Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2023 in 50 Photos

Rather than a long write-up, I'm just going to do a look back at 2023 in photos, with only some short captions. For one, I think I've already written enough about most things this year, so why write about everything a second time? Plus, pictures give a certain spontaneity to the construction of the post, meaning I don't have to write a memoir to get through a year's worth of events.

I'm already starting to go on rambling longer than I intended, so this is it. Just pictures and short captions. Fifty of them. Well, one or two might've got lost while I was editing.

One of my favorite trails I've ever ridden: the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida, Colorado. This was from June 2023. It also makes a good blergh cover photo.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Southern Carve

"Some big gators on that trail, watch out."

"We'll keep an eye out!"

From what we'd read, alligators are pretty sluggish in the wintertime. Of course, high 50s may not feel like winter for a Yinzer like me, but for gators along the South Carolina coast just north of Savannah, that's winter.


As the man promised, we saw several alligators along the trail, although none that I'd consider exceptionally big. This was the very first ride of our trip, a little hour cruise after driving all day, and seeing so many alligators on the ride seemed like it would set the tone for the rest of the trip. 

But, as it turned out, those were the only alligators we saw the whole time. Instead, we saw manatees, a wild hog, and a hippopotamus. Yeth. A hippo. More on that later.

Monday, December 18, 2023

A Million Feet

I suppose I've always liked numbers. How many fly balls can I catch in my front yard? I kept count well into the thousands. I even kept a log of all the field goals I kicked, through an almost-full-sized goal post I built with my uncle out of PVC pipe when I was six or seven years old. What I'm trying to say is, I like numbers, and nice round ones at that.

The idea of riding a million feet in a year honestly wasn't something I really thought about at first. In fact, the first time I did ride a million feet in a year - back in 2020 - I didn't really think much of it beyond the fact that it was a neat milestone. But of course, those were my roadie days, when "Els" came quickly thanks to skinny tires, gears, and smooth pavement. Now that I primarily ride a singlespeed mountain bike (well, less so now with muddy trails, but still...) and do more racing, the million feet isn't quite as easy for me. This year, it took me until early December, the 6th, to be exact, to get the 1,000,000 feet. My brother got it a few weeks before me.

The Brevard, NC wolf approves of the million feet.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Big Wheel Keep On Turnin'

I'll be honest, November and early December are usually some of the hardest months of riding for me. By the time the eleventh month comes around, I've been doing races, big rides, and traveling for the better part of the year. I guess what I'm trying to say is, once Thanksgiving is around the corner, I'm tired. Physically, somewhat. But mainly, I just need a way to reset and start focusing on the next year. Out with the old, in with the new. Maybe that's too crude, because it's not that dramatic, but I nonetheless like to shift my focus on to the next year.

That being said, it's not that it's is bad. There are days when going out to ride for two hours to get 3,000 feet of climbing isn't very exciting. But still, I keep doing it. Surely that says something. All it takes is a little reminiscing of riding the Great Divide, of getting the belt buckle at Marji Gesick, or of endless singletrack miles with Dahn Pahrs in Park City to fully convince myself that every ride is worth it.

All that is to say that there's still nothing I'd rather do than ride my bike and grind out miles in the cold and rain. When I'm finishing up an all-day ride in some new-to-me place, I look back fondly to the rides I did to get there. 

I guess what I'm trying to say, it's a bit like a rainy day in paradise. It's not your favorite, but it's still paradise. I won't lie, I may or may not have stolen that from Magnum P.I. (my favorite show), but still, it's extremely applicable here.

Alright, now back to regularly scheduled programming.


Saturday, November 11, 2023

Rothrock for the Weekend

I graduated from Penn State back in May, and one of the biggest changes is not having Rothrock in my backyard anymore. I took for granted having Tussey Ridge as part of an easy hour loop, or sharpening rock skills on John Wert multiple times per week. All that is to say, I'm going to take every chance I get to head up to State College and ride those northern Appalachian trails. 

