Thursday, December 27, 2012

The most important tool

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gravel Grinding: Big Sky Style

Dec. 1, 2012.

     It was windy, that's for sure. 50 degrees. It was clearly snowing in the Bridgers to the West, which I hoped to avoid. A crisis of motivation resulted in a late start which had me racing against dusk.  It was nearly 2pm when I parked the car and unloaded my bike and headed out. I had a rough route in mind of a loop going through the tiny town of Clyde Park but hadn't been on all the roads yet. So it was a recon mission of sorts. I wasn't sure how far I would be going but figured I could bail out and take the highway back to the car if neccessay.

    For a bike I was riding my steel Kona Unit 29er, rigid with gears. It has 35c cyclocross tires on there right now and they are perfect for this type of riding. So much faster than normal mtn tires! This is the bike I have been riding exclusively since I bought it. The way it is set up it really is a great dirt road bike which is the vast majority of my riding these days. I also raced my first season of cyclocross on it this fall, so it is a pretty versatile bike overall.

     The views from nearly anywhere along the Shields are dominated by the Crazy Mountains to the East. Picture perfect snowcovered alpine peaks in their own little isolated range, the Crazies are quite inviting.

     Traffic is minimal to nonexistent on these back roads. Occasional ranch truck = diesel 4x4 dually with flat bed, and the requisite pair of Blue Heelers running back and forth on it.

    We have had some moisture in the weather lately so the dirt roads were perfectly damp and wonderful. Too much moisture and the clay soils in the roadbed often become impossibly muddy but this was the perfect riding surface. Fast, grippy, no dust.

    These places are the ones that most folks drive past on their way to Somewhere Important. It is hard to put into words how it feels to be out in these places moving through this incredible landscape on a bicycle. Constant awe, amazement, reverence, gratitude, happiness. The last vestiges of the American West are here.

32 miles, 3 hours, and made it back to the car just before dark. Success!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Higher Ups

This picture is from just below Pine Creek Lake in the Absaroka Mountains just south of Livingston. It is an awesome stout little hike, with about 3000ft of elevation gain in 5 or so miles. This was maybe 2 months ago now when it just started snowing up high. The lake elevation is near 9000 ft I believe and the peaks surrounding are taller. I wasn't planning on going all the way up but all of sudden I was past halfway there and just decided to go for it. Much of the drainage you hike through was burned over this summer by the Pine Creek fire and there are large areas that are burned down to the ground with only blackened tree trunks left standing. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

All it took was the first good snowstorm

All it took was the first good snowstorm.

All I can think about is the mountains. It’s been a long time, living in town. I miss living in the woods. Where you only see trees out the window instead of the all the neighbor houses. Where you step outside and there are no man-sounds. All I can think about is the mountains. There is a good friend not far away living the dream high up in a tiny end-of-the-road mountain village and I am jealous and envious of the freedom. I miss being able to go out the door and out into the wilderness within minutes. Instead of hours. Not having to drive in a car to get to the woods is the real dream. Bike, hike, ski, whatever you like. Perhaps someday it can happen again, be there right on the edge. Certain people are always longing for something. I am one of those people and for me often it is the woods. I spend more time there now than I have in years and it is good. A little four footed furry friend showed up in our house some months ago and he has shaken me out of my indolence. We go hiking after work most days on a convenient trail located midway on my commute home. A stout climb up the mountain with never very many people most times. It’s a good little trail. The same trail every time. Some would say: that’s boring, the same trail? But nature is never boring. The same trail is almost better to watch the seasons, to watch the changes. Every time it is different. The foliage is different. The air is different. The trees are different. The soil is different. And now that it’s dark when we go, there is never anyone else. Just the deer and the moose. And the bears. A few squirrels. Grouse. With the snow down finally their tracks are everywhere. My little buddy tries to find them and follows all the tracks. They are long gone so he comes back shortly and catches up and we keep walking. The headlamp lights the path if there is no moon but it’s nice to go without if it’s bright enough. It’s funny because the highway below hundreds of people pass by without a thought. Some of them are rushing home to go to the gym where they can be warm and fool themselves that they are “getting in shape”. They are mostly just getting the gym owners wallets in shape. I used to do that too but not anymore. Out here is the real deal. Going uphill for real, year round. If we get more snow it will be on snowshoes or skis or the splitboard.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mile to Sheep Creek: Epic Ride Montana Style!

