Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Reflection

I read a couple of things this morning that really made me think, reconsider, and acknowledge what and who is important and why and how.  I am generally an extremely happy person.  The sun was shining on my face this morning through my window.  I cracked that window ever so slightly as to let the cool Colorado breeze surround me and put me back to sleep for another hour or so.  It was a delightful Sunday morning, especially considering the predicted 2 days of bad weather, which culminated with a little wind and a few clouds.  Life is good.  

But life isn’t always so good.  A lot of people are dealing or have dealt with serious issues, whether it is death, relationships, family struggles, financial problems, job-related stress, etc.  I consider myself an extremely lucky person to have had the good fortune I have, and try to remind myself of this on a daily basis.  It was only after reading these articles in the blogosphere that I realized my own need to reflect and appreciate.  I, certainly have not dealt directly with the mourn and loss that some people around me have.  In this year alone I have witnessed the loss of family and friends somewhat from afar and from a removed emotional position.  My main investment at these times has been with the people that were directly affected.  Feeling their pain and trying to understand what they are going through has made me appreciative for all that I have.  It has also made me realize that sometimes biking isn’t the most important thing in my world.  When people close to me are dealing with the loss of a loved one, they couldn’t give two shits about how far I rode today.  They need support, and are dealing with loss in their own way.

This takes me full circle back to the bike.  Everybody deals with pain, stress, love, and loss differently.  For me, the bike is my release.  The bike is what kept me sane while working a boring, mentally numbing, mundane office job in a dirty factory that I hated.  If it weren’t for my after work trail ripping sessions, wherein all of my stress and hate was left on the dirt under my wheels, and the realization that I do have endorphins (they just get buried while sitting in an office chair all day), I probably would have gone insane.  More importantly, I wouldn’t appreciate life as much as I do today.  When my Grandpa, whom I was very close with, died a year and a half ago, the trail again was my release.  I could barely make it into the office that day as I tried to hold the tears back, and upon arriving proceeded to turn right back around and head home.  Little did I know that I would get home, grab my bike, and head straight for the trails at Brown County State Park.  It was almost second-nature; I didn’t think, I just DID.  I can still remember standing at the top of the park at a beautiful viewpoint in which miles of dense forest spreads out below you, with my bike by my side.  The tears had all run dry in the hour that it took to climb to the vista, and I was happy and appreciative once again.  As I dropped back down for another 45 minutes of ripping perfectly groomed Midwestern singletrack, my mind was blank and thoughtless, without worry or stress.  I owe it all to the bike.

So I wanted to take a little time to reflect on what is important to me.  Friends and family, first and foremost, because without them my goals and aspirations cannot be achieved.  As I spend more and more time and energy these days focusing on bike racing and other bike-related endeavors, it is important to take a step back and thank everyone who supports me in this crazy life.  You have to step out of the ego-driven box that you have inevitably stuck yourself in, and realize that there is a whole other world out there, and it’s not always so lovely. 

This is a good time for me to reflect, because soon I may not be able to.  The racing season is quickly approaching, at which point my time will be juggled between racing/traveling, training, and working to somehow fund this money-devouring addiction.  In a few weeks I head to California for the Sea Otter Classic, and hopefully more racing and a WHOLE bunch more riding.   

Oh, and I'm getting super excited for the National Ultra Endurance Series, and this vid doesn't hurt:

Can I actually race for 100 miles?  I don't know, and that is the best part. 

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and if Grandpa was still here I’m sure we’d be meeting at the local brewery for a pint.  Instead, I’ll have a Dale’s for ya, Grandpa.  Cheers.


Monday, March 11, 2013


The One9 is a powerhouse. Or maybe it’s just the machine attached to the powerhouse. After almost a 5 month singlespeed layoff I think I have fully relapsed.  This might be the best feeling relapse you can imagine.  During my trip to the Utah desert my freshly built One9 stayed home.  Instead I took the Cannondale Flash and Norco Shinobi; XC race bike and big-boy bike.  I left feeling incredibly happy with the Flash.  It handled the rocky desert terrain with ease and beauty.  It really has never felt so good to ride.  When I came back I brought a renewed sense of ambition for riding, along with an excitement to get back to singlespeeding!  Since I built the One9 I had ridden it once.  

