March 2010 Archives

Gravel Road Racing: Officially AWESOME.

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Yep. At least 35 miles of it anyway. We'll see how I feel about it after 100+ miles next weekend.  

Barry-Roubaix this past weekend.  What a way to start the season. I was really looking forward to this for a couple of reasons.  First, it would be my dad's first bike race ever (Yes, he chose something with the word 'killer' in the subtitle as his first race. I am obviously his son.)  Second, it would be a good shakedown cruise for my upcoming 100 mile gravel grinders.  Oh, and third- I managed to line up the sale of my trusty Trek 1500 road bike. This was going to pad out my recreation fund enough to get me a new bike for this year.  I also wanted to sneak a little singletrack in and maybe camp out on this trip.  Somehow, I fit all the crap I needed into my car.   

Managed to get the Trek to it's new owner. Excuse me while I get a little misty eyed over parting with this bike.  It's the bike that launched all this insanity in the first place.  Purchased almost entirely on impulse from Cross Country Sports almost exactly 3 years ago.  I really liked the paint job.  I dropped about 50-60 pounds riding that bike around. I grew to really love the superlight wheelset (well, compared to everything else I have), and the Ultegra 3x9 drivetrain setup is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of drop bar drivetrains in my opinion.  Only problem is, I can't seem to ride by a dirt road these days without wanting to go down it, and that just wasn't the bike for it.  I'm glad it's going to a friend who will use it to further his fitness goals as well. I hope it serves him well.  

Anyway, now that that's out of the way. Let me bitch about chain lube for a while.  You should just fast forward through this part. It's purely the ravings of a crazy man.  So I beat my folks to Team Bialas HQ in Grand Rapids by an hour or two, which was good as I had some maintenance to do on my bikes.  Mainly due to poor choice in chain lube.  For 3 years, I've had great luck using whatever I happened to buy off the shelf or get for free at a bike race.  I assumed this trend would continue.  Not so. Apparently, there is actually a difference besides price in all this stuff.  With all my spring gravel road riding, I had some seriously gunked up chains to deal with before my folks got there.  I got things mostly cleaned up and went a little lighter on the lube this time around and figured I was set for tomorrow's race.  

Over carbo-loading that night, I gave my dad a quick intro to Wheelsucking 101: "Pick a dude slightly faster than you and stay right behind him the whole way! NEVER pass him until the end!".   Other than that, we mostly exchanged a lot of stories beginning or ending with "It seemed like a good idea at the time..."

I got down to the race early and prerode the first couple miles of the course. I'm glad I did.  There was a fairly technical two track a couple miles in.  You basically had three options.  Try and stay on the rocky center, slog out in the sand filled ruts, or hop up on the shoulder.  If there were lots of people, this was going to get fun.  

And now, the start...  Oh man.... See, this is only the second year for the race. In this time, it has grown from 200something people last year to over 700, making it the third largest bike race in Michigan.  The start procedure might need a little tweaking. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I can see how some people would get pissed.  The idea was we'd do a nuetral rollout, staying within our respective waves until the actual start. Well, the rollout was S...L...O...W... So much so that we were packed up like sardines and people were pushing their way into the more advanced waves ahead.  Didn't take a cat 1 to see what was going to happen here.  

Sure enough, no more than 50 yards after the very first turn and the first chunk of gravel...



It looks like some people might have gotten hurt, and I kind of feel bad for them but geez... way to go geniuses.  The winter wasn't that long, did you all completely forget how to ride a bike?  

Ah, but it wasn't even close to over yet. We were still all packed up heading into that two track. Total. Fucking. Melee.  Roadies who couldn't do dirt. Mountain bikers who couldn't ride in a group. Jackasses who were going to win the race right then and there.  I'm proud to say I managed to keep it upright through all this and emerge unscathed.  You learn a thing or two in UPCROSS.  

After that, things kind of started to sort themselves out. Faster riders were zooming up from the back. Slower riders were falling off the front.  It made it really hard to settle into a suitable pack. I probably spent way more time riding alone than I should have.  

