Lula Lake Race Report

In the running for “biggest success of the weekend” could be my avoidance of this traffic jam on the way to Chattanooga. I checked the traffic map prior to leaving my acupuncture appointment in Spring Hill just south of Nashville and saw the backup starting near the I-24/I-59 junction close to Chattanooga. I checked again at a rest stop, saw it was worse, and figured out which back roads would route me around it.

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Chattanooga is like any “up & coming” city… gentrification abounds, and, while it whitewashes much of the cultural interest of an area, it does make for a cool and convenient place to stay downtown.

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I digress…

The Lula Lake Land Trust 5 Points 50 was (despite plenty of rain) a great race on an excellent course. I wasn’t quite recovered from the adventure race, so not only was I not firing on all cylinders from the gun, the ones I was firing on started to fail around mile 26. I swapped between 3rd/4th place for a while, finding that, while the woman I was racing for the podium spot could handily outclimb me, I was better at downhills and slippery/slide-y/technical stuff. The course really favored a strong climber, though, and I wasn’t able to fake my way ahead of her for the 2nd half of the course. I was in 4th for a while, and, while I was downing a Red Bull at the 38ish mile aid station, 5th caught up to me. She was ahead for a while, then the caffeine took hold, and I was able to pass her on a steep spot. I held her off through cramps and my building frustrations that none of the downhills seemed long or steep enough to justify using my dropper post, and ended up finishing in 4th place out of 13 ladies.

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It wasn’t terrible… I knew that a lack of recovery was a real possibility, and I was game enough to have a good time and enjoy a fun trail system.  If you want to hear more about the Lula Lake race, keep an eye on the Mountain Bike Radio Just Riding Along page. I interviewed the race winners as well as the people responsible for making such an excellent event.

Post-race road trip necessity for the drive home on Sunday:

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When I arrived back home, I spent the remainder of the day chilling out and occasionally assisting Matt in his ambitious weekend schedule of home improvement projects

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Ryan and I drank beer, sat in the garage, and spectated that portion of it.

The focus now is on recovery. I kicked the week off right by taking the dogs to the dog park. Marley likes to run the fence at full speed trying to catch squirrels, Indy wanders around the corners, and Turbo generally sticks by me. A good time was had by all.

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My current plan is to rest hard and try to be on top form for the 12 Hours of Nite Nationals race on the 25th. It’s going to be a close-to-gameday decision, though. My fitness prior to the adventure race was the best it’s been all season. However, it will take every bit of that fitness and then some to do well against the ladies that are going to show up at the race. So, if I don’t feel 100%, there are other things I’d rather do than flog myself in a sleep-deprived lap race.

Pisgah Stage Race- from the background

Ok, finally, now that I’m back home and about to re-pack for another adventure, I have a little time to post a few pics and stories from my week as a crew person at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race. If you want to hear about the race itself, head over to the Just Riding Along Pisgah Special Report page on Mountain Bike Radio and listen to Matt’s daily stage reports as well as interviews with Todd, the race director, and some of the other racers.

The ideal way to go about racing a stage race is to show up, race half the day, eat immediately, then spend the remainder of the afternoon napping and laying around before going to the evening awards ceremony (universally at around 6pm for the races I’ve been to). My day basically went like this:

6am: wake up, make coffee, make breakfast, prep my own stuff to ride, pack a cooler with post-race drinks & snacks, do breakfast dishes (there wasn’t a dishwasher), pack the car, load the bikes. It sounds crazy until you’ve been there yourself, but eating breakfast during a stage race can be a really difficult task…

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8:15-ish (depending on start time/location, we left as early as 7:15): drive to start, unload bikes, drink more coffee, get Matt’s jacket, etc. from the start line. A couple of the days involved a remote start- racers met at the finish line and were shuttled in a bus out to the start location.

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9:00-ish: race started, prep my own stuff to ride, go out and ride part(s) of the day’s course.

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I pretty successfully managed to ride until about the time the first racers were crossing the finish line (Matt was consistently finishing around 10th-13th). That gave me enough time to change, snack, and stand around at the finish for a few minutes to get a photo (Ok, I cut it close once and was still in kit at the finish when he came through. That’d involved a flat tire of my own fault, though).

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After stage 1, I found local racer Jordan Salman with a bandaged up broken finger that put her out of the race. Sad day.

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1-2:00: somewhere in that time frame, we’d arrive back at the house. I’d put away the dry breakfast dishes and make lunch while Matt changed & showered. Then change/shower myself, eat, and have approximately 3 hours to do the afternoon chores: wash more dishes, unpack the cooler, wash/refill bottles, go to the laundromat, go grocery shopping, and generally pick up and re-organize stuff at the house so that nothing would be lost or misplaced.

