Sunday, December 17, 2023

Secret Squirrel MTB Race


Time to Pony Up

Many many moons ago a fellow by the name of David Alden-St. Pierre reached out to me and asked if I had wanted to be a part of Racer-X. It was described to me as "bikes, bikers, biking PLUS sarcasm, beer, and tomfoolery." Naturally, I was all in. 

 Looking back at all those years I could argue that accepting this invitation was the best and worst decision of my life. Much like choosing to work in healthcare, but that is another post for another time. I've thoroughly enjoyed our trips, regional charity rides, and local rips.  This journey took me from twenty-six through twenty-nine, from hardtails to full suspension, to fat and then mid-fat only to end up back on twenty-nine where I shall stay. I've pedalled some real epics in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. Despite all of these adventures, there still was one major box that was left unchecked.

How could I have been a part of Racer-X for all these years and not have raced a single event?! An imposter perhaps? Hell, I even wore the Racer-X merch with pride, despite looking like a sausage in a meat skin. All the excuses, lies, and deception would finally come to an end. I took the plunge and registered for the Secret Squirrel MTB Race at Massasoit State Park in Taunton, Massachusetts. 

Truth be told, I was late to the game and the only category open was the Novice Men 45 plus. Likely story right? David, in a delicate kinda way, called me a sandbagger. I'll take that as a compliment buddy. It was to be one lap at approximately 6.5 miles of what looked to be fast, flowy, undulating terrain. My weapon of choice was my recently acquired BMC Two-Stroke aluminum hardtail. My only reservation was the entry-ish level Rock-Shox Judy fork, but the rest of the build would do just fine.

 Upon arrival at the campground, I saw this dude on his bike which was on some type of mount and rollers. He looked like he was preparing to make a name for himself. Minute by minute the lycra started to flood the area. Everyone dressed the part looking like they were destined for the podium. 

It was almost go time and I realized that I had done nothing to prepare. No course pre-ride (I like surprises), no stretching, and no carb-loading the night before. I also clicked off a ten-mile fastish paced ride with my Prep Team the evening prior. A total recipe for success!

I positioned myself in the top third of the pack. The whistle blew and off we went rocketing up this short paved section before quickly dropping into singletrack. Maybe one minute into it, my legs were revolting and my mouth was like a giant cotton ball. My higher self kept yelling "You can't suck, don't f****n suck!" After maybe five or six additional riders passed me, I had snapped out of it. I focused on my breathing and started putting some power down. 

I realize what I am about to describe makes it sound like I was some type of dynamo at the UCI Championships. Yes, it was the Secret Squirrel, but role with it. Once I settled in I found myself behind three racers who appeared to be going at a medium pace. Channeling my inner Nino Schurter I went to work. Calling out "on your left" made quick work of them. I also passed a dude running my bike up this unclimbable steep section. The poor bastard looked like he had a one-way ticket on the struggle bus. Side note: I need to work on the whole mounting/dismounting thing. 

After a quick sandy flat segment, I was now twisting and turning on some very tight singletrack and right on this guy's rear tire. Perhaps a half a mile in and he still wouldn't let me pass. I called him out, in a very non-woke kinda way, and took the next opening to barely squeeze by him. For the next maybe ten minutes I was flying solo until I barely caught a glimpse of the next racer ahead of me. And then came a number of short, steep rooty climbs. It was here that I started picking off racers one by one. See Dave, all of your abuse in those early years paid off.

It was back on some double-track for a mile or so. I locked out my fork and stepped on the gas. The breathing was heavy, and the nifkin inflamed, but come hell or high water I was going to finish top ten. The course turned swoopy and flowy and now I was starting to have a crap ton of fun! I passed three more racers and continued to fly through more root gardens that contoured a lake. Very scenic. 

Around the forty-minute mark, just up ahead by the beach, I could see the finish. I was feeling it, baby! One more racer fell victim to my late heroics and I crossed the finish in front of a small crowd. I vaguely recall a random woman clapping for me. Once I collected myself, I was greeted by a giant food truck serving pizza in a giant waffle cone. But I respectfully declined and went to the men's room instead.

The NEYC had set up the course the day before.


Now back at the car I had a few minutes to reflect before heading home. I remember this one point where I was bombing this downhill section and smiling ear to ear. The speed, the turns, and the climbs were all a smashing good time! I might have to fancy myself another one of these races and proudly represent the Racer-X name. 

Oh, about the results. I ended up taking 6th place out of 29. Not too shabby for this former imposter. Until next time my fellow Racer-X'ers...

 Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,

Jason (J-Bone) Fitzgerald





Monday, December 11, 2023

The Call of the Squirrel

My Foray into Cyclocross 

WARNING: The quality of my photos is equivalent to my racing abilities.

    Between friends and Prep mountain bike team members, I am surrounded by passionate cyclocross racers. When you get talking to them it becomes evident that this discipline of racing has a cult-like following. I fondly remember a fellow Racer-X'er referencing a mullet when he said, "It's all business in the front and a party in the back." I had preconceived notions, which were later validated, of tattoos, bushy beards, IPAs, and all things grunge. I wasn't sure if I would jive well with this crowd, but I quickly remembered that I have facial hair, occasionally enjoy a 16 oz Cloud Candy, and rock out to Nirvana with my Spotify. 

