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Cal State race at Northstar Sept. 24, 2003

Last weekend, Cali's most motivated mountain bikers drove to Northstar at Tahoe for No. 7 in the Team Big Bear California State Series. My bro's and I met up there to have some good times and bring glory to NorCal.

Pros and experts zipped down Karpiel to lower Dogbone. This is some very good living: Fast and dusty at the top, fast and rocky in the middle and steep and rocky at the bottom. There are few places where you can kick back and get your heart rate down.

Several people from SoCal told me they were pretty darn intimidated. "We don't have anything like this at home," was the common refrain. All weekend long, bikes were coming down with serious cases of Northstaritis: broken shifters, brake levers, cranks and derailleurs, not to mention flat tires - a - rama.

I flatted a 24x3.0 Kujo twice. I know flatting a Kujo is no feat, but I'm talking full DH tube and 50 (fifty!) pounds of air. Of course, I deserved both flats. Coming up short trying to jump rock sections. "Whoa, rocks!" Launch some air. "Uh ohh..." CLANK!

Anyway, I know how it feels to be intimidated by Northstar. This was my seventh race there and the first time I felt like I was working the course instead of the other way around.

Beginners took Karpiel to Pho Dogg. Pho Dogg is new this season, very flowy but still pretty technical compared to a lot of courses.

Fast dudes
  • Pro men: Henry O'Donnell from Downieville won with a two-run combined time of 8:21.
  • Semipro men: Dan Krenecki from Truckee ran a 9:00.
  • Junior X: Kyle Adams from Hesperia ran an 8:52. Watch out!

Fast chicks
  • Pro women: Kristina Martinez from Berkeley ran a 11:55.
  • Expert women: 21-year-old expert Tenille Smith from Stanford ran a 11:32. This was the fastest women's time.

First person singular
While I was rehearsing the course the night before the race, I felt my perception shift from "Ohmygod, how will I survive?" to "Wow, I get it. How do I stay smooth?" I was stoked. No sleep for this kid.

I had a couple good runs, with one mistake each. In run No. 1, I slid out entering a fire road section - the easiest part of the course. Duh. I ran a 4:49.

On run No. 2, I was flowing and pedaling like a champ. As I clattered over the rock steps and set up to thread between the trees at the top of lower Dogbone, I thought "Dude, I'm having a perfect run." That was enough inattention to make me clip the left tree. Dead stop. Front brake lever pointed at the ground. Continue down the Vietnam section with no front brake. I figured the really fast guys would just let fly, but I wasn't down with that. I took it careful the rest of the way and wound up with a 5:00.

I wound up third out of 12 Experts 30-34. I felt good about that. Robert Lang from Auburn and Aaron Potter from Irvine beat me. I did well, but they did better. Good for them.

The star of the day was Justin Schinder, a 10-year-old proto-stud from the town of Mokelumne Hill in the Sierra foothills. The dude made it down the beginner/sport course on a 20-inch mountain bike. Fully rigid. V-brakes. Major chutzpah.

He ran a 23:56 and an 18:38 (He was five minutes faster on his second run!). Most importantly, he seemed to have fun, and he didn't hurt himself, which is more than I can say for everyone. Justin won and wholly comprised the 10 and under class.

When he climbed onto the podium, the place went ballistic. Mom stood close by as the crowd's adulation iced the cake of maternal support. The little guy stood there staring at the crowd, half confused and half enraptured.

Something about that scene, I think the overwhelming support, made me weep a bit.

Super D is becoming my favorite event. It's basically a long downhill with lots of pedaling. At Big Bear, the courses are very pedaly fire road. At Northstar, the courses are technical, yet pedaly, singletrack. We started on the downhill gate, slipped down the top of Karpiel, railed Flameout, pedaled Manure Pile, swooped across Pho Dogg then hammered the final traverse to the Daytona berms and the finish.

