Looking Ahead

I could not be more enthused for 2018. To say I'm stoked is an understatement. I have a huge calendar of gravel events in mind as well as some ultra-distance time trials. I'm going to ride some of those events on a singlespeed, others with gears. Some will be A races, others are for fun and training. The quick list includes the Rock Cobbler, Land Run, Trans Iowa, Almanzo, Dirty Kanza XL, and Gravel Worlds. I'm planning on returning to the 12-Hour World Time Trial Champsionships as well. I also have another TT project in mind, but I'm keeping that under wraps for now. 

I've took some time away from structured training after JayP's Gravel Pursuit. But I'm back at it, riding daily with intervals back underway. In late October I went on a 5-day bikepacking trip with Jim Cummins (a co-founder of Dirty Kanza alongside Joel Dyke) and three of his Emporia, Kansas riding buddies around the Flint Hills. I had an amazing time getting to know Jim better and meeting Shawn and Scott O'Mara and Ryan Balkenhol, all solid dudes. We had an absolute blast but it also served as a nice test of my residual fitness from this year. I struggled on the last day after four days of hard riding by all of us. It was good to go deep so late in the year. 

I've been playing with new diet options and working to strengthen my mind, body, and stomach. I also have more confidence when it comes to my training. I don't need as many hours on the bike now. Periodic long rides punctuate lots of intervals and strength work instead of dominating my time on the bike. That works out well, especially because I'm in the middle of a busy time in my career. 

With each passing year I have greater experience from which to draw. I learn with each race, each day on the bike. I also learn massive amounts from you, the gravel and endurance tribes. I love being a student of this little niche of the world. Here's to even more experimentation and learning in 2018!

Prepping for JayP's Gravel Pursuit

I’m heading to Jay Petervary’s Gravel Pursuit in a couple weeks. I’m excited to race it for the first time, to see some new roads, revisit some old roads, and hang with some amazing people. Idaho is one of my favorite places, having visited it on many occasions. It has some of the last, great wild spaces that the United States has to offer. It’s not a large state by some standards, but it packs in huge experiences.


To prep for the event, I’ve gotten in several big days on the bike, including the 110-mile Buffalo Bicycle Classic in Boulder. Sure it’s a paved event, but it climbs plenty and stays high for a big part of it. I made a point of not drafting though to up the training load. I’ve also done a couple weeks of intervals to sharpen up.

The bike for this event is a test bike that I’ll review for Adventure Cyclist, Litespeed’s fantastic T5 Gravel bike. It debuted at Sea Otter earlier this year and while it clears 700x40mm or 650bx47mm tires with ease, the geometry is more road oriented than many gravel bikes. I already have a couple really long days on the Litespeed, including riding a “Grand Loop” with several friends from Boulder to Estes Park, then on to Grand Lake, Winter Park, Idaho Springs, Blackhawk, and back to Boulder.

Right after I signed up I contacted Jay for advice on tires and based on his recommendation, I’m running a big ‘ole 45mm WTB Riddle up front and Kenda’s excellent Flintridge 40mm on the rear. The Enve wheels I'm running are light, tough and offer an aerodynamic advantage.

 WTB's Riddler 45m should be up to the task of JayP's Gravel Pursuit.

WTB's Riddler 45m should be up to the task of JayP's Gravel Pursuit.

 At the back is a Kenda FlintRidge Pro in the 700x40mm size. 

At the back is a Kenda FlintRidge Pro in the 700x40mm size. 

Petervary recommends three water bottles for riders taking on the 120-mile event. While the Litespeed has three mounts, I decided to use Wolftooth’s B-RAD system to cram three large bottles inside the main triangle. I can access them all much more easily than it is to reach under the down tube for the third.

 Wolftooth's B-RAD System crams three cages inside the main triangle.

Wolftooth's B-RAD System crams three cages inside the main triangle.

I’ll carry some of my nutrition in a Profile Design top tube bag. I like its slim shape and that it bolts to the top tube of the Litespeed. The straps help stabilize it even more. A bar and five gels fit inside without much fuss. The rest of my food will go in my jersey pockets.

I’m not running aerobars though I frequently do for gravel races. In the case of the Gravel Pursuit I opted to save a bit of weight. Normally I’d mount my lights and GPS to the aerobars, pushing them forward. Instead my Wahoo Elemnt is mounted to the stem to track progress and record the ride. A Morsa Designs accessory mount pushes the Niterider light forward so that when riding out of the saddle, I’m not leaning forward into the glare. A Cateye rear blinking light is strapped on the left seatstay.


