Monday, July 8, 2019

Bikepacking the Arkansas High Country Northwest Loop: Day 1, Bentonville to WMA

Route Notes: You can find full details on the Arkansas High Country Route here from the excellent Adventure Cycling Association. The full shebang is 1171.8 miles, but can be broken up into three smaller loops (Northwest, Central, South), with options for singletrack on the south loop. This short series covers my trip out on the Northwest loop, which took two days and some change. 

Additional important notes:

  • 50% gravel, 50% pavement
  • Climbs and descents with grades frequently in the 17-21% range
  • ~19,000 feet total climbing in 250 miles
  • "A minimum of 37mm tires with some tread is highly recommended." - Thoughts on this later.

Day 1: Bentonville to the edge of the Wildlife Management Area, plus some bonus riding - 76 miles

I rolled into Bentonville around noon on a Monday, unloaded my bike, and popped into Phat Tire to say hi to the cool people and confirm that I really could leave my car in one of the city public lots. Say what you will about Walmart, but Bentonville looks to have become a pristine little town with tons of restaurants, bars, outdoorsy things, and people on bikes. I had zero issues with cars rolling out of town on my loaded down Salsa Cutthroat, passing Crystal Bridges art museum en route to the gravel. The loop starts with lots of gently rolling hills, on and off the pavement, past farmhouses in the countryside until hitting a Dollar General and gas station just 28 miles in. I skipped this stop as I was still loaded up with water and snacks, but it would make a great first resupply if needed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dirty Kanza 200 (2019): The Northern, Hot, & Singlespeed Year

So. Historically I don't write much about DK. JOM does pretty comprehensive coverage and everybody and their dog writes a DK race report. But this time, a whole buncha people went by me and yelled "write your story!" Either because they mistook me for a smaller Alison Tetrick, or because I probably looked like I was having a near death experience, and they thought "oh this is going to be some funny sh*t."
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On a side note, a genuine thank you to everyone who came up to me and mentioned they liked something I wrote. This all started because I met JOM at the first gravel race I ever did, and he gave me a platform to rant about things, and then I just started writing about all the crazy stuff I went and did, because it's a therapeutic outlet (both the bicycling and the writing) and also because I entertain myself in the process. So I'mma keep on doing this, until JOM fires me, which he can't because no one including JOM gets paid for gravelcyclist.com. So really, thank him :)

Friday: The best thing about DK is catching up with people. When I started riding gravel, I wanted to get far away from the pressure and stress of my previous athletic endeavors. I remember being worried my first year at DK (2017) that all the hooplah (which has only increased since then) would detract from my experience...but I've found that no amount of hooplah, media, "pro"-y, whatever things can kill the positive community vibe in Emporia. The best part was that I got to be there with my better half this year, and we rode bikes down to the expo, talked to a whole bunch of friends from all over, and tried to accrue as many free stickers from vendors as possible. I only got into one molecular physiology argument, and vendors only assumed that the boy was the one riding a small handful of times, so I considered it a success. I also took the opportunity to tell anyone and everyone who would listen to me that I had decided sorta last minute to ride single speed this year, because I was still trying to convince myself that I had done that, and seemingly needed to repeat it over and over again to make it real. Because the logical thing to do after riding single speed for all of a month is to decide to do 201 miles on it, on the year when the course goes north, through all the gnar gnar, and up all the hills.

But as we've covered before, there's something wrong in my brain. If you're in the target audience for this piece, there's probably something wrong in your brain too.

Friday evening culminated in an attempt to pack my cooler for our SAG people. I chucked my usual assortment of bottles, celiac-friendly Honey Stinger waffles, emergency potato chips and emergency Snickers on my side. Takes 30 seconds. The boy first declared that he didn't even know what to do with this because he's never had SAG before. Current context: while I'm the single-shot ridiculous effort why-would-you-do-that person, he's the rode-across-the-state-1000-miles-living-off-burritos-found-along-the-way person. We had to have a long "this is a magical box that will greet you at miles 60 and 150" conversation, and then he promptly ordered two pizzas which went into ziplock bags ("breakfast pizza and lunch pizza and dinner pizza".)

This is the extent of our DK planning.
Saturday morning we rode down to the start line in the dark and situated ourselves somewhere vaguely appropriate. I insisted on a shameless selfie just in case I died on Little Egypt Road.

