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 Christmas 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 pretty good, 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 made 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.

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 and a Pretzel factory about the same time. 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.


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?"


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. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Barry Roubaix Five

My cyclocross season in 2014 was good, but not as good as I would have liked. I hovered in the twenties and thirties in the local CCC races when I wasn't having mechanicals, flats, or just rolling around in the sand for fun.

Most of what I wrote in the first couple paragraphs last year's Barry-Roubaix wrap-up remained true this year.  The Barry-Roubaix is the boogieman that scares me outside into bitter cold to face snow and wind when it would be so much easy to stay inside and snuggle with my beautiful wife.  (She is much better at snuggling than I am at racing bikes).  This year, I took a couple of weeks off after the State Championships, and told my wife I was going to do the Rapha Festive 500 to kick off my Barry training.  I rode 60 miles on Christmas day, and came down with a sore throat and upper respiratory infection the next.  I was off the bike until the 6th of January.  

Despite this setback, I still put in 400 miles during Janaury. That was more than I had ridden in all but three months in 2014. I continued to ride the "Gravel-We-don't-need-no-stinking-gravel" training route and the 20 minute intervals to the west, but I also created a new route. I drew a 20 miles loop that threaded it's way through the residential streets of my small suburb.

There were two advantageous features of this new route.  First, I was never more than 1.5 miles from home. So no matter how cold it was, if something went wrong, I could always walk home. That gave me greater confidence to be out in colder weather. Second, there were more than 1,300ft of climbing with three climbs that hit 19-20% grades.  To give it a point of reference, that's about the same amount of climbing in the 45 mile "Don't-need-no-stinking-gravel" route, whose steepest climb is the infamous "Wall" in Bull Valley which tops out at about 17% grade.  I dubbed it my "#secrettrainingride", and rode it at least once a week.  It wasn't a particularly fun route to ride. Most of the descents ended in stop signs or blind intersections. It was slow going (typically averaged 14-15mph) on my winter training bike, a 24-lb Specialized Tri-cross with full fenders. But it wasn't about feeling fast, it was about getting stronger by focusing on an area of weakness...climbing.

By the time Barry-Roubaix came this year, I had 1,156 miles in with 49,258 ft of climbing.  Less than 20 of those miles were inside, and close to a thousand of those miles were in sub-freezing temps.  There were a couple of "warm" weekends where sunshine drove the thermometer into the 30s and 40s, and we did make a trip to Georgia for Southern Cross (where it rained and was in the 40s).  So when the 10-day forecast for Barry predicted temps in the low to high 20s for the entire time of the 62 mile race, I knew I was ready.

Being able to exercise in the cold is not just about mental toughness.  Anthropological research on cold shows that the body's reaction to cold exposure changes with repeated exposure to cold. The below graph shows how skin temperature fluctuates when submerged in ice water. There's an immediate drop, then a rebound.  Repeated exposure reduces the time it takes for this rebound to occur, increases the temperature of the rebound, and increases the pain-threshold for cold.  The body also deactivates sweat glands to reduce the sweat rate and changes capillary blood flow, pulling them deeper to reduce surface heat loss.

It takes about 10 days of cold exposure (i.e., suffering) before the human body starts to adapt to the cold. My strategy was to be dressed lightly enough to be chilly during the 15 minutes (see above) as the temperature of extremities dropped,  but to keep my skin temp above freezing after the rebound.  Note, I did not say "to keep my hands warm".  If I wanted to stay warm, I stayed inside.  I wanted to finish my ride without doing any lasting damage to my skin or body, and to adapt my body and my mind to tolerating the cold.  My goal was to be ready for whatever Barry county Michigan has to offer in late March.  

On these early training rides, I would also carry an addition warm layer like a jacket and thicker gloves in a shoe bag for when skin temperature started to drop after the 80 to 90 minute mark. I could then add layers as needed mid-ride, or get my hands to actually be warm again. I have a good pair of winter cycling boots (Specialized Defrosters), and would always, on rides longer than an hour, use a chemical toe-warmer so keeping my feet warm wasn't much of an issue.  By the time February rolled around I was going out without the additional layers. I still carried with me a pair of gloves that were warmer than the uninsulated full-fingered gloves I started the ride with, but I rarely used them.  I knew exactly what I needed to stay warm for pretty much any ride in any conditions, and my hands were well adapted to the cold.  I also had my log from 2014. I kept track of my clothing choices, temperature, and weather conditions for every ride I went on in 2014. This served as a handy reference when things got cold again.  

