Monday, January 16, 2017

Jeny and The Race: The Golden Rule.

Jeny and I spent yesterday afternoon, evening, and a good chunk of today "out" riding in the snow.

And while it'd be easy to assume, given where she's going and what she has planned, that that meant we put in a large volume of hours or miles, that's not the case.  At all.  

Why not?

Because first and foremost, you have to survive the ITI.

Or, to put it in the words of perennial contender and Nome-record-holder Jeff Oatley, "It's not a bike race". 

For the folks whom choose to contend the event on foot or skis, they just slapped their collective foreheads, muttered "duh", and closed this tab.

Put simply, pedaling and pushing a bike is the easy part of the ITI, and anyone that's been vetted (it is an Invitational, after all) and accepted into the race has probably got that part figured out already.

The more challenging aspect of the event is taking care of one's self in the subarctic for a ~week, while trying to make reasonable progress every day.  Setting aside the 18+ hours of pedaling (and pushing) you're doing every day, you also have to take care of your feet, dry sweaty clothes (or learn to not wet them out in the first place), keep your bike functioning, and get a little R+R so that you can get up and go again tomorrow.

In short, it behooves one to learn to take care of themselves first.  Forward motion comes fairly easily if you've got that other part figured out.

To that end we spent a good chunk of our "out" time fiddling with layering.  Managing moisture is *difficult* when the temps are (relatively) warm, the snow is soft, your tire pressure is barely measurable, and you're manhandling a 70# bike.  It is work.  Some people would say it's impossible to NOT sweat in that situation.  I say those people are either lazy or inexperienced, and if they've finished the ITI without learning to NOT sweat, then they're also probably really lucky.

My golden rule for success at the ITI is simple:

You aren't allowed to sweat.

If you sweat out your layers mid-day, and then night comes, the temps drop below zero, and your clothes are still wet, you've dug yourself a pretty good hole.  Options include continuing to move until you can enter a warm building and dry out your gear, or stopping to build a fire to do the same.  The former assumes that buildings are handy when you need them: On this route they usually aren't.  The latter is more likely, but costs you time: It's difficult to go fast if you have to keep stopping to dry out layers.  It's much faster, big picture, to learn to layer and moderate your effort such that you aren't sweating to begin with.  Go slow to go fast.

Want to know the biggest secret to success in winter layering?

You don't need nearly as much as you think.  

Speeds are generally slow and effort is usually high.  The slow speeds keep evaporative cooling to a minimum.  The effort produces heat.

Now read that ^ again, because there isn't much more to it.

Want to vent excess heat?  Unzip your jacket and pit zips, maybe take off your hat.  Doing so dumps heat and replaces it with cold outside air -- and the cooling happens fast.

Getting cold, need to warm up?  Put your hat on, close your zippers.  Doing so removes wind from the equation, and allows your internal combustion engine to re-warm that micro-climate inside your outer shell.

Is it *just* that easy?  Of course not, but that's the basic premise, and there's not a whole lot of reason to complicate it.

Over this weekend Jeny experimented with many different weights, materials, and combinations in her layers: Wool vs. plastic, down vs. synthetic, water proof breathtables vs. water resistant softshells.

What has she decided on?  Positively nothing yet -- but she's learning to ask questions, draw conclusions, and formulate answers, all in the classroom of the real world.

Late in the ride today, with the sun already down, the wind coming up, and a big climb just behind us, she stopped, dropped, and fired up her stove to melt snow -- both to drink and to rehydrate a snack.  The end of the ride was close and we could have easily finished without this break.  But it is precisely this devotion to practicing these important rituals overandoverandover that builds a level of comfort and confidence -- in both yourself and your equipment -- that can make all the difference in a worst case scenario when deep into this event.

The time to make mistakes is *now*, so that you can learn from them, internalize the lessons, then practice again tomorrow.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jeny and The Race.

Around about this time of year -- if you are of a certain mind -- it becomes impossible not to think about riding (or racing, depending) the Iditarod Trail Invitational in AK.  I participated in some variation on that event for almost 20 years, and that sort of addiction doesn't just go away without a 12 step program.  At minimum... ;)

I am neither racing nor riding this year.  Won't even be in AK.

But my lovely wife Jeny has been bitten by that bug, and is deeply immersed into her planning, prep, and training for the event.

She won't be racing, will emphatically be touring the route.  Even with all of the online info available (maps, gps tracks, trip write-ups, etc...) for a rookie it's very difficult to be competitive.  Add in work stress and commitments and it just isn't reasonable for Jeny to commit the time to training that she would need to really race.  She gets that, and she's OK with it.  In some ways, removing the pressure of racing makes the event more alluring, in that you know you won't be suffering, head down the whole time -- you give yourself permission to look around, sniff the roses as it were.