Towards checkpoint one was smooth sailing. It helped my self-confidence that the roads were in good shape and didn't have any super ridiculous hills for the first 30 miles. I knew I was pushing a taller gear than I wanted to be...I think I typed some numbers into a single speed gear calculator on the internet when I was initially figuring out how to set up this bike. It's my beloved Specialized Crux, aka my oldest child, which had been feeling abandoned since the assemblage of my compulsively color-coordinated Salsa Cutthroat last year. For all its flaws, this bike is an extension of myself and I refused to throw it in the river like my mechanic and dear friend suggested. So the Crux got a fancy single speed conversion.

People have been suggesting I ride single speed for a solid year. I like to think it's because they think I'm as cool as them, but it's much more likely that they've noticed I don't use my gears correctly anyway, since my default mode is to push the hardest gear that I possibly can regardless of the circumstances. This is all a very long explanation for how I came to be riding a 46x20 Specialized Crux, and very much loving it, at least on the four rides I had done so far. I had figured out after Elrod's Cirque that this was probably a taller gear ratio than necessary, but a smaller front ring wasn't in the cards in time for DK, and I had had the brilliant idea to use this bike for DK at the end of a string of night shifts which is when I make all my best  decisions, so here we were at mile 30ish of DK on a very over-geared but very very loved bicycle.



And I felt pretty damn good. I was super proud of myself for navigating the much-talked-about deep ruts and bumpy stuff with the 38 front/35 rear that I can fit on there. I was working hard but I went up all the hills. And Singlespeed Crux and I cruised into Checkpoint 1 pretty much like this:



 My wonderful SAG (p/b District Bicycles) grabbed my bike, flung it back at me 30 seconds later during which time they probably accomplished a full tune-up including the sprinkling of unicorn tears, and yelled "YOU CAN CHEW WHILE YOU PEDAL" while smearing sunscreen on my face as I tried to drink a V8. I then crushed that can of V8 with my bare hands, let out a guttural yell, and morphed into the Incredible Hulk*.

*Not really. But I did go back to riding my bike.

Shortly after Checkpoint 1 I recall the start of a hellacious stretch of rollers, and getting hot. And getting progressively hotter. I think this is where it started to go bad for a lot of people, present company included. I feel dumb even writing this because I know how to ride in hot and dry. I've learned that lesson the hard way more than once. But I had my low-80s-with-a-chance-of-thunderstorms algorithm going, not my hot-and-dry-AF algorithm. And I slowly didn't drink quite enough, wanted salty things but didn't have them, etc etc. It's frustrating to know exactly what you should be doing, but not be able to execute it.

But f*ck if this wasn't Dirty Kanza and I wasn't still having fun.

I rode with lots of people I knew and lots of people I didn't know but became good friends with for somewhere between 15 seconds and 20 minutes depending on our respective level of dying-ness. I went by a lot of ditch people. I went by a lot of flat tire people. I went by my favorite Minnesotan Mitch fixing his third flat, Mitch is a pretty awesome dude who the Emporia Gazette wrote a thing about which you should definitely read here because it's more important than the drivel I'm writing. I went up Little Egypt Road, down Little Egypt Road, walked another short stretch of Little Egypt Road, and rode up the last section of Little Egypt fueled by fear alone (and a lot of f-bombs, sorry anyone who was near me.) At the oasis, I found the boy wandering around also dying of heat, which has always puzzled me because you would think that Texans would be good at heat. I asked him if he still wanted to do DKXL sometime, and he said "$@%^ no #^$^ this $%#^*$*@ #$%@, not unless it's 55 degrees." Then he sat under a tree and I kept moving because my heart rate was somehow just as high stopped as it was pedaling, so I figured I might as well be pedaling. Didn't matter, because he and his damn gears went right by me again 5 miles later.

