Book Review- The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

 

In my last post I told you guys how I had set my goals for the year and have big plans to make great strides in many facets of my life. I put as much trackable and numeric emphasis on my goals so I can keep an eye on things and watch my progress. This has already paid dividends as I meet my small goals each week, check them off and get to experience the gratification of making headway. It is great to see I am making progress!

I also asked you guys what inspires you and what you aspire to do this year. Scott Williams commented that he plans to be even more purposeful with his goals and actions in 2018, focusing his efforts in ways to help other people. I think that is fantastic! Making strides to be better in whatever area of life that you choose to advance is great. If you can tie that to your desire to work with or help someone, it gives you additional motivation to meet your goals and achieve your dreams. Good job Scott!

One of my goals this year is to be better read and I have made good on that by spending 30 minutes every day reading. I have chosen to make the subject matter of the books I read something that enriches me in some way. Thus far the books I have read have been non-fiction and would fall in the self-help category, but I am not opposed to fiction. As one of my very good friends put it eloquently, many times fiction is more real than non-fiction, offering timeless lessons. I couldn’t agree more. We will have to see what books end up on my nightstand over the course of the year. I will certainly keep you informed.

As of late, I am reading a book by Shawn Achor titled The Happiness Advantage. Shawn grew up in Waco, TX. As a young man and high school student, Shawn expected to stay in Texas and applied to Harvard on a dare. Much to his surprise he was accepted. Upon going to Harvard to study psychology, he fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. He did his undergraduate, then decided to stay for his graduate studies, taking on teaching duties to pay his way through. He also proctored young students and had the opportunity to help some 1600 young men and women as they navigated the waters of an institution that would give them an education few get to experience.

There are few places where the very best and brightest from around the world gather. Add in the ancient buildings and a deep history as an educational institution, Achor explains Harvard as being a very special place that reminded him of Hogwarts. One would think that this magical atmosphere would be an academic heaven of sorts, where young bright minds would not just go to learn, but flourish. The reality he found was that despite the one of a kind education experience and promise of high success that such a prestigious degree as one can earn at Harvard offers, many students find themselves struggling with depression.

Why would these kids be depressed? Imagine the competitive nature of an institution where everyone is from the top of his or her high school class. Imagine being THAT kid in high school- top of your class, excellent academic marks, great expectations of yourself and exceeding the expectations of faculty and family. Then transport that kid to the beginning of their freshman year at Harvard. Immediately 50% of all those 1%’ers are below average. After a lifetime of being at the top, these kids now have to learn to deal with emotions that they don’t know how to process.

Watching these great young minds deal with the rigors of a highly competitive environment in which everyone is the best, Achor wanted to make a difference. Why shouldn’t these kids be happy? That question fueled his research and subsequent work, propelling him to make the conclusion that the old adage of “work hard to succeed” is bunk. Maybe some of you are rolling your eyes at that. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, let me explain.

I was taught from a very young age that the key to success was hard work. Work hard and one day you will find that you succeed. This comes with the overlying idea that as that hard work pays off, you will be happy. What Achor’s research found was the opposite- happy people become successful people. Chase happiness and you will likely find success.

The book goes on to give some basic principles and ideas to put into action and work toward finding happiness in your life. I must say, I don’t feel like I am short on happiness in any way, but it is always a good idea to make strides at improvement. Currently I am only about half way through the book, but I am confident in my recommendation.  If you are looking for a good read, pick it up! You can get it on Amazon by clicking HERE.

This year I will be going through books and am always looking for suggestions. I read The Magic of Thinking Big earlier this year. Do you have any suggested reads? Comment below!!!

 

Plans and Goals for 2018

2017 was a great year. Good and bad happened, but I have to label it great. I didn’t reach all my fitness goals in the last year. In fact, I didn’t reach many of my goals, but I still choose to say it was a great year. I rode part of Tunnel Hill Trail with my wife in May, toured from Chicago to the Missouri boot heel on our way to Memphis with my friend Nathan in June and rode the length of Tunnel Hill both directions with Nathan in October. I had a DNF at the Ozark Trail 100 mile MTB race and stopped 6 hours into the Wolf Creek 12HR MTB race. I ended the year with 1661 miles of cycling, well short of the totals of any of the last 6 years since I started riding a bike.

There have been times that I have found myself feeling dissatisfied with 2017, but I am choosing to look at it as a year of rest, recovery and reflection. Miles and fitness were low, weight was high,  but I really enjoyed the times I spent on the bike. That is worth a ton. I also spent a lot of time focusing on family and relationships with friends, which made me happy. I went back to school. I got intentional about finding peace within myself and working to avoid some of the pitfalls that have traditionally led me to depressive episodes. Goals met or no, some great things happened in 2017.

On the down side, my biggest problem as I look back at 2017 was a lack of focus. My goals in the past have been somewhat ambiguous and general. Things like “lose weight”, “make better choices eating” and “increase savings” are nice statements, but without actionable items and specific, quantifiable marks, the objectives had no teeth. I didn’t have something to break down to the month or week, so I didn’t keep track of what I was doing. When I got to the end of the year, I looked back at my goals in my journal and realized that if those things were actually important to me, I needed to make some changes.

