Monday, April 11, 2011

Ragnarok and some gear stuff

Last week I spent part of an afternoon seam sealing and generally playing around with the tarp that I'll be using on the Divide. Overall I'm really pleased with it and I feel like I've got the sleep/shelter thing figured out.

My tarp, bivy, and pad will be packed into this 6L compression sack, presumably weighing just about 2 pounds. At this point I am leaning towards ditching the Revelate handlebar pocket and just using some simple straps to attach it to the bars.

I also plan on bringing poles for the tarp. It seems like most tarp using bikepackers are quick to point out that poles aren't really necessary, but I feel like they make sense in this case. I don't have enough faith in my problem solving skills to count on being able to figure out an on the fly tarp setup in the dark after an eighteen hour day on the bike. The poles I have were expensive, and while not totally essential, I think they're worth it for the piece of mind that they'll bring. Plus they store really easily in the frame bag.

The gravel around here is fast and awesome, and I've been getting out on it a fair bit. I've been enjoying some shorter rides with good friends, and this weekend I got to experience my first ever Ragnarok. I finished the 111 mile course in just over 8 hours, riding with a kit that's within a pound or two of what I'll have when I leave Banff. The fast guys finished almost two hours before me, but I still am feeling pretty good about myself. The event was awesome, and I sincerely hope to be able to participate in it again next year.

I have the next couple weeks to get out on some overnighters and refine my setup; at the end of April I'll be stringing together a week or so long trip to work out any remaining kinks. There's still a lot to do, and I feel like these next eight weeks are going to go by in a flash.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

David Gieger is rad.

Earlier today I came across a link to a great web application developed by a guy who toured the Great Divide route last summer. Its basically just a map with the Tour Divide .gpx track on it. You select any two points along the entire route and it automatically shows you an elevation profile of that segment. I'm sure that there are lots of gifted folks out there who think this sounds pretty straightforward, but it appears almost magical to a barely literate technophobe like myself. Check it out here. Guy's write up of his Great Divide tour is here.

This year's Tour Divide hopefuls are probably already aware of this via the bikepacking forums (where I found it), but I thought I'd throw it up here for the benefit of my legions of followers. Its pretty cool, and should provide me with a nice alternative to obsessively checking Donald Glover's twitter feed during down time at work.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Junk in the Trunk

It's going to be a while before it warms up enough for me to fully test out the sleep system and clothing that I intend to take on the Divide. However, I think that I have the apparel choices pretty well figured out, enough so that it seemed worthwhile to pack everything up in my seatbag and weigh it out. Here is where I am at as of right now:

The bag contains the following:

Western Mountaineering Highlite sleeping bag
Montbell down vest
Cutter eVent rain jacket
Ground Effect 3/4 length rain pants
Bellweather arm and leg warmers
Smartwool midweight socks
Ibex wool long sleeve baselayer
Smartwool beanie
Neoprene toe covers

I still need to purchase some rain mittens and organize everything in a few small stuffsacks. Even after these additions I should be just barely above four pounds. There is still enough capacity in the bag that I could potentially pack in another component of my sleeping system (I want to minimize the amount of crap I have strapped to my handlebars as much as possible).

Although there are three months to second guess myself and change things, I suspect that this will be pretty close to what I have with me when I leave Banff. I'm eagerly awaiting the warmer weather and the chance to further test out and refine my gear.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bike Arrival

When I began thinking about the Tour Divide in earnest last summer I assumed that I would attempt the race on a steel hardtail 29er, most likely either a Karate Monkey or an El Mariachi. These were attractive options for a few reasons, chief among them the fact that I could get them at cost. Then I found out about Salsa's plans to update the Fargo, their drop bar touring 29er. The new Fargo adopts a more traditional mountain bike geometry and is compatible with a suspension fork, making it close to my ideal for a Divide rig. I pre-ordered a complete from Milltown Cycles, and Salsa finally delivered it a couple weeks ago. Its arrival coincided with a period of relatively warm weather, and I was able to put in some good gravel miles right off the bat. Fargo owners love photographing their bikes in whimsical, picturesque surroundings, so here is my attempt to do the same:

FACT: I have never taken a good picture in my life.

After about two weeks and three hundred miles, I'm pretty much sold on this bike as a viable choice for a Tour Divide rig. The bike eats up gravel miles, rolling almost as well as a fat tired cross bike but seemingly capable of handling a lot more. The goofy looking Woodchipper handlebars, which I approached skeptically, are surprisingly comfortable and provide a really stable feel while in the drops. I plan on making a few component choices in the coming months, and I think that the end result is going to be awesome.

