Monday, November 19, 2018

Thankful for Bicycles

My foot hovered over the pedal of the bike, brain hesitating, unsure of whether or not I really wanted to set out in the cold. As I stood shivering on a cloudy, thirty-degree day, I questioned my sanity for a brief moment. Four brown eyes, attached to two furry pups, stared out at me from inside the house. The warm house.  It'd be so much nicer to snuggle up with them, I thought. There was a stack of dishes in the sink, a house begging to be cleaned, and a dozen other various "things" that needed to be accomplished, but none of that mattered. My leg pressed down on the pedal and I was off.

Fall is a banner time for me to ride. Nearly without fail, October and November tend to be the months I ride the most throughout any year. Even though the weather is entirely unpredictable during these two months, I find myself wanting to push and/or see what I can accomplish before the end of the year. In part, I ride more during these months because of that desire to give it my all before the year runs out, but it's also when I feel most connected to my environment and have settled into my bikes. It's that time before I know it will be difficult to find a day to ride that doesn't include iced-over roads or that isn't so cold I have to talk myself into even wanting to step outside.

On this day, as I set out, the air is beyond brisk. Somehow, when the sun isn't shining, low temperature days feel inequitably colder. My bones feel chilled, even with enough layers. Still, I have this unspeakable desire to be outside and to pedal out the chaos of thoughts running through my head. There's something of beauty in the rhythmic patterns of turning a bicycle crank that evens out all the other disorder in life.

Normally one to avoid climbing, I'm craving it today. I head in the only direction that will almost immediately have me head up a hill. Huffing and puffing, my body pushes to turn the crank, and slowly I make my way upward. My mind is telling me I can fly up the relatively brief incline, but as reality sets in, I have to make peace with my idealized self and the far more harsh reality.

I briefly chastise myself for not working harder through the summer and even years prior, and then ultimately relax and allow my body to work its way through the task. Berating myself will accomplish nothing. I continue to work, now in intervals, pushing as hard as possible for 20 seconds and then soft-pedaling for 40 seconds. This becomes its own rhythm through the ride that requires my sole focus. The thoughts that had occupied my mind just a few minutes prior have no space in this place. They are forgotten memories, or at least temporarily belayed, that do not require my immediate attention.

The wheels are flying, almost floating, breezing over whatever comes into view. Golden-red, deep green and brown leaves litter the path, creating shapes and patterns, images that my mind attempts to make sense of without success. The cold air freezes my face, but I can't help but let out a smile. My legs feel made of steel and simultaneously light as feathers. I could ride this way forever. There's a perfect cadence, whether softly pedaling or pushing, that seems to be bringing together a sublime pace. All that exists here in this time is euphoria.

It's one of the reasons I ride -- for these flashes in time that feel inexplicably perfect, when life melts away and the only thing that exists is a moment that makes me feel like a superstar cyclist that I definitely am not.
*Image can be found on this site
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving here in the US, I am grateful for a body that allows me to move (even if it has hiccups or doles out pain at times), for bicycles that allow me to transport myself with relative ease to get where I need to go and/or for sport (and often for head-clearing purposes too), and for those who continue to travel along life's journey with me.

May this autumn season bring you closer to those you love and provide a generous allowance of time for riding your bicycle(s). Happy Thanksgiving to all who read here on E.V.L.

Monday, October 29, 2018

First Impressions of a Steel Road Bike: The Rivendell Roadini

In prior posts, I've mentioned that over this past winter I was on the hunt for a dedicated road bike. The biggest problems I faced were my preference for a steel frame and that I really wanted a bike that would accept at least a 32mm tire. Although custom options are available, it always surprises me how few choices there really are in an era of bicycles becoming more wide-tire-centric. After trying out an "adventure bike" made of titanium, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I had been eyeballing the Rivendell Roadini with mild curiosity.

Despite being unconvinced it was the right bike for me, after riding my Riv Sam Hillborne nearly exclusively for solo paved rides over several months, I began to think that maybe it was not only a plausible but potentially smart option. For a Rivendell, the cost was somewhat reasonable and I could build it with up to 35mm tires. It met the steel requirement too, however, I wasn't convinced that it would actually ride like a fast road bike.

My desire was for something that felt swift (since I'm not a fast rider, being able to feel like my effort is producing something is important to me) and responsive -- not to have a duplicate of the Hillborne. The goal for whatever bike came into my life was to fulfill my want to occasionally ride solo and not feel as though I'm weighted down by anything other than my own lack of capability.

Secondarily, but also of great importance was to have a road bike that was comfortable or at least tolerable on road rides. I've owned far too many road bikes that were incapable of providing the comfort I always seem to be seeking. Between hands (and other body parts) going numb, to improper fit, I was fed up with road bikes that hurt.

The one bit I was hung up on in regard to moving forward with purchasing the Roadini was the fact that in the smallest size (that I would require), the bike takes 650b wheels. I don't have a problem with the wheel size in general (after all, we own several 650b-wheeled bikes in our home), but there is not a huge selection of road wheels in that size that accept rim brakes. I didn't want to end up with something that I'd be struggling to find parts to complete or to end up with inferior parts because there wasn't another option. While custom wheel builds are a possibility, it's nice to just be able to buy a wheelset off the shelf.

But, after several debates about whether this was a good option and looking around to see what else would potentially fit my desires and budget, I opted to take the plunge and see how this bike would do for me.
If you don't have interest in the parts build of this bike, feel free to skip down below, but for those who have the desire to know, here is the build:

- 47cm Rivendell Roadini frame/fork
- Pacenti 650b wheelset
- Shimano Ultegra R8000 11- speed shift/brake levers
- Shimano Ultegra R8000 crank (170mm, 50/34)
- Shimano Ultegra Bottom Bracket (BBR60, 68mm)
- Shimano M7000 SLX 11- speed cassette (11-40t)*
- Shimano XT rear derailleur*
- Tektro R559 brake calipers (unlike what was recommended on the Riv website, the smallest sized frame needs the longer reach of these or an equivalent)
- Continental Sport Contact 650b x 32mm tires (that are strangely marked as 650c tires)
- Compass Randonneur handlebars (42mm)

All told, with the Brooks saddle and flat pedals, the bike weighed in at just over 22 pounds.

*So, I have to note here that it is unlikely many bike shops would offer or attempt this setup, but fortunately for me, the in-house mechanic is used to my strange requests and is willing to try just about anything. I prefer a triple set up in order to get up steeper hills/mountains in our location; however, I have found that a double makes me ride a bike more like a road bike (meaning, I tend to push myself a bit more when I know I don't have the gears to fall back on). Still, I wanted to have some of the range I would get from a triple, so we decided to try out an 11-40 cassette and used a mountain rear derailleur to get everything to cooperate. This setup required the use of an extra long chain (I believe it took 118 links) and also required this little gadget in order to get things to communicate/shift properly.

Not mentioned above in the build is the quill stem. I know this is something that often brings about debate in the cycling world. It's not an item I take particular issue with; however, I will say that one of the huge annoyances with a quill is figuring out the right reach. Since I've owned several (too many, really) quill-necessary bikes over the years, we have several options in the parts bin. For those who don't have that luxury, it's important to know personal fit to be able to determine the right measurement on the first try, or you may end up purchasing (or exchanging) several sizes to find the correct one (not to mention the annoyance of removing the brifters and the handlebars in order to change the stem).

I did not choose the correct length for the first round build. Thinking that too short a reach would have the bike feeling squeezed, I opted for an 80mm, but it turned out that was far too long for me and it was immediately exchanged for a 60mm in the stash, which feels nearly perfect.
Of note with this particular Rivendell is its lack of the company's typical lugs. While there are some (seat cluster), the cost savings on this frame comes at a loss of all those beautiful lugs. I was perfectly willing to accept this, but for those who need to have every joint lugged, a look at the Roadeo or potentially a custom option is probably a better bet, though those options come at a much higher price.

With the bike built and ready to ride, all I had to do was actually go out and use it. After some delays due to out-of-town visitors and other various happenings, I was finally able to get the bike out on the road.

As I had anticipated, I was not particularly fast on this ride - but I had doubts that it was the fault of the bike, but rather my own lack of pushing myself over the prior couple of years when it comes to speed. Part of my hope for this bike is that I would actually want to ride it and therefore speed would come back to me over time with regular use.

What I did notice on this inaugural 30+ mile ride was that I was not in pain, and dare I say it, even comfortable. No doubt, having the wider-than-usual road bike tire played a role in that, but I also think my body just likes the way Rivendells ride. I've had success with the Sam Hillborne (obviously) and it's difficult to get me off the tandem, not to mention the others that have blown in and out over the years.

