Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Book: Twisted Trails by Alex Hutchinson

From the first day I climbed on a mountain bike, I felt the need to write about the experience. Freedom, independence, self-propulsion and exploration are concepts so revealing of our nature that they beg for the loving embrace of short story fiction. These past six years have provided me with a wealth of interesting characters, intense races and natural beauty. All of which made it easy and fun to write these stories.

This is my first collection of short stories which is odd because people have always told me that it is my strongest format. I chose to publish via e-book because I firmly believe that digital media is the wave of the future. Almost all of my books have a version in e-book and they outsell my printed books 4 to 1. Releasing the book this way also allows me to keep a low price and market directly to the target audience - mountain bikers.

The genesis of this book came from the yearly Dirt Rag Literature Contest. I loved the idea of fictional tales about this sport and imagined what it might be like to publish a collection of such stories. I wrote my own over the years until it amounted to about 20 stories. Most were complete, some half done. For the sake of making Twisted Trails a book worthy of my audience, I picked the absolute best of the best and went to work on polishing them.

If I could compare it to any other book on the market, the closest example would be Rope Burns by F.X. Toole. Rope Burns was a small collection of short stories about the sport of boxing. The author worked in the sport and was able to give readers a deeper look at pugilism from many different angles. Some stories from his book were adapted to make the Oscar winning film Million Dollar Baby directed by Clint Eastwood.

The process of picking the right narratives was tricky. I didn't want to create any stories that would show mountain biking in a bad light or give rise to negative stereotypes. I did want to exaggerate the situations we sometimes find ourselves in - lost, exposed, in the heat of competition or in the debt of exhaustion. I wanted to write about what it feels like to be temporarily free from the false structures of societal expectations. In those rare moments of poetic happenstance, I believe that Twisted Trails has achieved that goal.

What are the stories about? I always thought that mountain biking provides a great platform for working out eternal truths. I wanted these morality tales to last the test of time. That is why many have a theme broader than just the subject matter. Moonscape is about a man who turns his back on nature and pays a price for it. Why We Race is an exploration of the cyclist as an identity. Riding Under the Influence is about taking responsibility for our mistakes even if it might cost us to do so. The Ballad of Queen V is the story of a girl trying to live up to a promise she made to her late father.

No one writes a book alone. I owe thanks to a trusty team who helped me through this process. My editors Heather Childress and Terri Brashear both took time from their busy schedules to comb through every detail correcting my grammatical adventurism. Illustrator and long time friend Rob Mackiewicz, co-creator of the Lil' Levi comic, was kind enough to do cover art.

This is my first book in seven years. During that time I've grown as a writer, learning so much about character development, drama and word play. The tales were inspired by my fellow riders and were written to entertain them. These people have become my surrogate family so I hope I have served them well. Hopefully we will have many more years together to enjoy these Twisted Trails.

Twisted Trails release date is Feb 15th, 2015

Don't have a Kindle? Luckily you don't need one. Anybody can read Kindle books - even without a Kindle device - with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Redemption in the Ruts! Piggy's Revenge 2015

It was the biggest event ever put on by the boys at SCORR. The 4th annual Piggy's Revenge attracted 161 riders (87 Pre-reg, 74 day of), twice the amount of last year's race. Online promotions created an ongoing conversation about the types of trails, the routes and the best bikes for the job. In the end, people chose a little bit of everything. There were roughly 50 riders for each distance and they were straddling the whole shebang from cross bikes to full suspension rigs to fatties.

In addition to individual riders there was more than 30 teams representing. Plus we saw a handful of photographers, reporters from the Herald-Tribune and a drone copter flying high above the trees. In the spirit of riding the wild, some people took it upon themselves to dress up for the occasion. There was a wolf and three piggy's, a mermaid, a pumpkin and a slice of pizza.

This was not the kind of event you could watch from the sidelines. For those doing the 20 mile route it was a master class in singletrack riding. For those in the 40 mile route you had to both slay BoldlyGo and enjoy a journey into the back country. For those doing the 60 mile route it was a quest so arduous that you had to conquer the outer reaches of the Carlton Reserve then leave Venice, circle through the trails of North Port and return via the Deer Prairie passage, a true trek if ever there was one.

After all of the riders had signed in and received their t-shirts, SCORR President Eric Claessens stood up before the crowd to give everyone their last minute instructions.

While anyone can write a race report from the sidelines, I prefer to get my feet wet so I signed up for the 60 and dove into the thick of the action. We left the parking lot at 8:15am in a neutral procession lead by SCORR member Steve Christian. Upon reaching the right turn onto the Red trail, Steve moved aside and let the big race begin.

