Sunday, August 10, 2014

What I did this summer

 Rolling out.

In keeping with the college tradition (for me, anyways), I once again find myself scrambling to finish my homework on the last day before it's due.  That being said...

On July 11th at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon (a half hour late, of course) I headed out to the center of the bridge crossing the Big Sioux river with my friend and riding partner Don.  A few weeks earlier we had signed up for the Trans Iowa Masters Program, a 380 mile individual time trial that traversed from one side of the state to the other run primarily on gravel roads.  There was no official time limit on this trek, but the rules stated that you couldn't stop for more than four hours at a time.  Our plan was to finish no later than Sunday afternoon.

We took off from the middle of the Big Sioux, through Hawarden and on to the gravels with little fanfare as only my girlfriend Deb was there to see us off.  The skies were overcast and we'd seen some minor sprinkles while getting ready (foreshadowing) , but apart from that the early portions of the ride were pretty unremarkable.  Flat, straight roads were the order for the day and Don and I just focused on putting miles behind us with little conversation.

Let's just Tivo past that and into the good stuff.

So there we were, huddled in home made bivy sacks underneath a flatbed trailer at 5am while rain dripped through the slats and mosquitoes hovered overhead searching for an opening in our thin protective shells...

Wait, that's too far.  Let's rewind a bit.

The time is around 3am and we're cruising down a gravel road in steady rain.  Don's not doing so well and having a very hard time staying awake.  For the last hour or two we've been looking for a good spot to stop and grab a couple hours of sleep when about a mile ahead we see headlights.  After a minute or two we realize they're not getting any closer.  As we approached, we realized it was a police car parked on the gravel at an intersection with a paved road.  I flew right past him, not wanting to answer the questions of a suspicious officer wondering what two cyclists were doing on a gravel road at 3am in the rain, but Don's a bit more social than I am and decided to stop and chat.  I turned back and joined in on the following conversation.

Don:  blah blah blah not on RAGBRAI, blah blah blah Trans Iowa, blah blah blah oh, I guess I should turn off my nuclear powered headlight so it's not shining in your face.  Hey, by the way, are there any parks in the next town we could bivy in?

Officer:  Uh, I don't know.  That's out of my jurisdiction.

Don:  Well are there any good barns up this road we could sleep in?

Officer (looking uncomfortable): Uh, well, I don't really know of any.

Me, about two minutes after rolling on:  So you realize you just asked a police officer if he knew of any good places we could trespass, right?

And on we continued, until the next town, where we found a lot full of flatbed trailers.  We picked one we could squeeze under and climbed into our Tyvek bivvies four an hour and a half of soggy, restless slumber.  At around 6:30 I started getting cold and woke Don up.  We packed up, hit the convenience store in town, answered all the requisite RAGBRAI questions and continued on.  Three miles later we saw what would have been the perfect bivy spot.


Continue we did, rain off and on (but mostly on) for the rest of the day.  I was digging it, but not so much for Don.  Sleep deprivation and wet chamois issues wore at him throughout the day and by the time we made it to Forest City, about halfway through, I knew he was probably done.  We agreed to grab a hotel room for a couple hours of sleep, but it wasn't enough.  After a lengthy discussion, it was decided that he'd stay the night and catch a ride back in the morning while I would continue on.  At just before 10pm, and within minutes of the four hour maximum stop time, I was on my way again.  I hit up a convenience store for a resupply, rode back to the part of the course we diverted from, and continued on.

Five miles later I had pulled up to Pilot Knob state park for the mid-term exam.  After initially missing the turn-off onto the equestrian trail, I located it and hopped on for the next mile or so.  While it had stopped raining and there was a full moon, I was also under heavy tree cover after dark on a very soggy trail.  If I had been in a bad state of mind, this would have been my undoing.  I was freshly rested and pumped though, and despite a little guesswork in areas that the trail diverged I made it through without getting lost, injured or eaten.

From this point on, the rest of the night was pure bliss.  The moon was full, the skies were clear, there was no wind and a light mist shrouded many of the hills.  The road was still soggy and slow, but the night was serene.  As many night rides do, the hours blended together and the night boiled down to two images that I can still imagine as vividly as if I were there.  One, standing at the top of a hill and looking out over miles of rolling terrain, moonlit with a fine mist pouring through the valleys.  The second, on a concrete bridge with steel truss side rails, spanning a rippling creek.  Both banks lined with trees and the full moon shown down the middle, shining off the water.

