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Monday, September 21

Packing for Mars (or close to it)

What a strange nine days away from work.  It feels like I'm hurtling through space and time at an exponentially increasing rate.  Rides in the mountains.  A trail ride at the beach.  Seeing remnants of the destruction from Hurricane Isaias.  Watching storms come in from the ocean.  The power of nature can make you feel so small.  Local trail rides.  Watching the best Tour de France I can remember.  The loss of someone in the world that just makes the world seem to be spiraling even more out of control.  The loss of yet another human in my personal realm... making it four or is it five people in the last year or is it the last six months?  Eating tater tots for supper... and nothing else.

And here I am, healthy, happy, content, and back at work.  We moved our daughter out into her own apartment over a week ago, and now The Pie and I have entered a new chapter in our lives.  It's actually the first time we've been without a another human being living under our roof since we first shacked up in 1992.  We also finally have room for all our shit in the tiny house of our (my?) dreams.  

So there's that.

And now I'm working on heading out first thing this weekend bound for Moab with Bill Nye TSG.

I finally rode this stupid feature I built like a million years ago but was always too afraid of the consequences of stalling out at the top and toppling to my certain death if I attempted it.

Yeth, it felt innocuous as it mebbe looks, but I don't honestly trust that guy who built it, so there's that.  It was a shit ton of work to drag all those rocks through the woods (not the biggest one, obvs), and I'm satisfied that I will now enjoy the fruits of said labor.

I finally saw the infamous white squirrel at Sherman Branch.

Is there only one white squirrel at Sherman Branch or are there a plethora or is a just a squirrel ghost... or are there a plethora of squirrel ghosts?

I finally got to ride the Chupacabra Trail at the Brunswick Nature Preserve without it being littered with black mud sippy holes every hundred yards.

Yeth, it's just "beach trail," the best trail you can ride is the one your on.  Such sweet respite from staring at the beach and strolling past a billionty Trump/Pence signs.

This trail head truck is dope... if you're into such things... I guess.

A Pisgah ride with buds where once again, I request wheelies in the rhodo tunnel at the top of Spencer Gap.



And y'all can @ me, but Trace Ridge has become my favorite descent in the Pisgah Ranger District.

Such rip shit, straight line, rutted-out, pure speed and chunk with a few chances to get some air under your tires.  I can't get enough of it.  I still have a place in my heart for the gnar gnar of Upper Black and Bennett and Avery and...

But just letting off the brakes and dropping a thousand feet in something like two and a half miles in pretty much a straight line.

Okay, let's get packing for Moab.  The desert is calling my name.

Thursday, September 17

Plug and (continue to) Play

Member me saying I was gonna find a solution to being under-plugged in the future?  I member.  Well, I found it.

I've been an avid plugger since 2012.  I feel like it's worth mentioning.  I dunno why.

Re-reading that old post, I see there was a time when I was willing to poke a hole in a tire and test a plug... a technology that's existed in the pneumatic tire world for like ever... but I needed to see it for myself first before trusting it in a race.  We were all carrying tubes back then.  Unnghh.

Anyhoo, before I started carrying a Dynaplug tool, I was carrying the simpler (cheaper) Genuine Innovations plugger.

That one had been "adapted" to fit into a Sharpie cap to keep it ready on the fly.  The main reason I started looking for alternatives was the difficulty I'd had in the past loading the bacon in the tight space between the two tines.  I'd once struggled enough that I'd snapped one of the tines off, leaving me with a useless tool.  So I upgraded to the Dynaplug for ease of use and the ability to use Megaplugs to seal larger holes faster.  The "adapted" GI tool still got carried in my Tülbag for races as a backup... although I kinda forgot that I'd stuck it in my EDC stem mounted tool eight months ago.

That was back in January... when I was counting on replacing it in my race kit with this:

The Topeak Tubi-Bullet X.  I put it on my ambassador wish list and waited.  And waited.  And waited...

And then found out that it wasn't gonna be available in the U.S.

And then totally forgot that I was carrying two pluggers when I was racing back when there was racing... and as the story went, I even forgot to carry my spare plugs at the Shenandoah Mountain 100.

Dammit.

I was lax in my preparations because I wasn't preparing for anything.  I just let this detail slip away into the ether.

Let's fix this then.

