Saturday, August 22, 2015

Day 5, (mental break down commences)

Day 5, 3:30am-11:00pm, 130 miles

I had a good night sleeping under a huge pine tree right next to the trail.  I had picked a warm and dry location and by the 4th night I had a routine going.  Once I stopped I would take a quick glance at my ‘miles for the day’ on the GPS, reset the trip meter and shut it down.  Next I would shut off the Spot, maybe eat and drink a bit, take any meds and then go to work on body maintenance.  Brush teeth, wipe down with a wipe packet or two and then slip on my warm puffy jacket and then rain gear.  I always tried to time it so before I put on extra layers I had dried off a bit but had not yet cooled down to the point of being cold. The rain gear was part of my sleep system, it added a bit of warmth but also kept me protected from the inevitable condensation of my warm but 100% non-breathable Blizzard Emergency bivy bag . One I had all the essentials done I would unroll the Blizzard, fluff it up and inflate the sleeping pad that I kept rolled up inside.  If my timing was good I would still have some, but not to much, body heat going as I crawled into the bivy.  At this point my next major decision point was ‘leave on or take off’ my shoes.  Sometimes I would just leave them on, mostly if it was cold or I expected the morning to be cold.  I had extra pair of warm thick wool socks but I don’t think I used them one time.  All in all it would take me about 30 min to be double checking the alarm and closing the eyes for the last time....
Anyway it had been a good night under that ol tree and I woke up ready to get on to Helena.  I got a little cold on some of the down hills sections into Helena but all in all it was a pleasant ride with the sun coming up and all.  Once in Helena I re-supplied and at the same time was spot stalked by a inquisitive future TDR racer.  Next I then went looking for a place to buy myself a USB power pack.  Since my recharging system was not working I now needed a way to recharge ‘on-the-go’ my helmet light and if needed power my smartphone, IE: my back up GPS system.  This became my new power management strategy.  I would re-charge as much as I could when stopped for a meal or hotel but some days I would just buy another power pack.  Ha, after a while I was giving away depleted power packs. 
After Helena there is a long climb topped off with some fun double track.  On the long climb up to the double track my knees and Achilles were once again screaming in protest.  It was at this point, a few miles past Helena that I quit racing.  I transitioned into what I can only describe as a semi self-pity fest coupled with a vague, rather undefined plan to continue.  Two parts of my rather vague plan at continuing were first; don’t over medicate on pain pills and second; ice down every 20 or 30 miles in a stream.  Gurrr…..I knew each time I stopped to time ice down in a stream I would be giving up hard won time but felt it was the only way to continue. 
Needless to say this mode of operation began to drive me batty; soon I was constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for the inevitable. …….  

After several ice it down stops, just before 7pm I finally rolled into Butte.  I resupplied at a great ‘we have almost everything’ convenience store (including a huge Ms Fields cookie ice cream sandwich) and was ready to leave when I discovered I had lost my chamois cream.  
It was to soon to break out my back up tube--so a quick detour to the local Walgreens had me back in business.
It was now 8:30, too early for a hotel, way too late to make Wise River. In a sort of lost state of mind I soft pedaled out of town and leisurely climbed up and past outlying homes and back into national forest lands. 

