Recap: 2020 Aravaipa Jangover Ride

The answer is the Aravaipa Jangover Ride. The question is, what race starts just a few hours after a long work week and goes to the wee hours of the morning?

I registered for the 6-hour solo category of the Jangover Ride after lunch on the day of. That’s right. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. I could’ve also registered for a single 15-mile lap (too short), a 12-hour (too long, but there are also quad categories in addition to the solo), or a duo 6-hour (not for me). There was no separate solo class, though.

jangover ride
Ready to ride

I’ve been riding a lot this year thanks go the coronavirus, so I knew I’d be fairly decent compared to previous versions of myself. I hadn’t been on my mountain since June, either.

Anyway, here are a few random thoughts and observations about the 2020 Jangover Ride.

Good Course – No Surprises

The Jangover Ride uses the well-known, 15-mile Pemberton Loop at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

I consider this perfect for a few reasons: First, 15 miles is a nice chunk of trail. You won’t wind up riding it so many times that it’ll make you stir-crazy with boredom.

It’s also a well-maintained trail that has that elusive quality known as “flow.” It doesn’t feel like you’re constantly fighting the trail. There are tricky bits that require your attention, but it’s far from super-technical.

And there are bits where you can just let it all hang out. It’s a good time on a mountain bike.

sears fire
I tried to get a decent photo of the Sears Fire, but they were all meh. I’m pretty sure Jamil from Aravaipa took this one since it was on their Facebook page.

Everything is on Fire … Again

The Sears Fire started earlier in the day. Riders could see the flames on every lap, which made an interesting if unfortunate backdrop.

Also, a water main at the park somehow broke. That meant the bathrooms were out of commission. Fortunately, the Aravaipa crew had plenty of drinking water plus Port-a-Johns.

Aravaipa Jangover Ride = Stellar Amenities

This was my second Aravaipa ride, and it was again a clinic in how to provide for riders.

They had a solid selection of food, though I stuck mostly to my own stash of solid foods. But I was grateful for the Heed electrolyte mix (to supplement my Gnarly Hydrate mix and Nuun mix), the cold water and the pickles/pickle juice. I could’ve grabbed cookies, watermelon, oranges and even a cooked-to-order quesadilla had I been so inclined. There were two aid stations – one at the start/finish line and one at the famous Jackass Junction that locals love so much.

jangover ride
stopping for fuel

It wasn’t quite as marvelous a spread as the Frenzy Hills race, but it exceeded my expectations for a race in the Covid era.

For non-food amenities, I appreciated the ample number of outlets and USB ports for charging lights. That’s invaluable!

Laid-Back and Friendly

Yet again, Aravaipa provided a friendly quality to an event. They ran out of t-shirts my size (no surprise, I was a last-minute entry), But they still offered to send me one. That’s exceptionally gracious.

They also texted me about moving my start time earlier, and even allowed me to grab a time I liked even better than my original start time.

The riders were all very cool, as well. The super-fast dudes passed safely and where appropriate. The slower people made room when needed. Riders chatted before the event and during laps.

It all just adds up to a good experience.

The start/finish area had tunes playing the entire time – though I’d recommend they start making it a tradition to play “Two Minutes to Midnight” starting at 11:58pm!

Desert Night Riding is Awesome

I don’t often ride at night. But desert night riding is something everyone should experience, especially in the summer.

What I like so much are the weird fluctuations in temperature. Sometimes, you’ll climb out of a ravine and the temperature will jump 10 degrees. Other times, you’ll drop a few feet along a wash and the temperature will plunge in seconds.

And you’ll see all sorts of desert critters – I saw jackrabbits and coyotes. I’ve seen plenty of snakes, tarantulas and scorpions on the Pemberton, too.

Plus the stars came out in full force once the moon set.

How I did at the 2020 Jangover Ride

I figured three laps would be a guarantee. I expected that I’d do two laps back to back, with both of those being at about the same speed. I expected my third lap to be considerably slower, and that I wouldn’t even want a fourth lap.

Well, I did those two laps and stopped for a break. I fought off a little cramp in my left hamstring with help from pickle juice, lots of electrolytes and some protein gel I got at Sprout’s.

I did feel the effect of going racing right after a long work week, and I’d been up since 5am. So I stretched out in the back of my RAV for a quick rest. That was probably a smart move, ultimately, because my third lap was remarkably consistent with the other two. My bike handling was slightly sloppier – possibly because I was having a lot of fun and just hammering a bit harder in the downhill bits.

jangover ride
Getting ready for another lap. Party on, Garth!

I had more than enough left in my legs for a fourth lap. Taking that lap, though, meant I’d be virtually useless the next day. So I packed it in after three.

A few things I’ll do differently next time: Take a half-day off to get some pre-race sleep, and also set my camp up along the route to make my battery and water bottle switches faster. I also had a problem with my helmet light ejecting itself from its mount just minutes into the first lap, which cost me some time. I’ll need to figure out what’s up with that.

The Lighting Situation

My main light was an older Nightrider with a lithium-ion battery rebuilt by the super-awesome people at MTO Battery. My backup light was an Exposure Lights Race from Bicycle Haus.

I used the low mode of the Nightrider for the climbing parts of the lap before going to medium for the downhill. The Exposure Race was on some kind of interesting adaptive mode that used a dim setting for climbing, then brightened up as my speed increased. I put each on the charger after every lap.

Pro tip on the Exposure: It charges way faster using a USB3 port. If you have a laptop computer with a USB3 port, bring it for charging just in case. I also mounted it under my handlebar, so I had to cut away a bit of my number plate.

Oh, that other backup light on my helmet that fell off? That was one of my old MagicShine lights from like 2010. That thing sucks.There’s a reason why people who bought then started calling them TragicShine. I don’t know if the new ones are just as bad – but I’d be shocked if you didn’t wind up needing the batteries rebuilt.

Final Thoughts on the 2020 Aravaipa Jangover Ride

12/10, would do again.

via Gfycat

Recap: The 2019 Tour de Scottsdale

This was the big year of my big comeback to the 70-mile course of the Tour de Scottsdale. That was the plan.

Back in 2016, I signed up for the Tour de Scottsdale after years away from riding road events. It started off good, but I got a lot of things wrong and wound up finishing in the 13 mph range. Terrible!

This year would be different

Leading up to the Tour de Scottsdale

Had there been a 70-mile course for this year’s El Tour de Tucson, I might not have ridden in the Tour de Scottsdale. But the financial trouble plaguing El Tour convinced me. Plus, it’s close to home and doesn’t give out the ugliest t-shirts known to humankind.

I haven’t been training my hardest in the last few weeks, thanks to a trip to Seattle and general late-Arizona summer malaise. But I had a good base in mileage and a lot of confidence from good performances in El Tour, Tour de Mesa, Prescott 6er, Taylor House Century and a few other tough races.

tour de scottsdale
The electric number plate for the Tour de Scottsdale interfered with my seatbag, so I had to improvise a way to carry a few things

The Tour de Scottsdale itself would come in with just short of 3,000 feet of climbing. A bit less than the Taylor House 60-miler, and without the problems of altitude. I had one late-race leg cramp in that ride, but still had a respectable day.

Something Awesome About Tour de Scottsdale

Last time I rode this event, I was frustrated by getting stuck behind some people whose bike-handling skills, situational awareness and courtesy were -- let’s just say a bit lacking. Fortunately, my recent times earned me a place in one of the TdS "starting corrals." They tried to group riders of similar skills and speed together in seeded sections of the start line.

This made the first few miles a far better experience. It was also far safer for all involved. More races should do this!

What’s in Your Feedbag?

One of my previous mistakes was relying on the aid stations to refuel me. Pretzels, Gatorade and bananas just don’t do it for me. Even since that first Tour de Scottsdale, I’ve experimented with my food and drink.

This time, I carried stroopwaffles, a bottle of EFS gel, a fistful of Sprouts electrolyte powder packs, a few packs of GU Roctane and a vial of pickle juice. This allowed me to skip the first two aid stations before stopping at the third to refill my water.

tour de scottsdale
A view from my handlebar.

I ate half a stroopwaffle every 45 minutes or so. I saved the EFS for the fourth aid station, and split the pickle juice between stations 3 and 4. The GU Roctane came in handy in the final 10 miles.

Hint: I froze all three of my bottles all of the way. This was a mistake. They didn’t unfreeze in time to be completely empty by the third aid station as I’d planned. Still, I had to pee by the third aid station, though I held it until the fourth station. That was another mistake.

While we’re talking about mistakes, I also left my heart rate monitor watch at home. And I wasn’t as diligent about pre-loading myself the week prior with Trace Minerals Electrolyte Stamina capsules.

Quick Bike Note

I rode a Lynseky Urbano, which is a titanium frame with cyclocross geometry. It’s my third event of this type, and I’ve ridden them all with 30c tires inflated to 60 psi. It’s a smooth ride that’s outperformed my previous Lemond Zurich every single time. Which is funny because that was a dedicated road bike rolling 25c tires at 110 PSI. It might also have been lighter.

