Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sweaty Yeti

Russell in Winter Colour
It has become apparent that the Fatbike scene is not just a flash in the pan novelty. The big wheeled bikes have been around for some time, the first being modified double rim jobs first seen in the Iditasport race in Alaska.  In the rest of the country, they have been rare it seems until the past couple years and now they are popping up in a lot of cyclists garages-especially this winter.  I've long ago embraced the fatbike as my all around, all season bike-I just like how it rides and where it can go.

If you have a bunch of people with a new found love of winter riding, you'll probably get someone who thinks out loud- "Well, we should race these things!"  And there was and we do.  The just-for-fun races kicked into full gear last year, including our inaugural "Sweaty Yeti" race at the Levis Mound Trail.  Although small in turnout, there was a growing enthusiasm there and we brought it back for a second year.  Doubling the riders and having the perfect winter day made for a great race-the course getting better with every lap (Thank goodness!). 

This post isn't a race report really-as race director, I tried to be sure I had great volunteers and as many ducks in a row as possible so riders visiting our trail would have a "I wanna-come-back" experience.  Everything starts running itself after the gun goes off, so I had a rare opportunity to walk the course, camera in hand and make a few photographs of what this whole snowbike/fatbike thing is about.  

Scott on Bear Den
We'd had an unwelcome dump of snow 2 days prior to the race, which made the job of all the groomers that more difficult.  One trail however, the Bear Den, turned out to be amazing.  It was conceived as a winter only downhill section after last years race, and with the addition of a connecting trail, ended up being the racers favorite.  Good friend Scott Cole above gave it his approval.

Racing on Bear Den
A short connector trail off the Upper Glen trail turned out well, and even with a small climb midway through, it remained a swoopy fast section worthy of a race course.

Justin Racin
Hammerhead, nice guy and eventual race winner Justin Piontek rocked the course and could traverse the climbs and downhills at amazing speeds-ahh, it pays to be young and have a great coach.  Unlike so many top race dogs, Justin is friendly and always appreciative of the work done by trailbuilders and our meager race prizes of hand made mittens and aSand Creek sixpack seemed to be more than enough as race winnings.

The Sweaty Yeti
It's very difficult to get a good photograph of a Sweaty Yeti....I just know one came riding in and he was.  

Flyin Down the Bear Den
The new snow left a very scenic landscape and I liked the longer distance images of the riders as they passed by.

The Look
Upper Glen is not an easy climb, but once up and over the rocky crag, one is is rewarded with a fast sketchy downhill-well worth the gear grinding effort.

I Heart MY FatBike!
Good friend and singletrack grooming guru Dan Hiller decided to make his bike as heavy as possible during the race, so Go Pro cameras were attached at about every braze-on-we're all anxiously waiting for the amazing video he'll produce!

Upper Glen Climb
Jen on Upper Glen
There are core groups of Fatbikers around the state and Jen Barden is a top notch pedal masher from the Wausau clan.  She'll be at the highest podium for most races, but more importantly is an advocate for the sport and so enthusiastic for everything that includes a bike and being on a trail.

One by Nine Climb
Too twisty and narrow for a snowmachine to groom, all of the new winter trails had to be packed by snowshoe-working out well in our case because we had so many volunteers putting in the hours to make it work.  As the race went on, these sections just became firmer and firmer and a blast to ride.

Trail volunteer Mark Haferman finally pulled the trigger on a fatbike and decided to enjoy some of his singletrack handiwork by racing this year-all smiles by the end.

Race Start
My recent piece on ski trails and fatbikes living together should have included this image or several others of skiers and bikers alongside each other.  Okay, so this was an unusual case with the race and all, but still it illustrates that these sports can work together as my biker trash friends Laura, Phil and Dan can attest to.

Sweaty Start
I decided to finish this post with the start photograph.  Keeping with the fun-at-all costs theme of fatbike racing, we used a Le Mans start-shotgun blast and a running sprint around a deer and back to mount the bike and willy-nilly take off.  It works and is a fan favorite.  I just like seeing all these fatbikes speeding away on "my" trail!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Fruit Market

I always have the best intentions when I travel to a new destination-to try and photograph things that I haven't seen before (always a goal) or show what I experience.  A trip to a World Games would seem to be a great opportunity, but coaching duties come first and photos second, so I come away with few images.  While staying in our Host town of Seoul South Korea, I did have an opportunity one early morning to stroll near the youth hostel, camera in hand and seek out some pictures.  It was before 5:00 and a side street off a busy main drag invited me to check it out.  From a block away I could see lights on and a few bodies scurrying around.  This might be the place.

The shop above was the first I ran across-I liked the quietness of this corner-no one seemed to be about and just a few vehicles drove by.  Stacks of crated oranges stacked outside the protective plastic walls.
There were common characteristics of each of these shops-small light bulbs illuminating the storefronts, sheets of plastic protecting the fruit, kerosene floor heater warming them, and a sleeping korean or two.  I walked by this shop twice and the old man curled up in the bent wood chair never moved, oblivious to me or any customers who might interrupt his sleep.

I wasn't sure how this all worked-perhaps a wholesale market?  It seemed the shop keepers were busy moving boxes around a lot and small mini trucks, cars and even motorcycles would pull up in the cold morning air, load crates and speed off.  A steady humm of quiet hushed business.

