MTB racing in 2014?

Ridgeline Rampage FinishI’ve been rather on the fence about racing mountain bikes this year. Last year I did most of the RME series, but with DK200 training and getting throttled year after year, my desire for a full series was pretty low. I had earmarked a few of the RME races (Ridgeline, Battle of the Bear) as they are fun races and are far enough out from DK so I didn’t need to worry about that, while a few others were too close to really take on.

Last week, with Ridgeline approaching, it was time to make a decision. While I feel pretty good with riding endurance right now, I knew this race starts fast and doesn’t really relent over the course of three hours. I’d had a couple good mountain bike rides, but not much in the way of hard efforts. The Friday before I decided to go pre-ride with some friends and see what the reverse direction of the course felt like on my singlespeed (SS). That wasn’t so bad, so why not race? And race SS for the first time?

I warmed up a bit and already I could feel my legs were a bit sluggish. I guess riding the day before wasn’t the smartest opener idea. The race started this year in front of the school and then up the bike path for almost a mile. The SS category is an open category, so I knew that there was going to be some guys dropping me right away (which happened) but I was probably in the final 3-4 onto the singletrack which wasn’t too surprising. One rider came by early, but I could kind of keep an eye on him. For a bit I thought I’d catch back up to a couple others. My heart rate was going crazy, but things were good going into the first big hill.

In the bottom third of the hill, things went wrong. My legs wanted to go faster (to get the hill out of the way) but my cardio wanted nothing to do with that effort. I couldn’t breath. There was no way I was making it up at speed and there was no way I was going to be able to grind out a slow cadence right then. I pulled off. Riders piled by. I couldn’t breath and it was only 2-3 miles into a 30 mile race!

I pushed on, thinking of excuses to quit. I can’t breath, that’s a good reason. I can’t keep going like this for a full race, that means I should quit. I passed through the lap halfway point and kept going. There wasn’t even any recognition in my mind beyond, “This is horrible – I should quit…”. The second half of the lap has only one long climb which I managed, barely. On a blind left hand turn, I grabbed my front brake and slide across the dirt, luckily the racer behind was aware enough to call it out so I didn’t have four people pile up on me. Crashing, that’s a good reason to quit. When I was finishing that first lap after what seemed like 10 hellish miles, a rider finishing their lap just in front of me first asked a junior (who was finishing his race) if they had to do another lap, then asked me how many I had to do and I think I just said “Three”, mad that someone didn’t know what was going on and that they would bother my sufferfest.

I kept going. I was probably 24 miles into the almost-30 miles before I realized I had maybe a dozen sips of water, finished one bottle of electrolytes and had no food during the entire race. It was an endless cyclocross race. When I approached the steep switchbacks on the back side of the course, I found two geared riders walking it and a few other geared riders riding around them (in some not so fun loose gravel). There was no way for me to pedal at a very slow cadence, over the “bad” line, behind the two riders. So I hopped off and walked the steep parts of the hill before hopping back on. Shortly after this is a fun downhill section followed by an uphill. I was pacing behind a rider when he sat up suddenly just as a rider behind both of us started to pass. My choice was to slam into this rider or just to the left, passing him without calling it out, and then letting the other rider by (who had followed my line). Slowly I was becoming that singlespeed rider who hates on all the geared riders.

With one final bit of walking on the last steep switchback, I realized that it was finally done. It was all downhill to the finish, a few geared riders hopped by with their final burst of energy (and gears since the downhill was just at the sweetspot where you can’t really pedal it with one gear). Around the final couple corners and across the line. A race I wanted to quit in the first 30 minutes was over, after almost 3 hours of pedaling. I hadn’t had a race like this. The first hour was such a searing experience, while the rest of the race was managed almost on autopilot.

Mountain bike races are still fun, but I think I need to reacquaint myself with the idea of challenging myself rather than focusing on my placing among other riders and finding the balance of fun and training. Riding bikes is fun and I don’t mind doing some work to make goals happen (e.g., training is fun) but I think I just need to find what’s right, which is probably always a moving target.

