Listen to the Podcasts:
Click here to go to Dirt Rag Dirt Fest 2018: PA Edition – Part I
Click here to go to Dirt Rag Dirt Fest 2018: PA Edition – Part II
The forecast was ugly in the week leading up to the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest (DRDF) held in Hesston, PA in May 2018. Not only had the Mid Atlantic region been saturated with several inches of rain, but more was promised each day of the event. While the heartiest campers may not be put off by wet conditions, if their agenda also called for mountain biking on a selection of some of industry’s finest bikes available for demo and the weather threatened to keep them off the trails, well that just might keep them away.
The Trails2Ales team had committed to the DRDF months in advance. A full weekend event pass including primitive camping and parking totaled $110.00. Combine that with $80 for additional attendees and there becomes a bit of a financial consideration, too. Do you spend that much and not go just because the forecast predicts rain in the 80-100% range? We said, “No, you don’t. You go and hope for the best.” We also had to factor in the opportunity to meet with and interview vendors and brewers all assembled in one place. No way were we skipping this!
We planned for the wet conditions, loading up extra tarps and canopies, and applying water proofing to outdoor gear. Clothing choices acknowledged that it was going to be wet and dirty – meaning bring only that which you don’t mind getting wrecked. And we knew our bikes were going to need extra TLC before, during and after if they were to withstand the elements and live on for future adventures.
Loaded up and ready, our group of 4 vehicles/6 riders headed out separately from points in DC, Maryland and Virginia – each with just about a 3-hour drive to the Susquehannock Campground where event registration and campsites awaited. Arriving ~130p, we joined a line of 5-6 other attendees at the registration table. Low clouds threatened overhead but the temps were mild and no rain was falling. The check -in process was handled smoothly with no issues – resulting in collecting attendance bracelets, maps and parking passes. We were pointed down the road toward our assigned camping site, 52.
Immediately upon leaving the registration area you could tell you were in a ‘bike zone’. Cars, while remaining the unquestioned favorite in a head-to-head match, were expected to yield to their transportation distant cousins of the two-wheeled, human-powered variety. Signs urged, cajoled and warned drivers to keep it slow: “Start Slow and Taper Off”, “Speed Limit 0 MPH”.
The 2-mile road into the campground featured long hills going up and down, with some curves thrown-in to limit site lines to just a couple hundred yards. Groups of MTBers were on the road heading to and from the trails. Shuttles pulling bikes on trailers just wide enough to require oncoming traffic to pull to the side for them to pass moved between drop points. Otherwise, the few sightings of other cars and riders gave the impression that the rain had scared off more than a few participants.
That impression changed in a hurry. After taking a right turn at the Expo entrance and heading down the hill to the campground we found ourselves in a line of cars heading slowly to the most remote campsites. Just getting to our assigned site took skillful maneuvering of the larger vehicles in our group. Once there, we found no available parking and other vehicles parked on the actual camping area. Multiple groups were assigned to the same site and at least two of those groups had arrived ahead of us and filled all the space. There was a patch, perhaps 10×10 between the cars and trucks that a single tent might be able to occupy. The owners of said vehicles were nowhere to be found. What now? The immediate reaction was: refund, go home! But we took a deep breath and decided on another course of action: return to registration, alert them to the situation and see how they handle it.
Two of us drove back and presented our plight to the event staff. They were unflustered and assured us they would look into the situation. We followed their vehicle back to the campground and waited at the entrance as they considered options. The happy result is they opened another campsite for us that provided room for all tents and canopies plus vehicles. While we were relieved to have the site situation resolved, the process had taken slightly more than an hour and we still needed to set up camp ahead of the rain. Skills workshops we had circled to attend on Day 1 and getting our first taste of the Allegrippis trails would have to be forfeited.
After getting the site in order with tents and canopies assembled and arranged to our liking we headed up the hill to catch the first of many happy hours we would attend during the weekend. Between the campground and the Expo was a long, steep, paved climb that taxed the legs and lungs. We were earning our beer. The happy hour at the Expo was hosted by SRAM featuring beer from Flying Fish. Nearby was the second happy hour featuring beer from Happy Valley. Beer was served in soon-to-be-ubiquitous green cups adorned with Dirt Fest artwork. Serving up the beer was Josh who turned out to be the head brewer from Happy Valley. We hope to feature Josh in a podcast in the near future.
Coincidently a woman noticed my EX2 Adventures sweatshirt and asked if I was staff. It turns out she has competed in EX2 events including the Xterra Tri at Rocky Gap. She had met Jim Harman who was featured in Podcast Episode 6 and Episode 7. More important, she is the wife of Josh the brewer from Happy Valley. Karl Jung would have a field day with that story!
Beer tasting complete, we bombed down the hill back to camp to get some quick eats ahead of the evening’s entertainment: a concert with performance by Myal Soul and more beer. These gatherings bring together the attendees and the stoke fills the air as stories of bikes, rides, and trails are shared. We learned the trails were surprisingly rideable in spite of the conditions.