When goal setting for this year, I got numeric and, in some instances, a bit crazy with what I want to accomplish. For 2018 I am going for trackable items and the end targets are BIG!

I set specific goals for the amount of weight I want to lose and in what timeframe I want that to happen. I outlined exactly how many miles I would like to ride at a minimum and what events I plan to do. I set a goal to start a morning routine of exercise, meditation, reading and studying Spanish. I could go on, but I think you get the point. In 2018 I will be tracking my progress and making adjustments so that I reach my goals or adjust expectations as need be. Instead of stopping at the end of the year, looking back and wishing I had done different, I am going to make those small adjustments needed to stay on course (or adjustments to the course itself) all along the way.

So what has happened so far? I’ve been doing Couch to 5K three days a week and yoga twice a week. I am down 7.9 lbs and making healthier choices with my eating habits. I’ve meditated for 10 minutes 13 of the 18 days so far this month, read for 30 minutes 12 days and practiced Spanish for about 20 minutes the last 15 days in a row.

I have many other pieces of the puzzle of my life that I am working on this year as well. I will graduate with my associates degree in May and I have set some aggressive goals for my work and income. I have specific items planned for volunteering, teaching, improving our finances, family trips, home maintenance and plans for our future. With all that, I believe that 2018 will be a fantastic year!

Have you set any goals for the coming year? I know it is mid-January and most people have stopped talking about their resolutions, but it isn’t too late to dream about what you want for 2018, make plans and make it happen. In fact, now may be the perfect time to take specific steps to make your 2018 amazing. What inspires you? What do you aspire to do or be? Leave a comment and let’s chat about it!

Finishing 2017 Strong

As mentioned before, my days of late have been busy with work, school and renovations around the house. I haven’t made much, if any, time for cycling. That said, little points of interest have been poking me, prodding my sedentary self and giving me grand ideas for the coming months and year ahead.

After a conversation with a good friend the other day about goals achieved this year and other goals not so achieved, I have come to the determination that I want to get back on one wheel. Last Christmas my wife gave me a unicycle. I had wanted one for a long time and was excited to get out and give it a try, but I really didn’t know where to start. A quick google search led me to Mike Boyd’s Youtube channel. On his channel, called Learn Quick, he posts videos of his progress learning new skills. One of those was his unicycle video, which is truly brilliant and inspirational! I decided to not only use his tips to try to learn to ride the uni, but also video my progress.

Unfortunately, with only a couple sessions in the first two months of the year, I shelved the uni and haven’t touched it since. It sits in the corner, taunting me each time I notice it. The time has come to make good on my goal for the year. My plan is to recover my progress from earlier this year and learn to ride the uni before the end of 2017. That will require practice, but I’m confident I can make it happen.

Another fantastic bit of inspiration has come from my friend Janie Hayes and her blog of her Trans Am Bike Race 2017 adventure. Janie is truly an artist with words and will captivate you with her story. Despite knowing that I won’t be racing in 2018, by reading her posts, the question that has come up in my brain is, “could I give the Trans Am another go?” The answer is a resounding YES! I love the route and in many ways feel like I have unfinished business with the race. I am certainly proud of my 24 D 16H time in 2016, but my goals for that race were more ambitious. The thought of going back for another shot makes me excited and I found myself staring at spreadsheets last night until the wee hours, plotting what I would do if I toed the line again.

As I said, there won’t be any racing of the TABR/TD magnitude for me in 2018. That is, unless I would come across some sort of windfall that would make it feasible. I wouldn’t want to make a go at it without a completely funded budget for racing and with home projects and 2 kids in college, I don’t see it happening. There is, however, something that I could do.

Ever since my Trans Am tour in 2011, I have dreamed of writing a book. I have never considered myself a writer, but while blogging that trip, I had several people say they thought I should. I brushed it off, thinking that they must have poor taste. The fact is, I wasn’t confident in my writing and invalidated their responses because of my insecurities. Since then, I have taken some classes and the writing comes so easy to me. Add in that my class grades reflect the same positivity as my 2011 blog post praisers and I find myself more than intrigued.

I have spent some time brainstorming and writing around a couple of ideas. One in particular has me excited. I’m not certain how it will flesh out, but I anticipate maybe a road trip/cycling vacation with Jeneen in 2018 to do more research, capture photos and add in some stoke for the project. I’ll leave it at that for now, but I am SUPER excited about it!!!

As always, stay tuned. I will report my progress here and cannot wait to do so. First, I’m going to go show that unicycle who’s the boss!

The three amigos ride again!

Despite my lack of riding as of late and all the other responsibilities that have kept me out of the saddle, I came across a great opportunity to get out this morning and I just had to go. My friend Ben, who moved to Colorado this past summer, came back to spend a bit of time with family and wanted to get the old crew back together for a MTB ride at St Joe. I couldn’t pass it up!

