Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer of Climbing: Climb "8,800 feet" in 9 days

The summer of climbing has gone a little differently than anticipated. By now, I expected to have conquered ridiculous mountains and to suddenly be proclaiming myself a lover of all things slanted upward. That has not happened. Not even close. The more I try to convince myself that the only way climbing is going to improve is to actually do the work, the less I want to get on a bike and go in an upward direction. It's almost as though my proclamation has been working against me. Blasted proclamations!

Then, as if Strava could somehow read my mind, a nine-day challenge appeared before me. This 9-day challenge was simple: climb at least 8,800 feet in that slightly over a week time frame. It's a lot - or at least a good chunk of - climbing in just over a week, at least I thought, but if I focused and actually did what I keep saying I'm going to do, it shouldn't be too painful...

I should say more accurately that it wouldn't have been horribly painful if the 8,800 feet was actually the challenge.
*Image from Strava
No, no, dearest pals, that was not the challenge at all. Apparently my feeble mind cannot tell the difference between the word "feet" and the word "meters," and so, I would soon come to realize that in fact I had signed myself up for a challenge that in no way could I ever accomplish. The 8,800 "feet" I thought the challenge would be, was actually 8,800 meters (so, for the record, just shy of 29,000 feet - though all of you non-metric-challenged and able-to-read-English-words readers already knew that).

How a human being that doesn't ride 10 hours a day is supposed to climb 8,800 meters in 9 days is beyond me... but, there are many who (as I would learn) are quite capable, and even far surpassed the challenge. As in, some did 5-7 times that amount. Seriously, what are these people? Mountain goats? In all reality, I have to question when Strava will have a challenge for us mere mortals and/or that doesn't rank us based on what pro or elite riders are out doing.

So, anyway, I was plotting out how I was going to get my 8,800 feet (or so I presumed) in 9 days. I had some routes planned, but when I realized the challenge was more than three times that distance, I immediately started mentally - which led to physical - slacking. The first day of the challenge, I didn't ride at all. Nor did I ride the second, third or fourth days of the challenge. I think I rode to the store during that first four days at some point, but that was about the extent of my time on a bike. What fun would it be if I didn't make it completely impossible to even come anywhere close to meeting the challenge? By day 5, I realized that I needed to do something or I wouldn't even get in 100 feet of climbing.

I can see how some would think, "Why would you even bother if you know there's no chance of completing the required climbing meters?" and I would answer them by saying that, in its simplest, I truly have a screw loose. Obviously, by day five, I knew there was no chance of getting 8,800 meters of climbing on a bike. I mean, who am I kidding? There's no way I'm going to climb close to 6k feet a day for five days straight.

Instead, I plotted ways in which I could torture myself needlessly. At the base of our old town area, there are several streets running north and south with hills that climb (or that descend if going in the opposite direction... which, I highly recommend for some down hill fun). Each is only one block and I wondered how many times I could circle one of these blocks without becoming both completely sick of the track-like path I'd be making and if my legs would make it up these hills more than twice.

Typically, I avoid these hills like the plague. If I have to go up any of them even once on a ride I am cranky, breathing hard, and whining that I should just walk up the stupid hill instead of trying to ride it. Of course, that's generally at the end of a ride when I'm tired. So, what if I just made the one-block climb the ride?

Ah, brilliant! I was pretty sure it would be a short ride, but I tried to tell myself that I could do it at least 5 times. Five rounds didn't seem so bad if it was all I would have to do.

I should say, these aren't long hills. Just a typical, neighborhood block. The grade runs between 4-13% (depending on the spot on the hill and which street one chooses to climb), but the total feet climbed is somewhere around 45-60 feet (again, depending on the street). So, if I could complete 5 laps, that would give me somewhere around 225 feet. Okay, I realize this isn't even kind of close to what I would need for the climbing challenge, but still, 225 feet for something that's probably a total of about a mile or two at most is pretty good, I think.

My first round didn't go quite as expected. I was on the Hillborne (which has a triple crank and mountain gearing - see, I did use my noggin' a little bit) and I couldn't get it to shift from the middle ring to the bottom. As I struggled to fight my way to the top for round one, I just.... couldn't...... quite......... get there. So, I stopped, got off the bike, picked up the rear end, turned the pedals a few times, and it shifted. The next lap went better and I had no trouble shifting when needed. By the time I was on my 5th round, I decided I would attempt to do 10 laps and then call it done.

A funny thing happens on a short loop like this though. It's really, really easy to lose count - especially for someone like me who's easily distracted by shiny things... or furry things... or old things.... or rusty things... or, well, you get the gist. I'd start to question myself... was that lap 6 or 7... 7 or 8... 8 or 9? So, I'd end up doing another one because I wasn't sure.
Now, a smarter person would keep better track, particularly knowing how much she despises climbing - and specifically these short hills. But, I didn't. I was trading off between two different streets for the uphill portions and coming down the third street, but my mind would become easily muddled. Additionally, I'm fairly certain anyone who was home on the streets during this experiment was pretty sure I am completely insane. I have to admit, it did look (and feel) a bit wacky.

Then, I started noticing something with my GPS. As soon as I'd get about half way up one of the hills, the incline percentage would change to 0%. The problem with this reading is that at no point on these hills is it flat. The reading struck me as odd the first time, but I figured there may have been a temporary malfunction. Soon, I realized it was happening every time I'd ride up. Whether this affects the final results, I'm not entirely sure. I know GPS' cannot be 100% accurate, but at the same time, I still haven't found an answer regarding whether the unit's reading is what is used, or something else entirely (like satellite information, etc).

