Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wandering Around Central Idaho

My original plan was to take a five day solo bikepacking trip starting in Ketchum, ID, heading north to Stanley, heading west toward Idaho City, then heading east back to Ketchum. A total distance of around 320 miles on dirt and paved roads.

Craters of the Moon

I started my trip with a quick visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument. The ranger at the visitor center told me there was a cave tour starting in 10 minutes and if I hurried I could still catch it. I approached an older guy standing near the trail that took you out to the caves...thinking maybe he was the tour guide? He wasn't. He had been there for the past two days as part of a stargazing group. He asked for some help lifting a 50lb counterweight for his telescope and I obliged. We got talking and he asked what I was doing out there. I explained my bike trip plans and how I was on my way to Ketchum. He told me I was going the wrong way, the drive to Ketchum was boring. He suggested turning around and heading back to Arco and then going north to Challis then west to Stanley. Oh and of course making a stop in Mackay (where he used to be mayor) and taking the mine hill tour he helped put together.

 Mackay Mine Hill Tour

Mount Borah

Bayhorse Ghost Town


The old man's advice was good! It was a very scenic drive with some cool old buildings and a ghost town along the way. And Stanley? It was love at first sight. 

I found a camping spot near Redfish Lake and began organizing my gear for my bikepacking trip. All the gear in it's appropriate pack I settled in for the night. I had a bit of a headache so I took some ibuprofen and squirmed into my sleeping bag to enjoy this view and wait for sleep to come...

I woke up feeling horrible. The headache was much worse and I was really nauseated. Not the best way to start a solo bikepacking trip along a pretty remote route. I didn't feel good about venturing off alone while feeling like that. I settled on just doing day trips and maybe an overnighter, but where I wouldn't be more than a day away from my car if I got more sick. I still carried all or most of my gear as if I were on a multi-day bikepack trip. I also only slept and ate at places that would have been available by bike along the route. 

By the end of the second day I was feeling better in terms of no longer having a headache and being nauseated. But for the entire trip my energy level was super low. It took a lot more time and effort than it should have. I didn't get the trip I was planning for, but it was still well worth it. I ended up with five solid days to explore a beautiful part of central Idaho and take in the abundant scenery and solitude. Three days by bike and two by car and foot. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

At Least My Stomach Felt Good - The Wasatch Back 50

I knew I could ride 46 miles of singletrack. I knew I could climb 5000 feet. I knew I could finish the race. I lay in bed too nervous to sleep.

I'm increasingly drawn toward longer rides and longer races. The reason I'm drawn toward long casual rides is easy, they feel good. I don't know the exact mechanisms or reasons why, but I know it's about the only time I feel pain free and normal. The reason I'm drawn toward longer races is a bit more complicated. They do hurt and I know they're going to hurt and that's why I want to do more of them. I know that might sound odd, but I have my reasons for it - a topic for a later post. Along those lines I raced my first '50 Miler' mountain bike race last weekend, the Wasatch Back 50 in Heber, UT.

I arrived early after a fitful night of sleep. I wanted to make sure I was there in plenty of time to get checked-in and have everything setup and arranged for the long day ahead. I had all of my things together with some time to spare so I walked around the parking lot saying hi to some friends. In one of the conversations the idea came up of carrying along some Vitamin I (Ibuprofen). I'd heard of people doing that for endurance events, mainly running marathons, but I'd never actually considered doing that. I keep a small bottle in my car and decided to throw it in one of my jersey pockets.

People began gathering around the start area, loosely forming into their categories. I knew the Clydesdale's (210+ lbs) were supposed to line up at the back of the 50 miler crowd but in front of the 25 milers. I made my way to that general area and spotted a familiar face from the local Clydesdale community. We chatted briefly about what we've been up to since CX season and speculated on where some of our Clydes brothers were because we weren't seeing them around? As the categories ahead of us were being called up and sent off it became apparent that it was just going to be the two of us for the Clydesdale category. I knew I could beat him no problem in a CX race, but I had no idea on this one. I hadn't come into this race concerned about winning, my main goal was to try some ideas about hydration and nutrition. Nutrition and hydration are things I've been struggling with at the Crusher in the Tushar race. I'll be fine on a long training ride, but on race day my stomach turns inside out. Anyhow. I hadn't been concerned about winning.

