I finally finished my highly detailed Triple-D race report. Here it is:
The forecast for the day was a high of -1 F and winds of 15-20 mph from the west, the direction we were traveling for the first half of the race. Over 4 inches of snow had fallen 24 hours earlier and it remained too cold for this snow to stick together and pack down under the weight of snowmobile traffic (or any other sort of traffic for that matter). This meant trail conditions would be really bad. I was having my doubts about this race, but I figured worse come to worse I could ride until I was exhausted or frozen and then call Carol for an emergency evacuation. At very least it would be a good test for how well I can really handle these extreme winter races.
We arrived at the Grand Harbor Resort and got signed up around 10am. The pre-race meeting was supposed to be at 10:45, so I took the interim time and got a few things organized and started to get dressed. The meeting was running late. During the meeting the race director Lance (Andre) pointed out a few modification to the race rules due to the nasty weather. Most important to my story is that he would consider anyone who started a finisher. As long as you hit the start line you would get placed as a 'finisher' no matter when you decided to bail out. He wasn't sure anyone would be able to do the whole 60 + mile route. It was 11:25 before we got out of there, and I was happy I had started to dress already. I ate my pizza and chatted with a racer Matt who had done the Arrowhead 135 twice on a bike and was racing today on ski's to get himself ready for his third Arrowhead 135, skiing the whole way. There was the usual pre-race flurry of activity and then I headed outside and rode over to the starting area.
At the start of the race the entire pack rode together as a neutral start through the streets near the industrial part of town. There were a few interesting “Tour de France” moments when the pack split to go around small round-a-bouts. It was pretty clear to me that I was overdressed when I unzipped my pit zips and sipped down my collar a bit and was still pretty warm, but there wasn't much I could do about it. When we hit the Heritage Trail the race was officially on. At first the trails was clear. About a half dozen guys slowly crept away in a lead group. I was in a second group along with the race organizer Lance Andre. I was surprised to look down and see that my heart rate was about 95% my max as I didn't feel like I was working that hard at all. I didn't believe my heart rate monitor (HRM) and I just figured it was getting “crosstalk” interference from other people's HRMs. Before long the trail conditions changed. I was tough in this area frozen ruts and footprints covered by 4 inches of powder that was not adhering, so it was hard to keep going in a straight line.
At some point I had gotten just too hot to stand it any longer and I took off my mid layer thermal cycling jacket and stuck it in my seat bag. But I was STILL really hot. Now I know from experience that when wearing wool as a base layer you will get REALLY hot while it is still dry because it is incredible at insulating when it is dry. Then as that layer gets wet you will cool off and reach a more stable temperature. Still, I was really hot and I knew I had a 500 ft climb ahead so I decided to swap and put the thermal jersey back on and stow my big warm windstopper fleece jacket. But this required some tinkering since I had so much stuff strapped to my bike. This took some time, meanwhile a lot of people passed me and the leaders got far ahead. I struggled down the rest of the rutted section of trail and then started up the huge climb. One thing I didn't figure on was that the headwind would kick in on this climb to cool me off. I decided to get to what I thought was the top and then put my windstopper jacket back on.
I got to that point and again stopped to change my layering (probably 5-10 minutes stopped total at this point) but realized that I was only half way up the hill. Also, it was about this time that I realized the water in my camelback hose was frozen. Rookie mistake, but I am still not sure how it happened. I had blown air back through the hose after drinking and yet somehow the water had gotten into the hose again and froze. So there I am half way up a huge climb, sweating, frost covered, thirsty... oh, and my glasses had frosted over too, so I could hardly see where I was going. Winter racing is hard.
I finished the climb and then the course crossed under the highway we were riding next to and onto some ATV trails in the culvert next to this highway. It was in this section of trail that I started to notice how bad my tires are at off-camber stuff. I had first realized on a ride last weekend when the relative lack of side-knobs on my front tire caused me to slip on the edge of the pavement and crash on the road. Today I must have seemed frantic as I was riding fairly quickly and pretty well and then I would just slip and swerve and usually have to put a foot down. Eventually we came across and area that had all sorts of stores and fast food joints. As I passed a Culvers I decided I was thirsty enough to take the time out and got get some water. So I pulled off the race route and walked into Culvers, must have looked like a freak to those folks, and drank down two VERY cold glasses of water. Brain freeze! But better then nothing.
The trail continued to be a challenge. As I was crossing the street right after Culvers I was feeling spunky and hit the other side with some speed. Unfortunately, there was a much harder curb then I thought there and I heard a loud crack of rim on curb. But the Snowcats stayed true and no pinch flat thanks to these wide rims. The next section was somewhat easier though since in a lot of cases the wind had blown the snow off of the roadside down to the level of mowed grass. A turn to the west and a street crossing had us riding on on some very rough, drifted and loose snow mobile trails right along the road. Then the trails veered onto private land and we were on the “Southwest Trail”.
