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. ( 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.