Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rouge Roubaix: Part 3 Finish and thoughts

I was so happy to meet my new found friends again.  After our hasty break we took off again.  The clouds started to break and it started to warm up.  We continued to work a paceline holding a steady pace.  We did a lot of talking as we rode.  I learned that the previous year Stephen had bought a bike days before and he and his friends had fought through every mile.  That they picked up the older gentlemen on the course and bonded and this year they trained.  

We were just about half way when one of the brothers began to bonk.  The paceline fell apart and we all rode abreast talking and working our way down the road.  We got to a small town (small is probably still to big) and stopped at a gas station.  Two old guys, drinking "soda" from brown paper bags stood outside and stared at us.  Of course we weren't the first group of spandex clad men to ride through, the main group went by earlier.  We stopped and at some food.  I bought a Mountain Dew and ate a candybar.  We took a solid break becuase shortly after we started riding again we would hit the first climb in the Tunica Hills.  

We wanted to make sure everyone was fresh, I was offered a Moon Pie, which combined with an orange soda is possibly the best bonk breaker in the world.  Or so I was told.  The old men were asking us questions, mostly along the lines of "what in the hell are you doing riding your bikes out here?" A completely reasonable questions with an unreasonable answer "why not?"

We started off and took a hard left, and then it began.  The climb.  It is at this point that I declare that I had no idea that there were steep, long hills in Louisiana.  We bagan to climb and climb and climb.  It  was suprisingly tough and it was warming up.
I was advised to take my time on the climbs since there were multiple sets.  They had a time goal that was pretty reasonable so we just cranked along.


The first set of climbs was realitively easy.  A SAG stop at the top was appreciated.  The ladies were there with their tables set up.  They said that they were getting more traffic than the actual SAG which had amazing bacon and cheddar kolaches.  They put the good stuff like the bacon and red bulls aside until we got there.  Again, I felt honored that they would include me in the finer refreshments.  Refreshed we took off again.

There were many miles of road cut deep into the Tunica Hills.  I am not sure how much effort it took to cut these but it made for an interesting ride.




The goal was not to walk, if someone needed to stop and rest they did so, but they would do so in place and then ride.



The second series of climbs got old and I thought I would be glad to get back to some pavement.  A reminder, we were all doing this on 25-28mm road slicks.  

Then came the final strech, one that cuased a little pain and discomfort and reminded me that pavement is not always better than dirt.

Then there was this.  The picture below is pavement and it was harder to ride on than the dirt roads.

The picture below is the original of the macro picture above.

This pavement is worse than many gravel roads I have ridden in the Mid-West or Montana.

Chickens, why not!  My own lack of preperation began to catch up with me and the rough roads were causing discomfort.  At some point we got seperated for some reason and I kept pedaling.  Before I knew it I was on the final stretch and finished with the last climb into St. Francisville.  The finish was next to an old church and cemetary, Fitting if you ask me.  I fellt bad that I had broken away and didn't finish with the group.  Their spouses were waiting patiently and I told them they wer enot far behind.  

I was begining to get concerned about my co-workers.  It wasn't long before one of them, an endurance junky, came along.  New bike and tennis shoes, the race director told me he was impressed.  The other one was some ways back.  So I jumped on my bike and went to look for her.  I think I rode  about 5 miles and found her.  Then 5 miles back.  I was done.  She toold me that she had missed every SAG and was running low on food.  I was just glad she was there.

I rode back to the hotel, changed in the bathroom and loaded my bike.  I began the long winding drive home.  It was a painful drive only made possible by large quantities of caffiene.  

This is a well run event.  28mm tires are probably best (if your bike will take them).  I am gllad I didn't run my Clement MSO tires since there was far more pavement than gravel.  Even the dirt is smooth and there was only a couple of places where I had to pay attention not to spin out on loose gravel.  

I would recommend to anyone to pack as much food as they can in jersey pockets just in case.  Three water bottles is probably sufficient (again if you bike will do it).

It is worth every dime, the swag bag included a shirt, a sweatshirt, waterbottle, food vouchers, and a change to win a bike.  The bet part of the ride was easily the commaraderie and generosity of four men, for whom I owe a big thanks.  

The Rouge Roubaix: Part 2 The Ride

As stated in the last post, even a blind squirrel will find the occasional nut.  I happened to stay at the hotel that was the HQ for the Gran Fondo and race.  For once all I had to do was roll out of bed, throw stuff in my car since I wasn’t spending the night and head to the starting line.  

As I was getting ready a gentlemen approached and started to talk to me about the ride.  He was there with some friends and said that they had done it last year together and they had done a lot of work to prepare for this year.  The two co-workers who tagged along mentioned that they hadn’t done much and that one of them had bought a bike 2-3 weeks earlier and hadn’t ridden much.  People looked at him because he wasn’t wearing bike shoes as is the standard fare for something of this magnitude.  Instead he was wearing running shoes.  The gentlemen then stated that he bought his bike a week before the ride last year and it was painful but he finished.

   I  am 609

The ride was a group roll out with police escort due to the busy highway.  Before we knew it we hit the road.  The roll out was fast, there were some folks that probably should have been racing and a gap widened.  It went down the highway a few miles and then turned left off of the main road.  It was not marked and my co-workers were waaaayyyyy behind.  I decided to stop and ensure they made the turn when the race director pulled up.  I inquired about them.  Clearly annoyed he stated that they were waaayyyyy back there.  So I went back, found them and got the to the turn.  Then I took off.  
Unfamiliar with the route, I wanted to find a group to ride with.  I passed a few individuals but going back killed my chances of finding a pack of riders.  I turned on the gas and took off.  I was assuming risk by going too hard too early.  The pavement turned to dirt, more of a wet sand.  