How I Rode the Tour de Scottsdale

My plan was to find a similarly paced group, maybe some people slightly faster, and shamelessly leach off of them. I have no pride!

It took me about 15 miles to find that perfect group -- which splintered shortly after at the climb up Rio Verde Drive/Dynamite Boulevard. I’d grabbed onto a few other groups that rode slightly faster than I wanted to go. But I decided to Push It and see if the extra effort would pay off. I only got a few miles out of each of the slightly faster groups, but I think they all helped motivate me.

I also took it easy on the descent down 9-Mile Hill. I maintained a low wattage on the pedals while letting the bike do its thing.

I got through all the climbs in Fountain Hills where my legs had cramped in my previous Tour de Scottsdale, which was awesome! Oddly enough, I had about five different cramps between mile 55 and the finish line – all in relatively flat or even downhill parts of the ride. I’m a bit flummoxed over this. I also rode through 4 of the cramps, with only 1 requiring a stop to massage the kinks out. And I also made it up one more nasty climb without a problem, which is odd. Why cramping in easier parts? Weird.

Also weird: It took about two miles for my GPS unit to connect to a satellite.

An Observation About the Cities

The Tour de Scottsdale of course goes through Scottsdale. But Fountain Hills and I believe Carefree are part of the route. I’m not sure if Rio Verde is an actual real town or a county island.

But here’s the point: Fountain Hilles closed a full lane of traffic on one of its busiest roads, even though it has an ample bike lane throughout its portion of the route. This was a convenient, safe and downright classy of Fountain Hills.

In contrast, Scottsdale did not close any significant portion of its roads. Closing a lane of traffic along Frank Lloyd Wright would’ve been a great gesture toward safety -- and actually being the bike-friendly city Scottsdale claims to be. FLW is a terrible place to ride. It has no bike lane and no shortage of ill-tempered drivers who can’t seem to stand bicyclists.

The End Result

I had hoped to ride the Tour de Scottsdale in the top third. I figured this was feasible since I was top quarter in El Tour de Tucson.

Even if I’d ridden both courses at the same speed, though, I would’ve barely cracked the top half. The Tour de Scottsdale seems to draw a fast crowd. I finished in the bottom third.

On the plus side, I knocked 30 minutes off my previous time. That’s progress! I’ll definitely have the Tour de Scottsdale on the calendar next year to see if I can bring it up to my Tour de Tucson and Tour de Mesa speeds.

Recap: 2018 Tour De Tucson

The 2018 Tour de Tucson started to go pear-shaped for me about 20 minutes before the start.

As I walked my bike toward the start, I heard a "whiiiiiiiirrrrrr" sound from the front wheel. Disc brakes problem? I was sure of it, until I notice that the zip tie holding the brake cable to the fork had broken. My wife solved that problem by pulling out a roll of clear packing tape.

 

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Sending my dad off for El Tour De Tucson. Once this goon is on his way, I’m going to the zoo. #cycling #bikes

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Then, as I rolled to the start, I got caught being a wise guy. There was a line of people waiting to go under a tape barricade to get to the start. "A-ha," I thought, "I’m on a gravel bike!" So I popped onto a landscaped parking lot island, went around them and grabbed a nice spot in the line. Great success, right? Well, I noticed the goat head thorns in my front tire, then in my back tire. I pulled them out and spun the affected parts of the wheel to the bottom until the tire sealant did its trick. Thank you, tubeless wheels and tires! (And yes, they held for the entire race).

Then I went to turn my wrist-mounted heart rate monitor on. And it refused to wake up. I thought I’d charged it, but you know how that goes. So I’d have to rely on the Force.

2018 tour de tucson

And We’re Off for the 2018 Tour de Tucson!

Things got way better from there. My mid-pack starting spot saved me much of the frustration of passing a bunch of people, and it gave me and a work friend a chance to tag onto some faster-moving groups.

The 2018 Tour de Tucson had a different starting place for 75-mile riders than in the past few years, and it was definitely more convenient than it’s been in years past (please keep it, but sort the road signage out so we know we’re allowed to drive to the staging area). It routed us past a bit of the AMARG airplane graveyard – which also hosts a 10k run in the fall that you shouldn’t miss.

Desert Boneyard 10k
Hell, yes, I did the Desert Boneyard 10k in a frilly pirate shirt!

Being sans heart rate monitor, I had to rely on how my legs felt. I was a bit distressed to feel that electricity-like jangle high in my quads. I’d hit the electrolytes hard all week. I made a mental note to keep an eye on that situation. Within 10 miles, though, it was gone. Last year, I rode a tiny bit conservatively because of the crampfest that my first Tour de Tucson had been in 2016. This year, I wanted to really open in up a bit. So I did, which involved working with other riders for as long as possible until one of us wanted to slow down or go faster.

New Bike Comes Up Aces
Lynskey Urbano November Wheels
My Lynskey Urbano sporting its November Bicycles wheelset.

It was also my first race on a new bike – a Lynskey Urbano, which leans more toward the cyclocross side of the geometry spectrum. It’s longer than the LeMond Zurich I rode for nearly 20 years before, and it can accommodate some wide tires (I was on 30C tires after a summer training on 40Cs -- and the LeMond always had 25C). This made the Urbano super-stable on the fast descents. I was also riding with disc brakes and a flared handlebar, which made for great braking and a nice variety of hand positions. Part of the 2018 Tour de Tucson also goes through a wash (just like in years past). Rather than dismounting and walking, I rode the whole thing – Schwalbe S-One HT tires, for anyone looking for the right tire for their mostly-road-but-sometimes-gravel bike. Fast on the road, but still capable of getting you through some dirt with confidence. I’m also very enthusiastic about my November Bicycles wheelset.

After the gravel section is the short, steep climb where spectators love to gather. That would be a good test to see if that electrical pre-cramp leg tingle would come back. Nope, no sign of it. Strava would later tell me that I beat my best time handily, as it would for most segments of the ride.

I was worried about the wind. The ginormous used-car-lot American flags along the route were stretched taut on their poles. And it appeared to be headed opposite our direction for the final stretch of the ride up Silverbell Road – or Silverhell, as I like to call it – and along the I-10 freeway. Oddly enough, that meant the wind should’ve been at our backs as we headed north. But I couldn’t feel any benefit from the wind – I rode that part with a fast, experienced rider who seemed to know everyone on the course. Super-smooth bike handler, too. We’d been near each other off-and-on for the first 35 miles, and teamed up for about 15 miles. She finally latched onto a fast-moving group of dudes right around there.

Feeling too Groovy to Stop

I was also skipping aid stations. No need for a bathroom, and my two 20-oz bottles and little 16-ouncer filled with Nuun tablets and Trace Minerals magnesium tablets were doing the trick perfectly. It was also pretty cool out, so I wasn’t sweating up a storm. Every 45 minutes, I ate a fig bar. That and the electrolytes kept me sorted out.

2018 tour de tucson

I’d planned to refill water bottles at any stop around 40 miles, but I skipped it. I blew past the 50 miles stop. I stopped for the first time in the race at 61 miles to use the bathroom, fill bottles and get my EFS gel shot ready for use. By that time, I’d slayed the Silverbell dragon. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much wind. I grabbed onto a passing group as I left the aid station – they were some of the faster people in the 42-mile category, which made them pretty sprightly. I wasn’t able to stay with them, but I did team up with some guys who got bounced out of the group along with me. We all took turns at the front, but they couldn’t stick with me. Another guy on a Lynskey was a huge help for a few miles until he tagged onto a faster group. It was only about two miles to the finish at that point.

Those last few miles went well, and I sailed into the finish line about 35 minute faster than last year. I wasn’t really sure about how this year would go. I’m not sure why I rode that much faster, but I have some thoughts:

I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was last year. I’d ridden 500 miles more than I had by this point last year. Since August, I’ve done regular HIIT workouts at TruHit and switched up my routines a lot more. In August, I did plenty of squats at higher weights and lowers reps … and I experimented with the keto diet. I couldn’t stick with it … and I know I’m not being scientific here, but shaking my eating habits up temporarily did something.  

My Lynskey Urbano versus my Lemond Zurich. The Lynskey’s tires, fork and brakes are heavier. I’m not sure if its titanium frame is that much lighter than the LeMond’s; it’s overbuilt like crazy. They both fit well, but those wider tires and its relaxed geometry allow me to let it hang out on the downhills more.

2017 tour de tucson
Me in the 2017 Tour de Tucson. I’ll update when I get my new photos!

I trained solo a lot. In the summer heat, I was out there training for the 2018 Tour de Tucson. I spent a lot of time riding in the dirt and into the wind on those big 40C tires. I even did a 55-mile group ride with roadies on them, and was able to more than hang.

