Friday, November 27, 2015

Birth of a New Turkey Burner Tradition?

The day after Thanksgiving is typically reserved for "burner" activities. For many years, I've enjoyed the FOMBA Turkey Burner. Held late in fall, weather was pretty unpredictable. Some years were bitter cold with rock hard frozen ground. Others were entertaining in 2-4" of snow. There were a couple years in bone chilling rain, which sucked. Last year the T-burner was cancelled due to pending major snow storm.

This year the FOMBA Turkey Burner was cancelled again, well in advance of the event. Don't know why. The weather turned out to be phenomenal for the day after Thanksgiving, the best in my 18 years here in New Hampshire.

Filling the gap this year, a new cycling club State 9 Racing hosted an informal T-burner event. A different starting venue and very different route were used, something a little more to my liking - longer and hillier! For my non-New England readers, New Hampshire was the 9th state to ratify the current US Constitution, thus State 9 Racing.

The ride overwhelmed the FOMBA parking area on Depot Road. Three groups headed out around 9am, a CX bike group, B-group and A-group. I rolled out with 15 others in the A group, doing an extended route at sporty pace.

A few minutes into the ride, a rider already hit the deck right in front of me. A random diagonal steel pipe sweaty with dew has a way of taking your front wheel away from you. It was so warm out that the ground was below the dew point.  Those of us starting out with long layers were soon removing them. The temp quickly rose above 60F!  Not much recent rain meant the trails were in mint condition too.

The snowmobile corridor Trail 15N took us up to Bear Brook State Park, 10,000 acres with growing network of flowy singletrack. We hit Hedgehog Ledge trail first. I was going to ride the granite staircase, something I haven't done in years. On a long travel 29er, it should be a piece of cake. But then I saw many guys bail on committing in front of me. When I got up to the lip, I hesitated, then it was all over. Once you lose your nerve, its not good to go anyway. I've ridden it many times on a 26" wheeled MTB. Guess I've become more risk adverse over the years. The consequences of botching that drop are severe, but the probability of it going awry is perhaps low. It's a psychological thing.

The hiker-biker lot in Bear Brook was the mid-point of our ride. State 9 Racing had set up their canopy with food table there. Treats graciously provided by one of their sponsors Jake's Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Bake Shop were heavenly.  All three groups followed routes to get us there around 11am, which proved successful. After some socializing, groups shuffled up a bit. The A-group pared down to 10 riders.

We first swung north in the park to hit much of the newer NEMBA built singletrack before working our way south on the famed Hemlock Trail and out of the park. Our route back to FOMBA followed mostly Class VI town roads, often chunder buried deeply with oak leaves. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with this route without leaves and knew where to be careful or what line not to take. More riders hit the deck, fortunately nothing serious.

My sensored Garmin logged 38 miles in 3.3hrs moving time with 2900ft of climbing. Couldn't have been a nicer day, and it was a great group to ride with. Always cool to meet and ride with new people. Everybody has a different riding style, strengths and weaknesses. You always learn something when you see how the rider in front of you plies their strengths and weakness against the terrain. I'll leave you with photos I and a few others captured.

Some of the group gathering before the ride at FOMBA

Andy leading the A-group on Trail 15N to Bear Brook

Group photo op at Bear Hill Pond

Another angle at Bear Hill Pond. Is it really almost December?!

Dodging boulders on Hedgehog Ledge Trail

Hedgehog Ledge. Felt like summer.

State 9 Racing volunteers set up feed stop at the hiker-biker parking lot in Bear Brook.

Mmmm, Jake's baked goods! (photo Doug R.)

Fullest I've ever seen this lot, and we didn't park here! Really cool to see Bear Brook blossom like this, thanks to NEMBA's hard work gaining the confidence of the state to build and maintain trail.

Might be everybody from three riding groups here. Didn't get name of woman who took the photo.

Beaver Pond Trail, sketchy log bridge section. Almost nobody attempted to ride it...

...Jonathan made it look easy.

Dave on Class VI trail, which took us back to towards FOMBA. Note ice on pond and short sleeves. Awesome!

There's no end to the culinary assault I suffer on a daily basis, whether it's our department admin bringing me decadent home-baked goods at work, or in this case Dave Penney giving me a massive whoopie pie post ride. It didn't even list how many calories were in it because you wouldn't want to know. I didn't eat it all (yet). (photo Dave P.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rolling quasi-fatty

Finished sealing up the tires this morning and took my new Carver Gnarvester for a ride today. Pretty much flawless out of the box, but I think one tweak will be needed at some point.