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Matt usually laid around and napped, though by 4 or 5, he’d get kinda stir crazy and go wash his bike (and sometimes mine, too). I could have squeezed that in to my afternoon, but it’s not a terrible activity to do if you’re just wanting to get up and move around after laying down for a couple of hours. We’d also do the daily MBR stage report.
Most of the time, just before leaving for awards, I’d make Matt a giant smoothie with frozen fruit and Kefir.
5:45 Leave for the awards ceremony/happy hour at the Brevard Music Center. Stay there ’til 7:15 or 8, depending on whether or not we did any interviews for MBR and whether I had one glass of wine or two.

Interview pics…

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7:30ish (depending on when we left awards): back at the house- put away lunch dishes, make dinner, eat, clean dinner dishes, lube chains.

We also didn’t have wifi at the house aside from my phone. So, in order to put the MP3 files online to be posted on MBR, on the way home from awards, we had to park outside the laundromat and upload them using their wifi.

That made for finally getting to stop moving and lay in bed around 9:30-10pm.

Stage 5 was the exception to the “finish before Matt” rule. I hitched a ride with Todd, the race director, to the mid-point of the course. From there, I hammered up a 7-mile forest road climb to the top of the final enduro of the day/race. Up there, I hung out with the guys doing Enduro timing and handed out an entire bottle of whiskey in small Dixie cups to whichever racers wanted a shot (or 4).

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Listen to the post-race interviews in the MBR link above to find out why, exactly, those guys have “F@#K” on their jerseys… it’s pretty amazing.

Following stage 5, we stopped by Sycamore Cycles (local shop sponsoring the race) and hung out a little while. Chopper the dog is adorable…

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The awards ceremony for the week was a blast. It culminated into a pie-eating contest. When they made the call for contestants, Matt ran up and, of course, took his shirt off so “it wouldn’t get dirty”. Other guys started filtering their way up, and I instructed them to also take their shirts off. The ladies in the crowd were amused, and many phone photos/videos were taken.

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Kaysee Armstrong is all like, “no, I’m not looking…”

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Post-race pics:

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I’ve put a video of the pie eating as well as some other during-race action on my YouTube Channel.

Being a crew-person is absolutely exhausting but very rewarding. Matt had a great race- he followed my advice on pacing and eating, which allowed him to put his tech riding skill and fitness to good use throughout the whole week and come away with a 10th place finish in the open men’s category (results posted here). I’m looking forward to racing it myself in 2015.

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Vapor Trail Road Trip- #5

The good news is, my fork is feeling better. The bad news is, through the magic of the cool testing & training equipment found around the 92fifty/Elevated Legs compound, I was able to quantify just how much I’m affected by the 9k+ feet of elevation. Sitting around in the house, the pulse oximiter tells me that my red blood cells are only 93% saturated with oxygen… something you’d only expect to see at sea level if you were dealing with a person who has a pulmonary problem of some sort (like asthma).

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I laid around in the Elevated Legs for a while breathing oxygen from the O2 generator, and, surprise! I made it (temporarily) up to normal.

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The idea behind the setup like the one in the 92fifty studio is that you can get all of the good physiological adaptations you’d see from hanging out at altitude, but by doing higher intensity sessions indoors with supplemental O2, you can still train your top end like you’re at sea level.

So, there’s your brief and informative science lesson of the day.

Wednesday, I packed up my stuff and headed out to visit Megan- a high school/horseback riding friend who moved out of Memphis forever ago. She’s settled in to an awesome little farmhouse in Black Forest with Sara (her girlfriend), two horses, dogs, and kittens…

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I also sold my first road bike to her. Sadly, it developed a weird crack in the downtube, and she moved on to a different bike. She was nice enough to let me take her parts off of it and take it home with me to hang on the wall.

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Thursday, I made up for not riding on Wednesday and, after breakfast, went to Colorado Springs to ride with Dan, who really made me miss my singlespeed.

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He’s also taking on the Vapor Trail 125 tonight, so we had plenty of post-ride banter about how terrible the weather could possibly be.

I stopped back through Megan’s to change and eat some lunch before heading north into the suburbs of Denver to see Ben Welnak (from Mountain Bike Radio). He’s like, super-dad of the century as well. We waited around for a storm to pass before riding, and, since I took about 4x as long to prepare to ride than he did, he started dinner and wrangled kids while he waited on me.

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Ben swore that the rain would be gone quickly after sunset, so we left in a drizzle and rode up Waterton Canyon towards the Colorado Trail. It was soooo gorgeous. It also never quit raining. I was more disappointed in not seeing any nocturnal creatures than I was in the wet weather.

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Friday morning, it was time to get over to Salida. After I ran around Denver shopping for waterproof socks and gloves, I got on the road and made it to town around 4:30. I hit up the local shops for some souvenirs to take home and caught a couple who were on the Continental Divide Trail. They’d stopped by Subculture Bikes to get a brake fixed.

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The people working in the shop were super nice and remembered me from stopping through last year. They invited me to have a beer and go get pizza with them. Very cool.