I started in mid-pack instead of working my way up from the back. This allowed me to team up with faster riders, and helped my first 10 miles go far faster. It’s a huge chore to churn through riders who are slower or – worse yet – not conversant in how to handle themselves in groups of rider (hint: slower traffic stays to the right).

Which of those factors made the biggest difference? I don’t know. Being lighter is, to a point, a good habit to keep up. I hope my Urbano will last as long as the Zurich. And I will definitely make it a point to get a good starting spot in the future.

 

Recap of El Tour de Tucson 2017

Within a few miles of starting El Tour De Tucson a few weeks ago, a mantra came to me out of the blue. It was a phrase I’d heard from a co-worker. It was "Calm yo’ tits." (Hearing it for the first time was doubly funny since it came from the mouth of the most Disney-obsessed young Mormon woman on the planet.)

Here’s the thing: When I rode El Tour De Tucson last year, I rode a high of starting out fast and furious. I was feeling way too good and pushed way too hard when I should’ve saved more for later. I’ve been hanging my head in shame ever since.

El Tour de Tucson
Last year, before my ride went wrong.

This year, I was determined to ride calm and cool – like Spock, Iceman, Arthur Fonzarelli and Jan Ullrich gene-spliced into one El Tour de Tucson-riding machine. I would reign myself in by repeating "Calm yo’ tits" whenever my mood swung. Ripping it up with a fast time? Calm yo’ tits. Feeling like I should be motoring faster? Calm yo’ tits.

tour de tucson
I swear, I found this gif. I didn’t have to make it.

To set the stage, last year’s El Tour went beautifully for me until about the 55th mile of the 76-mile race. The route turned up Silverbell Road into a headwind and a slight climb. At some point both my quads contracted. When I finally loosened them up, I could barely spin the pedals without warning signs of another cramp. My average speed went from respectable to laughable. I was literally embarrassed.

I didn’t want that to happen again.

At the last tours – and in fact for most race events I’ve ever done – I’ve relied on gels and Skratch Labs drinks. I can’t even remember exactly where I found two vital pieces of advice: that I was too low on magnesium and that I needed to eat some solid food earlier in the ride and save the gels for later. I do know that my wife, who had four Ironman triathlons to her credit (including one in the 11-hour range) and has actually been coached, had advice for me.
And then there was the pickle juice debate: I was skeptical. It’s just a bunch of salt, right? Well, one of the faster local people pointed out that the vinegar in pickle juice is just as important.
When I lined up for El Tour De Tucson, here’s how I was loaded:

  • Two packages of organic fig bars (total of about 400 calories)
    A vial of pickle juice
    Three bottles of EFS mix, about 100 calories each with a huge hit of magnesium
    A bottle of EFS gel for the final stretch
    Two Hammer gels just in case
    An extra serving of EFS in a Nuun tube
    Two packages of electrolyte brews I found at Sprouts

All of this was loaded into either my jersey or my amazing Beer Babe feed bag.

El Tour de Tucson
A few last-minute instructions from my assistant coach.

OK, now let’s talk about the ride day.

We started it off by breaking my coffee fast with a perfectly made cappuccino at a place called Ombre; we grabbed breakfast at the adjoining Bisbee Breakfast Club; their baked oatmeal is a perfect way to fuel for a race. It’s also on the big side – two people could pretty much split it.
From there, we made our way to the race start at the east campus of Pima Community College. This is a bit of a chore since Google maps wants to route you up roads closed for the event, and the El Tour map in the race packets isn’t very handy. There’s also not much signage near the start line. This made my wife, who was at the wheel, a bit crazy. It’s really the only criticism I have of El Tour De Tucson – well, that and the absolutely dog-ugly t-shirt that is already pulling drivetrain-cleaning duty in the workshop.

I don’t do this stuff for the t-shirt. I do it for a good ride and a good vibe. Even last year at my worst point, I had nothing but praise for El Tour De Tucson. This year’s tour – from course to volunteers to traffic control – was just as good.

via GIPHY

I was Fonzi-cool through the chaos of the first 10 miles. I chatted with a few people and tried to find my happy place -- that perfect pace where I can settle into a groove and establish a good base for the race. The course starts off with a bit of climbing, and then a long section of screaming downhill. I held back a bit on the descents, choosing to keep the legs fresh for the later parts of the ride. I ate my first fig bar on schedule 40 minutes in, and finished my first bottle of EFS in the first hour.

The first 18 miles flew by. I stopped for a good pee at the "push a bike" section, and then the course got a bit hilly. There was the steepest climb of the route, and I blew past a bunch of people but also met some people I’d ride with on and off for the rest of the ride. If I were smarter, I would’ve pulled us all into a little group. I’ll give that a shot next year.
The next 20 miles had some climbing, but also more than a few descents to break things up. The climbs were a bit tough, but I rode inside my comfort zone. I largely ignored my heart rate monitor, but dropped to the lowest gear of my 2X11 drivetrain early and spinning it out instead of pushing big gears.

tour de tucson
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

[bike break]
I ride a 1999 Lemond Zurich. It’s been repainted and refitted with a 2016 Ultegra 6800 group and wheelset. It has a slick Ritchey handlebar/stem combo. In the months leading up to the Tour (this year and last year), plenty of new bikes have turned my head. But then I ride this thing in a tour, and it feels like I’m on a monorail. So steady and comfortable. I know it’s not 100-percent future proof with its 1-inch headtube. I’d love at some point to have a road bike with thru-axles, disc brakes and room for bigger tires. But holy cow, it’s really hard to give up on this bike. Really, really hard.
[/bike]

Here’s the interesting part: In analyzing my Strava data afterward, it appears the I climbed faster in 2017, yet descended slower.

How about them apples?

I made my first real stop just before the big Oracle climb. I refilled all my bottles, and dumped my EFS into one of them. I recognized this next 15 miles or so as pivotal for my ride. I resolved to repeat "calm yo’ tits" no matter who I passed or who passed me.

I had some good chats with a guy doing the 100-mile ride, and teamed up shortly with a few different people. Thing is, none of us were paced perfectly for each other. I seemed to be climbing faster, while others hammered the descents or flats. The Moore Road section was a bit desolate, and the surface is pretty chewed up. How rough was it? The rattling would actually ring the little Knog bell on my handlebar!

My confidence was growing here because my legs felt good, but the rest of my body seemed happy, too. No aches, no pains – and I was sharp mentally. I’d stuck to my schedule of one fig bar every 40 minutes, and one bottle of EFS every hour.

tour de tucson
Some confidence is a good thing – but I was still trying to not get Ron Burgundy about it.

At the end of Moore, we had our screaming descent toward the freeway. And toward a repeat of my old enemy -- Silverbell Road.

Last year, my legs started to get that funny electric tingle that warns of cramps right when I crossed the I-10. This year? Nothing. Not a twitch. I told myself to "calm my tits" and check in again five miles later. Sure enough, rock solid. I rode into a rest stop a bit up Silverbell, which was the last stop for the ride. I ate half a banana, grabbed some bits of chocolate cookie -- and then – I noticed little cups full of pickle slices. Brilliant! Perfect! I quickly gobbled a few cups and topped off my third bottle with Gatorade – I figured better to have something with salt in it rather than just all plain water, especially since I’d used my pickle juice already.

As I rolled out of the rest stop, someone latched onto me. He was moving a bit more slowly than I probably would, but I figured he would help me stick with my "calm yo’ tits" mantra. He turned out to be fun to ride with since he could talk about stuff like long-haul air travel and solar power. He was eventually unable to keep the pace, so we parted ways and I headed out alone.
I hit the 65th mile, than the 70th. Not so much as a twinge of problems from the legs. My back was holding up, and I was still mentally really alert. Silverbell seemed to fly by, especially without last year’s horrible headwind.

Sure enough, the course made its final turn toward the finish line, and I rolled in with a strong finish. I lopped more than 45 minutes off my previous time. The thing is, I could’ve done even better. I had a hard time being disappointed with myself about that because I rode and ate according to plan. I now have a very good idea of what I need to do to avoid cramping and stay focused and dialed in through a good tour. My official results brought me into the top half of the pack, which I’ll take any day!

To really make a big improvement next year, I am convinced that I’ll need to find a few other people to form a pack. If any of you want to join me, I’m gonna aim for a moving average of 17-17.5 mph. Hit me up if that sounds like a good pace for you, and let’s see about working together.

El Tour de Tucson
I swear, I won’t make you help me pee if you ride with me at El Tour de Tucson in 2018.

After the race, I refueled with a giant burger at Graze. After some rest at the Varsity Club hotel (which I highly recommend), we headed to the new-to-us Tucson Hop Shop to have beer; I dearly love the beer at Pueblo Vida, but I couldn’t get my head around voluntarily heading into the downtown Tucson traffic again.

I have to say, Tucson Hop Shop is one of the coolest beer bars ever. Such a relaxing vibe – and that stupidly delicious Sri Lankan fusion food truck helped, too.

