Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mountain or Road?

As time goes on and friends are made in the cycling community, I am often asked if I am a Roadie or a Mountain Biker. Before I answer, let me give a bit of background first. I was a BMX grommet in grade school, doing the flatland tricks and riding ramp. Not very good at either I might add, but I burned time daily on two wheels for a number of years. Miles were put on the singlespeed 20" bike. The Redline RL-20 and Haro Master were my favorite bikes. Day and Night I toiled on them until I got my drivers license, and like most high school kids, that ended my biking days.

In college, U of M - Duluth, I bought a Bridgestone MB-3 mountain bike to use as a ride to class, but really never did. I entered a race with a friend named Sven on Hawk's Ridge and got my butt handed to me. I never really wanted to race at this point, it was just something to do one day. Occasionally I would take that steel beauty out on the trail, but it was a rare event.

After graduating, my brother started to get into mountain biking a bit more, and he and I decided to upgrade to the new full-suspension mountain bikes that were out on the market now. Enter the Pro-Flex 856 (I think that number is right?). This bike gave me a new interest in mountain biking as a more worthy past-time. However, my small town was over an hour away from good mountain biking trails which limited biking to a few weekends a summer. The Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival was one hour away, so it was a race/goal to enter and finish the smaller race called the Short and Fat.

Still, mountain biking did not capture much of my attention, even as my brother became quite involved, racing quite a bit in the WORS series. I could not get past the fact that I needed to drive one hour to ride good trails. Riding for two hours would take 4 hours out of the day at a minimum. In 2002, my son was born and this meant even less time. As my brother continued to get more serious about mountain biking, I actually bought a Harley Davidson in late 2003 to ride to work, or go on little rides right from the house without taking too much time away from the family.

That same year brought another impulse purchase. The Trek 2200 Road Bike. Road riding ignited the pure desire that was lost in me somewhere. I could leave from my door and ride for an hour or two, halving the time of mountain biking on nice trails. By this time I had upgraded again to my Tomac Eli, full suspension mountain bike, keeping the Pro-Flex because it was so outdated it would not bring much money. I experimented with both road and mountain bike racing a bit more. Trying some one of the WORS series events and a couple road races in the WISPORT series. Road riding and racing was certainly fun, and much easier to train for. Ironically, as the cycling industry started to pull me back in, my brother started to fade out of it.

Despite the addition to my family with a daughter in 2003, riding became more frequent. My first road race was the Firehouse 50. It reduced me to the unconditioned amateur cyclist that I was. But for some reason I wanted more. New friends were met with the same intentions and it was all over. I was hooked.

Over the next four years, I have treated road and mountain biking equally. Road riding provides excellent opportunities, more convenient training and group rides with friends on a consistent basis. It was not until this last month that I realized which type of biker I was. While determining my schedule for the season, I realized that the 24 Hours of 9 Mile was the same weekend of the Firehouse 50. Having finished in 22nd place last year in the Firehouse, I wanted to better my finish and/or be a domestique for a friend going for the 60 year old record. But the 24-9 took top honors. The chance to ride mountain bike for 24 hours straight and put myself through ultimate suffering again made my decision easy. If you cut through all the BS, I was a mountain biker if given the chance. I may put three times the miles on a road bike, but I prefer to ride the single track trails in Northern Wisconsin.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Cold Wet Desert

A lengthy blog covering many days.

Thursday, February 14th.
Up at 5am and off to Phoenix. Of course there was a weather advisory for the (normally) two hour drive to the airport. I actually felt all four wheels drift in the Nissan Titan this morning on an overpass. About ten cars apparently did not realize that black ice was covering the roads and ended up in the ditch. I love the Upper Midwest!

The forecast for Oracle, AZ was a mixed bag leading to last minute changes in the suitcase. Snow as far down as 3000 ft, rain and cold for Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday are supposed to clear and warm up. Let’s hope so because night laps at 35 degrees and rain/snow is just a bit frustrating. I can get that at home.

