Rebecca's Private Idaho 2015

Ok.....quick write-up on RPI while I finish up my long ass post on Trans North Georgia (TNGA).

This past spring while we were in Kansas racing the Dirty Kanza somewhere on the drive home Wendi proclaimed she wanted to go to Idaho this fall and race Rebecca's Private Idaho.  Yes......I said race.  Wendi does not race so you can imagine my initial surprise.  What did not surprise me, however, is her draw to attend a race organized by someone whom she admires and respects immensely.

I was in Vegas (not my favorite place in the world) the week prior to the race so Wendi and I rendezvoused in Salt Lake City on Thursday evening and flew up to Sun Valley together.  We arrived in the tiny but nice airport around 10pm, grabbed our rental and headed to the AirBNB condo we rented just outside the city of Ketchum, ID.  Driving into the sleepy little alpine village at night, we had no idea the views that awaited us in the morning.  We unpacked and went straight to bed agreeing to not set an alarm and sleep in.

The next morning we woke up, cleaned up and headed into town for breakfast.  Taking that first step outside breathing in crisp air and seeing the nearly panoramic mountain views was way more than we expected.  Driving into downtown Ketchum reminded me of a smaller version of a Summit County ski town.  Nice shops, laid back atmosphere.  We stopped in at a little cafe with a patio named Java on 4th and had a great breakfast. After breakfast, we walked around town a bit and made our way to a local bike/ski shop where we shipped our bikes,  Sturtevants.  I normally only trust myself to put our bikes together, but for some reason I took a chance on these guys.  We were blown away by their service.  Both bikes put together problems and super friendly.

Awesome views
At the shop we changed into biking clothes and headed out for a quick pre-ride on the course heading towards the Creek Trail climb.  This was the really tough climb heading northeast out of town on Sun Valley Road.  The first 8 miles or so are on asphalt and the grade was pretty shallow with a few reliefs.  The next mile is where it kicks up to about a 6% grade and then leads onto gravel for the final three miles to the summit of the climb.  For pre-ride, we only went about halfway up the climb just to get a feel for the gravel.  The composition was pretty tight, mature gravel with minimal chunks.  On the way back down we picked up on a lot of washboard while peering over the edge of what looked like a near sheer cliffside.  Don't make a mistake.

On the descent I ran into a guy named Bruce Gustafson who has raced this event a number of times. He was super helpful providing course info and was also at Kanza this past year.  We had a nice non-stop chat most of the way back into town.  Endurance racers are definitely a small tribe.

Singletrack discovered!
After getting back to town, we loaded Wendi's bike up in the rental and I hopped back on the bike for the short three mile ride back to the condo.  We cleaned up and headed back into town to grab dinner at Cornerstone Bar & Grill then back to our temporary home for a good night's sleep.

Saturday morning we woke up late and I headed out for a quick spin down Parker Gulch Road, which surprisingly dead-ended at a trailhead.  I rolled out a few miles of singletrack then headed back into town to meet Wendi for breakfast at Java on 4th again.  We sat outside and people watched while we ate. The rest of the day consisted of watching the Wagon Days parade and chilling out in Atkinson Park for packet pickup.  One the way back to the condo we stopped by a local grocery to grab something for dinner and breakfast stuff for race morning.  One more good sleep.

Race morning.  Alarm off at 5am (I think).  Up to make coffee and oatmeal.  Stuck my head outside and then headed back to bed to get warm.  It was really cold outside.  In Mississippi, I have ridden through our relatively mild winters where we may see a few weeks that dip down into the 20s and have gotten my cold weather system pretty dialed.  I have also ridden in quite a few colder areas and climbed some mountains where the temperature swing was pretty drastic.  Neither Wendi nor I packed much in the way of cold weather gear for this, though, considering the forecast looked really nice before heading to Sun Valley.  Needless to say we both grabbed a few things from Sturtevants to supplement our layers.  I picked up a pair of mid-weight full finger gloves, a base layer and a pair of shoe covers.  The key for me was to be able to shed layers as the day warmed up.

Mountains everywhere!
After breakfast, we both dressed out and I packed Wendi's bike into the car.  I rode into town just as the sun was coming up.  The only part that was really cold (and I anticipated it) were the descents.  The first hour or so of the race was all climbing, so I wasn't too worried about this.  Getting to the start early kept me from having to wait in line at all for my timing chip.  The system they were using was a little different from chips I have used in the past.  They were reusable plastic pods which you ziptied to your fork.  In the past I've only use the helmet flag variety or timing that was built into your number plate.  Just near the start was a Starbucks where everyone was congregating, and I waited for Wendi to roll into town.  When she got there, I grabbed her bike out of the rental and made sure she was good to go.  We both headed back to grab some coffee and sat around chatting for a bit before we started to see people head to the starting gate.  I headed to towards the front with the 94 mile group and Wendi headed towards the back with the 56 milers.  Kiss, love you, have fun!

By the time I got over to chute it was already pretty packed so I just found an open spot towards the middle, settled in and tried to stay warm.  Starting temp was around 29F so there was much shivering.  Getting rolling would fix this.  There were announcements at the front which I couldn't really hear.  Probably thanking all the sponsors and doing call-ups.  Within a few minutes we were off!  The roll out of town was pretty slow and escorted.  By the time we were out of town and hitting some of the early slopes, everyone started to find their places.  The first six miles were nice rollers and false flats which gave everyone a good opportunity to get warmed up pretty well.  At this point, fingers were pretty much frozen solid and unusable.  Everything else on my body was feeling really good.

On our pre-ride heading up Trail Creek
You could tell right about when the grade kicked up to the four mile 6% climb.  The strong climbers were surging ahead and the not so strong were falling back.  I felt really good at this point trying to keep my power pretty steady in the 220-240W range.  After the first mile of pavement, it felt really great to get on the gravel for the final three miles of the climb.  After cresting the Trail Creek Summit I blew past the first aid station.  The next 10 or so miles were nice, fast rolling downhill and then a little climb to get up to the second aid station.  I made a quick stop to refill a bottle and was right back on the bike.  The next segment consisted of easy uphill grades where I found a great riding partner named Nigel. We were pretty equally matched, and we shared the work really well making great time into the third aid station around mile 35.  We stopped and refilled bottles, emptied bladders and snacked on some of the provided food.

Nigel and I agreed with a nod to head out after just a few minutes of stoppage.  After hopping back on the bike, I realized there was something wrong.  I couldn't keep his pace and my legs just didn't want to work.  Stomach was starting to cramp and I couldn't close the gap to Nigel, so I waved him on.  Something I ate at that aid station just didn't sit well with my stomach.  The copper basin loop was absolutely beautiful, but I really struggled the rest of the race.  I couldn't really eat or drink anything and just tried to keep moving.  Stopped at each of the aid stations on the way back just grabbing plain water trying to keep my stomach in check.  The final climb back up to the top of the trail creek summit was thankfully much more manageable than the other direction, except for the last mile or so where it pitched up a bit.

Cresting the top of the summit was a mental milestone given my current condition.  I stopped and grabbed a quick drink of water and bombed down the three mile gravel section of the descent.  It was massively washboarded with that near sheer drop on the right side but I just set back and pedaled down, passing a couple of people and cars before spitting out onto the pavement.  One very fast mile of paved descent and then a bit of a slower descent down to the gun club where there was a RedBull arch setup as the official timing finish for the race.  Rebecca had explained at the rider meeting that they did this as to not have a drag race finish coming into town blowing through stop signs.....pretty sensible.  The last few miles into town I pedaled at a pretty good pace as I was ready to get off the bike.....and I am never ready to get off the bike.  Rounded the corner of East Street to see all of the post-ride festivities in full swing.

Million dollar smiles
I quickly found Wendi who had a smile on her face a mile wide.  She had completed her ride and completely blew away her expectations.  I had zero doubts that she would be able to complete a challenge like this and now she felt the same way.  We dropped my bike off at the WD-40 bike wash, enjoyed some food and drink and chatted with other racers.  After the bikes were cleaned up we dropped them off at Sturtevants to have them packed up and set out for FedEx.  Once again....these guys were awesome and took care of us very well.  We headed back to the condo to get cleaned up and packed up, then back to downtown Ketchum to spend a little more time at the after-party.  Afterwards we grabbed a bite to eat at Warfield Distillery and then drove to Boise to catch our flight home the next morning.

Our experience in Ketchum was pretty incredible.  I remember Rusch talking at the riders meetingthat the reason she decided to put this event on a few years ago was to give people the ability to see such an awesome place that she calls home.  Wendi and I are both happy she did and we look forward to coming back next year.

3 days, 2 TNGA test run

Fully loaded with 3L of water
and all food
If you read my previous write-up you'll know that this past weekend I went out on my first solo bikepacking trip.  First and foremost I am thrilled to report that I had ZERO mechanical or major physical problems.  So stoked about this.  I am going to break this down chronologically the best I can.  I did a pretty good job of taking pictures but not such a good job of taking notes through the weekend.

Thursday I spent a good amount of time finishing getting my bike packed up as well as getting bags packed for a quick trip to San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.  Just in case I ran into any problems on the ride home the last day I needed to make sure I was ready to hop on a plane.  On Friday morning I focused on closing out meetings and wrapping up work so I could hit the road for the long ride north.