By the time I'd finished what I believed to be 10 laps, I thought I could complete a couple more, so I went for it. Why not? My legs were definitely starting to quiver, however, so I knew I was close to the end whether I liked it or not.

Ultimately, I ended up doing 17 laps (so much for accurate counting), which (according to the reading I got at home), put me at just over 850 feet (approx. 260 meters) climbed over 8 miles. I'm still not entirely sure if the GPS picked up everything, but regardless, it was a decent amount for such a short distance. Obviously, nowhere near the amount I needed for this type of challenge, but I think it was an interesting - if not slightly moronic - means of getting in some climbing without "wasting" the mileage on flatter terrain. Because, you know, heaven forbid I actually put in more mileage.

As the challenge wrapped up, I came shy of hitting 1,000 meters (it was about 3,000 feet) of climbing. Of course, I also hadn't given myself a very good chance at coming close given that I waited until half way through to even start and didn't even ride each of the last five days. A lesson learned, certainly. Considering I only went on three challenge-specific rides, I didn't think it was so bad, but it certainly didn't come close to being the climbing challenge I'd wanted. Of course, the participant (aka me) has to do the work for the challenge in order to make it beneficial. There are also better ways of getting in climbing, such as simply heading directly for the mountains; but I learned that if time is of concern, there are ways to practice climbing close to home and without spending hours out on the road. I also understand that while not the weakest participant (read: not last place) in the Rapha Rising challenge, I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself - mostly for lack of effort. I live at the base of some of the greatest places to climb on a bike in the world, and I didn't take advantage of it at all.

Even though the challenge is over, I will likely continue to use these in-town hills as training once in awhile. Although slightly nauseating to use in a track format, it's an easy (well, easier) way to get in climbing when I don't have a lot of time to spare.  Additionally, the mountains are at my disposal and the summer is still fairly young, so there's hope for me yet. I may not have met the specific challenge goals, but perhaps I just needed a bit of failure to realize that I can do it (maybe not this specific challenge - but my own version of it) if I set my mind and body in appropriate motion.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pedal the Plains: Vote for Me, Please

Just a quick Friday post to ask for some assistance from all of you fabulous readers out in web land. I have entered into a contest for Pedal the Plains, a 3-day ride that takes place on the plains of Colorado. In order to get to the next stage of the competition, I have to get the most votes for my photograph. This is where you all come in to help me out.
*Image from Pedal the Plains
Voting is taking place on Facebook here. All you (and/or your friends/family/neighbors/enemies/etc) need to do is go to the page, look for the photo entitled "Steeling a Ride" and either "like" or comment on the photo. That's it. Easy peezy! You can also vote on Twitter or Instagram by using #steeling AND @pedaltheplains.

The contest is to find someone (referred to as a "Plain Pedaler") who will document the ride while on the journey with other participants. If you can take a few moments to vote, I would greatly appreciate it. Voting will take place until August 1. Thanks in advance for you vote... and Happy FRIDAY! Get out and enjoy the ride, my two-wheeled friends.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A custom steel build experience: Independent Fabrication Crown Jewel

At the beginning of the year, I started a more focused contemplation on a custom road bike. There has been much talk over the years, but as winter rolled in, I found myself believing it was time to look at this option more seriously. I've had several different types of road bikes over the last few years that were made of steel, carbon or aluminum. The problem with each road bike I have tried is that I never seemed to find quite the right fit. While I'm on the shorter side of the spectrum, I am not freakishly below the average female height at 5' 3.75", but my proportions and finicky/hyper-aware tendencies with minor adjustments, as well as a pre-cycling damaged hand/wrist seem to cause a lot of trouble with road bike fit. To top things off, I have a questionable knee and a completely jacked up lower back. I have come close to a good fit with the Trek Madone (from 2012 - it was modified in later models), but it still wasn't quite right and I have just never found a love for carbon frames.

For years, I have looked into various brands and possibilities for a custom road bike build, but it always seemed like such an extravagant or last resort kind of avenue to take. Surely, I could find something on a bike shop floor or we could build something from a stock frame that would work - or so I thought. After several attempts and many changes and adjustments to each bike I had, we finally started a serious look at having a custom frame built.
*Images from respective companies linked below
While my initial research took me through many, many possibilities, the main brands I was considering were Dean, Seven, Rodriguez, and Independent Fabrication, but I seriously pondered a titanium Eriksen as well. They each had their positive and negative aspects, but I wanted to remain open to as many possibilities without driving myself insane with too many options. I liked Dean because they are local and I've seen some very lovely frames, but I'd also heard some not-so-great stories about experiences with the company, so I wasn't sure I wanted to head down that road. The same was true for Rodriguez (not the local portion, but the rest of the reasoning). A lot of people have had success with Seven and there are a few local bike shop partners, but I also see many of these bikes for sale (both on CL and eBay), so I was a bit leery to go this route. My knowledge of IndyFab was minimal. I knew of them, have seen their bikes in person, but honestly didn't know anyone who'd bought a bike through them. All paths seemed to lead into the unknown, so I looked into all options to see what made the most sense.