Two days before Barry, I was kitting up for my last training ride, and was simultaneously trying to figure out in my head what to wear on that day (36 and overcast), and also what to wear on Saturday (20 and sunny).  I drew a small diagram on a piece of scratch paper, and jotted down my thoughts about what to wear at Barry so I could focus on that Thursday's weather. Morleigh Instagrammed a photo of it, which lead to a slew of comments and feedback on my FB feed. I chuckled to myself.  I was confident that I had my wardrobe, and pretty much everything else about this event, dialed in.  

So after I got home from that last training ride on Thursday night, we packed our bags.  We loaded the rental car on Friday morning, and set off for Michigan with only one thing on my race-checklist that not yet checked off.  

I needed a bike.  

My Asylum Muese cyclocross bike was still in the shop.  It turned out the list of damage from four hours of mud and grit at Southern Cross was more than just a cleaning. The headset bearings needed to be removed and re-greased, the bottom bracket had seized up and the bearings there needed to be replaced, and one of the rear wheel bearings had also seized up, snapping into pieces when Justin tried to remove it.  But the guys at Johnny Sprockets had it all put back together and looking as sexy as ever when we swung by to pick it up on Friday morning.  Unfortunately our friend Chernoh, who we also usually picked up in the city on Friday, had some personal matters to attend to and drove up on his own Friday afternoon. 

Mor and I arrived in Hasting at about 5pm local time. I picked up the packets for Chernoh and I, and then we and I went out on the course in the car to scout locations for her to shoot on Saturday. She handles most of the camera work at this kind of event because I'm generally focused on the bike. We ended up droving most of the first 17 miles of the course and getting a really good sense of the course conditions. The first eight miles are key, because historically-speaking the worst roads on the course (Goodwill Rd, S Whitmore Rd, W Sager Rd., and Otis Lake Rd) are all in the first quarter of the race.  On Friday they were in the best condition I had ever seen them in. They were hard, fast, and smooth with very little loose gravel on top of the frozen hard-pack. Short of an overnight deluge, it was going to be a very fast race. 

We followed Gun Lake Rd, down to Mullen Rd, and made our way back north to the east end of the Sager Rd climb. Rick, the event organizer, had sent out an email on Thursday announcing that this section of road, which we have bi-passed for the last two races, was once again "in play."  We parked the car, and walked back in to check out the course conditions.  There were some deep ruts, which could be dangerous if you got caught in one, but at every point of the climb there were at least 2 or 3 lines which were smooth, fast, grippy, and wider than many single-track trails.  In other words, course conditions were "I probably should have brought my road bike" good.  Or as Paolo from the Bonebell said "It was 62 miles of hero dirt".  

Morleigh and I scoped some shooting positions, I broke off a few branches and removed debris from the trail, and then we headed back to the car. I changed into my practice kit, and made plans with Morleigh to meet back at the hotel.  I road down Sager Rd and found nothing but smooth sailing on file treads at 55psi.  I turned around and climbed back up the steepest part to check traction on an ascent and had no issues at all.  I was happy with my tread choice, and made my way back to the hotel where we had dinner, met up with Chernoh, and went over our plans for shooting and riding.  

I was amped and struggled to fall asleep on Friday night.  Midnight came and went well before I was asleep, and Saturday morning came very early.  We were at breakfast when it opened at 7AM, cars loaded and on our way before 8AM. We arrived in Hastings, and immediately set out to get bikes ready, and get everything I needed for the beginning and end of the race out of the car so Morleigh could be free to shoot and not have to worry about making her way back to Hastings for my finish.  Our friends Rick and Mary Ann from Team Intent were kind enough to offer up some space in their tent, so I dropped a few bags there, and went out to warm up. As per usual I toured the town of Hastings a bit, and as I came back past the starting gate I was admonished by the timing official for the way I had wrapped my number plate around my steerer tube, and not to my handlebars.  Shortly there after I beamed with pride (and Morleigh with horror) as an announcement was made over the PA reminding everyone that they had to attach their number plate to their handlebars.  That was MY scofflaw announcement.  Despite the fact that everything I know about electromagnetism and RFID chips tells me that it didn't matter whether the tag was pressed closely to carbon fiber or not, I complied. During the race I did see at least two other people with improperly hung number placards, one wrapped like mine around the steerer tube, and the other hanging provocatively from underneath the saddle.  It turns out both were scored appropriately.  