Now I finally have a couple of rides on the new rig, and never realized how much I was missing.  It doesn’t hurt matters that I went from an old dusty beat-down flexy and creaky steel bike with value-driven (aka janky) parts to a stiff, solid, and lightweight frame spec’d out with all the goods.  In an attempt to really put the hurt on my legs during my first ride after Utah, I bumped up the gearing from 32X19 to 32X17.  Then I headed up Flagstaff road which climbs over 2,000ft in 5 miles.  I was smiling and happy the entire time.  The stiffness of the frame matched to the new XX1 crankset just seemed to propel me forward with ease, seated or standing.  I actually stayed seated longer during certain parts of the climb than I would on the geared bike.  There was absolutely no flex that I could feel; a welcome feeling after being on the SIR9 for so long.  In general, it brought me back to why I love singlespeeding so much: simple, direct, efficient.  I can’t wait to have some more fun on this baby on some real trails.

Today the wind was whistling; making storm doors slam and tree branches bend and crackle, but it was sunny outside and I had the itch.  It was going to take one gear and a mountain to scratch that itch.  Nothing makes destination rides like mine last week in Utah more enjoyable than enduring hours of fierce wind on a singlespeed on the road!  Still smiling.  Eff you wind.  Maybe the wind was just the motivation I needed, or maybe it was the villain in my personal cartoon.  Maybe I was just validating this recent article:

Click to go to article.
OH f*ck you buddy!!  You don’t know sh*t about sh*t!!  F*ck it I’m grabbing a beer.

No Mas March!  Damn, and then my conscience has to come into play.  It turns out that my beer consumption as of the last two weeks has been almost non-existent.  Have I lost my mind?  Well, that’s debatable.  There are good reasons for this.  Drinking highly potent stout beers for a month straight is one.  Wanting to come into this season feeling good is another.  After feeling as good as I did in Utah last week at my first race of the season, I can say that something was working.  So for now I am on a bit of a hiatus.  In lieu of riding as much singlespeed this month as possible, I am calling it “Man Up March”, which also coincides with “No Mas March”.  But singlespeeds and beer go together, you say.  Here’s to being an outcast.

This coming weekend the temperatures on the western side of things, i.e. Fruita, Moab, St. George, etc., are looking quite fantastic.   

St. George is predicted near 80F.  There is also the NUE series opener there this weekend, the True Grit Epic.  Although I’m not ready for the full 100-miler, the 50-miler has my attention.  I was pretty set on making another trip out there until ride plans fell through.  At this point I’m keeping my ears open.  If I have a viable way of getting there (besides making the 10-hour drive alone) I’ll hop on it.  If not, I’ll have to find some riding somewhere else.  Fruita might be on deck.  I’d love to get another race under my belt this early in the season, and a singlespeed endurance one at that.  Sometimes you got to roll with the punches.

Recent stoke:

Dean Tennant - Higher Calling from Mind Spark Cinema on Vimeo.

The Pacific Northwest has been on my riding radar for quite some time now.  Hoping the Santa Cruz Mountains in April will provide some similarities.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Who's your favorite Saint?

Saint George.

Probably my favorite of all of the regular-name saints is Saint George. Saint Jim and Saint Bill would be cool if they could offer mind-blowing mountain biking!  I should mention that my mind’s been blown so many times by places like this that I'm surprised there’s still a fragment of tissue up there to excite. Something tells me it’s a never-ending supply.

A few things may have contributed to my feeling of absolute bliss upon arriving here. It all started out with a planned drive through the night Thursday night to make it here on Friday midday. I had to work Thursday night, and expected to be out of there and on the road by 11-ish. Well, the last night of Stout Month did not disappoint. I watched the 2 1/2 hour wait for the beer sloshing Boulderites to get their fix continue up until 10pm, leaving me officially dismissed from duties about midnight. Okay, 2 hrs past schedule; no biggie. Back home, shower, bikes loaded on car, on the road at 1am. Here's where things got fun.  The cruise started treacherously, as 93, which heads south from Boulder down to I70, was still covered in snow from the storms days ago. Still wondering which casino or pub the plowmen were hanging out at for the last three days. So a 20 min drive takes me 40. Ok, I’m still doing it. Hop on I70 and head west.  Given the awesome weather predictions for both the Front Range and where I was headed, I didn't even think to check the weather in the mountains. So i was rudely awakened by the falling snow and snow covered highway as I entered the mountains, and it only got worse.  I’d normally be cruising along at 70-75 mph, but was held at a pretty consistent 40 through the mountains.  During this time, and maybe as a result of it and its induced stress, I started to get more tired than I had predicted. I hadn’t planned to stop but was forced to lest I wanted to ghost-ride my car off a cliff. Wonder what I would’ve been dreaming about; maybe flying? A solid 3 hour nap was all I needed to get feeling fresh again. That and another cup of coffee.  Then, just as I was exiting the high mountains, with clear air and a fresh perspective, I noticed the temperature gauge on my Subaru rising.  I had noticed this before when driving up mountain passes, but this time it wasn’t coming back down right away.  So I got to Grand Junction and checked the coolant reservoir.  There it was, empty.  Fill it up with water, and back on the road.  I thought I was golden for about 2 hours, until the temp gauge started damning me again.  So I stop again, look under the car, and notice a few little dribbles of coolant on the ground.  Shit!  This can’t be good.  It could mean a host of problems, beginning with a simple leaky hose, and truly ending with a blown head gasket!  I’m now about 3 hours out from St. George, so decide it’s better to just push on and have it looked at once I’m there.  Luckily, my car made it to St. George in once piece, and stayed cool the entire rest of the way. 