From Rivendell, I have ridden at various points the Sam Hillborne, A. Homer Hilsen, Betty Foy, Cheviot (which is much the same bike as the B Foy), Saluki, Hubbuhubbuh, and the made-for-Soma San Marcos. So, at this point, I think it's safe to say that they just make bikes I like. Likes aside, other than the San Marcos, none of these have ever felt road-bike specific, which isn't to say that any of them can't be ridden on the roads, but rather that they lacked the pickup and lightweight that is often expected of a road-specific bike. My biggest issue with the San Marcos was simply the size - it was just a bit too big to ride long distances with drop handlebars (for me) unless I hiked them up to a ridiculous level, which then changed the handling of the bike.
For me, the real test with a new bike comes around the fourth or fifth ride. It's easy to let the excitement of a new bike take over and sometimes I don't notice things that become apparent a little later in the relationship. About the fifth ride on the Roadini, I became keenly aware that I neither feel fast nor am I physically fast on this bike. Granted, as stated prior, the rider is not particularly gifted with the ability for speed regardless of the bike, but I was averaging even slower times than I had been on the Sam Hillborne. Minimally slower (which may have been the fault of the rider and not the bike), but still slower.

This frustrated me entirely. I came home whining to Sam about how slow I am, but he was convinced that it was all in my head. Not that I was making up the speeds I was traveling, but rather he believes that I get it in my head that I'm slow and then actually make it reality. It's probably a fair assumption, but I truly believed I was pushing myself, so it was all the more painful (mentally) to realize that I was actually slower on a road bike than on a bike meant for carrying luggage.
Sam theorized that perhaps lowering my handlebars would help put me in a better power position and that this, rather than the bike, had been what was slowing me down. So, the next time out, I lowered my handlebars about an inch or so and set out to test his idea. While I could feel that I was using bigger leg muscles that in theory should bring more power (and therefore speed), I didn't actually average much faster speed. Bummer.

What I realized after testing this bike is that it is a lighter version of the bike I already owned and that my initial supposition that it would ride similarly was absolutely correct. While theoretically the Roadini fits better than the Hillborne with the shorter top tube that allows for the use of drop bars, it just wasn't going to meet my wants in regard to a swifter feeling/pedaling road bike.
Back to a triple setup here... it really is a lovely bicycle!
What's great about the Roadini is that it is supremely comfortable! It pedals smoothly and rides the way one would expect a Rivendell to behave. If I were looking for a completely comfortable road/light adventure type of bicycle, this would definitely be on the list of possibilities because of these qualities. Unfortunately, I had high hopes for this steed to behave more like a road-race bike (a rather silly thing to think based on what the creator believes and manufactures), so it just isn't the right fit for my stable at this time.

Although I think the Roadini is a fine bicycle, I had to let it move on to someone else to enjoy and I hope it will find the use it deserves in its new home. Of course, that put me back on the hunt for something else that would fill the missing slot in my stable. It's as though the quest to find the "right" road bike remains elusive; but in the meantime, I've continued to ride my trusty Hillborne and have been riding a mountain bike (a post is forthcoming on that steed soon as well) a lot more regularly.

I've read on a couple of forums that people are truly loving this model from Rivendell, so if you've had the opportunity to test it out, I'd love to know what you think of the bike. I think if I didn't already have the Hillborne settled in, I would've definitely hung on to this one.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Custom Tandem: Dream or Nightmare?

**For the squeamish, I thought I should preface with a warning that there is a mildly graphic (depending on your tolerance level for "graphic") photo included about half way through this post. It's not obscene, but I felt it only fair to forewarn those who are sensitive to such things.

"Eeeeek!!" I screamed aloud, despite the fact that, as is typical during the week, I was alone in my work space. I had just received word that our new tandem had been shipped and would be arriving soon. My excitement was plentiful so off went a quick message to Sam to let him know that we'd be in possession of our new double-steed in the next few days. I sat smiling ear-to-ear, clapping my hands like a giddy school girl.

If you are unfamiliar with our tandem history, I was a person who swore up and down that Sam and I would never, ever, ever ride a tandem bike. I was convinced that we would end up killing each other. He would want to travel too far or too fast and I wouldn't be able to keep up. At least, that's what I'd convinced myself was the truth and was our general reason for not trying it out. Even after my mom and step-dad had offered to let us ride their single speed cruiser tandem as a test, I was insistent that it would not go well and I was in no way going to put us through that sort of pain. I really believed that our pedaling styles would be too different - not to mention all of the other potential pitfalls that ran through my mind.

Still, for years I had -- mostly silently -- dreamed that it could be a possibility for us. I often idealized tandem riding, but I'd quickly return my mental state to one of what I believed to be reality: Sam and I were not meant to ride a tandem.

Then, as you may recall, I started what some might term a mild obsession with Rivendell's Hubbuhubbuh tandem. I had been on the reading list from the time it was announced as a possibility and the more I read, the more I found myself wanting to try it out. Just when we thought we'd missed out on our opportunity, one appeared somewhat magically and before we knew it, we were riding a tandem.

We had our down points with it, but overall we really enjoyed riding together. The biggest problem, however, was the fit. The captain position is set up at its most compact and is still truthfully too large to be effectively piloted by either of us. Still, we powered on, riding like little fiends over hilly and flat terrain, through dirt and gravel -- we just couldn't seem to stop.

Over a very short span of time, we realized we were going to have to find a tandem that fit us better, particularly if we wanted to ride more than about 50 miles (80km). Neither of us wanted to go a custom route (both for the time involved and the cost), but after an attempt to rent the smallest tandem we could find locally, we realized that unless we were willing to wait indefinitely for a mythical x-small tandem to show up secondhand somewhere, we'd have to go the custom route.

We decided on Rodriguez Bikes to do the build after a fair amount of reading and chatting with our (relatively local) tandem dealer. The biggest reason for selecting Rodriguez over the local dealer was that I'd had a custom bike made with Rodriguez in the past and there was a level of familiarity.  I have not had good luck with custom bikes in the past, but this was a situation that was requiring a custom, as far as we were able to determine. With both riders being under 5'4", finding something out in the open market that might work would take nothing short of a miracle.

And so it came to the moment described above during which my insides felt ready to burst with excitement. We both had some trepidation in regard to this entire process. It's a similar feeling, I'd estimate, to someone who's only ridden a cruiser turning around and ordering a custom road bike. Perhaps it's not quite that extreme since we do have a fair amount of experience riding singles of all different sort, but knowing that we'd only experienced riding one tandem, we had moments of wondering (or at least I did) whether or not this new two-wheeled friend would be what we hoped for.  It meant putting a lot of trust in the builder to make something that made sense for us.

Since we were going custom, we also had the opportunity to choose the paint color. There are endless possibilities when it comes to paint and I don't have a great history of being decisive with these sorts of things. From single colors to fades to fancy specialized paint jobs, the choices quickly became overwhelming. I love having the opportunity to choose our own color, but it's easy to go from one extreme to another trying to figure out what we really want. Plus, we both had to agree on something and we tend to have very different ideas of what looks good. In reality, I know Sam would let me choose whatever I wanted, but because it is something we both ride, I really wanted us to both have input into the color choice.

After some discussion, we had narrowed the paint possibilities down to two. Sam decided that he wanted to be surprised and that I should choose between them, so after some back and forth (one option was bright and fun and involved some paint fading, but I feared we might grow tired of it over time; the other was simple, single color, and more subdued) I chose one and kept it secret (which was definitely not easy for me!!) so that when the box was opened, Sam would have a bit of that surprise moment he wanted.
The box arrived on a Tuesday and as the delivery company was bringing the box to the door, I could see a large indentation, as well as several smaller holes and impressions in the box. My stomach sank. Great, I thought, just what we need to deal with. The driver was kind enough to assist me with opening the top of the box to check on the contents and surprisingly, there didn't appear to be any damage to the bike. I breathed a small sigh of relief, but knew we'd have to inspect it further when it was completely removed.

The bike had been sent almost completely built with only the need to attach the handlebars to the stoker position, rotate the front handlebars, and attach our choice of pedals and saddles. Sam had protested the full build somewhat because he believed it would be better for us to choose our own parts, but ultimately we made the decision to go with a full build, knowing that we could upgrade parts down the road. We were told it should be just a mater of minutes before we would be riding our new tandem once it arrived. This sounded ideal.