The morning was a cool one with temps in the upper 30’s. Having not done any cool weather riding since last spring, I found it funny how I feel like I forget how to dress for temperatures. Last night, as I was getting my things together, I was uncertain what to wear. In the end, the base layer and leg warmers I chose were just right. I could have used some covers for my toes, but it was a short ride and I made it.

Ben, myself and our friend Lindell met at the Blankshire Trailhead. We said our hellos, got on our garb and hit the trail. Ben had his Weimaraner Toby along as well. We hit the paved path and took the first left on the MTB trail. I felt completely out of my element.

After having not ridden MTB much as of late, I was way out of practice. Add in that fall has fell, completely obscuring the trail with leaves and I was more than cautious. I babied the corners and was on high alert for big rocks. After an easy first couple miles, we got to the first of the climbs. St Joe doesn’t have anything too big, but I am so out of shape that I was winded quickly. Fortunately the guys stopped a few times and let me catch back on.

Once on the backside of the course, I started to get my mojo back a little. I wasn’t as puckered up on the downhills and that helped to keep momentum for the ups. The climbs still hurt. I have GOT to get back out on the bike more!

The original plan, according to the text thread, was to do two laps. When we got back to where we had started, I let the guys know I was going to be happy with just the one lap. They agreed that was all they wanted today as well and we headed back to the parking lot.

Overall it was a fantastic little morning ride. Only 7.2 slow miles, but it felt good to get back in the saddle and enjoy some time in the woods, especially with the old crew. Ben said he won’t be back for quite awhile, so I was glad I went. Good times!

There isn’t much savings in Daylight Savings Time

The nights are coming much more quickly these days and with it, they bring cooler temperatures. Sunsets before 4:45PM and sunrises dallying until near 7AM make for long, cold nights that plunge below freezing. I realize that is not much of a mark for some areas, but for us here in Southern Missouri, it is cold.

All that said, the only cycling I have done as of late have been short trips on my towner bike to run errands, go to a friends house or meet a buddy for a beer. It is a slow time for riding, but I am ok with that. Other pieces of life have filled in the gaps.

After waiting far too long to do so, I have been working on the roof of our house. I’m doing a complete tear off and replacement, as well as replacing all the fascia boards. It is satisfying, but hard work, especially for a fella that spends his work days at a keyboard. Prior experience from days of yore gets called upon and I take my time. I am much slower roofing than I was at 19. I probably do better work though, as I am much more particular.

Another time sink as of late has been a personal endeavor. The reason I was roofing at the age of 19 was because I dropped out of college. After a tumultuous year at the University of Missouri- Columbia the year following high school, I came home and took a few classes at a local community college over the course of 3 semesters. Sadly, my heart wasn’t in it. Most of my classes I withdrew from and I did not pass the majority I kept. The frustrating part for my parents was that I certainly had the potential to do well, but the desire just wasn’t there. Even with the weight of disappointing my folks, I decided to scrap it all and went to work. What followed was a fast forward as I watched life start to unfold. Marriage, kids and life happened quickly. Before I knew it I had been out of school for 10 years and the thought of going back to college just didn’t seem like it was in the cards.

Suddenly around the holidays in 2001, I found myself unemployed due to a layoff. I decided to go for it and went back to that local community college. With life experience under my belt, school was easy and all my classes came up roses. I had a 4.0GPA on the classes I took and discovered I loved the challenge. As luck would have it however, I was called back from my layoff in the summer and school took a back seat once again.

Over the years that followed, I thought about going back many times, but I never got excited about it. This past spring, while having lunch with a friend, the subject came up. I said that getting my degree would be nice, but I wasn’t so sure at 45 that I wanted to go through the effort to make it happen. He encouraged me, I saw a spark of enthusiasm in myself and said I would look into it. Knowing this friend is the type of guy who will hold me to it, I decided I had better do more than just say I would call the school. I actually phoned the admissions office and asked to get a degree audit so I could find out how much I was short for my Associate of Arts. I was flabbergasted when I found I only needed 16 credit hours to get my two year degree.

The short version is that I went ahead and signed up for a couple classes to get things in motion. Now I am nearing the end of the semester and just wrapped up writing a research paper. Finals are approaching and I feel good about the prospects. I am only taking two classes, so the work load is minimal, but I am sitting on a 4.0GPA again. It feels good to be making strides at self improvement and doing well.

All that said, between work, school and family, my cycling has ebbed, but the saddle is certainly not forgotten. Soon enough I will be back at it and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.

Backpacking on Bell Mountain

As the racing season winds down for the year and seasons change, my cycling has dwindled to nearly nothing. Beyond the trip a few weeks ago with my buddy Nathan, I haven’t been on the bike at all, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been outside. This past weekend I headed out into the wild with a couple friends for a backpacking trip and it was fantastic!

I try to get out for some time in my hammock every year when things start to cool off. As the weather started to turn cooler, I was happy to get an email from a group of friends that I have backpacked with before. There are 11 of us on the email thread, but due to schedule conflicts only 3 of us could make it happen this time. Myself, Jason and Chad made plans to head to Bell Mountain Wilderness Area in Mark Twain National Forrest on Friday 11-3. The plan was to hike in Friday evening after dark and camp on top of Bell Mountain through Sunday morning.