     As it turns out, same as my first official mountain bike race, I was to start my illustrious, aka shit show of a cyclocross career at the Secret Squirrel in Raynham, Massachusetts. I learned that this course was more mountain bike friendly which was perfect seeing as I did not own a cross bike. The forecast looked cold and windy so it was time to don the lycra and man-tights.

    A quick shout-out to Evan Bermann, father of two racers on my team Tyler and Reese, for orienting me to all of the race logistics. The one thing that I tried to lock into my brain was listening for this supposed bell to signify I was on my last lap. More to come on that later. After an abbreviated pre-ride and verbal spanking from one of the race coordinators, it was finally time to throw down on this Squirrel. 

    As expected, I was called to the back of the line where I immediately felt at home with the other noobs. I suddenly heard this distinct voice from atop a purple Stigmata. Fellow Racer-X'er, Jeff "Tito" Soderman, had apparently signed up for the race, but oddly was placed in the same heat as me. Side note, he was not wearing Racer-X swag so I issued him an immediate yellow card. 

    The siren sounded and we, in the back, were off like a herd of turtles. As expected, there was immediate constipation at the first turn and climb but I refused to dismount and busted out my best track-stand. Once the obstruction cleared a bit, I put some power down and quickly passed a bunch of heavy breathers. After the first few root-littered twists and turns, I thanked the BMC and the 100mm SID fork for allowing me to mob with no f***s given. The downed trees were no sweat, sandy corners a breeze, and Heckler Hill was no match for my Maxxis Icons. 

    So here is how it all went down and downhill fast. Lap one was basically me trying to stay upright, passing racers when I could, and quickly learning the rules of engagement. Lap two I picked up some speed and confidence as I was feeling some semblance of flow. I am not going to lie, I enjoyed watching a few poor souls eat s**t on the tech features while the crowd "ooooo'd" and "ooohh'd".

I forged on to lap three where the lactic acid production was rapidly increasing. Once I reached the sandy hike-a-bike again, I hit it with the fervor of a Sloth on Barbituates. I regained composure on the downs and passed through the finish line without the bell ringing. On to lap four.

    This is where disaster struck. I was coming into a climb pretty hot and found myself rapidly shifting to accommodate the steep grade. Then that awful sound came. I had made a rookie mistake and murdered my chain due to poor shift timing. Time to dismount and run my ass, and bike, through the remainder of the lap!  I am a regular runner so not a problem...until it was a problem. I distinctly recall a moment where I was running up a short hill and a pack of riders were rapidly approaching my six. As Tito was passing me, he graciously offered up some words of encouragement... "Move it you FAT ASS!" Once I told him I had no chain, he fake apologized and left me in the dust. 

    I coasted down the last descent until the finish line where yet again I heard no frighan bell. Looks like this A-HOLE is running another lap! I was all alone, laughing at myself, cursing over the fatal error I had made. BUT, I was still having fun. Lessons learned baby. The leaders of the next race started to lap me as I was coasting on the final approach. Still didn't hear that damn bell, but I called it quits anyways. 

    After watching Tyler and Reese's race I decided I was cold enough and walked back to my car. I bumped into Tito and his lovely family. I told him the inevitable had happened that I had come in last place. He told me I had not leaving me quite perplexed. I was riding the train to Suck Central on that last lap, so how the hell did I beat anyone?! 

    While sitting in classic South Shore bumper-to-bumper traffic, I took a gander at the results and quickly realized why I was not last. "Wait, why did they only count four of my l...? Then it hit me like a punch in the face from bozo the clown himself. Because those ladies didn't ring that f****n bell, I ended up running a gratuitous lap for the amusement of all. Thanks, Ladies!!
I still laughed though, I mean what else was I going to do. I messed up in a major way and STILL managed to place 75th out of 85. Boom!!!

    Final thoughts on the Secret Squirrel. Did I have fun?... Hell yes. Was it hard?... You bet it was. Will I race cyclocross again?... Most definitely! Am I going to buy a cyclocross bike now?... Nope, I will continue to be a "loser" as Evan called me, and represent the X on a front-suspended 29'er hardtail. What did my first cyclocross race teach me?... Sometimes you gotta embrace the suck, smile, and ride, or run like you're some kind of hero. 

    Until then my fellow Racer-X'ers...

    Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,

    Jason "J-Bone" Fitzgerald



Tuesday, February 28, 2023

 RunSedona Half Marathon

A New Adventure with an Old Friend

    I had a feeling the vortex would somehow draw me back to this majestic town and no, not the one in the toilet at the bike shop. Only this time it didn't involve two wheels, but rather 13.1 miles of running on beautiful Dry Creek, Long Canyon, and Boynton Canyon roads. Feeling the need to get randy and challenge myself, I registered for the RunSedona Half Marathon on February 4th, 2023.