Two bikes, two problems.  I want beaucoup plugs/pluggers on all the bikes.

I know the EDC tool has a screw-in plugger option, but I didn't like it for two reasons:

1. It's always sold out.

2. I don't want the included fancy quick link tool that has to make up for 75% of the $40 price.  Also, the EDC tool already has a quick link tool that requires some dexterity and muscle memory to use... I guess... never used it.

I ended up going with this:

The Blackburn Pro Plugger Kit.  Why?

I like the mount next to the bottle cage (it also comes with a strap-it-anywhere mount).  Also, I really like the other side which holds the CO2 with the inflator... which is pretty a pretty logical piece of kit.

The inflator has a nice knob for releasing the CO2 instead of being one of those "back out the cartridge with care" or spring loaded types.  I'll assume it works until it doesn't.

Another nicely thought out bit is the cover for the inflator, because I'm confident enough mud can fowl things up if you're not careful.  I'd been covering my under the saddle inflators with a piece of road innertube for years.

Something that's not included but I already have figured out is a spacer THAT CAN BE REMOVED QUICKLY so the inflator doesn't have to stored on the cartridge in a pre-punctured manner.


Yes, that's one of those cable guide doohickeys.  Feel free to take that pro tip home with you.

What else is groovy?

You can shove up to three strips of bacon in there... although good luck with that.  I got two.  That said, a hole that can't be sealed with sealant (assuming you remembered to check it first) will probably need a couple plugs at least.  Extra bacon stores conveniently inside one end of the tool while the other has a built-in valve core removal tool.

It also fits in the weed stash compartment of my EDC tool.

Yes, I bought a second one.  You could say it's stupid to stick a tool in a tool that already has an integrated tool designed to do the same job but whatever.  Assuming I get my head outta my ass before I race again, I can strap the spare spare plugger to my frame or put it in a drop bag for that security blanket happy feeling.

Of course, it wasn't until this morning that I saw Dynaplug finally released their bottle cage mount for the Racer Dynaplug they'd hinted at months ago.

Dammit.  Well... options anyways.  Also, having a plugger that uses standard bacon strips means I'll have a better chance finding resupplies at a local bike shop in a road trip emergency...

Although, local bike shops be running low on everything.  Shop ahead, my friends.  Not "toilet paper hoarding" style, but surely be thinking ahead about staple items you're gonna need anyways. 

Monday, September 14

Trust Issues

We were in a bit of a scramble mode this past weekend.  Plans were made and canceled and made and canceled and...

You get the point.

Rain moving around and making a mess of it all.  With a desire to travel and go big, it looked like Damascus was the closest place with no rain and large, lumpy land.  Unfortunately, we'd be making the call kinda last minute, so instead of asking for route suggestions from trusted friends, I just found a loop on MTB Project that sounded good.  It was the first time that I've taken a route there, figured out how to load it on to my Wahoo, and followed the bouncing ball.

We rode the Beartree Gap - Old 84 loop, a 28 mile ride with around 3,800 feet of climbing.  Below is the ride information from the site... that I've taken the time to correct.

Overview:

One of the very best link-ups around Beartree Gap: a rooty, rocky mix of singletrack, doubletrack, gravel roads and some asphalt. This loop has great forest scenery and some expansive views up on the ridge tops. Expect some short (you call that short?) sections of hike-a-bike.  (The climbing miles pay off in smiles, as long as you giggle about how many calories you burned.  If you like horse poop, horse hooved mud bogs, and downhill gravel, this ride is for you.)

Description:

(edited to where we picked it up as the halfway point made more sense for us)

Next up is a long (it was a mile?), uphill grind up Whitetop Road; it's paved and has a nice shoulder. 

Jump back onto Iron Mountain trail (up a trail that drains well, has a deceivingly nice grade making me think it's all gonna be this sweet, and there's more unavoidable horse poop per mile than I've ever seen)  near the crest of this hill and follow the IMT until you can continue heading east on FS 84, which is a gravel road. 


 Fork to the right again on the IMT (rocky double track/road... and horse poop... and
horse hooved mud bogs) and ride up to the Cherry Tree shelter. 