The build starts with a Carver Gnarvester alloy frame, which is a "29er+" rig. The "+" means the frame was designed to accommodate an extra wide 29" tire in back, up to 3" wide. That does not make it a fat bike though. Fat bikes can accommodate 3.7" and wider tires. I owned one for two seasons and had to abandon it after experiencing knee pain each time I rode it. To accommodate 3.7" and wider tires, the bottom bracket is widened so the chain and crank arms can clear the tire. This spreads the pedals out away from each other, the so-called Q-factor. I surmised this was behind my knee pain.  A plus-bike uses a standard bottom bracket width, so the Q-factor is the same as all my other bikes. Thus it should not bother my knees. The downside is you cannot put a proper fat bike tire in back for maximum float on snow.

The front-end is fair game for experimentation. The frame does not dictate what kind of tire, or wheel for that matter, you put up front. The diameter of a 29"+ tire is nearly 30".  Fat bike tires come in 26" rim size. Could I mate a 26" fat tire with a 29"+ tire in back? On the surface, there would seem to be huge mismatch, and that could upset the riding geometry and bike handling greatly. But fat bike tires now come in sizes up to 5". What is the diameter of a 26x5" tire? Almost 30"! So there-in hatched a plan. I'd give up some float in back to save my knees but maximize float up front by going as wide as possible. On paper, it looked great.

Over the past few months I collected parts. This was going to be a budget build. I salvaged a few parts from my previous winter beater bike. No carbon wheels. The difference between carbon and steel or even alloy forks is substantial though, so I did invest in a carbon fork. Plus it was critical that I maximized crown to axle distance to keep geometry where I wanted it. The Salsa Makwa fork could accommodate 26x5" and 29x3" tires, so it had generous crown to axle dimension to clear the big tires. Here's the build spec:

Carver Gnarvester alloy frame with sliding 142mm thru-axle dropouts
Salsa Makwa all-carbon fork, 483mm crown to axle, 142mm thru-axle
Sun Ringle 80mm Mulefut rim laced to 142mm Salsa Fat Conversion hub
Vee Tire Co Snowshoe XL 26" x 4.8" front tire, stud-able
Stan's 52mm Hugo rim laced to Halo 142mm Spin Doctor hub
Vee Tire Co Trax Fatty 29" x 3.0" rear tire
Tires and rims all tubeless-ready and set up with Stan's sealant
Shimano Deore triple crank with Gamut TTr 30t wide-narrow ring
Shimano XT 11-36t 10spd cassette
Shimano XT 10spd shifter
Shimano XT pedals
Shimano XT rear derailleur, medium cage
Bontrager saddle
Cane Creek 10-series integrated headset (no standards here anymore!)
Avid BB7 disk brakes with Avid levers
Thomson Elite post
Thomson Elite stem
Easton EC-70 carbon bar

The built weight came in about the same as my Santa Cruz Tallboy, just under 28 pounds. Surprising really, since there are no suspension components.  But when you consider how heavy the front tire alone is, it isn't so surprising (I think I measured 1500g!). The wheel base is about 1" less than my Tallboy. With a light front-end, it should be easy to loft it up on stuff.

The tires set up tubeless flawlessly except for one caveat. When I first mounted the Snowshoe on the Mulefut rim, I did so without sealant as a dry run, literally. It didn't hold air overnight, but no surprise there. So when I went to pop the bead this morning to pour in a few cups of Stan's, I couldn't do it! I don't mean it was hard to break the bead, I mean I tried everything and I could not break the bead in or out of the rim. I even resorted to screwdrivers! No dice.  The rim has a locking grove for the bead, and it locks alright. There is no way, ever, that tire on that rim will burp, even at 0.01psi! It also means if I ever flat with that tire on the trail, I'm walking out.

The Gnarvester at the new Wasserman bridge built yesterday

So how did it ride? In a word, great! The geometry felt spot-on. I started with tire pressures a little on the high side, as it is easier to adjust down than up on the trail. I hit my lunch stomping grounds in and around Horse Hill. Not the most techy area, but plenty of root and rock for a shake down test.