How to sneak away and spend a night in the woods

The plan: get in a camping night without waiting for a weekend day (and the snow storm that was on it’s way…). After a recent trip out to Buffalo Creek trails, I realized that the area was only about an hour from work (depending on traffic) and with sunset already at 19:30, I could get a bit of day time riding as a bonus. Then in the morning I’d have to wake a bit early to get back to the car and back to town, but it seemed very simple timing wise.

So I grabbed my camping and riding gear (more about that in a minute), went to work, and as soon the bell rang I jetted out to the mountains. As I rolled out of the parking lot on my bike, though things went a bit wrong: the chain on my bike sucked up into the frame nearly ending my ride. I rode around the parking lot trying to get it fixed, tightened the cable, and eventually realized it was mostly fine if I was in an easy gear. That wasn’t going to be a problem as I was going to ride up a 4 mile climb first thing with a full pack …

I had picked going up Nice Kitty trail as it was close, but also because I had long been thinking the trees around the Buffalo Burn trail would be a prime camping area. With the timing, it also seemed like it would work because it would amount to enough riding on both days without being overkill. Bonus was that I got to ride around these trails that I normally ride in morning/afternoon around sunset which was spectacular! After a slow climb up the hill, I reached the treeline and scouted around for a bit settling on a few trees for my hammock. I grabbed my food, stove, and a can of suds and headed out into a good spot to catch the sunset while I cooked dinner. Afterwards I set up my hammock and settled in watching it all transition from day to night. The moon was fairly bright so even after dark you could move around the hillside without a light.

Buff creek sunset

As the evening wind picked up, I ducked into my hammock and adjusted the rain fly to block some of the wind. All in all, it wasn’t too windy that night which is nice. There are plenty of places I could have moved to had it gotten too bad (further into the woods or down a little meadow). When my alarm went off in the morning it took a while to make my way from the warmth of my sleeping bag into the cold. I made some coffee, snacked on some breakfast, and tore down camp. I had planned on cooking some breakfast but hadn’t been too hungry and decided not to bother. Luckily, because I was short on time.

I turned on my headlight as the sky was starting to brighten (the ground was still dark enough that it was better that way). When I got to the top of Nice Kitty again, I could see a heard of deer moving along the ridge in front of me. Further down the trail I found a herd of elk. One of the elk would stop and see if I was following them and then bound off with the others. Down at the car I loaded up, defrosted the car, and drove back to down (right into rush hour traffic unfortunately!).

Sleeping gear: I used my Eno Hammock with profly for shelter, a sleeping pad, and my older Sierra Designs sleeping bag (with a light liner). This system was warm and comfy … though using a sleeping pad is still not exactly bulletproof with a hammock. The sleeping bag also packs a little larger than I like. But I may get a bag or two for my MTB so that I can offload other things from my pack and have more room for my sleeping bag.

Stove and food: since this was a very simple trip, my food setup was really basic. I brought an MSR dragonfly stove, an MSR pot for cooking, and an smaller pot/mug for coffee. Food wise I brought up some pre-cut veggies, salt/pepper, olive oil, and tortillas. I had a few snack food items too, coffee grounds, and an MSR coffee filter. I also had a camping spatula (folding) and titanium spork. I could have cooked dinner with just the spork, but had the spatula for the eggs I planned on cooking in the morning.

Water: I carried one bottle on my bike which was good enough for the short ride up, down, and a bit on the drive in the morning. I had two 32oz bottles with water but only used part of one. So I could have gone a bit lighter with only one extra bottle.

Bike gear: two tubes, a multitool, a few CO2 and inflator, a small pump, patch kit, and extra chain links.

Clothes: I rode up in a jersey, base layer, bibs, and arm warmers (which weren’t needed since it was 60-odd degrees out). At the top I changed into tights, an old long sleeve baselayer, a warm vest, and a hat. I also wore the arm warmers once the sun went down. In the morning, I threw on a light rain jacket and some warmer gloves than my normal riding ones. It was still pretty cold and I was glad it wasn’t too cold to take the gloves off to handle some packing. I also had some Keen sandals for around camp (camping in riding shoes isn’t so great!).