In spite of the two naps the day before, by sunrise I was finding it very hard to stay awake.  After an hour of nearly nodding off while riding, I pulled off to the side of the road and laid down on the gravel for a short, ten minute nap.  Two more times I needed to do this, laying down, falling asleep immediately, and popping back up five to ten minutes later.  The third nap finally stuck and I was set for the rest of the day.


While most of me was still feeling strong and reasonably fresh, my feet were starting to suffer from the combination of miles, worn out insoles and dampness.  My shoes and socks never had a good chance to dry out after all the rain and as the day wore on my feet drifted from discomfort to pain to "hey, this is really not cool".  I pushed on through Decorah, into the steep hills of northeast Iowa, trying to baby a set of contact points that really couldn't be rested.  I started counting down miles by the tens, then the fives, then just focusing on making it to Whitetail Drive and the inevitable long downhill to the Mississippi river finish in Lansing.  At around 5:30pm, 49 hours after leaving the Big Sioux, I coasted up to the Mississippi and dipped my wheel while Deb cheered from the road.

 And so another summer adventure wraps up, one among many.  Thanks to G-Ted for organizing this little shindig, Don for rolling half of it with me, and as always a huge thanks to Deb for not only chauffeuring us around but also taking a day of vacation to do so.  Now, on to the next...

 Breakfast at the start of day 2.

 Heading back out.


 I jumped over this while pyrotechnics exploded from both sides.

 Done!  49 hours later.

More pruniness...

 No A&W at this finish, but I still got my corn dog and root beer float.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Moonshine Metric 2013

The preliminary date and start time for the 2013 version of the Moonshine Metric is September 21st, rolling out from Mount Vernon, IA at 7pm.  Further details will be posted on the Moonshine Metric site this week.  Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Trans Iowa V9 Gear and Nutrition

View inside seat bag

Last week I went over my bike setup for Trans Iowa.  You can see that post here.  Now, I'll go over the specifics of my gear and nutrition.

As of today, the forecast is for temps ranging from the upper 40's to the lower 70's with light winds the first day and moderate winds the second day.  It looks like the race and roads will be dry, with the exception of the B roads which will probably be a crap shoot due to last week's heavy rains.  Based on this forecast, I would wear the following:
  • Bibbed shorts
  • Summer jersey
  • Summer bike socks
  • MTB shoes with flexible sole (for walking comfort)
  • Light full fingered gloves
  • Sunglasses with daytime lenses
  • Helmet
  • Cycling cap
I would also pack away the following clothing in my seat poack for when it cooled off at night (mid to upper 40's).
  • Knee warmers
  • Light wool socks
  • Wind vest
  • Long sleeve base layer
  • Skull cap
I'll bring along some alternate clothing in case the forecast changes or it starts looking like there will be some rain.  These will likely get left behind though, since I want to keep my pack weight light.
  • Bibbed knickers (a little on the warm side for sunny and 70's)
  • Leg warmers
  • Neoprene shoe covers lined with cut up wool socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Full wind jacket
  • Mid-weight winter gloves

Repai kit

Most of my tools and field repair items will be kept in a stuff sack located in my seat bag unless otherwise noted.  My list for this weekend:
  • Multi-tool with chain breaker
  • Two tire levers (one kept in a more accessible bag for cleaning B road mud off of my shoes)
  • Spoke wrenches (my wheels use non-standard spokes)
  • Razor blade (wrapped with duct tape and kept in an old patch kit box to prevent premature slicage)
  • Two spare tubes
  • Patch kit
  • Two quick links
  • Spare handlebar bottle mount clamp (light, so might as well bring it)
  • Zip ties 
  • Derailleur cable
  • Safety pins
  • Velcro strap (wrapped around chainstay)
I was hoping to have some replacement spokes by now, but unfortunately they haven't come through yet.  Bummer.

Gas tank, partially loaded.  Zip locks will be ditched for accessibility.

