Friday, October 18, 2013

150 is the new 100: Odin's Revenge 2013 Recap

Wow.  It's been a while.  I feel like I should write about 3 or 4 posts for some background before I put this one out, but in the interest of somewhat expedient reporting, I'll write this one now and worry about the other stuff later.

So June 29th was the second installment of Odin's Revenge, and after my DNF primarily due to the oppressive heat last year, I was determined to make another go of it this year, hopefully with more cooperative weather.  I sent my postcard in on Valentine's Day, and was added to the list of riders for year two. 

The postcard.
However, after increasing my riding each year since I started riding back in 2009, the miles I was riding dwindled fast last fall and over the winter, then stayed depressed well into April.  Since biking is 80-90% of the exercise I do, most of the pounds I lost in the biggest loser contest at work last spring found their way back on to my frame as well.  Oops.

I would have two big endurance tests to gauge my ability before this ride, Bonk Hard Racing's The Ogre in mid April and Dirty Kanza 200 the first of June.  The Ogre started off pretty well, but the Ozark hills kept wearing me down more and more until I got to the point that I barely made the last pit stop before the cut-off time and then was only an official finisher due to some generous timekeeping by the race officials.  Dirty Kanza didn't have The Ogre's hills, but it did have 20+ mph winds that were working against me for a good 40 - 50 miles between miles 50 and 123 where I decided I'd had enough and called it a day.  That sent me into a bit of a depression for a couple weeks where I contemplated not even bothering with going out to Nebraska.  Then as the 10 day forecast came into view, the week prior to the event was supposed to be in the mid to upper 90's and it was questionable whether or not it would cool off by the weekend.  I about pulled the plug when I saw 95° for race day at one point, but thankfully that was a one day blip and by Thursday when I headed out, upper 80's were being forecast.  At least I wouldn't be able to blame the weather for any woes.

Since my friend in Topeka is in the process of moving, I didn't want to intrude on her for a free room Thursday night, so I drove to my teammate Aaron's house in Jefferson City to shorten the drive on Friday at least a little bit.  The prerace meeting was scheduled for 7:00 that night, and I would be pushing it to get make the drive all the way out there in one day and still have a little time to relax before I went to bed.  Okay, if I took the interstate all the way to Gothenburg, it wouldn't be a problem, but when I'm driving solo, I like to take some of the back roads and do a little exploring in the process.  I think it helps me stay awake too.  Interstates can be extremely monotonous. 

However, after getting out of Aaron's house about a half hour later than intended, a stop in Kansas City to get a new hydration pack bladder (mine was starting to grow mold after DK - oops), then searching a few tiny towns in northeastern Kansas for a gas station after forgetting to fill up in Atchison (I was on the phone discussing the possibility of a whirlwind Denver trip after the race - oops again), it was 7:00 on the dot when I pulled into Gothenburg.  I didn't even have time to check into my room at the Comfort Suites before the meeting.  However, when I got to the KOA Campground, I was not the only one running late, and they waited until about 7:30 before getting started.  After some thank you's, introductions, and the presentation of a bottle of alcohol to Guitar Ted, who made the trek from eastern Iowa to partake in the festivities, they started drawing names to hand out lots of SWAG that was gifted for the riders.  My name was drawn fairly quickly, and I scored a Twin Six water bottle stuffed with a pair of socks and a $20 gift certificate.  Cool stuff!

After the meeting, I made my way over to the motel, then went downtown to the grocery store for some fuel for the next day.  At that point I wanted to get some dinner, so I got a pizza from the Pizza Hut next to the motel and took it back to my room while I made my final preparations.  As I do more of these endurance events, I'm getting more dialed into just what I need to bring with me, and I don't stress nearly as much before each one of them.

I was still up until at least 10 or 11 though, and my 4:30 alarm came pretty quickly the next morning.  I kitted up, double checked my gear, and went down to the lobby to see if they had anything for breakfast.  My memory is starting to fade, but it seems like they didn't have as much ready for us as they did last year when I got down there around 5:00.  No matter, I mostly just wanted some of the apple juice they had, and then I went back to get my bike to throw it on the car and head across the interstate to the campground.

