Monday, December 31, 2012

Winning and Losing at the Dirksen Derby

When you look at it from a distance, The Dirksen Derby is a snowboard contest. It's a race from the top of a course to the bottom. Last one down's a rotten egg. First place gets the glory. That's pretty much where the comparison to competition ends. You see there's no money on the line (just custom walking stick and painted glove trophy along with some schwag), no energy drink sponsors (Drink Water provided 60 gallons of Oregon's finest tap water) and no drug testing (stress was the only 'banned substance').

The money raised over the weekend goes toward Tyler Eklund's medical bills. Tyler broke his neck in a crash preparing for USASA Nationals years back. Now he's paralyzed from the neck down. If you can judge a man by his friends, Tyler must be a hell of a guy. The way the snowboard community rallies around him at the Derby makes you wonder, "If the same thing happened to me, what would the reaction be?" Tyler's all smiles. He's got scads of great friends around him and the Derby raised over $30,000 for him this year alone.

Tyler Eklund, the man of the weekend, grinin' til the finish.
I showed up to Mt. Bachelor without much of an agenda. I have some friends in Bend that I don't see often. The Derby courses are always fun to ride and I figured I'd demo some boards between my runs on Saturday. Turns out, by the time I registered the courses were closed for maintenance and I didn't get any practice runs. I did, however, pick up some free ClifBars and Mountain House dehydrated food and take a few laps around Bachelor on a chilly, breezy day.

I guess I gotta go have fun instead of practicing.
That night was the kickoff party, but first I had to fill my belly. I wasn't able to stay with my Bend friends for the weekend because they had previously booked their space with family who was in town for a wedding (lame). They were also at the rehearsal dinner, so I was on my own for food. Not for long, though.

Baldy's Barbecue is always my first dinner stop in Bend. I showed up right behind another group of snowboarders and was seated right next to them. They let me know that their group was going to get much bigger and asked if I'd like to join them (or sit alone on the other side of the restaurant). So I shared chicken and ribs with 15 new friends from the Mt. Baker area including women's Derby champ (last year, this year, probably next year) and all-around ripper Maria DeBari. I also got to hear about the souped up Subaru Loyale headed out on the GO! trip from Kael Martin himself. How cool is that? Cool enough for me.

The GO! Subie. Mad ponies under that hood.
Next stop, opening party/art show. Artist find new ways to artify snowboards every year. Take something that someone shredded to bits, add some time and sweat to it and all of a sudden you get a thousand dollar charity art piece. I love that about this community!

Also, raffles. I took a load off and sat next to some old dude midway through the night. He handed me a gripful of raffle tickets as he up and left. Long story short, I won a bucket of Mountain House dehydrated food, a grocery bag of ClifBar product, a 24oz. Mizu water bottle and a half-gallon Hydro Flask thermos (for those times when you need 64oz of hot soup?). Not a bad haul for five bucks worth of tickets and a couple hours of partying. Seriously, I will always buy raffle tickets. Not only do I like to gamble, but I like to kick some money down to support a good cause and I like that feeling when they read your number. Maybe I won the smallest prizes they were giving out, but I won a bunch of them and that's a bunch of fun. You'd have to be raffling off the worst shit ever to not get me to buy one. I've bought raffle tickets for quilts before.

My eyes are drawn to the guy in the orange hat. You?
The next morning I woke up at 3am to an air raid siren! What the fuck is going on!? I don't see any smoke or fire. The building isn't shaking. I hear no jets overhead (or underfoot for that matter). The sound was coming from my phone. The National Weather Service was texting to inform me that there was a blizzard warning until 1pm. Thank you NWS, for rousing me from my slumber to tell me about something that I'd rather have slept through. Note to self: set phone to airplane mode before sleeping to preserve the alarm, but prohibit random acts of silence disruption.

Good night sleep: take two. Success. Breakfast was some Mountain House meat and potato something or other rehydrated by water from the coffee pot. The second run, of course, to clean out the coffee taste. I got to the mountain just in time to miss any chance at a practice run, but I watched a bunch of the first runs and felt like I had a good grasp of which course to take. I settled on the mellower green run (so as not to get bucked out of the tighter berms of the red course) and headed to the main base to take some fun runs and demo some boards (full posts coming soon on the Gnu A.S.S. Pickle, Capita NAS, K2 Ultra Dream and Never Summer Evo; not a bad quiver if you could swing it).

