A coupla weeks have slipped by since I loaded up the Man Van with Dr. Dizzle, Frank the Welder, Daq and a quiver of bikes to spend a long Saturday at the Kenda Fest (formerly Pedro’s Fest) in Hancock, MA–right in the shadow of Jiminy Peak ski area. I must admit I’ve spent most of those weeks wishing I was still part of that traveling road show known as the bicycle industry.
We rolled into the registration tent and identified ourselves. Daq, the only of us who uses his real name (and who wouldn’t, if you parents named you Daquiri?) pretended to be Tattoo Dave, who had to meet with the Lost Boys of Sudan (no kidding) as part of his work. And Karen, bless her editor’s heart, had us listed as “Captain Dondo, Dr. Dizzle, Frank the Welder and Tattoo Dave.” That was the first hint that I’d come home.
We rolled on in and went hunting for the Dirt Rag tent, which was easy, thanks to the miracle of sublimation printing. Finding Charlie Kelly was even easier. He’s one of the few race announcers I know who could get the gig done even if the PA system crashed and burned. Charlie, or SeeKay as he’s sometimes called (C.K. Charles Kelly, SeeKay–get it?) is many things. The reason he gets flown out to Hancock, MA from his Bay Area California home is because he’s a founding father of the sport. One of the original inductees into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, SeeKay was partners with Gary Fisher when they started the first-ever mountain bike manufacturing company. After that, he was a founder and editor of the Fat Tire Flyer—the first-ever mountain bike magazine. I’m telling you all this because Charlie is a regular guy who could easily be forgotten if not for guys like me who still honk his horn for him. There are still a lot of people out there believing the Trek media blitz of the late 90′s in which they positioned Gary Fisher as the inventor of the mountain bike. Didn’t happen that way. Charlie was at Kenda Fest to show Billy Savage’s ground-breaking documentary on the origin of the mountain bike, in which Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Charlie Cunningham, Wende Cragg, Tom Ritchey, and a whole host of others played very important parts.
But I digress.
We scrambled into riding clothes and headed across the road to a mile (or so) long paved climb to the top of some singletrack. JD and I made sure no one got left behind on the climb, doing a thorough, arduously slow examination of said climb. At the top, party favors were passed around—something I haven’t seen on a group ride in years. Not that I partook, or even got downwind, but it was still heartening to see the funhogging, clubcar ethos of the sport hasn’t been choked out of it completely by the marketing firms and body nazis. The descent was gnarly, to say the least. Twelve inches of rain in the week prior to the event had been pretty well absorbed by these well-crafted trails, but there was no dodging the inch of greasy baby shit-consistency mud lurking on top. Coming around the first corner, I slipped on three consecutive roots and found myself pointing in the opposite direction. Even without the befuddling benefit of said party favors, I managed to do the same loop twice with JD while the rest of the gang had moved on. “I think they took the blue pill,” I said to JD. “We’re still stuck in the Matrix.”
Finding the missed turn, we rejoined the group for a much mellower lower section of trails that I couldn’t ride well, either, because I was so hammered by the upper section. Whatever. Some days you bite the bar. Some days the bar bites you. It was a mountain bike ride with Charlie Kelly, Frank the Welder (another hall of famer–look him up), Daq (my young apprentice from West Hill Shop days) and Dr. Dizzle (my long-lost twin). Baby shit notwithstanding, it was awesome.
Post ride, I grabbed the two acoustic guitars I’d stashed in the Man Van and tracked SeeKay to the Dirt Rag tent. We whipped them babies out and got to work. SeeKay was, among other things, the chief roadie for the Sons of Champlin for 13 years and has jammed with many, many famous rock musicians. His own band, The Aphids, is a Fairfax/SanRaphael institution at this point. I never pass up a chance to jam with the man. He set about teaching me the Allman Brothers’ arrangement of “Stormy Monday,” but I was just too retarded from the ride to get it right. But that didn’t keep the paparazzi from showing up. As we’re dicking around on a coupla chairs in the back of the tent, three guys with real cameras start snapping away. Here’s one. It was a little unnerving. I tried to find a pen to write the chords on my leg, but no luck. So SeeKay, in his infinite wisdom, says, “Quick, play something you know and I’ll fake it.” So I launched into “Before You Accuse Me” in E and we had at it. The willies went away and I belted out three verses between swapping leads with SeeKay a few times. T’was a gas, it t’was. But then we got booted out so Frank the Welder could hold court and lecture on the wonders of bicycle frame building.
FTW is as good a fabricator as he is as designer. The guy sees shit the rest of us can’t see, but also knows how to get it into a solid form that doesn’t fall apart. He’s currently designing and building for Sinister bikes, but he got on the map as the torch behind Yeti. He held the audience rapt for as long as he wanted to keep talking. He’s that good at explaining it all as well.
