Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Barry-Roubaix VI

So yesterday was my sixth consecutive Barry Roubaix. Every year I've written lengthy blog posts detailing the experience. In revisiting last year's post, I was struck by the complete reversal of fortune between my 2105 and 2016 campaigns. My 2015 post started with a failed attempt at completing the Rapha Festive 500, and then detailed a very successful winter training program. I talked at length about acclimation to cold, and long lonely winter miles. This year I successfully completed the Rapha Festive 500 for the first time, and then my winter training plan was completely derailed. Instead of long cold miles, I spent January, February, and half of March putting in a new kitchen. after a water-heater-flood-while-on-vacation destroyed our old one. In 2015 I had more than 700 miles in January and February. This year? Just over 100 miles in the same time frame.

Last year, when they announced the change in date of Barry from March until April, I groaned aloud. My entire spring gravel schedule softened as organizers of all three races I had done in 2015 (SouthernCross, Barry-Roubaix, Tour of the Battenkill) announced that they were moving each race back a month on the calendar to avoid the sometimes harsh and variable weather that made these events so interesting. But I have to admit, the extra few weeks benefited me greatly this year, as it gave me time to get a solid block of training in to prepare for the event. The 10 day forecast leading up to the event was for sunny conditions and temps in the 70s by mid-day. By far the warmest Barry on record, so all those winter miles would have been for naught anyway.

The biggest block was a five day training camp in Las Vegas with my new team, SpiderMonkey cycling. I rode a personal best 292 miles with 16,000 ft of climbing in five days, finishing with a 91 mile ride across Las Vegas and up into Red Rock canyon, and then back to Henderson. It was a good opportunity to clear out the legs and the mind, and get reconnected with cycling. Instead of looking at Barry Roubaix as my first real training ride of the year, it began to start looking and feeling like a race again.

Well, delusions of a race anyway. As I settled into a training routine back at home that involving my #secrettrainingride and an extended version with added 10 miles and pushed the total amount of climbing over 2,200 ft. As the miles and feet started to accumulate again, I set some very aggressive goals for myself, both process and outcome goals. I wanted to stay with the lead group for longer that I did the year before, I wanted to finish in under 3:15, and I wanted to crack into the top 50 in the Open 62 mile race. So I was less prepared and had more aggressive goals? What could go wrong?

We made a pretty big change in our trip planning this year. Four out of the last five years, I spent the night before the race at the Bay Pointe Inn on Gun Lake. This year, Morleigh wanted to try something different and called the Holiday Inn Express just outside of Hastings and asked if they had any rooms available. They did not. Each year they ask existing guests if they would like to make a reservation for the following year. They were completely booked for 2016 the day after the race in 2015. However, we were 3rd or 4th on the waiting list, and when they called for a cancellation we jumped at the opportunity to stay a few blocks from the start of the race instead of having to drive 20 minutes into town.

Friday we picked up Chernoh in the city, and stopped by Johnny Sprockets to make a last minute change in tires. I knew the race would be hard and fast from the gun with the dry and warm forecast, and I wanted to reduce the width of my tires 38 to a 33 for the sake of reducing drag. We made it to Michigan a little later than we had in previous years, but the later date on the calendar meant we were after daylight savings, and after the vernal equinox, so sunset was an hour later, and days were longer than nights. This gave us some extra daylight to explore after arriving in town. We checked into the hotel, and changed for a quick leg-opener. I put on long sleeves because I couldn't fathom it being warm enough for riding in just bibs and a jersey. Within 5 miles I had to stop and take off the base layers with sleeves, as it was just too hot for layers. As we were in town instead of at Bay Point, it allowed us to explore some new gravel roads including a few miles of the 24/36 mile course coming back into town. Chernoh and I had never seen those roads, as we had always both done the 62 mile race. We opted to skip the final climb back into town, and instead backtracked down Cook Rd to get back to the Ace Hardware to pick up our packets.

Big kudos to the race organizers and volunteers as yet again packet pick-up was well organized and took almost no time at all. We were in and out within a few minutes, and on our way back to the hotel we swung by the Specialized demo tent to chat with our friend Eric B. He was just getting ready to close up shop so Chernoh and I helped him break down tents and put away his demo fleet, and then made plans to have dinner in Hastings with the four of us. Dinner in Hastings was a nice change of pace as we had in prior years had our pre-race dinner at the Inn. We headed back to the hotel where Chernoh and I both wrapped some Salt Stick capsules in aluminum foil and taped to our stems for easy mid-race access, filled up our water bottles, and then settled into bed.

Being in town afforded us an extra 30 minutes of sleep, as we no longer had to worry about driving to the race course, parking, unloading, and then getting dressed. We were able to get dressed in race clothes, and head directly to breakfast. I tried to avoid eating too much, as I have done in some years past, with a good mix of carbs, protein, and fat. We returned to our rooms and made final preparations. Wardrobe is always a big part of getting ready for Barry. This year, with forecasted temps in the 70s in the afternoon, I was unsure how light to start. I opted for short-sleeved craft base layer with wind-stopper briefs under the UCI kit I bought in Richmond. I also had on arm warmers and knee warmers, as it was still a chilly 49 degrees when I made it to the parking lot. Nutrition wise, I opted for 3 of my homebrew gel packs, four Salt Stick capsules on my stem (in addition to the two that were already in each gel), and three bottle of water. I was ready before Chernoh, so I started with some laps around the parking lot while he was finishing his preparation. We then headed up to the course, rode out Cook Rd., and turned to come back to the start.
Just a jersey?

I had a small bag with a change of clothes for after the race in case Mor wasn't back from shooting when I was ready to change. The ride over convinced me that I was still overdressed even in a short sleeve base layer, so I stripped off the base-layer and warmers and shoved them in my bag and stored them in a safe place with my phone and wallet until the end of the race. At about 9:30 AM there were already guys starting to head to staging, with my extended roll to the start of the race and some stretching I was ready to go, so I headed up to staging and took a place near the front. There were already some people in the starting grid, including one guy who was sitting on a set of rollers 6ft off the start line inside the grid warming up. A friend from Chicago noted "Whenever I think I'm starting to take this too seriously, I'm comforted to run into THAT guy."

The start grid started to fill up as the seconds ticked away. I'm always amazed at how quickly the last 20 minutes before the start of a race slips away. Star Spangled Banner, invocation, and all of a sudden the field is surging forward across the line and down the street at 25 miles per hour. As the first wave flew down the road I did my best to stay near the front. As we made our way down Green Green street, some fast guys who were late to staging tried to sprint up the outside and then work their way in near the front. I managed to shift to the left from my spot in the middle of the pack, and get back into this flow and maintain a position near the front. So close to the front in fact that as we turned south on Cook Rd, and people sat up on the climb I continued to push into my pedals and surged off the front of the field. I wasn't the first one on the gravel this year, but I did take my turn at the very pointy end of the bike race which is more than a lot of people can say. I didn't really do it because I wanted to be on the front, I had found a comfortable pace and level of effort, was starting to feel warm, and didn't want to sit up quite yet.

We reached the base of the first sister, and unlike in 2015 when the field collectively sat up and watched David Lombardo ride away, the front of the field attacked, and it was as if they tossed hand grenades over their shoulders with how quickly the field blew up in their wake. They attacked and counter attacked up and over the first, second, and third sister, and by the time I reached the top of the 3rd sister the leaders were down the other side and out of sight, and only a comet tail of debris followed in their wake. I pushed into my pedals for the descent, made it across the highway, and made the left turn onto Hubble Rd. Since first year I did Barry, I've always thought of it as "the cow climb"because of the Holstein cows that were standing in the pasture next to the road. The three sisters are steep, but I've always felt like the slog up Hubble Rd was the more dangerous climb. That's the one where people start to crack and the field really separates.

Already off the back by Hubble.
That's why I stationed Morleigh at that top of that climb this year. It's really beautiful, important in the race, and no one is generally there. She got some great photos of the leaders on their way up, and lots of others on their way down. I saw her and cheered for her as we passed, but I was on the wrong side of the field to appear in any photos. When I crested the top, the lead group of about 50 was where David Lombardo had been the year before, at the bottom of the hill turning right. My goal of hanging onto the leaders was gone, so I focused on the next goal of doing better than in years past on the paved climb on Gun Lake Rd.