If you know me, you know that by the time I got back to the race area my number was up and they were waiting on me. No time to go to the car and get the race board and tune it up. Not quite enough time to adjust the bindings from the wacky stance the demo tech gave me, but I did that anyway. Just enough time to get to the gate and hear the timer count to three in poor German. Was it an attempt at a Cool Runnings reference? Did the green course signify something that I wasn't fully prepared for?No time. Dropping! Turns out the green course was mellower than I expected. Every bit of speed had to be pumped and fought for. At one point I was going so slowly that I felt the need to reach down and push myself with my hands. I did not qualify for Sunday's finals. Not even close. Not even in the old peoples' division (Seriously, Gerry Lopez!? I couldn't compete with him on a good day). I did qualify for throwing pow around (remember that blizzard warning), 'sneaking' into practice runs to get a peek at the yet unscoped red course and marveling at the spectacle that is the Dirksen Derby Splitboard Race.

Drink Water and eat Parrilla clam chowder. That's all you need.
The Derby Splitboard Race is the most entertaining race in all of sport. Near as I can tell, head honcho Josh Dirksen makes up the rules for each installment the minute before it happens. This year, riders started 100 yards downhill from the bottom of the courses' finish lines with their splitboards fully assembled and ready to ride downhill. They then break them down into split mode, affix skins and skin uphill. Upon reaching the finish line, they skin up the red course (reminder, that's the tighter course) to the staging area. At the top of the course, they reassemble their boards, strip their skins and stash everything in their packs. There is a 'no junk show' rule that Austin Smith (already way out of the running) hilariously disregarded as he skied down the green course, poles in hand, jacket flapping. Then it's a mad rally down the green course to the finish line to stop the clock. Only the top three finishers were placed with everyone else sharing 4th place.

That's the skin and bones of it, but here's the mucus. Everybody's ready at the bottom of the course except Alex Yoder who was trying to find his poles at the top of the course. Someone comes up with a pair of loaner poles (fixed ski poles) and Yoder hauls to the starting line (he would take his loaner poles to a strong 4th place showing). Just then, Dirksen fires the starting gun and they're off. Of course, by 'fires the starting gun' I mean he counts down from 5 and yells "GO!" What ensues looks something like a Rubik's Cube competition in a blizzard. Everyone is trying to find space to turn his splitboard into skis. The wind is whipping skins against people's faces. A tense minute passes and the leaders emerge shuffling uphill in huge strides. I get on the chairlift for a better angle, but the slow-ass double can't even keep up. Are you kidding me? They might not be high-speed quads, but their quads are moving at top speed. I reach the top just in time to see the leaders zip down the course. From mid-course I hear Temple Cummins cursing for air. He would finish a disappointing 4th. You know it's a good event if you can get that guy out of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, back at the top, the rest of the pack is still reassembling their boards. Some look like it's their first time putting together a bookshelf from Ikea. Some are blatantly disregarding the 'no passing on the course' rule with mixed results. Everyone is gassed at the top, but hyped, laughing and swapping stories by the finish. I gotta get in this race next year.

Dirksen, making up the rules for the splitboard race as he goes.
Oh wait, what!? There was a whole matter of fast-ass racers up in this mug? Terje, was there!? Overheard asking someone to tuck in his hood so it wouldn't slow him down?? Just in case you thought no one was taking it for real. Austin Smith and Curtis Ciszek boasted about spending 150 bones on a postage stamp-size wad of wax. Didn't save Curtis the utter humiliation of finishing third to Scotty Wittlake's second and Austin's champ. Bragging rights for a year and something about cock piercings. Not all the rights, though. Overall champ came from the men's division, not the previous-podiums-only Elites. That title went to local ripper and leader of the resistance Ben Connors. Thank God no one went back in time to kill his mother (if you don't get that reference I'm not spelling it out for you). Among other swag, he got an Aesmo powsurfer. Not only can you not find those things in the wild, if you wanted to buy one you'd have to sell some vital organs for it. Have fun ripping it and see you in the Elites next year, Ben. Unless the T-1000 gets you.

As we all exited the award ceremony, the snow was still coming down. Snowboarder magazine's Tom Monterosso was hoping his 5am flight the next morning would get canceled so he could rip a pow day. I was just hoping all the roads between here and home would be open and drivable. The blizzard warnings were still in effect as my phone kept alerting me, but the ride home proved uneventful if long. Nighttime winter mountain roads always make the end of a trip feel fully final. They also make it feel like turning a snowboard back and forth through a gully. Snow closing the field of vision. Nothing on your mind but the here and now. High fives at the end. Cold beer and hot cocoa.

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