So, now the countdown to race start begins… about 8 hours from now. The lights are charging, the bike is tuned,  and I’ve made a tentative clothing selection based on a more optimistic forecast than what I’d seen earlier in the week. The next post you see will be a race report…

 

Vapor Trail Road Trip- #3

Once the pizza sandwich and ginger ale were consumed, I got on the road to Crested Butte. I didn’t know much about the town other than what I’d heard about the amazing quality of trails in the area. Once I was settled in at the hostel (which is huge, and, compared to a trail town/hiker hostel, has a weird, transient vibe to it), I walked down to the main street to get dinner. I wandered in to a pizza place called the Secret Stash and sat at the bar for a pizza and beer.

Given it was Thursday night, the mood was relatively calm inside. I was nearly finished with my meal when suddenly a raucous crowd poured into the bar area. A lady got up on a chair and announced that she was the bar owner and that Bud Light beer was free tonight. People cheered and the wait staff started tearing in to boxes of Bud Light and handing out bottles to everyone in sight. My first thought was W.T.F. This is Colorado… why is everyone freaking out about terrible beer?

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Well, apparently, the city council had just approved a “Bud Light takes over your city” weekend. I’ll spare the details provided by the waitress, but apparently it requires businesses to only serve bud light (for free) for that weekend, and includes a huge free concert as well as food and a half  a million dollars to the city. The townspeople were very divided, but in the end, the Bud Light supporters won out. Soooo weird.

The next day, rather than dive straight in to riding, I decided to take a much-needed recovery day (I’d already clocked 18 hours in the past 3 days, so it was time). I started out with a bacon “scromlette” from McGills (where I ended up getting breakfast every morning since they were open at 6am).

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That was followed up with coffee and blog-writing, then a massage and a drop-in visit to a great chiropractor. After a quick lunch of leftover pizza, I figured it was time to deal with my tire that I’d punctured and tubed a few days before. I’ve successfully patched several tires, though it’s always involved using a bench vice. I had no vice, so I had to improvise with what tools were in my bag.

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It worked like a charm, and I took tire and wheel to a local shop where it could be sealed and I could buy a trail map. After a trip to the one tiny grocery store in town (tip- if you go to CB and plan on grocery shopping, do it in Gunnison on your way in so that you avoid the stupidly high small-mountain-town prices), I decided it was time for a quick spin before sunset. I made a loop of the “lower” trails, which were very nice.

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The next day, I wanted something a little more backcountry. I saw the Deer Creek trail on the map, and, based on its description of “classic CB trail,” I thought it’d fit the bill well. It was a long climb to get there, and more climbing once I was on the trail. As soon as I was on the trail, I started dodging relentless cowpies. I had to hike-a-bike some near the top, and it was more of the same- a half inch layer of poo and urine slime, churned into the ground by cow hooves. I got to the top and briefly talked to some people who agreed that the trail was grosser than they remembered.

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About 90% of the whole 9 miles of trail was like that.

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At least there were good views…

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After my ride, I had a late lunch, laid around a bit, wandered around downtown, then had a nice dinner at the hostel. If I had to guess, I’d say there are more bikes in Crested Butte than there are cars. I borrowed one from a gal that worked in the hostel. It seems at though everyone has some sort of beater that they can just leave on any bike rack without someone bothering it. Awesome.

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Bonus doggie pic of “Riot”

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My next day ride was up to the 401 trail. The forest road up to the trail was surrounded by gorgeous scenery (notice the snow pack in the left of the first pic)

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The trail itself was soooooo sweet

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After my 401 ride, I had to pack and head north for my stay with the 9250 Cyclery guys. Random fun fact from the trip- the high mountains near Breckenridge have a fresh sheen of snow on top of them.

Vapor Trail Road Trip- #2

Following my failed attempt at riding the “hard” part of the Vapor Trail course, I arrived back at the hostel to find that there was another CDT rider stopping in to take a break from the trail. It was a German woman who had actually started her journey in Montreal, Canada.

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Once I was cleaned up and starting to get hungry, I walked to a nearby pizza restaurant with her and a hiker. I love sitting and listening to their stories from the trail… it’s one of my favorite things about hostel-ing in a trail town. Afterward, we went to the grocery store and picked up ice cream for later.
Over dinner, we briefly discussed my failed ride from the day. I lamented that in order to achieve my pre-ride goal of “not being above the treeline during afternoon storms” that I needed to get a ride to near where I’d turned around earlier. The dude who was out hiking the Colorado Trail offered to help… he had planned on hitch-hiking back to where he’d left off the trail to come to the hostel. That spot just so happened to be relatively close to where I’d finish my ride. So, we decided that we’d drive the element up to the Alpine Tunnel Trail, then I’d get out and ride, and he’d drive to the trailhead where he needed to get back on the trail. Perfect.

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It was cold and cloudy when I started up the trail. The scenery was magnificent, though. Before I started the hike-a-bike to the pass, I took a few minutes to check out the site where the tunnel had gone through the mountain..

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I then started the first (and easiest) hike-a-bike of the day up and over. I made a quick stop at the top for a photo before heading down. Most of the train station still remains on the other side of the pass. It was somewhat surreal in the fogginess.

