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!

TABR16 Setup

I’ve been asked about my setup and what I changed from TABR15. Here is a rundown of the major bits and bobs I took with me for TABR16.

  • Bike- 2009 Giant Defy 3- This was the same bike as last year and has been the backbone of most of my adventures. Last year I ran the low end Sora drive train that came stock on it. That may be something that makes other racers raise their eyebrows, but it never failed me in anything I asked of it. That being said, I found a smoking deal on a full 105 group set this past spring and did a complete group upgrade before the 2016 race. The 11 speed 105 was 50/34 in the front and 11/28 in the rear. I must say, now that I have ridden the 105, I can’t believe I rode all I did on the low end stuff! It is a much nicer ride now. My wheels were the same as last year. DT Swiss 32 hole RR440 rims. The front was laced to a SP dynamo hub which provided power and charging. The rear was a DT Swiss 350 Classic hub. I hand-built them myself and I love them. Tires were Conti Grand Prix 4000sii 25mm. My handlebars were Easton EC90 Equipe carbon with a set of Profile Design ZBS aero bars clipped on. The seat post was an Easton EC70 carbon and the saddle was a Bontrager Affinity. Lastly, I upgraded the pedals this year from Look Keo Classics to Look Keo carbons.
  • Bags- The saddle bag was a Revelate Designs Viscacha. Everything else was custom stitched by your’s truly- frame bag, top tube bag and feed bags. Yes, I would be happy to entertain making a set for your adventures! 🙂 Details about that coming soon!!!
  • Sleep system- Last year I had my hammock- oh so comfortable, but limited on where I could use it. I ended up sleeping on the ground a few times and my setup didn’t support it well. This year I went with an Outdoor Research Helium bivy, Klymit X-lite sleeping pad and Enlightened Equipment Enigma 50 degree quilt. This system was versatile enough to handle the extremes that were found on the Trans Am in June, yet came in at a respectable 32oz (922g).
  • Clothing- I was sporting my Team Noah kit made by Borah Teamwear. I have to say that if I had to grade it I would give it a C. It did most of what I needed, but wasn’t perfect by any means. When the temps dipped, I had a hand-picked system that works for me. Some things could’ve been lighter, but I was comfortable with this kit. My base layer shirt was a long sleeve tech fabric by Remington. I had a super packable Camp anorak wind shell that always seems to see more use than I think it will. It has been many thousands of miles with me and is great for mountain descents. When things got cold, I had a synthetic Patagonia puff coat that doubled as an additional sleeping layer when necessary. I wore it a few times on the bike, but only for awhile so I didn’t sweat it out. My last line of defense was an Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket. On my head and/or around my neck I used a UV Buff. I used it at all times on my head to protect from sunburn and pulled it down when needed around my ears. I also had a lightweight sock hat for sleeping in, but really didn’t need it. Hands were covered with Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves when the weather got rough. I also carried Pearl Izumi leg warmers, Giant shoe covers and Swiftwick sun sleeves.
  • Electronics and lighting- For navigation, I had a Garmin Etrex 30x in the cockpit to take the place of the ACA maps I carried last year. I’ll also had my iPhone as back up nav and all round electronic device. I was a bit nervous about going without paper maps, but it worked fine. The dynamo lights were the same B&M lights from last year. On the front was the Lumotec IQ Premium Cyo and on the rear was the Secula Plus. For this year I upgraded from a small Princeton Tech head lamp on my helmet to an Exposure Joystick MK10. This provided me with extra light for fast mountain descents and an in-camp light when used on the low setting. Everything was charged with the SP dynamo and a Sinewave Revolution coupled with a Fuel+ cache battery. I did end up charging the cache battery here and there from an electric outlet when staying in a hotel and a few times while stopped to eat.

Some weigh their setup, some don’t. I know from experience that the important thing is to have a setup you are used to and comfortable with. That being said, I did weigh everything and it totaled out a little shy of 31lbs (14kg). There were things I could have done to trim weight in my setup, but not without spending quite a bit and I just didn’t feel it was necessary. I was confident this setup would do everything I wanted it to do, and it didn’t let me down. The only purchase I made after I left home to add to my kit was a light pair of pajama pants that I cut to shorts. I bought them at a store in Astoria the day before the race and used them when I needed to have something to put on while doing laundry.

What would I change?

If I was to do the race again and had the funds to do so, here are a few things that I might do different. Overall I was happy with my kit, but there is almost always room for improvement.