Notice something missing from the story so far? Rain. So far, other than a few drops, the rain held off. As we closed up shop for the night and entered our tents, the downpours remained only visible on weather apps.
Two things happened overnight that set the tone for Day 2. The first, campers at our neighboring camp site (a group of 20+ from a local MTB club) remained awake and boisterous through the night. Published quiet hours began at 11pm, so we were surprised to be awakened at 1a, 2a…still having conversations at 330a and onward. Who finds an audience for a discussion their daughter’s Driver’s Ed instructor at that time?! Well now we know. Annoyed but being good sports, we remained in our tents. Everyone needs to blow off steam sometimes and maybe this was their one chance. But any chance of being rested for the day of riding and skills workshops was gone.
The second overnight occurrence was the arrival of the predicted rain. The rain fell as the night turned to day and we feared we would not get on bikes or trails for the whole of it. Fortunately, after a breakfast under the canopy, the rain stopped and we gathered our gear for a day of Expo and Trails2Ales documentation action. Our first stop was the REEB booth where we chatted up Matt and Kyle. Matt had agreed to an interview which we conducted at the booth as Kyle spoke with other attendees. The interview will be featured in an upcoming Trails2Ales podcast.
We also met Anthony representing Drink Tanks, makers of growlers with CO2 cartridges to keep beer brewery-fresh. Along a line of vendors representing bikes, gear, and clothing, we caught up with Troy from Hand Up Gloves. You may know them from their affiliation with some of the most popular MTB YouTube channels including BKXC, The Singletrack Sampler and Seth’s Bike Hacks. They’d given us a great interview at the WV DRDF in 2017 and we wanted to get by and see how things had been in the months since we spoke. More on that in a future podcast and video.
In spite of the conditions and the sight of dozens of riders returning from the trails looking like they’d just completed a Tough Mudder, Kevin was itching to take his bike out and seeing what Allegrippis had to offer. ‘ can’t blame him – isn’t that the main reason we were there? It did mean he’d have to ride his own bike as the vendors were not allowing any demos that day. I jokingly said, the vendors were thinking, “The conditions are too nasty for our awesome bikes, but for your bike…oh, its fine for your bike.” “Don’t trash our bikes, trash your own.” ‘ can’t blame them either – those bikes have to be cleaned each time they come back from a ride and need to hold up for future rides. Still, sure was a bummer to have no demos at an Expo filled with awesome demo bikes from the likes of Pivot, Ibis, Trek, Orange, REEB, Rocky Mountain and more.
So, Kevin hit the trails on his fully rigid Surly Krampus.
Laura and I, in the meantime, tried to find our way to a couple of skills clinics. The DRDF has the Expo set up in a convergence point of paved roads near several dirt/gravel fire roads and trailheads to the infamous Allegrippis Trails. The skills area appeared to be off one of these roads. As we rode up a long, paved climb, we looked for signs to the skills area. Seeing none, we rode on until we reached the entrance to the campground, all the way back at the registration area. Someone there pointed us in the right direction which, alarmingly, required we get on the singletrack to reach our destination. Alarmingly? Yes, alarmingly, because where we do the bulk of our riding, trail stewardship calls for avoiding riding within 24 hours of a rainfall in order to prevent trail damage. The result is we have very little experience on wet, muddy trails. Faced with a couple of miles of slick muck on un-familiar trails between us and beginner level skill training, we couldn’t help but note the irony: just getting to the clinics might require more skill than a beginner rider may possess. We don’t consider ourselves Beginners but we were headed to a clinic for Beginner Women and we were hoping to attend the Jumping 101 session, too. Gamely we pressed on, and actually enjoyed a white-knuckle ride down to the clinics.
Arriving to find a session reaching its end and the next an hour later, we played around on the ramps and trail in skills area. That activity was quickly curtailed as we watched a group of early-teen boys manual and wheelie off jumps and get air off tabletops. We spoke to the instructor about our being perhaps a trifle out of our league for the Jumping 101 clinic. He assured us we should stick around and that we wouldn’t hold back the class, but the uncertainty had found its way into our heads and that’s a bad combination: Uncertainty + Crowd of Higher Skilled Riders + Intimidation Factor does NOT equal New Skills Learned.
We bailed (chickened out) on the clinic and headed back to the Expo via the fire road that we missed on our initial attempt to find the clinic. [Dear Dirt Rag, you thought of many a detail and put on an amazing, fun-filled event, but how about a sign at the fire road leading to the clinics next year?] Along the way we crossed paths with a pickup truck carrying a large plastic tank. The guys in the cab explained to us that they were heading to the creek to fill the tank with water to be used in the bike wash station back at the Expo. This was a key task because the lines for the wash were long, the bikes extremely dirty and the access to water minimal.
Back at camp, Laura and I learned that Kevin had taken it easy on the trails to avoid damage to himself and his bike but he had gotten enough of a feel that he knew he wanted to go out again the next day. His stoke was infectious and we jumped on board with that idea: “We will not leave Allegrippis without really riding some of the trails.”