Little caps on the Rez
I hit the road around 11am for what was bound to be a long relatively boring journey into a northern headwind.  Remember that the goal of this trip was to get some long days in the saddle and test everything in the kit.  The terrain was not paramount.  The entire ride was essentially on two different two lane highways.  The first was the Natchez Trace Parkway which is a historical roadway.  Pretty decent road surfaces, fairly low traffic and a strictly enforced speed limit.  There were a couple of perfectly placed rest areas which had water fountains I refilled at.  Most of the ride up the Trace is pretty exposed which meant the sun was beating down pretty hard and there was no protection from the constant 10-15 mph headwind.  The entire day I pretty much felt like my legs were empty and this was validated by my power output.  Normally on a steady state ride like this I have no problem maintaining 210-230 watts but today I had a really tough time staying about 160 watts.  If I am not doing something very structured like intervals I rarely look at power output but today proved it as a useful tool to confirm what I was feeling against objective numbers.

The second leg of the ride was on MS-12 which is another small state highway.  The nice thing about this road is that it offered a little more feature in the way of neverending rollers whereas the Trace was more or less pancake flat.  A few miles in I stopped in a small town named Ethel where I found a dirty little general store that had cold drinks and ice cream sandwiches.  Like a lot of other cyclists I really do not drink sodas on a regular basis but I was having the coca cola cravings.....and ice cream, I had an ice cream sandwich too.  Back on the road.  Miles started ticking by a little quicker with the rolling terrain but the headwind was still there.  Power output was still stuck and I was very happy to see the "Ackerman Corp Limits" sign.  Job one was to find something to eat.  I wasn't terribly hungry but I knew I needed to replace some calories before I got to camp.  I was really craving a chocolate malt from Sonic but it turned out this little town did not have one.  They did, however, have a similar chain called "Bumpers".  I had never heard of it but it looked like a complete rip-off all the way to the menu design.  The only thing missing was a chocolate malt.  I ordered a two hamburger, two tater tots and two drink combo and found a little shaded spot to sit on the side of the building.  Order came out quickly and I scarfed one of the burgers and tots.  Before the carhop swiped my card I asked her to put a vanilla cone on my tab.  Once I was settled up I refilled bladders and bottles and stashed the second burger and tots under the pouch on my seat bag.

Great view at sunset
It was a pretty quick and familiar ride from Ackerman to the campground at Choctaw Lake.  I had raced the trails there the past two years for the Skool of Hard Nox 50 miler.  I think these trails are probably some of the most technical and well maintained in our state and I always look forward to riding them.  Once in the campground I cruised around for a while trying to decide where I was going to setup and if I was going to pay or stealth camp somewhere on the trail.  After thinking about it for a while I decided to grab a campsite near a bath house so I could take a quick shower and get down for bed.  After getting cleaned up I hung all of my rinsed clothes over my bike to dry and setup my sleep kit.

More comfortable than it looks
For my first bivy I had decided on the Mountain Laurel Ultralight.  It seemed to get pretty good reviews for breathability and minimal weight.  The first time I used it was a quick overnight in the backyard a few months ago and found that down to 65F I didn't need a bag to stay warm.  The first sleeping mat I tried was a Thermarest NeoAir and I found that is was just too big, too hot and too way too much effort to inflate.  I imagined trying to blow the thing up after a long day in the saddle and decided to return it.  The next mat I grabbed was the Klymit Intertia X-Lite.  After trying the Thermarest I found that I really didn't need support below the hips so I figured I would give a half mat a shot.  The Klymit looks pretty extreme and was very happy that it was a third of the price and almost half the weight of the Thermarest as well as packing up very small.  I also picked up their little inflatable pillow which I still am not sure I'm in love with but it was only $20 and packs to the size of a lighter.

After the above all setup I put devices on charge for the night, choked down my second (now smooshed) hamburger & tots and slammed a serving of a powdered recovery drink.  Crawled into the bivy and tried to get some shuteye.  I tossed and turned and just couldn't get to sleep.  It wasn't really due to comfort but more because I was amped up a bit.  After really hard efforts or long days in the saddle I have found that it sometimes takes me hours to fall asleep.  I am also starting to think this may be due in part to the massive amounts of caffeinated Tailwind I drink on a day like this so I think I may tried the uncaffeinated version for TNGA and supplement my addition with cokes, coffee and 5 hour energy as needed.  Around midnight I finally fell asleep and was out until woken by chirping birds and sunshine leaking through my bivy.  I absolutely love waking up outside.

Breakfast (minus sardines)
Tearing down my sleep kit was just as quick and simple as it was putting it up.  Less than 5 minutes and everything was deflated, back in a single stuff sack and jammed back into my seat bag.  Next order of business was getting some coffee and food in my belly.  Being someone who really enjoys coffee this was one of the most difficult items to reconcile for the idea of bikepacking races.  In research I started down the path of a jetboil system with a french press plunger, then to a small alcohol stove and Ti mug to heat some water for instant Starbucks Via and finally accepted the reality that these options were just too bulky and heavy for a 3 day race.  Two Via packets in a bottle with cold water ended up working just fine.  It didn't really satisfy the enjoyment factor I like about the coffee ritual but it did deliver a good dose of caffeine.  This also paired nicely with a can of sardines in olive oil and a belgian waffle.  I really doesn't sound like much but the richness of the canned fish and oils satisfied my stomach while the waffle gave me a little instant fuel to kickstart the day.  Talking to my friend Jas a couple of days after this I realized that there are two kinds of canned meat people......sardines and SPAM.  You are most likely one or the other.

The Nox!
After eating I threw on my kit which was about 90% dry just as Wendi was pulling into the park.  She was really excited to ride the trails here at Noxubee.  She has been here many time to support me for races but had never put tires on the dirt.  As soon I finished packing up our friends Louis and Alison Harkey pulled into the lot.  We chatted for a bit, everyone got geared up and we headed over to the trailhead to take a look at the map.  I went over the loop with everyone and showed them what the different blazes meant and we were on our way.  The trails were in really great shape and my legs were feeling much stronger today compared to the headwind effort the day before on the ride up.  The Noxubee trail system is a really well built and well maintained network that has equal parts fast downhill, technical twists and challenging climbs.  All in all we rode about 25 miles on singletrack in about 4 hours or so.

Once we got back to the trailhead parking lot we said our goodbyes to the Harkey's as they were making their way up to Memphis for a wedding.  Wendi and I decided to grab a bite to eat in Ackerman before I started my 100 mile journey down to Roosevelt State Park.  I didn't really process this until well after the fact but she immediately offered for me to ride there while she drove.  My wife is so supportive of what I do to the point of knowing that I would much rather ride that drive.  Not knowing what was available in the booming metropolis of Ackerman I suggested we just go to the same drive-in I went to the previous day.  I placed my order with Wendi and we both hit the road.  It was a pretty quick spin north to the city and by the time I arrived my food was already there.  Same routine as a burger and tots and pack the second pair for the road.  We had a really good conversation over lunch talking about the day of riding, how I was feeling and how well I thought she did on the new trails today.  I topped off water and hit the road.

Lotsa ice for a hot day
The wind from the day before was still out there but today it was at my back.  Overall today my legs felt like they had much more depth that the day before.  I had no problem maintaining 200-240 watts on road sections which was fairly typical for me.  Ackerman to Louisville on MS15 ticked by pretty quick and I stopped at a gas station to grab some water and a big cup of ice.  When doing really big rides on hot days it is always fun to talk to random people in gas stations.  While I was checking out and talking to the cashiers about the ride I was doing from Choctaw to Roosevelt they genuinely seemed amazed.  I didn't realize there were another 3 or 4 people behind me listening to my story.  They all chimed in with either words of amazement or stories remembering one of the parks or how they used to ride bikes.  It's little times like this where I realized that people are generally good.  I put most of the ice in my bladder to cool it down and ate the rest of it.  I was starting to realize how hot it really was out there.  95 fahrenheit and about 95 percent humidity.  Neither of which really bother me much unless I stop for an extended period of time.

Smokes and Cokes
Back on the road I stopped in Noxapater and Philadelphia for water.  By that last stop the sun was making its way behind the trees and the temps were finally starting to drop a bit.  I knew that after getting off of MS15 and onto MS485 south of Philadelphia there weren't any more big towns for about 50 miles until I made it into Morton.  Little town after little town rolled by.  Legs were feeling great taking in the never ending easy rollers down ribbons of asphalt.  A little town called Sebastopol came along around mile 92 where it looks like everything had shut down for the night with the exception of what you'd think of as typical discount tobacco shop.  I popped my head in and asked the girl working if they had anything cold to drink and she welcomed me right in.  Couple of waters, a coke and a snickers bar.  I sat down outside and shoved this down, packed up the water and got back on the road.

Gravel Sunset
Shadows were starting to get longer as my route took me off of state highways and onto some really nice old country roads and even onto some nice stretches of gravel.  It was definitely a change of pace from the monotony of the asphalt.  Somewhere along the way I took a pitstop to swap clear lenses into my glasses and pop my helmet light on before I lost sunlight.  Gravel roads fed into Harperville and then into Hillsboro as the sun disappeared from the sky.  After Hillsboro I knew that I would be getting into the Bienville National Forest for the rest of the ride to Roosevelt State Park where there are no services and more or less only wilderness and low maintenance country roads.