Last weekend, Stick and I were planning to bring our tents and camp somewhere in Rothrock. I had some ideas of where to camp, but nothing that seemed to be perfect. I texted Brad to ask if he knew of any popular campsites near Galbraith Gap (a spot in Rothrock) that I might be forgetting, and quickly he texted me back that Erik offered to let us stay at his cabin. If that's not perfect, I don't know what is.

The cabins in Rothrock are pretty neat. It's all state forest land, but the state offers land-leases where people can buy cabins on the leased land. Most of the cabins don't have septic systems, and instead have good 'ol fashioned outhouses. Luckily, Erik's cabin, which he co-owns with Bob, has a septic system, electricity, and even running water. Even so, it's still very rustic. The floors are raw, rough-cut lumber, and you can see the downstairs through gaps in the floorboards from upstairs. There's a wood furnace in the living room, firewood piled on the floor, and there isn't a TV within several miles of the place. In other words, it's exactly what I like. I've always thought it's strange to build a cabin and then turn it into some five-star penthouse. You're in the woods. 

I'm a pretty eccentric person, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't start making plans to build my own cabin in the future. I really can't stress enough how much I enjoyed staying at Erik and Bob's cabin for the weekend. But I digress, back to last weekend.

Awesome.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Q&A with Kenny Kocarek

I present to you the newest part of my blog: a written question-and-answer discussion with inspirational people that I know in the cycling world. I've always wanted to do something like this, and after seeing Kenny Kocarek take on the DWR 500 route, I decided it was the perfect time to start.

So, with that being said, here's Hamburger Talk #1 with Kenny.

Before we start, I'll give a brief overview of what it's about. Kenny rode 314 miles through the state of Ohio in a single ride, from the southern border to the northern border on Lake Erie. Pretty dang impressive. Oh, and he did it on a singlespeed, too. I've known Kenny for a couple years now, having met him at Transylvania Epic back in 2021, and he's always doing cool things on his bike. Plus, he's an all-star trail builder and volunteer at Camp Tuscazoar in Ohio. If you want to check out his ride on Strava, or find him on Instagram, follow the links below.


Kenny's DWR 500 ride on Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/9911020883

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Pisgah 111

When it comes to east coast riding, there are few spots that rival the ruggedness of Pisgah. In Pisgah, you never know when a tame-looking trail will suddenly point down at a 30% grade with washed out ruts, and to me, that's what makes it special. My brother had never been to Pisgah before this trip, and when he was asking what Pisgah was like, that's how I described it: it goes from 0-60 in the blink of an eye. Just ride down Turkey Pen Trail, or hike your bike up Middle Black Trail, and you'll know what I mean.

Alright, so now to the actual race. The Pisgah 111 is Pisgah's endurance MTB race, and it get's its name form being roughly 111 kilometers, or 68.9722 miles for those who don't habla. Actual distance may vary.

In terms of average speed, it's the slowest race I've done this year, except for maybe Stage 5 Wheeler Pass of Breck Epic. Even Marji Gesick, which with a wheel sensor is 115 miles, took me 11.5 hours, meaning an average speed of exactly 10 mph. The Pisgah 111 took me 7 hours and 23 minutes, and being only about 67 miles (with a wheel sensor), that's an average speed of just north of 9 mph. Like I said, Pisgah is very tough.

Left to right: Chad, Chris, Hamburger, Ryan

Monday, September 25, 2023

Let's talk about buttered sausage

What do you do the week after Marji Gesick? Besides talking about buttered sausage, where it comes from, what it does, and why it's doing what it's doing, of course. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it means you're behind on what the "kids" are talking about nowadays, and you probably need to look up "Gary Busey buttered sausage".


But first, please, if you do nothing else today, scroll down and take a look at the elegant gallery of Simon. After reading the rest of the blergh, of course.

Ok, on we go. I had a lot of bike work to do after Marji Gesick, some of which was getting to use a q-tip for yet another unintended purpose. I mean, seriously, has anyone ever actually used a q-tip for what they're supposed to be used for?

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Marji Gesick 2023: The Buckle Edition

I went into the Marji Gesick 100 this year with one goal: get the belt buckle. In order to get the belt buckle, I'd have to finish the race in under 12 hours; a difficult feat on the challenging course. Usually, only 10 or 12 people out of more than 500 racers get the buckle. It's a long race. Lots of people take over 20 hours to finish, and lots of people don't finish at all.