AntiEpic 2014

There’s an immense network of gravel and dirt roads to the southeast of Denver. The endless undulations of “West Kansas” are a prime home for many of the front-range gravel ride with beautiful country side, dirt roads everywhere you turn and views that stretch from more country to towering peaks. And it is home to the front range’s most difficult gravel grinder: the AntiEpic 160. Proof that you can pedal up hill all day long while starting and ending in the same place!

Last year’s race started in the Greenland area between Denver and the Springs, but this years moved further south gaining a bit of mileage and a bit of climbing (but the gravel crowd rarely complains about this … until a ride is done at least!). Once again the day’s start was under a clear, pre-sunrise sky. After getting back over Monument Hill, the fields were covered in a good amount of snow, but the roads were clear and dry. The fast guys had attacked already although for a time I would draw back one group by bombing down the downhills. That didn’t last too long though.

When headed towards Highway 86 for the first time, I worked with a couple people while I could. After getting onto Commanche Creek I felt a bit like I was riding with a cold, just a bit nasally, a bit achy for only 40 miles or so. There wasn’t much to do but to keep pedaling. Once you’ve made your way a dozen or so miles up the road here, you’re options are to turn around or maybe to head east … but no real options for cutting this loop short if you wanted.

A few people came by and I felt a bit like I was just pedaling squares. Eventually I could see one rider about half a mile to a mile ahead of me. Where Commanche Creek turns into Co Rd 149, he turned left and I thought it odd since the course heads the other way. But I had no way to signal him and kept pedaling. I also thought it was odd that I passed another rider that I’m pretty sure didn’t start with us. I pedaled on.

2014-04-05 16.08.33 copyAfter finding Qunicy Rd rather pleasant (last year it was a sandy washboard that felt like it could snap a bike in two), I turned and found another rider pulling up with me. I changed up my cue sheet and we chatted and then headed out. JB, who was the rider I saw previously, and he had set out to do 120 miles but decided to finish up the 160. We rode together and he hung with me while I changed a flat on Co Rd 42. As we approached Deer Trail (the halfway point and only place to get water/food), we found another rider’s wife was providing a bit of water for riders. We filled our bottles happy not to head down the hill to Deer Trail (and then back up to get back on course!).

My legs were feeling heavier as the day went on. I tried to drink and eat but really failed here. For a long time I felt like I was holding JB back a bit (I was) but eventually he started to suffer too. After we climbed out of an open range area, he flatted on a cattle grate. I waited for him and then he realized he had put the wrong tube into the tire and sent me ahead. I figured, particularly now that I was feeling a bit off, that I would see him shortly. I stopped at a turn that I thought I had marked wrong (it was marked correctly but the road sign didn’t have the state road number on it). I grabbed an old fence stake and put an arrow on the ground hoping that JB would see that in case he was confused.

Again I found the “SAG” vehicle and chatted with her a bit and assured her that her husband was still ahead of me if he was still on course. I told her I was arranging a ride back to the car but she mentioned they could give me a ride if her husband was stopping. Turning the pedals. I was on Ridge Road which has several climbs and I briefly would feel better and then feel tired. A friend was able to come get me so I picked Kiowa as a nearby place that would be easy for giving directions (seemed better than “I’m on the corner of a dirt road and another dirt road by a fence”). Just getting to the highway was nearly the end for me. I walked two short steep hills and eventually made it to the highway.

After I had pedaled maybe a mile or two of the highway, the SAG vehicle came by and offered to give me a lift. They stopped and I found they had two guys in the back who had tried out the “b-road”, found it muddy and opted to head back to town. So with four bikes loaded into the back of the truck with two guys, a dog, his wife, I got a lift down into Kiowa. Not long after grabbing some provisions my friend pulled up and was able to give me a ride back to my car.

