So tired, in fact, that I have been skipping cyclocross season. That makes me sad. I love ‘cross. But my mind and body are cooked. It has been a long season of mountain bike racing–one of the best I’ve ever had–and it’s time to rest. I’ve spent the last few weeks chasing elk in the mountains, watching my 10-year old play flag football, coaching the Lone Peak High School mountain bike team, and occasionally riding the incredible singletrack surrounding me.
I wish I had the energy for Tabata intervals, 40-20s, and barrier practice. Mostly, I just have an appetite for waffles and chocolate. And chocolate waffles.
I haven’t had a prolonged rest in four years. Those four years of bike racing have been wonderful. And I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2014, and beyond. But if that’s going to happen, then right now, I need to lay low.
I’ve also been pondering the future of this website. Every year I do this. I wonder, “should I keep writing here?” “is anyone still reading?” and most importantly, “does anyone, including me, get any value out of this anymore?”.
In years past, I’ve always found the energy and motivation to keep writing. But this year is different. I don’t know what else to write about. I don’t have anything to say. Why bother?
Well, I enjoy it. That’s the reason I’ve always bothered. I enjoy writing. I feel (maybe incorrectly) that this blog has been a solid contribution to the mountain biking community. But that community has evolved. Blogs are not as well-kept, or well-read as they used to be. There are reasons for that, but it’s probably due to the changing nature of the Internet, and how we use it.
I’ve always said that I’d keep this space filled with content as long as I found it enjoyable. Lately, it’s felt obligatory.
But don’t give up on me just yet. I’m going to look at a few different ways I can re-energize this space, and my own writing pursuits.
I’m experiencing a total rebuild. After the CTR my body was broken. I am still surprised at how long it has taken me to recoup from those 7 days in the mountains. I marvel at others, who in a matter of days afterward, were back racing at a high level. My immune system is weak, and my fortitude for focused training is missing in action. But slowly everything is coming back. I’ve started with the very basics: Core work, resistance training, stretching, and recalibrating my diet to pre-CTR standards.
As I rebuild my fitness, I will try to rebuild my motivation to fill this space with words and pictures.
Thanks for reading.
I love racing my bike. I’m very competitive. I have high standards for my own fitness and results.
I often fall short of my race goals. When that happens, I regroup, and try again. When I do make a goal, it feels great. But the next event is always fastly approaching, and my training has to start all over again. The circular nature of bike racing is one of the things I love most about it. Staying fit is important to me, and competing helps me to do that.
But that’s me. You might be different. Your goals, your expectations, your reason for racing a bike, or running a marathon might have to do with trying something new, lowering cholesterol numbers, supporting a friend, or raising money for a charity. Or maybe you race because you have fun doing it. You know, fun? That thing that bosses, politicians, and charlatans try to stop from happening. Fun. Enjoyment for it’s own sake. Laughing. Smiling. Getting dirty because, why not?
If I’m not having fun out on my bike, then I’m doing something wrong.
Find your fun, and do it.
More and more Americans are running marathons. That’s the reason that “[m]edian U.S. marathon finishes for men rose 44 minutes from 1980 through 2011.” In 1980 the marathon sat at the fringes of acceptable activity, something only for the deranged and Olympic hopefuls. Today hundreds of thousands of people finish marathons every year. That should be celebrated. But instead, the new marathoners are being criticized because they just aren’t finishing fast enough!
“Races are becoming parades.” lamented Brendan Reilly, from Boulder, Colorado.
“If you’re going to get just as much praise for doing a four-hour marathon as a three-hour,” said Robert Johnson, “why bother killing yourself training?”
Maybe the 4-hour guys are killing themselves training. Or maybe they aren’t interested in suicide.
At the heart of this bizarre argument is Joe Desena, founder of the really tough, really hard, really tough, brutal, and super-tough Spartan race series. Joe is a red-blooded American, a man among men. He eats creatine powder dry, and steaks raw. He sprinkles dry creatine on those steaks. I could describe his physical appearance, but you already know what he looks like. He’s every Sylvester Stallone character combined into the summum bonum of badassery. And if you run for fun and don’t care too much about beating that middle-aged mom running with her book group in the same race that you are, or if you promote an event that focuses on the process more than the results, Joe thinks you’re un-American. A sissy. A communist.
