July 2009 Archives

Tour de Getting My Ass Kicked

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I had me some grand plans for this past weekend. See, I'm planning this bicycle tour for later in the summer and I wanted to see what I could do on a fully loaded touring bike.  The answer was kind of depressing.  I had grand plans to take four days and run to Duluth and back- about 450 miles from my house.  Damn you, reality.   

My plans started to fall apart right from the start when my four day weekend became three.   I decided I could leave early on Friday though, and still have a solid 3.5 days to see how far west I could make it.  I figured I had a shot at making it well into WI at least.   I probably should have left Saturday morning and taken a few extra hours to prepare.  I left a few key items behind and apparently botched a tire swap.

Nonetheless, I did get out the door before 7pm and got a solid 30 miles in before I set up camp for the night.  It's been a couple years since I've been backpacking, but it's hard to forget those routines.  It's readily apparent that in touring, miles are won and lost off the bike, not on it.  Efficiency in setting up and tearing down camp will win you a lot more miles than pedaling your brains out on the road.

Woke the next day with just enough time to break camp, eat breakfast, and get a few miles in before it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And rain some more.  Surprisingly, riding a bicycle through the rain and cold isn't nearly as bad as trying to ride a motorcycle through it.

Fellow traveler.


Later that afternoon, the rain stopped, and just as things started to look up, my tire started going down.  Usually, I have pretty good tire luck. I rarely have flats, and when I do- the cause is obvious and easily taken care of.  This one was annoying, once I had the tube out, I could not find the leak. Worse, once I got the new tube in, it started leaking a couple miles later. To pile more misery on, the process of changing the tube out aggravated a wrist I sprained in last weekend's crash.  In short, this trip had taken a solid turn for the shitty.  I was drenched, my wrist hurt like hell, my tire wouldn't hold air, and I was a solid day out from home at this point.  

Still, if you ever need to renew your faith in humanity, go fix a flat tire on a bicycle at a roadside rest area sometime.  The offers for help just come rolling in. And stories about their bicycle trips. And suggestions for future bicycle tours.  Maybe I racked up some good karma someplace, but I suspect it's more the case that I've got a huge debt to pay down now.  

The one nice thing about when a trip goes to hell like this, is you can give up trying to kill yourself to attain some crazy goal.  You can just kind of enjoy what you have and roll with whatever punches follow.  In Bergland, I figured if I was going to have to spend another night on the road, I might as well make it someplace nice and turned north to the Porkies.  

Things slowly started ti improve. The weather turned downright pleasant, my tire decided to hold air for the remaining miles, and visiting White Pine is always cool.  White Pine is kind of a unique city.  It's a modern suburb complete with a mall and school and all the trappings of modern suburban life that was built to support the nearby White Pine mine.  Once the mine closed, the town was left to sort of dwindle away.   There's still a lot of people living there, but it feels very much like a ghost town.   

Once I got to the border of the Porcupine Mountains State Park, I decided some cold beer would be just the thing to treat my aching and swollen wrist.   You know, for medicinal purposes only.   I stopped off at the hotel in Silver City to pick up a six pack, and hey lookit that- they have vacancies too.   And a hot tub. And prime rib on special.    SOLD!   Man, it's a rough life touring by bicycle. 

The next morning, I just couldn't convince myself to load up the bike to spend the day doing a lap around the park. Things were looking promising on the tire front, but I just didn't want to face the prospect of having to deal with it again with my wrist bothering me.  Plus a hotel would definitely be out the next night and setting up and tearing down camp was painful enough.   

So I tucked my tail between my legs and pointed the bike homeward. Caught a nice tailwind most of the way back, and although the tire was still flaky- it was clear it was going to get me home.  Took the opportunity to hit some trails in between Greenland and Mass City for a bit.    A nice enjoyable ride which gave me some opportunity to reflect on the touring lessons I learned on this trip.