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Soon the race course took a turn off the old railroad grade to go up and over Tomichi pass. It was intermittent granny gearing and hiking followed by a final push up and over the top. It was snowing up there. I was stoked.

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As soon as you cross that spot, there’s a short descent, then the real fun starts… the hike-a-bike that everyone talks about. It’s steep, almost all rocks, and goes on for about an hour. I sang “99 bottles of beer on the wall” in my head several times over before reaching the summit.

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What follows is, at least during daylight hours, the reward for all the pushing. It’s a descent from over 12k feet to around 8k feet. The trail very quickly links in to a trail that’s open to motorcycles, and I found that the moto who had gone down not long before me (it was intermittently raining, and the tracks were super fresh) had taken excellent lines through all of the steep and rocky spots. I was able to “follow” him the whole way down. Dropper post central.

After one more short, steep, and sandy hike-a-bike, the trail dumped out on to a gravel road that meandered its way towards the final climb of the day- Old Monarch Pass. It was warm at the start, but about 3/4 of the way up, it was cold and raining. Like steady, soaking rain. Luckily I was mostly prepared. It would have been nice to have some more water resistant gloves.

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I’ll admit, the climb nearly crushed my soul. However, I eventually made it over the top and found the trail to take me to Highway 50.

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Once I was there, I put all of my extra clothes on, brushed the mud off of my tail light, and began the descent to the Fooses Creek Trailhead where my car was supposed to be parked. I averaged 40 mph for several minutes. I might have gone faster, but I basically pulled off at every side road to check and make sure it wasn’t where I needed to turn off. Eventually, I found it, and I was very happy. As soon as I was in to some dry clothes, I ate some leftover pizza and a ginger ale.

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With the 20 clothing change stops and an equal number of photo opportunities, the entire outing took me about 6 hours and 45 minutes. I expect I won’t take quite as long on race day (er, night), but it won’t take much less time, either. I can say that, without a doubt, this qualifies as the most difficult course I’ve ever taken on- day or night.

Once I was in the car, I drove with the heat blasting almost all the way to Crested Butte. I’d planned a couple of nice rides there, but since the extra pre-ride day was so brutal, I decided that my first full day in CB would be dedicated to recovery and a little wrenching. Photos of that tomorrow, because today is ride day, and it’s time to go.

Vapor Trail Road Trip- #1

SO much riding the past few days, I hardly know where to start an how many posts to make out of it.

Sunday morning, I left Memphis around 8am headed for Amarillo. If I’m going to the south end of Colorado, it’s a good stop, because it’s almost 11 hours in to the 17 from home to Salida, and there’s a small trail system on the northwest edge of town that’s perfect for a post-car spin. It’s also a very scenic way to finish the day.

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The drive from Amarillo to Salida is more highway than interstate, which is nice. The panhandle of Texas is vast and gorgeous place. Soon enough, I was in Colorado, making the push into the mountains.

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My original plan for the afternoon in Salida was to drive to a spot where I could easily ride the “Starvation Creek” loop that’s near the end of the Vapor Trail route. However, when I arrived, it was storming on the mountains, and eventually started pouring rain in town. I ended up finding an excellent yoga class to go to instead.

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Salida has a resident deer population that wander through people’s yards

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That evening, the hostel was kickin’ with Continental Divide Trail riders and Colorado Trail Hikers. Two of the hikers were from Germany and one was from France, and they laughed at my hint of a Southern accent.

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Mountain town hostels are full of interesting people. More of that tomorrow…

The next day, I rode the first section of the Vapor Trail course. I left the hostel and began the climb to the Colorado trail. It was nice, and the Colorado Trail never disappoints with its mix of scenery, gnarliness, and occasional flowiness.

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It looked a little something like this:

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There were definitely some spots that I was glad to see prior to tackling the trail in the dark. I don’t know how I ever went downhill at any rate of speed without a dropper post. I’d had it mounted to the inside of my brake lever, but ended up “modifying” my let grip and mounting it to the outside so that I could reach it easily.

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The next day, I wanted to ride the course from where I’d left off before. I knew it was going to be a day at high elevation, so I got started an hour earlier. When I planned my ride, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that going back out of town the way I’d come in the day before meant that I’d be climbing for two hours on the road to get to where I’d been (the previous day’s ride back to town had gone by quickly because of the loss of 1900ft or so of elevation). Along the way, I also had a flat tire and took a wrong turn.

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I eventually found my way to the bottom end of the road up to the Alpine Tunnel…

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It’s a long and grinding climb. Like two more hours of climbing long… up to the actual Alpine Tunnel trail, which takes you up to the mountain pass where a rail tunnel once went through the mountain. By the time I made it up there, I’d already been riding for more than 4 hours, it was past noon, and I still had 35 hard miles of course to go.