As luck would have it, one of the local bike shops just happens to have recently partnered with IndyFab. We have known the manager for a bit now and although a custom build wasn't something he was used to doing, one of the owners has completed several builds with IndyFab and was ready to take on the challenge.

I was still very unsure of what I wanted in regard to material. Initially, I thought titanium might be the way to go, but not being able to ride a bike made of titanium before it was manufactured was a little unnerving. Some people seem to really love their ti bikes, while other do not (although I've yet to read anything negative about the titanium Crown Jewel). But, after some discussion and back and forth, the consensus was to go ahead with steel.

In order to get a proper fit, lots of measurements were taken. Everything from arm length to body height and just about every other part of the body one can imagine was measured (side note: I learned one of my arms is actually almost 1/2 an inch shorter than the other - go figure). All of the numbers were sent off to IndyFab and communication between their end and our local shop got underway. I was told I should have the bike by the time the Tour started, and that was pretty much where things were left.

Several weeks later, I went into the local shop for another fitting on their trainer. The folks at IndyFab wanted to be sure that (particularly due to my wrist issues) the measurements were right for the frame before they made their cuts and started welding. Honestly, this was my first moment of panic. When I got on the trainer, everything felt wrong. The bars were far too low, I felt too stretched, and I worried they had mistaken my measurements for someone else entirely because it just felt so off. I began wondering if it was a horrible idea to have a custom frame built, knowing that I was putting full trust in a company I would never speak to directly.

As luck would have it, one of the shops' pro fitters happened to be in house while I was on the adjustable trainer. I still wasn't feeling as though things were quite right in regard to fit, and he made a stop in to check on me. We went through an interesting experiment during which he had me sit up on the saddle without touching the handlebars and close my eyes while he made adjustments. Then, I'd open my eyes, get back in position and see how things felt. Ultimately, his help resulted in the bars being lower than I'd normally have them, but they were closer to my body to help keep a bend in my elbow. It was quite an interesting experience, actually, but my primary concern was that I would be comfortable in the end on the frame being built.

The one thing that kind of surprised me during this process is that the experience of a custom build was not exactly what I expected (though I don't know that I really knew what to expect either). Perhaps it would've been different if I'd chosen a local builder over one that is 2,000 miles away, or... maybe it would've been exactly the same. It's honestly hard to say as I don't have much of a frame of reference for custom builds. It was by no means a bad experience, but after the initial measurements, everything was kind of quiet. I'm not sure precisely what I expected. Photo updates of progress? An e-mail to let me know how things were coming along? I realize none of these things are required/necessary, but I suppose I thought there would be more chatter during the wait time (I even joked with a reader with whom I'd been e-mailing and who happens to live in NH that I should send him over to check on my build). Sure, I annoyed the local shop just about every week, but that's just part of the fun of dealing with me. :O) I don't think I was too much of a thorn in their side, and they haven't banned me from the shop yet (some gratis beer may have helped with that), so I think all is still well. Regardless of what was going on locally, I knew things were underway and I did my best to be patient as the frame was built.

After the tests on the trainer, I waited again. I had been told that I would get a call from the local shop when the frame had been shipped from IndyFab so that I could bring my parts into the shop (We had stripped the parts off of my former road bike for the new build). Then, when the frame arrived, they would build up the bike and have me come in to take it for a test. I waited (somewhat patiently) for a call. Then, we were up in Leadville as Sam prepared to participate in the Silver Rush 50 and ran into one of the bike shop employees who was also doing the race. We had stopped in a coffee shop, as had she, and as it turns out she actually sees all of the shipments coming into the shop. She made a passing comment about my frame arriving any day (so much for a phone call), and I was ecstatic to hear the news. Less than a week later, the whole bike would be in my hot little hands.
I was a little shocked at the brightness/intensity of the paint color initially (which is not to say that this color is obnoxiously bright, but simply more so than I'd anticipated), but it grew on me quickly. Having only viewed the color swatch on the computer screen, it seemed a slightly more muted/lighter color (which is a good lesson to always get a paint swatch before saying yes to a color viewed online - as a painter myself, I should definitely know better). It is a beautiful paint job though and while I didn't dislike the color, it was simply a bit different from what I'd imagined would arrive. The color also seems to change in appearance based on lighting, which is true of most things in life. I don't know that the purple bar tape was necessarily the route to go, but it is an easy switch at a later time, and I think there is enough difference in the two hues to not create too much clash for the time being.

From the start of "real" information being shared to the date I picked up the bike, the total wait time was about 3 months. Really, a speck in time, especially for a custom ride. Of course, there are many factors that played into this, and in all reality, it could've taken much, much longer. I didn't want any fancy paint jobs (with fades, multiple colors, or special blocking - which is where a lot of time can be spent), so that helped speed things along. I didn't request lugs or anything that would require excess amounts of time either. What I did want is a well-constructed frame that would withstand the tests of time. I believed that simplicity would be my friend in this regard.
I will refrain from much commentary about the bike itself until I have had more time to ride it (it's difficult not to say anything, but I really do want to give it time before throwing out a lot of thoughts), but I will say that right after receiving the Crown Jewel, I took it for a nice test run of just over 40 miles, up some decent climbs, down some substantial descents, out on some flats, and didn't notice anything odd about the bike or the fit. In fact, I found that I had to pay attention to how I was feeling most of the time because I seemed pretty comfortable. That is good news in itself. We will see how the Crown Jewel does over the coming weeks and months, but I am hopeful that this was the right decision.

