Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wilderness 101

Francine and I took off Friday afternoon for Coburn, PA for the Wilderness 101 ultra-endurance MTB race. After an eight hour trip, we FINALLY arrived at Coburn Park at 10pm. I picked up my registration packet and prepared my gear and bike for the long race. I still needed to swap my tires for the new Crossmark USTs I picked up Friday morning. I also needed to clean the drivetrain and briefly inspect the bike. While I played with the bike, Francine set up the tent and bed (thanks Francine!). I finally finished the bike maintenance and prepared my drop bags. I decided to drop a bottle full of Heed at aid station 3. At aid station 4, I dropped a fresh pair of gloves, an extra tube, and a bottle of Heed/Sustained Energy mixed (I would soon find out this was a big mistake). I made my drops and crashed at midnight. At 5am, the gong sounded the alarm for everyone to get the hell up. I jumped up, got dressed and cooked some french toast. I was ready to ride at 6, and had plenty of time to relax and think about my plan of attack, which consisted of staying on the bike and continuing to pedal until the end of the race :) .

The Main Event

At 6:45am, riders were gathering at the starting line. I saw a few locals in the mix, Travis Williams (AKA Metro), David Kelnberger, Shane Cusack, Jay Cullen, Jon Rittling, and a couple of other Endorphin guys. As the race started, we all rode together along the roads of Coburn. Then (as expected) everyone slowly moved ahead and I didn't see most of them again. I felt strong, and after 3 hours I had completed 40 miles. I passed by aid station 1, and at Aid Station 2, I had my Heed bottle refilled and pressed on. The first 60 miles was FAST and mostly fire roads and double track. The downhills were either super fast and long or short and much slower on singletrack. At one point, I was flying down a trail when I had to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting a rider climbing over a tree hanging about 2 feet over the trail. I later was told that Travis hopped that tree and face dove into the rocky path below. I didn't have any real dramatic falls, but I did take a few over-the-handlebars falls that could've been ugly. Nothing like a little carnage to brighten a race...Right?

Just when I thought it was going to be a 10 hour race, I snapped a spoke. this only cost me 5 minutes, but it's the thought that counts. My next mishap would only slow down the incredible pace I should've had on a swift and smooth doubletrack downhill. Somehow, during my descent, my chain got all wrapped in the gears and fell off. I spent only a couple of minutes straightening it, but it cost me my momentum. It really isn't a race unless I have some kind of chain issue (Breaking a chain is my typical M.O.).

When I arrived at Aid Station 3 (about 60 miles in and just under 6 hours), I needed a water and Heed refill. I also jumped on some cold Coke (I am now a believer in Coke during endurance races) and Gatorade while I waited for the AWESOME support crew to hook me up. I'll be honest, the next twenty miles are a blur, I can't really remember anything significant. I am probably blocking out the rocky trails I pushed through while my shocks were locked out... yeah, big mistake... oh, and a couple of times I was tossed like a wannabe machine bull rider at a shotty pub in western Kentucky. I do remember a short, super steep downhill section on some singletrack that had my heart rate up. I passed a few "riders" on this section. This is where I got my "minute of glory", passing other riders while they cautiously walk their bikes down the steep slope. Somehow, my bike took me in the direction of the path, I swear I had little to do with it.

When I arrived at Aid Station 4, I was dry and out of gel. I had a drop bag with a bottle of Heed/Sustained Energy mix and a fresh pair of gloves. I got topped off and pushed on. I saw Reene Greene at the Aid Station and I wanted to catch up with her. I felt surprisingly good on the climb that followed and saw her ahead. Then I took a BIG swig of my Heed/Sustained Endurance mix. got queasy. I have a good strong stomach, so I figured it wouldn't last. I took another swig, thinking I needed more electrolytes and protein. Then I started dry heaving. I guess the mix went bad after sitting in the sun all day. I was sick and weak for the next twenty miles...

It seemed to take forever to get to Aid Station 5, but when I did finally arrive, I swapped out the bad crap with some fresh Heed, downed some ice cold Coke, rejoined a few riders I'd let get ahead of me, and made the final push. I felt almost instantly better after getting fresh electrolytes in me. My nausea went away and I regained power in my legs. I guess it helped to have only one last hill ahead of me. I pushed out the last twelve miles in just over an hour, finishing at 11 hours and 37 minutes (according to my watch). My goal was 11 hours (to tie my Cohutta 100 time).

Not too bad a result, but I need to figure out my nutrition. I could just go with Heed and gels, but people keep telling me I need protein to keep strong during the long races. Any suggestions?

Post-Race, I grabbed a quick shower and a hamburger and hotdogs. Hung out for a few with friends, and then Francine drove us home. Next Race = 18 Hours on the Farm.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Buzz In My Ear and In My Face

Two Saturday's ago, I planned to race in Culpeper and then head to Sherando Lake for long rides and camping. The Race was the Battle at Burke Farm, a short, XC-style mountain bike race. I knew it was unlikely that I would do well, since I am more of a long distance rider than a speed demon. But it's friggin fun! The race started off booming - I scrambled to second place and sat on first's wheel. then he died off and I took the lead about a mile in. I kept a good pace for a while, but not fast enough for the monsters of the sport class (i.e. Ken Tankersley, Jason Hopkins, and a couple more). I was passed and dropped quick by four or five riders (the two above, plus Steve Tolley and ..I can't remember the others). I held onto Jason for a few minutes through the twisting, steep, and rocky hills. But, he got away from me. I really love racing..especially when friends pass by cruising at abnormal speeds with all the intensity of a pro. Good stuff. So, I hung in and took a respectable (by my standards) third place in my age group, only 2 minutes behind Jason and 6 minutes behind the speeding Tank(ersley).

