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)

The credit for organizing this great weekend goes to the Palermo's, Gotch, Jimmy, and everyone else who pitches in to set up the camp and plan the route. When I first went to the Onion, it was just a small grass field on an empty plot of land in Kennerdell, but now, there's a little cabin, a firewood shed, and all sorts of luxury amenities.

It always seems that the people who show up to the Onion are my favorite people to hang out and ride with. Plus, anyone I don't know quickly becomes a friend. Above you can see the Brazilian hammer Jesu plotting his attacks for the next day during the ride.

I set up my tent early Friday evening, knowing that once it got dark, I'd lose what little motivation I had to set it up. Unlike last time, I certainly wasn't going to be sleeping in a ditch. It really was a great evening hanging out around the campfire and talking all things bike-related and non-bike-related. 

I won't name any names, but someone woke up with the tequila flu on Saturday, and I swear, it wasn't me.

I truly believe that crappy conditions make a ride way more memorable, and in a way, more fun. This Onion was no exception, with rain starting in earnest just before we set off. Luckily, the temps were in the high 60s, so being cold wasn't much of an issue.

The group suffered a few early mechanicals - Gotch broke his SPD pedal and Montana broke his drooper seatpost - but aside from that, it was smooth sailing. 

We rode a new trail built by a couple dudes who joined us on the ride, and it was fantastic. I hit the first couple big rock features on my rigid, but after Cinderbloch looked at me and was shocked that I rode the features on a rigid, I decided I had probably misjudged the difficulty and was lucky to have made it.  Or maybe I'm just that skilled... haha, I doubt it. I decided to keep it in check and not risk it much more.

Some of the other trails we rode had been built by Jimmy and more of the Kennerdell crew, and I can say with certainty they're some of my favorite that I've ridden anywhere. I'm a sucker for hand built backcountry primitive trails, and that's exactly what these are.

The rain certainly didn't stop any of us from having a good time. The downhills at Kennerdell are all so much fun, and since they're all very primitive, you're always on the lookout for hidden hazards. That makes it all the better.

Stick had a really devilish grin on his face right there. I wonder why?

I don't know the trails that well, but there are a few trails that stand out. For one, Window Trail is a great trail right along a cliff edge; it's surprisingly flowy and the exposure of the cliff keeps you on your toes a little bit.

Probably my favorite downhill of the day is Kennerdell Trail, which pops out to a pavement road at the bottom. It's steep, off-camber, and has just the right amount of danger. Gotch tried making a pass on the downhill, but the trail tightened up before he could, and at the same time, I tried to squeeze by Jimmy, also unsuccessfully. I didn't care at all about passing anyone, but it was super fun to be blasting downhill and trying to make a move in a super sketchy area.

I promise that you couldn't have asked for a better group of people to ride with. It seems that everyone who rides a mountain bike on the east coast knows how to ride rocks, or at least, everyone at the Onion knows how to ride rocks.

It was fun to do some battling with Joe out there on the climbs. I don't think either of us were really swinging full throttle, but still, it was fun to be chased by a stud on a singlespeed out there. 

Stick actually brought his geared bike to the ride, which despite being much sad, seemed like a great bike for the day of riding. Stick was flying on the downhills and still going fast on the climbs, so I guess he can be forgiven.

The last climb of the day was Blunder Trail, a doubletrack trail that deteriorated toward the top. I expected quite a bit of hike-a-bike, but as it turned out, I cleaned the whole thing except having to put my foot down briefly two or three times on some slippery rainy rocks. From there, it was back to camp on a couple more short trails and then the gravel road. The attacks started once we reached the gravel, and being on 32x20, I was completely dropped by both Jimmy and Ryanne. Ah, I love that the endings of the Onion always end up being a sprint. I remember last time Joe was trying to hold onto my seat to hold me back, hahaha.

The post-ride hang out back at the camp was another great part of the weekend. There were tons of snacks, and everyone stayed around for a bit to chat by the fire.

Eventually, several people went home leaving just the crew that was there Friday night, with the welcome addition of Joe. 

Joe brought up a set of outdoor Jenga, which provided ample entertainment for a couple hours. Let the record show that I never lost, and Montana lost twice. Evens up the score after Breck, eh Montana?

I guess despite what I said earlier, I did do quite a bit of sinning that weekend, in the form of over-eating, haha. I can't remember the last time I ate that much food in a night - hot dogs, Gotch's French fries, and more. No wonder I woke up the next morning with heart burn; I certainly paid the price.

Everyone else had to drive home Sunday morning, but since Stick was driving home with me, I suckered him into joining me for a bonus Kennerdell spin. We rode the Lookout Descent, as opposed to  Kennerdell Trail the day earlier, to complete some of the missing parts on the map from the ride the day before.

We later climbed up Ridge Trail, which a bit more hike-a-bike than the Blunder Trail climb we did the day before. Surprisingly, I only had to walk one (albeit long) section of the climb. On the top part of the climb, which I had to get off and walk the last two times, I was able to power up and clean the whole thing. I honestly think right now is the strongest I've ever been on a singlespeed. Perhaps my fitness was sharper when I was doing intervals with Will, but having only ridden singlespeed this whole year, my legs are feeling really strong.

To me, what's even more important than feeling super strong is having a lot of fun while riding. I think the Onion was a great reset for me after having done a lot of competing recently with Wilderness, Breck Epic, and Shenandoah. Personally, I need a good mix of fun and competitive, and the Onion was just what I needed to balance it out again.

In the days since the Onion, I've been smiling almost constantly on my rides. Even yesterday while it was raining, I couldn't help but smile as I got poured on by the rain. I guess I'm doing something right.

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