Monday, August 05, 2019

Til the morning breaks

Few will understand the desire to straddle a bicycle in an unfamiliar place just a couple of hours before sunset, with every intention of riding 200 miles solo through remote country over two full nights, anticipating nothing at the finish besides a few handshakes and hugs, along with bruised legs, a dented helmet, macerated feet and dozens of mosquito bites. I'll never be able to explain it. I can only direct my thousand-yard stare toward the horizon, purse my lips at the intimacy I suddenly share with the dark contours of distant mountains, and repeat lyrics still echoing through my addled brain.

"What an empty, gorgeous place." 

But why go there when it's too dark to see much, enduring all of these rock-strewn trails that you've never found to be particularly fun. And why push into such deep fatigue that you've resorted to talking to yourself, scolding the inner toddler who always wins when the barriers are broken down?

"Because that's where the magic happens."

The Summer Bear looked like an ideal recipe for a small helping of magic. The event is the brainchild of Jon Kowalsky, a Steamboat Springs real estate agent who has worked hard to cultivate the winter endurance racing scene in Colorado. His Winter Bear was once a ridiculous thing that — mostly through attrition, I imagine — was whittled down to a 45-mile route on groomed snowmobile trails for its third year.  Through that fun event six months ago, I connected with several like-minded adventurous folks in Colorado. Many were on board for Jon's summertime freebie (meaning there was no fee to enter, but the field was capped) — a 200-mile self-supported race through the relatively remote forestland of northcentral Colorado. For months we only knew the general distance and elevation gain — 23,000 feet. The route was kept a secret until July 28, less than a week before the August 2 start. I learned relatively late that the race would start in the evening, at 6 p.m.


My own preparations for Summer Bear were somewhat lax. It's been a few years since I've taken cycling all that seriously — really, my 2016 ride to Nome was a pinnacle, and everything since just doesn't carry the same level of inspiration. It's easy to ride bikes for fun and adventure, but harder to push myself, especially since my health went downhill during that same time period. My health is now largely revived, and new ambitions are steamrolling toward the present. Regardless of the mode of travel, I needed a renewed test of mental fortitude. For that reason, I quietly planned to ride the route straight through, with only two predetermined stops that I hoped to hold to less than an hour each. The 6 p.m. start meant I'd almost certainly have to ride through two nights, which was its own intriguing challenge.


I loaded up my now-eight-year-old Moots soft-tail with equally dated bags — although I do like to brag to cyclist friends that my bags were all hand-sewn by the owner of what is now a major bikepacking brand. He even scrawled "Jill-Proof" in pencil on the interior of the frame bag, as I have a reputation for being hard on gear. The bags withstood the test of time, but my bike gradually fell into unnoticed disrepair. Beat has done a whole lot in the past few weeks to bring it up to date — installing a nearly new fork from one of his bikes, new saddle, new pedals, new brake pads and shifter cables. Two nights before the race I asked him to give the bike a once-over, and he found the chainring to be in such a sorry state that he went into his workshop and machined a titanium ring on his CNC mill, at midnight. With a new chain and cassette as well, Mootsy felt like a whole new bike.


The race launched from a private ranch along the shoreline of Steamboat Lake, a gorgeous setting where we could park our cars for the weekend and hang out when we weren't cycling. Quite the luxurious accommodations for a free race — Jon called it his "bachelor party," and was among the 18 riders at the start. I'd heard there would be 40, so I was surprised by the small field, but it was a solid group of endurance enthusiasts. Among the field were finishers of the ITI 350 and Fat Pursuit 200-miler, the woman's winner of Winter Bear, a race organizer from South Dakota, and a local woman who regularly podiums at major mountain bike races. There were relative novices as well, including my friend Betsy, who just wanted to ride her fat bike farther than she'd ever ridden it, and have fun. I felt in my element. 

It was an adventure from the start, as we jumped into the grass to go around a truck that had jack-knifed across the road.