  • First off, a disk frame bike would be nice. Necessary? Nope, but nice. There were a few times that I was on the brakes hard on descents and would have felt more comfortable on discs.
  • With a change in frame to discs, I would make sure I bought one that was able to run a wider tire. I like my Grand Prix’s, but would love to run the 28mm model. My current bike won’t accept them.
  • Di2 would have been the bee’s knees. I saw other folks with it and was jealous. I have always been a fan of the simpler, reliable route, but the fact is Di2 is both simple and reliable. Plus after a few thousand miles when your hands are numb, Di2 is much, MUCH easier to shift.
  • I am still searching for the right shorts for me. The team kit I rode this year was much closer to what I needed than what I have ridden in the past, but it still had a few issues in durability and the contact area wasn’t a perfect match. Much better than last year, but not perfect. Before I do another long race I will spend some time and money looking for the perfect shorts.
  • You may just want to skip this one. You have been warned!!! 🙂 For those that read this, stick with me here. Cache batteries with dynamos are beastly to figure out. The trick is to find a cache that is “charge through” compatible. That way you can trickle charge the cache at all times with the dynamo while still being able to use the cache to charge other stuff. You say, “why not just charge everything off the dynamo?” Well, that works mostly. Except at night. Or going up a hill. That makes the dynamo power fluctuate and makes it difficult, if not impossible to charge things that require a more steady flow of power. There are a few bike pack lighting guys out there that have systems you can buy, but I am all about figuring things out myself. (That translates to- I am too dumb to buy someone’s wisdom, I feel the need to bash my face against a preverbal brick wall trying to re-invent the wheel. Yeah, yeah, I know.) I thought I had it figured out with the Fuel cache battery, but alas, I was wrong. It was advertised that it was charge though, but didn’t work like that, which is something commonly mis-advertised evidently. I used the cache to charge all my things (which it did fine at) and also to run my Etrex 30x (which it did only ok at). The Etrex isn’t designed to be charged. Instead it uses 2 AA batteries. I ran lithium batteries to keep it light, then supplemented with the cache battery via the data cord. It would run on the cache for exactly 45 minutes, then go to a nag screen warning that it would shut off if I didn’t prompt it to stay on by clicking a button. The fix was I would hit the power button on the side of the cache battery every 44 minutes. I missed it probably 3 or 4 times a day and would look down to a GPS that had shut off. GRRRR!!!! Not the easiest setup to use, but it kept me from replacing AA batteries every day. The Garmin will run 25 hours on 2 AA’s. I only had to switch them out twice in 24 days. Not bad, but I wore myself out pushing that power button! When I race again, I will find a different cache battery that is actually “charge through” compatible or one that won’t shut off.

Final Thoughts

One of the first things that prospective racers ask veterans when they are trying to prepare for one of these races is usually something about gear. I understand that as it is exactly what I did in 2015 when preparing for my rookie race. However, the reality is 100 rookie racers could go out and purchase the exact kit that I used and was happy with, only to be miserable with it all. When racing a route like the Trans Am, you will spend hours upon hours in/on/with your kit. It needs to be what YOU are comfortable with and you will only find that by getting out and figuring it out for yourself. Look at veteran racer’s gear lists as guidelines only.

Now….get out there and ride!

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!!

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.

 

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!

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

 

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.

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!

TABR15- Astoria and the start

Well, hello there! My last post was June 4th, just 2 days before the start of TABR15 and 44 days ago. Wow. Where does the time go? It’s been a crazy 44 days with so many highs, lows and in-betweens. The best thing I know to do is just tell you about it. I’ll spare you the entire story at once and break it up into a few posts over the next few days.

To pick up where I left off, I was staying at Thomas and Jane Camero’s home in Hood River, OR. We had just picked up Michael Mausser, another TABR15 racer, from the airport and the 4 of us sat around over dinner telling stories of cycling past, talking race goals and enjoying each other’s company.

The next morning, Thomas, Michael and I packed our things and headed toward Portland and then on to Astoria. It was a beautiful drive along the Columbia River Gorge, across the Willamette Valley, over the coastal mountains and to the coast. This region is my favorite part of the country. Simply gorgeous.

We arrived in Astoria and checked into our accommodations at the Norblad. From this point on, the next two days were a blur. Catching up with friends like Fran from Germany and Scott from Nashville, plus all the new friends that I made with racers from both last year and this year, there was just so much going on, it is really hard to remember. I wish I would’ve written it down at the time as I know much of it will be gone from memory forever.

There was food and drink. There was a fantastic joy ride Friday morning out to the Pacific Coast with Michael and Fran for the ceremonial wheel dip. Then lunch at a little coffee house with friends and then the group meet-up with most of this year’s racers at the Column. Somewhere in there a group of us went to the post office to ship home anything we didn’t need. I sent my street clothes, which meant my wardrobe was a pair of bike bib shorts, my cycling jersey and a pair of socks, all of which were on my body. Life gets real simple real quick when you only have one change of clothes!

Later Friday, there was more food and drink at the Fort George Brewery at the race meeting. Then a small group of us rode to the hospital to give our regards to Mathias Mueller, the German racer who was hit by a car two days before the race on a training ride while crossing the Columbia River Bridge coming back from Washington. Then dinner with friends at a restaurant down on the wharf, followed by a cool little ride to see a bunch of sea lions at the marina.

Later yet Friday night, around midnight, I found myself struggling to lie down and get some sleep. Not only did I have a bad case of the night-before-a-monster-race jitters, but I wasn’t really looking forward to lying down. I spent both Thursday and Friday nights on the hardwood floor of Thomas’ room. I did this in an effort to save money, sharing the expense of the room with Thomas, but in the end, it was probably a poor decision as both nights I slept very little and woke up sore and not rested. I estimate that I had about 2 hours of sleep each night. Not the way I wanted to start an endurance race where I would be struggling to find sleep.

Saturday morning, my alarm went off somewhere around 3:30AM. I had no problem jumping up despite my lack of rest. I was full of bike stoke! I grabbed my things, brushed my teeth and went down to the hotel community kitchen for a blueberry pancake breakfast provided by Thomas. What a guy!

I went back to the room, packed up my gear and rolled out of the Norblad with a couple other racers about 4:45. We made the few block trip to the Maritime Museum, where the race starts.

It was a tense and happy scene. Everyone was excited. I would guess that most were a bit nervous, although no one let on. I know I was nervous.

After a champagne toast by some, of which I didn’t take part (5AM is just TOOOO early for champagne, IMO!), Nathan Jones, the race director, said something like, “OK, let’s go!” and we all started rolling. Trans Am Bike Race 2015 was on!

 

Chillin’ in paradise

Well, after days on end of late nights and early mornings, trying to wrap up things at home, work and prepare to leave for the race, the day finally came and Monday I flew out.

My dad picked me up at 6:45am and dropped me at the airport in St Louis. Checking my bike box was a breeze as was security. My first flight was on time and uneventful.

Upon arrival in Phoenix, I checked the boards and saw my flight to Portland showed on time. I had about an hour and a half layover, so I took care of personal business and grabbed a burrito from the food court.

Right away, I got the text reminder that my flight was delayed about 30 minutes. No biggie.

When the plan arrived, it was announced that it was out if service and we were being delayed indefinitely until they could get us another plane. There was lots of grumbling in the terminal, but my thought was that I would much rather have a fully functional aircraft!

After another 30 minutes, it was announced that we would be boarding the plane. Nothing was ever said about the integrity of the aircraft and I was sitting by the window the whole time- I never saw a NASCAR pit crew come out and do anything either. Hmmm. Oh well! This whole ordeal is supposed to be an adventure, right?!?

Of course, everything was fine and we landed in Portland unscathed. My buddy Thomas Camero, the infamous lantern rouge of TABR14 picked me up at the airport and hauled me off to his home in Hood River, about 50 miles east.

Since then, I have spent 2 glorious days in what I would call paradise. Not only are Thomas and his wife Jane fantastic hosts, but the food and company have been top notch. Add to that beautiful views of mountains and the Columbia River Gorge, great cycling and just being able to relax. This has been a fantastic respite.

This evening we went to Portland and went by the Rideyrbike Shop, Nathan Jones’ bike shop. Nathan not only raced Trans Am last year, but he organizes and directs the race! I met him when he came through last year and it was great to sit and chat with him.

Thomas and I then headed to PDX to pick up Michael Massuer who is also racing this year. I met Mike in 2012 as he was touring the Trans Am and came through Farmington. Actually, he is the reason I found out about the race last year. He signed up last year, but had to withdraw prior to the start. Seeing his Facebook posts about TABR sparked my interest to follow and the sign up myself.

This evening, the three of us and Jane enjoyed a great dinner and then lots of talking about the route, our experiences and expectations of this race.

Tomorrow we pack up and head to Astoria. Just 2 more days before the race! I can’t wait!!!