Thursday, January 21, 2010

It Has its Rewards

Why ride in the winter? This is why:


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Triple D Follow-Up

There are a few more reports up from Frank, Troy, Colin and Drew.

Thank You
to Pranali the PT, my Doc at GHC and the staff at UW Sports Medicine for helping me straighten out whatever was going on with my knee. Thanks to Plantet Bike and Revolution Cycles. Thanks also to Chuck and Andy for the bike mojo and moral support; to my folks for hosting Lilianna the Spoiled, Furry, Black and White Chicken; and many friends and coworkers for at least smiling while telling me I was crazy. Many thanks to the organizers, Lance and Traci, and especially to the many race volunteers that made this thing possible. Finally, my warmest thanks to my wife and daughter for putting up with this whole business.

Here are a few of my conclusions about doing this crazy thing now that a couple of days have passed:

The Good
Looking forward to and training for this has really improved fitness and motivation. I also decided back in July that it wouldn't hurt to lose 30 pounds by race day either. I managed to lose about 25 and I feel pretty darn good with the combined effect.

I also get out more in the winter now. For a number of years, I've gotten pretty sullen in the fall, and downright grumpy in the winter. Having something to look forward to mitigates that somewhat.

Also, there's nothing quite like winter riding to sharpen those mad bike skilz.

The Bad

The unpredictable conditions can be a little frustrating. Like anyone, I have my share of frustrations already, so procuring more is a little...something...I dunno, stupid? It does tend to be part of the fun though and would make an eventual finish all that much sweeter. I guess.

I also get a little obsessive, especially as race day draws near. From here I can feel the missus rolling her eyes and asking "a little!?" But yeah, it's part of the package with me.

And then there's the spending compulsively on bike stuff. This is the worst part. The Epic bags and crankset were planned, but I also got several tires, new brakes, the handwarmers, tubes, and a few other things. Some of it didn't even get used, and that's where better discipline would benefit.

The Ugly

My moisture management sucked. I got soaked. I'm not sure what to do about it, but it sounds like it was a problem for many of the participants. Good thing to research over the summer.

Really, the bike I used wasn't doing it for me. The two main issues are the tires and wheel size and its weight:

Don't know what I'll do about tire size yet. I'm toying with the idea of putting my Pugs fork on a Karate Monkey and running a fat front and skinny rear. I don't really think there's a Pugs, Fatback or custom snowbike in my future. But who knows, maybe We'll strike oil in the back yard.

As much as I like the dynamo front hub for general riding, it adds over a pound and some unknown amount of drag, even when the light is off. It is likely to go. I also had a thermos of coffee along which I didn't drink. My tools and backup clothing will also be going on a diet. As much as I'd like to be prepared for any mechanical failure, I think concession has to be made for what could realistically be fixed in the cold.

Here's to next year...

Monday, January 11, 2010

By the Ice of My Brow

So, I raced in the Triple D Winter Race again this year and, well, at least it was a Double D. My goal, as last year, was to finish the 62-mile mid-January event in a reasonable period of time. Something like 10 or 11 hours. Once again, not so much, though this year was a considerable improvement for me (and many others, I'm sure) over last year.

About 10 days before the event, the long-range forecast in the Dubuque area was for moderate temperatures (20˚F) and only a 20% chance of precipitation by race day. Weather in the Midwest isn't known for adhering to forecasts though. Trail conditions improved right up until the Wednesday before the race, when a storm came through and dumped 4 or 5 inches of snow, with winds creating some large drifts. Fortunately, Friday was quiet and the snowmobiles broke a nice new trail on top of the old, leaving a packed trough down the center of the Heritage trail.

Saturday morning was clear and cold, -2˚F with a light wind out of the northwest making it feel like about -15˚. Spirits were high as we rolled out of Dubuque and headed for the trailhead. The route was altered somewhat this year to avoid the private ATV trails, which were still drifted shut.

