Saturday, July 11, 2020

Kuat NV 2.0 Hitch Rack: The Things We Carry

How do you write a review about what is arguably a luxury product when it feels like the world is burning?

If you're reading this in the year 2030 (which you probably won't be. The Kuat people will have innovated electric-rocket-powered-robot-bike-carriers by then. I look forward to taking a nap while being transported to my desired bicycling location by an AI machine powered by energy harnessed from my taco consumption.*), I hope you're living in a world without hate, without internet fights, without a novel viral pandemic, without sexism, without racism. It's a tall order, I know. But I hope that it's as hard to imagine the world of 2020 then, as it is to imagine that world now.

*real innovation suggestion. Thanks Kuat people!

Everyone around the world is carrying a lot of things. Much moreso now than a year ago. What are you carrying? Have you looked around and asked what your friends and neighbors are carrying?

Maybe this doesn't seem to be the right time to be talking about a physical item that carries bikes. In the literal sense. But for a lot of this probable audience, bikes and the things that carry them feel like more of a necessity. It's likely what lets you process and maybe let go of some of the weight you've been holding up.

So here's this bike rack. I ordered it right before Covid-19 hit, and then it sat in my garage for 5 months, because I kept thinking my significant other would be able to come and help me de-bumperize** my car and put the hitch on, which I was admittedly lacking in energy and motivation to do myself. Although you totally could. It turns out it's not that difficult. Just, you know. The world exploding.

**word I just made up

Maybe there was a more subconscious reason I set it aside. The concept of a two (expandable to four) bike rack carries social connotations, at least to me. Taking bikes, maybe of multiple people, to other communities to ride. To group rides. To group races. Things that are all on pause, for some more than others.

So I put the rack on my car. Not because things are magically getting better. But because now when I walk out to my car before a shift and see a 2-bike hitch rack, there's a couple seconds when I think about a future where I can load it up and go on an adventure with all my friends again.

----------------------------
Actual Information about the bike rack that you probably came to this page looking for:

- My life partner/emotional support mammal/fixer of all things/single speed MTB'er extraordinaire put both the hitch and rack on my Subaru Crosstrek (see above.) The whole thing took him about an hour. I helped by making sure he was alive from time to time and saying "that looks good" and "that's going back on my car eventually, right?"

- It's very easy to get bikes on and off. My upper body strength has, um, waned since I tabled distance swimming for bikes. I can get my 30lb mountain bike on it without making dying-animal noises or otherwise sounding like I'm going into labor.

- The little pushy thing to tilt the rack up and down is also very easy to use (technical name: "Pivot Lever".) Lifts or lowers your rack to access your trunk, or more easily take your bikes on and off (some of us are short.) You can push it with your foot if your hands are full (chances are you're holding a bike.)

- Also easy to tighten bikes down. Have I said the word easy enough times yet? For comparison, I'm still bad at ratcheting down my bike on the abovementioned partner-man's other brand hitch rack after two years of trying to use it. I swear I'm smart, my brain just doesn't work well after riding, and if you tell me to "pull here then push this then pull the opposite direction and spin around clap your hands" well I'm going to forget all that in about 10 seconds.

- Integrated cable bike locks. Keeps your bicycle children from walking away while you're at rest stops, post-ride festivities, etc. Magically disappears into the rack when not in use.

- It's durable as heck. Solid aluminum construction with pretty much no plastic except on part of the workstand attachment.

- Oh yeah, workstand attachment, aka "Trail Doc." Because I've definitely never gunked my bike up with so much mud it stopped rolling. Or suddenly discovered I needed to put new brake pads on like right now. Nope, don't know anything about that. I imagine a workstand attachment would be handy if one did those things, though 😉

- It comes standard to fit nearly any bike, including an accessory to fit fat bike tires. We haven't attempted to put our Craigslist penny farthing on it yet, but I'm sure you could make it work. Right?

- It doesn't block my license plate when folded up.

- It just looks nice.

- Save the trees: Kuat partners with the National Forest Foundation by supporting their Future Forest Initiative. Bike rack = trees planted.

Optional Thingamajigs that I will probably eventually add:

- 2 Bike add-on: more bikes! This does not require explanation. More bikes = more happiness.
- Pivot v.2: swings your rack away from your car for even easier trunk access.
- RackDock: wall mounty thing that easily holds your rack for storage

You can find more details on the Kuat website here.

De-bumperized car.
Re-bumperized car.
Party parts.

Awaiting bikes.

Folded up. Sad face, cuz no bikes.

Bikes!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

2020 Trail Butter Partnership


Preface: when I eased back into competitive-ish sports a few years back, I had zero desire to associate myself with anything that would limit what I could do, wear, eat, use, or otherwise. The wonderful thing about new adventures and slowly finding your community is taking the time to figure out what you actually like to use, what you identify with, and what aligns with your values. And there are a handful of companies that are out there trying to do good things for the world that it turns out I'm happy to align myself with. 