The road was littered with riders dangling backwards from the lead group like the tail of a comet. I didn't necessarily have any hope of catching back onto the leaders, but I was thinking about the big climb, and I was thinking about wanting to finish in the top 50. I had no idea where I was in the field, but I knew there were a lot of guys in front of me. I started to focus on "the next wheel" and started working my way forward. Road conditions at this point in the race were pretty sketchy. The dry gravel and sand made everything very loose and very dusty. I was fortunate that when I was in big groups the wind was blowing across the road, and only rarely was I in a position where I was caught in a plume of dust that I couldn't escape.



At this point it felt like I was riding well and racing smart. I was grabbing wheels when I could, taking short pulls when I needed to, and keeping my arms relaxed as we hit some pretty loose and sandy turns. As we approached a particularly nasty corner from Sager to Otis Lake Rd I saw David Reyes standing on the road which was not a good sign. I asked him if he needed anything, and he said he broke a derailleur hanger. I hollered over my shoulder that I did not have one of those, and pressed on as I caught sight of one of his teammates, Matt, ahead. Otis Lake Rd was the last section of gravel before the paved climb, so I settled back into a group of riders, including Matt, that struggled through the loose and sometimes very sandy trail. At this point I was trying to catch my breath and recover, knowing that the climb up and over the top was going to be taxing. I did my best to hold onto the tales of this 12 person kite, and mentally prepared myself for a steep climb.

When we turned left onto pavement we hit some downhill sections. I tried to hold back a bit, and stay with the group on the descents, saving up matches for the climb. When we reached the base of the big climb, I fully expected to be dropped off the back of this group, and to my surprise the pace of the leaders was challenging but I was able to match and hold onto the rope keeping myself together with the group. When we crested the top I mashed into the pedals and then got into a good tuck and blasted by everyone else. I was off the front of that group for the entire descent, and grabbed back on when we reached the next ridge on the other side. We had been riding for almost 45 minutes, and I realized I hadn't reached back to eat anything and had hardly drank anything out of my water bottle. I started to force feed a little bit, knowing it would come in handy later. It wasn't until we made two more turns and started to head back East on Duffy Rd. that I hit my first mini wall. We were climbing up a grade and the spring fell out of my step and I started to drift towards the back of my group, in danger of being dropped. I managed to dig a little deeper and stay with the tail of that group as we turned back onto pavement and headed south to Sager Rd.

In 2015, I had a pretty good run up Sager Rd., feeling strong and holding with the group I was with. This year I had some challenges with both my legs and with traffic. I had a couple of riders go down or come to a dead stop and had to take evasive action to keep rolling. The 2-track climb really split apart the group of 12 riders I was with, but was still with a couple of riders as we made the right onto McKibben Rd. As I looked back I saw some riders approaching fast from behind. I didn't sit up and wait for them, instead I pushed on ahead trying to catch the next wheel before I was caught. That didn't go so well, as I completely over-bake the left hand turn onto Mullen Rd and locked up both brakes and skidded for 15ft before losing enough speed to be able to make the turn. Within a half mile the group from behind caught me, and I latched on to the train of faster moving riders and followed them to the timing sensor which was set up just before the right hand turn onto Head Lake Rd. I asked the official where we were in the group as I was the last rider in that group. I was sitting in 74th place at mile 24.5. My heart sank a little.

As we headed south on Head Rd towards the Killer, it was a struggle to stay together as we were now fully emerged in the middle of the 24 mile field. When we reached the base of the Killer we were fortunate enough to be in a relative lull and had enough of the road to maintain momentum and stay mostly together as a group. Half way up I saw Mor standing on the left side of the road cradling a water bottle in her arm as she tried to take pictures. I yelled out that I didn't need the water which she acknowledged by taking a picture of me. Ironically out of focus because I set up the camera with the incorrect autofocus mode for her. I was suffering greatly just to stay with the group, but as I crested the hill and started to pedal towards the turn off I was not alone. And in a few moments we were really not alone as the leaders of the second wave finally caught up with me. I recognized Lucas Siebel on his single speed spinning away like a madman leading this group of 40-50 riders. I knew a dozen or so of the riders in this wave by name, and said "hello" and "It's about time." to a few of them as I settled into their wake and started to recover on the ride to Cloverdale. It was a big group, and my goal of finishing in the top 50 was further evaporating as I tried to figure out what percentage of that group of 40 to 50 riders were in my wave and what percentage were from the second wave.

At that point, things were starting to get hard. I didn't know how long I would be able to stay with that group, I had the sense that no one was attacking at the moment as we rolled through Cloverdale, but once we made it through Cloverdale all bets were off as the pace quickened and the accordion started to play. Someone would attack at the front on a climb and the whole field would serge to hold that wheel. The field would stretch, the attack would fail, and the field would compress. Each time hurt a little more. Ironically it wasn't a surging field that finally did me in and sheered me off the back of the group, it was traffic.

Just short of mile 40 we were going down a hill at a pretty quick pace, and there was a car on the left shoulder with a few riders huddled behind. There was also a car coming up the hill towards us, forcing the field into a relatively narrow chicane first moving left to avoid the stopped car, and then moving back right to avoid the oncoming car. The oncoming car did not pull over or stop so the chicane got tighter and tighter. I drifted too far to the left and had to grab brakes to slow down and get back to the right. The field continued to roll down the hill and attacked on the other side, and before I could drop an F-bomb I was dropped off the back and in no-man's land.

Things really started to go south at this point. I was starting to feel like I was cramping so I took a salt tablet. That sat in my stomach with water for too long without digesting or absorbing. The pre-cramping started to turn into actually cramping, so I took another salt-tablet, drank some more gel, and tried to soft-pedal and coast as much as possible to let my stomach catch up with my body.

It didn't work very well. By the time I made it to the aid station at mile 44 I was hurting and moving slowly. I had finished one water bottle and knew that after not seeing Mor in Cloverdale I was going to be maybe running low on water by the end of the race. It was starting to get really warm, and sweat was running off the brim of my visor. When a volunteer held up a full water bottle I grabbed it, and tossed one of my empty bottles into the ditch. All I needed was for my stomach to start working again so I could actually drink some more fluids.

After mile 50 things started to get very hard. There are some sharp punchy climbs in the last 15 miles, and at each one I wondered if I would have to get off and walk. I was with a pair of riders for a few miles, before getting dropped on one of those climbs. My legs, starting with my calves, were cramping for real now. I chewed my last sodium packets and tried my best to choke down some gel. A few larger groups, 10 - 20 riders mostly from the second wave passed me as we approached the finish, and one final group, just as I hit pavement to pull into town I turned around and saw a hard charging group of about 10 riders. I really wanted to try and stay with them up the last climb into town and beat them in a sprint, but my legs had other ideas. I just kept turning the pedals and watched them ride away. I did push myself as much as possible on the descent into town, but still didn't really have enough in the tank to make up any time. When I crossed the line I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had finished in my 3rd fastest time, 3:21:37. I was 71st out of 172. So five minutes slower than the year before, but only 9 places back in the field. So not exactly where I hoped to be, but still a pretty good result. When people asked me how my race went, the short answer was "Good, but not great."



I sat down on a bench for a while next to Brian B from Chicago who finished a few minutes ahead of me, and tried to drink water and get my legs back under me. It was still hot as we exchanges stories of how hard it was even though it wasn't cold. After a few minutes I came to my senses and realized I had better tell my wife I was finished, so I went back to the expo to retrieve my cell phone and instead found my wife. She took me back to the car where I drank some more water and laid down in the shade next to a church and looked very much like I had died.




My face and jersey were covered in brown dirt, sticking to anywhere that my skin was wet with sweat. There were claw marks on my head where the dirt blew in the vents and stuck to my scalp.

We had also decided to spend Saturday night after the race in Hastings. When Chernoh finished we gave him some time to get settled, hydrated, and come back to life, and then he and I rode back to the hotel. We showered and headed to the Waldorf for our traditional post-race meal. We then went back to the hotel and I started editing the photos that Morleigh had taken, while Chernoh graded papers.