My spares, including two inner tubes, patches, tire lever, multitool, section of chain, a quicklink, and a few other items are held in an aging Pedro’s seat bag. A Lezyne pump sits alongside one of my bottle cages

The 3T bar is stock on the Litespeed and it’s agreeing with me. I installed my usual Selle SMP Drakon saddle and a pair of long spindle iSSi Flash II pedals to ensure posterior and knee comfort.

 Selle SMP's Drakon is a favorite. So too is the aging Pedro's seatbag. 

Selle SMP's Drakon is a favorite. So too is the aging Pedro's seatbag. 

I’ll make my clothing decision on the morning but I plan on carrying a Gore ShakeDry jacket as an absolute minimum. Arm warmers and knee warmers seem likely as well. If I had a crystal ball, it would probably predict a cycling cap, wool gloves, a baselayer, short sleeve jersey, and bib shorts in my future. I’ll wear my favorite Shimano XC90 cycling shoes, Adidas photochromic glasses and a Scott helmet

The other item that the local forest service recommends is bear spray. I’ll bring some up with me and attend the riders’ meeting to get a sense of activity in the area. That’ll determine whether I carry it.

I’m really curious how I’ll feel during a race this long so late in the season. But this time last year I was prepping for the 12-Hour World Time Trial Championships and pouring on the miles. I have good fitness and feel good about riding solidly all day. But if it turns into a ride rather than a race, at least it’ll be among friends and in one of the most beautiful places on earth.


A Sneak Peak of "Gravel Cycling"

Gravel Grinder Gear Check List


We’ve all forgotten something critical on race day. And it’s usually only after missing a race or a group ride that we decide to get organized. A race day packing list can save heartache and worry. Build one out as you ready yourself for your training rides, far in advance of your event. Think of all the separate pieces you collect before each ride. Write them down. (Ideally, keep them all in one location in your house, making it easier to get out the door with everything on a regular basis.)

Clothing: Consider clothing needs first, head to toe:

  • Helmet
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Neck gaiter (if it’s cold)
  • Base layer
  • Jersey
  • Arm warmers
  • Gloves
  • Vest
  • Jacket
  • Shorts
  • Knee or leg warmers
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Shoe covers
  • Extra socks (because nothing’s worse than standing around in cold, wet feet after your race.)

Maybe you like to wear a wristband for sweat. Write that down. Perhaps you like to pull on waterproof oversocks when it rains. Write that down. You get the point.

Some suggest making multiple lists based on different weather conditions. This can be useful, but weather can be unpredictable. It’s best to bring too much clothing to the start and leave it in the car instead of being caught off guard by a freak storm.

Food and Hydration

After clothing, think about food and hydration. Will the race have a drop bag system, allowing you to prepack items for later I nthe race and have them delivered to aid stations? If so, assemble your bag or bags while you’re still at home, calm and collected. You’ll do a better job and eliminate a potentially stressful task the night before the race. Better to relax with a book or catch up with friends.


Next, consider your bike. Always take along:

  • A rag
  • Chain lube
  • Floor pump
  • On-bike repair kit: new tube, full CO2 cartridge, multi-tool, tire lever, spare chain link, any other small parts

You can leave the repair stand at home, because in your efforts to eliminate pre-race stress, you paid for a tune-up (or did one yourself) before leaving for the race. (Right?)

Be methodical in your approach to readiness and your race performances will improve. Ridding yourself of last-minute woes allows you to focus on the effort ahead and take better care of pre-race nutrition and hydration.

End of Year

Another year is coming to an end. As cliché as it is, I find myself in both a reflective mood and excited for the year ahead. To say that 2016 was business as usual would be a lie. It had it's ups and downs but I've thoroughly enjoyed my return to writing life and my work with Adventure Cyclist as well as freelancing for great titles like Bicycle Times, Roadbikereview, MTBR, Bikeradar, and RIDE. As a cyclist, I challenged myself with new races, new disciplines. At times I succeeded, at times I came up short. Throughout the year, thanks to travels as well as time at home, I've had the opportunity to spend time with amazing people. 

As much as I joke about being a misanthrope, I do have introvert tendencies that have me holing up at times. Thankfully my wife drags me out and the extra time with friends has been a blessing. It is the people with whom we share time who make life meaningful. My first instinct when I sat down to write this 'year in review' post was to list the cycling events that I attended. Instead I want to talk about the people who make those events so special. 

