Like Mercury and Venus aligning, the inaugural running of SSUSA kicked off one revolution ahead of the second annual Dirt Sweat and Gears 12 hour race. While not actually Gods, Clay and Grant did have a little say in this alignment, and what unfolded was the most fun weekend of racing I've yet to experience.
I pulled into a nearly empty race venue on Thursday afternoon to meet Jut and Thad and maybe catch a lap of riding. We erected a small tent city right along the course and celebrated our efforts thus far with a brew. Clay Higgins, one of the race promoters, invited some of the pro racers, trouble makers, and family friends up top to his house for dinner. Clay has a beautiful house that overlooks the valley below and into Fayetteville. We did a little meet and greet up there, met some of the faster geared guys, rejoined some of the faster bearded guys, and before the whole thing ended, our now larger crew of trouble was making its way down a steep descent by headlamp. By the end of the first night attendance was high at camp Yazoo, the cast of characters including Jut, Thad, Ivory and Adam, all from Yazoo, Scott Hodge of Addictive Cycles fame, Sharp "Swiftwick" Emmons, The Reverend and Big Pig Rich from Texas, and a late showing of Curtis Inglis and Jeff Hantman. Curtis is the artist behind both Inglis Cycles and Retrotech, and Jeff is his his plush-life-full- sponsorship-sucking-team-rider. And with this motley crew properly sauced, it was bedtime on the eve of SSUSA.
Morning. This is about the time I decided to participate in SSUSA. The original plan: try to hide in the weeds and hope not to get goaded into racing on Friday, so that I could race fresh on Saturday. What actually happened; Clay and Grant did such a good job playing host on Thursday night that I was in. The start line was a mix of pros, people in costume, and pro's in costume. We got our race instructions from a bunny-eared Grant. Stage 1 involved chasing the bunny for two laps on an abbreviated DSG course, roughly 17 miles. Thrown in for fun, a mandatory beverage stop at the one lap mark, and the opportunity to tackle Grant and receive prizes that fell out of his mailbox.
With everyone lined up at the start and ready to go, the bunny spun around and took off going the other direction, scattering riders through the opening field and into a laughter filled sprint through the opening corners. Forty minutes later we were back at the start finish for our mandatory beverage, and off for the second lap.
I finished up lap two in fifth place, and up one pink bear I grabbed off a tree. I figured plush animals meant prizes in a SS race, it turns out that Dejay just put brightly colored objects on the trees that threatened shoulder space in the tighter sections. Who woulda thought? Decisions were made based on finishing place, costume design, and simple desire to continue, and we were off to stage two, a hill climb, straight up the hill from the field to Clay's house. We did another circuitous bunny chase, and started the climb. I did the 'ole "think I was running a 32 x 20 when I was actually running a 32 x 18" and grunted up the hill past Dejay to third place, behind the incredibly fast and tattooed LaLonde brothers. Sharp was too lazy to climb the hill and take some pics, so use your imagination.
Stage 3: In a nod to the shenanigan riddled SSWCs, SSUSA was to be decided by a joust. American gladiator style, inflatable yet under inflated battle sticks were the weapons of choice. The players; (ladies first) Rebecca "just yell Wicki-Wicki-its-easier-than" Tomaszewski, Yazoo's Iowa hardened Thad Hoffman, Gary Fisher 29er crew riders Jesse and Marko LaLonde, The Soulcraft Reverend Ben Thornton, Black Sheep/New Holland's Jake Kirkpatrick, Sho-air/Niner beard sculptor Dejay Birch, and myself, the newly christened SSlohio Robb.
The eight of us got sent to our corners, and the match-ups unfolded in front of me until there was only one man standing. Me. And one woman. Rebecca. My first round was met with a rousing rise of "Booo" as I took the mat. When did SS races become so PC? Knowing that she'd get the female title, I had to beat her. She put up a great fight, and got a couple nice illegal head blows that sent my helmet visor flying, and the judges looking the other way. My hats off to her, one of the toughest girls out there. Next up, and immediately following my first round as to keep me winded, was Jake Kirkpatrick. Jake put up a better fight, but a little lean in and push technique put him down for the second time, and I awaited my arch enemy good friend Ben Thornton in the finals.
Somewhere out there are some pictures of this, or maybe even some video footage. What unfolded was a battle of epic proportion. Ben, apparently having spent time in the WWF, walked around the ring with his hand to his ear, raising the cheers of the crowd. I settled in on my pedestal and waited for my beating while Dejay yelled for an official weigh in from a mexican wrestling masked Nat Ross, the ring side announcer/referee. SSUSA technology didn't allow an actual weigh in, but it was clear that Ben had a good hundred or two pounds on me, and had been angered by my attempt at firehouse humor over the last 24 hours. It was on. Round one was off to a chorus of cheers, and even with that much excitement, our limp battle weapons couldn't rise to the occasion. We continued to flail away until I just got tired and went for the push off move again. Not so good this time. I caught the Rev off guard, knocking him to the mat, but in the process landed ribs first on top of his not-so-inflatable pedestal. I think crowd sympathy was on my side and the officials gave me round 1. Round 2 was a bit more straight up, and I was somehow able to knock him down legit. The giant fell, and I bounced a victory lap around the ring.
I walk away from this event with a whole bunch of new friends out there in the biking community, some great Schwag from the race promoters, and Title belt worthy of a champion, and the unexpected but very exciting invite to SSWC08, thanks to Curtis from Retrotech. Somewhere out there are some nice shots of the podium, my final match with Ben, a gigantic title belt that is now under my control for the year, and the ensuing debauchery. I rest easy knowing that in their absence, we have great footage of the one, the only, Thad Hoffman, creator of my yet-to-be-correctly-spelled-and-even-less-likely-to-be-remembered-by-race announcer-extraordinare-Dickman SS nickname; slowhio, SSlowhio, or SSlohio Robb.
Enjoy Thad vs. Jesse LaLonde and I'll work on writing up the serious half of the weekend, DSG