Thursday, August 30, 2012

Going To New Heights In Colorado

Note: The actual start date and time of
this year's Vapor is Sept. 8th @ 10 PM.

Last spring I was unable to attend my beloved Trans Iowa. It was for a good reason, I was getting a new brother-in-law and he's a super good guy. So, really I had no reason to feel bad, but still I knew I'd find a way to listen in on the race even if it was during the wedding reception. I hid out in the coat room listening to Guitar Ted (race director) tell how the race was unfolding in "real time". I needed to know how my boys, Farrow and Kershaw were doing. No matter what happened I knew they'd make me proud. My heart soared as I'd hear their names in the reports. I wondered where I would have been had I been in the fight.

In an attempt to come to terms with "sitting this one out" I began to think about something bigger or at least something as big, but maybe different. I needed to find a race that would nibble away at my core, like the Trans Iowa did when I first decided to sign up long ago. I recall not wanting to tell anyone about being on the roster for I feared that somehow I would upset the being that was the race. It was as if I had not yet earned the right to talk about my involvement with something that big. I needed a new race now that would get me nervous.

I'd been eye balling a little event out in Colorado for a couple of years called the Vapor Trail 125. The pictures were spectacular, the stories were mind bending, but it was all beyond my scope and skill set.  I enjoyed watching from Minnesota. Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about that race and what it would be like to ride in those mountains. My "long" commutes to work afforded me 3 hours a day to think about the challenge, all from the saddle of my bike. As I rode to work in the dark with a below zero windchill in my face I thought, "if you can do can do that!"

I would step off that cliff and make contact with Tom Purvis, the race director. I knew that once I was in correspondence with him I would not turn back. The next thing I knew I was putting together a race resume for him in an effort to convince him and myself that I could do this thing. When I looked over that final list of bicycling accomplishments before sealing the envelope I paused and thought, "You know what, you can do this thing".

Tom and I seemed to hit it off immediately over email. I was in, I made the roster! Now, my thinking switched from "what if?" to "when you..." I began the always exciting process of choosing gear. What bike would work best? How will I carry all the clothing that I'll need? Is there any way I can stave off the effects of the altitude on my flat lander body? Tire choice? The questions went on and on. I diligently researched each and everyone of them. I even went right to the source and received an excellent description of the race from Tom himself. I made contact with my sponsors in an effort to ensure all that I could control would be controlled. Salsa Cycles and Schwalbe Tires were instrumental in making sure I will be the best that I can be. Thank you Mike Riemer (who immediately asked what I would need to be successful) and Jeff Clarkson (who plans to overnight a set of tires to me in Omaha Nebraska two days before the race - awesome!).

Slowly things are coming together and I'm thinking about things like ZipLock bags that I'll need to store small items. In other words, I'm down to the smallest of details. Pretty soon the planning will be done and it will just be the riding that's left. I know how to pedal my bike and I know how to push it - I should be good to go...right?

I leave Duluth to chase another dream mid week, next. I can't wait to see the mountains in a personal kind of way as I climb a total of 20,000 feet by bike and foot. I have no idea what the race has in store for this boy from northern Minnesota, but I'm anxious to find out.

You can track me through the race via my Spot Tracker. The 'Vapor' starts on Sept. 8th at 10:00 p.m. I will be finishing sometime in the afternoon of Sept. 9th.

Wish me luck as I chase after one more dream. See you on the other side.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fat Bikin' on the Salsa Beargrease

In order to maintain optimal fitness one must often "keep the body guessing" by switching up exercise routines. Well, as the dog days of summer come the mind begins to yearn for something more than endless gravel and twisty single track. Enter the Salsa Beargrease.

A sudden Facebook message from Salsa friend John Gaddo included a request to "hook up" as he would be in Duluth for a Salsa demo. John wanted to ride. As luck would have it I had a light day at work and some flexibility to accommodate him. We talked on the phone and I instinctively started to talk to him about sweet single track near my house. He politely interrupted me and asked if I'd seen the Beargrease yet. "Uhh...only in pictures", was my response. He went on to ask about possible beach riding in the area. I got excited, this was just what I needed. A plan was hatched and he had a Beargrease for me to ride.

We met on Duluth's Park Point, made some quick adjustments to the bikes and we were off. Immediately, I felt the bike's aggressive stance, but I honestly could not get over how light it was. Seriously, this thing comes in at the weight of a full suspension XC bike (actually lighter than most). I felt right at home on the rig. I recall telling John that I felt like I was riding a hard tail race bike that just happen to have really wide tires. I could start to talk about head tube angles and geometry specs, but I'd be making it all up. Truth be told I don't really understand all that stuff, that's why when I'm hanging out with my Salsa friends like Pete, Joe, Sean, and Tim I do a lot of nodding, smiling, and profuse amounts of agreeing. I guess I "feel" bikes, I don't always know what I'm feeling, but I know if I like it or not and I liked this.

