Saturday, August 13, 2016

Highland Trail 550

Highland Trail 550 (My Birthday Present)

When I found out the 2016 Highland Trail 550 (HT) started on my 60th birthday and had scrutinized lots of the Scottish Highland pictures the die was cast, I was going.  Before I dive into my short, typically boring day-by-day account of my race let me detour and comment a bit on the HT verses some other multi-day races (CTR, AZT 300/750, Stagecoach 400 and TDR) I have had the pleasure of competing in.  The idea here is to encourage any US multi-day racers to add the HT to their bucket list!

Number one:
All told compared to the other major multi-day routes the HT probably has the most technical sections. Ha, I think it’s against Scottish nature to construct trails with mild grades, probably have to pay a tax or fine if a trail or old cart path has one to may switchbacks in it, straight up and straight down 'over the rocks we go' seems to be the required construction routine.  Actually I think Alan, the event organizer, simply went looking for fun, long descents and then figured a way to string them together regardless of required hike-a-bike in between. 
No this is not a technical section, just a pretty one.  Funny how the camera stayed tucked away when the pucker factor was in play...
Anyway all joking aside there are lots of hike-a-bike sections going both up, down and even flat plus many many rocky, semi-challenging descents, ie: lots of technical riding on this route.  But there are also miles and miles of mild Tour Divide type sections, paved sections and bike path cursing.  In the end, if you are inclined to some semi-‘enduro’ style sections the HT route will probably put the big smile on your face.  I should point out I am a technically modest rider at best and what is challenging for me will be much less so for many. Also you can look at pictures of my bike you will see that it is more of a TDR set up.  In retrospect I personally would have been a lot more confident on a light FS bike with larger tires and some of my gear carried in a backpack for a lighter front end, better balance and less seatbag sway in the back. 

Number two:
The Highlands are truly stunningly beautiful to this American bikepacker. 
The terrain and scenery was simply beyond expectations. I should point out that this was my first trip to Scotland and the weather was basically perfect.  Also what will be routine to many locals was utterly new and somewhat exotic to my eyes.  On the other hand backpackers and day walkers come from all over England and Europe to experience parts of the Highlands so it’s not just me being ‘new’ to the area.  You decide but just take a look at my typical tourist snapshots but also google up some better pictures and see for yourself.  If you have never been there and think you might want to do the HT, the scenery alone makes it worth the trip.

Number three:
The HT was easy for me to to finish compared to the say the AZT or CTR. 
Ha before all the HT naysayers jump in let me clarify.  The ‘2016’ HT was easy to finish because we had truly perfect conditions.  Just read the 2015 accounts to get a feel for how tough this exact same route is with more typical weather. Plus I rode a hard but not true 'race-pace' as I was simply not in shape to do so.

Anyway, every multi-day route has its challenges, from my mid-pack perspective:
The TDR is all easy resupply, non-technical but so so very long and so easy to go so very hard……beautiful in a different way from all the single track races………….
The AZT 300 has average to difficult resupply points, rocks, hike-a-bike, sometimes cold/snow and almost always sun/heat.  The 750 has the 300 plus 450 more miles of mostly high desert the dreaded Highline trail and for desert the Grand Canyon on foot.  All in all the 750 is probably the hardest route overall I have done.
The CTR single track is ‘mostly’ fast and flowy (Sergeants Mesa 2-track excepted) it has average resupply (with a one rather key ‘no-resupply’ section) and many times has afternoon lightning strikes and sometimes serious rain plus lots of high altitude climbing.  Rain and high altitude temps are one of my personal worry points.
The SC 400 has good re-supply, snow, sea, desert, wind, rain, sand plus interesting urban night life.  Such a unusual little fun route, I have done this one three years running……
The HT has plentiful resupply (at least during 9-5 hours), ridiculous easy easy easy water re-supply, lots of bothy’s to sleep in (if needed) and low elevation with mild temperatures overall.  If the rain is out of the picture like this year all that’s really left is how hard and fast you can push though the constant punchy steep climbs, the numerous hike-a-bike sections and how fast you can or are are willing to descend.  In short in 2016 with good weather the HT was all about pure/fun basic mountain bike skills and strength. Note: even with little to no rain there is still water everywhere by US standards, stream crossings, constant puddles, marshy areas etc so your feet could be wet much or most of the time.  And again least you think I don’t get-- it I did read the 2015 accounts—so if the HT route is on your radar screen-- for a more typical, 180 degree opposite, picture just read those 2015 accounts, anyone who finished in 2015 was hard core.
The upcoming Black HillsExpedition (a 430-mile Bikepacking Race through the Black Hills of South Dakota).  Check back—it’s on the list for Sept.  But I already know it’s likely to be a tough one, at least the Centennial trail single track section is hard from 1st hand experience—that trail put in the hospital with an IV drip due to mild heat exhaustion a few years back……

Number four:
The base speed and technical riding skill of the average HT racer is a notch above what you might see at the SC 400, AZT or CTR. 
Alan, the event organizer is limiting the participants to roughly 40. As this event gains in reputation he said he must pick between potential participants.  If I understand correctly he is picking mostly those who have some base level of racing and or bikepacking qualifications. 
So here is a call out to all the top CTR, AZT and TDR finishers (and/or the not so fast yet experienced multi-day racers like me)—take the HT challenge, get your name down on that start list.  Ha, in a wet year the HT will be one of the toughest, most challenging routes you can finish.  And in a picture perfect dry year its pure unadulterated mountain bike fun for hundreds of miles mixed in with plenty of friendly, skilled, fast competitors, from the front of the pack down to the not so back backmarkers.

