Sunday, August 2, 2015

Backpacks or Obsession?: Dana Design and Mystery Ranch Backpacks

 I saw a sales pitch on REI’s website “Every Pack Tells A Story.”  Then of course you select the link to find that pack to tell the story.  There is a little truth to this and it got me thinking of all of the packs that I have had over the years.  While there has been no single pack, there is a trend that is linked to a guy named Dana Gleason.  I have had an infatuation with his back pack designs over the years.  Lets start at the beginning.

I have always liked back packing, I am not sure why.  It has always been painful, full of discomfort, scary at times (not for me, but people who get scared); I have distinct memories of near starvation, and exhaustion.  All of that seems to be overshadowed by:

-The mornings when I awoke on top of a mountain to the sun rising on the horizon; sunsets are equally beautiful. 
-The joy that comes with catching (and eating) trout in high mountain lakes and streams.
-The feeling of relief when removing boots from tired swollen feet, after working hard to get to the top of a mountain. 
-The quite and serenity that comes at night in high mountain areas.

Bob Marshall Wilderness

As a younger man, I spent my summers at Philmont Scout Ranch in Northern New Mexico.  The first two years were as a participant, and the last two years were as an employee.  I had grandparents with a great outlook on life.  They believed there was nothing to be gained from working pointless jobs, (McDonalds…..) and that once out of high school I would work the rest of my life; my mother followed the same philosophy.  Their funding made Philmont possible.  The years I got paid would barely cover my transportation to get there.  The journey and experience were definitely worth the cost though (and lack of money at the end of the summer).

My grandmother took me to the Base Camp, a high end outdoor shop in Helena, MT and hooked me up with the finest of gear.  Previous attempts at backpacking were an epic failure, and I guess she thought that since we were going to the effort we might as well make it worth while.  That was my first encounter with Dana Designs and the running man logo.  I was smitten.  Deep smit.

I always took pride in the fact that these were made in my home state.

One year when we were going to a Montana State University game I saw the building where they were manufactured.  My grandmother and mother, both determined women, pulled in and we got a tour.  To this day I remember the rolls of nylon and sewing machines and think about how glorious it was.

 I am not sure how these manage to survive Emily's constant purging.  1992 is my favorite the, front flap closes and the buckle looks like it is connected.  It is in tact.

Over the years I have purchased 5 of Dana Gleason's backpacks and my wife has purchased two: the Yellowstone, the Clark, the Bangtail, Terraplane X, Mystery Ranch ? Tactical, the Bridger, and the Hoodoo Spire (I was envious of this bag when Emily bought it and somehow during a purge, Emily convinced me we should sell it)  Sad Face!


They do tell stories of peace and tranquility, as well as, hostility and war.

Anyway I will dispense with words and show some pictures. 

The Yellowstone:

 Senior pictures, I damaged my arm the day before.  My beloved Yellowstone from 1992.  

I used the Yellowstone for a solid 4 years.  Three of those were absolute abuse and it rarely showed signs though it did need repair once.  When touring the facility I mentioned that I appreciated how quickly they repaired and returned it.  The gentlemen said he remembered my pack, which stands as a testament of quality; you wouldn't remember it if it was one of thousands of repairs.  I gave it to a friend who was traveling Europe, I am sad it is gone as my boys get older. 

The Terraplane X:  

I still love the "Blurple" and yellow color of this bag.

This backpack has some great memories, especially with Emily.  Essentially the same style as the Yellowstone, but with a better frame design.  I had some great times with this backpack.  I still own it and it will have many years of use in the future.  I really wanted the 10th anniversary pack but I had no money that year; youth is wasted on the young who have energy but no cash.    

 1999 trip through Capital Reef National Park.  It is a rare picture in which I have hair.  

The Bridger:

Again the same classic design.  Emily is a good sport and we have had many adventures.  I always made sure I carried more weight to make it enjoyable.  Of note was a trip through Capital Reef National Park.  We were told that there would be easy access to water before we left for Utah.  Upon arrival the Ranger chuckled slightly as he said "who told you there would be water?"  That was on a 17 mile stretch through a canyon.  I packed several gallons of water and she got the tent!  Great times as I dug a hole near a damp spot in the creek bend to get enough to pool and filter.  