The last singlespeeder to get the buckle was Justin Holle, back in 2021. I was just coming off of a 2nd place finish to Justin at Breck Epic, so I was interested to see how I would compare to his time at Marji Gesick. All of this is just to highlight the fact that it was far from a sure thing to get the buckle. I thought I had the fitness, but at the same time, I really didn't have anything to base that off of. Last year, I missed the buckle by 40 minutes, albeit on a slippery wet course. 

Going into Marji this year, my motto was "buckle or bust". I knew the time splits I had to make, so I was going to push as hard as I needed to make those splits, and if I blew up, I'd just crawl to the finish line with disappointment.

The buckle class of 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Onion 2023

Kennerdell is a little river town up in the great northwest of Pennsylvania, and if you've ever been there, you can't help but feel there's something special about it. Even before I started mountain biking, my family used to do camping trips on the Allegheny River, and Kennerdell was typically the town where we'd put the kayaks on the water. So you see, Kennerdell, despite being an oft-forgotten nook along the winding river, has a bit of nostalgia for me. When you add in fantastic backcountry trails and awesome friends, it's easy to see why the Onion is one of my favorite weekends.

Admittedly, I've only been to a few Onions, but despite some, uh, difficulty on a past Onion for me, it's something that will always be on my calendar. The name "Onion" comes from the idea that people can "peel" (bail and head back to camp) off from the route at any point. Those who do the whole ride are the "core" of the Onion.

The new Onion poster (left) and the Dahn Pahrs send-off poster (right)


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Shenandoah 100!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, 100 mile mountain bike races are my favorite kind of racing. For one, I love the patterns you recognize in races. It start's off fast, you find a groove, you feel great, you feel crappy, maybe you feel great again, and so forth. That narrative seems all the more dramatic when you're in the moment. 

And then there's the adventure. Climbing up abandoned forest roads, traversing along ridge-tops, and flying down literal mountains is the epitome of mountain biking. You get all the great views and all the great trails all while getting to race and push yourself. That's a win-win, win.

Perhaps the most important to me, though, is the experience of being at the race. That's intentionally vague because it encompasses so much. Spending a weekend with family and friends - and new friends - is a blast. Racers camp together and then the now-veterans of the race hang out at the finish line after the event. If only for a weekend, mountain bikes seem like everything.

Being from Pittsburgh, there are three 100-mile races that stand out. The term "Triple Crown" perhaps seems a little bit ostentatious, but still, for the Pittsburgh area, it's hard to argue that there are more iconic 100-mile races than these: the Mohican 100, the Wilderness 101, and the Shenandoah 100. Now that I think of it, perhaps that's only true among my friend group of singlespeeders, but I'm a singlespeeder, so that's alright.

Dan, me, Stick

Monday, August 28, 2023

Breck Epic 2023 Part 2: PARTY PARTY PARTY

Alright, so maybe it wasn't all party, but it was pretty dang fun.

Picking up where I left off, it was now time for stage three. This is the day I crashed on last time, so in the back of my head, I just wanted to finish this stage strong. There's nothing particularly crazy in terms of danger about this day, but still, I was getting in my own head. Luckily, all those feelings immediately go away when I put my leg over the bike on the start line.

The Pittsburgh (plus Ohio) singlespeed gang on Boreas Pass. One of the best memories ever.

I don't want to over-hype this stage, but to me, stage three is certainly the hardest day. I kept this in mind as we rolled out of the start line, and I did well managing my effort on the first long climb. It was mostly rideable with only a little hiking, which meant I stayed in good position going into the big climb up French Pass.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Breck Epic 2023: The Pre-Amble and First Stages

The Breck Epic has became one of the ultimate Pittsburgh singlespeed traditions. For years now - dating back to 2010 with Montana - singlespeeders from the 'Burgh have been pilgrimaging out to Breckenridge to suffer for six days of epic racing. I first went out in 2021, but a big crash on stage three forced me to pull out of the race with a DNF. It was one of my biggest regrets - especially since the crash was extremely stupid - so going back this year was particularly meaningful to me. As always, we had a fantastic group of people going out and staying in our AirBNB. I really mean that,  I look forward to hanging out with everyone just as much as I do racing.

