Category Archives: Race Execution

AZT record amidst a trail of tears

There is often talk of what it takes to complete a multi-day ultra mountain bike race. Is it fitness? A simple mantra of eat, ride, sleep? Or, something more intangible like mental toughness and the ability to keep going when it gets really tough?

Naturally I have my own ideas. In my experience, the #1 prerequisite to finishing these events is stoke. Passion for a route and the experiences that await precede the start by half a year (or more) for the best rides I have had, and have seen others do. It is not so much about natural ability, it is all about positive projection, preparedness, and having the *finish* as the number one goal. Having stoke for an event well in advance of the start fuels a ton of research into the route, equipment required, conditions expected - consideration of thousands of little details that go into a great ride.

So, off we rolled last week for the AZT 300. Lynda carrying a huge bag of well-aged stoke, myself looking forward to a long ride in new terrain with the primary goal of testing my new BlueDot app. We both got what we went for and in the end it worked out to perfection.

The truth is I stopped racing in 2009. After the 24 hours of Moab I walked away with a "what now??" sort of sensation, and it never went away. So, "racing", when I partake these days, is some combination of a social outlet, or means to see new terrain, or to enjoy the work that others have done to create some interesting route. The thing that has really lit the passion fire for me this spring is Bluedot - and writing code is not particularly a fitness builder or foot toughening activity, doh!

Getting to the start is always an adventure...and usually involves some help from others. We stayed with Chad at his new place, and then met Kurt & Caroline in Superior for the final shuttle detail. It was a lot of fun driving to the start with the 2-time race winner/record setter. Of course we started talking race strategy...more amusing for me as I had no real race objective, and LW wanted nothing to do with it. Her clear goal was the finish.

LW and I left the start fashionably late at 9:18. LW started as the lanterne rouge, an unfamiliar spot for her but it wouldn't last long.

LW and DH start ATZ 300, photo by Caroline Soong

LW tells me to go first and says she'll see me at the finish. She had no intention of going fast and fully expected to be well behind me. "We can come back and race it next year!" Hmmm wonder what that looks like... I never believed that for a second, knowing how my fitness (and stoke!) compared to hers on this day...but I amused her anyway by leading out. A few minutes later I hear a "girl scream". Oh no, what is going on? Just a bobble on loose terrain...in the rush to get going we had forgot an important pre-race ritual: the HUG. I stop and grab her off her bike and give a good long squeeze. OK, time to get going....

The early riding has a good bit of hike a bike, especially for me on my singlespeed and in the heat. About 20 minutes in I come up to Marshal Bird in the shade of a tree and stop to chat and have a look at a developing hotspot on my left heel. To my huge surprise it was not a hotspot at all, but a blister that had developed, popped, and the skin was blown off. Inside of 20 minutes my ride was doomed....Marshal knew I was in trouble, moreso than I was willing to concede at the time.

Gorilla tape applied to heels, check. Onward. LW was in front of me know, and I eventually caught her - she pulled to the side to let me go by. A few minutes later I caught up with a big train of riders all hiking a section of marginally rideable trail. Walking was my speed here too and I settled in. LW rode it all and passed ~ 10 riders on that hike a bike, just like I've seen her do in Trans Rockies. I gave her a good shove as she went by and that's the last I saw of her until I picked her up at the finish. She had found her flow, settled down, and I knew she was going to have a great ride. I was so stoked for her at that point!

Shortly thereafter, the trail become much more rideable and Canelo hills more fun. I did some bonus miles, but for the most part enjoyed the rest of the ride to Patagonia. Prior to the last bit of hike a bike I started applying super glue to the gorilla tape on the heels to better hold it in place, and that made hiking a bit more bearable. But I had serious doubts about my ability to go beyond Tucson. There was at least 10 hours of hike a bike in that section by most accounts...

In Sonoita I took my first look at BlueDot. I have put more work into BlueDot this spring than I ever have put into riding in the same time period - so to have the first look at it mid-race was oh so cool! I could see that Kurt was off the front as expected, see where LW was, and a few other riders not far up the road towards Kentucky camp. And, it actually motivated me to see if I could catch LW so we could ride together a bit. It took awhile, but nearly worked. The Kentucky camp area was my favorite part of what I rode, and good for my SS gearing. LW came into sight shortly after sunset, but then when we hit a section of rugged terrain with many short hikes my heels did me in. I just couldn't make any headway with my heel situation.

I caved to the pain and rolled out the bivy for a few hours. Later when I got rolling again I was amused to learn I was right at the end of the hike a bike stuff anyway...and the trail turned instantly into a ripping, nicely carved, SS optimized super fun trail!!! Woohoo! And it stayed that way pretty much all the way to X9 road that led into Tucson.

The gal at the Rincon store said LW left about 30 minutes before I got there, and that briefly gave me some motivation to hustle on up the road. But my heels were screwed by then. Raw to the point I could not walk uphill. A bit of a problem when faced with 10k' vert in the next 30 miles...what good is a single speeder that can't walk? Exactly.

Brad Kee and Matt Fusco showed up at the store and Brad shared some moleskin. In return for the moleskin I put my droid in his hand with BlueDot running....and that was my favorite moment of the race. He was amazed at what he held in his hand and was deeply interested in the current state of the race. According to BlueDot only Kurt and LW were up the trail, but of course we knew Joe was also up ahead. Aaron Gulley we also expected was up ahead, thinking there was probably an issue with his SPOT (we later learned his GPS failed before Tucson). In any case, Brad's excitement over BlueDot in the middle of a race was tall validation for my idea and vision to bring real-time race info into the hands of racers.

The moleskin gave me a touch of confidence I might be able to get'r done, but 30 minutes after being on the bike (and not even doing any hiking yet) and the feet had said no go. So off to Scott Morris' house I rolled...I can see why it is so hard for a Tucson resident to finish this event.