 I am not sure why we packed her bag that way.  It looks strange and probably had to do with the fact that there was no water (imagine that in a desert) and I had to empty my bag to carry the heavy stuff.  Over centuries water and wind carved this overhang.  

I would love to go back.

 2000ish.  Emily bushwhacking in the Mission Mountains in Montana.  I am not sure what we were thinking on this trip.  

Similar to the water situation in the desert we were told by the gentlemen leading this that it was great.  As we climbed up (photo above) to go through a pass the two men (in their early 60s) both agreed that in all of their years they had never seen so much snow.  It took great effort to climb a challenging mountain to the the left of the pass (probably should have turned around or used ropes) but we got over.  

This was the reward, a majestic view.  Oh yeah, and there was a severe electric storm in which the flash and bang was near simultaneous and we spent whole day climbing so we camped on the ridge.  It was mildly scary, for people who get scared, unlike me of course.  

For the record, I have never been "weary!"

Looking closely, you can see the bridge of snow above the waterfall.  On the other side is an amazing turquoise blue lake.  Well worth the hike.  This must have been 2004 or 05.  The Bob Marshall Wilderness is a true treasure.  It's harsh features are its greatest beauty.

Molly the Poodle has always loved to be outdoors.  Don't be fooled by her fluffy appearance.  She is a hunter and I almost lost her as she chased a mountain goat over the edge of a cliff.  

The Clark and Bangtail:

The Clark was a great bag for skiing, day trips, and travel.  It fit well in overhead compartments on planes.  I used it on a trip to Denmark.  The Bangtail was my bike everywhere bag.  Technically it could be called a fanny pack, but that would be an insult.  It has an amazing waist belt and fit adjustment, you could put a days worth of books and crap in it and ride with no efforts.  It was there before messenger bags.  Intact, I may pull it out and use it.  Both of these bags have had great adventures.

I was sad when Dana Design was sold, the designs harvested, and re-branded.  Then......

Mystery Ranch Tri-Zip:

Then we get to a less peaceful and serene time.  War.

I am not sure if the bag actually had a name at the time.  I found out that they had been doing some work for various special forces and I called and asked what I could get.  There was not a production line set up for commercial sale at the time and they said they would do a custom color, gray (or titanium) to go with the new ACU digital (the worst camo ever).  It set me back some coin but Dana had been on so many other adventures and journeys, I felt comfortable with it.  

They Y-zip is genius.

The 3-Zip design is amazing.  You can pack it and get to stuff at the bottom with ease.  

 You can't see the bag, but those are the straps.  Taken in Dohuk, Norther Iraq 2005/6 time frame.  We were able to drop our helmets and vests and walk around town for a couple of hours.  So odd that one minute your life is in danger, then you cross an imaginary line and you can walk freely.

Subsequently, I spent some time in Pakistan, where it was recommended that we didn't carry anything military looking since we traveled commercial and through areas that don't always appreciate U.S. Soldiers.  So I chose to leave it at home.  That was a big mistake as I traveled within Pakistan and it fits so well on small military aircraft, I took it on a couple of short trips to Afghanistan, again it is an indispensable bag.

Soon I am starting another great adventure and I am disappointed that this bag does not match the current uniform camouflage pattern and sadly it will be left home and I will embark without a Dana Gleason pack for the first time in many years.  It has been such a great bag to have over the years in both a civilian and military capacity.  It will be used for years to come as a do-it-all backpack.

At the end of the day, it is I that am telling the story.  The backpacks have been great companions and necessary tools to carry the objects necessary to have all of these adventures.

Out of all of the amazing experiences both in the wilderness and in war, there have been two constants; Me and Dana Gleason's back packs!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A New Ride: The Salsa Blackborow

Every so often something comes along that gets my attention.  I really like bikes and I would like to own them all.  However, I move a lot and my housing options don't accommodate every bike I want.  Therefore, I don't get something unless what I have isn't getting the job done.  For instance, I see no point in owning a traditional road bike as long as the Salsa Las Cruces is fully functional.  It does most of what I need on paved or dirt roads.