When Sam arrived home, we pulled the bike from the box and the remaining items were attached. I was amused at the comically small size of the bike. "It looks like a tandem for kids," I said, laughing at the absurdity of its size, particularly in comparison to our current tandem. "No problem with stand over now." I'm not sure if we're both used to riding too large a bike or if it really is that small, but the tiny size had thrown me completely for a loop.

If I may take a brief detour from our present path in this tale, the two of us were holding on to a (misguided) belief that when this tandem arrived, it would be perfectly wonderful and all of our tandem woes would be solved. Having gone through two custom single bike builds in the past, I should have known better, but I was living in my dream land in which (apparently) all prior experiences disappear into another plane of existence, logic completely abandons my body, and utter bliss is all that exists.

We had shared some email conversations with MG of Chasing Mailboxes regarding tandems (we figured who better to offer some advice than a duo who ride long distances regularly on a tandem - and we must thank both of them again for sharing their thoughts with us) and MG had cautioned us with a bit of wisdom. One of her last statements read:  "As you know, it takes time to really dial in a bike, ESPECIALLY a tandem. They're like cats, each with their own distinct personality."

Ah, cats. They're so soft, fluffy and cute. Perhaps it was the wrong part of those words to focus on (okay, it was definitely the wrong part to focus on!), but when one is lost in the depths of excitement, it's super easy to ignore such sage words. Perhaps it wasn't so much ignoring this thought, but rather glossing over it a bit, believing that we would be okay because, you know, it's built for us - it can't be that bad to get 'er moving down the road, right?

And so, we return to our story as Sam and I prepared our newly unpacked tandem for our first test. At least we weren't being completely foolish and realized that I should take the tandem out for a quick spin around the block alone first, just to make sure everything was feeling good.
The Rodriguez built as it came to us with pedals/saddles added
Before even riding the tandem, we noticed that the color appeared more of a yellow-green than the darker, olive green we'd expected. With the dim lighting in the photo above, I'd say it looks a bit more green than in real life (though with time together the color doesn't seem quite as yellowed as it did initially). Still, we didn't find it unattractive... and, paint is fairly easily changed, if desired, especially on a steel frame, so we weren't particularly concerned with this bit.

The next issue we faced (and the more important one) was fit and feel. After a short run down the block with the tandem, nearly everything felt wrong. I tried again around a couple of blocks and things just continued down the same path. I felt as though I had absolutely no control of the bike -- and this was without another person on the back. I felt crammed into the cockpit when I stood between the saddle and the stem, something I'd worried about all along with the sizing. The bike seemed to wiggle all over the road whether at slow or higher speed. The only way I could explain it to Sam was that it just felt "wrong."

He rode the tandem alone too just to see if he could understand what I was trying to express. He came back unsure of how to help me feel more at ease.

"Maybe we just need to ride it together," I suggested.

So we set out on a short path around the neighborhood to see how it went. This was a complete disaster. Everything felt even more wrong with someone on the back. I felt as though the tandem's steering was under none of my control and it kind of just went wherever it wanted to go. Every little bump seemed to cause the bike to veer off on its own in an unintended direction.
The bruising (which was truly quite painful) that had developed on my abdomen from hitting the steerer tube each time I dismounted. If nothing else, it illustrates my determination to try to get this tandem to work (and maybe explains a few of the tears too).
I'll save the retelling of each round of this, but there were several, each time ending with me in tears and Sam silently angry. He wasn't mad at me necessarily (though I'm sure there was some of that too), but my frustrations tend to come out in tears while his turns to silent mulling.

Then, I thought perhaps asking the manufacturer for some suggestions to help us get through this initial stage would be helpful. Unfortunately, nothing beneficial came from that conversation. So, we went back to trying to figure things out for ourselves.

There were several weeks of trying to "figure things out" but not actually riding the new tandem. It was suggested by another tandem rider/builder that I try putting weight on the back of the tandem with panniers or something else loaded up so that I could do tests without feeling the pressure of another rider. This seemed like a good idea, so I gave that a whirl too. It was probably the best suggestion I received in regard to getting used to the new ride without putting two people in jeopardy.

We'd also made some changes, putting the handlebars lower and changing the bars themselves to another style, as well as trying different tires. Although the intention with this tandem was to be able to travel longer distances which was the original intention of the drop bars, if I couldn't use them effectively, then it was all for nothing, and I wasn't loving the way the first tires felt either, so both changes seemed like a move in the right direction.

Riding without another person went okay. I felt ridiculous pedaling around on a tandem without another body, but I also wasn't ready to brave it with Sam on the back quite yet. I just needed to feel at least somewhat competent with this new bike -- that at this point wasn't so new anymore. Riding around several miles with the back loaded and with the new set up actually went reasonably well, but the biggest problem was clearing my mind of the initial shock (and fear) of how different the two tandems are from each other.

We continued to make plans for a ride, but would always end up on the Rivendell tandem instead. Summer was slipping away, but every time I thought about riding the new one, I'd become physically ill just at the thought of it. We really were not off to the best start and I wasn't sure how to remedy the situation.

We were even riding occasionally with a tandem group and several of the riders continued to question why we were still riding the "old" tandem instead of the new, lighter one. I'm not sure we ever truly provided a coherent explanation, so I always felt the need to push extra hard to prove that we could stay with the group, even on our heavy (though a joy to ride) Rivendell tandem. I have no doubt that it seemed crazy that we continued to talk about this newer, lighter tandem, and yet never rode it.

One day, a couple of months after having received the new tandem, Sam was exasperated with our lack of riding the new steed. "Let's just sell it. If we're not going to ride the tandem, what's the point in having it?"

He had a valid point. Having money tied up in this custom tandem that just hung from our bike storage wasn't exactly ideal. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I truly believed that we were going to make this new tandem work for us -- we just needed to ride it and I needed to conquer my trepidation with handling this bike.

Then, one day in August, while Sam had a weekday at home, I suggested that we take the tandem out for a test. I think it shocked Sam just as much as it did me. As soon as the words were out in the universe I began to regret the suggestion. My insides started to turn and I instantly felt ill. However, I knew that if we didn't get some rides in, it was unlikely we ever would.
On an approximately 30-mile ride during our testing period -- The steerer tube still hadn't been cut (and may not get cut) because I always have a fear of wanting to raise the bars higher (or change them entirely). I've managed to "unbruise" though, so I must've figured out how to avoid hitting the steerer upon dismount. :)
The ride was short, but it went surprisingly well. I was still a little shaky and reminded Sam not to push too hard off the starts, but I actually felt somewhat in control. Then, we followed it up with a slightly longer ride, and that one went okay too. We had little hiccups along the way and brief moments of panic from me, but overall, it was performing as we'd hoped. Small bites at a time, this tandem was starting to feel like something I could handle.

Our next outing took us on a little over 50 mile ride with some extra climbing. I was frankly surprised at how I felt, especially given our very rough start with this tandem. We arrived home with me feeling far more confident and Sam grateful that things were heading in a more positive direction.

What was interesting to both of us was after our 50-miler on the Rodriguez tandem, we decided to take a 20-mile, fun tandem ride on the Rivendell, just to have a little time together the following day. We both commented on how much a difference having a lighter tandem made because our bodies could feel the difference in effort needed to move the Rivendell at the same or similar speed.

So, here we are now, several months into having the new tandem in our hands and I would say that the decision to purchase an appropriately sized tandem was a good one. I had my doubts initially because I truly didn't believe another tandem could feel so completely different, but despite the extreme delay in getting the bike moving on the roads, I think we made the right choice. Things that initially felt foreign and "strange" have started to feel normal and in some sense even good.

One thing we never anticipated with the lighter weight of the tandem was how much flex the frame would have. This was one bit that took both of us by surprise in the beginning. It took some time to adjust to, but I don't notice it nearly like I had in the beginning (or perhaps I've simply adapted). Although I initially felt cramped when standing over the bike, that seems to have disappeared too.

We still don't have the mileage on the Rodriguez that we do on the Rivendell at this point, but I think it's fair to say that things are looking up. Despite our very rough start with this new tandem, it has actually turned around and I am happy to say that we can ride the no-longer-new-tandem together without feeling as though everything is wrong. I still don't entirely understand why it threw me off so much initially, but it definitely got in my head and I needed time to accept that it just wasn't going to feel like the Rivendell.

