Monday, November 14, 2022

2022 Northern New England Champs

Giving Back Never Felt So Good


    First...a little background. Sometime around the Spring of 2018, I was finishing a ride at Willowdale State Forest when something very peculiar caught my eye. Pulling up along the Ipswich River were two white buses and trailers loaded with mountain bikes both emblazoned with the name of an institution that had given me my best academic years. St. John's Prep. Naturally, I had to investigate further so I got talking to one of the coaches Vin Miserandino. Turns out one of the Prep students who was already an accomplished individual racer, Jackson Heath, wanted to start a team for the school. With the aid of his father, Parker Heath, also an accomplished rider and racer, the school's first-ever mountain bike program was born. After our discussion, I knew immediately that I wanted to join this party.

    Maybe a week or so later, I joined the team for their weekly training ride at Willowdale. All I kept thinking was how fast these kids were and how hard I worked to keep up with them. But I loved every minute of it, especially when the kids were chatting about Prep life along with all the changes the campus has seen since my time back in 1990. A few times I sounded like that "back in my day" kind of guy sharing my own Prep stories.

    Somewhere in downtown Lynn, I connected with Parker for some burgers and beer to discuss a potential future with the team. It just so happened that due to its success, the Prep was discussing the idea of a middle school development program to groom racers even earlier and they were looking for someone to launch it. The timing couldn't have been any better! I sealed the deal and shook hands with Jameson Pelkey, the Prep's new Athletic Director, and left the campus feeling like I was now part of something much bigger than myself. 

     Let me speed things up here and get to the point of the article...I launched the Middle School Program in the fall of 2019 with a really fun and energetic group of kids. We worked on fitness, which was also a huge benefit for me, practiced skills, simulated race scenarios, and occasionally enjoyed an episode of Friday Fails. By all accounts, the program was a hit and remains intact to this present day. Then that virus crossed the pond and we all know what came next. 

    It wasn't long before the Spring season was scrapped and the team would not be racing. To make matters worse, my job in healthcare took a very unexpected turn and forced me to step away from the team for the foreseeable future. I was angry and sad at the same time not knowing if I would have another chance to coach again. 

    Spring of 2022, I was back in the saddle volunteering my time with the middle and high schoolers. I was brought back on as a full-time coach this Fall working primarily with our high school team of over thirty racers! Coupled with the middle school team, we now needed three buses and three trailers to attend races. Our mission: to repeat as Northern New England Champs. 

High School Team Photo Shoot

Coach Jackson Heath and his Middle School Team

    All in all, it was a short season, but we hit the ground running...or riding I should say. Mondays were tempo days; Tuesdays were skills simulation, Wednesdays were hill repeats, Thursdays lower key with race starts, and Fridays were our Willowdale ride. The team worked incredibly hard to push their fitness boundaries as we knocked off win after win in the division races. By season's end, we were poised to do well in the Northern New England Championships in North Conway New Hampshire. 

    We had our final team meeting and photo shoot, seen above, the Friday before race day. Each coach had something distinctly different to say to the team to get them ready. Coach Heath (Father) spoke of race day logistics and reminded the team of all the hard work they'd put in since September. Coach Heath (Son) took the team through the race lap by lap and emphasized race techniques and the mental requirements needed. Coach Miserandino used the pneumonic W.I.N. (What's Important Now) to guide the team on the importance of preparation and sacrifice. All I could offer was simple..." before you go to bed tonight and as you wake up in the morning truly envision yourselves winning this race and cordially remind everyone out there watching why we are the defending New England champs."

    As you saw at the beginning of the article, St. John's Prep did in fact win the Central Division and Team Championships for Northern New England. It was a grueling race with adverse conditions and tons of climbing, but those kids took the win holding off the competition by a narrow margin. I couldn't have been more proud. I still get choked up by the numerous thank you's from the parents and racers. It truly means the world.

Team Captains Tyler and Luke

    And this is why giving back feels so good. See the easy thing to do is just get on your bike and go ride trails, and if that's all you want or can do that's perfectly fine. Perhaps you live a busy life in that being a weekend warrior is your only option, but if you have the opportunity to give back in any way then I say yes.

      Just look at a few members of our Racer-X community. Our fearless leader Dave Alden-St. Pierre not only continues with his journalistic and photographic offerings but remains an active member of the City of Beverly's trail maintenance and development committee, working towards connecting numerous networks so that all citizens can get out there and enjoy the outdoors. 