Through some brief texts the previous week I was tracked in to meet two friends for one of the areas best "EPIC" rides: Mile Creek to Sheep Creek down in the Southern Madison Range above Hebgen Lake on the Montana/Idaho border. The original plan for my Butte 50 training was to do Curly Lake, which is a 25 mile, 5000ft ride. When I was told the Mile/Sheep ride was "bigger than Curly" it was a no brainer to join my friends instead. There are a number of "epic rides" in our area which include alpine riding, big big climbs, and long miles of great trail. The Mile/Sheep ride gets top billing from many and I had not yet ridden it! Neither of my companions had ridden it either so we were all equally excited for exploration.

Perfect weather greeted us at the trailhead courtesy of the high pressure system that has graced our area with temps near 90 going on three weeks or so. We dropped the car, and did a few road miles to eliminate any shuttling. Very quickly we hit the junction with the Continental Divide Trail which we would be on for a number of miles.  We passed some horse people coming out and they said "We scared away all the grizzly bears for you" This is major griz country and we all carried bear spray at the ready and routinely and regularly yelled out "HEY BEAR" throughout the ride.
Junction at beginning with Continental Divide Trail and Trail 214 where we were headed. This began a 3000ft ascent.

 The trail climbed through the meadows that were quite green still from being up higher on the mountainside. It was beautiful singletrack right from the beginning.

 After a few hours we were really getting up there, and here you can see back out the drainage we had come up. I believe at one point here it was 1100ft in 2 miles or something. It was just a wall of switchbacks!

 We were pretty stoked to get to this point until we figured out we weren't topped out yet! This was maybe 2.5 hours or so...all climbing, all in the granny gear! We had started at around 6300ft at the car!

After another push we made it to the high point of the ride at 10000ft, just below Targhee Peak. 3 hours at least to this point.

 Targhee Peak to the left and an incredible view of the Tetons in Wyoming off in the distance! It was really awesome to be up there and see all of this. Oh, did I mention we saw the ONLY other people of the the whole ride just below here: a couple hiking with their dog from Colorado.

 This is the view the other way from the ridge to the North back into Montana. We live way over in the direction Dan is pointing! Dan and Brian have done a bunch of backcountry skiing in this area and were discussing winter routes.

 We had something like 9 miles of downhill as we dropped in off the ridge. Woohoo! I don't think there is anything more fun than riding downhill on never-before-seen great. It is a Zen focus experience and the mind becomes single-pointed with the body to interpret and react to the about getting in the zone!

 And with scenery like this it becomes even more powerful. Vestiges of winter snow clinging to the shadows.

 On ride of this magnitude the trail and ecosystem changes as you travel up and down in elevation and across aspect and exposure to the sun and water. We were down into the high alpine meadow again where the trail was a faint path and wildflowers abounded.

 This picture is for you Dad! This was still on the downhill section and we had miles to go before we bottomed out before the final climb. Some flowy ATV doubletrack followed this part directly and then some blowdowns jammed up our good time descent for a while till we hit the creek at the bottom.  Bottoming out near 7000ft.

 We have to climb again? How much? 2000 more feet? Oy! We were 6 hours in at this point and about to begin the 2nd big ascent of the ride. Tired legs, sore asses, and lots of sweat going on.  We had already refilled our water supplies at a little creek earlier. Rides this long require either a water filter, steri-pen, or chemical purification for mid ride refills. And be careful later in the summer as there may not be any water in the creeks...

 We had the benefit of some trees for shade on this last push. Temps were hitting 91 on the thermometer. The stream of sweat dripping out of my helmet was near constant the entire climb.

 Nearing the head of the drainage the trail disappeared completely. Without some good backcountry navigation skills one may have some problems here. We did fine and just kept heading up and up. Lots of pushing through these meadows. The grass hummocks are too difficult to ride. The trail reappeared at intervals when it entered the trees to reassure us we were on track. 9200ft here we come!