Before I get started with Breck, I do want to briefly talk about the week leading up to the race. I know, I know, I tricked you with the title, but you're going to have to deal with a few paragraphs of general road-trip stuff before you get to the Breck stuff. Or you can just scroll down, it's all the same to me.

Race photo!

Friday, August 11, 2023

Durango With the Family

Unlike most of my road trips, this time I’m staying completely in one state: Colorado. After a few days in Salida, I was off to Alamosa (a little over an hour south) to meet up with my family. It was a nice change of pace to sleep in a hotel room and eat at a restaurant, and meeting up with my family halfway across the country is always fun.

The first real destination for the family trip was the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Zach and I were determined to do a ride from the park, so we set off on a dirt (well, actually, sand) road toward Medano Pass. It ended up being a lot more challenging than anticipated, and we had to hike quite a bit in the sand. After airing my tires down to about 10 or 12 psi, I was able to ride a little bit more, but there was still a lot of hiking. Thankfully, the road got more hard-packed as went along and we were able to ride most of it as we approached the pass itself. The road kicked up quite a bit – probably around 20% grade – and I had to briefly get off and walk. That being said, I surprised myself with how much I was able to ride, especially at nearly 10,000 feet elevation.

Patch of snow just below Rolling Pass, a good cover picture
 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Thoughts From Boreas Pass Road

I was halfway up Boreas Pass Road, sitting on my cooler on the side of the road with my guitar in hand. A woman in a car came driving down the road from above and slowed down when she saw me. Long hair, a guitar, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, and a dusty Subaru Outback with two bikes on the back: I was certainly a sight to behold.

The lady’s window was down, and she yelled out to me, in a friendly way, “you’re doing it right!”

 

I just smiled and said, “thank you”, and she continued her way down the pass.

 

It got me thinking, though, about how fortunate I am. As I write this now, I’m sitting on the side of Boreas Pass Road – perhaps a mile below where I was playing guitar – and staring out at vast mountains and the town of Breckenridge in their shadow. I’m lucky to be able to do this. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve saved up money, I’ve planned out these trips for months, but still, there’s a big part of me that realizes how out-of-the-ordinary my life has been these past few years.

 

My view from where I was writing


Of course, there’s always two sides to every coin. Most times when you see people out traveling – or biking – or whatever – you only see what they want you to see. You see the magnificent views, the pristine singletrack, and clear sailing ahead. What you don’t see is not taking a shower for a few days, not eating a meal at a restaurant in the same time, and spending nights camping off the sides of forest roads to save money on campsites. 

 

That’s not to downplay how much I’m enjoying the time I’m spending, and it's not to justify my life to anyone. I love those forest road campsites, and cooking ramen on a jet-boil in the evening is oddly satisfying. Even the ultimate dirtbag move, not showering for a few days, is something I’ve gotten used to and it’s become part of the routine. Now, trust me, the second I get a chance to shower, I take it. I even use soap, too. It’s not like I’m a dirty person (despite what my mom says), but when I’m out traveling, I’ve learned that I can sacrifice many comforts of civilized life to stretch my budget a little further, and the more I travel, the more I realize there are a lot of people with that same mindset.

 

This is all very situationally dependent. I’m in college (yes, still) and I save up as much money as possible during the school year so that I can travel in the summer. To me, money is limited, but in the summer, time isn’t. But as I said, it’s situationally dependent. When I get a job and have more responsibilities of adulthood, time won’t be quite as abundant. My hope, though, is that money might be a little bit less scarce. If that’s the case, I probably won’t be sleeping in my car at rest stops or eating tuna packs and tortillas for lunch. My hope is that even if time becomes more limited, having just a little bit more money can help pay for expediency. Instead of driving to California, maybe I’d fly there and rent a car. More expensive? Sure. But it saves time. I guess what I’m trying to say, and I’m telling myself this as much as I’m writing it for the reader, is that I feel confident that I will never let the feeling I have right now slip away.