Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My First 100 -- Wilderness 101 Race Report

Lets do dis!
Wilderness 101 is part of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) 100 mile mountain bike race series, run out of the small town of Coburn, PA about 3.5 hours north of DC. Its a very well run race with excellent course markings and extremely helpful race volunteers.

Importantly, this was my first 100 mile race on a mountain bike! I've done a few 100K races before and several road races/rides/fondos longer than 100 miles, but this was by far the hardest day on the bike I've ever had. My training stress score (TSS) of 610 was more than a 100 points higher than some extremely mountainous road rides I've done such as the Mountains of Misery double metric or the Garrett County Diabolical Double (both 200K), or hard Ultra Cross races such as the Hilly Billy Roubaix. As an experienced rider told me after the race, it takes a while to get used to these but then they get addictive!

I think I'm pretty hooked to endurance mountain biking already. But admittedly this first race was quite a struggle. First, I was coming into the race after a week of work travel to Africa, which meant that my lead up to the race involved a ton of jet lag and literally no time on the bike. Additionally, I ate a bunch of crap while traveling and was shocked to see my weight higher than its been in 2 years the day before the race! But 100 miles is a long race and I was hoping I'd lose a few pounds by the end of it :-) 

Second, I made a few crucial rookie mistakes. I carried a large camelbak and put all my race essentials (spare tubes, pump, levers, etc) in the bag along with my hydration. I was cursing this decision around mile 60 as by then my lower back was ready to give out from all the jarring. I also carried a large bladder (3 liter capacity) and absent-mindedly asked the super nice volunteers to fill it up at each aid station. Turns out I didn't need that much water and lugging up the extra weight up each climb was highly unwelcome. 

Third, I followed the well-intentioned advice from an experienced racer to over-inflate my tires to help with the incessant fire-road climbs in this race. What I failed to anticipate was that each one of these climbs was followed by extremely steep, nasty, rocky, jackhammer descents on single track! By mile 85 I couldn't feel my hands anymore and my butt hurt like hell. Only then did I actually stop and let air out -- should have done that at mile 40! I only have one data point but I'm pretty sure comfort trumps any marginal gains in speed from over-inflated tires plus I could have taken some of the later descent much faster if my body wasn't hurting so much. 

Fourth, I miscalculated the course profile and was shocked to hit a final climb that I didn't anticipate. One of the smarter things I did prior to the race was to draw the available course map on some masking tape and put it on my handlebar:      
Course profile cheat sheet
This worked really well for the first 70 miles or so but turns out the race profile had changed a bit this year and for some inexplicable reason my cheat sheet displayed a previous year's version -- hence my plight! Next time I'll make sure to double check everything and note course changes mentioned in the pre-race email!

But enough with the negatives. I had fun most of the race, kept nutrition and hydration going, didn't cramp or bonk hard (small bonks don't count), rode everything (including every downhill, rock garden, and dark tunnel), didn't have any spectacular crashes, and came out of the race wanting to do this again! 

As for the race, it started off fast, partly because there generally is nervous energy at start lines and partly because the weather was pretty amazing (slight drizzle and low temps). 
A wet start (Photo Credit:
The first several miles were entirely paved or dirt/fireroads and I managed to get into a group of about 15 riders who worked well together to get a good paceline going up to the first aid station. Some of the stronger dudes kept saying that we're going too fast but it felt good and everyone kept pushing the pace up the early climbs and on the flats.    

Aid #1 came at mile 19 and everyone was still fresh. At this point I heeded my coach's advice and slowed the heck down to ride the next grassy climb at my own tempo. Turns out this was a wise decision as I came across several exploded riders later on in the race. 

We didn't hit the first single track till after mile 35 or so and it was pretty sweet. I've really started enjoying technical single track as of late and my Trek Superfly simply loves rocks. I flew through this section despite what the picture below suggests: 
This narrow bridge had steep drop-offs on both sides. Can you tell from my expression?! (Photo Credit:
I rode with the eventual women's winner for a bit here and complemented her on her yellow shoes. Turns out she was just motoring along whereas I had burnt a few too many matches early and didn't see her at all after Aid #2 at mile 40.