Flying down dark gravel roads
Cooking down Hodges Lane lit only by the torch on my head and dynamo powered light on my bars a sinking feeling came over me when the asphalt abruptly turned to grass.  I came to a stop and took a look around.  It appeared as though the road at one time passed through here but had either become abandoned and was now flanked by two long commercial chicken houses.  If it were daylight I may have scouted through the private land to see if the road hooked back up but I decided that this probably wasn't the best idea a night in the middle of nowhere.  I pulled out my phone and started looking for some alternate routes.  New course laid in I backtracked and made my way down unplanned roads.  This made me a little nervous but ultimately pretty confident that I could find my way around obstacles or impassible roads if need be.  After travelling down some very narrow and fun gravel roads I finally made it back on course to Sparksville Road.  Along this road I would occasionally notice forest service roads with Bienville signage.  This made me feel pretty good that I was on the right route and that I wouldn't hit another dead end.  That thought was still lingering in the back of my mind and I had decided that if I ran into one more closed or abandoned road that I would just setup camp on the side of the road for the night.

Made it!
Before I knew it the lights of the city of Morton were glowing in the sky.  Very close to the park now.  The course I had made took me on a pretty urban route through the city getting chased a number of times by dogs protecting their turf but finally made it through the city and out the other side to the entrance of Roosevelt State Park.  I pulled in took a look at the empty guard shack when a ranger pulled up and asked if she could help me.  Told her I was just looking for a site for the night and she directed me to one that was right next to a bath house.  I nearly repeated verbatim my routine from the previous night eating my second burger & tots, taking a quick shower cleaning my kit, setting up camp and tucking in for the night.  Tonight I had a much easier time falling asleep likely from the long days starting to catch up with me.

Awesome way to wake up
The next morning I was once again awoken by the sound of chirping birds and the glow of sunlight coming through my bivy.  I love waking up outdoors this way.  Got out of bed and walked down to the lake to eat breakfast and drink cold coffee.  Slipped on my kit which was now starting to stink a bit, broke camp, packed up and hit the road.  The ride back into Jackson was pretty mellow at only about 38 miles with good rollers through Pelahatchie and Brandon.  Before I knew it I was in familiar territory passing by the airport and eventually getting dumped into downtown.  Coming through the door at home I was feeling great and was greeted by a much more hearty second breakfast from Wendi.  We chatted about the weekend and how I was feeling.  What worked, what didn't, what I could improve.  After eating I got cleaned up and took a little nap.  When I woke up we took the boys to lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant and then they dropped me off at the airport for my quick trip to San Francisco.

All in all it was an awesome weekend of riding.  Another great building block preparing me for TNGA in just a few short weeks.  Between now and then my training volume really starts to decrease and I'll spend a lot more time stretching and working on core strength.  I setup a call with Lynda Wallenfels this week to talk through how I am feeling and race strategy.  Those calls always help me remove any questions or concerns I may have with my self-developed strategy.

Right now I am writing these words on Tuesday night after getting back home from San Francisco.  Body is feeling pretty good.  Legs are a little tight but pretty normal after a hard weekend like I had.  My pinky and ring finger are still a little numb and I noticed a little numbness in both of my calves yesterday but that has pretty much subsided.  Have a massage schedule for this week to work out any tight spots.  There are really very few things I am going to change after this weekend.  I'll probably go through everything in my kit and eliminate tiny little things that I could do without for a three day race.  I have a pretty good week-before-a-race list that I have followed this year that has served me well.  Ready to get this show on the road!

Ride on.

Prequel to First Solo Bikepacking Trip

In a little over three weeks I will be departing on what I guess I would call the grand finale to my 2015 racing season.  This will mark the 6th year of the Trans North Georgia Adventure race but obviously my first event of this format.  Here is the official description:
The TNGA (Trans North GeorgiA) is a 350 mile mountain bike route through the mountains of North Georgia on trails, forest roads and paved roads featuring challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and over 56,000 feet of climbing.
 I have done a lot of biking and some backpacking over the years but have never put the two together.  In preparing for the TNGA, about a month ago I went up to Mulberry Gap (which is on the route) to get a little primer on how to live on your bike for a few days.  It was an awesome experience which I'll try to find some time to write about.

What I am doing this upcoming weekend will put into practice some of the skills I learned at Mulberry first solo bikepacking trip.  It is going to be a combination of a big weekend of riding (~240 miles), being completely self supported and testing what I actually need to pack.  If you know me well you know that I research the shit out of things before I get into them.  I have talked to a lot of people who have done bikepacking tours and races.  I have read every blog, race report and pack list in existence.  I do not like to feel unprepared.

The route I am riding this weekend is unfortunately going to consist of a lot of flat pavement but a good amount of gravel roads and one of my favorite trail systems in Mississippi.

Friday - Jackson to Noxubee -
Saturday - Noxubee to Roosevelt -
Sunday - Roosevelt to Jackson -

If I have time today I am likely going to modify the long legs to get off of the main roads and onto some country two lane and gravel.  The primary goal of the weekend though is just to get some long days in the saddle and to get comfortable with my kit.

Ok.....onto the bike setup.

  • Niner SIR9 with RDO fork
  • SRAM XX1 drivetrain
  • Shimano XT brakes (These are new.  I suffered on Avid XOs for YEARS!)
  • Nox Teocalli hoops laced to an I9 in the back and a SP dynamo hub in the front
  • Maxxis Ikon 2.35 in the front and a 2.2 in the rear
  • Revelate bags
  • K-Lite lighting (I'll do a full write-up on this later)
In the Revelate Pika seat bag:
  • Gore rain jacket - on the Mulberry Gap trip I found this is also good to sleep in if cold
  • CX tube
  • First aid kit
  • Green bag contains: Mountain Laurel Designs bivy, Klymit sleeping pad and Klymit pillow
  • Thick wool socks for sleeping
  • Massage ball (because my IT bands suxor)
  • Extra pair of riding socks
  • Merino t-shirt (camp clothes)
  • Lined running shorts (camp clothes)
  • Tailwind reloads 

Note that I do not have a sleeping bag listed.  It is going to hotter than hell this weekend so I don't think I will need it.  I have slept in this bivy down to about 60F with no bag and stayed pretty warm wearing a buff on my head, wool socks and my Gore jacket.  I could always pile on arm/knee warmers and wear extra socks on my hands.  Sock puppets are fun.

The top little pocket you may or may not see on the seat bag has my Spot GPS tracker, helmet light and a baggie with cash/coins, Skin Sake packets, bug wipes, ID & credit card.

The Revelate Jerry Can (little red bag under my saddle) has all of my tools in it.  Sorry no pic.....I don't really feel like pulling all of this stuff out.  Use your imagination.

  • 2oz stans
  • Zip ties
  • Tire sew kit (I hope to never have to use this again)
  • Valve core tool
  • Spare valve core
  • Derailleur hanger
  • Multitool
  • 2x CO2
  • CO2 head
  • Patch kit
  • Tire levers
  • Small lube
  • Small pocket knife
  • 2x quick links
  • Small length of chain
The Revelate frame bag is split into three compartments.  The left side is a small pouch kind of pocket where I have a USB battery pack and some misc charging cables, ear buds, etc.  In the top portion of the bag I have a 2.5L MSR Hydromedary bladder with a Sawyer filter inline.  In the front of that section of bag I have room to stash some soft stuff like a little towel, arm warmers, knee warmers and other stuff I might shed during the day.

The bottom portion of the bag is where a bunch of other stuff gets stashed.
  • Extra baggie to keep trash tidy
  • Tailwind reloads for the day (so I don't have to dig into my seat bag)
  • Extra MTB tube
  • 32oz Sawyer bag in case I need to carry some extra water
  • Toiletry bag: toothpaste, toothbrush, flushable wipes, lanacane, sunscreen & noxzema
  • Pump
  • Ti spork with some duct tape wrapped around it
  • Medicine bag: vitamins, ibuprofen, allergy meds, starbucks vias, eye drops & endurolytes
  • Bag o' protein.....tuna fish in oil and sardines

Are you starting to get the idea that I am very type A?  Everything has it's place in it's own baggie not to touch the other thing.

The only other bag is the feedbag behind my stem.  It will have lots of salty stuff in it and some sweet.  Right now some of my on-bike favorites are:  mini payday bars, apple pie lara bars, justin's PB packets, beef jerkey, bags of nuts and homemade oat/almond bars.

The other side of my nutrition story is the sweet liquid type.  Over the past couple of weeks I have been experimenting with how strong of a concentration of Tailwind I could handle and that magic number is 600 calories in a 24oz bottle (that is a LOT of sugar).  For me this should get my by for about three hours.  I'll carry one in my middle jersey pocket to drink off of while riding and a second one in a bottle cage attached to the bottom of my downtube.  In practice last weekend this is enough nutrition to easily get me through a 6 hour ride.  The 2.5L bladder (which will just have plain water in it) is the equivalent of about 3.5 bottles so I will need to top that guy off about every 3 hours or so.  I put a Sawyer Mini inline so I can fill the bladder from ditch water if needed.

So that is it.  Me and a bike for a weekend of adventure.  I am very excited that Wendi and a few other friends will be coming up to the Nox on Saturday morning to ride the trails but I have kindly asked my beautiful wife to not bring me anything in the spirit of staying self supported.  I'll write a post-ride report on my flight to SFO Sunday afternoon.

Ride on!