New Plan: Win!

I had pre-ridden the course, but I accidentally rode the loop in the wrong direction. I kind of new what the race course would be like, but not exactly. I did know it started with a long switchback filled climb. It was going to be a long day so I settled in on my rival's rear wheel and let him set the pace. I was feeling great and could have easily climbed faster than we were, but I also didn't want to burn out. I figured I'd save the hard effort for the second lap. Toward the top of the climb there were a few technical rock garden spots that I didn't plan on riding with my fully rigid (no suspension) mountain bike. My plan was to run them CX style, which I did but which also allowed my rival (on his full suspension bike) to open up a small gap.

The long climb was over and the fast section had arrived. We were on the east side of the hill now and the terrain changed. Aspen trees replaced scrub oak and dark brown dirt replaced the light rocky desert soil. Dark brown dirt that was a lot softer than I remembered it being when I pre-rode. I was enjoying the downhill section and pushing as hard as I could to catch up and close the gap. Up ahead I could see a hard right turn. It had what I thought looked like a nice berm so I decided to rail it. However, it was in a shady spot and I failed to notice the top of the berm was a big pile of moon dust. I went down hard. My right hip hit the ground first and as the rest of my body followed, I could feel and hear my spine crackle and pop all the way up to my skull. The wind knocked out of me as well, it took what felt like minutes to get back up and riding again. Riding hurt and my lower back and right wrist were going up on the pain scale. I stopped worrying about closing the gap and slowed down my speed. At only 11-ish miles into the race and with the increasing pain I was more worried about being able to finish. Then I remembered the Vitamin I in my jersey pocket!

New Plan: Push through to the next aid station, down some ibuprofen and at least make it back to the start/finish area. 

The ibuprofen had started working and I was feeling pretty good as I pulled up to the start/finish area to begin the last lap. I switched out my water bottles, grabbed more food, downed another serving of Vitamin I and took off.

New Plan: Push hard and hope my rival is having a rough second lap. 

Two miles into the second lap my energy level instantly tanked. I didn't feel hungry. I didn't feel thirsty. My legs felt great. But overall my energy was just gone and I could barely keep my crank spinning. You know those nightmares where you're trying to run away from some monster, but you can only move in slow motion? It was kind of like that.

New Plan: Keep forward motion. Don't dwell on the suffering. Don't complain.

The Lap Two climb presented the opportunity of an additional hour, versus Lap One, for contemplating life, the universe, and why the hell I was even doing this race. It was quality time.

I made it to the top of the hill, but hadn't seen anyone else in a long time. I figured I was probably DFL again. I felt fine on the downhill sections and rode with abandon. If the trail turned up, then I was back to pedaling in slow motion. All in all I was actually making pretty good time now. At the final aid station I downed a Coke and some salty potato chips, had my water bottles refilled (they even put them back on my bike - the support and all around running of this race was excellent) and I headed off for the final stretch. The Coke, sweet nectar of the bike racing gods, worked wonders. I wasn't pedaling in slow motion anymore.

New Plan: Finish in less than 6 hours and 30 minutes. 

I pushed as hard as I could when I could. I outright stopped when I needed to eat. This part of the course had a lot of little bumps and I was tired, at this point I didn't trust my ability to eat and ride at the same time. My helmet snagged on branches two different times. Since not complaining wasn't part of my current plan and no one was around, when it happened the second time I yelled at the branch. Loudly and with much anger. The time was running out, but I was close to the end. I pushed my tired body as hard as I could for the last couple miles and crossed the finish line at 6 hours 28 minutes 25 seconds. Almost an hour behind my rival and almost overall DFL.

The good news is I didn't have any GI issues, my stomach felt fantastic the entire race. Obviously still some other things to figure out. The process continues...

