Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Final Commute

Today is my last day riding my bike to work. That's because it's my last day of work, at least in this career. Today I officially retire from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office.

Riding downstream on the bike path along Rapid Creek past M-Hill and then toward the sun to downtown Rapid City.

For the past 12 years, I have ridden a bicycle to work practically every day. Not absolutely every day, but practically every day.

With shifting work responsibilities and a maturing family, one constant throughout the years was cycling. Every day, I hopped on my bike and rolled through our neighborhood, grinning in disbelief that I got to ride my bike that day. As if dipped in magic waters, I'm 12 years old riding to the park to play baseball with my friends.

After a shift, or a shift and a half, working in a demanding environment, I hopped on my bike and rolled home. Two rides in one day! Somewhere along the way, work troubles always seemed to drop off the back. They just couldn't hang with the pace of the good vibes pulling me along.

"It'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, 
they'll have to brush them away from their faces." Terrance Mann, Field of Dreams (1989).

Cycling travels at a human level. I loved seeing and greeting all kinds of folks along the bike path that formed a large portion of my commute. Even in the depths of a western South Dakota winter, folks are out, throughout the day and night, enjoying the bike path for recreation and transportation.

The most regular of the regulars, however, was cyclist Bill Marquadt. A retired 70-something year old, Bill rides almost 50 miles every day, year round, totaling somewhere around 16,000+ miles per year. When I rode in at about 6:00 am, I often saw him riding home. We regularly stopped to chat for a moment, so I may need an early ride now and then to catch up with Bill.

A fun, little side trail along the other side of Rapid Creek on the base of M-Hill.

The newest regular along my commute was Lucas Haan, an enterprising young School of Mines engineer with a passion for all things cycling and beer. Last winter, Lucas successfully completed the Icy Bike Winter Cycling Challenge by commuting 81 days during our 6 month winter. He even arranged his schedule to share with me part of his ride home. I may need to arrange my retirement schedule to occasionally ride in with Lucas.

Riding my bike to work simply started as a way to get to work. It became an integral part of my lifestyle. I will miss it.

Entering downtown Rapid City as the city awakens.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Stop The Madness

For four wonderful years, I blissfully rode my geared Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross for thousands of miles on many long, remote road rides and races. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I converted it to single speed for the 2018 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. A Single Speed Gold Rush.

Good. I got that out of my system and switched back to gears.

Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross after its 75 month/25,000 mile tune up in June 2020.

Hold your horses. Guitar Ted announces a single speed only race on the storied gravel roads of central Iowa in March 2019. Really? OK. I'm not about to miss that. Back to single speed for the C.O.G. 100. A Fine Mess. And, since I'm at it, let's go for the first attempt of the 210 mile Mother Lode single speed. Arrogance At The Mother Lode.

How did this happen? This is nuts. I thought I beat this single speed addiction back in 2014 with that sweet geared Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross.

But it doesn't stop. I continue to ride single speed throughout the 2019-2020 winter to prepare for the 150 mile Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder. And then it's single speed throughout the 2020 Black Hills Gravel Series to date and the 110 mile route of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. Not A Virtual Ride.

Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross, set up single speed at Trailshead Lodge, O'Neil Pass, South Dakota,
the 70 mile checkpoint of the 110 mile route of the 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.

Enough already. Long, remote rides on rough roads are tough enough with gears.

Here's a novel concept for 2020. Stop the madness. Check the emotion. Control the ego. Engage the intellect.

Get your gears back on.

So, I rebuild the Shimano 105 hubs and buff the H Plus Son Archetype rims on my geared wheel set. I then install a new set of 40 mm Schwalbe G-One Bite tires. As I start on gears, a closer look at the rest of the bike stops me cold. This bike needs much more work.

One long afternoon last week, I take most everything apart, clean everything, inspect everything, switch out the Salsa Cow Chipper handle bars for Salsa Cow Bells, wrap new bar tape, install front and rear derailers, and replace the brake pads, brake cables, brake housing, shift cables, shift housing, chain, and cassette.

The result? Coasting down our driveway, before even shifting gears, I smile ear to ear. Yes. This is how this bike is meant to be. Smooth. Comfortable. Familiar. It's like slipping into sneakers and stepping up to the free throw line. The difference is not the addition of gears, but the change of tires. I finally replaced those awful Teravail Cannonballs, which have to be the harshest tires I've ridden since racing 21 mm slicks at 130 psi years ago. Thank you, Schwalbe for your G-Ones!

Refreshed Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross, set up geared for all day riding on rough remote roads.
Now adorned with custom color top tube bag and frame bag from DirtBags Bikepacking.

Now with gears, maybe I can actually ride gravel more with others. And maybe I can ride a few overnight or longer light bikepacking trips this summer. And maybe I can keep gears on this bike for awhile. Maybe.

For an earlier post about the Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross bike, go to A Road Bike By Black Mountain Cycles. For my 2016 series of posts about its 30 month, 12,000 mile overhaul, go to It's Time - Overhaul (part 1)Frame & Fork (part 2)Wheels & Tires (part 3)Drivetrain (part 4)Brakes & Shifters (part 5)Controls (part 6)On The Road Again (part 7).

Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross after its 30 month, 12,000 mile overhaul in 2016.

Why, Annie Lennox (1992).

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Not A Virtual Ride

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.
Smooth, by Itaal Shur & Rob Thomas, performed by Santana (1999).

My 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder is in the books. The real route. On real gravel. Through real mud. Over real rocks. Against real wind. In real heat. With real sunburn. And, in the end, real tired.
No virtual ride here. 

Hard Forest Service gravel abounds at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Like events of all kinds all over, the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder will not occur in 2020, due to uncertainties with governmental licenses and permits. Gone is the pre-race gathering, the mass start, the check point enthusiasm, and the post-race festivities at a city park. There will be no Gold Rush block party this year.

Determined to make the most from a bad hand, Race Co-Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett create an alternative event. One can participate in a "virtual" Gold Rush by riding one of the four race distances (45, 70, 110 and 210 miles) on any route, anywhere, between June 1-15. Kristi and Perry will post "results," ship out event schwag, and even award door prizes and other awards.

Kristi and Perry are doing what they can do, making the most of it for everyone. And I understand others choosing not to gather in large groups or to travel to the Black Hills for a bike race. But I live here. I ride many miles solo. I've looked forward to this all year.

So, I enter the "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder to ride the actual race course. Solo. Single Speed. Self-supported. Self-navigated.

The event is "virtual," but my ride is real.

The start of my "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder from an empty Spearfish City Park.

With a late start to clear the vestiges of last night's hail storm, I arrive at Spearfish City Park full of anticipation. The "virtual" weather as forecast and the real weather outside actually match with relatively clear skies, no wind and 60 degrees. The day promises to be very good.

It's oddly quiet and a bit eerie to stand at a Gold Rush start line alone. Memories flood my mind of many starts here, with many friends, both old and new. I see their excited faces and hear their friendly chatter. Abruptly, a crowing rooster breaks the clutter and a familiar voice shouts "PEDAL POWER!" I look around. The park is empty. The streets are empty. So, I quickly reply, "Pedal Power," take off and don't look back. 

From Spearfish heading west into Wyoming, the gravel roads still hold water from last night.

As the sun burns off the last of the cloud cover, I roll through the early prairie miles below big, blue skies. Before long, I turn onto Sand Creek Road for a serene 22 mile climb along a quiet creek. This pretty, protected stretch of gentle uphill offers a great opportunity to settle into a sustainable rhythm and just enjoy the ride. My mind drifts.

What's that? A cyclist! Flying down Sand Creek Road toward me! It's Angie Kent from Spearfish, out riding her own "virtual" Gold Rush event. What a nice surprise. We chat for a few minutes before returning to our individual journeys. That brief encounter lifts my spirits for miles.

Spearfish cyclist Angie Kent on her own "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
Great to see you, Angie, and congrats on your successful ride!

Emerging from Sand Creek Road at mile 36, I stop at would have been a Check Point/Aid Station brimming with encouraging volunteers and baked treats. Although now there's nothing but a remote intersection, I take a break, stretch, and eat a little. I'm right on track for me, a little over 3 hours into the ride and starting to warm up.

Looking ahead, Moskee Road looms large, with some significantly steeper rollers and then rougher road along the ponds. After a couple of hours of steady climbing along Sand Creek, I always enjoy this stretch of short, hard uphill pulls and screaming descents.

OK. Short stops are great, but long stops will break. Time to roll.

Spinning up Sand Creek Road on the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.

By the time I turn southeast onto Grand Canyon Road, both the sun and wind are fully awake. My cycle computer reads 94 degrees and a stiff, steady headwind greets me for the final 20+ mile climb to the next Check Point at O'Neil Pass. There's not much to do now, but keep pedaling up the hill, in the heat and into the wind. Here lies the heart of the ride.

About half-way up that final climb to O'Neil Pass, at about 60 miles into the course, Grand Canyon Road turns decidedly upward. Not only steeper, the road also straightens out to flaunt its might. It simply looks endlessly up. Gut check time.

Keep at it. Keep pedaling. Walk if you must. Keep moving. There is a summit. You will make it.

Nearing the 70 mile Check Point at O'Neil Pass, after a whole lot of uphill, upwind, hot gravel.

Eventually, I reach Trails Head Lodge at the top of O'Neil Pass. Rather than check-in, re-load, and dash, I plop down for a cheese burger, french fries and a bottomless Coke. No, that's not premium racing fuel. But I'm not racing anyone, anyhow. Today, I'm out riding my bike.

After an exceptionally long break, I ease onto the roads for the 40 mile descent home, starting with 9 downhill miles on Rifle Pit Road. But even that doesn't come easy. This rocky, rutted, rough, often barely-a-road is no time to relax. I bounce all over, checking speed to avoid breaking bike or body. At least this year it's mostly dry.

Of course, there are a few uphills along the way down to Spearfish, particularly that nasty pitch up to the last Check Point at the Cement Ridge Lookout. But now, the heavy lifting is done. After a spell, it's a spun-out coast down Roughlock Falls Road and then Spearfish Canyon.