It was about 9:35-9:40AM when riders started queuing up in the starting grid. I cut my warm up a few minutes short to grab a good spot. I did some leg-swings along the fence to finish my warm-up, and then made small talk and banter with my fellow competitors (one of whom was actually riding a road bike with 24mm slicks).  At 10AM when the leaders rolled out and we surged down Green Street I was in the fourth row, right where I wanted to be.  

As we were pre-driving the course the night before, Morleigh asked me, "How long are you going to stay with the leaders?"  I told her where I had fallen into no-man's-land the last couple of years (2013 = The Third Sister, 2014 = Hubble Rd climb), and that I hoped to make it a little farther than either of those two places.

As the peloton rolled out of Hasting, I held a good position on the left side, hugging the painted yellow centerline. A few careless gentlemen made the false assumption that both lanes were closed to traffic and were passing on my left.  They were quite startled by the first of a couple oncoming cars, and sandwiched in ahead and behind me.  It turns out the streets were not completely closed to traffic.  We made the left hand turn onto Cook and despite being "unleashed" continued to roll at a reasonable pace up the pavement.  It was not accidental that I was on the left side of the peloton because in past years, once we hit Cook Rd the field has started to rotate clockwise because no one wanted to pull. When I was on the right or in the middle, I found myself pushed further backwards than I liked as we approached the first Sister.  This year as we came upon the "Pavement ends" sign, and the right turn onto Yeakley Rd, the field was still rotating clockwise, and I found myself in a novel position.  I was within the top 10, and had an opportunity that I had never had before.  So I did what any mid-pack cat 3 would do, I attacked.   

With a few hard pedal strokes around the right hand corner, I was in the front of the field, surging downhill, and was the first rider of the day to hit gravel.  For a brief moment in time, for the first and possibly last time in my life, I was winning the whole damn thing.  If only I could have held on for another 60.5 miles.  (Spoiler alert - I couldn't). 

Unfortunately the course turned uphill.  My 150m gap evaporated into nothing, and the entire field exploded past me and up the first Sister.  But not quite.  It was a combination of me being a little bit stronger than in years past, and the field being a little bit more reserved than in years past. I was able to keep up with the leaders over the first two sisters staying solidly in the top quarter of the field. As we crested the second Sister, my legs were burning, and I didn't know if I would be able to hold on to the leaders up and over the Third Sister. I coasted down, took as many deep breaths as I could to slow my heart rate, and then got ready to give it everything I had left to hang on.  

And then two miraculous things happened.  First, instead of getting out of their saddles and hammering, the leading edge of the knife blunted.  It seemed that everyone sat down and started to spin, forming a shoulder-to-shoulder line across the width of the road. It appeared that no one wanted to take the lead up the hill into the NW wind. This allowed me the moment I needed to get my legs underneath me and hold onto the field for a while longer.  Second, David Lombardo did what I can only dream of doing. He attacked, and held it for more than a few seconds. (Spoiler alert - for 60.5 miles).  

I made it over the Third Sister with the leaders.  That was a major personal victory for me.  The field was starting to get dangerously strung out at this point, so there was no time to celebrate. I stood up into my pedals, and flew down the next hill making up spots and trying to reattach myself more solidly to the core.  When we reached the next climb up Hubble Rd, either I was stronger than expected, or the field did not attack as hard as in previous years, but I was able to keep the elastic from snapping once more. I remembered from last year, that when I crested the hill on Hubble Rd., I could see the whole lead pack had already made the turn east onto Goodwill Rd. This year the leaders were just 10 second in front of me on the descent, and there was a lone rider heading east on Goodwill Rd.  I didn't know who it was at the time, but David Lombardo was so far out in front it didn't seem possible that he had even started with us. He looked like some Pro out on a training ride who just happened to be using the same roads.   

It's not that I wasn't hurting, or that I didn't lose time on that climb, but all that mattered at that moment that I was still close enough to reel myself back on during the subsequent descent.  There ahead of me I recognized a kit similar to one of my own. "Is that Brad M?" I yelled as I pulled up next to him. He said that he had been trying to catch me since the start of the race. Funny because I had been trying to catch him for a few minutes.  He passed me on the 3rd Sister and didn't realize it.  