Fellow Racer-X'er One N Glen Gollrad is also a major contributor to the sport. Much like myself, Glen coached a local school program called the Chainbreakers for several seasons. We have Glen to thank for the tireless hours he puts into maintaining and creating new trails in the Northshore, most notably Willowdale West and Boxford State Forest.  

    I, myself, have picked up a rake and leafblower. I've spent time with NEMBA repairing and building new trails. I plan on coaching for as long as the program with have me and I will continue to write these long-winded articles back does in fact feel good. 

    So girls and boys...get out there and enjoy mountain biking, but don't forget to give back to the sport that gives us so much. Make a contribution and leave a mark in some way because there is someone out there who will benefit and might even thank you for it.  Until next time my fellow Racer-X'ers...

Keep It Classy and Keep It Real,

Jason (J-Bone) Fitzgerald




Wednesday, October 26, 2022


Making Adventure Great Again

    In many ways, this trip was a long time coming. My only prior exposure to MOAB was a thirty-mile epic in the Navajo Rocks trail network with fellow Racer-X'er Jeff "Tito" Soderman. It was an epic day in the desert, but this outdoors meca demanded more of my time and attention. 

    For this three-ring circus, I recruited my good friends and fellow clowns Eric Moore, Dave Champagne, and Chris "The Lurch" Conte. More on that nickname later. Ridiculously self-named the Four Horsemen, this band of brothers was in search of adventure, but not relegating said adventure to just mountain biking. The portfolio was diversified by also including some hiking and off-roading in two different National Parks. 

    Eric thought he was cooler than the rest of the group and flew Southwest, while us "troglodytes" (his word) flew into Salt Lake City on Delta. We grabbed a Dodge RAM pickup and hit the road stopping at Bohemian Brewery in Midvale for mid-day libations and sustenance. The remaining four-plus hour drive was relatively uneventful.

Once in MOAB, we could smell the adventure emanating from every direction. The streets were saturated with Sprinter Vans, jacked-up jeeps, side-by-sides all piloted by folks from around the globe. I'm not going to lie, I felt a bit of a tingle taking it all in. 

    After checking into the Air BnB and carb-loading at a joint called Pasta Jay's, we planned our first adventure on the mountain bikes, while simultaneously observing the remnants of two recent flash floods that hit the area pretty hard. As one barista told me later in the trip, the storms in August were called "the one-hundred-year storm" due to the devastation that had not been seen in quite some time. She recalled, "it was a weird summer where the temps were not nearly as hot as usual, there was a ton of rain, and the humidity was as high as seventy percent." "Now people panic when the forecast calls for rain."

    After my compatriots repeatedly lit up the two bathrooms, we caffeinated at the Horsethief coffee shop before picking up our bike rentals at the Poison Spider.

    This was a top-notch shop with friendly staff including one mechanic with a creepy mustache who made arguably one of the best quotes of the trip. Dave and I were fitted with Ibis Ripleys while Chris and Eric received Trek Fuel EXs. Deciding against the Porcupine Rim and certain bodily harm to my friends, I chose the Klonzo and MOAB Brand trails as the adventure on two wheels. 

    Not even five minutes into the ride, Eric decides to tip over onto some rocks taking me down with him. My fault for being too close...

    Erics' curtain call came about a mile or so later when he was coming in too hot and didn't realize how good Shimano Hydraulic brakes actually work. Like a scene from the Matrix, I watched him slowly flip over the handlebars and eat s**t, but in a very graceful way. I honestly couldn't have done it better if I tried. Thankfully that was the only carnage that occurred on this predominantly green and blue trail voyage. 

    Trails that stood out were Bar Rim, Zephyr (which took us into Arches NP), Sidewinder, and Topspin. Dave and I were the last ones standing as I bullied him into riding the black diamond trail Deadman's Ridge. This was pretty spicy as it served up some techy climbs along with moderate exposure. The views, however of Arches and the La Sal Mountain Range were indeed worth the struggle. No one died! After returning the bikes we celebrated with Mexican Cokes (not the powdered kind), Tecate, margaritas, and the largest burritos we have ever seen. It was another early night going horizontal around 9pm.

    Thursday was certainly a banner day. I woke up early to fit in a run before the rest of the tribe woke from their beauty sleep. I found a five-mile out and back along the Colorado River that was truly gorgeous.

    After consuming my morning dirty chai, we geared up for the day and mounted up in the beast we rented from Wicked Jeeps! Great outfit with very accommodating staff. Today's adventure included navigating Canyonlands NP via Schafer trail, the White Rim, and Pot Ash road. Chris had done his homework and knew exactly how to tackle this four-wheeling expedition. I'll sum it up by saying that the whole thing was breathtaking. The trails, the overlooks, the exposure, and the offroad features all screamed adventure. It felt like it touched upon a primal part of me and had us all feeling euphoric.

