TABR16- Day 2

Day 1 was a win because I made 250 miles in 17.5 hours, but it was a bit of a loss in my mind due to a 2 hour nap that had to happen in order to stay awake. To make matters worse, I was so amped up when I laid down, worrying about who might pass, that I had a hard time sleeping. I did get some rest and was back up at 4:30AM, ready to make up for some lost time.

The gentle grade toward McKenzie Bridge was a nice way to warm back up. One positive from my nap- it bought me enough time so that a convenience store was open along the way. I had planned to grab water at the Ranger Station and cruise on through at night. The store was better. I refilled bottles, grabbed some grub and carried on. I knew when I made the turn toward McKenzie Pass what I had in store, so I settled in for the climb. It was nice to climb the pass with it not being so hot as it was in 2015 when I climbed it in the afternoon.

I made it over the pass and on to Sisters for another resupply stop. There is a great little Mexican grill in a gas station there where I have stopped every time I have been through that town. I grabbed more food than I could eat and ate what I could outside while talking to a couple other racers. The temps were really starting to heat up now that we had crossed over the Cascade Range and I needed to cool off. I went in the gas station bathroom (think 1950’s around the side of the building bathroom), stripped down and rinsed my kit out in the sink. Putting on the wet kit in the high dessert climate made me cool REALLY fast! I gathered my things, feeling some respite from the heat, and headed down the road.

The road from Sisters to Redmond was nasty hot and I did not have the tail wind I have had through that area before. By the time I reached Redmond, I was scorched and dried out. My plan had been to make Prineville before stopping again, but I was just too hot. I needed to get cooled off. I found a McDonald’s when I came into town and went in to get some drinks and cool down.

Temps were in the upper 90’s to low 100’s, it was 2:00 in the afternoon and I knew that the heat wasn’t going to let up for hours and hours. I did some “math”.

Side note: Doing “math” during a race is a bad idea. You will always THINK its a GREAT idea, but it isn’t. What I’m talking about here is looking at Trackleaders, checking where you are compared to everyone else (This is a REALLY bad idea) and making assumptions on what the people in front or behind you will “surely have to do because of ______”. (Insert headwind, rain, heat, lack of services, whatever in that blank.) Basically what is happening here is you are having some adversity and you are trying to find a way out of it or to reduce it. You THINK that the others around you will have to slow down, sleep, eat, etc, but the reality is they won’t. This “math” you are doing is a head game with yourself that will end in you doing exactly what you think the others will have to do and you will end up way behind.

After my “math”, I came to the realization that it was super hot and it would cool down later after the sun went down. I was at that time in 9th overall, so the folks in front of me, for the most part, had ridden through the night and would need sleep that evening. If I grabbed a hotel room in Redmond, slept through the heat, then rode through the night, I would make up for some lost time from the night before and make up for any ground that the crazy people out in front of me would make while I slept. I sleep while they ride in heat, then they sleep while I ride in cool. Genius!!!

So that is what I did. I grabbed a hotel room in Redmond with the plan that I would sleep 4 hours and roll out a little before dark. The shower was nice and the air conditioning was nicer. I was cool and slept well in a very dark hotel room. Bad news was that I was now really off my plan and I had only made about 100 miles on the day since my sleep in the post office at Walterville. I hoped to make up the difference riding through the night ahead. Surely the others would have to stop, right???

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TABR16- Day 1

I must admit, that I write this account somewhat reluctantly. Overall, I feel like I am done with Trans Am Bike Race (TABR) for now and I would rather leave it “there”, but I have a part of me that feels obligated to write it down. If anything, so I can go back at a later date and try to convince myself not to do it again, but that thought should probably reside at the end of this account instead of here. I’ll get to that later. For now, lets just look at what happened. I’ll spare you too much introduction and explanation of my history with this route/race. If you want that you can read my previous accounts.

I came into the race this year better prepared and armed with my experience from DNF’ing last year. Of my goals I set for preparedness, I had accomplished most of them. I hadn’t done all the speed work that I wanted to and I was heavier (my body) than I wanted to be, but my overall kit was pared down and much lighter than before. I was also very familiar with said kit and had gotten out numerous times over the winter and spring to use it. I had researched things to absolute death and felt that I had the best setup I could amass without spending more than I was comfortable with. I had put in plenty of miles and had the success at Trans Iowa in April (a 340 mile gravel race) under my belt. I had a specific plan to ride roughly 250 miles a day and felt that I was capable of meeting it. I had done plenty of reading, meditating and affirmation exercises to mentally prepare. In short, there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish and finish well.

On June 4th at 8AM, after a few words of wisdom and some photos, 66 riders took off on an epic adventure, some of us in Astoria headed East and a few in Yorktown headed West. I believe there were 57 riders who departed from Astoria, myself being one of them. The same as the year before, it was a pretty chill roll out as we went out of town, crossed the bay and made our way toward Seaside. I remember trying to take it all in, knowing full well that I might never see most of the people I was riding with again. It makes for a very bitter sweet start.

A few miles down the road things started to sort out quickly and I made a point to stay focused on not going too fast. My opinion is that there isn’t a lot of point in getting all worked up on the first day of a 4200 mile race. Just do your own thing and it will work out in the end. In preparation for the race, I had marked out specific stops where I planned to get supplies so as to stay moving and keep the distractions at a minimum. What that meant was that I didn’t go too fast, but maintained momentum. At nearly every convenience store I would see bikes leaned up outside as I rolled through. I made my first planned stop in Garibaldi at 63 miles. I was quick and efficient, having planned what to get.

The rest of the day went much like that, making my planned stops, staying moving and hitting my timeline. In fact, I was quite pleased with myself as the day progressed for having prepared well and sticking mostly to the plan. It was empowering when things got off the rails a bit.

As I left Pacific City, just a bit over 100 miles into the day, an old Datsun pickup went by and threw something at me. Fortunately for me, I had a Gatorade bottle in my middle jersey pocket and whatever they threw hit the bottle, deflecting the blow. Later I would hear about Brian Steele being struck with a water bottle at the base of the neck, giving him a concussion and ending his race on the very first day. Despite being fortunate, I was very annoyed, not only with that driver, but with the level of traffic. The coast is usually busy, but this year it was even more so because of the later start. Being 3 hours later into the day meant we caught the full force of the weekend traffic, where as in 2015, many of us were down the coast and heading inland before things got heated up. Speaking of heat, much like 2015, the region was experiencing higher than normal temps and that added to the things to think about. Being on the west side of the Cascades meant that the first day wasn’t too bad, but it would certainly come into play over days two and three.