Saying goodbye to my family on Valentine’s Day is not fun. My son is feeling better and actually went to school today, just for the Valentines Party. Hopefully he will give cross-country skiing a try after school to get ready for the Barnebirkie. My daughter is supposedly good at skiing, practicing at her school, but I have not seen her do it and so I always tell her that I don’t believe she can ski, just to make her want to prove how good she is. When I get back, I will be ringing the cowbell and cheering them on.

If all goes well, we should be able to set up camp at 24 Town around sundown. I meet Scope in Phoenix and we get shuttled to pick up the RV. Then it is off to pick up the Superfly, buy groceries, drive two more hours to the race site and set up camp. Busy day!
Scope arrived just before me and was waiting at baggage claim. It was good to see one of my best friends, Uncle Scope as my kids call him. This blog is no place for a detailed explanation of my history with Scope, but as a high school classmate, college roommate and close friend, let's just say there is history there. The same can be said for Uke, who we should meet tomorrow afternoon. The three of us are not often together anymore as work and life has separated us, but I am looking forward to the three amigos being together again.
Off we go in a shuttle to pick up the RV. Our driver was nice enough to swing by the UPS Store allowing me to get the Superfly before arriving at the RV pick up point. The RV was truly a welcomed site that would serve us well. The sun was shining and we were off to the race site. Peoria to Phoenix to Coolidge to Florence to Oracle. We stopped at a Wal-Mart Supercenter to buy groceries and beer before hitting the long chattering road into the race site. It seemed that 24 Town was just around the next corner for around 20 minutes before we finally arrived. Finding a level site to put the RV was difficult in the dark but Scope found a suitable spot and camp was made.
A late dinner, a few beers and we immediately opened the bike boxes and got to work. It didn't take long to have them ready for a nice ride in the morning after breakfast. Unfortunately that never happened. Clear skies changed to grey and the predicted rain started to fall. It was quite heavy at times making us think that the rocks we used to prop up one wheel might wash out. Fortunately we were too tired to care.
Friday, February 15th.

The morning brought little change. No, I take that back. The rain changed to heavy wet snow which actually started to accumulate. This was not the desert that I expected, or experienced in 2006. All day it fell, changing back to rain later in the day. As Uke and Clay arrived, we heard reports of the road being quite challenging for some vehicles, others even turning back. This news was not met well considering our time frame to exit the venue once it was over. Our exit road (No Tubes Rd.) was turned into a sloppy mud bog because of traffic, rain and snow. Even worse was a truck pulling a travel trailer that was stuck in the puddle for about ten minutes, making any chance of getting an RV out very slim indeed. So much for treading lightly.
The idea of getting in two pre-ride laps was ambitious, and based on better weather. Getting my warm clothes sweaty on the inside and full of wet mud on the outside didn't seem like a good idea. Even worse, the weather had taken all the desire to ride out of us. So we decided to eat and drink well. The weather was unrelenting all evening as well. The firepit outside the RV door was where most of the team gathered and drank beer, but I saw no reason to exit the camper that was warm and dry. As the sun went down, we all watched 24 Solo in an effort to get excited to ride.
Saturday, Race Day

Temps made it down to about 30 degrees that night. 45 degrees warmer than home, but of little conciliation. Morning showed signs of eventually clearing and by the Captain's Meeting the sky was actually breaking up. Clay nominated himself for the Le Mans style start, a 400 meter dash to his bike with a few hundred others. I would follow Clay, then Scope and Uke would be clean up. It always seems like a long time until your turn to ride when you think about it, but when you are actually IN rotation, there is a lot to do. My turn would happen at lunch time, so I needed to put a little something in my stomach. Then mix up bottles of Hammer Heed for the lap, check the tire pressure and decide the proper attire for a quickly warming day. The sun was out now, doing its part to dry the earth. Nice.