Have I mentioned the heat yet? It was hot. Stupid hot. I hadn't really been overly aware of the heat until I rolled off course and through Tucson. What a gawd-awful experience to go from awesome trails to the noisy, diesel belching stench of busy super-heated Tucson roads. From highs to lows in a moment. The coolness of Scott's carport concrete was wonderful and I layed there for an hour until Paula came to the rescue...

From that time forward it was all about LW and BlueDot. BlueDot glued to my hand, staring at LWs dot. It moved oh so painfully slow all the way to Oracle. Meanwhile, the race was unraveling on all fronts. Kurt crashed and hurt his knee just before Oracle, ending his ride. News of Aaron's demise surfaced. Then, in a surprising twist of events, news that Joe Meiser (thought to be the current leader but his poorly reporting SPOT left plenty to the imagination) had to backtrack to Oracle due to lack of calories came from Facebook. Holy crap, that put LW in the lead! Although Brad Kee was very close to her, and at one point in front of her - so there was a race for the win. He rode all through the night after leaving Rincon to arrive at Oracle before LW.

I don't think either rider realized they were first and second...it had to be a confusing set of tracks out there. LW never passed anyone, the tracks just kept getting thinner, until finally disappearing altogether. She "passed" Brad Kee while riding the gasline section of the route while Brad rode a new section of dead end singletrack AZT. He said it was awesome trail but the dead-end was sub optimal ;)

Facebook to the rescue! LW's car was at the trailhead in Superior while I was stuck in Tucson. This new droid partner of mine, it is well connected. Via FB I learned Slyfox was in town. One quick email and I had a ride lined up to the trailhead with superstar Slyfox Gillie. That night was a beautiful night for riding. Full moon at the trailhead over picketpost really made me wish I was riding instead of waiting.

By the next morning most everyone's fate was sealed. The 2011 AZT 300 was a trail of tears with only 4 of the 22 starters making it to the finish. This BlueDot snapshot with last reported point for each rider tells the story:

While the 18 of us DNFs were still licking our wounds, the fab 4 soldiered on through yet another warm day in the desert with LW leading the charge. I could see that she had stopped for only ~ 2 hours that last night, and knew she only stopped because she cracked. That is the only thing that stops me on the last night of these things ;) But I also knew she was rolling with about 6 hours of sleep in 3 days. That is a helluva deficit for someone used to a steady 9-10 hours/night. I had all sorts of concerns about the reliability of the Freeman road water cache and nearly went out there to restock it...and then was convinced I should meet riders at the Gila with water. It is hard to be on the sidelines! In the end I didn't want to mess with anyone's experience out there and sat tight...

Finally...FINALLY...LW rolled down the trail to the finish. And, she was positively giddy! One of the first things out of her mouth was more a question than statement: "I don't see any tracks on the ground?!?" "It's all your's babe, roll on down to the finish, I'll meet you at the car". Ironically, I took some great pictures of her riding the last bit of trail, and shot a video of her giddiness, but they were all lost due to my phone overheating in the midday desert heat...

Smiling, happy, giddy, amazingly untouched by the sun, and probably under 100 lbs - the 2011 AZT 300 winner and first ever female finisher.

Part of the giddiness: fueling on seafood (sharks) in the desert.

We headed to town for a shower then came back out to meet Brad at his finish.

Somewhere on Mt Lemmon Brad's left shoe exploded.

Post event I could not be more stoked for how it turned out. BlueDot was generally a success, and I learned a few things I need to do to improve it. Racing is the best testbed. But the real story is LW. She has been planning, scheming, dreaming, breathing AZT for months. It has dominated her training since about September or October. When faced with what is undoubtedly the most difficult conditions ever for this event, she embraced the challenge, adapted to the conditions, and rode her own ride, paying little attention to others. A brilliant ride with few mistakes, in my opinion it is the most impressive ride she has put down (and there have been a few!). So good, in fact, that it resulted in the first (to my knowledge, anyway) time a woman has won the overall in a self-supported multi-day. I am so proud of her!

Dixie resources

So you are thinking about doing the Dixie Lite or Dixie 311 but not sure how to plan for so many unknowns? Here are some tips to get you started.

Start with Google Earth. If you don't have it yet, download it - it's free.

Next, download this file: Dixie Resources.  (right click, save as...)

With these two pieces you'll have more than enough information to launch a deep obsession :)    The file includes:

  • The most recent state of the route tracks and waypoints
  • An overlay showing the snowpack conditions to the latest hour
  • current weather forecasts at 5 locations on route

Google Earth of course is connected to massive GIS systems, so you can also search for anything you like near or on route - such as services.  Usually said services pop up with phone numbers and images - this is really a great way to quickly visualize what is available and learn more.

Happy planning!

Moab 24 Hour Nationals

Last weekend we earned matching jerseys.

24 hour solo single speed national championship jerseys, that is.

This one has been a long time in the making.  As recent as 3 years ago I thought riding a SS was a freaky fringe thing - as all non single speeders do.  After bombing out of Moab in '07, racing with pre-existing injuries, I was certain the Moab chapter was done.

And then about 2 years ago I put a SS conversion kit on an old HT frame...and then USAC announced Moab as the venue of 24 nats for '09 - coinciding with the SS obsession - and like a moth to a flame, it was on.

We had plenty of 2-epic planning sessions.  What gear to run, what strategy to use, what fuel, tires, pit setup...and of course what training to do.  I rode a Milk Money in '07 - in fact the first time I ever threw a leg over a SS bike - for a few minutes on Gooseberry, and was amazed at how nimble and *plush* and firm it was all at once.  It was hard to shake that notion, of how well suited it was for the Moab course, and with Nats in mind I pulled the trigger on it early this year.  Lynda got right in line shortly thereafter ;)

Mike Curiak has helped us with our 29er FS SS addiction every step of the way.  Bikes, wheels, tires - he's one dude with more miles than I, lives next door to Moab, makes the finest hoops around - all around great crack daddy and nice guy.  Unless you are racing him...

I got a bit carried away with the bikepacking thing this summer.  Multiple sub-24s, Grand Loop, KMC, an 8 day bikepack trip with LW, CTR - it was an absolute blast but by the end of it all I was friggin smoked and not particularly fast.  It was a tough pill to swallow but after CTR all long rides got the AX.