Flashbacks.......2014 XC was a bust

So I suppose the first place to pick this back up is a little bit of reflection on the 2014 season which I had primarily focused on CAT2 XC success.  The year started really well with some very fun and challenging races like Southern Cross and Tuff Guy which helped me gauge my early season fitness.  These were some of the longest events I had done to date and I was really intrigued by that amount of time in the saddle.  First XC race in Meridian I placed second in C2 30-39 riding a singlespeed since it was a bit muddy.  A few weeks later Wendi and I went to a skills clinic in Birmingham where I bruised some ribs pretty bad on the last day which caused me to bail out on the Ouachita Challenge and instead focus on moving from Baton Rouge to Jackson.
Shut up knee!

Got back on program within about a week, raced the Mt Zion XC race in Brookhaven placing 4th.  Also did my first road century which was a pretty good time with a nice group of guys.  Shortly after this I started developing some pretty intense knee pains.  I went to an ortho doctor and turns out it was a pretty generic (and common to cycling) patellofemoral pain issue.  Root cause was tight hamstrings and some imbalances in quad muscle groups causing some patella tracking issues.  Recommendations were to do more stretching and work on developing my VMO (teardrop shape muscle on the inside of the quad).  I built up a routine of foam rolling, stretching and strengthening that I started doing at least once a day to try and get over this hurdle.

I win!
Towards the end of May I raced Biloxi and the problem knee was in pretty pretty bad shape the entire day but I powered through it.  I took about a week off the bike focusing on stretching and strengthening.  Getting into the summer I started riding completely off plan and just focused on having fun, riding smart and stretching.  Wendi and I did a good bit of travelling and had the opportunity to ride in Marquette, MI on the NTN trails while up there for my cousin's wedding as well as travel to Utah and ride Gooseberry Mesa (proposed on a awesome overlook) and some awesome downhill trails at Brianhead Resort.

After getting back from the west I raced the School of Hard Nox 50 miler in Ackerman, MS for the second year in a row.  This year it was an absolute mud fest but I really enjoyed it.  This race really started to solidify for me that I enjoyed longer distance races rather than XC sprints.  The rest of the fall was mostly consumed with building up a new CX/gravel bike (more on that in another episode) and racing CX races.

Revolution CX
Through October and November I really started to think about what I wanted to do in 2015.  I had decided that the cross-country format wasn't really where I was the happiest on the bike.  Races were usually extremely high intensity for a short period of time.  There was also the factor of what I call race ROI.  I am going to drive 4 hours round trip to race for an 1.5 hours.....hardly seems worth it to me.  The other aspect of longer races that really appeals to me are the logistics involved.....from more intense training plans to nutrition to strategy.  This is what I really like about longer format races.  In the XC distance you really don't have to factor much in the way of logistics other than training and hydration.

One slow afternoon in November I started piecing together a schedule that would give me good exposure in a couple of different varieties of longer format racing which looked like this:

  • Southern Cross - Feb 21
  • Rouge Roubaix - March 15
  • Cohutta 100 - April 25
  • Dirty Kanza - May 30
  • Trans North Georgia - August 22

Some of these are big races so I knew I had to put a big commitment behind it.  So after talking to my wife and getting her full support I started looking for a coach to help me put a plan behind all of this.  I had used an Edsall plan through TrainingPeaks before so I was good with the software side.  What I really wanted was a coach that had a good amount of endurance racing experience.  I have been a pretty steady listener of Mountain Bike Radio for a number of years and came across a podcast of theirs called "The LW Coaching Show" which was hosted by Lynda Wallenfels.  I listened to all of her episodes including a series that dissected different types of intervals and thought she would be perfect for me.  I emailed her asking for her help and attached my race schedule.  She got back to me the next day with a stacked plan aligned to each of my races and optimized so I would peak for my 'A' races (Cohutta & Kanza).

I would later squeeze in a few other races (Skyway Epic, 12 hours of Iron Maiden & RPI) but this was the core of my schedule for 2015.

Incredible wedding night

The rest of 2014 consisted of base building and wedding planning.  Wendi and I were married on New Years Eve in Kansas City.  A couple of weeks later we went to Argentina for our honeymoon where we did a 6 day biking tour and eating contest.  I'll have to write that one up later.  Somewhere in there I also had the opportunity to travel to Bangkok.....awesome trip!

Anywho.....that is a brief recap of my 2014.  I will probably have a few more of these "flashback" blog entries to significant things that happened in 2014 and the 2015 schedule to date while I write about current things happening with learning how to bikepack.

Knocking the cobwebs off of this thing.....

I have been doing some longer rides lately which has given me a lot of time inside of my own head.  I'd really like to share some of my experiences over this past year and this is probably the best medium.  Since my last post well over a year ago many things have transpired.....
  • Busted 2014 XC season due to overuse and injury which caused me to think really hard about the kind of riding I actually enjoy
  • Learning how to climb - Santa Fe & Bay Area
  • Engaged at Gooseberry last August
  • Built a sweet carbon CX/gravel bike and quickly broke it
  • Raced some fun CX in MS & AL
  • Charted a course for 2015 to include a wide variety of racing
  • Working with a coach and sticking to a plan
  • Wendi and I married on New Years Eve
  • January Patagonia biking honeymoon
  • Lots of hard/smart training through the winter
  • First road race and DNF
  • First 12 hour race
  • First NUE race which was totally rad
  • Skyway awesomeness
  • High on gravel (and mud)
  • Learning how to live on a bike
  • Planning 2016 and beyond
That's a lot of stuff.  My plan is to turn some of those bullets into posts.  For the next month my singular biking focus is training smart and kicking ass at TNGA.

MORCS #3 - Dust n Bones - Brookhaven, MS

Huge turnout!  105 racers.
Photo credit: David Ogletree
Hey's been a while.  Since the last race post in Meridian about a month ago a few things have transpired.  Wendi and I attended a BetterRide clinic in Birmingham at the end of March.  I am slowly writing a comprehensive blog post for the clinic so stay tuned.  We had a great time and learned that we have a long way to go with technical skills.  The last ride of the last day of the clinic I ran out of talent (thanks for the term Sean!) and bruised a rib.  This was really bad timing considering I had been planning on riding the Ouachita Challenge the following weekend.  It also turned out that I was closing on my house and had to move just days before the race.  Needless to say I skipped the OC but I ended up getting a really expensive t-shirt.  Next year.

Example week of training
on Drew's plan
With the sore rib I eased back into getting my base back and got back on plan.  I had a really good experience using Drew Edsall's 8 week off-season base plan so I decided to go with his 12 week CAT2 in-season plan.  It dictates 6 days a week and around 8-10 hours per week which is very similar to the off-season plan.  One cool feature he adds to this plan considering it isn't a custom plan is two sets of workouts per weekend.  One set is for race and the other is for non-race weekends.  The other slight difference between the in-season vs. off-season plan is the off-day switches from Monday to Friday respectively.  I love being on a plan as it gives my rides purpose and structure but it does make social riding with friends a little more challenging.  I need to be more diligent with trying to stick to weekday intervals and still riding with the team.

Spare wheelset with gnarly tires
Ok, ok....on to the race!  The weekend before the race, Wendi,  Jeff Christie and myself headed up to Mt Zion on Saturday morning to get some pre-riding in. The trail was in really good shape and rolling fast. The first lap I rode pretty hard and started figuring out some of the new sections on the north end of the trail.  For the second lap I swapped to my spare wheelset which I mounted a 2.25 Ardent up front and a 2.1 Ignitor in the back. The Meridian race last month taught me that my standard setup of 2.2 Ikons front and rear are really fast but suck on anything other than hardpack or slightly loose over hard.  The Ardent 2.4/Ignitor 2.1 setup on my singlespeed is awesome so I figured I'd do the same.  The verdict is that this provides much better traction but is a whole lot slower due to a heavier wheelset (ArchEX/Hope) and more rolling resistance.  This should be a good compromise for poor conditions.

Had a great week of training rides both on the road and a team trail ride on Wednesday night.  The day before the race Wynne and I headed up to Zion early in the AM to get an easy lap in.  Kept the heartrate low and tried to find the flow. Legs felt great and bike was pretty dialed.

Let's get this thing rolling
Photo credit: Paula Polk
Woke up early on Sunday, ate some oatmeal and yogurt and hit the road.  Got to the race about an hour early, kitted up and made the rounds to spend time with friends.  Instead of spending a lot of time trying to get my cardio warmed up I instead spent most of my pre-race time working out technical skills to warm up the brain.  In cross-country races, we'll typically be called to line up for the start and then sit there for 30-45 minutes waiting on race organizers to get situated and for CAT1 guys to get off the line.  For this reason I really don't think there is a lot of benefit to getting warmed up really well. We had a pretty good size group of 9 guys in CAT2 30-39 at the line, including some fresh faces that made it down from Memphis. Shane Easterling was clearly going to be the wheel to hold considering this was his home trail.

Pretty sure this is where I was getting
run down on the second lap
We bolted off the line and I filed in 4th behind Raland.  Shane was up front and set a blistering first lap pace that we all killed ourselves to try and match.  I finished the first lap in 3rd but didn't have the race leaders in sight. After completely blowing up in the first lap trying to keep up, I really struggled in the second lap just to maintain.  Somewhere along the way I was passed and ended up coming in 4th. By the end of the race my lower back was killing me.  This is something that had been bothering me a bit for the past couple of weeks, but I couldn't really determine what the source of the problem is as I haven't changed anything as far as bike fit goes.  I'm going to start making some small adjustments, stretching and core strengthening to see if I can get it gone.

