Gents Race 7: A Most Epic Drop Out

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The Moots and the Bird

As most of you whom have had the experience of reading this blog know, I like to make a grand exit when dropping out of gravel races.  I’ve thrown my bike into a field then chugged Jim Beam (CIRREM 5), shotgunned a PBR pounder and grifted a sag from the checkpoint personnel (CIRREM 9), I’ve found the only bar in North English, IA, drank many PBR’s and Wild Turkeys,  then ended up at a Pizza Ranch after buffet hours and convinced them to make me my own buffet at my table (TIV10), taken a tailwind back into Grinnell to a Cafe for breakfast where I convinced them to let me stand next to their cooking equipment because I couln’t get my body temperature up, then ended up in the middle of a college dance party at the Rabbit at 8am, then day drank with the locals until my ride home showed up (TIV8), and so on and so forth.  My point is, when I ditch an adventure race/ride, I like to make it a completely different adventure.  Gent’s 7 was no departure from my modus operandi, but there was a twist. We will get to that a little later.

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Mark’s Steed, a total classic.

Let’s get back to the start, though. The Bike Iowa Gent’s Race is a 60-some mile gravel race held north of the Des Moines metro starting/ending at the Nighthawk Bar & Grill in Slater, IA. You assemble a team of 5 folks, you’re assigned a start time based on some secret algorithm developed by Kyle and Bruce, main organizers of this madness, and you line up and enjoy some mostly flat rock roads.  The staggered start has the fast teams going off the start later in the morning, and the slower teams at the beginning so that everyone can get to the finish around the same time. It’s pretty cool, IMO. The course is deceptively easy, as in you look at the elevation and say “easy peasy.” This is not true.  My team, the Careless Whispers, have done this race every year, and between the unforgiving wind from which you have no escape (last year we had 25+ mph sustained winds), and the sudden appearance of tens of miles of fresh chunky rocks, it’s always been a challenge. Some years almost comically challenging.

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K-Corn had a Top 5 beard.

This year as we gathered the Whispers, sans D-Corn and plus K-Corn, everyone was feeling pretty good about things. Mark, Steve, Bob, Kathy, Kathy’s amazing yarn beard, and myself took off at 9:04 with smiles and hope.  There was zero wind. In April. In Iowa. What a rare treat!  The first gravel was in impeccable condition, packed and fast, and we were off to a great start.  We were cruising along at a good clip, enjoying the scene, everyone was joking around and smiling. Except for me.  From the first few pedal strokes I just didn’t feel right, and within the first 5 miles I started experiencing the same shortness of breath and erratic heart beat that plagued my CIRREM attempt this year.  I’ve been on the road to recovery from a few years of bad habits taking their toll, and even after 5 weeks and almost 30 lbs of weight gone I just could not get it together. I sucked wind for a while, staying silent as I didn’t want the others to hear how bad off I was. I felt like a weight was on my chest, which was incorrect. It was my still-existing gut mass that was pressing up into my diaphragm that was causing some of the breathing problems. Super fucking cool.

As we neared the ten-mile mark, it became apparent that I was done.  Mark had spent some time hanging back with me, and had started discussing guitar gear.  It was a great device to help work through the pain I was in. If there is one thing that will take my mind off of just about anything, it’s discussing guitars. Lungs, Heart, Legs, all were gone, though, and I felt that it was time to stop before I hurt myself. It was embarrassing to say the least.  Ten miles. No wind. Fast roads. I had finally resigned to the fact that my day was over.  I crept back up to Mark, quietly stating “Mark, I’m done.” Now, my team mates are all great folks. I’m honored to be able to ride with them every year, and this is usually the only time we are actually able to get together in the same place at the same time. Mark lobs back calmly, “Ok, Sam. It was great to see you and ride with you for a little bit today.” I accepted his acknowledgment then started formulating a plan for extraction.  We were close enough to Slater at that point that I could just soft pedal it in then call for a ride, but I needed to find the right place to do so.  We rode for a bit longer.

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The King Of Drop Bags

The Whispers kept on whispering, I tagged along still plotting my exit. The miles kept ticking away, and as I swiped my Garmin screen to see how far we had gone.  nearly 20 miles had passed.  I had caught up to the group at that point,  then told them that I had quit like ten miles ago. I was doing a really bad job of dropping out. At this point, it made more sense just to ride the next ten to the checkpoint at Snus Hill Winery and have a few beers with the team before hanging a right and riding the mile back to the start.  We ended up being the last team out of the half way point, but when you have as sweet of a drop bag as the Whispers, you stay until you have only enough leftovers that you can pack on the bike.

