Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shartkozawa - February 25, 2007

Once again, we will be having the Shartkozawa Classic ride, version XV, USCF Fun Ride Permit #534. It's really low key, we start in the parking lot, ride neutral to the start area, then after a brief discussion on rules of the road, set off. The ride is based on the honor system. It's free (we pay the fees), there no prizes, and afterwards we go out for some coffee.

It's the cult "ride", as one participant pointed out.

The ride started a long, long time ago. Based on my calculations, it was 1988 or maybe 1989. It was named after the four full-time employees at the sponsoring (but now defunct) shop. I'll list only their last names - SHeridan, hARTley, KOZar, kikAWA. Hartley was actually responsible for the course. Starting in Wilton, CT, it meanders up some back roads to New York and drops back into the center of Wilton.

The idea was to create a tough but doable route that was tough on both riders and equipment but was not so hard that an out-of-shape racer would be unable to finish. The main requirement was to ride on as many dirt roads as possible. The fact that a couple of the dirt roads had very steep hills was a bonus. And by holding the race in February, one could almost guarantee some sort of frozen precipitation on the roads.

The first year we had a few illuminaries show up - the best known being the designer of the Cannondale Delta V, American Motorcycle Association (AMA) racer extraordinaire Chris D'Allusio (sp?). Also, Tour Du Pont "Hammer and Hell" tape producer, editor, and narrator, Jim MacDonald, and his brother (a cameraman), I forget his name but it might have been Kevin. Our strongest riders appeared to be the aforementioned M Hartley, the organizer and a forever Cat 3 (aren't we all), and R Smith, a pioneer mountain biker and local Expert class dominator. He was the sole rider on a mountain bike. The rest of us were on road bikes, and I think none of us had unusual tires - i.e. we were on road tires with one rider on cross tires.

That's fine in June, but this was February and we started out in some pretty bad conditions - it had snowed about 4-8 inches overnight and many of the roads on which we were riding were not plowed. To top it off warm air caused dense fog to appear all around the course.

The first couple hills separated the riders into two groups - the front group and "everyone else". Descending down to the base of the hardest hill, the "pace car" (a 1986-ish MR2 driven by Monsieur Kozar) started sliding on the unplowed roads. At this point the dirt road had about 6-8" of snow and everyone's spokes were full of snow. The riders still together - myself, race organizer Hartley, Smith, and Chris - had to pass the car to avoid it. Due to the fact everyone scattered when the car started to slide, we passed said sliding car on both sides. Our brakes weren't working so we couldn't slow to avoid the car. And this just before two hard turns on a very rough dirt road going onto a narrow bridge at the base of the climb.

Somehow, everyone made it through and hit the slushy, snowy, muddy climb. Even back then I didn't like to climb and this was no exception. I slammed it into my bottom gear of 42x26 and struggled to the top, tires sinking into the muddy road. I had the fortune of being able to see where everyone else's tires sank into the dirt so chose the firmest ground for myself.

Hartley stopped to direct people at the top of that climb where a route marker was mysteriously missing (we suspect a local resident took it out). I didn't know until I crested the climb in a oxygen-debt haze and saw him in front of me, pointing to turn right. Smith, he on the mountain bike, had dropped back but would catch me shortly after and pass me. I never saw him again. Hartley waited for me to turn, let Smith know, remounted, blew by us both, and took off after the lone leader.

Out in front, Chris was showing everyone that if you can ride a motorcycle at a hundred and something miles an hour, riding in deep snow on skinny road tires wasn't a big deal.

The fog was overpowering - I could barely see 50 feet. I calculated how far ahead each rider was when a horn tooting car drove by. I had to wait to hear the next toot. Then the next. And then, after a relatively long pause, the last faint toot. The gap to the leader was substantial, and it was apparent from the horn toot interval that Ray was pulling away from me. I settled in to try and make it to the finish without getting caught by anyone behind me.

On the run back on the snow covered dirt roads, on probably the sharpest downhill curve, I started sliding to the outside of the road. I ended up off the road, but, looking at the snowbank on the side of the road, found that someone had already done the same thing. I didn't see any "face-plant angel" snow patterns so I just followed the tracks. They led back to the road, I followed them, and kept churning the pedals.

When I finally finished, I learned that Chris beat Mike by 5 minutes or so. That's fine but it was more impressive after hearing what he went through. For one thing, after following some nice tire tracks on the road, he ended up riding a few hundred yards up a driveway to someone's palatial house. He had to turn around and ride back to the road. And when I polled the riders to see who went off the road, he piped up. Apparently he was the one that went off road sliding in that curve.

In the years since there have been a few missed editions (usually when I was sick) and recently, after worrying about liability, the ride has become a "clinic" on "how to ride on dirt roads". This year we're fortunate enough to have it licensed as a "Fun Ride".

It's recommended that you leave your light wheels and tires behind. Durable tires are the order of the day, with maximum pressure to avoid pinch flats. The dirt roads can be tough on any wheel so we recommend only "disposable" wheels. Participants should also carry their own pump, tube(s), and tire changing equipment. The course is short - about 19 miles - and takes just over an hour to complete.

We'll see you out there.

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