Laying the foundation: A schedule of ride days (and nights, after work), recovery days, and days devoted to gear prep.

All my years of racing I was so immersed in planning, prepping, and training, that I didn't have time to really share the process as it happened.  In some ways that's good -- it's not that exciting.

In other ways it's a bummer, because there are lots of opportunities to be creative as you ready yourself for the ITI.  Even though fatbikes and the associated accoutrements are a dime a dozen these days, the nitty gritty decisions that you need to make to arrive at Knik truly prepared for the route are anything but obvious unless you live there.  And we live a very, very long ways from there.

So, over the next ~month+ I'll be documenting, a little at a time, Jeny's path toward the ITI.  Not having done this before I'm not exactly sure how it's going to shake out.  Bear with me, and feel free to ask questions as we go -- or even in advance if there's something you really want to know more about.  I'll do my best to accommodate.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Third Flats / Windmill / Bangs Canyon Loop.

Jeny and I got out and embraced a snow ride on Saturday.  There is an ambitious bunch of local trail runners that get together to run a ~30k loop every January, on a set of trails that, most years, one wouldn't think of as being "in play" due to too much snow.

But the world is what you make of it, and rather than sit inside like most of the people I ride with in non-snow months, this crew gets out and gets it done.  Jeny and I gave them a ~4 hour head start -- not wanting to get in the way of even the stragglers -- and then headed out to attempt the loop.

In the first ~1/2 mile the conditions were slow -- soft, unconsolidated -- so much so that I thought to myself, "Wow, this is going to be hard".

Then 2 ATV's passed us, churning the trail into an unrecognizable and unrideable mess.  Yay team.

We plugged away at the route, slipping and sliding and occasionally falling in the twin trenches left by the throttle jockeys.  At one point Jeny waited for me to catch up and when I did we agreed that there was no way, if the ATV's were following the same route, that we were going to be able to do this -- so completely had they hosed the trail.

Fate intervened -- and I'm still not sure if that was a good thing -- and turned the ATV's off of our route after a few miles.  Once we were back to riding the packed footpath left by the runners, things became much more rideable and it was "only" hard work -- not survival riding the way it had been.

When I say "hard work", I mean that it was really, really hard riding, in that the snow had come down first as drizzle, so every rock, ledge, and root underneath had a shiny coating.  But then it had gotten cold, so there was 10 to 14" of 3% moisture 'cold smoke' on top.  Couldn't float on it, had to plow through it, and whenever you hit something underneath you would struggle to keep it upright.

The loop was 30k.  It took us almost 7 hours -- we started at noon thirty and finished up well after dark.

I was shelled, Jeny was still smiling -- which is more or less how most rides end around here...

Thanks to Kevin Koch for taking the initiative to mark (and unmark) the loop and motivate the group.  

Thanks to you for checkin' in.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A little more about fat tire pressures for snow riding.

Jeny and I got out for a great ride last night, surfing the leading edge of a storm that dropped anywhere from a foot to two feet across the region, and it's still coming down.

In the woods on this ride the trail was great -- packed by holiday skiers and snowshoers and as such it was shoulder width and with a consistent surface. Like a ribbon of white singletrack beckoning ever onward.

But where it left the trees and crossed meadows it was really, really wind affected. Wind affected snow has been tumbled and collided so many times in its descent that the snowflakes have no more arms -- inspect them closely and you'll see that they're closer to ball bearings. No way for them to stick together until melt-freeze season happens in a few months.

I bring this up because while in the trees we wanted low pressures (it was a 3 wrinkle kinda ride...) to float on the ephemeral crust. But out in the open there was *no* pressure that worked, as the packed trail surface was buried beneath ~6" of ball bearings. You couldn't float on the ball bearings, nor could you dig down deep enough to access the traction of the trail surface. Pushing was the only option, period.

I bring this up as a springboard to get people to think about the big picture of both the topography and prevailing wind direction on their rides, as these are the two main determinants of which sections of trail get scoured and which get drifted in. You can burn a lot of time and get really frustrated trying to adjust pressures up and down. Not to mention cold because you're not producing heat anymore.

Or, put more simply, you can't always buy (or ride, or deflate) your way out of a situation -- sometimes you just have to deal with it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Farewell to Fang.

Doogan is gone.  Passed on a few days ago.

I've shared a few words and images here, as a means for coping with the emptiness and grief that I feel in his absence.

Do not click that link if you're a sentimental softie like me.

A little more detail on my, uh, Climax.

Time for an update!

This bike continues to impress, both uphill and down.  More surefooted on off-camber and sidehill than I am ever prepared for, or expecting.

I guess you could just look at it and say "Duh, Mike -- you're surprised that a bike with 3.5" tires has good traction on off-camber?"

