Archive for June, 2011

How Does This Guy Keep Catching Me? US Cup East / SERC #7 at Chattanooga 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

by Sean Hess (

Joe Mason, SERC mountain bike rider tag 858 who beat me, rider 813, Strackacobra / St. Augustine Team Realty

Joe Mason, who beat me again.

His name is Joe Mason, and he has tag 858. He beat me at Winder, Georgia, in the last turn. At Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga he held me off at the end with less than a minute to spare.

I started Raccoon in 2nd place…the ghost/leader in front of me gone from the very start of the singletrack, I was controlling the race in front of everyone else for awhile, and then in third place until the start of the climb after the first paved section.

By the time we get to the Megawatt section I’m maybe in 6th or 7th. The adrenaline is gone, my power has leveled a bit and hasn’t quite bounced back yet, but I’m still riding strong. I make it to the bottom of the dam and I’m thinking, “Well, at least I left Joe in the dust this time…no way he’s going to catch me after that fast start!”

Then I hear, “Hey, Sean, you been able to find the line over those rocks after the dam?”

Oh, no, it’s Joe! How did he get back in?

The benefit to being in the lead or at least leading a group is that you choose your own lines and your own pace, and everyone else behind you has to react to what you’re doing. The negative is that you don’t hydrate very well (because you don’t want to slow down or show weakness), and that you have no idea who is behind you.

So I think I’m blowing Joe’s doors off and it turns out he’s been behind me the entire time. And since we’re pretty evenly matched I know it’s going to be head to head with him at the end.

He eventually gets that minute on me, and I see him a few times but I can never close the gap. The hydration thing? I didn’t do it well enough and I’m fighting cramps the first part of the second lap and then trying to keep my legs from locking up altogether for the last half.

So I finish 8th, the best I’ve ever finished in four years racing at Chattanooga, but Joe gets me again.

But that’s what make racing fun and challenging and different each time. Hats off to you, Joe!

Eats in Chattanooga.

As I mentioned in the last post (Bump N Grind 2011) I’ve made a habit of eating Chinese or Thai the night before a race. After a seriously weird experience in Birmingham I toned it down a bit this week and just went with the pork fried rice.

I deliberately looked for one of those hole in the wall places in a strip mall, and the anonymous one I found was about as inviting as a xxx video store. It didn’t get better on the inside either. It was dimly lit in the dining area with a large section set aside for a jumble of cardboard boxes. The kitchen was darker and a pile of dead chickens was sitting on a counter where a young man would come by periodically to chop them up, and then leave again.

But another guy out of the kitchen was chowing away on something so I figured, “If they ain’t afraid to eat it, I ain’t either.” It was really basic but really good.

The post race lunch was at Mojo Burrito in the St. Elmo’s section of town, just south of I-24 near the Incline Railway. Mojo cooks a very big, very plain burrito without a lot of seasoning, but you have a whole menu of things you can throw it in it, most for no extra charge. A little on the pricey side at $10 for burrito and drink, but it was expertly made, fast, and hit the spot.

It’s Not the Speed, It’s the Sudden Stops: Bump N Grind 2011

Friday, June 10th, 2011

by Sean Hess (

So I take the hole shot and I’m out in front. This is surprising because I’ve never been in the lead before. Ever.

Through the first mile I wait for the inevitable. But no rider passes me. Hmmm. Through the second mile I’m thinking, “Hey, I can do this.” I’m hitting my corners right, I’m controling the pace and it seems so easy.

Staged up for Bump N Grind 2011

Staged up for Bump N Grind 2011

So on the last hard left before the dam I hit a soft patch of sand and the front wheel goes out from under me like it was wet moss, and all of a sudden I’m at the back of the group. It’s the old rider’s maxim: it’s not the speed, it’s the sudden stops.

I burn every match in my undersized pack to get back to the main group. And yeah, I’m picking off riders but I’m burning through fuel like Charlie Sheen burns through good will.

On the flat that links the two sections I make my last effort. What I don’t know is that back at the main group the attacks are starting. So I’m trying to catch a group that is now going even faster. So I hit the wall and I’ve got the whole rest of the course in front of me. The climb, Blood Rock, that miserable section they tacked on last year. And I suffer, oh how I suffer.

But that’s just cycling. And I can die happy now: I just led, and controlled, a race.

It feels good at the front.

Bump N Grind: the Course for 2011.

First of all the good: the start is awesome (and not just because I led it).

Remember racing through crowds of startled pedestrians at the beach? That is no more.

Basically the course curls left just past the pavement and takes a new stretch of singletrack through the woods on the opposite side of the lake. Then over the dam, through the woods, a short link of pavement to more singletrack, and then across the road to the traditional singletrack start.

Now the bad: the finish.

The not-ready-for-primetime singletrack that was tacked on to the finish last year was back. With a year of seasoning it was in much better condition, dry, and ridable. But it was still…blah. How else can you describe it, it’s a bummer trail.

Partly it’s the trail, singletrack and unremarkable singletrack at that. But mostly its the placement.

Look, you’ve just ridden 20 odd miles. You’ve climbed the the crest of the mountain and survived the lightning fast, technical descent. And you are rewarded with…pointless extra distance.

BUMP can be justifiably proud of the extra trail that they’ve built. And it’s understandable that they want to show it off in their showcase event. But it’s killing the race.

It used to be that you attacked on the climb, held the competition off on the descent, and then opened the throttle on the remaining single track. It was a real race.

Now there’s no need to attack, or bomb Blood Rock, because there’s so much distance tacked on anybody can catch up.

This race used to be the one can’t miss event in the South. This new finish is just killing it. The course just doesn’t have the same cachet.

Crazy Food in Birmingham.

This year I’ve been on a Chinese and Thai kick before races, and this led me to Mr. Chen’s.

Mr. Chen’s is supposedly the most authentic (and best) Chinese restaurant in Birmingham. And it must have been because there were two tables of ten in there speaking fluent Chinese mixed with English.

So I look at the menu and, not having a great knowledge of Chinese menus, I ordered something called Crispy Salted Shrimp. Probably some type of shrimp over rice with vegetables, right?

Oh, no. This was deep fried, skin on, tail on, head on shrimp. Over a bed of cilantro and chopped jalepenos. If I could pick two ingredients never to eat raw and one way never to prepare shrimp, this was it.

Not wanting to insult my hosts I suffered through it. I could tell it was expertly prepared and the shrimp were good, even though I couldn’t get over I was eating the heads and all. And it turned my stomach pretty bad.

BUT, I led the race the next day. My personal anti-meal turned out to be some sort of mysterious rocket fuel. The question is, can I get through the experience one more time?

I’ll have to ask Bruce Banner.