Coming over the coast range was easy and eliminating the possible stops was a big plus. I came down into the Willamette Valley and into Monmouth on task and on track. I carried on south and made Corvallis right after dark. My planned stop at the edge of town was closed so I went on into the city keeping an eye open for other options. I knew that the route went a couple blocks to the west of the main drag which meant I would miss most of my options unless I went off route. I didn’t want to do that, thinking that my best plan was to stay as close to the route for resupply as possible, so I went on and hit up a McDonald’s in the city center. They took forever to get me my food and I was a bit frustrated by the time I left. I probably would have just bailed, but I wanted the food for later in the night, knowing I would be going through a long stretch with no night time services. Once out of there, I was looking for a convenience store to grab some other things. Across the street was a gas station, but they didn’t have anything except gas. I got directions from a local and had to ride over a half mile off course to get to the nearest store. I would have been better off going the few blocks off route on my way into town. Oh well. Live and learn!

Back on course and out into the night, headed south down the valley, I was pleased to find John Williams and friends at their racer rest stop. It was great to see a familiar face. I didn’t stay long, just long enough to fill a bottle and hit the restroom, but it was very nice. Thanks John!

Back on the road, I continued south and rolled through Harrisburg and then on to Coburg, which was where I had camped on the first night in 2015. It felt great to get there around 1AM, a similar timeframe as the year before, but this year we started 3 hours later. I felt great and was ready to push on, besting myself from the year before and staying on plan.

Over the next hour and a half, the sleep monster came on and came on hard. My plan had been to push over McKenzie pass through the night and on into Central Oregon the next day before taking a break to sleep. That would put me in great position to stay toward the top of the race. I knew that I could do this having ridden through the night before several times. Unfortunately it seemed to be beyond my control. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. Frustrated, I found a post office in Walterville and threw out my bivy for a nap at 2:30AM. I set my alarm for 2 hours and laid down. I had a mixed bag of emotions. I was stoked that everything had went according to plan. I was 250 miles in on my first day and I was in good position, right then, but I knew that people would pass me while I slept and this two hour nap wasn’t in the plan. Tomorrow would be another day and my first day off script. How would things go? Only time would tell.

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Recovery is a process

 

*****Spoiler Alert!!!*****

On June 4th at 8AM PDT 69 brave souls (57 in Astoria, OR and 12 in Yorktown, VA) put ‘kickstands up’ and headed out on an epic journey that is Trans Am Bike Race (TABR), a 4270 mile self-supported time trial along the highways and byways of 10 of these United States. I was one of those souls in Astoria. On June 29th at 2:58AM EDT I completed my race by reaching the Victory Monument in Yorktown, VA. That is 4270 miles in 24 days, 15 hours and 58 minutes, for an average of 173 miles per day. So now you know the end of the book. If that is all you wanted to know, X out of this window and farewell!

There is much more of a tale to tell, and be sure, I will tell it, but not today. That will be another time.

Today is August 22 and I am still recovering. Physically? Maybe some. The toll on my body was something quite unlike I had ever experienced before, but I think I am beyond the worst of it. My hands and feet were numb for over a month from nerve damage. I had difficulty with twist top lids and fine motor skills. Clipping the fingernails on my right hand was very tough. My left hand just couldn’t work the clippers. That is all gone and I am able to do everything I need to now. The palms of my hands were calloused and peeling. Big patches of skin would peel off repeatedly, leaving very tender skin underneath. I now have normal skin again. I had rashes on my legs and lower torso from days on end of wearing the same sweaty, dirty kit without washing. I also had saddle sores from the repeated motion and friction on the seat. All those are healed. I was truly exhausted and at first, couldn’t sleep for more than 3 or 4 hours. Then after a day or two, I slept for 10-12 hours per day for the next couple weeks. That has all went away and I am now back to a normal night of sleeping. The muscles in my legs, which not only were tired, but seemed to start wasting away a bit in the last week of the race, have mostly come around now. Occasionally it seems like I don’t have any power to climb the hills when I ask my legs to do it, but for the most part they now respond the way I expect them to. Physically I am now fine. My recovery issues to date seem to be more mental and emotional.

Days on end of chasing or being chased leaves the racer with a heavy price to pay. A price that you don’t truly understand until you have completed a race like this. I didn’t notice it at first, but after reflection I see it. When I first got home, I didn’t want to be around anyone at all. That is a strange thing for a big time extrovert to wrestle with. Then came the mood swings and what I can only describe as a type of depression. Lack of motivation or desire was my new norm. I hated where I was mentally and couldn’t figure out why I felt the way I did. I wasn’t productive with work or at home. I kept finding things wrong, whether with me, my wife or the kids. Sometimes I was just mad at the world and wanted to crawl off into the woods to be alone, but couldn’t find the time to do it. I couldn’t even find the motivation to tell the story of my race. I just wanted to forget it all and actually regretted taking part in the race.

I know I am painting a dark picture of how this race affected me, but I want to tell the real story, not just a portion of it that brings out all the glorious things about it. I also don’t want to be over dramatic. And maybe it is just me. Maybe the other racers came home energized and rearing to go. Maybe there is a broader scope of issues that I have to deal with in my mind, something more than simple exhaustion recovery. All I know is how the last two months have gone. It has certainly been a struggle.

Have no fear though. Things have gotten better. It was slow, but in the last 3 weeks or so, I have seen signs of light at the end of the tunnel of my emotions. Then in the last week, I have seen a marked improvement in my psyche. I’m finding the motivation to get work done, both on the job and at home and I feel more personable. I think I am finally coming around to my old self. It is nice to be back. 🙂

So without further ado, I think I am finally ready to tell my tale of TABR16. Keep tabs here for my story if you please. It was a wild ride and I can’t wait to share with you!

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The time is near- only 8 more days!

I just realized yesterday evening that the last time I updated here, my outlook on the race was a bit bleak. Back pain and vehicle problems had me down, but I had resolved to not let it get to me. Luckily, that resolve has carried me past the ugly parts and things are looking good. Everything is pretty well set and I fly out Sunday morning!

