Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Traditions: mountain biking with kids

Growing up we had large family gatherings at my grandparent's house.  As memory serves they were always enjoyable times with cousins gathered and people having fun.  Reality probably tells a different story, one of a stressed out grandmother and grandfather.  Parents that were pinging and kids that were 100% commotion.  But that is all gone now; a fond memory of an enjoyable time.

Last year I took Diga to a cyclocross race in Kansas and we had a great time.  Of course it reality was that it was a pain, from getting up early, getting him ready, to locking my keys in the car and calling my wife for help.  But like the thanksgiving at my grandparent's house, all Diga will remember is the great time we had and the trophy he won, the beef jerky, and root beer!  I am great with that.

This year, I took he and the Chick to explore the Wild Azalea Trail, a 31 mile stretch of single track multi-use trail.  The ironic part is that I will remember this as a fond and enjoyable memory and they will probably remember it as "the time dad got mad because we wouldn't use our gears again and we whined because it was hard."

They are smiling now, give it about 20 minutes!!!

The great thing about life is that at a certain point you can create your own traditions.  We don't watch football (you have to have cable or a satellite for that) so bicycling has become ours.  So we got up much earlier than my daughter wanted and loaded up and drove off.  It was about 50 degrees and beautiful.  I love riding in the fall and the sound of leaves crunching under my fat tires.

Crushing leaves under fat tires is a wonderful sound!

We did about 2.5 miles out before we turned around.  Notice the smile?  Neither do I.

Diga on the other hand is quick to show a smile.

 This trail is nice but a little overgrown in spots.  Diga cleaned up on this stretch.  Strangely it took us significantly less time returning to the car.  

I would consider this event to have been a success.  It turned out to be a quiet ride on the way home.

The best part was that dinner was ready by the time we got home!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Tsunami Rides: FFO and Great Pumpkin Ride in Lafayette, LA

I am exhausted!  We decided a month or so ago that we would participate in a charity ride in Lafayette, LA.  They were offering the usual assortment of distances to include 35 miles.  So we signed up and "planned" a forced family outing.  Household 6 (HH6) decided she and the two younger would do the 10 mile and I would do the 35 with Diga and the Chick.  Notice the word planned is in quotes.

We had a really nice Chariot trailer to pull Newby in, however, he can ride without training wheels and Leavenworth, KS was not the bike friendly place that the QC area is so we decided to sell it.  He cannot ride 10 miles just yet so we borrowed a much more low quality trailer and HH6 immediately lost the hitch for the bike.  So a couple of attempts on landed a replacement.  It arrived the day before we were to depart.

Additionally, it was a nightmare week at work and I didn't have time to pack.  So Friday night, O Hallowed Eve, I got off work at 6:30, ran to the store to get some stuff, then I slam packed the trailer with 5 bikes and a borrowed kid trailer and what I hoped would be the right clothing for the blast of arctic air was to come that night.  Yes, low 40 degrees is an arctic blast when you are used to 75 degrees for a low.  By the way, I have great cycling clothing for that temp, my children don't.

My dream is a small toy hauler trailer that we can also sleep in.  

We bathed the kids, put them in their PJs and hit the road at 9 pm for a 2.5 hour drive.  As we departed I noticed the low pressure light.  I stopped at the gas station for air.  It was broke, the only free one I know of was broken.  So we hit the road and stopped at the next station, put in $1 and nada.  So we hit the road and 20 miles later we found another gas station $1 and bam air.  Then another $1 because I decided to check all tires and needed to add more but ran out of time.

Then we hit the road for reals.  We arrived at our hotel at midnight.  HH6 has made it a goal to find the cheapest hotel ever.  Last time it was the worst smelling smoking room we have ever stayed in.  The only thing that could have brought the price below $40 would have been a chalk outline from a dead body outside.   The beds were not queen as we were told so one kid hit the floor and HH6 crammed in with two and I crammed in with another.  Asleep by 1 a.m. with alarm set for 6 a.m.  We then fought the kids into their clothing and headed to the venue.  

HH6 went to register while I pulled 5 bikes and a trailer out of our covered trailer and assembled.  Then we ran into our first "planning" failure.  The skewer was not long enough for the recently ordered hitch.  Of course nobody carries a spare skewer!  Team one down because it is highly unlikely that Nater can ride 38 miles.  Needless to say I was a little frustrated because I should have tested everything before we departed but I just didn't have the time.  

So I decided to at least attempt to ride the 25 and HH6 could pick him up if she had to.  That lasted all of 10 minutes when he couldn't shift with his mittens on (remember with a 15 mph wind 41 degrees gets cold fast) and he was mad.  She had to pin him down while we took off.  I decided that because of the wind chill, lack of good clothing for the kids, and wind we would do the 25 mile ride.  

