Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Trans Iowa 2016


So, Trans Iowa.

I went, I started, made the first checkpoint cutoff time by five minutes, dropped out at the first convenience store (in Victor, Iowa) and rode back to Brooklyn to get picked up. About 86 miles for the day.

So why did I drop out? Well, it's a bit of a story:

I rode quite a few miles in training over the last six months, tracking things like heart rate, distance and speed. Despite being systematic about it, giving myself days off, managing my stress and whatnot, the numbers were flat. More importantly, I really wasn’t feeling all that great. My motivation was low and I felt disproportionately stressed out. I felt more and more like a robot; and even though I was eating right, getting lots of  sleep, and drinking enough fluids, I was not really Going Like Hell. Finally, after turning in my first hundred-mile ride on April 10, I felt noticeably short of breath. So I made a doctor appointment.

Some of you reading this, especially the endurance athletes, may know that doing something like making a doctor appointment with vague symptoms can be its own challenge. There’s an angel on the one shoulder who’s calmly telling us to watch out for our own well-being, and then there’s a devil on the other screaming “don’t be such a pussy! It’s all in your head!” (I’m quoting—it’s the devil, and he uses naughty words.) While dogged determination has given me some excellent experiences, my intuition told me something wasn’t quite right.

I expected something related to allergy or asthma. Maybe a lung function test. The physician’s assistant put a stethoscope on my chest, listened for about 5 seconds and said:

“Do you have a heart murmur?”

Me: “Uhhhh….no?”

“You have a heart murmur.” He listened again. “Any family history of mitral valve problems?”

“My grandmother had a valve replacement.”

He seemed unimpressed.

“Well, first we’re going to do an EKG here, then blood work and a chest X-ray downstairs. Then we’ll get you in over at the UW for an echo.” The ultrasonographer told me that had I been 50 pounds heavier, nobody would have detected the lub-click-dub-whoosh.

Turns out I have a mitral valve prolapse, which is essentially a noisy and slightly leaky heart valve. It’s pretty common (2%–6% of the population) and benign for almost everybody who has it. Many people who have it don’t even know they have it, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not the kind of heart disease that will kill you, at least not by itself.

Of course, nobody in the medical profession would tell me that right away. I had the tests on Tuesday the 12th, and ended up calling that Friday to find out what was going on. I was told that the news was generally good, but to avoid strenuous activity. Whatever that meant. I was all registered and paid up for Dairy Roubaix, but instead of doing the ride decided to volunteer in the kitchen for the breakfast shift and take some pictures of the riders out on the course. It was a good time, but it wasn’t the same as riding.

The following Wednesday, I finally got a message back from my doctor with some more detail about what I could and could not do. I decided that starting TI and riding steady for a while fit within what I could do. So we went. I didn’t expect to make the time cutoff at the first checkpoint, but that happened. I felt good all day, got to know Slender Fungus rider Dr. Giggles as we rode together. I was quite tired afterward—maybe more so than usual, but hard to say for certain.

It’s still not clear exactly where I go from here, endurance racing-wise. For a normal person, my condition would be a non-issue, but I realize that I am not a normal person. I have a feeling it might take a while to figure out what’s next. Meanwhile? Chillin’, I guess.

Thanks once again to Mark Stevenson for putting this thing on. Though we may secretly curse your name on some of the steeper hills (or sometimes not all that secretly) words can’t express what great experiences I had at all four of the Trans Iowas I did (even last year.) The ride itself, and even more so the people who help organize it and participate, I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’m feeling damn lucky today. Glad I found out what I did in a nice warm, well-lit clinic without having it become a crisis out in in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Glad to have a loving and supportive family, and a lot of good friends. Glad we have health insurance. Glad I took the line at 04:00 on Saturday.

Previous TI attempts: 2015, 2014, 2013.

Photos over on Flickr.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Triple D 2016

Indecision clouded my vision.
This was my eighth shot at the Triple D winter race, having started back in 2009 as a complete newb. We've had a strange winter this year with few snow events but lots of freeze-thaw action. Fearing a repeat of 2013, I took two bikes along. Went down to Dubuque a little early and scouted the Heritage trail a bit, then later met up with Utah Steve and Paul to pre-ride the creek bottoms at the start of the course. Scattered icy patches had me ultimately deciding on the studded 29er.