Quality work was king and longer rides were 6 hours max except for one big day on the CT 3 weeks out.  As Moab loomed closer, anticipation/excitement rose along with fitness.  Layers of fatigue melted away, a new snap came into the legs, and power began to rocket upwards in a hurry.  I added some key workouts that addressed my personal weaknesses that would be a key limiter at Moab...and the last one knocked me down for a good 7-8 days.  But as recovery came, the peak was on - on big.   Certain bits of trail that used to feel challenging became easy.  I've been here before only to get carried away and peel that peak away before raceday.  Not this year.  LW could see it happening and told me I was gonna have the race of my life.  Curiak said his magic 8 ball is never wrong WRT Moab and it said this was my year.

Meanwhile, LW had been talking with JenyJo about being pit boss

Our pitt boss can ride rocks!
Our pitt boss can ride rocks! (photo credit JJ)

and then Cynthia decided to come too.  Kong and Adam were in to turn wrenches, keep tabs on results, and scream like maniacs as we left the pit - it just doesn't get any better than this.

Mojo was in place.  It's a damn good thing because the unknowns were pretty big...this is the first year USAC has recognized a SS 24 solo championship category.  The first year to have a SS solo category at Moab.  And since you could preview the start list at grannygear.com I knew I'd have my hands full with Dejay, Greg Martin, Shaun, and other honches in the field.  Despite the stacked field, I gotta admit it was Nat Ross who haunted my dreams pre race.  In this funky dream I had Nat was at the start, riding SS, drinking a can of Red Bull then crushing the can on his forehead with a mouth full of grinning teeth.  Seems I've been one place behind Nat so many times it's left a mark LOL.

There's a lot more to the story but I'll try not to get too verbose.  For myself, the journey is FAR more interesting than the destination, even when the destination is what we seek.  This big long preamble *is* the story in my mind.  The hardest part of 24 hour racing is done once you arrive to the start line.

And, we did arrive at the start line.  What a crazy scene as always - every year it's some dude wearing next to nothing that takes the lead in the Lemans start run.  For the rest of us it was a dust eating contest.  LW claims the win but I was a close 2nd ;)

Start madness. Photo credit Rob Lucas - ultrarob.com

Heading up the road on the first lap was madness.  My 33.20 wasn't really tall enough to be near the front so I didn't run that hard.  This probably put me about 100 riders back, and damn that's a rough place to be.  Everyone was pinned and racing, it was kinda funny to be spun out and coasting through the madness.  Some dude yelled "in the middle!" and stuck his elbows out between two riders that were already bar to bar and of course caused a big fat crash directly in front of me.  Tempers flared (not mine, I avoided it).  This was clearly a different sort of 24  hour race now that USAC and a jersey was involved.

Alas, it all settled down eventually, riders spreading out.  The flow was good, I felt great, and the course turned out to be fantastic fun on the SS!!!  The tech/ledgy bits were every bit as ridable as with gears and the sand traps were fine too so long as they were free of wallowers.  I rode with a couple SSers on the first lap - Brae was young and strong, easily cleaning a steep rock face I couldn't ride in the pre-ride and never attempted in the race.  Shawn was looking strong.  Dejay was out front and looking strong but was not psyched to see me on a FS:  "awe FS?  You gotta get a 30 min penalty for that!"  I agreed immediately.

I didn't expect to move into the lead so early - but by lap 2 I was out front and never looked back.  I honestly thought I'd be running 1:20-1:25 lap times given the gear limitation and all the spun out sections on the second half of the course.  After learning I was doing consistent 1:15's I pulled the reigns in a bit.

I had a great time the first daylight hours chatting with friends on the course.  I rode with Sonya a bit

Photo credit Rob Lucas / UltraRob.com

and Jesse

Photo credit Rob Lucas / UltraRob.com

and yo-yo'd with Pua for 3 laps

Photo credit Rob Lucas / UltraRob.com

I also ride a bit with Ernesto and Eddie Odea who I had not yet met in person.  It was pretty cool to have just about the entire national level enduro field in Moab this year :)   I never rode with any one person very long though.  SS flow is so different than geared - the first 5 miles of the course I was relatively flying, while the flat stuff later I was relatively pokey.

Meanwhile LW was putting down a solid race.  I was  hoping to catch her but damn she was flying.  I did finally get to ride with her in the night for a bit and she looked great, climbing well and railing techy stuff in the dark.

Photo credit Rob Lucas / UltraRob.com

After the 2nd lap my lead continued to steadily grow.  That afforded some comfort time in the pit.  Instead of 30 second pits like '05, I could sit down for 5 min and stuff 400 calories plus a red bull down the piehole.  Jeff Kerkove captured a video, super candid - I had no idea he was filming until the very end of the clip - that shows how awesome our pit was dialed on multiple levels.  JJ keeping me fed and primed for the next lap, Cyn and Kong figuring out where in the field I am, and my nutty crack state at 3AM.  Kong is trying to tell me I'm in 3rd in the open geared race and I simply couldn't wrap my head around it at the time.  During the race I became entirely focused on the SS race...not sure  how to embed it here, it's on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1211372935270.

While in the pits about 4AM Toastman rode by.  I just got lapped by a solo rider!  Holy crap I didn't expect that.  He was having a fantastic race - and it was no surprise.  We chatted the morning before the start and I could tell he was confident and ready for any challenges.  As was I.  We were musing that with such a talent heavy field there was going to be mass carnage as Moab likes to dish it out to solos in even the best of conditions, but also that he and I were going to have one helluva great time...in any case I left the pits a couple minutes after he went by and rode up to him at the top of the first climb.  We rode together for a good bit, chatting along the way.  I could tell he had a blistering start because he wasn't riding fast on the climbs.  He didn't need to apparently as he had an hour lead.  I rode ahead on the climby stuff and he mached  by in his big ring on the fast descent to the finish...

