Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Exploring the Kisatchie National Forest on a beautiful day.

It isn't clear but there is a road to the right of my bike.  It ends in a T-intersection at the green trees.

My job has very long hours and I don't always get the time that I would like dedicate to riding. As stated before, I bought a new bike that I thought would be fitting for my new environment.  So far I am pleased with my decision to buy a Giant Revolt.  The other day it was a nice 70 degrees and I had to get out.  I was exhausted from a crazy trip to New Orleans the day before that involved getting home at 2 a.m.  As I said, it was gorgeous so I forced myself out of the recliner and went for a ride. 

I decided that rather than go for mileage I would explore a few roads that I ride past.  There are many short side roads in the Kisatchie National Forest, typically they are not long.  This meant that I would be turning around frequently, however, it is nice to see different scenery.  The first road (above) was nice, starting out as a nice wide hard packed sandy road and ended in a leaf covered section with T intersection.  I chose to go to the right and found that that the jeep track was very loose and it felt as though I had a flat rear tire.  It felt sluggish on most of this stretch and  I eventually hit a dead end.

I turned around and headed back and took the other spur and found the same kind of road conditions. Again, I ran into a water hazard.  I have found that if you go down hill, you quickly run into water.

This water was surprisingly clear and reflected the trees above like a mirror.

The road looked good on the other side but I didn't want to cross it, get all wet just to find it only goes another hundred feet or so.  I will do a map check later.  So I turned around again and headed back.  This time I returned to the main road in search of a new route.

I quickly found this and followed it quite a ways.  A bulldozer had been down it and it looks like someone was building up humps to prevent road washout during rain.  The tracks created a nice rumble strip. 

This stretch of road was a mix of packed and soft sand, possibly the best cyclocross route around.  

The mounds of dirt are clearly there to keep the road from washing out in heavy rain.  My tires cut in deep on several of them.  

I quickly ran into another wet area.  I definitely was not going to cross this muddy quagmire.

Mud clearance!

As stated before I bought a Giant Revolt because it is made to be a go most places bike.  I have proven it can do basic single track with the Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge (it was on the flier).  The bike boasts the ability to run up to a 2 inch wide (50mm) tire.  No other gravel/cyclocross bike that I know of boasts that.  While I don't really see myself riding a 2 wide tire, this set up allows for amazing mud clearance.  Something most bikes wouldn't have with a 40mm wide tire.  

A little sand on the tires.

The road conditions in this area range from a red dirt road with clay to white sand.  I have come to love the hard packed sand, which is often smoother than the asphalt in the area.  

Anther interesting fact is that this area is home to the Red Cockaded Woodpecker.  The trees with white bands are home to families of woodpeckers.  Some interesting facts:  

1.  They love long-leaf pine forests
2.  They nest in only live pine trees
3.  They "bleed" the tree around the hole they nest in to prevent tree climbing snakes from entering their AO.
4.  They are endangered
5.  They along with the Desert Tortoise are the only known force capable of stopping the U.S. Army.  Fact!!!  Not trying to give hints to anyone but if you want to stop a tank battalion, here you go.

Another beautiful day in Louisiana in February.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The GHORBA Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge Part II: Run whatcha brung and own the stupid.

Before I begin I would like to point out that I don't race.  You may find yourself asking "but you raced?"  That is true, I did, however had either the Wild Azalea Trail Challenge or Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge required a race license and sanctioning I would not have done them.  I just don't see the point in paying some organization to not win or earn anything seems ridiculous.  That said, I don't mind paying when the money is for a reasonably good cause.  In this case I thought it was a little overpriced considering there wasn't a shirt or even a complimentary gel or granola bar.  But I will get to that later.  The bottom line is that the money is for future advocacy and trail maintenance....the world is better.