The next morning Chernoh and I were up early, heading out for a recovery ride. I'd plotted out a route east of Hastings, somewhere that I've never been, and we took off in the early morning light. We rode easy for about 2 hrs seeing a few deer and having a lovely chat about training and life. Although the race was only "good" the weekend was certainly "great!"





Thursday, December 31, 2015

The kind of cyclist who could...

When I first heard about the Rapha Festive Five hundred, in 2010 I didn't know what a "Rapha" was. I didn't know who Jeremy Powers or Katie Compton were. I hadn't met Tim Johnson, and had not raced against Ben Berden, Jamie Driscoll, or Steve Tilford. All I knew was that it sounded like something that was completely beyond my ability level. I had at that point completed just twelve Cat4 (i.e., 30 min) cyclocross races. I had never ridden over 50 miles at one time, and 500km was probably more miles than I had ever ridden in a month much less a week. But there was something about the challenge that got stuck in my craw. I wasn't the kind of cyclist who could ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, but someday maybe I could be that kind of cyclist.

Every year since, when December rolled around, I thought about the challenge. There was always some obstacle that prevented me from attempting it. Sometimes it was weather, sometimes it was illness, sometimes it was fear. It took four more years and more than 10,000 miles before I became the kind of cyclist who thought he could actually pull it off. In December of 2014 I started off strong with a 60 mile ride on Christmas Day (I erroneously thought the challenge ran from Christmas to New Years and lost a day). I then came down with a bad sinus infection and spent two weeks off the bike. It was disappointing to say the least.

This year I felt like I was in an even better place. I had ridden more than 5,200 miles (up from 4,000 miles in 2014), and completed a number of long endurance races. When I set out on New Years Eve day to try and accomplish this goal, I hoped I could be the kind of cyclist to brave the elements and get his badge.

I'm proud to say that tonight I finished the Rapha Festive Five Hundred with room to spare.

Merry Christmas Eve 12/24/2015 36
I started out strong with 100km on Christmas Eve. The wind was blowing in from the west at 15mph so I cut out in the early afternoon and headed south west. I found some new roads that I had not explored in the last three years of living in the suburbs, breaking a psychological barrier and crossing south of I-90 for the first time before looping North and returning through the historic Woodstock Square finding the spot where Bill Murray stepped into a puddle over and over again in Groundhog's Day. It was going to be that kind of week. 63.2 miles, 3:36:25, 1,496ft. Total = 101.7km


Christmas with Steve Tilford 12/25/2015 37
When I got home, Morleigh told me that she had been reading Steve Tilford's blog, and he had announced he would be in Chicago visiting family and would be hosting a 2-3hr ride. I wasn't sure how I would feel in the morning, having just put in a hard metric century, but when I woke up on Christmas Day I felt great and immediately started to get ready for the ride. I drove into Mount Prospect, arrived with enough time to finish gearing up, and then we headed east towards Evanston. It took us about an hour before we got to roads I recognized, but I knew the way down Church into Evanston very well from years of riding with the Chicago Cycling Club. We met up with some additional riders in Evanston, and then headed down Chicago to the Lake Shore Path. We were riding mostly in non-rotating pace line, and taking turns hanging out chatting with Steve. I got my turn on the path, and started talking about the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival as we had both raced it in 2014. We then turned to politics and gun control, and by that time we had made it to Navy Pier and were ready to turn around. The wind was from the Northeast off the lake so we ended up single file crawling back North until we could get shelter in the city, and pushed far enough west for the wind to be in our face again. Steve spent most of the ride on the front pulling, and most of his time pulling chatting away. It was an impressive feat, and gave a glimpse of how strong he is. 56.6 miles, 3:17:39, 446ft. Total = 191.7km

Wind from the north, I ride north 12/27/2015 - 32
I took a rest day on the 26th, and then started up again on Sunday. The wind was blowing pretty strong from the NNE, so I figured it would be a good day to take the Prairie Path north to Wisconsin. Round trip it was only 54 miles to the border. I knew I wanted to get at least 65 miles in, to get get back on track after taking a day off, so I set my sights on another psychological barrier, Lake Geneva. It was going to be a long 35 miles getting there, but I hoped with the tail wind it would be short work getting home. The highlight of the ride was seeing a shiny new gift card on the shoulder of the road which appeared to be undamaged. I spent some time wondering how much money it had on it, and what the threshold was for tracking down the owner. Maybe it was thousands of dollars, or maybe it had been completely spent. Despite having a tail wind, It wasn't short work getting home. The wet crushed limestone section of the path took it's toll, and the wind had shifted more to the east. By the time I got to McHenry I was pretty much spent, and I limped the rest of the way home. I make it back from Lake Geneva 15 minutes faster than it took me to get there, but it didn't feel like it. When I got home I immediately looked up the balance on the found gift card. Windfall for the ride = $0.85. 73.1miles, 4:17:14, 2,110ft. Total = 309km

Free Rides while you wait: CPR Cell Phone Repair Huntley 12/29/2015 - 27
I lost another day to a wet and heavy snowfall on Monday. I did ride my mountain bike up to the Walgreens to pick up milk, which only reinforced the decision to not ride. It was heavy, wet, slipper, and would have been a struggle to get any miles in at all. Much better to rest and wait for the roads to clear, than to waste two hours going 12 miles. Tuesday morning I got a call from the Cell Phone repair place saying my screen had come in. I used that as an opportunity to get some miles in, dropping my phone of on the way west (wind was from the west again), and looping back to pick it up a few hours of riding later. I'm not going to lie. It was really hard to get motivated and get out the door. I puttered around for almost 2 hrs tinkering with my clothing, nutrition, Garmin route, and pulling a piece of metal and re-sealing a tubeless tire. I found an interesting feature on the map while exploring a possible route on Garmin Connect. Just south of the interstate I found a small landing strip which was lined on both sides by houses with very large garages. It's a community of pilots with their own personal airport. I added a loop around the airfield to my Course. The ride was pretty smooth and uneventful. I had to make some wardrobe adjustments at mile 20 and switched to dry warm gloves at mile 45, but made it back to the CPR Huntley after they finished my phone and well before close. I ended up making some extra loops in my sub-division to push the ride distance over 100km. 62.6miles, 3:30:32, 1,240ft. Total = 411km.

The kind of cyclist who could... 12/30/2015 - 27
Originally I had thought I would ride on New Years Eve. We had plans to take my niece and nephew to see the new Star Wars up in Wisconsin, and I thought that would be a perfect capstone to my festive 500, riding either part of the way and having Morleigh pick me up, or riding the whole way and meeting her there. But with only 90km to go, and a quiet day around the office, I instead decided to try to get another 100km ride in, and finish the challenge off a day early and save the logistical headache of arriving in Janesville sweaty and cold. The wind was again from the west, strong at 15-20mph, so I headed northwest, trying to reverse most of the loop I had ridden on Christmas Eve. I skipped the headaches of making my way north through Crystal Lake and Woodstock during rush hour, and headed west on Miller to Haligus, where I connected with the Lundhal route to Deerpath Rd. I skipped the big climb, and made my way west on River to Hwy 23, and took that over the smaller pass to Kishwaukee Valley Rd. My legs were pretty shot by this point, after 30 miles into a steady 10mph wind, so the return trip was not as fast as I would have liked. I had to stop at mile 37 and make some more wardrobe adjustments. I lingered a bit too long because when I texted Morleigh to let her know I was okay and about to get rolling again, she texted back letting me know that she was already getting dressed and coming to get me. I didn't need a sag quite yet, and sailed mostly downwind for another 25 miles. I stopped right before I got home at the grocery store to pick up some broccoli for supper, and she had hot chocolate with big marshmallows waiting for me when I walked in the door. A very nice treat to end an epic week of riding. 62.0miles, 3:37:01, 1,322ft, Total = 511km.

https://www.strava.com/challenges/rapha-festive-500-2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Ten Thousand

"This wonderful byproduct of glacial neglect."