Next race is the Skyway Epic in Sylacauga, GA which I am really looking forward to.
Singletrack, gravel, singletrack.....yum!

Ride on.

                                   Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.  Race results can be found here.

MORCS #1 - Bonita Extreme - Meridian, MS

It's that time of year!  What time you ask?  It is XC racing season.  For those who are unfamiliar, XC = Cross Country.  In mountain biking terms this means racing on singletrack through the woods.  Skills required include technical bike handling over roots and rocks, endurance to go the distance, as well as having a nutrition strategy.  Oh yea.....we also wear spandex like the roadies.

The XC racing series I have been focusing on the last two seasons is the Mississippi Off Road Cycling Series or MORCS for short (nanoo nanoo).  The MORCS series consists of 8 races held on singletrack trails throughout Mississippi. The races dates start in March and finish in October. It includes an awesome marathon distance race at Noxubee for bonus points.  Ok.....enough background....let's get onto the first race.

Yvette cleaning her drivetrain
before getting muddy.
I had never ridden at the Bonita Lakes trails in Meridian, so Wendi and I decided to pre-ride the course the morning before the race. The forecast for Saturday night and into Sunday morning predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms.  This weather forced me to consider riding my singlespeed Niner so I could roll on knobbier tires. Riding the singlespeed would also save the drivetrain on my geared bike. With bikes on the rack, we headed east down I-20 toward Meridian.

The park entrance was easy to find and we followed the orange tape to the trailhead.  A teammate, Brian Bacola, sent out a great course walk-through the day before which made it really easy to find and follow the trail.  Based on the ride report and on rider comments about how technical and climby the trail was, I was a little worried about riding a rigid singlespeed. Once we got on the trail I was relieved to see it wasn't that bad. There were lots of roots and a few climbs, but nothing compared to the terrain we had been riding the week before in NorCal.  The one thing I did notice about the Bonita trails was the complete lack of flow.  The trails were very start/stop with many switchbacks, which actually lended itself very well to a bike with one gear (I rode 32/20 gearing on a 29er).

The race course was published as 8.5 miles and I rode 7.5, so I knew I missed some of the trail that likely hadn't been marked off yet. Averaging close to 10mph I knew I was going to be in pretty good shape for the race. The only wildcard was the weather and what bike to ride.  We packed up and headed home.

Not surprisingly, I didn't sleep well the night before the race. This was mostly due to the sound of the rain drip dropping on the roof of my new home in Jackson, along with the anticipation of the first race of the season.  I woke up around 5:30, slammed a cup of coffee and ate my normal breakfast.  I figured since I was eating about 3 hours before race start I would eat a bit more oatmeal than I normally do.  Showered quick, grabbed a cup of coffee to go and hit the road to Meridian. I noticed that both of my hamstrings were really sore from yardwork the day before, and my left shin was still splinted from a spring break bowling excursion with the little one.  This worried me a little considering my legs would be doing double duty on a singlespeed.

On the drive to Meridian I listened to a couple of podcasts on Mountain Bike Radio and reflected on the pre-ride the day before.  My breakfast was sitting pretty heavy and my stomach was a little upset, which was probably due to both eating a lot of oatmeal and drinking Starbucks coffee which can be a little acidic.  I arrived at the park about an hour before the race was scheduled to start.  I spent some time chatting with teammates and catching up with people I hadn't seen since the previous season.

Still not convinced about riding my singlespeed, I decided to do a quick loop on the front section on both my geared Air9RDO and my SIR9.  It was an easy decision to stick with the bike with the singlespeed, primarily because of tire selection.  On my geared bike I run Maxxis Ikons front and back.  These tires are awesome on buff trails and loose dirt over hard ground. They are less than stellar on wet, muddy trails.  On my SIR9 I run a 2.4 Ardent in the front and a 2.1 Ignitor out back.  These tires, combined with a rigid fork, gave me much more purchase and confidence on the slick singletrack.  I headed back to the car and zipped my race number onto the bike of choice.

Perfect bike selection
I spent a good 10 minutes or so spinning around the park on asphalt and getting my heart rate up before the call for lineup.  At the starting line I saw a number of familiar faces.  There are two of us who raced Cat 3 last year and have moved up.  All of the other guys racing category 2 in the 30-39 age group have ridden in this category for a year or more, so they all have more racing experience than I have. The tension at the line was pretty thick as everyone was sizing up the competition.  The categories in front of us were starting to get called off the line.  In races like this, we usually start in waves, spacing about a minute between the age groups within the categories.  As we were moving up to the start, one of the more experienced guys lined up with me cracked a joke about choosing a rigid singlespeed for this race. This started to make me doubt my choice a bit.

As the "go" was called for our group of six, I bolted off the line and got the holeshot through a gated entrance on the gravel road leading up to the single track.  The road winded up to the right and got a little steep. At this point, I heard the shifting of gears behind me and I was passed by three of the guys in my category as fast as I dusted them off the line.  My heart sunk and I was starting to regret the choice of bike as I ground up the final little climb before swooping into the woods to the left.  Once on dirt I started to find my flow and the four of us packed up pretty quickly.  I recovered a bit and went on the attack, slowly picking off all three of them until I moved up to the lead within the first three miles of trail.  I found that the rigid singlespeed with burly tires was much more confident in the slick turns of the trail and greatly simplified the climbs as I didn't have any loss of momentum while seeking the correct gear.
Best fan club

I pushed hard through the first lap and started passing the slower of the 20-29 guys by about the 7 mile mark.  I felt really strong on the climbs and worked to keep my heart right in the middle of zone 4 only peaking up to 5 on the three punchy climbs.  Every time I ride my rigid bike I remember how much I love the way it tracks the trail with no anticipation or compensation for suspension travel.  It just goes where you point it.  Coming out of the trail through the start/finish I tossed my empty bottle towards the team tent and looked out for Wendi around the next turn.  Her and Jake were right there at the entrance leading back up the gravel road cheering for me and holding out a fresh bottle.  Perfect handoff!  Back up the road to start on the second lap.

On trails where I have rarely ridden the second lap is always a little better.  You have seen the trail once so you at least know roughly what to expect.  This lets you relax a little since there is a bit less anticipation of what is around the corner.  I continued running into 20-29 traffic and took the opportunity to sit on there wheel to relax a bit.  In hindsight this was the only mistake I made all day long.  I knew that I was going softer on the second lap and it showed when I started seeing one of the guys in my group behind me in switchbacks with about 3 miles to go.  He was the two year reigning champion for cat2 30-39 in Mississippi and wasn't going to go down without a fight.  I started ramping back up the effort but I feared that I had given up too much ground to him.  Switchback after switchback he was getting closer.  The last half mile of the course was gravel with a few little climbs and I knew it was going to be challenging to hold him off as he was on a geared bike and I only had one ratio.

First podium of the season
The above prediction played out almost exactly.  As soon as we popped out of the woods and on the gravel I blasted down the hill but as soon as it flatted out I heard the gears of my pursuer and he walked by me with ease as my legs spun out in excess of 120rpm.  I gave it all I had through the finish but there was no catching a bike with gears at this point.  I was very happy with my finish on the podium in second place for my first cat2 race.....on a rigid singlespeed while everyone else was riding gears.  We spent a good couple of hours hanging out after the race chatting with teammates and other riders reliving the high and low points of the race.  Our team had a good number of podium finishes for the day and everyone was looking forward to the next race in Hattiesburg on April 6th.  I will have to take a drop for that race as I will be in Arkansas that weekend riding the Ouachita Challenge.  Stay tuned for that ride report.

Ride on.

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

March 2014 Sonoma Trip - Annadel State Park - Day 2

Ok!  Ready for our exciting day two in Sonoma?  Remember this is a two part post.  Day one can be found here.

Solid breakfast at the Hilton
The next day, we woke up with the same routine: getting cleaned up and packing for the day. This was a much lighter load as we were only planning a few hours on the trail.  We headed down for another Hilton Gold breakfast and made our way to the park.  Wendi did such an awesome job planning this trip that the second day would top the first.  In calling around to local bike shops, she found that Echelon Cycle & Multisport was hosting a demo day at Annadel with Scott Bikes.  I've never ridden a Scott but have heard really great things about them.  What I was most excited about was the prospect of riding a 650b setup. I have been a bit skeptical of the claimed benefits of these bikes. My hope for today was that this demo ride would either confirm my suspicion that it was all hype, or that the ride would leave me a changed man.

Can I haz please!?
We arrived at the park at what we thought was a little late - around 9:30 - as the demo started at 9am sharp. We didn't see any signs of a Scott demo truck.  Were we at the wrong trailhead?  Did they cancel?  Nope....turns out that with the DST change the night before, they really meant the demo was going to kick off at 10am.  This turned out to be an awesome thing, as we were the first people to show up and kick the tires on a sweet ride.  It also gave us pick of the litter on the demo bikes they had available, and for me to chat it up with the Scott reps as they were setting up.  Turns out they did come fully decked out with a line-up of full suspension 650b bikes.  Woohoo!  They fitted me up on a medium Genius 700, which is their top of the line carbon trail bike.  Initially I thought a medium frame would be too small, as I typically ride a large in XC frames. It ended up feeling quite nice.  Wendi was fitted to a Spark 720 which is Scott's XC FS 650b platform.  I had a feeling she was really going to like this bike. 