Having spent only an hour or so reviewing the track after we returned from Ouray, I knew little about the course or what to expect. Jon used the phrase "lost singletrack" to describe parts of it, which I interpreted as "overgrown trail that I'll probably have to hike." Some grades topped 20 percent, and 23,000 feet of climbing in 200 miles was generally steeper than my usual rides around Boulder, which are already quite hilly. I anticipated a fair amount of downhill hike-a-bike, as I'm a lousy rider on loose rock, which puts me at a strong disadvantage in Colorado. I made my goal 36 hours — breakfast at Brush Mountain Lodge at mile 102, dinner at my car at mile 133, and a hopeful predawn finish. As it turned out, my expectations were fairly spot on, and yet the race was still so much harder than expected.

The route was clover-shaped with three distinct loops beginning near the ranch. The first loop was fairly uneventful. I went out at a conservative pace, sandwiched somewhere between the lead group of hard-driving racers and the folks who were planning to camp during the first night. The first climb was nice and steep, a thousand feet in three miles, and I broke enough of a sweat to spend most of 40 minutes with one eye clamped shut. I thought it was a good preview of the course, but I was wrong. This was a baby ascent. Nothing at all.

By 2 a.m. I found myself in blissful solitude. The fast racers were now far ahead, the campers were camping, and I was alone for miles, flying solo on the fast-rolling hills along the border of Wyoming and Colorado. The road dipped steeply toward the Little Snake River, and it was there I came across the lights of a cyclist hiking uphill toward me. It was Graham, previous finisher of the ITI 350, currently training for the thousand-mile ride to Nome. The New Zealander was wild-eyed and shivering. He told me he crashed into an antelope. He saw the animal grazing on the side of the road, and instead of running away, it took a run at him, collided, then darted off. Graham was tossed over the handlebars and ripped up his arm on the rough gravel. His derailleur was mangled. He removed it and tried the single-speed conversion, but the shortened chain jumped a cog and was jammed in place. His bike was unrideable. We were 13 miles from the nearest paved road and any hope of cell reception. Graham told me he got a non-emergency SPOT message out to his wife, so I wished him best of luck and continued west. I felt guilty for leaving him stranded while visibly injured, but there wasn't much I could do to help, and I know Graham is as tough as they come. He was fine, of course, and snoozed roadside for a few hours until his wife came to pick him up in the morning.

"Next year Jon should change the name of the race," I thought. "The Kamikaze Antelope has a nice ring to it."


The route dipped south, back into Colorado, and I made the long climb on County Road 1 just as the pink light of dawn crept across the horizon. This was my third visit to this segment of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. My first was ten years ago now, at sunset. Back then, I had no idea what I'd find out here. I was racing my first Tour Divide, recently single and terribly lonely. I stopped at every house along the road — there are two or three of them — and gazed longingly at lit windows, imagining the happy families residing inside. After nightfall, I arrived at a house with festive Christmas lights strung along the roof, but dark windows. Still, I lingered roadside for a long while, then continued pedaled into the dark. Fifty meters up the road, still in earshot but only just, I heard a quiet voice call out, "Jill?"

Kirsten, who had been watching my Tour Divide tracker, pulled me off the lonely road that fateful June day in 2009, back when I was not aware that her Brush Mountain Lodge was a place. She fed me cherries and showed me a depth of kindness, expecting nothing in return. And each summer she's done the same for hundreds of cyclists on the GDMBR. Still, she seemed to remember me well. She remembers our late night chatting about world news in 2009, which was the best cure for loneliness I could have possibly experienced. She remembers when I showed up broken with bronchitis in 2015. She remembers seemingly everything, and told me she is writing a book about the cyclists she has met. I can't wait to read it. It was fun to show up at 6:30 a.m. to a table full of Bear racers, eat a huge plate of breakfast sandwiches that she whipped up in no time, and talk about the Tour Divide drama of 2019. Kirsten regards me as one of the "old-timers" of bikepacking. I felt honored, and unworthy. But she has a way of making everyone feel like they're someone special.

Brush Mountain Lodge is regarded as "The Vortex" in bikepacking lore, so I was both surprised and not surprised to see the entire lead pack lingering at the breakfast table. They had slept a few hours, sure, but it was weird that I wasn't farther behind. A couple more in the mid-pack went into the bunk room for a rest, but I wasn't feeling sleepy, and it wasn't my plan anyway. The sun was out, the sky was bright, and I knew storms were on their way in the afternoon. Best to put in miles while the going was good.


