Patrick Brady, of Red Kite Prayer, is a longtime friend and colleague. When he reached out to see if I'd like to be a guest on his new podcast "The Pull," I couldn't have been happier to take part. I rambled on for well over an hour and Brady was kind enough to edit it down to help me sound coherent! Head over to RKP by clicking the photo above to have a listen and don't forget to subscribe to The Pull to hear from other notable cyclists and makers.
Well it certainly took me long enough! On July 3rd, at 12:55 a.m, I finished the 2018 Tour Divide in 24 days, 16 hours, and 55 minutes. But really, getting to border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, after riding 2,700 miles, took me close to seven years and four attempts. During that time I've stretched myself as an athlete and even more as a human being. It hasn't been easy. And that's the point. Pressure, stress, and discomfort are required in order to adapt and to grow. Tour Divide delivers that in spades.
I could not be happier to have finally reached the summit of my personal Chomolungma. But I didn't do it alone. In fact, if not for the amazing people who fill my life, I wouldn't have even dared to dream about racing Tour Divide. It began when I met Joe Meiser in 2011 at Dirty Kanza and heard his tales of his 2009 epic along the Great Divide. Soon after I, like many, saw Ride the Divide, Mike Dion's documentary about the early years of Tour Divide. Then Meiser invited me and another new friend, Jason Gaikowski (who now contributes to Rambleur), on our first multi-day bikepacking trek in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. That trip thoroughly worked me over but it also injected me with the bikepacking bug. Without it I wouldn't have made it to Antelope Wells a couple weeks ago.
There were many other experiences in the intervening years that helped equip me for Tour Divide. More Dirty Kanza finishes. A week touring the Great Divide with Kristen. A Ramble Ride. Jay P's Gravel Pursuit. Gravel Worlds. Adventure Kanza with Jim, Ryan, Shawn, and Scott. Trans Iowa. A solo tour from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh for Adventure Cyclist. An overnighter with the Barchecks and Kristen. The list goes on and on. All to say that we are the sum of our experiences and I've been blessed with amazing friends, family, and trips.
Between June of 2011 and July of 2018 a lot has happened (marriage, homeownership, job changes) but Tour Divide has been a constant. My first attempt was in 2013. I headed to Banff for the Grand Depart and made it 1,200 miles before a knee injury sidelined me. I returned to Banff for a solo, individual time trial in 2015. That time around it was a strange ankle ailment that had me limping and unable to pedal. Last year, in 2017, I raced northbound from Antelope Wells, starting with six other brave souls. After seven days, arriving in Salida in the lead of the northbounders, I was toast, a shell of myself hollowed out by loneliness, stomach issues, and spiraling emotions. Even during the race, as I climbed up Marshall Pass, I convinced myself that I would never go return to Tour Divide. But like many of us in this little world of ultra bikepack racing, I too suffer from race-amnesia.
Still smarting from last year, I hadn't planned on racing Tour Divide this summer. In fact, it was my unicorn of a wife who suggested I head back to Banff. It was in February as we reviewed my race plans and training numbers that Kristen casually said, "You know you're fitter this February by a big margin over your figures from this time last year. What about another go at Tour Divide?" I nearly spit out the sip of coffee I'd just taken!
After arranging the time off with my ever-accommodating editor at Adventure Cyclist, the Legans went into full planning mode. Kristen and I discussed different ways to tackle the race based on my past experiences and also explored just what it was I was looking for in taking the start line again. The answer became clear fairly quickly. I wanted to finish. I had to put that first. Our approach was a simple one. No time goals. No daily required mileages or ride time. Just ride by feel, keep moving, and get to the Mexican border.
By letting go of my previous 20-day goal, I freed myself mentally in a big way. As I'll write about in an upcoming post here on Rambleur, it eliminated the stress that can come with a shorter day on the bike during the race. And it turned out that with the really wet weather up north, having the mental agility to roll with the conditions was perhaps the greatest tool I carried.
Another important perspective that I gained, especially last year, was that I am far more social than I previously though myself to be. I didn't write about last year's ride much because it was a highly personal experience and it took several months and many chats with close friends and my wife for me to process it all. But, even as uncomfortable as it is, becoming better acquainted with myself is one of the reasons I seek out difficult cycling challenges. They afford me the opportunity to stress myself while working to stay positive, to stay patient, and to keep problem solving and moving forward. So I headed back to Banff and the Tour Divide Grand Depart not just because I would know a few people on the line, but also because I would have to opportunity to make new friends along the way.
And this leads me to the riders with whom I shared the trail, in person and in spirit. To Charlie Hayes, Laura Anderson, Jesse Crocker, Wendy Stevenson, Joel Flowers, Gary Meyer, Ben Weaver, Bailey Newbrey, and many others, I thank you! Finishing Tour Divide wouldn't mean what it does for me without the meals, misery, and laughs that we shared.
Note: While Nick is away racing Tour Divide, I'll be keeping a regular blog rolling to help share the story of life out on the trail. Nick asked that I not only collect his highs and lows throughout TD but also my own experience as his dot-stalker wife. Things rarely move fast during TD, but time seems to slip away nonetheless. This is our shot at capturing the important moments together. - Kristen
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Monday, July 16
Well, it’s been exactly two weeks since Nick and Charlie finished off their Tour Divide adventure so I figured the time has come to properly wrap this thing up. For Nick, the past 14 days have largely been made up of napping, eating, catching up on work, napping some more, and eating more. Recovery is actually going pretty quickly, quicker than either of us expected, and he’s out riding his bike again and getting ready for the next adventure… more on that later.
But first, we should probably revisit the final hours of Tour Divide, the dark and eerie 65 miles of pavement guiding riders to the finish line at the Antelope Wells border crossing. I met up with Charlie’s sister Margie in Deming on Monday night and we waited patiently for our little blue dot loved ones as they slowly moved toward the finish line.
It was tough trying to predict when they’d finish because the last major section of the course is paved so you’d expect them to make some good time. But this section is also at the end of a 2,700-mile ride, so nothing moves very quickly. We got a little nervous about missing them finish so Margie and I loaded up the truck with pizza, margaritas, and our cameras and headed toward Mexico!
The road to Antelope Wells is a long and lonely stretch. It’s a desolate road and kind of creepy. You know that border agents are watching your every move through the whole 65-mile stretch and to make things even more awkward, the road is flush with kamikaze jackrabbit landmines. It’s pitch black out there and as soon as car lights hit the pavement ahead, a whole murder (I know that’s the wrong word but it seems appropriate here) of rabbits comes diving out in front of you. This was probably the most traumatic experience of my entire Tour Divide experience… forget the bears and mountain lines, the jackrabbits are the real enemies!
Once we made our way through the minefield, Margie and I rolled up to the tremendously impressive border wall, errr, uh, I mean chain-link fence… which was closed because it was nearly midnight. As we rolled in, the first thing we noticed were two bikes leaning against the sign and some camping gear strewn out near the fence. A moment of panic that we had missed Nick and Charlie’s finish would have certainly run through my veins had we not just passed them about 10 miles back on bunny highway. Instead, it was exciting to see two other Tour Divide riders, Mike and Chris Lapcevic, a father-son pair from Costa Rica who had just finished a few hours before.
This gregarious duo was waiting for their ride to pick them up so we all gathered around, listened to their crazy stories from the trail, and celebrated with Coke and Pizza while we waited for Charlie and Nick. The Tour Divide community is special and it’s pretty cool how people just welcome each other in whether you’re a rider, a support person, or just someone interested in knowing why you have so much junk strapped to your bike.
After about an hour of hanging out at the border, getting bitten by red ants, and gathering all the snacks and celebratory drinks together, two little headlights flickered gently down the road. The lights grew stronger and stronger until they were blindingly right in front of us as we stood out in the middle of the road, cheering, and clapping, and celebrating Nick and Charlie’s accomplishment. The two rode over to the chain-link fence, touched it as a final act of finishing, and then took a deep, relief-filled breath before giving each other, then Margie and me, big hugs.
Tour Divide has been an incredible journey for both Nick and for me. Getting to help with Nick’s coaching, being his sounding board on gear decisions (whether I liked it or not), and plotting potential scenarios has been an incredible experience. It’s brought us closer together and it’s given me a better taste for what it’s like to take on this route. There certainly is something special about Tour Divide and the people you meet and places you go (physically and mentally) through this journey. I’m so proud Nick finished this damn thing after so much hard work. And now, I’m excited to get some of our life back to normal…whatever that means.
Life has (thankfully) slowed down for both of us over the past two weeks. Nick’s been recovering and getting back to work. I’ve been home for more than four days in a row, so that’s been nice. But two weeks seems to be about our max for “normal” and we’re heading back out on the trail, this time together. Trans South Dakota, a newer bikepacking race organized by Joe and Tina Stiller, starts on Saturday in Beulah, Wyoming. We opted for the 360-mile “sprint” version of the race instead of the full 740-mile version and will be focusing more on fun than speed. Although the way Nick’s been kicking my butt on the bike this week, I’m sure speed will be part of it. If you'd like to follow along, head here for our Trackleader pages.
Looking forward to another adventure, one that I’m sure will just lead to the next one… until then, thanks for reading! - Kristen
Monday, July 2
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!!!!!
Nick and Charlie are on the final stretch to Mexican border tonight and will finish up Tour Divide 2018 in just a few hours. It's been a wild ride with plenty of ups and downs but the feelings they're going to have as they cruise into Antelope Wells together will all be worth it.
Nick called me from the road this afternoon as their "miles to go" dropped into double digit numbers. I think he had just chugged a Red Bull (or two?!?!) and was completely wired. The excitement of finishing off this challenge was seeping through the phone. It didn't hurt that they have a massive tailwind and some smooth, dirt and paved roads ahead. Nothing like finishing off a 2700 miles of rain, wind, rocks, pain, sweat, tears (yes tears), and everything else with the happiness that only a tailwind can bring.
It's pretty incredible these two guys are going to finish together. As Nick and I sat in the Denver airport waiting to fly up to Canada for the start of Tour Divide, Charlie walked by in some old sweats with an old PowerBar duffle bag. We immediately recognized the Tour Divide uniform of old clothes and bags that you can toss up in Banff before heading out on the trail.
Nick knew Charlie because, well, Charlie is a Boulder mountain bike legend and the two immediately dove into TD strategy. They didn't plan to ride together and didn't really know each other well before this event. But now, I'm sure they will honestly call each other great friends for a long time to come. That's what makes TD or any long adventure like this so special. Sometimes you make friends with people from around the world and sometime you find the people who live just around the corner. No matter who or where they live, TD builds something special.
But, back to the timeline and story - After checking in with Nick on Saturday in Pie Town, the duo took an early night to stay at the Toaster House and then set out for a big day that would take them into the Gila Mountains. Any road racers out there will know all about the steep climbs and crazy heat of this area from the Tour of the Gila and Nick and Charlie got to experience their own form of the Gila Monster yesterday as they climbed late into the night.
After camping out and getting another early start today, they finished off Tour Divide's final major technical riding with a stint on the Continental Divide Trail. This section of singletrack is rocky, exposed, and especially challenging when you're on a loaded bike. I rode part of the CDT (not the same section that's on TD) today and even with a regular mountain bike, it wasn't much fun to ride. So needless to say Charlie and Nick were extremely happy to finish off that section and roll downhill into Silver City.
A solid lunch in town and a quick restock of supplies and the two TD riders were off again to finish things off. They've been making their way south for the past few hours and we're all getting excited and anxious to see them at Mexico. I'm driving down from Deming with Charlie's sister Margie to cheer these two guys on and give them giant hugs at the finish. It's going to be a great big party at the border tonight! Watch out.
