Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Riding in the Sewer.

Most cyclists, especially mountain bikers, have places they dream about riding, yet it doesn't happen very often, or at least as often as we'd like. I've got two friends that lined up for the Colorado Trail Race this weekend (which is a whole different level of bat-shit crazy), taking them from Durango to Denver via the Colorado Trail (duh) and through some of the most picturesque places in the United States. Lucky bastards. And I meant lucky bastards in the respect of they are getting to go to Colorado to ride their bikes, NOT that they are doing the CTR.

And, while I DO get to go to places I dream about to ride (Fruita, Moab, Colorado, right here in the Black Hills, Curt Gowdy, etc.) I don't really want to go to the land of rolling prairie, corn fields and oppressively high humidity; Sioux Falls, and yet this is where I found myself this last weekend. Yep, that's right, I was in the cycling Mecca of Sewer Falls. Now, before you SF residents get all twisted up and start ranting and raving about there's this spot or that spot to ride, let me ask you, do you take a cycling "stay-cation" for the rad riding in SF? No? Didn't think so.

The reason for our journey east was two fold; we were going to visit my Lovely's father and wife, but more importantly we had to get the Boy, who had spent a week in N.E. SD with his Grammy.  So, being ever the optimist, I brought not just my road bike, but also mountain bikes for the Boy and I. The hope is to hit the one bastion sanity, the singletrack at Leader's Park. When life gives you lemons, squirt 'em in the eyes of your enemies, make lemonade, give a slice to a baby to make a funny face for a Youtube video or something like that.

On our first day we had to make a short journey north to my Lovely's old stomping grounds of Dell Rapids to meet my mother-in-law to pick up the Boy.  I thought I'd ride my road bike to meet all of them and catch a ride back in the car, which meant finding an interesting route that took me a bit further than the 25 or so miles it would normally be.

This is kind of a corny picture...
I rolled west of SF on 41st Street which after just a few rolling miles gives way to farm land.  Corn field, soy bean field, corn field, groomed yard with a couple silos, a barn and a farm house...corn field, soy bean field, corn field, groomed yard with a couple silos, a barn and farm house, this kept repeating basically my whole way.  As I mindlessly rolled through the farmland I couldn't help but think that this is America's backbone.  This is about as honest of a living that anyone can make, getting your hands dirty, working your ass off from sun up to sun down and feeding Sioux Falls, South Dakota, America and even the world.  Anyone that has had the whole corn/GMO/Ethanol discussion with me knows where I stand on that, but it doesn't change the work and effort that these farmers are putting into their land and crops.  I understand that we want a better life for our children and we (including many of these farmers) have paid for college for our/their kids with the thought that they don't want them to work like this (farming/ranching/getting your hands dirty/manual labor), but maybe doing this kind of work might just be what gets us back to our roots of what made this country great, to value work that every person does, to see that the farmer's work is just as important (if not more) as being a doctor or lawyer or being some famous douche bag on America's Got the Desperate Housewives of the Jersey Shore (that's a bad ass show by the way).  Being on a road bike in the heartland of America gives me WAY too much time to think...cue John Mellencamp's Small Town, fade to black...

Sooo, back to my ride, I rolled west for as far as I could on 41st Street (or whatever it is called once out of the city limits) until the road turned to gravel, then turned north to a pretty substantial headwind which I'd have to buck for 25 miles or so.  Just a bit of advice, if you're using a smart phone (iPhone in my case) with a Google Maps App, the bike route option will do its damnedest to keep you off of any highway it can, so in my case it kept trying to send me down any and every gravel road it could.  I wound my way through 50 miles of small towns and farm land and finally to Dell Rapids to find my wife and son waiting for me in a beautiful park along the Sioux River.

Our plan was to get up early Saturday to go ride the singletrack at Leaders Park.  As I lay in bed that morning, I heard a sound I couldn't quite comprehend.  You know how when you're in that state between sleep and awake when you hear a common sound and it doesn't register with you, you can't quite figure out what it is for a minute or two?  That was what was going on.  It sounded like really, really creaky floors, but as my brain came online, I realized it was raining out.  Shit.  It seems like it is perpetually damp at Leaders so any rain will make things unrideable, or at least not a good idea to screw the trails up by riding when wet.  This put our ride on hold for a day and took us to the Farmer's Market at Falls Park, which also lead us to do some scrambling on the rocks at the Falls, which is a must do for the Boy whenever we're in Sioux Falls.

The Boy saying, "Take me to your Leader(s)."
Repeat the Saturday plan on Sunday, which was a sunny day and the weather was not an issue.  The Boy and I rolled over to Leaders Park and hit the "Expert" loop.  A fun little loop of singletrack that winds up and down a ravine, through some tunnels of vegetation, over some man-made and natural features and across a couple bridges.  As we were in the open, exposed areas of the loop on the return, east side of the trail, the Boy was walking his bike down a steep hill, he was starting to get frustrated.  As I was talking to him about why he was getting frustrated, he said he wanted to ride it so I would be proud of him.  And even though I was being totally supportive the whole ride, I felt like a total dick.  After assuring him I was proud of him for just riding and it didn't matter if he rode a tough section or not, he was happy and we were riding again.  A couple miles later, we were done and we BOTH had a fun time.

Sioux Falls, while I won't choose to take a bike vacation with you, just know I'll be back again.  And know I'll be bringing my bikes and damn it, as much as I don't want to, I'll have a good time yet again.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Journey of a One Hundred Miles Begins with One Pedal Stroke...