What does this mean?? I've formalized my relationship with this fantastic maker of nut butters (well, as formal as people who spend their time running around in the dirt get) because there are some good people behind the scenes and my personal consumption is, um, high. You can read all about the mission behind Trail Butter here. I've been using Trail Butter packets on bikepacking trips, hiking and camping, and stress-eating at home fueling daily life since the great Steve Cannon (Iditarod bike finisher, up there on my list of favorite Iowans, all around good human being) introduced me to it a little over a year ago. In addition to only good ingredients and tastiness, I was impressed that they frequently have "limited edition" nut butters with part of the proceeds donated to charity or the American Trail Running Association.


The Dark Chocolate & Coffee and Maple Sea Salt packets accompanied me on my ITT of the Northwest loop of the Arkansas High Country Route, at Dirty Kanza (before my GI tract tried to implode), through 24 Hours of Cumming when I was living for a TB&B sandwich at the end of each loop, and up a couple mountains in Colorodo. Apparently, I liked this stuff enough that I refused to share ANY of the 48 packets I bought in my last shipment with the Boy, because his only response to the above was "are you going to share now?"

Check this space for future pictures of nut butter jars stowed in feed bags on bikes. You know it's gonna happen 😁

Friday, January 10, 2020

My Top 10 Random Things of 2019

I did this last year so...buckle up, here we go. Categories year-to-year subject to change at random, for both entertainment and utility purposes.

1. Most Reached-For Item of Cycling Clothing: Space Cats cap, by Rothera

I own a lot of attractive, functional, comfortable and high-quality cycling apparel, mostly of the
SOAS Racing and Velocio flavors. However, I wore this damn Rothera space cats cap over and over and over again, because it made me inexplicably happy. I don't even like cats.

2. Favorite Addition to a Bicycle: Supacaz Prizmatic Tape

So many cyclists spend hundreds of dollars on the latest components, tech, and quests to shave grams. But $40 of shininess brings pure joy.
Also my reputation within the cycling community at least partially hinges upon being a rolling color explosion.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Oh my god A LADY GRAVEL REVIEW! Adrienne Groad-Tests the Shimano RX8s.

From Shimano: "The RX8 features a super-stiff and efficient full-length carbon outsole with a Shimano stiffness rating of 10 (out of 11). A precise fit is gained from a heel stabilizer, while minimal TPU lugs, micro toe armor, and an anti-slip pad create walkability and protection that is race-tuned for gravel. The cleat-pedal interface features a wider contact point that is optimized to fit with new XTR PD-M9100 pedals while stiff TPU lugs increase pedaling efficiency compared to rubber lugs. All of this comes in a lightweight package at 265g (size 42)...The RX8 is available in Silver or Black and the RX8W women-specific version is available in Navy Blue. Wide options are available in the black colorway exclusively. It is best matched with the Shimano SPD M9100 or M8100 pedals. The RX8 will be available for $250 MSRP in August 2019."

So obviously August 2019 has come and gone, the Shimano RX8 has been on the market for a handful of months, giving a decent number of people the opportunity to wear-test it. JOM and I have, however, over the years, had more than one conversation about the relative dearth of reviews about gravel things, and cycling products in general, by women. Now, Shimano happens to have made a "women's specific" version of the RX8, but HOLD UP WAIT DUDES DON'T CLOSE THIS BROWSER WINDOW YET. Just because I happen to be writing about the women's model on my woman feet does not mean that this won't be applicable to your masculine feet. Just that it will be funnier and more good-looking.

Some context: I have a strange pair of feet that are pretty darn narrow at the heel but require a wide toebox. I pretty reliably wear a size 40 EU in cycling shoes. Previously I have torn to shreds a pair of Giro entry-level MTB shoes, followed by the Northwave Extreme XC's. The Northwaves fit my feet well and were solid all-around, but I had a lot of problems with getting them to snug down, especially after a year of abuse. I have previously worn Shimano road and triathlon shoes, so I may have been a little pre-biased, at least when it came to confidence-that-they-would-fit. I set them up with Crank Brothers cleats on Candy pedals. They were taken on an initial paved trail cruise, but the real test came on 70 miles of Stillwater Oklahoma red dirt.


Here are some nice pretty pictures of the shoes out-of-the-box taken by a certain somebody with more photography skills than me. They are pictured resting gently atop the rug that I frequently collapse upon after long grueling rides until someone brings me a pickle or a cup of coffee.




As you can see, I have gone with the navy blue camo-like colorway. It is sleek like leopard.  If you're a man this option does not exist for you. However, dudes can opt for silver if you like to stand out. Or, if you have a narrower heel (typically the major diff in "women's-specific last"), just wear the women's version. After you go through our secret initiation process. We ride at dawn.

