Friday, 30 November 2007

Darryl in Chile

I should have put this up over a month ago. If you're sitting at your desk, basking under the warm glow of the flourescent office lighting (hey, they're warm relative to the -18C outdoor temp this morning), and want to experience a little adventure vicariously... here's the solution:
1. Brew steaming cup of coffee.
2. Head on over to Darryl's Blog.
3. Ahhhh...

Seeing the photos, reading the stories, triggering my memories of our little "dip the toe in the touring by bike pond" last Christmas... geez, it's almost enough to bring a tear to my eye! Temuco is only a couple hundred kilometers north of where Tori and I based our trip from last year... Peurto Montt... and we crossed over into Argentina west from Osorno.

Considering I just posted about tungsten carbide studded winter tires, I feel like my heart just about got torn out of my chest seeing another option for "winter" cycling. I think Darryl is doing it right!

Winter Riding

Since the new Moots is my utilitarian travel/commuter/offroader/onroader/everything bike, I've been itching to ride it to work, but the snow on the streets has packed down to that glaze of slippery ice that's tricky to ride on without winter studs. I did put on a set of cross tires with studs, but at 38mm, they don't feel balanced with the bike. When I commute in the morning, I want brain to be on traffic issues, not maintaining traction, and 38mm is narrow enough to wiggle, slip and slide around while riding.

The market for 29er (700c) tires is a little slim, and a specialty item like a winter studded tire has an even narrower market still. I prefer a winter tire that doesn't just "get me there". I want something that helps "conquer the winter". I don't care about rolling resistance or weight, I just want traction. I checked out and found the following comments steering me to a set of Nokian Extremes:

• After 3 rides, I understand now why Nokians are the gold standard for studded tires. On hardpack snow or ice, they simply grip like nothing else.
• You will be able to ride fast with confidence. UP, DOWN, and all ROUND cranking turns, the tires grip ice in a stunning, staggering, jaw-dropping manner. Don't mess around with half way solutions, because one trip to the emergency room costs more that a pair of Nokians.
• These tires manhandle frozen ground, snow & ice. If you can stomach the price, go for it!

So there's a set in the mail right now on it's way. My prior experience with studded tires is a set of 2.3" Chinese manufactured knock offs that seemed to work ok, they have a lot of studs. We'll see how these turn out, I hope they live up to expectation. 294 tungsten carbide studs just sounds cool.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Hammer Ride

Why not do a hammer ride on Saturday, November 24? Right time of year for it... if you live in the southern hemisphere.

Anyway, there's no way I can write it up better than Dali, too funny.

I violated one of my cardinal rules - if I'm going to ride with Steenbergen, I need mechanical advantage, not disadvantage. I rode a 'cross bike, everyone else on roadies.

Having said that, it was a good ride. I had some energy to burn through after La Ruta, although my body wasn't as geared to high end efforts, I'm more in aerobic endurance mode. It's interesting being able to "sort of" keep up to Steenbergen, Bostad, Cyrus, and Dallas' suicide attacks he had to lay down before peeling off for the ride home.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Post La Ruta disorder

I've had yet another "hectic office week", sort of the norm in my realm. At least client and friend entertainment made it into the evenings.

Having said that, if I were to rank my preference of riding my mountain bike through the Costa Rican landscape versus desk jockeying in Calgary, my vote goes firmly to the first option!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

La Ruta retrospective

It was a great race this year. It's getting more organized as each year goes by, but it still has Costa Rican flavor and is full of surprises. The new stage 2 was great, I think it's a great substitute for the additional 3 hours of suffering we skipped by switching back to the day 1 paved climb (this gives a chance at a greater than 50% completion rate on day 1).

This is the hardest race I've been to, even picturing anything harder makes me cringe. I'm so proud of Tori that she made it through it all; 40 hours on a bike in 4 days isn't easy. In fact I think this race in many ways was beyond her capability, but that she expanded her capability to pull it off. It was motivational watching the finishers in her realm come across the line each day. This race is hard enough as it is for the very fit, but to watch people come in at 10 hours day after day looking just shattered, yet willing to do it day after day, was inspiring.

It's an individual race, but all that really means is that each person gets their own timing chip. To me it seems much more social than a partner race like TransRockies. You bond with those around you to make it through. Pack your gels for the day, then add 3 more in case your friend on the trail is bonking. Bring an extra chain quick link, or another tube. What goes around comes around.

