Friday, October 05, 2012

SEVEN SPRINGS; Mud, rocks, repeat!

The last time these bikes will be this clean for three days.

Driving east out of Columbus the land gently rises towards the western border of West Virginia. It's a much different drive than the one heading south, where little terrain has been left thanks to the glaciers inevitable march. As you cross the river valley, things change. Hills continue to rise, and they appear to have been set ablaze in the early October sun thanks to the explosion of colors brought forth by the onset of fall. We continued on until we reached the mountain bike destination location of Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. This is the home of a wicked 24 hour race course, and a whole lotta' local downhillers enjoy the chairlift access to some short but rugged gravity runs. We were a group of nine, and so we stayed in one of the many on-site cabins.

Ours was the "Swiss Cabin," and it was big enough to sleep about fifteen people. It was old and smelly, and poorly maintained...but hey, so are we! Having a kitchen was great, and one of our group being a better chef than Wolfgang didn't hurt either. Blackened tilapia sliders with wasabi mayo for dinner? I know...I know. We actually broke off the biggest ride of the three day trip on Tuesday evening after checking in to our cabin. Three p.m., after four hours of driving, and it's time to saddle up! Unbeknownst to us, our ride leader Stuart Hunter was taking us on a monster ride along the 24 hr race course, and sprinkling in a few other trails along the way.
From the cabin, we ascended the Route 3 fire road up to the mountains' summit, dipping in and out through numerous trails linked together with large orange signs. Recent rains hadn't had the chance to drain through the leaf-strewn soil, and the baby-head sized rocks were a very large portion of the rideable trail surface. It was astonishing really that so much of the ride was on rocks. The only chance for respite came when the trails would punch out onto an access road for forty yards or so. Thank god for the choice of the 2.1 Slant Six tires from KENDA front and rear. With a nice rounded profile and enough siping on the small and fast lugs they were actually perfect, even with the rear slightly over inflated to prevent pinch flats. After three days of riding the greasy, no-specific-line-anywhere rocks, I didn't have to deal with a single flat tire. Thanks Kenda!
Brody, Ed and soon-to-be-riding Peru-Stuart.

The climbing and rocks never seemed to end...especially after spending the past five and a half years riding the "center-bubble" flatlands of Columbus. Thankfully the climbing actually suits my style better, and I truly enjoyed a sustained climb or two (or seven) that was long enough to settle the heart rate down and
work on breathing technique. The average grade of climb sat about fifteen percent...which isn't awful...but throw in the constant threat of a slow speed fall in wet and jagged rocks, and the work load was pretty heavy. It was all worth it for the scenery, and the chance to put my new KMC X9SL Ti chain to the test under constant load in crap conditions. Never missed a shift, never dropped a chain. That thing is great and the Ti finish gives it a bling factor previously not possible on a bike.
The downhill at the end of the night (we had been on-trail riding all over the place from three until about seven that night) was done in heavy fog, and on very wet ground. It was steep and wide-open, but the mud flying off the bikes would find it's way into the eyeballs of all of us at the most inopportune about fifty miles an hour and right before a massive cliffside left handed sweeper? The ride for the day was over, and out of seven riders we suffered just one flat...on one of the 29er's. Sorry...just had to get that in there.:) It was time for beer and a pressure washer to remove the grit and leaves from bodily orifices not visited since that time in Gitmo.
The cabin was warm and inviting, and the salty snacks and near-death ride reenactments would dominate the evening. Salty snacks and a "winner-winner chicken-dinner" prepared by our in house chef Brody Wakefield led to one thing. Snoring. O.K.....they led to two things. Snoring and farting. By 2 a.m., we had all finally fallen asleep, and the ruffling of sheets from beer-scented air biscuits would create an explosion hazard inside the cabin of epic proportions. Couple that with ladies first snoring, then the all consuming male chainsaw snoring, and I was praying for death by about 4 a.m.
The SIGMA ROX 8.0 gave us all an idea of how much climbing was done and the rate we were doing it.

Wednesday morning came way too early for me..the last man awake. Coffee and a banana down, we kitted up and ascended the mountain to "Lake Tahoe." The girls shuttled up with Brian, and Ed met me with Gary at the top to ride some of the downhill trails and a few of the greasy XC options atop the mountain. Riding down with the girls, then climbing back up...then back down...then back up AGAIN with Ed...we had finally had enough and decided to call it. The run down "Rock-N-Roll" trail was serious fun. Good speed, banked turns and big rollers and table-tops made this an expressway to the lodge in style. My HYDRAPAK STREAMLINE was the perfect accessory for this type of riding. With so many steering corrections and strength maneuvers to navigate the rocky sludge, reaching for a bottle would have been a non-option. The Amino Vital Endurance formula kept me riding all day, focused and able to continue pounding out the climbs and focusing down trail to get through the rocks as well as one could.
Having run rim brakes on my hardtails for the majority of my life, the last couple of years running the new FORMULA R-1 disc brakes has been a dream. Stupid light, and with the newly added pad-adjustment dial inserted into the brake line at the reservoir (the gold one, of course) the stoppers had so much feel and modulation I never felt out of control. Having the adjusters for the lever reach set juuuust right didn't hurt either. I never felt a loss of power ever, and was easily able to prevent rear-wheel lockup on the steep and greasy stuff.
This time of year, the poison oak was pretty thick. I am very sure that at this time, my body is working on going in to full bloom with the itchy red welts. It takes me about three days before I explode. That makes Sunday the day. Ugh. The trails were surprisingly "unridden" on the 24 hour course..especially just a week after the race had gone down. Absolutely zero visible lines or bike tire tread evidence fact so much so that we often found ourselves missing the turns and having to go back and get on the trail at the right spots. It really felt as though we were the first people in a year to have ridden here.
Slant Six tires from Kenda gave just the right balance of traction and climbing speed.

Formula R-1 brakes were light and very, very effective.

Despite hot-fudge style mud, the ROX 8.0 never stopped capturing the data.

What don't I love about these pedals? Stupid-light and despite the mud and rocks..never bound up and never even nicked the metal.

We had to clean the bikes almost completely from the frames up after each ride was done. It was worth it though, as the frequent need for accurate and smooth shifting was paramount. My XPEDO pedals never bound, and I never had to deal with a broken anything. Love that. If my out of shape ass didn't make them fail in those rocks, it's not gonna happen. The use of bearings inside and out on the spindle meant crazy-smooth pedaling all day long. No Delrin bushings here.
We had a chef, but no dedicated bike cleaner. Fail.

How great are these KMC chains? Never, ever missed shift even in the worst mud ever.

The Thursday morning sun came quickly after another night of beer drinking games related to the nights' Presidential debate. The sound of heavy bladders and failed livers filled the still mountain air. I got up and rolled over to the lodge for a waffle and some coffee while the girls went to the Trillium Day Spa for a Brazilian and a toe-knuckle waxing (not really). By noon, it was time for the long drive home. The trip was certainly worth it, and earlier in the season or on weekends when the chairlift is running I would love to return, get a smaller hotel room in the main lodge area, and drop in on some the fast and gnarly stuff coming down the mountain's front side. Jeff "Tookie" Williams is a frequent visitor to this area, and knows way more trails than most. He's coming next time.
Sunset in the PA mountains.


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