My plan this year is to start out with enough food to make it through at least half the race before needing to resupply (current list has me good for around 24 hours at 250 cal/hr).  At some point I'm going to start craving other things, which is one of the reasons I'm not carrying enough for the entire race (the other two are weight and storage).  I will have five water bottles with me, two of which get plain water, two get my sports drink mix, and one carries my trail mix.  One of the water-only bottles will be kept in my seat pack and all the others will be in my frame or handlebar mounted bottle cages.  This should be enough water/fluids to get me 100 miles under the current forecast conditions, but I can always throw in another water bottle if I find myself drinking more than what I had originally planned on.  As for my nutrition break down, it will look something like this:
  • 1/2 water bottle of home made trail mix consisting of peanuts, sunflower seeds, M&Ms, chocolate covered raisins and a handful of gummy bears to perk it up a bit.  Approximately 1200 calories.
  • Home made granola bars.  Approximately 1000 calories.
  • Mini Snickers bars.  About 500 calories.
  • Gummy orange slices.  About 500 calories.
  • Clif Shot Bloks.  Four packs, two of which will be saved for night since those have caffiene.  800 calories.
  • 3oz Firehouse mild beef jerky (my favorite).  300 calories.
  • Ham and cheese subway sub.  Two 6" subs at 400 calories each.
  • 8 bottles worth Skratch Labs Secret Drink Mix.  About 1000 calories.
I may end up only going with one sub, but for the small amount of extra weight it's probably worth it to carry the second.  When I need real food then I'll want to have it available.  If the craving hits when I'm three hours from the nearest convenience store...  Well, that'll kinda suck.  As far as resupplies, I'll just leave it up to what I'm craving when I need to restock and skip food restocks altogether early on.  I'll still need to get water at regular intervals though.

Night pack

Apart from what I've listed above, here's the odds and ends of what I'll be taking.  Some will be kept in a dry bag located in my seat bag (my "night pack") and others that need to be more accessible will be kept in my Spocket.  
  • Night pack
    • 2AA batteries (for GPS)
    • 2 spare light batteries
    • Spare cell phone battery
    • Headphones (night use only)
    • Toilet paper
  • Spocket
    • 3 packets of Chamois Cream
    • Tire lever (for cleaning off shoes after B road hike-a-bikes)
    • Ibuprofen
    • Antacids
    • Pepto Bismol
    • Teflon chain lube
  • Other
    • Phone
    • ID
    • Money

So that's the rundown of what I'll be bringing to Trans Iowa this year.  Everything is pretty much waiting to go at this point so that I'm doing a minimal of last minute stressing and gear swapping. At this point I'll leave you with a few final notes.

  • A frozen burrito tossed into a pack to thaw out helped make a miserable ride less miserable down the road last year.
  • My head light will be resting on a handlebar mount when not in use.  It's light, but you still feel the weight.  This allows me to store it or install it on the fly.
  • In order to keep my gear minimized, my phone will double as my MP3 player at night.  Hence, the spare battery.  
  • A ziplock bag, a strip of duct tape and a couple zip ties make for a great cue sheet holder.
  • Pack your gear with accessibility at the forefront of your mind.  Time stopped is time wasted.

Good luck to everyone else who will be rolling out at 4am Saturday morning.  It's going to be a long ride, and you're going to suffer, but you can hate life all you want as long as you keep moving while you're doing it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Trans Iowa V9 Bike Setup

The bulk of this weekend was spent getting my bike prepared for Trans Iowa.  This will be my third attempt at this race and each time I've built on past experiences to fine tune it.  Since I tend to geek out about other folk's setups leading up to a big race, I'd like to take some time to share mine and explain why I do what I do.  In this post I'll be covering bike, storage and contingencies.  Later this week I'll cover food, clothing and other details.

Big Picture:
This year, as I have in my other two attempts, I'll be rolling on my Surly Cross Check.  I recently switched my wheels to a set of Ultegra road tubeless wheels to save a chunk of weight and allow for an easier conversion to tubeless.  I have the rear set up tubeless with a Kenda Happy Medium that I had sitting around the garage.  I used the tire briefly last year and switched to Clement MSO's after Almanzo, so it hasn't seen much use and is fairly fresh.  The front is a Clement LAS that I tried to get set up tubeless, but it didn't take.  I finally gave in and threw a tube in it today.  I've probably lost a little bit of wheel strength moving to these wheels, but then my previous wheelset was overbuilt and pretty heavy.  Plus, the Ultegra wheelset uses straight pull spokes so if I break one on the drive side I can replace it in the field.  I can't do that with my other wheelset.  The down side is I had to special order replacement spokes and nipples.  They should still be here before Trans Iowa though.