The same with mountain bikes, my real passion.  At one point I had three fully assembled and a frame hanging on the wall.  A lot of redundancy, so I decided to sell all but the Salsa Mukluk which became my do it all mountain bike.  I have been looking at getting a Lynskey Fatsky for a while but truth be told, the only real difference is the frame material, no major functional difference.

Then Salsa announced the Blackborow, this is something that is dramatically different from the Mukluk.  Suddenly I didn't care about a fancy titanium frame so I ordered one of these from the really nice people at Red River Cyclery.  I went back an forth as to whether or not to get the DS or geared version.  Ultimately, time, cost (of upgrades to include new Alternator dropout plates), and availability helped me decide on geared.  Though truth be told I love the Forest Service Green, it reminds me of Missoula, Montana.

I was near the end of a really painful couple of weeks when the guys at RRC posted this on Facebook.  It made my day (Image Courtesy of Red River Cyclery)

I am not a good bike reviewer guy but here are some pictures.  So far I like the bike though only time will tell.  Here are some pictures in the wilds of Louisiana.

Louisiana mountain biking

The elevation is ~400 feet above sea level.  Anytime there is a big dip in elevation, there is standing water.  There is no telling what is buried in the mud or how far it will sink.  Some of these are surprisingly deep, the Blackborow with the 26x4.8 tires hand these spots like a champ.

 I love the Spanish Moss.

Though the Surly Lou is not my favorite tire, the width is impressive and traction is great.  I am looking forward to getting a 4.8 Knard tire when I get a second mortgage on my house!

Crud Catcher?

So far I have very few complaints.  Two obvious things that are only mildly annoying are the front brake cable routing which I am guessing will be addressed on next years model, my temporary fix is a zip tie to pull it way from the front tire.  It looks tacky but is functional.  The second is the tire clearance........or lack there of.  I purposely bought this bike because of the shortened chain stays and quicker handling.  But a side effect of this is the front derailleur is a crud catcher.  I also added helicopter tape (not cheap but unnoticeable and worth every cent) to the back of the seat stay to keep the thick mud from shredding the paint.  I also added some to the small brace between the tire and BB which is also a major crud catcher.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Exploring the Kisatchie National Forest on a beautiful day.

It isn't clear but there is a road to the right of my bike.  It ends in a T-intersection at the green trees.

My job has very long hours and I don't always get the time that I would like dedicate to riding. As stated before, I bought a new bike that I thought would be fitting for my new environment.  So far I am pleased with my decision to buy a Giant Revolt.  The other day it was a nice 70 degrees and I had to get out.  I was exhausted from a crazy trip to New Orleans the day before that involved getting home at 2 a.m.  As I said, it was gorgeous so I forced myself out of the recliner and went for a ride. 

I decided that rather than go for mileage I would explore a few roads that I ride past.  There are many short side roads in the Kisatchie National Forest, typically they are not long.  This meant that I would be turning around frequently, however, it is nice to see different scenery.  The first road (above) was nice, starting out as a nice wide hard packed sandy road and ended in a leaf covered section with T intersection.  I chose to go to the right and found that that the jeep track was very loose and it felt as though I had a flat rear tire.  It felt sluggish on most of this stretch and  I eventually hit a dead end.

I turned around and headed back and took the other spur and found the same kind of road conditions. Again, I ran into a water hazard.  I have found that if you go down hill, you quickly run into water.

This water was surprisingly clear and reflected the trees above like a mirror.

The road looked good on the other side but I didn't want to cross it, get all wet just to find it only goes another hundred feet or so.  I will do a map check later.  So I turned around again and headed back.  This time I returned to the main road in search of a new route.

I quickly found this and followed it quite a ways.  A bulldozer had been down it and it looks like someone was building up humps to prevent road washout during rain.  The tracks created a nice rumble strip. 

This stretch of road was a mix of packed and soft sand, possibly the best cyclocross route around.  

The mounds of dirt are clearly there to keep the road from washing out in heavy rain.  My tires cut in deep on several of them.  

I quickly ran into another wet area.  I definitely was not going to cross this muddy quagmire.

Mud clearance!

