Tour Divide 2015 No-Show

Just like in 2014, I trained for the 2015 Tour Divide but decided not to race before the Grand Depart.

For the 2014 race, I started preparing very late.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get strong enough three months prior to the race.  The notion was to do what I could for training and decide in early May whether I’d race.  I wasn’t ready and so decided not to race.

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In 2015, I started training earlier and smarter.  From the beginning, I rode the bike fully loaded.  I rode wearing the clothes that I’d wear on the race.  I explored new roads up in the mountains so I wouldn’t get too bored with training.  In 2014, I gave myself an opportunity to quit and took it.  This year, I decided that I would race from the very beginning.  I bought a plane ticket to Calgary.

It wasn’t until late in May that I did my first training overnighter.  Until then, I told myself that camping was my strength (it certainly was in 2010 when I toured the Great Divide)…I should focus on my physical strength and gear selection.  It turns out that was just an excuse to cover up the real reason for avoiding overnight rides.

Camping is fun.  Even more fun when bikes are involved.  Why didn’t I use “training” as an excuse to camp out more often?  That should have been the first clue that I had reservations about racing.

When I finally went on that first overnighter, I faced new training issues: I had never packed the bike to carry an overnight’s worth of food!  I had always just carried snacks for ~6 hours and stopped at home or a store for meals/resupply.  I also had to find a place for a map case to hold either cues or the ACA maps.

It was a bit of a scramble, but I got the bike and supplies situated and headed out the door.  I was riding up to a reservoir up in the mountains – 18 miles and 3700 ft of climbing away:

The first thing I noticed as I climbed out of Boulder is how much heavier the bike felt.  Should I have been training with extra weight to simulate fuller loads of food/water?  After 10 miles of climbing was the first descent.  I noticed that the map case was flapping in the wind.  The only place/orientation where it would fit caused it to flap up like an air brake when going fast enough.  Obviously TD bikes are as aerodynamic as dump trucks, but over thousands of miles I think it would wear on my mind if the thing would flap around and block wind on every descent or in headwinds.

After months of feeling strong and prepared, I was losing confidence in my setup.

As I descended the final miles to the reservoir, I had a deep feeling of joy of having transported myself into the mountains by my own power.  This is what bikepacking is all about!  The sun had just set, so I ate the subway sandwich, gathered water for the next day, and set up camp for the night.  I didn’t have a set/break camp routine with this gear, so it took a while to get ready.  I wished it was still light so I could walk around the reservoir and explore a bit.  I wished I didn’t have a five o’clock alarm set for the morning.

I turned off the alarm in the morning and kept sleeping.  I would have liked to relax a bit before riding home, but I needed to break camp and eat with some haste.  The Tour Divide isn’t the time to linger.  An hour later, I had packed, eaten, and was riding home.

The ride home was very introspective.  I enjoyed the ride and the camping, but felt like I could have enjoyed the trip more if I didn’t have to rush.  The idea of riding hours into the night and waking before dawn didn’t appeal to me.  By the time I got home my outlook at racing the Tour Divide changed from excitement to dread.  The TD isn’t the right balance of challenge and enjoyment for me.

A few days later, I pulled the plug and decided not to race in 2015.

Oddly, for the first time in many years, I followed along as the racers traversed the continental divide.  In previous years I avoided following along – it had always made me sad that I wasn’t out there racing or touring.  Maybe this year I was content with the decision.

 

Notes for my future self: mistakes
Small details were left unsolved until too late: food choices/capacity, efficient camp setup and breakdown.
Never figured out the ideal cockpit setup: feed bag access, map case, light orientation, map case, bear spray location.
Training focused too much on strength, rather than the above logistics.
I trained my strength, not my weakness.  I focused on climbing when I should have done more long-distance, slower, “flatter” rides.

Tour Divide 2015: Letter of Intent

June 2015 Update: I decided to back out of the race two weeks prior to the start.  Do I regret it?  Yes and no.  I’ve written about it here: Tour Divide 2015: No-Show.  The LoI will stay up for posterity.

