Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fast begins with a state of mind.

It is not often that I feel fast.  In fact, hardly ever, but if it does happen, it is typically downhill on some singletrack on the magic day.  But overall as a rule, nada.  Rare.  Perhaps extinct, is that feeling of fast.  There are many times I feel strong, but fast?  Hmmm.

Fast guy.  Not a donkey.
I have discussed this before here in Donkey-speak.  Then, last week's enduro brought that back to mind again.  Now, I certainly had some excuse for being off the mark due to my surgery and lack of saddle time, and, to be fair, there are likely very few over 50 year old guys among the general population that can even DO that type of thing and survive.

But I am not concerned with the general population.  I am, of course, comparing myself to my peers.  I do not expect to hang with the younger gazelles that won the race, but I was watching a guy at least my age just walk away (well, pedal away) from me like I was tied to the hitchin' post (donkey reference...again).  Now he is a racer-type and I am not really, but #@**&% and @*^##!! that is frustrating.

So last night the wind was howling like it often does here in the Fall and it was cold-ish too.  I am fighting a bit of an ear infection of some sort so I am off a bit there and the couch sure seemed cozy and inviting.  In answer to that, I dressed for a ride and went out.

I dressed fast.  No, not in a hurry, but I wore less layers.  Just a very well worn pair of knickers from Boure' (are they still around?), wool Swiftwick socks, a Speshy base layer and jersey, and light gloves with a Buff headband in the helmet.  No jacket, no winter gloves, no baggies. 

I grabbed the hardtail; the Giant XTC-1 29er from last year's test.  Hardtails have a way of making you feel like you are faster, even if you are not....zippy kinda'.

I pedaled fast and hard.

I felt faster.  And, in some ways, I was faster.  They say that 'attitude precedes the action'.  My attitude was to go out and move quickly up and down the trail, not just to go for a ride.  It made a difference.  I know that some riders always ride this way...if they are not riding hard and with purpose, they are not riding.  I do not relate, and frankly, I never will be that way.  Too type 'A' for me and life is too short to not ride for fun and relax sometimes.

But, I do hope that I can sharpen my focus a bit and change my expectations of myself.  I can do better, given the blessings of time and health to do so, and I sure would like to not be last into the finishing line the next time I set out on some race event.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Post Enduro Post

I laid there in the dark on Friday night, listening to the wind blow the light rain against the tent walls and wondered if this was such a good idea.  Up until now I had been very enthusiastic, if not excited about the whole thing, but now, in the darkness and cold, doubt was creeping in on little cat feet (apologies to Carl Sandburg).

Tomorrow morning was the San Jacinto Enduro, hosted by some hard working folks from the Idyllwild area.  Ed the Tall and I had blasted down on Friday a bit early.  On the way down we were talking about our relative lack of fitness prep, what with his knee being somewhat broken and my limited time on the bike since August.  I don't think I had been on more than a 2 hour ride since June.  Still, we were excited to be out and ready to pedal a bit and see new places. Fools go where angels fear to tread.

I was committed to the 50 mile loop but Ed was leaving himself open for the full monty, which added a 30 mile loop like a cherry on top.  I figured I could drag myself around for 50, but more than that?  Doubtful.  I am a realist after all.  This was a 'race' in the sense that there would be 'winners' and time keeping, PBRs, etc.  I was just there to survive.  Racing was out of the question.

We found the camp area and set up the tents at the ride start.  There was no one else there and the group camp experience was looking grim.  So, under cloudy skies and cold temps, we headed into town and cruised around a bit, picking up some snacks and breakfast food.  Back to camp, we hooked up with Brendan, talked about the route a bit, and then headed back to town to find some dinner.  Apparently not too many folks were braving the weather for camping.  It was in the low 50s and would be into the mid forties overnight with misty air from all the clouds.  I think that is great camping weather (and Ed does too) so we were happy.