My low back strain has taken some diligence to get beyond, but is now basically gone. The first 3-5 days were painful, but with stretching, yoga , being careful not to do anything more to it and being patient, I am now back to normal. I didn’t ride for over a week as I was concerned I would do more harm than good. Once I was feeling better, I got a couple somewhat vigorous rides in over the past weekend and I think I am in good shape with the back now.

The car situation? Well, our family vehicle is still down and won’t be going again until I get home from the race, but I have been fortunate enough to have a great friend who is letting us borrow a car while I’m gone. Thank you Kevin! When I get home I will have to deal with it right away, but at least I don’t have to worry about it for now and my journey wasn’t ended before it started.

As for trip prep, I made some eleventh hour changes that required some Amazon orders. No big changes, just re-routing charge cables to make my system easier to use and more efficient. I am waiting on one more cord that is supposed to be out for delivery with the mail today.

I also have some spare parts (chain, tires, tubes) that are supposed to be in soon. I ordered them last week, but still don’t have them in my possession. The chain is set to deliver tomorrow (Friday). The tires and tubes don’t show a projected date. Grrrr. I planned to put all of this in a box and post it to roughly mid-course. Hopefully they come before I leave Sunday, but worst case they come in next week and Jeneen can get it together and send it out for me. As long as it is done prior to June 4th, I am good. After that, it would be considered help during the race and against the rules.

Tonight I plan to do one last ride with all my gear and I have a couple little sewing projects I want to work on. Tomorrow evening I pack and box it all up. Saturday will be hanging with family and Sunday I am off to Oregon. It is all coming to the pointy end and I feel so much more prepared than last year. I have the right gear and setup for me. I have mentally and physically prepared. I am ready. And I can’t wait!!

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Good thing I wasn’t holding my breath

So you know that old adage about just when you think you got the tiger by the tail, it turns around to bite you? Well, lets just say I need to be careful about what I say.

As of my last post, just 6 days ago, everything seemed to be in place and I was just waiting for 5-29 to get here so I can fly out to Oregon and get this race started. Since then I have been going over things and making a few final tweaks to my setup. I had wrapped up my upgrades and took the bike out for a ride. Everything on the bike felt great.

Mid-week I received some funds that I had been waiting on and I got very excited! This was what I was counting on for TABR funds. Now I had it in my possession and in the bank. I was really excited and shared that excitement with a few folks that are close to me. The one thing that really took me out of last year’s race was now taken care of. That is what you call relief.

Then the tide started to turn. Friday afternoon or evening, I started feeling a strain in my lower back. Gradually it has gotten worse. I’m not real sure what I have done, but it isn’t good. It hurts to stand, sit or lay down. I have stretched and popped ibuprofen, but not much seems to help. It is not something that I feel I should ride with. That’s a big bummer as this weekend was mostly free and beautiful weather. I really feel like I am missing out on some quality riding time and with the lack of riding over the last few weeks, I worry I am losing fitness.

Then yesterday I got a call from my son. He had been driving our family vehicle and noticed a noise in the engine. I had him shut it down and I went across town to check it out. It is bad. From the sound of it, we have a broken part in the bottom end of the motor. Bad main bearings or a broken rod. I currently have it about half apart trying to diagnose the problem and have run into a few stumbling blocks. Although I am mechanically inclined and can fix about anything, this will cost money for parts and very well will cost quite a bit. This very likely will put my race funds in jeopardy.

I was very upset last night (Saturday). I prepared nearly a year for TABR15, only to have my hopes trashed with a DNF in Colorado due to lack of funds and now, after another year of preparing and being so much more diligent this time, I very well may have to sack my dream of bike racing to fix a car. That is ironic actually. I discussed it at length with Jeneen over a big cheeseburger and went to bed feeling dejected and beaten.

I slept well and although my back isn’t any better today, my resolve is. Very much like when racing and you have problems, it is best to eat and then sleep on it. I have some enormous hurdles to overcome over the next 14 days before my scheduled flight, but they are hurdles, not stop signs. Time to put on my problem solving hat and get things done. If the race isn’t easy, getting there shouldn’t be either.

 

Posted in Races, TABR16, Training, Trip Preparations | 5 Comments

TABR16 is looming and I can’t wait!

In many ways, 2015 felt like a year of failure. I was stymied by the weather for Trans Iowa and went to TABR unprepared in almost every way. I chose to use those events as learning experiences and now 2016 is off to a great start. Trans Iowa is done and I was successful in finishing that beast. Next up is Trans Am Bike Race. I began preparing for TABR16 about 2 seconds after I made my DNF call to Nathan Jones for TABR15. This race has been at the forefront of almost every thought for 10 months now and I truly can’t wait! I am very excited to get to it.

Preparing for the race has been multi-faceted. I have certainly been training physically- both on and off the bike. I also have been preparing my gear. I made some major changes to my kit as compared to last year. No more hammock and tarp. This year I will be sporting a bivy and quilt for my camping nights. I also upgraded to a Garmin GPS unit and will leave the maps at home. As for the bike, I will be on the same Giant Defy aluminum frame and bomb-proof DT Swiss wheels that I hand built for last year, but nearly everything else is new. I upgraded from my low end, wore out Sora components to all 105 componentry. I have a new Bontrager saddle, new Easton carbon seat post, new Look carbon pedals, new-to-me Easton carbon bars, a new lighter weight stem and new lighter weight Profile Design aero bars. I even found a good deal on some carbon bottle cages. The bike should be in much better working order and it is certainly lighter. All total, my bike and kit (minus food and drinks) weighs in right at 31 lbs- solidly 6.5 lbs lighter than my setup for last year. I am confident that my kit will serve me well, doing all I want it to and very little that I don’t. Speaking of weight, I am lighter body-wise than when I started last year’s race by 15 lbs. I still have easily 20 I could loose and had hoped to have it off by the race, but it doesn’t look like I will have all of that gone. I’m not going to sweat it too much. It would be nice to have it gone, but in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having a little to lose. Frankly, every racer will lose weight, whether they have it to lose or not. Overall I am lightyears ahead in my preparations as compared to last year so it’s all good.

Flights are scheduled and accommodations in Astoria are reserved. Thomas Camero will pick me up at PDX when I fly in on 5-29. I will then spend a couple days with him and his wife Jane in Hood River before riding to Astoria. Everything seems to be squared away and ready. I just have to wait another 20 days before I leave!

