Piling everything into our van/trailer and launching into a "continentally local" three-week race trip felt like coming home for Mary and me. The past months of living out of oversize bike bags had simplified things to a great degree, perhaps near enough to depravity to intensify the desire to equip ourselves with a full range of accessories on this recent New England road trip.
The benefits of being back in the USA were immediately apparent in the vastness of our vehicle and ability to pack it with a wider than typical array of equipment and clothing - to Mary and I all the comforts of home. Overpacking was a luxury almost as great as the relatively low price for fuel, and that went far enough to alleviate the guilt to jump right in and burn it up by the gallon.
The idea of driving our 47 feet of burden (some vehicle) on a 2000-mile journey over the often ill highways and disintegrating back roads found commonly in the northeast, made me wary. Driving something that is wide as a semi and long enough to loose sight of out of the rear view mirrors takes some adjustment time. It took a while just to to get up the grit to drag the beasty thing out of the driveway but no longer than our first overnight stay to realize that once we were parked somewhere/anywhere we were living in RV luxury. Looking back to living in various $500 vehicles and chaotic tent car camping situations, our present version of wheel estate felt more like a real home for Mary and me.
We drove north through the thick early summer humidity of New Hampshire's White Mountains, having only the time to scratch the surface on some of the incredible riding that surrounded us in this trail dense but lightly inhabited part of the country. A traffic jam avoiding smart phone re-route led to a "quick" detour through the old city of Quebec - which added some white knuckle flavor to our 11th consecutive trip through to the area to attend the Mont Ste Anne World Cup venue. It also reminded us to never drive any RV into a bustling French city - even if it is in Canada!
The bike scene in Quebec has been on a steady expansion and progression noticeable in our bike specific returns here over the years. The venue was packed with people watching the pro races but we saw an even greater increase in attendance of people out riding and racing on their own bikes. The dense network of high quality trails draping the mountain in both natural and lift accessed format are a real draw for local as well as international recreation dollars. Mountain biking has really reached the masses in Quebec and whether it is for reasons of fitness or finances, it has become something not to miss out on up in Canada as well as many other places worldwide.
The World Cup courses across greater Canada have historically been a highlight for the athletes who enjoy the more technical elements of the sport and this version of Mont Ste Anne was no exception. The promoters came to the table again this year with another version of the best World Cup venues of the season. This round of the World Cups contained cross country and gravity event competitions and because of this had a greater attendance, better parties and a more complete festive feel. There is really no comparison as a spectator when there is a combined gravity and cross country events over the weekend. We are hopeful that more of the World Cup events will be keeping both gravity and cross country racing together as it is just straight up more entertaining.
Mary and I made an all too quick trip through the Green Mountain region of central Vermont as we left Canada and made our way south and west to Windham, New York. Travels like these are some of our favorite times but also serve to intensify one of the greatest challenges we face as traveling mountain bikers - Recovery. Typically in between back-to-back World Cup weekends, we are looking hard for time to relax and regain our strength to have our best form for the following races. In this case it was hard to hold our selves back from sampling more than we needed of the epic riding found all across the mountains of Vermont.
We made it to the Catskill Mountain town of Windham where open space and lots of peace and quiet defy most people's expectations of a New York town. World Cups are a rarity in North America these days, and we were happy to see that Windham would be a hosting the event for its third time once again in 2012. We are especially happy that the town has been able to make such a quick recovery from last summer's severe floods.
The North American rounds of the World Cup went really well for both Mary and me as the less crowded starts gave less opportunity for the typical start lap shenanigans that have hampered our early season World Cup racing this far. With results in the high teens at both events, Mary has scratched into the top 20 overall giving us confirmation that we will be returning to Europe later this summer to contest the series finals. Our weekend in Windham brought the welcome chance to catch up with our sponsors from Kenda Tires and Stan's NoTubes.com, both who stepped up in a big way to financially support this important event for the USA.
Over the past weeks of racing in Canada and the States, Mary and I noted a number of the European (among other international athletes) struggling with the realities of racing away from their home countries. Being in foreign lands always make things a bit trickier with racing and we reflected on our own struggles, which have been magnified while competing in Europe and other foreign locations. In many ways, competing abroad has luckily become our specialty and this is a good thing heading in to 2013 as it seems as if we will not be seeing any World Cups in the US next year (2013 World Cup schedule).
The day after the Windham World Cup, Mary and I packed up the bikes, jammed our trailer into a friend's driveway and continued on to remote parking at the Newark airport to make our flight to Boise, Idaho for the US National Championships. After eigh hours of flight time followed by three hours in a rental car, we emerged into the impressive mountains of Sun Valley, Idaho where dry and dusty high plains condition met us at a a clear blue elevation of 6,000 feet.
Sun Valley is a premier mountain resort town riddled with silky smooth trails that at this time seem to handle all manor of foot, hoof and tread in harmony. Something about the low population density large area and relative high level of pro active outdoors people who establish and maintain trails with out the mega population to overcrowd them. In other words, come for a weekend and check out how you wish it was where you are from but don't move here or everything will be changed forever.
Shocking that our country's nationals could be held in this incredibly rich riding area while asking the pro racers to contest the cross country event on a decisive, once up and once down power-to-weight ratio hill climb. The rudeness that scaled the lower flank of Bald Mountain followed the main service road straight out from the Warm Springs ski area and had no semblance of the flow found on the nearby town's trails. The locals referred to the course in an apologetic tone quickly followed up with a favorite ride that they would strongly recommend.
There is really no such thing as a bad course in mountain biking as opinions vary and someone will enjoy aspects of almost all racing but there was some understandable grumbling amongst those who love to ride on rad courses. Just had to mention this in anticipation of the two next years of US national champs being contested in what will hopefully be a rugged lower elevation Pennsylvania.
Mary and I were happy to return to the national champs after having been kept away last year due to an episode of Lyme's disease and being too sick to make the trip. (Remember that as mountain bikers we are at higher risk because we like to play out in the woods - Don't forget to regularly check for ticks!) We really enjoyed connecting with our compatriots and having the chance to race for the title of national champion at this special event. It was great to see Mary fully recovered and back on the top of her game making podium appearances in both the cross country and short track. Above all else we are so grateful to be healthy.
We felt a painful twinge leaving the sweet summer that has a hold on Sun Valley, especially after our Monday "recovery ride" turned into a all day sampling of what the area has to offer in the way of buff singletrack. Particularly nice for those who push airline connections to the last minute or like to roll on clean machines all it takes (in the dry season) is a quick spray and wipe to remove any signs the light Ketchum dust that packed onto the frames in a sweaty glaze. Thanks to our friends, family, sponsors, hosts and ride leaders out there who helped greatly to make everything on our trip more fun and successful!
We are very happy to reconfirm our feelings of positivity in the cycling community from our own continent. Mountain bike folk worldwide seem apt to be solid, productive folks better for their involvement with bikes and or sport in general. There will always be bad news in the cycling press, but this is in many ways just following the normal worldwide pattern of of good news not making the headlines. There are incredible things happening in the cycling world and incredible things happening in the world because of the bike. Thanks for being a part!
Mary and I and are taking a week to recover at home and begin to process the healthy backlog of business that has accumulated with our recent months on the road. This is really just a brief touchdown where we can spend six days living at home while we re pack the bike bags in anticipation of the the World Cup finals and a months worth of European based mountain bike competitions.
Plentiful Rides and Good Health!
Mike and Mary