Finally the long night gave way to early light, and I decided afterall to stop for some food, coffee, and even a short nap.  My lead was approaching 3 hours and I was willing to use a bit of it to really be able to enjoy the last 2 laps.  And that's about how it played out.  I did get a bit wheezy from 24 hours of dust towards the end but even on lap 15 I was completely enjoying the flow of it all.  I rolled  around the course easily, enjoying the play of clouds and sun in the La Sals, the desert beauty all around, the heightened awareness that comes with exhaustion, and rolling down the final descent was hit by a wave of emotions and those dang tears busted loosed under my glasses.  Why does that happen?  A couple team riders ripped past me to snap me back to the present...

Race highlights:  JJ, Cynthia, Kong and Adam keeping us comfy and dialed.  Seriously, it was uncanny how quickly JJ adapted to our flexible race plans and seemed to know what we needed and when.  Simply brilliant!  This was a complete team effort, no question.

LW riding smooth, smart, tactical after having a less than ideal preparation.

Chance meetings with the finer half of 2-epic on course and in the pit :)

Photo credit JenyJo
Photo credit JenyJo

Clocking 15 laps for 1st SS solo.  Only 2 geared riders finished in front of me...go figure.

And drumroll please....we've earned jerseys before together in races, but by far the highlight is earning the stars and bars together with my dream girl.

We wear these for a year.  I'm  not exactly sure what that means, but all the same - pinch me!

Kaibab Adventure!

KMC is a course of contrasts.  Lots of singletrack.  Wide open desert country, Vermillion cliff backdrops.  Miles and miles of alpine deep forests.  A recovering burn area.  Grand Canyon views.  And, this year:  an alternate option to go 200 miles instead of the tried and true 130 option.

Which do you think we chose?  Right...it's a no brainer ;)

My recovery post Grand Loop was a question mark for awhile.  3 days after GLR I told LW we had to do the 130.  At t=5 days the plan was upgraded to the 200 with a bivvy.  At t=9 I was ready to commit to the 200 with no bivvy.  Shoulda stuck with the day 5 plan - the route is burly!

New for this event was matching bikes for 2-Epic.  Since I got the Milk Money in May I've had this intense bike emphatuation like I haven't seen in years.  It was so infectuous LW followed suit and picked up the *only* small Milk Money in existence (and to be perfectly clear:  it should be obvious now that we are not affiliated with Siren/WBR.  That is a story for another time...this story is much better).

Damn my gal just exudes style!!!

First of all we needed a revised water plan.  At first we weren't aware of any water sources for the first ~10 hours of the route.  A bit of car scouting revealed some good news, no need for 350 oz loads at the start.

Whew, what a relief.  We also took a look at One Mile spring which I was quite keen on but LW was not so into the thumb sized tadpoles.  They were almost frogs and huge!

The car scout gave us some time for sightseeing.  There is a Condor release program in the vermillion cliffs above House Rock road.  LW's wingspan is not quite as big as a Golden Eagle and she could be carried away for dinner by a Condor!

 

Hitting camp was fun, always a highlight of this event.   DaveC, our host, was sporting a new puffy.  Dang I gotta get one of those things!  It was chilly in camp - a first at this event.  Ma nature didn't get the memo on global warming in the west this year.

Chilly or not, MC's legendary ice cream was not to be missed.

We did what we could but he was clearly expecting more folks!  Packing dry ice to the Kaibab, that's a fine trick MC.  Thanks for the treats.

Under any other circumstance I'd be hitting the sack early given the 3 AM anticipated start time.  But it's so rare to have time with fellow ultra MTB nuts, there's plenty of time for sleep later, right?  And...as the eve progressed it started to get funny, mostly for DaveC.  He had planned on the 200, but then LW and I filled him in on what we thought of the route - hard.  We thought we might get it done in 24 hours (ha!), and then Chad, who had left earlier that day, came into camp after deciding not to ride alone for another 130 miles...by the time I turned in at 11pm or so Dave had decided he was just gonna go ride some AZT with whoever was up for it in the AM.  Dave Kirk was still on the course, planning to do a 2 day ride I think.

So, KMC wasn't a race this year.  Funny thing is, we never approached it as one.  We were looking for a 2-epic adventure, a team time-trial of sorts, one with lots of viewstops, singletrack, and mutual crack.  KMC and our mojo delivered in spades...

Since it wasn't a race and the weather was so cool, there was no need for that 3 AM start.  We chose to start whenever we got moving.  4am?  I guess the GPS file will tell all but it was still full dark for the first hour or so.  Cruising mostly downhill on the AZT for miles was a gentle warmup.  LW was flying on her new bike!  I could tell right of the bat this new ride was going to work for her.

The first 27 miles of the route is all AZT singletrack heading N to the UT border.  On the north end the trail drops down some steep switchbacks with a panoramic eyefull of red desert cliffs.  Not a bad entrance to the day!

From there it's a 19 mile slog on the House Rock road, heading N to 89a.  This is probably the hardest part of the route on a SS - washboard hell, it's not so ass friendly.  But putting the rp23 on full open eases the sting of the washboard...suspension oh how I have missed thee!

Soon we arrived at our water source.  How much to carry to the next source?  The route just went up and up for quite some time and we weren't sure how warm it would get.  We left with a pretty big load.  Better safe than sorry out here.

The next 5  hours or so was a steady batch of in your face stingers in the way of short to long climbs.  Burma road (east side game road) N of the 224 intersection was new to us both had full of hard terrain!  But the burn, oh my.  The flowers were off the charts.

Up on the AZT at about 9k' now, we ran into the boyz.  MC, twinkle in his eye, silently unzips his Mike & Ike's pocket in his frame bag and gives me a taunting smile.  I nearly dove head first into the colorful sugar hole.

If you haven't ridden the AZT heading S into the park - put it on your list of things to do.  The trail is outstanding!  Some wicked fun, fast descending in deep woods and loamy soil.  LW knew all the twists and turns in this section which helped a lot...it felt like we were flying. 

