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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Westwoods Love

If you haven't spent much time in Westwoods and have tried to mountain bike there - chances are you hate it.

Before moving to Connecticut, Katie and I had been riding lots of wilderness singletrack.  Mostly in Wyoming but some in Idaho.  We would routinely ride fifteen miles, twenty miles, or sometimes more.

When we arrived in Connecticut we wanted to ride.  Not knowing much, I bought a map to Westwoods at Bishop Orchards.  I studied this map and planned, what I thought would be a nice introductory route for us; around six miles.  "Sounds great", said Katie.

What followed was some of the most abusive, hike-a-bike filled riding I had ever done.  What we planned would be an hour ride quickly digressed into a two to three hour sufferfest.  At one point, Katie promised me she would quit mountain biking and sell her bike.  We were both in the hate room but we did survive.  

As we healed our wounds from this ride, I decided to do some research; "there must be good riding here",  I thought.   I studied the topography on the map and made note of micro terrain.  I learned the difference between a "x" trail, a "square" trail, and a "triangle" trail.  I memorized the colors that were blazed on trees. And then, I asked Katie if she wanted to give it another chance.... I am very lucky because Katie is game for about any adventure, I can present her with and usually will commit to it with a a beautiful smile.  So we loaded up our bikes and headed to the trailhead.

The landscape was far different than what we had been accustomed to in the West. Twenty to thirty foot high incipient granite ridges divided by wetlands that lead to salty marshes along Long Island Sound.  Deep maple, cedar, hemlock, and laurel forests are so thick they create tunnels along the trail and block out the sky.   Moss, decaying matter and dense humidity are more reminiscent of a rain forest than the Connecticut coastline.   

We avoided many of the trails we had previously taken and knew what a "circle" blaze was rather than a "square"or an "x".  This time was different and instead of  the hideous hike-a-bikes we found fun technical rock gardens, long sections of slick rock and flowy buff* terrain.  We unlocked a part of the secret to Westwoods....


Since those early rides, we've spent significant time becoming familiar with these woods. Getting lost is no longer possible.  We ride here in the day and in the dark and throughout the summer, fall, winter, and spring.  And although I do occasionally get the desire to explore and find something new - and there are many great places to ride that were built with mountain biking in mind-  I always feel a longing for the pure lines within Westwoods.  

Westwoods October 26, 2013 from jbiehn on Vimeo.


 *buff terrain doesn't actually exist at Westwoods.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lights. Camera. Action

Friday after work, I went to Westwoods to setup a photo shoot with friend and photographer, Adam Coppola.  He recently got some new lighting equipment and wanted to create contrasting photographs with the rocks and autumn conditions for mountain biking.

It was a blitz and we only had time to setup a few shots before the sun was completely gone but the short effort yielded some great perspectives and uniquely awesome photos.  To see other photos from Adam check out his Facebook site or website.

With this slower than normal pace, I also setup a few video shots for this nice little teaser....

westwoods from jbiehn on Vimeo.

Monday, October 14, 2013


The wood smoke in the air, the kaleidoscope of colors, and the crisp air- there is nothing like Autumn in New England.  We enjoyed two great days of exploring on our bicycles this weekend.

Saturday was on mountain bikes in North Madison/Guilford/Durham area.  This was a combination of well maintained bike specific trail to lesser-known trails with some time pushing the bike uphill.  14 miles or so all together.

Sunday was cooler and more overcast- classic October day but we still had a beautiful ride along many backroads.  This included a short ferry ride,  a castle, a swinging bridge,  some gas station food, and nearly 4 hours of pedaling.

Beers and pulled pork ended this great weekend.  We're lucky with how fun life can be....

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 Landmine Classic

Self promoted as having some of the best singletrack in New England, and a 1 loop 25 mile course- choosing to race the Landmine Classic was an easy decision.  The hard part was choosing between the 25 mile or 50 mile course.... I chose 25 miles and so did Katie.

We woke up early and drove north to Hingham MA.  After drinking plenty of coffee we arrived at Wompatuck State Park.  The park is huge is divided amongst many paved roads.   Wow!  This place is packed!  

As soon as we pahk'd de cahh Wayne-O and Mary surprised us with a supportive visit.  We chatted with them while we suited up and got our bikes ready. Not only was it great to see them but it was a good thing they were there because Katie hadn't pre-registered and needed cash for day of registration (and obviously we didn't have any)- so Wayne-O was her race day sponsor.  They also got this great photo of us pre-race!  Thanks guys!