I am 100 percent on-board with riding El Tour de Tucson in 2018. Again, hit me up if you think it would be fun to ride with me!

Recap: Prescott 6’er Mountain Bike Race

For the past year, I’ve ridden about 90 percent of my mountain bike miles on a belt-drive singlespeed (first a Raleigh XXIX, then a Domahidy Ti). The big question on my mind has been -- could I actually race the thing n the Prescott 6’er?

prescott 6'er
A bit of race-prep help from a short person.

The races I do are typically long: I’ve been in 24-, 12- and 6-hour races, along with singletrack races 40-65 long. And I also do the occasional 60+ mile road bike tour. The biggest question mark comes from my legs’ tendency to completely seize up about 4-5 hours into a hard ride (more on that later).

Well, I decided it was time to see if my solid (for me) summer of training, some new practices and a fun belt-drive bike could get me through the Prescott 6’er. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, that’s as many laps as you can do in 6 hours. Each lap was 8.6 miles with about 650 feet of climbing. My previous longest singlespeed ride has been about 30 miles, with right around 2,000 feet of climbing.

It’s Race Day at the Prescott 6’er

If you didn’t know the Prescott 6’er was going on, it would be easy to overlook the venue, which was right near a gravel pit. In fact, we had to point one other racer in the right direction. It was a small field, with only 6 racers in the men’s singlespeed solo category. In all, I’d estimate fewer than 200 racers. The promoter, Mangled Momentum, gave the event a friendly, low-key vibe that was extremely welcoming. There was even a beginner class.

prescott 6'er

The start-finish area passed close to spaces for team tents, with a dedicated Solo Alley. Mangled Momentum was even nice enough to put up a tent for solo riders who needed some shade – I brought my own, but that was still a very nice touch.

I set up my little camp with a cooler full of water bottles filled with EFS mix. I trained with EFS because of its large load of magnesium, which was part of my cramping problem in previous events. I also had a jar full of pickles, a box of fix bars, a bunch of gels, various single-serving electrolyte powders, extra EFS mix, some jugs of water and a bottle of Starbucks iced coffee just in case I felt a bit sleepy.

Oh, and someone asked me about my gear ratio, probably because I’m not only rolling a singlespeed, but also a belt drive. They got my standard answer:

Prescott 6'er

Go Time

I started out at the back of the pack for a few reasons: I wanted to take the first lap a bit easy. Getting wedged behind people prevents me from going at the course like a spider monkey -- thus blowing my legs out early. I often felt like I was holding back on the descents and climbs. But I kept it friendly and easygoing knowing that it would be a long day. I passed only when it was safe and tried to chat with other riders.

The course itself is seriously fun riding that has that elusive, hard-to-define "flow" that seems to make bikes and riders happy. There were a few sandy patches, but traction was overall pretty good anyway. The hardest part was the far north part, where there were some steepish switchbacks covered in loose rocks.

On the Rocks

It was on the switchbacks in the first lap where I had my major problem of the Prescott 6’er: My seat tube water bottle cage broke! My plan was to ride two laps at a time with two water bottles. I figured that would be good for the distance (I don’t like racing with a Camelbak if I can help it). But that plan went pear-shaped in a hurry. I had to hop off my bike, fetch my bottle and broken cage, stuff it all in my jersey pocket and then re-start in the switchbacks.

A few people I’d recently caught also reeled me back in because of this, but it probably would’ve happened anyway. I already got away from my plan of riding my own race and not focusing on who I’m catching or who’s catching me.

Lap After Lap

I actually rode my second lap slightly faster, but the stop to deal with my water bottle cost me some time. The nice thing about the second lap is that I wasn’t front wheel-to-poop chute with everyone else, which gave me space to ride the way I like. And also had more opportunities to take a gulp out of the water bottle. There just wasn’t really time and space on the first lap.

The third lap was definitely a bit slower, and I felt just a twinge in one of my calves. I staved that off with a generous swig of pickle juice. On the fourth lap, I felt no sign of cramping, but my legs felt tired. I settled into my camp chair to enjoy some shade, a can of coconut water, more pickle juice and an electrolyte packet that dropped a huge magnesium bomb into my system; my wife, who has ridden four Ironman-distance triathlons and definitely knows her stuff, suggested magnesium to me -- but with an ominous warning along the lines of "too much of it will make you shit like a demon." Well, let’s just say this electrolyte package may have been the definition of "too much."

But did my legs cramp, even on my first singlespeed race? Now. Those legs stayed loose and ready to go, albeit with less life in them than the first few laps. My biggest problem on that fifth lap was getting pounded by the seat. On a geared bike, you can shift into a higher gear, push the pedals a bit and keep the weight from settling square on the ol’ taint (or chode, if you were a Beavis and Butt-head fan). On downhills, my speed exceeded the bike’s gearing, so my butt settled right onto the seat. This is just something I gotta get used to for future races.

The fifth lap of the Prescott 6’er also brought the demon of trail boredom. Races like the Tour of the White Mountains ensure that you don’t keep seeing the same stuff over and over again, which definitely keeps me mentally more alert. I kept getting that Groundhog Day feeling.

By the time I finished that last lap, I knew I was for the first time ever in dead last. But my time would’ve gotten me into mid-pack in the familiar and comfortable environs of the regular solo class. And there was really no way for me to move up. So I just said "it’s time to go have a shower -- but maybe first a stop at the portable toilets." I was also a bit in the Groundhog Day cycle of boredom. I’d seen the same trails too much in a given time frame.

Digressions and Final Thoughts on the Prescott 6’er

Let me digress here: When you’re at an event where there are portable toilets, thank the people who keep those in decent shape. Shake their hand, and don’t even think of cringing when you do. They are vital and important people taking on an extremely dirty job to make your life better through sanitation. Better yet, go immediately to your streaming media player and find the Australian film "Kenny," which is all about the adventures of a portable toilet plumber. You will never take these people for granted again!

Prescott 6'er
“Do these blokes really need that much magnesium?”

About the event itself – so low key and laid back. If you sign up for a future Prescott 6’er, you won’t have to wait in long lines. You won’t have to circle around looking for parking. You won’t have to drive into some remote place. You can even send people for a quick supply run to a nearby grocery store if you forget something. And bike shops aren’t far away.

I’m hoping some event photos appear, especially since I saw a few people snapping shots with SLR cameras. The only other photos are from the start/finish shoot, which doesn’t make for very good photography.

The promoters also provided a pretty cool event t-shirt, along with some free gels and fizzy electrolyte tabs. Racers would also find coolers full of water and Hammer Nutrition products, along with solid stuff like bananas and cookies.

I would definitely race this event again and recommend it to anyone interested in a longer event. The six-hour (along with the 12 and 34) format has its ups and downs. You see the same trails a lot, unlike something like the Tour of the White Mountains where it’s one giant loop. This format allows you to support yourself much more easily. Personally, I like to do a bit of both.

24 Hours of Enchanted Forest Race Report – Pedal With Warriors Team

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
A starry night at 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest.

Back in the old days, I worked at Adventure Bicycle Company in Mesa with this guy named Chad Hummer. He could race really damn fast, make an avalanche of jokes that started with the phrase “your mom” and also perpetrate dastardly pranks on people – usually when they were trying to have a peaceful session in the bathroom. Just one of the many fun people who worked there, for sure. Anyway, he returned from a good, long mountain bike racing hiatus to check out 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest – a race in New Mexico with a solid-gold reputation. He posted a write-up on Facebook that I thought needed an audience even wider than his mom, so he granted permission for me to gank his report and re-publish it here. Over to you, Hummer!

I’d been hearing for the last 6 years that there are some good things going on with mountain biking around Gallup, NM. In the past, I’ve always avoided Gallup unless I needed fuel or a pit stop. The town isn’t much to look at and it depends heavily on the I40 traffic and reservation to survive. Then I found out the Zuni Mtns above Gallup are around 7500 feet and the trails are getting better and better. At first I was going to just go to 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest and help out while exploring the area.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
The whole 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors team.

A week before the event I was feeling like I had logged good miles and my legs were recovering … so I asked around if anyone needed a ‘motivated’ team mate. Elisa hooked me up with Pedal With Warriors, a non-profit group that helps veterans to use mountain biking as a way to rebuild the mind/body/soul. Pretty soon I was added to a PWW group text and I was happy to secure a spot to race in the pines! My teamates were a little astonished because they found out I didn’t have a Strava account. I guess everyone except me has Strava … and your only as good as your last race … and mine was over 8 years ago, maybe 10 years if you count a 24hr endurance event! I tried to assure my team I had a lot of experience racing and that I will be 100% ready to help them out.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
“I’m too tired too make a ‘your mom’ joke” said Chad never.

