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Monday, July 18, 2016

Over my head

Last weekend Eric planned a trip to preride part of the Karkaghne Trail, the first segment of the OT100 mountain bike race. I'm not doing OT100 because of a schedule conflict and had initially decided I'd head to St. Joe State Park to preride the Leadbelt course. Some rain in the lead-up to the weekend made me think the Leadbelt trail might be too wet, so I opted to join the Karkaghne group.

I'd never ridden that section, but its reputation preceded it and some teammates chimed in with warnings:

"Tough stretch of trail there. Doesn't see much traffic either. Be prepared for a long day. Some very steep climbs. "

 "+1000 on [the previous comment]. You'll see +7500' of vert. Expect overgrowth, especially between the race start and Sutton Bluff. You might consider parking at Sutton Bluff ($2 day use fee which includes paved parking and showers) and doing two out and backs."

I knew it was above my pay grade, but I also figured I won't get better at riding hard trails by avoiding them. I did warn the guys how slow I'd be and told them I was totally cool with them riding ahead so they could see as much of the trail they'd be racing as possible.

The campground steward at Sutton Bluff gave us the rundown on how to get to the trail and gave us an ATV trail map to supplement the OTA map Eric had picked up. Even with all this directional assistance, we still rode in circles for a bit before Randy realized that staircase leading off the trail was the trail we needed.

I was immediately out of my comfort zone, and neither physical nor mental warm-up was aided by having to do a lot of walking uphill right away. I wasn't upset by it because I'd expected to have a hard time, but there was a least a touch of Am I EVER going to get better at this??

After some climbing, I reached the bluff itself, standing high above the Black River. Taking one look at the steep slope to the left of the trail (in addition to being afraid of heights, I also clip out almost exclusively with my left foot -- something I need to work on -- which means if I needed to stop my momentum would be to the slope side). "Hell, no," I mumbled, getting off my bike and cautiously walking my bike past the bluff.  I'm sure it was very scenic, but all I saw was the trail right in front of my feet.

Karkaghne
Sutton's Bluff (9:50 a.m.)
The guys were waiting for me a little past the bluff, and we rode together a little before they pulled ahead. I felt like I never pedaled more than 100 feet before having to stop for a rock that made me nervous or a turn I didn't have the confidence to negotiate or a downed tree or a hill I couldn't get any further up. More often it was a combination of these factors. I was moving really slowly and was glad I'd established that they should just ride ahead; that way I didn't feel any pressure because my fears weren't slowing them down.

Karkaghne
10:18 a.m. No idea why I took this one
 Except that, when I rolled up to a big tree across the trail, there they were on the other side. "We helped each other get our bikes through and decided it wouldn't be cool if you had to do it on your own," they told me.

That was basically the end of the guys getting very far ahead of me, and they weren't having my apologizing about slowing them down. "We've talked about this before," Eric reminded me. We've had more than one conversation about how I stress out about slowing my friends down and try to remember that people who've ridden with me before already know what to expect; if they choose to ride with me again they're obviously ok with it. But still...

I was definitely glad we were all together when we reached the Bee Fork crossing. The trail ends at the water with no indication of where it picks back up again. A little time with the map and some nearly waist-deep wading gave us the answer.

Karkaghne
Crossing Bee Fork (11:02)
Our general plan had been to ride out 15 miles from Sutton's Bluff and then make the return trip before riding some of the trail to the north of the campground. At noonish I looked at my Garmin and saw that we'd gone a whopping 7 miles. Catching up with the guys at a creek crossing I pointed out a potential problem: "You realize at this pace we're looking at a 12 hour ride? And we don't have lights."

We had a couple of bailout options. We could ride forward another couple miles to a gravel road crossing. We could ride backward a couple miles to a gravel road crossing. Or..."we could follow this creek to Bee Fork and then get on this road on the other side of it!"

