My brother Timothy mail ordered and assembled this 2015 Raleigh Willard exactly 7 years ago today. It sounds like a cliche that it all changed afterwards, but that’s exactly what happened. The initial cost was $650. Was more than capable of handling anything I could throw at it.
Category / Exercise and Fitness
How to carry the bike over muddy sections
Robb Finegan provided this tip after placing 5th in the masters division at ’21 The Long Voyage. Riders carried 3 miles after rains washed out the B-Roads on the course. An old mountain biker trick: A duffel bag strap attached to a couple zip ties can be easily stowed, makes carrying a whole lot easier.
Attach to zip ties at base of seat post
and handle bars
The Long Voyage Pt. II
Sometimes that trip we take ends unexpectedly. Last year’s post sets the stage.
I’ll never know for sure, if it weren’t for that bent derailleur, might’ve just finished in ’21. Other than the early rain and later muddy B-roads, weather wasn’t a factor. I flubbed the execution.
Impulsively flipped the bird driving by that same Loves truck stop yesterday on my return from Lincoln. It’s just off Nebraska Highway 2, near Syracuse. A visceral reaction. Nothing against them. It’s what happened there. The emotions are still raw, one year later.
Which may help explain why I signed up again. Made a plan and caught a couple bugs, including corona in February. Both relatively mild. Slowed me down some. Before we get into what happened next, let’s go back still further…
In February ’06 a GI bleed continued for several days and required hospitalization. About when the doctor started discussing transfusions, it stopped. Afterwards, the diagnosis was diverticulitis. Not a particularly severe condition, managed with diet.
It could have been worse. A wake-up call. I made the necessary changes along with an increasing amount of exercise, particularly aerobic. Over the intervening period were tweaks to lifestyle. Taking the foot off the gas pedal. Achieving a work-life balance.
Back to last February, bleeding again. Fortunately, not as severe. No hospitals. It didn’t stop.
We’re not going into the details and you’re welcome. What I’ll share, the diagnosis is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). There’s no cure. It’s managed with medication. The goal’s remission. No consensus on the cause or how to get (and stay) in remission. There are strong indications that it’s autoimmune. Meaning nobody knows for sure. We’re left with guesses and playing the odds.
Despite this lack of conclusive scientific evidence pointing to any particular cause, drastic changes were made to diet. Most of the stuff I loved to eat and drink were off limits. Moving toward plants, less meat. No problem. This part’s overdue. It can be turned positive.
What’s up for grabs is riding and was advised to stop. The doctor can’t make me, but It’d be unwise to do otherwise. It’s also tricky. It might be alright to ride like a normal person, say twenty-five miles a day. That’s not how I roll.
One of the meds tamped the symptoms. Would be great if it weren’t prednisone, which isn’t a viable long-term option. Gradually, the dosage was reduced and stopped in early July. No relapse. In remission? Was given the green light to return to normal activities.
Not in time for Unbound, the first Saturday after Memorial day. Had to defer that entry and volunteered instead. A gratifying experience and made up for the disappointment. It’s now summertime, no more riding restrictions and enough time for a credible shot at Long Voyage on August 19th.
Then the mishaps. Hit the deck twice the first couple weeks of July, about ten days apart. Cracked number six, bruises and scrapes. Thought maybe a broken tooth and another rib. Nothing serious. Healed up and resumed training. Lost another month and it’s only three weeks until the event. Should be tapering, not ramping up.
I was determined to give it a go anyway. Be a good test. What’s the worst that can happen? Probably a lot. Call it defiance or stupidity. Was talked out of it by both wife and coach. Neither thought it a good idea. I relented. On the last day to make changes at Gravel Worlds, I dropped to the 150 mile course.
Arrived at Lincoln early last Thursday. Did the shakeouts. Hung out at the venue during the day and rested at night. On Saturday the weather was gorgeous and so was the course. I completed the sandy roller coaster in thirteen hours and some change. Held steady until the end and it was pretty awesome. Made some friends and caught up with old ones. Inspired by hearing all of their stories of redemption and courage.
This story isn’t exactly that. It was a great ride and included a nice finish. Good enough for now. Redemption can wait.
Confessions of a Middle-Aged Coder Turned Gravel Grinder
Slides from my ApacheCon talk yesterday:
Some words about Gerrit Gorter… writer, professional, musician, husband, father and friend.
I just learned his treatment (for a disease I shall not grace by naming) has been discontinued. He has listened to my stories, encouraged the continued pursuit (of silly things like riding gravel), and to never lose the childlike curiosity to try new things. This talk was for him.
The Dirty Kanza Effect
It happens every year. The Dirty Kanza entices me with the idea that it can be mastered. This year will be the year I have that perfect ride. If only my plan is executed flawlessly, if my training holds up, if I can continue to hydrate and eat like I practiced. This will be the year I get to return to Emporia in time to enjoy that beer at the finish with my friends and family.
