Rides

Ride report: Ontario, OR

I got off to a reasonably early start after sleeping like the dead. The weather was cloudy and cool, which was a nice change from the day before.

The first part of the day was riding along a dam reservoir on the Snake River. That was flat at least. Kind to my knees and easy for me to manage with my reduced power, although just the climb out of the river valley, starting at the Idaho border, was a challenge. This was followed immediately by a more serious climb that was just a slog. At the summit, traffic was stopped. There was a vehicle fire about a quarter of a mile down the road. I chatted with a couple of old-timers while we waited for emergency services to make the scene safe, which took the better part of an hour. No one was hurt, as far as I know.

Descended into the small town of Cambridge, ID. Rode around it a little to see what my dining options were–weirdly, the only restaurant on the map was a Chinese restaurant, but I found a coffee-and-sandwich place and stopped there to eat and assess.

Looking at my planning spreadsheet, I would be hitting one of the toughest climbs of the race, Lolo Pass, in a day or two. I didn’t think my knees could take it, and even if my knees weren’t a problem, my power output was so diminished I was worried about getting up it. I was already using my lowest gear on climbs that were hard but not that hard. I didn’t know how I’d get up Lolo Pass. Cambridge also looked like my best bailout option for a very long time, since I was pretty close to Boise.

I talked to Gwen about it for a while, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was over. One piece of advice I read for prospective racers was that you need to be really clear with yourself about why you’re doing this, because you will need that focus to sustain you through some very hard parts. I think that’s true, and I think my own reasons were nebulous. I’ll add to that: you need to really believe that what you’ll get out of it is worth what you put into it. Because you will put a lot into it. The juice needs to be worth the squeeze, and I realized right then that for me, it wasn’t. So I didn’t get what I wanted out of the race, but I did get something: knowledge of self.

Janie Hayes, who finished the TABR twice with fast times, wrote about scratching in the Tour Divide. I read that when I was preparing for TABR 2021, and was a bit mystified by it at the time, but it makes more sense to me now.

When I reentered cellular coverage in Cambridge, I also learned that a racer I had spent a fair amount of time around had since been diagnosed with Covid. I had no obvious symptoms, but it was concerning. I wondered if I had a mild case that was just bad enough to blunt my performance.

I did some checking and found a town with an Enterprise rent-a-car agency in Ontario, OR, roughly halfway to Boise, and without further ado, decided to ride there, rent a car from them, and road-trip home. Fortunately, that leg of the ride was mostly downhill–I was going fast enough to fool myself into thinking I was riding strongly, all of a sudden, and regretted my decision to scratch, but as soon as I hit even a bit of a climb, my regret went away. I incidentally saw the truck that had caught fire on the summit before Cambridge, being hauled on a flatbed. I stopped in the town of Weiser to get a snack and e-mail Nathan, the race director, word that I was scratching.

My first stop in Ontario was at a drugstore to get a home Covid test. I rented a hotel room and took the test: negative–I have to admit it would be nice to be able to blame scratching on it.

Next, arranging a car rental. Turned out not to be as simple as I thought. Enterprise seems to be the only car-rental agency with locations away from airports, but what I was quickly learning is that only the airport locations (for any rental agency) offer one-way rentals, which I needed. What I also learned is that even many of those airport locations would not offer a one-way rental, but Avis would. I booked the reservation online. I resolved to get an early start the next day, ride to Boise’s airport, and pick up a car. I had a plan. I was looking forward to taking a little road trip at this point, and made arrangements to see a couple friends along the way.

While this is going on, dot-watchers on the TABR facebook group have noticed I’m off course. From my hotel room, I checked in on the group and let them know I had scratched. Cody, a dot-watcher in Boise, offered to help me out, and we arranged for him to meet me partway between Ontario and Boise–I really didn’t relish riding my bike into the airport, which are generally not bike-friendly places.

So the next day I start riding toward his house and he texts me the location of an intercept point where we meet. He also took me to buy street clothes, let me shower, and then delivered me and my stuff to the airport. A real mensch.

At the Avis desk, I learned that I could not rent a car on a one-way rental from them without a physical credit card in hand that they could swipe. I was not carrying a credit card. I had the info for a credit card saved on my phone, and I had a debit card, but that wasn’t good enough. There was nothing I could say that would change their mind. They told me that all the other rental agencies had the same policy.

Time for a new plan. I need to fly home.

I get in touch with Cody again and we strategize. I book a flight departing that evening. He meets me at the airport, takes me and my bike to a bike shop (Bauer Haus, a real candy-store of a bike shop) that will pack and ship it. I took Cody and his daughter to lunch (meager compensation for their trouble), then they delivered me back to the airport. I had a connection in Denver and walked in my front door at 1:30 AM.

Ride report: Ontario, OR Read More »

Ride report: Halfway, OR

The big push into Baker City took a lot out of me.

I was staying at the Churchill School bike hostel, and rolled out late because I did laundry there. I stopped in town for breakfast and discovered how weird my appetite has gotten. I was beyond hungry. I was at a nice restaurant having food I liked. And I still had to force myself to finish it. I don’t understand.

I planned on making the day’s ride shorter, but between the late departure and my low speed, it wound up being really short. It’s known that your peak heart rate and power go down when you’re exhausted. Two days ago, I couldn’t get my HR over 120 bpm. In the ride into Halfway, I could barely get it over 100.

Much of the day’s riding was through Hell’s Canyon, and the name is apt. It was hot and humid, and no trees, no shade. Nowhere to stop and take a break until the town of Richland, about 40 miles in, and the only shade there was the awning in front of the grocery store.

When I got to Halfway, I had an early dinner and went to bed. I slept long and hard, and I’m hoping I’ve pushed a reset button.

I will admit that I am feeling discouraged about this undertaking. Part of the reason I wanted to do this was to find out how I would be changed by the experience at the end. But I also have to admit that I romanticized the suffering. I am at the point where the suffering has lost whatever romance it may have had, and I am asking myself whether what I will get out of this will be worth what I put in. I didn’t enjoy being on the bike yesterday–it was just a slog.

My goal for today is to see if I can at least enjoy being on the bike, and forget my mileage targets.