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the get-the-hell-off-this-trail suggestion was mine. While I was open to either of the other ideas, I was most in favor of getting off south Karkaghne. The guys, who I'm sure would have preferred to stay on the singletrack, went along with my brilliant plan.

And it was brilliant, right up until we crossed Bee Fork, found the road just where it was supposed to be...and realized that light purple shading next to the water indicated private property. We spent about a mile walking through the (thankfully shallow) water of Bee Fork until we found a place where we could hop onto the gravel.

I'm pretty sure that's the last time they let me suggest a route, but once we were on gravel things were better. Well, as long as you think a 300 foot climb in full sun is better.  That hurt, but the subsequent mile and a half of downhill was a pretty good consolation. And even with our extended wading session, our route was definitely the fastest way back.

We took an extended lunch break at the campground pavilion before finally, somewhat grudgingly, heading to the northern section of the trail. It was like night and day from the southern part. Instead of the steep climbs followed by descents that were too scary to be fun for me, it was all flowy goodness without any of the downed trees that had punctuated our previous ride.

Since we had to eventually head back towards home we decided to ride an hour out and then turn back. The guys took off, and I followed at a more leisurely pace, still feeling a little fragile from the mental beating of the morning's ride. That quickly evaporated in the flat-out fun of the trail.  There were a few rock gardens that I walked at least part of, but overall it was much more rideable than the previous section.

Karkaghne
Wheee! (4:46 pm)
 
As the 4:00 turnaround time approached, I started evaluating downhills -- There's only 15 minutes left...do I really want to have to ride back up this? I decided to stick it out and ride whatever came until 4 and had a blast on my way back. I rode much more of the rock gardens and felt way more confident than just minutes earlier. I was hoping to beat the guys back, but they caught me a mile or so from the road. I let them ahead of me and then chased.

I was so glad we'd continued riding after the rough morning. It would have been easy to quit and head home, but instead our afternoon ride completely redeemed the day, "Making mountain biking great again", as I titled my strava file for the second ride.

It was a hard, fun day, certainly not my best on a bike but another great reminder of how lucky I am in the friends I've made. Any mountain biking progress I've made can be attributed to having much stronger riders who've been patient and encouraging, and that was definitely on display on our Karkaghne ride. And if nothing else, at least this first attempt gives me a bar by which I can measure (hopefully) progress next time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Devil's Tower

While we were still in Spearfish we took a couple of day trips. On Sunday, after a leisurely breakfast for Motherlode participants, we headed into Wyoming to Devil's Tower National Monument. We'd been there on our first South Dakota vacation 13 years ago, and while I'd enjoyed it I had no huge desire to go back. That's why we'd planned the visit on Sunday; if I was still too tired from the race I could just stay back at the camper. Instead, my unexpectedly short ride left me with plenty of sightseeing energy.

Devil's Tower

Because we'd gotten a late start there was a decent line at the entrance gate, but we were still able to score a good parking place and picnicked out of the cooler while waiting for Jeff's family to arrive. After a quick spin through the small visitor's center (not much there), we walked up to the trail around the tower.

Jacob loves scrambling on rocks, so he'd been very disappointed to learn that there's a voluntary climbing ban in place during the month of June out of respect for Native American religious beliefs. It was still nice to walk the path around the monument. Most of our group wasn't much for hiking, and my sister-in-law's dogs weren't allowed on any of the trails, so we stuck with just the Tower trail, a paved path that circled the base.

Devil's Tower
Beautiful day
Jeff, my nephew, and I walked around while Jacob opted to run the trail, catching us just before we hit the halfway point and then continuing on with us. Another sister-in-law and nephew started the hike planning to only go a little bit and ended up completing the whole circle. There were other trails as well, but we skipped them because no one else really wanted to hike. 

There's a prairie dog village along the road on the way out, so we stopped there to watch them for a while and then made another stop at a gift shop just outside of the park grounds. I prefer to buy from the park stores so that the money goes to support the parks, but I hadn't found anything in the visitor's center that called to me and ended up buying a hat I liked in the store. 