When I got there, I did my last minute bike adjustments (mostly air in the tires and lube on the chain) and waited around for the start.  Right at 6:00, Chad hopped into his truck, and led us on a rollout to the south of town.

 I have a history of having things happen to me early on in these races or group rides that drops me to the back of the pack early - last year I had to stop to adjust my light or something right after we hit the gravel, I dropped my chain in the first mile at The Ogre, I had something come out of a pocket or bag early on at the Joe Dirt ride a couple years ago - so I was enjoying being in the front half of group on the roll out.  I knew I had no hope of keeping up with them once we headed into the hills, but it was fun to be up there for a mile or two at the start.  Sure enough, they were dropping me even before we got out of the Platte River flood plain.  As we started heading up Wiggins Canyon Road into the hills though, I started to get a little worried about my fitness levels.  This gradual 2-3% slope seemed to be tougher than I'd remembered from last year, and I was struggling to keep up with some people that I was definitely faster than last year as well.

The one thing I did have this year that I didn't have last year is my Garmin Edge 500, so this year I have the benefit of being able to go back and look at my ride data, and I was holding a 15 mph average through the first 10 miles, despite climbing nearly 300 feet during that time.  Of course, that's only 30 feet/mile, and that kind of climbing is a cakewalk compared to what I normally have to climb around my house when I go out for a ride.  The chill in the air was the other thing I remember from this early stretch.  When we got into the canyon valleys out of the flood plain, the temperature was only in the low 50's and the perspiration from the climb was making me really chilly on a couple of the early downhills.

Just as I was getting into a groove on Wiggins Canyon, we came up to the first real turn we had to be watching for, and after 6 miles of mindless riding, a lot of riders missed the turn.  Fortunately, someone nearby me called it out and I was able to make the quick turn onto Medicine Rd, which greeted me with a nice little climb from a near stop since I had to slow down so much to make the turn.  That close call woke me up a bit and I started staying more in tune with my cue sheet to be aware of the turns.  It helped that the next 10 miles were a nice series of left and rights as we followed the edge of a grid pattern of farm roads as the flatter arable land butted up against the more rugged canyonlands we would be spending much of the day descending into and climbing out of.

Just a cool looking abandon house early in the ride
Coming up towards mile 20, the course descended into the canyons and what is probably my favorite part of the south leg, probably for no other reason than there is a railroad track paralleling the route for the 2-3 miles, and there's a couple cool wooden trestles along said railroad.  Now if there were actually a train along the tracks while I was riding through, I'm not sure I would've been able to control myself.  Unfortunately, the coolest parts never last long enough, and a couple miles after the railroad turned south, our route did too, and we were again forced to climb up to the farmland for a mile or two before we got to descend back into the canyons.

The wall
 At mile 33, I encountered the first minimal maintenance road of the day, and this one doesn't even look like it's used enough to qualify as a driveway.  But then you cross a small field and BAM! you are greeted with this dirt wall you have to ride up strap on your climbing gear and ascend.  Then, once I climbed that, it was right back down and up 3 more hills before the course flattened out again for a few miles.  At this point, though the ups and downs of the MMR was a grind, I was actually feeling pretty good.  I wasn't setting any speed records or anything like that, but I was enjoying myself and clicking off the miles, one by one, then at mile 40, I made the right onto Fox Creek, and knowing where the first checkpoint was after riding last year, I looked across a couple valleys and could see the cars stationed at the checkpoint.  While I knew that the last hill before the checkpoint was going to suck, knowing that a break was right there after I crested the hill would make all the difference in the world going up it.

Almost to Checkpoint 1
It was about 9:15 when I pulled into the checkpoint, an hour or so ahead of where I needed to be to make the cutoff for the south leg.  As with the previous year, the race organizers had provided plenty of water and some yummy snacks to refuel our bodies.  I put the pipe cleaner on my handlebars, and after chilling out for a few minutes, headed out onto the next leg.