Frankly, I didn't believe that we'd ever get to this point, so I'm grateful and thrilled that we've shed a few pounds (about 15+/-), which has helped ease the workload for our legs (especially when pedaling uphill). I don't think it's made us any faster, but having less weight to roll is certainly a welcomed relief (and a properly sized tandem is certainly beneficial as well). Hopefully, we'll continue to enjoy the "new" tandem and have many more opportunities to ride together (or two-gether, as the tandem couples sometimes say).

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Riding with saddle sores - What's the solution?

Over the just past Labor Day weekend, Sam and I had an extra long set of days together because he had a couple of days off at the end of the week leading up to the holiday. This allowed for a lovely five-day weekend -- a luxury we rarely experience. But what to do with this time? There are always projects around the house that need to be done, but instead we decided to try for a ride-every-day-together extended weekend.
On Wednesday, the day just prior to the start of our intended riding festivities, I ventured out alone on my newer road bike to give it another test (looking forward to writing about this soon after having a few decent tests now completed). All went well on that ride and I ran into a friend near the end, which made for a fun cycling finish. I'm breaking in a new saddle on this bike, however, and that's always a bit of a concern as I tend to end up with saddle sores during the initial couple hundred miles on new leather.

Thursday, we decided to ride the tandem -- the new one, that isn't really so new any longer (again, there's a post in the works to discuss this bike that we've had in our possession for several months now), so we didn't take it too far. Still, it was great to be out together at the start of our long weekend of riding together.
Unfortunately for me, there is also a new leather saddle on this bike that needs to be broke in, so once again, the saddle sores were becoming quite apparent, despite keeping the mileage on the low side.

Undeterred, I was personally determined to keep riding through our long weekend. When Friday morning rolled around, Sam suggested that we take our mountain bikes out and give them a shake out ride. Sam had bought me a frame and we'd recently finished building it up so I was anxious to do more than a couple of miles around the neighborhood. I assumed that a mountain bike ride would be shorter (silly me!), so I wasn't particularly concerned about the fact that this new-to-me bike has yet another new leather saddle on it that needs break-in miles.
What I had guessed would be a 10 to-no-more-than-15 mile ride turned into about 30 (which is a long mtb ride for me personally!), and the saddle sores that had started to develop were now in full-force. I winced every time I was on the saddle for the last 10 or so miles of that ride. Although I enjoyed the ride, being together, and the bike, my soft parts were not at all pleased with me.

On Saturday, I was not looking forward to getting on any bike and having to sit on a saddle, but I really wanted to keep riding. We ended up on a tandem that day and I did my best to enjoy the ride, despite being in pain throughout our time riding.
Sunday morning, we both got dressed and intended to do a longer-mileage ride on the tandem. After getting out to the bike though, I knew that I was in trouble. Not only were the saddle sores completely inflamed, but my hip and pelvis issues had started up (I presume due to constantly shifting my body while riding to keep from rubbing the saddle) and I knew deep down that there was no way I was going to make it through a long ride.

We debated completing a short ride, but I feared that if I didn't give my body the rest it was asking for, I wouldn't be able to do a longer ride the day following, so Sam ended up going for a ride on his own and we planned to do a longer mileage day on Monday.

My regular routine when riding anything other than short distances or around town is to use some kind of cream or glide on my chamois to prevent the saddle sores from ever starting. However, in this particular scenario, there was no escaping the reality that I need to break in a few new saddles and I know that is quite often a trigger for me to develop saddle sores (thankfully, it's a rarity for me to have need to break in a new saddle - I just happen to be in the midst of breaking in three at once right now). Usually, I'd just stick to short distances until the saddle has conformed a bit, but because of our goal to keep riding, it just didn't work well in this instance. Since the glide did nothing to prevent the problem, it then became a situation of dealing with and healing what had developed.

On Monday when we headed out, I went through my usual application to the chamois, but also added A+D directly to the affected areas (I've read that Bag Balm works well and had ordered some, but it wouldn't arrive in time to work for this situation). I think having the day off in between was definitely beneficial, but obviously the sores were still present and easily-agitated.

I was shocked that after completing a 50+ mile ride with a fair amount of climbing, I had actually been able to survive and was in very little pain. Granted, it wasn't the longest ride by any means, but it was significant enough that I was surprised that the sore spots were relatively okay.
In reality, I know the best means of dealing with saddle sores is prevention. If I never have to find a solution in the first place, that would be ideal, but saddle sores are going to happen from time to time and it got me thinking about what the best methods are for dealing with the issue once those little buggers are present.

It seems as though (for me) the best method to get them to heal up is to obsessively bathe and to stay off the bike, but since that isn't always possible, I started wondering what others do, particularly those who have to be on a bike for long distance rides -- whether brevet, touring, or endurance racing?

I've read a variety of solutions such as using Vaseline on the affected area, Bag Balm, wearing double sets of padded cycling shorts (layer closest to the skin worn inside out to prevent additional chaffing issues), bandaging the area (again to keep the sores from rubbing/creating friction - though I'm still not sure this is entirely practical, particularly for females), and obviously, keeping the area clean (including the shorts being worn) is important.

The A+D combined with chamois glide seemed to do pretty well for me, but I'm curious if there are other methods that work well. What solutions have you used to help speed up the process of healing saddle sores and/or have you found a solution that allows you to keep riding with these spots when staying off the bike isn't an option?

Ultimately, Sam and I enjoyed a fun, long weekend of riding together, but in the event we're ever blessed with this amount of time to ride together again, or if I'm riding alone and develop problems, I'd love to be prepared if saddle sores make their way into riding plans.  So, please do share if you've had success with a product or method for keeping the pain out of saddle sores.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

2018 Leadville Trail 100 MTB

**Sam raced in Leadville, Colorado again this year and below is the tale for 2018. His words are in bold type, while my rambling can be found in regular type.**

The Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race has become a kind of tradition for us. Although it's not a very long tradition (Sam first raced the 100 in 2014), the second weekend of August has become synonymous with a visit to the two-mile-high city of Leadville over the last few years.

When Sam raced last September in Flagstaff, Arizona, he hoped to get a spot in this year's LT100 MTB, and it did not disappoint. The great thing with getting his spot early is that he would have lots of time to plan and train. The bad news with so much time to plan and train is that it can be a bit of a challenge to put the plan/training into action early, especially as we rolled into winter.

Fortunately, we had a very mild winter and although most of our riding time was spent on the tandem, rides were happening and Sam knew that spring and summer would provide more time for mountain training specifically. Still, time was definitely slipping away as spring came and went and summer was very quickly in full force.

Over the winter, we also picked up a little project in the form of a 1960 camper trailer that was being prepped for use as a chicken coop. The former owner of this camper decided that there were better choices for a chicken coop and then had a hunk of aluminium he wasn't sure what to do with... Which is where we entered the picture and took this project off his hands for an absolute steal.
It didn't look too bad from the outside, but certainly in worse shape when standing face-to-face with this project.
Since we tend to be project people, it was just one more thing to add to our list of things to accomplish. Plus, we are always up for a bargain on something we can use. So, despite this option being an absolute wreck, we were willing to take it on with the hope of creating something that would make these bike race trips (and just camping in general) a little more pleasant.

You may recall my personal battle with mosquitoes on a former bike race adventure in Leadville, and I was not very excited about the prospect of being ate alive again in a tent. We figured having a more enclosed space might help with that somewhat, and not having to sleep on a slowly deflating air mattress seemed like it would make for a better race day too.
(left) After insulation and paneling was partially pulled out; (right) nearing the end of fixing up this camper.
The camper was full of wet fiberglass insulation from years of leaking and the paneling wasn't going to be salvageable at all, so we knew that we'd be gutting the insides, sealing up holes, and hopefully reusing anything that we could to keep costs at a minimum for this project. Ultimately, it came together pretty well and although we still need to paint the exterior and make a few screens for windows, it was ready to use for this trip.

In the weeks leading up to the Leadville ride, Sam was hoping to get in some high altitude training. Unfortunately, there was a disaster at his employer and he spent the few weeks prior to the race working 16+ hour days and didn't get a day off at all during that time. It certainly wasn't an ideal racing situation to be off the bike for so much time prior, but sometimes life happens.

This year, leading up to my fourth Leadville 100 mountain bike race, some unintended work issues arose and I was unable to train/taper like I should have. Without going into detail, I was never able to train above 7k feet, nor did I ride further than about 60 miles leading up to the 100+ mile event.
Things would be a little different this year. We decided to travel out to Leadville a day earlier than usual pulling our recently fixed up camper. In many ways, it was great to be there a day early and to be able to use the camper. It was definitely cheaper than a hotel room (if you can even obtain one) and way more comfortable than a tent.