That’s how it felt last year, and the others. This year once again, flush with confidence and those first twenty-five miles were a thing of beauty. A gorgeous sunrise, cool temps, tame roads and we were all smiles. It’s an illusion. Every endurance gravel event presents unique, i.e. never before seen, challenges and the DK is no exception. In ’16 DK was the heat, and the south winds that made it a brutal sufferfest. DK ’17 brought rains during 3rd leg that wreaked havoc. DK ’18 had those punishing north winds.
DK ’19 will be remembered as the year of the heat. To a lesser extent the course itself presented challenges. For example, the gravel was chunkier, more hills over long sections. But, for me it was the heat that brought difficulty. To understand what happens think about when the radiator in your car gets overwhelmed. Maybe it gets low on water, the fan stops working, or even the thermostat fails. That’s what happens to me. I can’t keep my engine cool.
This is when I start consuming more water, which leads to an electrolyte imbalance. I try to keep up of course, consuming various concoctions but it’s always too little, too late.
Actually cramps around mile 80 seem to be a thing with me and the Kanza. Happens Every Damn Time. I now believe that I must have a defective left quad. Always starts during one of the longer climbs. Usually late in the morning. Maybe halfway up when the red lights start to blink and the cramping begins. This year, I had the antidote. In our DK swag-bags were packets with cramp pills and lotion. I had these tucked away in my handy chase camelbak and immediately placed a couple tablets beneath my tongue. As they dissolved I tore open the package and slathered the cramp lotion onto my left thigh and it actually — worked. Or, I thought it worked. At least for a while, say 10 miles before the whole process replays itself once again.
A hot engine means a slow, inefficient one and so one has to maintain at a lower capacity, say 75% or even 66%. That 14mph trot has become a 10mph crawl. If there’s water to be found anywhere along the way by all means STOP. Keeping the water tanks topped off is one of the things that helps. But, if there isn’t water, don’t stop. Don’t stop at the side of the road to sit beneath those lovely shade trees (with all of the others) unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Above all, don’t worry about it. For example, don’t think like this:
If that hill up ahead continues for what looks like another mile with portions having a grade of more than 15% and we’re into the wind meaning most likely I’m going to have to get off and walk. Especially because the very coarse-grained rock and ruts make it tricky finding a proper line with all of the riders dismounting and walking…
It’s still twenty miles to the next rest stop. My stomach isn’t working very well and my energy levels will continue to dissipate making it likely that I’ll need to slow down even more…
Instead, focus on very small details of the ride. A kind of mediation. Focus on breathing. In, out, in out. Focus on form. Smooth strokes. On things that can be controlled, like cadence. Focus on other tactics like the line you take. Little else is more important than that. Take a bad line, it’s over. In other words, think about what’s happening NOW. Let everything else fall to the wayside.
What works for me. I avoid like the plague the clusters of casualties who gather at the roadside, unless help is needed. Stop and help the rider from Minnesota find her cell phone. Stop and talk to those in obvious distress, who’ve wrecked, unresolved mechanicals, etc. Provide water/food to those in need. That kind of thing. The positivity of the present. It’s the culture of gravel. It’s why we’re out there. The negativity, replaying all of the bad stuff that’s already happened, or yet to, must be pushed out of the mind.
It’s OK to think about future positives. That tailwind on the last leg. That cloud that might dump cooling rains. The dropping sun means cooler temps. I ALWAYS get a second wind at sunset. A secret weapon. It can be counted on, when the barn is smelled.
My last leg to Emporia from Council Grove was the second most enjoyable part of the ride. After the smiles on the first leg they returned again for the last. The roads were tamer. Fewer hills. I was able to maintain a decent pace that last 50 and cross the finish line at 1:06am. Jim Cummins was there to congratulate us. I made sure to tell him that the new course was AWESOME. It was in fact perfect and I had the best ride ever, if not a perfect one.
There’s always next year. That’ll be when I finally master the DK.
DirtyKanza Training on Zwift?
Due to an injury on March 14th, discussed here, the last couple months of my Dirty Kanza training was done on a smart trainer, using the Zwift virtual training app.
The Dirty Kanza is an ultra-endurance cycling event held every year over the Flint Hills of Kansas.
The plan was pretty simple. Focus on time and power rather than distance or speed. The goal, twelve hours in the saddle, at whatever wattage could be mustered, 75% of the expected duration to complete the 206 mile course, in a single day. Every week go a bit longer on the long day. Work up to the peak, May 13th. Afterwards, taper down, sprinkle in some real rides on pavement and gravel and prepare for the event on June 2nd.