The Summer Bear route turned off the GDMBR for a whole lot of bonus climbing, first on a steep forest road under the hot sun that really hurt with a stomach full of breakfast, then a seemingly endless traverse on faint double track as it dipped in and out of mosquito-infested drainages. At least the trail crossed through beautiful meadows full of wildflowers as it administered the pain. Then, many hours later under what were now darkening afternoon skies, I was back on the GDMBR, basically at the bottom of the long climb up the Watershed Divide, not far from Brush Mountain Lodge. WTF? It started raining just as I commenced the ascent, walking a bunch of the slimy mud and stumbling over loose babyhead boulders, just as I remember doing in 2009 and 2015. I met a couple of northbound GDMBR cyclists with medium-sized dogs in trailers, and warned them about the steep descent. They told me I was only the second racer they'd seen, and the first (likely Perry) was only a mile or two ahead. This was strange, as I was pretty slow, but most in the leading pack couldn't have been so far ahead that they wouldn't have passed them on the long descent into Clark. But the Summer Bear didn't take the direct route to Clark. Instead, it turned the WTF factor up a few more notches, turning off the GDMBR for more climbing on a bumpy jeep road, just so it could descend a loose-rock fall line that was so steep I had to walk a fair amount downhill.


I made it back to camp at 3:30 p.m., which was earlier than my predicted time of 6 p.m., but I was still rattled by the sudden difficulty of the route. Later I would explain the nature of the Summer Bear in a way only Beat would necessarily understand — the first 100 miles felt like the Tour Divide, with a few bumpy ATV trails sprinkled into was was mostly steep but well-maintained dirt and gravel. The final 100 miles leveled much more Race Across South Africa absurdity — cattle trails, tiger lines and all. All of the hard stuff was in the back half. I had no idea what was coming for me in the night. Still, miles 103-133 had administered a little taste of loop three, and several tired leaders were still resting in camp when I arrived, including Hannah, the semi-pro MTB racer. I set to work and stuck to my plan, cooking up a Mountain House meal and coffee for dinner, knocking back a few more Starbucks Doubleshots, resupplying snacks, changing batteries, lubing feet and butt, changing socks and shirt, and adding my bivy bundle to the handlebars. While I didn't necessarily plan on camping during the second night, it's difficult for me to try anything scary without some sort of security blanket. Sleep deprivation scares me, because I've had traumatic experiences with it. I'm normally quite cautious in this regard.

On my way out of camp I passed Derek, who confided that he was thinking of quitting. "This isn't even fun," he said, rubbing his hands to indicate pain from the jarring descents. Quite a few riders were on gravel bikes, which I regarded as knives at a gun fight, but then again I'm known to heavily favor too much bike over too little. I bought ice and Gatorade at the Clark store, the headed into the hot evening for yet another 1,500-foot climb on 13 percent grades (yawn.) There I encountered yet another racer riding toward me. It was local cyclist John Lawrence, who I think was probably too familiar with everything ahead. He told me he was done, just too gassed for the climb.

The evening was gorgeous, with lots of rich light, sweeping views into the Zirkle Wilderness, and a smooth gravel road where I could sit relaxed in the saddle and look all around. This segment is where most of the upcoming photos come from. I don't have any from the night.


This is my happy place — tired, really tired, and completely at peace. In recent years I've read more on mental health issues, specifically anxiety, and suspect that endurance efforts are a form of self-medication for me. It's effective at turning off the chattering part of my brain, being present in places that are so much bigger than myself, being scared of things that are legitimately scary, rather than the phantoms and ghosts in my mind. It's a profound way to experience life as well — exploration, observation, understanding and reflection — rather than sitting in place and numbing my chattering brain with medication. Endurance racing has its risks and flaws, but it's such a vast net positive that I can't imagine giving it up anytime soon.