I pushed my bike up a couple hills, watched Leo Rodgers hop his bike up a hill and wondered what I was doing with my life, went back to riding up all the hills because it actually felt easier than pushing. A whole lot of dudes looked at my gear ratio in terror as I went by, which reinforced that I was doing an Insane Thing, which actually made me feel better because if there's one thing I've proven I'm good at, it's finishing Insane Things. Anyway, somehow I made my way to Checkpoint 2, and I flopped in a chair and said some things that may or may not have actually been words, and ate a bag and a half of potato chips before they were rudely taken away from me and placed in my back pocket and I was literally pulled by my so-called friends out of said chair and onto a bicycle and given a push. I do remember looking at my Garmin screen and being confused by the numbers and saying "It's not 12:30 o'clock." First of all, "12:30 o'clock" is not a thing. But they figured out what I meant and informed me that that was the length of time since I started my Garmin, not the time of day, which was in fact much farther down on the screen. So that should give you a rough idea of my brain function.

I went up that paved hill right out of Checkpoint 2 and almost hit a skunk that was just hanging out in the middle of the road. I said "skunk" halfheartedly. The guy a few feet behind me said "oh." So it seems he was functioning at about the same level. Neither of us hit the skunk and we went on our way.

I stopped to dry heave a bunch of times, noted that it was getting dark-ish around mile 175 and turned my lights on, and for some reason completely stopped eating or drinking. I also know way better than that, but it's very easy to say it was dumb in retrospect. In the moment, I was rapid shallow breathing and tachycardic and knew it, and just generally wanted to get myself to the end and deal with the consequences later, and I knew I could get myself 50 miles without taking anything in if I needed to. (Note that I in no way endorse this, and please someone just smack me the next time I try to pull a stunt like this.)

Right at 11pm I crossed the finish line, my latest DK finish by hours, but that's what it's all about. We've all chosen an inherently unpredictable sport where you kinda have to just go with whatever happens. I ended up on the women's single speed podium which I'm honestly still not quite sure how to frame. As was pointed out to me, you can really choose the narrative there - "I podiumed, my finish was strong despite the fact that it was after dark!" vs "I made some dumb decisions, doesn't really feel real." Either way, a lot of suffering went into that Kansas-shaped block of wood they gave me on Sunday. I found the boy after I finished, who'd been done for about an hour, and asked him what he'd been doing. He said, "I licked the outside of a protein bar." I didn't ask anymore questions. I sat on the sidewalk for a while, started to pass out when I tried to get up an hour later, and it took until the early morning for my heart and respiratory rate to go back down. Would I change any of it? No. I mean, I would like to not give myself heat stroke. But Dirty Kanza once again affirmed that I am surrounded by an incredible community of people, and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.

Except maybe tacos.

Peace out, Emporia.
-Adrienne

The chaise happened somewhere in that last death march! I am very wide eyed because my bike started to slide out from under my legs while they were taking the picture 😂

This was somewhere during the first leg, courtesy of JOM's GoPro.

Women's Single Speed Podium


Thursday, June 13, 2019

But First, Elrod's Cirque (2019): We Came, It Hailed, We Prevailed.

I could probably just save myself several years of trouble and preemptively send JOM race reports from Elrod's Cirque 2020, 2021, and 2022. They will all just say "Bobby Smith planned a race in Winfield, Kansas, and then it [insert extreme weather condition here.]

Elrod's Cirque, however, was one of my favorite adventures last year (see ridiculous write up here), so despite meteorological gloom and doom again being forecast, I drove myself up to the nice little town of Winfield on Friday night. There's the option of staying at the local college dorms for a whopping 20 bucks, which I availed myself of. Weather-induced attrition was already apparent based on the number of dorm no-shows, although several very nice gentlemen recognized me from the previous year's antics. Apparently when almost nobody finishes, it's easy to remember these things?

The course started in a park this year. While I missed the coffee shop start, I don't blame said coffee shop for perhaps not wanting 100 spandex-clad people in clompy shoes simultaneously clamoring for caffeine and bathrooms at an ungodly early weekend hour. Plus, the park provided ample opportunity to entertain yourself by chasing the geese around in circles instead of getting your bike ready like you should be doing. I did eventually manage to grab my number plate and t-shirt. While affixing my number and trying to decide what else I needed on my bike, I took a look around.