But now, it's just a waiting game as Nick and Charlie tick off each mile. 78...62...45...31....17...8...3..2...1..... DONE!
Saturday, June 30
Day 23? I think?
Pie Town! Nick and Charlie rolled into Pie Town earlier today after some hot, hot, hot days in New Mexico. They made it to town just in time to grab a slice (or two) or pie and a big meal at the local diner before it closed for the night. I know Nick was looking forward to this event since starting the race back in Canada.
Pie Town is an interesting little town off the beaten path in the middle of New Mexico. It's tiny. But it somehow manages to support not one but two separate pie places right off the main drag. The shops or cafes are open on alternating days or something like that so they're not competing with each other, but both make some mean fruit and custard pies, so I hear. But let's be real here, if you name your town Pie Town, you better have some damn good pie.
Anyways, thanks to Salsa Cycles, every Tour Divide rider received a top cap for their TD bike's stem that is good for two free slices of pie in Pie Town. Not only is this brilliant marketing for Salsa (great job guys!) but it's also a little carrot for riders to chase while they make their way toward the finish line. I'm sure it helped drive Nick forward earlier today, knowing he'd have to get there in time before the store closed to get his free pie.
Besides the whole free pie thing going on in Pie Town, this place is also great because it's home of the infamous Toaster House. OK, you've probably never heard of it unless you're married to or a close friend of a TD rider. But the Toaster House is an oasis in the middle of the desert. A small little house or cabin right on the TD course that is open for riders to stay the night, hang out, drink a beer, or pick up some extra food and gear supplies before finishing off the event.
Besides being right on the Tour Divide route, the cabin is also on the Continental Divide Trail as well. The CDT is better known in the hiking community as people through-hike the rugged route rather than ride (although TD does overlap with part of the CDT down in this area - I hear it's pretty challenging on the bike with a very rocky terrain). So you get a big mix of riders and hikers passing through on a daily basis, offering a great place to share stories and meet new friends along the way.
Last year, Nick attempted Tour Divide but instead of starting in Banff and moving south, he started in Antelope Wells, NM (the southernmost point of the route) and headed north. I drove him down to Pie Town and we stayed at the Toaster House before he headed out for a couple days of "warm-up" as he road down to the border to get things started. In retrospect, that was maybe a bad idea, who wants to ride extra miles just before starting a 2700-mile-long bikepacking trip? OK, maybe there are a few people that this works for but I don't know... seems excessive.
Anyway, staying at the Toaster House was an experience. I know, I know, you've probably already asked this like 10 times by this point... but why is it called the Toaster House? No, you don't get great toast there, the house isn't the shape of a toaster. Randomly, the fence that borders the house has old, broken down toasters nailed to the posts. I have no idea of the story behind this decoration decision, but it's unique and it's certainly memorable.
I'm sure Nick is happy to be back in a familiar place with great memories. And I bet he's happy to get to share this unique experience with Charlie who has been the best riding partner anyone could ask for. Sounds like both guys have had their ups and downs over the past few days. Everything is hurting on both of them but they're keeping things positive and just moving along at whatever pace and duration they decide for the day.
I talked to Nick a night or two ago after he'd just had a rough day. Sounds like some stomach issues are still plaguing him and that's leaving him totally empty when he should be eating and drinking as much as possible. Anyway, Charlie helped Nick get through the tough day and they decided to stop in Grants to get a giant pizza and drinks and just get some decent sleep. Talking with Nick that night, Charlie was in the background getting his stuff sorted for the next day and the two of them together were so slap happy and goofy, it was incredible. When you're so tired you can't even think straight, it can be really easy to get down on any little problem or annoyance. Instead, these two just joke their way through it, telling stories I sometimes wish I could unhear, and keep a great perspective on the whole thing.
They're both certainly eager to get this event wrapped up and get off their bikes for a long while. But they're also being smart about the mileage and taking care of themselves. 800, 600, 400 miles is still a long way to go! It seems like the finish line has been just right there for the past few days, but it's still a good chunk off and they aren't trying to pull anything miraculous out of themselves. Instead, the steady march moves forward.
This is one of the harder parts of being a support person or a friend watching a loved one race Tour Divide. You see how close they are to the finish line and then you get antsy for them to just make it happen. Just do two 200-mile days in a row and then you'll be there! Or try riding through the night to get some extra miles in. But these thoughts are not helpful because the riders need to assess how they're feeling, what the motivation level is, and then figure out their plan. It's easy to say it's just a couple hundred miles. But when you're completely cracked, 10 miles seems like a big deal. So I've been trying to gently encourage Nick to keep pushing and keep moving and then just sit back and let it all play out.
Nick and Charlie have about 2-3 more days of riding left until they reach the Mexican border. Hopefully a night at the Toaster House was enough to boost their moods and fire them up for the next section of riding. It would be great to see them finish on Monday (2 days away) for a 25-day finish time but there are some serious miles and some slow trails ahead. I'm heading down to New Mexico tomorrow to wait for Nick and Charlie's arrival. Looking forward to cheering them on as they wrap this thing up once and for all.
Wednesday, June 27
Getting high in Colorado. Hey, it’s legal, you know.
Just kidding, Nick and Charlie hit the highest point of Tour Divide today as they crested the unofficially named Indiana Peak this morning. Reaching 11,910 feet above sea level, this peak doesn’t actually have a name as far as I know. But when the Adventure Cycling Association was putting together maps for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail (basically the same route as Tour Divide), they named it Indiana pass. I’m not exactly sure what the story around the naming is, but Nick can fill us in when he finishes up.
Today was another good day for the Charlie and Nick crew. They got an early morning start and then tackled Indiana Pass through most of the morning. Sounds like they’re both feeling good, albeit a little tired…. Hmmm, wonder why? Only 2,000 miles into a 2,700 mile race. Nick is loving being back riding with Charlie and they’re getting antsy for that finish line.
One more big pass to go for the dynamic duo, which they are cresting right about now as I write on Wednesday evening. From there, the terrain turns mostly rolling with some long, flat sections. It also includes a lot of pavement through New Mexico, so the pace should pick up a little.
There is also a significant re-route for all riders due to some serious wildfires down in New Mexico. The new route skips Polvadera Mesa, which I think most riders are not too sad about. Nick calls it "Pulverize-you Mesa" because it’s so punishingly hard. Sandy, rocky, rutted, it has it all and makes riding up basically impossible and riding down equally treacherous. So getting to skip that nonsense is boosting spirits a little as well.
I’m finally back home and back to the regular routine. Got out for a great ride up into the Boulder canyons this morning with some friends and then a full day of work. It’s good to be home and back to normal with everything. Cori is mostly happy about it too, although I think she’s missing Nick… look at that face.
Tuesday, June 26
Well, it's been a week since the last update and so much has happened. I was up in Crested Butte for a big media launch of the new Shimano XTR drivetrain. The event was a huge success but it meant long days and late nights and of course, no Tour Divide updates. Sorry about that. But enjoy the pretty photos of mountain bike trails and wildflowers below.
As for Nick, he has been crushing it over the past week. The last update posted here was about hitting some bumps along the way and struggling through the lows. Luckily, he came around from those low points and found his stride again after recovering from a stomach bug. It took a few days of easy riding and low mileage, but somewhere in the middle of Wyoming, Nick turned his 2018 Tour Divide around.
Over the past seven days, Nick has made his way from the Wyoming/Idaho border to the Colorado/New Mexico border. He tackled the Great Basin over one day, covering over 100 miles of remote Wyoming landscape with no services, basically no drinking water, and sometimes horrendous headwinds. Luckily, Nick hit a favorable day and didn't have to battle massive headwinds the whole day. Instead, he cruised through the miles and made it to Brush Mountain Lodge in northern Colorado where good friend Jay Petervary was slinging pizzas and giving encouragement to all TD riders. A familiar face and some good old home cooking helped Nick get back on track.
From Brush Mountain Lodge, Nick pedaled his way into Steamboat where he freshened up his bike with a new chain, cassette, and other quick-wear items. This, probably more than most things, helped boost Nick's spirits as his bike started running more smoothly and efficiently. He galloped out of Steamboat with a mission to catch his friends Laura and Charlie who he spent most of the first week of TD riding with. After parting ways in Wyoming as Nick recovered from his stomach bug, Laura and Charlie hovered about 70-90 miles ahead of Nick until he started charging.
Leaving Steamboat, Nick knew that if he put in another big day of riding, he'd make it to Salida, where his friends would be waiting. It was a long one out there but he made it late Sunday night and said hello once again to his new great friend Charlie. Laura headed on without the two others as she wanted to stay on her schedule, but Nick was relieved and excited to once again join up with his great riding companion.
After a lazy morning and the best cup of coffee on all of Tour Divide (and basically the best cup of coffee in Colorado) at Cafe Dawn in Salida, Charlie and Nick headed out for the final push toward the Mexican border. They climbed Marshall Pass slowly. Both riders have been feeling sluggish over the past two days but they're moving along at a steady clip. They made it to Del Norte tonight and are planning on a good sleep and then will hit the road early tomorrow morning.
Things are starting to heat up in Southern Colorado and into New Mexico. Some night riding or early morning rides are going to help them stay cool for longer. We're getting a massive heat wave here in Colorado with a couple days in the high 90s or 100s. Hopefully, New Mexico skips this heat wave, although I'm guessing it will be just as hot if not hotter down there. But Nick and Charlie are almost there and are motivated to get this Tour Divide done. Under 800 miles to go!
Tuesday, June 19
Buckle up buttercup, the Tour Divide roller coaster is about to leave the station!
We're 12 days into Tour Divide and the road is starting to get a little bumpy. Nick has been dealing with a sick stomach for the past 48 hours but is slowly making his way forward while recovering. It's been a horrific first week and a half of racing with freezing rain and muddy roads and these conditions have not only slowed the pace but they've added extra stress on the body. That means everyone out there is ripe for catching stomach bugs or respiratory viruses. Dangerous territory here.
Luckily, Nick's stomach bug seems to be fading away and he's getting back on top of his energy after a couple days of not eating. He still needs to keep things pretty controlled for the next day or two but I'm confident this is just a blip in the story.
After Nick and the crew left Squirrel Creek Lodge, they climbed their way out of Idaho and into Wyoming just north of the Grand Tetons. Paul Legan, Nicks's super supportive (and hilarious) dad, wanted to make a funny joke about the Tetons here.... but we'll just leave that up to you all for now (add a joke in the comment section below)!
This is about when Nick's stomach started to go and he hobbled his way through Grand Teton National Park and cruised into a lodge near Colter Bay for the night. Unfortunately, this illness meant splitting from the Fantastic Four-pack (which was down to a 3-pack by this point) and it would mean he'd be spending some time on his own in the coming days. But that's how it goes and Nick needed to take care of himself. So they all said goodbye and hoped that maybe they'd see each other farther down the road.
After a feverish night of sleep, Nick hit the road this morning in good spirits and with determination. He seemed positive and happy tonight when we chatted quickly and I think another good night's sleep and a whole bunch of food tomorrow will spin things back on track.
The hardest part about being a support person is not being able to help when your rider is going through the low points on this roller coaster ride. A phone call, some encouraging words, an ear to listen is all we can offer. And when our rider is really struggling, all you want to do is go be with them, but you can't. And that sucks.