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Half Way Checkpoint Time! Still quitting!


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Remnants of our “Drop Bag”

Our three beer stop was over, we packed it in and headed back out on the dusty trail.  I was planning on hitting that right turn and booking back to the Nighthawk.  I was still cooked. So I turned left with the rest of the team. Bob says “Come on, it’s just three tens!” so we embarked on that first of three.  At this point everybody had loosened up, and the train was rolling.  Bob was setting the pace, the FullerKeg was rolling strong, and Mark was crushing it as well.  I settled in behind the tandem and ticked off miles staring at that rear Nano, eating a shit ton of rocks along the way.  Our pace had picked up, and my legs finally found a cadence that worked. Fucking incredible. Mile 38 came, and we stopped for a little whiskey and whatnot.  I was at drop out mile 32, and still dropping out.  I don’t think I have ever dropped out for so long in my life. It was incredible.

We stopped again at mile 48 to finish what was left of our liquid lunch.  I got a text. The Stoker was at the Nighthawk and was ready for me when I got back.  I didn’t expect her so early!  We finished up and set to burning through those last 13 miles.  The dropping out got exciting. We were moving at a great pace, my body was cooperating, although a few times I had to call time out and back er down a notch to get re-situated.

“Hey, Mark, does my rear tire look ok?”

We were just a few miles from finishing, and my rear end was a little more wiggly than it normally feels.  Hissssssss. Shit. Fuck. Flatting at the end of a race is so disheartening.  After all these miles of quitting, there was finally a mechanical. THIS BIKE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO FAIL.  Alas, the team assembled to disassemble and reassemble my rear tire situation. Thanks, Steve, for doing all the pumping. You are a hero.  Also thank you, Mark, for being the best human bike stand in the history of humans and bike stands coexisting. The Warbird was back up and running in a few short minutes, and the Whispers were once again screaming towards a solid near-DFL finish. Hell yes. A few more miles passed and BOOM!!!!!!! My rear tire blew out at mile 59. We all searched for another tube, but it seems that the sidewall had blown away from the kevlar bead. FUCK.

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Steve standing by as Mark discovers the root of the problem. Shredded Tire. The High Trestle Trail is about 50 yards up in the distance.

I had almost finished dropping out of the race, and here I was with a major mechanical within sight of the finish line. The silos stood off in the distance mocking us as the team formulated a plan of attack. The Fullers rode back and were going to drive their truck to pick me up.  They ended up sending Meg (thank you one million, Meg!!!!) to  the rescue.  We had some visitors come by and Fireball was distributed, thank you Jess and Michelle, we waited a bit longer, and finally it was time for yours truly to be done with the quitting.

The Stoker and Mini Stoker were waiting for me patiently, my hour estimate for return was about an hour past. I said my goodbyes, packed it up, and headed back to the DSM for some dinner and rest.

It was a great day for epic quitting, but not the best for stopping.  Thank you to all that put on the race, the volunteers, the Nighthawk (a regular summer stop for me), Meg for the rescue, The Stoker for the ride home, and Mark, Steve, Kathy, and Bob for being the best team mates (and substitute team mate) I could imagine having.  It was an honor to spend the day with the Whispers, I can’t wait until next year.

Sam, CNB

Carelessly Whispering

In just under 12 hours I will be at the Nighthawk in Slater, Iowa toeing the line at this year’s Bike Iowa Gent’s Race as part of team “Careless Whispers.” It was a gloomy day all around today and I think everyone could use the camaraderie, the smiles, and the miles.  We have been riding this together every year since the first.  I’m looking forward to seeing Bob, GT, Fuller, Kathy (who is filling in for the MIA D-corn this year), the the 63 other teams of 5 who will be dusting it up out on the rock roads.  61.something miles of fun!  This isn’t like the torture that is CIRREM, it’s a friendly race that caters to everyone from beginners to seasoned rock riders.

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I am about as prepared as I could be, hydrated, fed, packed, bike dialed, and ready for some needed rest after a stressful day of stressing the fuck out. This will be my first official race as a Vegan, I’ve packed food accordingly as I am certain the venue has nothing that I can eat. It’s a bummer, kind of, as I do like the food at the Nighthawk when I’m on the road.  I’m also ditching the customary Four Loko for some Scratch Labs powder.  Big changes, I’m excited to see how I fare after the dietary changes and weight loss. I’m most excited to see my team mates, this is the one time every year we are guaranteed to be together all at once.

See you in Slater!