The size 40 fit was spot-on for me (comparison: I'm size 40 in Giro, 40.5 Northwave, 41 Lake winter boots, 8.5 American-size most women's running shoes.)

Impressions:

[This is the important part that you actually want to read.]

1. They're the stiffest non-paved-road shoes I've ever worn.
Shimano gives them a stiffness rating of 10 out of 11. What's an 11? A block of concrete?

Anyway, I appreciated that 10. There is a notable power transfer difference compared to my previous shoes. The heel stabilizer also probably helps with this, as my foot stays nice a secure throughout my entire pedal shoe. I've become accustomed to various degrees of foot-sliding-around within my shoe over the past few years, to the point of needing to curl my toes up to keep my feet in place. No more.

2. Walking in them was fine. I wouldn't want to do it forever, but particularly with how stiff the full-length carbon outsole is, they were surprisingly easy to walk short distances in. They did gunk up with mud during my Stillwater hike-a-bike test, but no worse than any other pair of off-road shoes I've worn. When you walk through the peanut butter stuff, they end up with more mud than shoe. But it does shed easily from the lugs after a few solid whacks on your nearest hard surface.

Also the red dirt matches the blue nicely.


3. The Boa tightening system - there's a single Boa lacing system, which successfully snugs the whole middle and upper down, aided by a separate forefoot strap. It tightens all the way down on the first try, and it's still easy to release.

No more stopping ten minutes into a ride to re-adjust the Boa.

No more being stuck in your shoes permanently because you've informed your significant other that he has to take them off your feet because your brain has stopped talking to the rest of your body and you're stuck on the floor, and this is the only way you're ever getting up to take a shower, and what do you mean you can't figure out how to get them off my feet you have to pull up on the one doohickey and then push down on the Boa and turn it in the opposite direction oh fine I'm getting up.*

*Wait, this doesn't happen to you?
BOA release system and lugs.

4. They fit like a glove. Like you could forget they are there. They fit like my track spikes from college, except cycling in those probably wouldn't go so well.

5. The insole is fine. It's a standard insole. I have weird arches and use Superfeet insoles, which also fit well in these shoes, but I put some miles on the included ones for completeness' sake. No hot spots or anything to complain about. They dry out in a normal amount of time.

Cons: The only issue I've had is with the tongue of the shoe. You just have to be careful that the tongue inside is totally flat before you tighten them. The outside corner likes to roll up, I don't notice it when I initially put them on, and then I realize 10 minutes in that something's digging into my foot. It's an easy fix called paying-attention-when-you-put-on-your-shoes which I'm now incorporating into my life.

Some red dirt retained for dramatic effect. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Spotted Horse 2019: The Deja Vu Edition

A belated Spotted Horse 2019 recap...

So I had such a horrendously amazing time in 2018 at Spotted Horse that I found myself with a driving companion on the road to Madison County, Iowa this year. After 6 hours and a few coffee detours, we were back at Madison County Winery for packet pickup. For the first time this year, they also offered camping up the hill onsite. We hung out and chatted with familiar faces for a little while. I was prepared for a nice long ride...under-recovered from Delta Epic, work and coming off night shifts (how does this always happen??), and the resulting upper respiratory infection. I joked that I at least had had the sense to gear down to 42x20. Southwest Iowa gravel doesn't mess around.

I knew we were in for trouble a week before, when Sarah Cooper wrote in an email to me, "looks like the weather should cooperate!" This is the equivalent of saying the s-word (slow) or the q-word (quiet) in the ER. It's basically an invitation for shit to happen.

Sure enough, we awoke at 4am to rain and the promise of lightening storms for the next few hours. Riders hung out in the winery barn waiting for it to pass. The 6am start ended up being delayed until more like 6:30 (Sarah and Steve may be sadists, but they're still human and would prefer you die by collapsing on a 20% grade gravel hill, not by being struck by lightening.) I felt better seeing all the Iowans bundled up too, concerned that the 90 degrees I'd left behind in Oklahoma had made me overly soft. Although more than one person commented that I was already off to a better start this year, as at least everything was appropriately attached to my bike (see 2018).
Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
After the first storm cell had blown through, we took off in the rain and dark, with the warning that we may hit a second round of lightening in the first few hours, and, you know, exercise common sense and try not to die. 50-some people departed, but the cacophany of wet brakes squealing on the descent out of the winery made it sound like 100.
Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
I kept the boy in sight for the first five miles and then let him go. On a titanium Fargo he was well-equipped to handle wet slushy-chunky gravel (also, you know, gears). I settled in somewhere in the middle, letting my SS gearing dictate my pace and rhythm as I've learned to do. It got lighter outside, although calling it "sunny" would've been an overstatement. I rolled into the first Casey's at mile 34...it seemed too early to stop, but I had to make some adjustments to my gear anyway. I pulled off my Pogie lights and stowed them in my seat bag, as a pair of Handup Chill gloves + surgical glove liners were proving to be sufficient, and adjusted the unfortunate self-loosening Boas on my beat-up Northwave mtb shoes as well. I have a new pair of Shimano RX8's that I'm reviewing, but I couldn't fit my thicker socks into them well, and to be honest, they're pretty and I didn't want to destroy them on only their second voyage😂 A stop inside for coffee, snickers, and a pee break again seemed like a luxury this early and certainly ate up more time than I would've liked, but rule #1 - take care of yourself first. I left this Casey's with Cory Rood, who reminded me that this was the same fated place we found each other last year...except that was 30-some miles from the end, and not the start. And just like before, we were cold and wet.
Photo credit: David Markman Outdoor Photography