    I distinctly remember driving back with the top down and seeing the canyon on my left and the Colorado on my right understanding wholeheartedly why people are Jeep fanatics. 

They just wreak of adventure! Later that night, with Dave playing chef, we all reminisced about the day's events while the ongoing flatulance set the mood.

        At first light the following morning we hit Arches hard and fast climbing our way up to the infamous Delicate Arch to catch the sunrise. Breathtaking.. serene...magical... are just a few words that come to mind as the sun made its daily appearance upon the Utah Sovereign Lands. Side looks like the Delicate Arch does not have much left holding it up and I am grateful I could see it before the inevitable happens. I even made friends with a local aviator...

         Surprisingly they closed the park around 9 am due to high volume so our  plan for reentry was thwarted. Thanks to Eric's research the night prior, we called an audible and made our way further down the Colorado to a trailhead called Professor and Mary Jane. This was described as a slot canyon with something called "Slytherin Falls" at the end. Described as a "gem" in the All Trails reviews, this hike was one hundred percent worth it.

        Geologically speaking I have always been intrigued with slot canyons and after this hike I was left quite enamored. Dave and Eric nominated this the best hike of the trip. I didn't necessarily disagree, it's just that there was another adventure that swept me off my feet...

    Speaking of gem, Saturdays weather proved to be spectacular much like the entire week had been. The small fly in the ointment were the gale force winds in the afternoon that were gracious enough to pelt our faces and give our teeth a nice gritty coating. The four of us are still emptying that same sand out of our packs to this day. The Four Horsemens mission was to complete the Devils Garden hike which included eight arches as well as a religiously named obelisk-like structure at the terminus. 

    Shortly after checking off the first two arches, Tunnel and Pine Tree, we came upon an arch that initially was camouflaged, Landscape Arch. Much like Delicate Arch, this archs' time appears short.

        It is here that the party of four inherited a plus one. Leszlie from Kentucky openly admitted that she was stalking us as to not get lost while hiking this trail and kindly asked if she could join our adventure. She was easy on the eyes and exuded a vibrant and free spirit that fit in perfectly. This is the first time I have picked up a feral hiker, and she'll admit this is "the first time I picked up four men at once." Take that comment as you may. No judgement here Leszlie!

        Chris was rocking his inner National Geographic as he led us to Partition and Navajo Arches. Arguably my two favorites..

        Double-O Arch was delightful to look at and photograph, but further ahead I thought I could see Dark Arch off in the distance, but it wasn't super obvious.

        Private Arch was complete bliss as we all took pause and a catnap under the desert sun. Tranquility at it's finest.

        Then came Dark Angel. Definetely not an Arch, but perhaps it is the remnants of one? Either way, I will never forget the gift that Dark Angel blessed upon me (a story for another time perhaps).


    The Fabulous Five unanimously agreed to return to the trailhead via the Primitive Trail. Cue in those winds again and you have a scene straight out of Star Wars on the planet Tatooine. The Jawa and or Sand People were going to ambush us at any moment as we ventured further and further out. About an hour later we made our triumphant return.

    After our obligatory National Parks Passport stamp, Chris had an interesting encounter with one of the employees at the Visitor Center. Due to his physical height and perceived creepiness (hence the name Lurch) she asked him to escort her "across the hall" to an undisclosed location. Not knowing whether that was an insult or a compliment, coupled with her emotional instability, Chris decided that that was not an adventure he was willing to embark on. Erics take was that he didn't want to end up in a bathroom stall starring in an episode on And no I did not verify if that was in fact a real website. 

    Later that evening, our Southern Belle from the Bluegrass State accompanied us for a drink. She was gracious enough to buy us a round as a way to say thanks for the days adventure. Thank YOU Leszlie, it was truly an honor and a pleasure!

    It was finally time to head home. As we packed up our gear, Dave called the Air BnB owner to inform him that he broke the key in the front door lock, because someone was a little aggressive. On the return to Salt Lake we were subtly reminded of the season that lays ahead. A different type of adventure was on it's way. 

    This trip was one I will look back at fondly. The laughter, shaming tactics, onslaught of bodily functions, insulting music choices, and everything in between helped round out this adventure. I used the word adventure several times in this article, because it truly was just that. Life is an adventure and "you just don't know what is out there unless you go explore." 

Until next time my fellow Racer-X'ers...

    Keep It Classy and Keep It Real,

    Jason (J-Bone) Fitzgerald