Slogging Behind the Tandem Team
As we reached the edge of town, we had to walk a mile-plus section of the path within the city limits that the city doesn't plow, but that gave me a chance to chat with Mr. Coleman and get a head start on my eating and drinking.

Easy Roll
About 5 miles out, we came to the real snowmobile trail, and I started to hit my stride. The Pony did well on the hardpack down the center of the trail, and the WTB Wierwolf LT (cheers Tarik) front and Mutano Raptor rear tires hooked up really well at about 14 psi. I started to outrun the other 26" skinny-tired bikes but for the tandem crew (you read that correctly—I know, it was a shock for me too) though the fattie bikes and many 29ers had long since left me in the dust. I was running at about 9 mph average and feeling like I was working but managing quite well. And it was a beautiful day.

Then at about mile 12 or 14, I saw the tandem crew pulled over for a snack and decided that looked like a great idea. I had just stopped and said hi when we all heard and then saw something coming down the trail. A Snowcat was approaching, pulling a grooming sled. I thought, and then said out loud, "great, they're grooming it." To which one of the tandem guys said something to the effect of "I'm not so sure how great that's gonna be." Unfortunately, he was right. The groomer pulled all of the soft snow from the edges of the trail into the depression where the hardpack was and made it almost impossible to ride even with the fattest tires. What it left us was less than a foot at each edge of packed snow with a really variable hardness. The net result for anybody with skinny tires was a little riding followed by a little walking, a pattern which I repeated for the next 14 or so miles. Uphill all the way.

After the Groomer
(kind of a lousy photo, but I really was busy trying to get through the stuff that was worse.)

I followed the trail of first the Pugsley in front of me, then a skinny-tired bike, and then a whole bunch of tracks recorded where the groomer had met all of the riders. Passed a bunch of runners and skiers going the other way, but very few snomos. Huff, puff. Zig-zagged back and forth across the trail, looking for the longest possible stretch of solid snow before getting bogged down and having to walk again. Sometimes I'd go 20 feet, sometimes 200 yards. On the bike, off the bike. Stretches where fatbike tracks had floated right over soft spots, I sank in. Very frustrating.

So yes, this event is a mental challenge. By about mile 19, I was muttering a steady stream of obscenities (okay, it was a loud mutter) and vowed that, frak this, the DDD and I were through. It was about 2 in the afternoon and about 10 above at this point, and I had to decide what to do. The combination of walking and riding made for difficult eating, and the exertion and delay were burning through my water supply. The plan had been to make Dyersville in under 4 and a half hours, but that was clearly out the window at this point. I met a skier at Epworth, and he told me that I was less than 10 miles out and that the last 5 miles into Dyersville were pretty good for cycling. So even though turning around would have meant going downhill all the way back to Dubuque, I decided to ride there and sag out rather than turn around and soon have to hunt for water.

Very soon after Epworth, I saw the lead bike coming at me from the other direction. Lance, hauling on his fatbike like the devil himself was chasing him. What do you know, a couple minutes later, Dennis followed, also going like a madman. Passed another biker or two (Cory and Nick, I think) as I struggled to the Farley underpass, where I ran out of water.

Fortunately, Dysersville was about 5 miles away, and trail conditions improved considerably. The temperature dropped and the wind picked up, so I went to a balaclava and the goggles. Saw a few more riders, including probably Adam and Ben, and for sure Frank maybe two miles out.

Turn Left at the Tank
Pulled into town, turned left at the tank and rode maybe a half a mile on the road to the Quick and Handy. There were about 7 or 8 other bikers there, half of whom were dropping out and catching a pickup truck ride back to the start. I called the Sag coordinator and dropped out and I think I was the last of about 15 to sign the book at 3:30 p.m. Bought water, juice, cashews and beef jerky for the ride home. Realized while loading the bikes onto the truck that every inch of me was soaked with sweat. Yum.

Riding Home
Here I am with Z and a very nice race volunteer whose name I didn't catch. The other Mr. Z and the Decorah were in the back of the crew cab. Conversation was lively and we steamed up the windows in a hurry. Turned out I had made the right decision when we spied that damn groomer from the truck, heading back up the trail into Dyersville. Arrived back at about 4:15 p.m.

