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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Arrgh!! Gravel Worlds.

Cross-posted on gravelcyclist.com

Gravel Worlds traces its roots to 2008, back when it was known as the "Good Life Gravel Adventure." 2019 saw the 10th anniversary of it in its "Worlds" format. For those not in the know, the World Championship designation is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. After all, this event is presented by the 
Pirate Cycling League. Their very attractive and professional website is peppered with pirate language. There are pirate swords on the line. If you ask me, what better way to stage a World Championship? In addition to the full 150 mile/10,000 feet of climbing race, there is now a "Privateer" 75 mile option and a 50k "Buccaneer" distance p/b Chamois Butt'r. Gravel Worlds is strictly self-supported, but the 150 includes two stocked checkpoints and more oases than you can shake a stick at. It turns out that that becomes important in mid-August.

Like all things in gravel lately, Gravel Worlds has grown. I rolled into Lincoln, NE on Friday early evening just in time to catch the end of the Expo, which featured well-known vendors like Lauf, Chamois Butt'r, Mohn Standard, and Shimano, as well as local shop Cycle Works. Packet pickup was easy-peasy and full of neat things that I'll actually use, like a mug and a spork. The spork in particular has generated much excitement and conversation in my household, including important questions like, "Is it really a spork if the fork and spoon parts are at different ends? Oh, and there's a serrated edge knife on there too. Should we call it a sporkife? Knispork? How about multi-tool for my mouth?"


 Anyway, the interesting part starts on Saturday morning, after I drank too much hotel coffee and shoveled some food into my mouth with my new sporkife (we're going with that.) We lined up in the dark for a 6am start, and several people stopped to ask me if I was recovered from 24 Hours of Cumming, to which the answer was definitely no, because I decided that running in the mountains for a bunch of days would be a good way to recover from a 400k gravel bike race. I was, however, hoping that Gravel Worlds' 150 miles would feel quite short and comforting after 24 HoC. The catch being that I was riding single speed this time. Don't worry, I changed my gearing after Dirty Kanza. 42x18 seems to lead to fewer near-death experiences while still providing both simplicity and suffering.

Per my usual takes-forever-to-warm-up style, I let the super fast kids go, watched the sunrise, and found myself riding a nice steady 15mph pace to checkpoint 1, which is just what happens when you heave your bike uphill at 10mph and fly downhill at 20-some mph over and over again, because this course is all rollers. A pirate-y rollercoaster as far as the eye can see. And corn. Lots of corn. More corn than I've ever seen in my life. It's kinda green and pretty to look at though.
Photo credit: @jls.photo

Things that were said to me during the early miles of Gravel Worlds:
"I can't decide whether you're really strong or really crazy."
"I didn't know they made single speed Specialized Crux's"*
"Unnnngghhhhhfffff."**

*They don't, I have a White Industries Eno hub, and pulled all the shifty parts off it. 
**Ok, this last one was said by me, going uphill. 
Photo credit: Pirate Cycling League
The roads were almost entirely hardpack and in great shape (unlike in Oklahoma right now, where thanks to several rounds of flooding, it looks like small bombs went off in random patterns all over the place, and you still have to be careful not to fall into a sinkhole.) It was Type 1 Fun all the way into the first Checkpoint, where I collected pipe cleaner #1, peed in an actual bathroom, filled water and ate a pickle from the well-stocked snack table, because if an opportunity for a pickle presents itself, you should always take it. 

Shortly thereafter, the fiery rays of the sun started to beat down upon us with a fury, and I take back all the nice things I said about the corn earlier because it turns out that corn provides NO SHADE.



Apparently the blood was all being shunted to my body parts and not to my brain by mile 78-ish where this picture was taken, because I have NO MEMORY OF THIS CORN. It's not like it's subtle. It's significantly taller than me and possibly heavier. So now I'm concerned. What else happened during in the Nebraska cornfields that I'm entirely unaware of? A UFO could've landed in front of me around mile 90 for all we know. Is that an alien life form behind me? (OK that I know the answer to - no - it was a super cool dude also on a SS from Omaha that I suffered with for a looooong while before he drifted behind me and then suddenly WASN'T THERE ANYMORE when I looked back for him, and I probably talked to myself for at least a few miles before realizing there was no longer anyone there. I sincerely hope he was not abducted by the Children of the Corn. PM me, dude.)

Those 80-90-100ish miles were some of the hardest. The headwind, the rising heat. Fortunately there were an abundance of oases that at minimum had water and friendly volunteers, and occasionally had scout troops selling Gatorades and sodas and candy and all sorts of other things that it's only acceptable to consume in mass quantities during very very long hot bicycle rides or if you're a 12 year old with an annoyingly fast metabolism. These miles are where you start chunking things...ride to the next checkpoint, the next turn, that tree in the distance, that rock on the ground, oh wait there's a lot of rocks, and another rock...or wait, are those the marbles that I'm losing?

Anyway, the second checkpoint came at mile 132. Which is only 18 miles from the end. I collected my second pipe cleaner. This is my one piece of feedback for the Pirate Cycling League. Pipe cleaner colors. They make gold and silver sparkly ones, you know? I will ride to the near-collapse point to obtain a sparkly gold pipe cleaner, but tan and red... On a semi-related note, there's a growing pile of slightly crumpled pipe cleaners in my bike room (the room that normal people call the "guest bedroom") which I recently realized is an abnormally high number of pipe cleaners for an adult to have randomly laying on their bedroom floor, which led me to wonder if the gravel racing industry will end up single-handedly supporting the pipe cleaner industry. Discuss below, please.

