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!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Tsunami Rides: FFO and Great Pumpkin Ride in Lafayette, LA

I am exhausted!  We decided a month or so ago that we would participate in a charity ride in Lafayette, LA.  They were offering the usual assortment of distances to include 35 miles.  So we signed up and "planned" a forced family outing.  Household 6 (HH6) decided she and the two younger would do the 10 mile and I would do the 35 with Diga and the Chick.  Notice the word planned is in quotes.

We had a really nice Chariot trailer to pull Newby in, however, he can ride without training wheels and Leavenworth, KS was not the bike friendly place that the QC area is so we decided to sell it.  He cannot ride 10 miles just yet so we borrowed a much more low quality trailer and HH6 immediately lost the hitch for the bike.  So a couple of attempts on landed a replacement.  It arrived the day before we were to depart.

Additionally, it was a nightmare week at work and I didn't have time to pack.  So Friday night, O Hallowed Eve, I got off work at 6:30, ran to the store to get some stuff, then I slam packed the trailer with 5 bikes and a borrowed kid trailer and what I hoped would be the right clothing for the blast of arctic air was to come that night.  Yes, low 40 degrees is an arctic blast when you are used to 75 degrees for a low.  By the way, I have great cycling clothing for that temp, my children don't.

My dream is a small toy hauler trailer that we can also sleep in.  

We bathed the kids, put them in their PJs and hit the road at 9 pm for a 2.5 hour drive.  As we departed I noticed the low pressure light.  I stopped at the gas station for air.  It was broke, the only free one I know of was broken.  So we hit the road and stopped at the next station, put in $1 and nada.  So we hit the road and 20 miles later we found another gas station $1 and bam air.  Then another $1 because I decided to check all tires and needed to add more but ran out of time.

Then we hit the road for reals.  We arrived at our hotel at midnight.  HH6 has made it a goal to find the cheapest hotel ever.  Last time it was the worst smelling smoking room we have ever stayed in.  The only thing that could have brought the price below $40 would have been a chalk outline from a dead body outside.   The beds were not queen as we were told so one kid hit the floor and HH6 crammed in with two and I crammed in with another.  Asleep by 1 a.m. with alarm set for 6 a.m.  We then fought the kids into their clothing and headed to the venue.  

HH6 went to register while I pulled 5 bikes and a trailer out of our covered trailer and assembled.  Then we ran into our first "planning" failure.  The skewer was not long enough for the recently ordered hitch.  Of course nobody carries a spare skewer!  Team one down because it is highly unlikely that Nater can ride 38 miles.  Needless to say I was a little frustrated because I should have tested everything before we departed but I just didn't have the time.  

So I decided to at least attempt to ride the 25 and HH6 could pick him up if she had to.  That lasted all of 10 minutes when he couldn't shift with his mittens on (remember with a 15 mph wind 41 degrees gets cold fast) and he was mad.  She had to pin him down while we took off.  I decided that because of the wind chill, lack of good clothing for the kids, and wind we would do the 25 mile ride.  

Riding with kids can be a rewarding and enriching family experience.  It can also be a painful experience.  Enter the soul crushing headwind for 15 miles!!!!  I don't understand why my kids have not figured out how to use gears.  I coach them along but when facing a 15 mph headwind don't whine when you are in a high gear and you have many more options.  I assured them that the return would be nice with a strong tailwind!  Again, riding in the low 40s and into the windchill 30s is miserable all around if not well equipped.

Soul crushing headwind with some sugar cane.

The ride itself was nice, many of the roads were quiet and many had solid shoulders.  Some a little narrow and high traffic.  Again, I love scenery, in this case it was sugar cane.  I had no clue it grew so tall.

Redline Conquest 24
Sugar cane everywhere.  

At about the 13 mile mark we turned and headed back.  We decided to stop at a convenience store and warm up and eat some real food.  By real food it turned out to be one of those sandwiches that comes in the triangle package.  They devoured it and Diga got a root beer.  Once satisfied we hit the

 Not Casey's, a midwest treasure, but they enjoyed their turkey sandwich.  I would have loved a slice of Casey's pizza, always delicious and hot on a cold ride.

road to find that the wind had shifted a little.  At that point the Chick declared "Where is the tailwind dad!" It was not exactly a headwind but a stiff crosswind that made it less fun.