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Trans Iowa 2016 (TI.v.12)

Most know that April showers bring May flowers, but to myself and a band of fellow crazies, April brings a little ride with friends around the gravel roads of Central Iowa known as the one and only Trans Iowa (TI).

Many that I have mentioned TI to say, “so, is that RAGBRAI?” I always then try to keep a straight face. RAGBRAI is a 7 day party/tour across Iowa on paved roads. Although that is a nice challenge, TI is a completely different caliber of ride.

TI is a 340 mile, self-supported, gravel road race that is done all in one go. The route is unknown to competitors beforehand and changes every year. At what is termed as Check Point Zero, riders attend a meeting the night before the race where they receive cue cards with turn-by-turn directions to Check Point #1. There isn’t a GPX file of the course, just the cue sheets. The race starts 4:00AM in Grinnell, IA and IF you make it to CP1 before the time cutoff, you will earn the cue sheets to CP2. Make CP2 in time and you earn the cues to finish. No course info. No exceptions. No excuses. Make it on time or find your own way back. You are on your own. No SAG support or rest stops. This is self-supported racing.

I signed up and made the start of TI in 2015. In what is typical April weather for Iowa, the course was a wash out and not one person finished. To make matters worse for me, I made the almost unthinkable call to quit really early last year. At the start, it was in the 30’s with winds howling in our faces at 30+ MPH. Shortly after the start the rain began. The course had been soaked with rain in the days leading up to the race and with the added frost heaving from freeze and thaw, the roadbed was a mess, affectionately referred to as peanut butter. Roughly 13 miles in, I was cold, wet, exhausted and watching my hopes of a finish go down the drain. I pulled off the side of the road, called Guitar Ted (the race organizer) with my DNF and rode back to my hotel with my tail between my legs. I was dejected, embarrassed and frustrated.

Determined to make 2016 a completely different outcome, I trained harder through the winter and spring months. I also worked my setup over and felt more comfortable with it. When Jeneen (my beautiful and supportive wife who is also my emergency bailout plan) and I rolled out toward Iowa last Friday morning, I was much more confident than last year and better prepared.

CP#0, or The Meat-Up at the Grinnell Steakhouse was exciting! Of course, I checked in, got my bib number and signed the release waiver. Then it was on to say high to Mark Stevenson (aka: Guitar Ted) and thank him for putting this on. It is truly a labor of love that he and the volunteers do this. No sign-up fees mean he puts a lot of his own heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears AND money into this. That is not something lost on the racers either. We love him for it. He’s a cool dude. 🙂

Jeneen and I found a seat at a table full of familiar faces. St Louis area racers Jason Kulma, Pete Matschiner and Dave Derfel were there with their emergency bailout guy Ryan. The four of us racers had done a couple training rides together back home and it was great to be able to have a celebratory meal with them. Shortly my good friend Scott McConnell from TABR15 came in. There were hugs and smiles. The last time I saw Scott was when he came through my home town during TABR last June. He introduced me to an old friend of his Bill Graves. Bill and Scott are a special kind of crazy- they were both riding single speeds for the race!

We all ate, then went in the next room for the race meeting where we were called up by name to receive our race packet which included a few items of super cool swag and the cue sheets to CP1. Afterward, it was off to the hotel room to sort out gear and try to sleep. It was a challenge to fall asleep, but eventually I did somewhere around 10PM.

Although my alarm was set for 3AM, I woke an hour early. Jittery I guess. I laid there till the alarm went off, then shot up and got my things sorted. I threw my bike in the back of our rented van and Jeneen drove me to the start. I believe there were 87 riders who took the start. We all lined up together and with a honk of the lead car’s horn, off we went. TI.v.12 was underway.

It was a neutral roll out as we headed out of town behind the lead car. Once out of town and on gravel, the car took off ahead. Unlike last year, things were pretty chill out of the box as we all rolled along in one big group a mile or so. Folks started jockeying around a bit and I noticed that there was a break between where I was riding and some riders ahead. I didn’t want to get out in a lead group, but I didn’t want to get left too far behind either. Feeling fine, I jumped out and caught the group ahead. As we rode on, I could see in the distance that we weren’t the lead group. That made me feel good. I knew I had no business trying to hang out front, so chilling in the second group sounded good.

The roads were in primo shape at this point. Mostly wore in gravel with easy lines. Nothing wet or muddy and super easy rolling. The hills weren’t even that bad. It was a really nice ride!

The group rolled along at a comfortable yet fairly good pace and we were making good time. Somewhere around 25 miles in, I felt the pressure in my bladder swelling. I needed to go, but didn’t want to fall off the group. After a few miles, I decided to just go and made my stop. As I stood alone on the side of the road, I watched the pack roll away. Not what I wanted to happen, but nature calls.

Once back on the road, I sprinted to chase the group down. In what turned into about a 7 mile sprint to catch them, I burned up “some matches” and was a bit smoked when I finally caught them. Once back on the pack, I kinda felt like I was struggling to stay on. A couple miles from CP#1, I let them go and decided to roll my own pace. I didn’t slow much, but I figured it was going to be a really long day and there wasn’t any sense in going faster than I wanted just to hang with the group. I ended up rolling into CP#1 (53 miles) about 7:30AM, a full hour ahead of the cutoff and less than a minute after the group.

Most of the group was organizing gear, eating, adjusting cue sheets and whatnot. I grabbed my cues for the next leg, put them in my holder and rolled on. My thought was I would get out in front of the group rolling easy, when they came by I would chill with them a bit saving some energy, then drop off to my own pace again and just do my own thing.

It took longer than I thought for the group to catch up and when they did, I realized that it had splintered into several smaller groups. Basically folks were adjusting to smaller alliance groups that they intended on riding with into the night. It was still really early, but smart strategy. I felt like I just wanted to do my own thing. As the miles wore on, I would ride with folks here and there, but really I was on my own. Once in awhile I would get passed by small groups, only to find them sitting on the side of the road later fixing a flat, adjusting clothes, mulling over cues or answering nature’s call. It felt a bit like the tortoise and the hare. I just kept moving. Folks would pass, but I would eventually make up the slack.