At this point, if I had it to do over again, I would, even knowing the price involved. The most difficult cost was giving up my most-comfortable-to-that-point road bike in order to fund the start of this frame/fork, which gave me a bit of anxiety during the wait time (and was a bit challenging in the midst of spring/summer training), but I think it was well worth it (or at least I hope). I think for anyone who has difficulty with fit, having the opportunity to build a custom bike is a great option, and I think IndyFab did a beautiful job.

Additionally, I can see very easily how this could become addictive. Who wouldn't want every bicycle s/he rides to be made specifically for him/her, or to his/her specifications? Of course... funding that sort of thing is a completely different story. Maybe when the money tree finally starts to grow? In the meantime, I am glad I waited to do this build because I am far more aware of what I need and want in a road bike. I'm not sure that would've been the case a few years ago. But... time will tell what the outcome will be with this bike. I went into it knowing full well that it could just as easily end up in disappointment or as a huge waste of money. Thus far, that doesn't seem to be the case, so I am very grateful.

Have you been through a custom bike build? What was the outcome? If you haven't done a custom, have you considered it? Who would you select to build your frame if you could choose from any custom bicycle artisans/companies?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leadville: Silver Rush 50 MTB - Part 3

This is the final installment for the Silver Rush 50 posts. If you're just beginning to read, you may want to go back to part 1 and/or part 2 of these posts to catch up if you haven't already. To somewhat avoid confusion, text in this non-bold font was written by G.E., while anything written in this bold font are Sam's thoughts.

I get rather giddy toward the end of any great accomplishment. It was no different watching Sam during this Silver Rush 50 race. As I headed to the finish line, there were several supporters lined up, yelling and ringing bells as riders rolled in to the finish. I arrived just as the race clock was turning to 5:00:00, and believed I'd have about 30-40 minutes or so to wait for Sam to cross the finish himself. In the meantime, I chatted with others waiting for friends and family to cross, learning where they'd traveled from and how often some of them had done this race.
This would be one of the last two sightings of Sam before the end of the race. He seemed to be doing well - smiling and all!
One woman I was standing next to told me that she and her friend were from Nebraska. When the friend eventually crossed the finish line, he told me how difficult the ride had been for him, and after having done the Leadville 100 MTB race in prior years, he thought this 50 mile ride was much worse. It made sense to me from the description - meaning that the organizers basically packed everything difficult into half the distance, so I can see why and how it could feel quite intense. This riders' thoughts also gave me a bit of concern for Sam, but I know he is capable and trained, so I continued to watch and cheer as racer after racer crossed the finish line. Time kept ticking away though and we were now at about 5:45:00. I hoped nothing had gone wrong.
These two were cracking me up as they seemed to have the same reactions and look in the same directions each time a rider came in. There were lots of dogs roaming the finish line though, making it a little easier to be away from our own pups.
At mile 31, I noticed that my chain tensioner looked as if it had been getting loose. I turned a small corner, ran through a puddle, and the entire tensioning wheel, shaft, and bolt fell off, and my chain fell off the rear cog.  CRAP!  The whole time I had been smirking about all the tech problems people had along the way, and now I just got nailed.

I stopped quickly, and found the tension wheel right away.  Not far from it, in a puddle, I found the shaft for the wheel/bearing (If not for finding this, I would have been toast for sure).  For the life of me, I could not find the bolt that held the whole thing together. It had to have fallen in that puddle, and been run over.  I spent about 15 minutes looking for it, but then resorted to bicycle cannibalism.  

I started with the screws on the bottle cage... too small... and then continued to scan the bike for the right size screw/bolt to piece my Franken-bike back together.  Suddenly, I realized that the screw that holds the top cap on might work.  I pulled it, along with the cap, and it worked.  However, the screw was way too long, so I had to use the cap itself as a spacer to temporarily make it fit. It was still wonky/wobbly, giving me only enough chain tension to keep the chain from kicking off completely.

At this point I was about 3 miles from the aid station, which would put me at about 13.5 miles from the finish. Thankfully, it was downhill.  I knew I would make it there, so I kept rolling.  When I arrived, I figured the mechanic at the site would have something to replace the screw in the tensioner.  I was wrong. His answer: "I don’t think I could have thought of something that good, and I have no screws with me."  Ack!  

Waiting at the finish line was a bit unnerving. I was fielding emails from Sam's mom (since I had a phone signal once again), who wanted to know if he'd finished yet and how he was doing. I assured her that he was fine (even though I really had no idea), but told her that he had yet to cross the finish line. Truthfully, I was a bit worried myself. Time just kept slipping away and I wondered if he was at the last aid station, unable to finish the ride. He'd seemed in good spirits at my last spotting of him, but that was still about 15 miles from the finish line. A lot can happen in even a few miles... in the mountains... with no cell phone coverage.
Loved watching these two tandem ladies throughout the race! They seemed to be having so much fun (and they were one of only two tandem groups riding).
I continued talking with people around me to distract myself from the crazy thoughts that were starting to enter my mind. I watched the tandem women pictured above cross the finish line. Because I'd seen them right near Sam most of the race, I assumed he'd be coming in any second.

The next part would be the climb back up to descend Powerline, and a good part of it (the whole last part before the peak), was another hike-a-bike.  I really hate hiking with my bike, it’s so much better to ride it!  The loose chain kept my attention, but I made it, and hiked all the way back to the peak where I knew we would be doing somewhere in the range of at least 8 miles downhill, and some mild climbing once back to the finish.