Another handful of miles up and down and up and down (seriously, that's all Iowa roads do), and there it was. B road #1. Single speeds at least allow the luxury of not worrying about shearing off a derailleur, but I stopped riding after about 5 feet when the mud started to pile up. God bless this bike but there's not a heck of a lot of clearance (read: any.) I could see a smattering of people in front of me hoofing it; at the same time, thunder and lightening started up again. I swore for the first time - not at Cooper, but at The Boy, whose tire tracks I could definitely identify alongside a lot of footprints. Of course he was able to ride this.
Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
At the end of the B road, after much scraping of mud, I went back to riding the rolling hills, pounding up the first few just to get warm again. Not that you have much choice on one gear. Because it wouldn't be Spotted Horse without at least a few mishaps, my Camelbak spout piece randomly fell off the hose in the middle of one of these uphills, around mile 60-something. This has never in my life happened before. There I was, just chillin' going up another 12% grade, probably singing out loud because that happens a lot, and WHOOSH. Total emptying of Camelbak contents on right leg/ground. Also a trek back down the hill to retrieve the Camelbak doohickey. Swearing. Going back up the hill. Contemplating of the two half-full bottles on my frame, which were absolutely covered in muck after the B-road. Contemplating of what all the Iowans had said about the proportion of cow dung likely to be in that muck since it hadn't rained in a while. Contemplating of definite dehydration vs definite giardia. Decisions, decisions.

Cresting a hill, I saw photographer extraordinaire/gravel friend David Markman (Markman Outdoor Photography) pointing a camera my way. I made some faces, as one does. I also assumed correctly that this meant there was another B road right behind him. F&ck.
Mud or chocolate on face. Photo credit: David Markman Outdoor Photography
At the entrance to B road #2 I found my Iowa spirit brother Lucas Barloon and his stoker pulled over for a break and some bike maintenance. Yes, stoker, because they were doing this on a tandem for some strange reason. They had been having some technical difficulties with chains and bottom brackets, and may have capsized or launched each other off the bike a couple times. They looked like they were still having a blast though. Lucas yelled "Giardia party!!" as we began another ankle deep mud-trudge, which was absolutely hilarious in the moment. And hey, the sun was out this time, at least it wasn't lightening?
Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
Whatever came between B road #2 and B road #3 is just a black hole in my memory, but all the pictures of me are variations on going-uphill-covered-in-varying-degrees-of-mud-and-wet, so it's a safe assumption that it was sunny but still wet, and I went uphill a lot. The whole course is quite pretty, even in the rain.

B road #3 was the muddiest (well, I dunno about 4 and 5 because it was pitch dark, but we'll get there.) This was where I first crossed paths with my new friend Rob (more foreshadowing.) I mumbled some epithets about Camelbaks since I had now been dry for a long time thanks to the earlier Camel-gate (and had drunk from my giardia bottles, deciding to deal with the consequences later). We wobbled largely independently up a decent pitch, and cresting the hill, saw the Cooper-mobile in the distance. At the end of the B-road I stopped to de-mud my unfortunate bicycle and talk to Sarah and Eric.

Sarah said, "Are we still friends?"
"Ugh ghjdkfh yes," I said. "I'm just not friends with myself."
While I sat in the grass, she also told me that I was the third or so woman overall. I wondered how that happened on one dumb gear, but whatever. It got me moving again.

I gave her my shoe covers, as she was collecting various people's destroyed covers and taking them to the finish to be retrieved later. Seriously, I'm just going to start buying a new pair of shoe covers in anticipation of Spotted Horse every year. See the end of this post for "shoe cover graveyard" photo.
Even my uber-mountain biker had to walk this section. Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
The checkpoint just past mile 100 was not that far away. It helped that the checkpoint consisted of some of my favorite volunteers who had the back of their car stashed with chips, cookies, and water. Deanne was excited to offer me plastic bags (after 2018's plastic bag-enabled finish), but I was super smart this year and had actually managed to start the race with my feet already in plastic bags, which is the ideal way for that to happen. I know I was already a little gone at this point, because she tried to give me a yellow pipe cleaner, and I got mad and demanded a pink one 😆 I believe I was then offered as many pipe cleaners in as many colors as my heart desired. I also asked after the boy, and was told that he was approximately 50 minutes ahead and had continued on the 200 mile route.