Nick and I worked on this rider/supporter dynamic quite a bit this time around. For me, knowing what to say or how to say it can make a huge difference for Nick, who is going to feed off of any emotion or tone or words from me. Being super positive and upbeat is OK for some situations but it can also just frustrate or annoy a rider who just needs to vent about the shit conditions or how bad they feel. It's all about reading the situation and then doing your best to be there in the way they need you at that point.
It's different for every rider, but for Nick, we've come to understand that during these low moments, we have to focus on problem solving. Yes, he needs to express the negatives or the pain he's in but then it's all about zeroing in on what the problem is and how he (we) can fix it. Your stomach hurts? OK, find foods that you can eat, pedal slowly so you can absorb these foods, then stop somewhere you can get some real rest. And that's what we've been doing, and it seems to be working.
Tomorrow, Nick is tackling Union Pass, a big one that will drop him into Pinedale and then to Boulder. He's closing in on the Great Basin, a huge stretch of mostly flat, windy, and very remote riding across Wyoming. It's over 100 miles with no services, no resupply, and no mercy if you're not feeling great. So Nick is working hard on getting his stomach back in shape and his energy stores topped off before reaching this lonely stretch of road. It'll be a couple slower days ahead but it'll pay off down the road when he's healthy again.
As for me, I've been living a completely opposite life of my husband the past few days. I'm in Crested Butte, Colorado, one of the most beautiful places on earth, riding mountain bikes with little effort (thanks to the chairlifts) and enjoying some wonderful weather. It almost seems wrong to be here while he's off suffering but I know Nick is proud of the event I helped organize out here and he wouldn't want it any other way. Well, maybe he would like to be here rather than be suffering like a dog in the middle of Wyoming. But hopefully we'll make it back down to the Butte later this summer for some relaxing mountain riding together. If he still wants to ride a bike after this Tour Divide adventure...
Sunday, June 17
And we're back! Sorry about missing a Tour Divide update yesterday but Nick and the crew took a rest day so I decided to as well. They may deserve the rest a little bit more, however. In any case, after two big days, super late nights, cold, rain, and lots and lots of mud, Nick and a couple other TD riders decided to make short day of it yesterday and then hole up in Lima, Montana to dry out and get some sleep. They seemed very excited for a little time off the bike and to be out of their wet cycling clothing.
On Friday, I mentioned they'd made it through Old Bannack Road without dealing with the peanut butter mud. I was wrong. Just as they hit the dirt it started to sprinkle and then rained harder and harder until the road beneath them was a sticky mess. But the group pushed on toward Lima and were able to get some slow miles in late into the night. So when they hit the small town of Lima yesterday morning, it wasn't a hard decision to spend some time taking care of their bodies, their drivetrains, and their minds by a day off the bike.
After doing laundry, eating lots of meals, and napping throughout the day, they all went to bed early and then hit the road super early this morning with their eyes on a 140-mile day that would end at Squirrel Creek Lodge in Idaho. Midway through the ride they said goodbye to a soggy Montana and ventured into the short section through Idaho around Island Park.
After Island Park comes a long section of rail trail that is a nice and gentle grade but has bone-jarring washboard surface and some loose, sandy ruts. It can be really draining on the body from all of those bumps but also draining on the mind from having to stay alert the whole time. The good news is that this section is predominantly flat or slightly downhill so the uncomfortable miles go pretty quickly.
The group made it through most of Idaho today and will cross the border into Wyoming tomorrow. They made it to Squirrel Creek Lodge, just as they had planned despite more rain and bad weather. Nick and I stopped here for our first night during our 2016 bikepacking trip. We started in Flagg Ranch, Wyoming in the afternoon and rode a shorter day to kick off our adventure. Just as we were coming down a quick, gravely descent, we came across this campground with bikes on the sign out front and a welcoming feel. It was a great way to kick off our adventure together and I'm happy Nick is back there with some happy memories to keep pushing him forward.
Friday, June 15
Oh, what a week it's been. Hooray for Friday. Nick and the TD riders officially broke the one-week barrier and things have certainly spread out between the front pack and the rest of the riders. Looks like Lewis Ciddor from Melbourne, Australia is still in the lead and he just finished up the long push through the Great Basin in Wyoming. Lewis also just crossed paths with the lead northbound racer, Dom Irvine from Great Britain. That would be a pretty cool meeting, hopefully they stopped and chatted a bit before racing on toward their respective finish lines.
Nick and the crew made it to Wise River super late last night. They summited and descended Fleecer Ridge at night, which sounded terrifying. This ridge is so steep that it's basically unridable during the day. At night, it's most certainly a hike-a-bike down the mountain. But they made it through relatively unscathed, other than the extreme fatigue of a huge day. They finished up with over 12,000 feet of climbing for the day and rolled into the small town of Wise River around 2:30am.
A short night's sleep and they were back at it this morning. Luckily, a lot of today's ride was on pavement so that meant some faster miles. It also meant a stop at the Montana High Country Lodge in Polaris, Montana for lunch. Nick and I stayed at this lodge on our bikepacking trip in 2016 after battling a long day that included a freezing downpour, crazy winds, and riding on a highway (something I really hate). It wasn't the best day ever on a bike, that's for sure, but rolling into this lodge, completely soaked, cold, and tired, it ended up not too bad after all.
We weren't originally planning to stay in this lodge on our trip together but the weather turned for the worse that day and we made a strategic call to avoid peanut-buttery thick mud along Bannack Road and cut over to Polaris for a luxurious night indoors. We were lucky, or smart in Nick, the navigator's case, to make this call because we awoke to an inch of snow on the ground outside and sub-freezing temperatures. A freak mid-July snow storm! That would have really put a damper on our vacation.
But, back to Nick, they grabbed some lunch and sandwiches to go at the Montana High Country Lodge and then set out to get past Bannack before a potential rainstorm moved in. Nick wouldn't be able to bypass the awful, sticky mud this time around if they got caught in the rain. But I think they made it through in time and are still out riding on toward Lima. I don't think they'll make it all the way to Lima tonight but they're just about to crest a long 20-mile climb and will have a nice downhill roll into Lima in the morning. If I remember correctly, it should be fairly flat for the next 150-200 mils, which I'm sure the everyone will be relieved about.
I'm hoping to hear from Nick tomorrow and get the lowdown on the last couple of days so I don't have to keep deciphering blue dot movements and stops.
Thursday, June 14
Danga Zone! (You have to say that like Sterling Archer from cartoon show Archer). Tour Divide has entered its seventh day and that means bodies are starting to fall apart, minds are starting to go a little fuzzy, and emotions are running high. Riders have put in some long days and the lack of sleep is starting to catch up with them. But it seems like Nick and the posse are staying strong and consistent with their pace and are keeping each other motivated along the way.
Today's adventure started in Helena and then headed directly up the twisty, rooty Lava Mountain. This climb probably causes some mixed feelings for Nick as he's had two very different experiences on it. The first was back in 2013 when he first tried TD. He was feeling like a new man after a good night sleep in Helena, a shower, and having done all of his laundry the night before. It was a cooler day in Montana and the rain was starting to drizzle but Nick started chugging up the climb, feeling revived from his night in Helena. He came across a small puddle in the middle of the narrow trail and decided to roll through it since it was pretty insignificant and wouldn't be a big deal. Then...
Splat! A small puddle turned into a deep, watery hole, and Nick put his front wheel straight into it. Getting caught off guard, the puddle swallowed him, fully submerging his entire bike and body in its icy, murky waters. Everything was wet. And while that was bad enough, this icy mountain puddle in the middle of the trail didn't smell like just a normal puddle. It took a few minutes of shivering and shaking out clothes and then the stench started to creep up and up and up until it was very clear that, as Nick says, some bear must have had a really bad night the night before and used this puddle for something we don't really want to think about.
I don't think Nick found too many friends to ride with over the next few days...
The other experience with Lava Mountain was on our bikepacking trip together in 2016. We were touring the route north and I think this is the better way to ride this section. It's twisty and rooty and starts to feel like mountain biking on singletrack. Nick and I had a great time descending this mountain, jumping off little water bars, skidding through corners, and dodging overgrown trees. We rolled north into Helena with huge grins on our faces wishing that the descent would have gone on just a little longer. I doubt he was wishing for anything to be longer this time around.
After Lava Mountain you get some fun, rolling climbs and some bigger descents into Butte. There's lots of great places to stock up on food and water in Butte and even get a meal at good restaurant if you want. I think Nick and the crew swept through Butte pretty fast, however, just stopping at grocery to refuel and then hit the road with eyes on Wise River for the night. That's about 50 miles past Butte and includes the notorious climb and descent of Fleecer Ridge, so it could turn into a late night of riding.
I'll wait until tomorrow to talk about Fleecer. Nick and I actually skipped it on our tour because, well, we were on vacation and when you don't want to go up a hike-a-bike (going north) climb, you don't. They'll be doing this in the dark and I'm very interested to hear about the experience descending Fleecer at night.
Cori and I have been up to the usual. Work, work, work. Cori's "work" has recently added the new task of laying out in the backyard all day and sunning herself in 98-degree heat. Fur coat, what?!? Of course she has to work this new task into her regular work schedule of guarding the house from the evil squirrel empire that is most definitely going to take over the world unless she keeps them in check. Or maybe she just wants to give them a great big Cori hug... we'll probably never know because she's never going to catch one at this rate.
Wednesday, June 13
Nick spent the night in a teepee. Life on the Divide doesn't get much better than that. A (kinda) roof over your head, protection from the wind, and enough room to actually sit up in the middle of the night if you so choose. Bliss. The Fantastic Four-Pack as I call them, made it to Ovando, Montana late last evening and hunkered down for a restful night of sleep.
Ovando is one of the coolest little towns there is along the Tour Divide route. I'm not even sure you can call it a town because it's so small but there is a glorious restaurant, The Stray Bullet, and a small shop that carries a few small bike supplies and extra gear in case TD riders find themselves in need. The town itself is centered more around servicing the fishermen that come through on a regular basis but during the month of June, they open their arms and help support the many Tour Divide riders who filter through.
Just steps away from the home cooking and great coffee found at The Stray Bullet is a teepee, covered wagon, and jailhouse that TD riders can camp out in during their ride. It's a treat to not have to set up your tent that night and just sit back and relax with a little more protection from the elements and the bears (are we starting to see a theme here about my bigger fears...?)
Nick and I ended our weeklong trip along the divide in 2016 in Ovando and it was a magical place to finish. Maybe I was just happy to get off my bike for the final time but sitting at the cafe, sipping an ice cold beer with the promise of clean clothes, stout floats, and great friends in Missoula, I couldn't have been happier.
After a great big breakfast in Ovando, Nick and his crew headed off to the best mountain climb of the whole trip if I do say so myself. Huckleberry Pass is a wonderfully gentle grade that is full of shady switchbacks and actual huckleberry bushes growing along the side of the road. Don't know what huckleberries are? Neither did I until that climb. But they are similar to blueberries with a tart kick to them and you can eat them off the side of trails all over this area.
After Huckleberry Pass is Lincoln, Montana. This town is most notorious for Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux in stage 12 of the 2016 Tour de France. How is this town connected to that crazy event you may ask? Well, Nick and I got to stream most of the Tour that year as we bikepacked through Montana. We were in our tent, getting ready to head out for the day when all shit hit the fan in France. It's a weird association, I know, but Lincoln, Montana will forever be known for Froome's epic run to save his Tour.
