Monday, January 16, 2006

Mountain Bike Memoirs Part 1 Circa 1992

When I moved to Athens in 1986 to go to school I bought my first mountain bike with a small inheritance from my grandmother. It was a Bianchi Forte and was a pretty middle of the road model, all steel and no suspension. I mostly rode this around campus and eventually I would ride it illegally at the State botanical gardens and the even more illegal Mitchell Bridge road trails. Eventually when I graduated, I sold it to a Mormon missionary for a hundered bucks and its frame promptly cracked within the week.

For my graduation present, instead of going to Europe, I asked for a Klein Pinnacle MTB. It was neon green (the rage at the time), no suspension and was a pretty big step up for me. I have had many adventures on this bike and it has since been converted to a single speed, extending its life.

But, after I got this bike I could not ride it for about a year. I had done the bike leg of a team triathalon and ended up pinching a nerve in my back that made my balls excruciatingly painful. At the time I thought that I was being punished by the Gods for having the pain referred there as to any other of the hundereds of places it could be located. It sucked and I got to look at my bike, brand new, sitting there against the wall for a year.

Once I was back on my feet, I promptly rode over to a gravel pit, rode down a hill and jumped through the air 20 feet, crashing and breaking my thumb. Pent up frustration will do that.

I learned of a small group of guys out of Dixon's bike shop who called themselves the "Groove Pedalers". Ugh, such a horrible name and most of them were into the dead and Widespread Panic and I was not. I was always a Sunshine bike shop guy and Dixon's was not for me, but being on this little team got me a uniform and shop discounts (Gene was being very charitable). I think there were 6 guys on the squad and the plan was to travel around the SE doing MTB races.

Back in the day, MTB races actually rode up mountains. They were not the little GAP series park races that dominate much of the calendar. We would travel to Sewanee, Brevard, the NOC, and Pigeon Forge (among others) for races that had a lot of climbing in the mountains. There were a large cast of characters (many whose names I have forgotten) that provide some vivid tales. The most famous being Gretchen Reeves who now is a US national MTB marathon champion.

In the beginning, we all sucked and spent our time riding in the forbidden area of the Mitchell Bridge trail area which was nothing more than someone's property on which a resident had made trails that connected a small tract of land on one side of Mitchell Bridge Road to the other where there was a park and the Oconee River. I guess there were about 5-10 miles of trails of varying topography, with a nice long power cut climb up from the river and a long single track loop with some pretty steep hills.

A group of guys lived at the endge of this property and unofficially let riders park at their house and use the trails. It was mostly illegal but no one seemed to mind. This was also the spot for many memorable night rides back when handlebar lights were scarce and too expensive, and we jst taped flashlights to our bars. We always had a non-light halloween ride which was very fun.

Our group did not really train at all. We just simply tried to ride as much as possible. We tried to becoem the MTB arm of the UGA cycling team and I guess we were to some extent.

Our goal was to travel to the out of state races and compete best we could. This is back when NORBA had a wonderful race series, not many people had been to Pisgah, Moab or Cannan, and my memories are black and white not color.

There were two women on the team, Gretchen and another woman who was better than her. In fact, I remember when Gretchen got her first bike (Stumpjumper) and began to show improvement. The women had little choice but to race in the expert category and soon were finishing with high placings in the races. Granted, they were always going to get money and prizes for racing in a very small woman's field, but we could jealously see their improvement in a short period of time.

Meanwhile the guys were doing OK finishing races in the top 20 or so, mainly in the sport category. The main reason to go was to actually MTB in the mountains. Races like Sewanee, the Knobscorcher (at the hotel north of the NOC, NOT at Tsali), and Cattaloochee ski resort were big changes from riding at Mitchell Bridge.

The best thing about these races was the grass roots feel. There was little marketing, everyone got a cool hand made t-shirt, and the night before there was a community spagetti dinner for all the riders made by the riders, not catered. Most of us camped out the night before and it was very low tech. If it was not the early 90's I would have placed it 1970's for the community aspect of these races.

I have two "most memorable" moments.

The first was doing the Cataloochee race which was at the ski resort in Pigeon Forge and consisted of a number of laps up Thunderbolt Knob (a mountain, how novel) on forest service roads (all in all a 7-8 mile climb), above the tree line to the knob and then a screaming decent to the ski resort where there were some other tricky stuff. There was a large bottleneck on thunderbolt each lap even though they staggered the groups, and there was really only one line up the mountain. From a distance you could see riders like ants, men, women, kids, etc. all trying to get up the mountain. This, was MTBing, I thought.

I was doing pretty well in this race but each lap I would get passed by a guy on a heavy steel, black single speed cruiser. He wore jean shorts and a WWII type motorcycle helmet. He was in great shape for being around 40 I would say. He kicked my 20 something ass up the mountain every time. Easily lost in the nuances of state of the art MTB equipment, this guy was a cool breeze of what was possible. He was very popular at the end of the race, with kids and other folks wanting to know who he was. I never saw him at another race, but judging by the looks of his beat up car full of stuff, that is where he lived and probably travelled a lot.

The second memory of that time was at the Brevard Camp Carolina race. It was a race to benefit the camp and we stayed in the bunk house over night. There was high drama since Gretchen and her female team rival were sharing and competing for the same guy. Both began a nice dislike for each other, coming up to the bunkhouse bitching about the other and what they were/were not doing with the guy. This was very entertaining, but they were very serious.

Gretchen ended up with the guy for awhile, but my most memorable event happened after the race when the NUMBA event took place. NUMBA stood for Naked Underwater Mountain Bike Association and featured that day, naked mountain bike jumping into the lake. There was a ramp and a few padded clunker bikes that you could jump into the lake. Needless to say, at 20 something with a very good looking teammate willing to do the jump, it is memorable. She may be national champion, but I remember he flying trough the air as a naked jaybird. Thanks Gretchen!

Eventually the Groove Pedalers disbanded, and we set no records or caused no real ripple in the space-time continuum, but I will say that we helped launch the career of an eventual national champion (who knew at the time?) and had some good fun in the process.

Next up...Stealing Ned Overend's last donut, Bob among the nudists, and Bill Murray and Bob in the desert (no lie).

No comments: