Sunday, November 23, 2014

A search for the limit.

Mostly just questions I ask myself, and some numbers:

How far can you push yourself before you break? When you think you break, did you really just brake? As I struggle to motivate myself to push harder in training, I cannot help but imagine how far I can actually push myself. Im pretty sure that at this point in my life, it is clear I will never be a true 'world class' athlete, or someone who makes a living off of a sport. That may sound grim and like I'm giving up, but I'm just trying to keep it real, I have every intent to continue to push myself and improve my own strength, pace, and skill.

My longest single day ride to date is 210 miles, about 140 paved and flatish, and 170+ mile days before and after (Pie Town day in TD.) Just 2 years ago I had never ridden a century. Bikepack racing has so many more factors than mileage, and time in the saddle for that matter. Terrain, climbing, sustainability, fuel and water supply, etc. I must sadly admit I have never raced a 24 hour race, but it is certainly on my list. Lets take it a step farther; do 48 hour races exist? What length of race must riders start to plan to sleep or camp? I haven't looked at specific names, mileages and times, but bikepack racers everywhere are pushing the envelope with sleep deprivation and impressive durability. With so many ultras* having nothing but bragging rights for prizes, what is motivating riders to push so hard?

Let's throw The Munga into the discussion. 1000k, $1,000,000, yes, One MILLION Dollar purse. I'm not saying I can win it, I may never have the opportunity to try with a $10,000 entry, but I am pretty sure that given another year of training with motivation, I could ride 1000k without sleeping. It is exciting to think about pedaling essentially continuous for that long, but I'm not convinced that would be the fastest tactic. Does the turtle or the rabbit win this race? Safety aside (yes riding 620+ miles non-stop could potentially cause some bodily harm) a few hours rest in between two triple+ centuries may be the solution, or maybe take two brief naps and split the race into double century segments.

With Cloudride 1000 as my current goal, I am trying to train as though it has a 6 figure podium payout, but I can't even wrap my head around that kind of money. My motivation is purely unfounded. I got into this stuff for the same reason we all did: we love to ride our bikes for a really long time, and we like to find our limits, and see how our limits stack up against those of others. My mind has just shifted from chasing double century weekends to double century days, back to back, (to back?) What about the triple century? On a road bike I can honestly say I think I could do one without too much struggle. Its not hard, all you need to do is pedal farther, right?

*Ultra: My definition: Multiple day, single stage race

Training plan, in a nutshell.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's a great day to stay alive!

November 19th, 2013. That's a day I'll never forget. Life changing to say the least.

I watched my best friend, co-worker, and employer fall 89 feet in tree work accident. Chris doesn't remember it, but hey, against all odds he is alive, and recovered, virtually 100%.

I could write about the saga; the sadness, the scariness, and the hardships endured by those close to the incident, but I'd rather stay positive. A mere 2 months after flirting with death, the invincible man was skiing. I have never met anyone with as much passion and drive. He did ski a few more times throughout the season, but due to both physical and cognitive limitations, for a guy who skis well over 100 days a year, it was basically a lost season.

By the time April rolled around, I was back to doing tree work, something I thought I would never do again. (Climbing is a labor of love, and if you don't love it, you won't do it for long.) I was over snow, ready for dirt. I was training hard for Tour Divide, and stoked on MTB season in general. Chris played along, but you could tell, he just wanted ski season again. All year we've talked about the count down to snow, often ending a sweaty 90 degree work day with, "I'm pretty sure it's gunna snow tomorrow." He's not bitching about the heat or summer, he's just genuinely psyched for snow and winter.

Before the accident he was no different. Aside from the drive for skiing, Chris's positive outlook on life is second to none. He posseses the rare ability to remain calm in situations where I would snap. We could be sideways to a gate in a nice yard, stuck with the truck and chipper, every wheel burried to the axle, you can tell he's not happy, but he won't lose his cool, it's not gunna help us get out anyway! Those positive vibes are usually contagious, and make for a lot of great times, on and off the job.

Instead of dwelling on the scariest thing I've ever seen, I am going to take the Treeman approach, and just  be thankful to be alive, and still have one of my best friends still here, to spend the day with. Life's too short to be mad, and sad, live everyday to the fullest. Getting so close to the edge is a reminder of how great life is.

If you've taken the time to read this, make today a positive one (make them all positive). Spread the word, November 19th is "A Great Day to Be Alive"

"Don't fall in the brook, eh!"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

These days, a bowl of cereal could be considered "epic."

The word "epic" was reborn in the language bro-brah just a few years ago. A word once used to describe things that would last for a very long time, or the great journey or quest of a lifetime. Upon the rebirth of the word, it's definition has rapidly degraded from, say, the best day or storm of the year ("We just skied Tuck's in 3 feet of blower pow,") to anything that may be, but probably isn't, worth of a Facebook status, ("I just had some epic coffee!") Yuppies ruin everything....

A couple of months ago I was invited to the "5th Annual Oneonta Epic Mountain Bike Ride," by my friend Sam who recently moved to California. I had been invited previous years, but never made it. I am not a big fan of group rides, as they are typically slow, disorganized, and generally more frustrating than enjoyable. The stats from previous years were impressive, and I knew a few other riders going to the event, all of who were strong riders, so I figured I'd give group rides another try. Also, Sam had planned his vacation to NY to coincide with this ride, so it must be a good time!

I decided to split up the 3 hours drive a bit, and visit my good friend Allan in Albany area on Saturday on my way to Oneonta. We decided to go the AIR (Albany Indoor Rock climbing center.) I had been there a few years ago, and enjoyed it, but I wasn't much of a climber at the time. In the past few years I have been climbing more, and working out a bunch, in Rutland's Green Mountain Rock Climbing Center. AIR's walls are short, and have very few routes that actually need a rope. The gym had a few 5.8's and 9's, two 5.11's and a 5.13. When I flashed the 5.11a near the entrance, the employee's were amazed. I began to realize that this was more of a rock climbing family fun center than a rock gym. Before leaving the gym, I usually get in a good burn out with various body weight exercise. The looks I received while doing push ups pull ups, sit ups, etc, confirmed it was not a "gym."

The drive to Oneonta on Sunday was, well, wet. I got to town over an hour early, and I couldn't find any decent looking restaurants open, so Dunkin Dounuts it was, "America Runs on Dunkin." GPS brought me to Wilbur Park...not the right part. I sat in my truck, eating processed non-nutritive egg like product. The rain continued and it was about 40*. I had driven 3 hours, and had not seen a trace of another rider. Thankfully a few more people used GPS to find the park as well and pulled in at about 8:45, as I was putting on my bike shoes and stocking my pack. Well, at least I'll have SOMEONE to ride with. A minute later Sam came by on his extremely bright new Specialized. Que local knowledge. We pedaled to the other side of the park, where the pavilion was overflowing with ambitious riders, still 40 and raining, misery loves company, right? The ride was split into an A, B, and C group with the standard "A and B groups will be FAST paced, slackers will be dropped," speech. The goal was 40 miles, lots of climbing, and be done in about 6 hours. The "A" group started with 14 riders, three who dropped on the first climb, we hadn't even made it into the trails yet!

We had a diverse group with everything from aggressive trail bikes to a steel rigid single speed with drop bars, full lyrca kits to no-brand baggies. Regardless of style, bike, or age, once we were in the trails, one thing was obvious, these guys were real riders. The rain didn't matter anymore, vibes were awesome, and everyone was smiling. A few mechanicals, and flats split our group up, but all involved were locals, and regrouped a few miles later. It's always fun to ride with the people who built, and maintain the trails your riding. The Oneonta crew created a trail system that flowed well, with a great mix of fast and technical sections and features, with a great variety of old school root and rock and new school bench-cut, with berms and jumps.

With the continuous rain, it didn't take long for gloves and shoes....errrrr....everything to be completely soaked. Staying moving kept my core warm, but my toes were pretty chilly. The rain turned to snow. It was actually a welcomed change, because at least snow flakes kinda bounce off rather than waterlog you farther. The snow started dumping! Between the mud from my tires, the tires of the rider in front of me, and the snow, I could barely see without squinting my eyes. When snow began to accumulate, I was wondering if I should have brought my fat bike! The leaves, mud, and abundant moisture kept all the rocks, roots, and bridges extremely slick. It isn't often I get a chance to ride with high-caliber riders outside of races, so descending amongst rippers on new trails, in these conditions, was keeping me on my toes. We came across a feed table in what seemed like a random field. After a short break, the breeze began to cut through my wet base layers, and I was happy to get riding before a chill set in any farther.

We cycled (double meaning there) back through the park. There were some snacks and coffee in the pavilion. That coffee really hit the spot! I had packed dry socks and gloves, and took the opportunity to change them. I have a few pairs of riding gloves that are exactly the same, unfortunately the "pair" I got, was EXACTLY the same...two left gloves. Putting wet gloves on was depressing when I even thought ahead enough to pack a dry pair. After lunch our group began to disperse more than before. Other commitments, exhaustion, desire to ride in the rain, and more flat tires eventually left five riders. Sam's proposed route was designed to crush us, and it did a good job. The last 10 miles had just as much climbing as the first 30. The last climb split the last five into three and two. I rode back into the park with Seth and Jud. 39.5 miles. Seth, who had done an awesome job of keeping everyone moving all day, was not about to stop short of 40. With a short section of flat single track in the park, we hit 40 miles. "Yeah, this is our best 1/4 mile of trail," Seth claimed. "It's pretty awesome, I'm gunna write about it in my blog," I replied. I am not a liar.

The after party was hosted by local rider Todd, in his beautiful home a bit outside of Oneonta. Cold beer, tasty food, warm home, great people, and riding stories. I would've liked to have stayed longer, but the drive home took priority. I can't think of better way to end a ride that earned the name "Epic."

Thank you to everyone who made this event happen. Extra thanks to Sam Brown-Shaklee for the invite, Seth for keeping the "A" group moving and motivated, and Todd for a great after party. I hope to see you all next year, or hopefully sooner.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cloudride, I like the sound of that.

"So Napoleon, What are you gonna do next?"
"Whatever I feel like I wanna do, GOSH!"
-Napoleon Dynamite
"Bam Margera, what's he gonna do next?"
"Whatever the f^(k I want."
-Viva La Bam

So, what is next? For me, all focus is on The Monaro Cloudride 1000. (Cloudride1000.com). 1000k, or 621 miles, and about 24000m of climbing, from Canberra to Victoria, Australia, the Cloudride was modeled after the Tour Divide.  I had the honor to meet this race's mastermind, Steve Watson, when we met online, both in search of a roommate for the days prior to TD, in Banff, AB. Steve, a strong 67 year old, was the oldest starter of this years TD,  and while turning 22 on Grand Depart, I was not THE youngest, but one of. Since leaving the hotel on the morning of June 13th, I have not seen Steve in person, but following the race, he invited me to the Cloudride next April. Realizing this was the opportunity of a lifetime, I was quick to commit to the start list. 

Since my decision to call an early end to my 2014 race season to completely recover from TD, I have still been riding a lot. I have not done any intervals, or hill repeats, or century+ rides, and it has been nice not to be mad at myself for skipping a ride or work out. More important than a few weeks of strength, the downtime has been boring enough to get the urge to race again. In an attempt to avoid burn out, I will hold off "training" until early November. Honestly, the line between training and not is a pretty thin one for me. The difference is mostly in the duration, intensity, and focus of my rides. Unlike preparing for TD, this year I plan to actually hit the gym, put more time into off the bike strength and cardio training.

1000k certainly not a sprint, and not short by ultra-biking standards, but long term sustainability is less of a concern than TD. The bar has been set at 4 1/2 days by previous TD winner, Ollie Whalley, a New Zealand ultra rider. Whalley's rookie, winning, TD time was some 2 days faster than mine. By the math, the Cloudride route will be tougher than the TD route. Shorter, yet steeper and more frequent climbs, will lead to more climbing each day, by comparison. Thankfully, the elevations will be similar to VT, so my East coast lungs will have a fighting chance. The 2015 start list isn't complete yet, but it won't change anything anyway. I plan to race my own race, ride as hard as possible for the duration. The first few days I plan to stick with my tried and true "ride hard, recover well" technique, and push harder in the last few hundred miles.

I was incredibly happy with my equipment set up for TD. I would like to lighten up my camping gear a bit. With all the poisonous critters that call Australia home, I am hesitant to trade in my tent for a bivy. While it would be nice to leave a bunch of gear behind, I would rather carry a few extra ounces than be caught unprepared. I will attempt to carry less water, and refill more frequently, perhaps utilizing iodine purification tablets more frequently. The bike couldn't have been better, with the one exception of my dynamo hub oversight. The ability to charge a good light, or any other USB device with nearly no added weight will mitigate reliance on AA's, and ride longer into the night with decent lighting. I also plan to change up my packing system a bit, and make things more modular to reduce packing time each morning, ie, if I don't need it, it doesn't need to be unpacked.

As the northern hemisphere heads towards winter, some extra challenges are presented. Rumor, and the long patches of brown on wooley bears, say it its going to be a cold and snowy winter. The skier in me is stoked, and so long as the VAST snowmobile trails get packed and groomed, I will be able to keep riding. Chances are I will spend a lot of time on the trainer, just to get in my hours, and I may even break down and join a spin class. Thankfully, if the biking is bad, the skiing should be good, and I plan to say goodbye to the chairlift, and hello to the skin track, which is good cardio cross training. I may even have some ridiculous ideas to bring skis along an fat bike rides to access long approach terrain that would be otherwise tough to access.

Friday, August 22, 2014

TD PTSD, Hampshire 100

Back to real life. I'm sitting inside, on a rainy Friday, I'm pretty damn bored, feeling kinda fat, lazy, and lethargic. I haven't ridden my bike since Sunday, when I raced the Hampshire 100. I could come up  with a million excuses to try and justify my laziness, but I've kinda come to conclusion that maybe I've earned a bit of lazy. A few weeks ago I was thinking that all Tour Divide aches, pains, and exhaustion had worn off, but the truth is, between the tour, and going back to climbing trees for a living, I only rested for a couple of days, and then shortly after continued training for more races. I began lining up races for the rest of the season, and jumped at the Hampshire 100 first to lock in a reduced price entry.

The closer it got, the less psyched I was to be going to the race. My chain rings were destroyed from TD, and I had my race bike built single speed when I signed up, and I normally race SS, so I didn't hesitate entering SS Open. Lately, I have really been enjoying riding my squishy full suspension all mountain bike, but I knew I needed time on the race bike. It felt like a chore every time I went out to ride it, because I mentally had myself in this place where I "need to train," so I would do hill repeats, intervals, and just generally try to beat myself up. At the end of the ride I wasn't coming back thinking "yeah, this is awesome," I was thinking, "man, I'm exhausted, and just want to nap." I also made the idiotic decision to put a rigid fork back on the bike. "It'll mostly be fire roads," I thought, how wrong I was.

I hesitated as long as possible to leave on Saturday. Waking up later the normal, I made a good breakfast and went for an awesome ride on my squshy bike with my best friend, and his sweet new bike. We didn't set any speed records, but that wasn't the point of the ride. It was a blast! When I got back to the house I started packing things up to load the truck and head to NH. I got pulled over and ticketed for speeding in one of the B.S. Rt 100 speed traps where they sit at the 35mph sign, and take your speed in the 50mph zone. The fat cop was probably just mad that he was over the weight limit for most carbon race components (or just an asshole). Now angry, I continue the bumpy drive as my GPS takes me on a NH back roads tour. I finally arrive at the race venue, but I cant park where I'm supposed to camp, because the 100 mile camping is behind the race course they have set up for short course XC and cyclocross, which is currently racing. I park in 100K parking, and for some reason felt compelled to carry my camping equipment across the field to camp, rather than just setting up in the 100K camping. While registering, I'm given a map, and cues or turns, feed stations, etc. I didn't bring a GPS or cyclocomputer because I don't ride with that stuff. All I can think is "Am I responsible for navigation?!? I never got a .gpx file! I lost my computer on Fleecer Ridge, and never got another one!" I ask about navigation, and course markings and the only response I seem to get is, "It won't be bad, you'll find your way, just keep the map in case you get lost." Thankfully all of this was just wasted energy as the course was marked extremely well.

Sunday, I rode like poo. I should be used to this by now, but when they say "Line up by the banner," when racing open/pro/elite/anyclasspeopleshowuptowithintentofwinning it means that, if you want to be in the back of the pack, line up by the banner, if you want to be near the front, ignore what the race officials say, and barge another 200 feet forward. In similar fashion to SingleSpeed-A-Palooza, I pushed my way forward, until the pushing back got to strong to fight. I was still about 60 riders back, and quickly lost sight of the leaders, and mentally settled for setting pace with others around me. I was completely spun out on the flats, and waiting for climbs to start taking back positions. The fast start quickly became single track, and my rigid fork decision came to haunt my wrists and elbows quickly. Clearly laziness had overcome training in the past few weeks, as I began cramping WAY to early. It wasn't just my legs, My shoulders and back spazzed regularly. I tried to chug as much water and HEED as I could, with the frequent feed stations. The length of the race I never stopped more than 30 seconds, the longest stop being a pee break in the woods, because everywhere it was smooth enough to pee off the bike, I felt like I would be put on a sex offender list for trying to pee off a bike through a semi-residential neighborhood. I crossed the line in 9h50m30SOMEs. 6th in SingleSpeed, 18th Overall for 100 mile. I wasn't happy. Between the expensive entry, the drive, and now the speeding ticket, financially, I was really hoping to podium, to try and help reduce the cost at least a little. I don't race expecting to make money, but this was certainly the most expensive single day race events I have ever done. The worst part was after the race, I couldn't stop cramping. I hung out for about 2 hours or so, trying to relax, stretch, and replenish some electrolytes, but the 3 hour drive home was still brutal. Overall, the race was very well organized, and a great event, I just wasn't in the right place mentally to enjoy it, or the right place physically to do well.

My plan was to race every weekend until October. This race changed that plan. I'm burned out on racing. I hate the word training, I ride my bikes for fun, yet somehow, most rides have become "training." I was looking forward to racing enduro this season, but I think for now I'll stick to just riding. Making the drive each weekend is a gamble of meeting a bunch of great friends at the race, or driving, camping, and riding alone for the whole weekend. The remainder of this summer, and this fall, my goal with riding is to get it back to fun, just for fun. I want to be excited to go for my after work ride, and be stoked on my weekend riding plans again. Yes, I still have a competitive drive, and I am still extremely driven to race Cloudride 1000 in Australia in April. I have all winter to prep for that, and there will be plenty of cold, bitter days to put my roadie on a trainer and "train."

Going "pro" has been a thought in my mind for a while now. Sure, I can race "pro" at local races and finish mid pack or so. The truth of the matter is that I will never be a paid athlete. I will continue to strive to race the big boy class, and race for a few hundred bucks rather than another trophy to fill with dust, or medal to fill that desk drawer, but only when it feel like the right thing to do. Riding means too much to me to become a chore, like resort skiing has through Patrolling. I plan to spend more time with my camera and less time pounding hills. Hopefully this TD PTSD will wear off in the coming months, and I will be able to focus on regaining strength, and speed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Post Tour Divide 2014.

The Tour Divide. I guess it really is just a silly bike race, but, for me, and I would assume for anyone else who has either completed or attempted the race or even just the route, it is so much more. If you have never ridden the Tour Divide, and you are planning on doing it, know this: your expectations are probably wrong.
If you're like me, you think you're gunna ride all day without getting out of the saddle, and it'll be awesome. You trained to put on your sunscreen while you're riding, urinate while coasting, so you don't need to stop. Your snacks are in reach from the saddle, so is your water, your navigation, and your music. You'll be on that schedule for the first few days. You will be bored and lonely, you will be exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. The hills are bigger and longer than you think they are, the washboard roads will kick your ass (literally) like its never been kicked before. There will be a point when you do not want to ride your bicycle anymore. Your butt will hurt, no, your body will hurt.  You'll think of any excuse possible to get off your bike for 30 seconds, and then another. You'll want to go to sleep and never wake up again. You'll want to go home, quit endurance cycling, because it is stupid, and it hurts. You may start to cry when it begins to rain again, or you see another climb, or the road turns back into sand. You will be completely miserable and hit rock bottom. There will come a time when you simply cannot ride your bicycle anymore.
You'll have a good night sleep (I didn't say long) in a bivy, tent, or maybe even hotel, and you will do it all over again, day after day.
I honestly did not set out on Tour Divide with the intention of winning, making the podium, or anything of the like. I did enter with a competitive drive, but mostly with myself. I wanted to finish faster than "average," and since the first time I checked how mileage would add up, I was aiming for about 18 days to finish. Upon parading out of Banff, I found myself way towards the front, which scared me, a lot. I didn't want to be "that guy" who blew up after the first half day. I knew my knees where bad, and didn't want to push too hard. As with gear recommendations, training routines, etc, I decided to ignore what was happening around me, and just stick to what worked for me, ride my own race and block out the external pressure. I dropped back a bit in the first few days, and even further when I took a down day for weather. I regrouped and came back with only the intent to finish strong, not win the race, but BEAT the TOUR DIVIDE. Finishing second did not come as a "surprise," because once I found my zone, I picked up momentum and started working my way up the leader board. My daily goal became, "Catch the next person." Eventually, I was in second, and it became, "Set the safety zone," so if anything went wrong, I could keep my position. As my fitness increased, so did my competitiveness, and I'm sure the drive to just be finished had something to do with it as well. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely proud of how I finished on the leaderboard, but I didn't win. "If you're not first, you're last." Well, I am the first loser. My personal goal was always 18 days, I posted 21 publicly, for a disappointment buffer zone, and I finished within 5.5 hours of my personal goal, maybe a loss in the big books, but it was a win in mine.
I gained a pretty big following throughout the race. I would be sitting eating breakfast, and have race followers come in and inform me that they were "tracking me" and cheer me on. Northbound riders, both racing and touring were expecting to cross paths with me on certain days...I had no idea that I would see them, not to mention when, where, and what their names were. Back home, people I have never met before still come up to me, on the trails, in the bike shop, or even the gas station or grocery store, and congratulate me on my finish in the race, its a weird feeling, but kinda cool. How do these people even know me?!
So often,  the first question is "Was it fun?" or, "Would you do it again?" It was fun, but not the kind of fun where I am riding all day with a smile on my face thinking "weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!" Usually, the idea of finishing, the thought of my next meal, and anticipation of the chance to NOT ride for longer than a pee break or to dig out food, were the only things that could motivate me in the moment. I would promise myself snack at the the top of a hill, and watch mileages, and pick a number to get to before I could eat or pee again.  I can remember a hill in New Mexico where I just chanted "I get a fruit cup at the top, I get a fruit cup at the top!" for 15+ miles of climbing, and that fruit cup was a huge personal win. Most of each day was spent pushing myself as hard as I could bear, and still be able to do it again the next day. My hands were going numb, my feet had hot spots, and were incredibly painful on the descents, while walking, and while doing anything other than spinning easy. The tongues of my shoes had made gouges in my ankles, which felt fine only after the scab broke and the wound moistened each morning. Even the best saddle and shorts in the world weren't enough to combat the pain of saddle soars amplified by the combination of carrying a backpack (HUGE mistake) and endless washboard and rough roads. I still cant explain it, but for some reason, I am addicted to the push, and I find the drive to keep going, and thrive on the struggle. The harder it gets, sure, the more miserable I may feel in the moment, but I will dig even deeper, and push even harder. At this point, I do not plan on racing TD again. I plan on racing other ultras, and I would love to do more "just for fun" bike packing IF I do go back to TD, it will be in a few years. I will train longer, and harder, I will pack lighter, and I will go to the race with the intent of setting a course record. I know that sounds ambitious, but short of shooting for records, I cannot imagine subjecting myself to the same roads, places and pains, just to do it again.
Returning to normal life after the race has been tougher than I expected. Although I experienced some similar feelings after my tour across the US the year before, they were not as severe, and the physical recovery was a world easier. When I woke up in Silver City, NM the first day after I finished, it was light outside. I freaked out, jumped out of bed and started putting on my lycras, and only then did I remember, I was done, I could go back to sleep for another few hours. To the airport I went, only to be limited to fast food and uncomfortable chairs for hours on end. By the time I landed back home, my feet had swollen so that they looked more like a 4 year olds drawing of feet than actual human feet. For the next several days the swelling remained, and the only foot ware I could even get on was flip flops. I spent nearly a week staring blankly at a computer screen wondering what was so exciting about the internet. Most conversations felt like interviews, and while my mind was stuck on what I had just accomplished, I didn't feel like it was worth celebrating as so many people implied it was. The events experienced on TD are so remote that people just really don't get it. After spending so much time alone in the race, readjusting to socializing can be overwhelming.
If you're like me, during the Tour Divide, you will have the most amazing time of your life to date. You will see things very few people see, in some incredible remote areas. You will become stronger, tougher, and more self aware and secure. You will probably learn things about yourself you didn't previously know. You'll think about thinking about things, that you never thought you'd think about. You will meet new people, many of who will always feel like close friends, even if you never meet them again.  Each filling meal will taste like the best food ever created, even though it's probably just another gas-station microwave beef, bean, chili, and cheese burrito, and a Coke. You will no longer think twice about walking into any sort of establishment in dirty, smelly lycra tights. The sense of accomplishment after each climb, section, day, and ultimately completion, will be a feeling hard to surpass, and no one can take that away from you. Short of the small population of fellow tour dividers, no one will actually understand this incredible feeling. When you get home, you will start looking for the next race, the next ride. You'll forget about the pain, or at least think it was worth it, and make new plans to submit yourself to the same type of thing all over again, except this time you plan to train harder, ride faster, and longer, and spend even less time off the bike.  A silly bike race to everyone else, you will "get it," and Tour Divide will forever be more than just a silly bike race to you. There is no prize, no trophy, but there is an amazing life experience that you will never forget, and one more chapter to make your life a story worth telling.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than A Silly Bike Race. Part V. The final days.

My apologies on taking so long to finish this.

After turning my alarm off, and sleeping later than planned, I still managed to wake up at about 4AM, pack up my tent, etc, and be moving by about 430. I was now in second, and there was no one realistically left to catch, but I didn't want to be caught either. I suppose it didn't really matter, as the pace I was riding at was pretty much the only pace I could ride at. If I intentionally dropped my pace, I would soon find myself back at my normal cruising speed, and if I tried to push harder, I would burn out and end up back at 'my' pace. Each mile I rode that morning I kept thinking "I could have ridden this last night," so I constantly tried to remind myself how terrible I was feeling, and justify why I had stopped so soon. There were some beautiful views with the early morning sun as I made my way through Canon Plaza. Not much of a town per say, but just before the descent was an amazing gorge, and the sun glistened off the pines and sandstone. Soon after, I had to go through the small locality of Vallecitos. Nothing more than a post office in a trailer, and a few homes which looked more like shacks. It was certainly a bit of culture shock.

Vallecitos was my first experience with New Mexico dogs. I had read about dog issues down south, and having been chased countless times, and even bitten a few on road rides back home, I have a fear of dogs while riding. Barking was the town sound, and the chain link and scrap wood fences 'containing' these junkyard dogs did not increase confidence. Sure enough I was soon surrounded by about 8 or so haggard looking mutts. I was now off my bike trying to keep it between myself and the dogs, but the were too many, and they started coming behind me as well. An equally haggard man came out of a nearby shack, and I felt relieved, "Maybe they are his dogs," I hoped. He was clearly high/stoned/drunk or some other sort of messed up and who-knows-what? Instead of calling the dogs off, he simply muttered, "Sorry about the dogs....man," and wandered back into his shack.  I had carried my bear spray the entire length of the race, and was feeling pretty silly about that while riding through the Basin and other desert like areas, where the only form of visible life was cattle and sage.  I was now in a sticky situation. The can of spray states "Do not use on domestic animals." This didn't bother me, as these dogs were far from domesticated. I had used HALT, a dog specific pepper spray, before, with poor results. (Imagine trying to pee on a viscous animal while being attacked on a moving bicycle.) I took the safety off the bear can, timid of similar, less-than-impressive results. Thankfully, as I made a fanning spray of the 5 or so dogs now behind me, they quickly backed off, stumbled away, and began licking their butts trying to get the taste out of their mouth. Free enough to move, I began to pedal on, and was chased by another dog and puppy, which I was able to fend off with foot to face tactics. I have never been happier to cross a cattle guard and get out of a small "town."

I had some leftovers for breakfast, but was really getting quite hungry. The map showed a restaurant in El Rito, just a few miles away, so I began imagining what wonderful breakfast I was going to order. Turns out, El Rito is also not much of a town, and the restaurant didn't open 'till 11AM and it was only 9 or so. Thankfully there was a very small convenience store, where I got a microwave burrito, some canned fruit and a few beverages. On my way into El Rito, I ended up off the road, and nearly crashed twice as the road was so sandy in sections. Just as I would pick up speed, I would crest a knoll, with seemingly bottomless sugar sand and washboard bumps. There was no way to react other than try and keep the front wheel light, and not touch the brakes. The 15 or so miles from El Rito to Abiquiu were slightly downhill and paved, a welcomed ride, although there were some headwinds which hindered progress, but nothing intolerable. A wonderful pleasant surprise after the few towns I had just come through was the Abiquiu Inn. Clearly a touristy destination, the upscale yuppies were actually a pleasant sight after the run down towns I had come through within the last 50 miles. I ordered way too much food to eat within reasonable time. I didn't want to leave. They even had fruit! I spent nearly an hour in this spoiled paradise, eating as much as I could, before I ventured back into the desert.

The remainder of the day was fairly unremarkable. I was nearly hit buy a woman in a Civic ready for the demolishion derby about 3 miles out of Abiquiu. There was a 4000+ foot climb right after my excellent 3rd breakfast, which put my back to over 10000feet, and I stayed between 9000 and 10000 for most of the remained of the day. The roads were terrible, a mix of sand and cracked slab rock, which appeared as it someone emptied a concrete truck, and walked away without doing anything else. There were brutal headwinds scattered throughout the day, which just added to the pain, and reminded me of how much I just wanted to finish this race. I just wanted to not ride for a few waking hours. The day continued in a very lonesome manner, and I was so thankful to have brought my iPod and have some music to zone out to. Just before the final descent into Cuba, I passed through a campground in the San Pedro Wilderness. I could hear families laughing, as I smelled what they were grilling, and tried not to look too closely into their camps as I passed through. The laughter and happiness really hit me hard, and I was once again reminded of how lonely I felt, and how far from home I was. Did I mention I was now ready for this to be over? The descent to Cuba was paved, and steep. I maintained about 35mph most of the way into town, making the last 5 miles fly by. Excited to find more than McDonalds, I got a decent meal in BBQ joint, and stocked up for the next day in the convenience store, while catching more than usual snied looks and remarks regarding my now quite disgusting lyrca attire.

I got an early start the next day, with a decent nights sleep. The race route leaving Cuba follows an all paved alternated all the way to grants, and another paved route about half way to Pie Town from Grants. I rode for almost two hours the next morning before I had enough natural light to turn off my bike lights. The paved roads were, again, a welcome treat, and I was making good time. The elevation plot on the maps were a bit deceptive, and seemed to show the route being much flatter than it felt. Even though we were on a paved road, this section was still fairly remote, and there wasn't much going on roadside. I did have another dog encounter, this time at speed, and my quick draw on the bear spray brought the beast to the pavement at about 25mph. The woman on the porch of the house the dog ran from did not look impressed. My adrenaline skyrocketed and I began riding faster as if I could outrun a car if she decided she didn't like what had happened to her mutt, thankfully this never happened, but the imagination does crazy things when your bored, lonely, and exhausted. When I reached Grants, I was, surprise...., very hungry. Most of the restaurants where closed. I stopped to ask a biker, like motorcycle biker, if there was any food farther east, and he said there was a Denny's. It ended up being early a mile off route, but my heart was set on Denny's once I heard the name. A few breakfasts for here, and a couple lunches to go please! With pavement I was making excellent time for the day, and I had a bit more to go. I saw a natural stone arch along the El Malpais Alternate, but otherwise that section of the ride had no other excitement.  Soon, the route way back on dirt. Loose sandy gravel, washboard side to side kinda dirt. The road to Pie Town was terrible. At one point I gave up on the road, and rode on the 4 wheeler path near the fence for a few miles. It wasn't fast, but it was smoother, firmer, and faster than the road. I was happy to see Jefe's CrossMark track on this path as well. I felt less alone in the struggle, even though we were hundreds of miles apart. I just kept thinking PIE TOWN. I had a hankering for some chocolate pudding pie, or apple, or peach, or...., or..... Upon entry into town, I found one person, taking a picture of a Restaurant. I was shattered to see it was now closed, but she was the owner! All sold out of pie, but she got me a few root beers, left over quiche, chili, and cantaloupe. Sure, a random meal, but it made my night. I ate it on the porch, before riding out of town during sunset. I was planning for another 30+ miles, but as soon as it was dark, my bike light began a strobe effect, and I couldn't see at all. I put on my camp headlamp, and rode a bit longer. The rode was lined with fence and posted signs. This continued for 10 miles or so, and eventually I found a spot where I could get far enough off the road to get my tent behind a juniper tree and be out of sight. Note to self: I really need to get the reflective tent strings off for more incognito camping abilities.

Leaving camp in the morning I smelled smoke. When I rounded a corner, the sky was filled. For a few miles the air was so thick, I could feel it in my lungs. I turned on my phone and called home to see if there were reports of local wildfires, or re-routes I hadn't heard about. Reports were clear, and after a few more miles things seemed to clear up a bit, and I never saw any active fire. I will admit, I underestimated the remoteness of the Pie Town section. Between Pie Town and rt 35 leading into Pinos Altos and Silver City, there is next-to-nothing. I really don't know how the guys with 3 liter water capacity made it through. I was carrying about 6-7 liters, and I began filling reserve bottles from fecal lined puddles in the desert. Thankfully, I came to the Beaverhead Work Center and was able to get clean water before I needed to use the extremely questionable water I began collecting just-in-case. I sound like a broken record, but my broken butt certainly remembers, the washboard was endless. I felt like I was being beaten to a pulp. After a few big climbs, the route eventually came to paved Rt 35. The race route dictated that we follow a single track alternate which followed the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for a few miles, and then connected with Jeep trails. This section of trail was the same as every other single track section in that I would have loved to ride it, just not at that point in the day, with feet as painful as mine were. I should have taken more pictures of the CDT alt, but it was basically 12" benchcut on steep grade, with a loose gravely base, and tons of baby-heads scattered amongst. I kept myself going by promising myself the last jello-fruit cup in my pack, once I got back to the main route. Back on pavement, there was a good descent, and another small climb into Pinos Altos. It was getting dark, and I had my lights on more so I could be seen, than to see. I kept my sunglasses on simply because there were large swarms of bugs, and I didn't want them in my eyes. From Pins Altos to Silver City was mostly downhill, and now quite dark. I had to watch for deer, which seemed to be everywhere, and could cause a catastrophic collision with a bicycle. My original plan was not to stop in Silver City, and deplete myself in a Pie Town to Border push. If i had a chance of catching anyone, I would have made the push. Same thing from behind, I had built a large enough buffer zone, that I was confident no one would catch me if I stopped and slept for a few hours. The Golden Arches of McD's were the first thing I saw coming into town, and only having resorted to McD's once before during the race, I decided not to search any farther for other food. I got a hotel across the street, so I was back just a few hours later for breakfast.

Waking up....never got easier. The last day!! As I rode out of Silver City, the sky was scary. Storms on all sides of me, I got a sprinkle or two, but thankfully dodged the rest of the inclement weather. These storm clouds made for an epic sunrise to my left as I rode south on the Separ road. I was making good time that morning, undoubtedly adrenaline driven, making the push to be finished. A quick stop at the Continental Divide Store for a few more calories and to call the guy who would pick my up at the border. "Silver Stage Lines, this is Michael." The remaining 70 miles where, well, boring. 5 miles of dirt frontage road paralleled Interstate 10 east, until I hooked South and followed the paved, flat, and straight road for 65 miles to the border. I never left my saddle from the store to the border. Just 4+ hours of head down, cranking. Most of the time I had a ridiculous smile of accomplishment. Of course this cam as soon as I hit that road, thinking 65 mies was nothing. 4 hours later I was still waiting to ACTUALLY be done. From the "5 miles to US/Mexico" border sign I sprinted. I'm not sure why, but it felt like the right thing to do. I was recording video as I rolled into the US border Patrol building area, and one guard felt the need to go through my photos and hassle me about a picture with my watch and the side of a building with no identifying nature. Apparently I had stopped about 100 yards before the border, hence adding about 2 minutes to my total time...I won't cry about it. I took pictures at the border line, and got my passport stamped in Mexico, just because I could. I walked back to the US building, and was stoked to see the vending machine. I cannot remember his name, but a very friendly Border Patrolman brought me an Ice Cream. I rode a bicycle from Banff, AB to the Mexican border in 18d5h29min, finishing second in what is claimed to be the toughest, longest, mountain bike race on the planet. I won an ice cream, and it was awesome. Finishing TD was quite emotionless. I was happy, but I was alone. I had some small talk conversation with the border patrol guys until my ride was there. We stuffed my bike in the back of a Cadillac, and made the drive back to Silver City, boy, that was way quicker than on the bike.

I made it to Gila Hike and Bike in downtown Silver City, just a bit before they closed. I was happy to buy some flip-flops and a new shirt. They even let me take a rental bike across town to buy some casual shorts and underwear. After spending 18+ days on a bike seat that fits well, riding on a rental saddle was extremely painful, not to mention riding in flip-flops, for a guy who has never owned flip-flops before! I headed back to a hotel downtown, where my options where a 3 room suite with AC, bathroom, shower, and TV for $75/night or a dorm-style room, with a box fan for $60/night, I was rollin' in style, in the creaky old building with no light in the shower. I showered with the curtain open so I could see, and went out on the town, feeling super fly in baggy shorts and a T-shirt. I met some of the guys from the bike shop and had a great meal and a beer. I hadn't yet adjusted back into a social life, but it felt like a good beginning back to normal life. The next morning I woke up, and jumped out of bed and started searching for my lyrca when I saw it was light out. "I'm losing time," I thought, before I dawned on me, I'm done, it's OK to sleep past 4AM. If only I knew what the next 2 weeks of transition back to life had in store.

There it is folks. That's my story. There's more to come on returning home, recovering, re-adjusting to life, etc. I will also be writing with some generalized insight, and mid flight oversight about the race. What I thought before the race, what I was thinking during the race, and what I think now. I will also review my gear, what I used, what I loved, what I hated, things I'll keep the same, things I'll change, and maybe some rookie now veteran advice for those looking into TD. But seriously, I've been typing to long, I've got a 6" travel All Mountain bike calling my name! Braaapp.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tour Divide. Most Than a Silly Bike Race. part IV Kremmling, CO to the side of the road somewhere in New Mexico

Leaving Kremmling, CO I knew Evan had left a few minutes before me. I honestly came into Tour Divide not caring about how I was going to place. I had time goals, personal goals, but had no idea, or concern about how those would compare to others riders. At some point, when I found out that I was actually riding quite competitively, I started caring. At this point, it was a race for second, in my opinion. Jefe was days ahead, and there was no way I could catch him.  Sam and Kate (tandem team), had built a decent gap over Evan and me, but I needed something to help push myself, so I set out to try and catch them. In central CO I was feeling stronger than any other point in the race. My feet were beginning to get soar, but my knees were no longer an issue, and my recovery plan was allowing my legs to get stronger each day, rather than just digging a deeper hole into exhaustion. It was time to make up some more mileage.

Kremmling to Salida had some of the most urban-like riding of the race. After Ute Pass (mostly paved), we soon connected to  paved bike path which would bring us through some touristy mountain towns from Silvethorne to Breckenridge.  The hardest part with all of that was not get distracted by all the great smelling food and pretty ladies. Yayyyyy, shiny things! Okay, south of Breck, Boreas Pass. I could climb all day, so long as I see progress, I can crank out at 5-7 mph all day long with a smile on my face. On the descent of Boreas, TD race route has a not-on-the-ACA-map alternate, known as the Gold Dust Alt, a "steep" single track descent. This section of trail would have been a blast without all the gear and painful feet. Not that it want fun, but my condition definitely limited what I could enjoy, and the speed at which I could enjoy it. The rest of the day was generally uneventful. Another long day had me descending into Salida via lights that night. Salida seemed like a big town compared to what we came through. I was hoping to be able to find some decent food still open, but at 1030PM McDonalds was the the only thing still open. Coming into town, I was asking an police officer to directions to a h/motel, and food, and I saw Sam and Kate getting ready to push on for the night. I was a little bummed to admit I was to tired to ride on that night, but I was excited that I had at least gained enough ground to have them in my sights. McDonalds that night, and a bunch to go, as I had to stock up on something for the next day, calories are calories at that point.

I was a little slow getting going the next morning. As I pedaled on, going through Poncho Springs, just about 5 miles after Salida, I was kicking myself for not making Poncho Springs the night before, especially after all my off-route adventuring to find such crummy food the night before. A big day of climbing ahead, a highway climb out of Poncho Springs quickly turned to a more standard dirt road pass. Due to a silly GPS mistake and not zooming in far enough, I ended up taking a wrong turn for about a mile and climbing about 250vF extra. On the other side of the pass, the map showed that the small town of Sargents had a store and a restaurant. The very unaccommodating town had next to nothing on the shelves of the store, and the restaurant was not open for another 1/2 hour or so. A Gatorade and a few nasty granola bar like snacks, and I continued on my way. Some generally un-notable passes and some brutal headwinds later, I was working my way into Del Norte, CO for the night. A few miles before town, the winds were nothing short of crushing. A dot on the horizon was growing and growing. I had once again caught Kate and Sam. The winds were so strong we rode at about 7 mph on the flats, and when the winds were crossing I had to lean into them like I was railing a turn. Getting a slight wind break from a ridge, the route brought us through some extremely fun almost single track, which wove its way through the desert like landscape. I ran over a rattle snake and my feet were shaking the rest of the way into town, I hate snakes!!! The circumnavigation of the airport just shy of Del Norte was nothing short of frustrating as the winds once again seemed to fight me the entire way. But at least we had official Great Divide Mountain Bike Route signs to find our way! Del Norte had a nice little grocery store, and I had planned to meet Sam and Kate at a restaurant, which ended up being closed, so I retreated to my motel room that was so gross I think I would've slept better if I had just camped. The ants were marching, 1x1, 2x2, ... etc.

Sam and Kate has once again, gotten a jump on me in the morning. This time I caught them sometime in the early-ish morning. The first pass os the day was the highest elevation of the route, 11990, and then through Summitville and past some mining operations. The descent into Platoro was rougher road than I hoped for, and my feet were really starting to hurt. While eating a huge breakfast in Platoro, a guy tacking the race came in to say "hi." I felt weird, being greeted by strangers in random places, who knew who I was, and what I was doing. Weird, but really cool at the same time. The road after Platoro was just as rough, if not worse. The day kept us at considerably high elevation, and pushing as hard as I could, it eventually took a toll on me. That day I had crossed the New Mexico border, and I can't even say how much I underestimated New Mexico. I kept thinking it would be sort of a victory lap. I was wrong. Dead wrong. The climbs continued, the roads got worse, and I was getting tired. The elevation got to me, I was dizzy, started feeling sick. My diet was far from ideal, and I didn't have the food I wanted to be fueling off. I had enough water, but my electrolytes were low as I was avoiding the sugar of sports drinks because my mouth was starting to get soars from too much sugar, just trying to keep myself going.  Lunch got returned that afternoon, and I continued to push on, feeling sick as a dog. I couldn't concentrate, my body had become numb. I had a few conversations with people that I may never know if they actually existed.  About 730PM I had to call it. The weather was amazing, and I found a flat spot to pitch my tent. I slept from about 830PM till 400AM probably the longest night of the race, and I woke up feeling a world better.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than a Silly Bike Race. pt III Sawtelle Resort to Kremmling, CO