Somewhere in there, I had a host of mechanical issues.  First the nozzle on my camelback broke off- requiring that I drench myself every time I wanted a drink.  Then my front derailer went way out of whack, but not so much that it wasn't functional. And then I realized I went a little too light on the lube when my rear derailer started making a nasty squealing noise.  Oh, and my front fender was rattling like hell.  I was a little distracted.  

It took me a couple miles to get my head back into 'race mode' and try to settle in with a group of riders.  The course was actually pretty tough. Lots and lots of hills- no real killer death climbs, but quite a few I couldn't sprint up. That, combined with everybody around me being on all different kinds of bikes and all kinds of different abilities made it really tough to hold a group together.  Plus, there were so many people strung out along the course, you could kind of sprint from one person to the next and recover as needed.  

The last climb at the end was a tough one. Long and gradual.  Any groups we had going into that were just totally broken up on that hill.   As such, we were all pretty spaced out by the finish, so no crazy sprinting fun took place.  I never saw my dad once we rejoined the beginner course, so I figured he was having a good day and beat me to the finish line or chucked his bike into the woods and said to hell with this bike racing crap.  

Sure enough, he beat me by like 3 minutes and had a good time during the race. Although he seemed to enjoy it, his bike racing season is now officially over as golf season has begun.  

I managed to hang on for a respectable and not totally embarrassing finish in the Expert class.  As usual, I found myself just at the end of the smaller gaps with a 2:09 finish. I think I had a shot at a sub 2 hour finish, but perhaps next year. I was very, very happy to note that this might be the first time I've ever completed a race without just wanting to curl up and die after it was done.  Maybe I didn't push as hard as I could have, maybe I'm getting stronger, maybe it's something in the nature of gravel road racing, but damn- it's nice to be able to eat after a race.  

Awesome, awesome race in all. I think they might improve the start procedure which will take a little excitement out of it, but I hope to be back next year anyway.  It's good to get into race mode early like this.  I wasn't feeling this good on the bike until sometime in July last year.   

I've got to dial in a few things this weekend before the Ragnarok 105, but I'm feeling pretty confident about that.  I know I won't win, but I'm sure I can manage a respectable and not totally embarrassing finish there too.  The lottery approach to these races keeps me honest. Knowing that lots of fast people who train hard can't race because I lucked out and got a spot keeps me motivated in my training. I want to make sure I can add to the competition next weekend instead of just fighting for survival.   

Oh, and my new Kona Kahuna should be here Monday.  

Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Overdoing, Part II

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So I've got a couple of knees that aren't exactly really happy right now and maybe 90 miles of commuting under my belt for cumulative pedaling so far this season.  Weather was nice this weekend.  Maybe time to get a few easy spinning miles in? Get the knee all rehabed up for the race coming up in two weeks?  

Oh come on, you know me better than that. It's time to ride out to the biggest fucking hill I can find, ride to the top, then take the muddy, rock strewn road back down the other side.  Also gotta sneak in as much dirt as I can on the way there and back.  

You know a ride's going to be good when the road gods bless you with a pizza within the first five miles. I'm sure there was a beer or two out there as well- or certainly enough empties to buy some. The receding snowbanks revealed all kinds of hidden treasure. And deer carcasses.

A few miles later, I turned off the pavement and hit my first dirt of the day.  I stopped at the top of the hill and looked back down the road, out over Keweenaw Bay towards the Huron Mountains I'd soon be trying to conquer.  This picture demonstrates my complete inability to capture such images.   

Climbing the paved section to Herman, stopping to see what I've accomplished. My photography skills continue to amaze. 

Climbing up to Herman is always cool, as it's the closest thing we have to a mountain road around here.  You can actually watch as the climate and geology change the higher you get. Herman proved to have some interesting road conditions at times.  

And other times, was totally awesome.

Logging crews were out in force.  Or at least their equipment was. I'm convinced that when the robot apocalypse comes, humans will meet extinction in the claws of things resembling logging machinery.  