Riding with kids can be a rewarding and enriching family experience.  It can also be a painful experience.  Enter the soul crushing headwind for 15 miles!!!!  I don't understand why my kids have not figured out how to use gears.  I coach them along but when facing a 15 mph headwind don't whine when you are in a high gear and you have many more options.  I assured them that the return would be nice with a strong tailwind!  Again, riding in the low 40s and into the windchill 30s is miserable all around if not well equipped.

Soul crushing headwind with some sugar cane.

The ride itself was nice, many of the roads were quiet and many had solid shoulders.  Some a little narrow and high traffic.  Again, I love scenery, in this case it was sugar cane.  I had no clue it grew so tall.

Redline Conquest 24
Sugar cane everywhere.  

At about the 13 mile mark we turned and headed back.  We decided to stop at a convenience store and warm up and eat some real food.  By real food it turned out to be one of those sandwiches that comes in the triangle package.  They devoured it and Diga got a root beer.  Once satisfied we hit the

 Not Casey's, a midwest treasure, but they enjoyed their turkey sandwich.  I would have loved a slice of Casey's pizza, always delicious and hot on a cold ride.

road to find that the wind had shifted a little.  At that point the Chick declared "Where is the tailwind dad!" It was not exactly a headwind but a stiff crosswind that made it less fun.

On the return the groups from the longer rides were linking up with the route we were on.  Diga took this as an opportunity to attack.  He blew past a few people who had just passed us.  Granted they were not the fastest ever, but one lady said she like his bike and that set him on the attack to show her how nice it was.  Then I warned that he is a wild card.  One moment he is flying, the next he slams the brakes.  While I attempted to control his attack and make sure he turned at the right locations, the Chick fell behind.  She was mad and we caught an earful.

We finished a little slower than I wanted but the headwind took its toll.  Then we ate some food at the finish line, packed up the bikes and I began the drive back, 2.5 hours worth.  It was a long drive but well worth it, though we were both exhausted this afternoon.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hotter'N Hell Hundred: What was I thinking??

I crave adventure.  Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.  While I usually choke it down, it can be painful.  That was the case with the 2014 Hotter'N Hell Hundred.  This is a ride I have wanted to do for a while.  It get upwards of 12,000 riders which hosts a pretty fun atmosphere.  I have never done it because I have never been that close to it and since I am not a bigillionaire it has never been an option.

Starting position depends on estimated finish time.  Turns out that I was in the right group, the only problem is that it took about 30-45 min to cross the start line after the canon.  When you are trying to beat the clock to Hell's Gate I was a little concerned.  I also had a great time talking to people at the start.

After moving to Louisiana I was as close as I would to Wichita Falls, TX as I ever may be.  By close I mean a 7 hour drive.  Since I had surgery in April and I had to cancel my attempt at the Dirty Kanza I decided that I needed something exciting.  So about 3 weeks out I managed to get a room at Sheppard AFB and implemented my standard training plan.  Let see how I did with that:

1. Ride as much as possible: I rode as much as possible (which was not nearly enough).  By now people who actually read this blog may be asking themselves "for a guy that likes to ride and has a lot of bikes, he sure doesn't seem to ride much?"  This is a valid question with a sort of simple answer, I currently work a job that starts at 0600 with physical fitness training and ends between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.  I am usually pretty tired and since I live very close to work riding doesn't do much.  I do get a lot of riding in but not 4-6 hours at a time very often.  

2. Get a good set of tires: New 28c Gatorskins, need I say more?  To be honest, the roads were mostly horrible and I wish I had bought a new set of 32c Gatorskins.  Either way there was not flatting, so it was a win!

3. Drink a bunch of water: I did a lousy job of hydrating for the several days before the ride.  As usual.  But it was not for a lack of trying, Louisiana is hot and virtually impossible to stay hydrated.  As for the 7 hour drive, I may have overdone it with the Red Bull and Rock Stars.  Though I was generally concerned about the heat and I drank a fair amount of water.  As it turns out, Red Bull is not a good hydration tool.  One thing I did use on the ride was Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes which were great as I didn't cramp and that is a common problem for me.  I am usually not a big supplement guy but I would do this again.

4. Shove my jersey pockets as full of calories: My attitude towards calories has changed over the years.  I think it is more about timing than what you eat.  I buy fewer actual "energy bars" and I like to eat every 45 minutes and I don't care if it is an "energy bar" or a candy bar or a burger.  It takes all things when you are out for a 5+ hour ride.  I done good on this.  At the midway point Cliff Bar had a huge nutrition station with tons of free product.  I was glad and filled pockets for the remainder of the ride.