Our team leader, Kirsten, really wanted to be on the podium. We had two ladies and two guys to form the PWW Co-ed 4-Person Team. The race started at 11AM Sat and ended 11AM Sun, temps ranged from 95 degrees during the day to 45 degrees at night. I’ve always done well in warm weather and I didn’t mind the heat! My first lap was around 3PM, one of the hottest laps of the day. I went out at 90% effort and legs felt great, except my lungs burned since I hadn’t opened them up properly with any hard efforts. I was happy with my lap times.

24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest Pedals WIth Warriors
Chad Hummer of the Pedals WIth Warriors team up to his usual shenanigans at 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest.

The second through fifth lap felt a lot better on the lungs and I kept hydrating and feeding my legs with solid foods. My stomach normally starts to knot up around 3AM but this race I kept feeling great all night and into the day. Legs were 80% from top form but I was pushing every little downhill section like my life depended on it. The Santa Cruz 5010 was heavier than I wanted and had way too much suspension for this course, but I made it perform on every little section of DH I could rip. Sometimes that meant passing 30-40 people per lap, jumping downed trees, and being creative with line choices. The course was 97% single-track … which made it fun yet interesting passing all types of people. I really liked the course and people for the most part moved over when needing to pass! It had a mix of everything except really steep switchback climbs/descents (which is perfect for people working into shape).

After the dust settled, our PWW Team had netted a solid 6th place finish out of 36 Teams with 19 laps/247 miles covered. I highly recommend checking out the trails around McGaffey Campground, only 25 minutes above Gallup! Thank you, Pedal With Warriors, for the opportunity.

Photos courtesy of … I dunno, the dog in the third photo? If it’s you, let me know and I’ll update with a proper credit!

Recap: 6 Hours in the Papago

My training plan for the 6 Hours in the Papago mountain bike race wasn’t a winner: A month before the race, I came down with strep throat. Before my antibiotics even ran out, I was headed to New Zealand for two weeks. That doesn’t add up to a lot of pre-race saddle time.

Fortunately, I didn’t plan to win anyway. Did I have fun, though? Oh, hell, yes. It was one of my better days at a race … I credit the pre-race dinner of raviolis and Stone Xocoveza.

If you’re looking for a good race when January rolls around next year, here’s what you should know about 6 Hours in the Papago.

It Used to Be 12 Hours in the Papago

That’s right – 6 Hours in the Papago was once twice as long as it is today. The change in length had something to do with permitting from the City of Tempe. The new setup did wonders: Twelve hours is a LOT of time on a 7-mile loop in Papago Park. No, downright monotonous. But for a six, it’s pretty spot on.

6 hours in the papago
That’s me at my last Papago race – the 12-hour edition!

The Course is Jam-Packed with Stuff – Kind of

Each 7-ish mile loop will give you about 500 feet of climbing. That’s pretty solid as the laps pile up. And they’re not long, grinding climbs. Instead, you get short bursts. There are also no long downhills, but there are a few parts that can be tricky – especially as people jockey for position.

You’ll also spend some time blasting along flat, smooth canal bits. Not the most exciting, but … hey, it’s a mid-metro area mountain bike race.

The loop doesn’t include any of my favorite parts of Papago, probably because it would be hard to deal with crossing Galvin Parkway and -hey!- the city of Phoenix managed to destroy those awesome bits, anyway.

The Course Volunteers Were Off the Charts

From the course marshals to the crew of kids at the refueling station, every 6 Hours in the Papago volunteer was smiley and helpful from the first lap to the last. They put out a lot of energy to give the race a very fun vibe.

Organizers and Sponsors Had Their Priorities Straight

Look, I don’t need a huge medal and a bunch of useless sponsor coupons in my race bag. And frankly, I have exactly one race t-shirt that I’ll wear out of the house.

What I got for my entry fee at the 6 Hours of Papago was frankly, far more valuable than any of that: a well-stocked refreshment tent where I could fill up my water bottles and grab some sponsor-supplied Hammer gels whenever I needed them (I could swear the electrolyte mix was Heed, which I supplemented with Kola Nuun tablets – exactly why are those delicious little tablets discontinued?!).

Speaking of sponsors, AZ Barbecue was there selling food; racers got a ticket for some free bbq, but I didn’t partake – my priority after a ride or race is to take my shorts off and brush my teeth, and one of those always causes me problems if I do it before I leave the venue. Oh, and SRAM was the title sponsor. I’ve had soft spot for them since the Grip-Shift days, and my current bike is mostly SRAM. Just sayin’.

I Think I Missed Solo Alley

I thought there was supposed to be a place where solo riders could park and make a little encampment. But it looked like that plan morphed into more of an area for teams and clubs to congregate. I really could’ve used having my car and gear around … my 6-, 12- and 24-hour race plans always involve (I know this sounds gross) copious amounts of V-8 and chocolate milk, and that run to my distantly parked car  — and the cooler inside it — was a bit of a pain. But it was hardly enough to put a damper on things. Just a small tweak that could be in the works for next year?

What’s the Strategy for Average Joes?

I’d like to improve my standing the next time I do this, and I’m trying to lock onto a good strategy. I noticed that my first four laps were considerably faster than the dudes just ahead of me in the standings. Then my times ballooned up again (corresponding with the laps where I had to jet out to my car). Maybe I’d be smarter to hold back a tiny bit more … maybe use some lower gears in the climbs and hit the electrolytes a bit harder earlier.

I did start spinning low gears a bit, and the decision seemed to pay off, especially after my final infusion of V-8 kicked in. On my last lap, my quads came back online to nearly full power with no danger of cramping … that was after the previous three laps where I relied on calf power to spin the pedals (and frankly, no small amount of farting – to anyone who’d been with 150 feet of me, my deepest apologies).

Final Thoughts

I’ll sign up for 6 Hours in the Papago next year for sure. It was fun and well-supported, not to mention 10 minutes from my front door in the middle of a huge metro area. That’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Riding the Tour De Scottsdale

After a more than 10-year hiatus from road-biking tour events, I made my return at the 2016 Tour de Scottsdale. In the meantime, I’ve ticked the box on some 12- and 24-hour mountain bike races. Why the hiatus? Road bike tours tend to have a rather mixed bag of skill levels -- and some of them freak me out (like the guy who crashed and slid shoulder-first into my front wheel at the Taylor House Century – how I didn’t crash, I still can’t figure out).

Anyway, that brings me to the Tour de Scottsdale. Here’s my rundown of thoughts and observations. Let me frame this by saying I ride once a week, either road or mountain depending on the time of year. The rest of the time, I lift weights, do hot yoga and various other odd exercise. I’ve done a few 12- and 24-hours races. When I’m solo or duo, the goal is to not be within 10 spots of DFL.

OK, onto the ride report. I didn’t get to pick up my race packet in advance. My wife ran a half-marathon the day before, and I didn’t want to cart the little person all over. I wasn’t able to get the pick-up point, so I figured I’d just grab my packet and stash it in my car.

furious
Busing to the start line makes me furious.

Except that most of the parking was a few miles from the race start, and they were running trolleys. Fortunately, the nice people at the info tent were nice enough to let me stash my t-shirt (which I probably won’t wear outside my house, to be honest). That’s why I really don’t like busing to the start line – things can go wrong. I did find out that there was at least some parking near the start. Show up early!

Scrambling for my packet had another ill effect: I got stuck behind the 30-mile riders -- which included a multitude of fluorescent-yellow-clad people clearly from some sort of organization. They struck as some sort of group from a bro-y sort of church where the pastor wears a trilby and quotes the network TV version of The Big Lebowksi. They filled me with dread, and they demonstrated handling skills and a lack of situational awareness that fully lived up to my expectations.

tour de scottsdale

Once the yellow spazzes and others like them cleared, I was having myself a grand old time. I tucked in with a few smart riders, including this one older women with silky-smooth skills, all sorts of energy and the manner of a peloton patron (I was sad later when she broke off on the 30-mile course).

Let me diverge for a moment to talk about earbuds and headphones. They are stupid, stupid and stupid. That is stupid to the third power. So many riders cluelessly weaving along listening to Nickleback or whatever, absolutely oblivious to what was happening around them. My favorite was the guy with full headphones – his rear derailleur cage was pinging into his spokes, making it a very real possibility that he’d break a bunch of spokes, twist his derailleur hanger and blow the derailleur itself into shards. Do you think he heard? Nope.

Still, I was feeling great!

cougar-ricky-bobby

I screamed past the first rest stop. Then the second, even though it had Gu -- the crowd of 30-milers was a bit thick, and my groove was fully on. I turned up Dynamite, where another rider pointed to one of those electronic speed signs that was totally demoralizing us as we headed uphill into the wind. Near the top of the hill, we were rewarded with the third aid station.

But wait -- no Gu. Just bananas, pretzels and Gatorade. At this point, I barely had any of my Nuun-Skratch Labs mix in my bottles, though I still had a few of my own Gu packets. A twinge of concern lurked in my gray matter because Gatorade absolutely sucks – more accurately, it blows right out my backside after souring my stomach. I started kicking myself for not bringing a tube of Nuun and a boatload more Gu.

