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!

Posted in TABR16 | 3 Comments

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!!

Posted in Races, TABR16, Trip Preparations | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Races, TABR16, Training, Trip Preparations | Leave a comment

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!

 

IMG_6734 IMG_6733

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

 

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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

TABR15- Day 14- Guffey, CO to Cañon City, CO

Post offices. Not made for sleeping really, but what a Godsend when you need it. I woke to the sound of the alarm on my phone. It was 6:30AM and although the sun had come up, it was still cold. Too cold for me. Scott was packing up and getting ready to hit the road. I told him I would wait. Temps were still really low, as low as they had been just hours before, and I didn’t want to go through that experience again. He finished packing and left. I went back to sleep.

An hour later, my alarm went off. I reluctantly got up and packed my things. Once outside, I realized that it was going to be a rough ride down to Cañon City, even with the extra hour I had taken. Just get it over with. Down the road I went.

The mile back to the route was just shocking to me. Everything from the night before came back in a rush. I made the turn back onto the route and set my mind on the next turn about 23 miles ahead onto Hwy 50. The road was almost completely downhill so there was no chance to warm up by cycling. The sun would do the job. Eventually.

At one point, I checked my phone and noticed a bit of service. I had a text from Scott. He was hoping that I was well and said he had found a good place for breakfast, right after the turn onto 50. I stopped and replied, saying I was on my way. I was really hungry and looking forward to a good meal.

The farther I went, the warmer it got and by the time I reached the left turn onto 50, I was no longer freezing, just a bit chilly. I made my way up toward the restaurant Scott had mentioned and before I could turn in the lot, I had a flat. Bugger. Frustrated, cold and hungry, I said screw it and just went inside for breakfast. I would attend to it later.

Scott was gone, making hay and putting the miles down. I sat down, ordered coffee and breakfast, then called my wife. I told her about the past 24 hours. It had been a whirlwind, but I just couldn’t focus on the good at the time. I was pretty low mentally. As we chatted, I asked if she could give me a rundown of where we stood with finances. I had some savings and a credit card that I had been using, but I had hardly a clue how much I had spent.

Her answers were like hammer blows. The balances were low. I sat at the table with my head in my hands, staring into my coffee cup. “Ok, well, how much have I spent so far in total?” It should have been easy math, but my brain was fried. As she tallied, I waited, praying the overall picture was not as bleak as I thought. She gave me the figures and did a bit of math. I had been spending at a rate per day that was much higher than I had planned on. Add in the fact that I was behind what I expected as far as mileage was concerned and you had a perfect storm of failure. With what it was costing me per day, I had zero chance of being able to finish. I had 5 days worth left and I was at mile 2056 of 4406. I didn’t even have enough to be able to continue on and make it home (I live in Farmington, MO, which is along the route.)

I was crushed. I told Jeneen I would mull it over and call her back later. There was nothing where I was at and I would need to get to some sort of civilization if I was going to make an exit from the race. With 8 miles to Cañon City, I would call her from there after I thought on things. I finished my breakfast and headed outside to fix my flat.

Once back on the road, I just ambled along. Admittedly, I cried a bit. Emotions were flaring. I had come so far and was proud of that, but the very last thing I wanted to do was quit. As I rode, I gained peace. The answer was simple- I would pull from the race. The simple fact was I had 2 options. Option 1- I could carry on, deplete all of my families reserves and go into debt to finish. This option would also mean that I would be returning home at least a week past when I told my employer I would be back, leading to loss of income as well. Option 2- I could bow out in Cañon City and go home. I would stop the financial bleeding and regroup for the 2016 race. There was no real choice. Being a husband and a father, I had to go home.

I made my way down to Cañon City and checked into a hotel. I called Jeneen and explained my decision to her. We then started discussing how to get me home. After a bit of discussion, we decided that she would drive out and pick me up. Being a weekend, she was off of work and free so she sorted everything quickly and left right away. I sat in the hotel room throughout the day and ruminated on everything. I texted Nathan Jones to let him know I was out. Texted Scott with the same info. I also called into MTBCast and made my withdrawal report. All those things made it very real. I got Dominoes delivered to the room, ate and slept.

 

What an incomplete way to end this tale, but I think it is appropriate. The adventure was incomplete. I have had a lot of time to think on it all and I realize that my failure was in planning and preparing. TABR15 was a great adventure and so many things about it will live on in my mind forever. Of course, right now, I am knee deep in TABR16 prep and although writing this has been a bit of a drag as I dig up all the bad, it has also been rather cathartic to purge it all. For 2016 I have a plan. Not all will go according to it, I am sure, but one thing is for certain- I will give everything I have to finish and reach my goals. Oh, and one other thing is certain. You’ll get to read about it. 🙂

TABR16logo

Photo credit:  Joseph Boquiren

Posted in Colorado, Races, TABR15 | 10 Comments

TABR15- Day 13- Kremmling, CO to Guffey, CO

Scott and I had shared a room at the Super 8 in Kremmling. After getting in pretty late, we slept a little late and had the continental breakfast by 8:15AM. After checking out, we went back across the street to the gas station for supplies, then hit the road.