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I was debating about what to do… but what you can only barely see in that last picture is the black cloud coming over the pass. Just after I took that photo, there was thunder. Alpine storms above the treeline are like the WuTang Clan. So, I made the decision to turn and descend back the way I’d come in. The storm ended up chasing me all the way down the valley-

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I was somewhat disappointed, but that night at dinner, I worked out a way to make a second attempt. Spoiler alert- it’s worth its own post. So, that’s it for now. I’ve got recovery to do.

 

 

Vapor Trail Training- Syllamo Edition

On Saturday, when I said that “very soon” there’d be a Syllamo night ride, what I meant was that I’d be driving over that day and riding that night. I figured I’d ride the Orange Trail since it has a little bit of everything as far as terrain goes, and it’s one of my favorites. I packed as if I’d be out much longer, because I figured that if I were having a kickass time, I’d stay out longer and add the blue trail to the ride (that’d take it from a 1 hour ride to a 3+ hour adventure that would include some darkness hike-a-bike practice). However, Mother Nature threw a couple of wrenches into my plans.

When I arrived at the cabin, there was a thunderstorm approaching quickly. Looking at the radar, it looked like it’d be passing through and gone just before sunset, but the question remained of how much rain the trail would see. It did pass through, and the sunset was gorgeous.

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I arrived at the trailhead right as the light as getting low

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By the time I was geared up and getting on the trail, it was dark enough in the woods to have my lights on. I realized that the rain had dampened things just enough to warrant being aware of the slick, rocky spots- Strike 1 against a Blue Trail adventure. Also, by the time I’d gone down the first descent, I’d stopped and hauled my bike over at least 5 downed trees. It was tedious to say the least. Even though, when I was actually riding, I was having a good time, I decided against adding any tree-covered distance. I’m feeling pretty good about the night riding stuff.

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That second one is the view of supermoon from the top of Cedar Scrappy (it looked a lot cooler in person). Aside from the immense amount of deadfall, the ride was a lot of fun.

Sunday morning, I was slated for 6 hours on the bike with some ~10min climb intervals thrown in. All of the gravel road climbs that take you from “creek” level up to “mountain top,” take 8-12ish minutes from the bottom until they begin to level off and roll. My plan was to make a large loop that’d take me through/past at least 3 hard climbs.

I started at the first trailhead on Green Mountain Road and headed up the hill. Along the way, I happened to cross paths with some guys from out of town. They were trying to ride the Yellow trail and wanted to see the Sylamore Creek overlook, but they were almost bushwhacking because of the overgrowth on the section they’d just ridden, so I told them to follow me and directed them to the trail entrance from the Red Trail trailhead, were they could access the long, less-overgrown part of the trail that’d take them to the nice scenery.

Soon after that, I arrived at my first climb- Sandy Flat Road. It’s one that, over the winter, I tried at least twice, and was thwarted by high water at the bottom. This time, it was nearly dry. I hit the lap button on my Garmin as I crossed the creek bed and hammered my way up. It went well, but I realized a few minutes after I’d passed the top that my effort had boiled my insides in the heat. I felt so bad that I almost cut my loop off to go back to the car. However, I remembered some of my own advice I’d given to any aspiring endurance racers- at some point, you will feel terrible, and you’ll want to quit, but you have to regroup, eat, drink, go easy, and accept the fact that you can feel better and go back to racing if you allow yourself to.

So, I decided to not cut my ride off. The heat was oppressive, though. It was so humid that even though the temperature was “only” in the low 90s, the heat index was over 100. My distance/timing to the point where I wanted to refill my water at a campground worked out so that I ran out of water in my pack and my two bottles right when I reached this point-

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That’s my “I’m way too hot, and I’m about to have to hike-a-bike down this hill through waist-high blackberries” face.

OK, so I didn’t hike the entire hill, but it was a very slow roll- underneath the terrible prickly and thorny bushes, there’s hidden washouts that are top-tube deep as well as lots of deadfall…  any of which could end you if hit at speeds greater than 5mph. I made it down to the Barkshed campground and sat in Sylamore Creek for a good 15 minutes to cool off.

Once I was feeling better (and I was getting a little tired of the little fish trying to gnaw on my blackberry scratches), I got on my bike and rolled around to look for a water spout, only to find that there wasn’t one. I was totally dry and about an hour’s ride (not an easy ride at all) from the car. I began to contemplate a “plan B” that involved rolling out to the highway and either hitchhiking back or trying to make it over to the next campground that actually had water (Gunner Pool).

As a last resort, I decided to ask the family that was picnicking near the campsite if there was a hose over where they were. I kinda knew there wasn’t, but I figured it was a good way to at least get a bottle of water that could get me to the next camp over for a full refill. Fortunately, they were really nice, and gave me enough water (and a big slice of watermelon!) to get me back to the car. They also had a really cute and sweet scruffy terrier.

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The combination of cooling down by sitting in the creek and standing in the shade drinking cold water and eating watermelon revitalized me for the last push back to the car. It was also getting late enough in the day that the sun wasn’t straight overhead, so the shade on the road was an added bonus.