 Just before topping out is this tiny little pond. Totally picturesqe. Moose and elk tracks all over the meadow in the soft ground.

 The Sheep Creek Drainage. After the second high point of the ride, we were pretty excited have the final downhill back to the car. 7 hours plus to here I think.

 The trail dropped precipitously in series of ridiculous switchbacks, most of which were not rideable, and the ones that were retained major consequences.

 So happy to be done with climbing we skittered our way down the headwall to the creek below and the intersection with the Sheep Lake trail.

We had some nice sections on the way out, but again the trail changed character mile by mile: open meadow, creekside forest, thisck underbrush, rocky, smooth, windy, was pretty amazing. Winding down the ride we came back out into the Madison valley and had a few last miles of dirt road to the car. Totally spent and totally stoked! 33 miles, and 6000 vertical, and about 8.5 hours. Bigtime. Can't wait to do it again!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Triple-Crank, I Love You

The decision to go back to 3x was mostly made while suffering through multiple hike-a-bikes during the Butte 50 last year when I couldn't pedal the 28x36 combo any more on the 2x10 setup. I longed for the 22 tooth granny gear of drivetrains past just so I could stay on the bike pedaling a little longer. Riding a bike up steep trail sucks enough but getting off and pushing up said hill just adds insult to injury. And it makes my arms tired. And it's embarrasing when every little tiny racer dude spins by merrily saying "Good Work!" when they are really thinking "What a loser! He can't even ride up this hill! Did he even train at all?!?" It is of course very nice to blame all of this suckage on my chainrings.

So for the past year and a half I have been running a 2x10 drivetrain on my Blur which came as part of the stock build. For about a year now I have been meaning to swap my cranks back to 3x but have continued to procrastinate. I did try the swap last year the week before the Butte race, but was stymied by shifter and derailleur incompatibilities: 2x vs 3x vs SRAM vs Shimano vs What Spare Parts I Had In The Bin. I couldn't get it working and threw the 2x back on for the race. Yesterday, a year later, I finally got the 3x cranks on, purchased the appropriate front derailleur and got everything working again.

For the 140lbs racer who rides 20 hours a week the 2x10 system probably works great. They can hammer it out for as long as it takes pushing big gears. Also for those who live where there are fewer hills, shorter hills, or even no hills, it is probably great. For the big-ascent (and descent) Rocky Mountain riding around here, bring on the 3x! For hours-long ascents like Curly Lake or Bangtail Divide, the 22 tooth ring is a lifesaver.
My riding focus for two years running has been the Butte 50 race. I would say for the 8 hour race there must be around 6 hours of climbing. My race theory is it is all about average speed. With the 2x drivetrain, I was off and walking on anything steep pretty early in the race. Walking is slow. What is also slow is the dismount and remount associated with all the walking.  With the 22 on the 3x cranks all this walking will be quite reduced, thereby bringing up the slowest speeds I will go. Average speed will go up and I should be finishing faster. 

I am an idiot for not making this change sooner than I did. Oh well. Maybe in about 10 years I will have it all figured out. Or maybe by then I will figure out how to ride 20 hours a week and be a machine and run whatever gears I want. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Portfolio Pics

Just put up a portfolio page on here to showcase some of the work I have done over time.
Check it out if you have time. Thanks.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Found some genius wisdom about doing hard long distance events from:

Charlie Farrow's Amateur Bike Racing Website

this guys blog is totally wierd and awesome. There is a whole subculture of Midwesterners doing crazy races like the Arrowhead 135 and many others....awesome! I used to think I could never ever live in the Midwest. As long as I got to hang out with these guys and do these types of things I think I could now!


Lesson 2: Sell your rollers. Go outside. Ride in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and darkness. Ride on gravel, mud, snow, and ice. Run through mud and creeks, and over roots and rocks. Ski in the rain and on ice. Your races will be like this. When everybody else stays home or bails at the halfway point you will laugh and know that you've been through worse. 