Idyllwild seems to be the restaurant capital of the mountains.  There must be 5 eateries that say they are the best burger on the hill.  Passing on the burger joints, we tried a nice looking Italian place.  It was just a bit fancy for our dress and budget...a 14 dollar salad and 20+ dollar entrees?.....not.  We found a decent cafe' and I had an excellent chicken pot pie. Yum.  THAT would taste good at the end of tomorrow's ride.  I wonder if they deliver to mountain tops?

The ride start was an early one.  We were up by 05:00 at least, and it was dark and cold.  The bikes were dripping wet with dew and visibility was slim.  I layered up pretty well with leg and arm warmers, wool socks, a wool head cover, etc.  A rain jacket was tucked into the Octane 18 hydration pack, which, true to my form, was overpacked.  Not racing, just touring, ya know.

I grabbed a couple of the Blackburn Flea lights and put them on the bars for the 45 minutes of light we would need at the ride start.  I sure did not want to carry my bigger lights all day long.  I had my GPS on the stem too, and it had the ride track in it.

For food, I had 8 or so homemade oat bars, a couple of cheese and cracker packs, two packets of Carbo Rocket, and a Gu flask.  I chose the Epic Marathon for the day, something I questioned a bit later on.

The rider's meeting showed a much smaller field then expected.  Some of the riders were carrying little more than what I bring along for a 2 hour local ride.  Hmmmm...they looked sleek and fast.  I looked like a bag lady wearing my entire wardrobe.  Off we went into the dark and the mist, and then up into the first, long, climb.  Right about then one of my lights turned off.  I whacked it and it came back on and then went to 'red' status.  Hmmm...need to check that when I get home.  One light was fine as the clouds were reflecting a lot of light and there were others around me.  The main pack was a fast moving ribbon of lights way off in the distance.  See ya.

I backed off the pace to let my heart rate come down a bit, and then shut off the lights, enjoying the sunrise trying to get over the clouds with little success.  At some point, the clouds parted enough to see Lake Hemet below us.

About now I looked down at the GPS, which had been fully charged, and the batt level was sitting at maybe 20%...maybe.  Oh, great.  I had a route sheet with mileages, but the cues were obviously written by a local as they said things like "turn left toward town".  Great.  'Left' is relative to which way you are pointing and 'town' is where you find it.  So, a prayer went up regarding fools and failing batteries and on I pedaled, hooking up with Rob for a bit who told me he was coming off of a broken back and his shoulder was still wired together.  Oh.  Tough guy, eh?  My pace was off of his, so he pedaled away after a while.

I had brought just a bit more clothing than I ending up needing, but not by much.  One thing I did do was wear a set of baggies that are really good in wet weather.  The down side is that they are a loose fit at the waist and they would slide down on my butt every few minutes.  I have a callous on my left thumb from pulling up those shorts all day.

Soon enough I was at the bottom of the first segment at 26 miles into the loop.  I had spent a lot of time looking at the route on Google Earth...thanks for that....cuz it saved me in the end.  I knew a big climb, 3500' in 4 miles or so, was next.  I mixed another bottle of fuel, stuffed some food in my mouth and stripped some clothes.  It was still overcast, but warming a bit.  The climb was a hurt-fest and about there I was thinking I should have brought the Lenz with its deeper gearing.  I managed the climb with the 2x10 on the Epic Marathon, but I would have liked to save some energy with something lower than 26X36. I cannot imagine riding this on a SS like some guys did.  Crazy hard.  It was just me and Sam now.  Sam was another tourer and we would ride basically together for the last stretch of the ride.

My frustration with the cue sheets was mounting as the sheet completely ignored signed road intersections and N/S/E/W directions.  Sigh.  The GPS was in such a low batt state that I dared not use it to try and load the route, so it was just a fancy odometer that I reset at known points.  At some point we began to get into the singletracks, none of them signed, and the cue sheets had them listed by the local names....meant nothing to me...but I actually was on route until one point in the ride, then I went afoul.  I was following the best sets of bike tracks I could, but I got on to a rabbit trail that dropped me onto the main dirt road in a wrong place.  Here is where 'left and right' kill ya if you are off route.  But, I knew where I was and what direction I needed to go and I was pretty much on that.  Plus, I was following lots of bike tracks and I figured all good trails lead somewhere eventually.