Have I mentioned how great a riding partner LW is?  Back on House Rock road we both put the MP3s on.  They certainly lower PE and smooth the washboard some but it also makes it hard to communicate verbally.  With LW it just doesn't matter.  We read each other well without words...

As it turned out this was my view for most of the ride.  No complaints here ;)

Point Sublime road was also stinger filled.  Long sandy sections at nearly 9k'?  Then the climbs come at ya one after another.  It broke me down a bit so when LW zipped on over to this spot my head was spinning.

I was seriously getting hit by vertigo on that rock outcropping!  Best GC view I've seen.

Onward.  Damn this route is long!  Are we there yet? I was starting to lose track of time...maybe 2 hours later we hit Quaking Aspen spring and had a nice feed, coffee break, and our final water fill up.  Getting close, sorta...

There were an increasing number of things to manage.  The sun went down and with it the temps.  We were getting tired too.  That makes it easier to stop...

Rainbow rim in the dark!  "LW I hope you are having fun cause this is a blast!"  "Um, yea sure this is great" or something like that was the reply.  Truth is we were both knackered and struggling on the trail, we couldn't really fuel well and I knew that at this pace we were not going to make the finish before sunrise.  On top of that, I was becoming increasingly aware of my diminishing food reserves.  I planned for nearly 400 cal/hour and was running out already!  I was really just trying to toss out some positive vibes to the team.  I think it worked a little?

LW has ridden Rainbow Rim many times and knows it well.  One of the last climbs she completely railed on.  OMG I don't know where that came from but it was more than I had at that point. 

By the end of the trail (with ~45 miles left to go) we were done.  As in stick a fork in ya done.  Sleep monsters were everywhere.  We made the call to stop even though we didn't pack overnight gear.  2 emergency blankets was the extent of our contingency plan.  And, ya know?  It really wasn't that bad.  Years ago I got stuck unexpectedly on a mountain top with a climbing buddy - it snowed and my buddy looked at me and said "Dave, this is no time to be shy" and with that we were forced to spoon for an uncomfortable and smelly night.  It wasn't that fun.  Spooning with LW for a night is infinately better!

We had a great spot. Thick pine mat and a protective log.

Yes, we are solar powered.

Whether it was the 8 java juices in the previous 5 hours or the sounds of that big bruin in the woods I'm not sure but there wasn't much sleep to be had for me until there was a touch of light in the sky.  LW was snooring within seconds of getting  horizontal!!!  Role reversal...

We still got up to the reality of low water reserves and my nearly exhausted food supply.  Turns out LW packed lots more than she was eating, whew!  What a great teammate.  Her food tasted better too.

I had the power meter on board again for this trip - in fact it's the only 29er rear wheel I have that I trust right now so it's mandatory.  The post race analysis says that by the time we stopped the first day we had done 30k' vert and over 8k kJ.  That's a big day - as big (maybe bigger?) as the first day I did on GL 2 weeks back.  Joel hasn't been calling LW mighty mouse for nothing.

The tail end of the route is probably the easiest section and we just cruised it on in.  Well except that one mile section of 12% grade - that was hard - but after that we were back on the plateau and just about done.  That's when I exclaimed "It's looking more and more likely we're gonna get this thing done!"

And sure enough we did.  Still no female finishers on the 130 route but there is one now on the 200. 

It was an adventure like we didn't expect - the best kind of adventure.

Racing the Grand Loop

When I did the Grand Loop in '07 it was a completely consuming affair.  Everything about it was so new, so foreign, so promising, so freightening...I was green to multi-day self-supported racing (still am, really).  Having that first one in the books removed much of the unknown about the event this time.

By far, Grand Loop '09 was all about the internal struggle of multi-day racing.  I knew that at the start, yet still got more than I expected in that department!

I had goals and expectations.  First and foremost was simply to finish on the SS.  The second was to do it faster than I did the first time around and set a new record mark for the route.  Little did I know that Jefe would be hitting the route with similar aspirations putting in a record ride on his SS...  The more time I spend on a SS the more I realize that, especially for longer events, they can be faster even though they seem to be such a disadvantage at times.  Goal #2 was tied in with this theory. 

All shiny and new for the start.  I got as much on the bike (and not on my back) as possible.  This turned out to be a great strategy for the most part as pack weight never turned into a sore back - a concern with all the standing required.  As for the gear, I stressed over that a lot...of course...and had pretty much settled on a 33.22 (29er).  The day before the start I felt so friggin good I changed and went with a 33.21.  The nice thing about leaving the start is you don't have to think about gear choice anymore.  Ride, eat, sleep if ya gotta, repeat.  Ah, the simple life.

This is the year for everyone to do the "race" on their own terms.  Scott and Chad did the route backwards (actually a consistent theme for Scott this year), while others started at various times.  I chose to start at Westwater.  It was closer to  home, it would split the desert section of the KT - and since it was cooler in general an early morning start meant starting without being sleep deprived, something all but Jefe, Jim and Matt took advantage of.  The conditions this year were anything but traditional.

I was moving faster this year than in '07 - by a lot most of the time.  It's hard to wrap my head around, actually.  Cool temps, big wheels, experience, I just don't really know.  After the '07 ride I knew it could be done faster cause I stopped a lot to make coffee...but when I was riding I was riding fast, or so I thought.  Doing the mulit-rider playback analysis in topofusion with the '07 and '09 files is eye-popping.  If it wasn't muddy I was just faster this year.

I tossed on 2.35 rampages front and rear with the idea that going with super low pressure in the rear would maintain traction up sandy climbs.  This worked great and I only walked in 2 short steep bits on the shandies, and very little on the way to N Beaver.  I hit the Paradox (from Dewey) about 1 hour 50 min faster than in '07!  I didn't know at the time, only after the topofusion analysis.

This view from Yellow Jacket on the KT always gets a wow.

What remains of Dewey.

Looking over to the Unc from the Shandies.

You know where  this is!  Weather started brilliant but quickly deteriorated.  Cool temps were great - but came with lots of moisture.  It was a mixed bag for sure.

