Bikepacking CT 1 and 2

Last week was one of those weeks where you start to hear rumblings about the upcoming forecast, words brandied about like “arctic”, “front”, “polar”, and “vortex”. A recent trip back to Buffalo Creek area trails whet my appetite for camping and being out there. Add these two things together, and you gotta get out there while it’s still good.

Bikepacking on the Colorado trail

It’s been a while since I got in an overnight bike packing and with the season wrapping up a bit, I decided to take on the Colorado Trail’s (CT) segment 1 and 2. Initially, I had even thought about riding from my house, potentially leaving on Friday night after work, but I lucked out on not doing that. Waterton Canyon, the first stretch of CT 1, has been closed during the week and it looks like the light rain that came down during Friday night was snow up in some of the north facing slopes of the CT.

Saturday, Waterton was a bit soft but fun cool cruise. There was a bit of headwind, but I just kept the pedaling soft and enjoyed it. In classic fashion for that section of trail, I had a stand off with a Bighorn as it wanted to move down the canyon. Or maybe he just wasn’t sure why I had so much stuff. As you enter the first bit of single track, I could tell the shifting on my bike was definitely not “right” but it seemed to be more noisy than in danger of breaking, so I pressed on.

The CT from Waterton climbs up to Lenny’s Rest, a bench and trail intersection with a trail to connect to Indian Creek trails. Then you bomb into the Bear Creek drainage and back up along this steep, rocky canyon. You hit the first proper hike-a-bike section (yes, people ride it). The climbing is unrelenting until you hit a techy section along the creek. There’s a few forced hikes here too. After climbing to a ridgeline, you get a bit of respite in a more rolling terrain. About 4 miles out you hit one of the best overlooks I’ve seen. As I descended through this section a rider passed me on his way to do 1 and 2 and back all in a day!

Then you get a magical, switchback friendly, descent down to the South Platte River. I stopped here, ate some food, adjusted clothing layers, and started out on segment 2. Segment 2 east-to-west is pretty much a climb the entire way. From the river, I encountered tight switchbacks which eventually gives way to just some steady climbing. At times I hiked through deep, steep graded patches of decomposed granite. Bike packing is more akin to backpacking at times than people may realize! After a wooded section I ran into a group of riders who I had met briefly back in Waterton who were shuttling segments 3 to 1. We chatted a bit about bike packing and it was good to have a bit of company after pedaling for 4+ hours almost alone.

Nearing the top, I ran out of water in my hydration pack and so I knew stopping at the firehouse was going to be in order. At the start of the ride, I’d made my first snafu. Originally I planned for taking my hydration pack (100oz) and two water bottles (64oz), but I figured between the river at 16-odd miles in and the firehouse, I wouldn’t need it. When I got to 126, I rolled down to the firehouse and searched for the water spout. I couldn’t find it. Dejected, I rolled back up to the CT and rode the last few miles to camp. I had 32oz of water to get me through the rest of the day, cooking that night, coffee in the morning, tending a fire, and then back down to the river. I had enough (too much?) other food with me that didn’t require cooking, so I made a plan to skip cooking and coffee to save water. There was an small stream about a mile away that I could filter, but it was downhill from where I was camped (and so it would be back up hill to get to camp), so I just didn’t go. I made my fire, snacked through the night, and read. That night, I slept in my bivy, but my sleeping pad wouldn’t keep air so this made a fitful night of sleep.

In the morning, I tore down camp and headed to the Little Scraggy lot before eating breakfast. As I made breakfast there, a few people came by and chatted. One asked if I needed anything and when I asked if they had any water to spare, I got an extra 32oz of water from them. I now had about 40-odd ounces of water to get me to river which made my day.

As I rolled out towards the start of segment 2, I saw some elk and deer, rolled down one of my favorite portions of singletrack. Crossing Raleigh Peak road, the trail drops down through lots of terrain I had hiked the day before. You hit one steep tough climb and then the rest of the way is almost entirely downhill. Surfing a weighted bike through the decomposed granite was a lot different than riding down without bikepacking gear. My legs felt like bricks, but could handle steady output of power. Any sudden peaks of power were difficult. I reached the river in a little over an hour and half, pulled out my water filter, and got some more water. This was the first time using my filter so it was a bit of learning process … but it went pretty well.