Number five:
From the US perspective Scotland is a fantastically easy place to vacation for a multi-day.  Glasgow is easy to fly into from the US.  A mid-size airport with all the convenience needed but not the size/hassle of a huge airport.  English makes it easy to navigate, both from a verbal and written point of view.  So if you screw something up its easy to ask for forgiveness and get things right. For me this kept the stress down as I did not have to worry about or contend with any major or minor communication snafus.  The race itself is a loop vs a point to point so you start/finish at the same location.  You can arrange to store some stuff at a campground, hotel or bed & breakfast etc near the start/finish. Minus the plane ticket the overall cost is similar to doing a US event, ie: food, accommodations etc are similar to US costs.  Plus after the race you can play tourist as see castles and stone rings and and.....
You do have to drive and ride on the left side of the road.  And the back roads are truly one lane with motorized traffic taking turns. On the bike my rule was to simply keep my ‘left hand’ always on the left side of the road or trail.  I only messed up twice (once, because even knowing it was wrong, I followed a local who cheated a corner and the other time because I was tired and briefly forgot my rule)

I could go on but you get the idea.  The HT is a fun challenging event, ideal for the experienced US multi-day racer.  So go do it!!

On the flip side any UK or Europe HT racers looking to come to the US there is a whole list  of routes and races to pick from, including the ones above,
even the non technical routes can be hard sometimes...
all ‘hard’ yet appealing in their own way.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stagecoach 400, 2016

I never wrote up my Stagecoach 400 (SC) race so before I move on to the Highland Trail 550 (HT) write up here is a quick summary.

My work pulled a fast one and scheduled a last minute “mandatory” meeting the week of the SC so I changed my vacation plans and ran the SC 400 as a Individual Time Trail (ITT).  This is my first ever ITT of a multi-day race vs the usual group start.  I was using the SC as a training /stepping stone for the HT and did not want to totally mess up my training plans.  Also the SC route is one of the most interesting routes I have done so along with my training schedule it was easy to convince myself to attempt my first multi-day  ITT.

In past years the route ran clock wise, this year for the first time it ran counter clock wise so my previous course knowledge/ time splits were of marginal value.  However a couple of others did ITT’s before mine so by studying their Spot dot times I had a rough plan for my hoped for time splits.  You can look up everyone’s Spot history here ( ) Turns out my planed splits worked out for some good and some not so good.

Day 1:
One nice thing about a ITT is a relaxed no-stress start.  Just pick your time and get up and go, no nervous waiting around for everyone else to assemble and be sent off in a huge wave of twitchy bike handling and over pacing.  The initial climb out of Idyllwild was a smooth, pleasant warm up. With no one pushing a race pace around me the singletrack decent down to hwy 74 was mild and relaxed. Humm, this ITT stuff aint bad……
Other than a whole series of ‘water the tree’ stops during the early hours of the day (note to self—don’t over hydrate so much the night before) the whole day was one long, firm but relaxed, pace into San Diego.  A truly beautiful day out on the bike. I started at 6am and hit the Escondido gas station 12 hours later right at 6pm.  I was right on plan for my first time split.  By 9:30pm, some rain and mud in between, I was down to the ocean.

(The SC 400 route starts in the high pine trees wanders over hill and dale down to the ocean, runs right thru all of San Diego with cool urban single track, interesting residential side roads and plush bike paths, climbs sharply up to Pacific Crest Trail altitude, drops down down down to true scorching hot desert and then finishes with a big climb back to the pines.)

By 3:30am I was 180 miles into it and pretty much out the far side of San Diego.  It had been a great day for maintaining a smooth pace and riding strong. 
However in hind sight I should have pulled up about 1-2pm as although I made my pre-conceived split distance I paid for the lost sleep on day 2.