As stated before I bought a Giant Revolt because it is made to be a go most places bike.  I have proven it can do basic single track with the Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge (it was on the flier).  The bike boasts the ability to run up to a 2 inch wide (50mm) tire.  No other gravel/cyclocross bike that I know of boasts that.  While I don't really see myself riding a 2 wide tire, this set up allows for amazing mud clearance.  Something most bikes wouldn't have with a 40mm wide tire.  

A little sand on the tires.

The road conditions in this area range from a red dirt road with clay to white sand.  I have come to love the hard packed sand, which is often smoother than the asphalt in the area.  

Anther interesting fact is that this area is home to the Red Cockaded Woodpecker.  The trees with white bands are home to families of woodpeckers.  Some interesting facts:  

1.  They love long-leaf pine forests
2.  They nest in only live pine trees
3.  They "bleed" the tree around the hole they nest in to prevent tree climbing snakes from entering their AO.
4.  They are endangered
5.  They along with the Desert Tortoise are the only known force capable of stopping the U.S. Army.  Fact!!!  Not trying to give hints to anyone but if you want to stop a tank battalion, here you go.

Another beautiful day in Louisiana in February.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The GHORBA Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge Part II: Run whatcha brung and own the stupid.

Before I begin I would like to point out that I don't race.  You may find yourself asking "but you raced?"  That is true, I did, however had either the Wild Azalea Trail Challenge or Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge required a race license and sanctioning I would not have done them.  I just don't see the point in paying some organization to not win or earn anything seems ridiculous.  That said, I don't mind paying when the money is for a reasonably good cause.  In this case I thought it was a little overpriced considering there wasn't a shirt or even a complimentary gel or granola bar.  But I will get to that later.  The bottom line is that the money is for future advocacy and trail maintenance....the world is better.

The race started well, the first 1.5 miles were on a hardball road and it gave people time to get ahead if they wanted and there wasn't a big funnel at the trail head.  Now for the hiccup.  As stated before I probably brought the wrong bike (by probably I mean that I did).  But you know what sometimes you have to man up and run what you brung (a bad attempt to rhyme).  They echeloned the start by event.  Of course I signed up for the 3 mile 50 lap ordeal so this started first.  This would prove to be a mistake.  I should have just started in the back because my poor narrow drop bars and 40mm tires didn't give me the speed I needed on the trail.  As soon as I hit the trail I knew I was in trouble.  There were roots everywhere.  While there were no rocks and very little elevation change, the roots were devastating.  Ironically everything the guy told me the night before was mostly wrong, such as the trail being sandy and loose after a group passed through.  It wasn't bad at all.

It didn't take long for the second group to catch up with me.  "bike back" and "passing" were constant.  I clearly should have started in the back.  Eventually they thinned out and I got it, this is a race but a few were a bit rude.  I know that I looked crazy, but take it up with the race director for putting out a flier that said do all three on a CX bike.  The first lap seemed the longest as I had to move to the right and let people pass but I found a couple of people who were new to mountain biking and I followed them.  I eventually passed a couple so good on me.

The second lap was a little better, it was not until the last mile of the second lap that I was passed by the lead riders.  I found myself with a nice lady that wanted only to finish the two laps she signed up for.  She kept telling me to pass her but I declined because the moment we hit a rough patch she would pass me.  As I rounded the second lap, I stopped and grabbed a few snacks out of my car and downed a couple of Exedrin with caffeine and downed a snack and headed out for the third lap.

It was on the beginning of the third lap that I began to feel cramping.  The only difference was that the cramping was not in my legs but my triceps and hands.  Having ridden 36 miles in drop bars clinging to the hoods was taking it's toll.  It was then that I began to regret my decision.  But what choice did I have.....only one and that was to finish.  It was immediately clear that I was last.  but what do you expect from a guy that is riding a cyclocross style bike with drops and 40mm tires on a root filled single track.

I just kept cranking.  I shouted the occasional obscenity (if a guy who is on a cyclocross bike swears in the woods is there anyone around to hear him?  No!).  I just kept cranking away, root after root.  As I came in the final stretch I was glad to see that there were a couple of people hanging around and they were still running the timer.  I crossed the finish line and the lady asked me "did you see the two guys on the trail?'  "You mean I wasn't last?" was my response.  It turns out that a couple of guys (old guys) crossed for their third lap before me but stopped and took a break.  It was at that point that the guy writing down time looked at my bike and said "you did 50 miles on that?"  He looked both shocked and disgusted.  I get that look a lot.  I said "it was on the flier and I paid a lot of money!"