I got to the parking lot at about 4:45 in the morning.  I couldn't sleep well and I was unsure about how fast the parking lot would fill.  This is the Giant Revolt bicycle which is a great all around bike.  It is pretty relaxed for road bikes and it was a pleasure to ride.  I wish I had left the third water bottle cage on the down tube.  I made the saddle bag and top tube bag.

As for the ride I didn't get to many pictures.  There is a reason for this, if you don't get to the 60 mile mark by noon or so they don't let you finish the 100 miles and reroute you on a shorter route.  I didn't intend to spend a ton traveling there only to ride 75 miles.  I was concerned with the heat and cramping so I didn't want to mess around.  Honestly, I love harsh landscapes, I see much beauty in them where others may not.  I am kind of sad I didn't get more but that is ok.  

Admittedly it is the flattest century I have ever done, so when I say it was my fastest 60 miles on record it is not surprising.  Though as I turned through the "Gates of Hell" it was hot, the end of the ride was well over 100 degrees and there was a horrible headwind so the record was easily wasted.  

I didn't have any issues with leg cramps, but I ate religiously every 45 minutes.  Water was the biggest issue for me.  I chose to only run with two water bottles, there were a couple of reasons for this.  The first is that I am an idiot and only managed to leave the house with one and I got a free one in the swag bag.  The second was that I cannot reach the bottom down tube one and didn't think I would need a reserve.  That was a mistake.  Early on while it is not hot people don't line up at the SAG spots for water.  By mile 80 the line is really long.  

At one point I thought I was good and didn't want to waste time in line so I decided to go.  Then the 100 degree heat and headwind took its toll.  I could have used a third bottle.  Then there was a surprise water only stop.  I chugged and left.  Though at the 90 mile mark I felt really dehydrated.  I actually sat for a little while and chatted with some guys while I ate some bananas and oranges and drank Pickle Juice.  It is nasty but cold and full of salt.  

 Pickle Juice Sport Drink:  Refreshing yet nasty.  Keeps the cramps away though!

The key to HHH is that you want to do it as fast as possible to beat the heat, the course is well marked so you don't have to focus on a cue sheet.  I finished strong and overall it was an enjoyable time.  I always enjoy events with a huge turn out.  The drive home was a little longer in that I was suffering from dehydration and was tired.  Then I saw this?

Buck Piñata?

Well worth the drive and effort though.  Plus I "won" a medal!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Tsunami Rides: Riding 33 miles on the Le Tour de Bayou with a 9 and 12 year old.

The Irish Tsunami rides!

I have become the king of the forced family outing (FFO).  On September 20th we participated in an event in Alexandria, Louisiana to support a historical site called the Kent Plantation House.  As usual ride strategy/preparation included:1. Ride as much as we can:  This was almost nil except for the fact that the kids to endless laps through the neighborhood.  Me not so much though we would only be going 30ish miles at about 10 mph.  I am good.

2. Get a good set of tires: Yeah, I got new tires for the Hotter N' Hell Hundred, but somehow they ended up on the Chick's bike.  For me it is the same set of Gatorskins I have been using for years; I bought these for the 40th running of RAGBRAI.  They have have at least 1500 miles on them and they are probably going to need to replaced soon.

3. Drink a bunch of water: I did a lousy job of hydrating for the several days before the ride.  While it is hard to stay hydrated in Louisiana, I drink more water here than say.....Iowa.

4. Shove my jersey pockets as full of calories as possible:  Check.  Though I love Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls they are not an easy to find Item in Central Louisiana.  The next best thing are the cherry pie Lara Bars.  The kids love them too.   

The difference was that it wasn't just me, I had a 9 year old and a 12 year old with me.   This is the longest distance I have ridden with them and there are many lessons learned.  But as for the Le Tour de Bayou it was a perfect for this experiment since there were no hills and they had SAG support at every 10 miles.

On a different note no FFO would be complete without an adventure.  In this case my "Tough and unforgiving" wife who is also incredibly cheap got us a hotel room for $47.  The Army has sent me to some rough places.  This was rough.  We smelled like cheap hotel and cigarette smoke for the entire day.  Everything we brought in the room smelled horrible which meant that my Suburban smelled horrible.  It smelled so bad I couldn't sleep as the pillow odor kept me awake.  FFO, heck yeah.