The race started well, the first 1.5 miles were on a hardball road and it gave people time to get ahead if they wanted and there wasn't a big funnel at the trail head.  Now for the hiccup.  As stated before I probably brought the wrong bike (by probably I mean that I did).  But you know what sometimes you have to man up and run what you brung (a bad attempt to rhyme).  They echeloned the start by event.  Of course I signed up for the 3 mile 50 lap ordeal so this started first.  This would prove to be a mistake.  I should have just started in the back because my poor narrow drop bars and 40mm tires didn't give me the speed I needed on the trail.  As soon as I hit the trail I knew I was in trouble.  There were roots everywhere.  While there were no rocks and very little elevation change, the roots were devastating.  Ironically everything the guy told me the night before was mostly wrong, such as the trail being sandy and loose after a group passed through.  It wasn't bad at all.

It didn't take long for the second group to catch up with me.  "bike back" and "passing" were constant.  I clearly should have started in the back.  Eventually they thinned out and I got it, this is a race but a few were a bit rude.  I know that I looked crazy, but take it up with the race director for putting out a flier that said do all three on a CX bike.  The first lap seemed the longest as I had to move to the right and let people pass but I found a couple of people who were new to mountain biking and I followed them.  I eventually passed a couple so good on me.

The second lap was a little better, it was not until the last mile of the second lap that I was passed by the lead riders.  I found myself with a nice lady that wanted only to finish the two laps she signed up for.  She kept telling me to pass her but I declined because the moment we hit a rough patch she would pass me.  As I rounded the second lap, I stopped and grabbed a few snacks out of my car and downed a couple of Exedrin with caffeine and downed a snack and headed out for the third lap.

It was on the beginning of the third lap that I began to feel cramping.  The only difference was that the cramping was not in my legs but my triceps and hands.  Having ridden 36 miles in drop bars clinging to the hoods was taking it's toll.  It was then that I began to regret my decision.  But what choice did I have.....only one and that was to finish.  It was immediately clear that I was last.  but what do you expect from a guy that is riding a cyclocross style bike with drops and 40mm tires on a root filled single track.

I just kept cranking.  I shouted the occasional obscenity (if a guy who is on a cyclocross bike swears in the woods is there anyone around to hear him?  No!).  I just kept cranking away, root after root.  As I came in the final stretch I was glad to see that there were a couple of people hanging around and they were still running the timer.  I crossed the finish line and the lady asked me "did you see the two guys on the trail?'  "You mean I wasn't last?" was my response.  It turns out that a couple of guys (old guys) crossed for their third lap before me but stopped and took a break.  It was at that point that the guy writing down time looked at my bike and said "you did 50 miles on that?"  He looked both shocked and disgusted.  I get that look a lot.  I said "it was on the flier and I paid a lot of money!"

I had rigor mortis of the hands after this.

So there I was.  I had to break down camp and drive the 2.5 to 3 hours home, with cramping triceps and fingers that had some sort of drop bar and hood induced rigor mortis.  I went back to the tent and decided to take a quick nap.  Again, someone asked what I had done.  The common response was "50 miles on that?"  Of course when I went to my tent the vulgar and offensive people were there so I bailed on the nap and packed up and left.  Again, Infantry and combat were not as offensive as these people were.

Over the next two days I developed pain in my triceps and between my shoulder blades near the spine.  Clearly I discovered stabilizing muscles I didn't know existed.  I was pleased to have completed the race, no matter how much pain.  Would I go back next year?  That is debatable.

Again, not to sound like a curmudgeon (which I am) the group camping was a turn off for me.  I understand when you are with a group of friends you can act crazy, rude, bigoted and whip out a joint.  But the moment a newcomer has arrived I would recommend that you tone it down a touch.  Again, you are representing an organization that wants to extract upwards of $65 for entrance, $9 to drive into the recreation area, $18 to camp, and then I spent $100 on gas.  Could I recommend this to my Soldiers, absolutely not.  Would I bring co-workers and other Soldiers to the event, I couldn't because if they experienced what I did and I recommended it, they would think that I condone that behavior.  This would set a bad example.   And finally, at least throw in a complimentary gel or sticker.  Again, some could say the money goes to a good cause but a little overhead could go to swag that serves as an advertisement.  Just saying.  Sorry there are not many pictures, the nice lady taking pictures wants $20 for a digital copy.  I really miss Lanterne Rouge and his free photos.  He does it for the love.