For the next six miles the field hummed along as a massive body of 60 some riders strung out over 20-30 seconds. As previously noted, this was the part of the course where for the last two years the ruts and potholes caused a massive loss of water bottles and the fields to shatter into tiny groups.  This year, the road was smooth. There was no brake-checking to create a gap for the lead 10, we all hummed along as a giant mass.  My wife cheered and snapped photos as we made our way past a small pond on Goodwill Rd.  David Lombardo had been through 35 seconds earlier.  

Don't get me wrong, this mid-pack Cat 3 was still working hard, but not nearly as hard as in the past two years when I was already in no-man's land by this stretch of road.  Then I was reconnecting with teammates and trying to form some sort of chase group with shellshocked survivors. This year I was flying with the leaders with a big stupid grin on under my Cold Avenger Pro.  We were going so fast that when we turned north on Otis Lake Rd, despite the 5mph wind from the North, the leaves were blowing to the north, being sucked up in our wake as we went by like a semi-truck howling down the highway. But all good things must come to an end, and so to came an end to that free-ride.  When we made the left onto Gun Lake Rd, we also approached the biggest climb in the race.  It was here that the field attacked, and despite a valiant effort, out of the saddle pushing a big gear, I hit the wall, the rubber band snapped, and I lost contact with the leaders. But all was not lost, there was still 49 miles of racing to be done.  

So I grouped up with another Chicago native, Paul H from Jus de Orange, and someone else I didn't know, and we struggled up the climb together. There was another threesome about 20 seconds ahead of us, and their was a collective understanding that it would be better for everyone if we could catch the group and form up a chase group of 6 of us.  It took a few miles of effort on pavement, but once we hit the gravel again, we caught up and started rotating through as a group of 6. We were all shellshocked, and took turns pulling, but the leaders quickly faded into the distance. We saw them for the last time when we made the turn onto Gun Lake Rd. They disappeared around a bend and were gone for good.  So we focused on recovering a bit, getting our legs back under us, and mentally preparing for the infamous Sager Rd climb.  I had just been there yesterday, but it had been a few years since I've actually ridden up it (2012) so I had kind of forgotten how short it is. As previously noted the conditions were really good, so the whole thing went by in a flash.  I remembered to say "Hi" to my wife as we blew by, and she cheered us on from behind the camera lens.  

Morleigh captured photos of more than a few riders laying in ruts, but there were no real issues in our chase group.  I pulled to the left when someone bobbled, and attacked to keep us moving, but the six of us were still pretty much all together by the time we turned right on McKibben Rd, and we had even picked up a couple more refugees.  We were a group of eight now in what may have been the second or maybe third chase group.  

As we crested the top of the hill on McKibben Rd I found myself having this conversation in my head.  

"Congratulations!  You've made it over all of the big climbs in this race." 

to which another part of my brain replied.  

"Hey idiot.  You forgot about the Killer." 


But I was with a group of eight strong guys, and as we descended on the flats I suggested, and got concensus, that we set a moderate pace on the way to the Killer, re-group at the top, and then start to hammer in an organized fashion.  So that's what we did.  We kept a good pace, but were not flogging ourselves as we made our way towards the Killer.  I kept looking back for chase groups, and there was no one in our rear view.  That was the second sign that I was having a good day. In the past two iterations of the Barry Roubaix, the leaders of the second wave had passed me just after making the turn onto Mullen Rd. I had never made it to the Killer without having been absorbed by, and subsequently dropped by those ladies,  gentlemen, and occasional single-speeder. 

When we reached S. Head Rd., we slammed into the middle of the 24 mile racers making their way toward the Killer. Now that we weren't alone, the 8 of us picked up the pace a little bit, making our way alongside the long line of Chillers.  There was some definitely some "make way for the leaders" swagger as we hit the base of the steep climb, and we all were out of the saddle trying to put on a good show. Secretly in the back of my mind, I was just hoping that they would wait for me a bit at the  top.  It turned out that I was able to hold my own with the group I was in.  We were spread out a bit, but I did not get dropped on the Killer as I had in the past.  Another sign that things were going well.  We re-grouped at the top, and were catching our breath on the way down Head Lake Rd, when a new rider pulled past. First one, then two, then three.  I recognized Chris Lombardo, and I called out that it was the leaders of the second wave, and that we should grab on if we can.  We had made it past the Killer before being caught.  Yet another good sign.  So I did what I did the previous two years, I tried to grab on to this group and hold on for as long as I can.  Then something strange happened.  They sat up.  