At one particularly interesting possible turn, there was a large group stopped at what was signed as 13th Ave Trail, a nasty looking B-level road (these are low-to-no maintenance roads that are mostly dirt and not passable with a regular vehicle) that went up quite a hill. I had been utilizing my cheap bike computer, zeroing it at every turn and doing the math on the cue sheet to determine how far it was to the next turn. It showed that I had come 2 miles since the last turn and my cue said to make a right on 13th Ave at 3 miles. While the group “discussed” it, I rolled on through and ahead. Sure thing, a mile ahead was 13th Ave. I was now out in front of the group, but it wouldn’t stay that way the whole way.

Somewhere around that time, Balvindar Singh (who was riding a fat bike!) started riding with me. We chatted and seemed to ride together well. On the climbs, he would get away from me, but I would catch him on the downs. On the flat areas we seemed to be very well matched. It was a good fit so we rode on together. This would be the arrangement for most of the remainder of the race.

With tail winds and mostly flat to rolling hills, the miles in the middle flew by. Soon we were approaching CP#2 (160 miles). As we watched the cues, we continued to tack north and west with a steady south wind. Not really knowing where we were, we still knew that eventually we would need to turn and go back the other way. My hope was that when the sun went down, it would (hopefully) reduce the wind and make that turn easier. Just 4 or 5 miles from CP#2 we made that first turn south. For 3 miles it was straight into a stiff headwind. It wasn’t much fun. The night would be long and difficult if the wind didn’t lay down.

With a turn to the west, we were out of the wind, but soon the road turned to B-level and got very sandy. My 35mm tires wouldn’t hold up, so I was off and walking. Bal was on 5″ fatty tires, so this was gravy for him. He rode on ahead and reached the check point a few minutes before me. Once I got out of a gullied area, I was able to get back on and ride on the side of the road in the grass where there wasn’t much sand. I rolled into CP#2 at 4:25PM a full 3 hours and 5 minutes ahead of the cutoff. This was super exciting for me! I had done the first 160 in 12.5 hours. Now I had the cues to get to the end of the race AND a whopping 21.5 hours to finish the next 180 miles. I was in great shape!

I rolled on ahead, catching up to Bal and in just a couple miles we came across a c-store (it was actually the third or fourth one). Time to fuel up and prepare for the night!

After eating and loading up on fluids, we were back at it. At this point, things really started mushing together in my brain. I know we road another 20-30 miles, then came across another store. It hadn’t been very long, but I was feeling pretty low. We stopped, I ate (again) and we saw a guy who was pulling the plug. I can’t remember his name, but he was the first I had heard of pulling. He said his gut was tore up and he couldn’t handle any food. Without being able to fuel, he didn’t want to risk going into the night. It made sense. My gut was feeling pretty rough too, but I wasn’t ready to even begin thinking like that. As I tried to get my head in the game, Will Ritchie was there and suggested I drink a Coke. I did, then used the restroom. I was taking too long and in the mean time, Bal wanted to get going so he rode on.

When I got back on the bike, I felt like a new man! The sun was setting, but I felt really good and was laying down the miles. Soon it was dark and not too far ahead I came across Bal. We settled in on the road together and prepared to battle the sleep monster as we cycled into the night.

Here lies another bit that seemed to all run together. I know it was dark and the road was gravel. Eventually I was running desperately low on food and liquid. We had skirted several towns, each time teasing me thinking we might be getting ready to pass through and hit a c-store, only to go on past the lights and find nothing. When we finally rolled into State Center, I just KNEW we would find a store. I had zero water left and just a couple little things to munch on. It was all a mute point if I had no fluid. We came into town, crossed the tracks, turned down the main drag and nothing. Absolutely nothing but closed business and houses. It was nearly 2:30AM and I was getting desperate. I started eyeing the sides of buildings looking for a hose bib I could grab some water out of. I didn’t want to do that at a house for fear of getting shot, but a business might work. Nothing. As we rode on ahead, I was feeling pretty despondent, when all at once I could see the lights of a gas station!!! The heavens parted, angels sang and I probably yelled a little. I apologize to the good people of State Center if I woke you.

We pulled up to the Casey’s and it looked like a used bike lot outside. As soon as I stopped, I got chilled. The temps were dropping a bit and I was needing water and food. I dove inside to find a whole bunch of racers there. Jason Kulma, Bill Graves, Andrea Cohen and Vin Cox, plus others. We were a haggard looking bunch. I bought food and drink, then plopped in the floor and started taking in the supplies. Soon I was warm, but realized I had forgot to bring in my bottles. I went out to get them and immediately started shivering uncontrollably. Everybody was saying the same thing. We were all sweating, it was warm in the c-store and the temps had dropped. I went back inside to fill my bottles, added an extra layer and went to the restroom to wash my hands with warm water. Best to get a head start on it and try to keep things as warm as possible. In the mean time, Jason had left to go chase a group he had been riding with. Vin Cox had been riding with them as well, but wasn’t feeling real well. He waited and left just ahead of Bal and I, saying he thought we would catch him. I wouldn’t see him again.

Once back on the bike, I warmed up pretty quick, but then again, we started seeing pretty good hills too. Soon we made a little loop along a bike trail and through a small town. A missed turn put us back on a road we had already been on. It took a few minutes more than it should have in our sleep deprived state to figure it all out, back track and find the right road. The hours ticked off, but once again, it all ran together.

Right about 6:30AM, we rolled into a little town. I was looking for the c-store Guitar Ted had mentioned that should be our last stop. He had said that the early guys might miss it because it wouldn’t be open yet, but I swore he said it opened at 4AM. Surely I wasn’t fast enough to miss it. As we rounded a turn and a closed store came into view, I realized my fate. I wasn’t that fast, but I had certainly gotten there before they opened. There would be no more stops for me. Taking inventory of my supplies, I was concerned I had enough. I would have to make it enough.

We rode on. The hills got hillier. The gravel got MUCH chunkier. I got pretty thirsty and REALLY hungry! The legs were going away. It wasn’t long and I just didn’t have the power to push the legs up a hill. On the steepest ones, I was walking. At first I felt defeated. Then I didn’t care. I was near 300 miles of gravel! That’s a pretty big deal!

Soon I was cranky. I think Bal was too. He was also stronger at this point than me and seemed to have no trouble climbing the hills. I was now paying for my 220lb body on the nasty fresh gravel climbs. Bill Graves, Brian Gillies and Keisuke Inoue caught us. I tried to hang on with them and Bal, but it was no use. I let the four of them go and once again was on my own with 20-30 miles left. I knew I was ok on time. I could nearly walk it in from this point, but I was spent, the wind had picked up and I just couldn’t keep a decent pace.