I gotta say, my fancy new wool jersey (Thanks, mom!) really did the trick. It's much more tolerant of the wide ranging weather conditions you see in a typical day than the usual synthetic bike garb.  Unfortunately, this is the best I can do in the beard department, so I still can't qualify as a full on wool n' leather retrogrouch yet.   

Finished up with about 85 miles on the clock. I was dismayed that my knee was giving me some grief. Happily, not "HOLY SHIT STOP WHATEVER THE HELL YOU'RE DOING!!!" kind of grief, but a more mellow "Sorry pal, we're not at full strength yet, so take it easy." kind.  So I seem to be making progress- despite doing stupid things on the bike.  I think I'll be in good shape for the Barry Roubaix and well on my way to a trouble free Ragnarok in a month.   

Back Country Snow Race!

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Have I bitched and moaned enough about how bad ski season has been going for me?  No?  You want to hear more? Great!  

Well, I finally got over the respiratory infection/cold thing from hell.  It only took 3 goddam weeks.  Basically, it'd work like this- I'd feel like crap on Monday and slowly recover through the week until I felt good enough to ski on the weekend. Then I'd ski my brains out and be back to square one on Monday again.  

While I finally managed to ditch any symptoms of actual illness, it was a generally shitty week leading up to the race.  To the point that I got home on Friday with exactly 1.5 hours to get all my crap together for two days of racing and a night of camping. I almost threw in the towel, but the whole idea behind the race just sounded too cool and I really wanted to be there to support the folks putting it on if nothing else.  So I did what I could and managed to get everything together and a reasonable 5-6 hours of sleep before I had to drive up to Copper Harbor for the start.  

Registration went quick and I got a slick new hat. 15 people signed up, two of which competed as a team. It was cool to see Jon and Steve from Telefest there too.

Day One:

The event started at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge at 9am. It was still cold enough that the snow was fairly crusty and very, very fast.  Shortly after the start and whoa, hey... I'm up in front!  Didn't hold on to that for long though when we came to an icy and kind of treacherous downhill on Dancing Bear.  All we could do was laugh. We'd all ski 5 feet, fall down, then repeat the process.  The smart thing to do would have been to ditch our skis and run down- but our spirit had yet to be broken and we were all still firmly dedicated ski purists.  

Somewhere within this first mile, I broke a pole.  Thankfully one of the skiers just behind me loaned me some duct tape and I set to work splinting it with a stick.  Somehow in this process, I managed to cut the tip of my finger a bit, but I didn't really notice until the next skier came down the trail, got this pale look on their face, and asked "Are you OK?!"  

"Yeah, I'm fine...", I responded and then looked down.



I assured them that despite appearances, I would survive. I promptly performed some emergency backcountry medicine and put my gloves back on- out of sight, out of mind.  

With both me and my ski pole slightly damaged but once again functional, I pressed on. French Annie proved to be a lot easier on skis than on a bike. Somewhere in there I learned that the best technique was a sort of cyclocross style ski dismount and remount to clear the sketchier stuff. I also gave up on my ski pole and just resorted to using whatever sticks I could find as a replacement.  Turns out, the woods is full of sticks and they actually work fairly well as ski poles.  

After this we hit the East Vein Rd. and Kamikaze trail return. These proved to be incredibly scenic and very fast on skis. Unfortunately, my knee was starting to bother me.  Without tracks to follow, my big, wide skis would wander about on the packed snowmobile trail we were on it was really starting to bug me.  

We were off it soon enough, but I don't know if it was really a blessing when we went straight up a wall by Manganese Falls.  After this we were back on the bike trails.  Leading up to this, I was having a bit of a discussion with myself about how hard to push.  Sure, I got dusted pretty early on- but who knows what was ahead. Other people might have problems to.  

Anyway, I'm glad I decided not to push hard on the final section.  Der We Went and Stairway To Heaven can be scary enough just on foot.  You could easily make a colossal, grand-daddy, call the coast guard chopper to fly out the remains screw up trying to ski those trails at speed.  Just like a lot of stuff in Copper Harbor, at a mellow pace it was pretty cool and a good finish for the day.  Made it back to base camp, ahead of a few people even.