I have an all new respect for people that can pull triple digit distances on a touring bike and still camp out every night. The whole touring thing is such a radical departure from preparing for and entering races.  Racing is all about what you can do in the saddle, touring is all about what you can do when you're not turning the pedals.   It looks like 75 miles is about the max I can do in a day and camp out that night.  Physically, I'm capable of going much farther every day, but it's all the little things involved with living off the bike and keeping it rolling day after day that set my mileage limits.

I've set some more modest goals for my upcoming tour in August, but I think it'll make for a saner, much more pleasurable trip.   

Tree Hugger

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Go ahead. You know you want to.  Ask me about the Tour. C'mon ask me.  

"So James, you watchin' the tour? How 'bout that Lance guy!"  

"Lance? Lance who?  Have you been following that crazy chick on the fixie? Or how about Plesko on the single speed?" 

My "Tour" is, of course, the Tour Divide. Almost 2800 miles of unsupported mountain bike racing. The top guys will do it in a little under twenty days.  Crazy, crazy stuff.  And good inspiration for more bad decisions on my part. Like my decision to do Twelve Hours of Potluck solo.   Hey, if those Tour Divide racers can pull 100+ mile days on dirt for weeks on end, I should be able to survive 12 hours in the saddle of a mountain bike.   My goal for this race was simple: 100 miles, or 12 hours, whichever came first.  

Unfortunately, I recently acquired a single speed mountain bike which I've been just dying to get out and race.  I figured I'd start out on that and see how long I could keep pushing it and then switch to my good old geared bike later. 

A quick note on endurance racing for the uninitiated: It takes a metric shit load of calories.  I started off the night before with a pizza.  Followed up the next morning with a giant stack of my famous apple cinnamon walnut pancakes, threw in a breakfast burrito on the way down to Marquette, and spent most of the day subsisting off of "Ensure", "Honey Stinger" energy gels, and the occasional ham sandwich, bagel, and handful of nuts.   I nailed it just about perfect, only occasionally did I dip into the red, and I don't feel like I ate too much.  Coming back around to the cooler every 5.5 miles makes it easy to fine tune this sort of thing.

The race features a LeMans style start with everybody running about 50 yards to their bikes before they start riding. My teammate Tammi and I were both doing 12 hours solo and felt no real need to rush into this, so we literally skipped our way over. This actually proved fast enough to get us a midpack start.  I had that "Zippity-Do-Da" song playing in my head for the first couple laps.  

The trail had lots of nice wide spots, and everybody kept a pretty mellow pace, so there was lots of time for conversation on the trail. It became readily apparent that my desire to try for all 12 hours on a single speed earned me a certain bad ass status.  It also became obvious that I'd need one hell of a good excuse to bail for gears. (This, kids, is what we call foreshadowing)  

On lap number four, I started feeling it.  32x17 was getting hard to push up the hills, but the rooty downhill section was just killing my arms.  I found that if I kept a loose grip on the bars, I could still keep a decent pace up without too much pain.  This kind of left me at the mercy of the roots on the trail- with no front suspension they'd easily knock me off course.  Most of the time, I could recover, until.... 

On lap 5, I hit one root pretty good that took a little bit of wrestling to recover from, once I looked up from the trail, I was looking pretty much straight at a tree, coming my way fast. Target acquired, captain- proceed to fixate.  BLAM!


Honestly, I'm kind of glad the bike took the hit like that. Had I veered just a little bit, that could have been my collar bone.  And those don't bend real well. Had myself a nice 2 mile walk of shame back to the pits, but hey- I think I had a legitimate excuse to bail for gears and a suspension fork at this point.

Since I took a pretty good whack on the face just above my eye and hit hard enough to crack the foam in my helmet, I took a nice long break for lunch to make sure everything still functioned like it was supposed to and tell stories about what an amazingly skilled mountain bicyclist I was.   Obviously, I must have taken a harder knock to the head than I thought because I decided to get back out there and finish the race. 

I had a revised goal of 16 laps for the event now.  I'll spare you the details of endurance racing a 33lb. hard tail on 2.4" tires, but yes- it hurt.  The only real mistake I made during the event after that was convincing my teammate Brett to go out for another lap or two before calling it quits.  He was at 16 laps and sounded kind of iffy about it.  Nonetheless, it game me the motivation to stick it out until the end- I figured if I could get 16 in, I could at least match Brett. 16 laps- almost 90 miles, with 35 minutes left to spare- not quite enough time for me to get a last lap in. My little pep talk worked though, he snuck out for a 17th lap.

