The Angry Mountain Biker

Angry Mountain Biker

Had a chance to visit the recording studios of Will Niccolls, host of the Angry Mountain Biker Podcast, this evening to talk about mountain biking in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia regions. First time since I’ve been behind the mic since retiring the UnitedMania.com podcast.

Will and I chatted about my books, including Best Bike Rides DC, Mountain Biking the Washington DC/Baltimore Area and my upcoming book, Mountain Biking Virginia.

I recently finished documenting nearly 40 rides and over 20 honorable mentions throughout the Old Dominion. The book, which will be published by Falcon Guides, is currently in production and will be out in the early spring of 2017. I gave the Angry Mountain Biker a sneak preview of some of the trails that will be available in the new book, including a few gems I found i southern Virginia while documenting trails across the Old Dominion.

We also talked about existing trails detailed in my other books and chatted about the Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE), how I started mountain biking, and how I ended up writing my cycling guides.

Will and I also talked about my good friend Scott Scudamore and his contributions to the sport and our mountain biking community. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) will be recognizing outstanding volunteers with the Scott Scudamore Award.

You can subscribe to the Will’s Podcast on iTunes.

Yazda and Trail Status Developer James Stoup

Yazda, Trail Status and James Stoup

A conversation with James Stoup, developer of Yazda and Trail Status on what prompted him to develop his apps.

Over the past 20 years or so, I have been volunteering with the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE). The bulk of my work for the club has been managing the club’s website and developing functionality to help MORE’s members connect, find places to ride, and stay informed about club news, events, and regional trails. It is through MORE that I ended up writing my popular guidebooks.

One of the biggest challenges I (we) faced over the years, and which many mountain bike clubs across the country face today, is how to accurately communicate the status of a specific trail in our region, so that riders planning an outing know whether or not a trail is rideable.

Last year, with the help of another long-time volunteer, Jason Ashmore, we implemented a system that allows MORE website users to submit trail status updates via a form on the MORE website. However, despite an army of volunteers, and automating the process, it’s still proving to be a challenge.

It was shortly before we developed that capability that another longtime MORE member and regional cyclist was putting the finishing touches on the first version of a mobile application to connect riders on local trails. James Stoup, a software engineer, developed Yazda to help him and his friends organize local rides. With Yazda successfully deployed, James began developing a new app, Trail Status.

Mazda and Trail Status Developer James StoupI spoke to James (left), developer of Yazda and Trail Status, a few weeks ago to ask what prompted him to pick up and move to Colorado, all while in the process of developing his apps.

James explained that while he grew up in central PA, it really wasn’t until he moved to the DC region that he really started taking mountain biking seriously. “I was kind of bummed that I didn’t get into riding sooner,” he told me. “I used to live 15 minutes from Michaux which has some incredible riding, but once I got to Northern Virginia, I started getting together with a group of people every Thursday to ride the trails around Lake Fairfax, and that’s when I really got into the sport.”

James is fortunate to be able to work from home, so he is often able to pick up and ride his local trails. “I loved riding Meadowood and Fountainhead,” he told me, “but getting up to Gambrill State Park and the Frederick Watershed, my favorite places, was often more difficult because of DC’s traffic. That’s when I decided that I needed to move somewhere where I could ride close to home.”

“We [my fiancee and I] came to Colorado and looked at several places. We settled on Lakewood because of its proximity to Denver and the mountains as well as its large biking community. It’s helped with the development of Yazda.”

“Yazda was born out of a need for a better way to schedule rides,” James told me. “As I rode more and more in the DC area, I realized that most of the people I rode with didn’t have a preferred method of organizing and scheduling outings. There was Meetup, Facebook, email, and telephone, but no one was using the same thing. And, none of the available methods were specific to mountain biking or adventure sports,” said James. “That’s when I decided to build something that could help bring everyone together.”

Trail StatusTrail Status, James’ other app, came into existence out of his frustration from arriving at Fountainhead a couple of times and finding the gate closed. “We’ve always had the Fountainhead ride line, but often, in the haste to get a ride going, we’d head out to the trail and arrive to a closed gate,” he said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if an app alerted you about a trail’s current status? An app that was crowd-sourced? So that anyone with a mobile device could alert other users about a trail’s staus on the spot?”