Now I will tell you the difference between my style of riding and most of the racers that joined me at Burke Farm: after the race, I went to Sherando area to ride more that evening. The plan was to set up camp and ride another 20+ miles in the mountains with my com padre Todd Green. The next day was to be a 60 to 80 mile day. When I told the other racers my plan and invited them, they all looked at me like I was crazy.

I got to Sherando area at 5pm and we set out to ride around 6. Time was a factor, so we decided to ride up the Mills Creek Trail (AKA Turkey Pen) and then head down Kennedy Ridge and back to camp. This would have been around twenty miles.

So we headed up Mills Creek Trail with a firm pace to ensure we could make the trip before dark. Todd joked about something bad happening about "4 miles in". It was creepy, especially after we hit...wait for it... I was leading and saw a willow-like bush hanging over the trail ahead. I figured that I could just push through it no problem. As soon as I hit the branch, I was, yes, "4 miles in". I apparently let go of my handlebars screamed and grabbed at my face! Todd was trying to figure out why I would let go of my bars, when he started getting the pinch, or stings rather. I ran off about 150 yards down the trail and Todd ran up to a ridge. I had hit and split open a bald-headed hornets' nest (the large paper mache football thing)! They were all up in my ear stinging me all over the left side of my head, neck and shoulder. I guess I was lucky (I'm still trying to understand how one can call me lucky after this situation) that I'm not allergic.

So, I got some good ol' skin removal on the knee and a dozen or more stings. Also, I had a bunch of brown goo on my Camelbak, no sure what it was, but it came from the nest. I knew I had to go back to get my bike, but I did have to weigh the value of the bike/consequence of returning... :) Upon my return to "4 miles in", I saw the nest and the broken area on the nest as well as a swarm of hornets that looked very unhappy.

"ALL I want is my bike!" No comprenden englais? Well, I guess I'd have to get stung. again...

I crept slowly over to the bike and a hornet came out and zapped my hand before I could get there. AT that point, I figured I better just get it and run. So I did. What an amazing value!!! 1 Turner Flux 08 for 1 hornet sting!!

Well, Todd got lit up, too. He sustained 4 stings. After all the drama (and wasted time), we kept riding up Mills Creek Trail until about 7:30pm. Unfortunately, it was getting dark and we had to turn around. We took a HUGE detour around the hornets (upon my request) and got back to camp by dark. A fire and hot dinner made all the pain melt away. :)

Since we didn't get to finish the ride on Saturday, we rode it again on Sunday morning (didn't hit the hornets the second time around). We ran into a couple of dudes from C-Ville riding at a near-same pace, so we joined forces. They had almost hit the nest on Saturday as well, but coming from the other direction. We rode up Mills Creek Trail to the Jeep Trail (Big Levels Trail). We rode down the Jeep trail to Coal road and then up Kennedy ridge for a second solid climb of the day. Sadly, a thunderstorm was threatening, so we cranked back down the Jeep Trail to Coal road and rode back to the Highway, where our cars were parked. We missed out on Torrey Ridge, Slacks Trail, and White Rock Gap Trail.... (next time amigo).

FYI - I e-mailed the Forest Ranger's Office in charge of that area (Pedlar Ranger District) to inform them of the hazardous conditions. They have not replied. The next day, I found out that "Super" Dave Z. had an encounter with those same hornets on Sunday!!!! Seems like a continuing problem.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

The High Cost of Gas VS. The Big Payoff of High Gas Prices

What is wrong with the transportation system in American cities, towns, and counties? No bike lanes, little mass transport, and unsuitable walkways for pedestrians... and ... too many automobiles!!!! Amazingly, even the tough minded critics of "the system" play into it and continue to fall into the daily grind of driving everywhere and bitching about gas prices, as well as complaining of poor physical health. Yeah, I can be included in the mix. I've driven about 20,000 miles per year in my car! I drive to work (six miles each way), to dinner, to the store, to the city, etc. I drive everywhere!!! And I know that most people are in the same boat.

Herein lies the GREAT thing about gas prices jumping to 4+ dollars per gallon. I've started riding my bike to work!! Almost every workday for the past month, I've jumped on the bike and cranked through traffic on the narrow, rural streets of Mechanicsville to get to work. At first it was hard for me because I'm not a morning person, but I am getting used to it and felling better, more awake and alert, and healthy everyday that I ride to work. I've not lost any weight or anything (not that I really need to), but I feel more energized and positive in general. I wonder how biking to work affects other people? My friend in Switzerland told me last year that his dad was diagnosed with high blood pressure and that his doctor said he needed medication to reduce it. His dad refused the meds and just started riding his bike to work and eating a little better. In less than a month, he lost several pounds and his blood pressure reduced to a normal level. Awesome huh?

Back to gas prices -
Now that I've been riding to work, I've reduced my gas usage by almost half. I've also started hypermiling (, or trying to hypermile... I haven't recorded my MPG changes yet, but I'm sure it helps as I used to be an aggressive driver...

I know that other people are thinking along the same lines about how to save gas and money. People are buying scooters, high MPG vehicles, and hybrids like mad! I've been waiting for this type of shift in American mentality for a long time. The days of the super big, gas guzzling, monster mom mobiles are done. Good riddens! maybe we'll see a thinner, more healthy America in the upcoming years... and an America that is more environmentally friendly and healthy as well!