Anyway, everything was going really well. I've participated in enough endurance events to know this doesn't mean anything for the future, but I was still feeling strong as the sun set, and surpassed mile 160. I was surprised Hannah hadn't passed me yet, and wondered if I might be able to hold her off. If I kept moving ... maybe, just maybe. The route turned off the road and followed an overgrown cattle track. I wondered if this is what Jon described as "the least-ridden singletrack in all of Colorado." Personally I don't consider the fact that no one rides a trail to be a ringing endorsement, but I'd expected this terrain, and I was mentally prepared.

Indeed, the trail was an often a barely-there thing cutting a pencil-thin line through grass that was nearly as tall as my head. It was almost impossible to find the trail in the low light of evening — visibility actually improved when it was finally dark enough to switch on my lights. Still, I couldn't see the ground at all, and rolled into endless invisible boulders and logs. The overgrown trail was too narrow to hike-a-bike. So I had to just ride, knowing that I might hit an unseen obstacle with wheel or pedal and flip over the handlebars at any time. It had to be done. Luckily, I had sleep deprivation on my side. Riding sleep-deprived is what I imagine driving drunk must be like. You are likely a whole lot worse behind the wheel, but your inhibitions are broken and you feel unstoppable. In my case, lack of confidence is my biggest enemy, so false bravado is far more effective than any of my meager skills. I rode my mountain bike like I used to ride, before the infamous crash of 2011 that seared an enduring nerve pain in my memory, before the scars accumulated and fear wore me down. I found a song on my iPod that I found to be exhilaratingly motivating, and did that thing I sometimes do with a song on repeat for far too long, but it's working. "Bad Decisions" by Bastille.

You said that maybe this is where it ends 
Take a bow for the bad decisions that we made 
Bad decisions that we made.

And if we're going down in flames
Take a bow for the bad decisions that we made
Bad decisions that we made.

So we'll make the same mistakes
'Til the morning breaks.

The focus that the faint trail demanded started to become tedious, and I grew sleepy. After the trail spit me out on a jeep road, I decided to experiment with something the fast racers call a "shiver bivy" — basically a trailside nap, snoozing for a few minutes until the cold wakes you up. It's not real rest; it's only meant to keep the sleep monster at bay without wasting a bunch of time with a real bivy. I don't usually try this, mostly because it means waking up cold, and I'm scared of being cold. I feel I've had enough cold-weather experience to be legitimately frightened of cooling my body temperature at any time of year. But ... I was on a roll of succeeding at things that scared me. So I curled up on my coat with my head on my pack, pulling my sore legs against my torso. I think I actually did doze, for anywhere from 15 seconds to 15 minutes. And I indeed woke up shivering, and also feeling awful, like I'd been hit by a truck. I'm just not a napper. Shiver bivy was a mistake.

Newly nauseated and sore in all of the wrong places, I stumbled up the road. After a short stretch of steep climbing, the route crossed a thigh-deep stream and ended at a trail sign that seemingly led to nowhere. The sign contained a hateful name that I recognized from a ridiculous climb on the first night, "Wyoming Trail." I couldn't locate this Wyoming Trail, even when I turned my headlight on bright. Finally I noticed a faint bike track in the dust, and pointed my bike in a straight line until I hit the babyhead-strewn fall line, another 25-percent grade climbing toward the star-filled sky.

I would spend the next four hours covering eight miles of Wyoming Trail, wet feet burning with skin maceration, stomping through endless mud puddles, alternately shivering and sweating in my rain shell, resting every two steps because I was out of gas, forcing an M&M or two into my sour stomach and lecturing my legs to "find the energy." As I recall there were some rolling hills, and the descents were equally steep and loose, but I still had some lingering false bravado to try to ride. That is, until I skidded out on scree, managed to throw a foot down and stop, only to haphazardly run into a boulder when I started rolling again. The sudden stop tossed me into a slow-motion endo. My helmet cracked down with a loud thunk that I think was just an echo from my helmet light tearing away from the velcro, but the sound scared me something fierce. I was done being brave for the night.