On the return the groups from the longer rides were linking up with the route we were on.  Diga took this as an opportunity to attack.  He blew past a few people who had just passed us.  Granted they were not the fastest ever, but one lady said she like his bike and that set him on the attack to show her how nice it was.  Then I warned that he is a wild card.  One moment he is flying, the next he slams the brakes.  While I attempted to control his attack and make sure he turned at the right locations, the Chick fell behind.  She was mad and we caught an earful.

We finished a little slower than I wanted but the headwind took its toll.  Then we ate some food at the finish line, packed up the bikes and I began the drive back, 2.5 hours worth.  It was a long drive but well worth it, though we were both exhausted this afternoon.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hotter'N Hell Hundred: What was I thinking??

I crave adventure.  Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.  While I usually choke it down, it can be painful.  That was the case with the 2014 Hotter'N Hell Hundred.  This is a ride I have wanted to do for a while.  It get upwards of 12,000 riders which hosts a pretty fun atmosphere.  I have never done it because I have never been that close to it and since I am not a bigillionaire it has never been an option.

Starting position depends on estimated finish time.  Turns out that I was in the right group, the only problem is that it took about 30-45 min to cross the start line after the canon.  When you are trying to beat the clock to Hell's Gate I was a little concerned.  I also had a great time talking to people at the start.

After moving to Louisiana I was as close as I would to Wichita Falls, TX as I ever may be.  By close I mean a 7 hour drive.  Since I had surgery in April and I had to cancel my attempt at the Dirty Kanza I decided that I needed something exciting.  So about 3 weeks out I managed to get a room at Sheppard AFB and implemented my standard training plan.  Let see how I did with that:

1. Ride as much as possible: I rode as much as possible (which was not nearly enough).  By now people who actually read this blog may be asking themselves "for a guy that likes to ride and has a lot of bikes, he sure doesn't seem to ride much?"  This is a valid question with a sort of simple answer, I currently work a job that starts at 0600 with physical fitness training and ends between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.  I am usually pretty tired and since I live very close to work riding doesn't do much.  I do get a lot of riding in but not 4-6 hours at a time very often.  

2. Get a good set of tires: New 28c Gatorskins, need I say more?  To be honest, the roads were mostly horrible and I wish I had bought a new set of 32c Gatorskins.  Either way there was not flatting, so it was a win!

3. Drink a bunch of water: I did a lousy job of hydrating for the several days before the ride.  As usual.  But it was not for a lack of trying, Louisiana is hot and virtually impossible to stay hydrated.  As for the 7 hour drive, I may have overdone it with the Red Bull and Rock Stars.  Though I was generally concerned about the heat and I drank a fair amount of water.  As it turns out, Red Bull is not a good hydration tool.  One thing I did use on the ride was Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes which were great as I didn't cramp and that is a common problem for me.  I am usually not a big supplement guy but I would do this again.

4. Shove my jersey pockets as full of calories: My attitude towards calories has changed over the years.  I think it is more about timing than what you eat.  I buy fewer actual "energy bars" and I like to eat every 45 minutes and I don't care if it is an "energy bar" or a candy bar or a burger.  It takes all things when you are out for a 5+ hour ride.  I done good on this.  At the midway point Cliff Bar had a huge nutrition station with tons of free product.  I was glad and filled pockets for the remainder of the ride.

I got to the parking lot at about 4:45 in the morning.  I couldn't sleep well and I was unsure about how fast the parking lot would fill.  This is the Giant Revolt bicycle which is a great all around bike.  It is pretty relaxed for road bikes and it was a pleasure to ride.  I wish I had left the third water bottle cage on the down tube.  I made the saddle bag and top tube bag.

As for the ride I didn't get to many pictures.  There is a reason for this, if you don't get to the 60 mile mark by noon or so they don't let you finish the 100 miles and reroute you on a shorter route.  I didn't intend to spend a ton traveling there only to ride 75 miles.  I was concerned with the heat and cramping so I didn't want to mess around.  Honestly, I love harsh landscapes, I see much beauty in them where others may not.  I am kind of sad I didn't get more but that is ok.  