In retrospect- that was a fun event. Lots more variables to contend with than your usual 3 hour race.  And dealing with the unknown is what makes mountain bike racing fun for me.  Next year, they're going to a 24 hour format.   An extra 12 hours to make bad decisions, I'll be back.     

Miner's Revenge

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Miner's Revenge

"Sweet, a bike race through a mine! I'm gonna sign up for four laps so I can go through the mine as many times as I can!"

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who thought this.  I am, however, one of the few who kept thinking this even after riding the course.  You know, the course with the killer climb up the ski hill and the crazy technical decents that sent pretty much everybody over the bars at least once.  

So anyway, I got down there Saturday afternoon for the preride (more laps through the mine!) and festivities (beer!). I was sort of winging it on the light front. I was hemming and hawing over a couple of cheap LED lights The Bike Shop had- Steve and Caleb said they'd be good enough for the underground section of the course and make a pretty good light for night skiing later on.  By process of reverse logic, I figured that the headlamp that I was currently using for night skiing and I considered as "pretty good" would therefore be suitable for the mine section. Twenty or thirty zip ties later and I was ready to do the preride.  I initially left the zip ties uncut just to be weird (better mind ray reception, man)- but on the first lap they proved to be functional as they'd scrape the rood the mine before anything more substantial hit.   There was one rather low spot that required getting off the bicycle.  

After a couple laps through the mine and over some of the more technical features of the trail, I decided it was time to get on with the evenings festivities. At about 1AM, I decided enough was enough and hit the sack.  The diehards apparently kept going until about 5AM.  I was up at 6:30.  

The race organizers had some pretty good coffee ready around 7:30 and I spent the morning discussing my race strategy with my fellow competitors: Lose with as much dignity as I can muster and free from serious injury. It was also readily apparent that pretty much everybody was bailing for the easier two lap option.  I decided that completing the four lap version would keep a couple shreds of dignity intact as long as I could finish it.  Now I just had to avoid seriously maiming myself.  

My worst suspicious were confirmed when I lined up at the start of the four lap race and looked around at a small pack of some very fierce competition.  They'd all be in front of me in no time. What worried me most was the pack of two lappers who'd be starting 5 minutes behind me. A combination of crazy people, fast people, and crazy fast people in that crowd meant I'd be spending a good portion of my second lap surrounded by a lot of encouragment to ride over my head. 

We rolled off the starting line and I kept it jovial with anybody who cared to hang back with me.  Turns out, there was a guy doing four laps of this madness as his first mountain bike race ever.  I was feeling pretty good that I had one better than DFL wrapped up for myself. 

I managed to make it through the race with only a minor incident when I brushed a wall in an old foundation after making a sharp right through a doorway. Nothing serious, but there was enough blood to leave the folks at the aid station concerned.  For the most part, I kept it reigned in to avoid crashing and as a result, never really got cranked up into race mode.  I probably could have kept going another couple laps before I really started getting tired.  Or at least that's what I tell people.  Still managed to come in two places ahead of DFL. Bob was nice enough to try to do four laps on a single speed and as a result, finished about 5 minutes behind me.  Technically, I was pretty much single speeding most of the course in 22-34 anyway. 

And yes, it goes without saying that riding a bike through a mine is just damn cool.  With various prerides, I must've done 10 laps through it.  My light was barely adequate, but the mine portion of the course was pretty easy compared to the rest of the course anyway.  


Pictures by Chris
Pictures and video by Josh & Nancy    


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As Jello Biafra once said, "Being the old underground diehard won't pay the kid's dental bills."  While I don't have kids, I do have a lot of dumb stories to tell, and I hate posting the same thing to 37 different forums and social networking sites, so I figure I'd do the blog thing so the 3 people who actually care (Hi Mom!) can check in regularly.  Without needing a gopher client.