The trails were twisty and techy a bit, and the ride was only dampened by the nagging thoughts that I was on the wrong track.  I sat down at a road crossing and checked my help there, and the GPS was worthless for showing me the route.  The batt was hanging in there though, so the prayers were answered.  Time for a new GPS.  I found a doubletrack that may have been the one on the route sheet and it had a lot of tire prints on it.  Off I went.  I did not think I was on track, but I could see buildings in the distance and it was a fun trail.  Good enough.  I ended up parallel to a highway and I remember Ed the Tall saying the 24 hour course was next to the road.  I also remember that Brendan had mentioned that if you are off course, you could end up on that trail.  Well, at least I was not lost.

I ran into a rider that confirmed I was on the 24 hour course and that it came right into Hurkey Creek Park right next to our camp sight.  I relaxed and enjoyed the ride into camp, rolling in dead last for the 45 mile group and glad to be there. Ed had passed on the second loop.  His knee was a bit sore and he had really been hurt by the second climb and had called it a day after a bit of route finding, even with his functioning GPS.  He had beat me by 90 minutes or so.

I had a good time, even though I really had no business there among that fast crowd.  I sure did not have the miles in my legs and no training at all beforehand and I was still wearing my 'girdle' after the surgery just in case.

I learned a few things.  Always study the maps before you go.  I spent about an hour looking at Google Earth and that was huge in keeping me feeling like I had the big picture in mind.  Without that, I likely would have flipped around when my GPS became useless for route finding.  I stopped too much.  I always do that...always have.  I stopped to adjust clothing, eat something, check the route sheet, etc....sigh.  One of these days I will show for one of these things dressed sleek and fast like those greyhounds that won this thing and I will pack light and travel like the wind without stopping.  Maybe.  However, I was in an area that was new to me in weather that was wet and quite cold, and I was pretty sure I would be off the back.  If I had any real issues, I wanted to be able to NOT DIE out there.

I would have felt faster with tights and less clothing over the multi layer approach.  It is mostly an emotional feeling, but it helps when the day gets long.  

7.5 hours of pedaling and route finding. 895 times where I hitched up my saggy shorts.  8 oat bars, one Gu flask, two packets of CarboRocket, most of a 100 oz reservoir with Elete in it, and a couple of Cliff Shot Bloks.  I actually felt pretty good at camp.  I fueled well and paced well.  I was almost on course, but never got lost.  I survived.  I will take that for now.  Next year?  Who knows.  Maybe I will try to be fast.

Grannygear, gentleman tourer.

Some of the things that I loved on this ride:
  • Swiftwick socks...Merino wool ones.  Yummy.
  • The Merino wool Buff headwrap.  That rocked.
  • The base layer shirts from Specialized.  I never felt cold even when soaked with sweat.
  • Elete electrolyte additive.  I never cramped, even when the distance and lack of fitness told me I should have.
  • Carbo Rocket.  Brad K. makes a mean tonic.
  • Fluid recovery drink.  Love these guys.
  • KT Tape.  Two strips across the lumbar and my back NEVER hurt.
  • My wife's oat bars.  Tons of energy and easy to eat.  Thanks, hon.
Check the links on my other page for more info on some of this stuff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finally...a real ride.

I have not done a really good ride since the beginning of summer.  That is awful, but that is the way it is.  So, this weekend Ed the Tall and I are heading down to do a little ramble in the hills around Idyllwild, CA.  On tap is a 40+ mile unsupported loop with an additional 30 miles in a optional second loop.  I am hardly at my best but I think I can get the 40 miler done.  I am not shooting for the bigger 70 mile version, but Ed is.  Some folks are 'racing' it but we are just out for a good pedal with some fine folks.

So, basically, Ed's knee is still messed up so even that may get adjusted as the day goes by.  I am still healing and have not ridden anything longer than a three hour ride for the last three months...Ed is much stronger than I but he is broken...we have never ridden there before and we expect it to be cold.  We start in the dark with no GPS tracks we can absolutely rely on and no SAG wagon.

Sounds perfect.