I'd remembered the stretch leaving the checkpoint being a grind last year, and while an 8 mile stretch on one road is nice because you don't have to worry about missing any turns for a while, it can also be one of those stretches where if you aren't careful, your mind will start playing games with you because there's not much to keep it occupied for a while.  Sure enough, those 8 miles were just as painful as the year before because not only are you climbing 200 feet during those 8 miles, the wind was blowing out of the north giving us a nice little headwind to fight.  Even though the turn off of Cut Creek Road meant a quick descent and immediate climb back up to the next ridge, I was glad to be off of that road.  Plus, after I turned onto Effenbeck, it was a nice easy 4 or 5 miles to the infamous Government Pocket, or Government Contract, as I kept mistakenly calling it before and after the ride.

During this point, I had the honor of riding with Guitar Ted, who had caught up with me on Cut Creek after leaving the checkpoint, and I then was using him to pace myself and make sure I didn't fall back too much on the grind of that road.  We didn't chat a lot, as I'm not always the greatest conversationalist, and as it turns out, he was starting to fall into his own pain cave during this stretch.  He pulled off to take a break when we turned onto Government Pocket, and that was the last I saw of him until we got to the next checkpoint. 

Last year, I remembered Government Pocket as this loose, sandy, chalky, mess of a road that I had to walk a large portion of because I couldn't get any traction on it.  Thankfully, this year it was packed down, and while it was bumpy, at least it was rideable, and I only had to hop off the bike for one gnarly climb.  Unfortunately, we didn't get the surprise water stop after the descent we got last year, but with temperatures in the 70's or 80's rather than the 90's, it definitely would've been unnecessary this time, as Checkpoint 2 was only 10 miles away.  Still in good spirits, I pulled into the checkpoint about noon.  The volunteers manning the checkpoint commented about how much better I (and everyone else) looked this year than last, and that they were still seeing smiles on most people's faces.  I didn't have a drop bag, having opted to carry everything in a backpack, but I grabbed a bite to eat and relaxed for a few minutes.  To be honest, even though I was still feeling good at this point, I was not looking forward to the next 10 miles or so.  There was going to be the monotony of having 8 or 9 miles with no turns, and I seemed to remember a couple hills that were not fun from the previous year.

Checkpoint 2
 After relaxing for 20 minutes or so, I proceeded on to the final stretch of the south leg of the course.  Miraculously, Callahan Road did not beat me down like it had the previous year, maybe due to having the wind out of the north rather than the south, and before too long, I was making the turn back to the north and heading towards Gothenburg, well almost.  I had one moderate hill to climb, and then that was the last of my climbing on the south leg, the only obstacle I would have to face was the stiff wind coming out of the north.  Thankfully, it wasn't too bad in the canyons, and coming out of the canyon into the Platte River valley, we headed southeast for a few miles before crossing the floodplain to the river and the campground that was Checkpoint 3.  Last year, the stretch along the irrigation canal was grueling with a bit of a headwind, but this year with the wind out of the north, I was able to cruise along this stretch.  Of course, when I had to turn back to the north, it wasn't as much fun.  Weirdly, though, my speed didn't suffer too much until the last half mile on Highway 47.  That last little bit felt like trying to push through a wind tunnel.  But nonetheless, about 2:20 I pulled into Checkpoint 3 with over an hour and a half to spare before the 4:00 cutoff.  When I pulled in to get my cue sheet for the north leg, it was again commented about how much better I looked than the previous year.  While some of it was knowing I only had 55 miles to go rather than 85 like I would've last year, the cooler weather helped a lot as well.  Even though I knew I had at least 10-15 miles due north into the stiff headwind right off the bat when I left, I was taking solace in the fact that I would be turning around and have that same wind at my back pushing me into Gothenburg for the final 10-15 miles.

Just before 3:00, I headed out to tackle the north leg.  I had been riding with a fellow from the KC area for most of the stretch after the second checkpoint, and I was planning on riding back out with him, but I didn't see him around race HQ and I thought that I had missed him, so I went out solo.  I got through town just fine, but as soon as the houses gave way to farm fields and the pavement went to gravel, my speed started going south, and there was 8 or 9 miles due north right into the wind as we left town.  On this stretch, I did get to see the race leaders come by me on their way back into town, but I was stopping to take a break every half mile for a while here.  Finally, after one last mile with a kick you while your down climb, the route turned to the east and I got a too-short break from the wind before the route headed north again.  After a couple more miles into the wind, I just stopped and chilled out under a tree for probably 5 or 10 minutes until I saw someone coming towards me.  It turned out to be the guy I'd been riding with earlier, so we teamed up again to work against the wind.  Thankfully, just a few miles down the road, we came to one of the water stops they had set up for us on the north leg.  My supply was actually okay at this point, but the almost park-like yard they had set up was super inviting, and the two of us chilled out for probably 20 minutes or so here.