I kept the aid stop short and soon was on the biggest climb of the day. It took forever, was mighty steep in places, and I couldn't help but curse the extra pounds I'd put on and the 3 liters of water I was carrying on my back (never occurred to me to dump some out). Never again! I'm getting down to race weight starting today and am going to switch over to bottles for the next race (or buy a smaller camelbak).

As soon as I crested the hill, some nice race volunteers ushered us into some single track. I felt happy to see some technical sections, which soon gave way to utter fright as it wasn't just technical single track, but rather a technical single track descent on some seriously nasty steep terrain! So no rest for the wicked -- I was off the back of my saddle, butt nearly on my rear wheel holding on for dear life the whole way down. Remember how I was bitching about over-inflated tires earlier in this post... yeah, restated!

The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. Each descent was followed by another ascent on fireroads and then some single track descents. I did enjoy a section of technical rocks which was relatively flat and rode strong through it, probably my favorite part of the race.

After what felt like an eternity, I hit the final aid stop at mile 95 with only a few more miles to go. Didn't stop for more than 2 minute to fill up (just a bottle this time!), and after a brief hike-a-bike section managed to ride home at a decent clip.

The final dark tunnel wasn't as tough as others had suggested, I just committed to a line and rode it fast, thankfully without incident. My goal for the race was to finish under 10 hours but I only mustered 10:39. Was a bit disappointed but others say that its a pretty decent time for a first 100 miler, especially since this is one of the harder ones. I think with the lessons I learned here and a better lead up and hopefully lighter body (and hydration) weight I can start the process of shaving off time from this first attempt. For now, I'm happy I finished!   

Finish line! (Photo Credit:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kigali Kalling

Rwanda is such a fascinating country. There is much to be admired -- the road infrastructure is fantastic, cleanliness is a priority (e.g. plastic bags are banned), traffic rules are sensible and strictly enforced (e.g. bike helmets are mandatory), crime rate is very low, and economic growth is on the upswing. Its hard to believe that a mere 20 years ago this was the site of one of the world's worst human tragedies!

Work is what brought me to Kigali in July and I'm glad I came.  What I wasn't too happy about was my complete inability to kick jet lag for the week I was there. This meant operating in a zombie state for nearly all my meetings and conferences, though I managed to get through with a constant drip of coffee.

On the bright side, I managed to pursue my favorite travel activity -- running in the early morning hours to observe a city wake up in its natural cycle.

Dawn runs are the best
From a training perspective, the mile high elevation and steep terrain promised to challenge my running legs, but the random applause from locals and welcome company of school kids running alongside certainly made it a lot easier.  

The views were quite spectacular

Daily water collection

Bottles on a tree -- go figure!

Early sun in all its glory

I even managed to catch a flash mob of local dancers, mostly little kids, who put on quite a performance!

Some serious drum talent
And once all the conferencing was done, my work colleagues and I enjoyed some local hospitality and revelry offered up by our hosts. Of course, the coolest cat at the party decided to join our table and it was clear we were having a good time

Naturally, we had an internal bet to extricate his hat and turns out my colleagues have multiple talents -- needless to say I owe everyone at the table an expensive dinner!

Overall a fun fun trip and some good work output to boot. Hope to be back again soon!

No blog post is complete without a selfie

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hilly Billy Mud Bath -- 72 miles of it!

(Photo credit to Mike Briggs and Fred Jordan -- thanks for braving the weather to take our pictures, much appreciated!)

Hilly Billy Roubaix is a 72 mile ultra-cross race on graveled, dirt-filled, pot-holed, mud-bubbling, swampy "roads" with a shit ton of climbing that just keeps on coming! Last year I had to DNF after my crank broke before the first aid station so I had a score to settle.