From there, we went our separate ways for the last time of the trip. Everyone else was already in Custer; we headed back to Spearfish. With a relatively short day, I still had time to take our dirty clothes to a nearby laundromat.  We have a nice little drying rack for all the things that need to hang dry (seems like more and more of them), but it stormed that night, so we had to make some drying space inside the camper.

Untitled
Still better than smelling my sweaty jerseys for another week!
I'd prepped and frozen taco meat before we left for Sunday's dinner; unfortunately the new cooler and freezer packs we were using hadn't kept the meat cold enough. It was room temperature when I took it out of the cooler; with two friends having just finished a nasty bout of food poisoning and Jacob already dealing with stomach issues I wasn't taking any chances. We threw away the meat, made do with a very unsatisfactory (but non-food poisoning) meal from McDonald's, and spent the rest of the night packing things up for our move the next day.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Spearfish, SD

During our time in Spearfish, we stayed three nights at Spearfish City Campground. While the camper sites weren't spacious, they were level and most had trees around them. The campground bathrooms/showers were probably the nicest I've ever seen camping. Spearfish Creek ran along the campground, which neighbored Spearfish City Park and the historic D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery.

One thing I noticed about the town was that bikes were everywhere. Very cool to see. Most of our meals in Spearfish were out of our cooler, but the Motherlode post-race breakfast was hosted by Crow Peak Brewing. Being 9 a.m., they weren't serving beer, but the atmosphere was great and the reviews online I've seen are good. The breakfast was catered by Killian's Tavern, and if it's any indication of the quality of their food I'd eat there any time!

Most of my time "in Spearfish" was spent riding in the Motherlode, so I didn't see much outside of the race.  Jeff and Jacob visited the fish hatchery a few times and did some sightseeing in Spearfish Canyon as well with my in-laws while I was on the bike. I did get a nice view of this in the last 10-15 miles of the race, and we walked through the fish hatchery on our last day as we headed out of town.

D.C. Booth fish hatchery
The entrance

D.C. Booth fish hatchery
One of the fish ponds
D.C. Booth fish hatchery
Feeding the fish
D.C. Booth fish hatchery
Underwater viewing area
The grounds also included a boat that was used on Yellowstone Lake to harvest fish eggs, a train that carried them, and a museum filled with artifacts from the early days of the hatchery. One exhibit had containers that were used to transport the fish for stocking in remote areas. The buckets and baskets could be carried by horse, mule, and some by people. It was a cool place to visit.  Speaking of stocking trout in streams, here was a funny story we learned on our trip about President Coolidge's time in the Black Hills and his very successful trout fishing hobby.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Now what?

Now that Motherlode is over and I don't have any huge goals on the horizon I'm feeling a little aimless. I've got a few upcoming races: right now I'm registered for another go at BT Epic, I know I'll do the Thunder Rolls 24 hour AR again, and I'm hoping to be at the No Sleep 30 hour and the Berryman Adventure Race in September. Somehow none of those races exerts the same training pull from me as a ridiculously long gravel race.

Every year after my big spring race I tend to slip into my couch and stay there until school starts and the lack of elastic waists in my dress clothes informs me how much weight I've gained. So far I've managed to run a couple times a week and get in several mountain bike rides.

#winning CCLP
Creve Couer Heartbreaker cat 3 podium
I even managed to win my division in a race! Nathan is home from Japan and a family obligation kept me from entering the marathon class, but the two laps and 9:30 start time of cat 3 worked out perfectly with our schedule. I have a hard time with starting aggressively because I don't want to somehow end up in front of people who are faster than I am on singletrack, so for possibly the first time ever I was caught behind slower people and had to pass quite a few times.

Doing such a short race is a very different experience. Usually I'm aiming for measured, sustainable effort so I can finish a 3+ hour race strong; this time I could go "all out" (as all out as I get, anyway...where I'm not limited by fitness I'm still held back by handling skills and confidence) without worrying about blowing up early.

