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Showing posts from April, 2012

Here goes nothing

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Right now it's 38 degrees and clear in Idyllwild, California. I arrived in town this afternoon after visiting my sister in Huntington Beach. Less than two hours of driving through traffic-choked Orange County sprawl and into the mountains landed me in this awesome little mountain town at 6,000 feet, with wisps of new-fallen snow on the ridgeline just above our heads. By Saturday afternoon it's supposed to be close to 100 degrees in the low-lying desert just a few miles south.

I spent the evening with my friends Sharon and Michael, who flew all the way out here from Anchorage to escape Alaska breakup and soak up a little Cali sunshine. I'm splitting a hotel room with Eszter, the supa-fast mountain bike goddess who is gearing up to crush my Tour Divide record this summer. The Stagecoach is just another training ride for her. Interestingly, we spent most of the evening talking about Alaska.

I head into this ride with an open mind and a lot of food (really, I have a lot this …

Fighting inertia

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After another "but it's only for fun" mountain bike ride on Sunday that ended with dead legs and nap-time fatigue, I made the unprecedented (for me) decision to take the rest of the week off from exercising. I admit I'm beginning to feel nervous about the possible onset of mild burnout, because some of the symptoms feel similar to my post Tour Divide physical malaise: Molasses muscles, mild but persistent soreness in my quads, rapidly shifting energy levels, sugar cravings. Experts have a label for all of these symptoms — "overtraining."

While the reasoning makes sense, it's harder for me to accept the simple explanation. For starters, my activity volume, while relatively high, hasn't changed all that much in the past year. I don't train like most athletes, in peaks and valleys of hard effort and recovery. I stick to a mostly even plain of effort because it's what I enjoy most — having the ability to go out day after day for long efforts if…

Embracing the slump

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As soon as my bike tour ended, the tired returned. I can't say there was anything about the trip — besides the obvious energy deficit during the low-calorie day — that made me feel especially fatigued. But as soon as I stopped pedaling, recovery mode set in deep. My quads felt shredded in such a way that the remaining intact fibers were holding on by threads — in other words, sore and tight. I rested over the weekend and embarked on one run to try to work out the muscle soreness, but that just made my knees ache. There were renewed desires to take naps in the middle of bike rides. Despite concerns about the big effort looming at the end of the month, I couldn't feel too frustrated about my fatigue; I try not to let myself to succumb to frustration for conditions I know are self-inflicted. At the same time, the fatigue was frustrating because it didn't necessarily make sense. My "training volume" hasn't been much different than any other point during the wint…

South Pole bike revisted

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Earlier this week I randomly received an e-mail from Kane Fortune, the president of bicycle-maker Fortune Hanebrink, asking me if I wanted to revisit my conclusions about British television personality Helen Skelton's 500-mile multi-sport trip in Antarctica. I thought, yes, it would be good to follow through on this. Helen successfully completed her expedition to the South Pole on January 22. Her methods of travel included 329 miles (eight days) of kite skiing, 68 miles (three days) of skiing, and 103 miles (seven days) of biking on a custom Hanebrink ice bike.

I and other snow bike enthusiasts were critical of the media coverage of Helen's expedition, which perpetuated several unsubstantiated claims (such as the "longest bike ride on snow" and "first bike ride to the South Pole," which was not even one-fifth true given the start at an arbitrary point 500 miles from the pole.) Some snow bikers also questioned the practicality of that particular brand of bic…

Part three: Serendipity

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Over the next three miles, I worked through my misery to reach a sort of numb acceptance. After my mind was wiped free of angst and cloaked in haze, I saw a crow picking at a bag of Doritos on the side of the road. Animal instinct prompted me to hit the brakes hard to scare the crow away, stop the bike, and reach out to grab the bag of chips. But human consciousness intervened. "Are you really going to eat discarded, rained-on, bird-pecked chips?" I smiled in spite of myself. Is it possible to so quickly fall from grace? The crinkled bag just rustled in the wind, taunting me, until I couldn't bear my own curiosity. I grabbed the bag and looked inside. It was empty, and the question remained unanswered.

