SSUSA – 2012

Have you recently completed a 12-step program?  If so, this might not be the event for you.  Let’s see… Friday Night social and registration – at the Matterhorn in Stowe.  The aid stations along the course? Beer and whiskey (They did have some water, too, but you had to ask). There was an extra prize if you could finish off a 40oz. beer at the mid-point and then finish the race. The prize?  A $40 bar tab for after the race.  The finish line?  Lots of beer, and no water, apparently.  The after party was at the Rusty Nail in Stowe.  I went through a brief period of time in my life where I drank for fun but that wa 20-odd years ago and it’s really not my thing now.  I knew this event would be a bit of a party, but didn’t realize the extent to which that was true.  On the other hand, I do like to ride single-speed bikes in the woods and there was plenty of that to be had this weekend.  The trails were absolutely amazing.  I ride Kingdom Trails on a regular basis, but felt that these were a cut above.  Great course George!  Outstanding!   I’d forgotten just how good the riding in the more mountainous parts of Vermont can be.  With the obvious exception of some of the road legs, every bit of these trails was a true pleasure to ride, whether heading down or up.

It was a very good year.

Since Single-Speed USA was hosted so close to home this year, I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in on a once-a-year race where there would be a massive crowd all on single-speed bikes.  Again, we decided to spend the weekend camping around the race.    I signed in on Friday night where we were given a T-shirt and our choice of numbers: either 69 or 999.  Everyone seemed to have the latter number put on their bike upside down.  I converted my number to 1969 since that was a really great year.  Outside the Matterhorn, I met Dave Tremblay on his Pugsley having just finished signing in himself.  We talked a little while.  His Pugs was set up as a single-speed and might have been a cool option for some of the race the next day, but he didn’t go that route.

Pre-race meeting
So many bikes, so few derailleurs.

I arrived at the start area quite early.  It was early enough that I was beginning to question if we were in the right place. There was some kind of lacross game or practice going on at the Stowe Polo fields, and the first few people I spoke with didn’t know anything about the single-speed race.  Eventually, people started showing up on bikes; but it took a while.  Before too long, bikes had pretty much taken over the entire parking lot.  There were riders in all kinds of costumes.  I decided to wear my race kit in rebellion to the conformity of non-conformity.  That, and the fact that it’s very comfortable.  Judging by this crowd, you’d think the 26-inch mountain bike wheel had long been retired from production.

George of Five Hills Bikes (aka Bike 29) held the racers meeting.  After the giving us the basic ground rules, he simply said “go.”  After a moment’s pause, everyone realized that he meant it; and we were off. We left the polo fields and started climbing up a long paved road. I was soundly at the back.  I caught up with my NEMBA teammates Kevin, Dustin and Shaun, only briefly.  Looking at the massive pack of riders ahead of me, I decided to get as far ahead as I could while the opportunity to pass on the road existed. I really didn’t want to be stuck behind over a hundred riders when we finally entered the single-track. I managed to move pretty far up the field but not as far as I had hoped.  Once we climbed the pavement, we turned onto a dirt road. Eventually the course left the road for the first leg of single-track.  There was obviously more climbing ahead, and I was temporarily trapped behind a couple of riders who weren’t as smooth as I would have liked. I sat in for a while.

The Start
Why am I always last off the line?  There were almost 200 riders ahead of me.

Eventually, things opened up to some more dirt roads leading to some class-4 roads. I saw David Tremblay way up ahead of me, so I decided to catch up with him. We didn’t get a chance to talk before the race, so I figured it would be nice to visit for a while.  It took me a little extra effort, but I was able to make up the distance.  Really, I just wanted to buzz his back tire (he loves it when I do that).

The class-4 road climbed gradually and eventually turned to some more single-track. Another rider got between David and I and I lost touch with him for a few miles.  This single-track climbed for what seemed like an eternity. Then it climbed some more.