I met John last year in Spearfish, SD and we hit it off right away. We agreed to get in touch whenever we were near each other's home as bike riders often do. This was a good thing, because John is the type of guy you can hop on a bike with and find yourself riding all day. Twenty minutes into our casual ride down the beach I wished it could have been all day. We laughed as John timed the waves in an effort to get around logs and I mistimed them soaking my feet. I wondered if he questioned my sponsorship with Salsa as I dabbed over and over again in the loose sand while he cleaned the same sections without breaking conversation. I could see that John has spent a fair amount of time on a bicycle.

We stopped at the end of the "point" for our version of a photo shoot, secretly hoping Miker would use one of our shots on the Salsa site. Once John disclosed that he wasn't as good of a photographer as Mike Riemer or Jason Boucher I admitted that my photog skills consist of pushing the button on the camera constantly and hoping that I get lucky.

I told John that if we had all day I would be sure to send him home with a permanent smile on his face, but we only had about an hour and a half. Thing is, when I jumped back on my Warbird, shook his hand and rode away we were both smiling.

Thanks John, it was a great day on a great bike!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Prepping for Vapor Trail, Self Loathing, and Sasquatch

Somewhere north of Duluth, Mn
Maybe I'm on to something here. Completing the always difficult Sasquatch Loop each season feels like a good thing, not while I'm doing it, but when I'm done. I've done the infamous loop in all seasons now and to be honest, some of them have gone better than others. Obviously, the worst was the very first time I did it in the winter and it took me nearly 12 hours to complete as I battled snow squall after snow squall. I was certain the "summer tour" would be a breeze. I was wrong, and the word "breeze" would come to be a central theme on the day.

In order to avoid serious  alone time I sent out about 15 invites for the ride, but previous commitments left me with no takers. Fine! Riding alone can be good practice in keeping the demons down. As it turns out, I never really was alone, the demons were with me the whole time. Coming into the ride with 12 fairly intense hours on my legs may not have been a good idea, but one cannot always wait for everything to feel "fresh" before going on a long ride. Not to mention the Vapor Trail 125 is coming fast and I'm on the roster! I need some solid training weeks and I need them now. The Vapor is arguably one of the most difficult mountain bike races in the country and in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a little nervous.
Just a taste of gravel.
5:00 a.m. "What's that noise? It's the alarm! Really? Am I going to do this? Just shut up and do it! Man, my lower back hurts from diving for that softball at work the other day. It'll loosen up." Once out on the ride I was taking note of the cold temps, realizing that summer was slipping away. I said "Hi" to all the little animals and spun easy telling myself that my legs would warm up soon, then I would kick up the pace a bit. I started to wonder if it was the cooler temperatures as 3 hours into the ride I still felt pretty flat, but the good news was that I was pushing into a headwind early which would certainly mean that I'd reap Mother Nature's rewards later as the loop started me on my way home down the shore of Lake Superior. It was then that I'd make up for these slower miles and I was sure my legs would be under me by then.

I slogged my way over the "crossing", the most northerly portion of the course. This portion of the route crosses over the Laurentian Divide and eventually shows you Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains. You can see a glimpse of the Sawtooths in the image above. They're not Colorado mountains, but they're ours.

Signs for Beaver Bay, Minnesota let me know that soon I'd be on the final leg and by this time it was clear that my legs weren't going to come around, but maybe the wind would. After hanging a right hander into Beaver Bay I immediately checked the flags for their direction. "NO!" They were pointing right at me and snapping hard. "How could this be? Is it some kind of conspiracy against me?" There was no other way to deal with it other than to just deal with it. I nosed into the wind and started grinding out the 51 miles to Duluth. Soon the word "Shelled" began to float around in my mind. Maybe it's because I was by myself I wondered or maybe it was the hard early week hours or maybe it's just a freakin' hard loop.

There was one goal that was met on the day that I'm proud of though. It was this: I NEVER STOPPED ONCE! The only time my wheels stopped moving was when I stopped in my driveway. I rode 144 miles, 8 hours and 38 minutes without stopping. And, YES all nature breaks were taken on the FLY. That's another blog article.

A recovery drink, short nap, some pizza and Amy and I were over to my parents house to relax with my sister and bro-in-law who are up from Omaha. It was a good ending to a hard day. A quote from my Mom, "You don't even look that tired". If she only knew, if she only knew...

P.S. The Warbird is a GREAT ALL DAY bike!