I saw a lot of bikes. A lot of bikes with not a lot on them. Like, a tool roll, and *maybe* a small top tube bag. I looked back at the pile of stuff I was still waffling on in the back of my car. Goretex. Spare brake pads. Mylar blanket. Emergency bivy. All The Tools. Whole pizza (ok, not that.) Was I doing it wrong? Or did these people not realize that the annual Elrod's Cirque Apocalypse was a'coming?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Iowa Wind & Rock v.1: How I Got Here, & Where I Went

The story of how I ended up in Winterset, Iowa on April 19th actually starts in April 2018. I felt restless and unsatisfied after Trans Iowa v.14, and shortly thereafter Mark Stevenson (aka Guitar Ted) announced that Trans Iowa was no more. When the combined minds of Sarah Cooper, Steve Fuller, and Dennis Grelk announced in the fall of last year that Iowa Wind & Rock would fill that void - well, there once again a chance to make an attempt at the 340 mile self-supported, cue sheet navigated, 34 hour time limit ride in the hills, wind, and unpredictable weather and road conditions that is Iowa in the springtime.

I didn't go in with any expectations of myself this year. It felt weird. I really just wanted to spend some time on my bike in the sun. I was very focused on getting to the finish last year. I wanted to know what would happen when I hit my normal stopping point and went beyond it. And then I missed the second checkpoint by 3 minutes, after 19 hours of riding in 30mph winds, and a 10 mile navigational error.

I've had a huge chip on my shoulder over those 3 minutes for the past year. In retrospect, I think I really just wanted to make all the checkpoints this year, and that was all my subconscious really felt the need to accomplish. And it really did feel like complete redemption when I rolled into checkpoint #2 just after 7pm, with an hour and 40 minutes to spare. A weight lifted.

I've thought in the past few weeks about this. Because what happened from there...I sat at Checkpoint 2 for half an hour trying to settle my stomach (hot, dry, dehydrated, and low on salt). This was necessary, but while I wanted to keep riding, I felt no real sense of urgency. Unusual thing #1. Maybe it was cumulative fatigue from the previous 170 miles, hills, deep gravel, and what turned into a very hot and dry, dusty day, but I think it was more that my brain decided it had reached its penultimate goal, and anything from here on out was just gravy. This was not a conscious thought. Just in retrospect.

So after three trips in and out of Casey's for 2 bags of Lay's, a V8, an assortment of things I thought I could stomach from here on out, and a Muscle Milk (do NOT recommend chasing V8 with Muscle Milk. This falls under "seemed like a good idea at the time.")

My mental game is pretty damn strong. A multitude of lurking demons, combined with a PhD's worth of studying mindfulness, stress, & neurophysiology, eventually leads to a well-trained mind out of necessity, if nothing else. This is not to say that mental highs and lows (especially lows) don't come; rather, that there's an arsenal of tools to deal with it. I've meditated and sensory-deprivation-floated my way to being able to separate myself from my emotions over the years. So when I stopped in the middle of a B road at 1am, I wasn't quite sure why I was stopping, and why I wasn't terribly upset about it. There were technical and physical factors: namely nausea, and the fact that my Dyno-powered headlight wasn't really working while going 7mph uphill on the constant 10-14% grades, leading to hitting deep patches that I didn't want to hit and a lot of fishtailing. I went through the mental checklist of "fixable things gone wrong," and it wasn't any of that. I felt strangely calm, and there really weren't any negative emotions. More just like a shoulder shrug. Guess this is where I'm meant to end it this year.

I called the boy and we talked for a minute while he made sure that I wanted him to come retrieve me. I called Cooper who made sure that I was ok and squared away (much appreciated.) I rode another 10 miles back to the town of Exira (into a headwind, of course) and sat in the parking lot.

My mind has toyed with all the reasons why I stopped when I stopped. Mostly, I think I've needed to convince myself that it wasn't mental weakness. There's a short list of very plausible reasons. Am I just creating justification? I don't really know. I don't think so though. I like to finish things on my own terms. When I finish this particular thing, I want it to be right. It didn't feel right this time. What did feel right: I'm no longer the person who didn't make the second checkpoint. That was important to me. I'm not sure the rest of it was. I wanted to go and spend time with someone I love who I don't get a lot of days per month with instead. I remember thinking that very clearly. I think that's different from giving in to "the thought of a hotel bed and shower," as some have said.

I think what it comes down to is that it wasn't the most important thing to me that day. I could have kept riding. That's what still seems weird. I can't remember the last time I stopped a race when I was physically capable of keeping going. I don't think it's happened ever. I almost certainly would've ended up after the cutoff due to my lighting issues, but last year at TI I would've chopped off one of my less-important toes to ride in after the cutoff. What you value in a particular month, season, year can change quite a bit with life, and sometimes paying attention to that is called self-care - something I'm historically bad at - and not weakness.