    Until this point, I had completed one official half marathon (previous article), and two unofficial ones, the hardest being a trail version I had pieced together at the Middlesex Fells.  Shortly after, disaster struck again as I caught that lovely virus for the third time while battling my nagging upper GI issues. After a number of weeks on the sidelines I finally turned the corner. I am happy to report at the time of writing this article, I am finally on track with my health and feel great. 
    Prior to race day, I had the opportunity to kick around Sedona and take in some of the sights I missed last time. Coffee is always on the menu so I hit up Layla's to start the day. Delicious food and coffee with a comfortable chill atmosphere sum it up. Highly recommended.

    I explored several neighborhoods in my rental, walked around downtown, and conversed with random people from around the country. Straight up, Sedona is just a cool city. Tons of art and Native American influence all wrapped up in a breathtaking package. The backdrop of Red Rocks just puts your soul at ease and you feel this unexplainable yet powerful connection to the elements. I also love that it's a Dark Sky Community.

    Random piece of useless knowledge... Sedona has the only McDonald's on the planet where the golden arches are not golden.

    After a bit of meandering, I took one of my favorite drives up Route 89A north to Flagstaff, a city I fell in love with on the last trip. Two to three thousand feet higher and twenty-plus degrees colder I had arrived.

    I managed to sneak in a quick hike at Buffalo Park to enjoy views of the San Francisco Peaks before heading back to Sedona. Upon arrival at Munds Park, I was greeted by a small yet enthusiastic crowd where everyone was picking up their bibs and race swag.  

    The morning of the race was pretty chill and pretty chilly. Race-time temps ended up landing in the mid-fifties. My Air BnB was literally around the corner from the event so it was a short walk to the start line. 
    According to the Air BnB owner, I had just missed, within minutes, the one thing I was dying to see on this trip. In my last Sedona adventure, I was in search of the Vortex and its magical powers, but this trip was to actually cross paths with a Javelina.  Not exactly a boar, not quite a pig, this thing is something in between, sitting in its own category of animal. I guess there is always next time, but I did get a t-shirt with one!

    Upon arrival at the venue, I was taking in the amazing view while feeling all of the great energy from the people. Pink Floyd played in the background as the cattle were herded toward the start gate. Off we went past the hospital and onto route 89A for around a mile before turning onto Dry Creek Road where the views were just simply stunning around every turn. The course had a fair amount of elevation gain, but at times my legs would've argued I was climbing K2. 

    The turnaround point took us deeper into Long Canyon where the racers were greeted by volunteers at an aid station. What made this station unique, and albeit a touch creepy, was that all the staff including the men were dressed like Wednesday from the Addams Family. Wave that freak flag and you do you baby! Thank you for the water and putrid-looking "electrolyte drink." If I wake up somewhere with drool on myself and my pants around my ankles, I will know why.

    With four or so miles left in the race, I had crossed over a creek bed and the sun had hit my face right at the time my legs were starting to protest. It is hard to describe, but something just told me to close my eyes and be in the moment. For a few moments, I felt weightless, free, and completely at peace. Was it endorphins? The magic of Sedona? Or that questionable beverage at the aid station? I wasn't entirely certain, but god damn did it feel amazing. I will never forget it. Crossing the finish line, I had just finished my hardest race to date, but one hundred percent the most rewarding. 

     I didn't stick around too long after to celebrate, but I enjoyed some food and small talk with some volunteers. Shortly after walking back to my Air BnB, I got an email from Jet Blue saying my red-eye home was canceled. thirty minutes later I booked a $350 flight home on Delta. 

    During my final hours in Sedona, I reflected on the trip, but more interestingly the many people I met along the way. Greg and Dawn, Air BnB owners, were genuinely nice and down-to-earth people who offered some perspective on what life is like living in Sedona. I hammed it up with a couple from New York where we relived the many rivalries between the Yankees and Red Sox. The day before I found myself sitting on a balcony at a restaurant chatting with Josh and Miranda from New Mexico. Apparently, neither of them had seen the ocean which I thought was incredible, but they spoke so highly of New Mexico that I now have it much higher on my list of boxes to check.

    And then there were the two heavily intoxicated women I sat next to on the flight from Dulles to Phoenix.  This part of the story could've been the makings of an after-school special, but I will reserve the details for when we see each other in person. Either way, one of the best parts of travel is the people you meet and the stories they tell. You often take home a compilation CD of lessons learned and put your life into perspective while developing a renewed sense of your journey. 

    Before enjoying a delicious lunch at the Javelina Cantina, I made one last stop before driving south to Phoenix. After a short hike to the top of Airport Mesa, I took the opportunity to take in the views of the city one last time. I still could not believe how beautiful this place was. I will most definitely return, hopefully with my daughter to show her this gem of the Southwest. 

    As I was getting up to leave it hit me out of nowhere, this feeling like something was different, something in ME was different...What was it and what could this mean?! Time will tell, but at that moment I realized I was standing in the middle of a vortex. Found it!

To all of my Brothers and Sisters, enjoy the journey and the unique experiences that come with it. Revel in the beauty, embrace the hard work, and reflect with gratitude. Keep chasing your Javelina!

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

Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,

Jason (J-Bone) Fitzgerald