Cooked by the sun, battered by the wind, and worn down by the hills, I am done for the day. My 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder "virtual" event is complete after riding a very real 110 miles in just over 10 hours.

The most bellicose, unruly gang of wildlife I've seen since the virus.

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.
Smooth, performed by Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana (1999).

Monday, June 1, 2020

Yield Ahead

Michael Grussing, a gravel enthusiast from Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently posted a thoughtful message on social media about current events and eternal truths. Although he claims that he is not a writer, I found his message powerful. With his permission, I have shared it here in its entirety. Thank you, Michael.

by Michael Grussing

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:17

On a bike ride just a couple days ago.... as our Minneapolis community was just entering this painful season, God started revealing a few things to me.
Gravel roads are my choice of bike paths... I grew up on them... I used to drive a truck that would spread fresh gravel on them...and I have helped rebuild ones that were old and torn up. Also, the vehicles on them are generally moving slower, are not texting and driving, and are much less frequent than roads or streets...and they wave.
I've yielded to the more aggressive mountain bike trails (I fall enough on flat land) and really enjoy the struggle, and beauty of gravel roads.

Yield Ahead. (photo by Michael Grussing)

One of the keys to riding long distances on gravel is "riding the line"... Lines are areas in the road with less loose gravel that are made smooth and firm, from the vehicles that have gone over them recently...these lines are usually more stable and predictable than the rest of the road.
Water is not kind to gravel roads, or to vehicles traveling on them, or any road. Drainage is important. The highest point is in the middle... the crown... so that water can drain off into the ditches on either side, preventing soft spots, pot holes and such. 
Sometimes, these "lines" are hard to find. It's impossible after the road grader has gone over them and redistributed the gravel evenly over the road again. A clean slate per se, but often a more difficult ride. Yet, without this gravel road maintenance, they deteriroate and become full of holes and washboard making travel more difficult and the roads deteriorate much quicker...needing to be totally rebuilt.

Gravel Road grader. (photo by Michael Grussing)

So, as I'm riding a couple days ago, I was struggling more than usual to finding good lines to ride...there were some stretches on the right...and some stretches on the left....both provided firm, stable footing for my tires. But, as often is the case (80% of the time I'd say) when lines aren't clear, the Crown of the road was solid.
As I reaching my intended turn around point, I was out in the open (it was windy!) and I wanted to eat and drink something out of the wind...a line of trees was in the not to far distance, so I added a bit to my ride.
It was there, after I'd eaten, drank and rested a bit, that I noticed a sign right by me, previously unnoticed, that said "Yield Ahead". This was a clear affirmation, to me, of an honest admission that really struck me... from a FB friend in response to the murder of George Floyd...
"I personally had to take a moment (Yield) when I saw this image and ask myself some hard questions.... The older I get the more I realize that there is still so much I do not understand."
I was struck, and convicted, with this sense of Yielding... Yielding to this moment and to his / my prior understanding of circumstances that lead us to this current season of pain. A moment of Pause... A Yielding to our limited understanding...of many, many things.(I lack the understanding to comment on the current situation. .. I could comment from the line I've often rode on the right side...and i can acknowledge a line in the left side.)

Lines on a gravel road. (photo by Michael Grussing)

As I struggled back, keeping my head down into the wind, I rode the crown of the road...sensing the lines on the left and right would give way, especially with going against the wind, and I could wind up in the ditch.
My father in law used to send us off with "Keep it out of the ditches"... It's been many years since I've heard that voice, but I heard it clear during that ride. 
The ditches are where those that have grown tired, and coasted into the ditches on either side of the rode reside... Low areas where we can't see those on the other side, or have to cross paths with them... But they are still within a stones throw away.
I know the ditches... I've coasted into them and got stuck, and found myself not able to gravel on. I had to get off and walk myself back into the road and start riding again. 
Though the line on The Crown is often difficult to see, and verbal stones from the Right and Left ditches may try to knock me from it, it offers a firm and reliable ride...i will Trust it and stay on it, even when it's often hard to see.
Also, I will "Yield Ahead" when I lack the Wisdom to travel this new road... on which the line of the road, provided by the Crown, is made clear by James 3:17.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

GO in the face of NO

The Gold Rush is a GO for 2020.

NO, it won't be the same gravel family get-together as in the past. But Race Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett are grinding it out in the face of difficult circumstances.

GO support this event, this year. It's worth keeping. And so is the community it fosters.

Getting the party started at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
(photo by Ridge Rider Racing, LLC)

Starting in 2013, the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder blazed the trail for gravel cycling events in the Black Hills of South Dakota, attracting enthusiasts of all abilities and experience. Sporting a self-supported ethos out on the remote road course, the Gold Rush offered popular post-race festivities in an outdoor city park at the finish, including live music, catered food, local micro-brews, vendors, unique awards and a smorgasbord of door prizes and raffles. Everyone left with a smile.

