The Joys of Riding Alone and with Others

Great ride food.

Great ride food.

Mountain bike riding is like most things more enjoyable with others, usually.  Often times the larger the group the more opportunity for fun, and the more opportunity for folly.  It’s a real crapshoot.  Take Sunday for instance; ten riders meet up at for some riding around One Horse Gap.  No beginners in the group, this group contained some of the most experienced and accomplished riders in the area.  No reason why this ride shouldn’t have been smooth and yet it was an unmitigated disaster.

Tom heading up One Horse Gap.

Tom heading up One Horse Gap.

One rider got left behind, a pedal broke, some crashes, then 3 riders got lost, flat tires, found, then lost again.  Nothing was going right for the group as a whole, though a few of us lost riders were doing OK.  In fact Lee brought cookies, they were great, so yeah I mean I was doing OK.  Unfortunately several riders came out and had a time in the woods, time better spent riding was spent waiting for lost riders.

So this morning I went off on my own and got in 15 awesome miles around Petticoat Junction.  Riding alone was great, I enjoyed riding at my own pace, I stopped and adjusted my saddle without slowing down the group.  I stopped to consider trail options and then went off in search of some unexplored singletrack without worrying about others feelings.  It was a great ride.

The Bandersnatch hanging out near Bluehole.

The Bandersnatch hanging out near Bluehole.

Yet no one was there to congratulate me when I made the entire 493 climb top to bottom without unclipping, there was no one to photograph so I had to take another picture of my bike leaned against something, there was no one around to laugh after I went over the bars when  giant boulder jumped out in front of me on a harmless fire road, and no one was there to congratulate on a ride well done when I rolled up to my car.

In short, I’ll ride alone when I have to but I’m already excited for the next group ride.

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I Guess it’s Fall Now

Brrrr….

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Out for a morning stroll.

46 degrees this morning.  Last week I was worried about the heat, now I’m cold, so cold in fact that I found my Old Navy jacket that’s been riding around in the trunk of the car since early Spring.  It was too cold to skate this morning so I walked.

The Cursed Glove

Bontrager has some cheap gloves that have a cool sort of rastafarian color scheme, I bought some years ago.  The first time I used them they got lost in Wisconsin when me and Shaundo were riding rail trails.  I bought another pair and put them in a drawer.  A couple of months ago I found them again and took them mountain biking and lost one.  I agonized over throwing the single remaining glove away and eventually did.  This is noteable because I rarely ever throw things away, in fact this was a triumphant victory because I convinced myself there was so reason to keep a single glove.   Not long ago after a ride Joe said, “Someone lost a glove,” and there it was, the mate to the glove I’d thrown away.  IMG_3214

Tubeless For Reals

Since I had to buy a longer seatpost for the SIR 9, I ordered some Stan’s sealant and valve stems.  I’ve messed around with making my own sealant and cutting valve stems out of old tubes without much success.  Some of you may remember the great glitter explosion of 2013.  Last night I put the valve stem in and a couple of scoops of sealant, then I attached my regular floor pump and low and behind the crazy thing just aired up, like magic.  Could have saved alot of hassle and glitter.

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SIR Nine Single Speed Revelation

IMG_3205Niner’s S.I.R. 9 frame is pretty well known.  It’s a light weight steel do it all frame that’s just as easy to set up with gears as it is to set up as a single speed.  My riding associate Luke has gone off on a 3 month adventure in Alaska (I bet you wish you were reading his blog)  and while he was gone he left me his SIR 9 single speed to try out.  

So this bike has got a few strikes against it, it’s medium and I typically like a large and it’s currently a single speed.  I’ve tried single speeds in the past and never really been very happy never seeming to have the right gear.  What it does have going for it is weight, it comes in around 23 pounds which is nearly ten pounds lighter then the Bandersnatch.    With the seatpost set exactly at the max line I took it with the guys Sunday for a 15 mile ride on benchcut trails.  It didn’t take long to decide if I liked it. IMG_3208

My Dos Niner and Bandersnatch are both mild mannered bikes, they have low bottom brackets and long chainstays and I have the bars pretty high on both.  On the SIR 9 I was in lower and more aggressive position on quicker handling and much smaller bike.  I’ve often heard the phrase, “point and shoot,” used to describe the ride characteristics of a bike, but the SIR 9 brought new meaning to that expression.  

I don’t really understand it, but it seemed like it was always in the right gear.  I failed to make one very tight and loose switchback but I’d most likely not have made it with gears either so I can’t complain.  Downhill I was looking for more gear occasionally but most of the time I was in the attack position enjoying how the bike handled with precision as it carved trails. 