We arrived Thursday afternoon, set up, then went and picked up my race packet. It was very chill and easy to be there an extra day early. We were able to relax in the camper and hang out Thursday afternoon and evening. I was also able to get my stuff set up, checked out and ready to go.
We had decided before leaving that I would bring a bike along too since we'd have an extra day and hopefully we'd be able to do some riding during our stay. The dogs were being cared for at home, so we had no responsibilities. The hope was that once we were set up and parked we could just ride instead of drive the places that we needed to go.

On Friday morning, we rode the few miles to the racer meeting, which didn't seem like a big deal but became more so after doing it (for me, not Sam). Apparently, I am a giant climbing wimp because by the time we arrived, I was panting more than I would've liked. When we got to the meeting (about 45 minutes later) I said to Sam, "And you're going to do a hundred miles of worse climbing than that? I would never survive!" The downhill back to the campground was awesome though!
The meeting hadn't even started and Sam already looked annoyed. 
Friday was the super awesome race meeting during which the organizers run through the same stuff that they have during prior events, tell you things to know, and roll out people that have been around for awhile - oh, and remind you to drink water, but only if you're thirsty. This lasts about two hours (or more) before we are freed and can go about the day. We were already hungry for lunch so we took care of that and then walked around the event tents a bit, checked out some things, but beyond that, the day was pretty uneventful. 

On Saturday, we arrived at the corral area at about 5:15a when the area opened up to racers. This year (as has been the case for the most part in the past), I was in the purple corral, which is probably about the exact middle of the field. I was one of the first there and forgot no less than ten things, which G.E. was kind enough to repeatedly walk back to the vehicle multiple times to retrieve for me. There was some talk with other racers, first timers, and we saw some familiar faces, like "Pink Taco," the tandem duo of ladies who always seem to be around me any time I race in Leadville. This year, they were lit up with lights (both themselves and the tandem). 
Not the best photo, unfortunately, but it was still pretty dark out at this point, so at least the lights on the bike can be seen.
For me, some things had changed this year. I was going geared (1x11, figuring my knees could use the break from single speed), I was using a Camelbak instead of bottles, and I was using some new-to-me nutrition (which, unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to test out before race day) called Maurten, which I would use specifically for the Columbine climb.

At 6:30a, we roll. It was a very uneventful start this year. No crashes or tie ups, oddly. At any rate, I was rolling and getting up to the pace I wanted through St Kevins. Probably my best pace yet to that point. Getting through the first aid station and continuing through was again, uneventful. 

At the first real "road" section, I hooked up with a very large and very fast group. We were probably averaging about 28mph and working like a peloton. Things were getting better.
At the base of Columbine, G.E. and I agreed that this is where I would stop on my way up. The plan was to swap out my Camelbak Chase for the second one. This would be the "climbing up Columbine" one that would have the Maurten supplement and about 640 calories of liquid. The point was to be able to drink instead of trying to chew and feed myself on the way up the mountain. 

Sam came through at the base of Columbine pretty fast. I was surprised that he'd made it to that spot a little sooner than I'd expected, but it was great because he hoped to get a sub-10 hour finish this year, and this was looking promising. Luckily, I had just finished mixing up his Maurten mix in the Camelbak so I was ready when he came tearing through.

The swap went smoothly and I was on my way up. Once again, I was doing well, riding it as though I had been riding single speed instead of geared (trying to keep it in a harder gear) and passing people.

Waiting for Sam to come back down Columbine has become less stressful to me at this point. I know it always takes longer than most seem to think it will, so I know I have some time before I'll see him again. Usually, waiting is entertaining as I have the opportunity to talk with other racer's crew and families. Sadly, this year people really didn't seem as friendly as they have in the past. There were a lot of people who thought their racer was the most important person on the planet, and while I can respect the fact that individuals want to see their person do well, I don't think this should come at a cost of respect or enjoyment to everyone else who is around. To put it bluntly, people were on the rude side this year, and I truly haven't experienced that in the past at all.

About half way up the Columbine climb, the traffic backed up a bit. We slowed, and suddenly I could hear two familiar voices behind me chatting. Unfortunately, one of the familiar voices was not paying attention and ended up hitting my rear wheel, which knocked me off balance. I couldn't clip out quick enough and before I knew it, I landed on a pile of rocks. Over I went on the same shoulder I hit a year and a half ago (that has never returned to normal), cut up my knee and mildly bonked my head.

The two helped me up and asked if I was okay, at which point I insisted it was no big deal and that I was "fine." I didn't want to rattle anyone, but my shoulder had definitely seen better days (just as recent as the day prior). 

I continued to the hike-a-bike section of the climb that we all struggle through right around mile 50. This was as slow as it usually is, but we managed to get through it and moving helped my jacked up shoulder feel a little better. I rolled through the turn around earlier than I had the previous year and bolted down the hill. At this point, I had consumed nearly all of my Maurten and was moving as quickly as I could to the base of Columbine.

By the time I met up with G.E. again at the base for the Camelbak swap out, I was not feeling as well as I had been on the way up. I was struggling to shake the "high altitude" feeling, and normally that isn't a problem. 

After the Camelbak switch with Sam on his return trip, I headed out to Pipeline in case he needed anything for the last 25 (or so) miles back to the finish line. When he arrived there, I knew he was slowing down and frankly, he didn't look good. Other than his first year, I don't think I've seen him look as bad as he did and this time may have even been worse than that. He didn't need anything other than a couple of sips of Gatorade and he was back on his way, but I could see in his eyes that he was not feeling well.

I continued with a pretty good run through the next section and hooked up with another fast group as we headed up to everyone's favorite walk: power line. 
Power line was as expected, steep and HOT. It was extra hot that day though and not a bit of rain in sight. The day prior had hailed as we walked through town, but that wasn't even a glimmer of a possibility on race day. Despite the heat, everyone seemed to be doing really well. A bystander even sprayed cold water on me (requested) and we hit the top pretty quickly. Then, on we went to the false summits.

At about 80 miles, I hit a nauseous wall. I was insanely dizzy! I was still climbing, but I began to stop about every half mile. I would hit a shady spot and stop, wait a few minutes, and then start again. I just couldn't shake the nauseous feeling, an unusual thing for me during this race. I was pretty well convinced that I was experiencing heat exhaustion and it felt like there was no way I was going to make it to the end. All that I could think to do was to keep stopping and to try to make my way to the last aid station at Carter. Then, they would be able to drive me back to the start for my DNF (did not finish).

I kept checking the race app on my phone, expecting to see Sam come through the final check point, but it was taking an eternity. I knew that most people would slow down the closer they get to the finish, but this seemed to be taking an extraordinarily long time for him to get there. I knew that Sam didn't look well the last time I saw him, but I also know that he will push through anything to finish. I continued to update the app, hoping to see him come through the check point, but it just wasn't happening. All that I could do was to wait.

I worked my way to the down hill portion and was starting to feel a bit better once air was blowing against my skin. I was still dizzy, but trying to move quickly. At the approximate 90 mile mark (the last check point), I decided that I would attempt to finish the race. At this point, I fully realized that I would not be making the sub-10 hour goal I had set pre-race and that I would probably do worse than my last finish.

Finally, I saw that Sam had made it through the last checkpoint and decided that I should head to the finish line to wait for him there. I was in an extraordinarily bad mood. People's rudeness, my lack of food/water for the day, and the heat had all got to me and I really didn't want to be in Leadville anymore. This little town had been invaded by too many people and we were all guilty of various atrocities.

Standing at the finish line, all that I kept saying to myself was that I did not want to do this again.

The rest of the race was as smooth as can be expected, but mostly painful. There was the climb up the back of Kevins, then the down hill, which was great, and then the final four miles after the 100 mile mark, just to mess with our heads. 
And then, I made it back to the finish line. Officially finishing at 10:26:29, which was not my slowest, but definitely not even close to my goal time. But then again, I hadn't thought I would finish at all this time.

On this side of things, I feel bad that I was so cranky at the finish line. I know that this is a huge, exhausting race for the participants, but the day had just got the better of me. I'm pretty sure the same thing happens every time Sam races here: I swear at the end of race day that I'm not returning to Leadville, and by the next morning I've changed my mind. It is the wondrous, magical, mystery of Leadville, I suppose. Or, perhaps it's just that I had water and food so I felt more like myself again.