Up with the sun after a few short hours of sleep for my 2nd day.  With the short rest it was going to be a long slow slog and if I was to enjoy it I needed to be smart and pace easy all day.
About 8am I was quickly passed by a larger group of road riders on Willow Glen road, out for their morning ride, and saw the same group a few hours later going by up in Alpine, different routes, dirt vs pave, different bikes mtn vs road, but same beautiful S Cal morning out on the bike…..
By the time I hit Alpine the sun was beating down and hydration and pacing was the order for the next few hours.  A short stop in Descanso for a taco and resupply had me refueled and feeling better.  The climb from Descanso to Sunrise Hwy took 5 hours. 
The highway pavement was a welcome rest followed by fun singletrack in the dark and a ripping rocky decent down Mason Valley truck road and out into the desert.  But first a detour to Auga Caliente for some water.  The desert sand was not to soft and I paced on till about 12:30pm.  Nothing beats drifting off to sleep under the bright desert stars after a long day pushing the pedals……

I made a tactical error by sleeping in a bit.  My thinking was I needed the rest for my last day, which I did but it cost me as the wind really caught me after the turn west on hwy 78 at Ocotillo Wells.  I have been riding bikes a long time and I swear the head wind from Ocotillo Wells to Borrego Springs was the worst I have ever experienced. 
side ways palm trees.....yha the wind was a blowing right in my face....
We are talking standing up to barely turn over a super low 24X42 gear ratio!  Had I reached that turn west just 1 or 2 hours earlier I would have saved massive effort/time.
After a huge lunch at Borrego Springs I pushed on thru the dwindling wind but still hot sun up to camp cabin in Canyon Springs.  It’s hard to put into words how strange it is to hike-a-bike in the desert thru running water and a green grotto of brush and willows.  I wrung out my wet socks at the cabin and freshened up a bit for the final push to the finish.  Leaving I was regretting my desire to ‘race’ for time as it would have been so pleasant to crash out in the cool little cabin for a few hours of sleep…..
The climb out of the canyon seemed to take forever as I was in full conserve bikepacking ‘pace mode’ with no energy reserves.  On the other hand the finish was getting closer and after a few hours I was past hwy 78 and climbing in light snow up the final few miles to the finish at Idyllwild.  I rolled up to the Hub ( at about 2:20am (2 days, 20 hours, 25 minutes) and my 3rd Stagecoach 400 was in the books.

Final thoughts on the Stagecoach 400 route.  I have had the opportunity to race the Colorado Trail (CTR) Arizona trail (AZT both 300 and 750), Great Divide (TDR) and recently the Highland Trail 500.  I can heartily recommend each and every one of these routes, each is quite different than the others.  But with regards to the SC 400 it is the most unique route I have raced.  Pine trees to ocean to true desert.  Singletrack to fire road to pavement to bike path.  Remote to reservation to suburbia to urban.  High altitude with maybe some snow, sea level and desert with sun, wind and heat.  This route is just so varied compared to the rest----well worth putting on the bucket list.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Race Strategy, Stagecoach 400

Link here for race info:

My ‘passion’ is self-supported multi day bike racing.  I have been at it for a while now and feel I know the basics pretty well.  In terms of importance one could break down the basic parameters as follows:
·         Fitness
·         Bike/gear/craftsmanship
·         Route knowledge
·         Race Strategy

This break down isn’t absolute, one might come up with a logical alternative but this one suffices for this post. 

Fitness, ahh even at my age fitness is an ongoing work in progress but in general I just need to reach my ‘race weight’ and that gets me 90 to 95% of my maximum.  In all honesty I do not have the inclination (read time and dedication) to work on that last 5 to 10 %.  I will leave that to those who want to and can.  I struggle hard enough just to reach the desired weight and frankly that’s good enough for me.
Bike/gear/craftsmanship is also a never finished project.  I truly enjoy honing my gear and craftsmanship However unless I take up wintertime multiday racing I am pretty far along the learning curve in this area.  I work at this more for the satisfaction and fun rather than noticeable improvement.

Route knowledge is something I do spend a lot of time at.  I know many like to approach a multi-day with less than ideal route knowledge because that’s the way they want to experience the event.  I on the other hand truly enjoy the study.  Studying a route is one of my simple pleasures in life.  And it’s also a huge stress relief from my day to day work life.  Perhaps someday I will do a multi-day without my usual in-depth pre-route preparation, just for the experience, but I sort of doubt it.

Race Strategy, now this is currently where my head is at.  This is where one tries to put all the pieces together in such a way so as to minimize your finish time and maximize your race placement.  I think if I ever archive perfect implementation of an ideal race strategy my head will explode from pure satisfaction.  It won’t happen because first I always make too many mistakes during a race and second I can always think of something I might have done better.  To me strategy is a journey not a destination (thanks Ralph)

So right now as I prep for the upcoming 2016 Stagecoach 400 I am  working on fitness/weight but really I am wondering and thinking about strategy.  How should I approach this particular race?  My current thinking (sure to change) is to focus on pace, followed by duration with a set recovery time.  This is not so different than what I always think I will do.  But in both Stagecoach 400’s I have done it seems I never quite nail the ‘pace’ part of the plan, ha-not even close.  Which then throws the rest of my strategy out of sync, and I wind up yo-yoing most of race. 

So how might I actually hold a sustainable pace?  Sounds easy but when you factor in my untested/current/improving/early year fitness level, huge temperature differential vs my home base and the shock of always longer than trained for ride hours—well let’s just say I could not possibly do worse than my first two Stagecoach races at holding a ideal 1st day pace.  If fact this is a common issue (horrible first day & maybe even second day) in almost all my multi-day races.  Only in the TDR have I avoided this issue, I think because the TDR sort of regulates your effort due to the easy terrain.
Thought about it for most of my 5 hour ride today.......nice day bty....