With 40 minutes to spare before the start- we split and went to warm-up.  Not being familiar with the area, I spun easily on the pavement.  Once I warmed up, I found a slight hill (paved) and put in a few sprints.  After 10 minutes of a recovery pace- I put in one higher effort push for 8 minutes.  After that I headed to the startline.

I wasn't joking when I said this place was packed.  I heard there were over 600 racers in total.  I quickly found my group- Cat 2 30-39.  I found a spot towards the front and kept my head clear and focused on recovering from my warmup efforts.  I recognized a few faces from the Gnar Weasel and this helped me form more of a start stratedgy...

5,4,3,2,1, go!  And were are off-  I quickly worked my way into the 4th or 5th position and held the wheel of someone I recognized from the Gnar Weasel.  Although, I felt the pace was somewhat slow- I maintained it.  I don't need to break any record times- I just need to beat other riders.   Wayne0 and Mary snapped this Shot as we headed to the hole shot..

As this is the Root 66 Series finale and a well-established event- I knew a podium would be difficult here and I set my goals to finish mid-pack or around 2:20 minutes.  At 25 miles that still is pushing a pretty fast pace.  Most of my riding in CT is technical and slow and I wondered how the faster paced riding in Wompy would suite me.

We got into the trail and quickly began climbing the largest hill.  It wasn't much, maybe 100' of gain but the pace didn't settle down yet and I wanted to push through this climb before settling into a sustainable pace.  The tire I had been following began to slow up on this climb and I took a "B" option and made the pass...

I felt okay at the top but again didn't want to go out too hard- so i restrained myself and kept pace with a new tire.  On the downhill, my new tire was fast but reckless and I quickly passed them and decided to put the pedal down a little more, as downhills are one of my strengths.

15-20 minutes into the race- the pace began to subside and folks were getting gapped.  I found myself somewhere in the top ten but not entirely sure.  I ate, drank and kept a fast cadence.  I didn't want to battle cramps like I had at the Gnar Weasel.

Shortly after, I find myself battling through the younger Cat 2 guys.  They were much friendlier and let me pass at ease.  I found a few guys from Guilford and we chatted about Westwoods.  I even hit a couple of the small kicker jumps.  This course is great so far!

Somewhere around 45-50 minutes, I found myself riding alone and although it was fun terrain (berms and flow) I was unsure if I was keeping a high enough pace. I increased my pace and went harder.  I noticed a rider a hundred yards up and I decided to catch them.

When I caught up with them, I realized it was a woman from the Pro category.  Awesome!  I kept her pace and then paced her around a tight corner- when her waterbottle went flying off her bike.

From here out I pretty much blacked out.  I realized I had finished the first half of the race in around an hour or less and realized I could have the strength and stamina to crush my goal if I continued at this pace  With this much effort already invested I wanted finish strong and my focus was incredibly high and thus the tunnel vision.

Overall I thought the riding was incredibly fun.  Fast Singletrack, rocky/rooty technical gardens, and some unique flow zones separated by paved road sprints.  The strangest part was the lack of climbs.  There were climbs but they were short and punchy and I felt I could have been faster overall on the flats.....

Last feedzone- 2 miles from the finish.  I was out of water and just finished my last bit of hammer gel.  When they offered me water I just kept going.  2 miles?  I can hammer that out.... or so I thought.  Turns out this 2 miles was full of rock gardens and slight hills, and the hope there'd be a finish line around the corner made the pain even more realistic.

My hard effort from the feedzone faded probably half a mile from the finish line.  I couldn't sustain it anymore and went a little too early.  I knew according to my time I was getting close but not as close as I had thought.  Unfortunately- in that half mile I got passed by 1 guy in my category.

I finally came around a corner and out of the woods into the finish line.  Woo Hoo!  Alright!  02:10:32 says my stop watch. I pulled into the recovery tent and waited for results and Katie.

Trying to read the results board blew my oxygen deprived mind and made me dizzy.  I decided to just watch others finish on this beautiful day.

   Sooner than I had imagined Katie cam ripping through the finish line!  Wow- that is awesome!

She said she thinks she finished 2nd place.  Again a champion! 

After recovering we finally checked the official results.  Katie had placed 2nd and I placed 7th.  Great results for both of us and especially with the large fleet of riders.  

After another podium visit for Katie we headed to Randolph to meet with the rest of the Connors family, have a beer, and watch the Patriots win a football game.  What a great day!

