Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tour Divide - Changing Gears

This is a tough one.

I've been wrestling with this for a while, but I'm pulling out for Tour Divide 2015.

I'll be honest, gearing up is expensive, and the training is kicking my butt, but when it comes down to it, I'm struggling with the time commitment - not just the time commitment for training, but also for the event itself.  My son Julian is ten years old, and at a really formative time in his life.  I remember what life was like for me at that age, and what a piss-ant I turned into when my dad was gone on business, sometimes for weeks at a time.  I think my mom and sister dreaded those weeks.  Anyway, the fact that participating in the TD is purely voluntary has me questioning my motivations & priorities.

I'm not sure what this means for my long term goals (2016 and beyond).  Gotta figure out what I really want out of this, and whether it's about the route, or about the race.  I want to figure out some way of including my family in this endeavor if I'm going to do it in the next few years.  Maybe it means I end up touring the route (or select parts of it), with them following in a support vehicle?  Maybe I race it in some other season of life.  Maybe something else altogether.  I don't know yet, still trying to figure it all out.  All I know is someday our son won't live with us anymore, and I don't want any regrets then about how I live my life now.

I'll continue to train, though probably less aggressively than I have been up to now.  More of a maintenance program, maybe throw some single track into the mix again.  I've been doing mainly gravel roads for the past several months, and my trail bike is convinced I don't love it anymore.  And it'll give me a chance to get the Fargo dialed in for future outings:  I'd love to put a Lauf fork on it, and maybe even a Rohloff/Gates drivetrain, neither of which I can afford at present.

So, I still have goals.  For the time being though, the Tour Divide has to go on the back burner.

But I will still watch the blue dots next summer.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gluten and Soakers and Sponges - Oh My!

Over the past few months, I've been experimenting with my bread recipe.  It's not a bad recipe, but the results can be inconsistent.  Sometimes the loaf comes out of the oven a thing of beauty; other times it comes out, well, not exactly a thing of ugly, but maybe somewhere in between.  Sometimes the loaf falls, or doesn't get the loft I'm hoping for.  It's not for lack of yeast - as I said, sometimes it turns out beautifully.  I suspect it has to do with the gluten's ability to form an effective network with which to trap air and rise - either there's not enough gluten, or there is, but something is happening during the process that is hindering it.

[Sidebar: the "G" word - Gluten! For reasons not even I understand, I had been trying to reduce the amount of gluten in my recipe by boosting the non-gluten producing grains and non-grain ingredients (millet, lentils, etc.).  But why?  No one in our family is gluten intolerant, or even gluten sensitive.  The result has been a dough that can barely hold itself together as it rises before it goes into the oven, and which can have a hard time maintaining its shape once baking has begun.

Then I saw this video on the way flour is milled, which suggests that the reason some people are sensitive to some wheat products may have more to do with the way wheat is milled and processed than it does with its gluten content. "Unbleached" bread flour is white.  Why is that? Because even the unbleached flour has had most of the actual grain stripped away, until all you're left with is stuff in the middle, which, though not as nutritionally valuable as the whole grain, is really good at producing gluten. Then I read this article in The New Yorker which asked the question "what's so bad about gluten?" It got me thinking - in our case, there's nothing wrong with gluten. So my recipe has been shifting back toward grain based ingredients - currently, only about 6% of the flour blend consists of seeds and legumes - things that don't produce gluten.]

My goal is to produce a truly great loaf of whole-wheat bread.  We have a grain mill, we buy whole grain berries in buckets, and grind our own flour.  But every recipe I've tried starts with some portion of store-bought non-bleached bread flour in it.  Bread flour has a higher percentage of the proteins that form gluten than all-purpose flour, which is why it's good for making bread.  It's like insurance: add bread flour to your recipe, and you increase your odds of turning out a loaf that rises the way it's supposed to. But whenever I reduce the proportion of bread flour below about one third, the resulting loaves end up, well... Technically they're still edible, but not something you'd serve to guests you hope to impress. What to do?

The other day, my wife bought me the 2014 Cook's Illustrated "All-Time Best Bread Recipes" special collector's edition magazine.  It's great!  I'm not so interested in things like focaccia or pizza dough, but there are fantastic opportunities for learning on some unlikely pages. So far the parts I'm latching onto are in the recipe for Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread and No-Knead Bread. There are two things I'm playing with at the moment:

  • First, there's the soaker, or autolysis.  The challenge with using home-ground whole-grain flour is that still has all the bran fiber in it.  That's a good thing from a nutritional point of view, but less good when it comes to making an effective gluten network, because the pointy fiber edges can actually damage the gluten strands.  In order to soften all those pointy bran fiber edges, I'm mixing the whole-grain flour with some of the recipe's liquid ingredients for an extended period of time before mixing it in with the rest of the dough. I'm still experimenting with the duration, soaking for periods ranging from 4 hours to overnight. 
  • Second, there's the sponge.  In order to boost the flavor to a whole 'nother level, I'm mixing the bread flour called for in the recipe with a portion of the yeast and the rest of the liquid ingredients, and letting it sit at room temperature while the whole-grain flour is soaking.  So far the results haven't been that different flavor-wise than the old way of letting the sponge set for 20-30 minutes, so not sure if it's worth the bother yet. If it doesn't pan out, there's another recipe that involves developing a sponge using a splash of vinegar and a bottle of beer, so I'm totally going to try that!

