Archive for August, 2014

Race Like It’s Your Last Race

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ and Facebook.

Above: I’m shown a few times in this video but the best is near the 7:00 mark, wearing optic yellow, riding then dismounting to cross a stream.

Last year’s Swank 65 in the Pisgah was my last race. Not my last ride, nor the last time I would enter a race, but … my last race.

My body was probably in as good a shape as it had ever been. But after 8 years in the saddle as a cat-2 it was getting old and I couldn’t motivate myself to train on the same roads for another season.

Life Has a Way of Changing Things Around When You Are Busy Making Plans

When I raced the first time, back at Razorback in Reddick, Florida, in 2006, I wasn’t even a dad. Now I’m the father of two: an 8-year old and a 4-year old. As their school schedules and after-school schedules came to the fore life really became about them.

On the practical side, shepherding around two kids didn’t leave much time to train. Training windows were getting shoved into smaller and tighter windows until it became nearly impossible to find any time at all.

And on the other side it was time to set my dreams and desires for my kids’ dreams and desires.

So I let my coach know I was hanging them up.

Race Like It’s Your Last Race

You here that old axiom a lot, “Race like it’s your last race!”

But I never raced like it was my last race.  I always raced like I didn’t want to to get cut, like if I didn’t make Xth place I wouldn’t ever get to race again.

I raced every race like I had to qualify for nationals. Too fast, too loose, increasingly on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Every race was tunnel vision. I only saw what was in front of me.

During the Sun Valley Nationals one year I took the gondola up to the top of the hill to practice for the Super D. I’d already ridden the course a few times as a cross country racer and I couldn’t reconcile it.

I didn’t remember the drop offs, the rails, the ledges. I didn’t remember the incredible beauty of the trees.

What I remembered were corners and hucks, the loose dirt and cutting shale at the top, hills and the rock wall. The other details? The sky was blue, the woods brown and green.

“How is this possible,” I thought to myself, “that I didn’t notice this? It’s so beautiful…”

And then I raced my last race, and it was a revelation.

Riding In Beauty

The Swank 65 hosts an open field of 200 riders. To tell the truth, probably only 20 of the riders were actually racing. My coach, Tristan Cowie, won it the year before (2012) and wasn’t competing this year because he was competing in a national level cyclocross race. The riders actually racing for the title in the 2013 version were a who’s who of local and national mountain bike ringers.

The rest of us, we were riders only for this race and we had no apologies at all.

And I rode, and I watched my breathing and my pedal stroke. I stopped to drop my saddle before I bombed the downhills, and then I stopped again to raise it for the climbs. I was blown away staring up at Looking Glass rock and reveling in the slow climb past it, just so I could look at it over and over again.

I took every second to enjoy the incredible beauty around me. I soaked it in. I saw each and every tree. I noticed the grade, the variations. I noticed the trail and how it romped along through the forest like the leaps and bound of a playful dog.

I was riding in beauty. Finally, and finally.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at


Teaching a Kid to Mountain Bike: Short Steep Hills

Monday, August 4th, 2014

by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ and Facebook.

I don’t remember how I learned to climb hills when I was a kid. It was probably just me and my buddies charging the random hill to see if we could get to the top of it.

We were a motley collection of bikes: Huffy bmx’s with mag wheels, junk bikes, and Schwinn Varsity 10-speeds. Getting up a hill was a lot of trial and error, it was not a sure thing, and most likely we went until we got hurt or were exhausted (but still stoked with the adrenaline from making it up once or twice).

I took my 8-year old daughter to the Tsali trails near Bryson City, NC, recently with the goal of having her complete the children’s race course a few times. But I forgot what a simple ordeal it is learning to climb.

Gearing, pedal stroke, speed, and what the heck do you do when the bike starts to wander?

The children’s race course starts from the parking lot, climbs the gravel road to the traditional start at the horse parking area, takes a right up a small hill above the parking area then speeds down to the traditional finish area.

The small hill isn’t bad (though it seems an awful grind after you’ve put in 18 or 30 miles of racing), but my daughter and I spent about an hour working on it.

She did make it (see the video below), but it took awhile, and then we still had to get up to the ridge and go down.

I think the mistake I made was having her geared too low.

I thought that if she was in a really light gear she would be able to just scoot up the hill and focus on riding. But because the terrain was uneven and a little washed out, the bike wandered, she freaked out, lost her pedal stroke and fell over.

What I figured out is what all riders figure out eventually: a bigger gear and speed are your friends over the rough stuff.

I had her go up a chain ring, follow me around in a big loop then charge the hill at full speed. The bike still wandered, but she made it (with a tiny bit of help).

So if you are teaching you’re little one, go big first on the gear and speed when it comes to hills.

See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at