At this point true bliss really set in.  I rolled into town, surrounded by red rock bluffs ala Sedona, and parked at the local bike shop.  When I got out of the car, the tropical feeling of dry heat and sunshine flooded my senses and made all worries go away!  I came here for a race, but in a few short minutes it seemed like more of a vacation.

I went out to the race venue, feeling sleepy again but with renewed inspiration.  It turns out that the race course, as well as a bunch of other amazing trails sit just on the edge of town.   The course was a 7-mile loop consisting of a couple doubletrack climbs and descents, some sweet flowing singletrack, and two climbs up rock washes.  A couple of the doubletrack descents had some tech-y line choices, rock drops, and other obstacles, and they were all SUPER fast.  Way faster than my current “been riding on dirt roads all winter” skill level and comfort level were ready for.  But I knew that I better get used to it fast, because no one would be holding back during the race.  I did two laps of the course, all the while trying to dial in certain line choices and get comfortable actually mountain biking again!  The speed of the descents had me a little nervous for race day, but damn it felt good to be riding like this again!  All in all, I thought the course was a great one.  I especially liked the rock wash climbs, which consisted of constant shale rock step-ups, some small, some large and technically demanding.  This was an area that I could get out of the saddle and go into “singlespeed” mode.

First pre-ride of the course.
On Friday night I chose to stay in a hotel as a result of all the stress of getting there and wanting to feel refreshed in the morning.  It worked.  Saturday morning was relaxing and smooth.    It made it easier that the start time wasn’t until noon.  I’m used to 8 am start times that barely give you time to get up, get to the venue, and get all of your stuff together.  I am not a 4 am riser!  I was able to get another pre-ride of the course in and be chilling in a camping chair by 9:30, just enjoying the bright sunshine.  Even with all of my stress-relieving measures taken before the race, I was still a bit tense and nervous in the minutes beforehand.  It turned out that there were 17 pros lined up in front.  As the race director counted down all thoughts went blank.  BOOM!  We were off in a blaze of furry.  There was about a ¼-mile doubletrack, slightly uphill, start for everyone to gain their positions before hitting the singletrack.  I was able to hold onto about 5th position in this parade, without giving it maximum effort for fear of my heart exploding, until shortly before the entrance to singletrack, where about 4 or 5 guys put in a power shot and got by me.  This was very smart on their part.  Soon enough we would hit the rock-wash climb.  At this point I was riding a couple of guys’ wheels, and was able to make my pass.  During the ensuing climb I was able to get past one or two more guys.   Up ahead I could see what looked like 5th or 6th positions, and they also seemed to be struggling with the climbs.  When we got to the first descent two things happened.  First, I realized how hard I was breathing and how uncontrollable my heart rate was.  I didn’t feel good and my breathing didn’t slow the entire descent.  Second, I realized how quickly these guys could get away on the downhills!  Now I had even more work to do.  As we hit the second climb, I began reeling the two I had seen previously back in.  There was one point where I debated putting in a maximum surge, or just laying back and keeping my energy.  I chose for option B as my heart rate was still out of control and lungs on fire.  During the second descent that led back to the start/finish the racers ahead put in a huge gap.  I wouldn’t see them again.  I did though see the bright green Topeak/Ergon kit of Jeff Kerkove coming on my tail shortly into the second lap.  At this point my heart rate had calmed down and I was really starting to get into my groove.  He had passed me for a minute or two, but I attacked on one of the short punchy climbs, got by, and ensued to lengthen that gap during the first rock-wash climb.  I was so stoked just to be racing beside Jeff, never even thinking that I could be competitive with him.   He is one of the best endurance racers in the country, and has been racing mountain bikes for a long time!  It turned out that we would be trading positions for the next couple of laps, which was fun.  The cat-and-mouse was pretty interesting.   Then it was all over.  Flying down the last 300 meters of rocky doubletrack at 30+ mph the rear end of my bike bounced up and came down violently on a sharp rock; the rock penetrating the sidewall of my tire.  Damn!!  That was about it.  I rolled into the start/finish and blasted a CO2 cartridge in there hoping that the Stan’s sealant would close the puncture, but all I heard was “psssssssss….”