Luckily we didn't have the 103 degree weather with 99% humidity like last year, but instead we had rain, rain, and then some more rain. Much of it fell on days prior to the race, but we had a drenching shower just before the start and some periods of rain throughout the race.

All this water had to go somewhere and combine water with gravel and dirt and it turns into mud -- who knew! So we had to race through this for many of the 72 miles:      
Its not so bad... till you realize the water is waist deep!
Mud treatment, anyone?

Car sized mud holes
 I was on my cross bike with canti brakes so knew this would be an adventure. Tyler Chapman, a teammate at Bike Rack Racing, was on his mountain bike with disc brakes and I was quite envious. But enough with the whining -- time to HTFU and race with what you got!

The race started off fast and I was with the front part of the peloton for a bit till we got strung out on the first gravely climb. I had a power meter on the cross bike and realized that I was deep in my anaerobic zone trying to keep up with the elite guys so eased off and got into a chasing group. Soon we hit the first of many mud sections and the guys on mountain bikes just tore up the course while I perfected my controlled slides. Soon I started following a couple guys in front who were taking different lines so I just picked the one that looked the best. 
I wish I had this guy's fat bike!

Keeping it together... barely
There was a brief respite on the road but soon we were back on dirt/gravel/mud and the climbing just kept on coming. My legs felt good and I was in good rhythm by this point but my bike started to make weird noises when I was in the 34-28 gear (my lowest available). Turns out my B-screw was just screwed up and the derailleur pulley was rubbing up against the 28 cog. Not that I could do much about it since I needed that gear on the climbs so I just hoped for the best.

The middle part of the race is a bit of blur but what I do remember is that the bit of rain on one of the road sections was quite welcome as it washed off some of the mud from my bike. My derailleur, however, was increasingly unhappy and finally my luck ran out after aid 3 just before a big hill. I downshifted to my lowest gear, got out of the saddle to hammer up but the quick link caught on the pulley and tore the chain in half. Luckily the rest of the parts were ok and after an agonizingly long quick link replacement (no dexterity left!) I was back on the bike and on the climb.

Turns out the stop didn't do me any good as my legs started cramping within seconds and I had to really nurse them up the hill. That was painful. 

Deep in the pain cave
  By this point my bike was in complete revolt as now the front shifting stopped working... so I just said f*** it and kept it in the small ring even on the descents. But I still needed my lowest gear to get over the final grassy mud pit followed by a super steep road section up to the finish.
Almost done
 I finished well under 6 hours (5:44, good for mid-pack finish) which isn't a super time but I'll take it and aim to break it next year. Tyler did really well, as did other teammates like Beth Durman who persevered and finished despite having a tough day. Likewise, Team Sticky Fingers reps Shauna Sweet and Erin Conner had great races even though Erin took a nasty spill and had to DNF (right decision, Erin!). Mark Cavey of CrossHairs finished with Shauna, both on single speeds!

This was such an epic race. Back next year for more!

Tyler and me at the finish. Muddy as heck but happy to be done

And finally, a parting moment of zen:

Smooch anyone? Yes, that's a pig on a leash!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

To the Maximus!

Ever since I got my new Trek Superfly late last year, my technical skills and confidence on the mountain bike have improved by leaps and bounds. This new confidence has led to insane amounts of fun on the dirt -- from riding slick rocks in Moab UT in November last year, to regular weekend trips to the rocks at Frederick Watershed and Gambrill, and fast flowy rides at Patapsco.

The Michaux Endurance Series is well know in the mountain biking community as being the toughest, most technically challenging race on the local circuit. Indeed, the single track on the race consists of miles and miles of rock gardens with no let up. The brief respite on double track and dirt roads consists mostly of lung-busting climbs and steep white-knuckle descents. So you get the picture -- this is one HARD race. Their slogan says it all: Don't limit your challenges, challenge your limits!