Events that don’t post results make Joe angry. He doesn’t like it, because he can’t scour those results pages looking for Spartan racers that he needs to ban from his own, ultra-tough, super-competitive, races. He can’t have Spartans running through pools of mud or clouds of pastel colors just for fun.
“…[E]liminating timing chips and results pages is a sure way to increase profit—while shielding one’s customers’ names from competitors.” Joe growled. He went on to add, that ”[if] you can pull the wool over your customers’ eyes and convince them that communism is better, you can drop at least $40,000 to your bottom line every race.”
Ah. Joe likes profits, but only his own profits. That’s American?
He can’t tolerate a little competition from hippy color runs, dirty mud runs, and housewives. Which is weird, since he brags about all the ultra-ultra races he has completed, and given that the Spartan race is touted as “an obstacle course race designed to test your resilience, strength, stamina, quick decision making skills, and ability to laugh in the face of adversity.” What’s a little industry adversity to a guy who can do 75 burpees in 9 seconds?
Joe doesn’t like his competitors, so he compared them to communists. You know, that is rather American after all. Maybe he can get Uncle Sam to step in and “regulate” the industry.
Running a race is great, but only if you’re doing the right races, and in the right way. Running a marathon unconcerned about the clock “…is emblematic of the state of America’s competitiveness, and should be of concern to us all.” warned Toni Reavis. Individuals making individual decisions can’t be allowed in racing. Only the most competitive, most fit, and most worthy people should be racing. Who’s the communist?
More people than ever are going outside to play. They have all sorts of options – running, cycling, hiking, paddling, backpacking, swimming, mountain biking, and so much more. Some of those people won’t care about the clock. Most don’t. If that’s a national crisis, then we’re doing alright here in the U.S.A.
Run. Ride. Hike. Do it your way. Be great at it. And have a lot of fun.
What’s more fun: Racing, or taking pictures of other racers?
Cyclocross season is here! It’s time to dust off the cowbells, find out if last year’s skinsuits still fit, and order fresh embrocation cream. It’s also time for hot laps at the park, fall colors, and waffles. Lots of waffles. Along with ‘cross season, comes the inevitable debate about tires. Which tread is best? What pressure is best? Which brand? And the ultimate question, should I use tubular tires instead of clincher or tubeless tires?
My answer to that question used to be “no”. But then I tried tubular tires. And I’m really glad I did.
But before I go any further, let me say that tubeless tires for CX can be great. I raced on tubeless tires for a few seasons without too many problems. But when I started having regular tire issues, I looked more seriously at tubular tires. I learned that most of the reasons I was told to avoid a tubular wheelset were more mythical than real. When I finally did set up tubular wheels, I found them just as painless as a tubeless set. In many ways the process was easier.
Myth 1: Tubular wheels are more expensive.*
This used to be true, but not anymore. Affordable aluminum tubular wheels are available from reputable builders. I ride on the Revolution Wheelworks 25x (on sale right now for $340). They are well-built, light, and durable. I’ve been very impressed. I rode the wheels at the 2013 Crusher, after struggling to get a tubeless set-up together before race day, and they worked flawlessly. The retail price for the 25x is $490. The NoTubes Iron Cross, an aluminum set in the same weight-class as the 25x, retails at $595.
Myth 2: Tubular tires are more expensive.*
This is true. Clincher cyclocross tires can be bought inexpensively, but they won’t last too long, and can’t be converted to tubeless effectively. Cheap clinchers are fine for training or as back-up, but they aren’t suitable for racing. High-end clincher ‘cross tires are also expensive. The NoTubes Raven retails for $61. The Michelin Mud 2, $55, and the “open tubular” tires from Challenge, as much as $90. The Challenge Fango tubular tire will cost $120. The Tufo Flexus Cubus, the tire I rode at the Crusher, usually costs around $100. So yes, tubular tires are more expensive than clinchers. But the difference in cost is reflected in the quality of the tire.