I met up with Arvid at his house by chance. He had a low pressure gauge. I tuned the tires down to 6.5psi front and 9.5psi rear. Those are essentially winter riding pressures, keeping in mind the rear is not a fat bike tire. Arvid joined me for the second half of the ride on a loaner fat bike he just got yesterday. Some spirited riding ensued. What impressed me the most was how the giant tires just steam roll over anything. Not the same as suspension, but still pretty sweet. I nearly wrecked myself several times over steering. The tires behave very differently than the 2.35" Racing Ralph's on my Tallboy. The shorter wheelbase added to the grippier cornering. I repeatedly came close to clipping trees on inside of corners. The 9.5psi in the rear 3.0" wide tire was probably a bit too low. I felt it bottom pretty hard a couple times.

Arvid leading on the Twister reroute the Bully was working on when
we came through.

On pavement, the reduced pressure tires were painfully sluggish. Pavement is not the intended purpose of this bike though. On the trail, I'd say it rides better than my Superfly hardtail with 80mm front suspension. The head angle is a little more relaxed, and the bigger diameter tire makes smooth work of root mazes.

The front tire is so massive it almost looks bigger than the rear, but the
rear is slightly bigger outside diameter.

The one thing I'll have to tweak is chain line. The triple crank places the ring out too far, such that using the biggest cog is marginal. It is very grindy and rough sounding. If I flip the ring to the inside of the spider, it hits the frame. Thus I should invest in a single ring specific crank that puts the ring around a 51mm chain line. That will just clear the frame and tire and give me a little less offset to the big cog.

So now we wait for snow. None in the foreseeable forecast. I'm not eager for snow so I can ride in/on it. I want to skate ski on it. I built up the quasi-fat bike so I can join others on weekend epics and be less disadvantage than struggling with my skinny hardtail on snow machine trails.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Git Yer Flow On

Summer is gone, fall foliage is on the ground. Some wait in dread, others in anticipation for what comes next. It is shoulder season.

When I first got hooked on cycling, that is all I did. Winter came, the bike got put away. Come spring, the bathroom scale indicated my approach was flawed. I learned to ride in the winter.

Similarly to how a friend coaxed me into cycling, other friends talked me into Nordic skiing. It took a while, but I learned to like it.  This took tremendous pressure off trying to maintain fitness and health over the winter months using only the bike. The best part about skate skiing? It was just like mountain biking in terms of aerobic intensity, exhilaration bombing down trails, and mental therapy. Snow had become something to look forward to, not dreaded.

But what about that season in between, you know, where cycling starts to suck and skiing isn't quite ready yet? Well, yet others lured me into hiking this summer. Yeah, anybody can hike, so how could it match the intensity and thrill of cycling or skiing, I wondered?  I learned it can in many ways.

When Soups invited me on a Presidential traverse this summer, I thought that is the quintessential New England hike, and I have to do it before moving someday in the maybe not too distant future. I prepped for several weekends leading up to the Presi traverse in hopes it wouldn't kill me. It didn't. Was that a one and done effort, back to regularly scheduled programming? I couldn't let this new, budding ability simply go to waste.

Mt Hancock on a gloomy October 25, but still oh so green.

Late last winter I bought winter hiking boots and snowshoes but never got a chance to use them. I intend to this winter. Why not maintain, even build on the hiking base I started this summer? I was noticing other little benefits from it that might serve me well in ways not immediately obvious.

For one, I have become considerably more agile on my feet. I have a terrible tendency to roll ankles. In fact, when I first started hiking this summer, I wore ankle braces for descending. Now I don't even bring them with me. Don't even think about it really. How can this be?

There's two parts to this I think. One is simply strength conditioning. Stronger tendons and stability muscles can do a better job stabilizing and ankle. The other is neurological. It now seems, after many weeks of long, technical hikes, my ankles just know what to do when planting on uneven ground. Control seems to be automatic and immediate. I can't help but think this will pay dividends on skis, as balance is such a critical aspect to skate skiing.

Mt Osceola, August 23

Another hiking benefit is upper body workout. I hike with poles and use them like I mean it. The poles aren't there just for balance. I use them to double-pole myself up big step-ups, catapult myself over big gaps, and let myself down big drops. Lots of uphill bounding work. Triceps are sore after some hikes.