Yeah there are some rocks

Look Ma my back wheel isn't touching!
 At the start of this year I resolved to race the Michaux series and after consultation with some experts, I was directed to start with the 20 mile race and not the 40. Many accomplished riders have sworn off Michaux after attempting the 40 early in their dirt riding days. So the 20 it was for me on May 4th for the Michaux Maximus.  

Mountain bike racing is for the real enthusiasts. There is little fanfare, not much in terms of podium celebrations apart from a photo and bragging rights, and overall a pretty laid back atmosphere. What I really like about it is that everyone is super friendly, congenial, and even the expert racers are willing to help newbies out. After a riders' meeting where the race director gives a safety briefing and explains some other details like course markings, he or she simply points to a tree, calls it the start line, and yells go! This level of informality is quite refreshing, especially after experiencing the exact opposite in the world of triathlon.
Yes, that tree is the start line. Ready? GO!
 I was coming into this race with some pretty good form -- my fitness was good and legs were firing pretty well. Just the day before I had gone out with my new team, Bike Rack Racing, and ridden at the front in our weekend group ride and felt pretty good. So I took off with front group at the start and kept pace quite easily in the short sorting out section of dirt road. I hit the first single track 3rd wheel and felt great, kept pace with the two guys in front and got into a nice rhythm.

Yes, you're supposed to ride this... on your bike!

Mountain biking on rocks is so much about the head rather than legs. On this day, my head was screwed on right and I was in the game. We cleared the first few miles of single track and caught up to some of the earlier waves. I was still riding strong until we hit a really twisty single track descent. This was pretty gnarly for me and I lost some ground to the front two guys but stayed rubber side down. Soon, the trail opened up a bit and a bombing descent lay in front so I hung back off the saddle and dove right in.

About halfway through my left cleat unclipped (perhaps my foot accidentally twisted too much) and I lost control -- WHAM! my crotch went straight into the seatpost and I slid to a stop on some leaves (thankfully not rocks!). After wincing in pain for a good minute and being secretly grateful for already having produced a child, I got back on the bike and started pedaling again.

Umm, why did I sign up for this?

A few people passed me here while I recovered but got going again. A couple miles later on another descent my front wheel caught some root and I went flying over the handlebars. Surprisingly I didn't get hurt at all but was quite rattled by this second crash. Head went out the window and I soft pedaled for a bit and got passed by several other racers.

Soon, however, the descending was done and we got onto a long dirt climb up to the ridgeline. Once on the climb I got my head back and legs started moving again. Thankfully they had shown up for the day and I caught some people on this climb. We then entered the hardest 3 mile single track of the race. Here I felt determined and cleared it without a single crash and while riding throughout - quite an accomplishment given the trail is rated highly technical for hikers!

The exit from this single track signaled the end of the technically demanding sections of the race. This was also the location of a rest stop. Last year, rest stops had been my achilles heel in racing -- basically I treated them as a time to switch off, have a sit down, and leisurely consume calories. But this meant bleeding time and its a race damn it! So my racing resolution for this year was to keep stops to a minimum. On this particular one I didn't need anything so I didn't stop -- got a bonk buster out from my jersey and ate it while riding. Its the little things that save you time in a race.
The work wasn't done, however. There was still the final climb and some muddy single track before we got to it. The previous week's rains had rendered the trails very slippery so there was some sliding but I got to the climb mostly unscathed. I had lost track of where I was in my age group but I gunned it up the final climb and passed some people though not sure how many were my competition. Ended up 7th, but I know I could have been 3rd or higher if I had not crashed so much.

But its all a learning experience and I can't wait for the next race! Proud to represent Bike Rack Racing for the first time on a mountain bike and bringing back a respectable result. Hope to get more teammates riding and racing on the dirt soon. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Mountain Biking Primer -- for (and by) a newbie

My mountain biking skills have come a long way but I still consider myself a newbie in this sport. My first few months of biking in the dirt led to a broken collarbone and a subsequent trip to the ER for falling on my head (I had a helmet on). So basically, I started with low skills and even lower confidence.