Ok, what is next.  I am thinking the Rouge Roubaix

Sunday, February 1, 2015

GHORBA Even Bigger Big Ring Challenge Part I: The Prep....or lack thereof.

So following the disappointing DNF on the Wild Azalea Trail Challenge I immediately went home to find a similar event to prove that I could complete.  I live in Central Louisiana, ain't much going on in these parts.  It didn't take long to find something in Texas within a decent driving distance.  The Greater Houston Off Road Biking Association was hosting a mountain bike marathon at Double Lake Recreation Area near Cold Spring, Texas.  My Mukluk was still in need of some love following the last event and I was waiting on some brake pads to arrive with a new bike frame I ordered.  I saw on the flier that you can use your cyclocross for all three events.  Sounds good to me, I have my Giant Revolt it can do a lot of things.  It would take up to a two inch tire but I didn't want to solicit anymore funds for fear that the whole operation would get shut down so I would run my 40mm Clement MSO tires.  Then life happened and I didn't get a chance to ride for a couple of weeks.

But before I go into the race I would like to talk about the 48 hours leading up to the event on 17 January.  It really is a reflection of the chaos that is my life.  In Mid-December my wife knocked one of the bikes off of a hook and it dented the top tube of my Giant Revolt bike.

I was sad.  I really didn't want to spend money on a new frame, at least one I already owned.  I would like to spend $ on other stuff.  Anyway, my favorite bike shop, Bike and Hike in Rock Island, IL ordered a frame for me.  Then the holidays happened and it didn't arrive. I called and they shipped it and it arrived a few days before the event and much to my shock it was atomic blue!  I was told it would be gray, had I known it would be this amazingly obnoxious blue I would have ordered a Surly Ogre to replace my old one that I sold.  So 48 hours out I put it together after work but the steer tube was way too long and I didn't have a star nut.  Great, the nearest bike shop is 50 miles away.  But I had a plan, sort of.

 I was expecting a grey frame.  I was a little shocked when I opened the box.  

It is....BLUE.  I figured it would grow on me.  It hasn't!

It just so happened that my daughter had a doctors appointment in a neighboring community on the 16th, the day I was going to head to Cold Spring, TX.  By neighboring it is 40 miles East.  I would take her to that then head North 30 miles to the bike shop in Alexandria where they could quickly cut the steer tube, install a star nut and I could be on my way 50 miles back to the house.  Easy enough?  Except......we had an issue at work that came up Thursday afternoon and I needed to go and deal with it the next morning at 8 a.m.

Also, I told a friend I would take his installation duty which is an overnight deal where you do some checks on post before midnight and after midnight.  No problem......except he told me the wrong night and it turned out to be on the 15th which meant I wouldn't be able to pack the night before like I had planned.  So I did my stuff at night and went to bed at midnight, then I got up at about 4 a.m. did the stuff in the morning checked out, went at 8 a.m. and negotiated for some training resources for an hour and a half and picked up my daughter and bike and hit the road.  Easy, a day in the life of the Irish Tsunami.

We arrived at the doctors office and the room was packed.  He is a specialist in a small town and we waited for an hour and a half.  By the time we got out of there is was almost noon.  We hit the road and headed north.  An hour later we arrived and I dropped my bike off.  They wanted an hour so we went to get lunch.  The Chick wanted Taco Bell so we got tacos.  Household 6 called and asked if I could go to a party store and get round checkered table cloths with the classic red plaid.  So I found one, but it didn't have that style.  We then headed back to the bike shop and I picked up my bike.