The river is the second major low point of these two sections, so that meant climbing back up. It’s almost 4 miles of climbing up some rocky, power hungry sections. I ended up walking a few places where I just didn’t have the might to get through rocky terrain while climbing. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was finally peaking by the time I got to the top. Then I ripped through a rolling section of single track that really made me feel like I was truly mountain biking, not bike packing. As I worked my way back to Bear Creek, I saw my first person (a trail runner), then a couple groups of mountain bikers. I rode much of the technical features on the way through the section, which was surprising given the weight of my bike. Hitting the climbs back to Lennys was difficult and the shifting was definitely starting to complain. I pushed up to Lenny’s and was finally there. All down hill from there!

All in all, that’s about 56 miles and 7,700 feet of gain in two days. Both sections have really great trail and really difficult trail. There are places that are going to require at least some pushing, even if it is just around tight switchbacks.

Gear

  • Bike: Spearfish
  • Sleeping pad, attached to handlebars
  • Saddle bag (Revelate Pika): sleeping bag and bivy, sleeping bag liner, stakes, some extra clothes
  • Frame bag (JPaks): tools, tubes, first aid, riding food
  • Backpack (Gregory): clothing, stove, one 32oz water bottle, 3L bladder, tarp

The bike bags are nearing maxed out with the loadout they have. Currently my spearfish won’t fit a bar bag, which would get pretty much everything on the bike. I think for overnights, the Spearfish will still work great. They can be loaded out better but I’m looking into a new bike for 2+ night trips, letting the Spearfish still be a general MTB and overnighter when I want it. The backpack load that I had was very manageable (especially when the 3L of water was empty!) so it wasn’t problematic.

Using jsdom and mocha for testing

The JavaScript space for testing code, and specifically browser-based code, has been changing quite a bit recently.  There are more options now than when I recently was working on a project, but I found a pretty simple way to test some jQuery functionality while in Mocha.

First, the code:

Second, the caveats:

  • As you can see in the code comments, the module is using a module and not referencing it. This isn’t ideal. We’re adding jQuery via the global namespace. I haven’t found a way to reference jQuery in the module if it’s not defined yet, but that would get around this sticking point.
  • Using jsdom to run the tests like this, you need to build/populate the DOM objects you want. For my use case, it works out OK, but may not work for bigger testing demands.
  • As mentioned, there are plenty of other options for testing full browser pages and testing within different browsers. Be sure to use the things you need for your project!

Gear testing: new sleep system

For years and years, my camping sleep system consisted of a one or two-person tent, sleeping bag, and inflatable pad. Eventually I added a hammock to the mix. Recently I’ve become more interested in bike packing which puts a premium on weight and also pack-ability. My sleeping bag especially didn’t really fit this scenario. It was time for something new.

This weekend was my first test run with a new system:

The Palisade is a open back sleeping bag or quilt design bag. The concept is centered around the idea that compressed insulation doesn’t add much (if any) warmth, so get rid of that and you have a lighter and just as effective sleeping option. Not only is the bag crazy light (claimed 17oz), but it packs much smaller which will be awesome for bike packing.

Red Mountain and Hoosier Ridge

This Saturday I went for a mountain bike ride and then drove to McCullough Gulch (near Quandary Peak) to camp. Unfortunately, it was super windy in the gulch and raining for part of the afternoon. I also had a bit of elevation sickness kick in which wasn’t helped by camping over 10,000 ft. Since the weather was calling for potential rain/snow, I opted to setup my Big Agnes solo tent without the tent body (fly, poles, ground sheet) and then bivy inside of that. Warmth wise I slept in pants, warm socks, a short sleeve shirt, warm “down” vest, jacket, and hat. I probably could have ditched the jacket with a light fleece, but it added warmth for my arms with all the wind that never died down the whole night.

I setup the bag with pad in the foot box and the simple cords tie-downs around the pad. This made the foot box a bit cramped, but warm. Next trip I’ll probably just setup with the pad on the outside. The small-seeming foot box was actually nice and the adjustability of the bag was awesome for a side/stomach sleeper. And since the wind kept going all night keeping me awake, it was nice being able to move around. The bag also has a simple snap closure around the top that I used when the wind would really pick up and instantly the whole setup got much warmer!

So far, thumbs up to this setup. I look forward to trying the bivy out in the open or just under a tarp. And hopefully getting in a overnight bike trip before winter arrives.

An ode to failing at not failing

You can also read my pre-DK200 post.

