Sunday, August 10, 2008

Malfunction Junction

'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley,' or as paraphrased in English, 'The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry'.' This famous line from Robert Burns' poem, To a Mouse, should have been the theme of our not so famous ride.

Rambo Sorba and Sorba Chattanooga had teamed up to host a ride in Tennessee at the Chilhowee Recreation Area.
The roll call was turning out to be quite extenstive, so some Einstein in our little circle of friends came up with a great idea to make sure we would get in plenty of riding. A group of us would gather bright and early for some extra riding before hooking up with the regularly scheduled program.

I was flabbergasted to learn of all the takers willing to arise at double 0:darkhundred in order to make the 2+hr drive for our 8:20am start. Our 5 am wakeup callers included, Robb & Jenn, Millhouse & Kristen, Tweety & Concrete Blonde, Lonestar, BarbieBiker, Regularjoe, FarmerG & The Clogger.

I caught up on my sleep as Raja drove, our usual MO. Once we hit 64 along the river, it was time for me to wake up to enjoy the fun part of the drive. The road twists and winds its way along, which is a real delight for Raja Andretti. That is, until you inevitably get behind some joker that cannot handle their bike/car and has to go 2 mph. Even the Garmin sees the fun twisty road just begging to be railed.

He finally made a pass around this guy and pushed my little '98 Camry to the limit. The wailing tires made it even all the more dramatic, but it's just because they are so hard. If I may say so myself, there are not many wives that would tolerate the kind of driving my Andretti does. Sometimes it makes me a wee bit nervous, but I just clinch my teeth real hard and remind myself that he's one of the best when it comes to car handling and fast driving. There are some guys that won't drive with him because he's scared them so bad in the MINI. I think it's rather cool.

Anyway, back to our seemingly blissful morning. We met up with another biker car on the 7 mile drive up Benton Mtn to the parking lot. I was thrilled to see it was James and Amy. More little victims to join our hair brain group.

We were all a little groggy and chilly, as the morning temps were unusually cool from what we have been accustom. Rather refreshing, actually. A new kid on the block, Jeff, was in the parking lot, and we were joined by 2 of Robb's friends. We had our own team going on by now.

The plan was to descend down a trail to the bottom of the mountain to pick up any riders that had parked at the lower parking lot. (Did we ever bother to confirm anyone was actually going to park there?) Then we would all merrily climb up the Clemmer Trail at a brisk pace to make it back to the pkg lot for the 9:30 start. Sounded simple enough. With these 2 innocent looking faces, what could possibly go wrong?

The unidentified Einsteins in our group decided we would go down Clear Creek Trail. So we did. So far, so good.

Poor FarmerG got stung by a bee almost from the get go. In fact, I think we were in a bee breeding facility. They were everywhere, and you could not sit still for one second without them swarming all around. Very very unnerving.

The strange thing about this downhill is that it mysteriously went uphill for most of the way, or so it seemed. I rarely use my granny gear on a downhill, and yet I found myself constantly in my lowest combo. We all ground our gears in silence wondering when the top of this stinkin' climb would appear. There was a tight schedule to keep, and time was being wasted with all this effort.

Somewhere in there, I think FarmerG had a flat.
(We should have just turned around right there and then.)

We used to ride these trails a good 10-15 years ago before the Tanasi Trail system existed. I did not remember a thing. Not a thing. Raja said, don't you remember the rocky trail with the drop off to the side? No! I couldn't recall it. You mean this?

Jeff made me nervous as he eyed the terrain to pick out his path. Please, we don't need any carnage this early on in the ride.

No carnage was had, and we continued to scream along the then finally descending trail.

I was having a hard time getting my groove on, and we were booking along at a rather fast clip. How would I survive the preride, let alone the real ride?

We still had a big ole climb up Clemmer ahead of us. But somehow things would work out, the regular group would be slow to get ready on time, and we'd hook up with them just fine. Life would be all sunshine and flowers like it always is for me. Riiiiiiight.Our newcomer, Jeff, had broken his chain right before the top of our last climb and stopped to fix it. As we waited at the top of the climb for him, I went down around the first switchback to set up for a photo op. After the crew came bombing down, I assumed that meant Jeff was with them. We got to a crucial turn in the trail and I did the usual courtesy wait for whoever was behind me to make sure they made the turn. Then I found out that Jeff was not with us, neither was The Clogger. He had waited back with Jeff while he fixed his chain.