Here’s the training plan in Strava (hours):
How’d it go? Still in the Breakfast Club (back of the pack) but shaved a bit off last year’s time. It was another tough year, featuring stiff headwinds during the last half of the ride. Out of 1,016 starters, 746 finished.
The official time:
The ride on Strava:
Distal Biceps Disruption
Last week while helping my wife load a household appliance we were donating into her aunt’s pickup was the sickening sound of my right bicep detaching itself from the elbow distal tendon. The pain was bad, of course, but the realization of the extent of the injury was worse. Suddenly plans of completing a 3rd consecutive DirtyKanza were nixed. In addition to a surgical reattachment, performed yesterday, there’s several months of recovery and rehab before I can return to riding once again.
In situations like this one must focus on the positives.
- Injury to right arm and I’m left-handed.
- We have health insurance and can take the steps necessary for a full recovery.
- Support of a wonderful family, friends and employer.
- I can still code.
- Inside trainer to maintain conditioning on order.
There’s not much value in thinking about the negatives or what-ifs. Life has a way of throwing curve balls. Find a way of knocking the cover off it anyway.
As far as what’s next. I already mentioned the trainer which will be a way to maintain conditioning during the lull.
Once the splint comes off and the brace is opened enough to hold on I am going to try and get some rides in (despite doctor’s orders) and we’ll see what happens come June 2nd.
photo courtesy of http://www.swiftwick.com/sw/cycling/kanza-does-not-care-
2017 Dirty Kanza Finish Line
Note: This post is about my second Dirty Kanza 200 experience on June 3, 2017.
It’s broken into seven parts:
Part VII – Finish Line
I went looking for Derrick but couldn’t find him. A woman, found out later his wife…
“Are you John?” she asked.
I replied with my name and didn’t make the connection. I’d forgotten the color of his support team and he got my name wrong so that made us even.
He caught up ten miles later, by then chasing the fast chicks. I called out as they zoomed past, wished them well. This is how it works. Alliances change according to the conditions and needs from one moment to the next.
A lone rider stopped at the edge of downtown — Rick from Dewitt, Arkansas. He was ready for takeoff.
“You headed out, how bout we team up?” I asked matter-of-factly. The deal was struck and then there were two.
Eventually, maybe twenty miles later, we picked up Jeremy, which made three. It worked pretty well. Not much small talk, but lots of operational chatter. You’d thought we were out on military maneuvers.
- “Rocks on left.”
- “Mud — go right!”
- “Off course, turning around.”
- “Rough! Slowing!”
There were specializations. For example, Jeremy was the scout. His bike had fat tires and so he’d bomb the downhills, call back to us what he saw, letting us know of the dangers. Rick did most of the navigating. I kept watch on time, distance and set the pace.
By this time we were all suffering and made brief stops every ten miles or so. We’d agreed that it was OK, had plenty of time, and weren’t worried.
Caught up with Derrick six miles from home. Apparently he couldn’t keep up with the fast chicks either, but gave it the college try, and we had a merry reunion.
We rolled over the finish line somewhat past 2:00 am.
Here’s the official video feed:
And the unofficial one:
My support team was there along with a smattering of hearty locals to cheer us and offer congratulations.
Jeremy, Rick and I had a brief moment where we congratulated each other before LeLan handed over our Breakfast Club finishers patches and I overheard Rick in his southern drawl…
“I don’t care if it does say breakfast club on there.”
Next were the hugs and pictures with my pit crew and I was nearly overcome with emotion. Felt pretty good about the finish and I don’t care if it says breakfast club on there either.
In addition to my pit crew…
My wife Cindy deserves most of the credit. She bought the bike four years ago that got me all fired up again about cycling. Lots of times when I’m out there riding I should be home working. Throughout this she continues to support without complaint. Thanks baby, you’re the best, I love you.
Next, are the guys at the bike shop — Arkansas Cycle and Fitness, my support team back home in Little Rock. They tolerate abysmal mechanical abilities, patiently listen to requirements, and teach when need be (often). Time and again the necessary adjustments were made to correct the issues I was having with the bike. They’ve encouraged and cheered, offered suggestions on routes, tactics, training, nutrition, hydration and everything else related to the sport of endurance cycling.
Finally, my cycling buddies — the Crackheads. Truth be known they’re probably more trail runners than cyclists, but they’re incredible athletes, from whom I’ve learned much about training for these types of endurance events. In the summertime, when the skeeters and chiggers get too bad for Arkansas trail running, they come out and ride which makes me happy.
2017 Dirty Kanza Checkpoint Two
Note: This post is about my second Dirty Kanza 200 experience on June 3, 2017.
It’s broken into seven parts:
Part V – Checkpoint Two
I mentioned earlier that this route was the same as last year’s, and so after finishing then, knew what to expect. The second leg has about 55 miles and the tallest hills.
