DirtRag DirtFest

In the thick of the season where the summer heat and humidity seem to add ten pounds, I find it nearly impossible to imagine or remember a time when I actually enjoyed riding bikes. This attitude doesn’t lend itself very well to making any sort of ride plans… at least of any significance.
 I knew about Dirtfest, and despite the fabled rains of last seasons fest- it sounded like a great time and was touted as something I shouldn’t miss this year. Things weren’t looking good in the days leading up to this years DirtFest. I had long missed the window where any mature adult would properly plan to drive 7 hours to spend 3 days in the woods. On Tuesday of the week of the fest I received a call from Jimmy T: “Hey Jim!” ..“Yo, Mills, are you being a pussy or are you going to dirfest this year? I got a seat with your name on it, we are leaving Thursday”.. “I dunno man, got a lot going on”- despite me having nothing going on but an ongoing issue to committing to anything.. you know, because of the heat and the million other excuses I have been incubating for the last few weeks. 
I wont lie, things at the shop have been a little hectic. The season is full tilt with repairs and sales. This is also the dreaded time of year where tone-deaf reps march into my shop without an appointment and ask me to commit to buying more stuff to sit on our shelves.. you know.. the stuff that we still have too much of from the last time we did this dance. My fearless superior has been hard at work focusing on projects outside of business and the general climate in the shop has been anything to conducive to leaving it without my help unexpectedly for 3 days. But on the contrary, my resolve and sanity is rapidly diminishing at an unprecedented rate. I find myself grasping at every aspect and bit of reason possible to yield to irresponsibility in the name of fun and begin the arduous task of making a mental list of why Jim is right about me indeed being a pussy.
Tuesday evening, my wife and I took off for a social ride in our neighborhood and ran into my friend/arch nemesis Dicky, we pedaled along amongst the droves of weekend warriors and enthusiasts alike and covered conversational topics at our usual rate. As we sat mid-ride stop and cracked a beer, he spared no time in asking “are you coming to DirtFest with us?”.. I instinctively looked at my wife, whos expression unmistakably indicated her total unawareness of such an event or its timing, I mutter- “Meh, I want to.. but…” and in my wifes typical supportive nature, she pipes up and volunteers my attendance. I am more encouraged now than ever, but the obstacles still loom- missed work, obligations, adulthood. Luckily the obstacles were no match for another heavy beer. The buzz had hardly taken shape before I had crafted a firm but gentle text to my boss- “Hey dude, id like to head to West Va for Dirtfest Thursday afternoon, Pivot would be there, I will make sure to gather some intel and make this worth OUR while”.. in an uncharacteristic fashion, he texts back quickly- “sure, sounds cool”… Damn that was easy. The next morning I called Jim, he answers- “hey are you done being a bitch?”.. “yeah, what time are we leaving?”.. “2pm, Thursday”.. “Sweet, see you at your place”. 
          Well… I am officially going to DirtFest and Wednesday flies by, packing is a cinch. Thursday morning gives way to launch time and I head to Jim’s.. A tall sullen man is smoking a joint the size of my index finger outside near Jims truck, the f150 already looks like a parade float- coolers, grills, bikes, chairs, bags barely hanging on… the whole flea market. I am introduced to smoking man, he is going with us. We take off and the first stop is New River Bikes in Fayettville, Va, to pick up Jon Danger and a friendly fella named Carl. By the time them and their things are loaded, the truck looks like an acid flashback Shel Silverstein illustration. 5 men and 50 men worth of stuff presses onward into the evening on the back of a poor, poor pickup truck.

The fruitful but tasteless conversation and high levels of stoke assuaged the fact that we already smelled like Detroit and that we each had less than a commercial airlines space worth of leg-room. We jumped from topic to topic and the small LCD screen Jim had installed in his dash played questionable YouTube videos of people jumping appliances on homemade go-karts or the unfortunately popular 10 minute loop that someone created out of the scene in The Color Purple where Oprah pees in that field. Finally, At the tail end of what seemed like 4 hours later- we stopped at a Wal-Mart to grab some essentials. We waited in the parking lot for Jim to come back out. I had a 30 pack of Busch and a 2lb box of granola tucked under my arm. There were TWO (2) sedans in the parking lot outfitted with homemade concessions to haul deer- atleast that I could see. The local passers by appeared envious of our packing skills. Jim emerges with enough food and water for an entire defensive line. We load yet more shit into his truck and press on. 30 minutes later we reached the top of the gravel hill at the Big Bear airstrip. To our left a huge fire burns, a long stretch of banners and trailers glow down the airstrip. This looks awesome and like a much bigger production than I thought. 