This year will not be the same. On May 1st, in a thoughtful and heartfelt message to race entrants, Kristi and Perry announced that the Gold Rush would not occur in 2020 as planned due to uncertainties with governmental licenses and permits. No gravel block party this year.

But not all is lost. Kristi and Perry created a "virtual" Gold Rush event. One can participate by riding one of the four race distances (45 miles, 70 miles, 110 miles, 210 miles) on any route anywhere and sharing pictures of the experience. Kristi and Perry will post "results," ship out event schwag, and even award door prizes and other prizes. They are doing what they can do, making the most out of it for everyone. Details at Gold Rush Info & Registration.

I'm registered and plan to ride the 110 mile Gold Rush route, solo and single speed, on the day and time as originally scheduled. Others may be out there then, too. But if not there or then, others will be out there riding their own "virtual" Gold Rush.

I encourage you to ride along. Keep the vibe alive.

In my first gravel race, I finished third place single speed (out of 3)
at the inaugural 110 mile Gold Rush Gravel Grinder in 2013.
(photo by Ridge Rider Racing, LLC)

Monday, May 11, 2020

The n+1 Struggle Is Real

A common cyclist joke:  How many bikes do you need?
n+1, where n = the number of bikes you currently own.

But it's not a joke. It's an addiction.

At one point in time, not long ago, I owned 11 bikes, including five different types of single speeds and two different fixed gears. I could always find a reason to add a new bike, but not to subtract an old one. I usually kept the old bike as a backup or loaner or, better yet, modified it for a new purpose.

After 30 years of living in conventional n+1 land, I commit to a new mindset and embark on a brave new journey to dramatically reduce my fleet. It isn't all at once and it isn't easy. Definitely the hardest to let go is my beloved classic Italian, lugged steel cyclocross bike. Letting Go. But I persevere. Eventually, my fleet bottoms out at three: a 2014 Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross geared for roads, a 2008 Kona rigid 29er single speed for trails, and a 1991 Specialized RockHopper fixed for commuting.

One reward for subtracting all those other bikes is to add a custom built Jones 29 Plus LWB, geared for all purpose mountain biking and outfitted for bikepacking. Jones 29+ LWB - What It Is. None of my prior or existing bikes possessed the capabilities of the Jones 29+ LWB, especially for day long single track rides and multi-day camping. It is a big add, and a lot of fun. All is good.

Salsa Stormchaser single speed gravel hauler. (photo by Salsa Cycles)

Then Salsa announces the arrival of the Stormchaser for 2020. Introducing the Stormchaser.

What's so special about the Stormchaser? It's a rigid single speed bike designed from the ground up for long rides in bad conditions on rough unpaved roads, from a bike maker in this field for as long as anyone. There's no other production bike like it, in function or form.

It's singular. It's striking. It's simple. It calls to me.

But I don't need it. No, I really don't need it, I repeat to myself. My Black Mountain MonsterCross sets up readily as a single speed. Indeed, for the last couple of years, I have regularly switched it between geared and single speed, depending on my planned rides and races. It isn't difficult and isn't time consuming. The Black Mountain is a great road bike for me, both geared and single speed. I don't need another.

However, pictures and reviews of the Stormchaser flood the media. It beckons. My mind drifts. I start thinking that it would be nice to have two all road bikes - one dedicated single speed and one dedicated geared. Oh, yes, that would be nice. Really nice. So signals the Siren Song of n+1.

It's alluring. It's seductive. As I stray closer to those treacherous n+1 rocks, a persistent thought lurches me to my senses and steers me clear. I simply don't want one. That is, I realized that I did not want a Stormchaser, because I did not want a bike that I did not need.

My Chaser Of Storms - Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross set up single speed.

The day may come when I acquire another bike. But it is not this day. This day I stay at n.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Everywhere A Sign

Sign. Sign. Everywhere a sign.
Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.
Do this. Don't do that. Can't you read the sign?
Signs, Les Emmerson, Five Man Electric Band (1971).

I am just riding along, enjoying a quiet day on the Spearfish route of the 2020 Black Hills Gravel Series. Cresting a small incline, I turn to face a barrage of signs. Yellow "MINIMUM MAINTENANCE" and "TRAVEL AT YOUR OWN RISK" signs scream of danger, as do the signs of a steep downhill and a sharp turn. Even "SPEED LIMIT 25" signals trouble ahead. But it's the dark orange "ROAD CLOSED" and "BRIDGE CLOSED" signs that catch my attention.

No, I do not turn around. I check it out. As a seasoned cyclist who regularly rides solo on remote rough roads, I carefully ride down that relatively steep, rutted, loose, curving descent and bottom out at a short, narrow bridge spanning a small creek bed. A second "BRIDGE CLOSED" sign barricades about 2/3 of the width of the road, leaving a wide lane for a cyclist or pedestrian to pass. The top surface of the bridge appears intact, no construction equipment is present, and nothing seems amiss, other than another "BRIDGE CLOSED" sign. I slowly ride over the short bridge without incident.

However, the sight of that sign barrage lingers in my mind.