I noticed this "tea lady" a couple times but only made this picture of her.  She had a small cart with instant sweet coffee, hot water and tea, and she would stop at each shop to offer her warm drink to customers and shop keepers.

Side streets and alleys were always the same-mini trucks and tiny cars, a web of electrical wires and soft colored bulbs surrounded by high rise apartments-pretty typical for Seoul.

While the fruit market was busy, other streets I walked past hadn't quite woken up yet and seemed very peaceful.  In talking to some of the locals, Seoul is very safe, police don't usually carry guns, theft is almost non existent.  I felt very safe in this city of 25 million.  After an hour or so of wandering, my hands succumbed to the cold, and I was in desperate need of coffee.  I arrived back at the Hostel to a few residents out for their morning smoke or perhaps waiting for the tea lady to push by.  Either way, we were all starting our day and on this one, I was glad to have had the camera in hand once again.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Faces of the Games

I've always been intrigued by portraits, in the stories they can tell when done well...maybe an elusive goal of mine for a very long time.  For several of the past Special Olympic World Games, I've tried to shoot portraits of athletes, not just ones on Team USA, but other countries as well.  Coaching and photography are at odds with each other during competition, but I manage to make a few images anyway.

We're together for such a short time and become close, quickly appreciating each other and learning just a little of their lives and their stories. If nothing else, they are a reminder of the person I had the privilege to come to know for a few brief weeks.  Sadly, I may never see them again,  so the pictures become even a more valuable record of who they are and our time together.

Some Crazy Coaches
Although not entirely a portrait, this image kind of sets the stage for the rest of the photos-these three friends have coached at four Winter World Games together and can pick up that friendship right where it left off years ago.  I think the expressions here illustrate that closeness that I'm so thankful for.

Kimmo is the Finnish Head Coach and someone I have become close to over the years.  A World Games can become like a reunion of sorts, with old friends getting back together once every four years.  I don't take these friendships for granted, and it pains me to to think one day I won't have this chance again.  Kimmo is a fun loving coach, always quick with a laugh and thru his broken English we have lively conversations.  He always puts athletes first and I respect him greatly...crazy Finn. ;)

Standing Out
It's a known fact that our motto is "hurry up and wait" so one must be more than patient.  Coaches also need to be ever watchful, knowing at all times where their athletes are, so keeping a careful eye out is requirement numeral uno for the staff.

The Pay-Off
Being at a World Games is payment enough, but no one should not be fooled into thinking the medals don't matter.  Every athlete wants to take their place on the highest podium spot-that's where the payoff comes from all the months of hard work, travel, lousy food and sleepless nights.    

Proud Coach
Usually few photographs of me appear here on my site, but I'll indulge myself some in this post-just have to for there are far too many people that will be missed and I became close to.  Laura was our team Captain and hails from New Ham-sure ;) and was one of the hardest working athletes on the team.  She just was the one person you always loved to see in the morning and would be willing to help in anyway she could.  Besides all that, she is a top notch skier and a great example of a world games athlete.
Kansas Spitfire
Helen is from Kansas-the hotbed of XC skiing.  She has such a great fun loving and friendly personality-how could I not love her.  She skied hard, laughed loudly and took all of the world games experiences in-just as it should be.

Dynamic Duo
Games faces on before the 1 kilometer race.  We'd always stage races in a tunnel under the stadium-the perfect place to see how athletes handle the pre-race.  These two guys were just awesome to be around.  Junichi saved the day in the airport in Japan, translating to TSA agents there for the figure skating team.  David is a hoot-his stories and daily banter (" how do you know?") is the stuff I'll always remember.

Birthday Boy
 Jimmer celebrated his 18th birthday and did his best to let everyone at the World Games know.  He had quite the following of Korean girls and spent maybe just a little too much time cultivating those friendships.  The Korean Head Coach also befriended Jim and was kind enough to hand deliver a birthday cake on the special day-just a small thing, but so typical of the games.

Rain Day
We were totally rained out one day and the weather was just miserable and this images sums up the face of a Head Coach scrambling in his mind to come up with a plan for the day ahead.

Prepped and Ready
 Jerry was our oldest athlete on the team at 57 years young and an outstanding skiier-always with the questions of how he'd done.  Bryan is a Global Messanger and had one of the most dramatic finishes in a race ever-televised for the world to see.

One Last World Games
Erin, retiring skier and veteran of two World Games.  She always pushed to do longer races, even with limited training time back in Pennsylvania.  She knows the game face.

The Captain

 The captain again here.  A prepared athlete if there ever was one.  Nothing bothered her and she was up for any challenge.

Game Faces
Trying their best to do the game faces I taught them...too bad a second later they burst into laughter.

The Medal Brings it Home
A rare smile from Jeremy and there were more thana few times we wondered if he really enjoyed the games.  Then, something like this would happen and we discovered he really was taking everything in and appreciating his time in Korea.

Ever Watchful
At times there are things going on in every direction and it takes all hand on deck to pull it all off.  I had the very best coaching staffs one could hope for.

"Lunch" was about the only downtime we had all day and it provided us all with a much needed break and a chance to just talk to each other-the conversations I will miss, the cold food, not-so-much.

At the end of the games, I think all coaches take a minute to reflect on all that had just transpired during the previous crazy, hectic, proud and intense days...and a quiet moment like this is what is most needed.