Power Meter?  Heart Rate Monitor? Perceived exertion scale? Jedi focus? Forget the whole idea and just go with the natural flow? 

What say you?

I am open to all ideas......

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lets Wrap It UP!!

Day 13, 21hr, 141 miles

I stopped early so I got up and going by 2:30am.  The riding in Colorado is mostly easy and fast and I was soon in Silverthorne/Frisco/ Breckenridge area.  As I worked my way thru civilization I stopped first at a convenience store for some quick resupply, then at a sporting goods store for some additional MSR Aquatabs, then for Ice Cream (Yum), one more convenience store and finally at the Subway leaving Breck. 
Needless to say I wasted some time but as most stops involved ‘some, but not too much’ calorie intake I was able to ride strong into the night. 
On the way up to Boreas Pass I met Beth Dunne, we rode together on and off into Hartsel where she stopped for a meal.  There were several bikepacking bikes outside the café but I pushed on solo as I had an extra Subway and the riding was good.  Later I saw Beth’s and Josh Daugherty’s light sail past my camp spot. In my mind this had been was my first good day sense back in Butte MT.

Day 14, 19hr, 154 miles

I slept in a bit and felt I had gotten enough recovery.  However six hours later I had only gone 40 miles and was feeling totally spent.  On the start of Marshall’s pass I was sitting in some shade, it was one of the few times I was truly hot, when Josh Daugherty rolled up stopped and asked if I was Marshal Bird.  This seemed a bit strange but Josh explained that he had seen my Spot on Trackleaders back in town earlier and knew my name. 
Thanks Josh for being just the right inspiration when I really needed it
Like a light switch I felt I raring to go and asked Josh if I could ride with him a bit.  He was nursing a sore leg so our paces matched for most of the day.  We soon caught up to Beth and three of us bounced back and forth for the rest of the day.  Later in the day we passed Lukas Aufschlager who was fighting a flat tire and from where he was I think also fighting some mosquitoes.  I worked hard to try to match Josh but he was stronger and finally I let him go.  I saw Beth again at the Storm Mtn CG block house—ha she had to let me use the ‘facilities’ before she could claim her enclosed bivy spot for the night.  I rolled a few more miles and spent one of my most enjoyable TDR nights under the ‘almost desert’ stars.  Later I would learn Josh was camped just a few miles behind me and Lukas had also stopped at Storm King CG.  I would see Josh the next day, after which he moved on ahead for good.  I would also see and ride with Beth (and later her husband Seb) several times over the next few days.  I would also see Lukas several more times.  I had gone thru a rough spot up on Marshall’s Pass but Josh’s good company had saved me and Beth’s example of “constant, steady pace” had re-sparked my desire to also stay strong.


Day 15, 16hr, 111 miles

It was up and going around 6am, twas a beautiful morning and I was looking forward to some resupply in Del Note.  It wasn’t long before Josh rolled up and we enjoyed some play racing thru the desert and sandy almost single track sections into Del Note. 
Josh was pushing hard, making up lost time from earlier in his TDR.  I tried to match his drive and intensity but it just wasn’t to be, he sailed away from me on the paved approach to Summitville pavement, a man with a mission. 
I kicked back and rode my own pace and while stopped for lunch Beth passed by.  It rained on us that day and like a idiot I just rode in it without covering up.  Hey it was warm at the time….. Later I had to dry out at the Platoro Lodge and had a big meal.   Josh was just leaving as I arrived and I wish I hadn’t let myself get so wet but had no choice but to dry out. 

Beth showed up a few minutes later and we shared a table for a meal.  Once again I was impressed how she handled herself.  The rain had been a bit of a shock after so many nice days and after some aborted attempts at finding a room for the night I watched as she sucked it up and made the decision to keep on pushing, rain or not.  I left about 30 minutes after Beth and several hours later in the dark, just about the time I was looking for a place to camp got a shout out from two campers.  All I could see were lights but then Beth called out as I rode by “Instead of a bear in the woods I found a husband in the woods” !!   Ha, Seb (Beth’s husband) who bty had been running top 4 into NM had had a mechanical and once repaired decided to tag along with his wife on to the finish at AW.   They apparently had met up in Del Note and Seb got his bike fixed in time to rejoin the trail right when Beth was in the area.  Anyway I rode on for a few miles and found the most cool circle of pine trees to camp in.  Was almost like being inside.  I could hear some animals hunting in the night, wolfs?  Maybe but for some reason felt quite safe and content in my circle of pine trees.  Not many miles today but just over 10,000 ft of climbing—not a bad day considering the rain and stupid but needed extended dry-out stop in Platoro.