From mile 49 to 79 there’s 30 miles of mostly uphill. Many of these roads cross ranch land and are lightly maintained. This is the place where fun and pain cross paths.
The winds were tame, the sun hidden behind a thick cloud cover keeping the temps down but it was muggy.
It was this time last year when I hit the Wall. But adjustments were made and was confident that trouble could be avoided.
As the going slows, the tedium grows, the mind struggles to find something to latch onto, and begins to play tricks. Seemingly big things are downplayed. For example, my left leg began cramping at mile 85, but I largely ignored it. The terrain becomes treacherous, but I was unconcerned — just white noise.
Small things become a big deal. For example, an airplane buzzing overhead, became obsessed with. It seems stupid now that I pulled out my phone, aimed it up, and snapped pictures while navigating some of the most challenging terrain of the day.
Anything to take the mind off the pain. Don’t look at the odometer or the nameplate. On its backside was three sad riders, my friends, who couldn’t manage to get it right. I empathized with them.
And that happy rider, who got it right, wanted to rip his face off. How dare he be happy while we were suffering. Was he mocking us? Did I too make a mistake hanging that plate and doomed like the others?
Yeah, I know it doesn’t make any sense.
For the most part, was doing OK, just slowed, by the cramps. The changes to the rear cassette, and the hill training, performed as expected. Remained in the saddle on climbs and only walked one hill — the BE-YOTCH. Could have ridden it, but my cramping left quad begged me not.
I went into detail last year about running out of water during the middle of the second leg. This year included changes, adding a 2.5L Camelbak to a 1.8L bladder (framebag) and two bottles (cages) — 1.5L. That’s about 1.5 gallons for those keeping score back home.
In addition to more water I also used (more) electrolytes, although not enough due to the cramping I experienced. Had some electrolyte pills stashed in a pouch somewhere, but couldn’t find them. Leaves me wondering if I’d still cramped with those tablets…
Still ran out around mile 95, nine miles from the next checkpoint. Fortunately a husband and wife duo were parked at the end of their drive, with a pickup load of iced water bottles in its bed. I stopped and asked if they would be so kind as to share.
“Are you dry?”, the man asked in his Kansas twang, to which I replied that I most certainly was.
“Take all you want”, he told me.
I downed a pint as we exchanged pleasantries, grabbed another for the road and just like that I’m good.
I grew up not far from here, so already knew well that good people run plenty in these parts. But still get inspired by them. One of the reasons I keep coming back is to be with them as they celebrate their Flint Hills, during the late Spring festival known as the Dirty Kanza.
From here on out I have my pit crew to help. Kelly had just completed the DKlite, and was working his magic down in Eureka keeping the crew operating like a well-oiled machine. Kyle was in from Seattle and Janice (Mom) from Salina.
That way when I rolled into town, weary from the road…
All I had to do was hand over my bike, eat, hydrate, and relax a bit. I can’t tell you how much it helped me to have them there.
That time spent in checkpoint two renewed my spirit and provided resolve.
I had a rough go in that second leg (again) but was feeling better than last year. I could eat and had plenty of gas left to finish. The muscles in my neck were beginning to ache and I took a few aspirin, changed into dry socks, ate and drank a bit, and hit the road once again.
At 58 miles, the third leg is the longest. I was feeling fine but storm clouds were brewing and I began to wonder what it would be like to ride through one…
Next Post: Part VI – Checkpoint Three
2017 Dirty Kanza Checkpoint One
Note: This post is about my second Dirty Kanza 200 experience on June 3, 2017.
It’s broken into seven parts:
Part IV – Checkpoint One
Running nearly the same course as last year, I knew what to expect. The first leg is probably my favorite. It’s wet, wild and the scenery stunning. Sometimes it felt otherworldly.
Other times, just fun…
But this year I was determined to maintain a focus, preserve fuel by taking it easy on the climbs; staying down in the saddle.
In this I was successful. That 36T granny gear worked perfectly and I was feeling good rolling into Madison somewhere after 9am.
I signed up the Crew-for-Hire support this year, but only needed them at the first checkpoint. They were great btw, filled my tanks, handed me cookies, cokes and whatever I needed. Highly recommended. There was also the SRAM team, providing us help with the bikes. I handed mine over and it was returned, running smoothly — again. Much needed as the water crossings dried out my drivetrain.
One small mishap occurred when I let my bike fall over during the reload. It broke the gopro mount on helmet. Oh well, should probably be paying more attention to the road.
Another change, from now on it’s Kelly & Co. as my pit crew. He rallied the troops, after finishing his DK-lite route, drove down to Eureka, for our scheduled rendezvous at checkpoint two.
Here’s what it looked like rolling into Madison.
And on into the checkpoint.
Looking OK on time so far…
Next Post: Part V – Checkpoint Two