Around 10:30 and I was now thinking about a place to stop for the night.  Just up ahead I saw a set of car lights stop and then slowly start up again.  As they were approaching me the lights slowed down and I could tell they were going to stop next to me.  This was the first car in several hours and we were on a lonely forest service road, it was late and dark.  My instincts hit overdrive and I began to think this might be trouble of some type.  A pickup slowed and stopped with driver rolling down the window to talk.  I stopped and put my hand my hand over my helmet light so as not to blind the driver.  I could only see a dim silhouette of the driver and passenger in the dark, humm I wonder where this is going...... 
In a rather serious voice the driver’s first words to me were “are you from around here”.  I answered 'no' but said I was familiar with the area (true as this was my third time up this particular MT forest road).  The driver then informed me that just up ahead, up where I had seen his lights pause, that four wolves had crossed in front of him, apparently following some elk he had seen a bit further up the road.  Wow, I was a bit taken aback to think I was within ¼ mile of four hungry wolfs. 
Suddenly, sleeping under the stars lost all of its appeal.  I sort of remembered a trail head or campground of some type near were we were and verified with the driver, yes there was a block toilet house just up the hill.  I gave a thanks to the driver for his info and joked I would soon be sleeping in a Montana Hilton for the night.  He got a chuckle from my response and wished me luck.
Needless to say, just a couple miles up the road, I was quite happy to find said outhouse with its mostly clean floor and locking door.  
Looking back, day 5 was not that bad of a day but at the time all I could think was I was no longer in race mode, in many ways tomorrow would be the start of a different TDR.  Mentally the runaway slide to despondency had now truly begun and was building momentum. 
Bonus Section: Saddle Sores
Some of you may know that in 2010 TDR I suffered with appalling saddle sores.  To the point I was never going to do the TDR again unless I could resolve this problem.  As long as I have been biking I would always develop saddle sores on extended rides.  My particular problem revolved mostly around easily ingrown hairs. On a 2-5 day event it was a livable issue--but after 5 days would become almost intolerable.  
Knock on wood but I finally seem to have put this long term issue behind me.  Zero saddle sores during this TDR!!
So what did I do? 
First, in the run up to my 2014 TDR attempt I had some laser/permeant hair removal in two embarrassing but “strategic” locations.  I feel this is the main factor in eliminating my saddle sores. 
Second (after trying with mixed results going totally without a chamois) I switched to a ‘outer chamois” short design.  I recommend these to anyone looking for a different approach. I consider them to be a major factor in elimination of saddle sores.  They are not ‘perfect’ but the external chamois design really is a game changer imo.
Third for multi-day rides I have quit using the typical oil based chamois creams and now use a dimethicone based anti-friction cream.  This is quite amazing on the longer multi-day rides as it not only eliminates most heat from friction but also takes a lot longer (say about 2-4 days) for one’s riding shorts to become totally filthy.  In addition a little bit goes along ways.  I would apply it in the morning and then 2-3 times thru the day—and used less that two 1 oz tubes for the entire TDR.
Forth would have to be the saddle itself.  I am using a $35 dollar el-basic gel saddle from  performance Bike.
Nothing special about it except the width fits the up-right TDR position and it offers good flex/comfort on a hardtail.  The real key here is not the saddle itself but moving to a wider saddle to match the more up-right position I favor for multi-day races.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Day 4 (recovery speed)

Day 4, 5:00am-11:00pm, 130 miles

I have to admit it seemed the alarm went off to soon on the morning of the fourth day.  I was camped out at the base of Richmond Peak and knew I had a long slow climb to start the day.  I have been over this pass three times now.  The first time it was truly dangerous with the snow forcing a real exposure factor.  The second time the snow was just a minor hindrance with no real exposure.  This time there was no snow whatsoever and once on top it was just a rather fun section of single track.  No snow or rain also meant the descent was relatively warm and fast.

I rolled into Ovando just after 11:00 am, got the mandatory picture plus the warm welcome and information that I was running in the top 10. 
coming into Ovando
Frankly I didn’t believe that was possible and had very mixed emotions about it.  I was quite pleased that I was that far up the ladder but knew with my knee there was only disappointment waiting for me. Funny but this bit of ‘good’ news had quite a negative impact on me.  But at least even with my relatively minor knee issues I was still in the game, Connor O'Leary was sitting outside in the sun and explained how his knee unexpectedly blew out while just pedaling along.  Blew out as in he felt it ‘pop’ as something inside broke lose.  I wonder if he will be back next year?

One of the reasons I didn’t have a clue as to where I was in terms of other racers was my hub driven recharging system was down and out for the count.  My hub driven handlebar light was good to go but I could not re-charge my helmet light or smartphone.  Later on I stopped for a while outside of Lincoln and tested different ideas in the hopes of fixing it but soon gave up on the idea.

Shortly after Lincoln the inevitable began to happen, on the first long climb I was caught and passed by stronger riders.  I think the first three were Joe Fox leading Greg Galway and his apparently eternal TDR team mate Evan.  

They were faster up the climbs and also down the descents.  Ha, and to top it off they stopped for the night at my pre-planned camp spot.  I rode on past just a few miles before I called it a day as I figured four racers together were no longer quite ‘stealth’.