Finally, Nick and the crew made it to Helena this evening. Actually, they're making it into town right now as I write. It sounds like Nick had a rough day today on the bike and I'm anxious to hear what he's feeling. Is it an injury, a stomach issue, or just tired from riding his bike across the country? Probably a little of everything. But hopefully they'll have an earlier night and get some good sleep and a couple of good meals in to help turn things around. Day 6 is always a bitch. It's the turning point of when your body is fighting so hard against this ongoing stress of continually riding your bike.
In the next day or two is when the magic starts to happen and your body gives in and accepts this is the new normal. But until that switch is flipped, it can be agony. Luckily, Nick has a crew of wonderful people around him who are supporting each other and helping each other through the hard parts. So thank you Laura Anderson, Jesse Crocker, and Charlie Hayes, not to mention the many other riders who have been crossing paths with the Fantastic Four-Pack. You are all crushing it out there!
Oh, and just in case you were concerned.... the St. Paul Raccoon made it to the top of the building! He scaled the building, maneuvering his way up 23 or 24 stories of vertical concrete, avoided the glowing red signs at the top (badass), then fell for a cat food-trap on the roof.... You win some, you lose some. Luckily for him, it was a live trap and he is now on his way to be relocated, which the raccoon says he's thankful for because Twitter stardom just doesn't suit his bandito lifestyle. The end.
Tuesday, June 12
Tell me world, how the hell am I supposed to worry about both Nick and that damn raccoon stranded on a building in St. Paul, Minnesota? This lady here only has so much stress and worry to spread around and you are running me thin!
If this makes no sense to you, good, you've succeeded in not getting sucked into the ridiculous drama that has unfolded over the past few days in the midwest. A silly little raccoon started climbing a building one day and decided to just keep going. Now, the world is freaking out because it's been stuck on a window ledge for 2 days without food or water. Yes, I am one of those people. Ridiculous, I know. But you thought dot-watching was bad.... try checking the Twitter #mprracoon hashtag!
Well, hopefully that made Nick laugh if he happens to read this in the next few days. Right now, he just summited Richmond Peak and probably had to hike the last few miles in knee-deep snow. If that doesn't add a crack to your TD fortitude, then I don't know what will. The good news is that after descending this snow covered peak, Nick will have a few rolling miles into the town of Ovando, a Tour Divide oasis in the middle of Montana that is sure to boost his happiness (if it even faded in the first place).
Two summers ago, Nick and I did a weeklong bikepacking trip along the Great Divide route starting at the Grand Tetons (Wyoming) and finishing in Ovando. This was an incredible week of riding bikes together. We took our time but still kept a pretty good pace averaging about 100 miles a day. We stopped and ate real meals, spent time setting up photos along the way, and focused on fun rather than the miles. It was a great way for Nick to experience the Tour Divide route in a different light and for me to get a taste of what it's like to be out there riding all day.
So... the next few days are going to probably be a trip down memory lane. Be warned. But I promise it'll all be fun and of course, I'll keep you all updated on #mprracoon. Go little buddy, go!
Monday, June 11
Confessions of a dot-stalker wife
Staring at a computer screen should not feel like this. It should not cause this kind of anxiety. The kind that starts as a simmer then grows and grows and grows until you just can’t stand it anymore. Giving in to this unwieldy emotion, you hit the refresh button gently, then give it another more aggressive click or two, urging the page along with hopes that it reloads a little bit faster than last time.
This is what it’s like to be a dot-stalker wife (or husband or friend or family member) with a loved one on Tour Divide. Our best friends are out riding bikes through some of the most beautiful, expansive, intimidating, harsh, remote, divine environments in the world, and we’re left to anxiously await the sporatic movements of a little blue dot.
TrackLeaders.com is the source of this anxiety. Well, maybe it’s the enabler. Tour Divide is the source, TrackLeaders.com just allows us to waste too much time and energy following a slow motion bike race across the country. It allows us to constantly wonder why that stupid blue dot hasn’t moved in 20 minutes (love you honey!) and allows us to overanalyze every movement, every stop, every step off course with the fear that something has gone wrong. It urges us to make assumptions of what’s going on out there with only a fraction of the information so we can come up with our own reality.
You stopped 30 minutes to eat your burrito on top of a ridge during a spectacular sunset? Wow, sounds lovely. I assumed you had been eaten by a bear and that’s why you hadn’t moved for so long. Thanks Track Leaders….
OK, OK, maybe that’s all an exaggeration and I don’t always think something is going seriously wrong when Nick’s blue dot takes a break. But it can be stressful when all you can do is stare at the computer screen trying to glean any information off the pace, the topo map, and the surrounding dots to make sure your loved one is OK. Riders can go days without cell reception and some TD rides probably don’t check in as often as Nick. So, for us at home, this is all we’ve got.
Don’t get me wrong, I love TrackLeaders.com. Can you image how much worse it would be NOT knowing any of this? Not knowing if your TD rider is moving or sleeping or eating a burrito or being eaten by an imaginary bear? So much worse. I am so thankful to have this program and for the people behind Track Leaders who work tirelessly to keep thing running smoothly. Thank you Matthew Lee and Scott Morris!
All joking aside, it has been a pleasantly relaxing and fun go at Tour Divide for this dot-stalker. Nick is riding well and feeling strong, which is a relief not only as his wife but as his coach. And even more importantly, he’s having a great time out there. Every time we talk, he’s excited to tell me about the day and the other riders and how they managed through tough sections of trail. It’s incredible what a difference attitude and confidence can do for a ride like TD.
Interestingly, with Nick’s confidence and ease out on the trail, I’ve been far less obsessive about the little NL blue dot on the map. I haven’t been constantly checking Track Leaders for new information or trying to figure out what’s going on by the pace or number of stops each day. When you know your rider is in a good place mentally and physically, you don’t worry as much about the pace or the stops. You don’t worry that a knee or an Achilles has them sidelined questioning if a finish is possible. Instead, you go on with your daily life. You get back to work (I swear I’m working Doyne!). You take Cori for a double walk day because she needs a little extra love too with Nick being gone. You live.
Just as importantly, you start getting excited to see where that little blue dot has moved instead of dreading it. You actually look forward to pushing the refresh button each time you check in. And you start to accept that you won’t know exactly what’s going on or what the little blue dot, or rather, what Nick is doing as you drift off to sleep. Where do you think he’ll be in the morning when you wake up? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.
Sunday, June 10
Just a quick update today - Nick is crushing the miles and having a blast out there. Despite some pretty nasty conditions including hail, sleet, and snow on top of Galton Pass, he was happy and feeling strong as he rolled into Eureka, Montana. Nick has been riding with a couple other Tour Divide riders who happen to be from Boulder or nearby Colorado towns. It's always funny to me when we travel long distances or take on huge adventures and then end up riding with people who live down the street. But that's the randomness of it all.
On the other hand, Nick wound up riding with a couple of Kiwis during Tour Divide a couple years ago and has kept up with them over all these years. It just goes to show that near or far, neighbors or long-distance friends, this event brings people together if you allow it to. And I'm relieved and excited for Nick to find some excellent company out there when the vastness of the trip and surroundings can so easily make you feel small.
For me, today was filled with travel home from Canada (goodbye sweet Banff) and an afternoon of getting chased around the backyard by my little 2-year-old nephew while he tried to spray me with the hose. Ah, family. I also got to pick up Cori Dogg after a 2-week grandparent spa retreat. I'm pretty sure she would have rather stayed with them a little longer but it's good to have her home and get back to some normal life for this week.
Saturday, June 9
Soggy, slow conditions hit Nick and his fellow TD riders today but they’re chugging along nonetheless. Nick was in good spirits despite the weather when we chatted this morning as he rode into Fernie. He was eager to spend a little time in town drying out and restocking supplies before the big push to the border. A lodge in town was offering laundry service to TD riders and Nick was stoked to use the dryers to try and de-soak himself and all of his gear.
Rain overnight and through the day made for drenched roads and malfunctioning drivetrains for much of the day. Chains were dropping left and right, brakes were getting junked up, and riders were forced to take frequent stops to work on their bikes. It has certainly slowed things down these first few days and will likely continue for a couple more. But Nick seems to have it under control and isn’t stressed about the lower mileage days. Things will come around and they’ll get some sunny skies soon.
He did seem grumpy about one thing, however, and that was the Koko Claims Pass he hiked up Friday evening. Sounds like that is just a punch in the face no matter what the conditions are and Nick wasn’t shy about expressing his distaste for it – I think there was a “I don’t think I’ll come back to TD if this section is still included.” Isn't it funny how our short term memory works to erase the pain and suffering through races like this? I bet by the end of the week, he'll have forgotten about it and would totally come back to TD even with that section included. Also, that could have been the fatigue speaking but it sounds like that section is pretty uninspiring. But it’s behind them now so he’s looking forward.
Nick should cross the border into the U.S. on day 3 and will hopefully use Eureka to dry out again and get some big meals in. Sending sunny thoughts his way.
My last day in Banff was pretty spectacular once again. With rain and thunderstorms in the morning, I had a lazy start to the day and was waiting for Nick to check in from Fernie. Once I heard from him I headed out onto the local trails and set off up Mt. Rundle. The steep, rocky trail was tough going but the views of the Banff valley below were incredible.
Setting out on this hike alone, I was a little nervous about bears. It sounds like the grizzlies and black bears are everywhere around here and Nick made me get some bear spray before he left. So, I had some fun taking photos of the bear spray to send to him as a joke and hopefully make him laugh. No bear sightings however, and I'm feeling slightly relieved but also kind of like I got gypped. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to come back here again :)
Friday, June 8
Ready, Set, Go! Tour Divide 2018 kicked off this morning with one of the most beautiful send offs I’ve ever seen. Set in the shadows of Banff’s stunning Canadian Rockies and surrounded by fragrant pines, nearly 180 riders passed through the start line as they pedaled off in search of Mexico.
The full Tour Divide route covers about 2,700 miles with over 200,000 feet of elevation gain. Some will finish in under 20 days (the record is 13 days and 22 hours by the late, great Mike Hall), some will finish in far more. But finishing is the central goal for everyone. As Nick always reminds me for these long adventures we take on each year, finishing isn’t a guarantee, no matter who you are.
Today, Nick set off on his 2018 Tour Divide adventure with a giant smile and a calm demeanor. This is certainly the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him before an event and I’m excited to see how it plays out on the road. His plan to start a bit slower than usual will hopefully help ease him into TD mode after a crazy and hectic last few months. This time around is all about that finish line, no matter how many days, and I think that is going to make all the difference.
We’re just 12 hours into the race and Nick is about to crest the Koko Pass hike-a-bike section. New to the course in the last few years, this section of trail is brutal. Loose, jagged rocks make much of the climb unrideable, meaning six miles of pushing your heavy, loaded bike up the rough terrain. It’s slow going but it looks like Nick has some great friends and fellow riders around to minimize the slog. And that is what it’s all about.
As Nick gradually pedals his way into the night and wraps up his first day of TD, I’m still reeling from my time in Banff, Canada so far. This place is so unbelievably beautiful it doesn’t feel real. Around every corner is another brilliant blue, glacial lake, stunning snowcapped mountain peaks, and perfect dirt trails leading off in every direction. Pure outdoor perfection.
After giving Nick a kiss, a hug, and high five as he rode off this morning, I ventured out with some new friends and fellow TD rider family members to explore more of this gorgeous location. We headed to Lake Louise for the day to experience the magnificent turquoise lake nestled amongst the mountains and fed by glacial runoff. It’s the most vibrant body of water I’ve ever seen and the picturesque setting along with the frigid water temperature will take your breath away.
