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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shake Out Ride

All this talk about routes, logistics and bikes leaves me yearning to put it all together in a shorter, more controlled environment before launching into the 300+ mile remoteness of the Black Hills BackBone.  Time for a shake out ride.

In late May, a scheduling break at work fortuitously opens up the first weekend in June.  Having missed a return to the 162 mile Almanzo Royal in mid-May due to a last minute family trip to Denver, I leap at the chance to enter the inaugural Gold Rush Mother Lode.  Hosted by Kristi and Perry Jewitt of  Dakota Five-O fame, the Mother Lode promises 210 miles of gravel and dirt roads in a grand loop out of Spearfish, right here in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I sign up first, ask questions later.

Rifle Pit Road on the Gold Rush Mother Lode (photo by Les Heiserman)
As a shake out ride, I aim to replicate my BackBone approach, including route finding by cue sheets and cyclometer, water for 6-8 hours, drink mix and food for the entire ride, clothes for expected rain, wind and temperatures, tools and parts to handle mechanicals, medicinals for those contingencies, lights for helmet, bars and seat post, and bags to carry it all.  Oh yeah, and my beloved Black Mountain Monster Cross bike to haul me with all that stuff.  Self-supported.  Just scrounging for water now and then.  Not dependent on stops for food.  Details of my plan are spelled out in a series of prior posts.  Water. Fuel. Cue sheets. Bags. Mechanicals. Single speed. Bike.  Time to put that talk to the test.

Ready to roll.  My Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike is built for this.
At the start of the Mother Lode, I carried a BackBone-load of water:  a 100 ounce bladder of water in a Revelate Designs Tangle bag, one large water bottle of HEED and one large water bottle of Perpetuem.  That's about 156 ounces, which is about a gallon and a quarter, or almost 10 pounds of water alone.  No, I did not need that much water to get to the first Mother Lode Checkpoint at Mile 69.3, let alone a water stop along the way, or the other checkpoints.  But on the BackBone, I will need that much to cross the remote northern prairie.

Although that was a lot of weight to haul up those hills, my only stops were the 4 checkpoints.  There I drank more than a large bottle worth of water to sustain the next hour or so, refilled the HEED bottle and topped off the Perpetuem bottle.  I never added water to the Tangle bag, even though I sipped from it all day as needed.  All said, I kept plenty hydrated, only stopped for water at the required checkpoints and carried less water as the ride went on.

Plenty of water on the Gold Rush Mother Lode.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
At the start of the Mother Lode, I also carried 2/3 of a BackBone-load of food to cover 2/3 of the distance.  That's also some bulk and weight to carry.  Following a Shaun Arritola suggestion, I mixed 6 servings of Perpetuem (almost 800 calories) in a single water bottle and metered caloric intake by estimating fractions of the bottle consumed.  That translated to mixing a first bottle before the start and a second bottle at the Mountain Meadow Checkpoint.  That worked really well for me, both in fuel performance and convenience.

For the HEED, I tried the same approach, by doubling the amount of mix I normally use in a water bottle.  At each checkpoint, I refilled the HEED bottle.  That also worked well.

So, as a test of performance and convenience, my food plan worked well.  I had the fuel I needed, without depending on caloric sources along the way, although I did drink a small coffee from the Mountain Meadow Checkpoint and a small COKE from the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.  This food plan easily scales up for the BackBone.

I exceeded my low gear limit for this type of riding with the 11-34 cassette.  Back to my more roadie-like 12-27.
As planned for the Backbone, I switched to an 11-34 cassette for the Mother Lode, thinking that a couple of easier gears would be good for all that climbing carrying all that extra weight.  However, the extra low gears just felt slower, not easier, on the tougher climbs and I stopped using them early on.  Worse, I always felt like I was in between gears on everything else.  I didn't like it and missed the relatively closer gear range of my standard 12-27.  I'll switch back for the BackBone.

Other logistics
Everything else worked well.  The cue sheets and cyclocomputer were flawless, I never referred to the map or compass and I had no GPS to misfire.  I pulled out a rain jacket twice, each time briefly, for late afternoon showers, while the other layers and articles remained packed.  I fixed a broken chain with a chain breaker and spare PowerLinks, never using other tools, parts, spare tubes, pump or mud shank.  A helmet mounted light properly lit up the cue sheets after dark, while my Cateye head light amply lit the road ahead.  Spare batteries not needed.   I used some sun screen and lip balm, but not the aspirin, Alleve, Advil or TUMS.  The Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike was, of course, perfect.  But regular readers know that.

All told, this was a successful shake out ride.  I had everything I needed and I don't think I'll remove anything from the list.  Basically, with just a cassette change and more food, I believe this plan is ready for the Black Hills BackBone.  Whoo hoo.

Out there.  (photo by Les Heiserman) 
Addenduum:  not a great approach for the Mother Lode
Now, this BackBone approach is not my recommended way to race the 210 mile Mother Lode, which allows support crews to meet racers at 4 separate checkpoints at miles 69.3, 123, 152, and 172.7.  A far better approach would be to carry as little as possible, just enough to successfully reach the next checkpoint, and then meet your support crew to resupply, or even change supply, depending on the circumstances. Traveling as light as possible would be prudent, with the sheer distance, 12,000+ feet of elevation gain, uncertain road conditions, and unpredictable weather, let alone the time cutoffs.

With favorable conditions like that race day, I think that one could comfortably cover the Mother Lode carrying just 2-3 water bottles and maybe 400-600 calories of food at a time.  With proper use of the allowed support crews at each of the checkpoints, one could carry just enough supplies for 4-6 hours to Trailshead Lodge (69.3 miles, Checkpoint 1), pick up just enough more for 3-5 hours to Mountain Meadow (123 miles, Checkpoint 2), pick up a little for 2-3 hours to Moonshine Gulch (152 miles, Checkpoint 3), pick up a little more for 2-4 hours back up to Trailshead Lodge (172.7 miles, Checkpoint 4), and then little or nothing more for the 2-3 hours to the finish (207.3 miles). By eating and drinking just a bit at each checkpoint, one could carry even less.

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