Ironically, it felt smoother and faster than the pavement.  I found the first official marker and was I pleased to find that it was a big sign and clearly marked.  I was a little more comfortable at that point but there is safety in numbers.


Then I caught up to a group of four riders who were going a little slower than I would have preferred but realized I wasn’t going to catch anyone who would be riding at the pace I preferred.  Not wanting to be a wheel sucker and not being a part of the group I didn’t want to jump in their pace line so I hung back a little.  Then a gentleman began to talk to me.  He invited me in so I jumped in.  It was the same guy that was talking to me at the start.

He told me how last year, he bought his bike days before the ride and suffered through every mile.  His friends (two brothers) and he picked up the fourth, an older man in his 60s, finishing the ride together.  They had been training together for this go-around.   I was welcomed in the same way.  I was a welcome addition.


I was in front of the older man as we worked our way through the pace line, again, my pace was slightly faster and he would say “take it easy, there is plenty of challenge ahead.”  The first check point came quickly and the SAG stop had a nice assortment of kolaches.  I ate one, refilled water bottles and then went to start when the group called me over.  All of their significant others were there hosting their own SAG stop.  They told me to help myself.  

Did they have a spread…..cold sodas, Redbull, candy bars, and bacon.  He opened a container that was full of thick cut, perfectly cooked bacon.  It was amazing.  Then we were off down a stretch of pavement.  It was overcast and misty with a perfect temperature for riding.  Then it happened.
My phone rang, it was a work emergency and one I couldn’t avoid.  So I told them to keep going and I hoped to catch up.  I was hartbroken, these guys were great.  


  Before I put my phone away after taking an emergency phone call I snapped these photos.  I love Spanish Moss.


We were talking and working through the line.  After I resolved the issue, I cranked, again risking burning out early to try to catch them.  I came to a small town and I looked for a gas station to buy some food.  A sign marked a left turn and shortly after turning, there they were.  The older gentlemens wife was there with a 12 pack of Coca Cola.  

They had slowed their roll and waited a little longer in the hopes that I would catch up.  I drank a coke and we were off again.  What an amazing group of guys.

The Rouge Roubaix Gran Fondo: Part 1

First off, this was an amazing event.  It is well organized, challenging, and different.  What really makes this event memorable for me though was the camaraderie of the participants that I rode with.  I have said it before, I love moving around the nation and participating in different events.  This is the epitome of that.

The Rouge Roubaix is quite possibly one of the best rides I have been on.  Advertised as a ride to determine true grit, it lives up to its name.  There are two events, a bona fide race, and a Gran Fondo (pretentious for a non-completive century).  Of course I don’t race so I signed up for the Gran Fondo.  As usual, I did so late in the game.  St. Francisville is a small between Baton Rouge, LA and the Mississippi border.  I began to call for a hotel room and found a lack of them in the area.  I booked a room at what turned out to be the hotel where the race starts.  Sometimes even a blind squirrel finds a nut.  

Upon looking it up I found that it wasn’t geographically that far away, but thanks to the rivers and swamps in Louisiana, it was a pain to get there.  Driving anywhere in Louisiana is an adventure, the roads are horrible, most are narrow and winding as they pass through small town after small town.



I have gotten a little smarter over the years and with an ok paycheck and vaction days I now take the day off to drive and get there early the day before and when possible spend multiple nights rather than ride one hundred miles and then drive.  When I arrived I was excited to see Mavic support outside of the hotel.  


I went inside and picked up my packet, nice swag bag (the ride was pricey) with sweatshirt, T-shirt, and water bottle.  It also came with a voucher for a few local restaurants.  I unpacked, unloaded my stuff and went to dinner.  I chose a place called the Magnolia Cafe and found something that reminded me of Missoula, MT.  A restaurant in a house, some walls were opened but it was fun to be in what were obviously different rooms.  

I ordered an amazing steak, far execeeding any of my expectations.  Of course it was nearly $30 but with the voucher my wife would think I was being very reasonable with a “$18 meal.”  I do enjoy alone time, work is hectic and it gives me time to reflect on life.  So I savored my food and went to my room for the night.


My standard preparation applied:

I ordered a new set of 28mm Continental GatorSkins.  The majority of those that race do so on actual road bikes with 25mm tires.  I don’t have a traditional road bike and brought my Giant Revolt.  It always looks odd with “skinny” tires since the roadies don’t consider 28mm skinny and my Revolt will take up to a 50mm tire (2 inches in American).  I am pleased with my choice since, strangely the pavement was rougher than the dirt/packed sand of the Tunica Hills.

Nutrition: a warning to all those who try this for the first time.  There are SAG stops with great food, however, I didn’t bring nearly enough energy/quick snacks.  I was saved by my riding companions who adopted me and took care of me.  The SAGs leap frog and if you are slow you will miss them.   You will only have maybe 2-3 gas stations.  This is remote.  I drank a bunch of water the day before (I am getting better).

Ride as much as possible:  As usual it is never enough.  Family, work, and work always get in the way.  I think the most mileage I got in on any one ride was about 30 miles.  Plus there are no long climbs where I live.  

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.