Much was written about the first Ten Thousand. Such was the mystique, it was named as one of the top 10 Gravel grinders of 2014 a month before anyone had ever ridden the route. I opted not to participate, it didn't feel like the right thing for me to do given my fitness and training, and I was worried about the uncertainties of heat and weather in mid July. Of the friends who did complete it  they said it was the best (and hardest) thing they had ever done on a bike.

The second Ten Thousand was building up to be an even better event. Instead of fighting the heat, humidity, and bugs of a midwestern July, the organizers moved the event to the cool crisp autumn. The start location had been moved further west to allow for even more climbing. Then it all fell apart. Through a various set of unforeseen circumstances the organizers quit their jobs, and moved to different cities. There was no one left to host the event, and no one to shake hands at the finish. All that was left was a time, a date, and a cue sheet.

That was enough for me though. If your friend spends hours making you a mix tape, the least you can do is listen to it, right? I had spent the spring and summer training for longer harder events. I raced in three endurance mountain bike races of 33 miles, 57 miles, and 100 miles, and put in the training time required to not just finish but to finish pretty well for a first timer. By the end of September I had put in 4,300 miles with 172,000 ft of climbing which was 200 miles and 25,000 ft more than I had done in all of 2014. I was ready for the event.

It took a little negotiation to get my team manager (i.e., my wife Morleigh) on board. Her biggest concern was that I was going to try to do something foolish like ride the Ten Thousand on Saturday and then race a cyclcross race on Sunday. We talked it over and I promised that if I did the full Ten Thousand route I would not do something so foolish as to try to race cyclocross on Sunday. Once the pinky swear promise was in place she agreed to be awesome and set up a SnowyMountain Photography rest stop for riders as she had done for the last three Axletree events.

The wrong foot


We arrived Friday night at our hotel in nearby Freeport, IL which is known as Pretzel City, USA. Morleigh googled the history of our location and confirmed that Freeport is still milking the 19th century for almost all of it's glory as Freeport's most notable claim to fame is that it was the location of the 1858 Lincoln Douglas Debate. I stayed up a little later than I was hoping to, drawing maps and creating navigation points for potential aid stations for Morleigh in Google Maps. At 3AM I woke up. I spent 30 minutes trying to get the room cooler, my throat less dry, and trying to calm down. I was too nervous to get back to sleep as quickly as I would have liked.

The alarm went off at 5:45AM, were at breakfast by 6AM, car loaded and on the road by 6:30AM. I was hoping to be gone a little bit earlier, as it was a 25 minute ride to the start with a posted start-time of 7AM. We were cutting it close, but I had been planning and rehearsing my routine for getting dressed and ready for days. I thought for sure it would be no problem getting ready.

The weather forecast was very pleasant for mid-October. There was a frost-warning overnight, and temps were supposed to be in the low 30s when the ride started with a high in the low 50s. I erred on the side of not being too warm, and opted for summer mountain bike shoes with over the calf wool socks and toe warmers, a craft base layer under regular bib shorts, and then an Under Armor base layer under a jersey, wool arm warmers, and a Sugoi wind-stopper jacket with magnetically attached sleeves that could be pulled off and stowed quickly. I had some long finger gloves, a craft hat and a secondary ear-band. I was counting on it warming up pretty quickly. That never happened, it didn't warm up at all.

The second faux pas I made was thinking that I could carry one of our digital SLR cameras for the entire ride. Morleigh was very concerned about the burden of extra weight slowing me down, and the risk to equipment if I were to take a tumble. I agreed, but still wanted to give it a go. I figured the worst that would happen would be that I would get some good pictures during the golden hour and then drop the camera at the first aid station which was going to be at about 41 miles if need be. That didn't work out either.

The grand depart


The grand depart came mercifully a few minutes late. Since it was not an organized race with timing, things were more group ride-ish at the start with a few extra minutes being left for people to finish gathering their belongings and to lock up their cars. I recognized a few friendly faces, Bailey Newbrey was acting as the defacto event organizer, Brad Majors, a teammate from Chicago, and few others that I had met racing in and around Chicago were all gathered in long sleeves and winter leggings. The thought occurred to me that either they were over dressed, or I was under-dressed. Someone commented on me being brave.

7:08 AM - Riders gather in Stockton, IL for the start of the Ten Thousand


The sun was just starting to climb over the horizon as about two dozen of us rolled out of Stockton, IL at 7:09 AM. Shortly after we got out of town, I unzipped my vest to be able to free the DSLR to snap some photos. I was riding my bike in a group while climbing over the rolling hills, so I took three or four really good pics of riders in the warm glow of dawn before I noticed the small print flashing on the screen.

"No memory card."

7:17 AM - My wife captured this photo with her DSLR on her way out of town.


My expensive camera was now just a silly brick dangling around my neck, and banging into my thigh on every pedal stroke. It was preventing me from zipping my wind vest back up, so I was also losing a lot of heat on the fast descents and when we were riding west into the wind. My bare knees and my thinly veiled toes were already starting to get cold, and I was having trouble breathing in the cold air. I figured that if I stopped to fix any of those issues I would be in no-man's land for the rest of the 124 miles. So I soldiered on as best I could.



Morleigh captured some of the ephemeral beauty of the early morning frost.


Two miles later I got dropped on the second major climb. I couldn't get into a good cadence with the camera banging against my thigh, so I sat up and held the camera with one hand and tried to use the other to put power into the pedals, and just watched as the dozen or so faster, stronger, lighter riders disappeared up and over the crest. We were heading into the wind at that point, so as solo rider I didn't have much hope of catching back on. I mentally prepared myself for a long day alone. Morleigh had planned on being out on the course early to snap some photos during the golden hour. I found her a spot on top of a rolling hill at about mile 14 so I knew I at least had a place to leave the camera. As long as she didn't take off before I could get there.


7:47AM - After getting dropped I dug my camera phone out of a pocket and put it in my "Bento" box so I could snap photos along the way. 



An endless spool of gravel unwinding beneath my wheels.


Six white-tail deer ran by while Morleigh was waiting for the first wave of riders, one can be seen darting across the road. 


I made it to the point where Morleigh was in about a half an hour as the burning cold in my fingers and knees turned to that comfortable numbness of winter riding. I waved at her as I rolled by, telling her the camera had no film in it. She yelled "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!", in disbelief. I rolled up to the car, took the vest off, and removed the camera strap.

7:58AM - My brick and I find Morleigh and the car. 



I took off my shoes, put on my Specialized Defrosters, zipped up my vest again, and I took off. It was a quick pit-stop, but it was a big difference in pedaling comfort. A few riders had passed me while I was changing, so I put my head down and started to give chase.


Riders stopped to take some snapshots overlooking the eastern most end of the course. 

The B road


For those unfamiliar with the term a "B-road" is an unmaintained "road" that appears on a map as a line, but on the ground it is often little more than two deep ruts separated by a strip of thick tall grass. They are one of the defining characteristics of an Axletree Gravel event, and this ride's B-road came mercifully early on at mile 19.5. It started out gentle and smooth but the "No Outlet" sign where Kempel Rd crossed Kent Rd. served as a warning to those who notice such things.  We turned left from the relatively-well groomed Kempel Rd on to South County Divide Rd which quickly turned into an undulating mishmash of ruts, rocks, and roots as it dove into the valley. It was by far the most hair-raising part of the entire journey. The morning sunlight was playing havoc with my vision as it was low enough on the horizon to be directly in my eyes at points, but I managed to make it through unscathed. 

8:35 AM - Looking back north from the end of South County Divide Road

I had a moment of panic at the end of the B-road when I started to hear a "ting" from my rear wheel that sounded a lot like a broken spoke. I was familiar with the sound as I had broken spokes in the Gravel Grovel almost a year earlier, and again two weeks before this ride. As I slowed gently to a halt, I thought my day was over and I was going to have to hike back to town.  I was relieved when found that it was just a piece of barbed wire tangled in my spokes. It had not done any damage, so I snapped a pic, removed the wire, and carried on down the hill.

8:37AM - Barbed-wire in my spokes.  

If farm dogs are sprint training...