Basically from Ovando on, almost all the way to New Mexico, every time someone would catch and pass me I would get down on myself.  Sort of silly in hindsight but at the time I was just so totally frustrated that I could no longer give it 100%.  Actually if I am honest with myself I am still frustrated about it.  Overall I had a pretty good run but there were so many little things that kept nagging away at me. I didn’t handle it nearly as well as I could have then and I still get upset if I think too much about it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Day 3 (ok lets get things back on track...)

Day 3 3:30am-12:00pm, 209 miles

Only 2 days in and already I felt things slipping away.  The need to get back on track was the theme for day 3.  I rode away from my room by 4am and rolled the pavement out of town.  Along the way I saw Mark Caminiti sleeping on the side of the road just before crossing Hwy 93.  Almost stopped and woke him up but decided he might not appreciate that. As the sun came up I started the first climb of the day.
I did not stop to take any pictures on Day 3 but here is one from Day 3 of my aborted 2014 attempt. As you can see the conditions were a wee bit different.  For a whole bunch of reasons I only made Eureka to Whitefish on that particular day.  93 miles in 17 hours in 2014 vs 209 miles in 20 hours in 2015  Wow quite a difference.

The day was another ‘picture perfect’ day weather wise and other than a few tinges in the left knee everything felt good as the miles rolled past. Going up the climb to Red Meadow pass I tried to catch up to Greg and Evan, never did which confirmed once again all the riders around me were as strong or stronger.  Once over the pass I caught Greg and Evan on the decent and the three of us play raced all the way into Whitefish.  I had a blast spinning out trying to stay ahead but was missing some bigger gears, not for the last time. 

I resupplied at the first convenience store and as they had ‘hot’ food considered this my main meal stop for the day.  Rolling on to Columbia Falls I did a quick top off of my supplies and ate a big ice cream sandwich.  Now I began to think about where I might wind up for the day.  The route from Whitefish to Ferndale is paved and fast and I now had supplies to see me to Ovando the following morning.

Along the pavement to Ferndale I caught up to a rider but every time I tried to join him for some conversation he would use his higher gearing and accelerate away.  I would soon be spun out but later would catch up again.  He would never let me quite join him.  Basically he was acting like there was a finish line just up ahead.  I was sort of laughing yet at the same time a bit put off by his strange antics.  He rode off route at Ferndale to resupply and I dropped it down a notch and soft pedaled on up the climbs along Swan Lake towards Hollend Lake.  Later the same rider, plus Greg and Evan pulled up behind me.  Once again this other racer played silly ‘its-a-race’ games and accelerated by me like he was trying to ‘stick’ his pass without so much as a hi.  I simply did not understand why a fellow TDR racer would be so unwilling to a least say hi.  Frankly it pissed me off just enough to make me start ‘racing’ back.  I deliberately caught up and forced him to acknowledge my presence. At some point it occurred to me, perhaps this racer didn’t speak English?  Well sort of but still.....

Anyway this little back and forth racing pulled me all the way to Holland Lake where I ended my day at 209 miles.  It had been a good day, some fun play racing even when totally spun out and I was more than a bit surprised at the total miles. And I was back on plan distance wise but knew as I crashed into my bivy I was in serious trouble from a knee/achillies point of view.  My left knee was starting to noticeably swell, by morning the left knee was about twice the size as the right. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Day 2 (all does not go well.........)

Sunny day, eat, remove plastic bags, dry out the soaked shoes and try in vain once again to fix my shifting problem..........
Day 2, 4:00am to 11:00pm, 110 miles, 5 hrs sleep that night

The big ‘plan’ for day 2 was to make Eureka early enough in the day to resupply and knock out another 30 to 50 miles.  As always happens in a multi-day plans go awry. 

The day started without incident, up and moving within 30 minutes of plan.  On to the hike-a-bike water sections.  Soon I reached Butts cabin, around 7:40am and talked with a few riders still breaking their camp.  I have to admit I was a bit taken aback as to why a racer would press on to Butts cabin on night 1, yet still be there by the time I arrived.

