Tuesday, September 4, 2012

This Isn't the Festival

"This isn't the festival," a phrase that would haunt me and a core group of fellows throughout the weekend after arriving in Harrisonburg Friday night just in time to catch the kick off party of the 6-Pack downhill season. Highlights included the introduction of the “flabongo” which greeted me as soon as I stepped through the door at the Lee Street lair. I slept out back in the hammock and woke up before sunrise as the rain began to pepper me through the foliage above, chasing me indoors. This weekend also happened to contain the 14th annual Shenandoah Mountain 100 backcountry mountain bike race going off some 30 miles away at the Stokesville campground which was my first stop on Saturday after picking up an Acai bowl at SBC. I set up camp and got a ride up Hanky Mountain out the back of the campground, riding in a light rain to the overlook just before one drops down and picks up Dowell’s Draft. Nothing to see on this day however, as Alexis and myself found ourselves in the clouds up there. We headed back to the campground and hit the swimming hole where we could see folks riding across the bridge above, spinning out the legs on the road. Back at the campground, folks were filing in, taking in the pasta dinner, and cautiously consuming a beer or two, careful not to get too loose for the mornings activities. Not all were quite so careful as I laid an eyeball on a group having a riders’ meeting behind the Trek trailer, thinking this place to be safe with the recent news of Trek being pro-doping. I believe they also dipped into the whiskey late night, but these rumors cannot be confirmed.

My plan for the Hundred Miler was to tag along in the “boof it” mobile with Tom form Cycling Dirt and Wooten for some Gonzo style reporting of the event. Saturday morning, I woke the Woot from his slumber in the belly of the beast, the White Whale which had consumed him at some point in the night, and discharged him out the blow hole at 6am. With moments to spare before the big start, I got to witness something amazing, like the picture perfect bad morning unfolding before my eyes. A fellow waking up with a start, way past schedule on the bare metal floor of a beat up truck, stumble around rubbing the crusties out of his eyes while looking for his shoes, when all of a sudden: “Awe dammit! I just stepped in dog shit!” I can only imagine the feeling of bare wet feet w/ the nastiness squeezing between the toes and then the realization of what the substance was. Anyway, the bear was stirring and made it to the start in time as I headed for the bridge to try and catch a shot of hundreds of riders starting what would be a very long day on the bike.

Scott, Tom and myself got our stuff together and jumped into the red Subaru wagon which had a basket of laundry (most likely dirty), empty pint glasses covered in a layer of dip spit, a cooler, amongst other items; of which my favorite was a little handwritten note which read “Did you know your tags have expired?” Firing up the car, “Take this job and shove it,” bellowed from the speakers as we pulled out of the campground, bound for Wolf Ridge, our first stop for images, but not before stopping off at the Stokesville Market for a tin of dip and a case of Busch classic cans. This was either going to be a very long day, or end quickly in a ditch. Sometimes you just got to go with and see what kind of story unfolds before you. Arriving at the bottom of Wolf, we began our hike in and encountered some MTB hooligans at th e creek crossing. One, a tall gent with pigtails sporting a Hooters uniform and armed with a bullhorn, heckled riders about their chicken legs as they passed. Another wore boxers, volleyball knee pads (similar to those YT was racing in), and an over sized Mickey Mouse head. He just stood at the creek as a distraction, occasionally sipping on his can of PBR between riders.

We made the rounds, hitting all of the downhills with Wooten as our guide. An Augusta County native, he knew these roads well and told stories when not singing along with the David Allen Coe blaring from the speakers. All of the stops blended together after a while. On the road section after Braley’s we witnessed numerous riders crumble as the rain began to pour. It was ugly out there, and uglier in that car, but at least we were somewhat dry. We drove and pulled along several groups with the offering of beer hand offs and came across one Gerry Pflug “pulling the Pflug,” and looking to climb aboard our vehicle but there was no room for a bike. On down the road we came upon fellow Race Pace/ Trek rider Dan Wolf in a pace line with some folks and happily took a long pull from a can. We made our way to Chestnut which was ugly. It must have been. Sam Korber had been hanging on JB’s wheel all day but had lost considerable time up there. Come to find he couldn’t see and had to turn it down a notch. Things began to clear up, and by the time the first riders had come to the finish, the sun was out, and things were drying off for night’s festivities.

It was great that everyone would be able to hang outside of their soggy tents, drink beer in the sunshine, and cheer for those still out there suffering. Burgers and dog were on the menu, not to mention Northern Lights and Love courtesy of the good folks at Star Hill. Not as many folks stuck around this year as usual, but that doesn’t mean folks were throwing down like it was 2012. Finish line flabongos were accepted by more than a few finishers in the top 30 which was impressive. I witnessed Tom and Dickey get into a flabongo throw down… actually I witnessed Tom and a bunch of folks get into it. And just when I thought he’d been licked, the cocky frat type tossed his cookies leaving Tom winner by default. At one point in the night, an angry posse led by Dickey congregated by the kegs and made their way by cover of darkness over to Garth Prosser’s car and upon waking, was handed a flabongo and came out to play. Dickey, of all people was next to fall, so we thought it only appropriate to return the favor. We found him playing oppossum in his hammock, but when the empty threat of Sharpies came out, he jumped to a start, revealing he was awake the entire time. I made a ton of friends this weekend and probably a few enemies, but it seemed all was a perfect fit. People kept saying things like “this isn’t the festival,” which makes me wonder what’s in store for this year’s festival. Til’ next time…