At first, it was great.  Here I was holding with the leaders of the second wave.  The year before I was only able to do that until the first hill, and then I was unceremoniously shot out the back. This year, we were going at pace in which I could even muster the oxygen to mutter a few words to the guys I knew.   I said "Hi" to Chris Lombardo, told him David was looking strong when I last saw him (although I didn't realize how strong until after the race). I said "Good day" to Lucas Siebel who was up front doing major work on his SS.  But when we hit Cloverdale, and my heart rate dropped into the low 120s that I started to get a little worried.  The 40plus guys weren't concerned about it, but I was worried about being caught from behind by other riders from the first wave.  If they could catch onto my gravy train, it could cost me places at the end of the race.  I decided to take matters into my own hands, and moved to the front to start trying to pull things along.  Faster would be better.  So I moved to the front, and started to do what I thought was a little bit of work to pick up the pace.  When I turned around again, for the second time in the race, I was 200m off the front of a large group and no one was behind me. No one ever takes seriously the attack from the mid-pack Cat 3.  At that moment, I probably just should have put my head down, and gone as hard as I could.  Instead, I soft pedaled into the next hill on Cloverdale Rd and got soaked back up by the surging field, and then struggle to recover as the field then decided to attack.  

Even though I was very worried about hanging on, I was able to keep connection with this now large group of 40-50 riders.  About this time, in almost as impressive fashion as David Lombardo, Paul S from the Pony Shop took of on a flier of his own.  He pulled away on climb, looked back at the top, and then he was gone.  He opened up a gap and before long was completely out of sight.  Meanwhile, as I had feared,  another group from the first wave had caught us, as Andrew H from Tuxedo Thunder and a few other new riders started to mix into this peloton.  It was what it was, and all I could do at this point was hang on.  I worked when I had to work, I recovered when everyone else was recovering.  In other words I played the game that is road racing.  

I continued to take the Salt Stick capsules off my handlebar one by one, every 45 minutes to an hour, continued to sip from my tube of homemade energy gels every 20-30 minutes, and drink nutrient-laden water as much as I could.  Thankfully the temperatures rose above freezing by the mid-point of the ride, and the sunshine was quite pleasant so the more relaxed pace did not equate getting cold it could have.  I could feel that my belly was a little cold, but my legs, arms, fingers, head, and face were comfortable the whole race.  I could feel how much a difference the Cold Avenger Pro made whenever I pulled it down for nutrients.  It also kept a lot of road grit out of my mouth.  It is still the best piece of winter cycling gear I own.  

There was one weird thing that kept happening during this part of the race. Every once and a while I would get the feeling that I didn't have sunglasses on anymore.  I'm not certain if it was the cold, the grit, or the lack of oxygen in my brain, but a few times I instinctively reached up to the back of my helmet to grab them and put them on, and then realized that they were still on.  

The second half of the Barry course, the part after Cloverdale, is perpetually fuzzy in my mind.  I have always had a Garmin on my bar so I knew where the turns were, but I was never zoomed out far enough to know exactly where we were on the course. There were certain places that were familiar, certain climbs I recognized, but I couldn't really point to where they are on a map as I can with the features from first half.  The Three Sisters are right here, the Killer is right there, and this is Sager Rd.  The second half is always a blur.  This is the spot where Chernoh rode away in 2012.  This is where Mike Palmer passed me.  Here is where I pulled away from Joe last year, but I couldn't point to any of those spots on the map and say "this is where X happened".  That blur was even fuzzier this year because of the disorientation that comes from riding in a pack.  It requires such attention and vigilance on the immediate surroundings, the beautiful scenery gets lost in making certain that wheels don't overlap and that you don't fall into a pothole that everyone else swerved around.  