I’m forcing myself to write about this year’s DK200. It may not be interesting to most, I mean, there are dozens of places to read about people successfully finishing the race. Heck, flip back in time and you can read about me finishing the race. The fact that I’ve finished before and didn’t this time … there must be something of interest there, right?

After DK 2012, the thoughts in my mind when a few weeks had passed was “I can do it again, I could do it faster. I won’t say that I would never take on this race again, but it’s still not solidly in my mind to do it again.” And indeed, I opted to take off a year at least. This race doesn’t really demand too much attention on the day of the race, but it’s five-to-six months of work. Bike tweaks, long rides, riding when you’re tired, mental training, core strength, leg strength, food, weight management, packing lists, finding a crew, and more riding. When you’re on the line, it’s all done (hopefully). There’s nothing else now but to pedal and fight your demons.

For this year’s edition, I left Denver and drove to Salina, Kansas on Thursday of race week. After getting to my hotel, I quickly loaded up for a bit of riding around Salina. Since my hotel was on the southwest edge of town, I simple pointed my bike away from town and hoped I could get some gravel and I found a mecca of nice gravel roads, a few gravel pockets to test the skills and plenty of bugs. The area I was riding in here was much flatter than those on the DK course, but it felt good to cruise along at good speed without working too hard. It was very humid and hot. The sun was going down, but it was still in the 80s. Wait… I used to live and train in this weather all the time. It can’t be that bad, right? And … do I feel an allergy attack coming on from the pollen? I’ve only lived in Denver for 2 years … it can’t be that foreign to me now, right?

The next day, I made a couple stops at Walmart, registered for the race, killed some time, hung out with friends as they got into town. My support crew got into town and we went for a bit of food and went over the game plan and relaxed. Before I knew it, the months of training and thinking about the race were over and I was on the line outside of the Emporia Theater.

It was already pretty warm, in the mid 60s before 6 am, so at least I didn’t feel the need to have arm warmers or any extra layers. Remembering that the race is a bit hectic at first, I opted to pull off my gloves so I could grab food as needed. The race started and we streamed through Emporia and out onto the gravel. The beginning of the race is a bit hectic as there are two to three lines of people, riders already on the side of the road with flats or mechanicals, bottles in the track (already), and my favorite: the disappearing tire tread. I was on the left side of the road, following a line of several riders through one of the tire tracks on the road when it suddenly dumped us into a gravel well. Which is interesting when you’re riding 20 mph in a line of riders and suddenly are going 5 miles an hour.

After about 20 miles, the groups had split apart as we got into the first rollers. I was feeling pretty good, pushing down pain in back and the start of some pain in my right knee. If these were starting in segment 1, it either meant trouble or just a constant companion for the day. Part way through this segment I realized I had left the map for this section in the hotel. But this is also a busy section where I put in more than 30 miles before even moving my cue sheet to the correct page. At CP1, things went really smooth. I got some food and water, lubed my chain, since there was plenty of dust and a few splashes of water and a hike across the river. My buddy told me there was a big hill just around the corner, but I couldn’t really see it, so I thought he must be crazy. Then I saw the big cobblestone slab and just drug myself over it.

Segment 2, I remember feeling pretty good. My back was hurting, I was more alone, but there were riders around. I remember a sketchy gravel descent before hitting the open area before Texaco Hill. Texaco Hill was a bit different than I remembered because the hard punch was at the beginning and the rest of the hill was pretty good. And then we hit my favorite road cruising into Cassoday, one that seemingly always has a tailwind and is just smooth little riser. I felt good. That first hundred went by in a little over seven hours.

Feeling good, ate some food, rested, our bike mechanic support neighbor adjusted my wheel a bit but everything was running pretty smooth. I knew that was going to change a bit, but I wasn’t really prepared.

The whole day I had been using ice socks to keep cool and they were working great. They would last for about an hour or so, but that helped. Leaving Cassoday the course went due east and straight into a headwind for about 13 miles. It wasn’t the worst headwind in the world, but it started to put a kink in my armor. It’s ok, we just gotta get to mile 113, then we’ll turn north and get out of this wind. And it did. We turned north on this rough bit of track, mostly hidden from the wind, and extremely hot. Completely exposed to the sun this section just snaked through very rock-heavy area of Kansas. The rocks seemed to be cooking me. I reached a hill and just couldn’t pedal, my stomach was locking up, I was burning alive. I was downing some water, trying to get a bit cooler and to unlock my stomach. Push the bike up the hill. Stand in the shade. Feeling slightly better. Pedal the bike.