Stay on the IMT (more poop, bigger bogs) and roll down to a left on FS 828, another gravel road (losing hard earned elevation on gravel is so rewarding)

At the intersection of Forest Service roads 84 and 828 take a right and ride downhill (more downhill gravel yeet yeet) on FS 84 to the Rowlands Creek Trailhead on the left. Roll down Rowlands Creek until a left on Old 84 Trail. Old 84 is a nice contour trail that begs to be ridden fast (because you're gonna wann get it over as soon as possible)! Ride it until it ends back or Forest Service road 84 and roll it back (more downhill gravel?   really?) to Whitetop Road.

Nature.

Cross Whitetop Road and jump back on the Iron Mountain trail which ascends (actually slogs as you drag your bike up stairs and loose rocks) up to the Straight Branch Shelter...

stay on IMT and roll the ridge which is characterized by sharp uphills and downhills with lots of exposed rocks and small boulders (boulders?). At Shaw Gap, you'll look for a left and then a right following the left (what did you just say?) with signage pointing to Beartree Gap Trail. 


Use Beartree Gap trail to descend back to the start and enjoy the thrilling cobbled chutes and sweeping turns (those descriptors did not align with my experience, quite cobble free and I rarely felt swept)!  

(the original ride start... where because my "route" had ended, I no longer had an arrow to follow on my computer... and the next trail wasn't showing up on my Wahoo)

Merde, merde, merde!

Shortly after entering the Beartree Recreation Area on Beartree Gap Road, there is a parking area on the right that has a porta potty and a map kiosk. Ride out of the Parking area and back down to Hwy 58, where you take a left and ride a short distance to the Straight Mountain Trail. Straight Mountain Trail is a rarely used doubletrack (that starts off as a vague power line cut that feels like anything but a trail), so expect some downed trees. The trail steadily climbs up to a ridge and then quickly descends (I actually had fun here) back to the fishing lake (never saw the lake) at Beartree where you pedal up the asphalt road to its termination at the trailhead for Straight Branch Trail and the campground. Water is available here at the bathhouse for the campground. Straight Branch Trail is roughly half a mile of climbing and just a bit less than a mile of descending (which actually was a pleasant way to end up back at the car... aside from riding through my hundreth spider web).

Just me now...

I can't complain.  I trusted a stranger who had access to the internet.  I had great company all day long.  I also had the privilege of going to the mountains and riding my bike in the woods.  It was better than doing nothing, and we hardly had more than a mist in the air to contend with weather-wise.  I do want to get back up to the area to ride someday, as I remember a totally different experience on a ride... well over a decade ago?

Also... man, do horses fuck shit up or what?

Friday, September 11

Shenandoah Mountain 100 2020: Epi (Lincoln size) Logue

So here goes.

Do I regret going to the Shenandoah Mountain 100?

No, not really.  It was on my short list of races that I've perhaps done enough times that I don't feel a strong pull to go back, but it was actually happening and fit into my life.  I'd wanted to do the Fool's Gold 60 miler tomorrow, but once I realized that I'd have to leave work early on a Friday (and get this, I can't take time off work on the every other week that I have to work), I couldn't go.  Sucks a little, because I wanted to actually "race" that race.  

So I went to the SM 100 instead.

Do I regret quitting?

I regret not being smarter.  That's about it.  I don't like quitting for a shitty excuse that isn't excruciating pain or a mechanical catastrophe.  I wanted a nice bike ride and a chance to see friends.  I got that.  I also wanted to see how racing was sorting itself out in this COVID world.  More on that later. 

I'm bummed that I missed out on coming down Braley's, Dowells Draft, and Chestnut.  A lot.

Since it's been four years since I've ridden a hundie, the question will still kinda linger as to whether or not I still have it in me.  Obvs I may not be faster, but I figure it's still in my wheelhouse.  After all, Buck once told me that anything is walking distance if you have time.

Of course, I argued, "What about Hawaii?" 

Do I regret running into a sharp rock and flatting?

Yeth.  Entirely.  100%.  I'll try to avoid that in the future.

And as to venturing out into the COVID world of bike racing...

I had to see it for myself.  Just as I needed to ride by a crowded (on the inside) brewery and say no to that, I just wanted to be aware of what other people are doing. 

I try my best to stay apolitical on the internet, because I don't wanna argue with strangers, but...