We snapped our tourist photos of the lake quickly before seeking out quieter trails that offered an elevated perspective. Hiking is abundant in Banff and we set out for the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail which follows along Lake Louise for several kilometers before climbing up toward the three glaciers that feed this brilliant blue lake. The trek was gorgeous, of course it was, it’s Banff. Some recent avalanches made much of the upper trail a snowy slip ‘n slide but we managed our way through and continued climbing toward winter. But as the snow got deeper and the trail got less traveled, we were urged on by the promise of apple cake and coffee at a remote tea house nestled between mountains.
What a treat it is to hike for several hours up rocky, twisty, snowy trails and find yourself seated at a rustic tea house with snacks, views, and good company. Supplies for the tea house must be brought up by horse and about 10 workers rotate through during the summer, living in cabins nearby and cooking up tasty treats for hungry hikers all day. An oasis in the mountains.
From the tea house, the trail continues on for several kilometers more, taking you to a viewpoint where you can see all three glaciers that feed into Lake Louise. Victoria Glacier is the most well-known of the three and was spectacular. We stood in a trance for several minutes just admiring the massive scale of it all and feeling very small ourselves. Just as we turned to head back down, a gentle crack and slow rumble filled the air. We whipped around to find ourselves with front row seats to a minor avalanche rolling off the glacier cliff and tumbling into the snow below.
I’ll admit it, I was unabashedly freaked by this event. We were far enough away that the tumbling snow was just a distant geological event that surely couldn’t reach us. But the sound of the snow cracking off the side of the glacier and the deep rumbling of the mountain as the snow shattered down the side of the cliff was unsettling. Beautiful. But terrifying.
What if that small slide triggers a bigger one? Look at all that snow and ice up there just waiting to crack off and rumble down toward us. Of course, these panicked thoughts were irrational. That slab of ice has been sitting up there for thousands of years and each year, small packs of snow regularly come crashing down as the spring heats up and the snowpack becomes unstable. But seeing it, feeling it happen right in front of you is enough to send all the sense and rational thought out the door.
We watched the snow come to a stop, remarked on the extraordinary feeling of seeing it so close and then turned to head back down the mountain. This time, a little quicker than before. THEN! 10 minutes later we felt and saw another minor slide happen off a completely different rock cliff. Once again we said our oooos and aaaahs while I quietly trembled inside, then hustled down the mountain to make our shuttle back to town.
Hoping Nick's day was a bit less stressful but still filled with gorgeous views.
by Jason Gaikowski
It’s hot and I’m surrounded by a chorus of camera shutters singing snap, click, pop to an irregular tune. Microphones joust about. Thrusting there and there and here, seeking to hit a pithy remark. Beneath the din of questioning voices, camera noises sound metallic and mechanical. The clicks sound real, but digital cameras don’t have mechanical shutters, and so the tune is unreal. Which is fitting. Because everything about this moment is unreal.
An early December email reads “A Special Invitation from Dirty Kanza.” 350 miles. 15,000’ of climbing. Fully self supported. Huge send-off with lots of fanfare. Invitation only. Honored to be counted among the iconic likes of Hauswald, Rusch and Godfrey, I reply yes. And now we’re here standing in the hot Kansas sun as Jim Cummins shares that this was his and Joel’s first dream. Inspired by Trans-Iowa, a 350 mile journey through the Flint Hills.
Standing at this starting line is unreal. 34 riders outnumbered two-fold by enthusiastic photographers. Ten-fold by friends and family. Twenty-fold by locals and Saturday starters. Meiser, Mailen and Gersib. Legan's, Wintle's, and O’Mara's. People I’ve known for years mixed with people I’ve yet to know bound by a shared love of great distance and lonely roads.
The sendoff is huge; the fanfare is completely unreal. Finally we’re OFF! We string out to find room in the narrow corridor of well-wishers, down the alley, left then right on Mechanic street to find our police escort out of town. The pavement is smooth, the spirits are high, and the breeze feels nice. It’s pleasant couple of miles. We turn right, hit pay-dirt, and so it begins. A long day’s journey into darkness.
Petervary’s dial up the pace, Hughes and Salsa boys give chase. Yuri’s in the mix along with Nick and KP Legan. I reach for some grit, grab a wheel and hang on, nearly pulling my teeth out as the pace rises from uncomfortable to unconscionable. Up the hill, over the hill. Across the wind, into the wind.
It’s hot, upper 90’s and a good five degrees warmer than forecast. It’s windy, mid-20’s and a good ten mph harder than forecast. Five and ten matter on a day like this. It’s humid, and as take a drink, I seriously wonder if three and a half liters will last the 50 miles to Madison. Twelve miles in and this group is down to 15. Five miles later we’re down to ten. Three miles more; they are down to 8 and I’m rolling solo wondering how I’ve gone through two liters already.
Looking to my Garmin, I discover that the course file is somehow corrupt as I ponder the direction of this next turn. Garmin one goes into a pocket; Garmin two takes its place and I’m grateful to have a backup for my backup plan. Nick rolls up as I’m making the switch and we join together and start catching up on our lives. Soon we join Sarah Cooper, we ride near one another for a while, our vain attempts failing to match pace over the unrelenting undulating climb into the breathy hot wind. And hour to Madison, maybe longer, and suddenly I’m fresh out of fluid.
Our chatter falls silent, beaten by the sun and drowned in the wind. Off to the right, cows cry out to one another as a herd gallops along, side-eyeing us inquisitively. Beads of perspiration stings my right eye as I wipe a dusty crust from the corner of my mouth. Cresting a hill, it dawns on me that this may be the hardest 50 miles I’ve seen in some time; and the greenest grass, and the bluest sky, and the most unreal ribbon of limestone. It’s beautiful, and I’m grateful to be here.
Cowbells ring in my ears 6000 pedal strokes later. Clapping and cheering and 200 citizens of a small small town celebrating our arrival at the local convenience store. Proud to be on the map, thrilled to play a part in this adventure. Excitement buzzes in the air, and I feel awful. Gremlins play in my fuzzy head and twisted stomach as three and a half liters go on the bike, with one and half down the gullet, with a couple or rice cakes for good measure.
I ask Nick to remind me that that it gets better. The encouragement is a welcome salve even while I recognize that this first encounter with Doubt is an inevitable step in this journey. With the promise of a sunset just an hour down the road, we set off to seek the Darkness. And it gets better, just like it always does. It always gets better.
Come dusk the wind turns a bit friendlier. It’s humid, and still hot, but the roads have flattened and I settle into a serene state of lungs and legs and simple being. It’s a good pace; confident, steady and strong. We join up with John M who abruptly flats for no obvious reason, tire punctured by a sneaky sharp stone. We wait patiently as sealant fails, a plug fails, and a tube finds its place. Fifteen minutes is a small price to pay for the company as darkness falls into its full effect. Cory appears as we’re about to roll out, then Matt. We’re a tribe of five now, joined by the blood red moon off in the distance.
An hour of storytelling follows, then another. Headlights and tails, left turns and rights. Snacks and maps and cue-sheets and with nothing to see, it’s a bit like riding rollers; ticking by the miles with focused mindless-ness. This is peaceful, and perfect, when someone shouts “RUTS!” And sure enough.
The night sky is dark and starless, and everything is very quiet, and very still, almost like floating. My helmet’s a bit crooked, hydration pack a bit out of place, and I take deep full cleansing breaths. In and out, and in and out, and I can see clearly for the first time since my glasses first coated with sweat hours and hours ago. Nick asks if I’m conscious, Matt inquires about my collarbone, and Cory wonders if there’s a bone poking through my sun-sleeve while John checks my bike.
I take a full deep cleansing breath. I stand, straighten my helmet, adjust my hydration pack, and attempt to clean the glasses someone has just handed me. The sweat salts smear, and I’m not quite certain whether I’m annoyed by the smear or by someone asking me who’s president. There’s blood on the ground, my elbow hurts and the ragged tear in my sleeve is growing ever more red. I want my peaceful perfect feeling back, to reclaim that moment before the shout. I need my bike, need to pedal, need to flush this adrenaline and get a clearer sense on the impact of this impact.
Three hours to civilization, maybe less. It’s an uphill start as I take a drink, take my bike and clip in. Three hours to civilization, maybe less. We pedal. They ask if I’m OK, but I’m not quite sure yet, and I say very little. Legs are good, back is good, neck is good. The bloody elbow bloody well hurts, but seems to be fading. I feel clear eyed and clear headed, but I can’t quite decipher the cause of this difficult breathing. Perhaps elevation, perhaps fatigue, or perhaps a fall; and only time will tell.
After a time, someone asks about my elbow and I respond with the story of Schrodinger’s Cat, and quantum superposition. When we reach civilization, I’ll look and my arm will either be good or bad, but until then not knowing can be better when there’s no real option but to keep moving forward. The story makes sense, or at least they pretend it does, and we continue on until our time to take a portrait on the famous Salsa Chaise.
Ninety minutes to civilization, maybe less. Pedal, turn, drink; pedal, drink, turn. Blinking tail lights are a distraction from the mindless peace I’m trying to reclaim. The moon has floated higher in the night, and still it’s muggy. Moving to the front, I stretch a bit; calves, quads, back and neck. A drop of blood falls from my elbow and I wonder why the flesh insists on weeping; advancing the gore beyond the point of knowing it’s hurt but not injured. Breathing though, that’s the chore. Full deep breaths turn shallow, and lopsided. Every cough, laugh, and bump in the night stabbing a dagger into my side. Someone asks how I’d feeling and I tell them I’m fine, that my arm’s not a problem. Sixty minutes to civilization, maybe less.
In the restroom at Casey’s, running water reveals a puncture wound half the size of a dime. Don offer alcohol wipes, ointment, and a bandage as I drink some chocolate milk and inhale a slice of pizza. After a spell, our tribe rolls out again. Lightning flashes, winds gust, and every bump stabs in anger. Unable to breathe, I stop to text my wife and tell her I’m ok before turning back.
An hour later, we meet at Casey’s. Emergency lights blinking, she arrives escorted by a Sheriff who’s quick to warn me that she’s angry; that the van is out of gas, the tail lights aren’t working, and the tags are expired. With a kind face and kindly demeanor, he wants to warn me of a coming storm. Thunder rumbles. I look over at a dozen broken riders strewn about the curb; three napping, several eating, and all wondering if they will summon the strength to carry forward. My wife hugs me from behind and whispers; she’s not angry and never was. She buys a coffee to share as I load the bikes and fuel the van. I look around and it’s dark. People I’ve known for years adventuring over 350 miles in the Flint Hills; self-supported and supporting each other, alone and in this together. Jim and Joel’s first dream brought to life. And the scene is unreal.
An email invite arrived in my inbox. Something to the effect of "Would you like to race the Almanzo 100 and try Shimano's new clutch road derailleur in the process?" Would I?! Well, the Almanzo has been on my gravel bucket list for some time. Checking out a new derailleur was icing on the cake. So I flew to Minnesota where I met up with what seemed like a battalion of Shimano and PRO engineers, product managers, PR peeps, and Shimano's large crew of gravel ambassadors. Also along for the fun were several other journalists, all keen to ride an event that none of us had experienced.
So what was the fuss all about? Well, Shimano has been researching the gravel scene for some time, it turns out. They visited many of the areas known for gravel events and based on that information, they developed a rear derailleur for rough roads and gravel. The Ultegra RX800 and RX805 (the prescription for vitamin G?) rear derailleurs build off of its road line, adding a clutch to aid in chain retention and quiet the drivetrain noise common on dirt and gravel roads.