I pedaled another half mile around two tight corners when I came to a straightaway, and ahead I could see a building. "Probably just someone's house," I thought. But as I came closer, I could see hints of a neon sign. And were those gas pumps? Those were defi…

Part two: Hunger Games

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There's no obstacle in biking that I fear more than mud. Snow? Fun! Rocks? Challenging. Wind? Meh. Bears? They run away. Massive landslides that take out half the mountainside? I'm sure there's a way we can walk around this. But mud? Mud chokes the drivetrain and cements tires to the frame until the whole bike is seized up, ten pounds heavier, and dangling from your shoulders as you trudge through the sticky mess, at least until it rips your shoes off and you're fully stopped in your mud-caked socks, wondering how much longer this will last. Five miles? Ten? Forty? You never really know. Mud is exactly what I was thinking about as I lay awake in my wet sleeping bag in the morning, waiting for the deluge to shatter the roof of the shower building.

If I had to put a quantity on how much precipitation fell on Arroyo Seco overnight, I would say "more than an inch" — and this is based on years of experience in Southeast Alaska. That's enough moisture to turn an…

Not a Disney California adventure

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Part One: Cruising In the realm of outdoor experiences, there is something deeply satisfying about making my own route and then following it. It's as though, by taking an orange felt-tip marker and drawing squiggly lines on photocopied maps, I'm actually outlining these distant mountains, these lonely highways, these rugged trails. My bicycle is a sort of paintbrush, pressed into the blank canvas of the unknown to make these visualizations a reality. There's art in discovery. More than miles, elevation, and other tangible statistics, this creative process leaves me with a sense of accomplishment — even when riddled with mistakes. Actually, it's satisfying because it was riddled with mistakes. I took some chances and colored outside some lines, and the finished product was beautiful.

My ambitious plan: pedal from Los Altos to the start/finish of the Santa Barbara 100 in three days, alone, having no experience with any region south of Los Altos, and with little more to go …

Inspired to ride

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I'd be lying if I said I had an easy weekend of mountain biking. I set out Saturday for a four-hour ride and became so tired midway through that I actually laid down beneath a tree to take a nap. A cold ridge-top breeze woke me up less than five minutes later, but the power nap really did give me a nice boost. The back half of the ride was more peppy.

On Sunday morning, I woke up so groggy that I felt like I was under water, but I'd already made plans to ride with a new friend, Jan. I'd already bailed on Jan once before, so I made myself rally to Windy Hill in the late morning. We motored up to Skyline Ridge on a lung-searingly steep fire road while being baked by the April sun (literally. I always have that one spring ride where I forget sunscreen and come home the color of a cherry tomato. Then I slather multiple layers of SPF 50 on myself for the rest of the year, and my skin never attains any real hint of color.) We kept a mellow pace but our ride was five hours long.…

Getting to know you

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Somewhere along the way, my mind inevitably promises my body more rest, but how could I not take this bike out for rides? Its rhythm is intoxicating — the soothing purr of the freewheel, the smooth ratcheting of the shifters, the crackle of new tires on gravel. It's a well-tuned machine with an imperfect engine; the biomechanics are still off somehow. Two-hour rides feel more like four, but I still managed to crank out 75 miles in three days with my new Moots, oh, and 8,600 feet of climbing. Not because I needed to, but, well, because I needed to.

Sort of like meeting someone new, and staying up all night talking on the phone even though you have to work early in the morning. Yeah, it's like that.

Today we set out to find the secret road out of town. Several highways thread down the mountains and valleys south of here. But I wanted to find a road no one knew about, that even Google Maps called questionable in its existence, but if it did exist, would release me near Bear Creek…

Introducing ...

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... The newest member of the family, the Moots MootoX YBB! It's a 29" titanium soft-tail whose purpose in this world is to be ridden lots and lots, preferably for days on end, and yet be so comfortable and light that it's almost like it's not even there — like riding on a cloud, or running blindingly fast without pain. The MootoX is my dream bike, but I never deserved it. I still don't, and yet, here it is, thanks to Beat and a little discussion we had a few months ago.

Jill: "I want to ride the Stagecoach 400 and do more bikepacking trips this summer, but the Element isn't really the right bike for long overnight rides. I think I'm going to have to put gears back on the Karate Monkey."

Beat: (Who has adopted the Karate Monkey and showered her with singlespeed love.): "No, don't do that. You need a new bike."

I do think I have too many bikes. I'm starting to catch up to my friend Sierra in sheer bicycle proliferation. And yet th…