Finally, it turned downhill. Here I managed to picked off another few riders.  This actually led us back to the same class-4 road we had climbed earlier; although, I didn’t realize it at the time.  Here, I ran into about 15 or 20 riders climbing back up. Major confusion ensued; but, eventually, it was all sorted out:  we were supposed to double-back. Everyone made a stop at the first aid station for the second time.  Not knowing where we were going, Dave and I hung around until there was some group consensus on continuing the race.  We eventually took off following a leading car down some really fast paved descents back toward Stowe village. Speeds were up around 45mph as we descended in this pack of non-shifting bike geeks. Dave and I were riding together again.

Representing NEMBA while waiting for the start.

We got on the Stowe bike path for a brief stretch and then bushwhacked over a small hill to the next aid station. Dave and I declined the opportunity to attempt to drink the 40oz beer.  Instead, we headed out to the next section of trail which was across Rt. 108. Here, was got on some amazingly smooth single-track which also seemed to climb endlessly. That was the theme for this entire race – endless climbing. The climbing went from smooth to extra technical with a nice big slab of ledge to hike up.  From there things got really fun; and the trail was punctuated with many short, steep, rocky and rooty efforts. I was able to stay on the bike on one particularly rough section and put some distance on Dave.  Since we were almost 18 miles in, I decided to run with it and see if I could bridge to some of the riders in the lead group.

For quite a long while, I rode alone. It was refreshing to be able to attack the technical terrain without anyone ahead of me to factor in. I passed several groups of riders before the trail (finally) turned downhill.

I crossed by the school and then began the climb up this “pipeline” trail. I think there were several dozen switch-backs on this trail. I saw another rider well ahead of me here and decided to try to catch up with him.  I managed to pull that off well before the top of the trail even though I was out of water and my legs were starting to get that twitchy pre-cramps feeling.

The trail dumped out onto a much too short dirt road descent. This led to another class-4 road. At this point, I was getting desperate for some water.  The final aid station certainly had some beer, but I managed to convince them to give me some water instead. I partially filled up my Camelbak since I was about 25 miles into a 24 mile race. With that, it was time to tackle the class-4 road. We had to be close to the fininsh by now.

Somewhere in the latter half of the course.

In a fitting end to the race, this final class-4 road climbed relentlessly.  Just when I thought I was going to crest the hill and start a well-earned descent, it went up more.  And then some more.  How long could this go on?  Apparently, a lot longer than I would have ever believed.  I was trying to go faster just to make the pain end sooner.

Finally, at 28 miles into this 24 mile race, the trail turned downhill on some great single-track.  It was two miles of undulating, swooping, technical, non-stop fun. Yes, two miles of it.  My arms were tired; but I was glad that it was my arms, instead of my legs for a change. The final approach was a steep, rocky, gravel road which then crossed a bridge to the finish.

I later learned that I was in the “dopers” list even though I was among the very few people who were sober the entire weekend.

My finial time was exactly 3 hours – as official as anything gets with this event. I was around the 20th rider in. The lead group of riders were all marked as having skipped the back-track section, so I  really could be considered second if you factor that in. Or not. Whatever.


The finish area was this little clearing for some kind of trail-head.  They had a tent set up with quite a bit of beer on tap.  Down in the brook there were several families with kids playing.  That was more my speed so I cooled off with my own kids there.  I visited with Dave for a little while after he came in, but he left a short while later.  We decided to skip the “derby” and any of the remaining chaos and head back to the campground to relax.  I’ve learned since then that the event will be held in Minnesota in 2013.  I will probably stay in Vermont for that weekend – maybe I’ll go for a big ride in Stowe instead.  Those trails were that good.

Random related links:

In the spirit of SSUSA, I thought I’d post this clip for no particular reason:


8 thoughts on “SSUSA – 2012

    1. The funny thing is that I didn’t even notice the “dopers” header there until I unloaded the photos at home last night. I think I was a bit dazed after the long ride.

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