I had just passed the jog from E Krise Rd to Willow Rd back to E Krise Rd when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to the right, and saw a brown swiss cow charging down the hill straight towards me. I wasn't too worried as I could see there was a fence separating us. However, when she reached the corner of the pasture she did something completely unexpected. She lowered her head, lifted her feet, and lunged through a hole in the bottom of the fence. In an instant she was on the road next to me. I had enough time to think: 

"Is this how I die?" before she changed course and started running next to me. I did not die so I did a very 21st century thing and pulled out my phone.  







When she reached her barn she stopped running with me. I turned forward and headed onto the next adventure. I rode alone for another hour over rolling farm land.


9:06AM - Looking west over hills I would soon be climbing. 

Catching up


After two hours of hard riding, the mental images and memories started to blur together.  At about 9:45 AM I caught back up with a group of four riders just as we crested the top of another big hill. 

9:45AM After 2hrs in no man's land, I found some compatriots just before the small town of Woodbine.


These roads were familiar to me, as I had ridden them at another event back in May with the Stay Rad Adventure team. We rolled together down the hill into Woodbine where we picked up two more riders. From there we headed north across U.S. 20 into the Apple River Valley, where a surprise waited. I knew Morleigh was going to be out on the course, but not exactly sure where she would set up. She found a beautiful spot just after we crossed an old iron one-lane bridge. As we rolled past the table-of-goodness it took a little bit of convincing to get some of the riders in the group to stop. They were in a groove and had their minds set on the gas station in Elizabeth, but I was pretty emphatic that it was a good idea for everyone to stop.


10:07AM Rounding a corner and seeing my wife is always a great feeling.

An oasis


Once they saw the spread (pretzels, fig bars, stroopwaffles, Red Bull, Hostess treats, Gatorade in a variety of flavors, bananas, water, and whiskey) they dug in. As the group filled mouths, pockets, and water bottles at the snack table, I dug into the back seat of the car to sort out my wardrobe issues. Temps were still in the 40s with a cold wind from the west, so I stuck some chemical toe warmers to my thighs (a trick I learned at Interbike), and put on some wool knee warmers. I then chugged an energy drink and had a Twinkie.

10:09AM - Morleigh had set up an aid station at mile 40.5


One of the riders was itching to go and started mustering the troops, and everyone pulled away while I was finishing up. I may have muttered something under my breath about dropping the host of the party, but I quickly caught back on the group and we continued on into Elizabeth. As we had stopped to refuel a few miles up the road, we didn't need to pull off the route to find the gas station in town.



The roads changed as we headed south and east from Elizabeth toward the next stop at Hanover. There were more trees lining the shoulders, and instead of continuous rolling hills there were four distinct climbs connected by relatively flat valleys. We caught up to Bailey and another rider on the first climb, and found Kevin and Brad waiting on the second bring our numbers up to 9. In the valley leading up to the third climb, we got separated again, but the hills, and waiting for one another at the top, kept us in a group of about 8-10. Brad put in a Herculean pull all the way across the valley, and it took everything I had just to hold his wheel. Bailey, on his single speed, got spun off the back, but was always back with the group or ahead of it by the top of the next climb. Bailey is a machine. 


10:57 AM - Going down the backside of the second climb south of Elizabeth

I took a moment to call out when we hit 63 miles, which marked the half-way point of the ride. Things were starting to get hard, the tunnel was closing in and everything started to blur together.  

11:48 AM - Cresting the last hill leading down into Hanover

Last gas for 70 miles


When we pulled into Hanover, at mile 65.6, it was me who called out the turn into the gas station, and was met with opposition from those who didn't think we needed to stop. When I told them it was the last gas station for another 70 miles, everyone pulled over. We saw the "leader" of the event, a man in head to toe Vision Quest gear (even VQ shoe warmers) coming out of the gas station. He took one look at us, shoved what was in his hands into his jacket pockets, and almost ran to get back on his bike. We watch him with a puzzled look as he sped away. We joked amongst ourselves, "He does know that there is no one in town waiting for him to finish, right?". I think everyone went in the store to purchase food, water, or both. I had 2,400 calories worth of energy in home made gel in a bottle on my frame, but knew that I was behind in consumption given it was pretty viscous in the morning's cold. I also had some fig bars in a back pocket, but wasn't able to dig them out while riding. I dumped my full water bottle into my mostly empty Camelpak, filled the bottle with the energy drink, and then topped off my Camelpak with water from a gallon jug that a fellow rider had purchased. I only had time to eat half my sandwich before the group was pulling out again, and I found myself scrambling a little bit to stay with the group. There were 8 of us at that point.


12:12 PM - Eight of us together shortly after leaving Hanover

From Hanover we had only one one steep ridge separating us from the Mississippi River valley. Once we got over this ridge the road turned to the northwest, which also happened to be the direction from which the wind was blowing. As we hit a small rise I started to free fall into a dark place. My pedals were turning, but I could not generate any power. The elastic snapped, and I started to drift of into empty space.


12:26 PM I snapped this photo because it was beautiful, and because I thought it would be the last time I saw this group.

One Mississippi, two...


As I fell off the back things got pretty terrible inside my body and my mind. I started to rehearse in my head the conversation I was going to have with my wife.

"I need you to come get me"
"Where are you?"
"Riding through the valley of the shadow of death"
"Glad you didn't take the camera the whole way?"
"Yes darling, now please come and find me. I'll be laying in a ditch crying."
"Which ditch?"
"I don't know. Drive west until you get to a really, really big river, then turn left."
"Which way is West?" (Morleigh, bless her heart, is severely directionally challenged)

I started to snap out of it, and decided I had better keep pedaling at least until I could figure out where I was. At this point I had recovered slightly and was holding the gap at about a quarter mile. I could match their pace again, but I didn't have anything to close it down. I was riding solo into the wind, uphill, and on gravel. I could maybe win a battle with one of those, but not all three.  I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw my teammate Brad look over his shoulder, and then slowly start to drop off the back. I wanted to tell him, "No, stay with the group" but he is a much stronger rider than I am, so I just watched as he drifted slowly backwards towards me. It took some time for the gap to shrink to zero, but once I made contact with his wheel I locked on, and we started to claw our way back up to the other five or six riders. They disappeared around a bend, and when we made it to where they had disappeared we found that they had stopped to regroup and rest next to the driveway to a park overlooking the Mississippi. Bailey called out that there were bathrooms and water down at the boat landing, but everyone was still fresh from the stop at Hannover and we just kept rolling. Rolling along the river.


12:50 PM  - We reached the far Western end of the course on the banks of the Mississippi River at 76.2 miles. Given that Stockton is the highest town in IL, it was all uphill from there. 

12:56 PM Diggin Hill Rd. was one of the longest, hardest, steepest, and most beautiful climbs of the day. 

The climb out of the river valley was 2 miles long and 360ft up. The group splintered again on this climb, but I managed to stay together with a few other guys instead of getting completely dropped again. It appears that I was not the only one who was starting to feel the pain of this ride. We waited and regrouped, then dropped into the next valley, and over the second ridge where we caught sight of the town of Elizabeth perched on Terrapin Ridge on the distant horizon.


1:23 PM - Terraipin Ridge comes back into sight. 

Washboarded


We turned to the north dropping into and over valleys. At about mile 84 my Garmin flashed that it had "low battery". I had anticipated that moment, and prepared for it the day before rotating my Garmin screen and mount to "landscape" so I could plug in a battery-pack. I took advantage of a rest stop where we had caught up to two other riders to pull the charger box out of my Camelbak, and plug it into my Garmin.  