Littered with rocks and roots
line selection was key.
After getting fitted and tuned I ripped into the trails.  We put in at the north trailhead on the Cobblestone trail which was about a mile and a half of climbing guessed it....lots of cobbles.  There were roots, rocks and switchbacks for the entire climb up the hill.  This turned out to be the perfect terrain to get acclimated with my new friend.  I quickly learned the benefits and shortcomings of the new wheel size as I navigated the tight turns and rough rocky climbs.  The 27.5" wheel size reminded me of riding my old 26er as I plowed though the switchbacks - it certainly had more maneuverability than the 29er platform.  I'm not sure if it was a measurable difference, but it was noticeable.  Where I thought the wheel size suffered was climbing through rocky terrain. It didn't have quite the roll-over capabilities of its larger brother.

Once I made it to the top of Cobblestone, I decided to stay on the north trails. We were on demo bikes that they probably didn't want us to keep all day, and I knew from experience the nasty conditions of the southern trails.  I plotted a course down Orchard to Rough-Go, over the top of the Lake Trail to Lewis and then to North Burma.  I remembered how much fun the Burma trails were from the day before, so I knew this is where I wanted to end up.  The other area where this middle brother wheel size shines is in descents. Although rollover was effected some, I thought that the combination of a more rigid wheel and the flickability of a compact setup was a huge benefit on technical descents. On the exact same trails, I felt way more confident and comfortable descending on the 650b Scott than I did the 29er Specialized the day before.  The only other variable was that the Genius was a supple carbon frame where as the Stumpy was alloy.  I am much more used to the feel of carbon vs aluminum so this could have been a factor.

Because North Burma was so damn fun I decided to head back down Live Oak and back over to Burma for two more loops. This trail was one of those trails where you catch yourself smiling from ear to ear as you rip through the sweeping corners.  I would have taken it for a few more loops if it wasn't already coming up on an hour and a half in the woods on a demo bike....I'm sure the Scott guys were looking forward to getting their bike back. After the final loop, I headed back up the way I came in and was happy to run into Wendi on the Orchard Trail.  She was having a great time on her borrowed bike as well and I surely see a FS bike in our future for her.  The climb up Cobblestone was pretty brutal but the descent on this cush full suspension ride was a blast.  Once again the handling ability of the slightly smaller tires really shined as I tore through switchbacks through the descending rock fields.

Super dialed ride in the Scott Genius
I reluctantly handed the bike over to the demo team and reclaimed my pedals.  After today, I am pretty convinced that the 650b wheel size has a place in mountain biking.  It isn't the solution for every course or terrain but has its merits.  If I lived near Annadel or a similar trail I would go buy this bike today.  For our buff trails in the South, the Genius is obviously too much bike.  I am, however, looking forward to seeing if our local Scott dealer (The Bike Crossing) gets Scott in for a demo as I'd like to ride both the FS Spark and their XC hardtail, the Scale, in 29 and in 27.5 models on our local trails.  That will give me a final verdict on the subject, and determine whether I need to add a full suspension bike to the family.

We wrapped up riding right around noon so we had the rest of the day to do fun stuff.  After getting cleaned up we headed to Petaluma (Petaluma is a fun word to say) to go to Lagunitas for lunch and a couple of beers.  This is such a chill place with great beer and awesome food.  The courtyard tables were full, so we ended up sitting in the bar looking out over the patio.  We ordered an appetizer of an olive jar, I ordered a sour beer and Wendi was thrilled that they had a good selection of ciders.  We both ordered sandwiches and shared.

The other thing we really wanted to do was hit a winery while we were in town. The day before, we had driven through a small town called Glen Ellen. It was kind of a sleepy little town in the Sonoma Valley.  We are not wine aficionados, so I just looked up the highest rated winery in the area and came across the Benzinger Family Winery.  I called ahead to make sure they had tour availability, and they were wide open.  After a short drive over from Petaluma we made our way into a beautiful piece of property.  We parked and made our way to the little shop where they started the tours.  Having only been on a few winery tours we decided to go all in with the "founder tour", which ran us $40 per person.

The cool thing was that we were just about 10 minutes early for the tour so we didn't have to wait around long.  Our tour guide, Pat, put us aboard his little electric tram with two other couples and we were off for a tour of the winery grounds. Pat gave a great overview of the property's history and how the winery came to be.  This winery uses a holistic agricultural process called biodynamic farming.  This is essentially organic farming, but incorporating other balancing aspects such as planting of complimentary flowers and plants, using livestock such as cows for manure to be composed into natural fertilizer and using sheep to keep the grass down. They also reclaim all of their gray water from wine processing and filter it through a series of tiered ponds and gravel beds. Along the way we stopped for a tasting of their estate Chardonnay.  I'm not a big fan of whites but this was a pretty refreshing sipper -not too buttery like a lot of NorCal whites.

Tour through the caves
After touring the grounds and the crush pad, we were off to the coolest part of the tour.  The Benzinger family  understood early on the need to maintain the temperate and humidity of their wine while it is aging in barrels, so they invested in the creation of an extensive cave system excavated into their hillside. You walk through two heavy twenty foot tall wooden doors and immediately feel the coolness of the cave and the sweet smell of red tannins.  Pat walked us through narrow rows of barrels while telling us the process of barrel aging.  After turning a corner, we saw a room with glass doors. Inside was a massive oak table set with tasting glasses. We all sat at the table while Pat walked us through the tasting of three different reds from the winery. Afterwards, we walked out of the room and did a tasting directly from a young, unblended barrel. This allowed us to experience what a raw, unfinished wine tastes like.  Quite different from the blended or aged vintages we had from the bottle.

Such an awesome weekend with my best friend. Two days of riding, two breweries, a winery and lots of driving around very pretty countryside.  We can't wait to get back up here and do it all over again.  If you have any recommendations for wineries, breweries or trails in the NorCal area please let me know.

Ride on.

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

March 2014 Sonoma Trip - Annadel State Park - Day 1

NOTE:  I have broken this post into two parts, as I have lots to share after this trip! Most of the posts on this blog are about biking, but this time I've added some travel related information about our trip out to Sonoma.  You've been warned.

Matchy matchy outside of
a building on campus.
Wendi and I  are incredibly grateful for the benefit of our flexible work situations. Whenever one of us has to travel for work, we do our best to travel together.  It may not always be for the entire duration of the trip (or every trip for that matter), but we do try to make it work.  In order to take full advantage of this, we typically like to build mini-vacations on either the front or back end of a work trip. We both work in the tech sales industry, so we are often called to the west coast.  The last time we went to the Bay Area we took a day go go south to Santa Cruz.  We rented bikes and rode Wilder Ranch State Park then snuck over to the UCSC trails which were supposed to be off limits.  Awesome buff and flowy trails.

This trip to the tech motherland took us north to Sonoma County for the weekend. We wrapped up work on Friday, checked out from the hotel in Milpitas and hit the road north for a 90 minute drive through the rolling NorCal countryside.  By the time we got checked into the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country we were starving.  Just a note.  This hotel is not nearly as fancy as it sounds with it's majestic vistas overlooking trailer parks, but it had great rooms and an awesome breakfast.  For pre-rides it satisfied my need for oatmeal, yogurt and fruit.  Breakfast was free as I have Hilton Gold status, but I don't think I would have paid the $18 face value for the buffet.  Pro travel can get the Amex Hilton Surpass card for $75 a year and get automatic Gold status.  That $75 membership fee more than paid for itself in breakfast for Wendi and I for just this one trip.

View of the beer board
at Russian River
Anywho....back to the starving part.  So I forgot to mention that I have been to Santa Rosa one time before to visit a very special craft beer landmark.  If you are a beer junky like me, you know where I am going with this.  Other than it's proximity to Annadel State park, the prime reason I put us in Santa Rosa was due to the even closer proximity to Russian River Brewing Company.  The brewpub is kind of an unassuming storefront in a quaint downtown area of Santa Rosa.  There is a little patio up front, but once you walk through the doors you can see exactly why you came.  Right in front of you is a bar that spans nearly the entire depth of the building. Behind the bar are rows of taps with the day's servings on colorful chalkboards above.

Awesome beer taster!
Any time I visit a new brewery with a selection as extensive as Russian River, the best thing to do is get a flight (this is essentially just a taster tray of 2oz pours).  Some bars and breweries have flight selections, but here you get one of everything they have available.  It is a great way to try a lot of different beers and styles in a single sitting.  Wendi isn't a fan of hoppy beers but she is always interested in trying new things.  She gravitated towards the belgians but didn't make friends with the sours.  For dinner, we ordered their charcuterie plate (we've had an obsession with olives lately) and shared a pizza.  After I finished most of the taster, I followed it up with a Row 2, Hill 56....I can't get enough of Simcoe hops.

On our walk back to the car we smelled the sweet, sweet aroma of sugar in the air. Just around the corner, we found a '50s inspired cupcake shop called Sift and just had to stop in. Carrot cake was my pick, but Wendi got a little more adventurous and went with the Stud Muffin. This confection consisted of brown sugar beer cake with salted caramel frosting and cayenne dusted bacon on top. It was pretty awesome. As we were finishing up, one of the girls behind the counter was putting out a new tray of cupcakes on display. What happened next I didn't think was possible. Turns out they make a Samoa cupcake! We got two for the road to eat after a hard ride the next day. Somehow we were able to keep them in the hotel fridge all night without trying even a lick of frosting.