For storage I'll be using a Revelate Viscacha seat bag and a Revelate Gas Tank.  I tried the Revelate Jerry Can as well, but my legs rubbed on it too much so I removed it.  The seat bag will house my spare clothing, tools, extra food and water bottles, and other miscellaneous goods.  This eliminates the need for a Camelback, which for me is a big deal.  It's lighter, can carry more (though I'll keep it minimal) and most importantly gets the weight off my back and on the bike.  The Gas Tank will be used for food storage and probably nothing else. For water I've got two frame mounted bottle cages and I've added two more bottle cages to the handlebars.  One of these will be dedicated to a trail mix that I'll be keeping in a water bottle.

One thing I won't be using this year is a frame bag.  The last two years I've used a Revelate Tangle bag, but I'm skipping it so that I can shoulder my bike for the B road hike-a-bikes.  Previously I'd sling it across my back, which worked well, but it's awkward getting it up there when I'm fresh and mighty tough when fatigued.

The cockpit:
For navigational duties I'll be using a Garmin eTrex GPS in data logging mode only.  GPS mapping will get you DQ'ed in this event, but supposedly can be used in bike computer mode (gonna verify this).  In the past I used a Garmin Edge 500 in conjunction with a regular bike computer due to the limited battery life of the Edge and inability to charge while running.  The eTrex takes care of this though since it runs off of AA batteries and has a longer battery life.  Additionally, it doesn't reset your current data when you swap out the batteries.  Usually it's mounted to my stem, but I moved it to an aerobar computer mount located on the handlebars so that I can place my cues over the stem.

Shifters are Retroshifts set up 1x9 with a 9 speed barcon shifter.  I love this setup since it's damn near bulletproof and easy to service.  Regular brifters are just too much of a liability for me to ever use on a dedicated gravel rig again.  Bonus, they're lighter, cheaper and can be set to friction shift on the fly if your shifting goes to hell because you tried to ride that muddy B road.  Handlebars have been double wrapped for comfort and bottles are held in place with velcro.  Still need to tweak the bottle retention to make them easier to access on the fly though.  Finally, after experimenting with my stem an inch lower I moved it back up 3/4" to take some strain off my lower back.

Lighting and Visibility:
Lighting will be handled by two Cygolite Milion headlights.  One goes on the helmet and the other gets mounted to the fork leg.  The fork mounting is key for me since the angle of the light is such that it highlights the features of the road in a way that helmet and handlebar mounts don't.  The run time for each light is 7-8 hours on low (100 lumens) and the batteries can be swapped on the fly if you have them accessible.  The batteries are about the size of a roll of pennies, so they're easy to pack away and not very heavy.  On the rear, I have a typical red blinkie mounted to the left seat stay and LEDs in each handle bar end.  Finally, for added visibility I have white reflective tape wrapped around two places on each seat stay and in one place on each fork leg.  This is something I picked up from my friend Robb and later reinforced by Charles.

I've had my share of road and trail mishaps, and assisted others with plenty more.  As a result, I always try to think ahead to what could possibly go wrong on a ride and plan for it.  Part of that plan is to build spare parts and repair materials into my bike if I can.  Here's a couple examples:
  • My Cross Check has a number of unused rack and fender mounts that I like to stick extra bolts of various lengths into.  Even though I Loctite nearly everything that threads onto my bike, things can still come loose.  Added tip:  Make sure a couple of those spare bolts are cleat bolts.
  • This is new for this race, but I used double sided Velcro strapping for my chainstay protector.  This could just end up getting crudded up with dirt and mud, but worst case it's still a chainstay protector.  I secured the ends with electrical tape and folded the ends over on themselves so it's easier to peel if I need to remove it.
  • I like to attach a few safety pins to various straps on my bags.  Once upon a time I was mountain biking and came across a guy a few miles out from the trail head walking his bike.  He'd hit a rock and suffered a 3" gash on his sidewall.  The gash was too big to boot and I ruined a tube trying to air it up, so after a few trial and error attempts to get him rolling we ended up stuffing his tire with field grass to get him out.  If I'd had safety pins, we may have been able to close up the gash enough to boot it.  In any case, the hula-skirt-wheel approach does work in a pinch, as we found out, so put that in your back pocket for later use.
  • The handlebar bottle mounts are extruded aluminum and I had to screw them down pretty tight to keep them from moving.  This makes me a little nervous, so I'll be placing a loose zip tie through them to tie them together.  If one breaks, that should keep it out of my wheel.  They'll probably be fine, but I could use the peace of mind.
  • Since I won't be using a frame bag, I'll likely attach my spare spokes to the frame using Velcro ties.  If that doesn't hold them well enough, I'll switch to electrical tape.