Ride report: Halfway, OR Read More »

Ride report: Baker City, OR

I am writing this post the day after the ride–technically, my ride ended after midnight, so arguably it is the same day.

I reached Mitchell–home of the Spoke’n Hostel–pretty early and had their spaghetti for breakfast, although the 30-mile climb out of Prineville meant I wasn’t too early. Mitchell is in a valley, so after that long climb, you give up all that altitude, and then climb it again to get out. By the time I left, the day has heated up.

Most of the rest of the day is a blur. The three big climbs after Mitchell were all late in the ride, well after the halfway point. By the time I finished the second of them, it was chilly enough that I needed my jacket for the descent. After the third, it was cold enough that I needed to add more warm clothes, and my sweat-soaked jersey was chilling me, so I needed to take that off. Finding a place I could even lean my bike took a while, and then I was working in complete darkness. I was exhausted enough that I knew to be concerned about dumb mistakes, and tried to be very methodical. Even so, I rode off without my bone-conduction headset on, but it was hooked around my handlebars, so no loss there.

One minute after I passed the Baker City City limit sign, the sky opened up. I was only in the rain for about 10 minutes but got soaked.

I had set the goal of reaching Baker City because there’s a bike hostel there. I knew it would be a big push.

It was too long. 195 miles with 5 major climbs. My appetite has been hit-or-miss, and my last solid food of the day wasn’t sufficient.

Ride report: Baker City, OR Read More »

Ride report: Prineville, OR

Slept well and woke up at 5:30. Got rolling about 45 minutes later. Not great efficiency. Rode to Lewisburg and stopped at a greasy spoon for breakfast.

At some point while riding along the McKenzie River, I pulled over to strip off my warm clothes, and was passed by another racer, Richard. We rode together for a bit and stopped at a convenience store shortly before the turnoff for McKenzie Pass, the day’s main event. As we pulled in, another racer was pulling out and yelled his recommendation for the chicken tenders.

I rolled out a little before Richard and reached the turnoff. A couple of guys from Portland were getting their bikes ready; we chatted for a bit about whether the road was really closed due to a recent rockslide that needed to be cleaned up. We all agreed it was worth chancing it. I rode in ahead, knowing they’d pass me quickly.

The pass is at an altitude of about 5200 feet; the base is at about 1000 feet. As you ascend, you pass altitude markers every 1000 feet. At about 3500 feet, I had to take a break–I was whipped, my back hurts, and I ran across a rail I could use as a bench and prop for my bike. Before reaching 4000 feet, I came upon the Portland guys. I assumed they had already reached the top and were coming down. Nope. They were taking their time, I guess. There were a lot of cyclists on the climb–it’s a well known destination, especially right now when it is closed to motor traffic. There are gates at the east and west sides partway up that cyclists and peds can bypass.

I ran across a couple more racers, Mike and another guy whose name I didn’t catch. Mike and I rode together for a bit; I learned he’d read my blog entries about the 2021 race.

The top of the mountain is like Mount Doom–no life, just broken lava rock everywhere.

On the way down, I chatted with a rider going the other way, and later, at the eastern gate, there was another rider coming the other way. We chatted for a bit too. Something seemed familiar about him, and after he asked my name, I told him and said “and you’re Evan Deutsch, aren’t you?” He was. He’s won the TABR and has some very high placements when he didn’t. Nice guy, very down-to-earth.

I made it to the next town of Sisters, a very cute town blessed with two bike shops, which is pretty rare. Only one was open, so I went there. Blazin Saddles. My shifting has been off, and I hadn’t been able to fix it myself, so I suspected the derailleur hanger was out of alignment. It was. They dropped everything and got me fixed right up. Another racer was in there buying spares.

As long as I was making a stop in Sisters, I decided to eat. I found a food truck serving Mexican food and ordered a taco plate. Weirdly enough, I had to force myself to eat it–i just don’t have much of an appetite. This is a problem. There’s only so far I can go on stored fat.

My original goal for today has been Mitchell OR. What I realized was that I’d be arriving after nightfall, and the descent into town is scary enough in the daylight. I wound up stopping 40 miles short, in Prineville.

Ride report: Prineville, OR Read More »

Ride report: Springfield, OR

A big day on the bike. We had a strong tailwind almost all day, and it’s clear many of the racers are making hay while the sun shines. The guys at the pointy end are all around 300 miles for the day, and probably not stopping.

A lot of climbing too, including a couple of very long, steep grades. I saw one racers going up the first of these on foot. Somehow, much later, I saw he had beat me to a road–but was on the wrong side of it. There was another racers I kept swapping positions with. I rode faster than him, but stopped more often.

My goal has been to average 180 miles/day, and it’s nice to start off with some extra miles in the bank.

I stopped in Tillamook for an early lunch at the Safeway, where I encountered my first dot-watcher, had a few snacks along the way, and stopped in Corvallis for dinner at a semi-fancy pasta place called Pastini. It was nice pretending to be civilized. I pushed on another 40 or so miles to Coburg, and am actually a little off course at a Motel 6 in Eugene. The place reeks of despair.

I’m going to sleep until I’m done sleeping.

Ride report: Springfield, OR Read More »

TABR gear list

Here’s my packing list for the Trans Am Bike Race 2023.

Tools, gadgets, and spares

Left to right, top to bottom (more or less)

  • Short length of gorilla tape
  • Zip tipes
  • Paracord
  • Derailleur cable
  • Fiberfix spoke
  • Disc brake pads
  • Extra length of chain
  • Chain tool
  • Extra spokes
  • Extra master links
  • Sugru
  • Thread locker
  • Extra SPD cleat
  • Random small screws
  • Derailleur hanger
  • CR2032 battery (for heart-rate monitor)
  • Spare dynaplug plugs
  • 2 innertubes
  • Tire boots
  • Pump
  • Tyre key
  • Shokz headset
  • Multi-head USB cable
  • Wolf Tooth 8-bit tool
  • USB converter for dynamo
  • Gerber Dime multitool
  • Dynaplug
  • Power bank
  • Wall charger
  • Patch kit
  • Extra valve cores
  • Taillights: Lezyne Strip × 2 plus Cygolite Hypershot 350
  • Secondary headlight: Magicshine ZX Pro (main headlight is on bikes).