The day was nice, no rain lots of sun, the legs felt good and climbs were falling behind one by one.  All in all it should have been a 'according-to-plan’ day but that was not the case.  On the first climb my rear derailleur started to miss shifts (always from large to smaller cogs).  As the day went on it got progressively worse to the point by the end of the day I was reaching back with my right foot and manually sifting the derailleur with some foot pressure. 

I think I stopped 15 or more times to attempt repairs.  At first I tried small trim adjustments to the upper and lower stop screws.  Next I tried a drop of oil on the pivot points. This went on and on, between each repair attempt I would ponder what could cause the derailleur to act as it its return spring was ½ strength??.  I removed the rear wheel several times and ‘actuated’ the derailleur by hand, both by pressing directly on the shift cable and by manipulating the shifter.  With the wheel removed the derailleur moved thru its entire motion/arc in a smooth normal manner.  I was 100% stumped.   I would tell myself quit stopping and just keep riding, just make some miles.  Then I would flounder up the next rise and stop and have another go at it.  I was having a hard time maintaining a ‘clam’ outlook.

As I neared Eureka I was dealing with two issues.  The first problem was my knees were more than a little sore from all the climbing in the wrong gear.  Thru out the day I had been ‘over’ shifting during the approach to a climb and then clicking down into the right gear.  This only worked about 1/3 of the time, the other times I would either miss-time the over shift or the slope would change mid climb and force me to power thru in to large or too small a gear.  The second more immediate problem was how to restore my shifting.  I really was at a total loss.  I checked my smartphone for Whitefish bike shop hours of operation, all showed closed on Sunday.  Plus I really did not know what the problem was, by this time I was thinking the derailleur itself was somehow defective  Of course this didn’t make sense as it was basically new, had not been crashed and had performed perfectly in 2-3 hundred miles of training runs.
I was so off balance and in a bit of a daze from wondering what to do.  Do I press on and hope to reach Whitefish early enough on Sunday and then ‘hope’ to find someone to help?  Would it hold out that long, what if I sucked it into the wheel? Or do I keep trying to fix the problem myself even though I was at a loss as to what I might try next. I simply did not know what to ‘do next’ so once I rolled into the first re-supply point in Eureka I simply went thru the motions of re-suppling as if all was still on plan. 

First I ordered 2 subway sandwiches, one to eat right away and one to pack away.  Then I shopped the store and gathered up all the needed carry-away food items to get me on to Whitefish. Still not sure what to do and was just going thru the pre-planned motions.  My mind was sort stuck in a loop with no clear path out.  While in line to check out a racer in front of me was arranging to get a room for the night.  When it was my turn to pay for my items, almost out of the blue, I said I wanted a room.  Just like that a plan was born, get a room, strip off the derailleur, wash all the accumulated oil and gunk from the pivot points in a soapy sink, inspect for it for visible issues and reassemble and try to make it work.

By this time there was a nice crowd of TD racers eating resupplying and either settling in for the evening or moving on.  To no avail I asked around if anyone knew any Sram XX1 derailleur secrets.

Anyway long story short as soon as I removed the shift cable I discovered the problem.  The shift cable rides on small semi sealed pulley.  This pulley forces the cable around a rather tight bending radius and the pulley’s housing is a perfect trap for small grit and dirt particals.  What had happed is on day 1 the grit had worked into the pulley housing and combined with the tight bend radius delaminated the Teflon coating.  There were little balled up bits and pieces of the Teflon gumming up the smooth ‘flow’ of the cable over the pulley.  The only way to 'find the problem' was to actually remove the cable from the derailleur, ahh.....pull hair.....
It took a while to install my spare cable (also a Teflon coated version, its still on the bike as I write this and working like a charm bty).  My bike has an internal cable routing so I have to ‘play’ with the cable to get it thru the frame yada yada yada.  I finally got everything back together and tested ‘good’ in the hotel parking lot right before dark.  

spread it all out, tear it down, make it work--ahh what a mess by the time I had it fixed....but finally it was working again...
I was a bit tempted to pack up and go but was just to emotionally spent to leave a nice, already paid for room with shower etc. 
Such a small small thing, just a tiny bit of balled up Teflon......  But it started my knees on a disastrous downward spiral, especially the reconstructed left one and my tight race focus was now in complete tatters.