The Fine Art of Slummin’ On the Tour de Burg

Old South High tags along on the 18th annual Tour de Burg, a long and wild tradition in Harrisonburg, the bike capital of Virginia

The Tour de Burg, which I’d been kinda-sorta planning on writing about for a long time, snuck up on me very quickly. Two days before it began, I began scrambling, trying to plan press coverage logistics of a bike-racing event purposely designed to defeat good prior planning (tour director Mike Carpenter gleefully warns entrants that he will not respond to any questions that arrive in his inbox).

Don’t worry about it, advised Nick Waite, who owns Pro Tested Gear in Harrisonburg. Just show up and have fun. That’s the TdB way. And so, efforts to secure press credentials, a media kit, arrange interview segments with key personnel ahead of time, etc. were abandoned.

Instead Old South High showed up (complicated by the fact that TdB’s Facebook event page advertised a first day of action on Massanutten, not in the same county, nor even the same mountain range, as the actual location of the first day of action in the George Washington NF, down near Stokesville) and had fun.

The prologue is a 4-mile time trial on the Trimble Mountain loop trail. Within the first 20 feet, the riders – who depart at 30-second intervals – cross a wooden bridge slick with rain. At the preordained start-time of “High Noon,” the first rider, Colin Becker, last year’s TdB GC (that’s general classification) winner, begins his assault of Trimble Mountain. And about one second after High Noon, to the delight of everyone else, Becker wrecks on the slippery bridge. The Tour is off to an auspicious start.

Il Director Carpong and Colin Becker, last year’s winner, just before the start of the 2013 TdB. Becker will wreck within 20 feet. Photo by Nathan Shearer.

“It doesn’t really get any more better than this as far as mountain bike racing goes,” says Joseph Von Blowseph, of Athens, Ohio, waiting for his turn to cross the slippery bridge, pedal his ass off up Trimble Mountain, avoid catastrophe during the subsequent white-knuckle descent and re-cross the slippery bridge.

Oh, and in an extra little fun twist, the prologue time trial happens to coincide with a Girl Scout expedition on Trimble Mountain. Von Blowseph  – his TdB velonym – and co. will also hopefully not run down any Girl Scouts.

The TdB has been going for 18 years. The first year, Carpenter (TdB velonym: Il Director Carpong) and Chris Scott were the only two competitors. Both of them claim to have won. Things got a little bigger every year. Now there’s like, maybe three dozen competing for the GC title, i.e. riding every stage, and more like 50-60 riders on any individual day.

Today, about 40 riders give Trimble Mountain a shot. The slippery bridge claims another couple victims. No Girl Scouts are reported to have been injured. Waite, who has a pro mountain biker license, opens up a three-minute lead on the field on the Trimble Mountain time trial and expands the gap by winning Stage 1, a slightly longer point-to-point ride on Lookout Mountain.

As the GC leader, Waite will be wearing the yellow jersey on Thursday. Because the TdB is modeled after the Tour de France, at stake over the next five days are: men’s and women’s GC and King of the Mountain (points awarded for finishing place on hard climbs). Additional TdB honors up for grabs are Super-D (points earned on selected fastest descents)and the hotly contested DFL, or Dead Fucking Last award.

The TdB, if it’s not already clear, is a bike race that’s simultaneously taken very seriously and very not.

The four-mile prologue down, hundreds more miles to go. Photo by Nathan Shearer.

To compete in the TdB, riders must file Letters of Intent with Il Director Carpong. A great many of them make proud reference to something called “slummin.’”  E.g., from Andrew:

“After graduating with a degree in bull shit, I’ve been slumming through the summer without a job, so I figure why not continue the slum in the tour next week. Hard to beat a week of riding.”

If just showing up and having fun is key to understanding the TdB experience, slummin’ is maybe even more so. Taking pride in slummin’ is something that the general civilian population probably isn’t going to understand, as slummin’ doesn’t really measure up to the general U.S. definition of fun.

Dan Atkins:  Slummin’ is hurtin’.

Dan Atkins, TdB participant from Baltimore: Slummin’ is hurtin’. Bonkin’. Bringin’ up the rear. If you slum hard enough, you might win the DFL award, meaning that slummin’ is sometimes strategic. But generally, if you’re slummin’, you’re suckin’ and not doin’ or feelin’ well.

Il Director Carpong: When you’re slummin’, you’re really hurtin’. Sufferin’. Bonkin’ might be part of it, but bonkin’ is more of a specific physiological problem, an imbalance between the energy you’ve got stored up in your body and the energy you’re askin’ it to expend. Slummin’ is just more generally having a really shitty day, sometimes, literally. Havin’ “the diarrheas” might be part of the slummin’ experience. Havin’ heatstroke. Trippin’ too hard on a weed brownie (like the Tour de France, the TdB has sometimes featured a drug tent; unlike the Tour de France, the TdB’s version doesn’t exactly exist to discourage drug use).

But the key, the real main bit to slummin’, says Carpong, is this: gettin’ through. You slum, you live to slum another day, and when the pain and sufferin’ has worn off, and you’ve gotten through, and you’ve conquered the slum and you’ve got stories to tell, and you’re stoked to do it all over again next year.

From Susanna’s letter of intent: “I’m looking forward to plenty of slummin’ on Friday-Saturday-Sunday.”

Vive le Tour de Burg.

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