It was like that until mile 48.  We were coming up on one of my favorite descents, and again the field was sitting up, just coasting down the hill at 18mph. At this point in time, the yo-yo efforts were starting to get to me. I much rather prefer to ride how I train.  Set my heart rate at 155-160 and keep it there. This fast-slow-fast pacing was not to my liking, but I kept reminding myself that on average I was going faster with less effort that I would be able to alone.  But we reached S. Broadway St., and were coasting down one of the largest descents, and people were braking, I had to do something. I moved to the left, took 5 hard pedal strokes, got my speed up to 30 mph, and then coasted the rest of the way down for 3/4 of a mile.  Again, the field did not follow, and I opened up another gap.  I didn't do it to get away, I did it because I really like going fast down that hill.  It's one of my favorite descents on the course.  It turned out to also be my last hurrah with that group, because over the next two hills, the field surged just as my energy was waining.  There were a couple of really steep punchy climbs, and I didn't have the legs left to cover the attack.  I found myself alone in no-man's-land again at mile 50.  I didn't really think that I had kept my goal of finishing in the top 50, but I was not giving up.  There were still hundreds of riders behind me, all of whom wanted my spot.  I took a few hundred yards to compose myself.  I tried pulling a fig-bar from my stem-bag, but when I put it in my mouth it was frozen and too dry to chew and swallow.  The feeling of solid food in my mouth at that moment turned my stomach, so I spat the un-masticated bar onto the gravel. I ripped the last salt stick off my handlebars, finished an energy gel, and yelled in my mind to the riders behind, "If you want this spot, come and get it", and attacked the emptiness.  

I was in no-man's-land, but I wasn't alone.  I could see some other riders ahead, so I put my head down and started to try to reel them in.  When I passed the first one, I encouraged him to "Grab a wheel" as I went by, but he wasn't in a position to do so, and I continued on alone. At mile 51 I passed my wife, dropping an empty bottle of nutrients, so I could take a bottle of water out of a back pocket and actually start to drink it.  Riding in the peloton had prevented me from being able to comfortably and safely make a seat-tube to rear-pocket bottle exchange.  Seeing wife allowed me the opportunity to jettison an empty fuel tank, and re-hydrate.   

There was a group of three riders, including Paul H from Jus de Orange, just 14 seconds ahead of me when I dropped this bottle.  I kept the ax to the grindstone and caught up with them in the next couple of miles.  There were just a few more punchy climbs between mile 55 and the finish. We separated a bit as I blew up on one of them, then came back together as someone else blew up on the next.  When we hit Quimbly Rd, I knew we were close to the finish, as we crashed into racers from the 36-mile and 24-mile race.  There was a definite jolt of energy that came from knowing, even though we weren't with the leaders, we had ridden twenty more miles than these these folks, and were in exactly the same place.  We could also almost smell the last stretch of pavement that lead into town.  In my head, I was already hardening up for the last few miles.  There was going to be a battle amongst the now five riders who were clumped together, and I wanted to win that sprint.  The game was on. 

We took turns pulling, continuing to rotate, and even as we approached the final climb into town no one was able to make a decisive move.  On the descent, I took some hard pedal strokes into the lead and then started to coast and recover for what was certainly going to be a final sprint. Paul H pulled around me, and tucked into an aero position, and I glued myself into his wake.  Then disaster struck.  Clank! We hit an invisible pothole, and it drove my rear tire into my rim, cutting my tube.  Within less than a second the tire was completely flat and I was riding on just the rubber + rim.  What do I do?  In my head I immediately started to do the math. I was less than a mile from the finish. It would take 5 minutes at least to change the flat. This video flashed in my mind.  

The plan of action became clear.  

It's only a rim.  Ride until you can't ride, then run until you can't run.  

So I rode.  Needless to say, the rear wheel did not corner well, and handling was sketchy at best.  I was able to moderate my speed through the four 90 degree corners and continue riding in.  I was so gentle and smooth with my lines that I did not even pull the bead off the rim.  Unfortunately there was no glorious sprint to beat Paul at the finish.  I got passed by a guy in the final 100m, but I rode across the line in 62nd place with a time of 3:15:23.  It was less than 3 minutes off my personal best, which was set in 2011 when it was 30 degrees warmer.  

Paul H finished 60th just behind Andrew from Cyclocross Magazine at 3:14:40 and 3:14:41 respectively. So I figure the flat tire only cost me about 43 seconds and maybe three places at most.  Had I stopped?  One minute would have cost me 10 places.  Stopping for 3 minutes would have cost me 17 places.  I carried my bike back to the Intent tent, changed the tube, and then went and did my cool down.  

As previously noted, it was not my best time at Barry, that was set in 2011 at 3:12:xx, but it was my best overall placing. Perhaps the biggest win was that I was able to finish the race without cramping.  Yes, I got tired, got dropped, but not because I was cramping.  It feels like I'm starting to get the hang of this endurance stuff.  

That's good.  Because my first 100 mile mountain bike race is only 3 months away.