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What's 1 minute in 6 hours?

(Al) Hemme and I rolled into the John Muir trailhead to tackle the WEMS 6 hour duo with plenty of time to warm up.  We got a spot in the shade, got-in a decent warmup, then found Julie P., Ben and Molly in the lot.  Ben was gonna ride with us while we raced while Julie P. took Molly for a hike.  We ran into Gerred coming off a lap at the start line and he said conditions pretty sloppy but improving, but still a lot of slick spots.  Mike was going to start for us to set the pace.  The officials told us that the best lap time thus-far was about 1:04, so we had an idea of what to expect.

Lap 1 (Mike) WEMS races begin with a LeMans start, I got a good jump and made it to the bike first, but got hung up a bit trying to get around the bikes in front of me so I ended up starting 4th wheel.  Maciej on team Polska took the lead and I set out to try and grab his wheel.  The other three solo riders in front of me were pretty intent on blocking so when I finally got around I set out on the chase.  The first half of the trail was real slick in the turns so it was a ton of accelerations out of corners. which I was figuring was at least a good workout for cross.  Things dried up on the second half so I just kept a steady pace and tried to catch Maciej. I ended up a little short at 59 min, but put us in the lead for the 6 Hour Duo class.

Lap 2 (Al) Ben and I took off, and got a good run into the woods.  The course was slick in spots, but still fast.  It took us on a combination lap of the Blue loop connecting with the new Orange climb and back to the Blue loop a very interesting layout and not without challenge.  The new Orange section is a very technical, rocky, rooty, twisty constant climb that offers little reward other than making it through without crashing.  I made a couple of root/rock bobbles, but kept it up.  I was passing politely, but not being passed for most of the lap, till a couple guys caught and passed me just before the last climb out of the blue.  I stepped-it-up and hung with them as well as I could, but they are clearly a bit faster.  Came in for the handoff to Mike at a 1:05-- nowhere near Mikes pace, but still pretty fast.  Turns out the guys that passed me were rider 2 of the guys we had to beat, being led by his riding buddy.  I soon figured out that the other team was turning laps in the 1:00-1:02 range, so w/Hemme at :59 and me at 1:05, we have our work cut out for us.

Lap 3 (Mike) I started a few minutes behind the 3 hour which meant I was going to be hanging out in a lot of traffic.  The 6 hour lead rider went down in a corner while trying to squeeze between two 3 hour riders so I made the pass and set out to try and pick up some time.  Trails were in much better shape and I was riding a lot smoother, but there was so much traffic out there it was hard to keep a rhythm. As soon as I started making up time I was slamming on the brakes so I wasn't able to get too much time on the rider behind me.  Despite the traffic, the trail conditions were a lot faster so I had a good lap time, but not much of a cushion on 2nd.

Lap 4 (Al)  I bust out again to see if I can improve.  Before I left, I see my competitor and his buddy and I realize that when they passed me on lap one, the unregistered buddy was leading, so I look over at them both and say, "No pacing guys, OK?" and take off.  The conditions continue to improve, and I feel quicker, but I feel the pain on the climbs too.  So I am pushing along as fast as I got it with another 3hr guy that is really quick, till he drops his chain, then I pass till he fights back only to drop his chain again.  We go into the Orange loop together and I hear two more guys catching up to us and as I look back, I see the riding buddy leading my competitor again - nice.  I try to put me head down and stay ahead, but the guy has more leg on me in the climbs and passes while his buddy sits behind me.  I stay with him pretty well coming down out of the Orange till I drop my chain on a downshift on a climb and lose about 10-12 seconds getting it going again, and I lose sight of them.  I pushed as hard as I could, but felt bad that the hard work was going back to Mike to try and regain the lead, as I knew we could only get one more lap in.

Lap 5 (Mike) Final lap and I had about a minute and a half to close so I went out fast.  About the time I hit the orange climb I realized I was pretty worked over.  I kept trying to close gaps, but unfortunately it was never the lead rider.  The course was perfect, and even though I was tired I rode a lot smoother so I brought the lap time down to 58.  I took 30 second out of the lead group, but they still had us by a minute.

(Mike) 6 hours later losing by a minute stings a little, and I kept wondering where in the laps I could have picked up some more time.  There were some opportunities, and mostly in these endurance races it seems to be a mental challenge to push a little harder when no other riders are around, but in the end Al and I both put in really strong laps.  It was a lot of fun to keep it close and made us push a little harder every lap.  The event itself was a blast, and a great Saturday.