Even though the middle 4 hours of my ride was like my self-described “low point” of a race, it did eventually get better.

Once I was back at the cabin, I showered and made an early, 2-part dinner (enough food that I could have a full meal and another half-size 2nd dinner around 7:30 or 8). I inhaled half a ribeye steak, a bowl of veggie and rice stir-fry, and a sweet potato.

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Right at sunset, a lightning storm came over the mountains towards the cabin. I managed to catch a strike with my camera phone.

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The next morning, the clouds were hanging out in the White River Valley, and I sat around on the porch with some coffee until they were mostly gone.

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With the oppressive heat and humidity in place, I’m really glad that Vapor Trail time is closing in fast. I am planning on leaving sometime around the 24th and going out to pre-ride some of the course in Salida before road-tripping to a couple of other places in Colorado before the race. For now, I’m prepping for the State Championship XC race this weekend. My fitness is reaching a nice peak, so it should be a good race.

 

Vapor Trail Prep

Vapor Trail 125 training is officially in full swing. Not that long, hard rides aren’t always a staple of my training program, it’s just that now, I’m extending them into night hours. Wednesday, Kenny and I took off from the house around 7:45pm (I rode an hour before we met, just to get some extra mileage), and rode a loop up the Wolf River Trails, on the road to Stanky Creek, two laps there, and then rode back the way we came. The fastest I’ve ever mustered for that route was a fraction under 4 hours, so I was expecting our ride to be around 4:15-4:30 (total time ended up being about 4:25).

Night riding is a lot of fun. It’s definitely something I’m still getting used to, but I’m figuring things out things like the light brightness I like, and the pros/cons of wearing glasses (Pro- eye protection Cons- sweat & fog, and, if someone is riding behind you, their lights will reflect on the inside of your glasses, and it’s more difficult to see. Also, when you lean over the front of your bars, some of the light from your front light will also give you the same reflective effect).

Along the way, we ran in to (literally) some of the nighttime denizens of the woods. Early in the ride, I was moving along at a good clip when suddenly something brown dashed out of the woods and under my bike. As I caught the object in the lower half of my peripheral vision, my initial thought (based on speed and color) was that it was a rabbit. However, it lodged itself momentarily between my chainring, crank, frame, pedal, tire, and the ground before rolling off back into the woods.

Armadillo.

Somehow, this exchange resulted in the unclipping and loss of a shoe.

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We laughed about that one for a good five minutes. I’ve always wanted to catch one and keep it as a pet.

 

 

One of my favorite things about night riding is the lack of people on the trail. The people you do see out there aren’t the usual “joggers wearing both headphones” or “family on walmart bikes” that you have to watch out for in the daylight. Really, the biggest thing you have to watch out for are the nighttime spiders that start building webs across the trail the instant the sun sets. Most of the time, it’s just a stray web on your cheek or arms, but occasionally…

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When I got home, I was tired and hungry. After a quick shower, I dove into the leftovers that the guys had left for me in the fridge- cold Kale salad and some pizza.

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No pics of the pizza. I ate that first. Knowing I’d be riding for 5-6 hours that night, I’d also brought home a treat for myself from Whole Foods earlier in the day.

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As I expected, the “being wound up from riding” part of my ride made it kinda hard to sleep afterward. It was probably close to 2am before I was solidly asleep, and I sweated and tossed & turned for the remainder of the night. Too bad I can’t be like this guy…

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I’m feeling good about my night ride skill building. Very soon, there will be a Syllamo night ride. That will be a big step outside my comfort zone not only in the difficulty of the trail, but also because it’ll be solo. I don’t usually ride by myself at night, though it’s generally because in the city, you have to worry about ill-intended people who you may encounter. The likelihood of coming into contact with anyone at Syllamo (much less someone who is out looking to rob or kill the next vulnerable individual they encounter) is minimal. I’m both nervous and excited about it.

Tour of Da U.P.

Ryan had been after me to make a trip up North with him for a while. So, we’d decided to leave the Monday following my fight as sort of a recovery-time trip. I generally made the best of having one and a half black eyes…

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Our first stop Monday night was at his brother’s house in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It was a quick stay-over before we continued north to his Mom’s (Gail) house in Marquette, MI.

It was cold and damp up there, and we ended up borrowing warmer clothes from his mom and finding a local shop where I could get a set of arm warmers. Tuesday night, we hit up a group ride that left from a friend’s house and went to the North Marquette trail system. I later found out that it was supposed to be a “guys only” ride, though I’d been fully accepted into the group via both my riding ability and my skill of opening a beer bottle using an SPD pedal.

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Gail baked espresso cookies while we were out. No exaggeration- I probably ate a dozen of them within a two-day period.

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The next morning, we set out on a loop of the larger/more climbey South Marquette trail system. There was a course used in a local cross country race that incorporated most of the trails within a 3-loop cloverleaf. The trails we found were mostly machine-built, flowy, and sometimes steep/kinda rocky. One part, near a golf course, had signs every mile or so saying to be quiet. Then, once you were past the course…

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Near the end of our adventure, we climbed up a steep forest road to the Marquette Mountain overlook, then descended a trail called “Scary,” which was definitely one of several trip highlights, as it dropped from what was probably the highest point in town down to almost lake level… quickly.