Day 16, 17hr, 127 miles

I was up at 5am and packing my gear when Seb and Beth rolled by, I followed there tracks for the rest of the morning.  The day brought more rain and rather than fight mud I ducked into the empty Post Office building just outside of Vallecitos (ah Vallecitos, the town of nasty dogs—actually it’s the dogs horrible owners who are to blame…)  I took a short nap on the floor of the Post Ofice and headed out after the rain let up.  My timing was good and I was able to ride almost the entire section of dirt to over to El Rito. Only had to scrape mud and walk for a few 100 yards.  I did a quick resupply at the store in El Rito and then a full meal/resupply at Bode’s  in Abiquiu.  I was worried a bit about getting real rain in the night so I bought a plastic poncho with the thought I could use it as a make do tarp if needed.

It was about 8pm when I started the climb up into the Polvadera area.  I was looking forward to this next section as it was bypassed in 2010 due to fire.  Around 10pm as I came around a downhill corner at a modest speed my front tire slid out and I landed pretty hard on my broken ribs and rolled into a barbed wire fence.  This minor fall was the most painful yet, coming as it did on already sore ribs.  Up in till then I had been feeling good and planning to ride till 11:30 but now I just wanted the first camp spot I could find.  Turned out is was once again a beautiful picture perfect night under the stars, no make shift tarp needed.  I suspected Seb and Beth were camped somewhere near so I set my alarm a half hour sooner in the hopes I would have some company to ride with in the morning.


Day 17, 16hr, 144 miles

Just like the day before I was packing up when Seb and Beth rolled by (Beth is one of the most steady, consistent multi day racers I have seen) but this day I was only a few minutes back and soon joined them on the climb over to Cuba.  It was nice to have some company thru one of the more ‘real mountain bike riding’ sections of the TDR.  There was a literal TDR traffic jam at the McDonalds/convenience store in Cuba.  Myself, Beth, Seb, Greg and his NZ partner whose name I can’t remember just now and Ryan Correy.  Lukas was just behind us and 3 riders were 4 to 6 hours in front of this grouping of racers.  My racing instinct had kicked back in and with all these racers in sight and right at 500 miles left I was in the mood to go hard to the finish.  From Cuba to Grants is 120 miles of easy pavement and I initially planned to ride it out and get a late hotel room in Grants.  I think this was the same basic plan the whole little Cuba group had.   For me it didn’t work out that way, about 40 miles outside of grants the wind was now a real headwind and there was a wall of rain clouds 10 miles ahead.  I felt I was expending precious energy fighting the wind and had no desire to ride 10 to 15 dark miles in a rain squall.  This section is flat wind swept desert type terrain with no visible shelter for miles.  
At 9pm I made a racers call to save energy and went to ground (literally) for my shelter and an early stop.  Best strategic call I made during the entire race.


Day 18, 20hr, 213 miles

Up and going again by 2am I could tell I made the right call.  Well rested from my warm dry stealth camp followed by a calm/no wind, ride into Grants I was ahead of the game.  I saw Lukas at a convenience store and thought he would soon be riding with me.  But we would only see each other one last time in Pie town, me leaving and him just arriving.  After a fast stop for Pie and Ice Cream at Pie Town  I was back at it. 
The finish line was singing out to me and I was riding well, the knee and achilles issues long forgotten, I was once again a TDR racer if only relatively speaking a for a few more hours.  All was going perfect when it rained again, hard this time.  Just  as I was topping out the ridge before Beverhead Work Center I completely mudded up.  The sun was down, my wheels were clogged, the bike now weighed about 90 pounds, wheels jammed with mud  and it seemed I would be spending the night in an exposed meadow waiting for daylight and the mud to dry.  Not wanting to give up to soon I zoomed out on my GPS and saw a road intersection about 1 mile ahead.  Hoping it might be mode gravel than dirt I got out the chain brush ala mud scraper and went about cleaning my bike frame and tires for the next 10 minutes.  Once mostly clean I rode and walked the grass next to the road and carried the bike thru some puddles till I reached that intersection.  Sure enough it was ridable and I was back in business, what a morale booster, I simply flew the next 30 miles down to Beaverhead and camped up in the blockhouse, warm dry and very satisfied with my second longest mileage day of the TDR


Day 19, 24hr, 206 miles

Last day, just 200 miles to go.  As I was leaving, up the first hill Andy Laycock rode by.  I had seen im fly by me up a hill back on day 3 and was simply amazed that a rider so strong was near me with only 200 miles to go.  If Andy ever gets serious about the TDR he could contend for a top spot.  Anyway I made no attempt to match Andy’s hill climbing powers, knowing I would blow up on the very 1st one.  I simple started a long hot slog thru the Gila, knowing that Silver City and real food would be my interim reward.  

Now  I can’t quite remember where or when I figured out I could conceivably finish in under 20 days but I would occasionally think about it.  In passing Andy had mentioned under 19 days and for some reason I started counting my days again.  Math is never my strong point but is exceptionally difficult when stressed and tired.  But I finally remembered that you start counting at zero days, not at day 1.  The idea I could squeeze out a finish in just under 19 days gave me a bit extra motivation thru the next few hot hours.
The tiny bit of single track was a refreshing break and quite enjoyable during daylight hours and soon I was enjoying two McDonald’s Milk Shakes in Silver City.  Leaving Silver City I figured out that just like 2010 I would be asking my wife to meet me in AW’s in the dark.  I called her and tried to explain that I would ride a pace so she could arrive with the sun rise.  And basically that’s how I finished, riding a easy pace, with some extra stops so Sharon could meet me at sunrise in Antelope Wells New Mexico . 
Tired, mostly satisfied....
Finished at 18days and 22 hours.