“Who are you with, you are a little early” says the tall dude with braids. “We are with Andy”..braid guy smiles..“We are also with Dicky”, braid guy smirks and points up the hill to the VIP camp in the woods, we press on. I set up my camp in record time and break into my Busch and head down to the fire. Nick, Lee, Colin, Noelle and Courtney are surprised to see me. I am happy to see them. Its gonna be a good weekend. At some undefined, blurry point we migrated back up to the camp in search of beer and better times. Shortly thereafter we were shushed by a fellow camper and took it as a cue to bed down ourselves, not before Dicky would drunkenly try to enter a tent that didn’t belong to him by mistake, though.
I woke up to a gang of spirited older dudes in the adjacent camp telling stories about rides past and the coughing of Jon Danger trying out his “camping pipe”. I reluctantly rose from my cot so as to gently test whether a Busch-induced headache had set in. Thankfully I tested negative and I felt rather spry considering my hydration plan from the night before. Just as I downed a cup of coffee and got done getting ready for a day of riding, I looked up to see a rather happy Lee riding through our camp with Colin in tow. The lewd banter carried back on seamlessly and the others slowly materialized from their makeshift sleeping arrangements from the late night before. Within a surprising thirty or so minutes, the troop was ready to dip into some unexplored and unknown trails, atleast to me… hell, this was the first time I had ever been to West Virginia…well on purpose. We began a spirited ride into the lush and beautiful, rocky, rooty trails. Exclamation, short anectdotes and laughter from the crew seemed to echo off the endless tapestry of ferns and moss. The flat terrain gave way to mud pits and undulating knots of technical trail, my smile grew bigger, the hoots of fellow riders more plenty. I was riding well, and the mood was light. I started to get a really good idea of what the next few days of riding was gonna be like and the thought of the partying to be done over the next couple of night sustained me through the tough trails. We rode Canaan trail; a ribbon of loamy dirt and rocks punctuated by drops and sudden climbs and found ourselves at a junction where we would wait on the rest of the crew. Nick took this opportunity to zing a sharp rock into Dickys shin in an unprovoked act. After we all got done cry-laughing, Dicky punched Nick several times as I ate some gummy bears offered to me by Lee. Jon offered some excellent anecdotal verbiage and we pressed on after laughing some more. We headed to ride the fabled “Crack Trail” which featured a massive cave-like rock passage which we rode through several times, shooting pictures and videos, carrying on. We ran into a guy on a unicycle, it seemed like he was a long way from home to be on one wheel and I found myself a bit humbled by the guys journey on what is likely the most inefficient means of travel since the Pontiac Aztek.  The miles were easily doubled by the technicality of the terrain. Every inch moved was earned. After 15 miles, I was spent, this wasn’t Pisgah, it sure as hell wasn’t the Piedmont. The road back up to the airstrip seemed to materialize before my eyes and get steeper with every pedal stroke. 
We returned to camp and there was promise of a skills clinic by Harlan Price. I was rather interested in how one of such talent articulates his cycling skill to those less able. I quickly witnessed watched while Harland’s supposed intimate clinic get inundated by attendees, one after the other showed up. He had mentioned at some point that his teachings were most effective to groups of 6 or less… Roughly 40 people had showed up. I realized I might not be able to glean as much as I had hoped but I at least figured I could see how he handled adapting and scaling his knowledge to suit such a big crowd. He seemed unphased, a true pro. Right about that time, Colin, Lee and the ladies rolled past to embark on a “short” ride. Dicky and I both used this a segue out of the clinic. We decided to ride Chunder Mtn and the Race Loop after losing Colin to a Reverb Failure.. this turned out to be nearly as hard of a ride as the first. At the end I was more than cooked. It was time to party.