I know that road and that bridge were built for motorists, and those signs are there for the average motorist. I understand. However, not everyone traveling that road is a motorist.

Not that I don't appreciate a cautionary heads-up, but those signs are not for me, or for any reasonably prudent cyclist or pedestrian. I could have ridden that entire stretch of road, without the benefit of any of those signs. I know, because I have ridden much worse roads, in much worse conditions, with no warnings. Absent those signs, I would have readily recognized those conditions and adjusted to them.

With those signs, many cyclists and pedestrians probably would pass through carefully as I did. However, some may blindly obey those signs and turn back needlessly. Others may not believe the blanket admonitions and plunge forward heedlessly. That's the problem with top-down, dictated solutions that are one-size-fits-all, or even one-size-fits-most.

I encourage you to thoughtfully consider such limits, prohibitions and requirements sought to be imposed on everyone, whether out on a remote road or elsewhere. Reasonably prudent adults in a free society can assess the risk of a situation and decide how best to proceed. Over time, the individual decisions of large numbers of free thinkers always surpass the detached decisions of the elite few. The history of America proves it.

Sign. Sign. Everywhere a sign.
Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.
Do this. Don't do that. Can't you read the sign?

Signs, Les Emmerson, Five Man Electric Band (1971).

Signs. Five Man Electric Band (1971). This YouTube video claims it was created in 1974-75.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


commitment (noun) / ke - 'mit - ment
1a. an agreement or pledge to do something in the future
 b. something pledged
 c. the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally compelled
Merriam-Webster dictionary

A commitment.

It starts with a commitment, i.e., a decision, an internal agreement with yourself, or a pledge to yourself, to do something particular in the future. And not just any decision, agreement or pledge, but one that obligates or emotionally compels you to actually do that something in the future. Probably at the expense of doing something easier or more enjoyable now. And even in the face of adversity. More to the point, especially in the face of adversity.

A commitment. Start with a commitment. Everything else follows.

Sometimes, you just have to commit.
(photo by Shaun Arritola)

That's how I started bike commuting. One year, many years ago, I simply committed to ride my bike to work once a week for a year. Just once a week.

Surprisingly, it was much easier and more fun than I imagined. But it was not without challenges.

Regardless of your commitment, or your intention, motivation, determination, stubbornness, or anything else behind it, you will be challenged. Something, maybe many somethings, will attack your commitment, including your bike, gear, clothing, work, family, weather, illness, injury, etc., etc., etc. How you react to those challenges determines whether you honor your commitment and, ultimately, defines you.

So, I commit to ride once a week and everything starts out great. But then, a work week somehow runs out with my bike still hanging in the garage. What to do?

What I don't do is worry about it. And I definitely don't think of ways to make it up the following week. I know that traveling that thought process creates a mindset that tolerates and excuses a failure to honor my commitment. Riding once a week is riding once a week. It is not the same to ride 4 times a month.

Rather than play the excuse and catch up game, I use that missed opportunity to redouble my mental efforts to ride the following week. One ride at a time. One week at a time. One way or another, I'm riding in the next week.

"The Death Star plans are down there. Cassian, K2, and I will find them. We'll find a way to find them."
Jyn Erso, Star Wars: Rogue One (2016).

When I started my once a week commitment to bike commuting, I had to deliberately and doggedly ink it on my schedule. For any given week, typically only one or two days were even possible to ride in, even after juggling. My commitment focused me to somehow work it in. It also focused me to actually ride that day, because I likely would not be able to ride in another day that week. It worked because I worked at it.

The day will come when you just don't want to ride in, maybe even with good reasons. If you really cannot ride in, or if you really need a mental break, you may need to miss that day. But I challenge you to recognize that feeling when it inevitably comes. Acknowledge it. Then challenge it. After a moment of honest reflection, I usually conclude that such a day is when I really need to find a way to ride in, after all.

"Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come, when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shield, when the age of men comes crashing down. But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you, Stand, Men of the West!"
Aragorn, The Return of the King, The Lord of the Ring (2003).

Over the course of that first year, I learned that my commitment to ride once a week, and my working diligently to honor that commitment, built a solution-focused mindset. I found ways to ride into work, almost every week. And I eventually figured out all the logistical details that appear difficult from the outset and insurmountable from the outside.

My commitment grew into a habit, in a surprisingly enjoyable way. On my ride into work, I looked forward to a bonus ride during my favorite part of the day. On my ride home, I decompressed after another long day at the office. Along the way, I met interesting people, interacted with wildlife of all kinds, and experienced nature and community like never before. My bike commuting day became my favorite day of the week.

And it all started with a commitment to ride one day a week.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Fear No Evil

Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Ride Today

A commitment grows into a habit that matures into a lifestyle.

Colorado cyclist Scot Stucky started the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge in 2012 to encourage others to try commuting to work by bicycle during the colder months. His basic idea was to set a goal of bike commuting a total of 52 times during the time period of October 1 through March 31. That's an average of twice per week for 26 weeks. Several of his friends jumped on board, word spread quickly and a community sprang to life. Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge FaceBook Group.