To give an approximate quantification of the level of effort, the climbing in the first 3 days was as much as 7 days of TransRockies. I'm not sure I've ever climbed as much on a bike in such a short time. The sheer vertical in the grades ridden to achieve it were mind boggling, especially the new day 2. Steeper than Home Road, yet many, many times longer. It just never wanted to stop. Trish also quoted that her ride time was longer than her 7 days at TransRockies too despite only having 4 days of racing here.

This is more than a bike race, so you need to be more than a bike racer - you need more endurance than you can possibly train for, good descending skills, strong hike a bike legs, trailside mechanical skills, patience for things that run on tico time, a positive attitude for each challenge that presents itself when you least expect it, and a really strong will to keep moving and not quit no matter what happens. You can never think that "you've got this in the bag" or "the finish is just around the corner", as that's when the next obstacle presents itself. It's almost comically niave that people stand at 5am near the Pacific clad in lycra with a dozen gels in their pocket feeling adequately for the task at hand.

It's refreshingly unhindered by North American customs. Why not blast off 10 minutes of fireworks 15m away from 500 people standing in a start queue at 5am, despite the fact the rest of the town and tourists are sleeping? Cancel a mountain bike race due to rain and a muddy course... seriously... if 500 people can cross 360km of rainy country and ford it's swollen rivers, why would you ever cancel a race for our level of rain? Why not run a race on live train tracks requiring racers to cross trestle bridges with no railings and missing ties? It appears dangerous, but our rules are also formed in the context of a society dealing with problems like smog and pollution, obesity and smoking. I'd take a "danger" like finding traction on a wet log above a river - one I have a degree of control over - any day.

We had a great time this year as a group, it was a fun way to do the event. I'm so happy that all of the deadgoat's had a great time down here and did well too. "Deadgoat" has become synonomous with achievement in my mind. Meeting Cory Wallace finally was interesting - he's such a nice guy, and did this race in total seat of the pants Costa Rican fashion. One water bottle and a little Cristal 350ml bottle in his back pocket, no extra jersey for the Volcano, and the famous quote "there's checkstops for food out there, right?". I have to overcompensate on the preparation side, some people just have the raw horsepower to get through these events.

I'll have to think about whether or not I come back next year. I feel I can improve in results, which is a small contributor. Racing others here is basically irrelevant, it's more about coaxing what's inside you to the surface, and seeing how you feel under duress.

Really though I love the cleansing and rebirth of it all. I can't even picture anything harder that I'd really want to attempt. I do pursue suffering as a hobby, but you need to draw the line somewhere, and this race is as hard as any sane person needs. Everyone hits rock bottom out there somewhere, whether you're near hypothermic in the rain, near heat stroke in the jungle, or so tired you can hardly turn another pedalstroke and you've got to climb another 400m of vertical at 20% grade, or your high tech bike has balked at the challenge and you've got miles to push it.

Ask Trish, Jack or Tori, who are now officially La Rutans, if they remember any easy parts out there ; )

I love it because it's so un-Norte Americano. Bike computers hardly work, and high tech stuff is reduced to junk within days and needs replacement. This is no tri-geek race that can be approached with Watts and the science of effort, where the challenge can be quantified ahead of time. You don't know if you'll ride for 3 hours in the baking heat between checkpoints, or if it will be tropical rainshowers where you need to carry a mudded up 40lb bike for 3 hours - but you'd better be ready for either.

There's something purifying about being so close to the earth. At home we seperate ourselves from it with walls, roofs, heating and air conditioning. Here you get only a roof at night and the rest just becomes irrelevant or not applicable. The rain washes your face and runs in your mouth, your body is covered in mud, you wade through running rivers and standing puddles, and you take it at whatever temperature mother nature throws at you. At the end of it all you realize that's exactly what each of our bodies was made for, and the rest that surrounds us might just make life a little to easy.

I've been in waist deep mud and water on and off for four days, and sweated gallons, and been cleansed by the driving rain. I can hardly think of anything more fulfilling for my mind and body. It helps me get a little closer to the Costa Rican motto "pura vida" or "pure life".

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Day 4 - To Limon

We all woke up feeling tired and worn out, Tori had a long couple of days. I retired early feeling sick, and left the light on to the bathroom all night to make a quick dash, but ended up never needing it. Breakfast didn't go down easy around the table except for Jack.
We got to a rainy start. Jon's generosity gave me a garbage bag for a vest which really helped in the morning. It took quite a while to find my bike as there were 3 bike spots. Start was delayed for 30mins to accommodate late busses.
I felt good on the climb off the start and rode a bunch of it about 15m behind Jon. Once we got to the rolling section, I felt pretty good and was able to pace off a guy from Oregon, but he was trying to do an XC pace which didn't make much sense.
The last climb was overcast which was fantastic. I chugged a boost at the top and gave'r on the downhill. Oregon was bonked there.