*Based on MSRP. I know most of you have shop/team deals, or are skilled at finding deals online. I paid $60 per tire on Amazon last year for my Cubus tires.
Myth 3: Gluing tubulars is messy.
Define messy. Is sealant splattering all over the garage, the walls, and your clothing messy? Glue is sticky, but it isn’t inherently messy (neither is sealant). Having the proper equipment makes gluing tires really clean. Rubber gloves, a rag, and a couple of quality glue brushes will keep your tire, rim, and floor clean. Patient gluing will ensure that glue only ends up where it’s supposed to end up, and that cleaning up is a snap.
Myth 4: Gluing tubulars takes way too long.
I’ve known riders who have raced on tires that were glued to rims only 12 hours before a race. So it can be done. It’s probably not recommended, but it’s possible. Glue + tape can also minimize the time needed to install a new tire. But a proper glue job does take a few days. With a little planning however, it’s far less stressful than trying to seal up a set of clinchers the night before a race. I enjoyed the gluing process, and am looking forward to doing it again this season.
Myth 5: Tubular tires are unrepairable.
Tubular tires are nearly as repairable as clinchers. A severe sidewall cut will kill any tire, but punctures are easily fixed with a shot of sealant. And just like tubeless tires, tubular tires can be run with sealant inside for instant fixes. A rolled tubular can be reset, inflated to a higher pressure, and will usually stay put long enough to get back to the pits. While it’s true that the option to “just throw a tube in” doesn’t exist, there are ways to fix a tubular tire when it goes flat.
Myth 6: The hassle!
Properly gluing and caring for tubular tires requires a little homework. But you are a ‘cross racer, so you already have a proclivity for bicycle details. Tubular wheels are not complicated. It’s just rubber, metal, and glue. Talk to a fellow racer who is experienced in all things tubular, and ask them for advice and help. I know you already know someone that would be happy to help you glue tires. Gluing tires enhanced the ‘cross experience for me, giving it more hand-made feel. Cyclocross is a sport that is steeped in tradition. Gluing tires is a part of that tradition, and should be experienced by anyone who enjoys ‘cross.
Now you have no more excuses. The age-old arguments against tubular tires have been flat-earthed. They are obsolete. I made the switch, and I’m happy I did. I still use my tubeless wheels for training and summer dirt. But it’s true what everyone says, nothing beats the ride of tubular cyclocross tires. If you are shopping for new ‘cross wheels, I highly recommend a tubular set. It won’t cost you more money, time, or hassle. But it will give your competitors headaches.
Following is another sample from my (almost finished!) Colorado Trail Race story. In this excerpt, Ty and I are at the top of Kokomo and Searle passes, well above treeline, trying to make our way into Copper at the end of day 4. Excerpt 1 is here.
By now the violent mood swings I experienced on the Colorado Trail were routine. But that didn’t make them enjoyable. After the sun went down, and the perfect light faded into night, it got cold. We were wet. 12 slippery, rocky, and muddy miles, all downhill, separated us from Copper Mountain. The descent would have been fantastic in broad daylight, and without 17 hours of pedaling behind us. In the cold, wet, dark, with loaded bikes, fatigue gnawing at our brains, it was miserable. When I flicked on my lights, they didn’t turn on.
Ty disappeared into the gloom. I blindly dug fresh batteries out of the bottom of my pack. When those were installed, I flicked the light on again. Nothing. “Damn it!” I tried another set of batteries. Dark still. I started hiking in the dim glow of a back-up light. Ty, by now, must have been sipping hot cocoa at Copper Mountain, wondering where I had gone. I called his name. No reply. I growled in anger. “Hopkins!”
After an hour of blind hiking and slow coasting, I saw the glow of a campfire. “Hopkins?”
“Where have you been?” He was warming by the thru-hiker’s fire, enjoying the warmth. He had been for some time.
“My lights went out.”
“I’ve been here for a long time. I was thinking maybe you got lost.”
“I yelled your name.”
“Oh. That’s what that was.”
