Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Power to Perform VS Packing my Fears

There are many different approaches to what to ride and what to pack. Being faster is assisted by being lighter and less encumbered but riding longer helps and having more light is better - especially when the going is sketchy.

'We pack our fears' is a term we Bike-Packers throw about and many of us know this to be true. If this is the case I guess I'm more fearful than most:-)

Ventana El Commandante Ultimate - Sporting 'Go Fast' Red Hubs

The advancement of LED lighting and the new range of light-weight, low rolling resistance dyno-hubs, USB charging setups and lithium ion/polymer batteries has made it possible to travel further, faster and lighter than ever before - with all the toys we could want or need fully charged along the way!

I run a Shutter Precision PD-8 dyno hub, K-Lites 1000lm light, Sinewave Revolution USB plug and Plox 6000mah lithium polymer battery for storage.

Shutter Precision PD-8
K-Lites 1000lm Headlight
Sinewave Revolution USB & Plox Box

For a detailed description of the more technical aspects of AC vs DC, amps/milliamps, lumens and other numbers I advise going direct to the sources of these components and engaging in a long and if you are of a mind for it - riveting ongoing discussion...

I will focus on what I've found works for me with what I have put together.

The hub turns and if the switch on the box I have installed on the right fork is turned to light - the light comes on. If it is turned to USB  (there are only two options on mine making it easy for my puny often fatigue addled brain to comprehend) the power is routed through my revo plug to the plox box. The plox lipo battery feeds energy to whatever I want to charge. This is a K-Lite setup. Kerry is an innovator. He is constantly working and re-working his systems. Newer setups now include switchable outputs for lighting (low and high) and constant charging plus lighting as an option. Definitely worth a look. Check K-Lites on Facebook for a great start point. (In my opinion - end point too:-) 

I run a Garmin 810. Some like them and some don't. It has pretty graphs of the upcoming terrain and I like these so I use it... It does not like it when charging stops so the cache battery keeps power going to it no matter what speed I'm doing. I did have a dodgy cable connection on day two or three of the divide and while removing the annoying nag screen, in aero on a speedy downhill I hit a pothole and was ejected from my trusty steed... This is hardly the fault of the Garmin or my charging setup - but it really hurt!

My light is the 1000lm version offered by Kerry of K-Lites. It produces heaps of light at reasonable speed and not quite enough at lower crawling speeds or when picking down really ugly descents. I supplement this with a Lezyne Infinite Light. At 4 or 500 lumens it makes up the shortfall on the front light at low speeds and is charged from USB during the day. Simple and quite inexpensive. I carried a spare battery on the Divide that I never actually required...

I had an HTC OneX that sucked power but covered all my communication needs. I like listening to podcasts and music too and my phone did all of that. Bit of a power sucker but I do like to pack my fears...

I also ran a bluetooth speaker and added an additional camera. Both of these items really were non-essential but they added little weight but gave back a lot on the trip. The speaker kept me entertained and warned large hairy creatures that I was coming. The camera was a late addition purchased in Banff. Waterproof and also chargeable on the bike I took many more photos because it was easy to access, the screen was easier to see in bright light, buttons and not touch screen worked with gloves on and didn't suck power like using my phone would have.

So how to keep it all going...

Number 1 - keep GPS going. I followed the TD line on my GPS and although I had maps and cues I almost exclusively just followed the line - and my nose... So - losing that would be very bad for me... I kept it plugged into the plox and topped up all day long. The second USB out on my plox would charge first the light, then the phone, speaker and camera.

I found that charging the plox back up over the morning then plugging in respective items through the day kept things humming. If the phone was low I avoided overdoing the music/podcasts. 

I did carry 2x small mains chargers. I bought them when I got there so I didn't need adapters for dodgy American wall plugs;-)  They were lightweight and I used them to topup items a couple of times but I don't think I really needed to. They were my backup in case things went wrong with my charging setup.

Plox box - 2.1amp output with pass-through charging

On the cache battery front... it is important to get one that doesn't require a switch to turn on. If it loses power it may require a re-start and you won't even know it's not charging out possibly leaving you with an essential item uncharged. Also ensure it has 'pass through technology' I'm not sure how this is accomplished - but many of the batteries will not charge out while they are being charged. To use one as a cache it is important to check that the battery will do it. I have also found this to be useful for those not using a dyno. The plox will pump 2.1amps out, has an included wired-in micro usb cable out and a USB out. That means when you are in a room with others competing for the one free wall plug you can plug in 2 items to charge out while the plox is being charged up.