Jack lied down for a while at the top of the climb with a serious bonk and bummed food to finish the day.
There were more railroad track sections this year than last as much of the paths next to the tracks was deep puddles so we could only ride smaller sections. It was overcast with on and off sprinkles which was awesome relative to last year's baking heat.
Finished up at 5:45 and a few seconds which is funny - I think it's about 20 seconds faster than last year's time in 17th place which I think moved me up 9 spots in the open men.
Jon finished 15th on the day at 5:40 and was 18th overall in open men.
I don't know Jack's time, but his nap helped him move up one spot.
Jerry made it in fine, and Tori pulled off another 10 hour day for the grand finale.

Day 3 - Volcano Irazu - update

Tori has finished stage in rain and dark and is waiting for a bus to the hotel trying not to get hypothermia. Quote was "that was not easy". No other news yet.
I'm lying down in our hotel room while the rest of the crowd is dining - I suspect I'm in the early stages of a stomach bug but can't tell for sure yet.

Day 3 - Volcano Irazu

Felt good at the start today, maybe it was the little boost of being in the starting block with all the riders who are called up. Climbed right up to the pavement behind Jon (a hard start for him, a good start for me). That pace took it's toll though once we hit the pavement so I took the rest of my climb at my own speed. I suffered on the descent, I don't think the Rock Shox SID was designed for 90 minute descents, it seemed to amplify every rock rather than dampen the bumps. My record of not being passed by anyone on the downhill is gone...
I think I managed to come in under 5 hours, I sorta forget the finish time... saw Jon after, he finished behind me by about 5 minutes, one crash, one flat, and one wrong way turn all took their toll on his time.
Tom Ebbern smashed his head/helmet on a rock, it's in a few pieces and looks like it was sledgehammered (he's a-ok and smiling).
Trish had a hard time on the descent, ended up in 5th today, but is still 4th overall with a time of 6:02 on the day.
Jerry had a little blood on the knee, but was smiling and it didn't seem to serious. Said back was tight on the climb. Time of "7 something, honestly I can't remember cause I"m getting pretty tired."
Happy-Jack didn't seem to have any problems today, other than a wrong turn. 6:20 for time, bike working fine.
The Jon part 2 comment is that his hand slipped off the bar at (insert high speed here, I'm uncertain) and took a big wipeout into a retaining wall and ended up on his back in a 5 ft deep drainage ditch that was only wide enough for his body, with water running over him staring up at the sky. The daily safety prayer worked, and I believe all Deadgoat La Rutans are included in that one.


Thursday, 15 November 2007

Day 2 - New stage is very La Ruta

The new day 2 had the right ingredients for a La Ruta stage - notably monster climbs up coffee plantation mountains and a one hour taste test of horrendous mud.

How steep do they make roads here? Quote from Jon - I was zig zagging just so I could spin my granny gear.

How was the mud? There's about an hour of it at the end of the day. Clung to bike, got it up to 50lbs in no time, slippery to walk on, filled your shoes and sucked them in if they weren't buckled tight.
Trish was 4th again at about 6 hours I think, (side note that Erik witnessed high speed crash of the 3rd place girl, yikes). Jon "survived" at 4:50 but felt empty at start, and had one fall that left some leg scrapes, not too bad though. I haven't seen Jack or Gerry yet.

I was able to put power to the pedals for 5:20 minutes uninterrupted, which felt a lot better than yesterday. Rode 4.5 hours with Susan Haywood, it was nice to remove my brain from the pacing decision, that probably helped me a lot in terms of time. Right before checkstop 3 I shoulder checked and saw Lou Kobin approaching and I had the feeling that she meant business. I popped a gel and hoped I could hold on to watch the leaders compete, but I actually needed to stop at the checkpoint and they skipped it, so I never saw them again. Sue ended up with the stage again.

So having a good day had me finish 60th rather than 73... I thought staying on course and not fighting a bonk might work out better. With climbs this long and steep, I just need a better power to weight ratio. I'm up about 5lbs of fat since TR, that's not helping. Other than that I just need a 3lb bike!

Day 1 side note

For those who know Samantha Nicholson, sounds like she broke her collarbone about 90 minutes into day 1. I recall passing her, there was help on quads already there and riders were being waved by, but at the time I didn't realize it was her.