Admittedly it is the flattest century I have ever done, so when I say it was my fastest 60 miles on record it is not surprising.  Though as I turned through the "Gates of Hell" it was hot, the end of the ride was well over 100 degrees and there was a horrible headwind so the record was easily wasted.  

I didn't have any issues with leg cramps, but I ate religiously every 45 minutes.  Water was the biggest issue for me.  I chose to only run with two water bottles, there were a couple of reasons for this.  The first is that I am an idiot and only managed to leave the house with one and I got a free one in the swag bag.  The second was that I cannot reach the bottom down tube one and didn't think I would need a reserve.  That was a mistake.  Early on while it is not hot people don't line up at the SAG spots for water.  By mile 80 the line is really long.  

At one point I thought I was good and didn't want to waste time in line so I decided to go.  Then the 100 degree heat and headwind took its toll.  I could have used a third bottle.  Then there was a surprise water only stop.  I chugged and left.  Though at the 90 mile mark I felt really dehydrated.  I actually sat for a little while and chatted with some guys while I ate some bananas and oranges and drank Pickle Juice.  It is nasty but cold and full of salt.  

 Pickle Juice Sport Drink:  Refreshing yet nasty.  Keeps the cramps away though!

The key to HHH is that you want to do it as fast as possible to beat the heat, the course is well marked so you don't have to focus on a cue sheet.  I finished strong and overall it was an enjoyable time.  I always enjoy events with a huge turn out.  The drive home was a little longer in that I was suffering from dehydration and was tired.  Then I saw this?

Buck PiƱata?

Well worth the drive and effort though.  Plus I "won" a medal!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Tsunami Rides: Riding 33 miles on the Le Tour de Bayou with a 9 and 12 year old.

The Irish Tsunami rides!

I have become the king of the forced family outing (FFO).  On September 20th we participated in an event in Alexandria, Louisiana to support a historical site called the Kent Plantation House.  As usual ride strategy/preparation included:1. Ride as much as we can:  This was almost nil except for the fact that the kids to endless laps through the neighborhood.  Me not so much though we would only be going 30ish miles at about 10 mph.  I am good.

2. Get a good set of tires: Yeah, I got new tires for the Hotter N' Hell Hundred, but somehow they ended up on the Chick's bike.  For me it is the same set of Gatorskins I have been using for years; I bought these for the 40th running of RAGBRAI.  They have have at least 1500 miles on them and they are probably going to need to replaced soon.

3. Drink a bunch of water: I did a lousy job of hydrating for the several days before the ride.  While it is hard to stay hydrated in Louisiana, I drink more water here than say.....Iowa.

4. Shove my jersey pockets as full of calories as possible:  Check.  Though I love Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls they are not an easy to find Item in Central Louisiana.  The next best thing are the cherry pie Lara Bars.  The kids love them too.   

The difference was that it wasn't just me, I had a 9 year old and a 12 year old with me.   This is the longest distance I have ridden with them and there are many lessons learned.  But as for the Le Tour de Bayou it was a perfect for this experiment since there were no hills and they had SAG support at every 10 miles.

On a different note no FFO would be complete without an adventure.  In this case my "Tough and unforgiving" wife who is also incredibly cheap got us a hotel room for $47.  The Army has sent me to some rough places.  This was rough.  We smelled like cheap hotel and cigarette smoke for the entire day.  Everything we brought in the room smelled horrible which meant that my Suburban smelled horrible.  It smelled so bad I couldn't sleep as the pillow odor kept me awake.  FFO, heck yeah.

The SAG stops were well spaced.  The last one was at a nice road side rest stop that had a great hospitality center and rocking chairs.  The Boy Scouts were running it and passing out Coca Cola.  I told Diga to keep drinking as much as he wanted.  This confused him because I don't let him drink it ever.  The Chick doesn't drink soda so she had an apple.  She didn't approve of photo ops.

One of the things I enjoy the most as we move is seeing new things.  At one point we found ourselves riding through beautiful cotton fields.  It was fun seeing cotton balls drifting across the road.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in one place for my whole life.  Then I get to experience new places with my family and I know that I would long for that too.   

A very tired Chick after 33 miles.  I didn't get a picture of Diga because there was a free bouncy house with slide.  He dropped the bike and sprinted to run and jump.  The boy is a machine!