As I got to what would be the last B-level road, I slowed to a walk, ate most of the last of my food and drank the last of my water. Once I reached the top of the hill, I hopped back on and dug deep for my last push. I was a little over 10 miles out, I had nothing left to drink, almost nothing to eat and nothing left to give, but I would not let this race beat me. I would finish.

Those last ten miles were a death march. The first 5 or so were heading East, but then the route turned south and into the wind. It was brutal, but I knew I was close. Soon enough, I saw the edge of town and found myself on pavement. Civilization! And only a mile or so to go!!!

I rolled into the finish line to cheers. Guitar Ted, volunteers, other riders and their friends/families were there. Most important to me, Jeneen was there and I hadn’t needed to call her! I had finished at 11:12AM, 31 hours and 12 minutes. Well before the 2PM cutoff, but that wasn’t all that important. I had done it!! To finish was the prize. Time was irrelevant to me.

The remainder of the day was a blur. I was exhausted. I rushed back to our hotel, stripped down naked and fell asleep in the floor. Jeneen said I didn’t move a muscle for 2 hours. Even then, I only needed a blanket as my sunburn and the AC was freezing me. After another two hours I woke to find myself famished. I showered, dressed and we headed to downtown Grinnell to find food. We ate at a great Mexican place and saw Crystal Wintle and Jon VanDis. They had come in after the cutoff, but finished none the less. I soon found out that my good friend Scott McConnell was still out on course! Jeneen and I headed to the finish line to wait for him.

It was bitter sweet seeing Scott come in. On one hand I was heartbroken for him that he was after the cutoff, but on the other hand, he had not only done the deed, but in my opinion, in the most heroic fashion! After finishing TABR last year and having major issues with achilles tendonitis, he took months off to recover, even into the winter. With work and family obligations, he had spent almost zero time on his bike this spring in prep for the race. Knowing full well he was severely behind the eight ball, he made the start anyway and did it. He unofficially finished Trans Iowa….for the 3rd time. This man does’t know the word quit.

Seeing Scott come across the finish line in such a fashion and hearing stories about folks like Bill Graves who have tried literally for years and years, only to be rejected by any and all sorts of issues, really put things in perspective for me and humbled me. Yes, I finished Trans Iowa and I will always remember that, but it was under the best possible conditions. Over the prior 12 years of TI, most of the other finishers have only been able to call themselves finishers after years of trial, error and disappointment and more than likely, through much worse conditions than I can imagine. I don’t say these things to take away from those that finished this year. I only say them to acknowledge those that came before. Those who finish TI are few and they are hardened, gritty, bad-assed men and women. I consider it a privilege to be on that list, even if it is at the bottom.

Posted in Iowa, Races, Trans Iowa | 2 Comments

Snow days = Sew days

As of late, I have been preparing for the upcoming year of adventures I have planned. I have been riding, working out, working on gear and mentally preparing. I have had a few longer road rides and have most of my gear sorted for my races. I am excited about this year and look forward to all it has to bring. Trans Iowa is 68 days away and Trans Am Bike Race is 110 days out. That time will fly for sure!

 

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That being said, it is a snowy day outside and I find myself on one hand wishing for better weather so I can ride, but on the other hand, OK with just chilling. A look at the long range forecast shows that this could possibly be the last little blast of winter, so I think it is a good idea to take a rest. I have plenty of training planned for the spring and I know there will come a time I will wish to just relax. So that is what I’m doing today.

Well, I am relaxing from physical training anyway. The mind always works. As a snow day project, I am designing and putting together a partial frame bag for my Trans Iowa setup. Historically I have had a full frame bag on that bike and went with a Camel Bak for my hydration. This year I want to put the water weight back on the frame of the bike, so I removed the full frame bag and put bottle cages back on. Above that, I will have a small partial frame bag across the top of the triangle. I am also going to make two mountain feed bags to install on the bars that can double as a place to store bottles if necessary. This will actually give me more possible room for water than the Camel Bak, be more versatile (as I can also use the mountain feed bags to store food), and get all the weight from my back onto the bike. That sounds like a good plan all around to me. I’ll post pics of the final products when I have them done.

materials

 

Posted in Rest Days, Trip Preparations | Leave a comment

The cost of an adventure

After closing the doors on 2015 and wrapping up my dialog on what was Trans Am Bike Race 2015 (TABR15), it is a good summation to say that I believe my race-killer was lack of funds.  With that thought, several folks have made the logical leap and asked the question, “just how much money does it take to do the race?” This post will be my attempt to answer that.

A few caveats to mention:

  • This post is really for anyone who plans to race or is thinking about racing in their first endurance event, specifically TABR. I am sure a lot of this info would transfer over to other races, but in full disclosure, my experience is strictly TABR.
  • Much like one’s strategy, set-up or training, the cost of the race will be different for each person. There are just too many variables. What works for one, won’t for another. Everyone has different gear choices, comfort levels, metabolisms and abilities. These things will define your individual cost to do the race. The best I can do is to give you information based on my experience and research, then try to help you walk through what your expenses might look like

So how much does it cost? The shortest answer is “more than you think!”, but in all reality, I think this topic deserves more attention to detail than that. What follows is my take on TABR expenses. Buckle up and let’s get to this!

Here are a few main types of expenses that we can look at:

  • Travel– Everyone will have to get to and/or from the race. That will cost you!
  • Gear– You have your main kit and then stuff you’ll use during the race.
  • Nutrition– Ya gotta eat, but what will you eat? How much?
  • Sleep– It costs nothing to rest, but where you choose to do so can change that.

Those four categories encompass most of what you will need to spend money on while in the race, as long as things go according to plan. Of course, there can always be a wrench thrown in the works.

DIVERSIONS FROM THE PLAN

In 2014, Billy Rice broke his bike frame at the bottom bracket. Completely toast. He had to replace his frame in order to be able to carry on (there is much more to that, but you can watch Inspired to Ride to hear that story). That is above and beyond what the normal racer would need to spend for sure.

You could also have medical expenses. Before the 2015 race even started, German racer Matthias Mueller was struck by a car while out on a training ride just one day before the race. The ensuing treatment impacted his finances in a huge way and ended his bid to start the race.