But that has changed over the last year. The single most significant improvement has come in the form of a new, well-fitted bike. My first bike was bought off craigslist, generally in my size, but not really. Perhaps I was seated too far forward, too high, or the frame was just not right for me and this led to crashes.. lots of them. The new bike is awesome. I love the fit, the way it feels, and the confidence it inspires. So my first piece of advice for anyone interested in mountain biking is do not buy your first mountain bike off the internet! Test ride several models and spend the extra dollars to buy something that fits. Get fitted by a bike shop. Performance Bike is not a bike shop. It really really matters on the dirt.

But many people will tell you that. Now lets get into some seemingly trivial tips and tricks that really really help. First, unclipping. You really have to master unclipping. And this is not unclipping with sufficient warning or forethought as in road or triathlon, but immediate, sudden, and unexpected unclipping -- imagine riding through a rock garden and your front wheels jams into a rock... unclip and steady yourself; you're riding in some wet stuff and the bike starts to slide... unclip and avoid the fall; you're climbing at 0.002 mph up a 35% grade and you run out of gears or gas... unclip and hold on for dear life! Imagine any of the above scenarios with the inability to unclip -- the result is never going to be good. A fall on rocks, sliding on loose dirt, or falling backwards down the trail with a bike attached is an awful situation and one that I have experienced.

So, practice unclipping religiously. Note that unclipping from mountain bike pedals can be quite unnatural at first. I have eggbeater pedals and came to them from Look road pedals. For the first two months I could not unclip at a moments notice or at certain angles or crank positions. This led to a lot of falls. But I kept at it and now I can unclip at will. You can't imagine how liberating that has been. You can try riding stuff that you previously would have walked. You can try going over a large tree stump knowing that you can put a foot down on top if need be, whereas otherwise you'd be falling sideways several feet to the ground. You become a better, more confident rider. So practice this over and over, perhaps in your back yard or in a grassy field at really really slow speeds. Have your 5 year old shout unclip randomly, make it a game.

The next most important thing is to trust the bike. Granted trusting the bike is not easy. But the bike will clear rocks, roots, and stumps 95% of the time if you keep pedaling (for the other 5%, there is unclipping). In fact, it is arguably easier to send rock gardens with raw power and speed rather than slow nimbleness and precision. But this requires committing to and trusting what the bike can do. 29 inch wheels really roll over most anything, so trust that they will and go for it. Use movements in body weight to help the bike along (i.e. shift back, lift front wheel slightly to clear a stump or large rock, then shift weight a bit forward to let rear wheel through).    

What else? Oh yeah, look forward not down at your front wheel. This is so critical. My first several months were spent in a tunnel vision focused on my front wheel. I argued that I can see the rocks and roots better if I focus on them. Not true. Look several feet in front and trust your damn bike. It will clear those roots and your forward vision will help you see the best lines to take. If you have an experienced buddy, I've found it helpful to ride behind them and follow their lines. If your experienced buddy is attractive, focus on his/her butt.

What next? yeah, bike weight... but its not what you're thinking. The single heaviest thing on your bike is you. The angles at which we ascend and descend in mountain biking are much steeper than other bike sports. So where you sit on the bike and how you move your weight around really matters. So use body weight as a counter balance. What does this mean? well this means to unweight the front end for a split second while the front wheel clears a large barrier; this means sliding back on your saddle, even hanging your butt back off the saddle, inches from the rear wheel on very steep descents; this means leaning forward at the hips when climbing steep slopes to keep weight on the front wheel so it doesn't hop around. The consequences of not counter balancing can be devastating. Imagine endo-ing off your bike on a fast descent because you were too far forward. Not fun.

Tire pressure. Low pressure is good but too low and your tires will roll on tight turns and the bike will lose traction. The pressure recommendations on stans no tubes website, for instance, are too low. I followed their advice and crashed numerous times. I talked to my coach and he recommended adding 5 psi  and I've have no traction problems. Of course, don't go too high else your tire will bounce around. But keep in mind that there is such a thing as too low tire pressure. I weigh 150lbs and ride 24-26 psi. Previously I was at 19-20 psi and wasn't very happy.