Race morning dawned very cold. At the 10 a.m. start, it was -7˚F, with a 15 mph northwest wind gusting to 24—but hey, at least it was sunny. Every bit of skin had to be covered.

The start was pretty orderly this year, which was good because the creek bottoms still had some open water. The snow was rock-hard but not very fast.

The creek bottoms were pretty protected, and the industrial park was okay, but the tops of hills and open fields were right in the jaws of the wind. I went to drink out of my Camelbak about 45 minutes into the race, but the insulated hose was very stiff between the bladder and the bite valve. I had stuck the bite valve down between the pack and my back, and it was still useable, but the hose was frozen solid. Fortunately, I had a bottle of sports drink in my frame bag with a chemical warmer, and it was still good. The cold had me thinking of quitting even before Junction 21 (mile 10), but I stuck it out. Checked in briefly in 26th place and got a refill on the water bottle. Felt chilled starting out again, and started considering turning east at Heritage to drop out and shortcut the course back to the hotel.

The Humke B road was as fun as ever, even with a little bit of two-wheel drifting on the smooth ice near the bottom. It was enough of a thrill that I figured I might as well ride west on Heritage for a while and see how that went. Ran into Frank, who was pumping up his tires, and I stopped and did the same. He suggested working together, and I thought that sounded good, so we continued on.

I had gotten a comment from a fat biker earlier suggesting that my bike would just fly on the rail trail. Sadly, this was not the case. I'm not sure exactly why, but it didn't feel at all fast. I suspect that the Nokian Extremes on a wide rim are too squared-off, resulting in every stud and every tread block hitting the contact patch all the time. That, and they aren't light or lively tires to begin with.

Sumoi Extremes
The section between Holy Cross Road near Farley and Dyersville was bad—there's just no other word for it. Mostly open country with that stinging headwind. Frank could ride faster than me, but reasoned that doing that section together would be better than doing it individually, and he was right. We traded pulls but were still hurting by the time we rolled into the second checkpoint at Chad's pizza.

We took quite a long break at Chad's. I had concluded that doing things right in this weather was much preferable to doing them hastily. I swapped out my chemical foot warmers, drank and refilled fluids, added a hat and ate as much as I could. Also dealt with an exclusively male problem, countering a bit of redness and swelling with a strategically-placed spare wool sock and chemical warmer. Had a bit of a shiver attack that concerned me, but it went away as soon as we started out again.

The return segment was out of the wind and mostly downhill. The trail was in good shape, so I put on the cruise control and did some rolling recovery. Frank pulled easily away from me and became a dot in the distance. I finally felt good for the first time since starting, and kept a steady pace with only one food/drink/nature stop. I switched to my light gloves and then to no gloves at all for a while. I occupied my brain by eating chewy bits (honey stinger bites are especially good for this) a little at a time. As I approached Sundown Ski Area, a fox ran onto the trail and ran ahead of me for a couple hundred yards. I considered it a good omen.

Heritage Trail
Frank was leaving Durango just as I was parking my bike. I checked in and got a water refill, ate some pizza and chatted with the volunteers and a few people who had dropped out. I wasn't in a particular hurry, since I knew I'd be riding in the dark soon anyway.

Dusk was falling and I was chilled as I left Durango. Before I was warm again, about a half-mile down the trail, I saw a bike laid out and its rider standing over it. I asked what was wrong, and it turned out to be a broken chain. I asked whether he had the part or tool to fix it, and he replied that he did not. I said that I had the part and the tool, but he responded that he didn't have the required knowledge. So I got the stuff out and had a look. The chain was threaded wrong, so I instructed the rider to re-thread it correctly and got out my quick link and mini tool. Could not get the broken side plate off with the pliers, so we dug out the chain tool and I went at the rivet. All this time, my hands were getting progressively more painful and less dexterous. Of course, the rivet was seized and I had a hell of a time getting it out. I really had to crank on my poor little chain tool, and even then I had to use the pliers to rip the side plate off and to get the rivet and other side plate out. Finally got the quick link in though, and got the rider on his way. As soon as he was back up, I hopped on the bike and shot down the trail, looking to get the bio-furnace relit. Twilight was fading as I left Heritage and passed the driving range.

