Photo Cred

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Springtime Desert Racing

The Stats:

  • 89 miles
  • 11,000' of climbing
  • 2nd-Place Singlespeed, 10th-Place Overall
  • 7:32:22 to the finish
  • # of Wrecks: 0(!)

1:47.  One minute, forty seven seconds.  Turns out that was the gap between Gerry Pflug in first and me in second at the True Grit 100 last weekend.  I thought it was less, but it doesn't really matter.  Our finish times differed by 0.3%.  Grrr.

Observed in one light, it's a bit disappointing that we were so close but I wasn't able to reel Gerry in.  In another light, it felt like a pretty good race for me, given that it was my fourth day on a mountain bike and my sixth day riding outside since October.  (If I include two snowbike rides.)  I'm definitely sore and tired, but felt strong overall and had a blast.  I guess my backcountry ski-focused training regimen is working okay.

Waiting to kick off the season.

As usual, Gerry took off like a banshee at the start, leading the pack into the hills in the morning's twilight.  I was able to keep him in sight through the first few miles and caught him at around mile 9, and then took the lead for the trip around the Zen loop.  (Which, by the way was amazing--ledgy, technical slickrock racing.  So fun.)  I was able to pull away in the more technical riding, and headed out to the Bearclaw/Poppi-Stucki Springs loop with a bit of a lead.  Check out this link for an interactive course map.

And then Gerry passed me back around mile 25 and I spent the rest of the race chasing him.  It seemed like I was consistently able to gain on him in the more technical sections, and he would pull away when things opened up and got fast and smooth.  He was definitely geared a bit higher than me, but also seemed more comfortable maintaining a super high cadence than I was; that's probably the next thing to focus on in training.

Erica performs a perfect Camelbak hand-up at my last aide station.

Regardless of how things finished up with Gerry, I loved this race; the riding quality was really phenomenal.  Some of it was brutally rough; I would have been happy to do two laps on Barrel Roll rather than four--maybe next year.  Speaking of, I actually caught Gerry midway through our final Barrel Roll lap but once he saw me he gassed it and put the final gap between us that he was able to hold through to the end.

On a different note, the new Pivot LES was SWEET!  Short chainstays resulted in amazing climbing, slack headtube angle for super fun downhill riding, overall an amazingly nimble and responsive ride.  The American Classic wheels and other bits from Loaded and Crank Brothers worked flawlessly.  (Even after launching over the handlebars while pre-riding on Friday.)  So stoked to start the season with a long, rough race free of mechanical issues.

In the end, I felt strong right through to the finish, and though I battled cramping in my legs, back, and triceps I was able to just keep breathing and pedal through them.  Maybe more calories?  Better hydration?  Perhaps I was pushing harder than my early-season body wanted to go?  Electrolyte pills seemed to help, but I just read a study that showed them to be more placebo than actually beneficial.  Gonna have to keep pondering it.

Relaxing in the sun with Rue during the endless wait for the awards ceremony.

So there it is, NUE #1 done.  Successful overall, fun to be riding dirt in St. George while everything at home is buried under feet of snow.  

On the podium with Gerry Pflug and Shannon Boffeli.

And fun to share the podium with Gerry again--great kick-off to the 2013 season.

Now about that 0.3%...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

East Coast Weekend

Baltimore ("Charm City", according to the sides of its buses) has me in its clutches as I groggily sit here typing.  5 hours of driving (starting hours after I had intended--does that ever happen to you?) got me to SLC for a brief reunion with Mary and Nils, with whom I left Rue the Wunderdog, and then 4 hours of rear-end-numbing flight time landed me on the Eastern seaboard for the second time in a calendar year.  Having spent my whole life west of the Mississippi, spending a weekend this close to the Atlantic is a novel experience.

Steve and Kristi at the harbor.  Didn't have the motivation to go explore the National Aquarium in the background.  Probably should've done that.

How is it that I'm in Charm City in March?  Cuz-in-law Robin is celebrating her wedding this weekend!  Big, fun family affair.  Erica is a matron-of-honor (she quickly corrected me when I referred to her as a "maid") which means I'm spending the weekend hanging out with brother-in-law Steve and his girlfriend, Kristi.  So far, so good--nice stroll around the harbor under a warm sun, afternoon sauna and nap...  And the party hasn't even started.

But in addition to Robin's wedding, big news in my cycling world: the new Pivot LES frame arrived!  Thanks to the crew at Fitzy's I had just enough time to build it up before driving out of town on Thursday.