Other notes:
  • I keep my bike pump attached to the fork leg, using one of the rack mounts and a zip tie to hold it in place.  If you do this, put some electrical tape underneath it to prevent it from rubbing on your fork leg.  You may also want to consider placing your pump in a gallon size ziplock before strapping it in to protect it (credit to Davie Gie for that idea).
  • The handlebar mounted bottles and double wrapped bar tape make for a decent set of makeshift aero bars.
  • Rear cassette has been switched from an 11-34 to an 11-32.  I didn't like the spacing on the 11-34 so it was worth it to ditch a couple teeth in order to jump from 11 to 12 instead of 11 to 13.  It'll make some of the hills tougher, but still worth it overall.  Front ring is a 38.
  • Carbon seatpost was swapped for an aluminum for added peace of mind.  Only paid a 50 gram weight penalty to do so and since I noticed a crack in the carbon post after I removed it I'm glad I took the time to do it.

That about covers it for the bike.  Later this week: Gear and nutrition.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


2011 finish time: Six hours, six minutes.

2012 finish time: Five hours, twenty-three minutes.

2013 finish time: Four hours, thirty minutes.

I'm digging this trend...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Winter in Review

The good times: me at the I AM FAT fatbike race in Iowa City.

In some cases this winter has been a lousy one for me, and in others it's gone fairly well.  Might as well get the bad out of the way.

I signed up for three winter ultras this season and didn't finish any of them.  I pulled out of the Tuscobia 150 after a paltry 63 miles due largely to a sore back.  Arrowhead ended for me at the second checkpoint when a mid-race snowstorm dumped 8-10" of fresh, unrideable powder on the trail and I found myself unprepared and unwilling to push 65lbs of bike and gear for the next 60+ miles.  When the racers at Triple D were rolling out, I was riding the couch and nursing a flu.  And that flu?  That was the second time this winter that I got sick when it's rare for me to fall ill once in a year.

But lets focus on the good.
  • We had more of a winter this year, allowing me to get a fair amount of quality snow riding in.  I rolled quite a bit of snow with Charles, which was a lot of fun.  I also got a few good chances to do some cold weather gear testing, something that didn't happen much last year.  That allowed me to do my first ride in sub-zero temperatures at a peak low of -7F after bivying out in my backyard overnight. 
  • I've lost 15lbs since Halloween.  Only five away from my Trans Iowa goal weight.
  • Back in December I rolled my fastest gravel metric ever, stopping the clock at 4 hours and 15 minutes when I hit 62.1 miles.  This was no cupcake of a route either, with damp roads and 3000 feet of climbing.  
  • A couple days ago I headed out for one of my weekly night rides with Charles and set an new PR for getting to Ivanhoe road, knocking two minutes and 30 seconds off my previous best over seven miles. 
  • The week before Triple D I did the I Am Fat fatbike race.  There was no snow at that point so it ended up being a cold weather MTB race in a three hour format.  I raced the solo category and took third place behind Charles and Dennis Grelk with 19 laps.  That had me finish ahead of about 80% of the relay racers as well.
  • Technically pre-winter, but I won the American Gothic Gravel Invitational back in October.  This was a 60 mile gravel race out of Marion Iowa and this was the second year I've raced it.  This marked the first time I'd won a race since 1999, so that was pretty exciting.
So what's next for me?  With CIRREM coming up next week I'm hoping to finish out the winter strong.  My best time for the course is about 5:25, but I'll be shooting for sub-five hours this year.  Hoping for another good one to close out the season.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Vision Questing

I'm packed up and ready to head to International Falls, MN tomorrow morning for my second running of the Arrowhead 135.  For those interested, you can follow my progress through one of the magical interweb portals below.  I can't promise much as far as updates go, but I'll try to throw out a few twits whenever I discover internet access.

Official race updates and time splits.

Arrowhead Facebook.

My Twitter handle: @10ftmidget

The race starts Monday morning at 7am and should finish for me sometime Tuesday afternoon or evening.  With any luck I'll regain some measure of coherence by Wednesday morning. Have a good weekend!