I've also noticed improved hip mobility recently, which could only be from hiking.  All of that awkward lateral movement hiking rugged White Mountain trails is stretching parts of me out that have never been limber, even as a child.

Mt Kinsman North, on a frigid November 8.

Hiking shares a common trait with mountain biking: you get to chose your "line." Most of the time when riding a narrow singletrack trail, your line is chosen for you. But sometimes rough terrain offers many lines to pick from. Challenged riders will attempt the easiest path, while more skilled riders will hunt for the trickiest line. Most hiking trails in New England are brutally rocky, and there may be more foot plant combinations to hike a given section than there are stars in the sky. You can dance bounding leaps across the tips of boulders or take a safer, lower profile approach. As I gain confidence, I tend to take more daring lines on foot.

It is this aspect of hiking, the required focus and attention needed while interacting with the terrain, that puts you in a flow state of mind. I used to think only cycling could do this, but then learned skate skiing can work even better with it's rhythmic motions. Now, as I'm gaining stability on my feet and worry less about injury, hiking can also be a good flow state inducer.

Presi-traverse, August 8. Photo by Soups.

I don't intend to give hiking up anytime soon. I suspect long hikes have limited training value compared to structured intervals on the road or skis, but the other nuanced benefits outweigh any perceived shortcomings. I hope to pursue all of these activities for many years to come. Could this balanced, diverse approach be the closest thing to the fountain of youth?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Devolution of Hi-Fi and Evolution of Mountain Bikes

In what now seems like a prior life, I was an audio enthusiast. I was obsessed with following the latest loudspeaker advances, amplifier linearity enhancement tricks, speaker enclosure design and more. I had a 12-speaker system in my Mustang GT that could have potentially won awards, although I was not interested in competition. The system was 100% designed and built by me, none of this marketing hype BS stuff you could buy at a "high-end" car stereo shop.

My 2000 Watt power supply, designed and built around 1995. Power cables on right to battery are finger diameter. Frightful to look at, but flawlessly powered the best audio system I've ever heard in a car.

I never had a high-end turntable stereo system for the house. When I became old enough with enough money to buy such a system, CD's had already replaced LP vinyl records. I had older friends though, that had very nice turntable systems. The best reproduction of Pink Floyd's song Time from the Dark Side of the Moon album I ever heard was on vinyl.

When compact disks came out in 1982, they were touted as being superior to LP vinyl in every way. Curmudgeony audiophiles weren't buying it. I have to admit though, you could not play LP's in your car, so CD's were a huge improvement over cassette and 8-track tapes. CD's could also hold twice as much music as an LP, and you didn't have to flip them over half way though. Consumers immediately fell in love with the new format, even though some critics claimed the digitization and reconstruction process removed some soul from the music.

Another 12 or so years later, the MP3 format was introduced. Now not only was the music digitized, it was also compressed so you could fit lots of it into limited memory storage. This resulted in a huge step backwards in music quality by virtually anybody's standard. Consumers didn't care again. All that mattered was "I can put my whole CD collection into this tiny player?" Sold! To make this situation worse, most new music is now sold digitally in this compressed format. You can't even buy recordings of quality that was available more than 50 years ago! Devolution of high fidelity audio reproduction was complete.

I find all lossy compression techniques very abrasive to my ears. Even the high bit-rate MP3 formats sound awful. When I bought my last car in 2011, I paid for upgraded radio that would receive digital FM, as it was touted CD-quality. When I first tuned into a HD station, I thought something must be wrong with my receiver. You gotta be shitting me. Really? I was duped. It was worse than MP3.  Lossy compression puts many artifacts into the reproduced sound that are not harmonically related to the original content. Old school distortion is one thing, but compression artifacts destroyed the listening experience for me. I rarely listen to music any more. Never at work, on the bike, hike or skis. Music was ruined.

The sad thing is, there is no longer a need to compress music with lossy techniques. Hard drives measure in terabytes, MP3 players in hundreds of gigabytes. That can hold more uncompressed CDs than most people will ever own. Yet the crappy norm persists. We transitioned from 40 minutes of purist analog music on a 12" platter to thousands of hours of crap in a memory card the size of your thumbnail. Progress.

So you may be asking, "Hill Junkie, what in the heck has this got to do with mountain bikes?" Stay with me here.