The shorter mountain bike rides are definitely helping with my handling, but I don't want to lose my endurance. After being out of town all weekend for a mud volleyball tournament, I had Monday free and made plans to ride with a couple friends who still have a big bike race to prep for. Unfortunately, Mickey ended up injured and couldn't go, but Eric was still game to ride.

The forecast had correctly called for rain, and when my alarm went off I had repeated thoughts of bailing. I know I won't melt, but the idea of a soggy ride was unexciting at best, and my bed kept calling me. The only thing that got me out the door was knowing how much I'd hate myself if I skipped out and then spent the day doing nothing.

Hawk Point
Misty Missouri morning

My poor cross bike was still covered with South Dakota dust when we rolled out, but that was quickly covered with Missouri gravel spray in the light rain of the first three hours or so.  Early on I felt super sluggish, like I was working way harder than I should be to keep up, so I wasn't sad at all when he had a flat 8 miles in.

Hawk Point

Neither of us had ever ridden this route before, and neither of our Garmins was particularly clear about which way to go when the course split directions (beginning/end of a loop), but it didn't really matter which direction we went. The route was heavy on wildlife; definitely the coolest moment was when a coyote ran across a field next to us and then ahead of us on the road for a time, but we also saw cows, horses, a groundhog (?), birds, rabbits, and the entire farm dog population of the Hawk Point area. None of the chasers seemed unfriendly, but one girl kept us company for a long enough time that I worried about her finding her way home, running alongside us, licking our legs, and darting in front often enough to make me nervous about crashing into her.

Hawk Point
When you've taken a bite just before your riding partner takes a picture...
We had another short break when we were caught in a small-town July 4th parade. Had we been more appropriately dressed for the occasion we'd have joined in; instead we waited for a break in the patriotically decorated tractors and snuck through.

The light rain and cool temps made riding really pleasant, but I definitely didn't drink enough and massive leg cramps hit me about 40 miles in. Arriving home the previous evening, I'd thrown together a few Payday bars and filled my water bladder, but with typical long-ride supplies still strewn among 4 different bags after the trip to South Dakota, I'd neglected to make sure I had ibuprofen and electrolytes. With no solution other than stretching and soft pedaling, I limped along the next 10 miles trying not to whine about how awful I felt.

We planned a convenience store stop so I could pick up some ibuprofen and Eric could grab a drink.  I told him I'd give the ibuprofen an hour or so to work and then bail if my legs were still hurting. While the store clerk couldn't be bothered to get off of his phone while waiting on us, he did still have a delicious-looking piece of pizza left in the case. I slathered in in mustard (don't judge...it's delicious), took my ibuprofen with a bottle of gatorade, and tried to walk off the leg cramps.

It was a more extended stop than we'd originally planned, but it was well worth the time because my legs felt 100% better afterwards. It's a lesson I've learned time and time again on the bike and in adventure races, but it still amazes me to experience the way you can go from feeling awful to great (and then sometimes back again) as long as you don't give up.

The next 40 miles or so were fantastic. The second loop was hillier, with some decent climbs and several sections of fun rollers. I really appreciated Eric's patience when I felt terrible and was very glad I hadn't quit riding when I had the opportunity. Then around mile 90 I was pretty much over it all and started to get a little crabby about being on my bike. That final 18 miles became something of a slog as we were both suffering and ready to be finished.

My legs felt pretty good, but my arms and hands were sore and my left foot was killing me. I've had the same pair of bike shoes since I started riding clipless, and if the holes where you can see through to my socks aren't enough of a sign that it's time to replace them the long-ride foot pain should be.  I entertained myself with thoughts of what I was going to eat and drink once I was off my bike, attempting to compose a song to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. I'm sure that wasn't annoying at all to someone who was in his own pain cave. ;-)

But at the end of the day, we logged 108 miles, got lots of time in the saddle, and had a good ride. Not bad for a rainy Monday.