I also lightened my load at the rest stop by sharing water from my Camelbak with some other riders. Guys started to roll down the hill as soon as they were full, so I hastily threw the battery pack into bento box. The charger was a little bit taller than the bento box, so the flap did not magnetically close. I didn't think much of it at the time. At mile 86 we hit a steep gravel descent which we had climbed up at the Illmanzo in May. I was eager to bomb down the hill so I got into a good tuck and started flying. A quarter of the way down the hill I hit a washboard section, and I felt something hit my leg. The rider behind me said "What was that?" and I looked down to see my bento box completely empty. My phone, the charger, and a container of electrolyte pills had all been ejected by the washboard. I was doing 35mph at the time so I slammed on my brakes and tried to skid to a stop without crashing out anyone behind me. I was a few hundred yds down the road by the time I skidded to a halt. When I looked down at the ground I saw the salt pills were at my feet right where I had dismounted. I picked those up and started walking back up the hill scanning the road and vegetation for the rest of my belongings. One other rider, who was looping back to Elizabeth and not doing the full route, waited with me while I walked back up the road searching. I was close to panicking because I had switched my phone to "Airplane mode" to save batteries so all of the photos I had taken that day were stuck on the device, and I had no option to call and try to echo locate it. If I couldn't see it, I wouldn't be able to find it. Deep breath. 

As I was walking up the hill, the first thing I found, maybe 50 yds up the road was the outer case to the charging box which was still on the gravel road. I looked a few feet into the ditch and my eyes landed on the lid to the battery cover. There were no batteries, but I didn't care. Morleigh had more batteries in the car, and I had all of the required pieces. I continued up the hill another 50 ft and the sitting in the ditch on a pile of leaves, screen upward, and completely intact was my phone. It was a little dusty, but otherwise was in good working order. I was very pleased with how well my case and screen protectors had functioned. I said a quick thanks to my guardian angel as I put the charger pieces in my Camelbak and my phone back in my bento with the electrolyte pills. The magnetic flap once again closed and my phone was secure. I remounted and turned my attention to the empty road in front of me. The gentleman who waited with me was only going as far as Elizabeth which was just a few miles up the road. I still had close to 40 miles to go. As I approached the top of the next ridge,  I was once again relieved to see the bright red trim on Brad's jacket. When I got within 100 yds he gave me the thumbs up(?) sign and I retuned an emphatic thumbs up. 

North of 20


He turned his bike, and started down the other side of the ridge. We re-grouped on the flat and made across U.S. 20. It was a major psychological victory, because the next time we crossed U.S. 20 we would be done with the ride. Brad set the pace and I did my best to hang onto his wheel. Before long we caught up with four of the other riders, and continued our way north. 


2:28PM - Brad and I catch back up to the other four riders. 

2:42PM - We roll into Schapville, IL  


I didn't know where Morleigh would be setting up her aid station. I had mapped out a few locations between mile 90 and mile 110 where I thought she would be able to find a place, but the internet connection was slow in the hotel and Google Street View coverage was spotty. It was a wonderful surprise to be riding up a hill and around a bend and see figures standing next to a black car on the other side of the next valley. I let out a "WOOOOHOOOO!" and charged down the hill, and up the other side.


2:52PM - Rolling into the second SnowyMountain Photography rest stop

When we arrived Bailey and Matt were already at the rest stop, and Morleigh told us that only one other rider had been through. It was the VQ guy. Congratulations good Sir, you appear to be the winner of the non-race. We enjoyed her hospitality, thanked her for being there, and then dug into the amazing treats that she had carefully laid out on the table.



1:42 PM - SnowyMountain Photography knows how to throw a party

I immediately went to the car and pulled out some batteries and electrical tape. I put batteries back into the charging box and then taped it right to my head tube. It was ugly but functional. My Garmin was down to 5% battery life, and we were 26 miles away from the finish. I didn't have a cue sheet as a back-up, and needed the navigation to stay on course. Especially if I was alone.

3:10 PM - We pass some trees in full fall foliage. 

Them Apple Rivers


After the second rest stop, there were no doubts about being able to finish the ride. We dropped down into a valley, and climbed up the next ridge and then rode along the top. We stretched out again, with Brad and I pulling away from the other three in our group (Matt and Bailey were long gone). At this point we were on the ridge overlooking the Apple River valley, just a half a mile west of the first rest stop where we had been five and a half hours earlier.

3:31 PM - "Hill blocks view" - They generally do that. 
The last 26 miles were a marathon in and of themselves...hard and quiet miles. Tired men grinding gears, mostly alone in their thoughts, everyone wrestling with their own kind of fatigue. You know, except Brad. We'd be riding along and get to a climb. I'd come to a near standstill and he would dance up it like a damn elf (LOTR elf, not Santa elf). These were new roads, but the views were similar to what we had seen at the start of the day. Combines harvesting corn, grassy meadows and tree-lined fence rows. The one notable exception was when we dropped in between the exposed limestone walls of Apple Canyon State Park. The park was only a mile wide, but it was beautiful and different than what we had seen before on our journey.

The flashback


We exited the park and climbed back up onto another ridge, this time heading east. We had travelled far enough away from the Mississippi that the roads resumed their adherence to the grid, irrespective of the contours of the land. From the top of that ridge we had good visibility in all directions. I had a flashback to an earlier part of the day when we were heading north on S. Rodden Rd southwest of Elizabeth. We came up and over the crest of the ridge, and we could see all the way across the valley to the next ridge. It was a beautiful vista, and winding up and over the next ridge we could see a thin ribbon of white disappearing over the horizon. It was a gravel road, and I remembered thinking that I didn't know when or how long it would take to get there, but I had a feeling at one point we would be on that ribbon of white disappearing over that next ridge.  I had that flashback because as we were heading east along E Canyon Rd, I had that same feeling as I looked to the south and saw a radio tower rising up from a hill. I had a feeling we'd be getting very close to that tower before too long.


4:30 PM - One last hidden gem, N Mud Road was a beautiful little valley with one of the steepest and loosest climbs of the ride to get out. 

Thanks Chad


We had regrouped somewhat, so I called out that we were at the farthest North point on our route. A mile or so later we turned right on Kupersmith Rd, and started our journey south. So I paraphrased Treebeard: "We still have 10 miles left, but it was all headed south, and somehow heading south always feels like going down hill." Unfortunately it wasn't all south. Chad had other plans for us. He teased us by routing us east to North Stockton Rd, which runs straight into town, then turned us back to the west, for a few more miles of riding into the wind and a few hundred more feet of climbing. The route took us to the base of that radio tower which was also the highest point on our journey at 1,132 ft above sea level. That was just 103 ft short of Charles Mound, the highest point in the state of Illinois.

4:44PM - I've got a bad feeling about this kid. 

We rounded the back side of the mound that the radio tower sat on, and could see the water tower of Stockton in the distance. We were all smiles as we made our way onto the last stretch of pavement leading into town.

4:54 PM - Finishing in a tie for "Pretty close to best place" the four of us wait to cross U.S. 20 back into Stockton. 

5:00 PM - At the car, I snap a photo of my salt-stained gloves. 

The final turn


Rolling into town, I felt tired with a huge sense of accomplishment. My Garmin was quick to notify me that I had set new personal records for longest ride and most elevation gain. I congratulated my compatriots, and thanked Brad for coming back to get me not once, but twice and keeping me with that group. It was a huge morale boost, and I made a mental note to do my best to be that kind of kind to someone else in the future. I turned my phone on and texted Morleigh to let her know that I was safe and sound. She was about 15 minutes away from Stockton, which was perfect timing for me to cool down a bit, chat with Brad and Kevin, and be ready to change into some dry clothes when she arrived. We headed across the street to a local restaurant and had dinner together. There were about a dozen other riders hanging out, some from the short race, and Bailey and Matt who finished about 10 minutes ahead of us. They had already ordered food so Morleigh and I got a table to ourselves and she asked me, so how was it? And I started to tell her my story.

5:00 PM - Morleigh suggests I snap a photo of my salt-stained face. 


The Ten Thousand
126.2 miles (PR)
10,745 ft of climbing (PR)
32,436 pedal strokes. (PR)
Elapsed time 9:45
Moving time 8:57 (PR)
Avg speed: 14.1mph
Avg Temp 45F
Average heart rate 137bpm
Estimated caloric output: 8,252cal.

See all of Morleigh's photos at SnowyMountain Photography

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fishing the Battenkill

Sometimes life takes you on unexpected journeys.  In February I wasn't really planning on racing the "Queen of American Classics" this year.  It wasn't on my schedule of races.  Southern Cross, yes. Barry Roubaix, yes. But a trip to New York didn't really seem in the cards.