Since 2012, the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge continues to grow and the FaceBook group now numbers more than 1300 members from many states and countries. His friend Mike Prendergast even created a documentary film of their experience. A Winter Of Cyclists. Thank you, Scot and Mike, and everyone out there challenging themselves, encouraging others and holding each other accountable.

Spring snow on my ride home from work. This view cannot be seen from a car.

The Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge is over for this winter. I'm posting this now to encourage you to try riding a bicycle to work or for errands, while weather is less of an obstacle. Then, when it turns colder, it will be easier to keep going, rather than to start. And then you can join the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge, too.

But wait, there's more. Just as the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge ends, another community starts its own challenge. 30 Days of Biking. Cyclists simply commit to riding their bike, over any distance, every day during the month of April. I've completed this before and it's harder than you think, even for a daily bike commuter and weekend cycling enthusiast. But it builds a mindset.

Decompressing on a bike ride home from work.

Undertakings like the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge and the 30 Days of Biking seem daunting when thinking of the overall commitment. But neither are difficult on any particular day. You just get on your bike that day and ride. Just that day. You don't have to think about tomorrow, the day after, or more. Just that day. Get on your bike and ride.

That's not a bad approach to most anything that seems overwhelming. Break it down to what you can do today and start that.

A commitment grows into a habit that matures into a lifestyle.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Exploring Fatbikland

There's a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.
Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)

Recently, I rode a fat bike on snow for the first time. A Maiden Voyage To Fatbikland. Leading up to that event, a variety of experienced fat bikers shared their knowledge and wisdom to help me prepare. At the start, I believed I had a sufficient understanding of fat biking fundamentals for a successful race.

Well, yes and no.

Here are five things that I thought I knew before my fat bike race, but clearly did not understand.

Taking a short break on the initial 10 mile climb at the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.

1. One Ring To Rule Them All
Tire pressure rules all. It's still hard for me to believe that fat biking on snow typically means single digit pounds per square inch of tire pressure. It's even harder to believe that a pound or two per square inch can make a tremendous difference in bike handling. It does. Even after experiencing it, I still struggle to process that concept. No matter. Next time, I will know the tire pressure exactly at the outset and adjust it precisely for the conditions. Tire pressure rules all.

2. Fat Bike Tires Float Like A Butterfly, Drag Like a Bee
It's amazing the snow you can ride over and through on a fat bike. But the cost is mammoth rolling resistance, compounded by riding what feels to be flat, or even empty, tires. Although there's seemingly nothing that I can't ride, there are limits of snow depth and compactness. And just to keep moving forward on solid snow demands serious horsepower and relentless focus. It all adds up to pedaling a tractor through a wet field. Temper your expectations of speed.

3. Gorilla Glue Grip
A bicycle tire 4-5 inches wide with tire pressure in the single digits provides serious traction. All that grip climbs the steeps and holds a line. But it takes some getting used to and doesn't help when wandering off the packed track into fresh, deep snow. With so many variables of snow, handling a fat bike well will come only after significant trials.

Even with a decent track to follow, it takes some work to stay on line.

4. Pogies For The Win
What's a pogie? Think of two large oven mitts that install over each side of your handlebars, enclosing the brake levers, shift levers and bar ends. Simply insert your hands into the openings to hold the handlebar and operate the levers. Inside the pogies, my hands stayed toasty all day in 20 degree temperatures, while wearing just a pair of thin polypropylene glove liners. Wow. Just wow.

I know that folks for years have raved about these for winter riding, but I never tried them until this event. I didn't have a good reason to ignore them, other than my winter gloves worked fine. Pogies are the next level. They also would be great for commuting during our six month winter here.

5. A Fat Bike Is A Bicycle
A fat bike is a crazy contraption, with capabilities and characteristics unique from other bikes. First and foremost, however, a fat bike is a bicycle. Keep it simple. Ride your bike.

For the 28 Below Fat Bike Race, Co-Race Director Kristi Jewett loaned to me her Fatback fat bike,
decked out for Snowmaggeddon. 

There's nothing like an all day race in the snow filled Northern Black Hills of South Dakota to reveal the capabilities and limitations of a fat bike, and of the rider. Exploring Fatbikland pounded me into a better understanding of things I thought I knew, but clearly did not. A hard experience is a tough coach.

Maybe I'll go back next winter. Now, spring awakens. Remote roads call.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Maiden Voyage To Fatbikland

I've never worked so hard, to go so slow.
Me, at the 28 Below Fat Bike Race finish.

Looking for a break from your daily bike path commute and weekend gravel grind? Is winter refusing to release its grip, leaving paved roads and single track sketch? Where to turn?

Time to try fat biking. Yeah, this long time cycling enthusiast has ridden many types of bikes and routes, but never a fat bike on snow. Time to give it a go. So, I plunge headfirst into the frozen abyss by entering the 28 Below Fat Tire Race in the Northern Black Hills of South Dakota.