Now, Shimano was quick to make a distinction between the new RX derailleur and its mountain bike offerings. The clutch in the RX isn't quite as strong for one. The look of the derailleur is more road than mountain too. Hiroshi Matsumoto, one of the engineers who helped develop the RX derailleur, added that one of the reasons a clutch is a benefit to gravel riders is because it helps lower stress while riding. How? Well, it's easy to get a bit paranoid when you're in the middle of a long ride. Every little creak, tick, or knock can have a rider questioning whether a tire has gone soft, a derailleur hanger has been bent. The list goes on and on.
After riding the new derailleur for a couple weeks, I can say that the lack of noise is nice. I've ridden rough sections of road with the clutch turned on and off and the difference is noticeable. So, while the new derailleur isn't exactly a Valium, it does allow a rider to focus on the road ahead, staying on the wheel ahead, or the clouds in the sky instead of worrying about drivetrain meltdowns.
Something I also like is the ability to turn the clutch off. If you also use your gravel bike as a road bike (as I do), you can simply turn off the clutch for slightly less resistance in the drivetrain and longer battery life (on the Di2 version) or a lighter shift feel on a mechanical bike.
This peace of mind and versatility does come at a cost though. The electronic Di2 RD-RX805 will run you $285 while the mechanic RD-RX800 retails for $110. They are compatible with Shimano Di2 and mechanical 11-speed groups. I would consider this derailleur an upgrade on even a full Dura-Ace bike if its intended for gravel.
Above all, it's great to see Shimano looking seriously at mixed surface riding. SRAM has done an excellent job creating products for this market with its Force, Rival, and Apex clutch rear derailleurs and 1x drivetrains. For lovers of 2x drivetrains, Shimano's RX derailleurs are a welcome sight. Shimano's concerted entry into this segment of riding only raises the level of competition between the two firms, something that will ultimately benefit all gravel riders, whether fans of 1x or 2x.
Okay tech stuff done, how was the Almanzo 100? I had a hoot! A big part of that is thanks to Shimano's gravel ambassadors, an assembly they're calling the Gravel Alliance. Shimano handpicked 15 riders from around North America (yep, there are two Canadians in the mix) to help the Japanese firm keep tabs on gravel trends, test new product, and spread the word on Shimano's efforts in the mixed surface cycling world.
The crew is a motley one that runs the gamut from elite racers to bicycle-mounted hooligans. I met them late last year as I shadowed Shimano's ambassador program at its first meet-up in Irvine, California, Shimano American's HQ. Earlier this year, at the Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, California, I saw them again, some head-down racing, others taking time to lounge by the pool in the backyard of a house the course visited. At Almanzo, it was no different. The Gravel Alliance's mix of men, women, racers, and partiers is representative of gravel at large, with seriousness and fun blending seamlessly. The emphasis on one or the other can change from mile to mile. It certainly did for me at Almanzo.
After a quick start in the top 15, I had to avoid a silly crash 11 miles into the race. I'm not in the business of calling people out, but there were some seriously sketchy dudes in the front of that race. They have every right to be there, but a little more courtesy among riders sure would have been nice. On several occasions I was chopped by eager racers riding across my front wheel with little regard for safety. At first this bad behavior had me laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, but that soon turned to anger as the shifty riding culminated in a crash as we began rounding a bend. Crashes happen. It's part of bike racing and I was happy to stay upright, though I did have to hop a downed bike and ride into a field to do so. But this one seemed unnecessary. I'll admit that I didn't handle the situation well afterwards, cussing at the mopes who had been riding so carelessly.
With that drama behind me, I decided to enjoy the rest of the day as much as possible at a reduced pace. I ate some, drank some. And let a couple groups roll past. Eventually I met up with Phil Thomas and Jared Porter, two of Shimano's ambassadors. We fell into a great pace, rolling along with intent but without any sense of urgency. From here, the photos tell the story.
Well, that's a wrap on Trans Iowa. After 14 editions, Guitar Ted decided that this year's race was the last one he would organize. So before I get into how my weekend went, I want to thank Guitar Ted for all the time and care he put into an event that never asked for an entry fee, an event that helped expand what many of us thought we were capable of, an event that inspired countless spin-offs, an event that was unapologetic in its difficulty. Thank you Guitar Ted. Thank you.
Instead of a blow-by-blow recounting of my time on the course, I thought I'd break it down by the numbers, telling a few anecdotes from an amazingly difficult weekend. I'll cut to the chase and let you know that I managed to finish Trans Iowa. I certainly had a bad patch, but on the whole it was an amazing experience. I count myself lucky to be a Trans Iowa finisher.
350 - Distance I covered, in miles, during Trans Iowa. This includes close to six bonus miles thanks to a couple navigational errors.
32.5 - Hours it took me to complete the course. This put me in co-9th place with James Nixon. While there was never any panic, we were only 1.5 hours inside the 34-hour time limit.
19,291 - Total feet of elevation gained over during Trans Iowa V14. I was glad that I had a 34/34 low gear though I'll admit that in the final 30 miles I was envious of James Nixon's 34/36 ratio.
12 - Approximate hours of nighttime riding. I was thankful for my Sinewave Beacon dynamo-powered headlight and Coast Portland headlamp. Together they provided ample light for safe passage through the chunky gravel. This was the first time that I've ridden through an entire night and I was really pleased that I didn't experience any sleepiness.
23 - The low temperature recorded on my GPS device during the night. This, compounded with a bad stomach that kept me from pushing hard, had me shivering and contemplating a DNF at 4:30am on Sunday. Thankfully Janna Vavra, Mark Lowe, and James Nixon came along as I walked up a climb. James gave me an extra jacket and we rolled on as a foursome. I nursed my stomach with sips and nibbles and we rode as a quartet through sunrise, buoying each other's spirits along the way.
4 - In miles per hour, this is perhaps the slowest speed at which I've ever attempted to draft another cyclist. James Nixon (seen in the video above) and I were trading pulls in the final 30 miles as we battled a brutal wind up hills and down them. Thanks for the cooperation James!
41 - Miles I stayed with the lead group. A couple miles from the first checkpoint I drifted off the back, catching them again briefly at CP1. It was fantastic to get a fast start and test my legs. I got the chance to joke around with Dan Hughes, discuss bikepacking and sunrises with Greg Gleason, note awkward matching kits with Stefano Tomasello, and stare in awe at the amazingly huge calves of eventual winner Luke Wilson.
150 - Approximate miles (a hazarded guess) that I shared with Mark Lowe. I really appreciated the camaraderie that Mark provided each mile we spent together. We discussed our backgrounds, professional, personal, and cycling related. I watched in awe as he consumed more calories than my addled brain could calculate. He calmly addressed any unforeseen issues and quietly, and not so quietly, encouraged anyone around during dark moments. Thanks a million Mark!
1 - Number of punctures I experienced. A passing truck kicked up a blinding dust storm just as Mark, Janna, and I started down a steep hill. I kept my line straight but found a jagged rock with my rear tire and worried that it might have cracked my rim. I was able to ride it to the top of the next rise, insert a plug, and pump it up. It held the rest of the way.
7,727 - Calories consumed, as calculated via heart rate and power. While eating 77 gels would have covered that deficit, I ate a combination of homemade ride food (see above), gas station sandwiches and pizza, chocolate milk, Clif bars, Honey Buns, peach gummy rings, GU Stroop Waffles, and GU Roctane gels. After emptying them of Tailwind Nutrition mix, I refilled my bottles and Camelbak with Gatorade, Arizona ice tea, and water. For the last 100-mile section I carried three packets of GU Roctane Summit Tea mix. At 2am, I asked the helpful Casey's convenience store employee for some hot water, added the tea mix and warmed myself while also getting electrolytes, calories, and caffeine. Divine!
175 - My normalized power for Trans Iowa. I used a Stages power meter, a heart rate strap, and a Wahoo Elemnt (with a cache battery to keep it running) to record the ride. My average power was 138 watts.
3H35M - Total stopped time (29H active time). I'm not particularly happy with that much inactive time, but that also includes walking a couple hills when I was on the verge of vomiting during the night. In the end, sometimes you need to take a few moments to collect yourself, let food settle, use the bathroom, etc. The stopped time also accounts for wardrobe changes, pee breaks, navigation checks, and punctures.
Countless - The number of thank you's I owe Guitar Ted, Matt Gersib, Mike Johnson, Jon Duke, Mark Lowe, James Nixon, Janna Vavra, Greg Gleason, Dan Hughes, Stefano Tomasello, all the Trans Iowa volunteers for their efforts and enthusiasm. And of course, a huge thank you to my wife who took advantage of Iowa's great gravel roads to get in some big rides while still being "on call" for me during the race. She also carted my broken body home to Colorado, driving most of the way while I nodded in and out of consciousness.
Well, I’m one tired puppy after the excitement and physical demands of Land Run 100. Instead of sludging through mud, we were treated to perfect weather with light breezes, overcast skies, and a high of 63 degrees Fahrenheit. So my fatigue is from fast conditions that meant pushing hard for the entire 106 miles. Complain as we might about mud, carrying your bike often lowers your heart rate, lending periods of rest. You could argue that a dry Land Run is harder physically and a mud year tests you more mentally. In either case, it's never easy and that's exactly why we all show up!
I lined up alongside Jim Cummins and missed a couple crashes as the bunch made its way to the first of the gravel. I had a great start, staying the lead bunch longer than expected. That had me worrying that I was overgeared. Just like every other singlespeeder in the race, there were times when I had to dig deep to clear a hill. But I did manage to summit each rise aboard my bike and that means I probably had just enough legs for my 40x17 ratio.
I spent most of the day riding solo, happy to ride at my own pace. It can be difficult to share work with riders on geared bikes, with them often slowing on hills and rolling faster on the flats and downhills. Similarly as I caught or was caught by other singlespeeders, speeds didn’t align. The exception came with around 10 miles to go. Tyler Anliker, of Emporia, Kansas, caught me and after a quick chat he rolled ahead, I thought for good. But on the next hill I began to claw him back. Soon I passed my bud Liz Barcheck, a friend from Colorado who was getting her first taste of Midwest (or MidSouth in the case of OK) gravel. She absolutely crushed the 100 miles and cheered me on after I passed, but not before an "Oh man! I wanted to beat you!" taunt. Just after the laugh from Liz, I rolled by Tyler. Over the next few hills I opened up a little gap, suddenly digging deep. My back was screaming, hands were cramping, but I was having an absolute blast. My gap grew over the final hills, but on the longer descent into town, Tyler used his strong legs and bigger 42x17 gear to chase me down, hollering "Looks like we got a race on our hands!" as he caught me. I whooped it up, saying, "Heck yeah!" and jumped on his wheel, spinning my legs up to stay in his draft.
Soon Bobby Thompson, The Casual Cyclist, rolled by us in the aerobars casually saying, "you guys and your silly singlespeeds!" Just outside Stillwater, as Bobby backed off, we caught him again and he settled in behind us for the highest cadence show in Stillwater. Tyler and I rode together into town, shook hands and thanked each other for forcing each other to race all the way to the line. Tyler led it out and brilliantly ramped up the pace on the slight incline to the last corner. I struggled to stay with him there and if he had looked back right then, he would have seen a grimace coated in red dust on my face. In the final two blocks before the line, I managed to dig deep one last time and just edge out my new partner in singlespeed crime. Thanks for the race Tyler! You certainly helped me empty the tank!