I met the guys at the northern trail head right before dark. With daylight getting shorter every day, sunset was at 6:00PM on the nose. We signed in at the kiosk and hit the trail as the woods went dark. It wasn’t long at all before we had our headlamps on to illuminate the rocky trail.

The hike from the north trailhead to the top of Bell is only 4 miles total- 2.5 miles of spur trail from the trailhead to the main loop and 1.5 miles from the spur/loop intersection to the top of the mountain. Elevation gain is modest at 1500′, as you mostly walk along a ridge.

We took our time and made the hike in about two hours. Once up top, we found a spot to camp and got setup. Being 8PM, we gathered some firewood and made use of the rock fire ring in our camp. Hanging around a campfire in the woods is a heavenly thing to do!

I went to my hammock fairly early (around 9:30), hoping to get some great rest. Going to bed so early meant that the night was a long one, but overall I slept ok. I just woke up a lot.   The wind had been gusty, which had led to my waking, but I rested well.

Saturday morning’s light exposed what was a completely socked in sky. The normal gorgeous view of the valley below was nothing but a mass of fog and mist. Visibility was likely about 100 yards. Oh well. We were in the woods enjoying nature and the view we got was perfectly fine.

The day was spent doing mostly nothing other than chores. First was breakfast and the morning routines. Then we moved camp to a little better spot about 50 yards away. The hope was the new spot was protected form the wind a bit better.

After moving camp, I needed to get water. The other two guys had brought 4 liters, but I only brought 2 liters. On Bell there is no water source, so I had to hike to get it. The choices were to stay on the Bell loop and hit Joe’s creek, which would be about 8 miles round trip or bushwhack off the East side of Bell to the creek in the valley. This is a much more rigorous way to go, but only about a mile one way. Since I had never been down the hard side, I decided to do that.

When at the top of Bell, the trial runs north/south along a ridge. We were at the high point and I assumed that if I hiked south along the ridge trail to a point where I was lower, then bushwhacked down the east slope, it would be less steep and thus easier. I did just that and was able to pick my way down through the trees, rocks and debris along the steep slope. It was quite a hike down, but I eventually made it. I filtered my water and then started the arduous task of bushwhacking back up the steep slope. It was a hard task, but it felt good to accomplish it.

Once back at the trail, I hiked the ridge back north to the high point. Due to my north/south part of the trip along the trail adding in mileage, I estimate I ended up with about 4 miles of walking, most of that being really rugged and steep. In the interest of economy, I probably would have been better off hiking the 8 miles to get water from Joe’s creek, but now I can say I have been down the other way.

When I got back, I was please to see that the other guys had gathered wood for the evening. I felt bad I hadn’t taken part in the exercise, but I was thankful they had. I made lunch, took a short nap and just hung out for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening, we all made our dinners and then worked together to get the damp wood going for an evening fire. Hanging out around the fire chatting and enjoying the woods was a great way to wrap up the day.

Once again, a bit after 9:00 I headed to my hammock. I was a bit concerned when I got there and saw that most everything was damp. The fog was so thick that water was condensing on every surface, even under the tarp. There wasn’t much I could do about it, so I crawled in and got ready for what I hoped would be a great sleep.

After just an hour or so, the wind started gusting erratically. It would go from nearly still, building to about 15 mph and then still again. The gusts were such a change from the still parts that it succeeded in waking me every time the wind blew. This made for a really, really long night. I didn’t sleep much and found myself so very tired when the sun finally came up.

Jason was already up when I rolled out and had gotten the fire going again. We hung out around the fire and had breakfast before going back to our individual sites to break down camp. Once we were packed up and the fire was extinguished, we started the hike back to our cars. The 4 miles back seemed much longer than it had on our way in Friday night.

Weekend trips like these are what I look forward to this time of year. The weather turns cooler, the bugs go away and sitting around a campfire just seems like the right thing to do. It is trips like this that make me dream of doing a long hike like the AT or PCT. The best part of it all is it helps me to take the time to “smell the roses”. I hope you will take the time to get out and enjoy nature this fall. It is a great way to slow down and get away from the hustle and bustle.

DNF’s, Dissapointments and Doing Things Differently

Over the course of the last month or so my experiences in cycling events have been… well, I’ll just say they have not been my best work. It started with the OT100MTB on a single speed, which ended with me spent at mile 37 and a DNF. The following weekend was the Wolf Creek 6HR/12HR race, put on by the team I am on, Team Noah. In short, I was signed up for the 12 hour race, raced single speed and was toast after 4 laps of the 10+ mile course. I got 42.5 miles out of those 4 laps and only about 6 hours. I threw up my white flag again and ended my day well short of what I wanted or expected.