Post Race: 

Sharon and I gave Andy a ride up to Albuquerque and enjoyed hearing about his TDR experiences.  He had a bit of a tough go with his race, mostly due to being rather new to the multi-day race experience.  If he ever comes back watch out as I would expect him to contend for a podium position.

Will I ever do the TDR again?  I get asked this and the answer is 'I hope so' but at my age I am not sure I have it in me to truly ‘race’ such a long event.  And if I am not racing it’s not that big of a deal to just ride it.  There are other, better routes to just ‘ride’.  On the other hand I would like to shoot for the 'over 60' age record..........

What would I do different?  Quite a bit actually.  I would run a 2X11 or 2x10 with front suspension and also a crank based power meter sensor.  Front suspension to allow me to maximize my modest downhill and technical skills along with smoothing out the bumps and reducing the cumulative fatigue.

2X11 to allow me to have both a top end and bottom end as needed.  I could cry thinking about how much time I lost due to my 32X11 set up.  I still cringe thinking about the miles and miles of flat or slightly downhill bumpy sections where my legs begged for a standing position to rest while pushing against some light resistance.

Power meter you ask?  Josh was running one and he explained it not only kept him pushing to his real/true capability but just as important let him rest and pace better in slow or windy sections, knowing he was outputting at his sustained limit.  I think a power meter on the TDR could be the most important piece of additional gear a top racer could use to maximize potential.  

I would carry a bit more food and skip some resupply stops.

And finally I would not eat so much trail mix.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Safe Harbors

Leaving Steamboat, new arm & leg coolers (Thanks for the pic John)
Day 12, 10 hr’s, 90 miles

Steamboat was my pre-planned bike maintenance stop so there was no reason to get up early.  I think I set my alarm for 7:30am but woke up well before it went off, I stayed in bed and ate the rest of my midnight snacks.  About 8:30am I rolled over to the bike shop, Orange Peel and waited for them to open.  There was one other racer also waiting.  My bike went up on a repair stand as soon as the doors opened and they got right to it.  I didn’t roll out till around 11:00am so it took about 2 hours for them to pull all the requested maintenance items.  I was not happy with the amount of time it took but this was 100% my fault for asking them to do some things that in retrospect were unnecessary time killers. Just like always the Orange Peel wrench's did a bang up job, my hats off to them!  But-note to self--regardless of where you decide to pull a bike maint pit stop only ask for truly needed, short duration repairs. On the other hand I did borrow a shop bike and rode it across town to another shop to purchase some leg coolers in anticipation of some hot NM days. 

It’s sort of interesting to look at the Trackleader Leaderboard Steamboat, shows me arriving in 20th place, I finished in 18th. Most of the racers who were in Steamboat just before or after I would see over the next few days and most would all finish near the same time. 
Close to AW, TDR 2010, John, Mathew & Mike

While my bike was being finished up John Foster stopped by and said hi, he introduced me to his son (upcoming bike & X Ski racer). 
John and had I crossed paths during the 2010 TDR  down in the NM Gila Mountains and wound up racing to AW on the last day. 
Saw John again later as I left town,he was on his road bike and we chatted up a storm till the route hit gravel.

As I said I didn't leave town till around 11 so I didn’t make it very far.  I was feeling good and planned to ride till 11:30 or so but from the Colorado River crossing to Williams Fork Res. the mosquitos were as bad as I have ever dealt with. I stopped in the block house at the reservoir to escape the little buggers and grab a bit to eat and decided to simply call it a day at 9pm, 90 miles.  Ha, by far my shortest time and distance for the entire route.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Do over

picture from Brush Mtn Lodge facebook account (ha Kirsten made me smile like that)

Day 11, 5:30am – 12:30pm, 19hrs, 135 miles

I would imagine that anyone reading this realizes I did finish. But that night drifting off to sleep in my seedy Wamsutter hotel room I was fully expecting to have to scratch when the alarm went off.  When I did wake up all the ice on both knees was melted to water in plastic bags and wet towels, but there was still a bit of ice under my achilles.  I gingerly rolled off the bed  and ‘tested’ the achilles for the prior nights grinding and clicking.  To my compete surprise there was no grind or pop or noticeable obstruction of any type whatsoever.  Everything, knees and achillies, ribs etc, was a bit sore but …..I was back in it.  A huge weight lifted and I absolutely knew in my heart that if I was careful and didn’t screw up, or have my bike break in half, I would see Antelope Wells.

Ha most of you are probably more than tired of reading about my downhill progression, me too but I am trying to reflect what I thought and felt and not sugar coat anything.  I will say that from here to the end mentally I was going uphill so each post should be in general a bit more positive.