The pace quickened as the riders, many of them on cross bikes, blasted through the trail taking a right at the halfway point and heading towards the wild unknown. As the next turn closed in, we already had a problem. A large group of riders had passed me but they missed the turn and were going in the wrong direction. I followed them hoping they would slow as the GPS suddenly didn't match the terrain. They finally stopped when it hit them. I led that group as well as ten other stragglers to the gate that empties out onto Border road. I waited on the road until everyone had passed, instructing them to watch for the next gate on the left.

When I inquired as to why they were going the wrong way, for some their GPS was off by a few meters and that meant the difference between two trails that ran parallel. For others, they didn't have a GPS! Having signed up at the last minute they missed that little detail.

"I'm gonna stick with you." Theron Miller, a local mechanic representing Real Bikes hadn't brought a GPS but after discovering that I had memorized the route decided he was going to follow me for the duration. Moments later the drama continued. Still on Border road we came upon members of the RND race team from Sarasota. One of them had a pinch flat. They had the tools and know how to fix it so we wished them luck and continued on. After sloshing through some muck on Doe Hammock, Theron and I hit the south powerline with the intention of making up time. Another rider had stopped near the Venice-Arcadia Grade turn off. He also didn't have a GPS, "Follow us."

Later on the south powerlines we saw the lead group for the 40 mile race. It was a pack of five riders in team time trial formation, one of which wore the distinct orange colors of Team Real Bikes. This is one of those redemption stories. Eric Latimer, a mechanic for Real Bikes Venice, was a serious contender for the 60 mile race last year but he was beat out by Team Cycle Logic. This year he chose to take on the 40 route and did so with friends. Aided by Russell Peelman of Saint Petersburg (Who had to endure tire issues), Eric maintained a furious pace and eventually took the win.

My trend of picking up stragglers continued until I had a small group of about 8 riders. Turning onto Stockade road I tried to keep up a solid pace, if only to appease the stronger riders who were following me. However, that pace caused us to shed a couple off the back. Bear Hammock trail was a mix of cruise and bounce where we saw 4 pigs inside the cage traps. We turned down Turpentine and fought through muddy ruts. This was where you wanted to have a mountain bike. Due to a mechanical, this was where we lost our cyclocross friends. Now we were back to three.

A quick jaunt down Wellfield road brought us to Tom's Oasis rest stop. A party to rival no other. There were riders from all three routes meeting together, eating, drinking and chatting on about what had happened so far. Between the cowbells, cameras, beer and the otter, you almost forgot that you were in the middle of a race. Tom and Jeff informed us that the "Fast" 60 mile riders didn't even stop, they whizzed by about an hour earlier.

With more than 30 competitors, the ladies were in full force at this year's race. While most took on the 20 mile challenge, a few made a play for the 40 mile title. Donna Davis (Connecticut), Sierra Stafford (Cape Coral) and others took on local rider Melody Vasbinder (Real Bikes Englewood) who turned on the afterburners and came away with the victory.

While at Tom's Oasis my group ran into Karen Franzen, another of our redemption stories. Karen traveled all the way down from Connecticut and took on the 60 mile challenge last year but she got lost on course. While she did receive the award last year, this time around she was determined to complete the task. Karen left the Oasis only 5 minutes before us but she must have been flying because we never saw her again. She finished the race and took the women's overall.

The rest of the journey for my 3 man group was filled with bumps and beautiful nature, smiles and sore muscles, cramps and craziness. For the next four hours we managed to stay together, through the tall grass, deep sand, over fences, across dams and eventually back to the pavillion. Due to the chaos at the beginning of the ride, which cost me about about 30 minutes, it took us roughly 6 hours to complete the 55 mile course. About 20 minutes later four members of Team RND Racing, having overcome their earlier flat, braved the beast and finished their journey.

It wasn't until I returned that I heard about the big win of the day. It came from the same team that has been dominating Piggy's for the past few years - Cycle Logic. A father/son duo named Scott and Justin Pfaff of Gainesville took the win with Kevin Greten of Sanibel coming in third. They managed to finish the pig epic in under 4 hours while leaving some serious gravel racers in their wake. It was an astonishing performance!

Finishing a race like Piggy's Revenge is a reward in itself. Rough on the body and hard on the mind, Piggy's tested our limits and pushed us to exceed them. I'll be attending many more races this year but in terms of sheer ruggedness this one will be hard to beat. And of course, nothing can beat the bratwurst and pig cookies.

Photos and videos of the event can be found on the SCORR Facebook page.

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