This is the sport of kings. You need downhill skills and cross country fitness. People run all kinds of bikes from XC hardtail to full DH, but I believe in my Specialized Enduro: five inches of travel, multiple rings, fast tires, seat one inch below XC height. A good Super D feels like an aggressive cross country ride. It's just you and your buddies -- in 30-second intervals, with the clock running. Tick, tock.

I've been encouraging my boy Curtis Keene to try some Super D action. Curtis is one of the country's fastest downhillers, plus he is one fit mug. Little did I know he'd end up in my class, starting a minute and a half behind me. Goal of the day: Don't let Keene catch you. I don't care if I'm a washed up 34-year-old "expert" and he's a blossoming 22-year-old pro. A 90-second loss would be abominable. To add to the potential ignominy, I was running full Lycra on my Specialized Super-D weapon, and he was still in full DH gear on his V-10 with flat pedals.

I was the fifth rider to start. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEEP! Time to go to work. I'd been running Karpiel all weekend on my DH bike. The Enduro felt puny, low and long, and while my Mutano Raptors track like lasers on hardpack, they wandered aimlessly in the deep dust. I hung a right on Flameout and hauled the mail across the first traverse. The bike felt great here: light, tight and right. I hopped individual rocks and threaded between the outcroppings. One by one, I caught and passed all of the riders who started in front of me. At this point, I figured I was doing OK and settled into a semi-comfy pedaling pace, which is to say I was working hard but not puking. (Fact: I almost pooped my shorts at the Big Bear Super-D. It was that hard.)

Meanwhile, Keene was demolishing the trail on his DH bike, passing riders and wondering where the heck I was. Sorry, jerk, I'm still in front of you. Victory of the day: Keene beat me by only 40 seconds.

I wish more people would race Super-D. The DHers seem intimidated by the distance, and the XCers seem intimidated by the downhill. Any fit all-around trail rider can have a great time and maybe even kick some butt.

The winners (actually, all Super-D racers are winners)
  • 18 and under: Alex Hulett from Big Bear Lake ran a 12:11
  • 19-34: Curtis Keene from Fremont ran an 8:50 (I came in a "close" second with a 9:30)
  • 35-44: Rick Hathaway from Reno ran a 10:20
  • 45+ William Dunkum from parts unknown ran a 13:06

Full results for DH, Super-D and XC on the Team Big Bear site. Look at the bottom of the page.
We goofed around on Sunday, just savoring the sweetness and taking some photos.

Some of the photos are cropped, so click on the images to see the full deal.

Curtis enters the rock waterfall on Sticks and Stones. Check out the way his upper body goes almost straight while his bike and lower body follow the smooth line.

Curtis flows down the rock waterfall. For most of us this section involves about 1,300 individual hits; for Keene it's one, two, three. Note: This is a little slower than actual speed.

- - - - -

Erron McCurdy of Soquel airs the rock drop on Sticks and Stones.

Curtis Keene aims for the downslope in the landing hole.

We met Mike on the lift. He just moved to Tahoe from the East Coast, and now he's living the life. Note that he's looking where he wants to go, not where his bike is pointing. Also note the blown fork seal.

Keene enters the rock waterfall on Sticks and Stones.

Keene projects his body down the trail as he lets his bike find the "smooth" line.

Hopping one of the rocks on the rock waterfall. Body straight down the fall line, bike squirting sideways over the rock and onto the smooth line.

Getting ready to suck up the final drop on the Sticks and Stones rock waterfall.

Dan from Planet X sets up for the drop. Eye of the tiger, baby.

Erron threads the needle into a rutted left. Sticks and Stones.

Umm ... braaap? Keene getting ready for a fun left.

Overexposed but ripping. Diving into the rut.

Erron power slides into the last berm. He's not braking: His cornering force exceeds the current traction.

Perfect form. Weight slightly to the outside, pedals level, looking into the next turn.

Comments? Questions? Rotten vegetables? Tell Lee about it at lee@leelikesbikes.com.

2003 Lee McCormack. All rights reserved.