The last leg along the Northwest Arterial was a slog. It was hard to navigate in the dark, it went back up on a hill, and it turned a bit west, back into the wind. Plus, I was alone at this point. Had to stop at one point and check my map and GPS to make sure I was still on course. Finally got to the downhill and into the creek bottoms, walking a fair amount by this point because my feet had gotten cold again. My Transition lenses were also still dark because of the cold, so I couldn't see all that well either. Toughed it out to the finish, rolling in for 15th place at just after 19:00 all tired and cold, but with no injuries and feeling pretty good.

(photo by Davy G)

Pics over yonder.

My clothing was as follows:

  • North Face Skully beanie with ear covers, a homemade fleece face mask that seals at the nose and vents out the bottom, plenty of Dermatone and Vaseline on any still-exposed areas. Added a neck gaiter in the field before the first checkpoint and a thin wool cap at Dyersville.
  • North Face arm warmers, 32˚ synthetic base layer, UnderArmour Cold Base 2 (all skin-tight), covered with a Mountain Hardwear SuperPower Transition soft-shell jacket. PI lobsters at the start, followed by PI WXRs and then no gloves as I warmed up. The bike sported ATV bar mitts.
  • Legs got Pearl padded shorts, and some old Nike lycra tights, both covered with Swrve mid-weight WWR knicks and some garage sale gaiters.
  • Tall, thick Surly wool socks, a pair of thin wool socks, chem warmers and LaCrosse Quickshot 8", 600 gram boots for the feet.

I ate Curiak dough, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger waffle cookies with Nutella and pork jerky on the trail. Drank Hammer Perpetuem and water.

The bike was a GT Peace 9er Multi 2x8 with Schlick Northpaw 47mm rims and Nokian Gazza Extreme 296 in the 29x1.9 size. Titec H-bars and Thudbuster LT; platform pedals.

(Photo by Amber Bettcher)

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Last Couple of Years in One Map

Red is this year, brown is last year, purple is 2013 and blue is 2012. Zoom out for amazement.

(made with GPSBabel and Google Fusion Tables.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Northwoods 2015

Northwoods 2015

Not a lot of takers this year, probably because we scheduled the weekend before Gnomefest. Madison Steve called in sick on this one, leaving just Andy, Nate and myself. Nate got to the cabin during the day on Friday and did a bit of scout riding, while Andy and I did our usual horsing around plus fish fry at the Hilltop, arriving just before 21:30. The three of us shot the breeze until turning in around 23:00. We all apparently needed some shuteye, because nobody got up until 08:00; and even though we kept breakfast simple, we didn't get legs over bikes until 10:30.

No cabin to cabin this time, just a day loop, but practically all new territory. Andy had been obsessing over the route rather intensively for a couple of weeks, and it did not disappoint. Some choice gravel and paved roads to an abandoned railbed running through Powell Marsh up to Mercer, then a bunch of snowmobile and ATV trails and gravel out to the northwest, with a stop at Lake of the Falls. Then a loop back to Mercer, returning home via the railbed and some pavements.

But for the main highways, there was almost no motor vehicle traffic. We were passed by maybe a half-dozen cars on the back roads, and encountered maybe 8 ATV's (mostly UTV's actually) on the trails, in 4 groups. Our pace was brisk, but there were plenty of stops for pictures, eating, and wayfinding. A steady south wind helped keep the moving average speed up. One stop at a resort bar offered Miller High Life shorties and plenty of bemused looks from the locals. Adventure cycling is apparently not a very popular activity in those parts.

Out at the far end of the loop, the hour started to get late, so we cut off a few miles of the planned route and turned into the wind for home. Made another stop at the grocery store in Mercer to fuel up. Found some high-quality swampwading on the return route, and had to turn on the lights for the last few miles of pavement. Popped open a couple of beers back at the cabin, took a group photo, and jumped in the lake to wash off the swamp.

Bicycle-Eating Hole
Seventy-two miles, nine and a half hours out.

Photos on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cheese Triangle Counterclockwise

Because apparently, twice in one twelve-month period wasn't enough (and one might have thought this abomination in particular would have cured me). It was good to get the yayas out after the Trans Iowa fiasco, but I won't be doing this ride on anything less than a 2.2" tire ever again. Ever.

Picture party here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

With a Bang and a Whimper

Driving Rain
The third time was supposed to be the charm, but the weather had other ideas.

In a nutshell, Mother Nature won this one 94-1. The course started out generally northeast, and that morning there was a 20+mph ENE wind, it was maybe 42dF and it started raining about an hour into the race. I will remember this event as 4 Hours of Drowned Rat.