At the end of the day you could keep things simple, run lights off batteries and carry only the simplest of phones for emergency (if at all). Of course you could also use only maps and a compass or commit everything to memory after multiple attempts (Mathew Lee) and just ride, ride ride. It's all good! Whatever works for you but me  - I'll pack my fears:-)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Tour Divide 2014 - 1 Grand Depart or Bust

Flying is awesome!
Flying is awesome!
Leaving NZ was a surreal experience.  The culmination of many months of planning leading up to me watching my upset wife leaving the airport... emotions of excitement at what was to come and concern for those not coming jostled for attention... However - the family would leave for the US as I aimed to finish so it was possible to enjoy the bittersweet feeling knowing that we all had good times to look forward to.

The Canadian aiport of entry charged me 50 dollars for some undisclosed handling fee (it's a bike so there's a fee they said) Welcome to Canada! 

Meeting the shuttle, bike box at my side, I headed for my motel. Travelling with a bike box is always a pain in the arse but the next morning I would have the Ventana out and my gentle ride to Banff would begin. 

I woke to a beautiful, blue sky day - instant summer -  gotta love that! The bike came together quite quickly. The only slightly concerning aspect was that my hub had wept oil but my reading indicated that this can happen when laid down for any length of time. Given the problems I had later in the race - I'm not so sure this was the correct diagnosis.

Heading out the door and down the street I struck my first navigational challenge. The first intersection provided 3 possible directions to go. Sitting at an intersection having just left my airport hotel I realised I had no way of knowing which way to go. My GPS had no maps installed - I intended to load it once I reached
Banff...I had all the ACA TD maps but no map for the local area. My Travelsim in my phone would not connect with a provider so no Google maps. I had not realized how reliant on technology I had become.  I felt screwed from the beginning! Not a great start to my TD adventure!

I had flown to Calgary a week before the race start of Friday the 13th of June. The aim was to acclimate and to ensure  I had time to switch gears into riding mode.

That first day was in many ways the way the race played out for me - lots of riding and problem solving to keep riding.

First on the list was getting communications up and running. I could have gone back to the hotel and used WiFi and phone or just asked someone for directions but as with the race - going back was not an option:-) instead I headed in the direction that felt right and found coffee and free internet. Relatively quickly my data and phone were connected. Using Google maps I was able to find my way into the city.

Riding from Calgary to Banff
Sweet ride towards the mountains
I spent a couple of hours riding around, drinking coffee and generally enjoying the freedom of being somewhere new, alone and self sufficient. My life for the next month or so was literally all on my bike! I stocked up on supplies and followed my nose over local cycleways and eventually off towards Banff. That night I stayed at the Hostel Bear in Canmore.

Large animals on the road
Nope - Don't have these at home...

The next day I rolled the Legacy Trail from Canmore to Banff. Sealed and gently climbing it was all the things the Divide was not - and I loved it! Plenty of time to get smashed around later! I rode this trail a couple more times over the week. It was a nice leg stretch with a decent coffee at Bicycle Cafe Canmore. Worth the ride!

It was great to be one of the first at the YWCA. It gave me time to meet some of the other riders and to get comfortable on my own again. My training had included a fair amount of solo riding but by far the majority of my training happens in our gym. Between spin and pump classes and working with clients there is a lot of contact time in my week. I did settle into my own space quickly though. What's not to like about doing your own thing;-)

Team NZ 1 & 2
Scotty and Geof - Team NZ together in Banff
A couple of days out from the start the other two members of 'Team NZ' arrived. Geof and Scotty had prepared and traveled over together. We all live in Alexandra and when the stars align get to ride together.. It was great to share the anticipation buzz with them over a couple of beers. Conversation naturally turned to our concerns around bears and other wildlife not found in NZ. Other 'helpful' riders and locals filled our heads with stories of Bear attacks and somewhere along the line Mountain Lions were added to the list. I'm still not sure if the suggestion to wear caps backwards because the mountain lions think you are looking back at them, was legit...

On the day before the start there was little to do. I did have some difficulty loading maps onto my Garmin 810. Got there in the end but I put myself through avoidable stress by not getting this done earlier. The library has a great computer setup that is free to use. I sent extra items home by surface mail. It took over 2 months for those items to make it home!

A few small purchases, stock up on food items for the first section, down for the unofficial/official briefing with Crazy Larry and try not to let nerves get in the way of a good nights sleep...

Pre-Race Hydration Strategy
Hydrate or die!