I was truly concerned about Sam after hearing what had happened during the race, however. I was pretty well convinced he had either experienced a concussion from hitting his head when he fell earlier in the race or that he had heat stroke (or at least heat exhaustion). Later, we would learn that the Maurten may likely have been the culprit in all of it. After speaking to some people after the fact, we learned that the side effects for some people (dehydrated feeling, despite drinking plenty of water, nauseousness, etc) are exactly what Sam experienced, so he learned that this is not the product for him. He was unfortunately not able to test it out prior to race day, which is a lesson to take in to the future.

What did I learn this round? Don't try new stuff without vetting it first. Don't skimp on training you plan to do. Don't worry about how awesome your bike is - it probably doesn't matter as much as you think it does. Camper > Tent, without a doubt. 

In all of this I realize I'm not a great story teller/writer. I have left out tons of details - some important and some just "meh" stuff. Often I look at it like taking a GoPro on a bike ride... you just see the same stuff over and over and it's not really all that much fun to watch, so, in this case, why would it be fun to read?

As with every year, I'm not sure if I'm going to do this again, or even try. If I do try, I want to hit Flagstaff coming up soon in September, because it's the best way for me to gain entry. It does become easier to think about doing it again though every day I'm removed from the torture, so who knows?

I know I had talked about possibly doing the 10k run the day after the 100-mile ride, but we were definitely ready to get out of Leadville Sunday morning and the run just wasn't going to happen. We've toyed with the idea of me racing too if Sam goes to Flagstaff (I would just be doing 1-lap of the 4-laps possible, as I have no desire to race in Leadville), but we'll see if any of that comes about. It's all sneaking up quickly though and after my pathetic attempt at riding 3 miles up hill, I'm not sure I'm cut out for that sort of thing - but it's always fun to test those limits too.

Overall, we were both a bit disappointed this year in Leadville, specifically with the lack of enthusiasm both among the racers and spectators. Generally, riders are great at encouraging each other as they pass and spectators are happy to help anyone along the race route, but that didn't seem to be the feeling for the majority of the race. We have hypothesized that this could be due to the fact that the race continues to grow and take on more racers. It's hard to keep that family-like feeling when there are so many people. Even over the few years that Sam has been racing this event, it's easy to see that things are changing and evolving. We both hope that it doesn't become just another event like any other, but there was definitely a different feeling this year, which was a bit sad.

Only time will tell what is to be for the future of Sam's Leadville racing. I know he is still debating his desire to head to Flagstaff, but he'll have to make a decision soon. In the meantime, he should have some time to get a little training in and decide what makes the most sense for his personal goals.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Unintended Titanium: An Adventure Bike Experience

A few months ago (or likely more as time seems to be slipping through my fingers faster than usual), I wrote briefly about cleaning out bicycles and how I often acquire different bicycles over winter. This past fall and winter was no different as I cleared out three bicycles and found myself with a new bike.

To go back in time just a bit, after ridding some of the excess from my life in regard to bicycles, I thought the one thing truly missing from my fold was a dedicated road bike. However, I didn't want a road bike that would take only sub-28mm tires, so finding what I was looking for was a bit of a challenge. Granted, there are many more wide-tire-capable bikes of all types today then have been available in the past, but it's still somewhat difficult to find true road bikes with the ability to take a wider tire -- particularly when the rider would prefer a steel bike. While steel bikes with wider clearances are usually easier to find, steel road bikes with wide tire clearances are just as much a unicorn as any other material.

Searching went on for some time, and as the hunt continued, I started to ponder whether I wanted a truly road-only bike, or if it would be better to look at something that is lighter weight that could function as a road bike, but that would also permit off-road riding on a whim. An adventure/gravel bike seemed to make sense in some ways, so the search kind of veered off in that direction. Whether that was the right decision to make is questionable to me at this point, but it's how I ended up with the choice I made.
To make the long hunting story short, I ended up purchasing a Kinesis Tripster ATR frame. It is neither a road bike, nor is it steel. It is, however, my first experience riding a titanium frame. Because of this, I found it somewhat difficult to quantify benefits of the frame material, but I will certainly share what I can from my experience.

Initially, I was excited to find the frame at a discounted price which is kind of what pushed me into the Tripster direction (never a good reason to buy a bike, I'll admit). I was having difficulty deciding between a few frames though and not being able to test any of them, and after having read a plethora of information and reviews on each, this frame seemed like a good bet.

In typical EVL fashion, this bike was built, then re-configured, and then put back to the original set up. After initially setting it up as a "road" build with drop bars and a double compact crank, I thought that it might work better with my Jones bars and a triple crank instead. The problem, however, was that we just couldn't get the shifting to work with this set up. Ugh. So, back we went to the first build, with very minor modifications.

The Tripster was ridden in both configurations, but with the triple set up it wasn't taken far due to the shifting issues. After having it rebuilt as a more road-centered ride, I struggled through a few more rides. I continued to think that the reason for the struggling was my lack of ability, lack of riding alone for any distance and so on, but after one final ride that sent me over the edge, I just couldn't bring myself to get back on the bike.

Since I have bikes that function in a more intermediate role (gravel, can carry a bit of a load, etc), it didn't make sense to keep this bike. Ultimately, the frame was sold to someone who was looking for more of an "adventure" bike, for which I believe this bike to be perfectly suited. As a road bike, however, it was less than ideal.

The qualities of this bike and geometry make it well-suited for long distance gravel adventures, but despite the ATR (Adventure, Tour, Race) designation, I didn't find it to be particularly race-like. It was incredibly comfortable and I could easily see how throwing some bags on it and taking it on a long distance adventure would be a perfect use of this bike, but trying to turn it into a road bike for faster paved rides was a huge mistake and definitely didn't bring out the best qualities for this particular bicycle.

What I did find intriguing about this option was the frame material.  Again, having never ridden a titanium bike prior to this experience, I have no way to know how it compares to others, but I have to say that I was impressed by the feel of the ride. It's something that has stuck with me, even months after saying goodbye to the bike. If this is how every titanium frame feels, my goodness, I'm amazed that more people don't ride it! I know that it comes at a cost, but it really was one of the, if not the smoothest ride I've ever experienced. It was one of those experiences that could easily send me down the rabbit hole in which all I ever want to ride are titanium frames -- it was that good.

Even to this moment, I don't know if it was the combination of the geometry and the material or just the material that brought the smoothness of the bike. I suppose the only true way to know with certainty is to have more titanium bike tests, though I don't see that as a horribly likely option because I don't possess the financial means to do multiple tests at this price point.  Still, it doesn't keep me from wondering about this material and how it could be beneficial for various types of bikes from road to mountain and those types in between.

As for the plan of obtaining a dedicated road bike, I have since made another purchase (in steel) that I'll be starting to test soon. It took a bit of time to figure out which direction to go for the next test, and I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high, but I believe this round will make more sense for my needs moving forward.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Silver Rush 50 MTB: Racing for a Better Corral Position

**It's race report time once again, and as usual, both Sam and I have sides of the tale to share. Sam's experience is in bold letters, while mine will be in regular font.

During September of last year, Sam raced the Barn Burner MTB race in Flagstaff, Arizona. It's kind of become a tradition because most people are wrapping up their race season and don't seem to travel to this particular event. Fortunately, Sam was able to get a spot in the LT100 MTB upcoming in August of this year because of racing that event.

However, Sam didn't time as well as he'd hoped at the Barn Burner, so a couple of months ago, he decided he would race the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville with the hope of getting into a corral position that would have him closer to the front. When he signed up to do the SR50, we had discussed the reality that he would be on his own. He was fine with that idea because he knew that he could get up early, travel to Leadville to get his packet, race, and be back before the sun set. 

Of course, as reality sets in, sometimes we all start changing our minds about such matters. Sensing something was amiss, I asked if he would like to reserve a camping spot for the night prior so that he wouldn't have to get up so early. He didn't seem keen on this at all. Though I felt bad that I couldn't be there, with one of our aging dogs (who happens to also be incredibly cranky around other dogs) losing most of her vision and having a difficult time with traveling these days (not that she was ever a very keen traveler), it just didn't seem feasible to do a 15-16 hour day with her.

Then, I started to feel bad that I wouldn't be there for Sam so I tried to plot out how to make it happen. We went over several scenarios, but none of it made much sense. Ultimately, we worked it out so that our older dog would stay home and have a couple of friends check on her, walk her, and feed her during the day and we'd take the younger dog with us (since she doesn't do well being left for long periods of time and actually likes to travel).

Now the only challenge would be getting me out of bed by 3 am. I am not a morning person - at all. It's not so much that I sleep in, but I prefer to just let my body wake up naturally whenever possible, which usually happens between 5:30-6:30 am (dependent on how late I go to sleep). Mix in the fact that my alarm clock has decided that it is permanently stuck on 6 am and I knew it would be interesting to see how the morning went.