Being that we have a failed leadership with no cohesive plan that has allowed a scattershot of misinformation to be disseminated amongst the masses for a long enough period of time for it to fester into "opinions" that become our "facts" without really digging into the science (no quotes), it's interesting to see where everyone's comfort levels are.  I noticed some people do zero hangout after the race, some that kept their distance in the giant field venue and have long conversations, some side eye looks and nervous grabs at masks to suddenly cover an exposed orifice, body language that conveyed "you're getting a little close, buddy," and pretty much the whole spectrum of possible scenarios... aside from any totally oblivious, exposed, laugh-in-the-face-of-death activities.

I was happy to see my friends taking care of themselves and their loved ones by their actions.  I mean, the safest thing we could do is order Amazon from a well-lit bathroom and stay there until this "washes away," but...

Being outside and safe isn't that difficult.  If it were, I'd have lost my shit months ago.

Racing isn't everything, but I might figure out a way to do it again before the end of the year.  I've now seen it done in a safe manner (not as safe as the order-Amazon-from-a-bathroom manner tho), so if I see a chance to play with friends in the woods with start lines and finish lines and Port-a-Potties...

Sign me up.

I'll check my sealant and pack my plugs.  I promise.

And circling back just a bit, if you really wanna remain in my world (social media or IRL), please consider the following.  Common sense and a little empathy go a long way.

Thank and bless.







Thursday, September 10

Shenandoah Mountain 100: Things to do in Stokesville when you're ded

Now that I've decided my "race" is over, what to do?

It's like 8:30 AM.  Seems a bit rash to head back to camp and pop my first Coors of the day.  I could always grab my small cooler, load it with beer, take it to the top of Hankey... and wait how long for people to get there?  Hours?  To hand up beer... in a COVID world?

I decide to cut the course back to Aid 2 where I have a tube and more CO2.  Then I can go for a bike ride with some peace of mind.

These are the thinky thoughts I was able to muster while following the back of the pack down Narrowback.

Get to the gravel road, see a pump at the minimal first aid station... get some air to get me rolling again at a reasonable pressure.  Roll over to Aid 2, let them know I am NOT the lead rider (obvs), and rifle through my drop bag.  Now reloaded with a fresh tube and another CO2, I go just around the corner to cheer the riders on...

well, until I see Buck, and then I join him towards the first climb up Hankey.  We chat.  He's glum (for Buck).  That means mebbe 90% of a normal person's chipper.  He's had quite the day already... not sure he's in the mood for all this riding nonsense.  I dunno if my company helped or hindered his outlook.

And then we're at the top... Buck splits right, and I sit down.  Hang out with another bike cycle sport spectator.  Ring my bell.  Shout out quite a few "looking good" words of encouragement.  Enjoy just being outside and not in Charlotte.

Five and a half hours into the race, the people I was riding down Narrowback with come by my sitting spot.  We're at the thirty or so mile mark.  They're relatively happy.  I'd be losing my shit thinking about a potential eighteen hour or more day?

That's me tho.

Once it gets down to less than a trickle, I go ahead and do the final climb and descent into the finish.  Take what was probably the first shower enjoyed by someone who started the day with a number plate.  Pack my cooler, grab my phone, head over the the final straightaway to the finish.

Spectate in the sunshine with my Coors and the internet to keep me company.

Eventually, my little friends begin to trickle in, and I got 75% of what I drove up here for... seeing my people that I really miss.

That was nice.

Wake up early on Monday, drive home, shower, unpack, put things away, do my laundry, and take a nap all before 2:20 PM.

Wake up... time to confirm what I think I already kinda know.

Here's my gash:.

No idea if I made it any larger trying to jam plugs in there... doesn't look terribly big, but...

Added some freshly shaken sealant and air and...

Nope.  Too big.  No seal.  Pulled some standard bacon out of the EDC tool on my other behk, (no need to waste the more expensive Dynaplugs on an in-home repair).  Perfect.

Now I know that the cut-down Bic pen that holds my spare plugs woulda saved me.  It only took two slices of bacon to stop the leak.

$2 worth of Dynaplugs.  $.80 worth of regular bacon.  That's all I woulda needed to stay on course with a fully inflated tubeless rear tire.

Lesson learned.  Take nothing for granted.  Checking my sealant, Tülbag, brake pads, clean/lube the chain, tug on all the bolts... this all used to come naturally for me.  I'm definitely adding even more plugs in one manner or another to the things I carry with me.  That's happening.