Lesson 3: Eat food, drink water. There are lots of expensive gels, bars, and powders out there. You don't need them. Sure, they probably work, but there are tastier, cheaper options. Fig bars, peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, pizza, cheese and sausage. Energy drink? Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and soy milk. Chocolate covered espresso beans can save a race. Eat! Drink! Use them! It is better to stop and pee than stop and pass out. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Regression to Rigid

Just ordered this fork from Surly 1x1 100mm corrected rigid fork. Going to slap it on my hardtail crap bike and relive the glory days of pre-suspension riding. That bike has a old Marzocchi z1 on it, that was bent years ago in a crash and has never run the wheel straight since. It also barely moves anymore unless its a big bump, and it virtually useless on the vast amount of gravel roads I ride in the winter season. So it is going in the recycle bin and the rigid fork is going on. I really want to get a new hardtail 29er, but can't afford it at this point, so this will do for now.  Simplicity itself.  It's really about adapting your bike to the stuff you ride. Right now all I ride is dirt roads and some pavement. It will stay that way till some time in May when the snow melts out of the mountains enough to get on some real trails. I like it. I like this simplifying the machine. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Better Than Not Riding

Made it out late last night for a tiny ride. It was 7pm and dark and cold out and I was not excited to do it. Figured it was better than not riding at all. It was chilly and windy and spitting snow. I hammered up the climb to the Circle House as hard as I have ridden in a long time knowing it was going to be a short ride. Strava is really causing me to step it up in intensity for things like this. Being able to see all your times for certain segments is awesome. I am thinking my training is going to be off the charts this year in comparison to last year. This means nothing but good things for my plans to beat my previous time at the Butte 50.

Winter in Montana this year has been incredibly mild, as it has across much of the Northcountry from what I can tell. This has been great for biking much more than I have in prior winters. I exclusively ride my hardtail mountain bike this time of year, even if I am riding on the roads. This is for a number of reasons. It goes slower which reduces wind chills. It is harder to pedal so for a given amount of time I am getting a harder workout compared to a road bike, which is important when I am racing the coldness of my toes to get a ride in.  I don't really care if it gets covered in frozen road slime since it is my beater bike. And it's got fenders and my lights all rigged up already.

I sometimes wonder if it is hard for everyone else that does these types of sports to get out and do the training as it sometimes is for me. I would guess it is easier for some because there are plenty of people out there who are doing amazing amounts of training. It has always been a little bit of a struggle for me. My inner lazy-ass does it's best to keep me sedentary.  Nights like tonight though are encouraging where I may not have made it out, but somehow managed to do a little something.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Randonneur Cycling?

Ever heard of randonneuring in a biking context? I hadn't, but I stumbled upon this guys site called Rando Montana yesterday. Very interesting. Riding long road distance, loosely organized, non competitive. Of course it is a Euro thing going back to some very old roots of cycling I am sure. In my search for good ways to get motivated and train for the Butte 50 again, these type of events would be pretty good. Only problem is they aren't on a mountain bike! I have some routes in mind for rides like this that would incorporate a significant amount of dirt, and would need to be done on a more off road setup. The concept is great though. I may need to try some of the rides this guy has planned. Nothing like a good reason to go out and ride a bike all day! Also check out RandonneurUSA site for more good info. I may just have to give this a try this year. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cheap-Ass Hardtail Beater Bike Love

Take one 89 dollar hardtail frame from Price Point.
Buy a new headset, one tire, some tubes, and some derailleur and brake cables.

Add spare parts and parts from older decommissioned bikes.
Result: Instant sub $200 training/beater/winter/dirt-road/nonracing mountain bike.


     I keep it in good enough tune to shift okay. The wheel bearings need help. Brakes pretty much suck. But after riding a lot of full suspension, nothing feels like hopping on the hardtail and pedaling hard and going nothing but forwards. So fast! It feels like this bike pedals itself up the hill compared to my now shelved 6" travel, 32lbs Santa Cruz Heckler.
     As a sidenote, I actually think some of the 29er hype is due to guys like me coming off years of riding 6" travel AM rigs, and getting a hardtail 29er and thinking it is magical, when the real magic is not the wheel size, but the newly discovered efficiency of a hardtail while pedaling. In fact, I suppose there are people who started mountain biking on full suspension and have never even ridden a hardtail. This would of course make the hardtail experience dramatic regardless of wheel size. I just don't really want to have multiple wheel sizes to take care of. Maybe some day.
     If it is between November and June, I run fenders on there to keep the crap off me. And a light if I have one that is working.