By chance, James met with Ernie Rodriguez, MORE’s president, and Larry Cautilli, MORE’s Project Manager at Fountainhead. While on a ride at the Frederick Watershed, he told them about the idea to develop an app that would help the park keep the trail status’ more up-to-date, and that’s when the concept was born. Initially, Trail Status was just meant to be used for Fountainhead, but once I got wind of it from Ernie, I contacted James and pitched the idea to expand its functionality to include more trail systems.

James went with it, and the result has been incredible. “I’m incredibly pleased with the amount of people that are signing up to use the Trail Status app,” James said. “What’s great is that once you set it up and receive an alert that a trail is open, it makes you want to ride; so it’s getting people out there.”

More users are adopting both apps and providing real-time status updates for regional trails and organizing rides on those same trails. “Yazda is more than an app,” James said. “Yazda is a website and an app, which will continue to grow into a bigger community of adventurers. We will integrate Yazda and Trail Status, so that they both feed off each other. If you set up an adventure in Yazda on a trail that has a ‘closed’ status, the app will alert you. And if you are setting a trail status update, you’ll see what events are scheduled for that location. The ‘plan’ is to help adventurers plan accordingly.”

MORE is adopting Trail Status and integrating it into its website and actively encouraging its army of liaisons to use it, so that “boots on the ground” can update a trail’s conditions on the spot. I’ve also begun to integrate Trail Status on BestRidesDC.com’s “Where to Ride” Section. If you ride a mountain bike, I highly encourage you to use Yazda and Trail Status. Join the Best Rides DC Group on Yazda and share your adventures with all your friends.

Cycling Photography: Cap CX 2013 Jeff Dickey Darrell Parks

Cycling Photography: Darrell Parks and Bruce Buckley

Over the past few weeks I reached out to two local photographers who specialize in Cycling Photography to talk about their craft, how they got into shooting, and what they love about documenting cycling and the athletes that practice our sport.

Jim Harman - EX2 Adventure - Adventure Racing in the DC Region

Adventure Racing Around DC, Jim Harman

Adventure Racing Around DC, an interview with Jim Harman and Holly Fisher

With the cold winter weather coming to an end, and the adventure racing season nearing its start, most of us are already thinking ahead of the events and activities we will be signing up for in the coming spring, summer, and fall months. Fortunately, adventure racing around DC is alive and well.

Locally, we’re lucky to have some great events organized by some experienced promoters that will not only challenge you physically, but also provide you with great opportunities to run and bike on some of the best region’s trails, and give you the chance to meet like-minded people who love spending time in the great outdoors.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with two of our area promoters, Jim Harman of EX2 Adventures (above; photo courtesy Bruce Buckley Photography) and Holly Fisher, of SCORE and MORE.

Jim, with over 15 years of adventure race planning is the founder of EX2 Adventures, and Holly, is MORE’s current event planner and the force behind SCORES’ Cranky Monkey mountain bike race series.

Jim’s zeal for “adventure” started early on in his life. “I was an Army Brat, so my family moved around a lot, it was a huge adventure for me,” he said. “I actually liked moving around since it gave me the chance to make new friends and see different places. I lived in Germany for many years, where I went to a DoDEA school, and got to travel with my family or the Boy Scout troop I belonged to.” He visited many places, including “Spain, Italy and other countries in Europe.”

“Later, when I was in my 20s I yearned to travel again and set out on a 6 week journey to Europe to visit some of the places I’d been to and visit new ones. I was amazed at the number of people who were, like me, traveling on their own, but for far more extended periods of time. These were people just like me who were, through their experiences, figuring out what was important to them.”

Jim returned from his trip and started planning the next one right away. He knew that he would be gone at least for a year. He took a leave of absence from his job and set out on the adventure that would take him across Europe, Northern Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and ultimately across the country on a trip with his brothers. That trip would change his life and provide the foundation for what he would end up doing today.

“I returned with a sense of purpose” he told me, “I came back grounded with what would become my philosophy: Have fun and disseminate a sense of adventure in what I do, focus on mind, body and soul at every level, build a sense of community in whatever I do, and try and make a difference, no matter how small, in the world.”