CNB

Loss Of A Legend: Mike Hall

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Mike Hall tucked in on the IPWR. Photo Credit: Facebook

Mike Hall is a legend in cycling. In his relatively short time at the forefront of ultra-endurance racing he has racked up wins/records in 24-hour mountain bike races, the Trans-Am Bike Race, World Cycle Race , Tour Divide, and founded the Trans-Continental Race in Europe. In addition to his racing, Mike participated in fundraising efforts for charity Newborns Vietnam. Mike was on his way to a second place finish behind three time Trans-Con Winner Kristof Allegaert in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race crossing Southern Australia when he was tragically killed by a motorist on March 31st, 2017. The collision occurred on the Monaro Highway on the outskirts of Canberra at approximately 6:20am.

This is a great loss of a true Ultra Champion. Rest in peace, Mr. Hall.

Sam, CNB

 

A Smashing Good Ride Report

Sometimes you have a moment that I like to call a “Re-Piphany.” This is the moment that you remember a sudden, insightful vision that struck you in the past.  A few years ago I had this original occurrence while riding out on the gravel, cruising down a hill at dusk at a speed that was far overreaching my poor eyesight’s ability to gauge the road surface stability.  A not-so-small patch of loose rock in an odd section of the road almost took me down, and in the adrenaline rush after barely keeping the bike upright it came to me. I should probably get contacts or prescription riding shades.  Now that I’m a little more seasoned at reading the roads (also slower), it’s rare to have such a run in. Until yesterday when it happened again.

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A rare photo of me with the old trusty Peugeot, Circa 2009

Yesterday I was doing an in-town ride to get a few miles in, and basically to revisit all of the roads I used to travel when all I had was an old Peugeot fixie that I rode everywhere. I was with the stoker at Campbell’s Nutrition the other day and had a longing to relive those old days of shopping by bike there and at New City Market (RIP), cruising the streets on the old pearl white and orange beast, stopping for beers along the way, filling my messenger bag up with vital veggies for the week’s meals. It was powerful, but this is not the Re-Piphany I speak of. So, I decided I would take the gravel bike around my old stomping grounds. It’s completely over the top as a commuter/city bike, but since that is the bike I am currently training to use for this years’ events, that’s what I’m riding at all times.  Towards the end of my loop I had come through Water Works, then decided to take the MLK extension to the EV instead of my normal route behind Gray’s Lake.  Descending down east from the MLK/Fleur bridge, I picked up speed and was looking down at my computer to check said speed, crossed the first road then looked up to see that I was bearing down on a tall, fresh curb. “What in fresh curb hell is this?” I managed to get the Bird’s front wheel up, but the rear slammed into the concrete and after a yard or so I heard that familiar hissing and felt that rear end squirm. FLAT TIME! I was cold, as the temps were a little cooler than I had anticipated (I also like training underdressed, but I don’t factor in stopping and getting chilled during mechanicals. Noted.), and just wanted to get home for some food.

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A proper blowout, indeed.

One of my main concerns, aside from eating all the food, was that I was rolling on carbon hoops.  I was completely convinced that upon inspecting the rim that there would be a crack or break. I mean, I’m at the top end of the weight limit for almost every bike part known to humankind, and a direct hit at that velocity with the momentum created by my mass, that’s the science of fucking up a good wheel.  Wheel inspection complete, all was surprisingly well. Thank you Whisky Parts Co for making a literal bomb-proof carbon hoop, and Ed & Jen at Beaverdale Bikes for a rock solid wheel build. DANG. I had a road tube in the pack, that was better than the MTB tube I expected to encounter, as I don’t remember repacking this particular kit from the Lynskey SS MTB trial run of Ought 16, I made that work and was up and rolling in just a few short minutes.  Rolling back to the house, back to food, back to the kittens, and back to re-tube that rear wheel with the correct size rubber.

So… the moment I hit that curb it struck me loudly for the second time, I really need to get some better vision going for the roads ahead. When I looked up I had plenty of time to react, but I couldn’t see that the curb was high now.  It had been reconstructed recently, so I thought that it was changed (it wasn’t changed at all, btw). You could also argue that I should maybe keep my head up and pay better attention when cycling at higher speeds.

Maybe.

Sam, CNB

CIRREM MIC DROP

You’ve all had the chance to read about my dropping out of CIRREM at the checkpoint, just 20 miles before the finish. You’ve also had a chance to read about my health/weight issues and how that is going.  What you HAVEN’T seen is the super classy video of me dropping out of the race that beautiful Saturday. Without further ado, here is the unedited video of yours truly (at about 310+ lbs) dropping out of a race at mile 45. Enjoy.