Then all of a sudden, it was. 

My friend and former athlete Marc suggested I come to New York for the Albany Spring Classic Track and Field meet.  He was planning on coming out of retirement and throwing the javelin again.

My friends and former athletes Brandon and Tasha invited me to New York to help them celebrate their nuptials on April 25.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology accepted my poster submission for the annual conference in Philadelphia on April 22nd - 25th.

The Master's 35+ Cat 1-4 race at Battenkill was on Sunday April 19th.

Now all of a sudden, there were some dots on a map.  Could we connect them all?

Mor and I talked it over, looked at the calendar, and decided Yes! This called for an epic road trip. 

I booked my flight to SIOP to fly in and out of Albany the friday before the conference. I had Johnny Sprockets set me up with some S-works tubeless 24mm tires, box up "the Rabbit" (my Cervelo S2), and ship it to Marc's office.  I reserved a rental car with unlimited miles.  We packed our passports just in case.

We flew in to Albany, and in a moment of travel brilliance I completely forgot about our checked luggage, and made straight for the rental car pick-up counter. Mor gave me "the look", and made her way to our abandoned bag, and saved us from a trip back to the airport later that evening. 

We then headed due north to Saratoga Springs to pick up the race packet and have dinner. at a lovely little place on Broadway called Wheatfields.  We then headed back down to Troy to spend the night with Marc and Talia, our gracious hosts for the evening. Saturday morning we slept in late, then I went to work re-assembling my bike.  I had brought my torque wrench (in the almost abandoned checked bag), so I was prepared for the moment.  As I unboxed the frame and wheels, I had a moment of brilliance, and labeled all of the various pieces of packing material with a red sharpie so I would be able to put everything back just the way it came to me. I then moved onto assembling the bike. Having no repair stand made the work a little more labored, as I was trying to steady the bike and assemble it at the same time.  It was relatively painless, and it felt good to be able to do that myself.

I then took it out for a quick spin.  I made it about a mile, and the Rabbit was making a small grinding noise as I pedaled. I wasn't able to determine the cause while I was climbing, so I pulled into a driveway and turned the crank manually.  I found that my chain was grazing the edge of my chain-keeper once every rotation of the crank.  I grabbed the chain catcher and tried to bend it, but instead of bending there was a "pop" sound, and the chain catcher got a little loose, and when I got back on the bike I quickly found that my front shifting had gotten really sketchy.  I had to shift the chain all the way down onto the smallest chainring on the rear cassette to get it to go from the little to big ring up front. 

I figured I would adjust it that night when we got back from the track meet.  I went home, took a shower, and we got in the car to head to the track meet.  When I told Mor about my ride, she said:

"Why are we not taking the bike to a bike shop to have it fixed?"

<crickets>

So that night, after the meet, after dinner, it was time to adjust my front shifting.  I could tell that the front derailleur had come loose, and that the bolt needed to be tightened.  I opened the user manual back on my phone, found the right tension, and started to torque it up.  Except that it didn't stop turning.  It just keep spinning and spinning.  Uh-oh.

So I took the cable out, took the front derailleur off, and sure enough, the threads off the end of the bolt were completely stripped.  It was no longer a bolt, just a peg.  My only hope was to take off the chain keeper, thread the bolt back in, and pray that I could catch enough threads to limp through the race.  Mind you, I was doing this work without a stand, trying to balance the bike with one hand and pull appropriate cable tension with the other, kneeling in a dark poorly lit porch.  Even with the chain keeper removed, the bolk did not get enough "bite" to tighten to speck. The only thing holding the derailleur in place was friction caused by the cable tension pulling it down. You could wiggle it with your fingers. 

So I did the best I could, and did the walk of shame upstairs to tell my wife that HER intuition about MY bike was correct, and that we would be spending the morning frantically trying to find a mechanic. 

The Battenkill is a famous trout stream.  When my parents came to help me move to Albany in the fall of 2000, they continued on to the coast of Vermont and Maine. At Christmas a few years later, my father said that he wished that he had at least tied a string to a stick and thrown it in the river just so he could say that he fished the Battenkill.  So when he came to help me move back to the midwest in 2006, I arranged some time in the schedule so we could get licenses, fishing rods, and go fish the Battenkill, so it wasn't my first time in that part of the country.  The race only crosses the Battenkill proper in two places, but crosses innumerable feeder streams and brooks, and circumnavigates it's drainage basin in New York State (the headwaters are in Vermont).

The second day of the Battenkill is the smaller of the two days.  On Saturday there were something like 6 different Cat 4 fields with more than 100 riders each.  The combined 35+ Cat 1-4 field on Sunday morning had 18 pre-regs.  The race predictor had me pegged as #16. 

We arrived at 7AM, 2 hrs and 10 minutes before the race, with the hopes of finding a mechanic on site who might have the required parts to fix the bike.  At the time, I wasn't confident that I would even be able to start the race.  It wasn't a great feeling.  I rode from the parking to the expo-area and found that we were some of the first people there, and no mechanics had arrived yet.

So I rode back to the car where I was uncharacteristically scrambling and disorganized. I was struggling to find the right mix of base layers, arm warmers, and socks for the cool temperatures, and was worried about whether or not I could even start the race with a bike that couldn't reliably shift into the big ring.

[Pausing for the collective groan of my single speed friends...and moving on].

Mor was not happy with my level of disorganization. It was not our normal style.  Eventually I was able to pull myself together, get my clothing dialed in for what was shaping up to be a chilly morning (in the mid 40s at the start), and get my nutrition aligned and packed. I tooled around the fairground a little, running back and forth between the parking lot and the exposition trying to find a mechanic and get ready. I used the time to test out the bike, and found that even after my "repair", I could still get the chain on the big-ring if it was in the smallest gear on the rear cog AND I pushed the shift lever ALL all the way in, AND soft-pedaled. The worst case scenarios seemed to be dropping a chain and for some reason losing the ability to shift into the big ring. It wasn't pretty, but I was limping. I mentally committed to the race.

The mechanics were not in the Expo at 8AM when they should have been, so I wasn't able to talk to them until about 8:10AM.  Short story is, they weren't able to fix the issue, only get it working to about the same degree as I had before, and I didn't get my bike back until 8:45AM.  I rode back to the car to say good bye and kiss my wife, and the first words out of her mouth were "Where are your water bottles?"  She had put them on my bike, and I had not yet noticed that the mechanics had taken them off.  It was that kind of morning. It would have been a long 68 miles with a single bottle of water.

They say that the longer the race, the less you need to warm up.  Well, with 1.5miles in spread over a whopping 11 minutes of warm-up time, I put that theory to the test.  Just after 9AM I headed to the start line, and rolled up behind some skinny looking dudes from Boston. The "One2go,one2go,one2go" guy was on the microphone asking them about their team name. I learned that 545 Velo is a team out of Newton, MA. 5:45AM is the time they meet for their weekly Wednesday morning group ride.  I shuddered at the thought.  I am not a morning person. 

Without much fan-fare, the pace car rolled out of the fairgrounds at 9:10AM, and we were in following down a flat stretch of pavement.  There was a neutral for a short bit, we turned right, and the pace quickened.  My race strategy was simply to A) sit-in, and B) hold on for as long as possible. There were three Cat 1s, three Cat 2s, five Cat 3s, and four Cat 4s in my field.  I kept reminding myself that I should not be the one attacking off the front this time.

Things went well early on.  A few fliers went off the front in the first 20 minutes, but did not hold their breaks.  We cruised fast downhills and the climbs were short enough I was able to hold pace. I was working, but not dying. After 20 minutes I clicked my lap timer, to remind myself to start getting nutrients in my system. By the time I needed them it would be too late to intake.  Six minutes later we were climbing up Meetinghouse Rd towards what I could see in the distance was our first section of gravel. I sense tell that the casual pace was about to get frenetic, so I tried to prepare by delicately downshifting from big ring to small ring up front.  It wasn't delicate enough. Just as the field attacked at the first transition to gravel I dropped my chain.  I had to dismount, wrestle with it for a few seconds, and then remount. The field was gone.