The owner and I spoke for a few minutes and I told him that I was headed to Cold Spring, Texas to tackle a 50 mile race.  He asked me how much I had ridden since the Wild Azalea challenge two weeks earlier.  My response.....NONE!  He laughed and said "I like your training plan."  We were off.  I arrived home at about 3:30 in the afternoon.  I quickly (and poorly) packed my stuff.  What I have learned over the years is that there are essential items; bike, helmet, bicycle shoes, gloves.  Everything else is optional.  I have ridden in the wrong shorts, shirt,  sock-less, water-less.  But they require helmets and Crank Brothers need cleats.  So I hit the road at 5 p.m. and it got dark quickly.  The drive was only 120 miles but here they are country miles with narrow roads, lots of twists and turns, and a ton of small towns; all of which force you to drive slow.

It took close to three hours and I arrived well after dark.  I had planned on camping for two reason as a cost saving feature and the little hotel reminded me of the Bates Motel.  So I found the site.

As I began to drive down this "road" I thought it was a walking path or paved trail.  It was very dark and I began to think of how many scary movies start just like this.  

It was there that that I instantly regretted my decision.  It was a GHORBA group campsite and the guy that was putting together a nice fire was nice enough, but then three other people showed up and I instantly remembered why I don't do many group functions and my anti-social tendencies kicked in.  First off, I have been on active duty for 13 years.  I have been in combat and spent countless hours with all types of people and heard all types of conversations, but this group was a bit offensive for my taste.  Yes, more offensive than the Infantry.  The guy asked me about my bike, a bike designed for gravel and fire/logging roads which had 40 mm Clement MSO tires on it.  I told him that the flier said I could do it on a cyclocross bike.  He then proceeded to tell me all of the reasons I couldn't do it.  I said "well then why did they put it on the flier?"  Nothing like going through everything I had done for the last 36-48 hours just to be told that.

Then at about 9:45 I got an emergency call from work.  Part of my job is to manage reportable incidents and emergencies.  My task is to take the serious incident report and ensure that it is quality enough to send forward.  It involves notifying my boss within a certain timeframe.  I didn't have all of the facts but I didn't want to wait to call at midnight or 1 a.m. so I called my boss at 10:00 p.m.  He didn't answer so I told the guy that called to call me when the report was ready for me to read and clean up (they always need to be cleaned up).  It was getting cold (the low was 35 degrees) and I was tired from the day and the obnoxious company so I went to bed.

Cozy in my sleeping bag my phone began to chirp at about 1:30 a.m.  I had my blackberry but it is hard to read documents and type, especially when it is cold.  It was my boss and I gave him the details and I hit send after struggling to keep warm and type.  I went back to sleep at about 2:00 a.m. and woke up at 4:45 a.m., my usual routine during the week.  It happens fairly naturally.  So I pushed the auto start, got dressed in the cold and jumped into my nice warm suburban with heated seats.  I brought my MSR camp stove but I was cold and tired so I drove to a gas station and got a cup of hot water for my oatmeal.  I then returned and got a good parking spot near the start and ate my oatmeal and read a mountain bike magazine in the warm confines of my car.

At 7 a.m. I went in to register and the organizer was there.  I asked him about the cyclocross bike and he said yeah no problem.  He said there are a lot of roots but it is doable.  So I went out to the car and began to get ready.  That is where I ran into a hiccup.  Remember the bit about what is necessary and what isn't.  Well I had all that was necessary but it was 35 degrees and I didn't have leg or arm warmers packed.  Nor did I have any kind of wind breaker or vest.  So I thought "at least I have a hat".......yeah no hat.  The high was going to be close to 60 degrees but it would be a long morning.

So there I was waiting for the race to start.  I finally saw a couple of cyclocross bikes but they were not signed up for the full 50 miles.  And the race began.  Stay tuned for Part II.