My initial reaction to this race was that of satisfaction.  I was not worried about results coming into it.  That being said, I definitely wish I could've finished.  It was a huge day of firsts for me; first race of the season, first Pro race, first time racing a geared bike, and first time really railing a mountain bike in months! I was pretty much an open slate, looking at it as a measuring stick for my progress to date.  First and foremost, I was satisfied; no, I was electrified by how much fun the race was!  It was the first reminder in a long time of why I do this and love the sport so much.  I had fun riding my bike!  I was then satisfied with my body’s ability to put in that effort and adjust, and actually feel good.   This was my first race since early August.  That’s 7 months without pushing myself to these limits.  I’m guessing that most of these guys haven’t had that kind of layoff.  Many of them were probably racing cross just weeks ago.  I guess some of the things I’ve been doing in the offseason have actually worked.  I felt stronger than last year already.  I remember my first race last year, which wasn’t until mid-April, and it was much more painful than this.  I’m ecstatic to seemingly have decent fitness this early on in the year.  It was also a great learning experience for areas of improvement; power and bike-handling come to mind first.  I never thought that races could be won or lost (not that I was in that position) on the downhills.  But a few of the guys ahead of me were able to put more of a gap on me on the descents then I could make back up on the climbs.  Hopefully as the year progresses and I spend more time on real trails this area of my game will improve.  Overall, it was a great learning experience, and great fun on some awesome trails.  Who would’ve thought that in my first race of the year, on March 2nd, that I would suffer sunburn!  Gotta love Southern Utah.

Later on in the day, after a couple hours of relaxation, I hooked up with a group of about 8 to ride the adjacent trail system.  The Shinobi was brought out of its quiver as my weapon of choice.  The loop we did, called the Zen trail, was like some of the stuff I’ve ridden in Moab.  After climbing for about 30-40 minutes to the top of the mesa on technical, rocky, and slickrock spiced trail, we came to an overlook that seemed endless.  From this point on it was mostly a downhill shred-fest descending red dirt singletrack, rock-drops, across big patches of slickrock, and down steep technical rock-faces.  Pretty much everything you could ask for in a good trail ride, and a perfect way to end the day. 

Sunday was spent in the hot sun on mountain bikes.  Terrible isn’t it?  I got shown around an awesome flowing singletrack trail system courtesy of Jeff Kerkove and Karen Jarchow.  I then ended the day with a ride on my own on free-ride style trail.  On the map it shows just one single trail, about 5 miles long that you would do as an out-and-back.  In actuality there were literally hundreds of trails, all with varying sizes of jumps, berms, hops, and rollers to pick from all in an area of a couple square miles.  It’s basically a spaghetti ball of fun just west of town.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kerkove

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kerkove

On Monday I spent the day up in Hurricane, bordering Zion National Park, riding a big loop which ended with the Hurricane Rim Trail.  Epic views of the canyon rim and singletrack for 7.5 miles was all it had to offer.

Hurrican Rim Trail.  A lot further down than it looks.

Rim Trail.  Virgin River.

There is too much good about St. George for me to continue on in detail.  Let me just say this: any place with this high of quality of mountain biking, and this much of it within close proximity, matched with great-quality Mexican food, also in great abundance, should not be passed up.  Every day of this journey has ended with a big burrito on the cheap!  No Don Pablos here, esay!

Burritos galore!

If I was a real man I’d be doing the True Grit Epic in two weeks in the same area.  One of the most brutal endurance races out there, and also the first of the season?  I’ll pass.