I popped over to the truck stop and topped off my supplies and then headed south.  The immediate plan was to baby my achilles along the flat (and dusty from oil rig trucks) dirt road.  This was truly a nasty section of road with the large tanker type trucks rumbling by but I will say most of the drivers did slow just a bit and always gave plenty of room.  However there was no way short of completely stopping that they could keep from dusting me.  It wasn’t long before I had crossed highway 789 and left all the traffic behind.  It’s not just dusty traffic I had left behind, in many ways my race had restarted, my personal mid-race "do over".  It’s not easy to put into words how relaxed I was now verses how stressed I had been feeling the last 3 or 4 days. In many ways the ‘race’ was off my mind yet not really. Now I felt centered, balanced if you will and ready to get on with my TDR experience.

65 miles into my day, about 9 hours later I rolled into the little town of Savery.  I stopped at the little museum and asked if there was still a soda machine on the premises, instead I was offered some ice for the water bladder and as many frozen homemade cookies as I wanted.  I already had all the food I could possible need, especially with Brush Mtn Lodge just up the road, but I took some ice and a few cookies more to be polite than anything else, although the ice was nice as the day was just barely hot. About 2.5 hours later I reached Brush Mtn Lodge.  The post-race Trackeleaders Spot check shows it was just past 5:00pm and I had traveled about 90 miles at a 7.5mph pace.  At the time I knew I had reached the lodge way too early to stop for the day.  I also remember feeling very fresh and relaxed, I had paced myself all day at a low level and was feeling good. 

Kirsten offered up her usual racer support, encouraging words, hamburgers cooked to order, race gossip, a offer for a place to camp or get a room if needed and on and on.  If you want a real feel for just how big deal this mid race pit-stop at Kirsten’s lodge is I would invite you to go to her lodge’s facebook page  and simply click through all the 2015 TDR pictures.  It’s a great way to scope out TDR bike set ups if you are thinking of doing the race-- but what I would ask is you first focus on is the expression on each racers face.  YES, that’s right-- almost everyone has that huge oversized smile. 
ha--here is my usual rather wimpy 'big' smile
I am sure some of those smiles are because at this point you are just over ½ way done with what by now is turning into a truly ‘long’ race.  However the main part of each racer's smile is I think because stopping at Kristin’s lodge is a huge TDR Magic Moment. (see earlier post about TDR magic moments)  

I had my hamburger, declined to stay the night, listened politely to some unexpected and thoughtful advice on trailside first aid techniques for my ailing achilles and just relaxed for about an hour.  But it was simply too early to stop and I wanted to pass by DB’s last camp spot in daylight hours and say some sort of hi to his ever lingering presence. 

Later up the road, just before the pass I spooked a mama elk nursing her calf.  Bikes can be quiet and I was quite close, closer than I realized before she saw me. When mama did see me, in her haste to escape she knocked into her poor calf who took a comical tumble, and then confused baby was up and off like a flash to catch up to mama.    I reached the pass right at dark, popped on the helmet light, which had a known full charge for a change, and worked my way slowly down the notorious harsh decent.  Ah, how I was wishing for the comfort of a FS frame like the one Andres Bonelli was running.  A post-race Spot check shows he had crossed the same punishing section the morning of the day before, he was already 1.5 days further along at this point.  After the bumps it was long but easy cruising into Steamboat.  It had been a good day, the body held on quite nicely all day with only one ice pack used, back at Brush Mtn. 
Brush Mtn was just about the last time I felt the need to ice down 
The 135 miles at a 7mph overall pace was nice, in essence the whole day had been a rolling recovery day and I knew I was going to finish it with a long sleep in a hotel with one more ice down and lots to eat and drink.

So I rolled in to a 24 hour super convenience store at 12:30pm and finalized my plans for the night. Called and confirmed the hotel room, ate some food right on the spot and bought extra to eat in my room.  The basic reason to push on to Steamboat was to sleep warm and snug, recover some more, sleep till just before the bike shops opened and hit one 1st in line.  I wanted to set myself up for some better days going forward.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Days 9 & 10, Almost Match Point

Days 9 and 10, 4:30am to 9:30pm next day-41hrs, 272 miles

Note: I am treating day 9 & 10 as a single duration because even though I stopped twice neither pause was truly a full recovery stop.
The alarm went off with the usual shock and as I dressed and packed I analyzed the crash damage.  I felt ok as long as I didn’t breathe in to deeply or lift my left arm above a certain point.  Also I couldn’t ‘pull’ any bag straps with my left hand as this caused rather sharp pains in my chest. But I had a sense I would be ok to ride the typically non-technical TDR terrain without too much difficulty.  Once out the door and on my way it was once again a perfect day weather wise. Overall 2015 was ‘record setting’ conditions just about every day.  I was curious and looking forward to the new for 2015 section coming up.  This new section does have a short push-a-bike up a very steep bit of ATV trail (ha, you walk right where the mosquitos are thickest).  But once up high its truly one of the more scenic sections.  