Sure enough, high in the La Sals the storms hit in earnest.  Fast riding turned to unrideable muck.  So much for that shiny new bike.  Suddenly those 2.35 rampages with minimal clearance became a liability.  Ugh.

The only way to get through this area was meadow hopping.  Lots of boulders and sagebrush to dodge, I look up and OMG there are two cyclists coming towards me doing the same!!  No way, it couldn't be...sure enough, Hollywood and Mr. Topofusion were doing the same, looking rather soggy too!  It was surreal to be surrounded by my own breathing and thoughts for several hours and then run into a pair doing the same.  Chad and I had a moment up there, and I gotta say he looked fresh and froggy.  Lookout, this new kid on the block is on the rise!

Working through those meadows took forever.  There was one last big nasty muddy climb, more meadow hopping, before things improved.  Several hours later I ran into Marshal out on his birthday ride.  He seemed unfazed by the weather and fully prepared.  In fact I was doing a lot of walking where it looked like he was riding mud.  He's got muck super powers ;)

We rode together a little, shared a few tales.  Then he says "well looks like no records this year eh?"  That was a big blow.  It was on my mind, but I wasn't willing to face that.  The muck event took a lot out of me, I can't lie, and this was a low point of the ride.  Shortly thereafter, I couldn't figure out a turn and lost another 15 minutes - GPS track and all.  Meh.

Some time later rolling through the Paradox valley I was becoming aware of some voice inside that was telling me not to be discouraged, some underlying optimism that a good ride was still to be had.  The phone at the Bedrock store was out of service - another big blow (hey I ain't single these days!)  - but that just served as a launch pad to attack this route with everything.  I was starting to feel a little crazy and wanting to get jiggy with it.  So, I unleashed my secret weapon:  Java juice and m&ms.  Stoveless this time, the caffeine fix came from these little packets of heaven.  Better than GU hands down!  Chasing copious amounts of M&Ms, well that was the kick the turbo needed.  Bedrock to Pinto Mesa took all of 6 hours, the hardest section of the Paradox, in the witching hours.  It was such a blast.  Lot's of hike a bike, at times run a bike - that Java Juice is strong stuff and at times I had to conciously pull in the reigns.  3:40 AM just below Pinto it was time for a couple hours shuteye, the first thus far.  I'd been pushing for about 22 hours at this point.

That meant Glencoe Bench for the sunrise!  A gorgeous spot, surely made all the better by sleep deprivation and exhaustion.  You can barely make out the La Sals in this pic.  Yep, this route covers some ground.

Up, up, up.  Houser road was pretty tough above 9k on the SS and I did a fair bit of hoofing.  Yet, the TF comparison still says faster than '07.  I'm tossing all my gears away, they don't do any good anyway!

The prize for the last 60 miles of climbing?  Nearly unrideable singletrack - downed trees, snow cover - the upper Tab is simply not ready.  I had twinges of guilt riding as it was rideable but muddy, knowing we were not doing the trail any good.

Snow and trees notwithstanding, it didn't take very long.  It seemed long...but the file says otherwise.  The infamous Roubideaux was next, 16 drainage crossings, much of the ups are hikes, all rubbly, all drop dead gorgeous and teeming with critters of all kinds.  I took a nap under a tree during a shower, but other than that it flowed by magically.  Much easier than I recalled!  The only issue was that my chain was developing a sqeek - my lube escaped from the pack about 120 miles ago, doh!

That is the last pic I snapped.  The camera was bugging me and I was hammering.  It almost didn't make the trip.

Heading up Love Mesa it looked like I'd hit the top in daylight.  Never having seen the view from up there I was motivated to do so, and when it started to look tight I ramped it up some more, and really hammered the final 45 minutes or so.  And didn't eat...and just missed the sunset at the top.  Dang it.  It was cold at the top, and I was pretty much bonked with mostly downhill gravel road for the next few hours.  Shit.  Same thing that forced me to stop last time.

I put on warm gear I brought specifically for this section, knowing this could happen.  I was certainly warm, sweating even, but I was toast.  Dominguez was the goal but the few hills before the drop in were killing me.  The legs were done, and when that happens on a SS there is only one thing to do.  Walk.  It was agonizingly slow, I was pissed at how inefficient this was...the eyes couldn't focus right and I was starting to halucinate...and finally about midnight pulled the bivvy out.  6 hours later I was moving again but the damage was done.  Too tired to get much of anything down the hatch, I woke still pretty bonked out.  A good long while rehydrating and fueling at Dominguez helped but it sure felt like I had slipped into survival mode.

The rest of the day was all about walking as little as possible.  I knew it would hurt but would be faster to keep riding.  I came this year to go fast and I gave it what was left.  Not much, but the Whitewater to LL section was still under 3.5 hours, and the No Mas climb faster than '07 when I swear I flew up that thing.

But wait - there is more!  Traditional GL racers are done at the LL trailhead, but since I started in Westwater, I got to ride pavement out to Fruita, interstate to Loma, then 40 ish miles of the Kokopelli that I hadn't yet done.  That meant the Salt Creek  hike a bike was coming soon.  Right about here is when I paused to reconsider the (lack of)wisdom of my start point. 

To prepare, I took advantage of the McDonalds passing in Fruita.  $10 of garbage down the hatch, I (thought I) was fueled and ready.  Trouble is, McDs is nothing like I'd been eating for the last 4 months or so and it tried to escape all the way to WW.  Sore tired legs and bad gut notwithstanding, I knew where I was time-wise - roughly 7 hours ahead of record pace - and just had to get'r done.  The pressure was off and I fully enjoyed the cruise to WW.

An amazing thing happens when you ride your bike for days on end with minimal sleep.  You become one with that machine, the bars, fork, wheels all an extension of your body.  Bike handling becomes so extraordinarily crisp it is almost like an out of body experience.  I loved the techy singletrack leading to Salt Creek.  Anything that didn't require a lot of power, that is ;)  There are long sections between Rabbit Valley and Bitter Creek with tons of flow, real ripping double track and those were a blast.  The desert was cool this afternoon/evening, and just before WW I actually had to put on my arm warmers.  Go figure!