I dropped new batteries into my light, when I clicked the button it worked perfectly. I had been putting the batteries in the wrong end. “Idiot.” We left the comfort of the campfire, hoping to find a nearby place to build our own, and sleep away the cold. Every campsite, we encountered, and there were only a few, was occupied. So we kept descending until at last, we reached Copper Mountain. Every store was closed. Nobody was out. It was a ghost town. Ty was angry. I had delayed us an hour. We were hungry, wet, and tired. And there was no place to sleep.
It was my turn to talk Ty off the ledge. “Let’s just find some trees, and get in our bags.”
“Anywhere. It’s late. We’ll get an early start. No one will know we were here.”
We followed the marked trail across ski slopes and under chair lifts until we found a thicket of trees that we could disappear into while we slept. That night the temperature dropped into the 30s. We both shivered in our sleeping bags, and waited for dawn.
We had come too far to quit. But the thought of doing so always creeps into being when nights are cold, and bellies are empty. Dropping out at Copper Mountain would have been easy. We were three minutes from I-70. Ty’s wife, Holly, who was awaiting our arrival in Denver, could have picked us up and driven us home. She was just a phone call away. Neither Ty, nor I, mentioned that reality. We didn’t speak at all, in fact.
The next morning we rode to the nearby convenience store where we’d need to get enough food to last us until the finish line, some 150 miles away. We were 45 minutes early to the store. Our moods darkened even more. I reorganized my pack while Ty cleaned his bike. An employee from the store came outside to flip switches behind a closet door.
“Does this mean your open?” Ty asked hopefully.
“Nope. Not until 7.” He was too cheerful to be delivering such vexing news. He seemed to be enjoying our plight. He went inside, and locked the door behind him. We waited silently on the curb.
At exactly 7:00 the lights came on, and the clerk pushed open the door. “Come on in!” I wandered the aisles, looking for anything that looked appealing. After a few minutes, I had a small pile of goodies gathered on the counter. I filled my bottles using the sink. I was ready to leave when I noticed the coffee and donut shop attached to the gas station. “Donuts!”
At that same moment, Cameron and Jeff walked through door. “Ha! You guys are here!” Jeff yelled. As usual, his energy levels were high.
Ty looked confused. “Where did you come from?” he asked. We hadn’t seen Jeff or Cameron since Buena Vista. We were certain that they were long gone.
“We rented a room at Copper.” Jeff explained. “It was too cold and wet to sleep outside last night.”
“Oh, I know.” Ty grumbled.
On the way into Copper, Jeff and Cameron had picked up Ian Altman, a rider that had yo-yo’d with us off and on throughout the race. Ian was from Durango, and was riding his third Colorado Trail Race. We settled into the coffee shop and enjoyed fresh donuts, hot drinks, and something called a sausage roll. I ordered one of those for the road.
The happy rendezvous lifted everyone’s spirits. We left Copper behind, and began the long, steep, and brutal push over Ten Mile. We laughed the entire way up the hike-a-bike climb.
“When mountain lions go to sleep” Cameron said, “they check for Jefe under the bed.”
Jeff took a turn. “Jefe’s tears can cure cancer, too bad he never cries!”
I decided to have a go. “Jefe doesn’t recover from racing the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail recovers from Jefe racing it.”
We laughed too hard for the caliber of the jokes.
And who is Jefe, anyway?
Jefe Branham, from Gunnison, Colorado, is the Colorado Trail Race record holder. In 2012 he finished the entire trail in 3 days, 23 hours. He is the first, and remains the only, rider to finisher under 4 days. During that record breaking ride, he hardly slept at all. As we joked our way up Ten Mile, high above Copper Mountain and the I-70 corridor, Jefe was finishing the 2013 race with a time of 4 days, 4 hours. The route in 2013 was 50 miles longer than it was in 2012.
“Jefe has a grizzly bear carpet in his living room. The bear isn’t dead, it’s just too afraid to move.”
At the top we gazed down, down, down into Breckenridge, where’d we be passing through, (but not close enough for easy resupply) after a long descent, and little more climbing. Beyond the small town more mountains layered the horizon. We’d have to cross those also. We weren’t laughing anymore.
