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.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bikepacking the Arkansas High Country Route Northwest Loop: Setup and Do's/Don'ts

Last wrap-up post for the AR High Country Route! For the curious, packing-anxious, and bikepacking nerds: What I Packed, What I Used, & Bike Setup.

Bike: Salsa Cutthroat (2018) Custom Build (details here)

Tires: Panaracer GravelKing SK 38mm on Dynamo front wheel; Maxxis Rambler 38mm on back wheel

Bags: Custom Rogue Panda frame bag (water bladder, change of clothes, headlamp, note to self and other small items in map pocket), Oveja Negra Seat Bag (bivy, sleeping pad, Enlightened Equipment 30 degree quilt), Oveja Negra top tube bag (snacks, charging cables), Andrew the Maker Feed Bags (more snacks), Wanderlust Pinon Pocket front bag (cables, toiletries, sunscreen, tools)

Light: Sinewave Beacon front light, cheapo blinky back light

GPS: Garmin Edge 520 Plus


What I Packed, What I Used:

  • Nemo GoGo Bivy
  • Enlightened Equipment Quilt
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Camelbak Bladder
  • Bug Spray
  • Change of clothes: run shorts/tank top
  • Sunscreen stick
  • Spork
  • Food: assortment of Honey Stinger waffles and energy bars, Trail Butter, can of sardines, turkey jerky sticks, couple of Clif bars
  • Cables
  • Battery pack
  • iPhone
  • Toothbrush, contacts solution, etc.
  • Tools
  • Tube x1


What I Didn't Use:

  • Bike lock (but it gave me peace of mind)
  • Headlamp (same)
  • Pepper Spray (same)
  • Water filter (lots of streams that could've used it on - and came close - but generally ran into churches or schools with spigots)

What I Wish I Did/Had:


  • Bigger Tires (at least a 2.1")
  • The Rambler did ok in the back - the GravelKing flatted and then tore a sidewall, and ended up with a tube and boot in it. I think this terrain would be better suited to a Mezcal or Sparwood (disclaimer: rode after significant flooding the month before, so experience may vary). Even a hardtail MTB would do well here, especially if you're not in a huge hurry. 
  • Spare brake pads. Mine held up, but I was legitimately concerned I'd wear them out feathering the steep, loose downhills as frequently as I needed to over 3 days. 
  • Consider bear spray - you are in bear territory. I saw one, and ran into a dude who'd seen 5!
  • More time to hang out in Bentonville/Fayetteville afterwards! Give yourself an extra day or two, these towns are super cool.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Bikepacking the Arkansas High Country Route Northwest Loop Day 3: Mulberry River Valley to Bentonville

Day 3: Mulberry River Valley to Bentonville: 99 miles

I woke up at 5am to the sound of rain pattering on the awning I was under (good decision #1.) I laid there staring at the green nylon "ceiling" of my bivy for another 20 minutes and peeled myself out of my sarcophagus shelter as the thunder died down. Shoving my sleep system into my seat pack for the last time and donning my Goretex rain jacket, I pedaled out of the campground and back onto the Byway and saw...another cyclist.

After 2 days and 150 miles, I'd yet to encounter another person riding. I'd settled into a comfortable headspace of being alone. I'd quieted my mind for the first time in a long time.

So I said hi. Exchanged brief stories, pleasantries. He was a rider in the full Arkansas High Country race, which had started about 5 days ago. I'd wondered if I'd encounter any of those handful of riders along the way, but it hadn't happened yet, since they'd departed from Little Rock and were scattered across the southern and northwest portions by now. After a couple minutes I let him pedal away from me, content to warm up at my own pace and have another day of solitude.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bikepacking the Arkansas High Country Route Northwest Loop Day 2: WMA to Mulberry River Valley

Day 2: WMA to Mulberry River Valley: 75 miles

So, the downside to sleeping on the other side of a creek is if you wake up and it's freezing cold, the first thing you have to do is put your still wet (and now cold) kit on and walk through that creek. Which felt really good when it was in the 80s yesterday early evening, but real cold when it's in the 40s in the early morning. So I pulled a Jay P and wore my Enlightened Equipment Quilt like a cape-dress until I was pedaling and warmed up, which happens pretty quickly when you have a mile-long climb half a mile into your ride.

I soon found myself in the small town of Marble and pulled into the King's Country General Store for resupply/second breakfast. I got a lot of funny looks walking in, but it was a great fully stocked convenience store, and some of the funny looks struck up a conversation. A group of older gentleman having their breakfast mostly wanted to know what the heck a neon-colored young lady in a helmet

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."