Crossing the line, I received one of Bobby Wintle's legendary hugs, got a sweet finisher patch and a frosty Coke. And just like that the struggle was over and the warm embrace of my wife, friends, and my gravel family took over. With the perfect temps and dry conditions, racers lingered longer than usual at the finish line. I changed into street clothes and joined dozens of gravel buds for beers, food truck treats, and countless retellings of the day's goings-on. We talked about our favorite sections (I loved the technical double track sections the most), our biggest hurdles, and plotted reunions later in the season.
I raced my bike exactly as I profiled here on Rambleur, even going with the 33mm Vittoria Terreno Mix tires despite the lack of mud. While my back was sore by the end of the race, it was a bumpy coarse, with continuous rolling terrain, and I was on a singlespeed. Bigger tires would have been nice but I was really pleased with how the Vittorias worked for me, especially in the sandy sections.
I was exceptionally happy with my fueling and hydration. While I paid for the drop bag service I decided not to use it. Instead I loaded up 106 miles worth of food and drinks. I’ll have to carry at least this much again at Trans Iowa and DKXL, so I figured a dress rehearsal was in order. With the cool temperatures, it meant that I easily reached the finish line with 3.5 liters of drink mix in my Camelbak Chase vest and two 1-liter bottles. That's 900 calories right there. I supplemented that with six gels (GU Roctane, Honey Stinger, and Science in Sport), a KP-homemade potato/pea curry pocket and a small KP-homemade pizza roll. At the finish I still had a gel, several bars, and two more of KP’s homemade treats in my pack and pockets.
My clothing also worked out well. I often overdress but did well this time round. I wore a rain jacket over my Camelbak rolling around before the start. With five minutes to go, I stuffed it in my pack. I started with Kitsbow wool arm warmers and DeFeet full-finger wool gloves. I didn't wear knee or leg warmers or even a cycling cap this time around. The arm warmers stayed on all day and just before Guthrie I took off the warmer gloves for a pair of thin, Pearl Izumi fingerless mitts. I also was happy that I chose to wear a Buff UV Multifunctional Headband around my neck. I used it to cover my nose and mouth when lots of dust was kicked up by other racers or passing trucks. Otherwise it sat around my neck. The rest of my cycling kit included a pair of Shimano XC7 shoes, Bontrager wool socks, Ground Effect bib shorts, a Garmin heart rate strap, a Velocio baselayer, a Gore lightweight jersey, a Specialized Evade II aero helmet, and Oakley EVZero glasses. All worked exceptionally well!
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!
The drive to Idaho from Colorado’s Front Range is not a short one at nearly 10 hours. On the way up, I decided to break it up and play tourist along the way. The quickest route takes you through Pinedale, Wyoming, a town on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Nearby are Atlantic City and South Pass City, both also on the route, but a little off the beaten track. As a lover of history, especially the history of the American West, I decided to tack on an extra hour of driving and explore both towns, especially the preserved ghost town of South Pass City. It was worth every additional minute.
Here are some photos:
After exploring a bit, I drove on and checked into the Gannett Peak Lodge in Pinedale. I highly recommend this little motel. The rooms are recently renovated and the staff accommodates Continental Divide thru hikers and GDMBR riders with flying colors. My room had a microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator, and even a rag for wiping chains. I did a short yoga routine to help with loosen up after the drive and walked to a local Mexican joint for dinner. Man, they don’t mess around with portion size in Wyoming!
The next day I drove on, making my way through Jackson and over Teton Pass to Victor, Driggs, Ashton, and arrived at Ponds Lodge in Island Park. It was a gorgeous day and after saying hello to Jay and Tracey, I kitted up and rolled out for a ride. Here’s a quick video from the opening couple miles of the race course.
After doing some openers, short efforts to get your system primed, I rolled back to the lodge and changed. Now, I have to fess up that I made some changes to my bike after I posted on what I would ride. Because of the area’s volcanic gravel and rocks, I decided to put on a set of 650b Boyd Jocassee wheels with a Continental Race King 2.2 up front and a Ritchey Shield WCS 2.1 on the back. With rain in the forecast, I also added a rear fender and a small Ortlieb seat pack to carry additional rain gear and moved my spares to a storage bottle on the underside of the down tube.
I checked in at registration and stuck around for the rider’s meeting and dinner. Jay spoke and then Ben Weaver played a couple tunes that really resonated with me. If you haven’t heard of Ben, he’s a poet, singer/songwriter, activist who travel to his gigs by bicycle. Salsa sponsors the Minnesota-based family man and I was happy to share a post-race meal with him the next day.
After hanging with some friends around a campfire, I headed for some sleep at my accommodation. The next morning came quickly. The 7am start was chilly and I resisted the temptation to pile on the layers. I knew that soon I’d be working hard trying to keep up with the fast guys.
After a beautiful poem by Ben Weaver, Jay led us out aboard an ATV. It was still fairly dark as we raced our way around the large puddles. At the exit of the first section, there were seven of us in the lead. After 10 miles, the race turned onto a long, paved climb and that’s when I backed off, needing to recover from the start effort. I rode my race and was soon joined by a couple other racers.
Because of snow in the higher parts of course, Petervary altered the course. This meant that we would see several sections on more than one occasion. It was the second time down a quick descent that I was distanced by my fellow riders. I rode solo to the next couple aid stations and caught several of them on the long approach to Two Top.
Once we turned onto the narrower ATV trail it was every man for himself. The going was slow for me with the pitch outdoing my gearing on several occasions. Thankfully I’m a fan of a good hike-a-bike. Riding when I could, walking when I needed to, the weather at the highest point on the course looked menacing. We made our way over some deadfall and through some shallow snow and descended into a wetlands area. Mercifully Jay laid down a plank over the widest water crossing. I managed to exit the section with only mildly wet feet.
As I made my way downhill, the rain began to fall and it didn’t stop until late that night. I took pains to eat and drink and stopped at one point to grab a pair of waterproof gloves from my seat pack. I also threw on a rain jacket over my waterproof jersey to ward off the dropping temperatures. For the last couple hours I rode solo, stopping at the last aid station for some warm broth and a few bites of food. My computer read 37 degrees and that combined with the rain meant that it was best to continue to push the pace. That, and it was a race afterall.
Once I finished, I rolled back to the Lodge with Aaron Couch, who had finished just ahead of me. It was time to get dry and get fed. A towel and change of clothes helped with the first bit, but the power was out at the Lodge and the kitchen had closed because of it. Thankfully after eating the rest of my ride food, the power was back. Ben Weaver and I shared some poutine and then I tucked into a burger and fries.
The awards ceremony was quick and well celebrated. I was especially happy with my 12th place finish: far from the podium, but closer than usual. It was a fantastic day with 9.5 hours in the saddle. I met plenty of great folks, as you can expect at most gravel events. Jay and Tracey put on a killer event. In fact, they have me pondering a go at the Fat Pursuit this winter…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Neck gaiter (if it’s cold)
- Base layer
- Arm warmers
- Knee or leg warmers
- 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.
"Idle hands are the devil's workshop," it says in Proverbs. So while I wait patiently to leave for tomorrow's drive down to New Mexico, I thought I'd fill some of the time with a last post on Rambleur before my northbound Tour Divide start. Here's a look at the bike and some of the gear I'm using this year. I have utter confidence in all my equipment, in terms of reliability and my ability to keep it rolling smoothly underneath my tired legs.
If you'd like to follow along and stalk my Blue Dot, here's the link to my TrackLeaders page: http://trackleaders.com/tourdivide17i.php?name=Nick_Legan
There is more information more readily available on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and how best to approach the race along it, the Tour Divide, than ever before. But something that Jay Petervary told me early on in my education as a bikepacker was to figure it out for myself. You can’t be prescriptive about gear. It’s far too personal for that.
As an example, I generally run a bit warm, not needing thick layers to stay comfortable on cold days. I sleep warm too and use a 30-degree quilt down to 20 degrees without much fuss. I also pedal knees in, toes out. This means that the width of the bags on my bike’s main triangle is important. Too wide and I’ll rub my leg raw. Too narrow the bag’s carrying capacity is drastically reduced.
Because of this struggle, I sought out Greg Wheelwrright of Bolder Bikepacking Bags. He’s been in the bikepacking bag business longer than most (but not quite all he’ll readily admit) and lives in the same town as me. That I hadn’t bumped into him earlier amazes me. Anyway, I knew that for this go at Tour Divide I wanted an oversized top tube bag for carrying food and other frequently used items. I only plan on using a small, partial frame bag and I’m leaving my front pouch behind as well. All of this is to say that I needed extra carrying capacity and I wanted it to be on-the-fly convenient.
I first tried Joe Tonsager’s excellent (and huge) JPaks Farva bag, but it was too wide for me. I’m still happy to have it because it works great for me on mountain bikes, with their longer top tubes and shorter stems (moving the bag farther forward and away from my knees). But after a few long rides, I faced the music. It wasn’t going to work for me on my Mosaic.
Aside from width though, I really like the dimensions of the Farva. So I took it and my “Orange Crush” Mosaic along with me when I went to meet with Greg to discuss a custom bag. Over the course of the next three hours, Greg and I discussed options, made a template, and got to know one another. He’s a wealth of information and some of the stories he shared were amazing. Part of the process even involved sitting on the bike and measuring the width of my knees. We wanted to be sure that this bag was work. Measure twice, cut once.
A few weeks later, Greg emailed me that the bag was ready. I returned and it was better than I could have imagined. A black exterior is lined with a bright orange interior to make finding things easier, and to compliment the bike. We included a divider to keep things organized and as a way to cinch the bag narrower if need be. A couple of elastic loops hold my emergency singlespeed cog and my cache battery. A small port allows charging wires to enter the bag. To keep the taller than usual bag stable, Greg made two straps that go around the steerer tube. Three other straps hold the bag on the top tube and are spaced to fit between the straps of my frame bag. The finish is fantastic and best of all my knees don’t rub!
Originally intended to carry a foot-long sub and additional snacks, the bag is a success. I couldn’t have been happier with the process. I have what I feel is a perfect bag for my run along the Divide. It’ll keep things handy and stable. Best of all, I got to meet and collaborate with Greg Wheelwrright. The bikepacking is an adventurous, passionate lot. I’m happy to be a part of it.
Just a touch over four months from the Grand Depart of this year's Tour Divide. Still lots of work to be done, but training is going well. Thankfully I've managed to avoid injury while piling on the cycling workload. Strength work has me feeling more resilient than ever. On Sunday I got in a solid ride at six hours with almost 7,000 feet of climbing aboard my loaded bike. It left me suitably tired, but not wrecked or sore. "Good sensations!" as any European pro racer would say.
The gear choices are coming along too. The Mosaic is dialed. Only a few small decisions to make before I head south to Antelope Wells for my northbound departure. I've been obsessed lately with tires more than anything. I'm set on running "plus" sized tires for the extra comfort they afford. It's just a matter of selecting which ones. Well, one really. I'm set for my rear tire, WTB's excellent Riddler 2.4. Going wider in the back of my Mosaic would limit mud clearance more than I'd like. So it's down to which front tire. Top contenders include WTB's Ranger, Maxxis' Ikon and Chronicle and a new tire from Vee called the Rail Tracker. They're all promising. It'll come down to which rolls fastest and delivers a good balance of weight and durability.
Tomorrow I take delivery of a custom top tube bag made by Bolder Bikepacking's Greg Wheelwrright. It's a monster of a bag, but narrower than other options on the market so that it'll clear my knees a bit better. It'll hold much of my food. I'm pretty excited about it.