I picked up mountain biking in 1996, roughly the pinnacle of competition in the sport. Mountain bikes had become a distinct thing from road cycling. Components were becoming more refined. Most bikes sold up until then were hardtails, and nearly everybody raced on hardtails. After all, the monkey motion in back added weight, and weight was evil, right? Pro's even pooh-poohed suspension forks when they first appeared.

It seems weight savings were driving a lot of the "innovation" in mountain biking's big growth years. Alloy supplanted steel, titanium was the dreamy material, and carbon fiber was just starting to make wrinkles in how things were shaking out. Parts kept getting lighter, wearing out sooner and costing more. Is this what we wanted? The marketing folks sure led us to believe that.

Then something happened. Not sure just what, but probably a combination of many things. Racing stopped being a big thing with big sponsor dollars disappearing. Lance Armstrong caught the fancy of many mountain bikers and made road converts out of them. The mountain bikers that remained loyal to the sport continued to ride for fun. The emphasis shifted from how silly light and efficient can you make my bike to how well can you make it perform in the terrain I like to ride?

This started a revolution in suspension design. Many new frame linkages appeared, forks became beefier with more travel and damping that really worked. Gone were the flimsy SID forks that instilled confidence only on buttery smooth trails. In were larger stanchion tubes and five or more inches of travel. Now riders had confidence to ride terrain that was previously inaccessible to them. Riding became a whole lot more fun!

High-end mountain bikes grew in weight during this period. Going back to earlier marketing hype, on the surface, this seemed that things were going in the wrong direction. Those consumers, they don't know what's good for them! Heavy bikes, bad!

The fact is, we were duped into believing that the weight of a bike mattered much. Turns out, that for how most people ride, weight is really not that important. How the bike handles and responds to terrain matters so much more.

A case in point. I've long believed that a lightweight hardtail was the best bike for the Vermont 50 mile MTB race, a race with over 8000 feet of climbing in it. Then two years ago, I decided to put fun before results and took my long travel 29er full suspension MTB to the race. It weighed much more than my carbon fiber hardtail. But to my surprise, I posted my fastest time ever on that course. And this year, I brought the same bike back and posted my second fastest time. At 53, I'm not exactly getting faster any more.  So what gives? Suspension lets you flow so much more smoothly on rough terrain and on descents that it more than makes up for weight penalty on climbs. You can stay relaxed and get much more enjoyment out of the experience.

My Tallboy when it was new in April 2013. Over 6000 miles on it now, pivot bearings, shock and fork all still going strong.

So by abandoning a metric, weight, that held high value at one time, the quality of the riding experience improved. It moved in the opposite direction to what a metric would suggest. To be sure, weight still matters to some riders and can make a difference in certain competitive events, but to the masses that drive sales these days, "what does it weigh" is not one of the first questions asked about a new bike.

What happened in the MTB world is exactly the opposite to what happened in the audio world. Here, the metric of how many songs can I put on it mattered more than the quality of the listening experience. I'm really confounded by this, as when I used to enjoy listening to music, I wanted to experience the depth of everything the artists were trying to share. I didn't want a compressed, digitized approximation of it. I'm glad the MTB world got over the "how many grams does it weigh" period and shifted focus to the riding experience. I think it's time the world of recorded music do the same.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

VT50 2015 - continuing my love-hate relationship with endurance racing

Back in May was the race to get into the VT50 mountain bike race. Something like 750 spots sell out in minutes. I got in. That kept the door open for me to race it if I wanted to. I bail when conditions are greasy. Don't need a 2009 repeat.

The weather has been spectacular all week, and it was an off-Friday weekend for me. I seriously contemplated doing a big ride on Friday, big hike on Saturday, then another big ride on Sunday. There are so many things I haven't hit yet this season. Snow will be here before we know it.

But how could I abandon the VT50 with possibly the best course conditions and best weather ever? I just couldn't. I worried a little about my bike coming back from Utah in time. It arrived on Friday, just enough time to re-assemble it and make sure it still worked. The sofa bike (Santa Cruz Tallboy, a long-travel 29er) worked so well last year at the VT50 that I had to use it again. It was set up identically with 2.35" wide Racing Ralph tires. I went a little higher in pressure since I thought the course would be even drier, something like 21psi front/25psi rear. With saddle bag for spare and DiNotte light, it weighed almost 29lbs, a tank!