Piled into the back of the rental
The next morning, we woke up excited to start an awesome day in the saddle.  We ate breakfast at the hotel and packed up to grab some bikes.  Wendi found a great little shop in Sonoma that rented really nice bikes.  When we got to Sonoma Valley Cyclery they already had a pair of Specialized FSR Elite 29ers ready to go.  Just a quick fit and spin around the block, and I was loading them up in the rental.  After a quick countryside drive, we easily found the parking lot for the Lawndale trailhead at Annadel State Park.  A couple of cars in the lot with empty bike racks told us we were in the right place.  We kitted up and hit the trails.  Over the years of riding together Wendi and I have agreed to ride around each other rather than with each other.  I had a really hard time with this at first, but I am now good with it.  It gives us both the opportunity to ride our ride without constantly worrying about the other.  We see each other on the trail occasionally and we text every once and a while just to check in.
Incredible views

There were some big differences in terrain between a coastal town like Santa Cruz and the mountain/valley area of Santa Rosa.  I should have known by the bikes we were renting that this terrain would be much different than at home. I headed up the Lawndale trail, which turned out to be a brutal 800' non-stop climb to the top of the dome for about two miles. The climb was very technical and littered with rocks and boulders to navigate.  It really forced you to keep your head up and plan your way through the trail.  The next three miles consisted of a few rollers on muddy open single track and fire road which continued the climb to the summit on South Burma trail.

Beautiful sweepers like this
were all over the place
This is where the fun started.  South and North Burma were a combination of fast, climbing sections followed by both rocky descents through flowy forest bottom single track, as well as fast tech rock descents.  The rest of the afternoon was spent scouting through the northern trails and slowly finding my way back down to the southern most trailhead at Schultz road.  Due to the rains earlier in the week, both the Ridge and Marsh trails were pretty sloppy - I got turned around a few times - but finally found my way to the powerline, which crossed over onto Schultz trail.  This trail was a blast! It was nearly all redwood forest descending.  It spit me out on asphalt, where I spent a couple of miles rolling pedals back to the Lawndale trailhead.

Overall it was an awesome day of riding on big trail bikes, finishing up with about 25 miles and nearly 4 hours in the saddle.  At the car I ate some bread and hummus from Trader Joe's, slammed a bottle of coconut water and packed up my now filthy rental rig. It was starting to get late, so I checked in with Wendi.  She too got turned around on some of the north trails and didn't have enough time to get back to the Lawndale trailhead.  She made her way to a store just outside the Summerfield trailhead where I picked her up.  The best surprise of the day was finding Wendi parked next to a couple of Girl Scouts having bought a couple of boxes of Samoas (my weakness).

Highly recommended shop
We headed back to Sonoma to drop off bikes and swap stories about our day of riding. We both had a great time but slightly underestimated the difference a few rocks can make, and also how much it helps to have a long travel bike for conditions like these.  The guys at Sonoma Cyclery were happy to see us and only gave us a little trouble about how mud covered the bikes were.  Not much we could do there.  We settled up and headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up.

Riding a good part of the day, we were both pretty exhausted. We decided to find a quick place to eat in Santa Rosa. I am always drawn to Mexican food after a tough day of riding, so we went to the highest rated local joint in town named Chelino's.  It was pretty unassuming and had only counter service.  The word carnitas jumped off the menu as I'm a sucker for roasted pork.  After dinner, we got back to the hotel and went right to bed- but not before we destroyed those Samoa cupcakes that we brought home from Sift the night before.  Lights out!

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

Tuff Guy 2014

This is not a race.  I repeat.....this is not a race.  It is a loosely organized group ride.  With people who race.  Guess what?  That makes it a race.

I really wanted to do this ride last year but we had a conflict.  This time of year in the South the weather can be pretty unpredictable.  The 2013 version of the Tuff Guy was pretty miserable from all accounts and included some snow.  This year, however, the weather was absolutely perfect.

After work on Friday I packed up and headed up to Oxford.  There were about a half a dozen guys from the Racing Revolution team heading up for the ride so I just went straight to Proud Larry's to kick it with the guys and have some dinner.  Even though Wendi and I had eaten redfish for lunch that day I couldn't help ordering the special which was blackened redfish served over greens and sweet potatoes along with a Yalobusha IPA.  After dinner we stopped at a local craft beer store to grab some beer and headed back to Brad's condo in town.  Initially I was planning on tent camping at Clear Creek until Brad offered I stay at his place.  It was nice to have a warm place to sleep rather than outside.  I stayed up for a bit shooting the shit with the guys and drank a few beers then got some shut eye.

I slept awesome and was very thankful that Polk didn't snore.  Woke up around 6 and had my normal pre-ride breakfast of oatmeal and yogurt while the rest of the guys ate a hearty breakfast of biscuits, gravy and eggs.  It smelled awesome but there is no way I could stomach it before a 5 hour ride.

Mixed up my bottles for the race a little different than Southern Cross last weekend.  Listening to Kelli Jennings in the past week she recommends trying to get 70-90 grams of carbs per hour for extended efforts.  Previously I was only mixing two scoops of Tailwind per bottle (one per hour) which comes to 50 grams of carbs and around 600mg of sodium.  I didn't have any major cramping at SCX but the weather was also pretty cool so perspiration was minimal.  For Tuff Guy I mixed three scoops of Tailwind per bottle which came out to 75 grams of carbs (300cal) and 900mg sodium.  For both SCX and Tuff Guy I was using their new caffeinated version.  Water was to be provided at the Taylor trailhead so I just packed up ziplocks of reloads to carry in my jersey pocket.

This is the first big ride where I have been back on my Niner Air9 RDO after tearing it down and building it back up after last season.  I moved to a XX1 drive train and got a set of Roval carbon wheels.  I also cut my 710 bars down to 680 as I just felt like they were way too wide.  Since so much of this ride was on the road I started the ride with 45psi front and back to cut down on rolling resistance.

"Registration" for the ride really just consisted of writing your name, phone number and emergency contact on a spiral notebook.  The ride itself consistent of riding about 17 miles into the Taylor trails in Oxford, riding a lap at Taylor, riding the road back to Clear Creek then doing a race loop.  About 5 minutes before the 9am start time people started congregating around the start line.  The race organizer Brad Cannon gave a quick little pre-ride briefing and we were off.  Everyone started off rolling really slow in a tight bunch.  Ogletree and I got a little tired of the yo-yoing so we broke out with a few others in a little group to set a good pace.  After riding about 50 minutes on the road we got to Taylor and I dropped my pressure down to about 30psi to ride the trails.

I have never ridden this trail before and I really liked the first 10 miles.  Not a lot of flow and tons of switchback goodness.  I underestimated how much time I would be on this trail and ran out of nutrition with about 5 miles left.  Little did I know the trail got even more choppy in those last few miles.  Finally the fire road that ran back up to the trailhead.  Refilled both of my bottles, downed a coconut water, peed on a tree and chatted with John Woods for a bit while I waited for some teammates.  Once we regrouped we hit the road back to Clear Creek.  We got a little lost going through town but eventually found the long road back.  I stayed with the group for a while and slowly pulled away completing a majority of the 17 miles on my own.  I took this time to catch up on nutrition and get good and hydrated.  It was nice to spin on the road with XX1 and know the gearing wasn't too short for road stretches.

Back at Clear Creek I refilled bottles, slammed a RedBull and got right onto the trails.  I've only ridden this trail once before but immediately remembered how much fun it is.  My legs felt great and my head was pretty clear.  There were a couple of turns that weren't marked for the course but I ended up finishing in 5:27:55 just under my 5:30 goal.  Moving time was 4:55:25 so I could have easily cut a lot of time if I did less socializing at the aid stations and stops.  But remember....this was not a race.

I downed a chocolate milk right after getting off the bike and changed out of spandex.  Post ride food was awesome consisting of pork tacos, black beans and rice.  I stuck around till all of the team rolled across the line and then headed back to Jackson.  This was definitely a tough ride but it was a cake walk compared to SCX the week before.  I'm really starting to feel that this pre-season training and big rides are going to pay off for the XC season.  It was good to get some miles in on the Niner before the season opener in Meridian in a few weeks.  The only thing I would have changed on the bike for a long format ride like today would
be the saddle.  The Tundra2 I have on my CX bike is much more comfortable that the Selle Italia SLR TT I have on the XC bike.

Ride on.

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

Southern Cross 2014

My buddy Sean convinced me that it would be a great idea to hit up this race in pre-season to get tuned up and I ended up having an awesome ride.  There was a lot of chatter before the race as to whether you should ride a CX or XC bike.  Since I had been spending so much time on the SuperX over the nasty months while rebuilding my Niner I made the easy decision to ride the cross bike.  One change I made before heading up to the race was swapping the cassette from a 11-25 to a 11-28 to help deal with the two big climbs on the course.  I didn't have time to do it myself so I took it up to Rex at the Bike Rack.  He did an awesome job swapping it on a tuning the bike up.

Bikes loaded up and ready to roll.
I drove up to Birmingham on Friday morning to meet up with Sean to make the trip up to Dahlonega.  We went a grabbed some lunch at V.Richards, ran to the airport to grab the rental and hit the road.  We were hoping to make it to Johhny B's for packet pick up but ended up getting there about 30 minutes late.  Sean did not drive fast enough.  We ended up grabbing a beer and chatting it up with a couple of guys that had pre-ridden the course that day.  Everyone was a little worried about the conditions due to the sneauxpocalypse the week before in Atlanta but it sounded like all of the snow had melted and everything was draining well.

