2014 Old Caz Grasshopper Race

The results are in and I officially finished 22nd overall. Again, what a great ride. I felt pretty solid the whole way through. It was really great to see a lot of familiar faces, friends and co-workers all slugging it out in their own right.


For some reason I decided to get out onto the road real early. Too early, actually, but I was anxious to get to the race without worry. The temperature gradually dropped as I got close to Occidental, CA. I hit the main lot where it sat around 31º for most of the morning. I was worried I brought the wrong amount of layers, but once the sun came out it warmed things up. I was one of two early starters, but around 8am the YMCA parking lot quickly filled up with race organizers and other early morning go-getters. I stayed in my car with the heat on, trying to catch some Z's before I needed to register.

"Event Full" the sign said. Shit. Really? They didn't sell out last year, and the only way to race this morning was if you pre-registered, which wasn't clear on their site, and when you clicked on the pre-registration to Eventbrite it tried tricking you into signing up for the entire series. I failed to see the tiny button off to the side that allowed you to register for the single event. I drove all this way, early in the morning to get turned away. No way! Registered or not I'm going to do the Hopper. I asked the organizers what the deal was. They said the event was so popular this year, they weren't expecting it to sold out, and they only had permit to allow a cap of 400. I did get on the wait-list, which was seven deep already. Good chances for me as a lot of people tend to not show up.

More and more people flood in, including my good friend Jeremy who hadn't done the Old Caz race before. He's looking strong this year, and I expect him to do quite well. More of our mutual riding buddies show up as well as a handful of my co-workers from Specialized. It felt really great to see a lot of familiar faces, something I love about racing in general. The camaraderie of the impending sufferfest that's about to happen. I check back with the organizers and bam! I've got my spot. #409 is mine. I rush back to my car and start to prep.


I'm looking around and notice that I'm probably one of maybe 5 full-suspension bikes in the field. Everyone's rocking super light, lean and mean cross bikes. Most of the mountain bikers I saw were running hard tail 29ers. The majority of which had aggro skinnies and a rigid fork, easily 5-8 pounds lighter than my setup. Strictly static weight, with the exception of tire choice, I prefer fatter vs skinny because of the extra confidence going down the sketchy fire roads. I wanted a challenge, and a challenge is what I got.

I warm up on a climb after downing my first 5-Hour Energy ever. A lot of my riding buddies swear by it, saying it gives them a nice kick of extra endurance. Loaded with caffeine and vitamin B12 I thought it wouldn't hurt. 15 minutes or so till start time. I cruise around the lot one more time and chat up a few more friends getting ready for the ride. Time to line up.

I get towards the front, a few rows behind the pros. I spy Leipheimer, Stetina and Geoff Kabush. Some real heavy hitters. Just behind them is Ben Capron and the usual crushers. I'm out gunned, but I've got to play my long-game if I have any chance of cracking the top 30 or so. Lined up to my left is fellow team-mate Paul Connelly. We met at the Tahoe Trail 100. To might right is Will, where we've raced at Leadville, Marathon Nationals and a smattering of XC races. Behind me is my friend Jeremy looking focused and ready to crush. And we're off.

Start Your Engines

The start was mellow, and to my surprise they route us straight up the main road vs the back door like last year. I wasn't expecting the sudden change in pitch, but I was able to hold my pace. After a minute or so the attacks started to ensue. I'd say over 30 guys come around me, humping their bars for better position. "Stay cool." It's going to be a long day in the saddle. I watch my heart rate and make sure not to burn any matches on the long climb out to the first ridge. I second guess myself and my fitness, wondering if I had enough leg power to hold my own. We'll see. Just wait for the first descent.

Just like last year on the first major bend of the five-mile descent, three or four guys overshoot the turn and come tumbling down onto the ground and over the hill. I gently slow down and carve my around before we hit dirt.

TIP #1
Get some gravel road riding under your belt before entering this race. You're skin will thank you for it.