I'll definitely be back Wompy.

Here are some other bits and pieces:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Wow- did that just happen?!!

Who knew that such a weekend would unravel?!

To start Katie's Birthday weekend off proper- we headed to New Haven for some delicious mexican food with Dad, Pat, Evan, Dave and Cheryl.  After dinner and margaritas we headed to Cafe Nine to see Frank Fairfield play music.

We all fell in love with Frank the previous year at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and were so very excited to hear him play tonight.  He plays fiddle, banjo, guitar and probably any other instrument he is handed.  Most of the music is considered folk or old-timey but much of the inspiration Frank draws is from a deeper place.

Just outside of the club we saw Frank in his tightly buttoned shirt and high waisted pants walking the streets.  I went up and introduced myself and told him how excited we all were to hear him play.  We chatted awhile about nothing in particular and then headed into the venue with Frank.

"Sold out- sorry.  No more folks allowed in" we could barely hear over all the street chatter.  Uh Oh- Dad, Pat and Evan didn't get tickets prior.  Frank saw this and talked to the Doorman and we were all invited in.  Amazing.

Once inside the crowded bar/club we chatted with Frank some more and I bought an album from him.  Within the next 30 minutes he was onstage and sawing on his strings.  Although it was great to see and hear Frank, the venue had horrible sound and it was difficult to stay focused.

His set ended and in classic form he bowed holding all his instruments and backed out the nearest door- never to be seen again... at least not in the bar.

We watched the next band for awhile and then headed out.  Once in the car, my Dad said, I gave him  our address and offered him a place to stay- I think he is coming over tonight.  You guys should come over for breakfast tomorrow.  No problem- we'll be there!  

What followed for the next day or so is hard to explain if you weren't there...  But I can say Frank is a gentleman with the aura of an old soul and the intellect to match. Discussing music and playing music with him created some of the most visceral experiences I've had with this artistic medium and I think anyone that was with us for these days would agree.

Thank you Frank.  Please be sure to visit again!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gnar Weasel Shredeth

Headed north to Foxoborough, MA early Saturday morning (6:30am) with Dad and Katie.  It was partly cloudy in Madison and as we made the two hour drive north it became increasingly dark and wet.  The temperature also never raised above the mid-60's... A week ago the temperature never got below 90.  Weird.  

Anyways, we arrived around 8:30am.  Katie and I got suited up in our "race kits" and and headed to registration to get our numbers, etc. At this point it was chilly and misty- the temperatures were great for a hard effort but I wasn't sure if the humidity and mist would make the trails greasy.  

Katie will be racing one lap as a Novice 19-29 and I'll be doing two laps in Sport 30-39.  After registering we parted ways and I warmed up by lapping the "hole shot" and first few minutes of singletrack.  Within the first 60' of singletrack I hit the first obstacle and was forced to hike my bike... rutted out steep right hand turn topped with a large rock juxtaposed with big baby head rocks and.... damn that is a technical start.  Just passed this the trail eased up (in a technical way) and there was a downhill.  I figured most folks will be off their bikes and there would be bottle neck at that first obstacle and thought I should try to win the hole shot and get ahead of the pack... But being my first race I had no clue what would happen.  


After warming up for  30+ minutes I felt pretty good and went to the lineup and found my category quickly.  Sport 30-39; I was told there was about 17 of us.  I worked my way into a fairly good starting spot- and focused on staying calm.  My plan was to push hard for the first 15 minutes and then fall into a manageable pace to finish our two laps (16 miles).  Not knowing anyone around me I had no clue where I stood in regards to speed, fitness, and technical skills- oh well. Go!  And we were off.  Huh?  This is weird, nobody is going that hard. I can push this pace much harder ( or so I thought).  I had to navigate around 5 or 6 guys and clung to the outside of the paved road.  When we hit the apex of the turn and the steepest section of the hill I put in a sprint to make the holeshot.  Whoah! It worked... I hit the hole shot with nobody remotely close... Did I go to Hard?  Yes- most likely.  

After the first obstacle (yup I had to hike it) I saw my Dad with his camera- "looking good stretch!" Wow- still nobody near me.  He must think I'm doing really well or horribly...  

At this point, I had no strategy.  I never thought I'd be in the lead.  What kind of pace do I keep? Heeding advice from a friend I recited my mantra for the day- smooth is fast, fast is smooth....  