I caught the Great Divide bug back in 2010.  As a college student, I was fortunate enough to have time between semesters to ride the Great Divide that summer.  At the time, I expected my parents to be hesitant to the notion of me riding a bike from one border to the opposite.  I was supposed to be thinking of my future – getting job experience with a crappy internship or something.  Oh yeah, I’ll also be riding mostly through remote backcountry, sometimes days between resupply and water sources.  I imagined them going into “protection mode” (as most parents would) and try to convince me to rethink the trip.  What was I to do?

I wrote my parents a letter with my intentions of riding the GDMBR before I knew LOI’s were a practice.  It was my way of being stubborn and saying, “I’m not giving you a chance to convince me this is a bad idea.”

So here I am 5 years later, writing another Letter of Intent.  This time because I am going to race the Tour Divide.


 

I rode the Great Divide in 2010 starting as a complete rookie.  It was my first time riding on dirt for more than 10 miles…first time riding in the mountains…first time riding above 1,000 ft.  I was on a heavy commuter bike with so much gear…oh so much gear!  And I had only ridden a few hundred miles in the flat midwest as “training.”

But as the weeks went on, I had profound satisfaction knowing that I transported myself hundreds and thousands of miles over difficult terrain and through inclement conditions.

In Rawlins, WY I met Matthew Lee and many of the other Tour Divide racers soon after.  I envied their light loads, but not their long days.  They were the next level of hardcore!  Could I do such an event?

Every year since then, usually in the winter when riding days are short, I’d get nostalgic about the GDMBR and think, “Tour Divide this year?”  Well, now it is happening.

I want to climb the mountains, see the sights, descend the passes, overcome the weather, meet the friendly locals, and wake up in the middle of the night to a sky of stars.  I want to experience the highs and lows of the Divide again.  I want to see what I am capable of.

I expect I’ll suffer the same as before, but much faster this time.

 

Then
antelope_wells

Now
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Moots Quick Review

How do I like my recently-built MootoX YBB?  I’ve been meaning to write up a 4-month review, but in a sentence: I love everything about my it.  I’ll keep the rest brief for now:

XX1
I don’t find myself missing the extra gears of a 2×10. I started with a 34t ring and it sufficed for nearly every ride. Only after 10 hours in the saddle would I want lower gears on the steep climbs. Since stopping my TD training, I swapped to a 30t ring for the lower option on rides like this:

I spin out a few MPH sooner than before (~25 MPH), but have a much lower granny for easier climbing.

The only downside to XX1 (besides price) is the rear cassette has noticeable bigger jumps between gears. Sometimes I’ll be riding and can’t find the right gear. Either I’ll spin too fast or mash too hard. It’s less noticeable with the 30t – the jumps may be the same percentage, but the absolute difference is smaller.

Lefty
The Lefty fork is awesome. Anyone who asks about it gets the whole speech about how roller bearings are far superior to stanchions. The fork hasn’t undergone any maintenance since being rebuilt just prior to me purchasing it. Put it on my list. One time I went a few weeks without riding it and noticed the first compression was a bit sticky. But that never happens with regular use. The lock-out mechanism is extremely solid, too.

YBB
The YBB definitely does…something. I see it compressing slightly under hard pedal strokes even on pavement. I can’t really watch it when on the trail, obviously. I’d be really curious to ride a clone of my bike, but a non-YBB version to see if I notice the difference. You’re not supposed to lock it out (it could damage the slider), but maybe I’ll give it a try for one less intense ride.

Overall, I love the bike. I hope it lasts years and years.

Tour Divide: Not This Year

I am not racing the Tour Divide this year.

I decided two weeks ago after a few self-test rides.  The plan was to ride at least 350 mountain bike miles over four rides – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  If I could not ride at least that much mileage, I resolved to pull the plug on this year’s race.  If I managed that distance, I would at least have an informed opinion about how I’d react physically and mentally, and make a decision accordingly.

Day 1 – Cold and Windy

I set an alarm for 6am, but lacked the motivation to get out of bed that early.  Not a good start to the day.  I began pedaling after 9am.  Conditions were less than ideal for a century.  Had this not been my training week, I would have postponed it a day.  The temperatures stayed cold and a consistent 30MPH+ wind made it feel worse.