The following is a short excerpt from my much longer (and still unfinished) Colorado Trail Race story. When will it be done? Soon. Will I post it here? Maybe. Probably. At least parts of it will show up in this space. But it’s quickly outgrowing blog-length. I’m trying to figure out exactly what to do with the whole story. Stay tuned. Excerpt 2 is here.
The streets of Durango, Colorado were empty. The black sky was speckled with stars. A few street lamps glistened in the dark. Shop windows glowed dully. Above the rooftops, a darker shade of black surrounded the sleeping town, the dense foothills of the La Plata mountains.
Nervous mountain bike riders were gathered downtown. They drank coffee, ate pastries, talked quietly. Carver’s, a local restaurant, had opened early for the riders. The place was as crowded at this dark hour as it would be later in the morning. Some of the riders looked more relaxed than others. Many were making last-minute adjustments to backpacks, bikes, and other gear. All were keeping an eye on the clocktower that loomed overhead in the night sky.
Getting to Durango, and to this start line, wasn’t easy for any of the riders. Even the veterans and locals had been preparing for weeks, if not months. Training rides, gear tests, map-studying, and strategy sessions had all been taking place in varied home towns across the country. All the preparation, all the planning, and all the anxiety was about to be left behind. Just minutes away was the object of all this foreshadowing. Just minutes away was the Colorado Trail Race.
The Colorado Trail Race was founded in 2007. A small group of mountain bike innovators decided to ride their bikes from Denver to Durango, using the famed Colorado Trail, a 500-mile ribbon of trail that climbs up and over eight mountain ranges, and through some of the most breathtaking terrain in the American west. The idea caught on, and now, each year, more than 60 riders gather together to race, or simply ride, halfway across the great state of Colorado.
The race has become a symbol of human capability. There is nothing else like it. 500 miles of rugged, remote, high-altitude trail separate Durango and Denver. The ethos of the CTR doesn’t allow for pre-arranged support of any kind. No caches. No feed stations. No drop-bags. Riders are on their own, and are admonished to “carry what you need, or do without.”
There are other self-supported races, but none as difficult, with as much unrideable terrain, and none at the sky-scraping elevations of the Colorado Rockies. The CTR is one of the longest singletrack mountain bike races in the world. But the riders who embark on this strange journey aren’t professional racers. They aren’t famous. Instead, they are mostly anonymous, everyday mountain bikers. They are engineers, lawyers, mechanics, and professors. But most of all, they are hearty, and tough. Or will be, after a day on the Colorado Trail.
Riders were now clumped together in the street. The coffee had been drunk, the donuts eaten. The bikes were done being looked over, and the nervous chatter had subsided. Faraway stares blanked most of the faces. A palpable, nervous energy flittered through the crowd.
The clocktower broke the silence. The sound of shoes clipping into pedals clicked through the crowd. A few riders whooped or hollered.
“Who’s ready to ride?” shouted Stefan Griebel, a rocket scientist from Boulder, Colorado, who organizes the Colorado Trail Race each year. A few more riders shouted in affirmative response. Many were silent.
Slowly, wheels started to roll forward. Headlamps bobbed in the morning dark. Riders rang the bells on their handlebars, a few spectators clapped and shouted. “See you in Denver!”
Four o’clock. July 21, 2013. A time and date that each rider had been anticipating for weeks, months, even years, had finally arrived. The pedal strokes that were being spun down the dark, quiet streets of Durango were strokes that were no longer training, testing, or preparation. They were the real thing. And each one brought everyone a little bit closer to Denver. Each mile ridden, was one less that separated these men and women from their dreams of becoming a Colorado Trail Race finisher.
Rookies and vets alike now faced the same indifferent mountains and the same brutally difficult trail. Past experience would benefit the vets, while ignorant enthusiasm would press the rookies onward. Regardless of past experience, each of the riders now rolling across the pavement were embarking on days worth of pain and suffering, euphoria and joy.
The 2013 Colorado Trail Race was underway.