Full suspension or hardtail. My first bike was a hardtail and my new bike is a full sus. I am biased. All else equal, I do not see why anyone would prefer a hardtail over a FS, especially since the newer FS models can be completely locked out to replicate a hardtail, or even a rigid bike. Yes, they are a bit heavier, but only just, and the advantages of rear suspension in technical terrain outweigh the costs. But others may disagree. Hardtails are cheaper though, so there's that. But know this -- a hardtail can go anywhere a FS can, so don't be held back if you prefer a hardtail. My gf and I even saw a fully rigid bike on slickrock -- go figure.

Happy riding (and less crashing)! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Alps Alps

More detailed report to come later, but here's a vid taken on the climb up the backside of Alpe d'Huez (Col de Sarenne) with Becky. We'd climbed the traditional route the day before and despite the hype and Tour de France tradition of the 21 switchbacks, this alternate route was significantly more scenic and challenging... 


Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 so far...

I haven't posted here in a while but a lot has happened this year. The collarbone is healing well and I'm glad the metal plate is out and the bone is almost back to full strength.

On training, I've been focusing exclusively on the bike and with a new cycling coach and my power numbers have improved substantially over last year. That's good because I'll be racing a lot this year, on the dirt, on the road, and on the grass (cyclocross). For various reasons, triathlon will be taking a backseat for now as I enjoy my time on the bike and the occasional running race.

Here are some travel, training, and racing highlights from the year thus far: 

Redefining Badass -- The Masai Warrior
A conference in Nairobi in late January offered the chance to visit the Masai Mara National Reserve for a couple of days. Given my strong aversion to following the tourist herd, I managed to find a remote safari camp nestled at the border of the Mara and thankfully away from everyone else. Needless to say the camp was awesome. Anyone thinking of a safari should seriously consider the Enkewa Mara Camp. Apart from personalized attention (they only have room for a dozen or so people at a time), the safaris are on legitimate 4x4 vehicles and not in minivans cramped with 15 other people as in other "resorts". We rarely spent any time on the regular dirt roads, rather paved our own path through the Reserve. While others strained through binoculars from afar, we managed to get within a few feet of lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, etc. Further, we had a former Masai Warrior as our wildlife spotter and he had an impressive knack for finding all the cool animals one would want to see. 
The lions couldn't care less that we were sitting 5 feet away from them!
For me personally, the most interesting aspect of the trip wasn't necessarily the wild animals, but rather the community of people who live with them. The Masai people have traditionally lived in villages on the outskirts of Mara and interact almost daily with wild animals from the Reserve. The Masai hold a special bond with their cattle; in fact, they believe that the entire world's cattle belong to them! A select few become Warriors in their prime years who are charged with protecting their villages and herds from wild animals and rival villages. These are legitimately badass dudes! As a rite of passage in the past, warriors were required to engage and kill an adult lion with their bare hands -- not sneaking up or spearing from afar, but face to face. Our spotter had killed 3 lions in his days as a Warrior. Thankfully this practice is now on the decline because it is cruel and unsustainable, but it gives you a sense of how tough and fearless these guys are. 

While badass sort of comes with a Warrior title, these guys are also incredibly friendly and welcoming. I was lucky to spend one morning climbing a big hill just behind our camp with two of them and we had a great time. I'm pretty fit so stayed with them as they set a torrid pace up the hill and in some little way I think they respected me more afterwards. We also visited one of the local villages and helped boost their economy by buying some of their handicrafts. I came away fairly intrigued by their way of life. I can't say I would go back for a safari as sitting in a car watching wild animals, as awesome as they may be, isn't exactly my idea of fun. But I did it once and its marked off the bucket list.    