Another evening of Happy Hours provided time for riders to gather and share trail-tales accompanied by ales from PA brewers including Happy Valley, Yards and Troegs. Down by the campsites, Troeg’s beers were offered in cans and on draught as live music played.
As we sat around a fire back at our campsite, we could feel how full the day had been. Members of our crew lazed in chairs as the warmth of the fire worked its relaxation magic. I would never recommend a tall can of IPA and a pile of firepit nachos right before bed in any other situation, but for this one, it was a fine combination.
Night 2 brought with it two familiar noises, rain on the tent and the loud voices of our neighboring campers. This time Laura ventured over to gently request they bring it down a notch. Her plea was met with indignation and chiding: “You shouldn’t have come here if you wanted to sleep. Go camp in the Family camping. We planned to stay up all night.” I could hear all this because, you know, no walls. When Laura returned to our tent, I tagged up and ventured over. “Your response to a request to be little quieter at 330a is to tell the person they shouldn’t be here? Quiet hours started at 11p and its 4 hours later and you think it is an unreasonable request to ask you to be quiet or take it out of the camping site?” Ignored. Party on Wayne. We were woken by these revelers several more times until daylight. Family camping, by the way, is offsite and a long ride away from the Expo. Camping there pretty much would curtail access to evening activities hosted in the main area. Possible, but definitely a disruption to the flow. My run-in with the partiers made me feel at-once like the nerd who should be in the Study Dorm and the adult who understands what the definition of ‘considerate.’ No one attends a festival of any type where camping and alcohol are part of the mix and expects that Quiet Hours will be observed spot-on at the declared hour. It is not unreasonable (is it?) though to expect, that there may be some level of compromise whereby those who wish to burn on through night might take it somewhere less conspicuous, or perhaps recognize that their activities may interfere with the way others have chosen to spend the time? For all that was right and good with the event, this experience will carry a high weight in the ‘No’ column when considering returning to next year’s DRDF.
Is tearing down a campsite the least fun part of any camping trip? I’d say, “No,” “Setting up and cleaning all the gear at home after a wet trip is the worst.” Tearing down can actually be therapeutic in the right conditions. We sped through the tear down and pack up so we could get to the last day of the Expo and get on a Demo. Kevin headed to Trek to grab a Stache and I went to REEB. Given there was only an hour or so of ride time, the REEB guys were super cool about letting me get on a Six-Fidy. Six-Fidy, get it? 6-50. 650. It is their 650b, hardtail. It was last year’s model but the only frame that fit my 5’7” self and I wanted on a REEB, so I went for it. Even with the seat lowered all the way the Medium frame was almost too much for me. I felt very tall in the saddle but I pressed on to the trails. We checked out the demo loop which was well-worn and soupy in spots yet surprisingly stable in most places. As I got used to the bike and encountered and surmounted a few roots and rocks, I was quickly reminded of how much fun a hardtail can be. The higher bottom bracket and lack of sag meant that where I anticipated pedal strikes, none followed. Once I realized how steady the frame was and how much clearance I had, I was ready to rip. We rode for about an hour. There were all types of riders on the trails, including full on shredders and families. The dad at the lead of one group stopped to usher a baby copperhead off the trail. That was the only wildlife encounter of the trip. Vegetation-wise, while trails were clear, almost any place you wanted to step off to rest yourself or your bike was replete with poisonous leaves of some form or another. Keep a watchful eye when riding Allegrippis!
Ride done, we got in line for the bike wash. Little did we know that time from line joining to bike washing would be longer than the ride. As Kevin wisely advised, we shouldn’t complain about the line. No one said we had to ride in the mud and if conditions weren’t so bad, the line wouldn’t take so long. Dirt Rag cannot control the weather…or so we think. I mean, it does rain on DRDF every year. Is that really a coincidence?
Before wrapping this report on DRD 2018, a SHOUT OUT to the guys at REEB: Matt and Kyle. They didn’t have to let that Six Fiddy leave their booth with an hour of ride time left. And they didn’t have to be as chill as they were waiting for me to get it washed and back to them. And it wasn’t pristine when I gave it back. Thanks much to those guys and I will provide a hand-up payback when we next visit Brevard.
DRDF provided a majority-favorable experience. You can’t beat being where transport is by bike, everyone is there to get stoked on riding and talking about bikes, and craft beer flows as freely as the trails. Hanging with the right crew, it is as relaxed as you can get and great escape from the working world. Yet, our encounter with the rude campers next door, led by their female member and her F-bomb peppered dialogue, makes me think: ya know, we could grab a camping site, bring the bikes and rip these trails without the hassles of the local IMBA chapter’s all-nighters. Gone would be the Expo, workshops, and vibe of DRDF but so also would be the feeling that maybe, if we actually want to catch a few hours of sleep, we don’t belong. Time will tell, maybe the scale will tip to the fun and not the noisy neighbors when decision time comes for the 2019 DRDF. Stay tuned. If you have never attended and are thinking of the WV DRDF in July or a 2019 edition, don’t let our experience sway you. Try it, just try it. For the price, and for a weekend getaway focused on MTB, it is well worth it.