Here the scenery improved dramatically as we hit open farmland, and there was a short fun downhill followed by a hike-a-bike back up. Then the trail went to the edge of the field and got into some nasty drifted snow over some rolling terrain. My water hose was still frozen, so somewhere in here I stopped to put another layer on over my camelback in hopes of warming it up (and to remove the frost from my glasses). It was walking on the flats and uphills and rideing on the (short) downhills. And of course this is where Carol shows up to take photos. Shortly there after there was a challenging but ridable downhill to a street in an industrial park. You would think that this paved road would be easy going, but it was heading due west into the wind and fully exposed. Still no water. Carol passed me in the car on her way out of the area and I wondered if I should flag her down and pull out of the race since I was starting to doubt that my water hose would ever defrost without being in a warm room.
Then back onto the snowmobile trails. I stopped before commencing to put on yet another torso layer, my thick fleece vest, in a final desperate attempt to warm the hose (and to remove the frost from my glasses). My goal was to over-heat myself and by proxy the camelbak. This next section of snowmobile trail was more pleasant, with a row of trees along a creek blocking the wind. But first I had to cross this flowing creek, which meant a careful splash-through. Unfortunately my front disk brake got wet and immediately froze with the brake pads rubbing slightly on the disk. So much for disk brakes being less susceptible to fouling! I was again having trouble with the ruts and such, so I stopped to lower my tire pressure. 100 yards later I found myself again at a paved road. Uhg! I JUST let the air out of my tires! I stopped yet again to remove the fog from my glasses and evaluate my water situation. If I couldn't drink anything by now I was just going to call it quites and ride back to the hotel. In fact, I was kind of looking forward to that. Of course, the water started flowing, so I started down the road, into the wind, up a pair of huge hills with 6 psi in my front.
At this point I set my goal to ride the next 3 or so miles to Heritage trail and then turn back there, taking the groomed trail back to the trailhead and then back to the hotel. I stopped behind a tree on this brutally windblown stretch of road to AGAIN remove the frost from my glasses. Shortly there after I met another rider Scott who was heading back (I had seen at least a half dozen other riders who had turned around already, but this was the first one who seemed interested in stopping to chat). He was calling it a day, but I convinced him that heading down to the Heritage trail and back from there would be easier. He was on a 29” single speed pushing almost 2:1 which I thought was obscene, I'm pretty sure I'd be running a much lower gear, like a 1:1 if I was on such a bike. He could turn it over though and I struggled to keep up with him on the rest of that road. Eventually we met a third rider Dave who, oddly enough, had turned around at the exact same point as Scott, about ¼ mile ahead. I wondered what was so bad about that stretch of road. He joined the two of us, and so down we went down the rutted, 2-track “B-road”. The snow was deep and rutted but gravity and my wide tires kept me going pretty well. After some navigational confusion at a gate, we made it to the bottom. I made it down long before these other guys (who were both on more standard MTBs). I even had time to drink some water, and of course, scrape the frost off of my glasses.
The next bit was a bit confusing, but we eventually found a race volunteer who pointed us in the right direction to the Heritage Trail. After about ½ mile on the trail there was a parking area and picnic shelter. Here two volunteers had staged a small checkpoint of sorts. They took down our names so they knew where we were (and that we weren't out there lost and freezing to death) and I accepted some hot chocolate (even though this was technically against race rules) because I could use all the liquids I could get. After our little check in I let Scott and Dave go ahead while I changed my chemical to warmer. And then onto the Heritage trail, back to Dubuque I went.
This trail was quite lovely in many ways. First, we were out of the wind. Second, the snow was packed down enough that my bike could handle it quite well and I could keep up a 9mph average. Third, it was quite scenic, crossing and running along side a small river with some interesting rock formations and steep bluffs here and there. We were told at our last stop that we had 8 miles to go to this bar in Durango which was the start/stop for the skiers and runners. Shortly I caught up to Dave and passed him, but we went back and forth a lot since I was sopping quite a bit in order to get food out of my bags, take photos ,and of course, remove the fog from my glasses (at some point here I finally just took the glasses off which I could do thanks to the lack of wind down there). Eventually I also passed Matt the skier as he was finish up his race and we chatted a bit and I took some photos of his frozen beard.
It was time to recharge as much as possible so I whipped out my hammer gel, pretzels and licorice. The pretzels were too dry and hard to eat effectivly, especially when it was so difficult to get my water out from under three layers of clothes. The licorice turned harder then I expected it would. And the hammer gel was as thick as pine tar. My hands and the chemical hand warmer were not producing enough heat to keep them warm inside my poagies. I put a couple hammer gel flasks next to my base layer under my coat where my Perpeteum bottle had been not long before. Eventually I was able to get some of the hammer gel out. But as hard as I tried to eat a lot of food and drink as much as possible over those 8 miles, I slowly noticed my energy draining and soreness setting in, particularly in my left quad which has never been right since I pulled it 6 years ago. The last mile or so was particularly hard. While I had considered just blowing by this bar pit-stop when I started this 8 miles, by the end of it a break was absolutely necessary.