Crazy Larry - Big Heart!
Crazy Larry - Tour Divide Legend

It's a Dogs Life

Can we go now?
What about now...
Sunday evening... Zack the family Jack Russel and myself cruised our way along the river track that runs down past our house. Zack looked up at me in full stride, tongue hanging out of a mouth stretched in a wide doggy grin. Good times!

I'd spent the latter part of the afternoon replacing the singlespeed chain setup on my Ventana with the rebuilt belt driven Rohloff that normally resides there. I had agonized over what I wanted to spend the next month or so riding as I have been enjoying the light, simple SS setup. My Rohloff had been rebuilt after the seals failed during the Tour Divide earlier this year. Chris at Puresports provided excellent followup service and got me up and running again.

It was quite a dilemna deciding what to roll with but I decided that I would prefer a few extra gears for  Le Petite Brevet coming up next month so I'd better get the Rohloff on and some k's onto the new internals before I hit the hills on Banks Peninsula.

Removing the stainless steel SS sprockets and chain I noted that there was very little if any indication of wear on the sprockets. They had only been on for about 6 weeks but with almost 600k on them I thought I would see something. I did fastidiously oil and clean the chain between and sometimes during rides. I would still have thought the grinding climbs I'd undertaken would have taken their toll.

It did give me pause to consider the belt drive I'm running on the Rohloff. While I love the smoothness and practically maintenance free nature, it is an expensive setup. It makes sense using it for events like the Tour Divide and perhaps even our 1200k NZ Brevets where longer duration riding can quickly wear components. For training where I can take more care to maintain it - a chain setup would still work well. This is of course the way most people run their Rohloffs. I guess it's time for a bit of experimentation...

So, back to dogs, bikes and the river track at dusk...

Zacks head hung a little lower on the way back to the house. He let me lead a bit more too. Sitting back on the couch in the lounge, Zack at my feet, excuding contentment I'm sure we were both looking forward to the next ride.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Tour Divide 2014 - Knocked the bastard off!

Tour Divide 2014 - Knocked the bastard off!

Antelope Wells or bust! Knocked the bastard off!

The Tour Divide was a tremendous experience. The race itself was around 4500km with a 2 year buildup and some serious distance to cover to get to the start line. I completed the journey from Alexandra, NZ to Antelope Wells via the Continental Divide series of mapped roads and trails. I have the picture in front of the border stone to prove it!

For what it's worth I finished 8th. In a race where there are no official placings and there is such a range of attitudes to what the race is really all about or if it's even really a race at all to many - placings don't mean that much. If I'm honest though, I'm chuffed!

It was tough - one of the toughest if not the toughest thing I've done in my life. I managed my bike and body to the end - my body fairing surprisingly better than some parts of my bike. Definitely the right way around in my book - I can always get a new bike...

I set out with the same goal most Novices to this event have - I just wanted to finish it. I didn't want my body, my bike or my spirit to break. I did not want to get lost - or eaten! I just wanted to survive.

I went with a couple of other aspirations. I  committed to racing 2014 after fellow Kiwi Ollie Whalley won back in 2012. As a start point I looked at the time of the 10th placed competitor and set out with the belief that 20 days was achievable given similar conditions. It gave me a start point anyway!

 I have done a smattering of longer distance races. There have been a few 12hours as well as taking part in the 3 bike packing events we currently have on offer in NZ - Le Petite Brevet, The Kiwi Brevet and the Great Southern Brevet. the first is a hill-fest overnighter of somewhere around 250-300k. The second two are  11 or 1200k brevets both in the South Island of NZ. The Great Southern Brevet passes through my home town of Alexandra. The local area also provides me with many options for small group and solo bikepacking excursions.

As a Trainer I spend a lot of time exercising. Time to ride long is always hard to find but time to cross-train for me is part of my normal day!

I was confident that I had my bike, body and gear choices dialled in. Hell, there are always fitter people, and lighter bikes and setups but that's no replacement for hard won experience:-)

I was most interested in seeing what would happen to my body and particularly my spirit as the days wore on. I had never gone longer than 5 or 6 nights prior to the TD. the first one I did resulted in saddle sores and blisters on  my heels that meant I could not be comfortable standing or sitting down!

I was particularly interested to see if I could sustain a sense of urgency for what I estimated to be around 20 days. This was my primary goal and I'm pleased to say that I did what it took to acheive this. It was the most defining part of my experience on the divide and I will strive to relay this as I recall my experiences in this blog.