Since I have never been to the area before I just searched for the closest Hilton property to the Montaluce Winery where the race was being held which ended up being a Hampton Inn in Helen, GA.  This town ended up being quite a cute little bavarian town on the Chattahoochee river and the hotel had a really nice run-up to the front entrance.  Shoulder bike and run.  Packed gear into the room, laid out clothes and filled bottles for the race and hit the hay.

Since I've never done this race or one like it I of course slept like crap.  Woke up around 6am and tried to be really quiet while I started my breakfast consisting of:
  • About a cup of super awesome apple cinnamon oatmeal.  Wendi and I had been cooking this crockpot oatmeal for a couple of weeks now and it is incredible.  Recipe here.
  • About a cup of 0% greek yogurt with raspberries and blackberries.  Magic on the belly.
  • 200cal serving of Tailwind with ~20oz of water to preload a little sodium.
Sweet shirt!
Fueled up we packed back up and headed to Montaluce early to there for packet pickup with a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts for an espresso.  At the start/finish there was a big white tent where packet pickup was.  Standard procedure of signing your life away and a bag of schwag.  Turns out Sean loves banana hammer gel.  The race start was a 10am so we ended up having a whole lot of time to mill around and chat with folks before the start.  30 minutes before start I got geared up and pockets packed.  There was a lot of talk about the weather and what people were going to wear on the bike or pack with them.  Start temp ended up being around 45F so I just threw on arm warmers, medium gloves, toe covers, winter cap and a vest.  Initially I was thinking about wearing a baselayer but thankfully decided against it.  I did pack an extra pair of socks and shorty gloves in a ziplock to throw in a pocket.  All packed up I downed 12oz of beet/carrot/ginger juice and headed towards the lineup.

Looking at past year's races I estimated that it would take me about 4 hours to complete the ~50 mile course.  I have been using Tailwind as my exclusive on bike fuel for the past couple of months so for this race I had two bottles mixed to 200cal/hr and three ziplocks for reloads at the aid station.  I threw a Kind bar in my pocket as well just in case I felt the need for something solid.

There were about 250 riders lined up ready for a mass start.  I settled somewhere in the middle of the pack and got some music going to settle my nerves.  The start was called and it was a mad rush down the road for about a half mile until we got onto the CX course.  It wasn't all that technical but there was a lot of traffic that got in the way.  Off the cross course we were immediately spit onto the gravel.  I knew from reading previous ride reports and looking at Strava segments that the ride essentially was two big climbs on the same mountain.  I failed to tape a cut sheet on my bike so I really had no idea how far I had to go to the summit.

The first 10 miles wasn't all that tough....some rollers and a great opportunity to warm up.  Did I do this?  Of course not....with all of the traffic at the beginning of the course I really got my HR up fast into the top end of Z4 and never managed to recover.  Right around mile 9 started the infamous Winding Stair climb.  The main part of the climb is around 3.5-4 miles and it doesn't stop for any breaks.  Average grade over the climb is close to 10% and the last half mile or so is over 15%....on gravel.  The last 300 or so yards I was forced off my bike to hike up the hill.  Seeing the aid station over the top of the crest was a welcome sight.  I refilled a bottle, stripped my vest and swapped gloves.  Sean showed up right behind me and we shared a bottle of coconut water.  I spent way too much time at this first aid station but it allowed me to recover a bit from the first effort.

Trying to recover

Photo credit:
Snowy Mountain Photography
Back on the bike I headed up a last little pitch then down the first descent.  The roads were in pretty good shape but there were some potholes that snuck up on me that I had to hop over.  I had no problems on this descent on the CX bike.  There were some sections I could have probably taken faster on a MTB but overall not bad.  The descent ended on a paved road which was a nice section to recover on for a few miles before linking back up with the next gravel road.

The second ascent was much more manageable and an absolutely beautiful ride following streams and linking together campsites.  The roads on this backhalf of the course were a little more washed out and squishy from the recent weather but still super rideable.  The second summit was at mile 33 which put us back at the same aid station just in time to refill both of my bottles.  As soon as I was topped off I got back in the saddle for the final descent.

Fast descent!

Photo credit:
Donna Garcia
The descent started with a couple of downhill rollers with switchbacks.  No problem.  Mile 40 was where it got a little sketchy at the Cooper Gap descent.  The grade was around -10% between the quickly sweeping switchbacks and the road was complete shit.  The canti brakes on the CX bike really started killing my hands on this tough 3 mile drop.  This was the the only segment during the race where I wish I had a MTB.  Brutal.  The bottom of the descent spit us back out onto asphalt for a nice 6 mile spin back to the winery.  Once at the winery I knew there was another section of a CX course waiting so I really tried to conserve some energy but it felt really good to hammer down on the road.

Coming into cross course was a massive run-up.  I passed on the Miller High Life hand-up, shouldered my bike and hiked.  There were a couple of guys stopped halfway up working cramps out of their legs.  Thankfully not this guy.  Powered up the climb and back on the bike.  The rest of the CX course was pretty tame with the exception of a creek that I dismounted for and hopped over.  Couple more climbs and then through the finish feeling pretty good.  Grabbed a beer and burrito and chatted it up with some guys I rode along with.  I ended up finishing in 4:23:47 (151st overall / 55th in mens open) below my goal of a 4:30 finish.  Next year I hope to finish under 4 hours which in think is doable if I get stronger and spent less time at aid stations.  Full results HERE.  Before this race I had always had a lack of confidence on gravel which I feel like I am fully cured.  During the race I felt like I wished I had gone with an 11-32 cassette but now I am thinking I just need to get stronger.  There were very few times where more cogs would have helped.  Nutrition was adequate but I am going to experiment with upping my dosing 300cal per hour on these longer, harder efforts.  Liquid only is the way to go for me.  No need for solid foods.

Sean and I hung around for a bit then packed up and headed back to Birmingham.  He was determined to find a Taco Bell to have a celebratory dinner and we finally did in Tuscaloosa (I think).  It was the longest wait I have ever had at a fast food restaurant but I think it was well worth it.  I decided to hang out in Birmingham for the night rather than continuing on to Jackson.  We got cleaned up and back on our bikes to head to Trim Tab Brewery for a few pints.  These guys are making some awesome beer and their tasting room is a pretty swanky place to hang out.

Here's to a great 2014.

Ride on.

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

Hello world.

My name is Jason and I am a very newb in this whole bike racing activity.  Like most things I do in my life I tend to go all in to learn as much as I can and be as best as I can.  This is where I get the most enjoyment out of a sport or hobby.  I finished my first season of XC in 2013 primarily racing in the MORCS series in the great state of Mississippi.  CAT3 30-39 was a big field and I finished the season in second.

The first year I really just focused on racing the races and getting as much experience as I could.  There were a lot of hard lessons learned.  Starts, passing and pacing.  Another big lesson I learned was not to take a two week vacation to South America doing no meaningful cardio, fly home on Saturday and expect a good race on Sunday.  I was tired, dehydrated and way off my game.  Lesson learned.

So for 2014 season I have decided to step up my game as I have been guilted into CAT2.  I did a significant amount of base riding over the winter during the cold nastiness.  Most of it was outdoors but I also invested in a set of rollers to get inside rides in.  I think rollers really give you a chance to work on cadence and balance on the bike.  Hopefully all of this will pay off.

Here are a few other things I have done in the off season so far and have planned to get prepped for the 2014 season.  I may throw together a blog post on some of these to dig in.
  • Bought a used CX bike and raced a few cross races.  Had a freaking blast and I love my Cannondale SuperX.  The biggest skill I really learned from CX is how to pedal through sand/mud which I had a big problem with on XC courses last year.
  • Got on a Drew Edsall off-season base plan.  Having the accountability to myself with knowing what I was supposed to ride and when was huge.  My average training volume before getting on plan was only around 5-6 hours per week.  On plan my average volume was around 9 hours per week.  This was the most important improvement to performance on the bike.
  • Planned a few early season long rides.  First one was Southern Cross in Dahlonega, GA.  This was a 50 mile gravel grinder with 6,600' of climbing.  Second was the Tuff Guy ride in Oxford, MS.  The ride started at the Clear Creek trailhead, headed in town on the roads, a loop at the Taylor trails, roads back to Clear Creek and then a race loop.  These were a couple of great rides as a check to see where I'm going to be for the season.
  • Researched a lot on nutrition.  Last year I did a 50 mile MTB race at the Noxubee trails outside of Starkville, MS.  I didn't have great plan and managed leg cramps for the last 20 miles.  I've started using a simple system of a sports drink in the bottle with plenty of sodium.  No solid food.  I rode SCX and Tuff Guy with this strategy and am feeling pretty confident.  Over the past week I have started listening to Kelli Jenning's Apex Nutrition podcast on Mountain Bike Radio and plan on incorporating some of her nutrition and recovery strategies throughout the season.
  • My girlfriend Wendi and I are attending a BetterRide skills clinic in Birmingham at the end of March.  I am hoping to learn how to better carry speed and tear through corners.
  • Riding the Ouachita Challenge tour this year.  Like the other two early season rides my goal is to finish strong and dial in nutrition.  Should be an awesome weekend with awesome friends.
So that was a little long winded.  First race of the MORCS season is just 10 days away and I have a good amount of travel between now and then.

Ride on.