Next time, I'm making a physical checklist of things to look at BEFORE any long event instead of just relying on my well developed pre-race muscle memory.

TBC

Wednesday, September 9

Shenandoah Mountain 100 2020: Legends of the Fail

So pleasant, this staggered start is.  Instead of spinning my legs off wishing for a quick death as a welcome form of relief from a hangover and very little sleep, me and my happy grid compatriots hit the road at a sane pace.  Sure, some from the riders that started behind me are coming by me in spits and bursts, but it's so calm compared to the past many years.  I'm truly happy.

Off the pavement to the rolling gravel, and I'm watching my heart rate...

For the first time ever, I have that crazy ability to keep a watch on the burnt matches.  It's strange having the data right there telling me to back off and let the "race" come back to me later with matches still in the book for the burning.  We finally get on the first trail, and I like the group I'm in.  We're rolling mebbe ten deep, and we could go faster, but nobody's getting too aggressive.  Like some strange Covid-related truce, we're all just here to have a good time.

The train cars start slowly coming around the choo choo engine at the front, I get my chance, make my cordial pass... and before I know it, the descent down Narrowback is in front of me.  I've got empty trail and a great line of sight.  This does not happen in the normal world before the boomie booms fell, but today I'm gonna get the chance to let 'er rip.

I love this descent.  I've had the opportunity to ride it outside of the SM 100 a handful of times, and it's just another world entirely when there's no one in the way to slow you down.  I'm smiling.  I'm ripping.  I can't wait to do this all day long.

Psssss, psssss, pssss, pssssssss....

Fuck me.

I got a leak in my rear tire.  It should seal... I can hear it.   C'mon... c'mon.... c'mon...

Okay.  Not gonna happen.  No big deal.

Hop off the bike, look for the wet spot so I can see where to jam my Dynaplug in... nothing. 

Huh.

Find the hole by listening for the air, break out my Dynaplug Racer... try the Megaplug to see if the hole is big enough to accommodate it.  Nope.  Flip the tool over and jam in a regular size plug... but it's not enough, and obviously there's no sealant in the tire to seal the small gap.  I dig around in my Tülbag for the spare plugs I keep in a cut-down Bic pen... where the fuck are they?

The last few months of memories play in fast forward through my mind.

I mounted these tires back in... April(?) on my new Industry Nine 280c Hydra wheels because I decided I wasn't gonna save them for racing because who knew when that was coming back.  YOLO and all that.  Since then, I've ridden the Vassago Meatplow V.8 a lot more, and thusly, done the lion's share of maintenance on it.  New wheels, multiple tire swaps, bottom bracket bbearings... it's the bike I've been actively paying attention to.  The Vertigo Meatplow V.7 has been just fine whenever I ride it, so why pay any attention to it?

That and I had moved a lot of my repair kit to my fanny pack because I'd been doing loads of big fun rides and trips.  Zero racing.  Local rides with low consequences were the primary use for my "race" bike.

My spare tire plugs are at home.  On top of the work bench.  In a fanny pack.  I could find them with my eyes closed.  Just as could I grab the a liter of TruckerCo Cream II sealant out of the center drawer without looking.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

So while I did stick tubes and CO2 in all three of my drop bags, I didn't even think to check over the first and second lines of defense for the most common mechanical problem that could ever happen.

As people ride past me asking if I need anything, I sink into a sad place full of remorse.  I'm so outta practice with this race prep thing... I always pulled a bead off and dump in more sealant if needed (or not),  I always looked through my Tülbag to check for the essentials.

Always.  Every. Fucking. Time.

Despite the fact that the Megaplug wouldn't fit the first time (before there was another plug even in the hole), I try and jam it in anyways... totally fubar'ing the plug to the point of uselessness.

Fine.  Just fine.  Let's just put in a tube.

Pull the bead off the rim, obvs it's totally dry inside.  Grab my tube, toss it in, CO2...

It's been so long, I forgot they kinda freeze to bare, sweaty hands.  Doh.  Mighta flubbed the delivery there a bit while pulling back in temporary shock.

The whole time, I'm watching everyone go by, making note of their number plates.  I'm seeing the last of the entire field pass me by the time I'm ready to take off again.  I jump on the back of a group of riders that are chatting the whole way down Narrowback.  I can't see asking them to let me go around.  What's the point?