Or maybe I'm full of it, and it's all one big rationalization :)

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Here are the fun parts! I rode 231 miles, with 17,000 feet of climbing, according to Garmin. The low temp was a real-feel of 36 degrees, and the high 81 degrees. I don't have a number or technical term to quote on this, but the air was dry AF. Two random farms let me refill water. The roads were as bad as all the Iowans claimed they would be. There was one county where I think they just put a large boulder in the road, lit some dynamite and exploded baby boulders all over the road for people to ride through. I heard that farm equipment got stuck in it, so I'm not sure how we're all alive.

And, credit to @markmanoutdoorphotography for these pics with all the colors.




Thanks to City Cycles Oklahoma, SOAS Racing, and Honey Stinger for the continued support. Thanks but no thanks to medical residency for training me to be awake at all hours of the day, night, and wait what time is it?


Monday, April 29, 2019

Land Run 100 Images: 2018 and 2019

This is both my favorite event every year, and historically my worst. I don't know why it is that life seems to blow up in mid-March every year. But looking back through images from 2018 and 2019 is a good reminder that life happens. That the selective social media posting of smiling faces taking glamorous vacations, that isn't real life 99% of the time for 99% of the population.



Real life is messy and gritty, occasionally ugly crying, and awkwardly standing over your bike forcing a smile in front of a chaise.



And fortunately real life now also means having people at the end to lift you back up, whether you like it or not. 


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Spotzle Stories: Translating the gravel world from English to French to English

Late last year, a very polite French gentleman messaged me on the social medias inquiring as to whether he could possibly reprint some of the race stories I've written for gravelcyclist.com for his international online cycling magazine Spotzle - in French. I'd encourage you to use the translate button to read the variety of interesting stories from around the world on his website, the stories of rides, trips, and races from all over are fascinating. Recently I went back and read through my own, curious as to how the translations worked out. It was too good not to pull some snippets and post here. Enjoy. 

Dirty Kanza, 2018: https://spotzle.cc/listing/dirty-kanza-2018-lannee-du-vent-et-du-bonk/
"even if I drive at 12 km / H, I have exceeded a lot of people, some lay in the ditch, close to abandonment or a nap, or both." 
"My bike was tuned to the onions and prepared in advance with carefully chosen equipment," 
"I spotted a jar of pickles and some fruits with personalized messages for the race." 
"I pulled a guy on a "Fat Bike" who insisted that I roll harder than him. It does not matter. Then, I accumulated an XY chromosome train behind me for about 8 Km before shaming them so that they roll a little too in the wind. Seriously, will you let a woman of 50 Kg shelter you all day?" 
"Thanks to my friends for the support and thank you for stopping me from eating a plastic wrapper." 
"And anyway, I had drunk enough coffee enough not to suffer an IMMINENT DESTRUCTION."

Elrod's Cirque, 2018: https://spotzle.cc/listing/elrods-cirque-gravel-race-2018/
"Towards the km 148, I found the initial course. My bike made 50 % noise as if death itself had taken over it and 50 % as if my transmission was maintained by paper clips.Another apocalyptic story from Adrienne Taren."

Spotted Horse, 2018: https://spotzle.cc/listing/st-charles-spotted-horse-gravel-ultra/
"I had yellow Gore overshoes, and after the last few hours struggling in the mud, I was about to officially declare them dead at checkpoint 2. In any case, they were not even covering my feet, which was caught in a sort of sarcophagus of earth." 
"I thought "victory is near"! Because now, the ball bearings have given up!" 
"There was this strange moment, probably because we had been on our bike for many hours, where I asked Cory if he would be upset to be run over by a deer in the middle of the night." 
"I think I asked if I could lie on the road, right there, and drive the rest of the way to the cellar. I think the answer was no."

Monday, April 22, 2019

Brains & Exercise Research Update: Influence of Cognitive Load on Fatiguing Exercise

Original study can be found here.

Building off Samuel Marcora's work on , this new study published in the February 2019 issue of Psychophysiology looks at the effect of cognitively fatiguing memory tasks (1-back and 2-back) on performance during an isometric quadriceps exercise.