Lining up, some people's Garmin's said it was as cold as 32F. Think mine said 34F, but I don't trust my Garmin thermometer anymore. Regardless, it was freaking cold. I was shivering. I pitched my wind shell just before we went off, not wanting to shed layers later in the race.

It wasn't quite as dark as years past going off at 6:05am. Hint of morning light in the east, and more importantly, no fog. My 1200L light was total overkill, but it sure let me bomb the initial descents in the woods where it was still pretty much completely dark.

I tend not to get too excited at the start. Way too many riders go out too hard. At one point, I was very near the back of my wave of over 100 riders. I'll be seeing and passing most of you before the finish! There is a penalty for not going out too hard though. "Conga Line" hill early in the race becomes just that. Invariably, somebody will rub wheels, spin out on a wet root, or just plain peter out and start walking. This causes a backward travelling shock wave down the hill, forcing almost everybody to dismount and start walking. This climb is completely rideable, but I have never ridden the whole thing because of early race CF antics.

Shortly after this, my front brake started squeaking. Just a little chirp each revolution. Things like that get in my head and bug the shit out of me. Why now? I rode 50,000ft out west in two weeks with perfect brake behavior, and now they act up? As I started picking riders off, more than once riders looked down at their bikes to figure out what was squeaking, then go oh, it's you. Most of the time, this is just nuisance rubbing and deprives you of negligible kilojoules.

I was feeling pretty good, trading places with the usual suspects over miles 10-30. Steadily I was putting people behind me.  I had no inkling of how I was doing compared to myself though. Didn't really matter. I try to ride the VT50 like it is a 4.5 hour time-trial. I could feel hamstring fatigue building though. Barely a moment to drink, as I was breathing so hard almost continuously.

I pulled into the Greenall's feed stop where I had a Camelbak dropped. Started with 64oz in my first Camelbak and had another 50oz in second. Took less than a minute to exchange, but at least three riders I had put behind me now had a gap on me.

Getting back to work, the first hamstring spasms occurred. Almost like clockwork. Suddenly, I knew the rest of my race would focus on damage control. There's a very steep, sustained climb at the 35mi mark. I walked all of it. I could not pedal while seated without my hamstrings locking up and the climb wasn't amenable to out of the saddle climbing. Bye-bye everybody. I've learned over the years that walking really helps to relax and recharge the abused muscles. I was hoping an extended walk would get me going for a while again.

While walking, I thought deep thoughts about why am I doing this again? A lot of endurance racers have dark spells during events. It's a question not easily answered and always forgotten once the suffering is over.

My brake chirp had turned into an incessant squeal by this point in the race. While off my bike, I checked it out a bit. I lifted the front wheel and gave it a good spin. Not even two revolutions! That was no nuisance rub. There was nothing I could do about it because I forgot to throw my multi-tool in jersey pocket. I did slightly loosen the thru-axle. That seemed to help a little. At least it reduced the amount of squealing.

The hike-a-bike did wonders for my legs, but I hemorrhaged many places, including Michel Lablanc from Quebec, who I just edged out by seconds last year. Did a podium spot just go up the trail?? Hmmm, that's not why I keep coming back to the Vermont 50, but I wondered.

My legs were touch and go for the rest of the race. I stood to climb everywhere possible. This is more like going up stairs or hiking, it is all quads and no hamstrings. Pushed a big gear too. Had to lock out the suspension while doing this, else wallow would just swallow up half my Watts.

With about five miles to go, I knew I would be slower than last year. I also knew that almost all of the finishing climb could be done out of the saddle, so I would probably not suffer any cataclysmic muscular lock-up. I caught glimpses of a Bikeway Source teammate further up. Who could it be? Hard to keep track of where everybody is in the dark starting out. It was Tom Casparis, who was having a good race. Tom let me by as I was emptying the tank on this last climb, as long as the spasms stayed at bay.

I had hoped to catch Michel after he motored ahead during my cramping episode. At one point, he dangled just 20 seconds ahead of me. But it wasn't in the cards. Once you top out above the finishing line on Mt Ascutney, the race is essentially over. It's nothing but sweeping switchbacks for a mile down to the finish.  I finished in 4:40:42, about four minutes slower than last year.