I stepped into the bar and stripped off just a few layers. A nice race volunteer had baked brownies for us and I quickly ate 6 of them. That and I drank the rest of my water and a few more of the food items I had. And yet I did not feel more energized. Was I just starting to bonk or was I crashing hard from going the first two hours of the race with almost no food or water at all? Is my fitness just not there yet for this kind of ride (it was my longest of the season by over an hour already)? Was I risking injuring my delicate quad if I kept pushing it further? Would I be able to pull it together and push hard enough to warm up my wet and now cool clothing or would I head back outside in the sub-zero temperatures (the thermometer on my cyclo-computer had ceased working when the temps dropped below – 4 F) and get bitterly cold? I debated all this over and over in my head for a few minutes, all the while hoping I would feel the energy return to me as the simple sugars entered my blood stream.
I didn't feel better. But really I wasn't feeling HORRIBLE or anything. Surely if this was a summer race I would get out there and keep going... but the cold.... what if I bonked hard out there? And if it was a summer race I'd be in a lot better shape.... Furthermore some of the volunteers suggested that it would be another 10 miles back to the hotel, with about 4 miles of ungroomed railroad ballast to ride on rather then groomed trail. Which sounded a lot like 4 miles of walking and pushing to me (later I found out it was only 1 mile of railroad ballast to ride on). I was beginning to talk myself out of continuing on. The final straws were 1) I knew Carol was worried about me out riding in this kind of cold and would not want me to continue, and 2) if Carol picked me up, I would be only 1.5 hours from being at my own, warm home.
Scott and Dave headed back out and I broke down and called Carol. One of the volunteers said it was the smart thing to do, but I regretted my decision almost immediately, even though I was still unsure if I could finish. After all, one of the volunteers had said he was going to head down to the trailhead at the end of the groomed section of trail just in case we needed to bail out and take a ride into the hotel from there. Surely, I could have made those 4 miles, 30-45 minutes on the trail, even if I was freezing cold and bonking.
Hind sight is always 20/20 of course. Carol arrived, I got changed into warm dry clothes and snuggled into the car for the drive home and ate some cold pizza. Although I didn't exactly feel great, I felt good enough, I could have ridden for the 1.5 to 2 hours it would have taken to finish the course. I kicked myself for the rest of the evening about it, but eventually decided that 5 hours of riding at temperatures below 0F was still something worthwhile. After all, I made a lot of mistakes and I learned a lot.
- For one thing, your water supply must be protected at all costs. If this means burying it under layers of clothes and having to dig it out every time you want to drink, so be it.
- For another, my methods of keeping water and food warm are inadequate. I need to find a way to keep these things close to my body because chemical hand warmers are not always reliable.
- Speaking of those, I realize I am entirely depended on toe-warmers since my feet got quite cold as soon as mine stopped working.
- I cannot attempt another race/ride like this without a better system for keeping my face warm. MY face mask worked well, but channels moist exhaled air up to my glasses where it frost. I think they would frost even if I didn't have the mask on. So maybe I need to look into goggles, or a different face protecting system. For now we will try to modify my mask some more.
- My tires were a real hinderence in off-camber areas and in ruts since they lack the aggressive side knobs to dig in under these circumstances. So I am going to get a WTB Timberwolf 2.7 for the front, and maybe trim down the centerline tread a bit to save weight and rolling resistance. My bike is no match for a 4” wide tire Pugsley in snow like that, but I think I could hold my own in better trail conditions, and my wheels weigh at least 4 pounds less then a Large Marge/Enduromorph wheelset, so I am going to stick with what I have.
- In a strong wind the front of your body can get quite chilled while your back is hot, so I am ordering a Warm Front vest to help with this issue.
- I had some minor shifting issues so I am going to switch to 8 speed to eliminate this. Looks like this will only cost me about $25.
- I need to loose some wight. At one point my frozen base layer stuck (just a little bit) to the skin on my belly. My belly is too big and there is too much fat there insulating my skin from the warm core of my body. Being kind a chubby has made me more vulnerable to frost bite. Probably slowed me down a bit too.
- Next time I'm going to spend the huge money ($100 for one night!!!) on a hotel room. That way my mental goal is to get back to the nice warm hotel room at the finish line and not getting into the car so I can go home. Also I missed the post race gathering, I just wasn't interested in hanging around there until 10pm and THEN driving home.
In the end I rode 27.6 miles with a ride time of 3 hours and 39 minutes. I was on the coarse for more like 4 hours and 45 minutes though, just to give you an idea of how much time can be wasted changing layers, digging for food and de-frosting glasses. Average speed was 7.6 mph, with a Max speed of 19.2 mph.
Oh, and I wanted to point out that no one managed to finish the entire race on the originally intended route. Lance had set a 4pm cut-off to reach the half way point in Dyersville. No one made it that far that fast so those four riders who did go all the way out there took the short way back and just cruised on the Heritage Trail. The winner took 8 hours and 17 minutes to cover about 59 miles. The fourth and final person to make the whole route took 9 hours and 35 minutes, and he is suffering from frostbite on one of his feet.
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