Put that way I don't disagree.  But what I'm saying is that I *am* expecting the traction, and am still impressed by how much more seems to be in reserve.

I've been fiddling with suspension of late.  Fine tuning might be more apropos, as I really like how composed both ends already are.  But there's always room for improvement, right?

To that end I've installed MRP's RAMP cartridge in the fork, in hopes of getting it to stand taller in the travel without losing small bump sensitivity.  It *has* achieved that, with the ancillary benefit that I can adjust air volume literally on the fly.

Why, you might be asking, would that be a benefit?

Air volume determines how quickly (or not) your fork ramps to bottom.  Increase volume and it becomes hard to bottom the fork -- great if you're on a trail with lots of drops and/or harsh landings.  More of an on-the-ground rider?  Then you can reduce the volume with a few clicks of the knob encircling the air valve, which allows you to use more of your travel, more often.

The real beauty is that you can fine-tune air volume for any and every trail, *on the trail*, without having to crack it open to add or remove tokens.  Simple and effective.

I also installed one of MRP's RAZE rear shocks.  Fans of the Elke design need no introduction to this damper.  I've been aware of the buzz for years but this is my first time riding one.  Stictionless travel is always welcome and any coil shock is going to deliver this.  Easily (and separately) tunable high and low speed compression damping mean that I can change each a click at a time in order to drill down to my ideal settings.  

Thus far I've ridden the RAZE in Moab on Gemini/Blue Dot/Portal, as well as Porcupine Rim, and then locally on a hot (for me...) lap of Butterknife with hero dirt.  Pretty good range of variability there, from medium speed smooth climbing to snail's pace rockcrawling, to high speed chunky descending, and LOTS of slow speed chunk.

The most memorable thing about the current package is that I don't really notice anything unless I'm chasing someone faster than I, thus way out at the edge of my comfort zone.  Sending a few 6' drops on Porcupine, back to back, without scouting, left me smiling ear to ear at the bottomless and composed feel the Fatillac delivered.

After the weekend in Moab it occurred to me that it's going to be a few months until I can spend time climbing for hours into the alpine.  As such there isn't much need for my typical micro drive front chainring.  I replaced it with a 28t B Labs Oval ring before yesterday's ride, and am 3.5 hours into adapting to push the taller gear.

I love riding this bike and hope that our winter continues to allow unfettered access to hero dirt.  Snow is fine and I'll ride plenty of that regardless, but ripping along on FS, and especially *this* FS, is my idea of nirvana these days.

Don't hesitate with questions.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Last rites.

While it takes more than 2 months to transition from the first chilly mornings to those that are crisp to the ones that are just plain frozen, because the afternoons are so delightful that period of time can seem at once endless and way too brief: last week we rode in shorts and sleeves, last night I rode with multiple layers and finished with frozen beard syndrome.

Impending winter.

As the calendar year comes to an end, so do many of the things we like to do when we aren't doing the things we need to do.

Like poking noses and lenses into interesting flora,

or having daylight for an after-work chunk session,

or being able to float without ice forming on the paddle.

The thing I miss the most in winter is traction -- being able to climb walls while looking ahead, instead of holding breath and waiting for the slip.

It'll only be a few months until the next one, but I can't help but to look back wistfully at the last grassy campsite we had, sleeping on inches thick duff, 

only to wake in the AM, paddle big water, then start looking for the next one.

Some campsites are easily rejected. 

I love winter riding -- love the contrast from what we do the rest of the year, how the places we gravitate to are so varied and specific.  And like any rational human, I miss the places we get to fleetingly embrace in non-winter months.

No coincidence that these places are largely devoid of humanity, comprised mostly of rough, colorful rock, and usually present tremendous views.

Jeny pines for trees all summer long.  I don't notice 'em as much until the leaves are colored and almost gone.  

Winter riding tends to put us deep inland, into the trees and onto lakes, away from rims and ridges, rivers and edges.  I try to pay special heed to these on the last few rides before snow.  

note Greg riding the rim trail, lower right, in the pic above.


We've had 2 or 3 snows already this year.  The first few, after a day or so, looked like the pic below: accumulation in the distance, but nothing underfoot.

The last one came with still colder temps, and has thusly stuck around in the shadows and on northern exposures.  You wouldn't think that a light skiff could change things so much, but it does.  Tires are often if not always coated, and snow + rubber does not stick to cold rock.

That, and the fact that there is always moisture present in the air (when snow is on the ground) means that the brilliant, impossibly blue skies that we cherish don't come around as often.  More likely to be gray with scud or maybe white with overcast.

I know, I know -- cry me a river.

Not so much complaining about where we are, as humming a love song for the times and places of the season just past.

Next?  Embracing winter on bike, afoot, and occasionally even in boats.

Thanks for checkin' in.