Now these aren’t the only two instances where someone had the preverbal wheels fall off of their racing attempt, but I think you understand that some have had to spend more than they anticipated. I’m not going to go into emergency expenses because there is no way to know what could possibly happen.

GETTING YOUR KIT TOGETHER

KIT- it’s everything you need (or at least think you need) to take with you. Bike, clothing, sleep set-up… the list can be long or short, but you have to have stuff!

One of the biggest expenses that someone might make is their bike. You have to have one. It IS after all a bike race! That being said, most everyone who signs up for this event surely already owns a bike. They may want to buy a new one that would be more specific to road endurance racing, but that expense would need to be classified as optional. Everyone has their own preference.

Stuff you carry on your bike- sleeping kit, lights, charging systems, bikepacking bags. All sorts of bits and bobs fall in this one. With a background in backpacking, in the beginning I thought I had things sorted pretty well. This sport is after all just backpacking on a bike. As I began preparing for the race, I ended up spending quite a bit more than I thought I would, but I was a rookie. Someone who has done this sort of racing before will probably have all the kit they need. I tried to keep expenses to a minimum, but ended up sinking about $1500USD into kit. You can get a look at my TABR15 set-up in a post I made here.

Side note: Your kit is a rabbit hole of time (spent researching), stress (making decisions) and most importantly expense. There is ALWAYS something lighter or better and with it usually comes a big price tag. Sometimes it is nice to have top end kit that is super light. Don’t get crazy with it. I’ll quote what Mike Hall said about weight in a piece he wrote for Bikepackers Magazine and leave it at that:

Don’t get too hung up on weight.

Your bike only needs to be light enough that you can’t make it any lighter without compromising something else (or spending an awful lot of money). Don’t scrimp on tire sidewalls and pack volume. Packing less into a slightly bigger bag so that it can go in any old way saves a lot of time when deploying and packing up your sleeping kit, way more than a few grams will on a climb. Try not to compare your bike against other competitors for weight, try not to even weigh everything and definitely don’t do the energy calcs, it will only make it more difficult to stop thinking about and it doesn’t really mean anything. Other riders have other builds and other metabolisms and eating habits. There is such a thing as light enough and it may not be lighter than everybody else. It won’t make you significantly slower, you might just have to eat a few grams more food and besides there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Some other, shall we say miscellaneous expenses that might get overlooked are things like costs incurred during training. Preparing for a race like this means you have to get out on your bike and use your stuff. The best training you can do is getting out overnight or even several nights so you can experience what its like to rely on your kit. Doing longer rides like this, you’ll go through tires and chains. You will have to eat on those rides. You might use batteries for devices. Maybe you’ll end up having to replace pieces of gear. I can’t quantify these things for you because everyone trains different. Just something for you to think about.

So, backing up to those four I mentioned earlier- travel, gear, nutrition and sleep- let’s dig a little deeper, because I think this is where I can help you the most.

TRAVEL

Now, I understand that we all live in different places around the world, so there isn’t a way for me to give you an idea of what your specific cost of traveling to or from the race will be. I can however give you my experience. I have traveled to do the Trans Am twice- once in 2011 to tour it and again in 2015 for the race. Both times I researched different types of travel (plane, train, bus) and I also researched whether to ship or bring my bike along with me. My research revealed that flying was both fastest and cheapest. Both times I flew into Portland, OR from St Louis. I live in Missouri, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country. As for getting the bike where I need it, I chose to check it as luggage in a bike box on the plane. There are some ways to ship your bike (check bikeflights.com), but they aren’t that much cheaper and take much longer.

In my opinion, if you live in the continental US, there is no cheaper or easier airline to fly than Southwest. Fares are the lowest I could find, carry on luggage is free (I used my saddle bag as my carry on) and there aren’t fees for your first checked bag, unless it is oversize. I boxed my bike up and checked it as luggage. In 2011 it cost me $50 for the oversize charge. They raised the price in the mean time and in 2015 it cost me $75. I have heard horror stories of people having to pay exorbitant amounts with other airlines. Side note- make sure to know what your stuff weighs. The oversize baggage price of $75 only goes up to 50 pounds. Beyond that, the price goes up. That is why I take the seat bag on as a carry on. I take some items of kit out of the box and put them in the bag to make sure I am under the weight limit with all the packaging.

I can already hear my international friends screaming, “It doesn’t work that way for us!” Well, I know. I have yet to travel international so I won’t be much help to you here. All I’ll say is shop around different airlines, check the airlines oversize baggage regulations and keep your stuff as light as possible to minimize expense.

I was super blessed to have a friend who travels a lot on business purchase my flights for me with points he earned from being a frequent flyer. The only expense I had was the oversize baggage fee for my bike box- $75USD. Had I needed to buy my own tickets, my flight from STL-PDX would’ve been somewhere around $175 and a flight from ORF-STL runs about $150 (both of those figures are flying with Southwest).

GEAR- DURING THE RACE

I know I mentioned some about gear before, but that was in reference to getting your kit together. Hopefully, when you reach the start, you will have everything you need. More than likely you will have too much, but that is for another post. 🙂

The gear I am talking about now is your maintenance stuff: tires, tubes, chain, cassette, lube, brake pads, cleats for your shoes- any sort of consumable for the bike. Also think about personal consumables. Do you use chamois cream? Wet wipes are a good thing to carry to clean up the nether regions with when you are roughing it overnight. Maybe batteries for electronics? What about sunscreen? You are likely to be on the road anywhere from 20-40 days. All these things are items that you will more than likely use multiple times throughout the race. As you train, keep track of what you use, how often you have to replace them and what it costs. With 4400 miles and 20+ days, how much will you need?

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no need to carry all these items with you from the start. It is within the rules to ship things to post offices c/o General Delivery. Of course that means that you will need to be at that spot during the hours the post office is open to retrieve your items. I sent myself one package General Delivery to Missoula, MT during my 2011 tour with no problems, other than I got to town Saturday evening before Labor Day. This meant I had to wait there until Tuesday to get my package. Not too big of a deal when you are touring, but catastrophic if you are racing.

During TABR15, I spent an average of $10.20USD/day on gear, postage and supplies. That figure includes one tire, some batteries and postage for items shipped home from Silverthorne, CO. I know I spent a little on some wet wipes and Neosporin, but I wasn’t able to track down where that went. My accounting wasn’t an exact science folks!