I hit my lap timer again, to signify that I was now riding alone, and attacked the nothingness in front of me.  As I crested the first big hill fueled by frustration I could see the pack down across the next valley.  The only thing I could think to do was to go get them.  So that is what I set out to do.  At the top of the next hill were some photographers.  I quoted "O'Brother where are thou" and asked them "How's my hair." Mor was there too, snapping photos just up the road.  I had hoped to find her while I was still attached to the main group, but instead she got some great shots of me soloing off the back.



For the next 47 minutes I ground on alone into a crossing wind over and down the second significant climb. Every once and a while I could see the peleton ahead of me. Then a few stragglers who fell off.  I put my crosshairs on their backs, and drove my feet into my pedals.  I rode alone for 15.7 miles at an average speed of 19.7 mph.

When I finally caught the next rider, we immediately started working together, and quickly reeled in the 3rd.  I don't know what their thoughts about it were, but I was vocal in suggesting we all work together. We had turned into the wind, and after facing it alone for a few miles, it was such a physical and psychological relief to be able to tuck in behind a someone else for a few moments and catch my breath.  How much of a difference did it make?  I clicked my lap timer again, when we started working as a threesome.  My average speed during that lap was .7mph faster than the previous solo lap, but average heart rate was 5bpm slower.  More speed, less effort. Thanks Wilson and Patrick. 

The effort was relatively short lived.  We worked together for 22minutes, enough to cover 8 miles, and the unthinkable happened.  We caught up to the leaders of our wave.  Even the woman driving the follow car shouted encouraging words at us, that they were right there and we could go get them.  Had I any breath I would have suggested that she take a pull if she was so interested in getting there, but I had none left, only espirit de escalar.  We had closed the gap to 100m or so, and I gave one last final push to get us over the top and the three of us tucked in behind the lead 9 riders who were still together.  I had been dropped because of a mechanical, and was somehow able to claw myself back onto the lead group. Pant, pant, pant.  It was time to return to my goals of sitting in, and hanging on. 

And so I held on, for a whopping 2 minutes and 20 seconds.  The reason we caught up with the field is that they were all sitting up in anticipation of the start of the 3rd big climb.  Meanwhile, the three of us were attacking like maniacs trying to catch back on.  Which we did, just in time for a big attack half a mile up the road.  In hindsight, there wasn't much else to do. Had we read the "signs" a little better, guys sitting up and drinking, slowing down, we might have been able to sit up as well. But had we done that, we probably wouldn't have re-attached at all.  We would have reached the climb as a threesome, not re-attached, and likely been torn apart anyway. We definitely had different climbing abilities. The end result would have likely been the same.  The three of us would have been minutes apart from one another, and minutes off the field at the top of the climb.  But at least we can say that we worked together and reattached to the main group which is an accomplishment in it's own right. 

So I was alone again.  I made it to the top of the climb, and then set my sights on Wilson and Patrick, my two compatriots.  I'm not usually vindictive, but I was just a tiny bit happy that neither of them had been able to hang on to the main group. I would have been more than a little pissed if I made that last big surge, got them reattached, and then fell off alone like a booster rocket and watch them speed away with the leaders. Nope, we were all three once again in No-man's land.  I caught Patrick first.  We were in the rolling flats between two climbs, and I passed him.  I encouraged him to grab my wheel, but he did not and I pushed on alone. 

Next was a junior from the 9:00AM field.  I was more than a little disappointed when I finally caught him, and realized he was in a different field.  I had been hoping I was reeling in a place from my own field. Instead I caught a child.  Next up was Wilson in his highly visible red and white kit. Wilson was the first rider I had to chase down the first time I fell off.  The hardest part about chasing him down Was that we were very evenly matched, with similar strengths, so he surged when I surges, and he slowed when I slowed.  I finally caught up with him on what turned out to be the fourth climb.  I gave him a fist bump, and he said, "I'm just trying to finish." 

Me too my friend, me too.  I had shifted into survival mode the second I got dropped the second time.  We took turns pulling up the hill.  We crested with me in the lead, but after we got up to 30+mph he passed me again, and then disaster struck again. The strong crosswind, plus chatter from the road, caused my chain to start bounding so much that it fell off the front chain ring again.  I wasn't shifting this time, it just bounced off.

Not only did it drop into the gap between the small chain ring and the frame, there was now enough slack that the chain had also been sucked into my rear wheel and was slapping against the spokes.  I slammed on my brakes at 35mph and locked up my rear wheel to keep the chain from snapping a spoke and skidded to a stop.  If you look closely at my Garmin track you can find the exact spot where one click I was going 33mph and the next click I was at zero. Wilson disappeared down the hill and another rider, the second junior rider I had just passed, zoomed by just as I got my chain on and rolling downhill again. 

Thankfully Patrick did not catch me, but Wilson was gone.  I was able to catch up with the Junior again, and he decided to get chatty.  I tried to maintain my composure and not get snippy, but I was not in a good mood having lost my chain and Wilson again.  He told me about his racing crits in THE City (i.e., NYC), and the tour of the Catskills and something called the Devil's Kitchen.  I mumbled here and there about Barry and SouthernCX and mountain biking, but mostly I couldn't talk because I was working REALLY hard to catch Wilson, and this teenager was riding along side me at a conversational pace.  I can not tell you how badly I wanted to drop him, how many times I subtly attacked him over the next 20 minutes, but was unable to escape.  The attacks were subtle not because of any sense of courtesy, but because I was completely out of matches.

He did give me some intel about the race we were doing. Apparently there was a big climb on Joe Bean Rd, one of the hardest ones in the race, coming up, and from there it was all downhill from there.  Mor was out on the course taking photos at the top of this hill.  I was in such a dark place that I didn't even see her bright white coat or hear her melodious voice cheering me on.  She coined the hashtag #JoeBeanisNoJoke.  I concur.

Unfortunately Joe Bean Rd was not the last climb in the race.  One the way to the last climb, I started getting passed by the lead riders from later waves.  I think I confused the heck out of Andy Schmidt, a midwest Junior from Lake Geneva when I said, "Mr Schmidt, nice to see you today" as he and three other younger juniors from the next wave passed at the beginning of the last climb.

Patrick, my compatriot passed me on the last climb too. He said "You are faster than me on the flats my friend" with a wink in his European accent, and I replied, "And you are faster than me on the climbs, Godspeed" and I never saw him again either.  Things got really blurry from that point onward.

At mile 60 I was going to take the last salt pill from my handlebar, and fumbled it onto the road.  I turned my head back and saw it come to a halt on the pavement, and made a snap decision to not turn around and pick it up, and just ignore the cramps that were building in my legs, and just get home.  I had some nutrients left which I finished, drank some water, and started to pedal as much as I could. I was able to get enough sodium back into my muscles to finish the race without serious cramping.  Just some of the "slow it down a bit" kind of almost cramp.

At the last climb of the race, a short but steep gravel climb with a switchback, another master's racer caught up to me. As he passed I saw his number was in the 200 series and called out that I was relieved he was in a different wave.  I told him there wasn't anything I could do about him passing me, but at least I didn't have to feel bad about it.  I was grateful that as I covered the last 3km there was no one coming up behind me.  I checked often, as I did not want to be pinched at the line by anyone, and would find some strength to hold off anyone else from passing me.  Thankfully no one else came.  Mor was at the finish waiting and cheering, and my doctoral committee chair and friend Kevin was waiting the end of the chute with a bottle of water.  He had raced the day before, but came back up on Sunday to get some miles in, see some of the race, and try to catch up with me a bit. He and I rolled around to cool down a bit, and chatted. It was very nice to see him.  After that, we went back to the car. I took a shower at the fairgrounds, packed up the car with three suitcases and the bike, and set off for Portsmouth, New Hampshire to start the rest of our vacation.

The results:
68.2 miles with 4,921ft of climbing in 3:35:57 (Avg speed 18.9mph)
50 miles in no-mans land.  
12 out of 16 finishers (1 DNF).
2nd Cat 4 finisher
17min 27sec behind the leaders
5:30 behind Wilson (first Cat 4)
2:24 behind Patrick.