After a round of gigantic burritos and some beverages, I hung out at the mud bog competition with another old friend, Francis Bollag. Most of you wouldn’t know Francis unless you were in the bicycle retail business. Francis is a wholesaler and, for a long time, maker of Kingsbridge bicycle tools. “I never had a repeat customer, so I failed,” says Francis. But you have to know him well enough to know he doesn’t mean the tools sucked. He means they were so good, nobody ever had to replace one. I used many Kingsbridge tools in my grease monkey career. They were that good. Fish around any shop that’s been going 20 or so years and you’ll find them—still sharp and unbroken. Francis is on the brink of retirement and has discovered the wonders of SCUBA diving with his wife, although he’s still riding his road bike—still without a helmet. We’re talking old, old school here, babies.
Francis has a new chain lube which he begifted me. It’s called Chain-L No. 5 and, yes, you have to say it a few times quickly to get the joke. Even the graphics match the fragrance maker’s. I spent a rainy week camping with the family at Emerald Lake State Park where my bike was never under cover and the stuff didn’t wash off. It reminds me of Phil Tenacious Oil, but with better penetration. Smells like chainsaw bar oil but, hey, you’re not supposed to be sniffing the stuff.
Anyway. Day faded to night. One band gave way to the next. Much beer was being consumed. I’m glad the Starbucks cart stayed open so I had something to drink as well. The Dirt Rag salon became the Dirt Rag Saloon with a bourbon “tasting” event that started out pretty sedate and ended with many “you’re my best friend” speeches. I took the opportunity to have conversations with as many Dirt Rag staffers as I could. Maurice, the publisher and co-founder, is an old, old friend. We yapped about the wonder of non-competitive events such as Kenda Fest and then wondered where they’ve all gone. That was my beat: Fat Tire Bike Week, Canyonlands, West Virginia Fat Tire Festival, Pedro’s and so on. Where have all the good times gone? Well, it’s all cyclical, so some bright young thing will stumble on the concept, make it his own and we’ll have another go at it soon, I imagine. Maurice made sure he met everyone in my entourage and understood how they fit into the puzzle. He’s that kind of guy.
I just sent Karen Brooks, Dirt Rag’s editor of a year or two now, a most embarrassing email in which I blurted something like, “You don’t photograph that well.” Then babbled on about how much more attractive she is in person. And tiny. I mean, what a bonus. The attractive part, I mean. She’s already a mountain biker and more tech savvy than most shop rats. I’m a groupie. I admit it. I also had the pleasure of shaking Ruthie Matthes’ hand, another ultimately cool mountain bike female. Oh, and Amanda Zimmerman. She’s the art director for Dirt Rag. Take a good look at the mag some time and marvel at the wonder of her work. It all makes sense. Had a great chat with Jeff Lockwood and Karl Rosengarth, who are technically not staffers, but run the online aspect of the biz as part of a separate company. Karl wants to set me up with some blog space on the DR site. Not sure if I’ll do that in addition to this or instead of, but I’ll keep you posted. I like the idea of having a roost at Dirt Rag. Nobody there is getting rich, but there’s so much love of the sport there you can spread it on toast. Whatever that means. I just made it up. I also got to meet Justin Steiner, the circulation guy (makes sure the mags get to where they can be bought), who’s also quite an adept photographer, judging from the mud bog shots he’d gotten earlier. Hung with Andy and Eric who do the advertising and partnership stuff that keeps the money wheel rolling. Really thankless, but absolutely essential, jobs. But everybody on the team seems to have a hand in the editorial voice, so there’s none of that front office/back office BS you see some places.
I’m really nattering on here. We hit the road at a quarter to midnight in search of more food. Oddly enough, the Friendly’s was open in North Adams, but inundated with teenagers. We were seated toward the back, out of the fray. Poor JD ordered some barbeque chicken sandwich that was just plain wrong. I’ve seen JD chug down three double cheeseburgers from Mickey D’s, despite his career as a chef. He’s no sweet pea when it comes to eating crap. Which is why we were blown away when he set his sandwich down after one bite and marched off to the men’s room. What happened next was, soundtrack-wise, somewhere between Jurassic Park and Quadrophenia. Seems JD doesn’t reverse digestion easily. I looked at Frank and said, “Did he just yell ‘Ralph O’Roarke double parked my Buick?’” “No,” says Frank. “That was the third verse of ‘Inigaddadavita.’”
Actually, truth be told, Frank didn’t say that. He just rolled his eyes. But it really would have been funny, had he said that. Regardless, the bugling moose calls from the can pretty much cleared out the teenager infestation. This part is also true: the waitress wanders back to the table after JD returns and says, “I’ll just take that off the bill for you.”
We parted ways around 1:30 a.m. in JD’s driveway, after a hellish traverse of VT Route 9 in a lightning storm. I wobbled home, head full of joy, heart full of wonder, brain full of caffeine, and read my book until I finally unwound at 2:45, placed the bookmark, turned out the light and…
KAAAABOOOOOOOOM! The lightning storm had one last laugh, shorting the dorm alarm system and setting off the klaxon in the kitchen. Everybody up and into the van to wait for the Putney fire chief to come and reset the alarm.
I do recall saying it was a long Saturday. If you’re still with us, thanks for tagging along.