Bobby Wintle (Land Run 100): I did a solo road trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma to check out the Land Run 100 after several friends (who I'll mention later) recounted their tales of mud and finish hugs. Bobby, his wife Crystal, and the crew at District Bicycles organize the Land Run. I first met Bobby in Emporia, Kansas at the Dirty Kanza. While we didn't spend much time together there, the next time I saw him, he remembered my name, gave me a hug and enveloped me in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for life, cycling and gravel. If you know Bobby, you know what I'll write next. This man is special. He exudes energy. It's infectious. Better than any cup of coffee, time with Bobby will brighten your day. From the firing of a cannon to start his race to jumping up and down and giving you a muddy hug to congratulate every finisher, the man is a perpetual energy machine. He raced the Tour Divide this year and it came as no surprise that he finished in his first attempt, blitzing the course with a smile. Bobby, I appreciate you. 

 The man, the myth, the mud. Seeing Bobby's smiling face at the finish of this year's 2016 Land Run made my day! (Photo by 241 Photography)

The man, the myth, the mud. Seeing Bobby's smiling face at the finish of this year's 2016 Land Run made my day! (Photo by 241 Photography)

Jason Gaikowski (cajoler): Jason is one of my two best friends. He was the officiant at my wedding and a favorite wingman/adventure buddy. When he emails me to sign up for an event, conflict withstanding, I sign up. This year that meant mountain bike races. While our relationship was born on gravel, we both love mountain biking. But my experience racing offroad is limited to XC races in college. This year Jason decided it was time for me to up my game, first at the Ouachita Challenge (62 miles) in Arkansas and then at the Maah Daah Hey 100 in North Dakota (here is Jason's preview of the MDH100). I managed to finish both events, but they certainly stretched me and helped me discover new mental fortitude and confidence in my cycling abilities. For that, Jason, thank you. 

 Pre-riding MDH with Kristen and Jason

Pre-riding MDH with Kristen and Jason

Brad Kaminski (White Rim): Brad is the photo editor at VeloNews, and all around fantastic guy. He's always up for a new adventure and late last year we began chatting about bikepacking the White Rim in Canyonlands NP, Utah. Soon, the trip morphed into a group trip in April with other VeloNews characters past and present joining the fun. Mike "M-Rizzy" Reisel and Chris Case were there to ride too and Brad's friend, Matt, drove support carrying camping gear, food and water. We had an amazing time, with beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery. Even when his personal car was stuck below a ledge (thankfully a helpful Jeep driver winched it up), Brad never lost his cool. He brings a nonchalance to his riding and manages to enjoy himself even when the going gets tough. Brad, thanks for committing to the ride. It wouldn't have happened without you. 

 Chris Case on the The White Rim. (Photo by Matt Garvin)

Chris Case on the The White Rim. (Photo by Matt Garvin)

Eric Greene (partner in "Ride to Ruins," a forthcoming story in Adventure Cyclist about a bikepacking trip in southeastern Utah): I have always wanted to explore Ancestral Publeoan cliff dwellings and rock art in the Four Corners area. In talking about this with Eric, a close friend whose life is one for the storybooks (someday I'll write it!), he recommended I get off my ass and go do it. He knew of an area dense in sites that he had wanted to explore, so the planning began. I would pedal a loop, bikepacking my way around, and he would ride his motorcycle, taking photos along the way. In late April, a couple weeks after the White Rim trip, I made my way back to Utah. Eric rode his KTM Adventure 990, enduring snow in Summit County on his way. I don't want to give away the story as I hope that you'll read it in Adventure Cyclist, but we had a great time dodging weather and hanging in the desert. Greene, thanks for risking hypothermia on your motorcycle for this one. The heat in my car was cozy on the way home. 

 Eric at Wolfman Panel in Butler Wash

Eric at Wolfman Panel in Butler Wash

Mike Reynolds (Dirty Kanza host and friend): The Dirty Kanza 200 currently holds the title as my favorite race. (Here's a link to this year's account) Much of that is to do with the people I see every year. Mike and his family have hosted Kristen and me for several years. Their hospitality and pride in Emporia is amazing. In 2013, Mike saved my race when, in the days before the event, I had a major allergic reaction. As a doctor, he wrote me a prescription and I was good to go! Mike has raced the DK four times and in 2017 he'll finish his fifth! On one of those occasions, in 2015 (the muddy year), he and his daughter Caesie crushed it on Mike's beautiful Calfee tandem. We've also been lucky to spend time with Mike and Joyce in Idaho at Rebecca's Private Idaho. They're wonderful people and visiting them is always a highlight of the year. Reynolds Family, thank you for opening your home to us. You make Emporia awesome!