I'm going through all the possible scenarios in my head.  I didn't get quite enough pressure in my tire with one CO2, but I didn't wanna use another one... I think there will be limited support at the bottom of this descent.  Floor pump mebbe?  I think I've seen that before?

I don't want to ride 90 miles on a tubed rear tire at basketball pressures.  22.5 PSI is my happy place for hardtail comfort.  I also don't wanna ride down Wolf Ridge on a tube... with no spare tube and no plugs.  I've flatted there before.  It's quite gnarly, and it's a long walk to anywhere... and I'm not gonna have a whole lotta people behind me to loan out stuff.  I also don't wanna ride like a toddler on a Strider bike down... the four or five serious descents that are still in front of me?  I don't know about you, but I ride a lot less aggressively once I've got a tube in my tire.  I've learned that lesson the hard way... multiple times.

*sigh*

Why am I even here?  I just wanted some normalcy.  A bike race.  To see some of the people I haven't been able to in... I don't even know how long it's been.  I said I was never coming back to race the SM 100 after I finished my tenth, but I just wanted something, and the race that's happening this next weekend that I could've done doesn't mesh with my strange work schedule.

Fuck.

I decide that I am done "racing" today.  Nothing really to prove to myself.  I came here for a good time... and a long time... but not a not-so-good and also slightly longer time.

TBC

Tuesday, September 8

Shenandoah Mountain 100 2020: Preamble

If you want the tl;dr friendly version of the story, I didn't finish the Shenandoah Mountain 100.

Here's the tl;bdrbcaab version (too long but did read because Covid and also bored), here we go.

I can honestly say that I was 100% more prepared for this SM 100 than I have ever been for the previous eleven times I've decided it was something I needed in my life.  In the middle of the week leading up to it, I was feeling a little cooked from the riding I'd been doing, so I backed off on Thursday, and even took Friday completely off the bike.  I spent loads of time getting everything ready, most notably my nutrition and hydration needs, being that Covid had killed any chances of doing the usual grazing of brownies, and pizza, and French fries, and Pringles, and Coke, and...

If I could live off SM 100 aid stations for my normal existence, I would.

I also got soooo much sleep.  I took care of myself.  I really did.

Up at whatever time my eyes opened on Saturday. eat a mighty fine breakfast, load the car, start driving up at 9:30 AM.

"Did I remember my camping chair?"

No.

"What else did I forget?"

"Oh, it's gonna be chilly and I don't have warm'ish clothes and I packed my summer sleeping bag and... oh about a half dozen things that would make life better, but I'm pretty sure I have EVERYTHING I need to make great bike race."

Eat a light lunch on the drive up to Stokesville.

Get there, set up my ginormous tent, roll out for a gentle hour of spinning on a gravel road to get the drive out of my legs.  Hydrate like crazy, good stuff from Carborocket, La Croix... not beer.  Not yet anyways.

Pasta supper with salad and supplemented with a can of Spaghettios. 

Prepare all the things to make great bike race.

I decided to bring my biggest tent because I finally realized that getting ready for a hundred mile race in the dark after crawling out of a hammock (or the back of the Fit of Rage) blows.  Why not have all the dry room in the world to prepare for such an arduous endeavor?

Huge, cavernous, space for four persons all but used and abused by one.  Room under one of the huge vestibules for my bike to keep the saddle and grips dry and happy.

Every single thing I needed at my fingertips in the morning.  I even had my stove set up and pot filled to have coffee in less than ten minutes after being awake.

And get this.  I was in bed before 9:00 PM.  No more than two Coors on board, tons of proper fluid intake, loads of decent nutrition, and I'm pretty sure I feel asleep shortly after they turned off the music at the pavilion.

Woke up once to pee... not because of excess beer but because I'm hydrated.

And I unnaturally awake at 4:51 AM, nine minutes before my alarm.

Everything lined up just like I planned the night before.  Pop Tarts (yes, I could do better there, but whatever), coffee, kids dropped at the pool, dressed, and completely ready with zero panic moments or misplaced essentials.  Thanks to the socially distanced staged start with only 250 total racers, there was no reason to even head over to the line until the last minute.

Ride over, join your group of ten or so in the appropriate grid, wait until 6:31:15... and go.

It was gonna be a good day.