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With all of our navigational breaks, the 29-mile ride took close to 4 hours. Back at the house, we ate, napped, had more cookies, and packed our things to go to Ishpeming for another group ride on the Ishpeming/Negaunee trail system. We found a handful of local hammers (including the town “Antique Gun Show”) and hung on tight.

Every riding community has an Antique Gun Show (a.k.a. “silver fox” or “bald eagle”), and if you don’t know who/what I’m talking about, you should go ride with Todd Henne in Arkansas.

I’m not sure I could find my way around those trails without local assistance, so I’d suggest the Wednesday night @6:30 group ride from Jasper Ridge Brewery if you’re ever in the area (there are several groups, so all skill levels are covered). The trails are worth the visit- lots of steep, tech stuff that will challenge you in all sorts of ways. It’s a nice, hand-built complement to the machine-built  smoothness of the South Marquette system.  Highlight of the ride? Hearing  locals’ discussion of where to go next- something along the lines of, “let’s take that two-track that crosses the luge” (thing you will never hear in Memphis #123). It was a pretty exhausting but highly rewarding two-a-day. Gail had made polenta lasagna and kale salad for dinner, which, along with more cookies, was another highlight of the trip.

In keeping with our “ride lots of trails in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan” theme, Thursday Morning, we drove to the Houghton/South Range area at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

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That afternoon, we rode the snowmobile route from South Range to Houghton to ride the Michigan Tech Trails. If you can tolerate riding in loose sand, those things will take you anywhere you want to go:

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The ride out was fast, because it’s all downhill by about 1.5%. It’s worth not getting in to a half-wheel contest with your riding partner at that point since you’ll be climbing back up that same grade in tire-deep sand on the way home…

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The tech trails are really cool. We rode the “red loop” first, which has some neat wood features that I only took pictures of.

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It also includes the “Hairy Toad” trail, which, with all of its rocks, was another favorite for me. On a stroke of luck, we found a brand new downhill dirt jump/flow trail that was like an express train from the upper trail system to the lower one. No pictures of that one, only grinning and occasional whoo-hoos.
After a couple of hours there, we headed back up to South Range. The “uphill in the sand” ride back was as fun as I’d imagined it being. I get excited at the prospect of hike-a-bike followed by terrain that tries to be soul-crushing, no matter how simple it is.

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Something that’s hard to get used to… it stays light really late up there. This photo was taken at 10:00pm:

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Friday morning, we drove up to Copper Harbor. We started by riding the suggested “IMBA Epic” loop, which covered most of the trails in the system. Then, we rode up Brockway Mountain on the road to the Flow trail that meanders back to town.

From the Red Trail on the Loop:

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From the Flow Trail (that wooden structure is part of the “Overflow” gravity trail that takes a much more direct route down the mountain):

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The Copper Harbor trails are cool and lots of fun, but definitely don’t skip the other ones in the U.P. area, because they’re equally, if not more enjoyable. We also stopped by the Swedetown Trails in Calumet. I didn’t take photos, because the accumulation of leg hurt from all the other riding made the loop at Swedetown a bit of a mosquito-driven deathmarch. We toppped off the long day with a pasty from Toni’s.

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…and a little Tour-watching back at the house

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Saturday morning, we started the long trip home by driving back to Fond du Lac. As a little recovery, we tried to go ride some nearby trails. I say “tried” because all of the designated “bike only” trails in the park were way overgrown. So, we ended up just going on anything that wasn’t marked as a hiking-only trail.

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Back at the house, we ate dinner and sat around watching the Tour with the kids and animals.

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Sunday, we finished the drive. It’s a looooong day.

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I’m pretty sure Indy was happy to have me back.

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Observations from the trip:

#1- the Upper Peninsula dialect is equally as unique and endearing as a thick Southern accent.

#2- Don’t take a trip up to that part of Michigan without visiting all the trails. Lots of people just go to Copper Harbor. It’s great, but the others are too good to miss, and not far away.

#3- Take bug spray. The mosquitoes are the size of hummingbirds, and the flies have found their way into someone’s meth stash.

#4- Bring some fall clothes. It warmed up some from our first days there, but overnight lows in the 40s/50s in the middle of the summer are pretty normal.

#5- Hardtail or Full Suspension? You definitely won’t die on a hardtail, but there are lots of roots, rocks, and techy stuff that make a full suspension a good choice if you’ve got one.