The SAG stops were well spaced.  The last one was at a nice road side rest stop that had a great hospitality center and rocking chairs.  The Boy Scouts were running it and passing out Coca Cola.  I told Diga to keep drinking as much as he wanted.  This confused him because I don't let him drink it ever.  The Chick doesn't drink soda so she had an apple.  She didn't approve of photo ops.

One of the things I enjoy the most as we move is seeing new things.  At one point we found ourselves riding through beautiful cotton fields.  It was fun seeing cotton balls drifting across the road.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in one place for my whole life.  Then I get to experience new places with my family and I know that I would long for that too.   

A very tired Chick after 33 miles.  I didn't get a picture of Diga because there was a free bouncy house with slide.  He dropped the bike and sprinted to run and jump.  The boy is a machine!

At the end of the ride the Chick realized that chocolate milk is amazing post ride.  We also got a Louisiana special, Spicy Cajun Crawtators.  That is right crawfish flavored chips.  Delicious.

In the future I am going to capture some thoughts on longer rides with kids.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Kisatchie Mud: Fat biking in Louisiana

I have neglected my fat bike, The Panzer, lately.  While my shoulder has been recovering from surgery I swore off mountain biking (the source of the injury).  That hasn't been hard since there is not much single track in my neck of the woods.  

It was kind of sad to go to Montana on vacation and not mountain bike, but I resisted the urge.  Anyway, as I have been riding on forest service roads on my Giant Revolt, I have noticed plenty of areas that are ideal for a fat bike.  Specifically, inhospitable terrain such as muddy roads, barely roads, and severely loose roads.  Perfect for the Salsa Mukluk.

I decided that I would head out and do a little stomping around the Kisatchie National Forest.  It gets a fair amount of military traffic and recreational off road traffic.  The result is roads that aren't all that great.   Perfect for the Panzer 

Kisatchie national forest fat bike
Such as the bend in this road which turned out to be deep and slick.  I was barely able to power through it.   
 I was wishing I had a set of Nate tires for better traction.  The Larry tires were quickly overwhelmed.  

  There were a lot of roads like this that were very loose and soft.  It could be done on a normal mountain bike, but this is much more fun.
There are a lot of unimproved Jeep track.  You can sort of see the road but it has a tree across it.  No Problem to go around with the Panzer!
Again, there was barely a path.  This is ideal terrain for fat tires. 

 Over all, the Kisatchi jeep track is a nice alternative to the less than ideal paved roads.  The Salsa Mukluk is a Prime candid for this terrain.  I am still cleaning sand and dried mud from odd nooks and crannies.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Louisiana: Bicycling paradise?

I have taken a liking to riding on dirt/gravel roads.  It provides a change of scenery and some challenges.  Gravel Grinders have become very popular throughout the Mid-West and beyond.  I have said it before, I missed out on a lot of opportunities in Montana because I thought mountain biking was king, if it wasn't single track it was garbage.  Life changes and so has my view of riding.  Since I don't do as much mountain biking I started road biking.  Then I moved to the Mid-West and there was an abundance of gravel roads and gravel enthusiasts.  

I bought the Surly Ogre and that was my first "gravel bike."  I am a big guy and I need to have slightly larger tires and most cyclocross (to include my Salsa Las Cruces) wouldn't accept the tires I wanted.  When I found out I would be going to Louisiana I quickly settled on a Giant Revolt road bike.  This is truly a different beast but it suits me well.  Disc brakes, drop bars, third water bottle mount, and the ability to run large tires.  Specifically a 40mm Clement MSO.  

When I told people I was being stationed at Fort Polk I got the customary nose scrunch and "oh, I am sorry!"  I saw something different, small population, no amenities, and lots of dirt roads.  Simply put, heaven on earth.  I called my go-to "LBS" Bike and Hike in Rock Island, Illinois put one on order.  Steve and Phil take great care of me and since I move so much I don't mind supporting them, after all they are a brick and mortar bike shop not some online outfit.  Even more important since the nearest bike shop is 55 miles away.

Aside from military traffic, the National Forest roads see little traffic.  There is a lot of variation in road types.  Some is heavily graveled.    

Giant Revolt forest service road
Others are Southern red dirt roads.

Giant Revolt bicycle Jeep track
Some are soft sandy jeep track.

Some are.......

Louisiana Gravel Grinder

Even the pavement is rough!  These are gaps as big as two inches in places.  Tooth rattling.

No shoulders and big seems.  If you drop off the edge it could be a bad day!

Or you can ride roads that are sand.  The smoothest road surface in LA is the damp sand.  These are better than many of the paved roads.  which is why I like riding the gravel.  At least if it is rough there is a reason.  The Giant Revolt can handle them all!