Miraculously, I somehow made it out of bed and we were on our way pretty much as expected.

This third time might be the charm.

Things that were different this round:
- I slept the night before the race
- This is the third time I've had a different bike for this race (but my build skills have advanced)
- Instead of single speed, rigid, steel, I rode a geared, carbon frame that has front suspension
- There was no overnight camping this round - instead we drove out the morning of the race
- I decided to use primarily a Camelbak instead of bottles

There wasn't much to worry about the morning of the race. We got up around 3am and headed out. I had prepped everything the night before so that I wouldn't forget anything.

We arrived plenty early, just before 6am.

Since we had arrived early and I had forgotten to brush my teeth in my morning stupor, we stopped by Safeway with the intention of using the restrooms and obtaining a toothbrush/paste for me to feel more human and to not have to have gross morning breath and a film on my teeth all day long.  Unfortunately, Safeway wasn't open, so we waited a few minutes for the doors to unlock, got what we needed and were on our way to the starting area.

We have parked each time for this race at the college just above the starting line and this race was no different. After putting some air in my bike tires, I rode down to the starting area to pick up my race packet and bib number.

While Sam was gone, I noticed the woman next to us getting ready for the race and happened to see that she had a "Leadman" bib on her bike. Of course, being the nosy sort of person that I am, I had to inquire as to how the series was going thus far, despite it still being early [For those who are unaware, the Leadman/woman requires racers to complete the Leadville Trail Marathon, the Silver Rush 50 MTB or Run, the LT100 MTB, Leadville 10k Run (which just happens to be the morning following the LT100 MTB), and the LT100 Run].

The racer shared her nerves about doing the SR50 mountain ride because she had attempted it on other occasions and had yet to be able to finish. Instead, she was viewing the ride as training and telling herself that if everything spiraled downward, she would be able to do the SR50 Run instead. I shared that I would personally fear the running distances far more than the riding (Who runs 50 or 100 miles all at once???? Crazy people, right?), but she was more confident in her running than riding skills (which I can respect - we all have our strengths).
Warming up for the SR50
I rode back up the hill to the college parking lot to prepare for the race. I'm not sure who gets to park down at the main area, but it doesn't seem to be us [G.E.'s note: I think they reserve the main lower parking lot for medical and race staff, as well as those who genuinely cannot get up and down the hill - and it's definitely a hill that I went up/down at least half a dozen times that day.]

I feel like I've ceased to be nervous about these endurance races, but I always hope to be well prepared. G.E. had been chatting with a budding Leadwoman who we hoped would make the cut off time this race and move on to her next level of "torture." I continue to contemplate doing Leadman each year, but haven't quite worked up to actually registering to do it [G.E.'s note: I stand by my statement that the two long runs are the worst of this, I think. I truly believe a 50 mile (let alone the 100 mile) run would break me].

At about 7:30am, I rode down the hill, while our Golden Retriever pulled G.E. down the hill. [G.E.'s note: True story. She does get very excited when there are people, so I kind of expected this of her. On the up side, my core got a good workout from clenching all day trying to keep her from lunging toward others constantly.]. I dropped my bike in the starting corral and went back to find G.E. and Bernie (I needed to have my arm mauled a bit before the race, as most do) [G.E.'s note: mauled by the dog, not me - just for the record - and to be honest, it's really not a "mauling" but more of a just wanting to put an arm in her mouth to hold], and we stood for a bit until the start time got closer. 
Sam's intended times for this race at each aid station/stop.
This year, the organizers decided to do two waves with those expecting to finish sub-7 hours and then those expecting to finish a little later, with the intention to help with some of the bottle-necking at the start (I assume). I strolled back over to the starting area about 10 minutes before the race would begin.

Bernie and I stood quite a distance but within eye shot of Sam so that we (or at least I) could see him take off up Dutch Henri Hill. I was busying myself with keeping our overly excited dog from jumping or annoying those passing by when I happened to look up and have a moment of pure shock. Sam was actually speaking to other humans. I couldn't see who he was talking to, but he was definitely engaged in conversation which was rather shocking to me as he's not normally one to go out of his way to have a chat with those unknown to him or who are just standing around. I smiled and thought it was great that he was stepping outside his comfort zone, but didn't give it more than a second or two of true thought.

In front of me at the start I noticed two familiar faces/helmets and a very familiar voice. Somehow, I had ended up set up directly behind Elden (Fatty) and Lisa (the Hammer) Nelson. Certainly outside of my normal behavior, I introduced myself as the only guy that is shorter than Fatty. We chit chatted a bit and then I spoke to a first time rider just on the other side of me who was nervous about the race. I tried to reassure him that he would do well and that death was not imminent. Lisa appeared highly focused and did not interact much, but I have to say both Fatty and the Hammer both appeared pretty intense - maybe it's just my perception. It was at this point that I thought that once we started, I would try to stick with Elden, knowing he is a stronger endurance rider than me.
Climbing Dutch Henri Hill at the start of the SR50.
The start was the typical National Anthem, flag and gun shot start. At the base of the very steep but short hill, racers prepare to travel on foot with their bikes to the top of Dutch Henri. Some choose to RUN up this hill in the hopes they will get to the top first and obtain an LT100 coin. Fortunately, I already have one for this year, and I like my ankles, so after a mild jog up the hill we were on our way through the start.

After watching Sam and the others take off from the start, Bernie and I headed back up the hill to start our journey for the day: trying to help Sam at the few crew points in this race. The first stop is about 14.5 miles into the race, so we knew we had some, but not a ton of time to get there and cheer for Sam. Frankly, since Sam had expected to go on his own, I figured he didn't really need me to do anything (perhaps that was a bad way to think, but it's what happened).

As we bottleneck at the start, we are released into some mild single track for a couple of miles and then make our way out while hopefully picking up some speed. Really, it's a climb out for about 11 miles from the start. I had Elden in my sights for the first six miles or so and then I got caught behind some groups. Prior to that, I had been picking off riders one at a time. The climbing piece seems to be where I have suffered recently, particularly when I ride geared, as was the case with this race. I just seem to do better on a single speed.

Things were going pretty smoothly as I approached the first aid station at Printerboy. I had no intention of stopping but somewhere along the way I lost the remainder of my GU packs. Apparently, I need to do a better job of securing my stuff in the new Camelbak. I didn't want to stop, but knew I needed to grab some GU from the aid station. One of the volunteers handed me a couple of packets, I saw G.E. to my right, but kept rolling as quickly as I could. At this point, I was about 10 minutes behind my target time.

As Sam arrived at Printerboy, Bernie and I were amusing ourselves - she was trying to beg for and/or steal food from anyone who was willing to give it to her (or not paying attention). What can I say? She's a Golden and loves food in any form.  I attempted to assure others that they should eat their breakfasts, snacks, etc and not give it to our pathetic-acting dog who gets plenty of food. When Sam came around the corner, I yelled to him, but he seemed to be ignoring me. I wasn't worried because I knew that I had a package of GU to give him at the halfway point. When I saw him grabbing packets from the aid station, I wondered what he was doing, but since he didn't stop but for more than a couple of seconds, I figured he was fine.

At the 14.5 mile point (Printerboy), racers are at a low spot and are preparing to climb up again toward Stumptown. This is the turnaround point and the halfway mark. Over that 10.5 mile stretch, I parceled out the two GU packs I'd received at the aid station by stretching eating to every 45 minutes (instead of the 30 minute increments I'd planned on). I knew it would be close to the turnaround, so I just hoped it would be enough. 
During this stretch of the race there was also an insanely large amount of people who decided that they needed to clip out without warning which caused me to crash a few times while climbing. None of them were serious falls, but I really wish people would give some warning before they just stop when we're climbing.

Bernie and I were on our way to Stumptown. Sam has done this particular race three times now, but I manage to forget how horrible the road is to get to the turnaround spot there every time. After attempting it yet again, I decided I would go to another spot that is both easier to travel and would allow me to see him twice in a short period of time. I'd just have to make sure he actually saw me so he would know I wasn't at the actual turnaround.

When we arrived to our spot to wait just before Stumptown, I kept hearing someone yell, "Bernie! Bernie!" I was looking around because I found it amusing that there was someone else there named Bernie, but after a few rounds of this, I realized it was coming from a young lady Sam and I had been talking to before the race started. She and her mom were there supporting their dad/husband and she had quickly bonded with our sweet-though-often-a-pain-in-the-rear Golden. We walked over to where they stood on the opposite side of the course. Bernie was content to roll in rocks there and to get treats, which made it easier to focus on getting Sam what he would need.