Neither of my fellow Madisonians signed up for Trans Iowa the Eleventh, but my postcards went in the mail at the appointed time and I got in. My dad agreed to be my support crew, and we drove down Friday morning by way of LeClaire (with a brief visit to Antique Archeology).

The Meatup on Friday night was great. Saw quite a few people I knew, and the pre-race was a little long but lots of fun. Back in the hotel room, everything was set bike-wise, so I laid out my kit, took a shower and laid down to pretend to sleep. There was a brief thunderstorm, followed by a wind that howled and moaned at the window all night.

Got up at 02:50 and looked at the radar on my tablet. A huge pinwheel of precipitation colors spun slowly over the state, complete with what looked like an eye on the Missouri border. East winds at 15, gusting to 22.

Ate a bit and dressed, putting a rain shell over my hydration pack. Rolled out of the hotel parking lot toward downtown and had trouble getting my body to follow my plans for a big ride. It wasn't raining yet, but it was cool and the crosswind was unmistakably strong.

There were 95 of us at the start out in front of Bikes To You, and the feel was tense compared to the previous two years. My dad had driven down and we said our goodbyes just as Mark stepped up to make the final announcements. A couple of minutes later he tooted the horn and we were off.

It was a real problem finding my rhythm that morning. I was just gassed for the first five or six miles (which were directly into the jaws of that wind) and fell mostly off the back. Distant flashes of lightning added to the consternation. Eventually we turned north and then west for a bit, so I was able to rally and get the diesel started somewhere around mile ten. Right about that time, droplets of water vapor began to swirl in the beam of my headlight, and by mile twelve it had begun to drizzle. The roads were already saturated from the previous night's rain, and I found myself pushing pretty hard even on the downhills. Maybe twenty minutes later, the rain began in ernest and a couple of bright flashes of lightning lit up the landscape. I stopped briefly to eat and put on my waterproof glove shells.

North again, then west, then north, and then there it was: the cue to turn directly into that headwind for eight miles. Though not visible, the sun was up and had turned the landscape into the storm at sea scene from many an old war movie. Recently graded, this road had a pretty good surface, but still required constant attention at the tiller. No eating, no photographs, no clothing adjustments. Just pedaling, cranking up the hills and rolling like a lumber wagon down the other side, as if waiting for the cold, sodden amber to harden.

A guy with a MPLS cap was on his phone in the lee of a couple of pines, so I pulled over to have a bite and touch base. My feet were soaked at this point because my rain pants turned out to not be impermeable. The rain had also run down my sleeves and gotten my inner gloves wet. I would find out back at the hotel that my dry pair had also gotten wet inside my frame bag. Eavesdropping on Edward's phone conversation revealed that he was dropping out and arranging for a ride.

This made me admit what had been obvious for at least the last hour—I was not going to make the checkpoint within the time limit. Not even close. I thought at that point that maybe the top third of the field would make it, but found out later that only one person would make 54 miles by 08:30. I got back on the bike and started up the next hill, starting to think about where I would drop out. I sort of wanted to see the B-level (dirt) road at mile 34, still ten miles away. I stopped to move my phone from my pants pocket to my jersey pocket (under my rain shell) to make sure it wouldn't drown. Edward passed me, wishing me safe travels.

Right about that time, two riders came over the hill in the opposite direction.

"You going home?" I yelled.

"Yup, all the way back to Madison!"

Turned out to be Chris and Adam, a couple of past Trans Iowa finishers, on their way back to Grinnell via 16 miles of pavements. It took me all of five seconds to decide to drop out right there at mile 24 and join them. Chris was cruising along in good spirits, but Adam was on a mission. He gapped us off within the first five miles and disappeared over the horizon soon after. Chris and I had a pleasant conversation about his recent move to Madison and hope to meet up for a bit of riding soon.

Disappointment? Yes and no. No, I was not disappointed to miss the cutoff. So it was a whole springtime of training—so what? If you aren't enjoying your Trans Iowa training for its own sake, you're probably doing it wrong or should just find something else to do. Yes, I was disappointed to not be able to ride all day, shooting the breeze with friends and meeting challenges out in the boonies. That seems to be Trans Iowa though. You just don't know what's going to happen, and that's part of the attraction.

Next year? Yeah, probably. If it happens.