All in all, I love it here in Louisiana with national forest right out my back door.  For all of the neigh sayers, Fort Polk is a great place.  For all of those concerned about a lack of riding, lose the skinny tires and get out and enjoy something different.  

Paradise indeed!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Big Changes in Life

We recently moved to Louisiana.  Not my first choice but hey, I haven't disliked a place I have been sent.  So far I love it.  Doing some research I found that I would be in the middle of "no-where."  Lots of National Forest with little legitimate mountain biking (that is single track, there is plenty of jeep trails) and really bad roads both paved and dirt.  It actually suits me well, I enjoy small Army bases and out of the way locations.  In fact, moving to a place called the Sportsman's Paradise is far superior to an urban traffic jam.    The only real issue are the roads.  Louisiana is in the top ten states with the worst roads.  I was also going to be living in a considerably smaller home with no garage.  This meant that I had to make some decisions when it came to bikes.  I had, yes had, many wonderful bikes but not all of them were suited for Louisiana, at least the parts I am in now.  The nearest single track is about 35 miles away and it is only 10 or so miles.  

I had to cul the herd.  At the beginning of 2014 I had 6 bicycles (mine, not including the families), so I decided that I would have to pick my favorite three bikes.  Then I became a bike selling machine.  I sold the Basso, El Mariachi frame, the Surly Ogre, and the Giant Anthem X29er.  I planned on keeping the Salsa Mukluk, Salsa Las Cruces, and I added a gravel bike a Giant Revolt which I will explain later.  

Here is what went and why.

The Basso:  A great bike, I didn't put many miles on it but the gearing was very limiting which meant is was not a go-to bike.  It looks great and was a great conversation starter but since I have limited space and am an introvert, it had to go.

The Giant Anthem X29er:  An amazing bike.  When I bought it I knew I would never do it justice.  I don't like a lot of maintenance but with hydraulic brakes and suspension, it added a little more maintenance than I wanted to deal with.  Then there was this time when I wrecked last year in Kansas at Wyandotte County Lake.  A great and relatively secret location where I may have been trying to do the bike the justice it would never see from me.  It resulted in a torn Labrum and surgery which I am still recovering from.  Due to a serious lack of single track and it is jinxed.  Easy decision except bikes depreciate and I took a bath on this one.

Surly Ogre:  This one pained me a little bit.  It was a genuinely hard decision.  It is such a versatile bike and I loved playing with it.  But really it came down to the lack of mountain biking and type of mountain biking.  This frame went quick.  I live less than a mile away so I don't need a serious commuter.  I decided that I really only needed one mountain bike so I stuck with the Salsa Mukluk which is an ideal bike for these parts.  It would be great for bike packing but I don't have time for that with my current job.  I sort of miss the Ogre but this opens the door for an ECR or Krampus later in life.

Salsa El Mariachi:  I would love a new El Mar with the Alternator Drop outs.  Bottom Line, I disliked the EBB.  I am a big guy and I never felt like I could mash the pedals without slippage.  This was easy.

What I kept

The Salsa Las Cruces:  My favorite bike of all times.  It needs some updates component wise but it is a great ride.  It is near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons.  It suits roads in Louisiana since I can get bigger rubber in it.

Salsa Mukluk:  Need I say more.  Yes, but that will be a future post.

What is new

Giant Revolt

I like weird bikes.  Most of the bikes I buy are jacks of all trades and masters of none.  I enjoy riding gravel roads (plenty around these parts) and I am big so I need more than a 32c tire.  I know there is much controversy over Gravel Bikes, but I don't think Giant calls it that specifically.  What they do advertise are jeep roads, logging roads, gravel roads, and pavement.  It will take up to a two inch tire and is great for all surfaces.  

It is an odd looking rig!  

It has a longish wheel base, by no means twitchy or ultra responsive like some road racing rig. 

Nice wide bars with flared drops for stability.

Carbon fork and disc brakes

I don't know what is going on with the rear end.  The only thing I can think of is that it allows for a lower bottom bracket.
Down tube protector and full cable housing.  It is a weird plastic thing and is necessary for cable routing.  I would like to see it go but I don't see an alternative.  
It has a detachable "fender" which I have removed.  I don't know that it would keep much muck off but I will try it this fall.

There is a third water bottle mount under this plastic thing.  One hole is pre-drilled to hold the plastic thing on.  I had to drill the second.  Really, three water bottles are necessary for certain rides and in the heat of Louisiana.  I don't like riding with a Camel Bak with it is 100 degrees.

More about this bike in the next post.  I will say that there have been a lot of changes over the last year.  So far no complaints.  Who can complain about crawfish étouffée or boudin sausage?  Not this guy!