Right as I rolled up to the railroad overpass near WW - the start and finish of my loop - an Amtrak train sped over, full of onlookers, all cheering my finish.  At least that's what my addled mind told me.  This can be a lonely sport - solo starts, solo finishes - but meeting up with other riders on route and the Amtrak cheering section were certain highlights ;)

The GPS file tells me these times:  2 days, 12 hours 44 min for the traditional (bedrock) route.  For the complete loop (inluding the typically untimed section from the Tab TH to Loma) it was 2 days 15 hours 39 min.  That's about 6.5 hours faster than the '07 record ride and this year's conditions were questionable at best.  And SS - guess what I think about that??

The event this year saw lots of action.  There were so many tire tracks out there I couldn't keep them all straight!  Monday morning I got online in Fruita and saw that Jefe was about to finish and he was hauling the mail, due to finish well  under the previous record.  Instead of heading  home, I drove back to GJ and the Tab TH to meet him - Cat Morrison and Zack were already there and Jefe was onroute to eating a whole chicken and then some...simply awesome to chat with the 3 of them in the perfect temps of the midday desert.  He put in a phenomenal ride, also on a SS!  His energy and enthusiasm for the experience was contagious, I swear he did  not just finish the GL ;)

As for my recovery...I was completely shelled post event.  After finishing I headed straight for Fruita, the super 8 was calling  loudly and the WW mosquitoes were way too hungry.  The mirror there told the story of my race.  I did not see a 44 year old dude I knew 3 days ago, what I saw was an ageless dude with not enough layers to hide a single piece of muscle fiber or vein.  Indeed when I got home the tanita told me bodyfat was at 2.4%.  It is rising quickly but that pace I don't think was sustainable for much longer.  It really makes me think about strategies for longer events like CTR...

I'd be remiss if I didn't show some appreciation here.  Mike Curiak has long provided the inspiration to do this sort of event, in fact this exact event.  On top of that, he has built bulletproof wheels on which to do them, and even helped me quickly acquire the Lenz Milk Money (which he had a large role in designing) which turned out to be the ideal bike for this difficult route.  Scott Morris' Topofusion and bikepacking.net have become enormous contributions to the endurance racing scene.  Saving the best for last, Lynda is an inspiration on many levels.  One is simply to keep up with the gal, the second is sweet things to daydream about on long suffery climbs.  The entire endurance MTB crowd is super group of folks I'm happy to consider as family.

NOAA’s puppet

The man has got me bouncing around like pinochio.  The weekend weather is gonna be catastrophic, oh wait no it's ok, oh wait it's is going to be the end of the world.  I woke up to this:

A POTENT PACIFIC SYSTEM IS EXPECTED TO IMPACT THE REGION THIS

WEEKEND. WIDESPREAD PRECIPITATION IS EXPECTED AS THE SYSTEM MOVES

ACROSS THE REGION THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND. THE ASSOCIATED COLD

FRONT IS FORECAST TO MOVE ACROSS NORTHERN UTAH LATE

SATURDAY...REACHING SOUTHERN UTAH BY SUNDAY MORNING. SNOW LEVELS

WILL FALL QUICKLY BEHIND THE COLD FRONT TO NEAR 7000 FEET. SNOW

LEVELS ARE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TO FALL THROUGHOUT THE DAY

SUNDAY...REACHING NEAR 6500 FEET BY SUNDAY AFTERNOON ACROSS

NORTHERN AND CENTRAL UTAH. THIS STRONG SYSTEM IS EXPECTED TO

BRING THE FIRST SNOW STORM TO THE HIGHER TERRAIN OF

NORTHERN...CENTRAL AND EVEN PARTS OF SOUTHERN UTAH SUNDAY.

PRECIPITATION IS FORECAST TO SLOWLY COME TO AN END LATE SUNDAY

INTO MONDAY.

The Trans Utah route will be impassable in those sort of conditions.  A Friday start means there would be zero finishers.  Weather is the one thing I can't fix.

So what are ya gonna do?  Ma nature forces my hand.  I simply must give this thing a shot.  The time is now, my window is now...so sometime in the dark tonight I'll peddle off to see if this thing can be done in 2ish days.  Probably not, it's a bear and it's mostly alpine, and I'm a desert dweller, and I did a 24 not long ago.  Am I recovered enough?  Will the weather scuttle my yearlong plans? 

Or will lady luck smile on us with a big sunshine grin?

Time to find out.  The final reroute somewhat simplifies the kit as we'll hit towns at 150 and 300 miles, ideal restock points.  I'll carry less than anticipated.  More batteries cause just to finish ahead of the storm means go fast or bail - lots of night riding to be done.  I've seen all the views already anyway, now it's time to feel it at speed.

Enough with the dreaming, it's time for action.

Marshal is out there getting it done right now:  http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0m5zlJgTzeG64oNDTXBHIch633P8ivf9A.  Looks like he's at Coyote spring enjoying some cool water on a warm day as I write this.  We spoke last night and he's got a great plan and attitude for this big ride...and really wants to attain Powel Point.  Good luck amigo!

Dave Nice and I will be heading out in the wee hours.  Wish us luck.  We'll need it!  And to anyone else willing to try their hand at this event...good luck and be safe out there.

Payson Plums

Payson, AZ is smack dab in the middle of my old stomping grounds.  Way back when - before I rode bicycles in earnest (think disco and polyester) - I lived on the NE side of the Phoenix metro blob and escaped to the Tonto national forest on a weekly basis, sometimes to the 4 Peaks area, sometimes The Rim, sometimes places in between.  Payson was always the watering/feeding hole amidst it all.  So when I learned the Payson course was to become the 24 hour natz in '09/'10 I just had to go check it out.  There's mojo in them thar hills.