That's 31 miles of snowmobile trails climbing about 3,000 feet to the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower at 6,647 feet and then dropping back to the start/finish. The route is slated to be groomed for fat bikes the day before the race, but this event has a history of new snow burying the groom. The route also is popular with snow mobiles, which apparently obliterate the groom. So, I'm told that the biggest variable is the condition of the snow on the trail during the race. All that doesn't matter much, since I don't know what it means.

The challenging "Snow Pit" winds 1.5 miles along School House Gulch at the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.
(photo by Ridge Rider Racing, LLC)

Here is something that is well known around these parts. Race Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett know how to put together an event. 2020 will mark the 7th annual 28 Below fat bike race (28 Below), the 8th annual Gold Rush gravel grinder (Gold Rush), and the 20th annual Dakota Five-O mountain bike race (Dakota Five-O), all directed by Kristi and Perry. This event will be a well organized, well-sponsored, popular, tough but fair challenge for every endurance cyclist willing to toe the line.

One problem. I do not own a fat bike. I do not want to own a fat bike. I just want to finish this race. Kristi Jewett to the rescue. Since she'll be busy race directing that day, she offers to loan me her fat bike. Really? What race director does that?

Now that's a fat bike ready to roll. Thanks, Kristi!

Alright, I'm in. On race day, shortly before the pre-race meeting, Perry presents Kristi's bike - a gorgeous FatBack fat bike adorned with 4.8 inch CakeEater tires, 45NRTH pogies, DirtBag insulated water bottle/grub bags, a custom frame bag and mammoth flat pedals. Wow. That bike looks like it could take on the Iditarod.

A quick seat post adjustment and I'm jazzed to go. Perry runs through an equipment check and cautions me that tire pressure is everything to fat bike handling. He checks the pressure and advises to put a little air in, as Kristi is more than a few pounds lighter than me. With a borrowed pump, I add some air. As an old roadie, I think those tires still feel pretty flat, but others milling around the start thought they should be about right. OK. Let's roll.

At the blunt end of the spear, ready for the start of the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.

There's nothing quite like the flash flood of cascading emotions and thoughts at an early morning start of an endurance race over an unknown course. Especially a race perhaps a bit beyond my skills, talent, conditioning, or experience. I love such a moment, and soak it all in.

But this race is unique for me. There are so many more unknowns, both known and unknown. How to sort it all out? As my mind drifts, Perry shouts, "Pedal Power!" and abruptly we're off. Suddenly, my maiden voyage to Fatbikland launches to a chorus of hoops and hollers.

Little Spearfish Canyon near the start/finish of the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.
(photo by Ridge Rider Racing, LLC)

The peloton quickly sorts out, as racers stream up the long initial climb up Little Spearfish Canyon. Snow has been falling most of the night, burying much of the groom. But much remains and I have many racers ahead of me packing a rideable track. I search for a line to follow and a rhythm to maintain.

Soon, I settle in for the initial 10 mile climb. This feels somewhat familiar. It's something like riding my Black Mountain Monster Cross bike with 1.6 inch tires uphill on soft, saturated gravel. Maybe a little like plowing through that sinking Iowa gravel at last year's C.O.G. 100. C.O.G. 100 - A Fine Mess. But instead of working my tail off to ride 10-12 mph, I'm working my tail off to ride half that. And those 4.8 inch tires feel flat, flat, flat.

But it's still just riding a bike. I got this. Follow a line. Find a sustainable rhythm. I got this.

Steady climb for the first 10 miles or so at the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.

Although the first 10 miles up Little Spearfish Canyon climb without much of a break, it's a steady, moderate grade with some decent tracks. I find my rhythm. I feel strong. I pass the 10 mile mark in just over 1.5 hours. I'm pumped. At this pace, I can finish in about 4.5 hours. Wow. And there's a lot of downhill ahead. Wow. I may even be able to go faster from here. Wow. This is great.

Not so fast, buster. I hit the first of those much anticipated short downhills. Whoa. My front end flops all over the place. I fight to keep control, but I lose a line. Crash. I remount. Start again. Lose the fight with control again. Crash. Just repeat that. At least once on most every little downhill for the next 5-6 miles. Over, and over.

It doesn't seem that long ago when I bounced right up after a crash. No more. Now, I thud. And I lay there a moment, hoping nothing broke. Then I gingerly get up, apologize to the bike and walk a little to work things out, physically, mentally and emotionally. Now, it's a process just to move again.

The final pitch up to Cement Ridge Lookout Tower at Mile 18.5 of the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.
That looks flat. It is not. It most definitely is not. (photo by Ridge Rider Racing, LLC)

Those series of falls beat me up. I actually look forward to uphills, where I'm confident I can stay upright and move forward. However, when the trail finally turns seriously uphill for the final pitch up to the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower, I'm toast. I ride a little, rest some, walk a little, rest some more. This winter wonderland fat bike ride turns into a slugfest.

Eventually, I drag bike and body into the lookout tower checkpoint at mile 18.5. Instant relief. Energetic volunteers. Relieved racers. Hot chicken noodle soup, crackers, chips, cookies, and more. I plop down, inhale food and drink, and rest. Legs and lungs feel OK. I'm just beat.