This stuff will be stored in my Camelbak pocket, top-tube bag, and Tailfin bag, based on how likely I am to need it. It all packs down pretty small, and I will depackage the stuff that needs it. I’ll probably cut that paracord shorter. Everything in this picture weighs 1325 g.

My wheels are set up tubeless, but I do need to be able to fall back to tubes if necessary. I am debating bringing a spare tire.

Not shown:

  • Chain lube: I will be bringing 2 oz of Silca liquid wax lube.
  • Garmin InReach Messenger satellite tracker

Clothing

  • Smartwool undershirt
  • Spatzwear undershirt
  • Gore leg warmers
  • Running shorts (in case I can wash all my stuff and need to stay decent)
  • Galibier jacket (doesn’t seem to be currently listed on their website)
  • Stolen goat jerseys × 2
  • Castelli shorts × 2
  • Galibier shoe covers
  • Gore Wear cool-weather cloves
  • Specialized cold-weather gloves
  • Reflectoes socks × 2
  • Specialized Grail gloves
  • Beanie

All this weighs 2103 g. Some of it will be on my body at any given time.

Not shown:

  • Lake cycling shoes
  • Wool cold-weather socks

Personal care

  • Minimal first-aid kit
  • Hibiclens
  • Electrolyte caps
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Cutemol
  • Pill case for prescriptions
  • Sunblock

I had trouble with saddle sores in 2021, and am packing the Hibiclens and Cutemol in the hopes of preventing that. All this weighs 690 g.

Not shown:

  • Lip balm

Sleep setup

  • Sea to Summit Spark SP1 sleeping bag
  • Klymit Inertia 0 sleeping pad
  • SOL Escape Light emergency bivvy

I will probably sleep in hotels mostly, but don’t feel right not having something to sleep outdoors in. Weight of all this stuff: 870 g.

Total weight: 4,988 g. Plus the bags I’ll be carrying this stuff in.

The bags I’ll be using are:

TABR gear list Read More »

Pace Bend Ultra 2022

On February 5–6, I competed in the Pace Bend Ultra. There were a number of divisions: 6-hour, 12-hour, 24-hour, solo and teams, men, women, and mixed (for teams). The idea is you ride around a loop as many times as you can until you reach your time limit. I competed in the 24-hour solo division. This was my first attempt at anything like this.

This would have been difficult under ideal conditions, and the conditions were not ideal. The overnight low was forecast to be 25°F; I had the temperature displayed on my bike-computer app, and when it was showing 31°F, I heard that the actual temperature measured on the course was 27°F. That’s really cold. I’ve commuted at roughly that temperature, but my bike commute takes 22 minutes each way. I was very anxious about the cold in the days before the race, and I wasn’t sure if my preparations would be adequate.

The course is a 6.2-mile loop inside Pace Bend Park, about an hour’s drive outside of Austin. Apparently the course used to be notorious for it’s “meteor impact” pavement, but a couple of years ago it was resurfaced, and is currently pretty nice.

The race started at noon on Saturday, with all the 12-hour and 24-hour riders departing together. This being a time trial, drafting is not allowed, but because of the relatively crowded mass start, we had a pass for the first lap.

My first two laps I was running hot—the trick with distance riding is to keep your level of exertion in a limited range—not too high, so you don’t burn all your matches prematurely. I was a little worried about that, but by the third lap, I was able to get it under control. I later heard from another racer who felt the same.

I had looked at the course elevation profile beforehand, and was not too concerned about the hills: 312 feet of climbing per lap, or about 50 feet per mile. No big deal. What I didn’t realize until I was a few laps into it is that while none of the hills are particularly difficult, you’re never not on a hill. You never have a chance to hunker down and motor. I was constantly finding I was in the wrong gear.

My fueling strategy worked pretty well. I spent a fair amount of time researching that, and while I learned a lot, I ultimately went with my gut (sorry). I made up a batch of big oatmeal-raisin cookies, and a bunch of small chicken-salad tacos. Every 2nd and 4th lap, I would eat a cookie, and every 6th lap I would eat a taco. I would need to pull into my pit station to eat the taco, which was fine—on the advice of a more experienced ultra rider, I planned on taking a pit stop every six laps anyhow; I’d refill the cookies I was carrying when I did that. Eating the cookies while riding was a little more difficult to manage than I anticipated, but I’m sure I could solve that problem. My hunger went up and down—there were points when I was really hungry, and then later, not too hungry. I was able to stick to this eating schedule pretty closely for all my time on the bike, but once it got dark, I decided it would be better to stop to eat my cookies than to eat them on the fly. I thought about using liquid fuel, and ultimately decided against. During training, I experimented with some liquid options, and they didn’t sit well in my stomach. I also tend to under-hydrate, so even on a hot ride, I wouldn’t get a lot of calories that way. According to the Training Peaks estimate (I don’t have a power meter on my bike), I burned 10,500 calories, which sounds about right. About half of that probably came from stored fat (which would be less than 2 lb).

At 6 hours, I felt like there was a turning point in the event. It was getting dark and cold, everyone had burned off the last shred of nervous energy, and we were all settling into the pace that we’d maintain for the rest of the race. It was at about this point that I started adding layers for warmth. I started out wearing a high-tech base layer, a jacket, cold-weather shorts, leg warmers, cool-weather gloves, insulating wool socks, and lightweight booties. At around this point, I added a beanie under my helmet and a wool base layer. Later I would add a fleece neck buff, my rain jacket, and a pair of running tights; I also swapped my gloves for warmer ones.

At 11 hours, I discovered the warming tent. It was not especially warm—I could see my breath in there—but it was warmer. It wasn’t provided by the event organizers, but by a team: there were some people helping their teammates providing de-facto neutral support, and they gave me soup and hot chocolate in addition to a warm place to sit and socialize with other racers taking breaks.

At 12 hours, I had all my extra layers on and still couldn’t get warm—I was shivering uncontrollably in my core. One of the guys in the warming tent who was there in a support capacity lent me his jacket (which was big enough to fit over the 4 layers I was already wearing) and it made a huge difference.