Friday, March 7, 2014

1st Annual JayP's Backyard Fat Pursuit

'What does this feel like?'
'I feel like I'm trying to run in a swimming pool.'
'No, in a pool I would be able to see the end getting closer.'
'It's like trying to run on a treadmill in a swimming pool.'
'#$*%, !@%$, #$%*, *#!@, %^$*'

I'd lost all motivation to do this race the instant I signed up for the 60k. I had wanted to try the 200k, but didn't have the right gear and didn't feel prepared to pedal 30+ hours in potentially very cold weather - the cold being my biggest fear. If my Raynaud's flared up when I was in the middle of nowhere, what would happen? Would I be able to get my hands and feet warm enough before frostbite set in and if so how exactly would I do it? It's a question I'm still pondering. I still want to do a 100+ mile snow ride...but I also want to keep my fingers and toes.

'20miles! four hours.'
'Why am I here again?'
'I really should have brought headphones.'
'@#^%, %#$$, %^*$, %$^#, ^$!@'

Two years ago there were three of us venturing up to beautiful Island Park, ID for West-N-Back. Last year there were two of us heading back for the Fatbike Summit. This year it was just me driving up to JayP's Backyard Fat Pursuit. I arrived at Ponds Lodge a few minutes before the Friday night racer's meeting. It was nice to see some familiar faces from the previous trips and even a few people from Utah. My mood picked up that night as I sat around chatting with my fellow fatbikers.

'Man, even the downhill is work today.'
'Grey sky, green trees, white road. Repeat.'
'I just want to be done already.'
'Argh, my goggles are icing up again.'

I stayed at a cabin about 8 miles north of Ponds Lodge (the start and finish line) because it was the best deal, only $25 for a shared room! I didn't sleep much that night. I wasn't nervous about the riding, it was the howling wind outside. It was going to be really cold.

It had only snowed a couple inches overnight, but the wind had blown a pile of snow in front of my car. It took 40 minutes of shoveling and pushing to get my car out to the plowed road - it would've taken a lot longer if not for the generous help of a fellow cabinmate. The stuck car meant I was now running late and wasn't sure I'd get to the start line in time. I wasn't bothered by that.

'Haha, someone put pink flamingos on the side of the trail.'
'Mile 30...there's the checkpoint!' 
"Wes, give me your water bottle and I'll put some warm water in it."
"You've got this, you're doing great."

I pulled up to Ponds Lodge and went through the process of getting my bike ready: slide pogies over the handlebar, put food in pogies, seat pack on, spare warm clothes into the drysack then into the seat pack, lights, back up lights, GPS, tire pressure, check, check, check. Done with 10 minutes to spare. Damn. There goes that excuse.

'Okay, this is getting ridiculous I can't see anything.'
'Great, now there's ice between my lenses.'
'Keep it between the navigational becons.'
'Listen for the sound of the firmer snow [steer a little left or a little right]...ah, there it is.'
'One more hour to go...'

I crossed the finish line at 4:49pm. Total ride time 7 hours 46 minutes. Total moving time 6 hours and 36 minutes. Distance 39.4 miles with 2,224 feet of climbing. I finished 20th out of 34 starters with 4 DNF's. I did start getting some frostbite on the front of my it was good I didn't attempt the 200k this year.

It was a great event from the promotional and logistical perspective. The weather conditions made for a very difficult and cold race, but it was worth it. Don't get me wrong it was hell, but I'm okay with that. Having MCTD means a large part of my life involves dealing with pain and fatigue. Every race like this teaches me a little more about how to deal with them and every finish gives me the confidence that I've got this, I'm doing great.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ten Year Anniversary

Next weekend marks ten years with MCTD. An event of extreme one person! Yup, I realize this pretty much means nothing to anyone else.