After so much mashing and grinding on my single speed, my quads were Jell-O. I was ready to go downhill, and let everyone pass me.  Powerline is scary downhill, rocky, and steep, so you can imagine what this does to your hands when constantly braking like I do.  Spin, spin spin, for around 8 miles.  The chain was not happy, but it was compliant and hung in there.

Getting fidgety as the clock was over 6 hours now, I wasn't sure what to do. Every rider that came down the hill to the finish line had me certain that Sam must be right behind him/her, but it wasn't the case. There's a cap at 8 hours to finish, so there was still plenty of time left, but I'd just expected to see him earlier. I kept waiting and distracting myself... and then... Hey, it actually was Sam!
I was (probably overly) excited to see him - and still riding. As he crossed the finish line, I actually cried. Yes, I'm a crier anyway, but it was just so thrilling to see him complete something that I knew was a tough ride.

The descent and the ride into the finish were pretty uneventful.  I was exhausted, but it was awesome to finish... and in 6:19.  The sick part was my rolling time was 5:09, so I killed over an hour somewhere out there, and I will take that lesson with me. (G.E.'s note: Not surprising to lose some time, especially having a bike malfunction that required some thinking and experimentation to resolve.)
As I went to the finish line to greet Sam, he seemed to have disappeared into the crowd somewhere. Then, I saw him off in the distance, waving. I could see that he was quite tired, but he was smiling, covered in mud, and still standing, so I figured that was pretty decent considering what he'd just been through. To be honest, I don't think Sam needed me there. There is, of course, a difference between "need" and "want," and it's always nice to have someone around, but I think he was able to deal with everything that came his way. Nothing I could have done would've made things any easier for him. With that said, I was extremely happy to be there, even if I felt somewhat useless. Just being able to cheer for him and the other racers was quite an experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I even found myself wanting to get on a mountain bike... which, is definitely not something that would generally cross my mind given my brief, melodramatic history with mountain biking.

The awards ceremony was to be held 30 minutes after the 8 hour cut off time, so I took Sam back to the hotel to change, grab some food, and come back to wait. Remember that rain that we'd been hoping would stay away? It had done just that, and we were very grateful, but just as I was thinking those thoughts, the clouds began to roll in. As the awards ceremony got underway, a light rain began to fall. We both commented that it actually felt good because despite the high temperature only reaching the mid-70's F, it actually felt quite a bit warmer. 

The leaders got through the top finishers in each category pretty quickly and gave away the first half of the available coins that would confirm spots in the Leadville 100 MTB. The rain began to pour. And when I say pour, I mean that it reminded me of flash flooding as water was pooling and people rushed to get under the few canopies available. A lot of people decided to leave. Lightning and thunder were carrying on closer than I'd have preferred, but I was ready to wait it out. Sam, however, was wanting to leave, believing that all of the coins had been given out. The coin process at the ceremony seems a bit confusing to me personally, but as I was adding up rough numbers of what had already been given out and subtracting from the total amount to be given to riders, I was fairly certain there were still a few coins for qualification to be given away. 

Thankfully, we did stick around and Sam got his coin for the Leadville 100, which will take place in just a few short weeks. Whether he'll choose to ride geared or single speed remains to be seen, but I was thrilled to see him accomplish a goal he set years ago: to be able to compete in the Leadville 100 MTB race.
This squirrel was making some very odd, non-squirrel noises... but, he seems appropriate for the "nuts of wisdom" Sam is about to share.
Since I’m a poor writer, I’m throwing in my thoughts and observations here at the end.  

So many people seem to not take care of their equipment, and then don’t know what to do with it when something happens. I am glad that I have the ability (at least most of the time) to fix things that go wrong.  

If given the opportunity to spin, a lot of riders will do so. I have to wonder if this is just human nature because I do the same when I have gears to use.  

I had my ass handed to me by 2 women on a pink tandem, who were playing/singing pop music the entire race. They were simply awesome (G.E.'s note: I couldn't agree more - they were fantastically fun)

Single speed is hard, but easy.  

Eat.  Drink.  

This was so much more fun knowing G.E. was there with me, unlike past events.  

Be prepared, take extra screws and stuff, chain links, tubes, and anything else you can think of because the weight will be worth it (and you can help others who aren't prepared).  

D.B.’s are everywhere.  

Spectators and volunteers are awesome.  

Encouraging riders climbing while you are descending is amazing, and it keeps everyone going.  

Leadville is cool.

The only tip or offer I would make is for riders who have someone watching for him/her, and that would be to wear something (whether helmet, jersey, or something on his/her bike) that stands out from the crowd. While typical bike jerseys often seem very colorful on their own, it is amazing how many look similar in a large group of riders. Things that stood out a bit easier from the crowd were neon helmets, unusual jersey patterns - like argyle or big polka dots, and honestly, jerseys that were completely devoid of lots of different colors (as in solid black, white, etc).

As Sam stated, Leadville is an interesting place, and I'm looking forward to a return visit in August to watch Sam compete in the next round of these rides.