The exchange tent was a zoo. Riders waiting for their team numbers to be called, then rushing up to the officials to exchange the baton and get out the other side of the tent to the bike. As I started the lap, I quickly remembered the course from 2006. It was fast and smooth even though it was a bit damp. Not muddy, few puddles and a bit of soft clay-like sections that slowed my momentum. For a midwestern guy, it is always interesting to see bits of Cholla cactus laying in the middle of the trail. I would assume running over it would cause a flat, but then I don't know how sturdy the spikes are. I always take evasive action when I see them, but just trying to avoid them can divert your attention just enough to cause disaster. The course is lined with all types of Cacti, reaching out at your shoes, knees and elbows as you weave the singletrack. It is quite exciting.

I felt good about a 1:20 lap time since the fastest lap was 1 hour, nine seconds. It was somewhat depressing doing the math and realizing that my next lap would be in the dark cold night. As excited as I was to ride at night, one day lap was not enough to start things out. As our rotation progressed, Scope finally got to ride in the desert. All I could communicate to him in the exchange tent was "watch out for cactus". The temperatures started to fall early and getting food in your stomach at odd times when you are cold is not easy.

Uke and Clay continued the rotation and it was my turn soon enough. Seeing the course under the power of Light & Motion was beautiful and a bit more dangerous. I had a few twitches in the left leg that I was able to hold off. It prompted me to drink more during the ride which is easy to forget about when it is cold. The clothing choice was typically me, more than I needed, but I like being warm so fluids needed to be replaced. The second lap was a bit slower at 1:25.
As the night progressed and sleep deprivation set in, our excitement dwindled. Temps got down to 28 degrees by my watch, Clay's knee started to swell, and it was increasingly difficult to get out of bed for rotation. Clay decided he would try his turn, ignoring the advice of his teammates. Remember, this is for fun. A blown knee could mean that earning a living after the race is more difficult. He took Uke's bike (full suspension) for a more plush ride and ended up blowing two tires, and losing a light battery. Half way out, he abandoned the lap and walked back in. That must have been a cold dark walk Clay. Two hours after he left he made it back to the RV. The Two-way radios that I brought had failed miserably for unknown reasons, so there was little need to wait in the exchange tent for unspecified periods of time. Abandonment in a 24 hour race lap is not exactly kosher, but the officials said the time would have to be added to my lap, which I knew.
1:29 minutes later I had completed the most enjoyable lap ever. Just before sunrise, the mountain range was back lit by the sun showing a beautiful skyline, stars and a warm glow in the coldest part of the day. 24 Town was coming alive and the sound of music caught my ear at the His/Her Trail. By the time I got to the Highpoint Singletrack I could turn off my lights and put the hammer down knowing it would be my last lap. Scope was not in the exchange tent, somewhat expected, and I found him in the RV sleeping. He was beat, but I knew he would regret not getting to do the sunrise ride. Twenty minutes later he was on the trail. When he returned, he was smiling again. Uke would ride the last lap while Scope and I packed the bikes for the return trip. The sun was out, the weather was unbelievable, and we were leaving.

Getting the RV out turned out to be easy. One moved car and we took a different camp road out to avoid the mud puddle. Willow Springs Road was tore up, but dry. Large potholes and chatter ruts shook the RV to its core. We made it to our drop off point in time, slept like stones in the La Quinta hotel and had breakfast in the Sky Harbor Airport at Starbucks. Finally walking in the door at 7pm on Sunday, February 18th. Straight to bed. Team 3 O'clock Shadow: 11 laps, 168 miles.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Guarded Excitement

Three days from now I will be sitting in an RV with my buddy Scope, hopefully watching some biking videos, sipping a beer. Perhaps I will be out on the trail for a practice night lap. That would be nice. The sunset behind the race site is quite spectacular.