At 13 hours, I was riding a little erratically on the road, and I was really worried about my ability to ride through the coldest part of the night. When I stopped in the warming tent, I realized I could take a nap and just sleep through that part, and I gave myself permission to do that. My attitude and riding improved immediately.

At 15 hours, I decided to take that nap in the warming tent, where there was a cot. I had a sleeping bag with me, but I never really got comfortable enough to sleep. It was miserable. At some point I moved from the cot to a reclining folding chair, and while I didn’t sleep there either, I found it more restful.

At 20 hours, just before 8 AM, I ended my pretend-nap, at which point the sun was out and the temperature had risen to the freezing point. I was not very refreshed, but I was riding a lot better than when I had stopped for my so-called nap.

At 21 hours, the 6-hour division started. While there were obviously some hardcore time-trialists in the 12- and 24-hour divisions, the 6-hour division had a higher percentage—I think that was the only division where people were using disk wheels. They would rocket past me on their TT bikes like I was standing still. There was also one hapless guy in the 6-hour division who must have seen an ad for the event and thought “that sounds like fun.” He was riding a hybrid, wearing basketball shorts and knee socks. It was clear he was not an experienced rider. I think he rode two or three laps and packed it in. I can only imagine how he felt lining up at the start with guys who looked like they were riding spaceships.

Gwen also showed up around this time with food. She crammed a homemade biscuit with gravy in my mouth. I was glad to see her.

At 23 hours and 15 minutes, I packed it in. At that point, my lap time was about 30 minutes (partial laps are not counted), so I could have squeezed in one more lap, but I was starting to ride erratically, and decided it wasn’t worth it.

At the end of the race, I learned that I was one of only two competitors who didn’t have a car to warm up in. I think that made a difference. There’s no telling how I would have fared if I had been able to warm up every few laps, or if I had been better insulated, but if I had ridden through that five-hour pretend nap at my last-lap pace, my distance would have been right around 300 miles, which I had predicted to be my “realistic-optimistic” distance.

I knew, but kind of forgot, that my body cannot regulate its temperature when I’m exhausted: if it’s the slightest bit cold, it’s hard for me to warm up. I definitely experienced that in the race. Part of the problem is that as I get worn out, I can’t push myself as hard and can’t raise my heart rate, so I’m generating less heat, but there’s something else at work too. I’ll need to be careful to be better insulated if I do anything like this again.

Final results: 241.8 miles, 39 laps. 2nd place in the men’s solo 24-hour upright-bike division (out of five), first in my age group. My actual time in motion was 15:34.

Pace Bend Ultra 2022 Read More »

Epoch-Caldwell 300K

After scratching in TABR 2021, I decided I needed more experience with distance riding before I attempted it again, so I joined the local randonneuring group. Randonneuring has two kinds of ride—brevets, which are organized date-and-day events, and permanentes (or perms), which you can ride whenever you want. There are certain standardized distances in either case, and yesterday I rode a 300-km perm. I covered about the same distance on Day 1 of TABR 2021, although that was cold, rainy, and windy; yesterday started out cool and warmed up to be pretty hot, with a slight tailwind on the outbound leg and a stronger headwind (it certainly felt stronger) on the return. In any case, this was only the second time I’ve ridden this distance.

I started out at 6:00 AM in darkness and rode for about an hour before there was any sunlight. After that, the morning was very misty, and whenever I would ride through a low-lying spot, visibility was probably only 50′. The mist burned off by 8:30 or so. Riding through that was surreal. I was mostly on roads I know well up to that point, but not being able to see around me made them unfamiliar territory.

I pushed on past the first control in Taylor, about 40 miles in, without stopping. After that point, the route took me on unfamiliar roads to get to a familiar place—Apache Pass—and then to Rockdale, where I did stop for a snack at the second control. Pushed on from there through the community of Black Jack, which I had never heard of, to Caldwell, where I discovered I had crossed from the burnt orange zone of football allegiance to the maroon one. Stopped at a Subway for solid food, topped off my hydration pack, had a Snickers bar for good measure, and headed back.

I had been making pretty good time to this point for relatively little effort, but knew I’d be facing a headwind on the way back. I can see now that my average heart rate for the first half was 120 bpm, 125 bpm for the second half. In hindsight, I think I could have pushed the pace on the outbound leg a little more, but I was mostly concerned about having enough in the tank to make it home.

When I made it back to Apache Pass, at mile 132, I was dealing with hotfoot and stopped to give my feet a break. That helped a bit, but not enough, and not for long enough. I stopped again in Taylor to fill up on water, even though I probably had enough to make it the rest of the way back. I wanted to give my feet another break, and I wasn’t sure how long the next 40 miles would take, since my speed was dropping steadily.

Sometimes I can ride through hotfoot and get comfortable again. That didn’t happen. I just toughed it out. Apart from that, and being generally sore and tired in all the ways you’d expect, I felt pretty good when I finished. My left knee felt a little tweaked over the last 30 miles or so, but was not concerning. I didn’t feel any of the Achilles’ tendon trouble that I did in the TABR. I ate half a family-sized King Ranch Casserole from Central Market for dinner, and went to Bobo’s for a beer.

This morning when I woke up, I did not feel pretty good. I had a headache and nausea, in addition to fatigue. I can get by for a long time on a deficit of water, electrolytes, and calories—I rode the recent 200K brevet on four Clif bars, one Snickers bar, a bottle of Gatorade, and the water and electrolytes I was carrying from the start—and I think I set a personal best for 200K. But clearly my limit for riding on deficits is somewhere short of the 300K mark, and I’m pretty sure it was the insufficient water and electrolytes that did it. I took in a couple glasses of electrolytes (I use Vitalyte, fwiw) and felt a lot better.

This was a lucky shot. The light was changing very quickly, and as soon as I stopped moving, my glasses fogged over.

You don’t usually see a lot of longhorns. Unlike most cattle, these guys were curious about me and were approaching as I shot this.