Back on the bike, things were still going swimmingly. We ripped down Nine-Mile hill, and then turned south to have the wind at our backs. Having the wind at my back and riding on the tops always makes me feel like a pirate ship – arrrrr!

jack-sparrow-from-pirates-of-the-caribbean-standing-on-his-mast

I figured Aid Station Four would be the place to grab some Gu. I was still ripping it up, nearly 40 miles down at a pace I haven’t maintained before. I was feelin’ it!

Then, Aid Station Four. No Gu. I didn’t even bother stopping since my bottles were still pretty full, and I barely needed anything on the long descent.

The terrain started rolling, which seemed to just make everything even more enjoyable.

lovely-day

The miles ticked, and I started to feel a few little twinges in the legs. Nothing too big. Just that little electrical current-like feeling of muscles saying "Dude, you need to relax."

This morphed into a serious problem on the last incline before dropping into Fountain Hills. The small twinges turned into multiple “check engine” lights. My left quadriceps seized. I tried to come to a stop with dignity and not freak my right leg out, too. That required my to fall over on my side.

tour de scottsdale
“This is not good.”

It took a few minutes of smacking my leg to get it to bend again. And then I was off, fully aware that I was in for some hurt. I got to Aid Station 5 without further problems.

Guess what?

No Gu. That’s like deer camp with no whiskey. And I knew right than that what had largely been my happiest day on a bike in a long, long time was about to get shitty. I drank more of that god-forsaken Gatorade, feeling it clump in my stomach. I had no choice as I rode but to let some out -- so I stood up, let it fly, and both my legs seized.

Yes, you read that right. I farted so hard I fell down. This time, both legs were fully flamed out. I flipped onto my stomach and dragged myself fully onto the sidewalk to restart my engines. This involved whimpering, beating on my legs, whimpering, draining my bottles, whimpering, cursing the gods and whimpering.

tour de scottsdale
Can someone help me find my legs, pleeeeeez?

Once my legs were mobile again, I stretched out a bit and got myself moving up the hill on-foot. I figured a different motion for a few minutes would help. Meanwhile, my project finishing time ballooned like Baron Harkonnen at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

duneharkonnen

Fortunately, we had big downhills on the way! And the next few climbs followed downhills so big that I could coast up most of them. We turned onto Shea, and I was hitting 40 miles per hours without doing a damn thing.

Oh, hai, Aid Station 6! I can haz Gatorade? (Yes, I know I’ve been fustigating the very existence of Gatorade throughout this post. Well, it’s last call and I’ll take anything.) They had a few thimblefuls left.

Blessedly, they had Gu! Even the super-salty, sliver-of-the-Dead Sea Roctane variety! Praise be the Seven, the Red God, The Drowned God and anyone else listening! But where was the Gu when we really, really, needed it? (My wife, a far smarter and more experienced racey sort of person – this isn’t a race, of course – summed my dimmwittedness up with a sympathetic but probably exasperated "Never put your faith in them.")

And then we went up a hill I usually climb in my friggin’ big ring -- but now, I’m spinning my lowest gear and hoping my legs wouldn’t seize again. Sure enough, I got away with it! Then down the hill, and it’s all downhill from there!

Except it wasn’t.

Even a speed bump was an hors categorie climb. FML. At one point, I slowed down to massage my left quad into compliance. It was just good enough to coast to the finish. My legs were the only problem – I was clear-headed with no other aches or pains. I have to rue my bad decision making and how it affected what could have been a really awesome day in the saddle.

So just the other day, I was talking to a co-worker about events and how I can tell when organizers and volunteers know they’re stuff, and what a difference it makes. The Tour de Scottsdale makes me suspicious on this point. Consider the Tour of the White Mountain – this race has destroyed me body and spirit three times, yet I still love it. Part of it is the plugged-in volunteers and organizers. Every aid station is different, and tailor-made to the distance where it falls. For example, the last aid station always had boiled red potatoes that riders can roll in salt. Carbs, potassium and salt to stave off cramps – brilliant!

Tour de Scottsdale
My first-ever photo of myself at a road bike event!

Maybe Tour de Scottsdale skimps on quality sports drinks and Gu because of the cost. Tell you what – skip the t-shirt that I won’t wear much. Even skip the medals. Just fuel me right because I’m counting on you." Or if you (or more likely the participants) want to keep all the swag, say "Hey, we provide stuff -- but not much. Bringing your sports food/gels is own is a good idea, but we’ll hook you up with water and gels at every XXXth station."

I still like the event, don’t get me wrong … especially since this my depleted electrolytes area ultimately my fault. I’ll ride it next year. It was decently organized, and the volunteers were nice. The course was pretty fun, too. It just has the sort of problems that are part and parcel of larger events and tours (I’m looking at you, Spaz Riders in fluorescent yellow).

And I will show up loaded with a bandoleer belt full of my favorite hydration stuff and riding food. I suggest anyone outside the front of the pack do the same.

This ride taught me some valuable lessons. Some tweaks to my training and eating, and I started to improve yugely. Read this report of my latest Tour de Tucson to see how much better things are going now.

The Mountain Bike That Changed Everything

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
I couldn’t find a photo of my most-important bike ever. So you just get a photo of the best bike I’ve ever owned. Both are black, though my Balance had all sorts of 90s-required blue anodized bits.

There’s one mountain bike that made my life better.

It didn’t have any carbon fiber or hydraulic disc brakes. Its only suspension was my arms and legs. No clipless pedals. Just 21 speeds.

So what’s so great about it? It was my first real mountain bike. I learned to love mountain biking a year earlier … I’d ride my psuedo-mountain bike to classes at ASU during my freshman year. My roommate was a mountain biker, as were a girl on the fifth floor of my dorm and one of my classmates in a low-level engineering class. Between them all, I got my intro to real mountain biking.

I returned for my sophomore year on a shiny black Balance. Chromoly steel frame, a full Shimano DX group, real off-road geometry for efficient pedaling and agile handling. It was made to be a police bike, but somehow wound up at Bicycle Ranch near my house. Bit by bit, I upgraded it.

More importantly, it upgraded me. It was sturdier than my first bike. It let me ride better. Sure, it still got me to class (I protected it with two U-locks when I had to put it in the bike rack). But it also responded to my commands off-road. It could do anything I asked of it.

It made me a mountain biker.

That was a time in my life when I didn’t have to worry about being fast. I didn’t wear colorful jerseys. I wasn’t part of a team. The people I rode with didn’t “ride for” anyone but themselves. We just had fun.

Later bikes would make me a racer (half-assed and inconsistent, of course) or bike nerd or whatever you want to call me. This one … I learned to fix it. I crashed it. I made it my own. Everything I learned from it got me a job at a bike shop. It put me on the trail of friends, relationships, adventures. I’d be shocked if any other bike impacts my life as that old Balance did.

What’s the most important bike in your history?

The Warrior Dash – Things to Know

warrior dash arizona
Spartans! Eat hearty, for tonight we dine on … MUD! (Yes, I know I’m mixing my warrior classes, what with the 300 reference and the faux-viking headgear.)

LOOKING FOR TIPS AND “HOW TO” INFO FOR THE WARRIOR DASH? SEE THIS UPDATED POST!

So who out there did the Warrior Dash? What did you think? Was it really "a hellish 3.4 miles" of running, obstacles and mud?

I took a shot, as you might guess. It’s too fun to be hellish – but it is challenging -- and quite a spectacle. I ran in the Arizona edition on May 1. It ran for two days in Florence, just southeast of Phoenix. (Find a Warrior Dash near you) Here are a few thoughts from being part of the 1:30 p.m. wave. Check these out, and let me know about your Warrior Dash experience!

  • Don’t wear anything you plan to wear again.  And if you sink a lot of time into some sort of costume, be willing to destroy it. And have it hinder your performance. Except for the dudes I saw running in dresses – they were fast, and looked well-practiced at running in dresses.
warrior dash arizona
Somebody needs a shower.
  • Run the second day. The first day will help organizers work some kinks out. On Saturday, the Arizona race only had one water station. The organizers wisely added a second for Sunday.
  • Bring towels and spare clothes. Don’t overlook this. A portable camp shower isn’t a bad idea, either.
  • There’s a very convenient bag check. Drop your spare clothes/towel/keys/whatnot off there. Run. Come back and get it. Save yourself a long slog to the car.
  • If you have time, enjoy the atmosphere. The electronic timing tag on your shoe gets you a free beer (though it’s beer fit for frat boys rather than warriors, so I skipped it).
warrior dash arizona
Hose before Bros: Participants get their sins -and slime- washed away with a Warrior Dash baptism.
  • I understand that not everybody is super-fit. I know that not everyone is charging hard for a good time. But please, people, this is not a Toys for Tots walk-a-thon. At least look like you’re trying. Jog bits of it. And do not, for the love of Odin, walk three abreast. Stay to the right and leave room for the faster people. Earn your plush Viking headgear! If you are not willing to get out of breath, sign up for something else.
  • There are lots of scantily clad fit people. Just sayin’.
  • We had to pay $10 to park. That was kind of grating.
  • Speaking of parking -- it smelled like the Rastafarian Army was camping near our parking spot. Both arriving and leaving, the smell of skunkiness filled the air.