     Bar ends were added pretty quickly after I built it. Also there is a tube and tire lever strapped to the down tube, and a pump attached to the water bottle mounts. I run two bottle cages when I don't have the light on there, which means I can do a good ride with no camelbak in the summer. (I have become anti-backpack if at all possible.) It is great to have a bike that you really don't care about, that you don't have to baby, you don't have to wash if you don't feel like it.

     I figure as I replace parts on my nice bike I can give the hand-me-downs to this bike and it will be slowly upgraded over time. I like that the suspension fork is on there, as I like the more upright position the taller front end affords. But I have been thinking I may get a rigid fork to simplify the bike further. As long as I can find one with the axle-crown length close to what it is now I will do it.
     Then I will end up with Dual Rigid 26er, which isn't too hip these days, but about perfect for off season riding on dirt roads around here. My dad has been riding these types of bike with a vintage twist for years in Maine.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fringe Bikes

     Sometimes I think about bikes. Okay, a lot of the time I think about bikes. I always play the "what bike do want now" game in my head. Doing research online, checking different stuff out. It changes over time. I have a road bike and it is perfectly great for road biking. It is a nice bike, and I love road bikes because you hardly have to maintenance them compared to mtn bikes. They barely get dirty ever. I love that. So I never think about road bikes.
     I am always thinking about mountain bikes though. I have 4 of them. But am continually interested in different ones than the ones I have. Lately I have been thinking about two different kinds.


     My dad got a Pugsley over Xmas and I got to ride it around some. I even did a 12 mile road ride on it. On snowy-ass crappy-plow-job Maine roads. It was fun as heck! I was incredibly surprised at how well it rode. I figured I would go twice as slow as on a normal bike, but I think it was more like 25% slower. And it makes up for slowness with the fact that it will ride over damn near anything you can pedal it on. I want one.
     There is a rapidly growing movement of folks who love these bikes, and ride them on snow, sand, and whatever else a normal mtn bike sucks on. Heck you can ride them on normal trails and I have a feeling they would be super fun there too! I think the Northern Midwest and Northern New England is ideal for these bikes. These areas usually have tons of snowmobile trails around, and the snow is often dense and hard. I am not certain I would get a ton of use out of it here where I live, as the snow we get in the mountains here is deep, and super low density. All the snowmobile trails are up in the mountains. There aren't any that close to my house. Yellowstone Park would be epic on a fatbike in winter, but for some stupid reason aren't allowed in the winter season. If that should change I think it would be game on. I mostly ride dirt roads in the winter in the valleys, which are usually fine for a normal mtn bike. I like being able to ride out my door during the week.

And for that I think I might like to try a:

Singlespeed rigid 29er.

     Speaking of dirt roads in the valleys....I think this type of bike here would be great for them. Super simple, reliable, dirt road cruiser. Back to the roots of mtn biking.  Most of the valley roads are fairly flat which may make it okay to ride singlespeed. Also, this would be a cheap platform to check out the 29er situation, of which I am still somewhat suspect but very curious.
     Not that I need another bike. But that's beside the point. No one ever NEEDS a new bike. But when you wake up at 4am and need something to do, sometimes you think about bikes. At least I do.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Finally A Night Ride

Good to get out last night. Did about an hour of uphill. It was 40 out and windy, pretty warm really. My feet didn't even get cold. I haven't been riding at night cuz my old light crapped out on me and I am waiting for a new one. I borrowed the Cateye commuter light off Steph's town bike, and had a headlamp on, and it worked just fine. Two cars passed me on Swingley, which is roughly paved for about a mile, then dirt. There is no snow in Livingston now, just a few drifts in the ditches. I will keep riding till we get some real winter conditions. The mountain snowpack is really poor, and 3 people died in avalanches last weekend so I think the splitboard is staying home till things improve out there.