As I was leaving the Sawtelle Resort, I knew I was nearing the famed ID rail trail, and its sandy washboard. The weather was beautiful, but the trail was everything I hoped it wouldn't be. A few miles down it I cam across a moose cow and calf.  Not wanting to put myself any closer to a potentially dangerous situation, I stopped and made as much noise as possible until they finally decided to go on there way, so I could continue on mine. Mile after mile I continued to swerve around to try and reduce the impact of the washboard on my wrists and butt. Not too long later (In the scheme of the day) the trail improved to a gravel/ sandy mix that was flatter and faster. I was excited to get to the tunnel, since I enjoyed riding trough the train tunnels so much in Wisconsin last year. I was disapointed to find the tunnel fenced off and a re-route around the outside. When the trail ended I was on a bit of pavement, and into WY. Seeing the Tetons both from a distance, and as I was going through them, was incredible. Similar in appearance, to the Canadian rockies, the vast shear rock faces are absolutely incredible, and their reflections off of Jackson Lake where amazingly clear. This was another point I wanted to be able to stop and enjoy the scenery for a bit longer, although the droves of tourists where beginning to annoy me already, and I hadn't stopped for more than a bathroom break. The bit of pavement I was on allowed for some quick miles, and a nice change of pace from the morning. I also had a considerable bit of climbing ahead of me to clear Togwotee Pass, which was about 50/50 dirt and pavement to the top, and an all dirt alternate route from the top, which had a bit more snow and hike-a-bike, but the incredible weather and scenery made it bearable and still quite enjoyable. A few move paved miles brought me to the bottom of Union Pass, where i grabbed a quick snack and had a chat with a guy in a pickup who didn't think it would be possible to ride the pass on a bike....he doesn't know what we've been through. A long steep climb got me about 3/4 the way up Union Pass to Crooker Creek Lodge for the night where I shared a cabin with another rider.  
The next morning I was early to rise (at least by my standards) and off to finish Union Pass. The sun was rising just as I go to the top, and the ground was still frozen. There were a few patches of snow, but given the cold temps, it was like walking on solid ground, and parts were even rideable! The descent on the other side of the pass was a great one. My chain had been through the ringer on the ealry part of the trip, so I was excited to be on my way to the Pinedale Hardware Store and Bike Shop to get a new chain. My chain rings where severely worn as well, but there was no hope of replacing them here. A good breakfast and resupply later, and I was pedaling towards Atlantic City, no not New Jersey....WY. The road to AC was wide, smooth, and rolly. The tail winds were incredible, and they made the ride a blast. Over the rollers and small hills I was able to maintain and incredible moving speed, often maxing out my gearing options, and frequently climbing at about 20mph and cruising at 30-40 on flats and descents. Those few hours were amazing, only to be crushed by the same winds in reverse on a small highway connection for just a few miles before South Pass City, and eventually Atlantic City. The rain storms rolling in simulationausly did not help moral much either. Atlantic City was a tiny little town, and the bar was about to close down. The owner was extremely accommodating and made up some ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner and to-go for the next days food supply through the Basin. Through small town connections Geoff landed some great accommodation in a small apartment for rent that night, and Lorenzo and I bummed a shower and roof for the night.

The Basin. Not much happens there. The Basin is a geographical point of interest in that any precipitation that falls in the Basin is either absorbed or evaporated, it does not drain to anywhere but within itself. That said, it doesn't rain much there. In fact, I'm pretty sure Sage brush is the only thing, other than a few idiotic bikers, that inhabits the basin. I kept picturing a meeting amongst rattle snakes and other desert dwelling creatures having a meeting, and deciding "Well it sucks here, let's leave." I suppose the Basin experience could've been much worse, the cross winds COULD have been headwinds. Getting to paved Mineral X road felt like a celebratory event at the time, but I was quick to discover a road so flat and boring I needed a map to discover I was actually making a ~30 mile long sweeping left hand turn. The expansion joints frequent "thud thud" on the tires certainly was annoying, but it may have actually helped keep me awake.  Continueing on out of the basin, next stop, Rawlins. A quick resupply and than a good warm meal with Geoff, Walter, and Lorenzo, we all planned on pushing father (It was only about 5 PM) especially with the construction zone about 30 miles south and only passable during non-working hours. The climb up Monument Hill should not have been so bad, but between the wind and the grade, it felt like we were in Turtle Races, climbing at about 3-4mph for longer than I would have liked. Soon after the climb, it was getting dark, and we decided to camp out just beyond the active work zone, behind a pile of rocks. The adventuresome me is a bit ashamed to admit this was my first night in a tent for the entire trip, but with the constant wet weather and cold temps, the competitive me was, and still is, OK with my logistic decision. I slept really well that night, and I really do like my little tent! We began moving at about 4AM, little did I know I was starting the longest day (time wise) of the trip. We were about 60 or 70 miles short of Brush Mountain Lodge, a famed must-stop resort in the middle of no-where. Before Brush Mountain, that morning we also crossed the CO border and rode though Aspen Alley, a beautiful hallway of dirt road lined with perfect mature Aspen trees. Unfortuneatly my piece of garbage camera had a dead battery...again. Upon arrival at brush mountain, the place appeared to be still sleeping. I had enough food to push on, but just as I was about to continue south Kirsten came around the corner. Another wonderful person with fantastic TD rider accommodation, I am glad we got to meet. I charged my phone and camera while I ate a delicious breakfast or 3. Still feeling recharged and energetic on my back-swing from Ovando, I eagerly continued forward from Brush Mountain, just at Geoff and Lorenzo touched down for a meal. I was Steamboat, CO bound with a cassette that was creaking more than an old rocking chair. The pass just before Steamboat (I cant remember the name without the map in front of me,) was a doozie. A long climb up, finished off with a few hundred feet of cobble-rock-rubble ATV path, and a similarly rough descent. This was another situation where the riding could have been much more enjoyable with another bike, fresher legs, and less painful feet. Soon, the trail became dirt road, and the remainder of the descent into Steamboat was a 30+mph thrill ride.

While I left my bike with the crew at Orange Peel Bike Shop, I went out on the town with a rental bike. Fenders, grip-shift internal hub, beach bars, and a seat wide enough to support Oprah...yeah you know the kind. I was still lyrca-clad, and probably looking quite haggard, so I got some pretty epic looks as I wove through traffic on my new ride, on my way to the grocery store, Post Office, and Deli. I saw my (new) old friend Evan in town, as he was having some bike work done as well. We joked about our appearance on the rental bikes, and made a plan to meet up for the night. We both wanted to make Kremmling, about another 80 miles or so out of Steamboat. His bike was ready, but my pace was a bit quicker so we made the plan that he would cruise easy, and I would hammer to catch up. After a few sandwiches, my bike was tuned up and ready to shredy. Like a dog with a rabbit, I hammered out of town. Around Yampa Lake the headwinds tried their hardest to destroy me. I was happy to be back in the woods soon after the lake to make up some time on the hills without howling wind. It was just before a small river crossing that I saw Evan as a speck on the horizon. Eventually we caught up and crossed said river together. It was cold, and fast moving, but not too deep or dangerous, but it was still nice to be with someone else for the crossing. Riding on that night was somewhere between the most fun and most exhausting experience of the whole trip. I had ridden most of the race alone up to this point. Sure I had some brief conversation here-and-there, but I hadn't spent hours on end with one person. Bonking hard at about 1030, some green-tea caffeine pills and friendly conversation kept me awake and alive to push into Kremmling that night at about 1230. Thanks for pushing me Evan! Long night descents on tiny dirt roads deep in CO made for some exhilarating riding. Upon cresting a big hill we see a "Downhill" truck sign, Evan points and says
"Hey, look, we're like trucks."
"Yeah, we're haulin' ass!"
I'm not sure if it was the fact that I was way beyond exhausted, or if it was actually that funny, but I laughed for miles and miles after that. Upon arival in Kremmling, I chugged a chocolate milk and chowed on some nachos from the convenience store and fell asleep in my bike clothes on top of the covers in the Super 8. It was almost 1AM at this point and I was zonked, so there was no way my 330AM alarm was going to work. I slept till 6, and felt recharged enough for another day. A short trip across to the same convenience store got me some Good Morning Breakfast Burrito calories to start the day, and I hit the road feeling awesome an strong.

To be continued.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than a Silly Bike Race. pt II Ovando, MT to almost ID

Not "Single track" but fun riding!

Moooo

Top of Fleecer Ridge

Beautiful MT.

Elk Horn Hot Springs with Josh

What other race has ranch life delay?


Big Sky
With a new attitude, a new fire burning, and just enough rest time to allow my knees and other aches to recover a bit, I knew what I was going to have to do to get back on track for my 18ish day personal goal. I needed to hammer. Realizing early on that I needed more sleep than I thought I would, I needed to make up time during daylight hours. TD is interesting in the fact that there are no stops, stages, checkpoint, or limits in general really. Rider X may be able to pedal at a slow steady pace from Banff to Mexico without ever sleeping. Rider Y may be able to ride hard for 12-16 hours a day, stop, and sleep well, be passed and then catch and pass Rider X the next, only to be passed again while they’re sleeping the next night. In this simplified explanation I am certainly Rider Y…Ride hard, recover well, repeat.

Going into the race I thought I would be able to push through long nights and cover a lot of extra ground. Due to weight and recharging issues I decided to change up from my normal lights that I ride at home, so I had significantly less light going forward, and after riding all day and then eating dinner, I was tired. With so much less light and energy, I found my pace would drop so far it often was not worth moving. If I got 4-5 hours sleep, I could wake up and cover the same ground in half the time, and do it much safer. I was fine riding by light before sunrise, because I was rested and had that “new-day” drive.

Due to having lost time in Ovando, I knew I was going to have to put in some extra to get back on track. I couldn’t just keep pace with those around me, I had to try to keep pace with those out front and pulling away, if not try to CATCH them. My brake pads were running thin from long descents and wet weather, and not a single shop in Butte, MT had the pads I needed. Thankfully I was carrying spares, and with dryer weather ahead, I should be able to get the race out of them, and I did. On my way out of Butte, I spotted my buddy Josh on the side of the road fixing a flat. I waited up for a few minutes so we could put on some miles together. We did get separated on our way to Fleecer Ridge, which I had heard was holding some more snow, but to my surprise was dried out by the time I got there. I did has a bit of a push up the last bit to the top to save some energy, but conditions allowed for a full ride on the downhill. Fleecer Ridge is STEEP, and given the secluded nature and the fact that I was riding alone, I probably shouldn’t have ridden it, but the adrenaline of riding steep DH course-like trails on a full rigid touring rig was worth the risk. I had an absolute blast bombing down, and regrouped with a few riders below in Wise River for lunch. That evening I made the cruise to Elk Horn Hot Springs in absolutely gorgeous weather, on primarily pavement, which was actually a pleasant change of pace. Josh and I shared a room in Elk Horn Hot Springs. Unfortunately our time schedule was going to allow for lounging in the springs, but the memory foam mattresses, burgers, milkshakes, and sandwiches for the road made for an excellent choice in stopping point.