I can't wait to saddle up.  I figure I can heal along the way, but I may have to shoot Ed if he comes up lame.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I miss my SS

The post surgery recovery is going well enough, I suppose, but I still am not back on my singlespeed except for some small forays into the local canyons.  I am still not ready for the full body effort that SS riding requires up hills.

So yesterday, after my morning ride on the Epic, I changed clothes, grabbed a bottle of the new chocolate Fluid recovery drink, and rode over to a bike festival that a local land access group was putting on.  I figured the Epic needed a rest so I picked out the SS Jabberwocky and headed out.

Right away I was smiling, even pedaling down the street.  I really like that bike.  In fact, as I have ridden more and more SS bikes, I keep coming back to the Jabber as the ride of choice.  I know that some day I will have my head turned and retire it, but for the money (or even more $$), it is a fine bike.  Stiff in the right places, rides well, weight is OK, handling is slow but steady....good trail partner, that Jabber.

Now that Vassago (they make the Jabberwocky) is coming out with the Black Label frames, a hand made in the US of A product with grade AA tubing and a grade AA price tag, it will be interesting to see how it turns out for them. The Jabber is about a $500.00 frame IIRC. The Black Label bikes are in the $1500.00 range.  Wow.  That is a BIG jump.  If they are, say, a half pound lighter with a sliding dropout and a tighter geo, well, those are good upgrades.  If it rides a bit nicer, then that is fine too.  But three times the cost?  I bet it is not three times better to ride compared to the Jabber.

That is into the custom range of builders like Waltworks.  Now, the upside is no wait for the custom shop to build the frame and you know exactly what you are getting since they are all the same.  What you see on the website is what ya get.  Walk into the bike shop and point..."I want that one!".  And that has value too.

We shall see how it turns out for them.  I hope very well, as a slightly better Jabber is enough to get me pretty excited, seeing as how much I like the old one.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Coccoon with a roof.

I am smitten with a...well, not a dream really, or even a vision.  But I have this odd desire, that whenever I see a storm moving over the distant mountains, I want to be bivvied up in a shelter on that mountain, watching it all happen.  Not in a tent where I cannot see anything happen.

Odd, huh?

So there it is.  And that may be part of the reason that I find a tent kinda' isolating from the outdoors that I am working so hard to bikepack in.  I have been going back and forth in my mind on how to come to the best balance of shelter for bikepacking trips.  The UL one man tent I have from REI is really very good and it would take several hundred dollars to improve on it in a full shelter and, even then it would be a minimal improvement in weight and pack-a-bility.

So back to the thought of a tarp shelter like the one in the pic and a lightweight ground cloth. The appeal of a more open shelter, yet still having reasonable cover, and gaining a smaller and lighter load in the seatbag makes me go "hmmmm".  I really want to like it.  One bad part about tarps is lack of bug and creepy crawly protection.  And, once you get into a tarp and bug screen combo, you might as well just go with a tent cuz you are really only saving tent pole weight and gaining a bit of openness.

Along with that, I am thinking I may be compatible with a bivvy sack like this one at REI.  The bivvy can be a real claustrophobic experience for some.  It basically is a fabric shell that looks like a soft version of a sarcophagus.  This one has a mesh netting over the face area and is pretty waterproof everywhere else.  I was not sure how I would like the feeling, so I went down to REI and laid in one for a bit.  Not too bad, actually, and even the mesh against the side of my face did not bother me.  I think I could like it.  The down side is that they can gather condensation, especially if you breathe inside the bivvy.  The mesh of this one helps there and it has side zips to vent it.  I figure that in the desert and mountain areas I typically ride in, I have little humidity to deal with, so condensation may be tolerable.  I also use synthetic bags.

If it all works out like I think it might, I would have a rain tight shelter combo with tarp and bivvy that would be reasonably wind fast, bug proof, water resistant, and right at 2 lbs total weight, less a ground tarp and cording/stakes for about $200.00 or so.  I also could go with just the tarp in less buggy trips and warm climes, and just the bivvy if I really wanted to travel fast and easy.