When I go back and look at 2017, I had a similar experience in June when my friend Nathan and I attempted a tour from Chicago to Memphis. We did about 560 miles in 5 days and had a blast, but at the end of that fifth day we pulled up short and called an end to the ride. We were about 70 miles short of Memphis, but headwinds, heat and timeframe conspired to put us in a position that we felt we couldn’t finish. Since our wives were supposed to be meeting us in Memphis anyway, we had them pick us up on their way down the highway and we all went to Beale Street for a good time, despite coming up short on our ride.

I was really starting to get a bit of a complex in regard to cycling outings this year. It seemed I just couldn’t put a ride together that would end when I expected it to. After having a great 2016 with a Trans Iowa finish and a Trans Am Bike Race finish, I thought that maybe I had lost my mojo. Could I actually finish out a ride?

Next up was a trip that Nathan and I had planned for awhile. A couple months ago he came to me and asked if I knew of the Tunnel Hill Trail, a rails-to-trails project in Southern Illinois. I said of course I did. My wife and I had done her first bike-overnight on the THT back in May. Our plan had been to ride the whole thing, but there was flooding in the area at that time and parts of the south end of the trail were closed. I told him I would love a second shot at it, so we made plans to go. We decided on the weekend of October 21st.

This past weekend Nathan and I headed to the Barkhausen-Cache River Wetlands Center, just west of Karnak, IL where you find the start of the trail. The weather Saturday was wonderful with highs in the 70’s and a good breeze out of the South under sunny skies. It was a great day to ride and we made good use of it, riding the 55 mile trail to its terminus in Eldorado, then heading back south 8 miles to Harrisburg where we had a reservation at the local Super 8. That evening we went to Morelo’s in downtown Harrisburg for dinner, drinks and had the fortune of getting to listen to a 3 piece band that was playing on the patio. It was a fine evening!

The next day we went back to the downtown district to have breakfast at The Burg, a local diner. While we were inside the skies opened up and the rain poured, making us feel like we might be in for a bit more of an adventure on our way back down the trail. Before we finished our breakfast, the rain slacked off to a sprinkle and then quit completely before we got out of town. We had a great ride down the gravel path back to the car and what would be my first finish of the year. Success!!!

It is nice to get a successful finish under my belt for 2017. Granted I didn’t have much planned this year and I have been especially lazy, not preparing like I should for rides. I deserved every incomplete ride I got this year. One thing it has done is make me want to double down and be ready for anything that I choose to do in 2018. It is so very disappointing when you realize you aren’t ready, but it is race or ride time and you just have to go anyway. I don’t want to feel that way in 2018.

That said, after much mulling and fretting, it is with disappointment that I say I will not be riding Tour Divide in 2018 as I had planned. I have plenty of time to get my body ready still, but my issues are gear and finances. With my daughter in college and my youngest son headed to college next fall, I don’t feel confident that I will be able to secure the money to fund a race like the Divide for next summer. In addition, as it stands now, I do not have a bike ready for the Divide and it doesn’t look like I will have the means to do so for awhile. When I do the Divide, I want to have my setup ready the fall before so I can train on it through the winter. Maybe next year.

On the bright side, I have decided to do some smaller stuff and get out of my comfort zone a bit. On Friday October 13th, registration opened up for Marji Gesick. MG is a 100 mile mountain bike race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that does all it can to pummel those who choose to toe the line. To quote their website, “The Marji Gesick features 100-miles of rocks, roots, punchy climbs, jump lines, flow trails and soul crushing grinding that DNFs nearly 60% of the field each year.” Add on top that the course trends uphill the entire way and he race is 100% self-supported. What could go wrong with something like that?!?! 🙂

I signed up for Marji Gesick. The race is next September and I’m excited. It will be great to do a different event somewhere I have never ridden and push myself outside my comfort zone. Technical trail has not been my forte, but I will work on my skills and be ready. It is going to be fun!

OT100MTB 2017

After having no races on my calendar since the TABR finish in 2016, I was really looking forward to the OT100MTB on 9-30-17. It is a 100-mile, point-to-point mountain bike race on the Ozark Trail here in Missouri. The race is 98% single track and a big ask of the bike, body and mind with lots of elevation gain along a rugged, remote trail. With two finishes of this race in 2014 and 2015, I felt like I had a good grasp of what it takes to get to the end and was excited to give it a go. Of course things would be different this time as I made my attempt on a single speed after breaking the frame on my geared bike a month before the race. In an effort to make things a little easier, I took advice from several SS guys and put what I thought would be an easy gear on the bike. The only thing I could do would be to ride what I could, then walk. It is a single speed after all!

Getting to the start proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. Registration and bike drop were on Friday afternoon before the race started on Saturday morning. My youngest son is a senior in high school this year so we have made every effort to be a part of as many things as we can. Because he was an escort for one of the homecoming candidates at his school, he was in the parade Friday afternoon and also a part of the homecoming queen crowning ceremonies during half time of the Friday night football game. This threw a little wrench in my Friday, as I needed to drop off my bike at the start of the race and go through the registration process at the campground where the race would finish. In the end, I wrapped up my half day of work and headed for the parade at 1PM, saw the boy in the parade, drove the hour to the campground, got registered and dropped off my items for my drop bags, set up my camp, drove the hour and a quarter to the start, dropped off my bike, drove the hour and a quarter back home to see Brad at the football game, then wrapped up the evening with another hour drive back to the campground, arriving a bit after 10PM. It was a crazy Friday, but a good one. If I could do it all over, the only thing I would change would be to use the bike drop off service the race offered. Yeah, I have to admit to being a bit of a control freak. I wanted to drop it off myself. It worked out. My day ended with a cold beer and I crawled in my hammock for a few hours of sleep.