 

 

 

Mulberry Gap Women’s Weekend

After a hard-ish week of training, I was really looking forward to the Mulberry Gap Women’s Weekend. I’d volunteered to help with the bike maintenance instruction part of the weekend, and, though I wasn’t 100% sure of what to expect, I knew it’d be a good time no matter what. What I definitely didn’t expect was a near-blowout of my passenger side rear tire, which went totally flat in the space of about 10 seconds while I was going fast in the fast lane of the heavily-trafficked 3-lane I-75 just south of Chattanooga. Luckily, when no one is punching you in the face, it’s pretty easy to deal with panic-potential situations with a cool head and steady hand. I guided the Steel Box through traffic to the shoulder, which I found to be far too narrow for a tire change, so I limped to the next exit with my hazard lights on and found a suitable parking lot.  (p.s. keeping a yoga mat in your car has more use than just impromtu yoga sessions)

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From getting out of the car to finding a ProGold  pro towel for a final hand-cleaning, flat change time was 12 minutes.

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Once I’d found a tire repair shop, purchased a new (used) tire (the rim-ride had destroyed the inside of my old one), and waited for the installation, the total time lost was only an hour. After that, it was off to Mulberry Gap.

The afternoon meet-and-greet time & settling in was just getting warmed up when I arrived. As an added bonus to everyone being excited to meet each other, Mulberry Gap is dog-friendly, so there were some 4-legged friends around as well…

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…and a cool moth

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Sometime around dinner, we found the clown bikes in The Barn.

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…and before bed, there was a bug that needed a proper dispatch from the cabin. I found a suitable page of a nearby magazine that served this purpose well.

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Saturday morning, we started out with breakfast and a short ride to talk about bike handling. Split into beginner and intermediate groups, I rode out with Anet, one of the event organizers, and the latter of the groups, and we went to a short section of a nearby singletrack climb. Before we started, I made one rule for the group- unless you’ve actually hit, injured, or caused some other accidental physical harm to someone, there’s no apologizing allowed. That’s something you don’t often hear in a pack of guys that’s learning something new- them apologizing for not being able to clear an obstacle or for having a slip-up of any sort. Women, on the other hand, seemed to feel compelled to say they’re sorry for these things. I let them know that there’s no need to be sorry for a normal part of the learning process.

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Just before the ride, everyone filled their pockets with some goodies donated to the event from Gu Energy Labs. They were super stoked…

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After our short ride and some lunch, we geared back up for a longer afternoon ride. We went up a long forest road climb to the Bear Creek trail with a quick stop at a very nice overlook. Luckily, the rain in the picture missed us until the very end of our ride. 

 

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Once we were down Bear Creek, we rode more of the Pinhoti Trail. I made it up and over a climb just ahead of my group, so I stopped and took some photos, and caught a few of the ladies on their way through the creek at the bottom

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Just as we arrived back at camp, the bottom dropped out as a big storm came through. It knocked the power out until nearly midnight. Which meant, unfortunately, that my bike maintenance portion of the evening was blacked out. I was able to help a lot of the ladies individually, though. I’m sorely disappointed in some of the halfass things that husbands were doing with their wives’ bikes.

For example, one woman’s bike was set up with gripshifters. No biggie, but he hadn’t taken into account the length of the bar end, grip, and shifter when assembling everything. So, she ended up with her knuckles approximately 6 inches apart from each other on the bars when grabbing in a spot where she could use both the shifters and the brakes (you can see in the photos below- the scratches on the bar are where the brake levers were clamped prior to my moving them). I cut about two inches off of each one of her grips and moved everything out. She was stoked.

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Then, there was the woman who was missing a spoke.

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The woman whose husband had told the bike shop that she weighed 150 or 60 pounds (she’s probably 120 with a lead weight in her pack).

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That photo was taken after lots of descending, and she’d only used about half of the travel. In all fairness, though, that one was a pretty awesome bike that he’d ordered her for mother’s day, but it’d just arrived at the shop the day before she left. It would have been nice to have called her and asked, though. I helped her with adjusting the air volume and told her to ride the bejesus out of it down a hill and see if she came closer to using all of the travel.

Some other honorable mentions- running shoes with flat pedals, running shoes with cheese-grater cheapie flat pedals, and a new set of 26×1.8″ tires. Of course, I can also see the view that at some point, its everyone’s job to learn about his or her own  equipment. That goes without saying. However, you’ll never get interested enough to learn if you hate riding because there’s a myriad of cheap-to-free things that could be fixed on your bike to make riding more comfortable, easier, and more enjoyable.

I digress.

On a more positive note, here’s Lynn, a very inspiring older-than-the-others woman who has the flat pedal game down to a science, with some nice, wide platforms, and a pair of five ten shoes.

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I don’t know a much better way to spend a stormy afternoon than having a glass of wine and working on/talking bikes with some new friends.

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More doggies!

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The next morning, since I had a long drive home ahead of me, I decided to forego the post-yoga group ride (I actually didn’t do yoga either, instead getting a super kickass sports massage from Shelley, the massage therapist in for the weekend). Luckily, the drive home did not include any more flat tires.

It was an excellent weekend. Mulberry Gap is a really nice place to stay- it’s really close to miles of great singletrack, the cabins are nice, the food was tasty (and you all know how I am about food), and the company was more than I could have asked for.