Initially, I was a little non-plussed at the $60 entry fee for the race. Sure, they promised a lot of food in the deal- but I've had enough bad experiences with race provided food that I wasn't expecting much.  Sometimes they run out, sometimes it's slow to arrive, sometimes it just plain sucks.  But when lunch was served after we finished, I was beginning to think the $60 might have been worth it. Plenty of really good food was laid out for us.

Everybody actually had a really good day and finished well in advance of the organizer's expectations. This gave me plenty of time to get set up for my second duty of the day- working a couple of checkpoints for the Keweenaw Winter Rally.

Honestly, I had planned to spend the night up in Copper Harbor, sleeping out in my bivvy sack. But, well....  you see.... uhh... my rally responsibilities didn't end until around 10pm all the way back down in Houghton and then a friend called and asked me to look at something on her car real quick. And then, well- there just wasn't a real solid argument for driving all the way back to Copper Harbor just to sleep 6 hours in a snowbank. I opted for a warm bed and and doing the drive the next morning.  

Day Two:

I went into this with pretty low expectations.  My knee was still bothering me a bit and I was fairly certain I couldn't overtake any of the leaders enough to win any awards. So, I figured I just enjoy the day- which was turning out to be just as awesome as the day before. Sunny and blue skies with temps climbing up into the mid forties.  

The organizers came through and topped lunch the previous day with an awesome breakfast. Nobody left hungry, that's for certain.

We started out across the lake and dangnabit!  I was out in front again.  I didn't have to worry for long though- the climb up Paul's Plunge proved difficult enough and it wasn't long before I was behind everybody.  Another reason to take it easy was I that I had recently purchased some new climbing skins for my skis and was anxious to try them out.  I figured the steep uphills on the Red Trail would be the perfect opportunity.  I was a little too anxious though and put them on way, way too early.  And since putting them on and taking them off takes so much time- I figured I'd just leave them on. Sure enough though- they worked great and probably saved my butt on a few quick downhills that got thrown in there.  I was pretty firmly in the back now without much trail left after we went by the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge again, so I just sat back and enjoyed the ski.  

While doing this though, I came to the sudden realization that my knees had only started bothering me once I started using some Voile knee pads I had bought to replace the black diamonds I had used for years and then lost at telefest.  I had figured the knee problem was just yet another side effect of my abysmal ski season so far- but it really made me wonder.  

Anyway, the rest of the race went great and I finished with all my poles intact and no blood this time.  As is often the case, I was hit by a mighty powerful post-race thirst and decided to ski back to basecamp and fetch my beer supply.  I decided to remove my knee pads and see if that helped my knees at all.

Sure enough- even though we had to ski down snowmobile trails that should have hurt like hell, I was mostly pain free. Cured!  I've got a little bit of recovery and rehab ahead of me to undo the damage, but it's a huge relief to get to the bottom of that problem.   Sorry Voile, I love your bindings, but the kneepads just don't work for me.  Bummer too, they're soft and cushy.  

After awards, if I had any doubts about the cost of this race, they were certainly erased by the feast we were treated to at the Mariner North after the race.  Wow. Seriously, this whole event was like $60 worth of awesome food with a free hat and a little skiing thrown in.

I'm really glad I stuck it out and made this race. I can't say enough good things about it. The organizers have big plans to improve the event and get more people involved and I really look forward to it.  It's just the kind of thing I love- fun skiing with a lot of cool folks in a race context just to keep us all moving and on time. The great thing is that even though it's a pretty unique challenge on skis, with the snowshoe option- this race can be enjoyed by damn near anybody of any ability.  I'll be badgering my friends relentlessly to join me next year.

The Monday after, I was happy to note yers trooly made the front page of the paper.  Steve is looking determined in the front. I'm just behind him, probably looking for sticks in case I break another ski pole.  


Full article here.

BDB Signs with Red Jacket Cycling Team in 2010

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Sorry, Slipstream.