So if you did it, would you do it again?

warrior dash arizona
Yes, I’m muddy. What of it?

An Average Racer’s View of the Fat Tire 40

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, examiner.com, phoenix mountain bike examiner
I’m just your Average Joe rider … among GloboGym racers!

It’s better to challenge yourself and come in last than it is to sandbag your way to victory. That said, I didn’t come in last in the Fat Tire 40 at McDowell Mountain.

But I was definitely bringing up the rear.

This event, put on by Swiss American Racing, brought a fast crowd of folks. Lots of people with lots of leg and lung power, for sure. Some had sketchy handling skills, especially at the Tech Loop drop-off and the T-Bone Hill climb. But most made up for it by motoring in the flatter sections. Me? Decent in the tricky climbs, good in the downhills, a lazy sod in the false flats.

As I mentioned in my earlier recap of the race, though, I had a tremendous time. And I hit a bit of a turning point.

Here’s the deal: So far in 2011, I’ve done four mountain races. Among them was a solo 12-hour effort and 24-hour race as part of a duo. My results have been unspectacular.

But I’m getting out there, and it’s paying off.

I finally achieved something that sent me home from a race feeling good: At about 25 miles into the race, I caught up with a guy. He was riding a shiny Santa Cruz Tallboy that made my 6-year-old Gary Fisher look like Fred Sanford’s jalopy. Which it pretty much is with its chainsuck-battered chainstays and leaky rear shock.

I passed him and thought I’d seen the last of him.

But he caught me about five miles later at a feed zone. I stopped to refill my bottles. He jettisoned his empty and grabbed a new one. I didn’t have time to drop an electrolyte tablet into my bottles without letting him get too far away. Instead, I wolfed down a banana one of the volunteers offered me.

So I chased his fancy-bike-riding butt. I caught him at The Ledge as he was pushing his bike over the obstacle. I went around him and got slightly tangled in a palo verde tree, but I kept going. I was feeling good, good enough to laugh and yell "no, don’t crash into the palo verde!" He panted a reply I couldn’t understand.

I thought for sure I’d left him behind. I was soon up on the South Ridge and putting on some distance. This was about three miles past the feed zone.

That’s when I hit The Wall – that horrible place where the easy becomes epic and your body no longer obeys your commands.

I had trouble steering in a straight line, much less breezing over obstacles like I had for the past 35 miles. I could feel heat building in my quadriceps. Oh, salt and potassium, how I needed thee! But there was just no time to fish a Nuun tablet out of my pack, unscrew a water bottle lid, screw it back on, wait for the tablet to dissolve and start guzzling.

It was just five miles to the finish.

I just had to hold this persistent, rising-from-the-grave jerk at bay for five miles (why won’t he give up and let me enjoy the rest of the race, already?!). I had the advantage. I’d already passed him twice. He was panting like a dog both times. He was in worse shape, right?

So I kept pedaling, kept descending.

Then my bike made a horrible noise. It reverberated through the frame. It sounded like the stable platform valve in the rear shock finally giving way. I still haven’t figured it out. But it made me more tentative in every descent.

But I kept riding. Sometimes, I heard my nemesis scratching along the ground behind me.

Finally, I got to the start/finish area. That meant I just had three miles left to go. Riding the Sport Loop backward was all that stood in my way.

Just a few hundred feet from the start of the Sport Loop, I looked behind me. He couldn’t have been 10 feet back.

I kept pedaling. Straight into the twisty singletrack. Climb a little, descend a little. Just focus on every little stretch of trail. The heat was building in my legs again. Keep in the low gears, just keep spinning the pedals. High RPMs. Ride smart.

But damn, my legs hurt. I just wanted to take a few seconds to stretch. But I kept hearing him. No. Just keep going as long as I can. If I blow up, I blow up.

Finally. Finally. Finally. I reached the bit where I could count on some easy descending. Keep spinning the pedals.

But wait. There were two hills on-tap. On every Sport Loop, they come moments from the start as two steep drops. Riding backward, that means my hammered legs had to go UP them! I reached the first and scaled my way up.

I got to the second. I got halfway up, hop off the bike and push us both up. I crest the hill as the other rider gets to the bottom.

I’m back on my bike in a flash. I spun the pedals like a madman. I tried to be smooth, controlled, confident. It’s all downhill from here.

I crossed the line. It takes more than a minute for my former antagonist to cross the line. That’s a gap I opened in less than a mile. I can live with that.

That guy made me suffer. He worked me like a dog.

And I’m glad he was there. He made me ride better than I could without him. He gave me some motivation. I’d like to think I did the same for him. I believe we made each other better, that we wrung the absolute best out of each other.

We weren’t the fast guys in this race. Both of us probably eat way too much cheese and chocolate to be as fast as the others.

But we rolled up to the line with the fast people anyway. And we both gave it everything we had to give on that Sunday.

Fat Tire 40 MTB Race: Great Fun, Lots of Challenge

fat tire 40
The pack is getting antsy to start.

The course for the Fat Tire 40 at McDowell Mountain is clearly the work of a leather-clad masochistic dungeon master who moonlights as a dentist. The last three mile are the proof.

That doesn’t mean the event, put on by Swiss American Bicycles in Glendale, Ariz., isn’t a ton of well-run fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a novel spin on the typical mountain bike races run at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, Ariz. It took riders along trails seldom ridden.

For instance, there’s that last three miles I mentioned. Riders actually got to ride the Sport Loop section of the Competitive Track backward. That was an unprecedented opportunity, and a surprise organizers sprang on riders during the pre-race meeting. It was also a hard finish to a hard race.

Promoters Offer Classy Swag

fat tire 40
It’s rare that the Scenic Trail gets used for racing. But it’s rocky, challenging fun.

Each rider got a quality, very cool-looking t-shirt and a water bottle. And the bag wasn’t crammed full of useless coupons. Finishers also got a slick pint glass etched with the event logo. Excellent, useful, memorable swag for a $75 entry fee.

Course Offers Plenty of Fun and Challenge

The race started off with riders doing a Lemans-style running start. Then it was on to most of a Sport Loop before branching onto the Tech Loop. From there, it was onto a portion of the Long Loop that connected to a service road. Riders took the service road to the Pemberton Trail, where they made a counter-clockwise turn before riding to the turn-off to the Scenic Trail. This not-often-ridden-by-cyclists bit was in prime shape. It was not nearly as sandy as some riders might recall, and the contour leading to climb resulted in some high speed.

fat tire 40
People often bring their dogs to races. But this baby goat ran away with the cutest pet award.

The climb was still rocky, as was the descent leading back to the Pemberton. From there, riders continued counterclockwise with a quick stop at a feed zone mostly populated by geuinely enthusiastic and helpful kids in their early teens. Riders then continued up the Pemberton to the Coachwhip Trail, where they turned right. From there, they climbed a ridge, met the Dixie Mine Trail and rode it until connecting again with the Pemberton. Riders then hooked up with service road, descended to a feed zone, reconnected with and finished the Long Loop and then road the Sport Loop in reverse.

That last bit was extra-challenging. Braking bumps, washouts and a few steep climbs made those last three miles extra-tough.

fat tire 40
A juicy bit of downhill fun.

All the turns are very well-marked, so your odds of getting lost are super-slim. Most turns were also staffed by people ready to set you right. I also noticed a lot of red "Wrong Way Fat Tire 40" signs on trails that weren’t part of the course. Nice work!

An Idea for Next Year

I have only one suggestion for the organizers: Have some electrolyte drinks at the rest stops. You can bring your own mix, of course, but you’ll lose time. Water is great, but a course like this demands salt, potassium and carbohydrates to stave off cramps.

Despite that caveat, I have to rate this race highly. I’ll do it again next year. It’s a fast bunch of riders, so they’ll challenge you just as much the terrain. I was pretty pleased to win a 15-mile battle with another rider,

fat tire 40
One of many funky beetles spotted on the Scenic Trail

putting more than a minute on him over the last few miles. The rest of the pack pretty much handed our shorts to us, but you sometimes have to revel in the small victories.

Scenes from Arizona – White Tank Whirlwind

2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Ryan Waldron is stoked to be racing (Men Cat 1, 30-39)

I had a good excuse for not racing the White Tank Whirlwind – the previous weekend, I suffered through a rainy, windy Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

Yeah, yeah … I know some people did both. But hey, they were probably all pro racers. And someone has to take pictures, right? So here are some of my favorites from the race. I have a bunch of others, too – I showed up kind of late (10:30 a.m.), so if you’re a Cat 2 or 3 woman, you’re probably out of luck. But feel free to drop me a line if you’re hoping I snapped a shot of you.