Have you competed in the Leadville Silver Rush 50 (or other qualifiers)? What did you think of the event(s) and/or what was your experience? What other races or organized rides (mountain or road) are you competing in this summer?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Leadville: Silver Rush 50 MTB - Part 2

If you're just beginning to read (or would like a refresher), you may want to go back to part 1 of these posts, as this is the second installment in the Silver Rush 50 posts. To somewhat avoid confusion, text in this non-bold font was written by G.E., while anything written in this bold font will be Sam's thoughts. I apologize in advance for any confusion, but hopefully this will help differentiate between the two.  

Before the race actually began, Sam and I were sitting atop the race area in the Colorado Mountain College parking lot. There was no parking right at the start of the race, so we had to climb a bit in the car to find space and get prepared. Sam seemed to be a bit distracted, but I suppose that is to be expected when one is about to embark on a race that s/he has never done, in a place s/he has never been.
He got busy immediately attaching his race number to the bike and getting all his gear on. I worked on pumping tires to the right pressure and trying to keep him in one piece (mentally). I think I was actually more nervous than he was, to be honest. I never do well at the start of a race, and even though I know that I will never finish at the front of any race I enter, I always have that sinking/sick feeling because I want to do my best and I have no idea what I'm in for during the ride. Sam was playing it cool, though I have no doubt his nerves were definitely taking at least a small toll.

As the race got started, I waited for information to know where I would be able to meet up with Sam. The maps we'd viewed didn't seem to indicate where I could drive with a vehicle, so I was anxiously awaiting direction. Soon after the racers departure, the announcer on the loud speaker let all of the spectators know where they could go to see riders along the way. I cursed myself for not bringing a paper and pen, but made mental notes and hoped I could find my way to the correct spots. I had already warned Sam not to be upset if I wasn't where he expected to find me, but I was going to do my best to be available. Of course, there are aid stations along the route, but it's always nice to know that someone is out there for you if it's needed during a race.

After the start hill that we all walked (or ran) up, we were able to ride on some flat land for about half a mile, at which point we came to a screeching halt. We were approaching an easy piece of single track, but most riders seemed to be unable to handle it.  This caused about a 10 min delay until we all single filed through the area.  After the “breakthrough”, we got about 1 mile into the flat area, and the trail was already littered with at least 5 riders with flats, along with the guy next to me at the start who broke a spoke on one of the easiest parts of the course.

One challenging aspect of trying to help support someone during mountain racing is not always having cell phone coverage. As I wound my way higher into the mountains, I found that a signal was non-existent. I hoped for the best and simply planned to get to as many spots as I could to make sure Sam was okay.

After the seemingly very early breakdowns, we had a 1-2 mile section that was somewhat downhill, It was also deceiving because the race description had stated there was an uphill climb from the start for 10 miles.  They weren’t kidding. An uphill battle for 8-9 miles hit right after the little bit of downhill. We would climb - and climb some more.   

Ninety percent of the geared riders were already in full 2 mph spin mode, while I was in 4 mph single speed climb and mash mode.  So, I began to pass.  My count during the 10 mile climb was somewhere around 100 riders passed.  This passing came to a dead halt at the “Powerline” climb though, as it’s not only very steep, but it was soaking wet with water running through it like a river due to massive amounts of rain the day prior.  

Incidentally, everyone in front of me was walking, and in turn we were ALL walking.  We did the “hike-a-bike” for about 1 mile to the peak, where we encountered both mud, and snow (Yes, at 12,200 feet there’s snow even in July in Colorado).  

From memory of the map, I knew that I had about 5 miles of downhill after this, with the first aid station right around the middle of that downhill.  I was feeling pretty good, with the exception of my feet, which became very, very sore after hiking my bike uphill in shoes that are stiff on the bottom.

The first point at which I could actually stand and wait for Sam was around mile 15. I had no idea how far back he would be, but I arrived just a few minutes before the first rider would speed by. I chatted with folks around me, most of whom had competed in this very race themselves at various points but were now here supporting and/or cheering on other racers.
Sam with other riders at about mile 15.
I should note at this point that all of the race photos posted seem to indicate that this was a ride that took place only on dirt/fire roads, which is not at all the case. However, they are the only locations I was able to get to with relative ease for photographs. I'm pretty sure it's why Sam (and others) seemed to be smiling in every photograph - I have no doubt they must've been relieved to have something less technical to deal with during the race.

Before too much time had passed, I spotted Sam coming up the path. He seemed to be doing pretty well, so after cheering him on, I decided to move on to the next location.

The first real downhill was on the way to the aid station.  Downhill on a single speed is mostly restful, but slower than everyone.  I basically coasted to the aid station, had them refill my liquids, and consumed a Gu shot. In total, it probably killed about 3 minutes. I moved on, knowing I had about 2-3 more miles before the climbing started again.  

The climbing went as expected, with everyone passing me as we sped downhill. Then, as we began to climb again, I  methodically passed them going back up to the next peak. This put us around the 20 mile mark.  
At this point, we gradually went downhill to the 23-24ish mile point, which was the designated turn-around.  At this point, I had tired a bit, so I took a longer break, had some of the food provided and refilled water.  I would learn later, that I shouldn't waste so much time if I want to be competitive!

When I moved on to the next location to spot Sam, there were a great deal more spectators standing around and waiting for cyclists to pass this point. I knew I wasn't far from the half way or turn around spot for racers, but I wanted to make sure I was there in case Sam was in need of anything. About this time, I also realized I'd forgot to put sunscreen on and after being in the sun for several hours, I was well aware of my burning skin. I've been so good about sunscreen this summer, but of course this would be the one day I'd forget it.