I was pretty excited about the day. After 12 days of temperature ups and downs in the mountains, today would be the day that we left the Rockies and made our way to the plains. With 160 miles to Cañon City, we shouldn’t have an issue getting there.

Out of town and down the highway, we came across road construction. It wasn’t the first stretch of dirt/gravel along the route, but I remember it being pretty chunky. Soon we were through it and came across the turn to go around Green Mountain Reservoir. I love that stretch of quite road. It is a nice respite from the busy main highway.

Back on the main road and headed toward Silverthorne, I found my stride and was rolling. Very soon Scott was nowhere to be seen behind me. I recognized that I was pushing a bit and wanted to make sure I had plenty to climb Hoosier Pass, so I backed it down a notch or two. Before long, I found the city limits and a gas station to stop at. I figured Scott would be right along soon, which he was. We then headed out in search of the post office.

With the impending summit of Hoosier Pass just down the road past Breckenridge, we would be getting out of the mountains and thus getting away from the cold temps. The prior year, I had watched Facebook and seen how most of the riders sent all their cold weather gear home in Pueblo. All along, I had planned that if I got to Silverthorne early in the day, I would send my cold gear back there, loosing several pounds of weight nearly 200 miles before others intended to send their stuff home. I had the idea that this would be a pretty good advantage.

To the post office we went and I sent it all. Coat, gloves, sock hat, balaclava, leg warmers, shoe covers- everything went, plus a few miscellaneous things like maps that I was done with and so on. If I remember right, the package weighed nearly 3 pounds. I was ecstatic! This would make me fly! The only clothing I kept was my base layer shirt and my rain jacket. I did hold on to my sleeping quilt. Good thing.

On through Silverthorne and down the trails around Dillon Reservoir we went. Then the trails to Breckenridge. By the time we got to Breck, I was famished. I also needed to find a bike shop and get a new tire- my back one was shot. Scott had a pedal problem and needed the shop as well. We found a shop and took care of our business. It seemed to take quite awhile, but we got it done. Being mid June, Breck was bustling with tourists. We needed to eat, but I really wanted to just go. I wanted to make sure I put some space between me and upper elevations before it got too late (read: cold). We found a burger joint on the main drag, Downstairs at Eric’s, that a friend of mine had raved about before.

The restaurant was fine. I ate well, but found myself frustrated with the service. I am sure it was just me and my desire to get moving. Soon enough we were done and leaving, but the day was slipping away from me. It was now 4:00PM.

As we left town, we found a gas station for supplies. That is code for candy bars, soda, gatorade, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers. Namely anything you can shove in your pockets or bags. We got ready to leave and it hit me- I needed to hit the john. Scott took off and I went inside to heed the call. After doctoring up my bum, I left and started climbing, looking for Scott. I found him quick, just a mile or so up the road. He had stopped again to adjust his gear. We settled in riding together, headed over Hoosier.

The climb up from Breck is only about 10 miles. It is a steady, easy grade for the first 6-7 miles, then it turns up for the last 3 or so, gaining roughly 2000′ in total. Compounding that is the fact that Breck is at about 9600′ to begin with, so the climb to the top takes your breathe. At 11542′, Hoosier is up there.

I soon found myself in a groove and started to pull away from Scott. I had started the climb in a similar gearing to his so that I could try to keep pace with him. I was amped up though and just kept making ground. I wanted to make this last climb of the Rockies count so I kept on the throttle. My legs and lungs burned, but I was determined. Head phones in and jamming to some hoppin tunes, I used what Scott had taught me about finding a rhythm and sticking to it to cruise on up the climb. I never slowed down or put a foot down. When I made the last turn and saw the summit, I roared out loud like a beast!!!!! I felt so accomplished in that moment. It was certainly a highlight of the trip.

Shortly Scott came around the corner and I cheered him on and videoed him as he rode up the final pitch. We shared high fives and smiles, then got some great photos.

TABR setupTABR setupWe didn’t stay long at the top and began our descent. I was all conflicted. On one hand, we had just  summited the highest pass on the Trans Am. What a cool thing! On the other, I had no cold gear and we were 90 miles from Cañon City. If the winds were favorable and we stayed on it, we could cover that distance in about 5-6 hours. If things didn’t go as planned, it could be longer. Either way, it was after 5:00PM and we needed to stop for some food at some point. It would be a late night. Hopefully the temps would hold up after dark.

We screamed down to Alma and stopped at a shop in town. We grabbed some food, filled bottles and asked the keeper about the bar & grill in Hartsel, about 30 miles down the road. We thought that would be a good spot to grab some food, not a midpoint, but about as close as we could find on the map. She called them and verified that they would leave the grill on so we could eat when we got there. Nice!

We started busting it down the road, headed for Hartsel. We flew through Fairplay and at the turn just outside of town toward Hartsel, the wind picked up. Unfortunately, NOT a tailwind. Another demoralizing headwind blew and blew. The inclination of the road was trending downhill, but we were pedaling for all we had, just as if we were climbing. The source of the wind, a storm that was pushing over the ridge from the west, looked to make things difficult for us in more ways than just the wind. All we could do was hustle and hope to stay dry.