Checking up on everyone out on the course, Perry bursts into the checkout and enthusiastically encourages me. When I tell him I am crashing a lot on the downhills, he immediately replies that my tire pressure is probably too high. After a quick check, Perry says that the tires have probably twice the air they should for the conditions. We let air out seemingly forever, until it was down to about 5 psi. Now, the tires no longer feel flat, they feel empty. But I go with Perry's expertise.

Riding through Little Spearfish Canyon near the start/finish at the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.
(photo by Ridge Rider Racing, LLC)

Eager to try this barely-registered tire pressure in these mammoth tires, I cautiously work my way down the first hill. Sha-zam! Immediate, dramatic improvement. Amazing!

Just like that, I can hold a line. I can follow a track. I can even ride atop a snow mobile track, when before I could not. What had been practically unrideable, now is.

It isn't easy. It's arduous. It's slow. Although rideable, the riding demands hard pedaling, constant handling and laser focus. Even downhill. Maybe especially downhill, for me.

But I'm moving toward the finish. Slowly. Methodically. One pedal stroke, then another. One trail turn, then another. Although descending into survival mode, I do not crash once during the final 12 miles to the finish from the lookout tower.

I'm toast. I'm burnt toast. But I ride to the finish. 6 hours, 47 minutes. I'm elated.

Race Directors Perry and Kristi Jewett at the finish of the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.
Thanks. You guys are the best.

Perry's counsel to significantly drop tire pressure saved my race. Kristi's bike loan got me to the race. Both of them encouraged and coached this rookie through a challenging day.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to participate in such an event. Kristi and Perry made it possible for me. And everyone involved was welcoming, positive and encouraging. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Support and Mentor

Architect:  Just how long do you think this peace is going to last?
Oracle:  As long as it can.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003).

The gravel scene has been percolating on the back burner of the cycling world for years, marginalized and misunderstood by the powers that be. But the vibe created and nurtured at gravel events drew cyclists from all corners of the cycling world. Numbers grew organically, persistently, quietly. That's what happens when something genuinely builds from the ground up.

Now it's 2020 and gravel events seem to be everywhere, all over the country and even abroad, with all sorts of newcomers to the scene. New riders, new races, new sponsors, new interest in a different mindset. For the most part, these events are still grassroots at their core, so you see a wonderfully creative variety of races and people. For the most part.

Race Director Lucas Haan (right) checking up on gravel newcomer Dave Litzen
at the 2017 Black Hills Gravel Series - Spearfish.
Closing quickly from behind are Jessica and Erik Linquist.

The gravel scene is worth protecting.

If you're a gravel veteran, please support the folks putting together the events that connect with you. Ride those events. Bring a friend. Tell others. Spread the word on social media. When patronizing event sponsors, thank them for supporting a valued event. Contribute to the organizers some schwag, some dollars, some brewskis or some other tangible thanks. Be part of making it happen.

Equally important, continue to welcome newcomers, as I know I was welcomed. Keep hanging out at the pre-race gathering. Keep helping each other out on the course. Keep sticking around a little after the race. Keep sharing your experiences. Keep listening to the stories of others. Keep mentoring newcomers of the vibe that makes the gravel scene special. Keep adding them to the gravel clan. Keep it going.

If you're a gravel newcomer, please leave at home your expectations of conventional bicycle races and launch into a brave, new world of self-sufficient discovery and interdependence with fellow racers. Accept the event for what it is and experience all that it offers, especially those aspects that seem foreign, quirky, or even non-sensical. Pedal out of your comfort zone. You may find something out there worth exploring, in body, mind and spirit.

It's not for everyone. That's OK. If you ride a gravel event and prefer the trappings of sanctioned bicycle racing, there are plenty of those races for you to enjoy. Return to them. If, instead, you try to graft the gravel scene into the tyrannical bureaucracy of homogenized USCA racing, expect to encounter resistance. Grass roots riders are a force. A friendly force, but a force nonetheless.

Back in 2014, I wrote an introduction to gravel road bicycle races that was published on the website and social media of ChristianCycling.com, a group with members all over the United States and throughout several other countries.  Gravel Grinder 101. At that time, very few of those avid cyclists had even heard of, let alone experienced, the grass roots phenomena of gravel races taking root in the Mid-Western United States. This was the gravel scene as I had experienced it at such races as Almanzo, Dirty Kanza, Gold Rush, Gravel Worlds, and Odin's Revenge. Like a well worn saddle, I think it still fits.

Protect the grass roots gravel scene. And enjoy it as long as you can.

Mark Stevenson, aka Guitar Ted, welcoming me to grass roots gravel during some early miles
as we pull into the first check point at the 2013 Odin's Revenge. (photo by Kyle Vincent)
A better riding companion, and cycling ambassador, you will not find.

Addendum. To some readers, this post may sound familiar. Well, I first posted it on January 2017. With so many new events and inquisitive newcomers, I decided to encourage gravel lovers to support what you love and to welcome newcomers. Once again, I remembered an old post that said what I wanted to say today. So, I re-posted it. My only changes were the date starting the second paragraph and the photographs.