I got out of that little valley, that I deemed the “hell hole”. I pedal on and rest as I can. This section featured an amazing ridge where you can see riders ahead of you, but not really where the road is. A reminder again of how special the riding really is out here in this part of the world. A while later I was suffering but trying to pedal. Eventually I hit another open range and had to battle cows along with feeling sick. A truck, the first vehicle I had seen out on the roads I think, came by and made a bit of a hole through the cattle for me to follow through. Then as I reached a small town, about 20 odd miles from the checkpoint, I spotted a buddy of mine who had dropped out and was waiting on his wife to come through. I grabbed some cold water from him and chatted for awhile. The cold cold water made my stomach feel worse, but I still tried to drink some.

Pedaled on a bit and found a guy standing in some shade and I joined him. Eventually he pushed on and a bit later I followed. Finally I got to the paved road to Cottonwood Falls, but it wasn’t the nice road I remember from 2012, but another rolling affair into the city. I found by support and sat in the shade. I tried eating and getting some more fluids. I wanted to go on, but it wasn’t happening. The first 100 happened in about 7 and change hours. The last 50 had taken me 4-5 hours.

With only 50 in the race to go, I worried that the next 50 would take another 4-5 hours. I worried that the heat exhaustion would bloom into full on illness and I’d be out in the countryside laying on the side of the road. The food and drink were helping, but I could feel it all sinking in and opted just to take the day out. A 150 mile day is good. It’s not what I wanted. Seeing people finish that I’d see earlier in the day was difficult. In the end, I believe I made the right choice, things would have good sideways out there on the final section. I could have finished, but it wasn’t worth the risks.

Onward and upward. I’m taking on a new challenge this year, the OT100 MTB race (my first try at 100 miles of trail, although I was close in the Burnin’ 12 hour years back) back in Missouri. It should be a blast.

The ubiquitous pre-Dirty Kanza post

Two years ago I finally took on the Dirty Kanza challenge. It had been something in my mind for a couple years and I had successfully finished a 12 hour mountain bike race the season before and felt like it was doable. Of course, I moved to Colorado a couple months before hand, making training a bit of a last minute scramble (February and March, I rode roughly 400 miles, then rode almost 550 in April after my move!). I knew after completing it, there were other things I wanted to do rather than spending the winter and spring getting in long road miles. So I put it off. I didn’t really push some of my goals last year and the short of it … I ended up signing up again this year.

Now, it’s 5 days out from the race, I have more miles ridden to date than 2012, but I kind of feel less prepared. My fitness is sometimes pretty random this year. Via the “magic” of Strava segments, I can see how 2014 hasn’t been as quick as 2012 in many ways, but I’ve been riding more. I would randomly PR on things that weren’t really specific to anything I was doing (like on climbing Lookout Mountain recently).

So I’m really unsure how things will proceed over the weekend. But after talking with some friends and family, I’m trying to keep the mental preparation simple: finish the race, make sure to drink water, eat, have some fun, and push through the tough bits. If I happen to be close to my two goals of beating my last time or (by some crazy happenstance) close to finishing before sunset … great. But days like DK are very difficult to predict and just difficult on their own, without imposing my ideas on it.

My setup is pretty much the same this year:

  • Kona Jake the Snake
  • Schwalbe’s now defunct Cyclocross Marathon tires (same ones as 2012). Backup wheels have Clement MSOs.
  • Two feedbags and a tangle bag from Relevate: http://www.revelatedesigns.com/
  • Osprey Raptor pack

The pack will again serve as my plain water source and hold my rain jacket and that’s about it. Everything else will be on the bike with food in feedbags and everything else in seat or tangle bags. This will also allow me to decide to ditch the pack if I feel like bottles are enough between checkpoints. I’ll change out hydration bladders at 100 miles and bottles at each checkpoint. This year the race is providing maps and cue sheets for the entire course ahead of time (normally they give you the first map the day before and the subsequent maps at each checkpoint), so I’m mounting the cue sheets in a homemade map holder. I’ll probably keep the maps separate and in the frame bag to grab when I want a little more context.

Looking forward to hitting the gravel again! Hopefully I feel the same after the pedals start turning :)