Race day started early as it always does for the OT. It didn’t help that I hadn’t slept well. There was a bit of noise in the campground through the night and I was wound pretty tight anyway. I drifted in and out until the fitful sleep ended with my 4AM alarm. I got up quickly, grabbed my duffle bag and headed to the bathrooms to change. Once dressed for racing, I put things away in the car, grabbed what I needed for the day and got on the bus.

It was a long ride to the start, but it helped to chat with some of the folks around me on the bus. The air could be described best as nervous chatter. I found it interesting to see other’s reactions. Strangely, I wasn’t really nervous. I probably should have been, but my experience with some big races over the last few years has worked to tame the nerves. Most everyone else seemed to be excited, yet nervous, but that is to be expected. The last twenty minutes or so of the drive, the bus was quiet. A few feigned sleep. The time was approaching.

When we arrived at the starting location, it was still dark and the air was cool. With more than 30 minutes before we would start, I decided to sit on the bus. Several others did as well. There didn’t seem to me any reason to go out and just stand in the woods waiting and the bus was at least a little bit warmer than the ambient air. With about 15 minutes to go, I put on my helmet and went out to my bike.

The usual pictures and well wishes were had with folks I knew. We milled about for a few minutes and soon Jim Davis, the starting official, gave us the command to head on down the fire road a bit to where we would actually start the race. Everyone staged according to where they wanted. I chose to line up a little back of the middle. A few words were said and quickly we were off. It was a surreal experience really. The start of my two previous OT races were much more intense in my mind. This one was like I was heading out for a long ride. I’m sure that had something to do with my multi-day racing experience.

Being on a single speed and not having a lot of saddle time on it, I had decided that I would keep things very tame and not push hard. I wanted to make sure I made it and climbing like crazy was not a good plan, especially considering my lack of training and fitness. It doesn’t help that the OT starts on the Karkaghne Section, which is considered to be one of the most difficult parts of the trail for mountain biking. Steep, relentless climbs come over and over and beat you into submission. I took advantage of the descents taking what speed I could from them and tried to settle in to the climbs with an easy pace. When it got steep quickly, I didn’t hesitate to get off and walk. I stayed moving though and when I got to the first water stop at Sutton Bluff, I felt pretty good. I was 17 miles in and had a good outlook for the day.

Shortly after leaving Sutton Bluff, things took a turn for the worse quickly. Not 2 miles down the trail, the hills suddenly seemed to be more than I could bear. I found myself walking almost every hill and I couldn’t seem to recover. My first thought was that I had gotten behind on water and/or food. I drank regularly and ate more to no avail. Each mile seemed to pile on me and I went slower and slower. By the time I reached the crossing of J Highway (mile 26.5), I was toast and didn’t know if I had what it took to continue. I carried on to the checkpoint at Mack Road (mile 28) and upon arrival, just couldn’t bring myself to quit. It was way too early. Surely I would come back around. I ate, filled water, drank and refilled again. I set off down the trail with intention, looking to re-find my groove.

The next 9 miles to Barton Fen were the most grueling miles I have done in a long time. I felt ok on descents and flats, but I walked every hill. As soon as the trail started to turn up I had nothing in my legs except jelly. I was frustrated and broken. Soon even walking was difficult. As I plodded up the steep slopes, my heart rate raced and I couldn’t find recovery except to stop and rest. I rolled up to the water stop at Barton Fen (mile 37) and flew my white flag. I was done. I just couldn’t see walking up every hill for another 63 miles of single track. I was disappointed, but done.

After chatting with the volunteers at the water stop, I found that teammate Adam Clarke was ahead of me on the next section to 32/DD. His wife Rebecca and fellow teammate Chuck Sevick were driving sag for him, meeting him at each stop. I bummed a ride with one of the volunteers up to 32/DD with the hopes that Chuck and Rebecca would let me tag along until such time I could get back to the campground and my car. They were more than accommodating and took me in. My race then turned into a great time hanging out with friends and helping other racers. Another friend, Stacy Hagan was sagging for her husband Dave and was there as well. Dave and I have ridden together a couple times before and it was a treat to see them. Come to find out, Dave was riding very near Adam and they would end up riding together later in the day. It was a blast hanging out with them at the checkpoints and seeing a side of the race that I haven’t seen before.

After a few hours of sag with the crew going from checkpoint to checkpoint, we got close enough to the campground that they could run me back to my car without interrupting their work. I thanked them profusely and they headed back out to meet Adam again. I changed clothes, broke my camp down, packed everything up and left early. It felt a bit like I was stealing away in the night as I went. All the 50 milers were hanging out at the finish and having a great time. Some of the first 100 milers were coming in and a party was on. I didn’t want to be mistaken for having already finished. I felt a bit ashamed of quitting and left after a quick chat with a couple friends.

On the way home, I would pass within a mile of the Berryman Camp checkpoint. I figured I would be close to seeing Adam, Dave and the crew again, so I swung in there. Sure enough, they were all there. I saw Adam and Dave off as they headed for a late night finish, then hung out with the sag crews around the fire for a bit before driving home. It was a nice way to end the day.

The next day I sat down and loaded up my Garmin file for the race. It was then that I realized my issue. I had ridden the first 23.6 miles (a Strava segment) faster than I had before. If you keep in mind that my training wasn’t what it should be, so my fitness level is less than in the past, you find that is a terrible plan. I didn’t mean for it to be that way. It was just the nature of the single speed. When all you have is one gear, you ride it. I blew myself up without realizing it.

My OT experience for 2017 was a far cry from what I expected or wanted, but I can only take my lumps and move on. My final assessment is that I was severely underprepared, undertrained and at a major fitness deficit. Add all that to the hurdle of switching to single speed a month before the race and you come up with a bad plan. I am chalking this one up to a learning experience. It was a great time in some respects, but I will aim to be better prepared next time.

The Orbea vs the Kona

As I have mentioned lately, I am getting used to a new bike that I borrowed from a friend. My MTB, a 2013 Orbea Alma H20, tragically ended its useful life with a broken seat stay about a month ago. The borrowed bike, a 2013 Kona Big Unit, has been a blessing as I wouldn’t be able to do the upcoming races without it, but there have been some changes that I have had to get used to in making the switch. What follows is a breakdown of the differences between the two and my opinion of those differences. Although both are 29’er mountain bikes, they are far from the same. I’ll try to toe the line between explaining things so the layman can understand, hopefully without boring the avid cyclist with details.

For reference, here are a couple pics. First, my old ride, the Orbea Alma, setup with gravel tires for Trans Iowa last year, and my substitute ride, the Kona Big Unit setup pretty much how I’ll ride it on the OT100 and Wolf Creek 12HR races.

At the Trans Iowa 2016 finish

 

The Big Unit does Middle Fork

The single (see what I did there!) biggest difference between these two machines is the gearing. The Orbea had a triple crankset upfront and nine speed cassette in the rear for plenty of gearing options when climbing hills or zipping along on the flat sections. The Kona? One gear. One simple chain ring and a solitary cog mean that the climbs are more intense and the flat sections are sometimes slower. This completely changes the way

you can ride, potentially slowing you down on both the hills and the flats, but in the end I haven’t been that much slower. I find that without gears I am reduced to the minimum and left with no choice, I buck up and climb a bit harder than I would have geared. Comparatively, with gears I would just down shift because I could. It was easier. The drawback to the extra effort I end up using on the SS is that I can dig too deep too fast in a ride if I don’t rein in my exertion. I have had this happen a couple times and it is no fun. It won’t be an option for the OT100, so the plan is to swap out the cog with an easier gear. I’ll be slower, but it should be a more manageable output for 100 miles.

After the difference in gearing, the next big thing I noticed right away was the bars and stem. The Kona has handle bars that are 4.5″ wider than the Orbea and the stem is significantly shorter.

Skinny vs Wide bars

The wider bars are to give you a better lever when cranking up hills with only one gear. It just makes sense for climbing when you’re out of the saddle. With your hands spread out farther, you have a much stronger position with which to use your whole body to pull the bars from side to side while cranking down on the pedals. The shorter stem with the longer bars makes sense too for steering. If a longer stem was used with a longer bar,

you would have to move the bars farther to turn when descending, creating the feeling of a big lumbering beast. Imagine driving a bus with it’s huge steering wheel. Add a shorter stem and you get a faster reaction when steering, making the steering more like a sports car. At first, I hated this new setup. I felt like I had to really watch trees on either side of the trail because I was used to 2.25″ more clearance on both sides and the short stem made the steering feel too twitchy for me. Soon I got used to it and I am really liking the added power I can put to the system with my upper body on those long bars. Another advantage I have been told about is that with a wider bar, your chest is opened up more, making it easier to breathe. I’m not completely sold on that idea as the bars on the Orbea weren’t so small that my chest felt compressed when I rode. The interesting thing to do would be to swap out for wider bars on the same rig, wear a heart rate monitor and see if there was a marked difference climbing between the two setups. Maybe I will try that one day.

As I have continued to ride the Kona, I have also noticed the differences of the fork and frame as compared to the Orbea. The Kona has a carbon Niner fork vs the steel Salsa fork I had been running. The carbon is much stiffer, which does several things.