As an added bonus, the warm weather of about a week ago provided me with a great opportunity to simulate the muddy conditions of the Divide on some thawing Minnesota gravel. Here's what the Fargo looked like on day three of its life:

It may be time to take my dorkitude to the next level and get some 29er fenders.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I'm Attempting the Tour Divide in 2011

I'm a mediocre mountain biker and gravel road enthusiast with negligible ultra experience. I rarely average more than 14mph on my gravel rides. However, I do really enjoy long solo rides on crappy dirt roads, and the Great Divide route has been on my to-do list since I learned of it roughly four years ago.

My decision to ride the Divide in a race format is probably a result of a more traditional roadie bike tour that I completed in the fall of 2009. I pedaled from my home in Minnesota to New Orleans over the span of two months. The trip featured a lot of extended party stops, was mostly ridden with two close friends, and was a really great vacation. However, the segment of the trip that was most memorable for me was a week long stretch where I rode completely alone. Those days were long and tiring, as I didn't have anyone to goof off with and spent basically all of my waking hours in the saddle. By the end of that week I could feel my body beginning to settle into a routine where subsequent fourteen hour days felt normal. I was just getting used to it when I arrived in St. Louis and stopped to hang with my friends for two weeks. Since then I've always intended to do another bike trip where I focused more on pushing my limits than on seeing the sights.

The Tour Divide obviously provides a great opportunity to do just that. It's also a race with an attrition rate of roughly fifty percent, and its easy to question the wisdom of attempting it at all. In an ideal world it would probably make more sense for me to try it in a few years and spend the interim time doing some shorter off road touring and racing. Fortunately thats not an option for me and I can't use that logic to talk myself out of it. I'll be starting law school in the fall and see the next eight or so months as the last 'dick around' time that I'll have until my first midlife crisis. Unlike someone with kids or a real job, I'm at a point where it's still somewhat feasible for me to make this race one of the biggest priorities in my life. That in itself makes 2011 seem like the perfect time for me to ride in the Tour Divide.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Triple D Race Report

This weekend I was lucky enough to get to participate in the Triple D, a sixty some mile snow race on trails and roads surrounding Dubuqe, Iowa. A month ago I was only dimly aware of the D, but my newfound Pugsley ownership and a group of friends willing to share a hotel room convinced me to give it a go. It ended up being an awesome race and a near perfect start to a year that promises to hold a lot of great events.

Despite being one of the shorter snow races around parts, heinous weather and riding conditions over the past few years have kept the number of racers finishing the D pretty low. Realizing that my ability to complete the course was basically beyond my control, I started off without any expectations beyond having fun and covering some new ground on the Pugs. As it turned out, conditions were pretty close to perfect and a competent rider could probably have completed the course on a cyclocross bike.

After a neutral roll out through city streets of Dubuqe we hit an unplowed bike path and the race began. The course consisted of some comically hilly snowmo trails followed by a short road section leading to the Heritage Trail, a mixed use trail on an old railbed that we first rode to the town of Dyersville before turning around and heading back to Dubuqe (by way of Durango, the last D in Triple D).

By the time I hit the Heritage Trail (mile fifteen or so?) I was feeling confident about finishing and I made deeco time all the way to Dyersville. The lead riders began passing me on their return about four miles away from town; first up was Northfield man-machine Cody Larson, followed about 30 seconds later by a very composed looking Andre. At Dyersville I pulled on a clean baselayer, ate some shitty pizza, and took just slightly too long to get back outside. Once back on the trail a slight climb and a mild headwind were enough to make me start feeling kind of lousy. I continued to feel sluggish for the next half hour or so. I rolled up to the Handlebar right around dusk, signed in, put on my lights and bounced. It was about eight miles back to Dyersville, but due to a wrong turn two other riders and I got in about fifteen minutes of extra credit riding before finding the bike path back into town.

I arrived back at the hotel at just about 6:20 (for a time of 8:20) to learn that Cody had won. Fellow Northfielders Curtis Ness and Jerry Bilek showed up not too long after I did. Of the 24 finishers, four were from Northfield! Overall I'm pretty pleased with how I rode and am really grateful to have been able to participate. I feel like completing the D was a good confidence boost and I am now able to consider longer snow races in the area a lot more seriously that I would have prior to this year. It might be awhile before I have the time, gear, and experience to tackle something like the Arrowhead, but it's definitely something that I look forward to attempting at some point in my life

Friday, January 14, 2011

I have a Tour Divide Blog!

My name is on the start list and I now own some Revelate bags, so starting a Divide focused blog seemed like a logical next step. I already feel more legit, even though I don't have any content and I can't figure out how to make a header that doesn't look like complete crap. I'll try to work on this next week, but right now I'm getting ready for the Triple D instead. Stay tuned...