Finally Wyoming Trail ended and I was back on a jeep road at mile 180. It was after 3 a.m. I couldn't quite recall the final elevation profile. I thought there was one more climb in there, but surely I had to be close to done. Sure enough, the route turned onto another ATV trail, all fall line and no switchbacks, strewn with loose boulders and tangled roots. By this point I was no longer remotely sleepy. My heart was filled with rage. "Jon should change the name of this race to something with more truth in advertising. Steep Babyhead Bullshit ... Bear."

Up and down, down and up. My legs still felt strong, but I was gassed in that way that allowed me to climb well for 10 or 11 pedal strokes, until I'd suddenly feel so faint that I feared I might pass out and fall off the sideslope into the black gorge below. I walked much of this section as well. I tried to hold my shit together. Really, I'd like to get through one race without a meltdown. That would be a true test of my mental fortitude. But I lost it on yet another 500-foot hike-a-bike descent. The narrow singletrack was rideable, but unforgivingly steep and loose, and crowded in with handlebar-grabbing tree trunks. I was making too many mistakes to take any more risks. I cried the entire hike down. The tears were a welcome release, the emotional equivalent of vomiting. Meanwhile, the adult inside me was lecturing, out loud, the petulant toddler who always emerges during these hard times. "You can cry, but if you're still crying at the river, you're going to have to stop and sleep." I didn't want to stop and sleep. I wanted to be done.
I stopped at the stream indicated on my map, gratefully filled my water filter bottle with cool water, and took my shoes off to soak my burning feet in the creek. I ingested a few more M&Ms. I was done crying. There was nothing around — utter silence. I'd expected to see city lights, but I wasn't anywhere close to the finish. Dawn light again appeared on the horizon. My GPS registered mile 183. Somehow it had taken me the entire night to travel just 20 miles, with a bike. I scrolled through my GPS and realized that in the next two miles, I would have to climb from 9,300 feet to 10,600 feet, with a bike. I honestly wasn't expecting any more climbing. Defeat crept into my heart, and then I remembered a helpful mantra from my friend Jorge, which I've adopted — "This will never end." When things feel awful, I tell myself they're permanent. If something can't end, then one must learn to live with it. Find the good. It's a Viktor Frankl "Search for Meaning" sort of philosophy that looks for purpose in all experiences. I like it.

So I started up the ridiculous jeep road, with grades that Strava would later register at 30 percent. My shoulders and arms ached too much to effectively hold the bike from rolling downhill, so I tried lifting it onto my backpack. But with the added awkward weight, my shoes (good trail-running shoes, old original Montrail Mountain Masochists) had no traction on the loose dirt and rocks. I slipped and fell onto my knees, which was alarming given my recent MCL injury, and knew I couldn't manage a carry. So I rolled the bike into the field and hiked cross-country — still steep, but at least the tundra wasn't a minefield of tripping hazards.

My pace dropped below 1 mph. Two steps, rest. Two steps, rest. This is never going to end. Find the good. What's the good? Crimson light stretched across the horizon. The views went on forever. There was no one else around. Why would they be? If you ever want to be alone for most of 36 hours in the Colorado mountains on a weekend in August, I recommend the Summer Bear route. I mean, I don't recommend it. But I do.

"What an empty, gorgeous place."


Emotions were still running high, and I feared I might break out in tears again, but only because I felt such a renewed since of peace. I told myself this wasn't going to end, and suddenly I didn't want it to. I was grateful for the opportunity to experience this high plateau at first light, a time of day I rarely experience because I am so far removed from being a morning person that no sunrise is worth waking up for. But staying up all night, making mistakes until the morning breaks ... that I can do. This little knob is probably Farwell Mountain. Yes, it's spelled that way. But I liked to think of it as my "Farewell Mountain." Thank you, for this gift.

Of course, both the morning and the moment had to end, and it was time for what was truly a last descent. True to form, Summer Bear kept things painful by descending the loose jeep trail followed by jarring river rocks all the way to the valley. I rolled back to the ranch at 8:34 a.m., for a finish time of 38 hours and 34 minutes. I was greeted enthusiastically by two guys who arrived during the night, as well as Jon, who like most of the field had decided to stop before the monstrous loop three.