Epoch-Caldwell 300K Read More »

Mueller-Lexington-Mueller 200K

I’ve been vaguely interested in randonneuring for a long time—after I completed my first Austin-Houston ride, I met a guy who was into it, who suggested I ought to check it out. More recently, I started lurking on the local randonneuring group’s mailing list. After my failed attempt at the TABR, I decided I needed more experience at long distances, so I finally joined RUSA. The first ride organized by the local group after that happened to be on the 100th anniversary of the first brevet organized by the sport’s governing body, Audax Club Parisien. That seemed like an auspicious beginning.

Most (all?) of the local brevets start and finish at a convenience store that’s barely a mile from my home, which is convenient for me. Yesterday’s ride had 16 people sign up, which I understand to be a good showing.

I had laid out my stuff the night before, aired up my tires, etc, so I’d have a minimum of things to do in the morning. Got up at 5:00, ate breakfast, got suited and booted, and was out the door by 5:20.

We were all at the start with time to spare. Jeff, the ride organizer, gave some preliminary instructions. It seemed as if everyone else knew each other—I was clearly the only first-timer, and there were quite a few PBP veterans. Jeff pointed out a couple of guys to me and told me they’re fast—that he knows I’m fast, but I shouldn’t feel like I need to hang with them. I told him I was planning on riding my own ride.

We were rolling on time 6:00 AM. We agreed to ride together for the first 20 or so miles, at which point we’d stop at a picturesquely decrepit old store for a group photo, and then ride at our own pace.

This and the neutralized start at TABR are the only times I’ve ridden in a group in many years; this was the first time I’ve ridden in the dark in a bunch perhaps ever. Our route out of town was mostly new to me—occasionally we were on streets that I’d ridden before, but for the most part we weren’t. The dark, the new streets, and the riding in a pack all made the first hour or so a new experience.

After the photo op in Cele, we got back onto the road in small clots of a few riders each. I was in the first group back on the road, and after just a mile or two, I wanted to get moving. Partly this was to warm up. Partly this was to make good time before the day got hot. Partly because I’m out of the habit of riding in a group and was ready to ride on my own. And partly this was because, although brevets are not races, I do know the riders pay attention to times, and as the new guy, I wanted to lay down a marker. So I shot off the front.

At this point, I was mostly on roads that I’ve ridden before. I hunkered down on my aerobars and jammed. Despite having had a cold for the past few days, I felt good.

At mile 40, one of the two guys Jeff had pointed out to me as being fast rolled past me like I was going backwards. We said “hey” to each other and he was gone. I forgot his name. Very tall, very thin, weird setup with bars set super-high using what I think is a Bike Friday stem. In any case, I didn’t see him again.

Made it to Taylor and kept going. The route after that was mostly roads that are new to me. I had my bone-conduction headset on, reading me directions and playing DJ sets that I’ve downloaded to my phone.

The country between Taylor and Lexington is pretty flat, agricultural, not a lot of trees, and a lot of the fields had been harvested recently, so were bare dirt. I was mostly just in the zone, focused on my riding.

Made it to Lexington, where the ride turns around, at about 9:30. I think there’s a restaurant in Lexington where I could have gotten solid food, but I didn’t look for one and the only one I knew of—Subway—was closed at that hour. Stopped for a big Snickers bar and a bottle of Gatorade (I’d eaten a couple of Clif bars up to that point). As I was rolling out of the parking lot, another one of the brevet riders—on a heavy-looking Soma with flared gravel bars—rolled in. We said “hey” and I kept on going.

There’s a spot just outside Lexington where the road is under construction and narrowed down to one lane; instead of flaggers, there are stoplights controlling traffic. When I rolled through this on the return leg, I saw most of the other riders were waiting to get through on the other side. And a bit further on down from them, I saw the one guy participating on a recumbent trike.

Made it back to Taylor, thought about stopping for tacos, didn’t. Kept going. Had an energy bar when I got just past town, in the shadow of a privately operated prison.

When I got back to that old store in Cele, I saw there was a couple of cyclists there hanging out. Initially I thought they might be part of our group, and was puzzled that they would have gotten past me. It turns out they weren’t, and we had a nice chat. It seems that the Cele store is only open weekends, and has good barbecue. Which was tempting, but I still had 20 miles to go and didn’t indulge. My legs had been threatening to cramp up a little before this, and stopping for a bit seemed to hit the reset switch on that, but I didn’t want to linger for too long.

Most of the remainder of the ride was on the new-to-me roads we had rolled out on, but now I could see them and place them in context. They avoided some unpleasant roads that I’ve ridden on many times just out of habit—I’ll need to add them to my repertoire. I made it back to the starting point without incident, and then back home.

Early in the ride, I thought that I might be able to hold my average moving speed at 18 mph for the ride. I have the RwGPS app report my stats every 15 minutes, and I had a few 15-minute periods where I was rolling at 19.9 mph, which is great, and was keeping my average at 18 mph for pretty much the first half, but it slipped slightly on the return, and over the last 10 miles, it slipped considerably. My rolling average wound up being 17.7 mph—I’m still quite content with that, and this was by far the fastest 200K that I have the receipts for. I didn’t eat enough (4 Clif bars, 1 Snickers bar) and maybe didn’t hydrate enough during the ride. Writing this the next day, after a big post-ride snack, a big dinner, and solid night’s sleep, I’m still a bit tired.

The weather wound up being perfect. A little on the cool side to start. The day did warm up, but wasn’t brutally hot. The wind was that rarest of things, still for the outbound leg and a slight tailwind on the return.

Mueller-Lexington-Mueller 200K Read More »

Bike gear capsule reviews

I bought a lot of bike stuff preparatory to riding the TABR. Here are my comments on some of it.

Parts

Redshift Shockstop seatpost

  • I’ve got mine set fairly firm. I rarely notice any bobbing except on smooth roads when I’m really grinding at low RPM.
  • Can’t compensate for big hits, but does take the edge off a lot of bad pavement. I notice the difference most on textured pavement, which it really smooths out.
  • As much as my ass hurt in the race (a lot), I cannot imagine how much more it would have hurt without a suspension seatpost.
  • Cane Creek makes an elastomer-based suspension seatpost that I’d be interested in comparing with this.

Redshift Shockstop stem

The effect this has is more subtle than the seatpost. It’s a little weird watching the handlebars move up and down relative to the bike, but it doesn’t seem to affect handling.