Adventure Racing around DC - Jim Harman

Jim’s love for adventure and outdoor sports led him to create EX2 Adventures. Photo Courtesy Jim Harman.

It is with that philosophy that he started the next phase of his life when working at the Adventure programs at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Clifton, VA.” During my interview I pitched the idea of an adventure race and the staff loved it,” he said. “In addition to my regular duties I set out to organize the first ever Venture Quest race at Hemlock.”

At the time, in the late 90s/early 2000s there were very few adventure races in the country and adventure racing around DC was virtually non-existent. The format for Jim’s creation was simple: teams were tasked with navigating a series of checkpoints, all while trekking, biking and paddling the terrain of Hemlock.

The first year brought roughly 30 teams to the event and was well received. The second year participation more than doubled. Despite the success, Jim’s employers wanted him to focus more on other park duties, so they asked him to put Venture Quest on hold. Jim was somewhat devastated. “This was my baby!” he said. “I had so much fun organizing the event and seeing how successful it had become and what additional potential was there for adventure racing around DC, and I did not want to let it go.”

So, he proposed running and organizing the event on his own time and continued to work at Hemlock overseeing his regular duties. In 2002 Jim took the plunge and founded EX2 – (EXcellent EXperiences) Adventures.

The rest, as they say is history.

Over the years events have come and gone, but Jim’s portfolio of races has remained consistent – always true to his philosophy to promote fun and a sense of adventure, challenge your mind body and soul, and build a sense of community.

This year is no different. “We have, I think, a solid schedule for 2016,” he told me. “We’ve grown from just a couple of races when we started, to what I think is our sweet spot, 20. There’s a little for everyone in there, and this year I think people are going to love some of the new events we’ve added to the list.”

Those events include the new EX2 Rendezvous Run and Bike races (Spring and Fall) and the Fountainhead Trail Tri. Athletes can participate either in the run or bike portion of the Rendezvous, or both. “My goal is to bring two of our trail-user communities together,” Jim said. “Runners can come in the morning, do the race and hang out in the afternoon to see the MTB races. Or, runners can participate in the AM and then race their bike in the PM. Winners will be selected from just the run, just the bike, and from the run and the bike combined.”

The Fountainhead Trail Tri is exciting because this year elite athletes will compete on the entire length of the Fountainhead mountain bike trial. This will be the first time that the entire trail system will be used in a race. “The format of the race will allow us to not have elbow-to-elbow competition once riders get to the mountain bike trail. Because of the way Fountainhead is structured, it will create a much better racing experience.”

Jim’s Cranky Monkey Mountain Bike Series is no longer with EX2, but continues to thrive with SCORE (Singletrack Cycling Open Registration Events, Inc.). Holly Fisher, SCORE’s Executive Director, and MORE’s events coordinator is now at the helm of the popular race series.

“For us, the Cranky Monkey had run it’s course and needed a new infusion of energy,” Jim said. “I’m happy that the series continues on and is managed by an organization that is giving back to the trails where the events take place. This benefits all of our trail users in that it raises awareness of how much effort goes into maintaining the places we all enjoy – either for biking or running.”

Holly Fisher, right, discusses event day logistics with MORE's Executive Director Ryan Delaney. Photo: Joel Gwadz

Holly Fisher, right, discusses event day logistics with MORE’s Executive Director Ryan Delaney. Photo: Joel Gwadz

Holly took over the Cranky Monkey in 2015 and added new energy to the series. “The first year was a learning experience,” she said. “After the series was over, I followed a practice that had been implemented with the MoCo Epic (another event managed by Holly and MORE Volunteers) and reached out to participants for input. That input was invaluable and helped us make several changes to the series that we hope will enhance the experience for all participants.”

The changes include a series rain date, a later season start to avoid poor trail conditions, a new 6-hour endurance format, and a special “Cranky Monkey Dark Side” race to be held at night at Rosaryville State Park.

Having been involved with MORE, Holly has become keenly award of the importance of giving back to the trails we all ride on. “The Cranky Monkey series of races is unique in that it not only allows those passionate about racing to race on quality trails, but to also focus on giving something back to the trails they are using,” she said. “All net proceeds from the races are donated back into the trails to the local mountain bike clubs”

This year, SCORE will produce 4 Cranky Monkey events, including the Schaffer Cranky Monkey, the Quantico Cranky Monkey, the Cranky Monkey Dark Side, and the Rosaryville Cranky Monkey. Coupled with EX2’s calendar of adventure races it is a packed calendar of events that are bound to please the most ardent adventure racers in the region.