Part of the mind-f&ck of Spotted Horse is that the 150 & 200  mile courses diverge only at this checkpoint. You have the option to drop down to the 150 here. Presenting people with the option to take the short route when their brains and bodies are depleted...evil. Pure evil. I love it.

Well I sure as hell wasn't going to bring shame upon our gravel-power-coupleness by being the one to drop down. I had figured on around a 10pm finish, but a few hours of hike-a-bike had, um, greatly extended that time estimate. I rode to the Casey's just down the road to re-supply, and it was littered with haggard, muddy people dropping down to the 150. I had a brief conversation with myself about how dumb it was to keep riding the full 200 given that it was going to get cold and involve a lot of hours in the dark with lights I wasn't sure would last the whole way, and then went and did it anyway. A group that I thought contained my new friend Rob from the last B road rolled out a few minutes ahead of me, and I got my act together in hopes of rolling back up to them when dusk hit. See 2018: "find a friend for the dark."

Somewhere in this time interval, I got a text message from The Boy that just said "dropping to 150." I yelled a lot out loud and then called him to try and yell at him, but his phone wasn't working. I should really thank him because I got a good ten or so rage-fueled miles out of this. A car of random dudes also rolled by me and asked me if I was on the 200 course? They were looking for the 150 to SAG some more people in. They were stoked to find a single speed woman still hammering out 200, and offered me a Starburst. I told them that if they ran into a tall man on a titanium Salsa Fargo on the 150 course that that was my boyfriend and to please PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE for taking the short route, and also to please tell him to have fun waiting for me until 2am. They looked very serious and a little scared of me and said, "No Starbursts for him."

I rode solo and pulled over when it got dark enough to need lights to hook my main light up to its battery pack again. Just as I was getting ready to roll again, I heard someone coming up the hill behind me. It turned out it was Rob. This was a huge weight off, as I was worried about my light situation. I had two cheap-o Amazon.com lights that get about 50-100 lumens for backup, but that's less than ideal. Also, night riding tends to go way better with some company.

The following miles could be entitled "how not to go about your evening on a bike." We did a lot of stopping due to my dumb brain. First, I decided I needed my jacket back on (it was actually getting really cold, and got back down into the 20s overnight.) I didn't want to bother to take my Camelbak off, so I put my jacket on over my Camelbak. Then, my light died, and my first backup light was in the pocket of my Camelbak, which was under my jacket. I promised my new friend that I wasn't crazy or dysfunctional at baseline, just loopy. He cut me a lot of slack on account of my one gear 😅 Then we both missed a turn and ended up on a bridge, and since we were stopped, I put my Pogies back on to save my now-freezing hands. While we were standing on that bridge around 10pm, there were several LOUD splashes. We peered over into the water and then decided we didn't really want to know what was going ker-plunk in the night.

After all this stop-and-go finally sorted itself out, we made a turn and hit...mud.
"But she said there were no more B roads," we said (dammit Cooper!)*
"Maybe there was a re-route stake that we missed," we said.
"I guess we're walking down this damn road in the dark," we conceded.
Fortunately, it wasn't a long one. Unfortunately, a couple miles later, there was a second bout of mud-road. Hilariously (and no doubt, purposefully), there's a perfectly good stretch of actual ride-able road in between that would've totally avoided these sections. Of course. Thanks Sarah!

*Cooper claimed after the fact that she didn't count them because "they weren't B roads a few days ago." Sigh.
Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca
The Murray Casey's occurs 35 miles from the finish, and we dreamed of hot coffee while watching the clock. We were cutting it close after another round of extra B-road time. Just about a mile away, Rob's light was failing, and he stopped to replace the battery, telling me to go on ahead. I was hesitant to leave him alone since he'd stuck by me through my light kerfuffles, but I was freezing and promised to plow through to Casey's and wait for him there. I pulled into the parking lot at 10:52pm, smiled real nice at the young lady behind the counter and mentioned that there was another desperate rider just a few minutes behind me. They'd already dumped the coffee so I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and another protein bar, paid and asked to use the restroom before she closed. Jenn Borst and another Bike Iowa rider were getting ready to leave as I was still messing around inside, and I think the poor Casey's staff just resigned themselves to waiting on us. My restroom stalling bought enough time for Rob to show up, dash in and grab a cup of hot chocolate. I stuffed a bunch of newspaper someone had left behind down my coat and jersey for insulation, and we headed back out, half-delirium mode in full effect. Someone had left a can of WD-40 outside Casey's which brought back memories of last year (I actually messaged Cory the next day to see if it was him.)