I had rigor mortis of the hands after this.

So there I was.  I had to break down camp and drive the 2.5 to 3 hours home, with cramping triceps and fingers that had some sort of drop bar and hood induced rigor mortis.  I went back to the tent and decided to take a quick nap.  Again, someone asked what I had done.  The common response was "50 miles on that?"  Of course when I went to my tent the vulgar and offensive people were there so I bailed on the nap and packed up and left.  Again, Infantry and combat were not as offensive as these people were.

Over the next two days I developed pain in my triceps and between my shoulder blades near the spine.  Clearly I discovered stabilizing muscles I didn't know existed.  I was pleased to have completed the race, no matter how much pain.  Would I go back next year?  That is debatable.

Again, not to sound like a curmudgeon (which I am) the group camping was a turn off for me.  I understand when you are with a group of friends you can act crazy, rude, bigoted and whip out a joint.  But the moment a newcomer has arrived I would recommend that you tone it down a touch.  Again, you are representing an organization that wants to extract upwards of $65 for entrance, $9 to drive into the recreation area, $18 to camp, and then I spent $100 on gas.  Could I recommend this to my Soldiers, absolutely not.  Would I bring co-workers and other Soldiers to the event, I couldn't because if they experienced what I did and I recommended it, they would think that I condone that behavior.  This would set a bad example.   And finally, at least throw in a complimentary gel or sticker.  Again, some could say the money goes to a good cause but a little overhead could go to swag that serves as an advertisement.  Just saying.  Sorry there are not many pictures, the nice lady taking pictures wants $20 for a digital copy.  I really miss Lanterne Rouge and his free photos.  He does it for the love.

Ok, what is next.  I am thinking the Rouge Roubaix

Sunday, February 1, 2015

GHORBA Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge Part I: The Prep....or lack thereof.

So following the disappointing DNF on the Wild Azalea Trail Challenge I immediately went home to find a similar event to prove that I could complete.  I live in Central Louisiana, ain't much going on in these parts.  It didn't take long to find something in Texas within a decent driving distance.  The Greater Houston Off Road Biking Association was hosting a mountain bike marathon at Double Lake Recreation Area near Cold Spring, Texas.  My Mukluk was still in need of some love following the last event and I was waiting on some brake pads to arrive with a new bike frame I ordered.  I saw on the flier that you can use your cyclocross for all three events.  Sounds good to me, I have my Giant Revolt it can do a lot of things.  It would take up to a two inch tire but I didn't want to solicit anymore funds for fear that the whole operation would get shut down so I would run my 40mm Clement MSO tires.  Then life happened and I didn't get a chance to ride for a couple of weeks.

But before I go into the race I would like to talk about the 48 hours leading up to the event on 17 January.  It really is a reflection of the chaos that is my life.  In Mid-December my wife knocked one of the bikes off of a hook and it dented the top tube of my Giant Revolt bike.

I was sad.  I really didn't want to spend money on a new frame, at least one I already owned.  I would like to spend $ on other stuff.  Anyway, my favorite bike shop, Bike and Hike in Rock Island, IL ordered a frame for me.  Then the holidays happened and it didn't arrive. I called and they shipped it and it arrived a few days before the event and much to my shock it was atomic blue!  I was told it would be gray, had I known it would be this amazingly obnoxious blue I would have ordered a Surly Ogre to replace my old one that I sold.  So 48 hours out I put it together after work but the steer tube was way too long and I didn't have a star nut.  Great, the nearest bike shop is 50 miles away.  But I had a plan, sort of.

 I was expecting a grey frame.  I was a little shocked when I opened the box.  

It is....BLUE.  I figured it would grow on me.  It hasn't!

