose, no new approach, you either have what it takes that day or you don’t.

Adding to the difficulty is the complete lack of rhythm and increased heart rate that comes from starting off a ride with an immediate, technical climb.  Of course, this is all just background noise and may not occur to you at that moment, but what does, is that everyone behind will be forced to walk up should you spin out, effectively plugging the trail.  The pressure is high.  Sometimes no one makes it.  The few that do are rewarded with a flawless trip to the summit, and a moment to bask in their own sweet glory, as they watch the rest struggle to achieve the same.  The only solace in getting caught behind the bottleneck is listening to the good-natured heckling of the poor soul who had to put a foot down, and knowing you won’t have to face the same shame.  Not this time at least.

I haven’t ridden at Tyler Mill since I lived at home many years ago, but that step has taunted me ever since.

This spring I plan to bring my bike back home, and give it another try.  I may not have the unabashed courage I had as a kid, but I will have a bike that fits perfectly and was designed to excel on the very trails I described to the design team, trails just like Tyler Mill.  I’ll have loads of new technology to help as well, but the biggest help of all, might be the twenty-year-old monkey on my back, prodding me all the way up.

Wish me luck.

Sola SL 140124

 

Two Hour Loop

Normally I’d bail on an afternoon ride at the end of October if I knew I had to be back in time to shower and dress in order to make the three o’clock shuttle.  That’s too much pressure.  In Vermont, however, a few weeks past peak foliage is still a feast for the eyes.  My girlfriend and I were in Burlington for a friend’s wedding, and brought bikes on the off chance we could squeeze in a leaf peeping jaunt prior to the festivities.  Midday Saturday presented us with about two hours of down time, so we decided to take advantage even if we had to hurry.

We suited up and shoved off, traveling south towards Mt. Philo.  A few miles out of town and the hills began to roll.  Red and yellow may have been lacking but orange made up for their departure in grand form, blanketing everything that wasn’t Lake Champlain with the rusty colors of autumn.  With each up we’d get a postcard worthy view, albeit brief, before careening back down.  Over and over again.  The higher we climbed, the better the view.  By the time we reached the base of the mountain, it seemed like we could see the entire valley.  We weren’t craving any more climbing, so when the park ranger explained that the road to the top was closed for a car race, we decided to ride around it instead.  The extended loop meant I might not have time to iron my shirt, but I had a sweater I could wear over it, so we carried on.  A few farms, hundreds of cows, and a covered bridge later, we were on the way back to the hotel.

A powerful tail wind helped our time crunch and had us back in just enough time to swap Lycra for dress clothes.  I’m writing this down to serve as a lesson for me, and any of you who also opt to sit out short rides, because in just two hours we had a ride I’ll remember for a lifetime.

burlington 2

In the Queue

Maple and Pine

 

The Little Tennessee River gets backed up at the Fontana Dam forming an emerald green reservoir that has been on my mind since the beginning of summer. Along the shoreline, long leaf pine needles blanket the forty miles of single track that meander through a North Carolina State Recreation Area named Tsali.  It was there that I fell in love with mountain biking on a chilly October day, much like today, seventeen years ago.

 

Tsali was my first experience leaning into banked corners, involuntarily launching over whoop-de-do’s, and trail riding from sun up to until sun down.  Whipping through the woods amidst the peace and quiet of the natural world turned out to be my definition of fun.  That trip to North Carolina was just the start. From there I rode everywhere I could; the Smokies, the Blue Ridge, Pisgah, Monongahela, the Appalachians, the Sawtooths, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Colorado Rockies, the Metacomet Ridge, and even Dooley’s Run right in my parents’ backyard.  No matter the location, the thrill was the same.  I was hooked.

 

After college graduation, I took a summer job leading mountain bike trips out west, and ended up staying for the year.  I can’t recall if I put pressure on myself, or felt it elsewhere, but when the year came to a close, I determined it was time to follow a more traditional post graduation path. I packed up, headed home, went back to school, and got a job.  I’m sure everyone has experienced it, but in the blink of an eye thirteen years flew by without me so much as throwing a leg over a mountain bike.  Within that time frame I gave “my” mountain bike back to my father, and picked up road biking on the side.

 

For all intents and purposes, I am no longer a mountain biker.  V-brakes have been replaced with discs.  Triple chain rings, flat bars, and bar ends are all gone.  26” wheels look out of place in the sea of 650’s and 29ers.  Judy Butter is no longer the answer to stiction.  My full finger gloves are too small.  People say “shred” instead of “ride.”  I haven’t seen a Grateful Dead sticker on a bike in years.  Mountain biking, it seems, has passed me by.

 

It took a road ride last April, in Greenwich, Connecticut to rekindle my interest in getting back on the trail.  Darren, who works at Signature Cycles and was leading the road ride that morning, was guiding us through winding hills and beautiful country side, but for the first time in a long time, my mind was in the woods.  I don’t recall how, but the topic of Tsali came up.  As chance would have it, Darren had been there too, and had equally fond memories.  We shared stories and fawned over the trails, the pine needles, and that glorious lake.  Somewhere on the silky smooth roads of Greenwich, I decided that it was time go off road once again.

 

Perhaps it’s fitting that seventeen days into October, just seventeen years after my trip to Tsali that started it all, the design for my first Seven mountain bike sits in the queue (behind all of yours), ready to build.

 

I cannot wait.

 

Folder

 

Love to Ride – The Photographers – Kristof Ramon

The excitement of a bike race is very rarely captured in the single click of a camera’s shutter. There are so many intimate details in the course of a day, a story that starts before the whistle blows and continues long after the finish.  The story is told by faces of pain, in loss or injury, or even in moments of extreme joy. There are nervous glances and rituals behind the scene, environments of beauty, tranquility and sheer chaos.

Kristof Ramon has an eye for such intimacies.  His photos of large bike races such as the Paris Roubaix  and most recently the Ironman 2012 World Championships evoke emotion while simultaneously giving us context for what is happening in the shot.  His ability to capture the very essence of what it means to be a cyclist and athlete makes him a story-teller as much as a taker of pictures.  His photos tell both action and the in-between; the glamour and the grit.

We were honored to be able to use one of Kristof’s photos for the Love to Ride project, a haunting portrait of Seven-sponsored racer Mo Bruno Roy at the 2011 World Cup Cyclocross in Namur, Belgium..

Love to Ride – The Photographers – Natalia Boltukhova

You will notice right away that Russian-born photographer Natalia Boltukhova can’t sit still. With a camera slung round her neck she is all action, all energy, and that energy lights up her photos, which, coincidentally, tend to be of other folks who can’t sit still.

Upon moving to the United States in 2006, she immersed herself in New England’s gritty/beautiful cyclocross scene. She not only races cross but also keeps her hands full during the season taking beautiful photos at races. And while Cyclocross is one of her busiest times of the year behind the lens, she shoots full time for her own Tiny Russian Studios and showcases her cycling work under the Pedal Power Photography moniker.

Natalia’s photos have been featured in several magazines, newspapers, and on book covers, and she has even released her own coffee table book on New England Cyclocross titled Beer. Cupcakes. Moustache. She is currently working on a documentary project titled Woman Warrior about female fighters (MMA boxing, wrestling, etc).

We really enjoyed working with Natalia on the Love to Ride project. You will be seeing more of her work in the future. Count on it.

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