You can also read my race recap at Examiner.com.

Framed by the cactus.
Railing the corner
Grinding up a short climb.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
The fast guys duke it out in the pro class.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Watch for the competition.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Jane Pearson rides to victory - women's marathon category.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Pro Rider Rebecca Gross
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Look out, Gene Simmons - Nathan Lentz (Cat 3, 30-39) is coming to take your job.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Channing Morrison of Adventure Bicycle Company races to victory (Men's Cat 2, 19-29)
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
A men's marathon racer on a very slick handmade bike from Form Cycles in Sedona.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Need an attitude adjustment? Women's Cat 2 (40+) racer Krista Gibson says handlebar streamers will do the trick.

Racing is a Gas at Old Pueblo

Here’s a little funny from the Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo:

I’m riding along on my first lap of Sunday morning. A guy passes me and gives me a friendly hello. A few moments later, he’s pulled over digging in his pack. He pulls something out, opens it, and starts munching.

"Snack time!" I yell at him.

He catches back up to me a moment later, and he launches into a Ricky Bobby-esque spiel (aided by a very Texan accent) about his snack: Honey Stinger waffles.

"They’re like two crispy waffles with a bit of honey between ‘em," he says (further reminding me of Ricky Bobby talking about a crepe suzette). "They’re delish. Know what I’m talkin’ about?"

I tell him I do indeed know what he is talkin’ about, though I haven’t yet tried them – but I do know and love Honey Stinger gels and protein bars.

Here’s the kicker: He passes me again. When he’s about 75 feet away, he lets out a sonorous, cheek-slapping fart that nearly blows the chamois out of of his shorts. You know it’s a monster when you can hear it over the hum of fat tires on hardpack and the whistle of the wind.

This, of course, makes me start laughing. He issues a sheepish "sorry," not realizing that I consider flatus the height of humor.

Definitely my best on-the-trail encounter during the race. I have to wonder if his team was sponsored by Honey Stinger -- or should I say Honey Stinker?

Scenes from Arizona: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

My friend Danielle (L) and her quad team The Go-Go Girls - happy before the wind and rain.

There are lots of lessons on my mind now that it’s the day after the 2011 Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

For example, desert plants can rip the ratcheting buckles clean off your right shoe. And that a fire can and will melt your left shoe while you’re drying it out. (I have to thank the guys at Tucson-based Fairwheel Bikes for extricating me from the clutches of my shoe – even though they’re a Trek dealer, the crew put in some after-hours time removing the offending shoe: Well, some of them did. The others laughed and took photos.)

The indignities heaped on my poor Specialized shoes were just the beginning. It was an event complete with tent-destroying winds, person-soaking rains, teeth-chattering temperatures – all a perfect concoction to make people flee the event.

Our camp started with eight people on four duo teams. We ended with two teams and four people.

My bike is ready to go. And Ryan Zilka (R) is ready for a lap, too.

It was really the wind that started breaking us all. It made everything harder – steering, picking a line, even the simple act of breathing. And slap on at least 5-10 minutes of extra time per 16-mile lap to deal with it. And extra depletion of the energy in your legs, lungs and mind.

The rain started just as I was returning to hand the baton to my teammate, Harry. He got soaked and frozen during his lap. He expected to be back before he’d need lights. The clouds made night show up early, and he had to walk the final downhill into the infamous 24-Hour Town.

Harry’s misfortunes were pretty epic. The storm destroyed his EZ-Up tent, plus bent and broke several poles of his REI tent. He wound up sleeping in his CRV, while I was holed up in my Subaru Forester – and yes, a 6’2

Arizona sunset over 24-Hour Town.

guy can stretch out fully and comfortably in a Forester (as if that car doesn’t already have enough superpowers). Many cars and even RVs left before sunrise.

Yes, this post reeks of woe, sorrow, misfortune. But in some twisted way, it was still fun: eating freeze-dried Chili Mac, shivering my way through Sunday’s first lap, dogfighting through the starting pack, shotgunning 16-ounce cans of coconut water. Speaking of that dogfighting, one woman was unfortunate enough to get pitched into the cholla cactuses within 30 minutes. I felt so bad for her – nothing like that needs to happen. All I can wonder is if someone with too much aggression made a dangerous pass and caused that accident. Who in the world can think endangering another rider is worth a few extra seconds?

24-Hour Town ... you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

That first Sunday lap was actually a thing of beauty, despite the cold. The wind abated, and the previous rain made the trail beautiful and grippy. My wheels stuck to it like glue. By my final lap, though, the wind was back. It wasn’t quite as Book-of-Revelation-awful as the previous night’s wind, but is was no picnic.

Harry and fellow duo rider Ryan Zilka (possibly one of the most relentlessly upbeat people I’ve ever met) met me at the finish with a can of Guinness to celebrate our second year camping and racing together. It was just a nice gesture that really underscored what 24-hour racing is all about to the pack fodder – solidarity, spending time with good people and going home safe.

You can also read my 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo recap at Examiner.com.

Awesome helmet decoration
The dudes from Mountain Flyer make a visit.
Humor goes a long way.
Ruined camp sites - a sign that the weather hit hard.
The expo area before it got storm-squashed.
Our happy 24 Hours of Bromance camp before the storm hit.

Images from Avondale, Ariz. – 2011 Hedgehog Hustle

mbaa2-9, Hedgehog Hustle 2011, Mountain Bike, Arizona
Getting aero on the downhill at the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle.

UPDATE: See my report on Examiner.com for a race recap.

Today, I made a trip out to Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Avondale, Ariz., to check out the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle. My erstwhile Adventure Bicycle Company stooge-turned-real estate mogul Matt Long was out there lining up for the Cat 2 race with the infamous Phoenix International Raceway in the background. There was definitely a chill in the air, but it warmed into a nice day for some racing.

I’ll have a full report later one. For now, you can enjoy this here slideshow I’m about to unfold. But I done introduced it enough. (NOTE: I have many other photos. If you don’t see yourself, send a note including your race number to wanderingjustin@hotmail.com)

Scenes from Fountain Hills, Ariz. – The McDowell Meltdown

EDIT: If you’ve come here looking for photos of yourself, I probably have about 100 other shots. Let me know your race number and I’ll see what I can find!

On Jan. 22-23, the MBAA Arizona state championship mountain bike race series got started at McDowell Mountain Regional Park just north of Fountain Hills, Ariz. The park is one of the best outdoor recreation assets in the state, and the weather cooperated to make it a great time for racers and spectators. You can read my recap at Examiner.com or just check out these photos. Find out what you missed – even if you were there!

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Too fast not to blur a bit
Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Racing with a smile.

Miguel from Adventure Bicycle Company hangs out at the team tent.
Continue reading

An American Runs Iceland – Reykjavik Midnight Run 10K

One of these days, I'll be photogenic in a racing photo.
One of these days, I'll be photogenic in a racing photo.

I can now say that I’m officially a world-class athlete: I was the first American finisher in a race abroad.

I admit it’s a stretch of the definition, but here’s why: Back in June, I was the first American finisher in the MiÄ‘næturhlaup. That’s a 10K race in Reykjavik, Iceland, that starts at 10 p.m. The word means “Midnight Run.”

My time was less-than-spectacular at just a touch more than 54 minutes. I guess the previous 10 days of stomping around Iceland with a backpack and logging an average of six miles a day took their toll on my legs.

But still! I owe it all to the fact that:

  • There were few Americans. My wife and I might’ve been the only Americans racing. I checked the results carefully and came up blank.
  • The race was too short for my wife to warm up. I can usually take her in a 10K, but I am no match in a half-marathon. Had this race been another two miles longer, she would’ve just been stretching into full power and would’ve blown past me like she was on roller skates. Yay, short races!

This is one of the coolest things I’ve done while traveling abroad. The course included two three-mile loops that took us past a sports complex, the Reykjavik Zoo and a botanical area. It was incredibly pleasant, with a perfect running temperature.

It was also a great way to mingle with Icelanders and other Europeans – including a wonderfully friendly (and fast!) couple from England. They were kind enough to say that us being from Arizona actually sounds “glamourous.” And yes, they used the extra u!

The race also started and ended at the Laugardalslaug swimming pool Sarah and I came to love so much on our first day. So it was back into the hot tubs to hang with the other racers.

And I now have a shiny medal with some really cool Icelandic characters on it hanging in the dining room.

I should also add that our entry into the race is a testament to the innate friendliness of Icelanders. Sarah wanted to find us a race, so she got on the Web to find us one. Few sites were in English, so she took a shot in the dark at e-mailing a running club. A club member by the name of Torfi wrote her back and helped us find the Midnight Run and get all registered. He also gave us some travel tips.