Sam, CNB

The (Broken) Promise Of Spring

Today I’m going to do a really typical Midwesterner thing and bitch about the weather.  I’ve had it with the ups and downs of Iowa climate, Monday it was in the 60’s, yesterday it snowed but got to the low 50’s, it’s goddamn 30 right now.  Preparing to ride in this shit is very frustrating. Our winter here was pretty mild, too mild, and afforded some nice long days in the saddle. It was pretty much road bike weather all winter. I used my FATBIKE sparingly, and generally just when I was too lazy to find gloves as I have pogies on the bars. There was no real snowfall this winter in my neck of the woods. So, unfortunately I had to get everywhere much faster, total bummer.

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Road Biking in February. WHERE’S MY SNOW??

My body is no longer acclimated to the “Winter Temperature Scale,” that thing that makes you comfortable wearing shorts towards the end of winter in temperatures that would have you wearing a base layer in the fall.  I’m not sure where or when this happened, I generally train/ride underdressed so I can carry less layers on me or on the bike. As a rule, if it’s not cold enough to cause physical damage to your skin, you’ll live. I’m also built like a goddamn bear, so I suppose that it’s easier for me to just “stay warm”

Ok, I’m making no real point here. Yes, spring weather is unpredictable. Yes, it’s frustrating. I’m also looking directly at the temperature, which hasn’t changed in a few hours. It’s 8:30 am. Maybe I should just shut ‘er down and get on a bike and ride. Sounds like a good plan.  Wait, I need to go to the grocery store. Later. Thanks for humoring me by reading this today.

Sam, CNB

Favorites: J-Paks GravelPak

I’ve been a frame bag user for quite some time, using Revelate full frame and Tangle bags on my gravel/fat/mountain rigs, and a sweet Porcelain Rocket custom frame bag (thanks to my deer friend Zen Biking), on my Ti Fargo. I’m a big fan of these convenient packs, but I have one problem. I’m a pack rat and my frame bags end up looking like something out of “Hoarders, Bike Edition.” The “map compartment” side is usually stocked with old cue cards from races past, random keys or mud scraping devices (aka ti tent stakes), licorice ropes, batteries, empty gel packs, and the main compartments are a collection of mini pumps, ancient granola bars, lighters, expired gel packs, gas station trinkets, a goddamn red clown nose (???), crushed beer cans, and it just goes from there.  Basically, my frame bags become a rolling landfill. Pretty rad.

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The J-Paks Gravel Pak on my Salsa Warbird Carbon Gravel Rig Of Doom

Enter my new favorite bike thing: the GravelPak from J-Paks. I picked one of these up a few months back, and it has become my go to for bringing along anything I need on a ride. It’s similar in shape to the ubiquitous seat packs you see on most bikepacking rigs, but it’s smaller and less unwieldy than it’s larger brethren.  There is enough space for a tool kit, phone charger, base layers/jacket, extra gloves/hat (I always carry spares, especially in the cooler months. I like to change out these items about half way through a ride), some food items, maybe even an extra water bottle or can of beer if you feel so inclined without taking up frame space, and you hardly notice the seat pack. Somehow the GravelPak also lends itself to repacking and keeping things organized, and since it is a roll-closure and not something you simply unzip and toss crap in, you are less likely to pack rat away all of those cool (useless) gas station finds.

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GravelPaks in the not so wild. Image ripped off from jpaks.com

The Gravel Pak is great for switching between bikes, its two clipped straps for the seat rails and one very secure velcro strap around the seat post can be easily popped/undone and moved to whatever steed you are riding today. You can have your “winter kit” on hand and move it between your gravel rig, fat bike, whatever bike, and with so much less hassle than undoing 400 velcro straps you find on frame bags.  You can use a regular seat pack for things like this, but the J-Pak bag is like the “Baby Bear’s Porridge” of short to medium range riding. It’s just the right size.

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Hey! Hooman! Paws off my #$%&ing porridge!

Due to the ever changing Iowa winter weather, I have been using this bag between my road bike, my gravel bike, a single speed, and my trusty Mukluk with no problems at all. It’s a sturdy build that shows no signs of wear after over 500 miles of mixed use and many bike swaps. I’m looking forward to a good spring of many more miles with this bad lad, and to maybe picking up a few of J-Paks other offerings from their J-Paks Shop.

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J-Paks GravelPak on my trusty road bike outside Jamaica, IA

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And here it is on the trusty Mukluk. (Thanks, DMPL, for gently shoveling around my steed)

Yeah, that’s it. No crazy stories, just a solid piece of kit that will keep you organized in your travels, and transfers easily between bikes.  Kudos, J-Paks. Thank you for the righteous gear.

Sam, CNB