Scott set me up in one of the stands and gave me free run of the tools at the shop--what a guy.  Then he and Lloyd walked me through the parts I didn't know how to do and left me to my own devices for the rest.

Beautiful in black--this rocket has been my wet dream for the last 6 months.  Now with American Classic Singlespeed wheels, cockpit by Loaded Precision Products, XT brakes (Ice, Ice, Baby...), a smattering of parts from Crank Brothers.  Mmm, good.

And the new XX-1 cranks?  Unbelievable.  Works of art.
After torquing the last bolt, it weighed-in at 20.4lbs. with pedals, bottle cage, Friendly Hello-bell, and air in the tires.  All in the hopes of helping me get across the finish line a little bit faster.  The only thing it's missing is an 18-tooth Kick-Ass Cog from Endless Bikes.  On the way, didn't quite arrive in the mail before my departure.  Bummer.

Regardless, it all got built just in time to take it to the desert for a few days on dirt before the True Grit 100.  I know, I know--who races 100 miles in March?  It's a week away, and I haven't ridden a mountain bike since November.  I've done one ride over 2 hours in the last 4 months, and the only two rides I've done outside were at irrationally-slow speeds on a fatbike.  Yes, I'm fully relying on the skiing I've been doing to produce some sort of endurance fitness, hopefully enough to get me across the finish line in competitive shape.

Now I just have to wait 3 more days before we get to the desert and I can ride the new dream-machine.

Back to the weekend's happy nuptials...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Turning Back

Damn, it feels heavy writing this.  Parker and I spent yesterday up on the Grand Teton, trying to climb and ski the Briggs Route.  We turned back at the base of the Stettner Couloir because of the increasingly reactive windslab we were seeing, and concerns about an avalanche from the Ford Couloir above sweeping down onto us.

Then I woke up this morning to a story about the avalanche death of Jarad Spackman in the Apocalypse Couloir on Prospector's Mountain.  I never met Jarad but certainly knew his name--he was a super accomplished splitboard mountaineer, with tons of experience riding exposed alpine routes in the Tetons.  Having climbed/skied the Apocalypse a few times I can imagine where he and his partner were, with windslab loaded in the face that hangs above the lower couloir, and how horrific an uncontrolled ride down from there would be.  Such a hard place to assess or control the hazard above.

Jarad Spackman on the first descent of The Rapture, Prospector's Mountain.  Photo: Brandon Spackman

Up in Garnet Canyon yesterday Parker and I were feeling really good about stability all the way to the JHMG high camp at 11,200'; the 10-20cm of new snow was glued into place, and skinning from the Meadows to the Teepe Glacier was pretty easy.  Then above high camp things changed dramatically.

The wind picked up, and we started seeing shallow windslab popping off the surface.  Whoever was leading would grab a ski pole mid-shaft and punch into the surface and pull, and the top 3-5cm of slab would clean off and run past us.  Super soft and localized, these platters of fresh slab would flow past and around us and we would have a clean surface into which to kick a few steps before cleaning off the next stretch.  It all felt very small and manageable, despite being incredibly reactive.

As we got into the upper half of the glacier, the slab became more like 10cm thick, but was still soft and localized.  Then I led the traverse from the Teepe Col to the Glencoe Col, and found slab depths increasing to more like 15cm.  Its character changed as well; where we were just cleaning out isolated pockets on the glacier, on the traverse I would punch-and-pull and the fracture would propagate across the whole slope.  Like peeling a banana, I would pull from where I was climbing on the far-right side and it would release all the way across, sending the windslab down into the clouds below.  Nothing ever propagated above, either on the glacier or the traverse, just across--which is what made it continue to feel manageable.

But once we got to the bottom of the Stettner and saw how soft and loaded the sluff cone was, and heard the wind ripping across the upper mountain, we knew that the Ford was only getting more loaded.  Having seen the slab depths increasing in the last 1000', we extrapolated that they would be deeper and more consequential further up.  So far we hadn't seen any natural avalanche activity, but who knew when the load would reach the tipping point?

So we called it there.  We spent 30 minutes sitting in a sheltered nook on the Glencoe Col to see if the weather would improve and then headed down.  Once again, it stung to turn back from another objective but we knew it was the right decision on many levels.

And then this morning the story about Jarad's death.  It feels horrible to have such a personal connection to the fatal accident of another skilled alpinist who I didn't even know, and to contemplate what could have happened had we continued up.  I am eternally thankful to have thoughtful partners like Parker.  My heart goes out to Jarad's partner that day, and the rest of his friends and family.