Back on topic, a very nice volunteer at Checkpoint 2 invited me to sit down, which I decided was a bad idea, but I did sip some Coke and spray some sunscreen over the portions of me which weren't covered with dirt. Then I bumbled my way out of there before any sitting down could happen, because getting up is hard.  Leaving checkpoint 2 riders were treated to about 10 miles of hero gravel and some tailwind and just when you were so close you could taste it... it. got. ugly. 

You know the stretch I'm talking about. It was approximately miles 140-148. Turn the corner and nothing but one long gravel road of giant rollers. Back into the headwind. Now, this is not much different from the rest of the course, but it felt worse here for some reason. I passed a dude standing over his bike with his head on his handlebars. I yelled at that dude because we were literally three miles from the finish. But I get it, you may be 3 miles away but there's no civilization in sight and at least three more big hills that you can see right in front of you and you're baking in the sun. Souls were crushed on that road. 

The pavement did eventually materialize and I spent maybe half a mile trying to follow my Garmin when I should've just followed the helpful "FINISH THIS WAY" signs on the road. There was not a lot of fanfare pulling in, but there were chairs in shade and ice towels, which sure beat the complex plan of "lie on the ground immediately" that I had formulated in the past hour. I believe I told the nice people there that they could just wake me up in that lawn chair the next morning because I wasn't moving (mind you, this was only late afternoon on Saturday.) But after some interval of time that was probably longer than socially acceptable but shorter than the next morning, I did get up and find friends and then find food. It helps immensely that Schillingbridge Tap House is at the finish line. Pizzas and chips and salsa were ordered. Emphasis on the salsa. If you're a salty sweater and have ever eaten salsa with a spoon after a particularly long ride, raise your hand.

The awards ceremony was pretty well-attended, particularly since it can be viewed from the bar patio. The overall male and female get a sword which is possibly the coolest prize in gravel cycling. I do maintain that the individual category winners should maybe get scabbards or some other form of baby pirate sword. I feel like you can gracefully retire once you have a pirate sword displayed on your mantel. 
Women's Single Speed podium (Venny Jane photography)

Festivities continued with a raffle that went on for a very long time simply because there was literally a stage-sized pile of free stuff to give away, lots of drinking and eating of second pizzas on the patio (I definitely did not order a second pizza, take half home, wake up at 4am in a hotel room, eat it, and go back to sleep. Nope, that definitely did not happen.), and enthusiastic cheering-in of riders who continued to arrive well into the evening. Most of them looked remarkably fresh, so I can only assume that they knew something I didn't, like where to take an air-conditioned nap somewhere along the course. 

Thus concludes Gravel Worlds 2019. We're entering (have already entered, really) an era where there are too many choices when it comes to which event one goes to. Everyone will have to pick and choose, and I genuinely believe there are no "right" or "wrong" choices - just ones that are more "right" for you. I can tell you that Gravel Worlds still very much has a grassroots feel, if that's your thing. It will kick your a$$, if that's your thing. There are pirates and swords on everything, if that's your thing. And there's a whole lotta cornfields...if that's your thing?

Big thanks to the guys behind the Pirate Cycling League for a swashbucklingly good time!



Sunday, August 18, 2019

Best New Thing I Used This Summer: Prevail Botanicals Salvation Stick


A year ago, I was highly skeptical of CBD.

There's a longer post forthcoming on CBD, as I went down a rabbit hole looking at the actual science behind commercial CBD products and their effects on the endocannabinoid system. The short story is some things work better than others, and transdermal or sublingual is the route to go in terms of how much you'll actually absorb.

It's no secret that I fight more inflammation than the average human, and adding in ultra sports helps some things (spine, SI joints) but can also create acute joint and soft tissue damage (say, after a 400k.) You need these inflammatory signals to rebuild stronger (that's the point of training), but also want to feel better. Let's say you also don't want to put nasty chemicals into your body, or pop NSAIDs and damage your gut.

This is where topical CBD has a lot of potential. I stumbled across Prevail Botanicals and exchanged a few emails with company founder Brock Cannon, and gave their "Aid Station" stick a whirl. I went in with a mix of cautious optimism and skepticism, but came out impressed. I can't say it takes all my post-body-thrashing pain away, but it's certainly appeared to save a mid-24-hour-race angry knee, and post-pounding-down-a-mountain (literally) angry shins and ankles. Does correlation prove causation? No. But I didn't change anything else on either of those occasions.

I've partnered up with Prevail as an ambassador, because I like their product and believe in their mission. For years, I've winced every time I've seen an endurance athlete pop some ibuprofen, and I'm hopeful that this is an alternative that will catch on with the masses. Disclaimer: I get no financial kickbacks from working with them. I've just looked at the science and had personal success with what appears to be a healthier way.

So, here's what the aptly named "Trail Size" looks like. It goes on smooth and leaves a little residue. Ingredients are listed as: Organic Olive oil, Organic Coconut Oil, 167mg Full Spectrum Hemp Extract (CBD), Organic Comfrey Leaf, Organic Calendula Flowers, Organic Chamomile Flowers, Organic Lavender oil, Organic Shea Butter, Organic Arnica Oil, Lavender Essential Oil, Peppermint Essential Oil, Beeswax, Vitamin E.

And yes, I carried it to the top of a mountain. I hadn't scrambled in hiking boots in a loooong time, and my shins were complaining ;) 

I do have a discount code to share if you'd like to try it - just shoot me a message here or on the socials. Or if you'd like to talk endocannabinoid research in general. It's nuanced, fascinating stuff.

The self esteem-boosting packaging is an added plus.