(Al) I was a bit disappointed, but considering this was my first ride on the Titus all year,  there were 8 teams in the duo, the payout for 2nd was some cash back, we had a great time with our friends and team mates, and I just found out my Garmin (lost on my first lap) was found... not to mention we had FUN. I guess Ill take it!

!!  (photo: <a href="">Amy Dykema</a>)

 -Al Thom & Mike Hemme

Congrats Julie, 1st place 12 hour solo at WEMS!

!! (photo: <a href="">Amy Dykema</a>)

Congrats to Julie Abrams for her first place finish at the WEMS 12 Hours at John Muir!  Though weather forced the race to shorten to 10 hours, Julie battled a strong field of women, holding steady through some slick trail conditions in the morning and a hot, sticky afternoon to take the top of the podium.

Also hitting the podium, Mike Hemme and Al Thom battled it out for a close 2nd place in the 6 hour duo category, finishing within a minute of first but putting in a great effort and doing the team proud.

Congrats also to Gerrerd Abrams for a strong finish in the men's 12 hour solo, and to Jason Henry who crashed badly enough to need a replacement helmet (and nearly hit a deer) in the 36 mile race but still managed to make it to the finish with good results.  Hopefully there's a race report coming...


A first-place return to racing

A few weeks ago I made the decision to race the WEMS Metro Challenge event.  It was about time for me to get back in the racing saddle after taking a 2 ½ year break, and the race was going to be held at Crystal Ridge Ski Hill, which is one of my favorite courses from the WORS series.

The two-hour drive up allowed me plenty of time to daydream. I wondered how many laps I could finish in three hours, how many other women would be in the race, where I might be able to finish, and whether I would be able to go all-out for three hours in 90-degree heat. But regardless of the outcome, I knew I would have fun.

When I finally arrived at the course and spotted the HAC tent, I received a very enthusiastic welcome from Erica (Julie was racing her lap) and immediately sensed the laidback vibe of the WEMS series.  In fact, the organizers were so accommodating that they allowed Julie and Erica to compete in the Women’s 12-Hour Duo even though the HAC ladies missed the “official” start time by a few hours. Now that’s what I call hospitality!

Within a few minutes Julie completed her first lap and then Erica pedaled away for her turn.  Julie then did me the favor of scoping out my competition and concluded that the field looked pretty small: only three women, including myself would be competing in the 3-Hour Solo. Julie offered that the small turnout was likely due to some series riders attending a MTB skills clinic that day with Alison Dunlap instead of racing WEMS.

Regardless, a race is a race no matter how many people show up, so I proceeded to get ready for the start. I didn’t do much of a warm up because it was more fun hanging out with Julie and Erica.  As a result, the uphill start left me a little winded. But after the first climb we were rewarded with a super-fast downhill, complete with switchbacks, which proved to be a nice rest for the legs and a lot of fun!

Next up was the best part: the tight and twisty single-track that I could ride all day, followed by some flat double track and more single-track along the river.  And then it was on to the long climb aptly named “Craters of the Moon” due to the loose dirt, rocks and uneven surfaces that seemed to suck the life out of my legs on every lap.

Immediately following the craters was a nice wide-open breezy section (finally, some air) followed by a 2-way gravel path where I clumsily dropped my water bottle on the third lap but forced myself to double back to retrieve it—which cost me some time but was well worth it because I managed to down the rest of it before the lap was even over. The last half of the loop included a short jaunt across the top of the ski hill, a dip back down into the single-track, finished off by an open grassy section that looped back around to the start/finish. A great course!

I completed four laps in 2 hours and 33 minutes, and found myself wondering whether I could hammer out another lap in the 27 minutes remaining. I did the quick math and figured that I would need a miracle to reduce my fastest lap time by enough to finish under the 3-hour cut off.  As if reading my mind, one of the judges calmly suggested that I just “put it in the big gear” and go for it. While I appreciated the sentiment, instead I declared loudly that I was “done” and headed for the shade of the HAC tent.

Overall, I had a great time at the Metro Challenge. The HAC ladies earned first place wins in our respective races, and Julie made a really cool observation that every woman who entered the race that day won something.  (That something was a certificate and a big bottle of Fat Tire beer.)  I also met a couple of new folks (HAC friend Mike Hemme placed third in the Men’s 3-Hour Solo), chatted with an old friend and simply enjoyed hanging with my teammates for some long overdue mountain bike racing fun. What more could a girl ask for?

 -Kristina Meinig


Miscues and Rebounds at John Muir

The John Muir trials at South Kettle Moraine have always been a favorite, and knowing they cut-in some stuff, I was anxious to get away from the swamp they call Palos. Got there just before the kids race and got my son prepped. (Jacob won the kids race!) I suited up for a good warmup, but I ended taking my other son Evan for a slow loop of the red trail instead. The rest of the HAC crew, Julie, Jason, Erica, Adrian and Ronit all got there with no time for warmup either, but we found the HAC tent (Soupy and Bob were well underway for the 6hr) and dropped our stuff. My sons were prepped on the handup drill, and off we go.

No Le Mans start this time, they simply said “if you know you’re fast, line up here, if not, spread out. I went to the front, as I knew I wanted a clean break in the first super-fast, super-fun section. Slotted-in in the top ten and kept the burn on as long as I could to get a gap on guys, then made a wrong turn 3/4’s of the way through lap one, had to turn around, then lost two spots – damn!

Lap two starts, good handup from the boys, and seeing nobody close behind, I go into recovery mode. I miss another turn after the fast-and-fun section and lose two more slots – damn! Another guy miscued as well, and he and I start fighting back, while chatting a bit. He knows the course better, but I have him covered on the climbs, so we trade pulls till we catch the two guys ahead. I pulled a nice late-breaking pass on both guys into the 90 left after the sandy fire road.

So the pace is back up, and as we go through the damp and rocky “ledge” section, I miscue again, lose balance, unclip, and as I point my toe down to catch myself my right calf knots up! I stop and try to massage it, and the three guys pass me back. Arrgh! I get going again, hook up with the dude that I traded pulls with and put our heads down for lap three.

Another pro handup from Jacob and Evan and I start pushing. I pass my helper early on, and he is out of gas. Halfway round I catch the first, then the second guys, and keep pushing. I don’t know if I can get anymore, but I am feeling good so I keep pushing all the while jonesing on what a great trail system these guys have built. I make a hard dash to the line hearing the cheers of the HAC camp and I am greeted at the tent with a cold one from Soupy Mike. Does it get any better?

It is great to be part of such a diverse and supportive team! Also, getting kinda hooked on these WEMS enduros. Fun! Ended up 15th out of 60. Considering the number of Cat1 ass kickers in the field, I am happy.


-Al Thom

Playin' hooky

Ronit, Julie, Adrian, Bob, Paul-Brian, Jason, and Tim all stuck it to the man (or the sucky economy, or to themselves for the lucky self-employed) on Thursday to attempt a pre-ride of the "WEMS": 3-hour course.  Leaving behind a fifty degree and rainy Chicago, the clouds parted at the state border for our crew who enjoyed the rewards of a sunny warm day on the trail.  Attempts to ride the course were foiled by downed trees and other nonsense on the trail connecting orange back to blue, but pre-ride or not, it was an awesome day.  Half Acre's expecting to make a big showing at Saturday's race.  See y'all at Muir tomorrow!


WEMS: Stump Farm Report

Despite a threat of rain and unseasonably cold temperatures, Half Acre mountain bike riders Julie, Erica, and I headed up north to Green Bay for the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series (WEMS) Stump Farm race. The 2009 WEMS series consists of nine races at different Wisconsin trails featuring a 3, 6, and 12-hour event. Last year, HAC women took first place in the 12-hour women’s relay series.

While we wanted to race the 12-hour relay again this year, we opted for the 3-hour event due to the weather. The 3-hour started later in the day, which allowed us to confirm the race was still happening before we made the 3.5 hour trek up north.

The sky was grey and threatening as we drove to the Brown County Reforestation Camp, but fortunately the morning rains had ceased. The parking lot was bustling with riders in brightly colored jerseys and fans swaddled in thermal layers trying to stay warm. Riding my Gary Fisher in the parking lot, I felt the usual pre-race jitters. Not only was this my first race of the season, it was my first off-road RIDE of the season. I don’t usually like to do things this way, but the trails at Palos have been a soggy mess.