Brief Day 1

Jon placed high, about 20th (6:18 time). Trish was 4th overall in the womens (8:24 time). Jack, Jerry and Tori were all smiling at the finish - I think Jack about 9:20ish/Jerry 9:50ish range, Tori was 11:40. The finish line quote from Tori was that it was really hard.
Course was fast relative to prior years, suffer factor was lower in some ways.
I took 7:24, could have been about 15 min faster had a singlespeeder dude not convinced me to "go exploring" with him. Once I saw the turn we were on had no bike tire marks on the dirt, I argued we should turn back. Did get close to a bonk for a while, but not even a twinge of a cramp all day.
Nice weather, good food and organization, bike worked great. Fun times!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Pre-race morning

We woke for breakfast at 2:50am and ate in the tropical warmth of the darkened courtyard. To me it felt like the last meal, there's people joking around... I wonder if they're people who've been here before, or if they have no idea what lies ahead. Today should be "easier" than last year as the killer 800m climb has been rerouted. Overall it's 14,501 feet of climbing today over 95km.

Tuesday pre-ride

We pre-rode again and were amazed at how dry it was, just a 60 minute spin the time. I've fully checked in, got the bike getting a tune up, etc. Ready to ride.
Bumped into Tom Ebbern finallly who had a weather report from San Jose - 5 hours of thundershowers yesterday, puddles all over. And worse than that, local TV news showed pictures from the Carribean side with people wading in the streets with water up to their waists and taxi drivers won't go to that coast right now. I'm reminded of Jaco Pastorious and the Weather Report. Heavy Weather is a great album.
We'll see, glad I brought a front fender, I'm sure that'll make it no problem at all ; )

Monday pre-ride

I caught up on as much sleep as I could, then we ate the breakfast buffet of the hotel which I was quite impressed with. With 4 coffees and chat, we managed to stretch breakfast out from 8:30 to about 11.
We saddled up and the six of us went to scope out the start of the course (Jack, Jerry, Jon, Trish, Tori and I). Jon and I rode up the first climb, and for a while the sun was right on my back - sweat was constantly dripping from my elbows. It's like riding in a steam room, there is NO air movement at times. The first climb was dry compared to what everyone has been saying, and STEEP. Man I forgot how steep it is. Pictures wouldn't show it so well like at ski hills, but it's ridiculous just looking up at the roads. If Nutbrown is in granny (real granny front and back) you know it's steep.
The tires have nice grip and feel good, although they're a little less volume to reduce chatter on the way down. I feel like I'm descending a bit poor again, but we'll see. It feels great riding at sea level, fatigue doesn't set in as fast. Bike is climbing well, and mechanically it seems good. I've got two things to tweak before tomorrow but all is under control. All in it was 2.5 hour ride I think.
Lunch was good again at the hotel, had a good glass of wine, then swam in the ocean and the pool for a few hours. We washed our bike clothes, and hung them to dry on the railing. 2 hours in the direct sun didn't dry them if you want an idea of the humidity. I had a few cramps in the pool, so I'll make sure I take in some electrolytes, but the relaxation is going well overall. The pool has a warning sign that forbids intimate acts which is one of the funnier pool signs I've seen.
We had an excellent dinner that was huge, at a nice restaurant that happened to be neighbours with a gentlemen's club. Interesting scenery for the night.
Worked a bit on my bike, and chatted with Cory Wallace who just showed up.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

San Jose to Jaco

We rented 2 vans, packed up the bikes, and started making our way to the coast. We stopped for a great lunch overlooking the valley, at a place with two little perros, and a David Hasslehof picture on the wall. In the van we munched on Doritos that we need at home - Fiery Habanero.
We stopped at the Tarcoles River to do some crocodillo hunting - Jon was the leader of the expedition and convinced us that walking right down to them was what we needed to do. I must admit that I was rather glad that by the time we got down there, they were in the river. We did find a small baby one, and some raw meat of some sort that they were gnawing on. Jon did an impressive attempt to lure them over by feigning that he was an injured animal (loco gringo?) but to no avail.
We got situated in the hotel, swam in the Pacifico, had a great dinner, and had a few beers. Jack Funk checked out the fish in the kitchen before we sat down, then had the proprietor riding his bike down the street to buy us beer and bring it back in his handlebar basket. We found a bar on the more local end of the spectrum that played good music, had the local concrete workers drinking beer and solving the world's problems, and a few ladies of the night available. The urinal was a rather crude trough.

San Jose

So we're starting to meet fellow La Rutans, I'm sure the bike shirts and shaved legs give it away pretty quick. Andy from Golden Colorado, is returning from 2005. He's got a friend down here who has confirmed what I thought from reading internet weather - it's gonna be wet. Supposedly it has rained every one of the last 60 days and is wetter than 2005. Andy's buddy rides with a Rohloff hub in Colorado and thinks that might have been a better choice for me!