Hills on the north leg.
Finally, we decided that we should continue on, and continued towards Checkpoint 4, about 8 miles away now.  Unfortunately, there was still about 3 miles into the wind, but after those 3 miles, we made a turn to the west, and then the south, and we were able to really pick up some speed.  About 6:15 or 6:30, we pulled into the final Checkpoint and took another break.  We didn't stick around here too much, with our water just having been topped off, but we did get a couple snacks and headed out for the final stretch.  Of course, there would be two more short northbound stretches, but for the most part, this last segment was going to be all downhill with the wind at our back.

Once we headed out, I noticed those northbound stretches weren't as tough as before.  Unlike at Dirty Kanza, where the wind seemed to blow all evening, now that we were going to have a tailwind, it was calming down.  GRRR!  Oh well, at least it didn't shift direction on us or something heinous like that.  Once we turned south, we started making pretty good time until we came to this one MMR that was like a giant sandbox.  Not the greatest bike handler, this brought me to a dead stop, and the guy I was riding with pulled ahead of me.  I figured that would be the last I saw of him.  Eventually though, the dirt firmed up a bit and I was able to ride again as the road dipped into what I thought was the most scenic part of the north loop, another road through a small canyon.

Of course, what goes down must come up, and climbing back out of that canyon was pretty tough, but once I was out, I was pretty much back into the Platte River flats floodplain again.  As it turns out, floodplain is kind of relative because looking at my Garmin, there was about 300' of vertical descent between the end of the canyon and the finish line.  Even the bottom of the canyon was about 200' above the Platte River.  The only thing that was going to slow me down now was some looser gravel on some of the roads leading back to town.

Now, with the sun getting lower in the sky, the temperatures cooling down, and Gothenburg starting to appear on the horizon, my adrenaline was kicking up,  and I started to just put my head down and pedal as much as I could to get back to town.  My main goal was to beat darkness now.  I had a light on me, but I didn't really want to fiddle with it and put it on.

Eventually, the gravel gave way to concrete, and aside from stopping for traffic at one intersection, I was able to run the afterburners through town, and at 8:40, I crossed the finish line at the KOA Kampground and was able to bask in the glow of being an official finisher.  Chad Quigley, the race organizer, congratulated me, and his wife asked if I was planning on returning the next year.  At the time I was hesitant and non-committal (all I wanted at that point was to get off of my bike and sit down on a real chair!), but now, almost 4 months later, the itch is returning, and I think I want to go back next June.  I just need to push one of my teammates to go out there with me, so I have company on the drive out.  Team DSG puts on a great event, and while giant events with hundreds of riders can be fun, I kind of like the smaller nature of Odin's Revenge.  Sure, you might go for an hour or more without seeing anyone (especially later in the race), and that can be nerve wracking if something happens to you or your bike, but sometimes the solitude of being out in the wilds all by yourself is pretty cool.  We won't mention that I had my iPod playing in my ear for most of the race.

The race is slated for June 28, 2014, and if they follow tradition, registration opens February 14th.  As of right now, I'm planning on sending my postcard in that day for next year.  Word is there might be a completely new course.  I'm excited to see what they come up with.

Monday, September 10, 2012

GORC Crested Butte Trip - Day 4: Trail 401

Trail 401 is has been billed as the best of the trails around Crested Butte.  After Doctor Park, that had to be saying a lot!  With my knee a little tender after Doctor Park, when I found out that Diana and Steph were going to be shuttling to (almost) the top of the trail and riding down, I decided to seize the opportunity to hitch a ride.  Bryan took the three of us up to the top of Schofield Pass, elevation 10,707'.  From there, we would have a steep climb to get to about 11,100' and then a more gradual 200'+ climb to the top of the trail above 11,300'.
The drop-off point.
 As soon as I turned around from this sign to start up the trail, I had to get off and walk.  The first half mile alternated between areas too steep to ride (for me anyway) and grinding uphills.  Thankfully, that section only lasted as long as it did.  From there, we had another half mile to the summit, and while noticeably uphill, I at least was able to pedal.  The second half mile also was out in the open and therefore had some awesome views.