Just Riding Along Mahi Mahi wheels

Good price, seem reasonably fast, good customization options (they offer dyno hubs, which was key for me). These are the only wheels I’ve ever had with deep-section carbon rims, so I don’t have any basis for comparison. Didn’t give me any trouble.

Dyno hubs are expensive, but they make a lot of sense for an event like the TABR.

Speedplay Zero pedals

I used Bebop pedals for a very long time. I still would, if they were still in production. These are the nearest equivalents. I’m not thrilled with how fussy they are to set up and maintain, or the fact that they use a unique drilling pattern, but they do give numerous degrees of adjustment and wide ranges of adjustability. In short, I am able to ride comfortably in them, which is what’s important.

The first day of TABR 2021 had very foul weather, which is kryptonite for Speedplays. My right cleat became extremely difficult to disengage. By the time I scratched, the left bearings had almost completely seized up. Both cleats became difficult to engage. Speedplay recommended re-greasing every 2000 miles under ideal conditions—which did not prevail—and I didn’t bring a grease gun. A lot of riders bring spare cleats on the TABR, but the problem with Speedplays is the cleats are left/right-specific, so you need to bring two spares to cover your bases. I brought none.

Now that Wahoo has redesigned them (after I bought mine), they claim that re-greasing is no longer needed. Not sure how effective the new seals are. And they don’t need a 3-hole/4-hole adapter plate or special 4-hole shoes anymore, which is nice.

But my take-away is that if you can ride comfortably in SPDs, those are better for an event like the TABR. Shimano’s pedals are solid, the cleats are robust and spares are easy to carry, and riding in walkable shoes is an advantage.

Bags

I had a total of ~27 liters of storage capacity between four bags on my bike. My logic in packing was to make sure that stuff I would need frequently would be easy to get at, and stuff I might need could be shoved away in a less accessible place.

I think years of going to burn events has produced in me a tendency to over-prepare. I think of this in terms of percentages—do you want to be prepared for 90% of situations you might encounter? 95%? 99%? Each step up the preparation scale requires more stuff, sometimes a lot more. So I was carrying spare spokes and a fiberfix spoke for field-expedient repairs. I was carrying a spare derailleur hanger, a bit of extra chain and a master link, a spare derailleur cable, and random nuts and bolts just in case. I was carrying enough clothes to deal with freezing weather.

The Tailfin had by far the most volume, and if there’s a problem with it, it’s not with its workmanship or design, it’s a philosophical problem: it has 20 liters of capacity, which is a lot for a bikepacking race, so it doesn’t force you to edit your gear list as severely as you might otherwise. That said, there’s very little of what I packed that I would have left behind even with the benefit of hindsight, and one or two things that I probably should have brought that I didn’t.

Tailfin Aeropack X

  • Beautiful construction, meticulously considered design.
  • Rock solid. Doesn’t noticeably affect handling except for the sail effect in strong crosswinds. It really feels like a part of the bike.
  • Unless you’ve got a lot of seatpost showing, get the “extended seatpost connector” so that the bag can open clear of your saddle.
  • When transferring the seatpost clamp to the extended connector, be careful with the screw post that mounts it, as it is easy to round out the hex-key opening. Ideally this would have a torx head or a steel screw post.
  • The rubber bushings that fit in the “fast release” mounts are not retained well. I’ve now seen that Tailfin recommends gluing them in place with some CA glue. Even with that, the smart thing is to keep the mounts shut at all times, whether on or off the bike.
  • In addition to its main opening on top, it has a zipped side opening and a small zipped stash pocked on the other side. I’m not sure either of these do much good.
  • Really expensive.

I kept my minimal sleep setup, extra clothes (in stuff sacks), and spare parts in this bag. It doesn’t sound like much, but the bag was pretty full.

Apidura Racing Frame Bag (4 L)

I got this at the last minute when I decided that my Tailfin bag was going to be overstuffed.

It has a main compartment accessed from the right, and a flat stash pocket on the left. I kept my printed cheatsheets on the left (never actually used them–I also had the cheatsheets on my phone as an e-book); on the right I had my first-aid supplies, toiletries, second pair of gloves, and probably a few other things.

The only criticisms I can make against it are that when my legs were covered with road grit on Day 1 and they would sometimes rub against the bag, my skin got really torn up. Also, this bag and the top-tube bag especially are hard on the frame’s paint job. I should have had a layer of helicopter tape on the frame at the contact points.

Apidura Racing Long Top Tube Bag

My intention was to keep stuff that I knew I would need frequently in this bag. In practice, it wasn’t quite big enough for all that. It has a divider across the middle, and two-way zipper, so you have a little bit of compartmentalization with it. It has a shielded pass-through in the front, and that’s where my USB converter and power bank lived. I also kept my pump, chain lube, Dynaplug, and multi-tool in here.

On the advice of a fitter, I got my frame one size larger than I normally would, to get the added stack height. Between that and this bag, I could barely clear the top tube when standing over the bike. This wasn’t a big problem, but it wasn’t ideal.

When I was running a cable from the USB converter (in the bag) to my phone (out of the bag), a little rainwater did intrude because the zipper wasn’t fully zipped, but I can’t criticize the bag for that.

Kaibab Customs custom-made bag

This was a small bag that slung under the aerobars and mostly carried snacks; my satellite tracker was also held in place by the velcro straps that attached the bag to the aerobars, which gave it good exposure to the satellites it communicates with.

In hindsight, it would have been better to have this bag made with a cable pass-through in the back so that my USB converter and power bank could live inside it–the disposition of my gear would have been a little tidier that way.

Camelbak Classic

I know Camelbaks are not popular among roadies, but during the pandemic, I wanted to be able to carry a lot of water so I wouldn’t need to stop, and they excel at that. I found that I prefer using a Camelbak in some ways. This has a tiny pocket on the back. I was riding tubeless tires, and used this to carry a couple of just-in-case innertubes, tire levers, and patches.