It just so happened that my daughter had a doctors appointment in a neighboring community on the 16th, the day I was going to head to Cold Spring, TX.  By neighboring it is 40 miles East.  I would take her to that then head North 30 miles to the bike shop in Alexandria where they could quickly cut the steer tube, install a star nut and I could be on my way 50 miles back to the house.  Easy enough?  Except......we had an issue at work that came up Thursday afternoon and I needed to go and deal with it the next morning at 8 a.m.

Also, I told a friend I would take his installation duty which is an overnight deal where you do some checks on post before midnight and after midnight.  No problem......except he told me the wrong night and it turned out to be on the 15th which meant I wouldn't be able to pack the night before like I had planned.  So I did my stuff at night and went to bed at midnight, then I got up at about 4 a.m. did the stuff in the morning checked out, went at 8 a.m. and negotiated for some training resources for an hour and a half and picked up my daughter and bike and hit the road.  Easy, a day in the life of the Irish Tsunami.

We arrived at the doctors office and the room was packed.  He is a specialist in a small town and we waited for an hour and a half.  By the time we got out of there is was almost noon.  We hit the road and headed north.  An hour later we arrived and I dropped my bike off.  They wanted an hour so we went to get lunch.  The Chick wanted Taco Bell so we got tacos.  Household 6 called and asked if I could go to a party store and get round checkered table cloths with the classic red plaid.  So I found one, but it didn't have that style.  We then headed back to the bike shop and I picked up my bike.

The owner and I spoke for a few minutes and I told him that I was headed to Cold Spring, Texas to tackle a 50 mile race.  He asked me how much I had ridden since the Wild Azalea challenge two weeks earlier.  My response.....NONE!  He laughed and said "I like your training plan."  We were off.  I arrived home at about 3:30 in the afternoon.  I quickly (and poorly) packed my stuff.  What I have learned over the years is that there are essential items; bike, helmet, bicycle shoes, gloves.  Everything else is optional.  I have ridden in the wrong shorts, shirt,  sock-less, water-less.  But they require helmets and Crank Brothers need cleats.  So I hit the road at 5 p.m. and it got dark quickly.  The drive was only 120 miles but here they are country miles with narrow roads, lots of twists and turns, and a ton of small towns; all of which force you to drive slow.

It took close to three hours and I arrived well after dark.  I had planned on camping for two reason as a cost saving feature and the little hotel reminded me of the Bates Motel.  So I found the site.

As I began to drive down this "road" I thought it was a walking path or paved trail.  It was very dark and I began to think of how many scary movies start just like this.  

It was there that that I instantly regretted my decision.  It was a GHORBA group campsite and the guy that was putting together a nice fire was nice enough, but then three other people showed up and I instantly remembered why I don't do many group functions and my anti-social tendencies kicked in.  First off, I have been on active duty for 13 years.  I have been in combat and spent countless hours with all types of people and heard all types of conversations, but this group was a bit offensive for my taste.  Yes, more offensive than the Infantry.  The guy asked me about my bike, a bike designed for gravel and fire/logging roads which had 40 mm Clement MSO tires on it.  I told him that the flier said I could do it on a cyclocross bike.  He then proceeded to tell me all of the reasons I couldn't do it.  I said "well then why did they put it on the flier?"  Nothing like going through everything I had done for the last 36-48 hours just to be told that.

Then at about 9:45 I got an emergency call from work.  Part of my job is to manage reportable incidents and emergencies.  My task is to take the serious incident report and ensure that it is quality enough to send forward.  It involves notifying my boss within a certain timeframe.  I didn't have all of the facts but I didn't want to wait to call at midnight or 1 a.m. so I called my boss at 10:00 p.m.  He didn't answer so I told the guy that called to call me when the report was ready for me to read and clean up (they always need to be cleaned up).  It was getting cold (the low was 35 degrees) and I was tired from the day and the obnoxious company so I went to bed.

Cozy in my sleeping bag my phone began to chirp at about 1:30 a.m.  I had my blackberry but it is hard to read documents and type, especially when it is cold.  It was my boss and I gave him the details and I hit send after struggling to keep warm and type.  I went back to sleep at about 2:00 a.m. and woke up at 4:45 a.m., my usual routine during the week.  It happens fairly naturally.  So I pushed the auto start, got dressed in the cold and jumped into my nice warm suburban with heated seats.  I brought my MSR camp stove but I was cold and tired so I drove to a gas station and got a cup of hot water for my oatmeal.  I then returned and got a good parking spot near the start and ate my oatmeal and read a mountain bike magazine in the warm confines of my car.