When results were posted, I was shocked to see this was good for only 10th place in the Master I division, 45-54 year olds. Former pro-tour rider Andy Bishop won the age group with a time of 4:20. And to think I might have been chasing a podium spot. Silly me! Nobody broke four hours this year. Comparing to my peer group, I actually did pretty well relative to my PR finish last year. Came out a little further ahead against some, a littler further back against others. A wash, really. Have to be happy with that. I did move up four spots overall from last year to 26th.

Some of the team present today: Mike, Josh, PJ, Susan and Skip.

Susan won her age group. Wifey gives me dirty looks when I post
photos like these...

Doesn't get any nicer than this. No fall foliage showing yet.
Three years in a row!

So this cramping business. I've gotten so much advice from well meaning folks over the years. I can say this with no doubt. It is not hydration, electrolytes, nutrition, temperature, intensity or duration. So you may say "Come on now Hill Junkie, that rules out everything." Not exactly.

I cramp on hottest summer days and in frigid ski races. I cramp when I'm well hydrated and can't wait to pee at the finish like today. I've added all manner of electrolytes in all manner of concentrations. Today I used liberal amounts of "lite" salt, which has a lot of potassium in it. I can eat too much or nothing at all and cramp. I can do training loops many hours long, hitting every climb at high anaerobic intensity and not cramp. I can ride 6-8hrs and not cramp. What is the single best predictor of cramping? Riding at moderate to high intensity with zero recovery time. I think something electrically gets out of whack that can't be fixed just be digesting "electrical" type compounds. It's like a battery with too much load on it. You can bring a battery to its knees if you try to take too many amp-hours out of it too quickly. Give the battery short breaks, it has time to bounce back and do it all over again. I studied deep-cycle batteries back when I did robotics work, and my cramping problems mimic this behavior very closely. I'm a microcircuits electrical engineer these days. Wish I could apply that knowledge to biological circuits.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cedar City

In Utah, I did a couple short rides on days where full plans were thwarted by rain. One was just a few minutes out of town call the Three Peaks area. The other was right from the hotel call the C-trail. Although short, the trails were primo material on BLM land

At Three-Peaks, I basically rode a perimeter Three Peaks/Big Hole loop counter-clockwise. I avoided the "whale trails" on the southeast side, tech material chocked full of bridges and slickrock stunts. There was rain coming down in all direction and I knew I barely had an hour to ride before getting soaked. When I saw the mountains over the city disappear behind a veil of rain, I knew my time was up. I high-tailed it back to the car. Got a decent ride in with some climbing, tech and flow. Something for everybody at Three Peaks.

Another quick ride I got in late one day was the "C" Trail. Presumably it gets its name because it starts right above the big "C" high up on the mountain you can see from anywhere in Cedar City. Seems all mountain towns have to conspicuously place their initial on a peak. This ride was even more speculative. Had rained a lot earlier in the day. Red clay does not drain quickly, and when wet, becomes utterly unrideable and will glob tires and shoes up the point of rendering you immobilized. The C-trail can be shuttled, but that is not my way. I pedaled 2200ft up a heinously steep dirt road to reach the top. It was wicked windy, cold and spitting rain the whole time. Squalls were visible just a couple miles away. Would I be walking out in a really bad mood past dark?

On the trail with bird's eye view of town, I found the surface almost perfect, like hero dirt back east. It had dried out just enough to not be greasy nor loose. The descent grade was very well engineered, never too steep, plenty of grade reversals and switchbacks to control erosion. It was very fun to bomb down. Even half way down, I still wasn't sure I would beat the rain back, looking down on my hotel the whole time. I was relieved once I made it down to the paved bike path with just a mile back. It could have rained all it wanted at that point.  I really liked that short loop. Pure Hill Junkie material.

Three Peaks. Starting out on Practice Loop trail

No horses!

Can find similar art at Fantasy Island trails in Tucson. Much of the same vibe
riding at Three Peaks. Decomposed granite surface.

On Three Peak trail "technical" section

I took the bridge

Slickrock area, starting to rain, downpour wall minutes away.

The "C" of the C-trail 2200ft up. Spitting rain and cold.

Heading up Cedar Highlands Dr.