During the return trip, we start uphill.  It's the same story:  pass, pass pass, until we hit the downhill section.  This is where the ride got a bit of a startle.  At around mile 26, a very fast individual passed me and some others as he headed down the hill. He was probably rolling at 25 mph when he lost control of his bike and ended up breaking his right leg badly.  It seems like something that would be pretty graphic and gruesome, but it wasn’t. He was in horrible, horrible pain, however.  

Another individual that had been riding with us had a cell phone that actually had coverage, so he made contact with the aid station for some help.  We all moved on because it wasn't helping to have so many of us hanging around, and the guy who'd called for help agreed to stay until someone arrived.  It was a good reminder for someone like me who’s terribly afraid of breaking his neck to be careful descending!  
I was getting excited at this point because I knew Sam was more than half way through the race. It's amazing that even as an observer, there is a sense of renewed energy when the end is in sight. The next time I would see Sam would be several miles away at the end of the race, so I moved on to the finish line and prepared to cheer him on. At the time, I had no idea he was preparing to deal with mechanical failure.

Part 3 of this post can be found here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Leadville: Silver Rush 50 MTB - Part 1

Note: These posts for the Silver Rush 50 may seem a bit haphazard, but I wanted to provide a way to get both racer and spectator viewpoints across. Thus, G.E's thoughts will be written out in this normal font, while Sam's thoughts will be conveyed in the bold font version. I apologize in advance for any confusion, but hopefully this will help differentiate between the two.

Over the past weekend, Sam participated in the Leadville Series Silver Rush 50 race. I did not participate in the ride, but it was the first time I'd been able to go with Sam to one of these mountain bike races. For one reason or another, there always seems to be some other sort of pressing matter, and he ends up going on his own. I was happy to be able to come along for this adventure though, as it was definitely an eye-opening and fun experience. I asked Sam if he'd be willing to share some of his thoughts here, but I will also be sharing happenings from the other side of things as well. So, what you'll have here is the race-side and the spectator side of things, kind of combined into one so as to avoid having to detail out two different perspectives on their own.

If you are unfamiliar, Leadville is a small mountain town in Colorado. Today, it has a very small population, but at one point it was known for its gold and silver mining. During the late 1800's, it was the second most populous city in Colorado, taking a back seat only to Denver. Leadville has an interesting history in itself, but today it is known for hosting a variety of bicycle and running events.
Looking down into the city of Leadville. It's difficult to see much of the town from this vantage point.
This story starts like many of mine do, with a small amount of prep and a new bike build 3 days before the event.

On the Tuesday just before the Leadville event, I received my new-to-me Scott Scale 10 carbon MTB frame, and I needed to swap everything over from my prior single speed build.  This was accomplished quickly Tuesday evening, and was followed up with some very brief up and down the street riding.  I wasn’t actually able to take the bike for a ride or make adjustments until Thursday because of scheduling issues.  I did a 14-mile partial dirt and road test to make sure the gearing, the chain line and brakes were adjusted properly.  This was literally all the testing before the 50 mile race!

Neither of us had ever been to the city of Leadville prior to this race. We weren't really sure what to expect, but have heard from others that it's a quaint and lovely old town. We arrived Friday afternoon to find a small town situated somewhat like a bowl in the midst of tree-lined mountains. At an elevation of 10,200 feet, we immediately felt the effects of climbing the extra mile in altitude. Breathing was a bit labored, even walking on flat roads. We had to climb a flight of stairs to our hotel room, and were surprised by the amount of breathing effort this required. At a mile high, I haven't really found myself struggling with breathing, but the extra mile definitely caused me to take notice. I can say that I have a new found respect for athletes who participate in high-altitude events.

I took Friday off so G.E. and I could take our time, check in, and see Leadville before the big day.  We meandered the 2.5 hours out to Leadville, where I picked up my race number and my med bracelet.  We went to the expo, where a nice young man peddled Herbalife products to me (which I consumed on the ride itself). He was quite convincing of the products' usefulness, and was also convinced he would finish the race in a sub 4:30:00 time (I would see him on Saturday headed back from the mid-point, which definitely wasn't going to place him in a sub-4:30 time frame).  The expo was rather sparse and included some vendors with supplements, clearance jerseys and other random junk.

When we arrived in town, the clouds were beginning to take over the sky and before we knew it a light rain was falling. We'd experienced varying intensity of rain throughout the trip up to the mountains, so this wasn't really a surprise. The light rain quickly turned into a heavy downpour as we watched water run down roads like miniature rivers. Although we know that afternoon storms are not uncommon in the mountains, neither of us seemed to be prepared for this. Sam came equipped only with short sleeved shirts, except for his base layer to be worn on race day. Fortunately, I'd grabbed a sweater at the last second on my way out the door, and it was definitely needed more than once as temperatures dropped at points into the 40s F.

On Friday night, we consumed food and walked an insane amount. I think we must have walked up and down the main street of town at least 5 times.  

As we headed down the street to pick up Sam's race packet, we laughed about not being prepared for rain. We wondered what the likelihood would be of rain on race day and crossed mental fingers hoping that the sun would win out. At that moment though, we were making our way through the rain to get the registration packet and bib number for Saturday's race. It was a relatively smooth, and fairly uneventful few moments. I've been to and participated in other bike races that had much more hoopla taking place, so I was surprised to see just a few canopies with not horribly exciting products to share. In some ways, it was actually nice to be able to smoothly and easily get out of the registration area without being accosted by reps and sales folks - whether intentional or not. But, part of me missed having the opportunity to feign interest in products I know I'll never buy.