We leap-frogged each other small distances which is just what happens when a single speed and a geared bike ride together, but mostly stayed in step. I was out-running my 100 lumens on those downhills fast, and thus riding pretty cautiously. The only moment I have specific memories of is when I was scared by a large cow. I heard a lot of rustling over to the right while halfway up a steep climb, and my brain started to try and figure out my bail-out strategy if/when a deer dashed in front of me. Instead I looked over and saw a very large cow shuffling around. I yelled "COW" in surprise and Rob, behind me, said "oh."

In the last ten miles, Rob brought up the fact that we were probably some of the last people out on the course, as we were among the last people to actually make the checkpoint cutoff, and to decide to actually continue on. He really wanted the Lanterne Rouge award. I figured I was winning the women's single speed 200, and he had put up with me for hours, so he could have whatever he wanted as far as I was concerned. Our spirits definitely picked up as we came within 5 miles of the finish. We doubted there would be anyone actually at "official" line (which is on the last gravel road), but there was one of the RDs, hanging out in the Jeep. Official times were recorded. Things were probably said that my brain does not recall at all. We rolled from there back up to the winery, where a good number of people were still hanging out. I wasted no time giving the boy hell, and here's how that conversation went, for your entertainment:

AT: "WHY did you drop down to the 150 and :LEAVE ME OUT THERE?"
SD: "My feet were cold."

There you have it. His feet were cold.

AT: "ALL OF ME HAS BEEN COLD FOR THE PAST 6 HOURS."
SD: [puppy dog face] "But...I won the 150??"

And, lest you think I'm the only crazy one:
SD: "Also they said all the B roads were done by that point, and that was the most fun part."

Then I ate the remaining chips and salsa at 2am in the winery barn while Sarah pulled my wet muddy socks and shoes off my feet, even though I told her she really didn't want to touch my feet right now. Rob got his DFL award (a nice headlamp.) People stood on podiums.


The date for 2020 has already been set for October 24th. So...snow?



Monday, October 28, 2019

24 Hours of Cumming (no, not like that): an ultra gravel bike race in Cumming, IA


The 400k: Round 2


Last year, as you may recall, I had an eventful amazing DNF at around the 320k mark of the 400k of 24 Hours of Cumming. After lying in the grass sipping chicken broth and trying not to puke for a couple hours. Despite this, I was super happy and had an awesome time, plus I rode my bike a crap ton of miles and made Iowa friends.

For the first time this year, the 400k (2-4 person relays and solos) started at 9pm on Friday night. This was amazing in every way except for the whole driving-up-right-before-and-being-awake-forever part.

What else is new though.

Anyway, the night start is cool because, well, night starts are cool. Also it allowed 400k solo riders to ride the first 100-200k before it got ridiculously hot. With the vast majority of riders being relayers, the start was fast and the dry roads made for a headlight-studded ride through a fog of dust for the first several miles.

Things settled out after a handful of miles, with (most of) the 400k solo riders drifting back from those who only had 100k to knock out. Nice and steady through the first 100k, with mostly the raccoons for company. My headlights lit up a particularly large pair of them hanging out in the middle of the road.

Towards the middle of the second 100k, I found a friend, and we rode together for a little while. I started to feel like I was floating...a strange phenomenon probably in part from 4am hallucinations and part from underfueling. So I pulled over to eat something and stand in the dark for a few minutes until the ground was under my feet again. The sun came up as I neared the 200k mark, pulled back into Cumming Tap, ate a PB&B sandwich and got my drive train wiped down by Gravel City neutral support.

125 miles in. I remember feeling fairly terrible heading out on the 300k loop. God bless that sandwich I had eaten, because as soon as that solid food kicked in, I started feeling like I could pedal again. I ran into one of the Gravel City riders but would ride nearly all of this loop alone. I grumbled through a bunch of it as the day began to warm, but got happy when the route took us down to Winterset and the covered bridges. I had ridden/drove to those bridges with my significant other back in April, and it brought back memories of a nice day. The narrow, winding hills back there also woke me up, and I dodged a few farm trucks. Traffic remained sparse and friendly though.

I didn't see another human until less than 10 miles from the end of my 300k loop, when I intersected the 100k solo riders finishing their race. A chat and some shared miles with the guy from Bike Rags was a welcome distraction. "You're almost to the end!" doesn't go over very well with a hangry person who's at mile 183 of 250 though. The hangry brain was already fixated on the second PB&B sandwich that I knew was in my cooler.