I hate ending a day like that but I was approximately 50 miles from the finish with the hardest hills and a difficult B-road. If I was already bonking on hills … getting back to the car on my own power was going to be pushing 13-14 hours.

Gear Notes: this year I rode the familiar Stans Alphas with Clement MSO 40s. The tires were very comfortable on the dirt/gravel roads and felt like I could fly through downhills and turns. I did have one flat from a goathead so I was slightly disappointed in the puncture resistance but it was also in a situation that would be tough to avoid. I also realized a bit of reorganization of gear would be good: I had two feedbags, a framebag, and a hydration pack. For the AE you have to take a bit more with you for the entire ride than rides like DK200 where you have aid stations but there were a few things to move between the feedbags and framebag. I’d also be interested in trying a Gas Tank bag instead of the feedbag(s).


Embracing Winter

Learning to snowboard Learning to deal with winter has been a fun and worthy activity over the past few years (and the opportunities are slightly more available here). First up, learning to snowboard has both been fun and a nice break into outdoor activities that don’t (always) involve heading up hill by my own power. The first lessons went well and I feel like I’ve slowly come along and love working at it each time I get the chance to hit snow. Last winter’s snow wasn’t “the best” (or so I was told) and this year I got some first hand experience with some good powder days… which may have spoiled the icy-snow days.

This winter, I decided to finally take on proper snowshoeing. I’ve taken to the trails in winter to hike, but this year I got to enjoy a few good days out on snowshoes. I have explored Brainard Lake, the Colorado Trail, Golden Gate Canyon, and even a bit around Rocky Mountain National Park.

SnowshoesWinter is hereHere’s hoping I can sneak in a few winter days as spring continues to happen down at lower elevations!

Keeping context

I tend to work on multiple projects throughout a day. Occasionally larger projects may soak up most of a day but there is still a tendency to jump around. And projects that often mean that I have a vagrant box running for that project, a git repository that I’ll interact with, and quite possibly several other fairly similar tools or links.

Keeping track of this can be quite a headache when you’ve been in a single frameset for a while. I often have my git folder open in one terminal pane, with a vagrant SSH session in another, perhaps another terminal open for something else related. That could mean changing two or three different windows to different locations or commands. That’s quite a bit of spin up time.

To help with this, I created the Context tool, which is a project switcher. Autojump tools like z or j get you pretty close. You can enter commands like: z project and it’ll take you to that project. You can even do some nested commands like: z project sass and it’ll go to your SASS folder inside that project. Hopefully.

The Context tool allows you to create configurations in JSON to represent your project. You can specify the pieces you need or don’t. You then get a uniform approach to working with multiple projects. How does it work?

First, you’ll install the library. I hope to someday have this in brew or other tools to make it easier but for now it changes a bit between versions. This will give you a command called context (or something a bit smaller if you want to alias it!). Then you will create one or more projects in your contexts file (normally ~/.contexts).

You can switch contexts:

Some commands, like git, require that you run them in a specific directory (or directories). But you may be in a terminal window somewhere else. Context fixes this by allowing you to run those commands in their proper place: context git status.

So in one terminal tab I’ll usually run something like this:

That’ll switch projects and open up my git repository in my $EDITOR. In another tab, I’ll run this to launch my vagrant box for that project and SSH into that:

You can configure your context with a link to the website or dev site and open it with:

Context also lets you have links that have specific keywords. So, if you want to open up your login page you might enter: context link login. Or if you need to login to your dev site, context link dev-login. These can change from project to project: it’s just an object in your configuration file, but it is even better if some of them work between projects (because then you have the same interface between two different contexts!).

The library is also extensible. You can add either new commands or plugins. Commands are extensions like “git” or “vagrant”. These are common behaviors or tools you use on your project. Plugins can subscribe to events (currently when a command is fired) and run on that event. One of the contrib plugins will catch when you’re switching projects and allow you to turn off the current vagrant box before switching!

Check it out. It’s still a bit of a work in progress and pull requests are welcome: