Knee pain, recovery and a return to the saddle

Three weeks ago yesterday I went for a run and ended up with a significant injury to my right knee. I hobbled slowly home, thanking my stars that I had only made it a half mile away. Right away I began eating Ibuprofen like candy and icing my knee about every hour.

The first two days I couldn’t walk and most of the first two nights I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. There was no position I could find that would work to get comfortable. I was miserable and planned to go see a doctor if things didn’t improve the next day. I really didn’t want to do that because my health insurance has a very high deductible and frankly, I couldn’t afford what I figured the doc would want to do. I was pretty certain that I had a meniscus tear and the first thing would be an MRI, followed by some sort of orthopedic surgery. If I could figure out some way to avoid that, my daughter could continue to go to college and we could eat. That would be nice.

On the third morning, I swung my legs off the side of the bed, stood up and the pain was much less. The reprieve only lasted an hour or so, but that gave me enough light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel to think I might just be able to make it without a $7000 financial hit.

Slowly over the course of roughly a week, I got to the point that I could get around ok. Stairs were still a problem and I would have painful bouts, especially in the evenings, but at least I could walk. It was still frustrating though. I had big plans to do a couple events this fall, but beyond that, I just wanted to be able to get around and ride. As time wore on, I was beginning to think that I would have to get used to a new normal of no riding or hiking, unless I wanted to buck up and go see an ortho.

By the end of the month, I was in pretty poor spirits. I was able to walk around fine in normal life situations, but I still struggled with stairs and had little confidence in my knee overall. One evening in the last couple days of August, I took a short walk- about a half mile. Later that night my knee throbbed. How could I get back to normal if I couldn’t even take a little hike? I just wanted to get back to my normal activities.

In the last week of August, I saw that the local bike shop had scheduled a group MTB ride at a trail just outside of town. I had a great desire to go, but the idea of getting out of the saddle to climb hills and using my legs to work the descents seemed improbable. I couldn’t imagine my knee holding up to that with the way it felt. I spoke with a few guys around town about it and made the assertion that I would try to go. As the week went on, I was pretty stressed about the idea of riding. I didn’t want to set myself back any more.

Friday evening, I decided to take a simple road ride. I would try out the knee and see what it did. If I made it through and still felt ok with it the next morning, I would try to go on the MTB ride. I did a super easy 11 miles on the road bike that evening, staying in the saddle the whole time and keeping it to the little gears. Much to my surprise, I felt really good. No discomfort in the knee. Could there be hope?

Saturday morning I woke and got ready. My plan was to start with the group and hang in the back, only doing what I thought I could. I would try to keep it in the saddle and small gears to keep the pressure down. I met the guys at 8AM and we headed into the woods.

I was super pleased that there was a guy there who never rode MTB before. He is an older gent who rides road with us regularly and he wanted to try out the trail. Of course, he was very timid and went slow, walking many parts of the trail. I hung back with him and thought it was working out perfectly for me. I had no reason to try to keep up with the others!

I took the chance a couple times to gently get out of the saddle, just to see how it felt. I was surprised, but the knee felt fine. Next was a few pedal strokes standing up. No issues. I even took a shot at climbing out of the saddle on a short climb. Once again, no problem. My confidence was starting to return.

After about a mile, the noob friend decided to bail. We were right next to a local paved bike path and he thought that was his best bet. I tried to convince him that he just needed to keep riding, but he felt very unsure and just wanted to get on the blacktop for a spin. I wished him well and latched on back of the group, as they had stopped to wait for us.

I kept it pretty simple for a time, but slowly tried to add a little more effort to the equation. Each test was successful and gave me more confidence. By midway through the ride, I was taking a few shots at full on power and climbing some hills of the harder hills out of the saddle. It felt so good to be moving and not hurting!

Here I am two days later, still feeling good about the knee, when cycling anyway. I’m not sure why, but although I still feel unsure in certain circumstances, like climbing or descending stairs, the cycling seemed to have only good effects on the knee and and pain I have felt. I am super stoked to get back to riding with a cautious eye on the joint and see how things progress. There is no way for me to be ready for the OT100 in just 30 days, but I will do what I can and see how I feel. If I can stay pain free riding some longer distances over the next few weeks, I figure I can give the OT a go. I’m good with a bit of suffering over the distance as long as the knee has its integrity. Stay tuned for updates as I prepare for my fall races!

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What motivates you?

Months and months of nothing- that is what has happened here on the ole blog. Once in awhile I will pop in and give a little update, promising to be more active and regular with posts, only to do the exact opposite. I could continue to give my apologies and promise to do better, but will it happen? I don’t know. I really don’t.

Frankly that is how my physical activity has been this year- sporadic at best. I have searched for ways to maintain motivation. Those searches have been fruitless. The fact is I truly WANT to get out and ride. I want to run. I want to train and prepare for racing again. The motivation just doesn’t come.

That brings up the question: what is it that keeps us motivated? I’m not convinced I have the answer. I have some ideas, but they require a bit of back story.

After TABR16 I spent the majority of the remainder of the year recovering. The physical recovery was slower than I expected. My legs and lungs seemed to have nothing to give for a couple months. The mental recovery was longer and more difficult. What I found as I waded through the dark waters of post-race life was a giant hole. I fell in, sinking deeper as the days got shorter through the fall. By the first of the year, the issues had gone beyond what I felt I could deal with and I sought help with a therapist. I went in thinking that I had anger issues. I felt like I was lashing out at those closest to me. In just a couple sessions it was brought to my attention that the anger I was feeling was only a symptom. What I really was dealing with was depression. Slowly I worked through some things and by the time the local flowers were blooming, I felt like I had a better handle on things.

Through spring I had my sights set on a tour with my buddy Nathan. I didn’t ride much in preparation, but I was excited to get back out on the road. June 4th my wife dropped us off at the Amtrak station in St Louis. We took the train to Chicago, our bikes in the luggage hold, with the plan to ride to Memphis via St Louis over 6 days. That would put us on track to put down 100-130 miles each day.

The first 3 days were an absolute blast! We were fortunate enough to have tailwinds and cooler temps. We were on the road, doing as we pleased and loving every minute of it. The fourth day saw a bit of elevation gain, followed by a hot afternoon and a solid 130 miles. By the time we reached Cape Girardeau that evening, we were both toast. The accumulative effects of 4 days averaging 119 miles a day was weighting both of us down. When you add in the fact that the total mileage over those four days eclipsed my previous 6 months of riding, I was certainly pushing my limits. The next morning we slept a little later, hoping to get a little recovery. Day 5 had much higher temps (near 100F) and a solid 10MPH headwind. More heat and stronger winds were forecast for the following day. In the end, we decided to pull the plug on our trip in New Madrid, MO. Our wives were supposed to have met us that next day in Memphis to spend the weekend. Instead of continuing to torture ourselves, we got a hotel room and waited for our wives to pick us up on their way through. They did and we had a blast on Beale Street that weekend.

There were little to no regrets about stopping short. We did 561 miles in 5 days and had a fantastic time hanging out together and exploring Illinois and Missouri. That said, I found myself questioning my ability. Just a year before I rode 4238 miles in 24.7 days. In my efforts to recover from the race, I had slipped into inactivity and lost my mojo, so to speak.

I came back from that trip to a very busy season with work and lots of tasks to take care of around the house. Needless to say, I didn’t ride much over the remainder of June and July.

August brought thoughts of fall and the upcoming OT100 MTB race on 9-30 as well as the Wolf Creek 12HR MTB race on 10-7. Realizing that time was short and of the essence, I hopped back on the training wagon. I was riding, running, doing yoga and some body weight workouts. In just a week or two I started feeling fantastic! I was feeling more flexible and generally stronger.

On the 13th of August I went for a super easy evening run. Just a half mile from my house, my right knee gave way and searing pain ended my run. I spent two days unable to walk on it. I got used to RICE (rest-ice-compression-elevation). Oh, and plenty of Vitamin I. On the third day I was able to get around a bit, but still quite a lot of pain. Since then I have been resting- no running, riding or anything, other than an occasional super easy bike ride to the coffee shop. Slowly it is getting better, but I am going nuts waiting. I really just want to get back to training.

That gives you the back story, but the question remains: what is it that keeps us motivated?

As I look back on the last year or so I think for me the answer is to just do it- just get out there and get moving. Being in training has a snowball effect and the more I do, the more I want to do. If I stop for too long, the snowball melts and I have nothing with which to create momentum. I get lazy and everything seems to get in the way. My best bet is to stay moving. That is easy to say after I have started training, but difficult to tell myself when I’m ‘on a break’.

Some folks believe that the best motivation is a deadline. Sign up for a race and you will find the motivation to get going. Others enjoy the planning and prep cycle. Buy some maps and start gathering your kit. What do you think? Post a comment and give me your thoughts or suggestions. Maybe we can motivate each other!

Posted in Training | 2 Comments

A Life Well Lived

Life

If you are reading these words, you have it. We sleep, wake, eat, work and play. Life is what we know, how we experience the world and what we give when we help another person. It is the thing we treasure and cultivate. It is what separates us from things like rocks, dirt and water. It is precious.

One definition I found for life is “the experience of being alive”. This experience is unique for every person, but the funny thing is, most of us take that experience for granted very often. Because we are inside the experience of the day-to-day, things begin to run together. Before we realize it, days, weeks, even years go by and we find ourselves asking where the time has gone. It can be difficult to step back, take a minute and see that regardless of our circumstances, whether good or bad, up or down, fortunate or not, we are all living.

My experience has shown me that it is the things that are out of the norm, the peaks and valleys of life, that make me recognize I’m living. Experiencing something out of the ordinary makes ripples in the flat calm of the day-to-day. Stepping even further and getting out of your comfort zone makes those ripples turn to waves. It is a volatile and turbulent way of life with many high highs and low lows, but the experience is rich, vibrant and fulfilling. Don’t take me to say it is all pie in the sky and rosy. That same volatility that creates astronomical heights will also bring giant abyss-like lows. It takes both to be fully alive I believe. The perspective of a deep low accentuates the mountaintops and makes them all the more grand.

I have had the pleasure of doing life this way, particularly over the course of the last 6-7 years. The bicycle has been my primary tool for getting into these rich experiences and it is by bike that I have met some absolutely amazing individuals.

In June of 2014, as I watched the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race begin to unfold out west, I sat at home watching dots on Trackleaders. I found myself completely enthralled in the process and fascinated by the folks who were racing. I had toured the Trans Am in 2011 and felt like I had some semblance of an idea of how the racers felt as they traveled quickly across the map. I couldn’t wait to have a chance to meet these curious folk racing bikes across America.

I made every attempt to meet as many racers as I could that year. Of the 25 finishers, I went out to at least cheer on if not meet 22 of them over the course of about 2 months. It was uplifting to see them fully embracing life and it inspired me to want to embrace it the same way. None of the racers inspired me more than the man in first place at the time, Mike Hall.

Mike was from England and in 2014, had already assembled a monster endurance racing resume. He had raced Tour Divide as a rookie in 2011 finishing 10th. Tour Divide is a 2745 mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, NM roughly along the continental divide. In 2012, Mike took on the World Cycle Race, racing a bike around the globe, covering ~18,000 unsupported miles finishing 1st. In 2013, Mike came back to North America to tackle Tour Divide again, crushing the fastest finish of the race at that time, although he wasn’t given the record due to mandated course re-routes in New Mexico to avoid wild fires.

As Mike’s dot neared my hometown of Farmington, MO during Trans Am Bike Race in 2014, I was star struck and eager to go out and meet the man. I rode my bike to the edge of town and waited. When he appeared coming into town, I rode up to meet him and was surprised with the experience that followed. Here was a man who had done some amazing things, yet he was quiet and humble like none I had ever met. I rode and chatted with him as we made our way  downtown to our local bike shop. He purchased a few items and set out to head east again. I rode with him and chatted more on the way out of town. I mentioned that I was inspired by him and I planned to race TABR the next year. He was encouraging and thoughtful. He offered that I could reach out to him via social media if I needed any help getting started. I also expressed an interest in racing Tour Divide. I told him maybe in 2016. He said that he planned to do the Divide again 2016 as well.

After only 5 short miles or so, I had to turn back. I didn’t want to, but work beckoned. As I slowed down, I wished him luck and let him know I would be cheering for him. The last words he said to me were, “Hope to see you on the Divide sometime!” as he smiled, waved and rode away.

Mike went on to win TABR14 in impressive fashion, setting a time that has yet to be eclipsed. Although I did race TABR in 2015, I DNF’ed, pulling out in Colorado. With unfinished business to attend to, I went back for another go at TABR in 2016 instead of doing the Divide. Mike did race the Divide that year, finishing first again and absolutely destroying the time record, setting a bar that many think will be difficult to reach.

In March of 2017, Mike took part in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a 3400 mile self supported race across Australia. Tragically, on March 31st, he was killed while racing when a vehicle along the route hit him.

Despite the very short time I was given to spend with Mike, we became friends on social media and I followed his pursuits. We would chat a bit about gear and whatnot as I prepared for TABR. What I saw of him in June of 2014 was confirmed over and over with the interactions I saw him have with people online and countless others who have spoken in the name of his character- Mike was genuinely humble, graceful in his approach with people and charitable to those in need. Along with those traits, he was a fierce competitor and never settled for less than his best. He poured himself into his dreams and lived life to the full. I looked up to him and view him as a hero.

On May 2nd there was a memorial service for Mike in Harrogate, Yorkshire. I couldn’t make the trip to England, but Mike was in my thoughts. I have been thinking since I heard of Mike’s passing that I would like to do some sort of memorial of my own- something fitting. A few weeks ago I realized what it was and have since began preparing.

In tribute to the first self-supported endurance racer I ever met and the inspiration that I received from him, I am going to make good, albeit late, on the last physical conversation I had with the legendary Mike Hall. I will be in Banff on the second Friday in June 2018 for the Grand Depart. I will race the Divide.

Mike, I hate that I will miss seeing you, but somehow I think you might be watching. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for living. I imagine this song was about you. Cheers and ride peacefully my friend.

Posted in Inspiration, Tour Divide | 2 Comments

The Art of Falling

Usually my posts are text only- just a story about my adventures. It has worked well for me and I have liked it that way. As of late, specifically the past few days, I have taken on a little something new. I am learning to ride a unicycle! My intent had been to sit down and wax eloquent on my repeated attempts to stay on board the little one-wheeled contraption, but upon the suggestion of a few folks and having been inspired by a couple great creatives on Youtube, I have decided to try my hand at a vlog. So, new apparatus, new medium and new avenues for me to learn things.

Please check out my creation below. Be easy on me. It’s my first time shooting video in this manner and editing. If you find it interesting, please like the video and subscribe to my channel. If you have comments or suggestions of things you would like to see, feel free to comment here or on my Youtube page. I am really looking forward to sharing with this new-to-me tool. Without further ado, here is my video!

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And so it begins….

First, a little bit of back story.

Last spring I was in the throws of training for Trans Iowa and Trans Am Bike Race. As often as I could, I would be out on the bike and regularly found myself doing long rides. After hours of saddle time alone in the hills of Southern Missouri and Illinois, I welcomed anyone who wanted to come out and ride with me and especially so if they wanted to do a long ride.

Bring in Jason Kulma, fellow TI vet and someone I see at local events off and on. We had met at the inaugural OT100MTB in 2014 when Jason hung out at the finish line after finishing up with the relay team he was on. I came in much later, actually in the middle of the night. He was hanging there at the finish cheering folks on as they came in. He chatted me up and a friendship was born. With Jason living right about 75 miles away in the outskirts of St Louis, it just made sense that we would then get together as we both prepared for TI and TABR for 2016.

One day as we were on the phone planning out a bikepacking weekend of training, we talked about our regular rides done around home. Jason commutes to and from work some 17 miles one way and I told him I was a bit jealous of that built in training. I also mentioned I would love to have a commuter-type bike, something cheap and unassuming that I wouldn’t be worried about leaving outside shops in town. I just hadn’t stumbled across what I was looking for. He mentioned that he was getting a new adventure rig to use for TI and TABR, which would bump his old adventure rig to the commuting role and in turn, leave his old commuter unused. I offered to buy it and he refused saying it was pretty wore out and he wouldn’t feel right taking money for it. I told him I could work with that and a deal was struck.

The next time I went up to meet Jason at his home and ride out on a weekend of training, I picked my new-to-me commuter up. It was a Voodoo Wazoo in metallic blue. I believe he said it was late 90’s vintage. It was steel frame and not rideable at the time as he had grabbed some stuff off of it. He sent me home with the bike minus saddle, tires and pedals. I could deal with that, seeing as it was F-R-E-E!!!

With my focus strictly on TI and TABR, the bike sat tire-less and saddle-less for months. Before it was all said and done, I cabbaged the set of carbon Easton handle bars off of it for my TABR rig replacing the heavier aluminum bars I had, leaving the old Wazoo looking more like a carcass than anything.

After TABR, one day it struck me that I had just about everything that I needed to get the old girl going, I just needed to do it. So….I did. I put my old, stock aluminum bars that the carbon Eastons had replaced onto the Wazoo. I then added a pair of pedals I had laying around that are flats on one side and Shimano SPD on the other. Those would be perfect for a towner. I pulled the Clement USH 35’s I used in Trans Iowa out and loaded them onto the wheels. The final piece was the saddle, which I did not have. I went to my local bike shop and was able to grab one that had been a take-off for $15. I added the killer saddle deal to the mix and had a finished product! Well, not really. I didn’t wrap the bars, but it was rideable. I never even threw my leg over it, but instead my son used it occasionally to ride to the school or park to play soccer. It was being utilized a bit and that was good enough.

Back to present day, or at least the last week or so. After months of not doing much at all and eating WAY too much, I have found it difficult to find the motivation to get out and ride. Even when the new year rang in, I still didn’t saddle up. I was starting to get the itch though. I decided to try out some things with the Wazoo. Maybe, just maybe, I could make a TI rig out of it?

I pulled my hand-built front wheel off of my road bike since it has a dynamo hub and loaded up one of the WTB Nano 40’s that I was graciously awarded for being a finisher of TI last year. Once I saw that the tire would have clearance, I then put the other tire on the back. I considered going all out and adding the B&M Lumotec from my road bike, but realized that I didn’t have a way to mount it on the Wazoo with its cantilever brakes. That could wait until I could get a new mount. I dug through my box of parts and goodies to find a package of new bar wrap and finally got the bars covered. Then just for kicks, I pulled my partial frame bag off the road bike and tried it on the Wazoo. It fit! Score! With a spare bottle cage and a quick pedal swap with the Crank Brothers pedals from my MTB added to the build, it was complete.

Having finished getting the Wazoo ready this evening, I decided there was no time like the present to finally get my first ride of the year. It was after 8:00pm and 3 hours after sunset, but I suited up and headed out with the intent to just ride south of town to Engler Park where there is a crushed limestone walking/biking path to test out the Nano’s.

Right away, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I clipped in on the walk in front of my house and pushed off, only to feel like I was about to endo over the bars. Had it really been that long since I had been on a bike? I adjusted the way I was sitting and headed out into the street. As I turned, my right shoe rubbed the front tire hard, nearly throwing me off the bike. That was something new. I rode on down the street feeling things out.

I headed south of town and out to Engler, then hit the gravel trail. It was a bit mushy in spots, but the Nano’s had no problem. When I found some areas with new, loose gravel, I stopped and aired down some. Too much I was afraid, but I rode on and the tires felt great! Perfect really!

In the end, I rode the path and then turned and came back the way I had come. I ended up getting back home with a gigantic 7.3 miles, but hey, I got my first one done!

The bike is what it is. In its time it was a nice ride. Times have changed and so have geometries. It has a short wheel base and the saddle sits forward, putting your center of mass more over the front end. It isn’t a comfortable ride for me at all, but I can appreciate it for an old steel bike.

I am a bit disappointed that I won’t be able to use it for 340 miles of gravel in April, but on the other hand, it will make a great little bike to ride around town occasionally to grab coffee or run an errand. My son will ride it and that is even better. I will likely do as I did last year and convert my MTB to a gravel grinder simply by adding different tires. My choice will certainly be the Nano 40’s. Those puppies were great on my little jaunt!

The best part of it all- I am finally back in the saddle. That makes me a bit excited. Quite a bit really. Ride on!

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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!

Posted in Races, TABR16, Trip Preparations | 2 Comments

TABR16- Epilogue

The Wrap Up

You would think that once you finish racing 4230 miles on your bike, forgoing sleep and needed recovery along the way, that one would go to sleep and sleep for days, or at least many hours. I slept 2 hours and woke up. I used the restroom and went back to sleep for… 2 more hours. Then I got up. I was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep and really wanted some regular clothes. I had shipped my street clothes home from Astoria the day before the race started. Jeneen boxed them up and sent them general delivery to the Yorktown post office for me to pick up. I had gotten a shower when I reached the motel a few hours before, but I would have to put my wreaking, sweat soaked cycling garb back on to go to the post office and retrieve my box. Joy.

I dressed back in my gross clothes and rode back up to Yorktown proper, toward the monument and post office. Along the way to the post office, I saw people at the monument and went to check it out. Janie Hayes was there waiting for Jimmy. Soon enough Irena came in. She in fact had not been chasing me down and had slept along the way and came in almost 7 hours later. Shortly after her was Jimmy, then Reimo, almost immediately followed by Michela, Stefano and Piero. It was like a big party at the monument! There was a local couple there to meet Michela and Stefano. They had been in touch with the Italian pair and planned to host them for a few days as they prepared to travel home to Italy. In the end, Jimmy and Janie left with their friends and all the Europeans went with the local couple to stay at their house. I was invited, but passed on the chance. I regret that as I would then spend the next few days alone in a motel room. I left for the post office, picked up my clothes and headed down to the waterfront for some food.

I found a little restaurant, changed into my street clothes (which was heavenly!) and sat down for a relaxing meal and a beer. Afterward, I went back to my motel room and slept more.

Over the course of the next couple days, I hung out at the motel, sleeping, eating and waiting for the appointed time of my flight home. It worked out well that I was by myself as it gave me a chance to lay around au natural, airing out a nasty rash I had contracted over the last week of riding in soaking wet clothes every day. I think I got a little depressed with the end of such an epic ordeal and just needed some time to sit and reset. In my sulking/resting, I missed Luke Kocher, Lee Fancourt and Andi Buchs finishes and I was only 2 miles away.

On my final full day in Virgina, I rode the 7 miles or so to a bike shop in Newport News, boxed my bike, took it to the local UPS Store and shipped it home. I was lucky to get in touch with an old friend from high school, Chris Bouchard, who lived in the area. He offered to give me a ride from the UPS Store back to my motel. It was a treat to see him!

Very, very early the next morning, I took a cab ride to the airport in Norfolk and flew home. What a trip.

 

My Final Thoughts

I have so many mixed feelings about the race. First and foremost, it was a pleasure and a privilege to get to race it and especially so to get to finish it. That was my big goal. Goal achieved.

Beyond that, I had some really big aspirations of finishing much faster and thus higher in the standings. Those aspirations began slipping away from me on Day 2 and put a big hamper on my race. I know that all falls on me and my own expectations, but it is what it is. After DNF’ing the race in 2015, I made extensive plans for 2016. Part of those plans was a daily regiment of mental strengthening exercises, also known as affirmations. I typed out everyday a specific mantra of how I wanted to finish the race. When I toed the line in Astoria, I fully believed and expected that I would make those affirmations a reality. When in short order I saw that slipping away and soon realized it wouldn’t happen, I felt like I was failing.

I don’t think that those affirmations were wrong for me to do. It really helped to preach to myself everyday and build a confidence that I would achieve a certain set of objectives. The problem wasn’t the process, but rather the particular objectives. I told myself I would win. My thoughts were that if I was going to set a goal, I would shoot for the moon and if I missed, well, you know. Surely I would be happy with what would happen if I was off a little. I should have been saying something to the effect of, “I will finish TABR to the best of my ability and deal with adversity as it comes. Each decision made in the moment will be left fully in the past and I will move forward, swiftly and intentionally. I can only control things that are in my control. All other things are irrelevant. Stay moving no matter what. ”

So, in the end, I came home with a mixed bag of disappointment and feelings of victory. Add that to what some other racers have said is the normal physical and emotional recovery after an event like this and I was less than motivated to do much of anything for most of the next couple months. I got back to my work and tried to keep a positive outlook on things. Eventually I got back to normal. Because it was a gradual thing, I can’t really say exactly when. I would estimate it was between 2 and 3 months before I was really back to my old self, or at least the closest version of that “old self” you can get to after a life changing experience such as what I had. That’s the thing: these events change you in some ways. You can’t go that deep into the recesses of what you think you can or can’t do and not be permanently affected by it. You just can’t.

As I have written this blog, it has helped to go back over things. By milling over the maps, Trackleaders data, my Strava files and my memories, I recounted this epic adventure and the biggest take away I have gotten from it is that I am proud of my accomplishment. It didn’t turn out like I planned, but I learned a ton and in reality, it was only my first complete bikepacking race. Next time I look forward to using what I learned to enjoy it more and maybe even improve.

So what is next? I don’t know. I have made the agreement with my family that I wouldn’t do any bikepacking races in 2017. It has taken a toll on us financially over the course of the last two years and in turn has meant that we haven’t taken a regular family vacation. This year I will remedy that. I do have plans for a couple of smaller events though. In April, I will once again line up for Trans Iowa, a 340 mile gravel road race through the rolling hills of central Iowa. Then in September, I plan to do the OT100MTB, a 100 mile point-to-point race that is 98% single track though the hills of south-central Missouri on the Ozark Trail. Outside of those weekender events, I am sure there will be other small events, plenty of riding, some backpacking and who knows what else. Should my situation change and I find myself able to get away for a big race and not negatively impact my family, then I would consider it, but that would fall under the category of “big IF”. We’ll see!

As for the blog, I am looking at making a couple posts about training and the finances of TABR. Those will be coming up over the next week. Then I will be hitting the highlights of the coming year as they happen, including some exciting news I have regarding a new type of adventure I am looking into. Stay tuned for that as I will be relying on folks like you to help guide me through it!

As I wrap this post up on New Year’s Eve of 2016, I hope that this year has been all that you wished it would be. Whether it was or it wasn’t, you have the chance starting tomorrow to make the new year a great one. I hope you do! Blessings and cheers to you all and Happy New Year!

Brian

Posted in TABR16 | 18 Comments

TABR16- Day 24+

I slept well in Lexington, but my thoughts before bed were troubled. I had made the decision to stay and not ride due to a storm going through the area I would have been riding over night. I knew that the choice was a smart one, but as far a racing goes, it was a poor one. About 99.9% of the things we are concerned about aren’t near as bad as we think they will be. Either way, I had made the choice to wait it out and it was done. I woke with my alarm about 3:45AM, got dressed in dank clothes and went across the parking lot to a gas station for an iced coffee and some donuts, then I hit the road. It was 4:00AM on the dot.

It would still be dark for 2 more hours and the air clung to everything with humidity and fog. The storms had come through in the night and left their marks. It was a cool ride as I made it out of Lexington and headed for what I believed to be my nemesis- the climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Vesuvius.

I had made a quick check of Trackleaders that morning and saw that the usual suspects had gotten out in front of me, like always. Michela, Stefano, Piero and Jimmy were up and had beat me to the punch. Reimo and Irena were in the vicinity as well, but had gotten into Lexington very late and I figured they would sleep a bit. As I rode along in the dark, I hoped to catch those in front of me, but didn’t think it would happen right away. I was going to settle in and just focus on how I would handle the climb coming up about 18 miles into my day.

Much to my surprise, just 4 miles down the road I came up on 3 riders. Michela, Stefano and Piero were there. They seemed surprised that I had caught up to them, but they were going pretty slow. We said our hellos and ciaos, then I rode on ahead. I settled in to a moderate pace focusing on what lay ahead. The only stop I made was to grab a photo of a fox I saw cross the road in front of me in the beam of my head lamp. He stopped long enough for me to pull out my phone, fiddle with it to get the flash working and then get a picture. He trotted off as I clipped back in and carried on up the road.

When I got to the little burg of Vesuvius, I thought I would try to find the general store that I have heard was there. I didn’t figure it would be open at such an early hour, but I thought I would try anyway. I made the turn to cross the tracks, then turned right and headed down the street that parallels the tracks. I thought that is where it was supposed to be. As I neared the end of the street, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for so I turned back and headed for the route. Getting some supplies there would have been nice, but I was prepared and had spent many hours thinking about the climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). It was time to get it over with.

For Eastbounders, the BRP climb at Vesuvius is iconic. It is the last big climb of the route going East and represents the feeling of it being ‘all down hill’ from that point on. It isn’t, but everything gets smaller in elevation from there so I was looking forward to the challenge. In 2011 it had kicked my butt. I remember stopping quite a few times to rest. I would never walk because I wanted to be able to say that I rode my bike the entire way, but I did stop. This time, I wasn’t so proud and was more interested in just getting it over with, but I didn’t want to give up too easily either.

I settled in for the climb, finding my happy place in a small gear and alternating between sitting and standing to climb. I was surprised that I felt really good and before I knew it, I was at the top. I let out a victorious holler, pumped a fist in the air and a big smile crept across my face. At that point I felt I had slain the dragon and the Trans Am was mine. I had cleared the last major hurdle and knew I would be done soon.

Once on the BRP, I was experiencing euphoria. The sun had just come up on the horizon and the mountains were showing off. The early morning light shone orange and pink, poking here and there through mostly cloudy skies as the tree tops were tickled with smoky wisps of fog that looked like something from a pipe. It was a worthy scene of celebration for my final ascent. I rode on and soon saw the unmistakable pony tail of Jimmy in front of me. Riding up behind him, I shouted, “TADA!!!!!”, a little inside joke his wife Janie shared with me earlier in the race. We rode along on the parkway together chatting a bit until the downhill sections came along. I bested Jimmy by quite a bit on the scale, so gravity took me down the hills much faster and I moved on ahead.

After coming off the BRP, the route winds around through the foothills of the Appalachians on some beautiful back roads. It was 10:00AM, I was 60 miles into my day and had yet to have a place to stop so I headed off route to the little town of Crozet. There I went to a gas station that had a Burger King in it. I supplied up with things on the bike and grabbed a burger to eat right then. After eating, I went back the same way I had come and got back on the route. I was a little disappointed with my decision to go off route when just 5 miles up the road I went through White Hall and saw Jimmy sitting at the iconic old time general store there. If I had been more patient, I could’ve stopped there and saved myself 2 miles. Jimmy and I exchanged a few words of plans for the day and I went on.

I stayed moving through the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon, foregoing any stops. I rolled straight through Charlottesville with intention and carried on through several small burgs until I came to Palmyra. At 2:30PM it was still very humid and starting to heat up nicely. I went to a gas station there for a cold drink and to fill up stores again. I stood in the shade of the canopy that covered the pumps for a few minutes, then hit the road.

Another 25 miles down the road, I stopped at a gas station just outside of Mineral. I bought some snacks and drinks, but was really looking for real food. They had fried chicken, but it didn’t look appetizing to me at all. I asked the attendant if there were any restaurants or diners in Mineral. She told me about a couple places, but the one that stuck out to me when she mentioned it was a Mexican place. I thanked her and rode the mile or so into town in search of my place to eat.

I found Sabor Mexican at the stoplight in town, leaned my bike up outside and sauntered in. I grabbed a table where I could see my bike out the window and ordered tacos carnitas. While waiting for my food, I texted Jimmy and told him he should stop and have a meal with me. He responded that some friends from Washington DC were coming out to ride to Yorktown the next day with him. He would be meeting up with them for dinner elsewhere. I told him how cool I thought it was that his friends were coming out to meet him and wished him well. I ate my food and started contemplating the evening ahead.

I opened up Trackleaders, as it was an easy way to see the route since I wasn’t carrying the maps. I was 135 miles into my day and to the best calculations I could make, I was about 140 miles from the finish. 140 was very doable, it would just take me into the night where I would likely struggle with staying awake, if history was any indicator. Pushing through the night would do me no good as far as catching any other racers as the next ones in front of me were Jason and George who, at that moment, were about 20 miles from the finish according to the website. It also showed that I had put an ~25 mile lead on Michela, Stefano, Piero and Reimo. Irena showed to still be in Lexington. Jimmy said that he planned to stop and get a room in Ashland. If I stopped for the night somewhere along the way, I would likely lose some places to the group. If I rode on through, even if I had to stop for a nap somewhere, I would have an easy stroll to Yorktown and maintain my position. That was it. I would ride through the night and finish the Trans Am.

I left Mineral about 6:15PM and headed out of town. As I rode, I took a short video with my phone and posted it to Facebook with the caption that I planned to make the push to Yorktown overnight. It was of little significance to anyone else, but I felt that if I made it public, I would be less likely to succumb to what I figured would be my desire to stop along the way when I got tired. With my plan set, I laid down in the aero bars and settled in for the night.

I only made it about 10 miles before my body started telling me I needed to find a place to stop for a nature break. As I have mentioned in prior posts, Virginia doesn’t have a lot of places along the route where someone can find a private spot. I was in the country, going through farmland, but houses were everywhere and I was no where near a town where I could find a public restroom. When a wooded area with a gravel drive and a for sale sign that said ‘acreage available’ showed up, I knew I had found my spot. I bailed off down the gravel and then into the woods. Having taken care of business, I made my way back to the road, thinking I was good to go and had addressed all matters for my trip to Yorktown. Then it hit me that I would be arriving somewhere in the night. Yorktown is a small village with few places to stay. If I showed up at 4AM, would the little mom & pop motels have their offices closed? I thought it best to call ahead, so I pulled off on the shoulder and commenced to making a reservation.

Once that was taken care of, I got ready to take off again, feeling like all items were addressed. I clipped my right foot in, looked over my left shoulder to make sure I wasn’t pulling out in front of a car as I got back on the road and saw a cyclist coming up behind me. I pushed off, but didn’t take off fast as I wanted to know who it was. When they caught up, I found it was Irena! She had ridden into the storm the night before, taken just a short nap and then road through the day and caught up. Her tracker batteries were dead so it looked like she was still in Lexington. We rode along together and chatted a bit. She asked what I planned to do. I said that I was going to push on through to Yorktown. She said that she would have to stop. That gave me a bit of relief that I wouldn’t have to contend with her. Then she asked me how far it was.

I said, “it is 20 miles to Ashland, then 100.”

She said, “it’s 100 miles to Ashland?!?!”

I replied, ” Oh no! It is 20 miles to Ashland, then another 100 to Yorktown.”

Her face lit up with a great big smile! “It is only 100 more miles to Yorktown?!?!? I can do that!!!!”

Oh boy.

At once, she got up out of the saddle and started cranking it hard. After about 4 or 5 pedal strokes, she turned around to look at me and smiled. Her attack had been a tease. I said, “Well, I’m not gonna just let you go!” I now had a race to the finish, and with her dead tracker, we were the only ones that knew. The dot watchers would miss this one!

We rode along together at an easy pace chatting for a couple miles. She said that she would have to stop in Ashland for supplies and I said I would as well. I told her that my previous experience was that there are very few services in the last 75 miles and most would likely be closed through the night. I told her my intent was to make sure I had enough to make it through from Ashland. She acted like she might even stop for some sleep, as she had pretty much rode through the night before. I secretly hoped she would!

Very soon, a pretty good little hill came into view. I didn’t slow down or shift and just kept cranking. I seemed to be climbing better than her, so quickly I made a gap on her. I didn’t want to just drop the hammer and take off. First off, I thought that would look pretty childish. Secondly, if I was going to get away from her, I wanted it to be a gradual thing. This girl had a monstrous cycling pedigree from riding around Europe and Asia. I wasn’t interested in seeing if I could out sprint her. I wanted to sort of sneak away.

When I reached to top of the hill, I looked back and had better than 100 yards on her. I just stayed steady and slowly pulled away. When I would go around a corner, I would put the hammer down and make the gap bigger and bigger. Not long later, I didn’t see her anymore on the straight parts. I kept a high level of output and plotted my stop in Ashland.

The sun set as I arrived in Ashland. I stayed focused on the GPS to make sure I didn’t make any wrong turns and rolled straight through town looking for a gas station. When I found one, I already knew exactly what I would get as I had planned it out in the 20 miles before as I rode. I ran inside, grabbed the things I needed, loaded my bags and hit the road, all the time watching to make sure Irena didn’t go by. I got back on the road and never saw her or her headlamp. Back out in the dark countryside, I had the hammer down and laid it all out.

Another 17 miles down the road, as I made my way through the streetlights of Mechanicsville, I saw a gas station and decided to make a super quick stop to top up on fluids. I slammed an iced coffee, refilled my water bottle and grabbed an extra Gatorade just in case, then got right back on the road, all the while watching for Irena.

The next 60 miles or so was a blur. I was riding across the piedmont through wooded areas and corn fields. It was pancake flat mostly and very dark. I remember riding along for a good 15 miles or more, needing to pee, but not wanting to stop for fear of giving Irena an edge behind me. I finally stopped and did my business and never saw her light. Then it hit me. What if she was riding without her light to sneak up on me? ‘Dude! That is crazy talk! You can’t ride through the night without a light!’ My exhausted mind and body was going nuts with the thought of staying in front of her. The only real excitement was what seemed to be the constant threat of deer. They would be foraging along the sides of the road and get spooked as I rode by. It was then a 50/50 shot whether they would run in front of me or not. There were a couple that got entirely too close, but I made it through.

When I reached Jamestown, I knew that the end was near and I was glad for it. I was spent. It was strange to be riding through what are normally busy tourist areas in the middle of the night with not a soul around. I rode alongside the James River on the Colonial Parkway all alone, all the time watching behind me, just waiting to see the beam of a cyclists headlamp. On through historic Williamsburg and then back on to the Colonial Parkway for the last bit to Yorktown. As all the other racers have said before, the bone jarring cracks in the pavement were excruciating. All the while, I fully expected that Irena was right behind me.

When I got to Yorktown, I was elated, but frantic. I rolled down Water Street watching my GPS for turns and feeling my pulse rise even higher as I knew it was almost over. I had been to the monument before, but remembered that the route was a little confusing in Yorktown. That had been 5 years prior and in the daylight. Still, the GPS was taking me on different streets than I had traveled in 2011. When the GPS showed I was supposed to turn the wrong way up a one way street, I was concerned, but just wanted it to be over. As I came up the hill and broke out of some trees into a clearing, I saw it. Just to my left was the Yorktown Victory Monument.

I rode up to the monument and couldn’t believe it. I was done with the Trans Am. I had finished. It was complete. Two years total of dreaming and planning plus a DNF in 2015 culminated into that one moment. It was 2:58AM local time, which meant I had finished in 24 days, 15 hours and 58 minutes, putting me in 16th place in the overall classification.

Not a soul was there but me. I snapped a couple pictures and called my wife as I walked around the monument reading the inscriptions. I then sent out a couple texts to some close friends, letting them know that I had finished and posted my finish pic to Facebook. I sat for a moment, reflecting on what had happened, then got back on my bike and rode down the hill to my motel a couple miles away. I had wrapped up my last day on the Trans Am with 276.5 miles and 10244′ of gain. I was truly spent in every way- emotionally, physically, and mentally, but I had accomplished the one goal that I had planned to accomplish above all others. I had completed the race.

Posted in TABR16, Virginia | 8 Comments

TABR16- Day 24

I woke early in Wytheville and had great aspirations of a huge final push of 420 miles, straight through to Yorktown. I dressed in my still wet clothes (again) and was out the door at 4:00AM. Jimmy was rolling out at the same time. It was dark and cool as I headed off into the farmland north of town.

Almost immediately I was dealing with sleepy eyes. It was still very dark out and a couple hours before sunrise. Riding through the countryside, there wasn’t any streetlights or other sources of light to keep my eyes tuned into. With the small tunnel of light out in front of me on the pavement from my headlamp, it was like I was being hypnotized and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I struggled along, trying to keep moving the best I could. When I got to Fort Chiswell, although I was only 9 miles into my day, I stopped at a gas station for caffeine and a snack to hopefully jog my brain awake. Piero was there grabbing some breakfast as well. We chatted a bit as we stood by our bikes eating and drinking coffee. After a few minutes I decided to get going and took off.

I crossed over the interstate and started to turn left on the outer road when I heard Piero calling out to me. He thought I was going the wrong way. A quick check of the GPS showed he was right and we both headed back across the highway to the outer road on the north side, which was the correct road. If it hadn’t been for him it is hard to tell how far I would have went before I realized I was off course. What fantastic sportsmanship to come chase me down to let me know! He didn’t have to do that, but I am grateful he did!

Once on the route again, Piero and I leapfrogged back and forth a few times for the next 14 miles or so. As the sun was coming up and I neared Draper, I saw a rail-trail trailhead adjacent to the route that had sufficient facilities so I went over for a personal pitstop. It is nice when everything works out and you have a place to go when you need to go, if you know what I mean. That isn’t always the case and frankly, it is rarely the norm.

Back on the road a bit lighter and faster (hehe!), I was moving along nicely and in short order caught up to Piero again right as we both caught up to Michela and Stefano. The three of them were chatting in their native tongue and I went on ahead.

About 7:30AM I made it to Radford. I was only 41 miles into the day, but I was starving. I found a convenience store that had a paltry supply of food. Nothing sounded good. I was getting pretty tired of junk food, but when that is all you have, you eat or starve. I scavenged up a few things and got a little creative. They had little portable Cheerios cups, so I had one of those and some milk as well as a few other snacks for a makeshift breakfast. Shortly I was back on the road riding again.

On my way to Christiansburg, I passed Piero, Michela and Stefano, as they had all gotten by me again while I ate in Radford. I didn’t stop in Christiansburg and just rolled on through, planning to make a stop further up the road in Catawba. I got down on the aero bars and cranked along at a good clip, feeling good and confident that I had pulled a fast one on the others by planning where not to stop and thus moving ahead on them.

About 27 miles up the road when I reached Catawba, I was bumming. When I came through touring in 2011, there had been only one store in the little spot-in-the-road that is Catawba. Much to my dismay the Catawba General Store was no longer open. Flustered that I couldn’t get supplies and feeling the super high humidity, I rolled up the road a quarter mile or so and found a pretty little spot of well kept grass under a shade tree next to the road in front of a school. I laid my bike down and plopped down next to it in the grass for a nap. My ‘nap’ lasted less than 5 minutes as I quickly realized I wasn’t having a hard time staying awake. I was just pouting. So I got back on the bike and took off before any of the others came along.

Just 2 miles up the road I was presented with a conundrum. There were barriers blocking the road, big arrows pointing me to turn left on a gravel road and a sign that read: Road Closed Ahead- bridge out 6 miles ahead- no thru traffic- use detour. Now, I have seen these sort of signs before while riding. Not once have I went off route and not once have I not been able to get through. I could take my chances and likely make it, or I could get there, have to turn back around and do the detour anyway wasting 12 miles. I quickly made my decision based on experience (which hadn’t done me much good just 2 miles back) and stayed on the route.

As I rode along, I kept hoping to see someone. Maybe someone who lived on the road or a car that had went to the dead end and couldn’t get through, but I saw not a soul. That is, until about a quarter mile from where the road was supposed to be closed. There was a man walking on the road. He said he lived at the house just back a ways. He said that they weren’t allowing anyone at all through at the construction site. He thought I would be smart to turn around and go all the way back around. I told him that I had come this far, I would ride down there and see what the guys working had to say. He eyeballed me like I was a trouble maker and I went on.

When I got to the bridge, there were 3 men working. They smiled and waved as I rode up. I was super nice hoping they would return the favor and let me pass. The said, “Sure! We let all the bikes that come through go on past. There was just a few that came through earlier today.” I thanked them and walked my bike thought the rough bits. I also asked them how far it was to town, as I needed water. They said 9 more miles to a gas station. I thanked them again and took off, victorious and proud that I had made the right call about the bridge. Yeah, it was luck, but hey, I’ll take credit for it. 🙂

I road on into Daleville and made a much needed stop at a gas station. Once I was supplied back up, I hit the road again. It was just a couple miles to Troutdale and then before I knew it, I was back out of town again. I say ‘out of town’, but the fact is in most parts of Virginia, you may be ‘out of town’, but you are always in sight of at least one or two houses. Someone trying to stealth camp or get off the road to do some natural business has a hard time finding a spot. As I rolled out of Troutdale, I was in need of just such a spot once again and there were none to be had. I almost turned around and went back to town, but decided that surely I would find something. I thought I had found just what I needed when I saw a sign for a park of some sort. I turned off the paved road onto a gravel drive that went up a steep hill, only to find that it was actually private property and basically a big flower garden. I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down, so I got back on the road and went in search of something more private.

Just 4 miles down the road I came across a convenience store. I was very happy to to find it and make use of the facilities. I didn’t want to just use them for what I needed and not buy anything, so I bought an ice cream. I really didn’t need anything at that point, but it served the purpose.

By the way, I say these things about potty stops, not to share with the world all the dirty details, but to give those folks who tour or race these sorts of things a small idea of what it is like out on the road. Our bodies have natural processes that you have to attend to despite the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere OR maybe right smack dab in the middle of EVERYWHERE and you wish you were in the middle of nowhere!

Back on the road, it was only 14 miles or so to Buchanan. I hated to stop again, but it would be another 30 miles to Lexington and I didn’t want to get hung without supplies again. I ran in a gas station for a few things, ate a little something and got back on the road.

The next 10 miles after Buchanan were just horrid riding in my opinion. The route goes along the outer road of I-81. The surface is fine, but you are just a few yards away from he constant buzzing of high-speed interstate traffic. The din is atrocious. Once the route turned away from the highway, it was back to serene country roads.

Over the last 20 miles into Lexington, I ran into a few rain showers. Most of the rain that I got was light, but it served to turn the already hot and humid conditions into a sauna. Steam rose off the road as the sun came back out and the effect was oppressive. I found myself hoping it would just set in and rain, hopefully cooling things off. Soon enough the sky was looking dark on the horizon and the sounds of far off thunder could be heard. Storms were coming.

I rolled into Lexington right about 4:30PM. I found a little burger joint just down the street from the Virginia Military Academy and went in to eat. As I sat waiting for my food I checked the weather. It didn’t look good at all. Heavy rain, high winds, hail and flooding were forecasted. Particularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Afton, which is where I was headed. Things weren’t going to let up until the wee early hours of the morning. If I was going to ride on and make that huge push to finish in one go, I would have to ride through some really nasty storms.

My food showed up, I ate, called my wife, and tried to decide what to do. In the end, it just didn’t make sense to me to risk going out in it just to gain a few hours on my overall time. I had set some really big goals for myself prior to the start of the race, all of which I had not met. The only goal left that I could make at that point was to finish and riding through the night in a big storm wasn’t going to improve my chances of doing that. I decided to grab a room and sleep. I finished my meal and road up to the Best Western to get a room. Next door was a gas station where I grabbed some snack and drinks. I took them to my room where I ate more and filled up on fluids, then slept as it rained. I ended the day with 146 miles and 6910′ of gain.

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TABR16- Day 23

I had my alarm set for 4AM, but when it went off, I looked out the window to even heavier, denser fog than the day before. Being tired, I was an easy sell for myself to stay in bed rather than fight the moisture and visibility issues. I slept until the sun came up about 6:15. I gathered my things, put on my still wet clothes and headed off into the soup. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see more than 20′ in front of me. I crept down the hills as slow as I did going up them.

Fifteen miles down the road through the fog, I rolled into Haysi. I stopped at a gas station and grabbed some breakfast. Jimmy was there. He had bivied along the road overnight. I told him about my groveling for a room the night before as we both ate. Soon enough, Piero came in. He sat down to eat, I finished my food and then I took off. I had stayed in bed way too long and needed to make up a bit of time.

The hills were only getting taller and my legs weren’t recovered from the day before. In actuality, my legs were toast from 22 days of riding across the country, but the big day before didn’t help matters. All I could do was stay moving and try to maintain some sort of momentum.

The ride to Council was all uphill, but not too bad- just a gentle grade. After Council it was straight up the monster that is Big A Mountain. I have my assumption of what the A stands for, but it is called just plain Big A on the map. It lives up to its name. It felt like the climb wouldn’t end. On the bright side, when it finally ended, it was all down hill to Honaker.

I stopped at a gas station with a deli in Honaker and ate big. It was Sunday at 10AM and they had loads of fried chicken in preparation for the church crowd coming a bit later. I had a couple chicken breast with mashed potatoes and gravy, then followed it up with some junk food dessert. The big meal was heavy on my gut, but I knew it would translate to more energy later.

After Honaker, there were a couple good sized little hills to get over before Rosedale, where the route took me down the shoulder of a four lane highway for about 4 miles. I always hate riding big highway shoulders and was glad to get off it and onto the smaller two lane that was leading up to Clinch Mountain.

Clinch is a big climb, going up about 800′ in just a mile and a half, but it is a pretty one. I remembered having to stop and take some rest breaks when I climbed it in 2011. This time I stayed on the whole time, but I don’t want to give the misrepresentation that I was killing it. In reality, it was killing me, but I stayed moving. Once I topped out, the ride down toward Hayters Gap was amazing. It felt so good to have yet another big climb down as I rode the switchbacks through the rhododendron.

After Hayters Gap, it was a much shorter, or at least it seemed so, climb up to Meadowview. This would be the first of many times I would cross paths with I-81. I stopped at a truck stop with a McDonalds and ate big. It was 12:30 and the after-church crowd was there in full swing. I felt like everybody was watching me like a psycho, but they probably were just amazed at my stench. I only stayed long enough to inhale my food and then got back to the road.

Just a mile or two down the way, as the route took me on some gorgeous country back roads, some crazed redneck came by at an alarming speed for such a small road and almost hit me. I was apocalyptically angry. It just hit me all wrong. I then rode on ahead hoping I would see the truck parked outside a home. I am so glad I didn’t.

Next up was Damascus, the infamous trail town that can sucker you in and have you spending way too much time there if you aren’t careful. I stopped at a gas station for supplies, then made a stop by Crazy Larry’s Hostel to meet the man himself. It was a treat to meet and chat with Larry for a bit. He asked if I was staying, but it was only 2:30 in the afternoon. I had to be going and did so pretty quick, but was glad I made the stop to meet him.

Leaving Damascus, it is about 10 miles of beautiful riding, albeit gradually up hill, along the Virginia Creeper Trail and Whitetop Laurel Creek. It is one of my favorite stretches of the Trans Am in Virginia. After making the climb up from Damascus, I made a stop by a convenience store in Konnarock. It was a little warm out, but mostly I was looking for an excuse to stop and take a break. I was tired. I sat for 15 minutes or so eating an ice cream and then realized I needed to get moving again.

The next 10 miles were along the valley just to the West of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. It was a beautiful ride up the valley to Troutdale.

At Troutdale there had been a store I stopped at in 2011. It was now closed and run down. I peaked in the door and it looked like it had been vacant for years. It seemed strange that things can change so much in such a short period of time.

From Troutdale, it was a little bit of climb up to a big drop down into the Jefferson National Forrest. After that, it was all down hill to Sugar Grove, where I found a gas station to stop at for supplies. I also found Michela and Stefano there. We all grabbed the typical gas station fare and loaded up on drinks. I took the opportunity to chat with them a little while I ate a snack and sorely wished I knew some Italian.

We all left about the same time, but I got out in front and rolled on down the road. It was an easy 15 mile ride to Rural Retreat. I saw a Subway and went in to eat some dinner. I had it in mind to stop at Wytheville for the night, but I figured I better eat before I got there. While I was eating, Stefano and Michela came in and sat down to eat. About the time I finished up, I saw a racer go by outside. I wrapped up my meal quickly and headed out to try and catch whoever it was.

A few miles down the road, I came up on Jimmy. We rode the last 5 or so miles together into Wytheville and chatted as we went. Both of us planned to get a hotel in town. It was getting dark and I was pretty well spent. I figured I could get an early start the next morning.

We got to Wytheville about 9:15PM and went to a truck stop to grab some drinks and snacks for the evening and an early morning start. Then it was across the highway to a Super 8 where we both got rooms. I grabbed a shower and hung up my still wet clothes to dry out best they could. Some were draped over my bike and some over the air conditioner. I had made just 137 miles on the day, but had 9675′ of gain. The Appalachians were rearing their head and the elevation gain was proving difficult on legs worn down by over 3 weeks of cycling big days. I organized my things for a quick morning exit, set my alarm for 4AM and went to sleep.

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