Add the Annual MoCo Epic, to be held in October, and all of your off-road cycling, running, and adventure cravings can be satisfied.

Ernie Rodriguez

Ernie Rodriguez: Mountain Biking the DC Region

You may run into Ernie Rodriguez

Ernie Rodriguez

Ernie Rodriguez

Mountain Biking in the DC Region would not be what it is today without the efforts of MORE’s current President: Ernie Rodriguez. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and riding with Ernie for several years, but it really wasn’t until my latest tenure as Operations Director of the Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) Board of Directors that I really got to know him, and appreciate what he is doing for our sport.

As of 2016, Ernie Rodriguez will roll into his second 2-year stint as President of one of the oldest and most respected mountain bike clubs in the nation, MORE. I had a chance to sit down with Ernie over a couple of cold beverages and talk to him about how he started mountain biking, what he loves about cycling, and what’s in store for MORE in the coming year.

Ernie started riding in late 2000 on a whim. Ernie and Joel Kennet, a shared acquaintance, played frisbee together on a regular basis, and one afternoon Joel suggested they try mountain biking. “Joel was putting together a trip to go ride in Peru,” Ernie said. “But before we went down to South America we needed to make sure that we could ride!”

From left to right: Ernie Rodriguez, Michael Barth, Joel Kennet

Ernie (left) continues to love the social aspect of Mountain Biking. Ernie, Michael Barth (center) and Joel Kennet are pictured here after a ride at Gambrill State Park in Frederick, MD.

So, the pair gathered some bikes and headed out to Laurel Mountain, PA to a regional mountain bike festival. Ernie’s been hooked ever since…

“I just loved the social aspect of riding,” Ernie added. “Some of our first rides were hash house bike rides. We basically followed a trail that had been previously marked that led to hidden treasures (beer). There was just so much camaraderie. The hashers are basically a ‘drinking club with a biking problem.‘ But I just loved riding the trails, and the fun and camaraderie in between made it that much more fun.”

Ernie’s favorite riding is mountain biking. “Every once in a while I’ll get out on the road or do some cross riding, but I simply love mountain biking. I really love playing in rock gardens and riding technical trails. I love the challenge and rewards of clearing hard to ride sections. When I see a rock garden I’m like ‘let’s try it!‘ My favorite trails by far are those  in the Frederick Watershed (below) – they just force you to pay attention and to actually ‘ride your bike…'”

Ernie rocking The shed. #ridewithmore

A video posted by Best Rides DC (@bestridesdc) on

 

“There are so many regional trails in the DC area that are world class. I’ve pretty much ridden all of the trails in MORE’s inventory, and just love the variety we have at our disposal.”

Those who have been involved with MORE for a while will undoubtedly remember some of the people that made a difference to riders in our region. In Best Rides DC I feature Tom Jackson, and it’s nice to hear Ernie give him credit for his efforts.

“Soon after I started riding on a regular basis I got involved with volunteering, but I mostly rode with the group. Tom Jackson was heavily involved in leading rides and getting new riders into the sport. He basically got me (our group) out on different trails every weekend. He kept it interesting for us.” Ernie added, “Tom basically took us to a different park every weekend and introduced us to MORE’s Douthat camping trips. That’s where I met Scud, and as you know, once you got exposed to Scud you became an automatic volunteer.”

“It was from there that I connected with The Bike Lane team and kept meeting more of the people that really made a difference. Anne Mader, owner of The Bike Lane, was involved with The Fountainhead Project and recruited me to get involved with fundraising. It’s then that I became more involved in trail work and realized how many people before me had made it possible for not just me, but so many others to have quality places to ride. It’s then that I decided to join the board as VA Advocacy director;  eventually I opted to run for President.”