Enter washboard. Day 8 was a long one, about 190 miles. I had a bit less climbing, sunny skies, and a big smile, the perfect combo to make up some ground. In the morning I started with a FAST road descent, pretty fun cruising at 35mph before down with a small bike light!! Back to dirt roads I found myself held up by some cowboys and cowgirls moving a few hundred head of cattle down the same road I was traveling…. the only road around for miles. Although the time 30-40 time delay was annoying, I was fun to watch. I’ve grown up around farming…east coast style. To watch real ranchers work a heard was a really neat experience, and At one point I actually helped out by just following them down the road while the crew controlled the sides and front of the heard. Soon, the road was clear, and I was on my way to Lima for lunch.

The rest of the day was spent swerving all over the road like a drunken fool just trying to find a line that wouldn’t continue to make my seat pound my ass like hammer and anvil. It’s hard to explain what washboard feels like. “Its just a bunch of small bumps.” THAT DESTROY YOU. As soon as you think you begin to get to a nice cruising speed, you are shut down and shaken out of riding position, and all efficiency is gone, back to the drawing board. Many times, there is no smooth line, so you’ll spend miles on end standing while pedaling, just to be able to absorb the conditions with something other than your butt and wrists (or elbows and shoulders if you happen to drop into aeros.) Trying to stay positive I focused on the classic Montana big sky I was riding through. I was truly beautiful, and I really wanted a lawn chair, and a beer to sit and enjoy where I was, but every time I am in a lawn chair with a beer I’m thinking about riding. To finish the day off, I had some fun “1.5 track” through four wheeler/ xc ski trails to wind up at the Sawtelle Resort. Is it weird that I remember the meal I had in almost every town I stopped in? There comes a point in this race where just to get to the next place, I began imagining the menu and what I was going to order, often just hoping strongly I can get a chocolate milkshake, because what’s a ride without a milkshake recovery??? A huge grilled chicken salad and a burger later I got a good nights sleep after a long days ride.

ID & beyond, soon to follow! 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than a Silly Bike Race. pt I

Beautiful AB, When not raining.

"Road"....right...



Josh Kato


Richmond Pass

KT Tape...keeping me going

In jail in Ovando for the night.
I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll start by saying that I am writing this without reading Jefe’s blog first, so I can portray my most honest opinions of what went on without trying to somehow compromise my own reality with viewpoints of others. Perhaps, we saw things the same, perhaps totally different.

There is no other single event in my life that I could compare to Tour Divide. Neither heaven nor hell on earth, rather both, often within a few minutes of one another. I would’ve needed a constantly running video camera to capture and remember every moment, good and bad, and after a warm meal and a shower, it is quite easy to forget the struggle you have just come through. Most pictures I took were of the good times, the beautiful sights, and the smiles. The few pictures I did take to try and portray the hardship of the weather (28 degrees and snowing, 35 degrees and raining, or 103 degrees in the desert,) the conditions (miles after mile of rotten snow field, 6” washboard side to side, deep sand you struggle to stay upright in, non-the-less maintain your speed, “roads” that look more like riverbeds [or were active flowing river beds], or mud so sticky and deep Chuck Norris couldn’t roundhouse kick to dry out,) will never do justice to what is was actually like out there.

Disclaimers aside, I will try to recollect my story as closely as possible, without going into too much boring detail…..damn, I’m gunna have to make a sandwich and chocolate milk before I type anymore.

My flight was delayed about 12 hours, killing my plan to ride from Calgary to Banff as a warm up. In Chicago I met Jason, who was racing on a fixie….wow, nutty, but huge props! Not having a chance to ride up, I was a shuttle to Banff, and ended up meeting a few other riders. Banff was incredible, beautiful weather for the day and a half before the race. A small touristy town, but loaded with bikers of all kinds and most notably all the TD participants cruising around/ Interacting with so many like-minded people was an amazing experience, especially since I normally ride alone! I had been having knee issues for more than a few weeks leading up to the race, so I had decided to lighten up my training to try and recover, and is it was, I was starting the longest mountain bike race with my knees in pain and supported with KT tape. I was confident that with tape, stretching, and a few “short, easy” sub- 150 miles days to begin, that I could rehab in the first week, and come back strong in the end.

The weather, cold and raining, supported my easy-start plan quite well. Lead out of town by Crazy Larry, at 0800, June 13th,(Did I mention Grand Depart was on my 22nd birthday?) we were off into what a rookie cannot accurately imagine. Mile 0, I went to reset my cyclo-computer to 0 after the prolouge-parade ride, popped the computer off into a field of 110+ adrenaline driven riders, so now I’m off bike, walking against traffic trying to pick up a computer the size of an iPod shuffle before it, or I, get run over. Now, all hyped up, I get everything reset, and take off like I’m heading into a 25 mile sprint race. I came back through much of the pack to about 3rd or 4th, and set into a comfortable pace. Mile 11, I was already riding alone, and it was dumping snow. Could this really be setting the tone for the remaining 2730 miles? The weather began to clear slightly, and I spent much of my day alone until our first re-supply in Bolten (Bolton?) where I met Josh Kato, a rider who I ended up spending a lot of time with early in the race, and someone who I hope I may be able to continue to adventure with in the future, maybe at touring pace (Think 70-100 miles a day, beers, hot tubs, and single track fun ride days!!) Rolling into Sparwood the first night I was cold, wet, and generally drained. I couldn’t imagine having any desire to push beyond in that weather only to sleep for a few hours and wake up colder, and wetter. I could hammer all day, but recovery was very important for me to be able to repeat the next day. The following few days were more or less the same. Whitefish Divide was the first snowy pass I heard warning of. Aside from a few trees and a bit of glacial-like snow Whitefish Divide wasn’t too bad. I had quickly discovered that my rookie over-preparedness and the idea of kids snowshoes were not going to work. Red Meadow Pass had yet more snow, but for a longer section, and harder to walk through, and really took it out of me. I was still carrying the snow shoes so I could mail them home.

Day four I came up to Richmond Pass, and unsuspectingly (rookie move) found more snow…much more, on a steep slope, with trees to cross, and a split path. I took the high road, which ended up being the wrong one, and didn’t catch my mistake until I was about 250 vF about the real trail. I continued to now post-hole my way back to the trail, falling into tree wells, miles and miles into the deep Montana Wilderness (Grizzly country), alone, down a virtual cliff. Keep in mind I have a 50lb bicycle and silly plastic shoes with neoprene covers and wool socks to stay “warm.” While your moving and in the snow, it’s not so much the issue, but after to spending 2 hours in this frozen hell, you find yourself atop a 3000’ rainy steep descent. Ever heard of wet bulb temperature…yeah…wet everything. You try to decide if it is worth it to coast/pedal down fast, freeze and get it over with, or go slow, freeze slightly less and bear the pain that much longer. As I was layering up for the descent, Dave caught up with me and mentioned Seely Lake for a real warm meal. My plan was to keep pushing that night to get to Ovando (about 30 ish miles farther,) but a warm meal sounded like a terrific idea. Eating ribs felt great, and with a hotel across the street I caved in and never made the push to Ovando that night. I was able to send home about 8 pounds of unnecessary equipment though! Positive company, good vibes, good food and laughter got me excited to go again.

Laughing at what we had just come through Dave jokes, “We’re in the middle of grizzly country, up to our knees in snow with a bloody whistle and a jam sandwich.”

I couldn’t think of a better description.

The first 3 days went well, day 4 was a bit of a let down, and day 5 came to be a giant turning point in the race. In the morning I felt good, and headed out early toward Ovando in hopes to make up some lost time from the day before, only to discover it would be my biggest loss of the whole trip. It was about 35 degrees and a driving rain. I was wringing water out of my gloves without taking them off. I could not feel my feet, nothing I was wearing was dry. I was now riding a single speed. No, the bike worked fine, but I couldn’t shift because my hands were too cold. The road was deep, regraded mud. I had never felt more beaten down in my life. Arriving to Ovando, I was excited for a warm meal, but I couldn’t work the latch on the door to the CafĂ© because my hands were too cold. It was reported it was actively snowing on the pass into Lincoln (Huckleberry Pass.) I had nothing dry, and finally started feeling human again after a ton of coffee and 3 breakfasts. More cold riders rolled in, some more positive than others. Personally my mind was made, I was staying. I counted the day as a loss at <30 miles. To this day I’m not sure how I feel about that decision. Certain other riders said things that pissed me off, but I had to make my own decisions. I knew I could finish the race, and if Huckleberry was as snowy as rumored, I may have scratched from the race completely with the mental state I was in. It was an all time low. I spent the day with a like minded rider, and by the end, I had a positive spin, and I was feeling recharged, refueled, happy to be on my bike, and just pissed off enough to want to kick some ass in the race. I left Ovando at 330 AM feeling great, and charging hard. An awesome breakfast in Lincoln kept me rolling, and I had a good day with big climbing day to Basin with a total of about 140 miles and just under 14000 vF of climbing. I had caught several riders who pushed beyond Ovando when I stayed, which gave me the feeling there was still hope to place well. Descents like the first out of Helena had me feeling like I was actually mountain biking and not simply surviving in motion. My drive was back, my enthusiasm had returned, a high you can only feel after recovering from an all time low.