From overlook just above the C, overlooking Cedar City

Heading down, tacky red clay and rock

One of many, many switchbacks

Part way down looking south(ish) on C-trail

Part way down looking north(ish) on C-trail

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brian Head

The weather didn’t fully cooperate for the second week of my trip when Cathy and mom joined me. Had to shuffle activities around weather and Zion river levels.  I had planned to do a couple local Cedar City rides on Friday before heading back to SLC later in the day. But I hadn’t hit Brian Head yet, the highest elevation ride I had planned. The weather was going to be flawless, so I had to get this ride in even if it made the day a bit rushed.

Brian Head is only 50 minutes away. I saw 37F on car thermometer driving over. Also saw a cyclist in shorts coming over the pass. That would have to be one chilly descent! On UT-143, I encountered mule deer and cattle in the road many times, none too eager to get out of the way. Sometimes the deer and cattle were together. I would begin my ride by climbing a couple thousand feet back up this road and have to ride through all these animals again.

I resisted the urge to put long layers on. The temp was in the 40’s, but the ride goes right into a 3000ft climb. Will only freeze for a few minutes until the blood gets flowing. Two weeks of continuous activity put me in a pretty ragged state. Despite being on a “schedule,” I wasn’t pushing any harder than a light tempo pace up this climb. At least I could go minutes at a time without a car passing.

The top of UT-143 touches into Cedar Breaks National Monument. There was a pull-off right there, so I checked it out. I never made it into Bryce. Cedar Breaks must be a taste of what Bryce is like.

Up on the plateau, Brian Head prominently jutted out. Almost a thousand feet to go on a gravel access road. Fall colors were starting to show, and leaf peepers were out. A few cars headed to the summit. As I approached the summit, a group of a dozen or so mountain bikers were just beginning to head down, obviously having been shuttled up there. There were only two women up there while I hung out at the summit for a while. Might have been 50F but zero wind and so quiet. Visibility was easily over 100 miles.

Beginning the descent, a brief chunky hike-a-bike was encountered. I thought oh no, is that a taste of more to come? No, the descent had something else in store. The large pack of riders appeared to have turned on Dark Hollow descent, which was fine by me. I ended up having the remaining 95% of the descent to myself.

Riding along the Sidney Peaks ridgeline trail at 11,000ft, the views were comparable to Salida or Crested Butte ridgeline riding. Just spectacular on this crisp brilliant day. 

Splitting off onto the Left Fork Bunker Creek Trail, things got interesting. This cut into forested patches. The area experienced extreme wind for a couple days  earlier in the week when all the torential rain fell. I encountered a couple downed trees and hoped that was it. Then I encountered a tangled mess so thick, you couldn’t even poke an arm into it. I could not find a way through the forest around it. I tried multiple lines, each time getting my bike so stuck I thought I’d have to abandon it in place. I was not too happy. I had just crossed a double track and though about back tracking and taking the road back down. I did get around the mess, only to find tree after tree down. Half of the trees were live trees, not just beetle dead trees.

Once I got a little further down off the ridge, the flow improved. Lots of derailleur destroying debris to watch out for, but some ruckus speed could be carried. Left Fork pops out on Bunker Creek jeep road, which I was parked at the bottom of. No more trees to dismount for! There was still a surprising amount of water on the doubletrack, fortunately all of it avoidable.

I finished the nearly 30mi ride in 2.9hrs, much less time than I would have thought with all the bush-whacking up top. Now it was time for the gloomy process of packing up the bike and heading back to the “real” world. Or was I in the real world for the last two weeks? I could easily become a MTB bum.

Zion National Park from UT-14 on drive to Brian Head. 
Think that is West Temple poking up in far distance.

Color while riding up UT-143 approaching 10,000ft

Cedar Breaks National Monument. Less than ideal lighting, but pretty cool.
On right in distance is blowhard mountain, where Luke and I bombed down
as thunder was starting.

Brian Head from plateau on UT-143

From summit of Brian Head looking north. Several hundred feet vertical drop
to ski area below.

View from Brian Head looking over Cedar Breaks.

Brian Head Ski area. Lift service does not go to summit

Summit shelter

Sidney Peaks Trail along 11,000ft ridgeline

Riding on Sidney Peaks trail was comparable to Crested Butte or Salida

Love alpine riding

View north along Sidney Peaks Trail

The blow-down section on Left Fork Trail. Forest was so dense here with so many trees down
that it was almost impossible to bush whack around this mess

Frequent dismounts for a while on Left Fork Trail

Nearing the bottom on Bunker Creek jeep road