(2014 report, 2013 report)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sunup to Sundown Three, Last of the TI Training

Illinois Woodlot
Saturday was my final long training ride for TIv.11, and a beautiful day out. The start was chilly, but still and quiet. Tyler, Jacob and I met at the Jenifer St. Market, rolling out at 05:00 on the dot to collect Utah Steve and Harald as we crossed Commonwealth at 05:20.

The cruise down the Badger was pretty easy, and the sun broke over the horizon just about the time we reached Belleville. We rode around the ice stalagmite in the tunnel and Utah Steve peeled off at Monticello to hit New Glarus and points west on his way back to Madison.

After hitting the Kwik Trip in Monroe for some eats, we turned off onto the roads headed west and mostly south into Illinois. The wind wasn't much of a factor at this point, coming out of the west-southwest, but made us hopeful for a tailwind on the way home.

I lagged quite a bit for the remainder of the ride. I knew I was riding a heavy (TI-equipped) bike with people who were faster than me, but I think I also wasn't fully recovered from the Hall of Elms ride.  I could definitely feel it in my legs. Though I may have been a little frustrated at first, I hadn't advertised this as a no-drop ride, so I hold no ill will. It also occurred to me that it was good practice for resisting the temptation to push outside of my pace and take the long view.

We all stopped in Freeport and Brodhead for resupply. Somewhere north of Brodhead, Harald and Tyler pulled away for good, and Jacob and I were left to finish it off. The anticipated tailwind made matters easier, with one more stop at the KwikTrip in Oregon for a slice of pizza, which really hit the spot!

Finally, this was probably the last of the Trans Iowa training for good, since I'm pretty sure this will be my last Trans Iowa. Barring some unanticipated turn of events, I think a third one will do me.

So begins the taper; next weekend is the Dairy Roubaix, and the following week it's on to TIv.11!

More photos? Over here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Hall of Elms C+X

No, not cyclocross, 100+10. More training for TI, this time solo. Started out about 07:35 with almost the full setup, bound for New Glarus, Evansville and the Hall of Elms. The goal was the whole distance at an overall average speed of 12 mph.

Starting out was great with sunshine and a light wind out of the southwest, but it would not remain so. Just about the time I hit the highlands west of town, it had kicked up into a substantial headwind. Combined with driftless hills, the pace ground down to about 10 miles per hour for a while. The crosswind was a little better down near New Glarus, though it leaned the bike sideways and threatened to blow me into traffic.

Turning east was fantastic, and I definitely got back on pace by the time I had reached Evansville. Did a 15-minute stop at the Quickie Mart and continued on to the Hall of Elms.

Hall of Elms
I had suspected while riding, and later confirmed, that the wind shifted around to the west-northwest and then the northwest as I made my way home. The last 20 miles or so were a real character builder. I was pretty shelled for the Badger game and honestly, for most of the day on Sunday.

Weather data:

Time Temp WindDir Speed Gust
7:53 AM 36° SW 5.8 -
8:53 AM 39° WSW 10.4 17.3
9:53 AM 43° WSW 11.5 17.3
10:53 AM 48° SW 13.8 -
11:53 AM 52° West 12.7 19.6
12:53 PM 54° West 12.7 25.3
1:53 PM 55° WNW 15.0 27.6
2:53 PM 56 ° NW 16.1 29.9
3:53 PM 57° WNW 11.5 27.6
4:53 PM 57° WNW 12.7 21.9

Photos over on that other site.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Training for Trans Iowa v.11

Access Road Gravel Ice

Been out there, chipping away at it day after day with no big frills or expectations. Seems like the 95% aerobic/5% anaerobic training pattern has been working, albeit slowly. I certainly feel less stressed out and more focused this year.

Having tried it twice so far, I have a pretty good idea about what I might expect. If the weather and the fates are even remotely cooperative, the third time might be the charm.

(TIv10 report, TIv9 report.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hollandale Century

Wow, I'll tell you, the dogs sure wanted a good run for this early in the season. We rolled the first 12 miles or so at such a nice, steady pace, and then as soon as we hit the first decent-sized hill: WHAM! Everybody was out of the saddle and into the hammerfest. Everybody but me.

My view for much of this ride was a bunch of butts, often in the distance...

Valley Riding
We stopped for lunch in Hollandale at the Good Times Log Cabin. Darn tasty food for such a little town.

Then, around mile 75 or so, I began to get my revenge. People started to remember that, oh, yeah, a century is a hundred miles long, and slowed down.