Soon after, Sam came tearing through. I yelled to him, but he didn't seem to realize I was there. As he rode off, I said to myself, "Well, I guess you don't need anything." I would find out later that he had seen me, but was just focused and decided to stop on his way back toward the finish line. As we all stood waiting, several racers came down asking for water, caffeine, and food. At first we all thought they were joking, but some of them seemed really angry that we didn't have anything. We tried to tell them that they had just come out of the aid station, but many of them seemed confused.

By the time I reached Stumptown and the turn around, I had run out of GU, water and whatever little liquid I had been carrying in my single bottle. The bonk had begun around 23 miles, so when I reached G.E. a bit after the 25 mile point, she gave me the rest of my GU and filled up my water.

When Sam came back down from the turnaround, he shared that he'd lost all his GU and that he was completely out of water. I asked him if there was water at Stumptown because several people seemed to be out and I was confused because I thought that was where the aid station was. He said that he hadn't seen any water there, so I still am not quite sure what happened, but I think it explains many of the upset racers.

I knew I had given Sam all of his remaining GU, so it would have to hold him for the entirety of the race, but the plan was to make sure I had cold water for him back at Printerboy on his return trip.

It's really difficult to un-bonk yourself once it's happened. In fact, I have never been successful doing this. It's always a downhill spiral and a test of mental fortitude after that point.
But, I was going again, loaded up with GU and water, but pretty bonky (not completely, but I knew I was getting there). We climbed up and down pretty much until right after Printerboy inbound. Immediately after Stumptown though, I encountered Lisa Nelson multiple times. We did some leap frogging. She would pass all the people walking their bikes and then I would somehow pass her on the downhill. Climbing did not go well for me after bonkville, so we swapped like this until around mile 39 when we start to bomb downhill. Climbing back to Printerboy, she lost me once again and I now had no more GU and only drops of water (I do have a better plan, I just thought for this 50 mile ride I wouldn't need it. Pshhhht! Who needs water or energy?).

Even though I knew I didn't have any GU to give Sam, I did bring a jug of ice cold water for me. I always seem to forget to eat and drink while I'm out on these courses, so I wanted to make sure I had water. When I'm riding long distances, I love cold water. I know it's better to drink room temperature water because our bodies process it easier, but it always tastes so good! So, I figured I'd give up my vacuum sealed ice water to Sam when he came through Printerboy inbound.

When he stopped there, he informed me that he was out of water and GU. I told him that I didn't have anymore GU to give him, so I wasn't sure what to do. Meanwhile, I was trying to unscrew his bladder for the Camelbak to add in the ice-cold water. One of the race volunteers overheard Sam and ran over to the aid station to grab a couple of GU packs for him, and as I was starting to pour in the water, another racer crew member came over and helped me add water to his pack from his own stash (I have to say, one of the things I adore about the races in Leadville is how great all of the people are to each other - It really is a place where anyone will help anyone). As I was adding the cold water to fill the bladder to the top, some of it spilled out on to Sam who let out a shriek.

"That's COLD!" he stated firmly.

"I know. I thought you'd enjoy it. I'm sorry... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to spill it," was what came out in the moment. We didn't have time to argue over cold water though, so I sealed him up and sent him back on his way. "See you at the finish!" I yelled after him.

After stopping briefly at Printerboy and having way too cold water poured down my pants, I knew we were reaching the peak of this race and it would start the 10 mile downhill back to the finish line. This is where I performed better than I ever have [G.E.'s note: I'm gonna say it was the extra cold water.]. I went absolutely as fast as I could and had no issues through this area. It was all smooth, wet, muddy, and rocky sailing.
I encountered at least five people who had pinch flatted on the way down and saw one mild crash. I tore through all of this as fast as a crappy down-hiller with a hard tail really could. Sadly, I was now at least 40 minutes off the time I had wanted and really thought I could do. I had been shooting to finish in 5 hrs, 15 minutes, but I was now just hoping to finish in sub-6 hours.

The last part is no longer down hill, but has some climbing through a bit of singletrack, winding around, and for me was just about surviving the bonk that had taken over. A couple of people were passing me and I just gave in and let them.

Up until about a mile out, someone in a white jersey was tailing me. While we're riding the winding portion of the singletrack, you can see each other from a bit of distance. I didn't look very closely, but every time I turned the rider seemed to be getting closer. I really didn't want anyone else passing me, so I gave it all I had and kicked it through this part to the final little dump right at the finish.

Bernie and I waited near the finish line. It's always fun to see the racers come in. Some look as though they could ride the course again, others appear to be near death. I think figuring out the nutrition and water situation is always a challenge, and most of the riders aren't used to the altitude so I completely understand why there's such a variance. I chatted with a couple of individuals who were wondering how long it would be for their riders to come in. One asked if it's all down hill from Printerboy. Even with the downhill stretch, a lot of the riders are tired, so many tend to slow down. This was disheartening to one crew member in particular who really wanted to be done, but I just didn't want her to have too high of expectations and then be disappointed. It's sometimes difficult to know with certainty how long it will take.

I knew that Sam wasn't going to make his intended time of 5:15, but I still had hope that he'd make it in close to that time. It was unrealistic, but I always hold out hope that he'll find a way to do it.

At around 5:42, I heard Lisa Nelson's name announced. I was hopeful that Sam would be close behind her. I know she's a very strong rider, but I knew it was possible that Sam could've been close enough to finish in the next few minutes.
A few seconds from the finish line.
Just prior to 5 hours 52 minutes, I saw Sam's helmet pop over the last ridge with a rider right on his tail. I yelled and screamed because, you know, that's what you do at things like this, and watched as he rode into the finish. As I walked to meet him outside the finish, I heard his name announced, as well as Elden's name immediately following. He had somehow managed to finish just prior to Fatty. I couldn't help but wonder how that happened, if they'd met up on the course and figured out a way to work together, or if they'd planned this, or what exactly had transpired. I would find out soon enough that I was entirely wrong with all of my thoughts.

I finished the SR50 in 5:52:28, somewhere around 34 minutes faster than my last attempt, and approximately 1 mph faster average. Little did I know until after crossing the finish line that Fatty was the one tailing me in the white jersey. I had come in -- somehow -- 5 seconds before him, though I knew there had to be some reason for this. I knew he had to have broken down - and later, I would realize that it happened early on in the race when I wasn't seeing him anymore. He hadn't ridden away from me, he was actually behind me the whole time - and I mean, RIGHT behind me.
I had failed at my mission, which was to move up in the standings. Unfortunately, I'm staying right where I am with that finish time, so I guess my resolve will need to be even stronger come August. The victory came in some improvement, so I'll take that, but it just wasn't what I'd hoped to gain out of this race.

As for learning... For the next race, I'm swapping Camelbak's out at the aid stations (I have two of the same one - G.E. can tell you all about it). [G.E.'s note: Sam's mom and I ended up both buying Sam the Camelbak Chase for his birthday, so now he has two. Even though I was upset about it at the time, I think it will actually work well for him in the upcoming LT100 because I can have the other one ready to go and just switch it out with him.] I have to climb harder and faster. I think near the peak I will burn all but the last of the matches to increase my climbing speed. I was my best ever on the downhill for this race and I hope to stick with that. I need more nutrition, so I'm going to try some liquid supplements in the Camelbak, particularly for the sustained climbing portions. I would love to find someone fast to trail and stick with, but I don't know how likely it is to make this happen.

Overall, I guess it was a good day. The weather was good, though a bit dusty. G.E. only got mild leg sunburn [G.E.'s note: I was so good about reapplying sunblock during this race, but never put it on my legs. Ugh!]. The race was shifted an hour earlier, which was excellent for missing the afternoon rains that inevitably come in Leadville.

I think Sam did well. Taking more than a half hour off his time is impressive. I know it wasn't what he hoped to gain out of this race, but it's still improvement (and there were a few things that would've likely helped him do better - it's always a learning process). It was a good day though and it's always fun to be in Leadville.

Only a few weeks until the LT100 ride, so I know Sam is trying to implement anything and everything he can that will help him improve. We'll be dog-free for that round, so that should help me focus a little better (hopefully) on getting Sam what he needs during the race... and I'm actually pondering doing the Leadville 10k Run that follows the day after the mountain bike race. We'll see if that happens or not, but I figure it could be an interesting way to wrap up the Leadville season this year.