A mile into our descent, and I'm already catching and passing a ton of guys, all with their foots out trying to stay upright as I push some weight into my tires and let it rip around the corners. This is where I'm thankful for my full-suspension. Lots of control and comfort. I feel a lot faster than last year, probably due to all the riding at Skeggs, which really upped my descending skills. A couple more mountain bike brethren join me in the pursuit of making up time on all the cross guys on the downhill. The lead group and chase groups have formed, and you can just make out the split. By the time we hit the flat section and onto the main drag I can make out the Levi group a minute or so out as I begin to regroup with the string of chasers.

TIP #2
Stay with a group as much as possible. You'll most likely save energy, carry a higher speed and not get lost along the way back.


I was worried my X01 32t drivetrain setup would be ill geared for the fast road sections, but I happily found myself keeping up with a gear or two extra as I spun my way through the forming pace lines. As my group of eight or so were building up speed I saw a mountain biker with skinnies come off the back of the group we were chasing. He was a little wobbly in his backwards approach, but I kept to the right and let him drift by. There was a small gap between myself and the rider on my wheel, and I guess the mountain biker decided to squeeze in, causing a huge wreck at 24 miles per hour. All I heard was the touch of wheels, a pop and at least several guys hitting the pavement hard. Damn, close call. I look back and people were sprawled out onto the ground. I kept going and caught onto the group ahead of me. I later found out that an ambulance was called, and that everyone was ok for the most part.

TIP #3
Learn to ride in a pace line. Not only will you travel safely as a group, but an organized group will be much quicker.


My small group of chasers latch onto a much bigger gaggle of guys. We worked together for the most part before the first spike of a climb towards the end of the first half of the race. You have to cross the road, which is sketchy, especially with 30 guys going over 20mph, but we had a course marshal shepard us across safely, but nearly getting struck by on oncoming car. The first kicker is steep, ending with a nice little gate we all have to crawl through. The broken road turns into fire road, and it's a good short climb before we drop into the neighborhoods on the other side.

TIP #4
The course isn't clearly marked at all. Even having the course loaded onto my Garmin, it's practically useless, but having course knowledge of any sorts will help.


We bomb down some road as our group is now splintered. The feed zone is inconveniently placed at the bottom of the hill, where the first hard left isn't discernible. Luckily we had some locals tell us "They all went that way!". Thanks! If they weren't there to tell use a bunch of us would have gone straight down to the bottom. A couple of my friends made the mistake, costing them at least five minutes or so.

Halfway Point

Now were riding through a neighborhood with many offshoot streets and driveways. I had to trust my group because my memory of this section was pretty fuzzy. We round a few steep corners before we slug it out on the halfway point climb. A gruelling five-mile ascent where I'm at a disadvantage gear-wise. Physically I'm well prepared to settle into my climbing legs, but it's hard knowing you could go much quicker with the setups surrounding me. As long as I'm within a minute or so I'll catch them on the ride down, which is steep and loose.

My friend David catches up to me after missing the turn at Cherry St. He's super strong, and paces me up to the top of the climb. Sure enough we bomb down the fire road all the way down to the rideable creek crossing, catching and passing a bunch of guys along our way. I was prepared to take a bit more risk, hoping to open up a gap and catch a group on the way back.

On the other side of the creek is a long gradual climb where I said adios to David, and watched him hammer out of sight. I'm alone at and get to the halfway point knowing exactly where to go, unlike last year where I had to wait a while for someone to show me the way. I pedal along towards the little town up ahead, knowing to stay right and up into the windy streets hugging the right side of the creek. I ride for a few minutes by myself and see from across the river a bunch of guys zipping along, clearly getting the advantage of a smooth road all the way back to Highway 116. Damnit. They clearly haven't ridden the course before, but it's not their fault since this major intersection is clearly unmarked. I ride for another minute, look back, and see a good group of 5 heading my way.


I regroup and we organize. At first I'm just drafting along to conserve energy. My legs are starting to feel the twinges of cramping, but I've been hydrating fairly well and eating every 15 minutes or so. Once we hit the main road back we decided to work together, forming a nice rotating pace line, taking turns at the front as we battled out a slight headwind. No one was about to take a risk and make a break for it, so we cruised our way onto the last flat section of fire road before the long hard climb to the finish. It was me, and five other strong-looking dudes. Justin, who pipped me at the line last year, was in this group, and it was my goal to not let him pull the wool over my eyes, knowing exactly where the finish line was. The only problem was that I didn't know how long it would take us to get to the top. I quickly jump onto his wheel and gently turn the screws on our group.

Within a few minutes our group dissipates, and it's me, Justin and one of his buddies, Matt from Petaluma, working together to see who had the most left in their tanks. Just up ahead I recognize the Lumosity kit of my friend Jeremy, trying to recall if I saw him pass me earlier in the race. I think he missed the turn at the halfway point. I press on and try to stay on Justin's wheel. Not know how much longer the climb would last, only gauging by how many miles we had left I wasn't left with much to go on in an effort to overtake him. My legs are screaming.

TIP #5
Save something for the last 5 miles. They're the worst. Burn a match here, burn a match there, but save at least two for the long climb back to the finish line.


Towards the top there's a mean, steep little pitch, and that does it for me. I crack and let Justin and Matt spin away from me. There were times where I felt like I had just enough to push myself, but I was at my limit at that point, and didn't want to risking getting caught from behind. I steady my effort and focus on being smooth while my heart rate teetered on the edge of red-lining. I catch a few more guys on the climb and see the trees giving way to more blue sky. I'm near the end. I spot two orange cones and a guys slowly making his way towards them. I jump out of my saddle and start slow springing, grimacing in pain as both my legs and forearms start to cramp. I managed to get him at the line, and I'm done. Finishing in three hours and seven minutes, nearly 10 minutes faster than last year. I see a small group at the line, and knew I had done well. The question remained, who else missed the turn, giving them an advantage? I didn't care at that point, as I nearly collapse, gasping for air and coughing like crazy.

I exchange quick stories with the fast guys and wait for all my friends to cross the line. We continue to swap stories as bikes begin to pile up around the edge of the fire road overlooking some amazing views of the rolling hills and ocean afar. The spirit of the event is in full effect. Despite the near misses and wrong turns for the few, we all had a blast. I was up there for a good hour or so, greeting more familiar faces before making our way back down to the car where I forgot there was a food truck. My friends Jeremy and Jon scarfed down some tasty falafel and fries as we continued to swap stories. This is my favorite aspect of racing, the shared experience, knowing we all work hard to do well while having fun in the process.

See you at Old Caz next year. Welcome, 2014 XC race season. I am ready.


  • 2014 Specialized Epic Expert World Cup (Size: Medium)
  • Front Tire: Specialized Fast Trak Control 29x2.0"
  • Rear Tire: Specialized Renegade Control 29x1.95"

One Last Push

Ok, I've been talking a lot about the Grasshopper this coming weekend. It's unofficially the start of my mountain bike race season, so it's pretty important to me to do well. I'm not sure if I'll have the same stellar season as I did last year, but I think I'm incrementally getting better day by day. I pushed hard one last time this week before I begin to taper off and conserve some energy going into Saturday's event. Last year I managed a solid 10th out of 300 aggro cross guys. My long game was dialed in and I played my cards right. This year I hope to do the same, and with a bit of luck, find myself in the near same position or at least a better finishing time. I just need to remind myself that it's all good fun. I can't take it too seriously.

Harvey Bear Exploration

Harvey Bear

I'm making a good habit out of bringing my mountain bike to work on Fridays. I hit up Harvey Bear and explored an extra loop, comprised of a long fire road climb and sweet single track descent before connecting with my usual route. I love riding out here because it's not too much climbing, rewarded with a fast set of rolling single track trails. The view is pretty cool, too. It's farm pastures up high, with a view of Mt. Madonna, Gilroy and Morgan Hill below. It swoops in and out of old growth trees, sometimes lined with some interesting wildlife.


  • 2014 Specialized Epic Expert World Cup (Size: Medium)
  • Front Tire: Specialized Fast Trak Control 29x2.0"
  • Rear Tire: Specialized Renegade Control 29x1.95"

Ultra Commute

Long shadows cast on Monterey highway.

In an effort to log in more base miles this year I rode my bike into work again. 70 miles, straight from SF to Morgan Hill via El Camino Real.


This time the ride in was so cold that my hands went numb. I couldn't even squeeze my water bottle. Fortunately, once the sun rose, as I made my way through downtown San Jose I got the feeling back in my fingers and toes.


  • 2013 S-Works Roubaix (Size: 52cm) 
  • Roval CLX 40 700c wheel set


Now that I have time to sit back and reflect on my year it's the perfect moment to think about my goals for next year, the kinds of races I want to do, whether I want to stay focused on marathon distances or shift towards traditional XC races. Having had success in both worlds I'm leaning towards more XC races in the California area.


I don't have the luxury of traveling to far off races, but I've got my eye on a few. Leadville will definitely be on my list, having done it twice under 9 hours. My goal will be a sub 9-hour Leadville. I still need to qualify so that's a few races right there. I'd like to do a few of the NUE Series 100 milers, but we'll see how full my schedule gets. I feel like the competitive side of me is slowly becoming satiated with all of the success I've had the past couple of years. There's always room to improve and different race formats to conquer.

Everyone's hyped up on Cyclo-cross and Enduro racing these days. I can see myself trying my hand at Enduro, but then again I don't consider myself a gravity type, although I've made some significant improvements with my handling skills.

I'll go into the 2014 race season with a lot less pressure, making sure I have fun by getting to see the beautiful state of California, and maybe back up in my hometown region of the Pacific Northwest.

Tamarancho Frost Flow Flat

tamaranco-flow-frost-flat-1 For a change of scenery and terrain I decided to check out the trails at Tamarancho. I forgot how much fun it is out here, especially if you've got an appropriate bike for it. The last time I rode the trails were on my hard tail, which is fun, but way more fun on a full squish. I was able to flow more on the Flow Trail this time, but man, were the trails packed. Not many places to pass, but I was happy to go with the flow.


I was going for two laps, and made it halfway through the second lap when I flatted at the rock garden section. A rock punched its way through the casing of my rear tire. Not cool, especially on a ride where you forget to pack a spare tube. Luckily a fellow rider hooked me up. I'll be going to Control casings on my rear tire from now on.

Cañada Crew


The Specialized Thanksgiving lunch ride crew.

What an incredible lunch ride today. Since a lot of people were out for the Thanksgiving holiday we had a great crew of folks and took advantage of the long lunch to do the Cañada loop. It hugs the south end of Harvey Bear park before cutting inwards towards Henry Coe, climbing through some gorgeous countryside and rolling hills. On our way back we collectively decided to do the first big climb one more time before going back. We rode over 42 miles with 2,000' of climbing. The pace was brisk, and the company was excellent.


  • 2013 S-Works Roubaix (Size: 52cm) 
  • Roval CLX 40 700c wheel set

Alpine to Saratoga Gap

alpine-to-saratoga-gap-6 We had an excellent group this morning for an epic ride from Alpine to Saratoga Gap and back, riding 35 miles with over 5,600' of climbing. The sun was shining and the trails were in near perfect conditions after the storm that passed through mid-week.


What I love about this ride is the gorgeous views and landscapes you traverse, from expansive rolling single track along ridgelines, to densely packed old-growth trees. It's hard not to stop to take in the views.


I've got to remember this spot for future photo shoots.



Belden approved!


My bike was dialed in today. Finally! I had a few weeks of annoying squeal coming from my rear brake. I finally solved it by switching to organic pads.


What a good day of riding. I met a couple new guys and enjoyed the friendly pace, however David did push me in a few spots. The Saratoga Gap is quickly becoming my new favorite spot to ride in that it has a lot of things I enjoy most about mountain biking, the views, challenging trails and lots of climbing. Starting in Alpine was good to, since it cut the drive by 10-15 minutes, rather than starting at the bottom of Saratoga and working your way up north.