The race started with a Le Mans style start (running to bike.) I sprinted to my bike and jockeyed for position on the singletrack. I thought I was doing well until a rainbow blur of riders steadily overtook me. I veered off the singletrack and onto the grass - Julie urged me to aggressively slip back in the rider stream. I clumsily did so and held on tight. My skills were rusty. I braked too much on the corners when I knew I should just flow with the curves. But hey, I hadn't been on trails since last October.

We were deep in the pine forest, the smells were lush, the foliage thick. The trail was packed down; making it a fast, smooth ride rather than a technical one. There was a mixture of single and doubletrack, with a few short hills and some squishy mud sections thrown in for fun. My legs burned on the hills, but the downhills were refreshingly sweet.

In the WEMS series you ride as many laps possible within the allotted time period. My goal was to complete three laps. I rode more cautiously in lap one; cranked things up in lap two, and became well acquainted with lactic acid in lap three.

I was greeted at the finish line with the sounds of a tinny cowbell and three children shouting encouragement. “Do another lap!" one boy yelled. But my three hours were up; the race was done. My effort was enough to earn me 8th place out of a field of 17 women. That made me happy.

After the ride, my teammates and I shared war stories. Julie by far had the best one -"I swallowed a bug that stayed alive in my lungs. I could feel it crawling back up.”

After the race we ate at Taco Johns where we had burritos and potato ole's...glorified potato puffs with salsa.

We drove home to Julie's choice selection of cheesy rock - Journey, Quiet Riot, Rush, ELO and Boston. She heard my grumblings in the back seat and humored me by putting on Le Tigre.

I was tired, sore, and happy as I stretched out in the back seat of the Julie's VW Jetta listening to Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre, as we headed back to the Chi.

 -Ronit Bezalel

Half Acre Cycling WEMS Women

Last week, the trophies for our 2008 Series Champion "WEMS": 12-hour female team arrived- thanks Al!- so the ladies celebrated in style.  This year, the team adds new member Erica Chianese to  the returning roster of Amanda Barbato, Julie Popper, and Audrey Thibeau and will be back for another complete series.  We're hoping, though, that this will be the year that another female team mounts a challenge for the title.  We think WEMS is a great intro for women MTB racers.


Why WEMS?  For beginning mountain bike racers, it's great.  You're there with a group of friends.  It's laid-back.  You don't need to buy a mountain bike, since you can pass one bike off between the riders, so it doesn't take a huge financial committment to get involved.  When you're not riding, you can get to know other racers and learn from them.  And the fields are small so it's less overwhelming than, say, WORS.


For 2009, the Half Acre Cycling's female team will ride at least four of the 12-hour races and are hoping to volunteer at one, too.  Last year at the John Muir race, the Mad FORCs women said they were thinking of fielding a 12-hour female team for the 09 series.  We really, really hope they- and others- follow through!



Fun Times at New Fane

Our 4-lady team was just 2, but we decided to start the series with 12 Hours of Gears anyway and just have a good time.

Poor planning got me to the start line late. Began in the back of the pack, and pretty much stayed there. I think 3-4 people finished the lap behind me. The loop was fast. Sweeping downhill on open fire road, a great pump section toward the end. a few log jumps but nothing i couldn’t handle. And some twisty turny bumpy new trail with no flow through pines.

On my second lap I caught myself watching a butterfly and paid for it, riding out of the deep trail rut and up the side. Fell straight onto my left middle finger, which jammed badly, popping back into place when i tried to bend it. Dislocated? I don’t know. Either way, it got puffier and hurtier with each lap, and by my 6th it wasn’t interested in helping me brake anymore, so my race was done.

With the finger getting worse and me seeing stars, I rode a second lap before handing the bike off to Amanda, and after she came back I rode my 4th and 5th laps as a double too. They were short- less than 5 mi- and I could have kept going. My 6th was a single, and with my ability to use my front brake going downhill fast it just wasn’t a good idea to be out there anymore. It was beer time, and as always, the Half Acre was flowin’.

Amanda did awesome. Her first time on the Spot and she was lovin’ it. It was so amazing to watch her lap times improve over the day. Even though she was getting tired, she was just more used to the bike, pushing it faster and havin’ more fun.

So, we took 2nd of 2. The other team had 4 members, and while it looks like I was faster than 3 of their folks, we just didn’t have it together. It’s ok. It was sunny and a great start to the season.

 - Julie Eisenhart