As with most long rides, the first 30 miles went by easily.  I caught myself thinking, “I’m not even tired…I can continue this all day no problem.”  Then came 30 miles of grinding.  Riding was no longer fun, the wind sucked, I was either too cold or sweating depending on the section.  I just wanted to be done with the ride.  I had to remind myself that I have 5+ hours moving time left.  Slowly, the miles ticked away.

I ate my lunch as we often did on the Great Divide – plain food while sitting on the side of a road.  It wasn’t too relaxing with the unrelenting cold wind.  Soon I was off again.  The first pedal strokes reminding me that my legs already have a lot of miles in them.  More grinding.

When the odometer showed above 75 miles, my outlook changed.  I was nearing “impressive distance” territory, so there was a mental boost.  I started thinking, “this really isn’t that bad.  Maybe I can get 125 in today!”  That phase didn’t last too long, though.  The temperature started dropping and my motivation with it.  How many more loops until 100?  How many turns until 100?  By the time the odometer flipped, it was dark and my fingers and toes were numb from cold.  I headed home, ate, and put my feet up for the night.

Day 2

Windy again today, but comfortably warm.  It was pretty much a lot more of the same.  On the plus side, my legs didn’t feel sore at all from the century two days ago.  I had high-carb lunch, macaroni and cheese, which I attribute to helping me a lot later in the day.  So much that I opted to do some extra miles to bring the day’s total to 110.  I forgot to apply sunscreen and got some serious cycling tan/burn lines – halfway up my calf from tall socks, halfway up my forearms from pulled down arm warmers, among standard sleeve/thigh lines.

Day 3

Since I realized one rest day is all I need to (relatively) easily ride a century, I decided to make today’s ride more climby.  Plus, doing loops and loops was boring and weekend trail traffic would get annoying.  I did one loop south of Boulder to give the upper elevations time to warm, then turned toward the mountains.

I chose Magnolia Rd, a beast of an ascent, as my path to higher elevations.  It is known as the steepest paved road in the county – the first mile being 14%; first two being 12%.  It averages only 9% over 4.5 miles due to two minor flat/”down” sections.  With my 34t chainring, I was in the 48t granny gear most of the climb, but the cadence I kept wasn’t uncomfortably low.  Had I ridden Mag later in the day, it would be a different story.  I don’t understand how roadies can get up this climb with their gearing.

I reached the Peak to Peak and headed south to Rollinsville, then west on dirt.  After a gradual climb over 9 miles, I reached the Moffat Tunnel.  Unfortunately, the railroad-grade 4WD road that leads over Rollins Pass was snow covered from the beginning, so it’ll be at least a few weeks before the lakes will be accessible for short overnighters.

I retraced my path backward to the P2P and stopped for food in Nederland.  From there it would be a few short climbs before a long descent back to Boulder.  I got back home just in time to avoid a strong storm cell.

300+ miles with 20,000+ vertical over three days.  Not bad, but I knew the fourth day would be the real test.  How will I recover without a full rest day?

Day 4

Based on the original plan, I only had to ride 40 miles to get to 350.  Stacking long days up front when I can fully recover seems like cheating, so I upped today’s goal to a century.

I started again on the trails south of Boulder to warm up.  Doing magnolia again was in the back of my mind, but soon ruled out after some minor steep inclines.  I knew grinding in the granny gear for an hour was unobtainable.  So I did more and more loops on dirt single and double-track.  It wasn’t fun.  My legs felt dead from the previous day.  I was hot, dehydrated, and losing motivation quickly.

After this ride I needed to make a decision about racing.  I started thinking about it.  Can I see myself finalizing TD arrangements one month from now?  Can I imagine myself not getting ready for the TD?  Will I regret it?  Which will I regret more: starting and not finishing or waiting until another year?

The middle of a difficult ride is probably not the best time to make a decision, but I started leaning more and more toward not racing.  Once I figured that out, I turned around and got home at mile 60.  I knew that by turning around and not pushing on I was almost surely deciding not to race.

Decision Time
I sat a home and wrote down some random thoughts about racing vs not.  Most were rhetorical questions that didn’t help much.  In the end I decided not to race this year.