My smiling mug.
 Just before the top, we came to a fork in the trail.  None of us had a map, so I went up one route and fortunately there was a sign not very far up the trail saying that it was a wilderness area, so therefore, no bikes were allowed.  That made the decision easy, so we headed down the opposite fork.

Which way?
After we got back on the correct trail, we started descending.  It wasn't too bad at first, and was a welcome relief from the climb (as short as it might have been).


Pretty quickly though, the route turned onto a fairly steep face of the mountain.  While the trail itself wasn't bad, you could almost reach out with your left hand as you were riding down and touch the side of the hill.  It goes without saying that the hill was dropping away equally fast on your right side.  Keep the wheel pointed straight, and don't look down!  We also came upon a couple hairpin turns to navigate some small gullies along the mountain.  Below is the hairiest one.
This was a very technical U-turn to the right with a pretty deep crevice in the middle.  Make a mistake and you're going down several hundred feet.
Another view of the crevice.  This doesn't do it justice though.
About this point, Steph went ahead of me and Diana, as she is more skilled on the downhills than either of us were.  We didn't see her again until we were back at the car.  As with most downhills I come across, I was savoring it rather than blasting down it. 

This is probably the best shot I have of the trail while it was hugging the mountain.

View of the valley.
Eventually we passed through the following stand of aspen trees and came out at a small parking area.  After taking a short break, we continued on, but now we had some climbing to do again.  Unfortunately, this was more technical as well, so there was a fair amount of hike-a-bike going on.  Not long after we entered this area, some of the riders who had ridden the climb started to catch up with us as well.


More scenery.

A descent on the trail.

Still more scenery.  I think the brownish yellow is skunkweed that was prematurely dying from the drought.

Interesting descent to a creek crossing.
Here, I rode up on some of the guys who had passed me that were taking a break at this rocky area.  After seeing some locals come through and try climbing these rocks, Bryan was studying them and gave it a shot, clearing it on his second try.  Knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to, I wanted to try again as well, but neither of my two extra attempts were successful.  I think I might have actually made it the farthest the very first time I came up it.

At this point, we were almost back to the cars when I came on this rocky area that didn't look real tough, but I was going pretty slow through it when my front wheel got stuck on a rock and I went over the handlebars.  Amazingly, I didn't draw any blood, but I did pick up a lot of dirt and I had the wind knocked out of me.  After cooling off for a couple minutes, I continued back to where the cars were parked and the rest of the group was waiting.
This is the lame group of rocks that tripped me up.
After resting with the group for a few minutes, I decided to ride back to town since I'd gotten a ride to the top of the mountain.  I knew there were a couple hills going back to town, but it actually turned out to be a pretty easy ride, and then once we were in town, it was nice flying back to the condo at nearly the speed limit on the road. 

All in all, the upper part of 401 was pretty awesome, but the lower parts were a lot like some of the technical sections of Greensfelder.  At Missouri elevations, it wouldn't be bad, but at 9-10,000 feet, the lower section was tough!  I think I liked Doctor Park better, but maybe that's just because that trail just got better and better the further you went down the trail.  The best part of 401 was at the top (well, after the initial climb).

Saturday, September 8, 2012

GORC Crested Butte Trip - Day 3: Doctor Park

Our second full day in Crested Butte is when we started hitting some of the trails this area is known for.  Today we packed our bikes up and drove several miles south of town to the base of the Doctor Park Trail.  Our plan of attack would be to park at the base of the trail, then ride up to the top before we would get to bomb down the singletrack back to our cars.

Unpacking our gear.
 After following the road paralleling the Taylor River downstream for a mile, we then headed up Spring Creek Road, which we would follow for about 8 miles, climbing about 1200 feet.  This part of the climb, while grueling for a flatlander, really wasn't that tough, and it was nice paralleling the creek on the way up the valley.
Views of the creek along the road.