After being diagnosed I was desperate to find information about MCTD. What was it and what was it going to do to me?! There wasn't much available about MCTD so I started looking into Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus. I met enough criteria to be diagnosed with both and there was information about them so it would have to do. This is the type of stuff that stood out:
"Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes premature mortality, disability and compromised quality of life in the industrialized and developing world."
"There is no cure for RA." 
"RA continues to increase in severity and is unremitting."
"In all, 67% of the men and 57% of the women reported that they were no longer capable of performing their former normal occupational activities because of RA." 
"50-60% of patients had stopped working after a mean disease duration of about 10 years."
Fortunately the prognosis for RA has improved and that last one is no longer a valid statistic. And fortunately its now my understanding that people with MCTD tend to have a more mild version of RA. But I didn't know that ten years ago and 50% disabled after ten years was a stat that spent a lot of time at the forefront of my mind. I would try not to think about it, be hopeful and such, but that didn't work so well. It was a stat I couldn't forget. It was a stat that made me dread thinking about anything related to my future.

Ten years later. To feel healthy. To be able to do even the most routine activities. To be able to shovel snow. To be able to race my bike. Normally those things aren't much of anything. But right now, for me, they're everything.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bikepacking - American Fork Canyon

We pulled up to the Tibble Fork parking around sunrise on a beautiful late summer Saturday. Three novice bikepackers testing their setups. Our intended route: Tibble Fork to Forrest Lake to Ridge Trail to Dry Fork to Albion Basin to Mineral Basin to Mary Ellen Gulch and back to Tibble Fork. A route that could be done in a day, but we wanted to take our time to enjoy the scenery and we wanted to camp.

The day started out perfect. Comfortable temperatures and blue sky with white fluffy clouds.

The Ridge Trail has some popular sections and some rarely used sections. This was normally the later, but not today. We stopped here to rest and enjoy the view when we noticed some "hikers" coming through. One of them looked like death the other pretty happy and fresh. After a few more of these "hikers" - we realized it was a race, the Wasatch Front 100 mile endurance run, they were on their last 15 miles. The death looking ones were the racers, the happy and fresh looking ones were the pacers. Our nice quiet section wasn't going to be so quiet.

One reward for having to stop every 30 seconds to let a runner pass, was this aid station. We got there just a few minutes before the runner cutoff time for that point. They were getting ready to close up shop and offered to let us eat and drink as much as we wanted. The trail that starts just behind the cars in the picture is Dry Fork - one of the unknown parts of our route. We would soon find out there was a reason I couldn't find any information about riding this section of trail. The extra calories from the aid station were going to come in handy.

I never was able to take a picture that did justice for this section. One way to describe it. Even the two motorcycles who passed us, at one point got off their bikes and pushed up the hill (albeit power assisted in their case). It was steep. It was miserable slow work: push bike forward, apply brakes, walk up to near your handlebar, repeat. But the scenery was stunning so we didn't really complain. I take that back. I did complain about one thing. The stupid five pound tent strapped to my handlebar. A little background. I don't like tents. I pretty much only sleep in one as a last resort. They are stuffy. They are annoying to put up and take down. They block your view of the night sky. But. This was a test run and like them or not I realize sometimes they are necessary so I borrowed one for the trip.

My victory pose at the top of Dry Fork! Now for some fun! We dropped down into Albion Basin past all the confused hikers wondering what we were doing and where we had come from.

The downhill seemed all too brief and soon enough we were once again climbing. This time up the Germania Pass road. I was pretty blown from the Dry Fork workout.

Mineral Basin! Only one more climb left and we'd be in Mary Ellen Gulch, our final destination before dropping back down to Tibble Fork. But the clouds were getting rather dark and the temperature was dropping fast. The forecast had looked good, but afternoon thunderstorms certainly aren't uncommon. We made a call to drop down Mineral Basin to a stand of trees and kind of see what happened with the weather.

There was a good camping spot there and we were pretty tired. So we decided to set up camp and make the final climb over to Mary Ellen the next morning. Just as we got camp set, it started raining. Then down pouring. For three hours. Now I was actually pretty glad for that five pound tent.