My motivation gave out after a single difficult day.
I couldn’t manage being this sore (and certainly more) for a whole month.
Averaging 100 miles/day means sometimes riding 75, sometimes 125.  I’d have to increase my training mileage even more!
I impressed myself with being able to consistently ride MTB centuries with one day of rest in between, but I did them without gear, with a shower and comfortable bed every night, proper nutrition, and near perfect weather.  True TD conditions would increase the mental and physical demands.

Final Thoughts
I enjoy competing against myself via setting PRs on Strava segments.  Ride fast and it’ll be over soon.  My 100 milers were long, but even then there is a finish line.  I could count down from 100 to 50 to 25 to 12 and eventually reach 0 and stop.  I am in (somewhat) in control of my pace and therefore can determine how long it will take.

The TD is a different game: I need to ride 16 hours per day.   Regardless of how fast or how far, I need to ride all day every day.  Did I hit 100 miles at 4pm?  Good…now go for another 6 hours before setting up camp.

I realize it’s probably my cognitive makeup.  If 100 miles takes 16 hours, the only difference is perspective.  “Ride 100 miles per day for 27 days” is easier to stomach than “ride all day, every day for 27 days.”  The TD seems to be an exercise of the latter.  A metaphor:  I am a web developer.  I like programming applications, being able to mark them as complete, and move to the next.  These are like century rides.  The Tour Divide seems closer to writing code for 16 hours per day on a project that has no end in sight.  How can I stay motivated if the goal is so far away?

Now I realize that for me a successful TD attempt starts with motivation.  Can I break it down into daily, achievable milestones?  I decided to train for the race out of opportunity.  My job sucked, so I could quit and train for the race.  I need to have Antelope Wells or Banff as a fundamental goal and commit earlier.

Maybe none of this makes sense and is just me trying to justify my decision.  Who knows…

Tour Divide Considerations

Earlier this year, I had the idea of attempting the Tour Divide.  The job wasn’t working out, so I decided to leave at the end of March.  The notion was to to split my time between freelance web development work and preparing for the TD.  As it were, a few friends and past co-workers were also dissatisfied with their employment situations, so we banded together to form a web development business.

So far it has worked out quite well – flexible hours and the ability for work from home have allowed me to ride as much as necessary.  The training bottleneck is motivation and boredom rather than time.

As I left my job and considered the TD, I realized two months is not a lot of time for preparation.  It was a low-mileage winter for me, so my legs needed waking up.  Of course, there are other aspects of preparation beyond physical – mental, logistic, and equipment.

Physical prep is my first priority.  Having toured the Great Divide and bikepacked half of the Colorado Trail, I’m relatively familiar with the logistic and equipment needs (and at least half-informed with the mental stress).  I set a deadline of early May to see how strong I could become – to see whether averaging 100 dirt miles per day is possible.  That deadline is a week away now and I’m still on the fence.

Am I strong enough?
The human brain can rationalize anything.  That’s where I’m at and it’s making my final decision, to race or not, very difficult.

One on hand, I completed the Great Divide in 2010 over 50-some days having trained at 500 ft., never on dirt or with any climbing, on a hybrid/commuter bike without a proper granny gear, with an exorbitant amount of equipment.  I’m much more prepared now.

On the other hand, I struggled day after day until my en-route training kicked in.  I averaged half the daily distance I want to achieve during the TD and had the luxury of a rest/half day every five or so days.  Not having rest days or long evenings to recover will deplete the body.

Then again, now I live at 5,400 ft.  My normal, for-fun rides are on mixed single and double track up to 7,000 ft. with 2,000-4,000 ft of climbing.  I have access to 3,000 ft. unrelenting climbs a few miles from my front door.  By mid-May, I’ll be able to grind gravel at 10,000+ ft.  Training in tougher road/elevation conditions than the average mile of TD must count for something, right?

Having ridden the route before (NoBo, unfortunately), I generally know what to expect.  I have a notion of what services are available in certain towns and a very good memory of turns, landmarks, and road conditions.  All of this reduce the anxiety that a rookie rider will have before leaving Atlantic City, Cuba, or Pie Town into the subsequent remote stretches.  How much is this worth if my legs aren’t conditioned properly?