 

Calm and cool and steady, back into Cumming Tap, with 300k down and 100k to go. I handed my bike back off to Adam w/ Gravel City, and he commented that I didn't look quite as wrecked as everyone else, which is the highest compliment mid-ultra...particularly compared to last year. Sandwich, chicken broth, back on the road. With hours to spare, I could take a ditch nap and finish. Gravel and ultra racing are so unpredictable though, the plan was to just keep moving. The individual miles ticked by, some slow and painful. Did I mention it's hilly in southeast Iowa? I accumulated about 18,000 feet of climbing in the total 400k. Let's not talk about my uphill speed at this point, and just say that it was less than 10mph...

It got hot. I intersected a few 200k solo stragglers going the opposite direction, and stopped to lend my mini pump to a guy having a bad mechanical day. Everything in my body was threatening to seize up as I stood there in the sun more than 200 miles in, so I left him to it and prayed to the gravel gods for some good no-tire-puncture juju. I missed a turn after a downhill because, well, there didn't seem to be a turn there. I backtracked and found an overgrown entrance to some grass/dirt doubletrack. A dude on a single speed fat bike blew by me while I was pedaling through a muddy rut, looking like he was having the time of his life. I tried to channel some of that enthusiasm into the last uphill stretch of this surprise B-road foray.

Steve Cannon had warned us repeatedly about "some water in the road" with slippery rocks underneath it..."DO NOT TRY TO RIDE THROUGH THIS." I had figured on a nice short walk through this aforementioned water in the road. Maybe if I was hot enough, I would just flop down and roll through it, while singing "like a rolling stone." Then I actually found said water. It was a f&cking river. Steve, really?? "Some water in the road??" 😂😂😂

There were maybe 20-some miles after the water crossing. They were long and slow. My brain had been awake for a day and a half. The sun was relentless. I was ready to be done. But also happy that I was going to finish, and in a respectable amount of time for the conditions. The uphills got really slow. Like really slow. And then, so close yet so far, the route went an extra few miles past where you know you could turn and just be done, having been through that intersection three times before...but I went past another neat bridge so maybe it was worth it. At least in retrospect.

And then, the finish line, at 21 hours total and 18-something moving time. By which I mean Cumming Tap. Hugs from Steve and Trevor. I drank the rest of my chicken broth. I sat on the ground with Lucas Barloon, who had finished shortly before me. We tried to make words, and I remember none of it, but I'm sure we had a fantastic nonsensical conversation about bikes and food, because that's usually how it goes. Eventually the desire to get out of the bibs I'd been in for 20-some hours won out over the desire to not move, and I popped up off the ground and walked in the direction of my tent a few blocks down the road. One of the houses across the street had a guy with his dog in the yard, and my easily distracted brain went to pet the puppy dog. This friendly Cumming resident then let me jump in his pool. I thought he was cray-cray because I was covered in 24 hours of dirt and grime and sweat, but he said "eh, the kids and the dog do worse" 😁

Apparently I DID manage to change clothes, because I'm wearing different clothes in this podium picture. It was a fun night. I especially appreciated Steve's commentary when calling podiums, with an emphasis on the ladies because the women SHOW UP for podium photos (damn straight.)

A big thanks to Steve Cannon & Trevor Bridges for being awesome and for creating this incredible event, to Cumming Tap for being a cool host and so bike-friendly and also for feeding me whatever was left in the kitchen, City Cycles OK for maintaining my bikes which I do my best to destroy on a regular basis, Gravel City for providing neutral mechanical support at Cumming Tap, and Honey Stinger for half the things I ate.



What I Consumed:

1 Clif bar
5 Honey Stinger gels
4 Honey Stinger chocolate peanut butter bars
Handful of gummy bears
5 Honey Stinger waffles
3 PB&B sandwiches
1 Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso
1 bag of Lay's Baked Chips
2 mini snickers

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Delta Epic 300(ish)

My Delta Epic story starts in July, when I found myself in a black hole. I eventually tried to claw my way out of said black hole by putting my name on the start list of another ultra. Fight darkness with fire. Or something like that. Here comes the first confession: I had it in my head for the longest time that this race was in Missouri. It's in Mississippi. One is further south and a lot hotter. Two and a half years in Oklahoma and I still can't do midwest geography.

Anyway. I wanted to see new things. I wanted to win the mental game. I wanted to meet up with one of my favorite people who now lives outside of Memphis and was abnormally excited about driving to random rural locations in Mississippi in case I needed to be rescued. I was out of July's mental black hole but a little more into a physical one, as has become the new normal. I may be counting down the 9 months until what will amount to 11 years of post-graduate training is over.

And so I came to find myself at a midnight start under a full moon at Arkabutla Lake, Mississippi, with a loaded down Cutthroat. Because all I remembered of the reading I'd done on this race a few months ago was that resupplies were very limited, there wasn't much elevation, there were levees, and it was probably going to be hot and buggy.