 Me with Mike on my wheel near the start of the 2016 Dirty Kanza. Soon he rocketed past and set a new PR! (Photo by Linda Guerrette)

Me with Mike on my wheel near the start of the 2016 Dirty Kanza. Soon he rocketed past and set a new PR! (Photo by Linda Guerrette)

Paul Legan (father and 12-Hour World TT pit crew): I'm from Indiana and proud of it. But for the past fifteen years I haven't lived there. Colorado has been home with stints in Europe and Atlanta interspersed. This is all to say that I don't get back to the Midwest as often as I'd like. When I decided to race the 12-Hour World Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, California, it seemed like a golden opportunity to spend some time with my dad. He flew to Denver where I joined him on a flight to Los Angeles. We ate at In-N-Out burger, went to the beach, saw videographer friends in the Valley, spent hours at the amazing Petersen Automotive Museum and then made our way to the Anza-Borrego Desert for the event. There Dad went into support crew extraordinaire mode. I stayed off my feet and rested before the race. During the race, where I definitely had a few bad patches, Dad was extra encouraging. The pride on his face every time I remounted my bike still puts a smile on mine. After the event, which on the whole went really well (read about it here), I was fairly hobbled. Dad drove us the hours and hours back to Los Angeles and was just fine with me stuffing my face and lounging on a hotel bed. Dad, I don't see you enough, but when we do spend time together it's always memorable! Love you. 

 Dad, hard at work!

Dad, hard at work!

Jeff Archer (NAHBS): Another highlight of the year was judging the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) again (coverage can be found here). But the biggest loss of the year has to be the senseless death of fellow judge and fast friend Jeff Archer. He was killed while walking across the street by a drunk driver. Jeff was the owner of First Flight Bicycles and curator of the Museum of Mountain Bike Art and Technology (MOMBAT) in Statesville, North Carolina. I first met Jeff while I worked at VeloNews when Brad Kaminski, mentioned above, and I toured North Carolina visiting the A2 Wind Tunnel and several cycling highlights in the state. The welcome we received was exceptional. His passion for cycling and for keeping it accessible to all people was immense. So too was his knowledge.

I subsequently visited his shop, this time with good friend Kevin Harvey, when NAHBS went to Charlotte. It was a homecoming, with beer and moonshine consumed, tall tales told and laughter throughout. That was also the first year, 2015, that Jeff judged the handmade show alongside Patrick Brady, Maurice Tierney, Andrew Yee, and myself. During that weekend, another in 2015, and yet another this year that I go to know the loving, considerate, humble, self-effacing man called Jeff Archer.

 Jeff Archer, RIP (Photo Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame)

Jeff Archer, RIP (Photo Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame)

Writing this down, it's striking to me that I spent less than 11 days with Jeff, but his loss affected me greatly. In Sacramento earlier this year his wife accompanied Jeff to the show. Afterwards they took what was a dream trip for Jeff, visiting NorCal bike and part makers. During the show, Julie, his wife, invited me and my wife to come visit them in Statesville, to stay at their new home and to actually get a chance to ride bikes with Jeff. If only I'd known that I'd never get the chance. I regret not booking a ticket immediately. Life takes unexpected turns and all too often it is cut short. 

So as I think about 2017, I remind myself to carve out ever larger chunks of time for friends and family. The framework for my year is still driven by a calendar filled with events. But the people at those races, industry shows, and gatherings are the source of much of my happiness. It's worth saying out loud. 



The satisfaction that comes with using one's hands and mind to fashion something, especially something useful, is one that delivers sound sleep and a sly smile. Making things, in lieu of ordering or purchasing things, has been systematically discouraged in the modern world. It's not good for the bottom line, apparently. But I would argue that it's also depraving the soul, all in the name of instant gratification and the all-important GDP. I could continue this rant, but I digress. 

Many years ago I read an excellent book called "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford. It stuck with me, acting as a reminder of the important connection between intellect and hands, spirit and body. If we neglect one, we suffer as a whole. Unite them and we find strength. Personal responsibility and a sense of self reliance are born out of action, doing, rendering a thought. 