This is my favorite picture... Notice the stuffed sheep key chain on this Warrior's backpack. Turns out this lion killer is a big softie!  
At the top

We got stuck a few times...

First Race of the Year: Bakers Dozen 13 Hour Mountain Bike Relay
Shifting gears completely, the cold winter days spent training indoors on the bike trainer culminated in the start of racing season. Becky and I were signed up as a co-ed team for the 13 hour Bakers Dozen race out in Leesburg, VA. The event is incredibly fun, very well run, and a blast to participate in. 

This was my second mountain bike race ever so I was a bit nervous about my technical skills. Thankfully the course isn't terribly technical and I had great fitness going in from months of focused training. And we did pretty well -- managed to snag 4th place which is pretty good given than the top two teams consisted of pro riders. I was a bit nervous about night laps but managed to borrow a gazillion lumen bike light from a friend which lit up the trail better than sunshine and all was good in my world! Becky came into the race a bit under-trained given her habit of skiing rather than biking most of the winter, but she rode like a rock star and even went out for a final lap just before the 13 hour cutoff. 

This was an awesome race and can't wait to do it again next year!  

Excessive Training Syndrome: Colorado Climbing Trip
Normal people spend long weekends sunning themselves silly at beach resorts, but Becky and I plan 19,000 feet of vertical gain cycling trips to far away destinations. This time, our target was the small cycling mecca of Boulder, CO. If one can ignore some of the silliness that abounds in the city (like a triathlete climbing at 4mph in her aerobars... wtf??!!), there is fantastic riding to be had right from the city center.

We were mindful of the fact that just getting accustomed to the altitude in the valley would be a bit of a challenge since Boulder lies at about 5500 feet of elevation and we live at sea level. And further, all roads out of Boulder go up into the Rockies. But we weren't dissuaded. Neither were we dissuaded by the fact that we were both coming into this training weekend already in the negative on training stress balance, Becky significantly more so than I...

With an elaborate plan to ride-till-we-drop hatched, we hopped on a plane to Denver on a Thursday night in late April, renting a car and driving into our awesome Air BnB condo in Boulder around midnight. The next morning, we were up early and after a hearty breakfast at a recommended local joint, we swung by the Scratch Labs mothership to grab some nutrition. One of the guys there who looked like a serious bike rider suggested a long 80+ mile route that looped the famous Flagstaff climb with Peak to Peak highway and onwards to Lyon. In passing he mentioned a bit of dirt road along the way but dismissed it as being rideable on road bikes. Becky and I decided we'd tackle this monster the next day and spend today on a lighter route getting used to altitude and new bikes. 

Armed with yummy drink mixes and a riding route, we headed over to University Cycles on Pearl Street to pick up our rental bikes. What can I say about this place? Its simply an awesome cycling store. The vending machine outside for bike nutrition and tubes ought to have suggested a great experience inside, but the cake really goes to their rental bikes. I'm talking top of the line 2013 Cannondale Supersix Evos with complete SRAM Red grouppos. Plus the people at the shop were super helpful and nice. They suggested a climb up to Ward and back, about a 75 mile loop so we decided to tackle this as a warmup.

Riding in Boulder is fantastic. You take route 36 out of Boulder going north towards Lyon and this road by itself is stunning. The Rockies are on your left and the vast valley stretches out on your right. The road is rolling but nothing significant and soon we made a left turn onto Lefthand Canyon Drive and started a long uphill haul towards Ward. The climb felt great and we made good time towards Ward, though the upper reaches had quite a bit of snow still. We stopped at a great little convenience store in town, a perennial cycling stop and refueled on cokes and snickers (at least I did!). Then it was a short slog to Peak to Peak Hwy, followed by a fantastic descent into Lyon and back to Boulder. We both felt great during the ride and were eager to try the experimental route the next day.

yeah, we're goofballs
The views were just magnificent
The next morning started with yummy bagels and cream cheese at a trendy coffee shop where we also bought some additional bars and other nutrition for a long day in the saddle. The climb to Flagstaff begins immediately from the city center and the views along the way are quite stunning. Its a steep climb but not terribly long and we made it to the top in good time. The real tippy top is actually a few miles further up the road than where people normally turn back (as per the Scratch Labs dude) so we only claimed the summit once we hit the mailboxes about 6 miles into the climb.