 After Moab last year I'm pretty sure I swore off lappers for life but never say never.  I was fried from attempting to regain a season's fitness in 6 weeks and still injured to boot.  It was one of the dumber things I've done to do that race last year.  This time around I'm healthy, rested, and excited for some laps on a new course!

As much fun as it is to do big epics, traveling cross country or state without hitting the same trail twice, lappers have strong appeal still - so long as I am rested, strong, and hungry.  It's a good feeling to work the course over, learning it's flow, getting smoother by the lap.  It's more internal than external. 

We had an awesome pit crew.  Sarah absolutely nailed the pit boss routine on the first try, and Kong kept us rolling smoothly.  We've been so preoccupied with SS riding this year that our geared stable had gotten really tired, so Kong had his work cut out for him.  I rode my 5 year old Trek Fuel for the entire race.  I had a backup bike but he wouldn't let me ride it, said something about it not being safe??  Lynda's fork blew on her FS in the first half of the race so she got to ride a hardtail for most of the race. 

The course is short but has distinct sections.  The first little bit flows nicely up a gradual climb with a kicker at the end - that takes you to rocky bitch.  RB is exactly that, steep, rubbly, embedded rocks shaped like spears...good stuff.  A rolling section takes you to the base of the climbing where there are a series of steep climbs.  In the middle of the course there are big views over to the Mazatzal mountains and wilderness areas - awesome sunrise over there!

The race.  I came with an analytical approach (big surprise, eh?) and a power meter.  I was pretty happy Nat Ross was there as he always schools me in 24s...kind of like Tinker, he'd be a good yardstick to see if I could still do this thing - and if the new ideas were working.  One big surprise was the heat.  The forecast I saw said mid 80s which is warm, but I swear it was 95+ on those steep climbs with the ever so slight tailwind.  Maybe it was the heat, maybe I ate some bad stuff in Payson...but I had gut issues galore.  It was hard to manage, and no solids would go down, period.  At one point Sarah, who had been trying to get things I'd eat, put some plums in a dixie cup and I went nutz over them.  The next pit there were about 6 dixie cups full of plums ;)  That is a cool magic trick Sarah!

Nat lapped me not long after nightfall.  I expected this and it didn't bother me at all.  What I didn't expect - and what did bother me - is when he passed me again about 4 hours later.  OMG he must be an alien!  But no, Kong told me we'd been playing leapfrog in the pits.  Whew, now I felt better. 

At some point Sologoat was in his pit not feeling so hot and I had a chat with him.  Just like Moab last year he was feeling the effects of hammering a dry climate with a touch of elevation.  Asthma sucks...it hounded me for the first few years of racing and I felt bad for him.  He was remarkably calm and unbothered by it though, at least outwardly.

The night was sweet.  The temps dropped, as did my HR finally (but not power ;) and I was getting the flow of the course down nicely.  The night actually seemed to help clarify some of the trickier sections of the course.  At Moab the dark seems to obscure them. 

As I started lap 16 Nat was right in front of me, so I slowed a bit as he got rolling out of his pit.  Stalking ;)  He was still riding damn strong, slowly pulling away in the first climb to rocky bitch.  I closed the gap on the descent, then fell back again in the fast rolling section.  He was cooking!  We finished that lap up together chatting a bit....in the pit I recall mentioning that when you ride the paved section with Nat you don't get to eat LOL.

I left the pit about 20 seconds before he did on lap 17 and he closed that gap by the top of the first climb.  I'd been working this descent over for awhile, and felt super confident so let it all hang out this time around.  By the bottom I was on my own so I kept on the gas for that lap.  It was time to race!  There was a lap to pull back ;)

After 2 hot laps I knew I had to back off, so did and kept it right at that manageable pace.  Could I do this for 6 more hours?  Could Nat?  I was slowly pulling that lap back on Nat, and we were both starting to suffer a lot from all accounts.  I know I was.  Trans Utah crept into the back of my head, then the front of my head.  The mental and physical cost of continuing on into the pre-noon heat was crushing my soul.  I flat out did not want this race badly enough.  I wanted to have fun in TU in 2 weeks time.  So I grabbed a chair in the pit.  When Nat came in he was most happy to see this "David Harris, how much longer do you want to ride?!!" was his booming voice.  He may have been suffering on the bike but was still full of swagger on his feet.  The elite men's field was 3 deep and we were all done for various reasons.  We walked over to Dan & John (promoters) and told them our intentions to make this a 19 hour race and they were completely fine with that.  We sat in the shade and chatted about things like Cross Vegas and twisting throttles.  Dan has a monster of a KTM I was drooling over.

24 hour Natz next year has strong appeal.  It will be hard.  Brutal.  I like the Eatough plan of old - do the stuff you really like most of the time, and one bitchin nut buster 24 hour race per year.  Payson will be my nut buster next year and I'll be bringing plums!

Payson Stampede 24 Hour Mountain Bike Challenge

...is the next destination. September 20-21.

I talked with an official at USA Cycling who confirmed this is going to be the venue for the 2009 and 2010 NORBA National 24 hour Mountain Bike Championships.

Well I haven't done a 24 hour solo since Worlds last year and am in just the right mood for one at the moment. So we are packing up the ship and sailing it over to Payson with gears, suspension and power meters on every bike!

Dave and I are racing the 24 hour solo with power meters and Danielle is racing the 12 hour solo with hers. We will have a plethora of data to get the 2009 and 2010 Nationals training plans nailed.

It is a climby one. From topofusion 1366 ft/ 8.8 mile lap. This chart of the course is from a GPS file provided courtesy of Dan Basinski the Payson race promoter. Thanks Dan.

The trickiest part of racing 24's is pacing. How do you pace a 24 to end up with the most laps? Go fast from the gun and hang on? Even split? Negative split? We are gonna be doing a little experimenting in Payson and if we get it all right we'll have the power data to back it up. Precise numbers from differently paced races over one course at the same time. Now that is data to keep us busy this winter and juice to use when cooking up the killer Nationals training plans in 2009 and 2010 - yummy :-)