My UL , 1 pound bag is good down to the 50s temp-wise.  That is fine for summer in So Cal.  But spring, fall, winter, and elevation can bring that waaaay down into the chilly zone for my wimpy bag.  The tarp makes that worse if the wind is up, so I hear that a bivvy like this is good for another 10 degrees or so of warmth.  If I add a liner like the Thermal Reactor one I have (or steal a Snuggie from the family couch), I can go even colder and wearing clothing with that may get me into the 30s.  Maybe.  Any colder than that and I don't wanna' be there (although stuff happens).

So, now that I know I will not freak out in the bivvy sack and slip into madness with the wrapped up feeling it provides, I feel like I may actually have a good plan for the future.  I can always bring the tent if I am expecting truly wild weather or want a lot of privacy.

Who knows.  Maybe I will finally get that odd desire of mine to come true.  There is a storm a brewin' and the mountains beckon.  Time to cocoon up.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The pedaling wounded.

Well, coming back from this silly Hernia surgery has been harder than I figured.  I sure hoped to be ratcheting things back up by now, but I actually took a week off after some unexplained soreness last weekend.  So, it rained this week for the most part and made it easy to be lazy and off the bike, although I do love riding on misty days.

This Sat I will creep back in with a long bike path ride on one of the hardtails I have, then try again on Sun for a real mtn bike ride.

At about the same time, Ed the Tall twisted his knee doing some physical activity.

He was either:
A:  Running with the bulls in Pamplona
B:  Competing in the World Salsa Dancing competition in Brazil
C:  CIA stuff.  Black helicopters.  Shhhh!  Said too much already.
D:  Hiking and slipped on a rock.

Pick one ya like.  Personally, I would go for the Salsa dancing, but that is just me.  Doesn't he look suave'?  Either way, dancing injury or not,  he is less than 100% and is awaiting the medical poking and prodding to see what he did to himself.  Could this be number three in a series of ACL repairs?  I hope not for his sake.

The bummer is that Fall is some of the best riding we have.  And, we are scheduled to ride an Endurance Event in late Oct, either 45 or 70 some miles.  Hmmm...could be ugly.  How will this turn out?  Dunno.  We shall see.  One thing for sure, we are not likely to be fast by late Oct.

It makes me wonder about doing anything surgery-wise that is not an absolute necessity.  I was trying to get the repairs done before things got worse and I got older.  I imagine it will be OK in time, but I am impatient when it comes to getting back to exercising.  How DO people live a lazy, sedentary life?  Man, that would kill me.

So, if you are healthy and strong today, go do a good ride for those of us that can't.  Ed and I will appreciate it

"Brevior saltare cum deformibus mulieribus est vita", eh Ed?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dirtbag Bikepacking: A DIY Seat Bag from a compression sack

Well, I finally got around to finishing up the project of making a bikepacking seat bag out of a readily available compression sack.   It came out fairly well, and I hope to put into use by letting friends use it on trips.  I think it could be done better and I would love to keep messing with it, but frankly, it is not worth my time, especially since I do not have a sewing machine.  If I had a hvy duty one of those, I would be more interested in V 2.0.

As it is, I do need to get on making my UL quilt to go over my UL sleeping bag.  I need to take my temp comfort zone up a bit for sleeping and I figure a UL synthetic quilt over my 50 degree bag, combined with a liner, ought to get me into the low 40s at least.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

One order of Thunder and Lightning, hold the chain lube.

Last night was quite a show, both during and after a quick ride with JeffJ aka Circus Bear on a Bike.  We have been in monsoonal (monsoonish?) weather as of late.  We get very little of that in my 'hood, although the distant high deserts get it all the time, flash floods, etc.

To begin with, I was astride a new bike that I just had assembled, a 2011 Raleigh XXIX singlespeed with the Gates Carbon Drive set-up.  I am a willing skeptic in that I have been watching belt drives go through all kinds of teething issues and wondering if it will ever meet all the hype.  I hope so, cuz it is kinda cool.  More on that as time goes by.  Another thing that is new to me is a rigid fork.  OOOffff.  How do folks do that as a full time ride?  You really do have to adjust the way you ride.  I always lock out my fork when climbing and just cruising along on my SS, but will open the squoosh valve when things get fast and rough.  No way to do that here.  Lots of elbows and knees getting used here.