The rain stopped and we emerged from our shelters. Again pictures don't do justice. There was a mist and a silence that was just amazing. It didn't last long. It started raining again and would do so off and on for the rest of the trip.

The next morning we decided against climbing over to Mary Ellen Gulch. With all the rain and mud, the steep climb would be very sketchy and maybe not even possible. And once on the other side we didn't know how bad the mud would be. The upper part of the Mineral Basin road is barely rideable because its so rocky, but that also meant it should handle the rain. We decided for the Mineral Basin road option. The first two miles or so were rough and with all the water it was kind of like riding down a small stream bed. We soon got to the main dirt road and it was smooth, fast riding from there.

Tired. Soaked. Happy.

It turned out overnight there had been multiple rock slides in AF canyon. By the time we were heading out they had cleared a path so that people could leave. All in all, things really couldn't have gone any better. Well, we could have made it to Mary Ellen Gulch...and not been caught in a huge rainstorm. But there were no injuries, no bike problems, and everyone had a good time.

Oh. And none of us want to take a bike up Dry Fork again. Ever.

Trip Totals: 30.54 miles, 7346 feet of climbing, 6202 min elevation, 10491 max elevation

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Back In Control

My third Crusher in the Tushar is in the books and it was a good one! I find it funny how something I never would have considered doing 5 years ago now feels like an integral part of my life. I love this race!

I signed up for the first Crusher on a whim – I hated climbing but the uniqueness of the race caught my attention so when my friend told me to sign up, I did. Fear was my motivation for training that Spring. I wasn't a climber. I wasn't a distance rider. And as I watched the racer list grow it became pretty apparent this race was way out of my league. I trained harder than I ever had before, but to no avail. That first race was the most difficult thing I've ever done, but it taught me some things. I didn't realize it right at the time, but that experience in all its drawn out painful last place glory laid the ground work for a new approach to life. (Taking Back Control)

I signed up for the second Crusher on purpose. I wanted to continue this new approach of embracing pain and fatigue and maybe push it a little further. The opportunity to combine my Crusher ride with a fundraiser for Southern Sudan Humanitarian presented itself and I rode a ridiculously inappropriate bike for so much climbing. In some ways it was more difficult than the first year, in other ways it was easier i.e. I never actually WANTED to die the second year.

My main goal for the Crusher this year was break my streak of dead last finishes. My secondary goal, but not a huge priority, was to make it across the finish line in less than 8 hours. I started eating better and lost 20lbs. I worked on building endurance. I sold all but one bike and all my extra parts and gear in order to build up one nice lightweight bike. I was not going to be last again. My plan was to warm up slowly and then camp out in my sustainable effort zone. My hope being that my increased endurance and light bike would give me the overall position and time I was ultimately hoping for. It worked! Better than I thought. The popular saying is it never gets easier you just get faster – I was going faster AND it was easier. I felt good. I was passing people on the climbs. I was comfortably leading a small group into the headwind on Hwy 89. I didn't have to walk any sections of the brutal climbs in the last 20 miles. I still have a big energy drop when I get over 9,000 ft elevation and I still need to sort out some GI issues, but all in all the race went really well. The only part I truly struggled with was the last one mile climb to the finish. That climb sucks.

I'm not sure where I finished, the official results aren't posted yet. I know I wasn't last and I know I crossed the finish line in under 8 hours so I'm ecstatic! Something else happened as I continued to pass people along the last 20 miles, arguably the most difficult part of the race. I realized I was passing people along the most difficult part of the race! This may not be too big a deal to most people, but this is not something that happens to me. I struggle and get through difficult race sections, but I don't pass people. Especially on climbs. Granted we were all still back of the pack variety, don't get me wrong I'm not saying I'm suddenly in contention to win anything here. But I was legitimately competing with them and in some cases beating them handily.

Sub par health has been a damning fear of mine.

Yesterday that fear vanished.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bikepacking - Temple Mountain

Bikepacking - I'm just getting my toes in the water, but I'm loving the experience.