Not having raced, I never thought about traffic from other racers. Ugh- Why is this kid with platform pedals going so slowly down this big downhill...  Ugh-  why is this kid throwing elbows and not letting me pass through this rock garden?!  Yeah the younger guys ahead threw me off and I definitely lost time working through the back half.  

After 30 minutes my lead gap was broken and a racer I recognized from the lineup passed me on a technical climb (he cleaned it, I did not).  I tried to keep his pace but he had this place dialed and I couldn't keep that pace.  I let him and another racer looking dude pass me around this time.

Around 40 minutes- I felt my calves twitch with a familiar feeling... Uh Oh.  Last time I felt this in a big ride- I was stuck on the side of the trail for 10 minutes working the cramps out... Can't let this happen now!  I ate a gel and took some endurolytes and kept going hard.  

When I passed the lap point I wasn't feeling great. I could hardly step off my bike without cramps shooting through my calves and the techy climbs were incredibly hard to clean. In addition,  I had spent the last 20 minutes trying to hold the leaders pace and it wasn't sustainable for me. The thought of curling up in a ball and DNF'ing crossed my mind a couple times.  Enjoying a good sufferfest- I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and decided to try to trick folks with "smoke and mirrors" and look fresh.  

I barely remember seeing my Dad but I'm sure he shouted something and then snapped this photo....  I was probably at my most belligerent moment here.    

Ok- time to resolve this. I've ridden farther, faster and harder- whats going on?  Is the humidity sucking the life out of me?  I gotta slow down and recover.... I ate more and drank more.  Kept a pace that fit my style better and I focused on staying on my bike as much as possible.

Smooth is fast, fast is smooth.

Due to the recovery pace I was running- folks were passing me and at this point I saw my chance at a podium victory vanish but didn't care I just wanted to finish.  At the Mid-Point I ate bacon and loved life.  I ended up riding the last half with a younger cat 2 racer and while we rode fast we chatted and enjoyed ourselves.  My legs, and outlook improved.

Around an 1 hour 40 minutes I came across a rider who was cramped up on the side of the trail... Perhaps it was empathy, the inexperience racing, or the lack of oxygen in my mind but I decided to stop and try to help him recover and offered my food or electrolytes. He thanked me but didn't want anything.  

Shortly after,  on a short chunky downhill, I threw my chain badly- it came onto my crank arms and was twisted like I had never seen before.  I had to stop to fix it and another rider, that I knew was in my category passed me....He just looked over smiled a bit and said- "That sucks".   "Damn! Oh well" I thought "I'm only riding to finish at this point anyways".

I fixed the chain and got back on.  Within 100 yards I hear the racer who just passed me yell in anger.  He snapped his rear derailur.  Oops.  And at this point we are 1/4 mile from the finish.  Karma? He was a nice guy and strong- he ran the finish.

Feeling so much stronger than I did at this section on the first lap I was psyched and charged the finish hard.  I crossed the line at 02:08:10.   Nearly 22 minutes less than my goal.  Wahooo! ... wow I'm pretty beat.

As soon as I saw Katie, she gave me a hug and whispered, "I won!"  Wow! That is so awesome- I was pretty worried about her as she was racing experienced CX racers and this course is highly technical!  My Dad and her asked- "how did you do?"  I said- "no clue, probably mid pack- 6th or 7th place maybe? I don't really care, I'm just glad I finished."   

Katie and I went to the car to change for her podium and my dad stayed at the registration area.  I got a text- from my Dad- ---you were in second place at the end of lap one and they think you finished 3rd.  

Wow!  I had no clue- that is great.  Are we going to get a double podium ?!  

Yup!  As it turns out Katie finished 1st in her division and I finished 3rd.  Pretty cool for our first race effort and such a hard course. I'm sure we both learned countless lessons from this experience.  

After our short award ceremony we watched the pro racers come through the lap point.  The top guys were putting laps in under 50 minutes and they had to do 3 laps.  Brutal!  This was amazing to see and although it made my effort seem elementary it instantly spiked me with motivation and inspiration for the future.  

Thank you Gnar Weasel Shredeth- its been fun, see ya down the trail!  

Friday, May 17, 2013


Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Monday, May 13, 2013

new to me.  ’96 gibson granada.  plus chloe the dog. 


“It produces the sound that my ear’s looking for. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to it, but I like the sound that I get out of that particular banjo. I feel at home with it when I take it out of the case and start.”

Friday, May 10, 2013

In the mountains you are sometimes invited, sometimes tolerated and sometimes told to go home.

Fred Beckey

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013