I hadn't encountered a single human all night long. As the hours drug on at 2 mph, I began to wonder where everyone went. In the daylight I could see only two bike tracks, and wondered if there were truly only two racers in front of me. As it turned out, there were only two, but one had cut the course. I was the second official finisher, out of just four. I was the sole woman finisher. Hannah didn't leave camp, and my friend Betsy and two others stopped together at The Brush Mountain Lodge Vortex. I was surprised that the finisher rate was quite so low, but I think everyone underestimated The Bear, even Jon.

Am I proud I slogged it out? Yes I am. Did I pass my mental fortitude test? Mostly, although I'm not proud of the meltdown just because things were a little hard, nor do I think it was necessary to move quite as slowly as I was moving while I was battling my inner petulant child. I give myself a B+. Good enough to move on to the next level.

I'm excited.

24 comments:

  1. Had my coffee brewing when I saw you had your post up so started reading and it was so full of great journey nuggets that I couldn't stop :). So this is one of those that I get to the end and think "man do I feel good!" and I didn't even have my coffee yet! Lol. Have to read it again later....

    Jeff C

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    1. Good to see people you touch with your words! I planned to wake and have my coffee while I re-read and enjoyed the scenery you captured. But first had to get past waking up with head chatter of my current life puzzle (that's what happens with a hour and half of REM in a 5 hour sleep night) so my morning ponder shifted from "what" goals i want to "why" I want them.....sometimes it takes Jeff a while to agree it's worth the effort! Finally got that out of the way!

      I've know a few people like Kirsten.      So full of life and kindness, there eyes tell they are really listening and care. I always tried to absorb that positive energy, they gave away so freely, to share with others but it's like trying to hold on to a greased water balloon.

      I like that "this will never end" centering mantra. One I use came from Josh Whedon's TV show Firefly. His sociopath bounty hunter bad guy was a mix of Nihilism, Absurdist and Stoism was knocked off a ship and was slowly summersalting out into the  void and as his helmet came into view the camera zoomed in and in a emotionless and flat tone said "well....here I am".

      Don't remember if I posted this quote.

           "Self-mastery is the first step towards attaining enlightenment. Change begins with personal dissatisfaction and belief that a person can do better. A person can set meaningful goals and vow not to hold onto frivolous attachments. My objective is to cultivate the ability to expect the best effort from myself and never be afraid to tackle the type of difficult projects or pursue scintillating adventures that spur mental growth. I aim to become a loyal, loving, and joyful person, and broaden personal knowledge through a self-prescribed course of active reading and studious contemplation. I aspire to use an expanded base of knowledge to live a more ethical and principled existence and rid myself of self-defeating behaviors brought on by brooding doubts regarding the paucity of my innate talent. Instead of grieving over what I failed to achieve, I plan to concentrate upon what I can achieve and bring the collective force of my newly resolved mindset to the forefront."

      Kilroy J. Oldster

      There is aleays a next level :)...... Godspeed on your next level!

      Jeff C

         
       "In the end, happiness is a side effect of living well."

       Richard A. Friedman

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  2. Holy catsickles! Uhm....B+? For FINISHING THAT? I think you VASTLY underestimate yourself...most of us (definetly include myself in that "us") wouldn't even consider starting that monster...but FINISHING? DANG GIRL!! Once again you've added to my list of things to remember when things get tough (for me)...that's when I ask myself "what would Jill do"...and somehow that gives me strength to keep moving forward. In-freaking believable Jill! And also as always, FANTASTIC writeup! You almost make it sound FUN! Like it's something I should try...and then I remind myself that I'm a WIMP...I humbly bow in your general direction (yet again)! Mind blowing doesn't hardly begin to describe your ride! Welcome back!!!

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    1. As always, thanks Matt. I follow you on Strava, so I know you are not a wimp. But I appreciate the votes of confidence, every time.

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  3. Great write up, Jill. Definitely type 2 fun! Good on you for finishing. Sounds tough and not something I would be interested in doing!