A band boomed at the airstrip, Pivot had distributed blue hats to the 100 or so waiting in line for their free BBQ. I ate nachos from the only food vendor because I hate lines and Pivots blue hats are too small for my giant head. There was talk of a sunset party up at the overlook near in the Pines so we slowly moseyed that way after over-indulging in various and assorted party favors. I was euphoric post lighthearted phone-call to the homefront, all was well and everyone there was happy and content from the excellent day of riding. We showed up early to the pines. Maurice and the DirtRag crew were setting up a disco ball in the trees. We proceeded to the overlook just beyond the crew and watched the sun set over the rolling hills. Next thing I knew we were surrounded by mountain bikers… apparently we were really close to the trail, possibly in it. Everyone riding stopped and beers appeared out of nowhere. The party enveloped us, next thing I knew a crew of much more rugged riders had showed up- most missing teeth or bearing scars reminiscent of seasoned hockey enforcers. They hucked off the cliff we were standing on, I found myself humbled by the enigmatic nature of this event, eager to see what was next. It was about this time when Nick realized the identity of one of the guys hurling themselves over the cliff drop. He dragged me aside and said “See that big dude?!, he fuckin’ farted in my face at Pisgah Enduro and told me to Go Big or Go home, I hate that guy”.. the next hours were spent entertained by Nicks anger and inebriated diatribes, punctuated by him pulling his shirt over the head of one of the higher-ups from Dirt Rag who was sitting on the hidden beer cooler. Luckily, the sheer happiness and good vibes of the event prevented any of Nicks well-meaning actions from being perceived as negative. He and big guy made up later on and exchanged some baked goods around the fire. The night blurred and the party was grand we eventually moseyed back to the camp to ready ourselves for day 2… but not before Dicky would try and enter the incorrect tent, again. 
Day 2 began with me slowly rising, eager to find out if the Busch had taken its toll. Surprisingly I felt spry and ready for another day of riding. The resolve of the crew seems to have shifted, some for the better, some for the worse. Maybe by now we’ve fully realized the true bargain between our ambitions and what we were truly there to do- party. We certainly weren’t moving as quickly, at least I wasn’t. The talk of the Maxxis Ride going off at 9? 10? Had a few stirring. Jim was making breakfast, well, sausage… a lot of sausage and the guys in the next camp were arguing about water heaters. As I put my bibs on, a rather large rattlesnake announced his presence from just feet away from me as he passed thru my camp... Ah, the great outdoors. 
I found myself headed out for another ride that was sure to hold some hardship, surprises and foul rants. The boys and I pedaled into the forest to ride some things we missed the day before. Before long I felt the inevitable bonk and disillusionment. I blame it on the Busch. I was pleased to hear Nicks musings in opposition to continuing the ride as well. This meant I might have a way out of the rest of the ride while avoiding looking like the only pussy in the group. Not to mention I kinda had work to do- I needed to demo bikes and talk to vendors. Nick and I pedaled back and split up. He headed for a nap while I proceeded to demo 3 or 4 bikes on a fun loop consisting of Upper Genes to Fern via the fireroad. This easily chalked up 10 more miles. I was extra done. There was a lake calling my name. Jim, Jon, Nick and I loaded up in the truck and headed for a swim with beers in tow. The lake was a spectacle. It was a partial dystopia…. a petri dish of specimens fit for a Harmony Korine film. The shore was laden with misshapen people and inflatable plastic animals and objects,  a man with an SS tattoo shouts “did travis just jump in the water? That motherfucker cant even swim” He looks at us and reaffirms “my son just jumped in and cant even fuckin swim”. A lady swats at her pitbull trying to grab the styrofoam cup she was holding in shin-deep water. I am amazed, touched and frightened at the same time. Am I one of them? Or am I an outsider? This was the gravity I needed to remember how lucky I am to call West Virginia my home for another night. 
Next thing I knew- it was dark, we had dinner, more beer, more fun. Time was getting away from me- the 7 hour drive back to the real world inched closer. I made it a point to take in everything around me, including more Busch. I stared at the copious stars, I watched the band, I watched the lady that just cooked us steak earlier feverously dance- seemingly without a care in the world. I watched hundreds on hundreds of people marinate in all out joy. We were lots of different people with one certain thing in common- bikes. The band shut down, we found ourselves moored at the Dirtrag staff tent. I spilled 3/8ths of a jug of Old Bay flavored cheeseballs on the ground and the only witness said “those things fuckin suck”. Still hungry and refusing to admit defeat, I talked myself and others into eating the cheeseballs that were on the ground, maybe the Busch had the upper hand by now, maybe that doesn’t matter.
At the end of the fest I woke up, I somehow felt accomplished, even though a better part of the previous 60 hours had been spent aimlessly swept along by the brackish current of DirtFest. I felt well rested despite sleeping in the woods for 3 nights. I felt healthy despite my diet consisting largely of Old Bay cheeseballs and swill beer. I felt at peace despite leaving lots of unfinished business on the home front… was Dirtfest magical? Or just a really good scrimmage for not giving a shit in the name of having fun?  I hope to go next year to find out.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


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