The frame sure feels stout and yet has a nice steel feel, but it ain't light, not at the price it sells for.  Not sure if I can live with the fork beat down, though.  I may have to run a squishy fork on there at some point.

At the high point of my ride, since I am still a bit iffy on an SS ride post-surgery, I let JeffJ top out a bit beyond me and I sat and ate some of my wife's killer oat bars.  In the northeast, there was a storm a' brewin'.  On the way home, I had seen huge anvil head clouds rising off the high desert and over the distant peaks of the backcountry.  man, I wish I was up there all bivvied up and in the middle of it.  I sat and watched lightning strike after strike, often with multiple fingers out of the clouds, dance in the darkest part of the clouds just 5 or so miles away.  Hurry up, big Jeff.  Not a place to be in a lightning storm astride a steel bike.

Later down the trail and out of the storm's path, we paused to watch the day wind down.  Yeah, it could have been a lot worse. JeffJ contemplates below.

Later that night and into the morning, the gods that dwell under the mountains were up late into the wee hours, bowling and drinking and gaming.  Thunder.  Oh yes, thunder...and lightning and rain.  Sweetness.  Now THAT rocks you to sleep.

Friday, October 1, 2010

More Travel Is Funner

I do not live in a place nor do I ride in such a way that I require a bunch of suspension travel on my bikes.  Heck, I will ride my hardtail SS with an 80mm fork for a while and then, when I get on the 100mm/90mm Epic 29er, it feels luxurious.  There have been some road trips that have made me wish for a bigger hit bike.  Something like Burro Down in Moab, for instance.  But most of the time, I am fine with less.

In fact, I shake my head at the guys on group rides with 6" travel 26ers. Typically I am next to them on my SS 29er...or in front of them..or running away from them.  We just do not have the trails that require that kind of machine as a rule.  SO you end up hauling it around 100% of the time for the 5% of the time you really may need the extra squish.

Silly boys. 

But, lately I have figured something out and it happened in Colorado at Keystone when I was coming down the mountain on the 2011 Speshy FSR 29er, a 130mm F/R 29er FS bike.  A word popped into my mind:  "Playful".  That was the word.  Not fast, although it is that.  Add a few extra inches of stroke to a 29er and you can go fast enough to make your eyeballs bleed.  Yes, I found myself riding maybe juuust a bit faster than I was on a 100mm travel Epic, but what I was doing was riding differently.  I was pre-loading the suspension and lifting off of jumps in the trail.  I was zooming around berms and launching off of roots into rocky sections that would give me pause on the other bikes of the day.

I was playing more.  I was smiling a bit more too.  How 'bout that?  Is that why those guys ride those 6" bikes when they don't need them?  Have I been the 'less is more' Grinch?  Am I missing something?

So I came to a conclusion.  I do not really NEED a bigger travel 29er even though it is a good quiver bike.  The guys that ride those AM 26ers on our 2 hour XC loops don't need them either.  But it may be possible that they are grinning more than I am when riding.  Can't have that.

I don't want to get to the point where I am masking a lack of skills with big forks, brakes and tires.  I think that happens too often when someone buys into the 'bigger is better' deal.  I have said so in no uncertain terms.  And I do have a reputation to uphold as a pedal hardened, crusty old curmudgeon. Big suspension? Phaa! Lots of gears? Meh! On trail I am expected to look like Clint Eastwood squinting into the sun just before he guns you down in the dust.  Ever see Clint grin?  Nah.

The man, on a happy day.  He must ride a Brooks saddle.

So, to see if I am missing out here, an FSR 29er frameset is headed my way, and parts are being assembled and acquired.  I will likely take it on a road trip if winter permits to get it into its element on a bigger trail, but this hardened old XC guy is going to ride the local stuff too, perhaps grinning like a Cheshire Cat.  I figure that if I am in the lead, no one will know.  You know that Clint smiled when his back was turned....after he gunned 'em down, of course.