At 7 a.m. I went in to register and the organizer was there.  I asked him about the cyclocross bike and he said yeah no problem.  He said there are a lot of roots but it is doable.  So I went out to the car and began to get ready.  That is where I ran into a hiccup.  Remember the bit about what is necessary and what isn't.  Well I had all that was necessary but it was 35 degrees and I didn't have leg or arm warmers packed.  Nor did I have any kind of wind breaker or vest.  So I thought "at least I have a hat".......yeah no hat.  The high was going to be close to 60 degrees but it would be a long morning.

So there I was waiting for the race to start.  I finally saw a couple of cyclocross bikes but they were not signed up for the full 50 miles.  And the race began.  Stay tuned for Part II.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wild Azalea Trail Challenge: 50 miles (or slightly less in my case) of fun?!

As with most of my stupid adventures I decided at the last minute to enter the Wild Azalea Challenge by signing up for the 50 mile mountain bike race.  I found out about it on 20 December 2014 and the event was to take place on 3 January 2015.  At the point that I signed up I had only ridden my mountain bike on single track about 3 times since my shoulder surgery in April.  So I followed my usual training plan.  Sign up at the last minute and then:

1. Ride as much as possible:  As stated I had only ridden a mountain bike on single track about 3 times so I made an effort to check out part of the trail.  One day I rode 10 miles, a few days later I rode 20 miles, then the final ride of 10 miles.  I have done a reasonable amount of gravel and my legs felt strong.  It rained a ton during the two weeks leading up to the event so it was limited use of the trails.   

2. Get a good set of tires: Meh, who can afford a new set of fat bike tires so I ran with good old Larrys.

3. Drink a bunch of water: I actually made a conscious effort at drinking water in advance for a couple of days and it paid off.  I may need to make this a trend.

4. Shove my jersey pockets as full of calories: I bought a bunch of stuff though it was raining so hard that my plan of using a feed bag on the handle bars failed.  I just made sure I ate something every 45min-1 hour.  I am getting good at this and it makes a big difference.  They have good food drops every 5-10 miles.

I truly love the Wild Azalea Trail, it has a very traditional feel to it.  It is not heavily engineered for mountain bikes as some of the newer mountain bike parks.  I have been on some mountain bike specific trails that if ridden in the intended direction they are smooth and flow but if you go the wrong direction they are unpleasant to ride.  It is a 27 mile trail end to end with a large spur of trails and has some variety but can be ridden in either direction easily.....or not.

 The Wilde Azalea Trail and this stretch on the Kincaid Lake Trail are well maintained.  Clearly not taken on race day; this bridge was soaked and slick.

Salsa Mukluk
This is a good image showing some of the lowland trails and you can see that will a ton of rain these areas become challenging.  The higher areas drain well....into these areas.

The weather forecast was dismal.  It got worse by the day and much of the discussion on the Facebook was geared towards the conditions with concerns about safety and cost of replacing parts.  At no point was I turned off by the weather.  My job has taught me to embrace the suck so really once you are soaked it doesn't matter.

The prediction was spot on for 3 January.

At Woodworth, the start of the race was pretty uneventful, it was 1 1/2 miles to the trail head from the parking lot so the fast guys took off like lightning so there wasn't a bunch of crowding on the trail during the initial miles.  Again, this a long trail and it is reasonably well maintained with some areas easier to ride than others.  The first few miles were through pretty dense brush with nice wait-a-minute vines to grab hold of anything they can.  Did I mention it was raining reasonable hard?

One gentlemen in front of me had his rear derailleur sheered off by something and down he went. As I progress I found that my brakes were obnoxious loud.  No doubt there was muds and crud causing some of the noise but at times it was unbearable.  It was not the pinging sound of a rotor that was slightly bent.  It was just loud.  But I pushed through....that is how I roll.