Training To-Date
This month I’ve ridden 25-50 miles daily.  My biggest rides were consecutive 75-mile days with 5,500 ft vertical each, on a mix of single/double track, gravel, and a splash of asphalt.  It took 6.5 hours of riding over 8.5 elapsed hours.  The soreness from the first day didn’t affect my performance on the second day, so that was comforting.  Those days were ridden without bikepacking gear and after a full night’s sleep in a proper bed.  Not too bad considering I was dormant most winter and walked to work rather than commuting by bike.

It’s still a long shot from consecutive centuries with gear in inclement weather while sleep deprived.  Is it enough to be sure I can get that strong in the next five weeks?  I have to answer that soon.

Almost Rideable

2014-03-08 00.07.36

 

Almost there!  Lots of parts have arrived and been installed.

I’m really happy with my choice of wheels – Mavic Crossmax SLRs.  They are lightweight but seem very strong.  The low spoke count (20 each) had me worried, but up close they’re quite beefy.

Now I’m waiting on the XX1 freehub body so I can install the 10-42 cassette.  I laughed aloud when I first saw that cassette.  The 42-tooth ring is ridiculously giant.  Yet Sram’s X-Dome design keeps it lightweight – far lighter than my old 11-36 10-ring.  Instead of each ring fitting snug on the freehub, they are each only attached to the edge of the neighboring rings.  Like a dome, I guess.

Once the freehub comes in, I’ll mount the rear wheel and tune the derailleur.  Then I’m off to a bike shop to pick out an offset or straight seatpost.

XX1 Crank – A Setback

The XX1 group arrived today.  The GXP bottom bracket went in smoothly with a spacer on each side (since the shell width is 68mm).

As I threaded the non-drive-side crank arm, I noticed how little clearance there was between the chainring (34-tooth) and the chainstay.

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As I tightened it, it became apparent that something is not right.  Before even getting near the max torque on the crank spindle, the chainring started touching the chainstay.

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I installed my old 3-ring crank to check whether it would have a similar issue.  Nope.  As is, it could possibly fit up to a 32-tooth ring.  Unfortunately, the two rings I’d swap between are 34t and 38t, so being limited to 32t max isn’t an option.

I’m almost certain I’ve seen the XX1 group on other MootoX’s.  Maybe the chainstay geometry has changed.  This frame is ~7 years old now.

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Solutions?

Replace the 168Q crank with a 156Q crank and add spacers somewhere – on the spindle’s drive-side between the bb and crank arm?  I bet this would affect other things negatively.
Replace the drivetrain with a 2×10?  Expensive and painful.
Replace the frame for a new(er) MootoX?  Again, expensive and painful.

Update:

According to the Sram xx1 compatibility spec, each chainring differs by a 4mm radius every 2-tooth step.  A 32-tooth ring would probably fit my frame.  So that’s another option.
I tried shifting both 2.5mm bottom bracket spacers to the drive-side.  The 34-tooth ring fits with ~1mm clearance.  Since chain suck is not an issue with XX1’s clutch derailleur, I think it is enough clearance.

2014-07-10 Update

I now run a 30t ring up front, so can use the spacers as intended.  With the 34t ring, I shifted both 2.5mm spacers to the drive-side.  It ran fine for four months until I voluntarily swapped to the 30t.  I did notice that the drivetrain was slightly louder when in the granny gear with the extra-offset 34t ring.

MootoX YBB: Lefty Installed

The fork arrived in the mail today.  I chose a 2012 Cannondale Lefty Carbon XLR with 100mm travel and a remote lockout.  The fork was bought used, but it was recently serviced and stuffed with the newest internals.  I’ve been impressed by the ability of a Lefty fork to compress even while under lateral forces.  Soon I’ll be able to see for myself on the trail.

With the external cup headset, there was just enough clearance for the lefty clamps to clear the 5 1/2″ head tube stack height (and yes, I measured prior to purchasing the fork).

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Next up – the drivetrain.  It should arrive tomorrow!