With all of this in the back of my mind, only truly brought to the fore upon writing this, I set about making two ways to carry gear while bikepacking. The first was a handlebar harness that I made using the template that Gabriel Amadeus of Limberlost created (check it out here). I modified the design for my specific needs, making it narrower to fit inside drop bars. I used a vinyl "For Rent" sign as the main piece, some webbing and PVC from the hardware store and a set of buckles that were harvested from a set of old straps. It was a success. If you're interested in a lightweight, affordable way to carry gear on your bars, I encourage you to purchase the template sold on the link above. It provides clear instructions and it's always nice to support those who encourage DIY projects. 

 The Limberlost DIY harness is light, cheap and pretty tarn tough. Here it's holding a dry bag with a bivy, sleeping pad and pillow. The stand-aways could be shorter, bringing the assembly higher and creating even more room for larger items. 

The Limberlost DIY harness is light, cheap and pretty tarn tough. Here it's holding a dry bag with a bivy, sleeping pad and pillow. The stand-aways could be shorter, bringing the assembly higher and creating even more room for larger items. 

Next up was a frame bag for my Mosaic. Thanks to working with Joe Tonsager at JPaks on a previous bag, I had a good idea on how to make a template and lay out strap placement. Initially I planned on making a bag that filled the entire triangle, but as I've pared down what I'm planning to bring on Tour Divide next year, I saw that it would be possible to run my bottles on the frame instead of the fork blades. Looking to maximize space, I made a template for a mini frame bag. I purchased materials based on recommendations available on several sites (Google: "make your own bikepacking frame bag." The first link at Bikepacking.com and the first YouTube video shown in the results are really helpful.) Below is the result of an afternoon's work. This includes figuring out how to thread and use the sewing machine my mother graciously gave me over a year ago. 


I made the entire bag out of XPac to save a bit of weight. Many people will suggest using Cordura for areas that make contact with the frame. This is probably a good idea when making a complete frame bag that will carry heavier items. The trickiest part was sewing the zipper panel and working around the tight curves that I made for myself. I actually think a complete triangle bag would be simpler to sew. 

I made sure to include a couple features that I wanted. First was a port on the top of the bag, much like those on Revelate's Tangle bag, that would allow me to run wires into the bag. I run a dynamo hub and I'll put my cache battery and charging kit in the large portion at the front of the bag. Second was a set of Velcro straps to hold a pump. Rattling noises have a way of  driving me crazy, so I wanted a way to hold my Lezyne pump to keep it quiet and also use all the limited vertical space in the small bag. So I sewed in straps on the underside of the top panel. This keeps is tight against the top tube and out of the way and secure as I rummage through the bag while riding. 


While the bag is a far cry from the professionally made bags I have from Revelate, JPaks, Bedrock and Ortlieb, making this bag was very inexpensive and it's perfectly usable. The stitching isn't pretty and the bag isn't entirely even side to side, but as a first go at sewing I'm pretty happy with it. I'll likely make another bag that fills the triangle so that I can carry a few more creature comforts on touring trips. I have some ideas for it as well that could be fun. I would also like to play with some cuben fiber or Dyneema to make some uber light bags, stuff sacks, etc.

It's all play, but it's also really satisfying. If you have the slightest inclination to make something, give it a go. You never know where it'll lead. It's the can-do attitude that raises us to our highest potential. The world can use more of it.  

The Pursuit of a Life Well Lived

(In a first, and certainly not a last, I'm extremely happy to introduce a guest writer on Rambleur. In his first post, dear friend Jason Gaikowski writes about his time racing in Mongolia. Despite his humility, Jason is an accomplished endurance cyclist, with a strong background in mountain biking and gravel. I hope you enjoy his words as much as I do. - Nick Legan)

It’s awkward sometimes...

...to meet someone new and trade the tales that record life’s story. A marathon or  half-Ironman elicits a wave of enthusiastic congratulation, sparking an exchange of story-in-kind that lays the foundation of common ground. Mongolia isn’t like that.

Mongolia is amazing. Mongolia is unbelievable. And sharing a story of racing a mountain bike 900 kilometers across the Mongolian steppe generates admiring congratulations and a fascinated questioning that plows the ground uncommon. People understand the Ironman; they relate to a marathon. Mongolia…? Mongolia might as well be Mars.

The Mongolia Bike Challenge

The Mongolia Bike Challenge has billed itself as the “World’s Hardest MTB Stage Race.” And yes, it’s hard. A quick stage-by-stage rundown follows:

Stage one kicked things off with the warm embrace of 2,900 meters of climbing over 113 km. That’s 9,500 ft and 70 miles over terrain that can fairly be described as “lumpy.” One rider, a former pro, felt it best to find a place for a bit of a nap before the final climb.