One of the common questions any TDR racer is asked is some version of “WHY”.  Why do you do it, why do you like it, why do you want to go back etc etc.  Part of my answer both to myself and others is what I call ‘magic moments’.  A magic moment is when you are temporary lifted to a higher level.  It could be the rush from a fun & fast downhill section.  Or maybe the taste of a meal at the end of a long day.  I experience magic in some amount at least once every day on the TDR (ha, even the worst days at least once).  Many times it’s the sun rising or setting, coupled with a fantastic view out across wild terrain.  Such was the case around 7:30 am that morning.  I had left the nasty mosquitos and push-a-bike behind and traversed some ‘alpine high’ 2-track.  Ahh at about 9600 feet, with some warm sun and views to forever I was off to a great start for day 9.  For a just short time all the mental stress, minor aches and resupply concerns were put aside and once again the magic flowed.

I reached Pinedale about 3:15pm, resupplied on food and found a drug store for some more Aleve pills and my current favorite chamois cream (Lanacane anti-chafing gel).  By 6:15pm I was past the convenience store at Boulder (big ice cream sandwich) and headed into the big fast rollers with the Wind River Mtn Range to my left.  So far the day had flowed along quite nicely, in 2010 this area of the route was a highlight and for a few hours was enjoyable in 2015. 
funny but I think I felt like the driver about now
But as night approached things began to go south just a bit.  My left knee and achilles once again became almost unbearable but there was no easy location to soak in any flowing ice water. 
Oh, I forgot to mention in my day 8 post that back then I had finally discovered my handlebars had somehow become twisted about ¾ of an inch to the left.  I had ridden over 1000 miles in a non-symmetrical position. Needless to say I think this was a significant factor in over stressing my left knee. 

Anyway back to the evening of day 9. In retrospect at this point I should have found a good camp spot and got in a full nights recovery. However I had set a goal to pull a 160 mile day and reach the rest stop at Hwy 28.  The riding was easy, I still felt the need to push and despite the growing knee problem I pressed on.  Once at the rest stop I tucked into the handicap stall, bike and all and locked the door.  The plan was to sleep for 4 hours and be gone by 4:00am. 
Unfortunately I could not relax and sleep.  After 2 to 3 hours of non-sleep I packed up and moved on.  I discouragingly read all the ‘go JP’ signs painted along the shoulder of the highway and began to feel really sorry for myself, no painted signs of encouragement for poor ol me.  Two miles later just past the turn towards Atlantic City I stopped and had a bit of a break down.  Not knowing exactly why I found myself just sitting in the middle of the road, wondering what to do.  My mind was more than a bit foggy.  I remember thinking how I wanted to stop at Atlantic City for some food but would be well past there by the time the one restaurant possibility might open.  My knee was inflamed and slightly swollen and the rest of me also felt like crap, and why was I just sitting here?  This was so atypical.  Far away the sky was getting light, the sun coming up.  Then I had a mini revelation that went something like; Marshal you are such an idiot of course you feel like crap as you have not had any real sleep for almost 24 hours, just ride to Atlantic City, fine a spot and sleep till the café opens.  And just like, in a few seconds my mind cleared, my spirits lifted and I was on task.
Once at Atlantic City I saw I could lay out my bag inside the big Teepee.  I slept for about 2.5 hours and then got up and went into the now open café and got some hot breakfast.  Looking back I can see I should have slept for at least 4 hours but couldn’t see the logic at the time.

Leaving Atlantic City in the late morning the day was once again perfect and so was I, at least for a few hours.  A couple of hours later and I was soaking the knee in ice cold water at Diagnus Well.  
multiple uses for cold water
I didn’t need drinking water but that soak was the only thing that kept me going.  Feeling restored I pushed thur the new cutoff over the truly remote feeling backcountry trails. 
The wind was fighting me but I really enjoyed this new cutoff, my magic moment for day 10.  However when I reached the gravel road into Wamsutter I was once again mentally out of gas.  A quick Spot dot check shows that last 25 miles into Wamsutter took 2.5 hours or 10mph.  Not nearly as bad as it felt at the time but several racers had flown swiftly by depressing me to no end. And to top it off my digestive system was causing me all kinds of grief; guess it was not use to a real breakfast followed by massive amounts of trail mix.
It was about 9:30 pm when I reached the big Wamsutter truck stop and began my usual resupply routine.  However my first step away from the bike I felt the achillies begin to pop and grind.  Humm, that's a bad bad sign.  My first thought was, damm race over, no way I am making it to Antelope Wells with that level of injury.  After thinking about it for a few minutes I turned on the smartphone and called one of the possible 'pre-race researched' hotel rooms in town and yes, confirmed a room was available.  I loaded up with food and drink and plastic bags swinging from my bars rode to the room.  When I checked in I confirmed I could stay two nights if needed.  Wow was it a gunslingers worst nightmare of a room, trashed trashed trashed, but the door locked and it had a bed and bathroom. Plus I had a bag of ice and a rough plan.  I called my wife and told her to make plans to pick me up as I was sure my leg was done for.  I ate a meal, cleaned up and then lay on the bed with lots of ice tucked under my achillies and on top of both knees, ate and drank some more and slowly fell asleep, about 90% sure match point was at hand and my race was done.