There is reason to be guarded however. Saturday night my 5 year old son showed signs of another cold. Even though he was just getting healthy, as was the rest of the family, parents will appreciate the sheer number of illnesses in one school season. So tonight as I watch him suffer with a fever I am certainly conflicted. I want to help him in any way I can, but I also would like to be healthy for the coming trip.

It makes me think of the well chosen name for my solo entry to the 24 Hours of Nine Mile last July, Kharma's Bitch. If sickness is going to happen, then it will. Sure, I'll take the necessary precautions to guard against it, but asking my boy to contain his illness and wash his hands frequently is a losing battle.

I look forward to the Old Pueblo trail lined with cactus, breathing the dust of the desert and maybe "bikenelson style hydration". Boddington's has been a part of my training table for years.

Looking back at the photos from 2006 reminds me of getting passed by Tinker Juarez in the middle of the night, Uke and I trying to sleep with a head full of adrenalin, the allen wrenches as tent stakes and a sinus infection obtained just before I arrived at the race.

In 2006 there were four of us, until Clay's wife gave birth weeks early. That left the three you see here. John, Uke and I. This year Clay is put back on the roster, but John is out, replaced by Scope. If you don't know Scope, you will in the coming entries.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bike Packing 101

Don't get confused by the title, I am not an expert at packing bikes. After researching bike boxes and cases on the internet, I realized that all the materials used to make a great box were in plentiful supply at work. After a quick sketch, and gathering of supplies, I went to work making the cardboard box. My friend Howie helped me cover it in black vinyl, heat welding seams and affixing velcro to close the flaps. With some scrap aluminum angle I created a base structure and put masonite into the aluminum frame. Another addition was a quick release fork mount that Scope left at my house years ago. A little adhesive, foam and some handles and it was complete.

It had been decided that the new Gary Fisher Superfly would be the ride of choice for the upcoming 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. Having bought it around Xmas time, it's presence was haunting me, literally calling my name every time I passed by it. Yesterday it made its first voyage via UPS in a box I designed, making me a bit nervous. I hope it travels well! It would be difficult to justify the expense of this trip if anything happens to the bike in transit. Insurance, you bet! Tape, oh yeah! Straps too. Stickers all over it: Fragile, This End Up, Do Not Stack. Fingers Crossed? Check!

Experienced packers would argue the helmet, shoes and containers of nutritional powder just laying in the bottom. These items were later packed in foam and secured so I don't unpack a bike covered in Hammer Products. I have read that shoes and helmet should travel with me, not the bike, but think about it, if the bike doesn't make it, I am not going to rent or ride a friends bike, I am going to be at UPS making someones day!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

First Blood

As an amateur cyclist, they tell you to keep a diary or record of your training, racing an whatnot. Having put it off for the past three seasons, I decided that this year would be different. However, instead of a diary that no one would be able to read, I decided to chronicle the 2008 season with a blog. Hopefully this would allow my friends and family to see what it is I have an addiction to and anyone else that might give a damn. Maybe it won't work out and I will be the worst blogger on the planet. Maybe I will crash out for the season next week in Arizona. Then again, maybe it will all go according to plan.

The sun is starting to stay longer in the sky, meaning that the snow will soon be melting and the days will soon be warming, despite the prediction for a deep freeze this weekend. Roads will soon be free of ice and willing to accept the thin rubber tires of my bike. It could be considered the beginning of the outdoor riding season, but living in the northwoods as I do, steps have been taken to secure a 70 degree windless day 365 days a year. The RealAxiom trainer I use has given me solid results over the past two winters and I am hoping this spring will again show the fruits of my labor.

I will never be the in a Grand Tour or the Mountain Bike World Championship, but there is a relief in knowing that. I can just settle in and have fun with my friends without giving up time with my wife and children and the other things I enjoy doing. "What were they again?"

For now I will see what this blog looks like and add to it as I prepare for the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. A race with old friends, cactus, cattle and cold beer. We won't win, but I challenge anyone to have more fun than us.