I told Raja I would wait at the turn, and he went on to catch up with the group ahead. Time was passing quickly and no riders appeared. Just when I decided to backtrack, I could hear the sound of tires ripping down the trail. Thank goodness! Let's get a move on guys!

We climbed forever on doubletrack, wondering when we would hook up with the pack. What a strange downhill it turned out to be. We climbed for 7 miles and descended maybe all of 2. I wanted a refund.

We arrived at a four way intersection. Uh, what now? No arrows or courtesy wait, and I have no memory. Clogger said to follow the sign's direction to the parking lot, but as we rode along I saw no tire tracks whatsoever. This made me suspicious. No, I really don't think they went this way. We turned around and opted to go straight through. Finally, I saw Raja ahead.

By now it was 9:45. Hmmm, you think we'll be able to make the climb up Clemmer in negative 15 minutes? I started to feel my pants getting cranky. Clogger graciously offered to hang back with Jeff on the climb. Jeff's chain was too short and he had no small gears for the climb and was walking. Raja and I set our gear in race mode and motored up the laborious climb.

Raja commented that the climb did not seem to be as steep as he remembered it being. He was just riding strong, and I had amnesia. Climb, climb, climb. The crankiness was rising higher and higher. It had gotten past my pants and was creeping up my jersey.

We got to an intersection and I saw an arrow in the sand. Thanks guys for the courtesy directions!! Another intersection and Raja knew what to do, but I stopped to make an arrow for The Clogger. Raja dropped me and I could not catch him. The crankiness hit the base of my neck and I knew it would be a matter of time before my head exploded smattering anyone around with crank galore.

This was supposed to be a fun group ride with all my friends. Instead I'm all by myself on a trail I cannot remember and I will never get to ride with anybody. Boo hoo. I think I'll just throw a temper tantrum. That will fix everything.

The stupid dirt road went on and on and on and on and on. Darn it! I had obviously missed a turn and would never ever hook up with Raja, my group, or anyone. My head exploded, but there was no one around to spew the crankiness all over. I turned around and went back in search of The Clogger. Maybe I could catch him before he made this elusive turn I had missed.

Shew, there he is. "Where are we?" I demanded, trying not to give away my completely disgruntled state. In his usual calm as a cucumber manner he assured me we were going the correct way and would be back to the parking lot shortly. Shortly before I kill somebody.
We did indeed make it back to the parking lot, only to find our little group standing around in complete disarray. The big group had already departed, but we were all having more malfunctioning cranky pants episodes. Bikes were upside down being fixed, and Tweety had opened a roadside bike repair shop.
FarmerG was on a roll now. A linkage bolt had gone missing, and Tweety was bound and determined to remedy the situation. I had no doubt he would. The other issues that were had, I do not know, but everyone seemed to be having a problem with their bikes.James sat quietly berating himself for signing up with this dysfunctional group. There were signs all around to warn him, he just didn't see them till it was too late.
Tweety fixed FarmerG's bike and things started to look up. We might be able to get in a ride afterall.Jeff had gotten a new chain from Clogger and was ready to roll. Now, if we could just get regularEPOjoe away from his drug habit, this malfunctioning crew could get to the next junction.

The decision was made to head to Slickrock trail. Which direction do we go on it? Toss a coin, we have a 50/50 chance to make the right choice.
It started out nice enough. But then the techy rocky steep climbing began. I think we picked the wrong 50/50. It was one of those derailleur eating climbs, and it was hungry. Hungry for somebody's derailleur. Unfortunately, Millhouse had to give his lunch money to the derailleur gods. Do not collect $200, return to Malfunction Junction.Everytime we stopped for malfunctions or to regroup, the bees would threaten to carry us off. That's it, NO more stopping. Everybody's on their own. Let's go! SNAP! Agggggg! FarmerG's chain broke. If you look close you can see the steam coming out of his ears. But in his defense, I must say that his head did not explode (as mine already did that day) and he went to the task of fixing it while we kindly rode on up the trail. This ride has now turned into a NO MERCY Fest.
While things heated up further down the trail with FarmerG, I was enjoying the beautiful trail. Still did not remember a thing, but I liked this section. Raja, Tweety, and Robb were hammering it out just ahead of me so I tried to quit gawking and catch up.

Back at the cars during our mechanical interlude, I had put my SLR camera away in the trunk. I was becoming increasingly aware of its extra 3 lbs and my back was hurting. At the rate of today's malfunctions, I did not care to document too much more. Besides, I had the little Canon point and shoot on my camelbak strap that I could draw out in a second.