Here are the other accounts so far:

The Tandem Duo, the Shockstar, Mr. Davie Gie, Colin and our winner, Lance.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Final Bike Mileage Total

3460. Not too bad. I think I might shoot for 4K in 2010...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Slogology 102

I did my last training ride for 2009 on the very last day of the year. I decided to do something similar to the upcoming DDD to see how I'm doing on fitness. Last year taught me that I really needed to up the fitness, especially the Pushing a Bike Through Deep Snow part. Yeah, be careful what you wish for.

I left home at about 10:30 a.m. under sunny skies, 24°F, and a northwest wind at 15-25 MPH. The city of Madison does a really good job of clearing the bike paths, so the first 7 or 8 miles were an uneventful warmup.

Yet Another Winter Panda

Then I turned onto a short section of the Capital City trail, which hadn't been plowed after the nuisance snowfall the previous day. Still easy going.

Leaving Tracks

Then took the half-mile connector to the trailhead for the Military Ridge rail to trail, about 10 miles from my house. This part of the trail is not plowed, so it was here that the real training began. I bypassed a little bit of slogging by riding through the old weigh station (several acres of plowed pavement that stands mostly unused) and fording a little stream to get onto the trail.

Stream Ford

I think our official snow cover is probably in the 20-inch range, but we've had significant rain since the 14-inch event on the 9th. Pretty crusty but compacted and not terrible for short distances. I was very glad to find day-old snowmobile tracks on the trail itself.

Long Slog

Even though they really aren't supposed to be there on this section of trail.

No Snomos

Personally, I'd be fine with snomos on this part of the trail, given adequate snow cover. The two miles to the section that is open to them took about 45 minutes. After that, the active snowmobile trail was a very welcome change of pace, from about 3 MPH to about 8 MPH.

Snomo Trail at Last

Next was the five-mile leg through Verona and into Riley, where I had hoped to stop for a burger and a short tapper. The trail turns northwest just south of Verona, in this case directly into the jaws of the wind. Four miles of it. Started to encounter snomos out here, but I was on my politest behavior and yielded to every single one of them. Saw a couple of skate skiers and a few people walking dogs; even walked and chatted briefly with a guy going my direction. Mostly pretty desolate though. I was really beginning to look forward to a stop at the tavern.

Too bad they were closed. I guess it pays to call ahead. So I had my backup lunch: a Clif bar (frozen nearly solid) and some mercifully hot coffee from my new little thermos. Not the most satisfying thing in the world, but it hit the spot.


So I headed for home at this point, grateful that the wind was now at my back. The Pony did really, really well on the snomo-packed trails, and the studded tires held the off-camber stretches just fine.

Snomo Trail

I stopped in Verona and got some lunch, a meatball sub, some chips and a refill for my coffee. I really shouldn't have had a meatball sub. Duh. I lived to regret it. Then I rode back to the slog section and spent another 45 minutes hoofing it back to the Madison trail system.

Slog Shadow

Once I got back to the Cap City trail, I decided to add another 5 miles to my daily total and follow it home. It still wasn't plowed, but the inch or so of powder accumulated since the last plowing was hardly noticeable except that it muffled the sound of the studded tires. This trail runs through a couple of preserves, so some of it is quite open to the wind. I eventually had to walk a couple of short sections that had drifted over, but nothing like the unplowed sections of the Military Ridge.

Drifty Slog

About 6 miles from home, the trail turned to the north and I found myself again bucking a headwind. The temperature had dropped to about 12°F by this time, and the sun had gone down, so this was rather unpleasant. I caught myself telling myself "you can do this" at one point, which is sort of a bad sign for me. Turns out that I could though, and I arrived home at about 5:15 p.m. in pretty good shape. 45 miles, approx. 7.5 MPH avg. Many thanks to the missus for indulging me the time to do this.