Even though the bike was rigid at the end of the ride my hands felt good, my arms and shoulders were fresh, I had lots of miles left in me.  Credit probably has to go to the Niner carbon fork which is easily the most impressive piece of hardware on the machine.  This fork looks like it belongs on a muscle car.  It looks so tough, and yet it weighs a bit more then a pound and has no rider weight limit.  The steel fork on the Bandersnatch weighs about 3 pounds, has lots of flex and feels like a jackhammer in the rough stuff. 

The only real problem was the saddle height.  At the Max line of the seatpost I still needed a bit more height.  I’ve ordered a 400mm post to correct this problem.  Oddly enough even though I felt like my power was low because my saddle was low, I still managed to bust a Strava record on a climb and rode better then I have in months.  

I look forward to more rides on the SIR it could become a permanent addition to the barn.  

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Labor Day Weekend Mountain Biking

Pretty good sign the drivetrain is toast.

Pretty good sign the drivetrain is toast.

The Vassago Bandersnatch is back in action.  Now that my Dos Niner is junk  I replaced a few parts on the ‘Snatch and got it rolling again.  New chain, chain ring, 36-12 cassette, and rear derailuer got the drive train smooth as silk.  Sunday we got in a ride at One Horse Gap and Monday we ventured to Kentucky to ride at Land Between the Lakes.  

One Horse Gap is your typical Shawnee horse trail system with lots of rocks, ruts, and deadfall to ride over,  very technical and very fun.  There is a new section of benchcut that we’ve been riding, its 2.82 miles of climbing, but nice gradual climbing that lets you keep up your speed.  Luke was leading up the climb and I was right on his wheel.  I kept thinking, go faster Luke, go faster.  Eventually Luke did go faster and I found myself going slower.  Barry was riding behind me and while I was gasping for breath trying to keep my bike moving he was asking me about shoe and pedal systems.  I encouraged him to pass me since he obviously wasn’t too stressed, but he declined.  I tried to answer between gasps.  

Shiny new parts, won't last though.

Shiny new parts, won’t last though.

Loaded down and trucking

Loaded down and trucking

It was a fantastic ride, as Elam said, a solid group of Quality Riders.  There were no mechanicals, and the only thing that could have been better was the humidity.  90% humidity makes 85 degrees feel like a million in the forest.  

Monday would be a very different ride for me.  We drove over to Land Between the Lakes, which has dedicated mountain bike trails, no horses or ATVs allowed.  The trails at LBL are groomed, clear, and fast.  9-10 mph averages are the norm here for in shape riders.  Seven riders met up and attacked the North South trail, on the first climb I was off the back, way off the back.  I actually felt my arms going numb on the climbs like there wasn’t enough oxygen being delivered to them.  I couldn’t get enough to drink and my heart was throbbing after the short and easy climbs.  

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I tried to convince the guys to stop waiting for me but they were too nice to just totally abandon me in the woods.  I was averaging about 3 miles per hour slower then the group.  On the way back while the group was up ahead I started hearing enthusastic shouting from behind.  A group of kids on 20 inch bikes came rolling by and I stopped to get their picture.  It had everyone cracking up when I came out of the woods riding behind these kids.  They headed back to Hillman Ferry campground and we continued on to the most difficult part of the trail.  

The final few miles pretty much wiped me out, I finished off my 70 ounces of water.  I tried to figure out what was wrong with my body in these last few miles.  I felt pretty much zero pain or fatigue in my legs, they didn’t even feel stressed,  yet when I attempted to pedal with any kind of power I would find myself winded in seconds. and everything seemed weak.  It seems pretty obvious that I didn’t recover well from Sunday’s ride, probably didn’t eat or drink enough.  Just out of curiosity I bought some batteries for the scale and weighed myself, first time in long while.  As I suspected I’ve been gaining weight, driving around delivering mail all day doesn’t burn many calories but for some reason makes me extremely hungry for junk food. 

My new bike club.

My new bike club.

September, October and November are the best mountain bike months of the year.  I’d better start working on getting in shape for them.  

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Scorching the Dog Pen

Standard Pre ride pose

Standard Pre ride pose

After a July that could only be described as incredibly nice late August has reminded us that it’s summer in Southern Illinois.  The last few weeks have been defined by high humidity and high temperatures.  I’ve been working alot and haven’t had much time or motivation to ride, but yesterday when I got the day off I knew that I had to spend it in the woods.  Joe, Drew and Amanda were going to a trail head called the Dog Pen and I was in.

Typically while mountain biking in the heat and humidity I have some problems.  Often times with my stomach.  I was careful not to eat too much before the ride and our pace was just a bit relaxed.  I surprised myself by feeling good and riding well even as I became completely saturated in sweat.  Mountain biking in high heat and humidity puts a big strain on a person’s cooling systems.  Airflow is restricted in the woods and when averaging 6 miles per hour you’re not generating enough airflow to evaporate the sweat.  At the end of the ride I couldn’t have been any wetter if I’d jumped in a creek, which I did. 