Was it life changing? Hell - I don't know but the experiences were raw, powerful and intensely personal. I laughed, cried and occasionally did both at the same time. I lived in the moment on the divide and that is a powerful thing.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Bike Woes

The countdown AP on my  laptop tells me I have 54 days before I leave NZ and head to Banff, the start point for the Tour Divide bike race.
I've undertaken a number of events as part of my preparation and many more just for fun. I have 3 x 1100k brevets completed, a smaller seriously hilly Overnighter being le petite brevet held on Christchurch's banks peninsula and a number of k's training in all conditions.
All of these things with barely a flat tyre to contend with... Until now....

Last weekend during the Naseby 12hr festival of mud - well this year was muddy anyway - I managed to puncture and then destroy my chain and bottom derailleur pulley on my Epic. That was bad but the conditions were such that I was not alone in having problems. Switching bikes and going to my rohloff/belt drive combo saved the day and would still be rolling on a week later if required. Missed the full suspension of my epic however but that is to be expected...

This weeekend I went for a little group ride over the range to Bannockburn. A few nice climbs make for a seriously good workout. The coffee at the turnaround was great and especially welcome as the temperature was in the single digits all day with quite a stiff breeze to contend with on the way home.

All is good after a coffee

Rolling up from Bannockburn - Warmer out of the wind

It's very rocky where I live and this can make for some fast bone jarring descents. This ride is on a steep and rocky road all the way so imagine my surprise when I misjudged a small leap over an equally small culvert draining water off the road and flattened my rear rim in the process! I must admit - it did hit hard! This lead to a slower ride home where I had to stop at one point and apply pressure to the offending area as it was binding on the frame. Jumping up and down on it laid over a rock wasn't pretty but it got me home!

Big wheels keep on rolling - just...

With two bikes currently out of action awaiting parts I can't help but consider how fortunate I will be if I complete the Tour Divide without similar mishap. I think I am on the right track with my choice of low maintenance and quality components. The drive-train and rigid forks being chosen with durability in mind... Ollie Whalley completed the Divide in 2012 with the exact same setup so it is proven - at least in the right hands...
Still, trying to keep the weight down I have been running Stans Crests as Ollie did.. They are a light choice and hopefully they will not prove to be my achilles heel. Time will tell.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Rail Trail Out and Back

This was a ride done as part of the buildup for the tour divide - and because Blair and Nigel caught the 'go long' bug. The rail trail provides a great way to crank some k's. Thought I should dust this little write-up off and post as originally intended.

Déjà vu, (/ˌdeɪʒɑː ˈvuː/) from French, literally "already seen", is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past... (Wikipedia)

This feeling presented itself numerous times over the Sunday - perhaps not surprisingly as this was the second time in a few months that I've completed a 300k out and back on the Central Otago Rail Trail.

Same trail - different people...

2am start. Ride out for breakfast in Middlemarch. Ride back to the car and drive home. Simple.

Blair and Nigel were keen to see how they responded to more k's than they had ever done in one day. Combining both of their longest days would have netted considerably less than this distance so they were understandably a little nervous at the start.

Great conditions with a warm night with no wind saw the dark hours completed without incident. I normally undertake early rides on my own and will often listen to music and podcasts. I missed that a little bit. Habits I guess. This was more than balanced up by having the guys there to share the experience with but I do like my alone time too.

By Ranfurly the day was underway. We met up with Geof and Scotty who were doing an overnighter as part of training for this years Tour Divide. Some stick was given for my lack of gear... I had considered loading on the front bag but couldn't quite get my head around carrying a tent and sleeping bag for a day out. Everything else was much as usual...

Breakfast in Middlemarch at the 150k turnaround was of the fat bastard - Big Breakfast variety for me. Nigel ate a little less with Blair bringing up the rear in the volume stakes with a toasted sandwich. Pushing back to Ranfurly is quite a slog and Blairs fadeout close to the end of this section may have been due to not getting enough on board at the turnaround. After food he was back on track...

Ross jumped on the trail at Ranfurly and caught up to us by Oturehua. Fresh legs saw him make 27 or 28k through that section. He set the pace from there through to pretty much the end.

I had one point where energy deserted me. I had 260k on the legs and a quick food intake calculation showed that I had got most of my calories from proteins and fats for the previous couple of hours. Salami, a protein bar and cherry tomatoes lacked the impact carbs I needed to push hard. Smashing in some fruit jubes and a few squares of chocolate soon changed this:-)

13 hours and a bit ride time averaging a more than 23k per hour was a good effort. A little headwind here and there but no real tail wind at any point made for a good honest ride