All of those things were true. And none of them sound like a terribly big deal, but Delta Epic is a deceptively hard race.

Things I Learned:

1. If it sounds like a dumb idea to come off a night shift, sleep 5 hours, drive 7 hours, and promptly start an ultra - it is. 

I may have developed a reputation as a person who tends to excel at dumb things, but honestly, the above pre-event strategy is not one I can recommend. Both from a performance standpoint and more importantly, a general health standpoint.

2. Flat does not equal easy.


Flat means that you're pedaling 100% of the time, which is hard if it's through sand and loose stuff. Also that you're in the exact same position, and that starts to hurt.

3. Cows on levees at 3:30am is a thing.

They galloped in front of me for a little while. I did not hit them. I may have hit one or two cow patties. Oops.

4. Mississippi cows are very large and sturdy-appearing. (see above)


5. I thought Oklahoma gravel was rural, then I met Mississippi.


6. You can sit on the floor of a Walmart drinking chicken broth while covered in dirt, and no one will bother you.

Heat exhaustion was getting me. Bad. This was the closest thing to out-of-hospital resuscitation that there was. Yes, I've been checking to make sure I did not end up on People of Walmart.

7. Hoisting a 30 lb bike up a ditch onto a closed bridge sixteen hours in when it's 103 degrees is unnecessarily hard.


8. Hitting a rut may save you from falling in a ditch.

There was a fun B road section that we did in the dark. Jason claims this is a road but it's really an overgrown field with shrubbery taller than me. So tall that I couldn't even tell I was riding in a rut and tried to make a lateral move, and then went kerthunk on the ground. However, I was appropriately suspicious hence forward of the terrain and thus actually noticed the large ditch that appeared shortly thereafter, stopped and carried through it. From several much larger thunks I heard behind me, many people fell in the ditch.

9. Never leave your gorilla tape at home.

Thank god for the above-mentioned Walmart. My dynamo headlight mount on my fork detached itself and then wouldn't screw back on (inopportune time to figure out something's stripped). I had to stop and re-tape it to my bike 3 times the second night BUT I could see. Gorilla tape fixes everything.

10. Mississippi bugs don't give a damn what bug spray you put on, or how many times you re-applied it, or if you have socks on.

Seriously. My worst bites are on my ankles, through my socks.

11. Give your chauffeur a change of clothes.

Or be prepared to get sprayed down by a fire hose outside the Bentonia police station before you're allowed to get in the car at 3:18am.

I wanted to quit outside of Indianola when I felt sick and was going into a headwind and it was 103 degrees with a heat index of who knows what. I almost quit in the Delta National Forest when caloric-deficiency-induced-crying paralleled 15 miles worth of downed trees and mud pits and general forest detritus. And then, for some reason, I just got mad. And you can make it surprisingly far fueled on rage alone. And by the time the random bout of anger at the world wore off, I was close enough to slog it in, and there were finally some hills. Who would've thought I'd find climbing and descending to be a nice break at mile 280ish.


I usually don't go into things with specific goals. It's not good for my mental state. I let myself have loose targets and then see what happens. I had a loose pre-race estimate of 24 hours, which was what my moving time ended up being. Accounting for resuscitation-by-chicken-broth time in Indianola, mechanical fixing time, and crying-bonking in the Delta National Forest time, I rolled into Bentonia at 3:18am on Sunday -  27 hours and 18 minutes total, 293 miles (well, 295 including my wrong turns.)


I set the new women's solo course record (previously 31 hours.) I'm working on being proud about this. Most people wouldn't guess that I have a smidge of impostor syndrome when it comes to cycling. I have a tendency to discount what I did. There's also a very tricky balance in this community between being too performance-oriented and...not. I may not have ridden as "fast" as I could've under ideal circumstances, but I did a hard thing on a very hard day.  Just because you couldn't ride balls-out straight through 293 miles (295 after a couple, um, detours) on an absurdly hot and exposed course doesn't mean that you get to discount your 27 hour record. 

Now that I'm much less grumpy than I was at the finish, I owe Jason & Wendi Shearer of Ordinary Epics a big thanks for all the effort they put into this event, and Jake Drevs a huge debt of gratitude for spraying me down with a fire hose and packing me into his car at the finish. 

What I Ate (because everyone always asks this question):

5 Honey Stinger GF Waffles
3 Honey Stinger Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
2 Honey Stinger Vanilla Gels
3 pieces of caffeine gum
1 bottle of Untapped Maple Aid
A bunch of bottles of Nuun/a bunch of bottles of plain H2O
1 Quart of chicken broth
Cold cuts
1 bag of Lay's
1 bag of peanut M&M's
1 package of LifeSaver Gummies
2 Rx Bars
2 Maple Seat Salt Trail Butters
1 Lara Bar