One hundred miles.  The distance is enough that it is no longer a short jaunt in a car; it takes a bit of planning to drive 100 miles.  Do I have enough gas?  Should I get some road snacks?  So on and so forth.  Now take that 100 miles in a car and drive it on a gravel road.  Takes quite a bit longer, huh?  Maybe even a few hours.  Now, let's take it one step further and drive on unimproved Forest Service roads for 100 miles. It will take the better part of a day, and you just might be tired of driving by the end of the journey.

NOW, let's talk about 100 miles by bike.  100 miles, or the century ride, is a goal of a lot of cyclists.  Big event rides, charity rides, tours, etc. usually have 100 mile options for people to challenge themselves, usually attracting the riders that are more than the casual rider: they are enthusiasts or dedicated cyclists.  But far and away, the majority of those rides are on pavement.  Take the above example of driving 100 miles and let's ride the 100 miles on gravel.  Takes a fair amount longer and is a lot harder, huh?  Now, take it another couple steps and go onto rocky, steep, rough, tight singletrack (at least for part of it) and you have a 100-mile mountain bike race.

I used the driving analogy to make a point (obviously).  When I tell people that ride bikes very casually (think riding the bike path to get ice cream) I did a 100-mile mountain bike race (although what I did wasn't necessarily racing but more riding) I get a lot of "Oh, that sounds hard" with a condescending overtone or even the "I probably couldn't do it." Do ya think?  Now, I'm not saying that eventually with some training they couldn't do it, because if I can, they surely could, but the attitude seems like they could go do it today if they so chose.  Not that I want them to fawn over me, but just a "Are you fucking nuts?" would suffice.  Maybe I'm being too sensitive about it and maybe they just can't wrap their brains around riding a bike 100 miles anywhere, much less off road, but hopefully the analogy of driving a car 100 miles on pavement, then gravel roads then on FS roads will help them understand the difference between riding a road bike 100 miles on pavement and riding a mountain bike 100 miles on trails.

All that being said, the second running of the Tatanka 100 went down this past weekend:  102+ miles

The "Grand" Loop!
and 10,900+ feet of climbing over some of the most challenging terrain the Black Hills have to offer.  Taking the Centennial Trail (Trail 89) from just outside of Sturgis to Trail 40 near Pactola Reservoir, taking Trail 40 to through Silver City to the Peddlers Trail.  From there, taking the Mickelson to just outside of Lead, SD, then on FS and gravel roads through Galena and eventually back into Sturgis was the name of the game.  The weather turned out to be about as perfect as one could ever ask for at any bike race.  Warm but not too hot, a slight breeze, but not too windy, a few clouds to offer some breaks from the sun, but not too cloudy. Seeing a trend here?

The race went off on time and Jim Meyer of Quarq fame led the race wire to wire, coming in a few minutes before a singlespeeder (100 miles on a singlespeed is a whole other level of fucked up, crazy ass racing) and just over the 8 hour mark, 8:08 to be precise.  A touch over 8 minutes faster would have netted Mr. Meyer a super blingy Tatanka ring, which I suppose is a goal for him for next year.

As far as my race went, I was happy with the way my day turned out.  I met some personal goals and had a good time doing it and was in a good frame of mind all day long.

Up and down and up and down and up and down...
It felt like the race went out HARD.  Much faster than last year and I didn't get sucked into the pace, as I knew if I pushed too hard early, there'd be nothing in the tank for the end of the race.  This was a good plan for me as the race wore on, since I started passing people that were running out of juice.  I know I've said it before, but no matter where you're at in a race, the front of the pack or the back of the pack, there is racing to be had.  As I rolled into the various aid stations, there was another guy just rolling out, but as the race wore on, I was rolling into the aid stations closer and closer to him until we got to the Englewood aid station, where I rolled in just behind him.  I fueled up quickly and as he left, I told my Lovely that I had to chase him down, so I took off.  About a mile up the road, I caught up with him as he was pulled over taking a wiz.  I rode on, then I pulled over to do the same and he passed me back.  I was able to jump on my bike and catch back up with him.  We chatted for a bit, but as the grade of the road went up, I started to pull away from him.  Holy shit, I'm out-climbing someone?  That hasn't happened for over a decade.

Anyhow, he wasn't far behind me for quite a while, until the trail pointed down, where I put some distance between us.  I rolled into the final aid station at Galena, chatted with the volunteers and as I was prepping to leave, he rolled in.  Now I was being chased.  As I left, he was hustling to take off as well, so I knew he'd be breathing down my neck for the remainder of the race.  At the top of the last gravel climb of the race, I could see he was about 3 minutes behind, so I couldn't let up.  I BOMBED the rocky, gravel descent back into Sturgis, trying to increase my advantage.  Once I hit the bike path, I didn't see him anywhere, so I felt like I was safe, but I still pushed into the finish area.

The final stretch of the race took us through a concrete drainage "ditch" through the city that emptied right into the finish area.  The only low point of the race for me was in this ditch.  As I was hammering along I saw a tiny squirrel.  Hey squirrel, what are you doing in this ditch?  As I approached, it started freaking out running around, zig-zagging back and forth.  As I tried to avoid it, it shot back under my bike.  THUMP, THUMP.  I hit it squarely with not one but both tires.  That poor squirrel was toast.  I'm hoping that it isn't a black mark for my karma, since I did do my best to avoid it.

I crossed the finish line with a lot of daylight in the sky, taking about an hour and a half off of my time from last year, which was a nice change.  I suppose not having four flats and utilizing electrolytes to prevent cramps made a big difference in that outcome.

Once again, I had a great time at Tatanka.  As usual, it was a challenging, well-run affair.  I'm already looking forward to the 3rd running of the event!