NUTRITION

What you eat will likely be your biggest expense during the race itself. Where you choose to get that food will play a huge roll in just how expensive it gets.

The places you can reliably find food along the Trans Am route are gas stations/convenience stores, diners, restaurants, markets (think Dollar General) and grocery stores. The order I put those in is indicative of how often you will see each type of store immediately along the route. You can get off route and find places, but in the interest of time saved, your best bet IMO is to figure out how to get what you need from convenience stores. That being said, you pay for convenience. Only slightly more nutritious meals can be found at restaurants and diners, but with that choice you have to stop for longer. By the time you tip (and you most certainly better!), these meals aren’t cheap either.

What I found in my 13 days of racing TABR15 was an average of $53.09USD spent per day on food. That is a little more than what I expected and more than some of the racers I polled from TABR14. It is important to point out that I am not a little man and not once did I deny myself food during the race. I ate all I wanted and still lost 10lbs in 13 days.

SLEEP

Depending on your willingness to rough it, where you choose to sleep can have a great effect on what it costs you. TABR15 finisher Adam Kazilsky camped out along the road or in parks almost every night. I asked him about his sleeping expenses and he said he spent $84- one $80 hotel stay for his birthday and a $4 day pass at a park. In my opinion, that is the low end of the scale. I know there were others that spent almost, if not every, night in a hotel. Depending on how many days you take for the race, that expense could add up quickly.

My lodging expenses for TABR15 were $437.63USD which was $72.94/stay (6 nights in real beds), or $33.66/day averaged out over my 13 days. An interesting point is that my lodging expenses were $0 for the first five days. My 6 hotel nights were in my last 8 days.

TOTAL 

So, totaling it all up? My expenses were mine. Everybody’s are different. In total, during the race, I spent $1260.42 over 13 days, or $96.96/day.

Had I continued on in the race, I would have had to have spent more on tires and tubes. Food expenses likely would have remained about the same. Lodging is sooooo easy to spend money on. I would have likely spent more on hotels had I carried on.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the end, I would say that an in-race average dollar/day figure of $100 is a good budget to shoot for in preparation. If you can do better than that during the race then you are golden. Many of the 2014 racers I spoke with planned on less. That was not the case for me. Don’t forget that these figures are during the race! Race registration, travel, SPOT tracker rental, trackleaders.com fee, pre-race/post-race meals and hotels all add up too. Overall expenses could be anywhere form $3000 to $5000, depending on your particular circumstances and choices. To some that is a lot and others it isn’t. For me, it’s not about the money. I have to have it to race, but the race is an adventure. An experience that you will never forget. That is priceless.

Posted in Races, TABR15, Trip Preparations | Leave a comment

Many lessons were learned from TABR15

failtoplan

In the aftermath of TABR15, I did  very little licking my wounds. I think I got all that out during the race and the day I spent alone in the Super 8 in Cañon City waiting on Jeneen to pick me up. Instead, I went straight to planning for another shot. You see, I believe that I didn’t fail, I just found one way to do it wrong. I have resolved to make 2016 a victorious and satisfying year in the saddle.

As for events, my calendar will look very similar to last year. The cornerstone will be TABR16 in June. I also have unfinished business with Trans Iowa V12 in April. Outside of those, I am sure I will do the OT100MTB in October or November as well as a smattering of gravel and road centuries.

With my main focus on TABR, I have done a lot of thinking on what went wrong and what went right. In the right column, I learned an absolute ton. I have to give myself a break and admit it was my first multi-day endurance racing event. I had a goal of reaching Coburg on the first day and met that goal. My bike did everything I asked of it- no issues there really. A few of the things that went wrong are as follows:

  • I was underprepared physically– I came into the race way too heavy (235lbs) and was pretty out of shape cycling-wise. I did have a few centuries under my belt and one double, but my riding through the spring wasn’t consistent. Many of the racers that do these events will tell you that the training isn’t as much about going out and doing monster miles as it is being familiar with your equipment and consistent in your riding.
  • I was underprepared with my equipment– Not only did I not get out to use my kit beforehand, but I had just finished putting it together in the week before I left for Oregon. I relied on conversations via Facebook with other racers and my touring/backpacking experience to guide me in what to take. In the end, I was able to survive with what I brought, but far from thrive. The biggest issue was my sleep system. I took my tarp and hammock with a thin foam sleeping pad and 45F quilt. This setup works great bikepacking, backpacking or touring, but lacks some versatility for racing, in my opinion. I had some folks tell me that they didn’t think the hammock was a good choice, but I was sold on the idea of superior comfort. If I had gotten my kit together earlier and gotten out to use it, I might have realized my mistake before I left.
  • I was underprepared with my game plan– When I toured the Trans Am in 2011, I started with grand plans, laying out where I would stay, and places to stop, only to find out that everything changed on a daily basis. A chat with a local here, a stop to see the sites there. Before you know it, all plans are out the window and you do everything in the moment and on the fly. By the time I got half way through that tour, I would do everything impromptu- meals, places to stay. Everything was spontaneous. I came into TABR thinking that this would be the same way. It can be if you want to tour quickly. With that lack of focus, racing is a disaster. Like I mentioned, I met my goal the first day, but after that, I didn’t have a goal other than the end. Once you are tired and start to wear down, a lack of plan will lead to low motivation, emotional decisions and lots of stops.
  • I was underprepared financially– This was the killer. I could’ve dealt with all the other things, but without enough money set aside, there is only so much you can do. I thought that I could stretch things and make it work. You can if you are experienced or have a plan to follow. I had neither and spent too much too fast with a budget that was too small to begin with.

So what am I going to do, you ask? Make changes! I Have a financial plan that will insure I have the funds to complete the race. I began getting myself in physical shape almost immediately after getting home last June. From the beginning of July through October, I lost almost 50lbs. I did fall off the dietary wagon during the holidays and I have some work to do to get back to my “fighting weight”, but I have it under control. I made adjustments to my kit that will allow me better latitude in choosing where I will sleep. I also have a specific strategy and goals to keep me on track during the race. I already feel more prepared for the race than I did last year.

This year’s race is a completely different ballgame. Armed with what I learned from last year’s failed attempt, I have made changes to my approach that, barring injury or equipment failure, I believe will allow me to not only finish, but finish well. In the mean time, I have lots of work to do!

Posted in OT100MTB, TABR16, Training, Trans Iowa, Trip Preparations | 16 Comments