Stage two presented a forgiving 2,240 meters over 117 km, with all the climbing bunched into six very pitchy climbs. Many racers described this as the hardest single day race they’d ever done…

Stage three asked for 2,000 meters over 148 km with one climb early and a soul sucking crawl to a mountain top finish.

Stage four started by descending stage three’s finishing climb before demanding 2,540 meters and 175 km. This was a hard day, but they said the next day was easier.

Stage five covered 50 km of of mostly flat trail with a downhill bias and was wonderful until we climbed 1,500 meters over the next 40 km. The total of 1,730 meters and 170 km was NOT easier than stage four.

Stage six offered the gift of a 47 km time trial with less than 1,000 meters of elevation. A hard XC or Marathon race anywhere else feels like a rest day.

Stage seven finished things off with 1,486 meters over a relaxing 86 km and big climb to the finish.

Stage racing is hard. Mountain bike racing is hard. So yes, mountain bike stage racing for 900 kilometers is hard. Really hard. And totally doable.

I am not that special

Yuki, Ryan and Nicolas; national champions of Japan, Ireland and Italy. The Mongolian National team. John, who’s pro-motorcycle career predated a pro-cycling career. Those guys are special. Me?

I’m a 46 year old guy from the Midwest with a mortgage, a daughter and a bone stock Salsa. I have more airline miles than training miles and power that is generously described as “meh.”

I eat too many cheeseburgers, drink beer too often and don't floss as much as I should. 5’ 10”-ish, size medium everything, and statistically average in nearly every dimension. I am, quite literally, a reflection of everyman. I am not special.

And I conquered the Mongolia Bike Challenge.

The hard part

The hard part isn't the 900 kilometer, the 14,000 meters of climbing or the remote terrain. It's not the time, the travel or expense. The hard part isn't in the doing…

It's the deciding.

A year ago, a video popped up in my feed. It would have been so easy to ignore, but I watched it. And then the real challenge began. Can’ts, shouldn’ts and all the impish reasons why I couldn't go came rushing into my brain like a runaway avalanche. I’d missed the early-registration discount. Registration was limited and probably full. There was so much going on at work. It would be cost too much. I hadn’t been riding enough. The air travel would be miserable. What if I finished last? What if I didn’t finish? What would people think? One justification after another asking: Who was I to dare to go to Mongolia?

This is the my lesson from Mongolia: after daring to decide, not one thing was as hard as I’d imagined. And in sharing the story, I’ve discovered that an awkward uncommon ground lies between those that dare and those who don’t. Too often, we all allow can’t to quietly limit the lives we are capable of living. Let uncertainty be your guide, and make uncomfortable decisions in the pursuit of a life well lived.


About Jason: 

Zen-peddler seeking salt, Jason forged his riding roots in the pre-DK200 era with the Flint Hills Death Ride, The Big Loop, and a decade of "Thursday Night Adventures into Darkness." Founding member of the WUDCHUKS of Kansas City, Gaikowski's favorite units of time and distance are "a while" and "a ways." Palmares include a podium position at Dirty Kanza and successfully riding by a dead cow (twice) without noticing. 

Off to the Tour, then a tour

Monday, June 27th, 2016, 11:12am. Seated at the airport right now, about to board a flight that will connect to Paris. I'm headed to the first few days of the 2016 Tour de France. Always exciting to head to a place that I love, northern France. My first time to France was in the Brittany region and I'll be nearby in Normandy for the next week. It'll be good to flex my linguistic muscles again, eat some good cheese, drink some bad coffee and reconnect with the circus of professional bike racing. 

The energy of the Tour de France is a double-edged sword. It's hard to keep up with that much activity, especially when trying to capture some of it for consumption by online fans of the race. Much of race journalism is distillation. Comprehensively covering an event as massive as the Tour is virtually impossible, but we do our best. Check out Bikeradar.com for my work. 

Upon my return from the Tour, I'll head out on a tour of my own. Thankfully I'll be with my adventurous wife, bikepacking from Wyoming, through a bit of Idaho and then into Montana. After 550 miles of northbound travel along the Adventure Cycling Association's incredible Great Divide Mountain Bike Route we'll leave the route in Ovando and head to Missoula for the 40th Anniversary of the Adventure Cycling Association and BikeCentennial. 

It'll be fantastic to unplug after the chaos of the Tour and doing so with my partner in life/crime is an amazing added bonus. Can't wait for both the Tour and my tour. Ride on!