Pretty nice day to be out on bikes
From here we descended a bit to a dam and then continued on till the road dead-ended. But we were expecting this and looked around for a bike trail and could only see a very sketchy snow covered dirt path. Feeling adventurous we took the path and spent then next 5 miles on trails conducive to mountain bikes rather than bikes with 23mm road tires.
Umm, where tf is the road?!
Luckily, both of us are mountain bikers so managed to ride most of this crap on the bikes and didn't get a single puncture to boot. We were hoping for paved road after 5 miles of rocky snowy ok-we'll-call-it-a-trail, but were only rewarded with a bumpy carriage road for another 5-6 miles till we hit Peak to Peak highway and the town of Nederland. Here we caught up with some Bontrager pro team kids who were out hammering the hills and grabbed some coffee and snacks.

So glad to be on paved road again!
From here there was a major uphill haul on the highway followed by some nice descending till we hit Jamestown road, and after some more sketchy dirt road, we hit the real steep descent and bombed down into town.

At this point, I was feeling a bit tired and would have been happy to spend the next day just tooling around but Becky had other ideas. So off we went on another 90 mile ride on Sunday morning, this time to Estes Park. Surprisingly my legs felt pretty good and we passed Teejay Van Garderen out on a fast bike ride. The altitude got to me a bit at the top as we spent a good chunk of time above 9,000 feet. But this was well rewarded with a bombing descent into Estes Park. The views here were not just magnificent, they were magical. I would go back and do this climb again just for the views.. and the descent. We both hit about 50mph on the bikes on the way down and it was awesome. 
At the bottom of the descent into Estes Park
 We should have realized that cities are built in valleys so naturally the only way to get out of Estes Park was to climb some more. Of  course, this was quite unwelcome but we slogged through it and then descended gently into Lyon and beyond into Boulder. Then it was a quick bike return and drive back to Denver for the flight home.
Two happy campers

Wildcat 100 Mud Bath
It rained and rained and then it rained some more. This was all before we arrived in New Paltz, NY for the Wildcat 100 mountain bike race. Becky had the bright idea of this "exotic" race that has been on her bucket list for a while. I wasn't too keen on 100 miles so opted for the more forgiving 100K option.

Turns out that this is a shit race. Very poorly organized, poor course markings, and terrible trail choices. The rain didn't help at all and made the already make-shift trails through cow patches and orchards into slow slogs through deep mud. A bunch of us riding together got lost due to lack of trail signs, but the worst was having to do 3 extra miles at the end when I had already done 67 of the 66 miles I signed up for (as per my garmin, which always under-reports if anything). Those last 3 were in mud filled single track where it was impossible to ride a bike... Even the pros were crying about conditions at the rewards and the race director was booed onstage...

But it was an experience and I finished despite the trying conditions and some bike problems, which is great. and I didn't have any spectacular crashes. Becky was lucky and found a riding buddy, Greg, along the way and the two of them chewed up the 100 mile course together.

Here are some pics that speak for themselves:

Glad to be done

Yeah.. thats mud!

I don't know why I was smiling here. This must have been early in the race

And she's smiling at the finish. wtf?!
Yeah, long day

Becky with her riding buddy, Greg
A well deserved beer

Upcoming: Cycling in the Alps + Work travel to Lima, Berlin, and Moscow
Stay tuned for a report on what promises to be yet another epic climbing trip in June, this time in the Alps, where it is STILL snowing right now -- the Giro d' Italia was rerouted off the Galibier due to snow. Lets hope it warms up in the next month or so, else Becky and I may just have to ride our mountain bikes up the snow-covered road. Not doing it is not an option... obviously!