Also on the bag front I'm in the process of making a new front harness, much like the one I discussed in a past post on this site. The new one will have a third strap around the dry bag and the plastic will extend underneath to shield my shelter from the front tire and anything it might throw off while riding. I'm also going to use a strap and buckle around the head tube instead of the paracord I used on the first version. It should be a bit more robust.
Still deciding on clothing, namely shorts, for the ride. Thankfully it's a matter of picking between favorites. Giro's Chrono Expert and Rapha's Classic bibs are the front runners. All else is essentially what I've used in the past. Mont Bell rain gear and puffy vest, a wool long-sleeve baselayer, a light wind vest, Defeet Wooly gloves (new ones with the electronic touch feature), Craft arm/knee warmers, rain gloves from Aerostich, a favorite Pearl Izumi hat, and a wool Buff. New are a pair of Bontrager Stormshell Oversocks and Pearl Izumi toe covers. I'm also deciding between a couple helmets. It'll come down to comfort and which of them moves less with my Black Diamond Spot headlamp installed. Shoes are likely to be Specialized's newest S-Works 6 XC shoe. I can't get over the comfort and the light weight of them. I run Bontrager Race 7" Wool socks and still have room for oversocks.
Shelter and warmth are provided by an Enlightened Equipment quilt, a Sea-to-Summit Ultralight pad, an Exped pillow and a custom Borah Gear bivvy with a cuben bottom. All tried and true in my book.
Earlier this month I also spent time playing with the GPX track on RideWithGPS.com. Armed with my resupply list and a couple of finishing goals it was educational to game the route from several perspectives. Daily mileage is an obvious one. Daily elevation gain was more eye-opening. Mostly, it was helpful to run through the route and seeing how a couple miles here and there can get you to better shelter and hitting resupplies while they're open. A fellow bikepacking friend graciously shared his packing list and resupply list. It's always helpful to see another perspective on the route and its demands. This homework has me more comfortable with the route and served to inspire my training in the coming months.
I said to my wife on a walk the other day that I can't wait to get out there, to enjoy my time on the Divide, but also to finish the daunting challenge I've set for myself. It has become a quest of sorts, a means of self-discovery. But it's also taken a huge amount of time to prepare for and research the route in the hopes of completing it as quickly as possible. It'll be nice to have more time for touring, for hiking, for fun rides with friends. Of course, it's also possible that I'll go into major withdrawals afterwards. The preparation is part of the fun. And those who know me well know that I'm a planner. I love working the logistics. Only time will tell.
To my fellow racers, stay focused! We can do this! It's gonna get gnarly out there, but the work we put in now, both mental and physical, can get us through it. Good luck!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, that's it for my gravel season. I couldn't be happier with how it went. It wasn't all roses, but suffering is a big part of this particular game. I trained hard this year, harder than I've been able to in year's past because I was healthier, my knees in particular.
I'm rarely concerned with 'beating' people at these races. It's not the metric I use to evaluate my performances. Instead I focus on how I felt, how I raced, how my race plan worked, my equipment choices panned out. Perhaps the two most important questions I ask myself are 1. did I finish and 2. did I leave it all out there? If I answer yes to both of those, then it's a success. Of course, you have to answer yes to #1 before you can do so with #2. So this year was the year of completion. I finished every race I entered. That makes me very happy. And in almost every case, I can also answer yes to the second question. Learning to empty the tank, with a measured effort, over the course of 10 plus hours, is not easy. But I'm getting there. Here are my four biggest takeaways from this season:
1. Mental discipline - It ain't always easy to stay positive. But in the darkest moments is exactly when you need to do so. What a paradox! This year I worked hard on not dwelling on the downside of a situation. I focused on the fact that I was breathing. I was out doing something I love: riding a bike. I reminded myself that it's okay to slow a bit to collect yourself. I certainly found myself taking a few moments to look around. I often find myself concentrating so hard on finding the fastest line that I forget that the roads I'm on take me to some beautiful places. So stay positive. Take control of your thoughts. (Sorry if I'm starting to sound like a Jedi, but they had something important figured out)
2. Keep moving - Take pleasure in movement, however slow. In races, you can shave an incredible amount of time by limiting your stoppage. When you approach a checkpoint or aid station, have a mental checklist of what you need to accomplish while you're there. Then get the hell out of Dodge! Be sure to offer a hearty "thank you!" as you leave. It buoys your spirit and the volunteers (and they're always volunteers, out giving up their day to help us poor saps). You can jump forward several groups without going any faster on the road this way. Even if you leave solo and want to wait for a group to catch you, you can spin easily, eat some food and get some fluids down. Just keep moving!
3. Do your homework - Tire choice, gearing, nutrition all play a big factor in your day going well. If the event is new to you, do some research online. Reach out to the promoter or someone who has raced it before. The gravel and mountain bike communities are made up of people happy to share their experiences. Don't be afraid to ask for help. On several occasions I had a lot more fun racing because I put a little extra thought into my preparation. A good example was Land Run. I brought two sets of wheels, one with narrower tires for wet conditions and a set with wider tires in case it stayed dry. I also brought along my Mike Johnson, special edition, shish-kebab skewer/mud scraper. I had a great day because I was ready for the course and its infamous red clay mud.
4. I need less food than I think but just as much fluid as I think - This year I consistently overestimated the amount of food that I could and/or needed to consume during a race. Aside from some tender tummy issues, I never bonked during races. Perhaps I'm becoming more calorically efficient, who knows. But in any case, I can afford to go a bit lighter in this respect for single day races. On the other hand, I do need to carry all the fluids I usually plan for. I suffered in the heat at several events this year and through extra fluids consumed and used to douse myself I managed to get through the rough patches.
So those are the takeaways for me. Already looking forward to next year and all the hard-fought learning that will come with it. Onward!
The week before any bike race includes a personal checklist that helps me prepare physically and mentally for the ordeal ahead. Top of the list is a dress rehearsal ride. Wearing exactly what I plan to wear, carrying exactly what I plan to bring, I head out for a ride that includes several efforts that simulate race pace. Anything I can do to streamline my on-bike experience and eliminate any adjustments that I'd have to make on race allows me to focus on the effort. Every race is slightly different so it's good to have a dry run.
Next up is a bike wash. A clean bike on the start line helps me feel prepared. It's also an opportunity to check for tire, drivetrain and brake pad wear. I perform a bolt check to ensure that nothing will come loose on race day. I wipe the frame and lube the chain, then set it aside knowing the bike is ready even if I'm not.
If the weather looks toasty I may go for a haircut. I will always shave my legs a few days before race day. This ritual goes back to my days road racing. A pair of smooth pins is faster and makes the muscular definition more obvious, a reminder of the hard work put in on training rides.
I also put together my race day nutrition, packing it carefully. I print off cue sheets (if applicable) and upload the GPX file to my GPS. If the event is a long one, I charge an auxiliary battery pack as well as my Garmin. While I'm focused on electronics I charge my Di2 battery and consider making a music playlist and uploading it to my phone.
I'll double check hotel reservations and flight information if need be (I almost always prefer to drive though). Do I know the time and place for rider check in? It all helps.
Clearly I'm a planner, a logistics guy. It's how I approach many things and its part of the reason that I love gravel racing and bikepacking. Planning and thoughtful consideration typically pay off. Here's hoping it does this weekend at an event that is new to me: Gravel Worlds. Arrrgh!
(Another wonderful post from Jason Gaikowski. We're both headed to MDH100. Here are his thoughts as he approaches this monster of a race. - Nick)
“We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.” “Let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.” - Theodore Roosevelt
That’s the kind of audacious thinking that makes people stick your name on a National Park in a place called the Badlands. Powerful and inspiring; unfit for the genteel civilized folk.
106 miles of singletrack awaits alongside 12,000 feet of climbing to throw a bit of pepper into the day. A record stands a shade shy of nine hours. Minneapolis Mafioso Tommy “Hurl” Everstone spent a clean 15:15 on trail. The website says the race is EXTREME; death or serious injury could occur. Quitters need not apply.
This is going to be a long day.
Set yourself on fire
I’m not ready. Not in any rational or conventional sense. Early this summer life jumped out screaming“SURPRISE! HERE’S LOTS OF REALLY GREAT STUFF ALL AT THE SAME TIME!!!” and since then I’ve logged more air miles than training miles; more airport time than saddle time. Under fit, over fat and more than a little fatigued from a few hyper-active couple of months.
This is going to hurt.
But like Glassow says, “Success isn’t the result of spontaneous combustion, you must set yourself on fire.”
So there you have it, I’m heading to the Maah Daah Hey 100.
Embrace the “L”
You’ve probably heard that three is a magic number. I believe that L is a magic letter. I’ve learned over the years that embracing the L is the difference between a bad day and a hard one; between suffering in misery and suffering in joy (and there will be suffering).
Embracing the L is the difference between compete and complete.
Compete: to strive to defeat and establish superiority
Complete: having all that is necessary; to the greatest extent possible
The Badlands are bigger than I am, and vast and more powerful that I could ever be. Striving to establish superiority will generate vastly powerful misery. Others are faster than I have ever been, more talented and blessed with the fitness of youth. Striving to defeat others will generate a cramp-filled and very bad day.
I go to the Badlands simply to gain something necessary, to make myself greater and more complete. I will embrace the L. I will suffer joyfully.
And in doing so, I will win the long hard day.
Fortunately, 20 years of foibles, what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into’s and hard-earned lessons have left some accumulated knowledge in their wake. I have an idea of what to expect, and how to plan for this kind of day.
Eat, drink, eat, drink. Managing my fuel tank is my top priority. Simply, I plan to fuel my way through the day. Job number one is to manage my fuel and hydration with a combination of complex carbs, protein, salt, and more salt. I’ll avoid sugar as much as possible, as I know it will give me gastro issues. A favorite of mine is almond-butter and fig jam sandwiches with a generous layer of salt. I’ll carry matcha green-tea bags with me to throw into water bottles for a change of pace.
Go slow, take it easy on the climbs, and don’t think too much. Over the course of a long day, any athlete’s power over 10 hours will be equal to his 10-hour average power. You can get there with a combination of highs and lows (attack, recover, attack, recover) or by settling intoyour endurance pace and steadily hanging out in Zone 3 all day. On this climbs, steady zone 3 feels really easy, so climbs become an automatic cue to enjoy a little snack on the way up.
And most importantly (for me) keep it simple: eat, drink, breathe, pedal, drink, breathe, pedal. Zone out and let the miles flow by. The day will unfold on it’s own terms, so simply be.
This too shall pass. The forecast calls for cool morning temps (this shall pass) and a warm afternoon (this shall pass). I know we’ll all feel excited and energetic at the start (this shall pass) and struggle with the grind of a late day climb (this shall pass.) The day will be a roller coaster filled with highs and lows, strength and weakness, confidence and doubt. The key is to fully embrace the joys, for they pass too soon; and to accept the suffering, secure in the knowledge that joy that lies ahead somewhere. The pain and pleasure are impermanent. The day is impermanent.
And what we take away lasts forever.
Sometimes people ask why I do these things. Crossing a mountain pass at night in a snowstorm. Debating the merits of drinking from an oil slicked mud puddle. Pedaling beyond the limits of common sense. I’m never quite sure how to answer.
I’m grateful for the bonds I’ve forged, the deep friendships and the character these experiences give. They are essential to how I see the world and who I strive to be. Honestly, I’m tempted to respond by asking why they don’t do such things; curious to learn how they build character.
I go to the Badlands to gain something necessary; to make myself more complete. I will embrace the L and I will suffer joyfully.
I am under fit and over fat. I am not prepared, and I am so ready.
(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.
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.