Nursing a gravel double century

The ebbs and flows of gravel racing could make a guy think he was bipolar. The highs I've experienced after 12 plus hours on the bike border on religious. The lows, well, we all know about the lows. They'll have you hiding in the shade of a tree along a dirt road rethinking your purpose in the world. You'll question your sanity. But finding that place can also bring an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for your life, your family, your typically able body. Gratitude for a community that creates opportunities to find your limits (that is the tagline of this year's DK200 after all) and does so with an enormous amount of support, enthusiasm and understanding. 

My 2016 Dirty Kanza 200 was a success in many ways. I saw loads of friends. That is always a highlight for me. Cycling media, pro cyclists, industry peeps, gravel regulars were all in Emporia. It was great to catch up with several of them and just as nice to see some of them in passing. 

 Lunch with Joe Meiser (of Salsa fame) and my beautiful bride at Radius in Emporia. A good pre-race meal and top notch company. 

Lunch with Joe Meiser (of Salsa fame) and my beautiful bride at Radius in Emporia. A good pre-race meal and top notch company. 

 Eventual winner Ted King was relaxed on Friday.

Eventual winner Ted King was relaxed on Friday.

 Two of the toughest ladies on bikes, Rebecca Rusch and Kristen Legan, were happy to catch up. 

Two of the toughest ladies on bikes, Rebecca Rusch and Kristen Legan, were happy to catch up. 

 Salsa athlete, Tim Ek, and I go back to my first Dirty Kanza in 2011. Always good to see his smiling face! Avenge me!

Salsa athlete, Tim Ek, and I go back to my first Dirty Kanza in 2011. Always good to see his smiling face! Avenge me!

 Bobby Wintle, of District Bicycles and Land Run, headed to Banff for the start of Tour Divide after his Dirty Kanza ride. His Cutthroat was dialed with an Andrew the Maker frame bag.

Bobby Wintle, of District Bicycles and Land Run, headed to Banff for the start of Tour Divide after his Dirty Kanza ride. His Cutthroat was dialed with an Andrew the Maker frame bag.

 Neil Shirley had a mechanical-free Dirty Kanza. If you ever get a chance to meet this Road Bike Action editor, you'll encounter one of the nicest guys in cycling. 

Neil Shirley had a mechanical-free Dirty Kanza. If you ever get a chance to meet this Road Bike Action editor, you'll encounter one of the nicest guys in cycling. 

The Race: To be blunt, the ride was a tough one for me. I had great legs and bad guts. I rode a safe start and was eating and drinking well right up to the point where, after cresting a steep rise, I emptied the contents of my stomach roadside. Lots of fluid lost. I went from zero to eleven on the nausea scale. While I didn't publicize it, I was riding Dirty Kanza unsupported. So I carried enough food and fluids to get to the halfway point in Eureka, where I would visit the Casey's convenience store for nutrition. That meant that I had plenty of food on board and slowly began taking a nibble whenever I could manage. I set a mental timer that every 10 minutes I would take a sip of fluids and a small bite of food. I couldn't always stomach doing that, so I would re-evaluate every 1o minutes. Doing this, I got myself to mile 102.7 in Eureka and went to the store. I hadn't eaten much so I only bought a couple liters of water, some Gatorade and an ice cream. Temps were up and I wanted to stay cool. With a primarily north/south route, at the halfway point racers had to turn north into the wind. 

While the wind can be a strong nemesis, I chose to view it as a blessing, keeping me cool and focused. After eating a bit more and downing some water (typically I drink Skratch all day) I began to come around. My attitude was positive and I began working with different groups out on the road. For 20 miles, things were good. Then they weren't. For many miles after that, I had to avoid looking at the mileage, my speed, the time of day. I turned on my upbeat Dirty Kanza playlist and tuned out for a couple hours. Trying to push when I felt a small lift in my energy and conserving when needed. 

I constantly reminded myself that the wind was my friend. I had all the food and water I needed. My bike was running well, no flats and a great gear range. The weather was perfect. I was moving. I coached myself, saying that riding was the only solution. Stopping only delayed the end. Slow miles are better than no miles (my Tour Divide mantra). But push when you can. 

I crawled into the third checkpoint, in Madison at mile 162, confident that I could make it to the finish. But it was going to be a knock down, drag out battle inside my head to get there. After crossing the timing mat, I rounded a corner in Madison and saw my wife. It was a wonderfully welcome sight. She had suffered from a bad stomach and pulled the plug in Eureka and then rallied to come to Madison to support me. A banana and a small Coke from her worked a small miracle. Not the made-for-TV type miracle, but after getting them down I was able to put what power I had left into the pedals. This was miraculous after feeling like I had floated the pedals for several hours. Again I turned off the screen on my GPS that showed the numbers. I focused on the route, determined to not make a wrong turn. I nodded my head to Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Macklemore, The Doobie Brothers, Ben Howard, Dave Matthews, Paul Simon, Pharrell Williams, U2 and others. Singing "Free Fallin'" out loud brought a smile to my face. 