Once again the trail pitch turned upward and we picked our way through rocks to the top of a climb. Robb was preoccupied with wanting to go down this section. Let's just keep going for now, Robb, and we can come back down it later. At the top we finally ran into riders from the official ride! Jeffrey and with the outside world at last!

More riders, more friendly faces. The Captain was here. We had missed Cyclesmith and were disappointed not to have him in our crew.
Rather than do the logical thing and turn around to join in the ride, we continued on down the trail that was littered with an endless string of riders climbing up. Once you malfunction, it's hard to turn around and straighten things out.

It was a nice descent, but Robb was still dreaming of going back down the climb portion. As more riders continued to pour into the trailhead at the bottom, we decided just to turn around and do again in the cooler direction. I enjoyed climbing from this direction, and Robb got in his piste resistance downhill. Then we hooked onto the Naked Widow Trail, which was super laden with big rocks. It reminded me of riding in Moab. Robb was about to jump out of his pants with excitement over that portion of trail. I knew he was going to ride that trail again before our malfunctioning day was over.

FarmerG had fixed his chain and rejoined us. We then headed for the Azalea Trail for more dysfunctional fun. Raja had a flat, but that was anticlimatic since he can change it before anyone knows what happened. There's nothing malfunctioning about his ability to change a flat, I'll hand 'em that. 3 minutes or less.

My last trail for the day was the Rock Rim. Yet another climb through thick rhododendron. Raja had gotten a whiff of regularjoe's EPO and was tearing up the trail like a madman. FarmerG was in hot pursuit, so I tried to close in on the chase. I turned a bend and they were gone. There was no way I could catch them, and I had no idea how long this climb was. Thankfully it ended not too long after Raja put on his afterburners.

Tweety, Raja, and Robb were still up for some more of Naked Widow, but I was at the brink of a major malfunction if I did not get off this bike for good.

FarmerG's bike was going to self destruck at any moment. He had a Farmer's Market to open anyway, so the rest of us headed to the cars.

He set up his fresh produce stand alongside the tent with the smell of grilled burgers and dogs.
Mmmmmm, Rambo Sorba knows how to set up an apres ride cookout, and all the non-malfunctioning riders were already there lined up for their reward.

All the craziness of the ride was forgotten as we hung out with our good friends. Malfunctional, dysfunctional, it doesn't really matter. That's why friends are so important! To get you through the malfunctions of life.
The next day, my body was definitely malfunctioning as a result of the 3 1/2 hr thrashing at Chilhowee. Normally we always ride on trails we know, but this had been different. I did not realize how much more it takes out of your body to ride a trail new to your senses. I could feel every second of that new experience, so much so that I had no desire to join Raja for a ride at Blankets. I didn't care if the President himself was going to be there, I needed some down time.

In honor of Carey and Lisa's assault on the TransRockies Race, I slipped on the Leader Jersey from the 2005 TransRockies. My friend and former training partner, Karen, and her teamate won the race that year, and she gave me one of her leader jerseys. Today would be a quiet day of spinning on the comet alone while thinking of fellow cyclists in their great pursuit.

Gapchic passed me as she captained a tandem. I didn't know she rode a tandem?! Trish came by and said hello. Even though she was riding recovery, I still could not keep up and was happy to continue on in solitude. If I wanted my legs to function this week, I knew to keep it easy.

The best laid plans....Nope, there would be no plans today, so nothing could go awry. My only plan was to make it through the day without any malfunctions. I had enough this weekend to last a lifetime!


Badger said...

Love the blog - this is beyond a great read! I dream of riding this much... I was USPro on the road back in the mid-90's and after a long layoff am back on the road bike doing a few races here and there. I just got a Salsa El Mariachi 29'er in April that I immediately converted to SS. Did the Dirty Spokes 12hr as part of a 4-man relay (Dirty Old Men) four days after getting the bike. My team actually placed 4th so I guess I didn't do too bad! I'll have to bookmark your Blog as this looks like a fun one to keep up with. BTW, say Hi to FarmerG next time you see him and give him TC's regards!

Robb Sutton (198) said...

Great ride! Even with all of the "issues"...this will go down as one of the best of the year so far. Roger put the hammer down! I don't think he let up one bit.

Thank you for the great pictures! That one in the rear view mirror is a classic.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up of a SUPER ride.

Ken said...

That's an awesome picture of Tweety and his workshop with all those parts all over the place. EPO Joe's picture with the camelback cracked me up too.

regularjoe said...

I literally laughed out loud at parts of this. Another great description of what was a great, great ride.