Creek crossing.

Creek crossing.

I’ve been riding my Bandersnatch which has been surprisingly riding well, though  5 minutes into the ride I broke a front spoke, luckily it had no effect on the wheel.  Shifting became increasingly crappy throughout the ride and by the end it was almost impossible.  The only major problem occurred with my shoes.  A bolt holding my cleat in fell out which caused an embarrassing fall when I couldn’t clip out.  Luckily Drew carries an extra set of emergency flat peddles in his bag.  That bag is amazing.  

As the ride continued we kept choosing the longer options, I was expecting a 2 hour ride and we were out there for 4.  I didn’t bring nearly enough food and the huge gulps of water I was taking in weren’t cutting it.  Hunger was eventually replaced with a hypoglycemic stupor.  The final couple of miles are a very gentle climb back to the Dog Pen on good benchcut.  The kind of trail you could just rip up.  I had been riding in the front the whole day but I found myself in the back about halfway up the climb.  At one point I looked down for a moment and then looked back up and everyone was stopped in front of me.  There was a a brief moment where I couldn’t seem to get my fingers to find the brake levers and I nearly rolled into everyone.  

Resting at Jackson Hole

Resting at Jackson Hole

My hands pruned up from completely saturated gloves

My hands pruned up from completely saturated gloves

After that I was extra careful to stay focused on the trail.  As my body continued to weaken my bike began to degrade, several of the cogs on the rear refused to pull, and noises that reminded me of a rusty farm implements were  sounding from somewhere.  I think it needs an overhaul.  

It was an excellent ride, and I was so glad that it was over.  Can’t wait for the next.  

Post ride pose, just about to pass out.

Post ride pose, just about to pass out.

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Botanical Basilica St. Louis Sightseeing

Last Friday Shauna and I went to St. Louis to do some sightseeing.  I spent some time Thursday night reviewing the stories of unrest in nearby Ferguson, I have to admit I was a bit worried.  In reality I had nothing to be worried about since the Botanical Garden and Cathedral Basilica are not hotspots for a protest.  To our relief visiting the St. Louis area was no different from any of the other times we’ve been.  Though I wonder if that would be the case a week later.  Today a man armed with a knife decided to create a situation where he would be shot by St. Louis cops.  

While nut jobs and lunatics from around the country converge in Ferguson I think it’s important to put the story in context.  Negotiations between Hamas and Israel broke down today and they’re back to fighting, over 2000 people have died in that conflict.  Fighting continues between Ukraine and the Pro Russian separatists today, over 2000 people have died in that conflict.  In West Africa they have ran out of body bags as Ebola continues to spread, over 1200 people have died from the outbreak.  Chaos reigns across large portions of Syria and Iraq as the terrorist group  ISIS has run completely amok.  Millions of people have been driven from their homes and over 100,000 people have lost their lives in that conflict.  

Hard to comprehend that kind of madness while you’re sucking down a 44 ounce soda from a Quick Trip.  

Here’s some pictures from our sightseeing. 

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Back Nine at High Knob

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPretty much all the trail areas have a section we call the back nine.  The farthest section from the main trail head it tends to have less traffic.  On a good full day we’ll get the whole course but sometimes it’s just a back nine day.  Sunday we headed out to ride the Back Nine at High Knob.  It’s been reported that much of the front half of the trail system is blasted from heavy traffic when it was soaked.  The Back Nine trails are newer and graveled in some of the more heavier used areas.  They were fantastic.

I rode Luke’s old GT Peace single speed with a 21 tooth rear cog and the standard 32 chain wheel.  Most folks would be at least on 20 and as high as an 18, but I’m not much on single speeding.  Out of the gate things were pretty good, it was hot, but also mostly downhill so we kept moving pretty fast.  I was able to keep up with the guys ahead even though I always felt like I was in the wrong gear.  For the downhill sections I would spin out to fast, and for many of the climbs I was wishing I had a couple more clicks back there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we reached Pounds Hollow Lake and began the longest toughest climb I was doing great and really enjoying standing on the Single Speed.  Then it hit me.  The heat combined with the slow speed climbing was making me sick.  I could feel my breakfast, my stomach felt like it was tied in knots.

For the rest of the ride I would dangle off the back.  I didn’t have the gears to catch up on the flats and downhills and any kind of hard effort would make me nauseous.  I was able to make most of the climbs but often had to kick out a foot when it got really steep to try and keep moving.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the bright side no one had a mechanical problem.  A ride without a mechanical problem is really a pretty big deal for me.  The trails were fantastic shape, almost no mud, very dry and open.    Also near the end I saw the brightest orange fungus I’ve ever seen.

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