I don't know why people 'dis cycling attire as being tight/inappropriate/funny looking when every Mexican chic in LA wears pants tighter than my cycling shorts, without having an appropriate exercise regimen to underpin the trend.
After another hour in lineup land, I slept for a while on the floor while some couple argued incessantly next to us. I woke up, boarded the plane, and slept through till breakfast.
There was a Dali Lama lookalike on the flight (is it ok to call any monk a lookalike just cause they have the same outfit?). He was in first class which seemed odd, but the good thing about being a monk without possessions is that your little carry on satchel and no other luggage sure makes airports seem easier.
I had a little Costa Rican grandma next to me on the flight, she couldn't figure out the seatbelt so I helped her out with that. Only downside was that the rigors of flying seemed like more than her years could handle (either that or it was the crappy breakfast) and she got sick. I think she was only 4'11" tall to start with, when she was slumping over in her seat to rest more it seemed like she was hardly there.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Today's Motto

If two wrong's don't make a right, three wrong's probably won't either. What a day.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


This has a whole new meaning to me now, and for that I'm forever grateful that Brian Johnson and Angus Young have walked this earth.

How can anyone not like AC/DC? Back in Black rules.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Acclimate or die!

I've had problems with the heat at La Ruta in the past... or maybe that's just my scapegoat for being inadequately prepared? Regardless, I'm going to try to "warm up" to the task a little earlier this year.

I did a trainer ride at my parent's house today, and felt relatively strong. I went to bed last night feeling muscle soreness all over, but my body seemed to fix itself up fairly well over night. The big problem with sustaining a respectable power output on the trainer was that I decided to turn up the heat to 24C, then proceeded to ride for 2.5 hours with a jersey and turtle neck on. I also did 30 minutes on a stair stepper, carrying a 25lb backpack 1/6th of the time, 10lbs of weight 1/6 of the time, and just sucking wind for the remaining 2/3.

It was a great workout; I went through 6 water bottles in 3 hours.

My house is now set to 22C for the remainder of the week, and I'll arrive in Costa Rica 3 days before the race. Hopefully the heat won't be such a shock to the system this year!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Endurance Ride

2 "La Rutans" - Jon Nutbrown and I, plus 3 others who just wanted to punish themselves (Craig Stappler, Shawn Bunnin and Brian Bain), met up at 9am at Cadence Cafe for a ride along the railroad tracks out to Cochrane, with the plan of branching out from there.

Shawn, who openly advertises his aversion to long bike rides, turned back about a 1/3 of the way to Cochrane (I emailed him for amusement upon my return home to see what he thought of a longer ride...).

The rest of us made it out to Cochrane and had a session of solving the world's problems at Cochrane Coffee Traders before heading out to my new favourite field rides. Brian left from Cochrane because, strangely, he had "things to do" other than bike riding??

As we went west, the day seemed to stay warm and sunny. It seemed like everyone agreed that the field route was neat, and I was happy to "conquer" the downhill that got the better of me last week. In fact, the downhill was a total non-event. Modern mountain bike technology is not to be under appreciated.

After passing through Cochrane for supplies, we rode up Retreat Road and back on Township 262. We debated riding more "new" route, but we were getting cold and low on fuel, so took the direct route home, which was definitely the right decision.

After stopping at Craig's, then my mom and dad's place, we ripped down through the Northwest on the route I'd perfected during the better part of a decade riding to various stages of school... and pulled into the driveway at 6:00pm. Not bad for a 9am start!

Big rides call for big dinners - Italian pasta joint was calling us!

Friday, 2 November 2007

La Ruta pep talk

I have to admit that recently I haven't been feeling quite as pumped about La Ruta as I had been in prior years. I've been bike commuting, and riding huge on the weekends, but never did it appeal to me for the last few weeks to do any sort of mid week training rides, intervals, what have you. I don't know really why it's been that way, I just accepted it as it was.

Tonight Marg Fedyna did a talk at Bow Cycle about her experience at the race last year. Seeing the slideshow, hearing her recount the stories, talking to all the other "La Rutans" there, and the La Rutans in the making, I got totally pumped on the whole idea again. The DVD of La Ruta 2006 had a clip of me in a 3/4 bonked, supremely overheated, trudgingly slow and in a thoroghly burdened state pushing my bike up some monster hill. I think I could feel the heat of the equatorial sun on my back right there on a dark Friday night in Bow Cycle...

Call me crazy, but all that's been in my mind since is - Oh glory I can't wait for the suffer fest to begin!

Thanks Marg!