At the end of the ride the Chick realized that chocolate milk is amazing post ride.  We also got a Louisiana special, Spicy Cajun Crawtators.  That is right crawfish flavored chips.  Delicious.

In the future I am going to capture some thoughts on longer rides with kids.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Kisatchie Mud: Fat biking in Louisiana

I have neglected my fat bike, The Panzer, lately.  While my shoulder has been recovering from surgery I swore off mountain biking (the source of the injury).  That hasn't been hard since there is not much single track in my neck of the woods.  

It was kind of sad to go to Montana on vacation and not mountain bike, but I resisted the urge.  Anyway, as I have been riding on forest service roads on my Giant Revolt, I have noticed plenty of areas that are ideal for a fat bike.  Specifically, inhospitable terrain such as muddy roads, barely roads, and severely loose roads.  Perfect for the Salsa Mukluk.

I decided that I would head out and do a little stomping around the Kisatchie National Forest.  It gets a fair amount of military traffic and recreational off road traffic.  The result is roads that aren't all that great.   Perfect for the Panzer 

Kisatchie national forest fat bike
Such as the bend in this road which turned out to be deep and slick.  I was barely able to power through it.   
 I was wishing I had a set of Nate tires for better traction.  The Larry tires were quickly overwhelmed.  

  There were a lot of roads like this that were very loose and soft.  It could be done on a normal mountain bike, but this is much more fun.
There are a lot of unimproved Jeep track.  You can sort of see the road but it has a tree across it.  No Problem to go around with the Panzer!
Again, there was barely a path.  This is ideal terrain for fat tires. 

 Over all, the Kisatchi jeep track is a nice alternative to the less than ideal paved roads.  The Salsa Mukluk is a Prime candid for this terrain.  I am still cleaning sand and dried mud from odd nooks and crannies.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Louisiana: Bicycling paradise?

I have taken a liking to riding on dirt/gravel roads.  It provides a change of scenery and some challenges.  Gravel Grinders have become very popular throughout the Mid-West and beyond.  I have said it before, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in Montana because I thought mountain biking was king, if it wasn't single track it was garbage.  Life changes and so has my view of riding.  Since I don't do as much mountain biking I started road biking.  Then I moved to the Mid-West and there was an abundance of gravel roads and gravel enthusiasts.  

I bought the Surly Ogre and that was my first "gravel bike."  I am a big guy and I need to have slightly larger tires and most cyclocross (to include my Salsa Las Cruces) wouldn't accept the tires I wanted.  When I found out I would be going to Louisiana I quickly settled on a Giant Revolt road bike.  This is truly a different beast but it suits me well.  Disc brakes, drop bars, third water bottle mount, and the ability to run large tires.  Specifically a 40mm Clement MSO.  

When I told people I was being stationed at Fort Polk I got the customary nose scrunch and "oh, I am sorry!"  I saw something different, small population, no amenities, and lots of dirt roads.  Simply put, heaven on earth.  I called my go-to "LBS" Bike and Hike in Rock Island, Illinois put one on order.  Steve and Phil take great care of me and since I move so much I don't mind supporting them, after all they are a brick and mortar bike shop not some online outfit.  Even more important since the nearest bike shop is 55 miles away.

Aside from military traffic, the National Forest roads see little traffic.  There is a lot of variation in road types.  Some is heavily graveled.    

Giant Revolt forest service road
Others are Southern red dirt roads.

Giant Revolt bicycle Jeep track
Some are soft sandy jeep track.

Some are.......

Louisiana Gravel Grinder

Even the pavement is rough!  These are gaps as big as two inches in places.  Tooth rattling.

No shoulders and big seems.  If you drop off the edge it could be a bad day!

Or you can ride roads that are sand.  The smoothest road surface in LA is the damp sand.  These are better than many of the paved roads.  which is why I like riding the gravel.  At least if it is rough there is a reason.  The Giant Revolt can handle them all!

All in all, I love it here in Louisiana with national forest right out my back door.  For all of the neigh sayers, Fort Polk is a great place.  For all of those concerned about a lack of riding, lose the skinny tires and get out and enjoy something different.  

Paradise indeed!