To be continued….

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Annnnd......GO!

This will be officially my last post before Tour Divide. I'm as ready as I'm going to get. My legs are strong, my head is in the right place. I have been having some bigger knee issues than I would like to admit, but I think with a few last minute changes and improvements, and mind over matter pain reduction tactics, I'll be all set. I won't be in touch with the outside world much during the race. If you would like to follow along;

Tracking data is available here:

http://trackleaders.com/tourdivide14

"Official" Race page, info and rules(They have not updated the leaderboard page at this time):

http://tourdivide.org/

Ride call-ins and other up-to-date relevant race info:

http://mtbcast.com/site2/tour-divide-2014/ 

Thanks for following!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Getting Close...rewrite.

Before I start...well, I did start. I wrote this post already. I spent 2 hours writing the most awesome spring catch-up and pre Tour Divide blog post that I could imagine, and somehow between user error and internet connection issues, it is not lost somewhere in cyberspace...just not on my blog. OK, enough bitching, round two is never the same as first draft, but I'll try.
Living in Vermont has been awesome for training for Tour Divide. I can get on my bike, right out my back door, ride a short trail through the woods, and connect to endless dirt roads, snowmobile trails, logging roads, hiking trails, and singletrack, with minimal pavement and traffic. Throughout the past winter the VAST trails made for incredible safe winter riding options (aside from the occasional gun-toting-lead-for-brains, who clearly doesn't support winter training.) As the snow melted out I was able to add Killington and Pico back onto the repertoire as steep, long climbs with a good variety of terrain to ride.
Chasing race series' and point has never really been my thing, so not racing much is nothing new, but I did hope to race a bit more this spring. Trying to rack up high mileage, it hasn't seemed worth it to drive several hours to pay to race for just 20-30 miles. That said, I have made the trip to a few events this year. Returning to the slightly overrated yet still fun SingleSpeed-A-Palooza in Montgomery, NY, I did not do as well as I was hoping (19/110? in Pro/Open.) I'll use the excuses of a poor start position and light gearing choice, but the reality is that I haven't been focusing on hammering for less that 2 hours, I've been focused on riding at a quick yet sustainable pace for 6+ hours. I also made it to Hike-A-Bike at Lippman Park in Wawarsing, NY. HAB is hyped as a technical 20+ mile race, with mandatory hike/jump/run features strung along the course, similar to cyclocross features. What began as an uber laid-back race atmosphere proved to be simply disorganized. The race had a 8 and 20+ mile courses with shared start and finishes, and apparently not enough to differentiate who was racing what course, as nobody seemed to be scored in the right class. Awards did not make any mention of what race, or what place they were for. Details aside, the race went well. With a le-mans (running) start, I was first to my bike, first into the woods, and never saw anyone for the rest of the race, often forgetting to ride at race pace. 
I've continued to struggle getting the real high mileage I'd like to be getting in, but with working full time, planning, packing, and general life needs (cooking, food shopping, etc) I've been managing to get about 150-200 miles a week in on primarily off road terrain. I've been logging some super big climbs and weekend ride in about every other weekend. My legs are feeling strong, my bike is feeling dialed, and my shred factor is peaking. Just 3 weeks out from race depart, and even less until my flight, if I'm not ready now, I never will be. At this point it's not a matter of making big changes, just dialing in a few last minute details. I am feeling confident for departure, with navigation being my biggest concern. I am hoping my triple redundant system of GPS with pre-loaded .gpx files, official ACA (Adventure Cycling Association adventurecycling.org) maps, and cyclo computer and custom cues, will keep me on route. With any luck the deep snowpack will dissipate up north, the hail and thunder storms will calm down central, and the wildfires will burn out in the south. Hopefully these last minute route update emails dont keep coming in.
Throughout the long road of planning, I have had a lot of amazing help.
I never would have been able to afford the awesome bike I'll be riding without the help of Jason Hayden from Killington Resort. Dale Plant at Kona was also a great help.
killington.com
konaworld.com
It is easy to obsess about which tires you'll run use, or which color bar tape you want. After 6 hours in the saddle you probably wont care much about those things, but your bike shorts will be a big part of your thought process, especially if they aren't the right ones. Only bring one pair of riding shorts for 3 weeks and 3000 miles, I couldn't be happier to be wearing Verge Primo Bibs. I'll be able to think less about my ass and more about pedaling. Thanks for the kit, my official sponsor Verge Sport. Thanks to Phil Fragale, for connecting me with Verge and being my go-to guy for staying looking and feeling good.
vergesport.com
v-gear.com
I'll be rocking some uber-comfy merino wool socks from Swiftwick, thanks to Eddie Rosenberg.
swiftwick.com
Since I began taking racing seriously Steve and Sam from Revolution Bicycles in Saugerties, NY have helped me out with riding endeavours near and far.
revolutionbicycles.webs.com
Just opening up this spring, JT Look from Rutland City Bikes has been a huge help in pulling together some last minute bike needs. JT brought Rutland what it has needed for a long time, a quailty bike shop with a big smile and rider-run attitude.
rutlandcitybikes.com
I may only be 21, but my body takes a beating. Mike Finnegan, a long time sled dog, and Physical Therapist at Slate Valley PT has been extremely helpful in keeping me moving over the past few years and during TD prep. Thanks Mike!
slatevalleypt.com
As always, my amazing parents have been incredibly supportive and helpful. I love you guys!
Last and far from least, the entire Thompson family. My friendship with Chris began through patrolling. In August I began working for Chris and his company Ace Arborist. It has been hands down the best job I've ever had. My best friend is my boss, and not only does he give me the flexibility to take the time for TD, but he encourages it. November 19th, 2013, the scariest day of my life, probably changed our friendship forever. A work related incident put Chris in the hospital for several weeks to follow. Chris always told me he was invincible, and now I believe it. Making an incredible recovery, skiing just two months later and returning to tree work just a few months after, Chris is living proof that mental will power and physical strength combine can overcome just about anything.  Whenever I start bitching about anything, he is the only person that will tell me what I actually need to here "SUCK IT UP AND GO RIDE."
While I knew his wife and kids before, I didn't know them that well. I got to know Kelly and the rest of the family through interaction in the ICU at Dartmouth. Spending a lot of time with their three amazing children changed my life and perhaps helped mature my ultimate life plans. At least a few times a week Kelly gives me awesome, healthy, warm meals.
Chris, I look forward to future skiing and mountaineering adventures together, and Kelly, it's not that he doesn't care, he just forgot to tell you, I'll try to keep you in the loop on where we are going....don't call the rangers! Thank you all for your support and friendship, it means more than I can express in words.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's not really simple, but it's simple, really.

Before leaving on a trip, or beginning an adventure, the most frequent question I get is, "What are you doing to get ready?"

Last year before departing on my cross country trip, I wanted to know what I was going to be doing, where I was going to be, camp, and eat, each and every day. It took all of about 6 hours of riding west to discover that my "plan" was going to need more work. Eventually I realized that all the planning in the world could not possible account for every random situation one will come across on the move. After a few weeks I came to the realization that general preparedness and adaptability was tenfold more important than a solid "plan."

Moving forward to Tour Divide, I have kept this in mind. Being I am racing, not touring, it does change some things in the overall "plan" of the trip. I will be carrying only the bare minimum supplies to survive in the various and potentially horrific conditions I may encounter, and I will be pushing myself harder, farther, and longer each day than I was during my tour. I wont be going "home" after each ride, at best I'll be in a hotel for a few hours, and back on the trail to repeat the next day. As much as I would love to each the idealistic ultra pure and natural diet of a champion, I honestly don't think it is fair to trick my body into being used to a diet that will be unsustainable while living on the move. This doesn't mean I am drinking Coke by the liter and replacing meals with Skittles, but I do try to mimic what will be available during the race.

As far as physical conditioning, I am probably still behind where I should be. I've been riding about 150 miles a week during the last few weeks of spring meltdown. I have been using these conditions to try and prepare for what I will encounter on route, and not simply turning around when the snow is too deep to ride through, or the mud is axle deep. Get off an push, suck it up. By putting myself into ridiculous situations on a regular basis, I hope to be better prepared for what I will come to encounter in the future. Mental preparedness in stressful situations may prove to be life saving.

I am going into Tour Divide 2014 as a rookie divide racer, with minimal back country bike packing experience. I have poured over blogs, gear lists, read pages upon pages of forum posts, and researched to the point where I am no longer worried about what I am getting into. Perhaps my internet inspired confidence sounds immature. I never said I think it is going to be easy. I just said I feel I am ready to face whatever is thrown my way. Bring on the struggle!