Drawbacks:

  • I haven’t found a good way to secure the end of the hose. I wind up tucking it under the shoulder strap. Camelbak makes a magnetic retainer that hooks onto the shoulder strap, but the way it hooks on is so insecure that it’s not usable.
  • The mesh surface facing my back tears up my jerseys.
  • A lot of people complain about getting a sweaty back with a Camelbak. No argument there. I think this is a bigger problem in cold weather than hot, though. I can deal with the heat. But in cold weather the ability to evaporate sweat is an important aspect of your ability to stay warm and comfortable; with a hydration pack on, I find that the part of my back directly under the pack is sweaty and well-insulated, so it stays warm; there’s a ring on my back around the pack that is sweaty but not insulated, and this gets clammy or downright cold, regardless of how I’m dressed. In practice, this did not wind up being a showstopper, but it did contribute a little bit to discomfort, especially on long descents in cold weather.

Electronics

kLite Ultra-low drag road kit

This consists of a headlight, USB converter, and pre-assembled wiring harness with a switch, designed to work specifically with the SON Delux hub (which is what my front wheel has). Everything worked without giving me any trouble. The connectors and wires are all very robust, and although I would have been willing to solder up my own wiring harness, I’m pretty sure the prefabricated one is better than anything I would produce, which is reassuring.

The illumination was more than adequate for my needs. I didn’t do a huge amount of night riding in TABR 2021, and didn’t do any high-speed descents. The light head has three emitters, the third of which only comes on at higher speeds (about 18 mph, I think). It would be cool if this third one was targeted farther ahead than the other two; cooler still if the light used shaped reflectors like a B&M light to more effectively target the light on the road. It does include a standlight, and I was impressed at how long that runs for—I saw a little bit of residual light even an hour after stopping.

The USB converter does what it needs to do, and is always on. kLite 3D prints a bunch of its ancillary parts, including the housing for the USB converter, so it is chunkier and heavier than it needs to be, but overall, this doesn’t make a big difference. I do wish kLite outsourced production of those ancillary parts to someone who could fabricate them from aluminum.

The switch controls whether all the dyno output is sent to the USB converter, or is sent preferentially to the headlight, with any excess power going to the converter. Below about 6 mph, it seems, neither one receives power. This could be a problem for mountain climbs at night.

There weren’t as many racers using dynamo-powered lights as I expected. I noticed a few racers with doubled-up battery lights. I did have a Lezyne battery light as a backup myself. It throws enough light and has decent runtime, but the big drawback with it is its charging time. Looking at the nearest current model, it supposedly offers about 4 hours runtime and 4.5 hours charge time (if using a 2-amp USB source). Four hours of runtime is probably OK for a midpack rider. 4.5 hours charge time would also be OK for a midpack rider who’s staying in hotels, but this is faster than I’m actually seeing charging my own light. I think that charging time is the real limiting factor ultra riders will run into with battery lights.

Aftershokz Aeropex bone-conduction headset

I refuse to close off my ears when I’m on the bike. I know some ear buds, like AirPods Pro, can feed through ambient sound, which might be a reasonable option, but I decided to go with these.

The audio experience with these is almost exactly like having a small speaker hovering near each ear. They can drown out quiet sounds, but other than that, you hear everything around you; they can also be drowned out by loud sounds, such as wind noise. The physical experience is almost nonexistent—I barely notice I have them on. If I turn up the volume loud enough, I can feel a little vibration at my temples. They’re more comfortable to wear for extended periods than my earbuds. Sound quality isn’t bad, but won’t win any awards.

It seems that every wearable Bluetooth audio-playback device has its own set of control gestures, which is annoying. The gestures this uses aren’t bad, but if you use more than one system (I do), it is hard to keep track.

There were a few other riders in TABR 2021 using these, and overall, I think they’re a great benefit if you’re using the spoken turn-by-turn directions in the Ride with GPS app (I was). I didn’t spend a lot of time listening to music, but it was nice to have the option. I did miss a couple of turns when I had the headset turned off or there was a lot of ambient noise, but I resolved those mistakes quickly. On balance, I’m pretty sure they helped me stay on track better than I would have without them.

iPhone

Finding a good mount has been a challenge. I have used a couple of third-party Garmin handlebar mounts and slapped an adhesive Garmin “knuckle” on the back of an iPhone case. The problem I had, repeatedly, is that the tabs in the Garmin insert in the mount—the part that retains the knuckle—would get shredded on bumpy roads. This may be chintzy plastic, or it may simply be that the iPhone exerts too much torque on the insert. Interestingly, the knuckle never showed any signs of wear. I’m currently using a Quadlock mount, which works well. To be precise, I’m using part of a Quadlock mount intended for motorcycles, and bolting that on to an aerobar bridge that I found on Ali Express. That bridge came with useless P-clamps (although the bridge itself is quite sturdy), and I had some custom clamps fabricated to fit on the aerobars.

Battery life is sometimes cited as a concern when using a smartphone instead of a proper bike computer. I do agree that battery life will be shorter, but it’s not as bad as one might think. For one thing, I keep the screen off most of the time and rely on audible updates—Ride with GPS reads me cues (when I’m following a planned route), and also have it read my stats at regular intervals. On a recent ride where I was out for 7 hours, I had 50% left in the tank when I got home, and this was also playing back a mix of streaming and locally stored music over my aforementioned Aftershokz headset for more than half the ride. I do a couple of things to extend the battery life: turn off wifi and put the phone in low-power mode (which clocks down the processor, but is almost unnoticeable). On the TABR—or anytime you’re riding out of cellular coverage—it makes sense to put the phone in airplane mode. This requires you to have stored the route on the phone, rather than relying on the cloud version of it (RwGPS defaults to the latter).

Using a dyno/USB converter or external power bank, it is in theory possible to keep the phone topped off all the time—except when it’s raining. Modern iPhones are water-resistant, but part of that water resistance depends on detecting water in the Lightning port and disabling it. I found during heavy rain that it would not charge, although once it had a chance to dry out, it would. This could get to be a problem in a multi-day event if the rain persists and you have minimal rest periods when you can charge it off-bike, but that’s true for any battery-powered gadget.

Clothes

Castelli Nano Flex Pro Race Bib Short

  • Brilliant. Super comfortable. They basically disappear.
  • I was concerned that the lack of leg grippers would let the hems ride up, but that hasn’t been a problem.
  • Hem seems to be cut lower in front than in back, which is a little weird.