We rolled into Hartsel about 7:45PM, just as it started to sprinkle. There isn’t much there, but the first thing we saw was a gas station. We stopped in and grabbed supplies for what was obviously going to be a very long night ahead. Then we went down the road a bit to the bar & grill to grab some food.

The Hartsel bar seemed like the kind of place that could be a bit seedy. Locals sat around a couple tables, sipping their beers. Not much goes on in the little town, so we were fodder for people watching. The young man behind the bar was also the cook and knew what we wanted right away. He got us cokes and took our orders, then went to the back to get things cooking.

Food showed up and we ate. Soon another cyclist came in. He was a northbound Tour Divide guy. The divide crosses the Trans Am here and he was doing the same as us- loading up on food and waiting out the storm. We chatted a bit and got his story. I hate to say it, but I don’t remember much of what he said. I was too wound up thinking of the 60 miles ahead added to the impending rain and dropping temps outside.

Soon enough, Adam showed up too. He had stayed in the saddle and closed the gap on us, only to be in the same predicament. He ordered food and drink. We all sat together and chatted, discussing the radar and what to do. In the end, we decided that since we didn’t have cold gear, or at least some of us didn’t, we would hole up for a few hours and wait out the storm. The radar showed that if we left right then, we would get hammered just south of town a ways. The Divide racer went his way, Scott, myself and Adam headed to the post office to pull a Mike Hall.

Mike Hall is a very accomplished endurance racer who, among many other races, won the inaugural TABR in 2014. One of his tricks was to carry light gear and sleep inside when possible, however, not always in a hotel. Mike is known to have slept in vault toilets in bear country (because they are secure. You can lock yourself in) and quite a few times he has been found in US post offices. They are always open and seem to be fairly secure.

The three of us found the modern facility all lit up, open and deserted. We brought our bikes in, leaned them against the walls and proceed to crash out in our sleeping gear on the floor. It wasn’t exactly comfortable and certainly brighter than I preferred under the ample fluorescents, but we weren’t wet or cold. We laid down about 9:30 and set our alarms for 2 hours.

I didn’t sleep well at all. My sleeping system was flawed from the get go on this trip and I was just not able to find a way to sleep much on the concrete floor with my 1/4″ foam pad. I got a little bit of rest and woke before my alarm went off. One of the other alarms went off and the three of us got up, packed up and headed out into the cold night. I put on all I had- my base layer and my ultralight rain jacket. Fingers crossed.

It didn’t take long to realize what we had in store. Now near midnight and still at a fairly high elevation (8864′), it was cold. My guess is upper 30’s. I had hoped that I would warm up as I rode, but the route was heading downhill. Every once in awhile there would be a little incline, but not enough to warm up with. I was freezing. I stopped at one point to put a spare pair of socks on my hands. I then took a rag I had, cut it in half and shoved a half down in each of the socks to act as some insulation. Back on the road, I quickly found that it wasn’t going to work. Scott had stopped with me and Adam had ridden on. Each of us just wanted to get down.

Fifteen miles out of Hartsel, Scott and I stopped along the side of the road and got out our sleeping stuff- he his bag and me my quilt. I needed to try to get warm. It didn’t work. My 45 degree quilt just wasn’t enough to make a difference in temps that were headed toward the freezing mark. I would not get any colder with it around me per se, but I couldn’t warm up. Frustrated, we took off again, hoping to tough it out. After about 6 miles, I was shivering and couldn’t feel my hands. We stopped again and I tried to warm up with the quilt, once more to no avail. My mind started having thoughts of what was going to happen. How cold was I? Was hypothermia a potential risk? I didn’t want to over-dramatize the situation, but I wanted to be real. This wasn’t good.

A check of the map showed that we were still 40 miles from Cañon City. Another look and I noticed the little burg of Guffey, just 7 miles away. Although a mile off route, we decided to head there, realizing that there was a high probability that we wouldn’t find anything available at 2:30 in the morning. I felt like I needed to take the chance and see if I could find shelter.

Back on the bikes again and downhill toward who knew what. It only took a second for the cold to go through me. Shivering and aching from it, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the bars and crash. As the minutes and miles ticked away, I was barely surviving. Finally we saw the sign- Guffey 1 mile. We turned up the road that direction. It was a long mile! Eventually, we saw a few lights ahead. Rolling into the little one-horse town at 2:30AM, it seemed like no one lived there. No signs of any shelter at all.

Then, there it was- US Post Office. Hallelujah! I was never so excited to see a bunch of metal boxes in my life. We quickly got inside and found that is was nice and warm. Like manna from heaven. Just like we had at Hartsel, we strung out our sleeping gear on the floor and tried to sleep. This time, sleep found me. Not great sleep, but sleep, none the less. 130 miles was all we made on the day. Highs and lows were had, both in reality and figuratively. It was nice to be past Hoosier, but the reality was I was now another 70 miles behind. What to do, what to do.

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