I would say that if you didn't know how to embrace the suck, the first 16 miles of this ride would be....well "suck."  It was through some real low land with high water table which meant that it was swampy and muck.  It was to the point where I just got off and pushed because my rear end was coming around.  Did I mention that there was an ultra marathon taking place as well?  Yeah well the 27 mile runners started a half an hour after  us and I am proud to say that I was passed by one in this area.  A 100 pound guy can move through a swamp better than I can pushing a Salsa Mukluk.

At about the 13 mile mark I was pleased to leave that area and I had some open single track that flowed well, except for the amazing loud noise from my brakes.  As I came out at a camping area at the 16 mile point my wife was waiting.  I told her to meet me at the E. Kincaid boat launch where there was a big outhouse with some overhead cover where I could fight through my brakes.

Did I mention it was raining?

So Household 6 helped by holding my bike up when I discovered that my problem was that I was out of brake pad surface.  The little metal spring that opens the pads was the braking surface and one of them had caught the rotor and was bent out making a horrible noise.  At that point I was at the 20 mile mark.  HH6 suggested I go back to the 27 mile route and just finish that way.  If you know my family you know that isn't possible.

My grandfather liked to play cards.  He always knew what everyone held and wanted to play.  If he had a winning hand but that meant he had to discard something someone could use, he would keep it and give one of his winning cards up.  This meant that when he lost, he lost big.  But when he was an epic win.  Now you understand.

I had no choice but to continue.  I fiddled with the brakes and bent the little spring and put it back in.  It sounded horrible still and it didn't take but a few miles before I burned through what was left.  And there I was, in the pouring rain trying to eek out another 25 miles.  I had to walk down hills because it wasn't possible to stop.  Finally I decided that like my grandfather this may have to be chalked up to an big loss.  I called HH6 and coordinated a pick up at what turned out to be a 30 mile ride, longer than if I had just singed up for the 27 miles.  Alas, I was a DNF.

Salsa Mukluk

Many lessons were learned that day and I was sad to call it because my legs felt strong and there was no question that I would finish 50 miles.  That is what happens when you don't properly check your equipment.  I spoke with the owner of a local bike shop and he stated they replaced a lot of break pads following that event and that he had burned through a set.

This race only solidified my belief that Louisiana has great cycling opportunities and I look forward to trying again next year.  With a new strategy to check all parts of the bike.  The organizers did a great job marking the course where there were odd intersections and hard to see turns.  They had unmanned feed stations throughout with a nice variety of food and drinks.  Thanks to them for the hard work.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Traditions: mountain biking with kids

Growing up we had large family gatherings at my grandparent's house.  As memory serves they were always enjoyable times with cousins gathered and people having fun.  Reality probably tells a different story, one of a stressed out grandmother and grandfather.  Parents that were pinging and kids that were 100% commotion.  But that is all gone now; a fond memory of an enjoyable time.

Last year I took Diga to a cyclocross race in Kansas and we had a great time.  Of course it reality was that it was a pain, from getting up early, getting him ready, to locking my keys in the car and calling my wife for help.  But like the thanksgiving at my grandparent's house, all Diga will remember is the great time we had and the trophy he won, the beef jerky, and root beer!  I am great with that.

This year, I took he and the Chick to explore the Wild Azalea Trail, a 31 mile stretch of single track multi-use trail.  The ironic part is that I will remember this as a fond and enjoyable memory and they will probably remember it as "the time dad got mad because we wouldn't use our gears again and we whined because it was hard."

They are smiling now, give it about 20 minutes!!!

The great thing about life is that at a certain point you can create your own traditions.  We don't watch football (you have to have cable or a satellite for that) so bicycling has become ours.  So we got up much earlier than my daughter wanted and loaded up and drove off.  It was about 50 degrees and beautiful.  I love riding in the fall and the sound of leaves crunching under my fat tires.

Crushing leaves under fat tires is a wonderful sound!

We did about 2.5 miles out before we turned around.  Notice the smile?  Neither do I.

Diga on the other hand is quick to show a smile.

 This trail is nice but a little overgrown in spots.  Diga cleaned up on this stretch.  Strangely it took us significantly less time returning to the car.  

I would consider this event to have been a success.  It turned out to be a quiet ride on the way home.

The best part was that dinner was ready by the time we got home!