As night fell, I don’t think either of us slept very much, particularly G.E.  This is normal for me, especially the night before an event.
Abandoned mines are a common sight here.
The Silver Rush 50 is a qualifier race for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. The Leadville 100 is known for being a very challenging race and is described as something for only the most determined athletes. People try (sometimes many times over) to qualify by participating in Leadville Race Series rides throughout the year to get into the Leadville 100. However, the qualifying rides aren't a walk in the park either. In fact, most of them are 100+ mile rides over tough terrain with lots of climbing. The Silver Rush 50 is the exception to the 100-mile race qualifiers, but I don't believe it's any easier. In fact, this is the opening paragraph for registration:

Need a nice challenge? Then forget this one. It's nasty. Cut the Leadville Trail 100 MTB in half, remove all the easy parts, throw in technical descents, burning lungs and wild animals and you'll have a good understanding of what you're about to get into.

It's not exactly something that makes the average person want to give it a go, I'm guessing; but then again, what fun is it if it's an easy ride?
The Starting area/Finish Line at the beginning of the Silver Rush 50
Varying amounts of rain continued throughout a good chunk of the evening, but we awoke to beautiful, sunny skies with just a bit of scattered cloud cover. About two hours before the start of the race, weather outlets were predicting a 50% chance of rain by noon time (which here in Colorado means 100% chance), but for the start, things were looking good.

On race day, we woke to a nice day. Clean, somewhat cool, and no rain.  While prepping to leave, I hit my first glitch; I had forgotten the hose to my Camelback bladder.  Meh.  I decided to just pull the bladder, and put an extra bottle in the Camelback pocket.  It actually ended up working quite well.  Meanwhile, G.E. was busy forgetting to put on sunblock, which she would regret later in the day (and days to follow).

We sauntered our way over to the race area early because Sam definitely didn't want to be rushed at the last moment.  I was reminded that we live in such a beautiful place and all of the rain at the end of summer last year has definitely kept things much greener this year. Riders had already found their way to the start line, saving spots with bikes planted in the grass.

We arrived at the start area at about 8:20 am, after spending 10-15 mins in the parking area up the hill, where I prepped everything for the ride.
There was something amusing to me about this scene. Seeing all of the bikes laying in the grass seemed both peaceful and military-like.
It was amusing for me to watch everything at the starting line. Some people seemed extremely relaxed, munching on snacks and chatting with friends or new acquaintances. Others seemed intense and focused, just waiting for the starting gun to set things in motion. Just seconds prior to the start though, everyone seemed to get a bit more serious. Expressions changed almost instantly as the countdown began.

There’s nothing like music and a mass start.  This particular start is at the base of a 50 yard hill, which is too steep to climb on a bike from a dead stop, so everyone would be running or walking with their bikes to start.
See that guy in the white jersey above? Doesn't he look like he's about to puke from nervousness? Most everyone seemed to be in about the same mental state - slightly ill, but just ready to get going.

By race time, the weather prediction had changed and there was now only a 10% chance of rain after 5p. Things were looking up!
Nearly 900 participants climbed up the hill at the start of the Silver Rush 50.
At the very start of the Silver Rush 50, there is a steep hill. Sam had been warned beforehand not to attempt to ride up the hill as everyone simply carries his/her bike to the top and then begins riding. However, there is also a benefit to being the first male and female to the top of the hill with his/her bike: an automatic spot in the Leadville 100. Not knowing what to expect, and believing there would be a mad rush up the hill, Sam opted to stay back in the middle of the pack. The mass of people climbing up the hill at the start was a sight to be seen, and within moments, everyone was off and on their way for the race.

At 9 am, we begin.  I had already resigned that I would not attempt to run up the hill with my bike, as I was not going to be super fast (and particularly on a single speed).  It took about 5 mins for all of us to get up the climb -- all 800ish+ of us. 

Part 2 of this post can be found here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A quick poll

I am in the process of writing up (with the aid, of course, of the racer himself) some thoughts on the Silver Rush 50 race that Sam just competed in over the weekend. But, until I find a solid chunk of time to sit and filter through things a bit, I thought I'd put up a quick hello to all. I hope you're able to be outdoors, enjoying some great bike rides. There's quite a bit going on here bicycle-wise, but finding the time to put together meaningful thoughts on all the various happenings has been challenging over the last couple of weeks, but they will come in due time.

Until then, I am in the process of ordering a few stickers for myself and wondered if anyone would have interest in some E.V.L. stickers? Above are some examples of what they might look like. Feel free to take the poll and/or offer your thoughts in the comments.
Would you have interest in 1 (or more) Endless Velo Love stickers?
Absolutely! I'd pay to have one of these.
I'm interested, but only if you're giving them away.
I might have interest, depending on color/design choices.
I'd like to see them as part of a bigger giveaway.
I have no interest in stickers.
Other (please add thoughts in comments).
Poll Maker

The rain has been falling here today, but it's a nice break from the summer heat. I don't even mind a bike ride in the rain, although sometimes the clean up afterwards can be a bit of work. Happy mid-week riding! :O)