I began to catch a few riders. "Good job" and "Hang in there" and "Stay strong" exchanged. And for a time, I was exhausted and moving and happy. And then another low. And in the low, I checked my computer. Only 15 miles to go. I could walk that if need be. I carried on. I couldn't eat any of the food I had on me. Couldn't really drink anything else either. Then I heard a train. And up ahead, sure enough, there were a pair of trains stopped on the tracks. A few other riders were already there. A few more arrived. I saw a friend. We chatted. Eventually the trains moved on. It wasn't a welcome rest. It was just a delay. But the time off the bike did help make the last ten miles easier. I rolled into town and crossed the finish line, thankful that I had pre-ridden the last miles of the route with Mike Reynolds, an Emporia eye surgeon who, along with his family, hosts me and Kristen each year. I hadn't beaten the sun. I hadn't beaten my 14-hour goal, but I had beaten one of the lowest calorie days in my ultra cycling experience. I had nursed my way across the line. Success.

Better Training Through Adventure

Intervals can make you strong. Sprints can make you fast. But only adventure can make you tough and determined. Sitting on a trainer grinding out the hours requires a certain mental fortitude (one I'm not equipped with) but pushing a loaded bike up a rocky quasi road in the rain, four hours into a ride builds a real world resilience that indoor workouts cannot match. 

Now to be perfectly clear, I do intervals. I have a power meter and even wear a heart rate strap on most rides. I do sprints and a few times a year I grind out the hours on an indoor trainer. Training smart has its rewards. But it's when I'm outside, managing my exposure to the elements, that challenges me both physically while also tasking my problem solving skills. Working out the on-bike logistics that a long ride requires is much of the fun for me. 

We all get them wrong from time to time, but hopefully we also learn from those experiences. It's easy to be once bitten, twice shy and this sometimes leads to overcompensation. A good friend who helped introduce me to bikepacking and ultra racing says, "we carry our fears." He means that if you fear the cold, you'll probably carry too much clothing. Is the dreaded bonk your worst enemy? This makes overloading on food a possibility. 

After years on the bike, doing long events you come to better understand the risk/reward, speed/comfort relationship. The give and take of those aspects of cycling can be tricky. They can even change from one event to the next, one year to another. Those ratios are highly personalized too. What works for me will not, necessarily, work for anyone else. 

A trap that I once found myself in was reading account after account by other people about a particular event, the Tour Divide. Now, I certainly gleaned some great tips and tricks. It helped to challenge my approach to it all. But like all advice, you need to consider the source. And if you don't know the person doling out the help, it's hard to gauge its usefulness for you until you go out into the world and test it. 

So get out there. Don't be afraid to be a little uncomfortable. Take precautions, but a few nights of bad sleep only a few hours' ride from home is quite a bit better than three weeks of bad sleep because you didn't do your homework. If something went wrong, adjust it. Take notes if that's your process (it's certainly mine). But also get out there with new people. They can teach you and you them. 

There is no substitute for experience. The doing of something is the only way to actually learn it. Thinking about the doing, brainstorming the possibilities can be helpful. But ultimately you have to go outside and figure it out. 

Howling at the Moon

I'm a day early. The full moon hits us tomorrow evening, clear skies willing. To honor our lunar queen, I've downed a few fermented beverages and I'm up later than usual. This happens. The full moon affects me, or perhaps I look for excuses to have an extra drink and stay up late.  

If nothing else, I'm celebrating a good day. I attended a tech seminar, got some decent writing down on the page, had a good phone call and managed a killer ride where I climbed a bunch and got all muddy.  

I'm also in the midst of prepping for a week of camping and bike riding in the desert with one of my closest friends. Instead of packing a laptop and charger, I'm packing my Mosaic flask (thanks Aaron) filled with a favorite bourbon, an Ed Abbey book that's new to me and all the intel I can manage on cliff dwellings and petroglyphs in the area. We're going to howl at the moon. Do man stuff. (And I'm all for the ladies doing woman stuff) We'll dream big dreams and tell bad jokes. We'll come back tired and refreshed. I can't wait.