There's something about the desert of central and southern Utah that calls to me. It's the scenery, the solitude, the vast open night sky and general feeling of fascination with the place. Last Fall I mapped out a 40ish mile route in the San Rafael Swell and made plans that fell through because of bad weather. I made plans again this Spring which also fell through because of bad weather. A window of opportunity presented itself in late May and I decided to jump on it. The weather in northern Utah was going to be bad, but the weather in the Swell was supposed to be perfect - mid 70's, clear sky, slight breeze. I quickly packed late Thursday night in anticipation of leaving right after work on Friday. Work, being as it is this time of year, threw a wrench in my plans and I wasn't able to leave Friday after all. I almost gave up on the idea - it just didn't seem meant to be. I awoke to a cold rainy Saturday morning; the desert crowding out all other thoughts. I checked the weather forecast and it looked to be colder with a chance of rain for Saturday night...but only 20 percent. I added a warmer sleeping bag and waterproof jacket to my gear, then set out for the trailhead.

I wasn't exactly sure how easy or difficult the route would be, nor how scenic or bland it would be - The Swell offers both. I mapped out an intended course with a couple optional additions/subtractions depending on time and conditions. I gave one copy to a friend and left another on the dash of my car with notes about what I was doing and when I expected to be back.

The road was well graded and easy peddling, but I rode slowly and stopped frequently. No need to rush through such beauty. Blue sky with fluffy white clouds. A light refreshing breeze. Mild temperatures. Beautiful scenery everywhere. Life was feeling pretty good.

The graded road ended and the OHV trail began. The peddling became more difficult - soft ground, rocks, steps, etc. I had to start focusing a bit more on what was in front of me and less on soaking up the surroundings. 

Then came the gentle but steady climb up a soft gravel wash. I was happy to have my super fat tires. Overkill and extra weight for a graded road. Perfect for a gravel wash.

The scenery was fading and so was the daylight. It was getting time to start looking for a place to camp. The gentle breeze was turning into a steady, less then gentle, wind and the white fluffy clouds were being replaced by darker ones. There were decent rain storms a couple hours north and the wind and clouds had me thinking I might meet that 20 percent chance of rain. I was still riding up the gravel wash. Better keep peddling. 

About 6 miles later the route turned out of the wash and started heading up. I was no longer concerned about setting up camp in a flash flood zone, but the wind was steady now and there was no shelter to be found. I had plenty of gear to keep me warm, but spending the night exposed to the wind didn't sound all that fun. Especially if it started raining too. Better keep peddling. 

There was a general increase of greenery, but still no shelter from the wind. The idea of NOT camping entered my mind for the first time. 'Maybe I'll find a good place to camp yet, but maybe I'll just ride through and not stop until back at my car'.

There were a few small trees/large bushes but they didn't offer any real wind block. I stopped at the intersection with another well graded road, my final leg was 20 miles along this road. I was getting a bit grumpy and discouraged by the bland scenery and declining weather. I noticed some movement to my right and turned to look. I don't know what I was really expecting to see, but it certainly wasn't a herd of wild horses! I counted 15. All staring at me! My mood changed instantly. A herd of wild horses! I'd never seen that before. Bland scenery and bad weather what? Everything was beautiful and good and amazing again. Mostly.

I started down the graded road peddling faster now. I didn't really like the looks of the weather. The idea of not camping won even though it was supposed to be a bikepacking trip, which inherently means camping. Time to crank out 20 miles and get back to my car. I was parked at a campground, I could camp there.

I spent the rest of the ride in my endurance zone: pedal, drink, eat, sing (usually just in my mind...sometimes aloud if no ones around and I'm really bored). Around 10pm I rolled up to my car. Happy and feeling really well. The wind was still blowing and the sky was now totally full of clouds - no stars to be seen. Falling asleep under a sky of clouds just doesn't have the same draw as a sky of stars. I packed up and drove home.

Not exactly how I'd envisioned things going. Better in some ways, more lame in others i.e. not actually camping. But it was a great experience and has me excited for more trips!