That’s when I also came back to the club and threw my name in the hat to become MORE’s Operations Director and when I really started to get to know Ernie. Volunteering for the MORE board is a taxing endeavor. It requires a great deal of your personal time and a commitment to work to advance the goals of the club. I asked Ernie what he believed have been his most memorable accomplishments during his first tenure as President. “As a member and volunteer I noticed that the club was somewhat fragmented,” he said, “so my first goal was to make sure to include everyone and bring people back together, ultimately we all share the same passion for this sport.”

“I wanted to make sure that every mountain biker that enjoys mountain biking the DC region, most importantly our members and volunteers, were included. It’s taken time, and it’s been difficult, but we’re making progress. We still have work to do, but I think we’re getting there. I want to make sure we empower our volunteers to keep doing what they have been doing and make sure they know they’re appreciated,” he added.

“One of the proudest accomplishments I’ve seen is neither mine or the board’s, but it’s from our volunteers, mainly our trail liaisons,” he said proudly. “They have taken ownership and pride in what they do with their particular trails. I want to make sure that they know MORE, especially the board, appreciates all of their efforts and is there to support them and provide whatever assistance they need to succeed.”

As with any large organization, there are also disappointments. I asked Ernie if there is anything he wished he would have done differently, or anything that’s disappointed him during his first tenure as President. “I see how the MORE Board and our volunteers work very hard to accomplish things and move a project forward, so it is sometimes frustrating to see how long things take to happen. Still, I’ve come to understand that things take time, especially when dealing with multiple jurisdictions and government agencies. Bacon Ridge, for example, has a great team that had been ready for quite some time to begin building a trail, but getting the MOUs and permits lined up took a while. It was a bit frustrating for the people with the shovels on hand. But now that everything is in place, work is proceeding at a great pace. Mike Klasmaier and Trevor Ellis, along with Phill Rollison and the rest of the team in Anne Arundel County have been doing a phenomenal job, not only building trail, but finding ways to fund and rally volunteers to come out and help.”

“The same goes for other liaison teams around the region. Mount Vernon took a while to develop, but things are moving forward. The Shed, as many of us know, has had uncertainty for years, but thanks to the patience and diligence of Shed Liaisons Dave Kalt, Philip VanWorkhoven, and ambasadors Joe Whitehair and Darius Mark, along with MORE’s Executive Director, Ryan Delany, the City of Frederick is working on an MOU for MORE to maintain all the trails in the watershed.”

Ernie is headed into his second term as MORE’s President, another 2-year commitment. I asked Ernie what his goals are this time around. “As I head into my third year, I want to focus on sustainability and make sure that the club has enough funding going into the future,” he said. “I need to ensure I’m a good steward of the organization. My goal is to make sure that whoever comes after me inherits a club that is sustainable and can keep building and maintaining trails, and that continues to support the people that make things happen – our liaisons and volunteers.”

“I also want to make sure that new mountain bikers have great places to ride, just like I did when I started mountain biking.” he added. “I often tell new riders not to worry so much about what bike they have to start with but just to have fun. Head out on a trail with your friends, make new friends, challenge each other and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. I also want to encourage all mountain bikers in the region to join MORE and help their local liaisons succeed. Volunteers like Todd Bauer, Eric Crawford, Ed Dixon and Larry Cautilli are the fabric of MORE and work tirelessly to enable riding opportunities at your local trails.”

Ernie finished by asking me to remind everyone that this February 6 is MORE’s annual winter party and meeting and to encourage people to attend. It will be an opportunity to visit with old friends, make new ones, and to help MORE recognize the people that make it possible for all of us to continue mountain biking in the DC region on some of the finest trails in the East Coast.

If you happen to run into Ernie Rodriguez on the trail give him a pat on the back for all the effort he has put forward in leading MORE into it’s 25th year. Better yet, offer to lend a hand in leading MORE into its next chapter…

Ernie’s current bike inventory:

  1. Custom Full Suspension Ti Eriksen
  2. Trek fixie Road bike
  3. Custom Ti Eriksen Hard Tail
  4. Niner SIR9 single speed
  5. Trek Carbon road bike

Both of my books (Mountain Biking the Washington DC/Baltimore Area and Best Bike Rides DC) include “You May Run Into” sidebars that highlight local personalities who have devoted their time and made a difference to cycling in the DC region. This is the first of what I hope are many more interviews that extend the sidebars published in the books and where I introduce you to more of the people that make a difference in our region.