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    1. Ha ha, I think you'd surprise yourself. Your Fairbanks-Circle route sounded tougher per mile than any of my third loop Summer Bear, and this had plenty of relaxed riding sprinkled in the mix. It's an intriguing adventure, but I will say now that it's unlikely I'll ride it again next year. It's not really a trail I need to visit twice. :)

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  4. Great effort. Being way out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night sounds kinda spooky. I got a kick out of the line, "...he went into his workshop and machined a titanium ring on his CNC mill". While he was at it, did he first go out and mine some titanium ore, smelt it down, and forge it into an ingot?

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    1. Ha. Yeah, Beat is a serious hobbyist. He does keep the materials lying around ... thick sheets of titanium, aluminum, steel, brass ... He's made chainrings and singlespeed cogs before, and I think just needed to do a few adjustments with the software to fire up the machine. Still, I realize how ridiculous this must sound casually mentioned in a race report. There aren't many Beats in the world.

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    2. Lazy Sunday morning and some how I thought about Beat fabing a chain ring (total guy thing:)) so just a quick shout out to him and the great race prep of your bike (he has to be stoked by your finish and no mechanicals). But to whip this out in the middle of the night .....have I said how cool this guy is!?...oh ya I did :)

      Jeff C

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  5. OOH...the ring! I was so enthralled with the post and pics that I FORGOT about THE RING! Machining a ring is no small deal...there's slopes and shapes to the teeth...seriously, it's holy crap stuff! (I need to go back and look at the pic...wasn't that on FB?) That Beat just went to his shop and whipped out a new ring (from a hunk of suitable Ti that he had just 'hanging around'?) I'd love to see his workshop...that is high level stuff for sure!

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    1. Yes! See my reply to Joe above. I do have a picture of the chainring on my Facebook wall. Some of my other bikes have custom-Beat chainrings. The bike I rode to Nome had one. This is something he's done before, but it's still fun that actually can whip one up on a whim.

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  6. Awesome Ride and Write up, thanks for sharing so much about your experience and self! Impressive riding and perseverance to keep going steady. It was an honor to share a trail and short introduction with you and hope there will be another. I never did see the riders touring with trailers and dogs?

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    1. Great to ride with you oh-so-briefly as well, before you and Hannah disappeared up that hill. I figure she and you were the only ones in proximity to me before I saw the tourists, and they mentioned they talked to a man who told them about that race. So I'm not sure who it was. They had an amusing setup with those big dogs just bouncing around in BOB trailers, but they told me the actually haven't had to walk many of the climbs so far. Things may change for them when they reach Montana. Anyway, congrats to you!

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  7. In an odd way it makes me feel better that someone as tough as you also has meltdowns. Although mine come from much less adversity.

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    1. Ha. I have so many. They embarrass me every time and I think, "I won't write about this one on my blog." But I always do. I actually appreciate that my emotions move so close to the surface during these adventures. It makes the whole experience all the more meaningful, a better exploration of self and place.

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  8. Well done! The riding and the writing. After reading, I went back through the photos and it looks so much more peaceful than you describe. Maybe that's what you will remember in a year or so. Anyway, I'm super glad to hear about all your adventures this summer after the past few years of frustrations.

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    1. You're right, it was a gorgeous region. Funny, too, because in all of the parts of the Colorado Rockies I've been lucky to travel through, the Steamboat Springs area was one of the more "meh" memories. Participating in Jon's Summer Bear and Winter Bear have shifted this perspective entirely.

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  9. Great write up and fantastic effort. Been following your blog from the very beginning and it's exciting to see you back on track. Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment. I remember your handle from somewhere way back when.

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  10. Your life-saga would make a good mini-series. So much riveting adventure, so many ups and downs...literally and figuratively. I'm sure your motivation, at least in part, is the threat of a mundane, accomplishment free life. Most don't "get it." But for those of us who do, well, we're glad you are "out there" sharing the trials, tribulations, tears, triumphs and disappointments of living an Outdoor life...
    mark

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  11. Thanks Mark! As I've mentioned before, I do feel a sort of kinship with others who "get it," even if we only ever meet in passing, or sometimes not at all. I hope our paths will cross in Lovely Ouray sometime again.

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  12. Wow, it seems like you are getting better and stronger! Number two is so good. Well done.

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Feedback is always appreciated!