Galibier Tempest jacket

Rain jacket that also provided some additional warmth and windproofing. Packs down to fit in a back pocket: in addition to wearing this in the rain, I would put this on before a long descent following a long climb.

There are other rain jackets that are lighter and fancier, but they’re also much more expensive. This was a good deal.

Jerseys

I’ve given up on short-sleeved jerseys. Riding in Texas, you might think you’d want as little coverage as possible, but I’ve found that a lightweight long-sleeved jersey isn’t really hotter and gives me some sun protection. Such jerseys aren’t exactly common–I’ve found several companies making them, and have tried three.

Stolen Goat Topper Bodyline Jersey

Fits well. I like the raw-cut sleeve edges. Would be nice if it had grippers in the hem, but it seems to sit about right on me even without them. Has a side-zipped security pocket that I don’t really use, but seems like a nice idea. This would be my go-to jersey.

Pactimo Ascent Aero jersey

I’ve got a slightly outdated version of this that I got on closeout. I like the fit. Not thrilled about the abbreviated collar. Don’t like the pockets, which have very high openings that are hard to get into.

Gloves

Gore-tex C3 Infinium gloves

These did a good job of keeping my hands warm on pretty chilly days, even on long descents, when the windchill would have been severe. They’re very close fitting all around, which for the most part is good, but they’re very difficult to take off when wet. Generally comfortable to wear and offered good dexterity for things like typing on my phone, although adding a conductive pad to the middle finger would have been nice.

They have minimal padding, and what padding there is may not be optimally placed. I wound up with very slight nerve pain in the “valley” of the palm (which I have learned is called the thenar) from riding on the ramps. Not surprising after riding 550 miles in 3½ days—not sure if I can blame that on the gloves.

Also, one of the gloves started coming unstitched along one seam after less than 1000 miles of use, though as luck would have it, this was on the day that I scratched. If the durability were better, these gloves would be ideal.

I got these in high-vis yellow, and they are shockingly bright.

Specialized Grail

No complaints. They just work. Minimal padding seems to do its job. When new, there were tiny elastic bands along the outsides of the wrists that quickly fell off, but I haven’t noticed any change in fit or comfort as a result.

Northwave Extreme GT 2 shoes

  • Very nice construction.
  • Use Northwave’s Boa-like closures, which are slightly less convenient than real Boas (getting out of the shoe is a two-handed process). The dials got hard to loosen after Day 1 of TABR 2021, during which they got liberally spattered with rain and road grit.
  • The openings dig in a little bit around the inside of my ankles. So far this has been no worse than slightly annoying. Put pads in that seem to help a bit.
  • I would get hotfoot on training rides after about 70 miles in these. They do come with a pretty good footbed with a metatarsal bump; I’ve tried aftermarket footbeds, which maybe help a little, but what really helps is moving my cleats rearward. I also found during the TABR that simply leaving the closures looser, perhaps coupled with the fact that I wasn’t riding as hard, eliminated hotfoot.

Bike gear capsule reviews Read More »

More on scratching

Realistically, my race was over before I even finished the first day: I stopped for pizza in Monmouth OR about 20 miles before my intended stopping point, and when I got back on my bike, my Achilles’ tendons were super tight. They got tighter and more swollen with each day. I tried a few things to remedy them, to no apparent avail.

And I know that all racers are dealing with this, but I was not prepared for how much my ass would hurt. And my knees were a little delicate, which made standing to take pressure off my ass a problem.

I called Gwen from my bike and told her “This isn’t fun. This isn’t even type-2 fun.” And I had a moment of clarity later in the day when I realized that I was riding an amazing route through an amazing landscape, and by any reasonable measure, this should be one of them best rides off my lifetime. But all I could think about was pain.

During my training, I had tried to have all my problems before I would have them in the race. And I’m sure there were a bunch of problems I was able to solve in advance. But there were some I could not, and in some cases, I think I was solving the wrong problem.

First of all, there’s no way to train for mountains when you live in the hill country. The experience of a single hour-long climb is just different.

Second, I thought I had more or less inured myself too ass pain through long training rides. Nope.

Third, I was riding harder on my training rides than I did in the race. I thought I had an idea of the aches and pains I’d have in the race based on my training rides. In fact, the pains I was experiencing prevented me from riding as hard in the race as I would on a training ride, so the experiences were pretty different. My average heart rate on a training ride would be in the 120s, which it was for Day 1 of the race. But it went down quite a bit after that, meaning fewer calories burned, less muscle aches.

Fourth, I just don’t know how I could have anticipated or prevented the tendinitis. I’ve never had a problem like that before.

. . .

I don’t regret having tried. I’m disappointed to drop out. But more disappointed to discover that I am not a person who can do this.

More on scratching Read More »

Ride report: John Day, OR

I had hoped to make it to Prairie City today, but the hotel there was full, so I stopped a little early.

Stopped in Prineville to visit the bike shop, in order to replace a missing bar plug. Seems like a minor problem, but their absence has caused some vicious injuries.

Today has its ups and downs, literally. There were two passes, closely spaced, flanking the town of Mitchell. The first climb was long and gradual. The descent was seven miles long and a screamer —it was nerve-racking, mostly due to the buffeting winds. At one point, the wake from a semi going the other way almost blew me off the road. I was slightly light-headed by the times I reached the bottom.

Mitchell is home to the Spoke’n Hostel, one of the most popular stops on the Trans Am. The folks there pretty much put themselves at the rider’s disposal. The feed me, we chatted, it was really nice. Glad I could be a part of that tradition. I left there feeling much more like a human. I was heartened to see that the two race leaders stopped in to sign the guest book.

The climb out of Mitchell was long, steady, and straight. It led to a descent that must have run at least 20 miles. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

These two passes seem like the dividing line between pine forests and high desert. The plant life and geology seem different on the two sides.

My ass is still a lava field, and my Achilles’ tendons are more swollen. If anything knocks me out prematurely, it’ll probably be that. My body’s ability to regulate its temperature seems to be all messed up. But today was the first day where I could enjoy the ride some.

Ride report: John Day, OR Read More »