The stiffer carbon Niner fork

First off, you will hear people say that carbon eliminates vibration really well, despite its stiffness. I cannot say that I agree when comparing to the steel fork. The steel was very compliant and I never had an issue with vibrations in my hands or soreness. With the carbon I immediately noticed the vibrations and have had to get used to my hands getting some numbness and soreness in my palms. On the plus side, the stiffer carbon fork has made me much more confident on descents as I feel like I am feeling the terrain better. I think the steel fork was flexing so much that the feel of the trail was lost. It is certainly a give and take. In that same vein, the Kona, being a SS is built with a very strong rear triangle to transfer power well and stand up to much more torque for the long haul. The Orbea had a very compliant rear triangle, which was great for giving a cushy ride, but I feel like I lost a lot of power with the flexion in the frame. Once again, give and take.

Overall I must say that I am very pleased with the Kona thus far. I am enjoying the SS life and I love the sporty feel the steering, frame and fork give. Of course I am giving up a bit of comfort for those attributes, but so far I feel like it has been a good trade. When you add in the simplicity of not shifting gears and the reliability of not worrying about bashing a derailleur on something, it is a wonderful experience where you can just submerse yourself in the ride and enjoy the woods. And that’s the way MTB’ing was intended to be.

Getting used to the SS

**You will notice that I have started adding pictures to the blog. Historically I have had a terrible time uploading pics and in frustration, went with text only posts. I recently gave the extra effort to figure out what I was doing wrong. The result is hopefully a more pleasing experience for the reader. I hope you enjoy!

As I mentioned last week, I am learning to be a single speed MTB’er. At first, I thought it was crazy to go with just one gear. I could only imagine how much I would miss all those other options when it came time to climb. As I have gotten out this past week and spent some time on the SS, I have been pleasantly surprised.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Climbing hills isn’t easy with only one gear. I grunt. I sweat. I swear. Sometimes I walk. However, when everything is reduced to the minimum and you have only one option, you just do it. When I borrowed the bike from Matt, he said it well when I mentioned something to him about only having one gear. He said, “You may only have one gear, but you have three speeds- sitting, standing and walking.” Touché salesman.

I got out for 5 training rides this week. There were other rides on my commuter bike around town, but those are just chill and I don’t keep track of them. My mileage hasn’t been what I want it to be, but it is what it is. On the bright side, I’ve been consistent and my knee isn’t giving me problems. That makes life pretty good in comparison to some of the issues I have had over the last couple months.

My rides through the week were close to home on the 7 mile MTB trail at St Joe State Park. For the weekend, I have made a point to get out and go ride other stuff to keep things fresh. If all I do is ride the same thing over and over, I get bored with it.

My plan had been to ride Berryman Saturday. It is a 26 mile loop that incorporates a portion of the Ozark Trail on it’s west side, which will be part of the OT100. I figured doing that portion of trail would be good prep and I love riding there. I packed everything up and headed out Saturday morning, feeling good about the day and excited to hit the trail.

The 45 minute drive was wonderful as I enjoyed the warm late summer air and the windows down. When I turned up the road off the highway to get to the Berryman trailhead, I started getting excited. It had been awhile since I was last out there and I was looking forward to some alone time in the woods.

My excitement waned when within a quarter mile of the trail head I started seeing cars parked along the sides of the road. There was probably a couple hundred cars parked in and around the trailhead parking lot. I saw someone walking along the road and stopped to ask him what was going on. He informed me that there was a 100 mile trail run being put on. He said there were over 100 racers, but he encouraged me to go ahead and ride. He said the trail was still open and there were 4 or 5 MTB’ers already out on the course. I decided to change my plan and go somewhere else. I wanted some alone time and hated to go out and potentially disturb some runner’s groove.

So with Plan A out, I took some sweet backroads and headed for an impromptu Plan B.

Sweet backroad chill

My backroad destination was the 32/DD trailhead of the OT for some Middle Fork section action. I figured I would be alone. Most every time I drive by that lot, there is not a soul to be seen. Much to my surprise I saw some Noah kit when I pulled in. It was none other than teammates Adam and Chuck out for some sweet single track.

Adam!
Chuck!

After some small talk, I got ready quickly and we all pushed off together, heading south on the trail. Not only are Adam and Chuck faster than I am any day, on top of that they were on full suspension geared bikes. I let them know I would likely be sucking wind on the climbs and not to wait for me.

I hung with them for a couple miles, even up the first big climb. Once the second significant climb came along, they started getting away from me. It was all good as I really just wanted to take my time, get used to the SS and enjoying the day in the woods. Once I was alone, I found the ‘third gear’ of SS on some climbs and hopped off to hoof it. I stopped here and there to grab a few shots for the blog.

Beautiful creek on Middle Fork
The Big Unit does Middle Fork
Middle Fork
Middle Fork

He was camera shy

Due to my changes in plan and location, I was pressed for time and I turned back at Hwy 49, about 8 miles in on the trail. On my way back, I ran into another guy I know, Anatoli. We chatted for a few minutes and I then rolled on back to the car. I ended with just shy of 16 miles for the day, which was way short of what I really needed to be riding, but I needed to get back home as we had plans for the evening. Despite the shorter mileage, it was a great ride and a great day!