About 5 or 6 miles in though, there was one little sudden climb, where due to the altitude and all of the climbing I had been doing, I just had to get off and walk for a couple minutes.

A few rapids.
This is the climb that broke me (for a few minutes).  From this picture, it doesn't look that bad.
The climb did a pretty good job of spreading us all out, and up until this point, I had been riding about the same pace as Lisa, though there wasn't much conversation because both of us were gasping for air while we were grinding up the climb.  However, when we got here, she kept going and for the next few miles I would be riding solo.

Over the crest of the hill.  At least it looks that way from this picture.  Notice how I've been dropped.
At this point, the road was in a pretty narrow valley for a few miles, but then all of a sudden we came around a curve and the valley opened up some and became a little greener.
Quite a difference from the last picture!

Looking upstream.


Finally, I saw the rest of the group at the creek crossing we'd been warned about.  Some of the people had attempted to ride across this, but not really wanting to soak my shoes, and knowing I probably wouldn't be able to make it, I just pulled my shoes and socks off and walked across the creek.  The water was cold, but it felt good on my toes!  Wish I could say the same about the rocks at the bottom. 

Creek crossing!
After I crossed the creek (the picture above was taken after I'd crossed), I started to put my shoes & socks back on when I realized one of my socks was missing.  Uh-oh!  I was told that if it fell out in the creek, it'd probably be several hundred feet downstream by then, but I walked back across just to see if it had maybe caught on something.  Luckily , I found it on the opposite bank.  It must've fallen out as I was stuffing everything into my Camelbak before I crossed.  By the time I dried my feet off and got my shoes back on, people were heading on up the trail.  I let myself fall to the back of the pack here, and starting grinding up the rest of the climb with Doug, his wife Diana, and Rob.

Time to start the serious climbing.
At this point, the roads starting getting even steeper, as we had about 1600' left to climb, but only about 3 1/2 miles to do it in.  Except for one steep stretch though, it was pretty rideable.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy, but at least there wasn't a lot of hike-a-bike.  However, with all of this grinding, my left knee was getting a little tender by the time we reached the top.

Looking at the other riders uphill.  The picture doesn't do the steepness justice here.
Lots of mountain still left to climb.
The view keeps improving!
Closer to the top.
Starting to flatten out, but where's the singletrack?
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I reached the top.

Resting and regrouping for the downhill.
At this point, the stronger riders opted to add an extra 3 mile loop to the ride, but knowing I was not in the strong group, I headed straight for the downhill.  At first, I was wondering if I'd made the wrong decision, as there were some areas that were the sloppiest I've ridden in since Cedar Cross.  Fortunately, those only lasted for a mile or so, and then it dried out as we got into some sunnier & rockier areas.

Downhill, but not conducive to speed.

Looking out over the trees.

Probably the best picture I have showing the steepness of the slope.
 I think this is the spot where a lot of the riders from the fast group caught up with me.  Not being the type to let it all hang out on the downhills, I was running pretty conservatively and riding my breaks a lot on the downhills.  My mantra for the trip was, "I'm savoring the downhills!"  While most of these pictures don't show the most technical parts of the trail, this first section was as tough as anything at Greensfelder here.  I'll be honest and say that I could've lived without this part of the trail.  Fortunately, after another couple turns, we headed into a forest of aspen trees and were rewarded with some of the best singletrack I've ever ridden!

More sweetness!
Taking a break to absorb the sweetness!
Have I mentioned how awesome this part of the trail was?

This mile or so of the most awesome singletrack I've ever been on was good enough to make you forget how much your legs hurt on the steepest parts of the climb up.  The only bad part about sections like this is that if you aren't careful, you'll blow through them so fast they'll be over far too quickly.  Fortunately, at one point I lost control and ran off into the weeds, so I had to stop and rest for a minute, giving me the chance to savor the awesomeness of this section.

However, we did have one more technical section before the trail ended.  With about a mile or so left to the trail, we came through an area that looked like it had been burned in the not too distant past.  Following that, we had a rocky decent to the cars.  While there were definitely some tricky areas, most of it I could handle without too much of an issue.
Burn area.

Still looking a little sparse.
Back into the trees.
Rounding a switchback.
Long way down off of this switchback.