So far the soaker thing seems really promising. It totally changes the texture of the dough as it's being kneaded, and the loaves seem to have much better hold as they rise and in the oven. If I can get it dialed in, I'll eventually try to replace the bread flour with whole-grain flour and go 100%, eliminating the white stuff altogether. One step at a time. I'll let you know how things progress.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tour Divide - Weighing In

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

As we emerge from our tryptophan-induced naps, I want to revisit something I wrote about back in September. I had mentioned my plans to drop some weight at the beginning of my Tour Divide training process, instead of trying to do it along the way, or (shudder) wait until just before race day. Not long ago, I read an interesting piece on the Carmichael Training Systems blog that does a great job explaining why I approached it the way I did. In particular, it articulates why it's important to view shedding unnecessary weight as its own training phase, instead of trying to drop pounds while building mileage:

Fall (read: off season) is also a great time of year to focus on weight loss because if this isn’t a focused race season for you then you can make changes to your caloric intake and nutritional composition with little to no risk to your training quality. Many athletes try to restrict calories and lose weight in the spring, but that creates a conflict between your nutritional needs for high-quality training and the caloric restriction necessary for weight loss. It’s better to focus on weight loss during the period of the year when your training goals are less specific.

Couldn't have said it better myself. The conflict they talk about is exactly what I wanted to avoid, and why I focused on weight loss before the real training mileage began. Well, I'm happy to report that I dropped ten pounds since that post: I'm currently 175 lbs, which, on my 6'3" frame, puts me at a BMI of about 22. Still five pounds away from my ultimate goal of 170 lbs, but good enough for me to transition out of "meltdown" mode and firmly into "mileage" mode.

See, the program I use to burn unnecessary fat doesn't allow for prolonged periods of exercise. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but there are some very good reasons for this that have to do with stress hormones, glycogen reserves, and other things that impact the way our bodies burn fat. As such, my exercise had been limited to an hour a day for the time I was on program. The hardest part of shedding weight is allowing for the passage of time. Just allowing the program to do its thing.

Patience. Ugh.

But in all seriousness, the program works - if you let it. And it's only taken a few weeks to achieve something that could very well have gone unaddressed. If you're interested in freeing yourself of unnecessary poundage the way I did - whether we're talking 5, 15, 50, or more - check out my contact information in the sidebar. I'm happy to talk you through the program and how we can make it work for you.

[Side-note: if your reaction to my suggestion is "but it's the holidays..." then I have a challenge for you. Food-wise, 'the holidays' consists of two or three meals over the span of a month. This being the case, are you really going to sacrifice a month's worth of potential progress because of a couple of 'off-program' meals? Check out my wife's blog on the subject for some additional food for thought. And even if you want to wait until the new year to get started, let's talk now and set you up for success come January 1.]

Now that I've transitioned back into a weight maintenance phase, I can build mileage in earnest. I'll write more about my approach to training later. Right now I have to get the bike ready to ride in the morning. It's gonna be a beautiful day.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tour Divide - Rules Are Rules

As riders, we’re attracted to events like the Tour Divide in part because of the rules.  And when I say “rules” I mean those listed on the tourdivide website – not the ongoing flame war on the bikepacking forum.  The rules are simple, and they’re tough.

  • Stick to the course.  No exceptions.
  • Advance forward on the route under your own power.  No motors, no drafting.  Sweat & oxygen only.
  • No help from outsiders, unless the "outsider" is a commercial establishment that is open to the public.
  • And if you break a rule for any reason, have the stones to self-relegate.

Solo.  Self-support.  Basically, do it on your own.  All bound up in nothing more and nothing less than a "gentlemen's agreement."  Nothing to win or lose but honor.  Pretty straightforward.

That being said, there are those every year who view the rules as more or less flexible, more like guidelines, to quote a certain pirate captain.  And there are others watching on trackleaders who notice, and wonder why said rule-bending racers haven't self-relegated.  And then there are others who seem to think that the rules as written are too stringent, and isn't it really up to the individual racer's interpretation and intention as to what kind of race they really want to be a part of?  And there are others (I'm losing track here...) who think there should be multiple classes of riders, presumably one for each group of a-la-carte rule-sets being followed at any given moment.

Yeah, makes no sense to me either.  Eszter summed it up perfectly in her post: "We didn't have issues following the rules of 4-square when we were all in second grade.  Why now?"

Exactly.  The rules are what make it a race, and they don’t need to be changed.*  Don't want to follow the rules as written?  No problem.  Lucky for your, there’s already another class of Great Divide rider.  It’s called tourist.  It just doesn’t come with the prestige of having your pointy blue dot chasing its way down the continent with all the others on the race page at trackleaders (though friends and family can follow along on the GDMBR general live tracker).  Maybe that’s a tough pill for those who want to be seen rolling with the fast crowd.

As for me, I’m not 100% which way I’m going to go in 2015 – racing or touring.  I’m one of those for whom this will be my first foray into multi-day racing.  Would I like to see my blue dot (more to the point, would I like to have others see my blue dot) on the race page at trackleaders?  Heck yeah!  Do I plan to uphold the rules as written?  I do.  But my primary goal is going to be learning – learning the course, learning what I’m capable of, learning how to do be a part of this crazy sport.  Is that really racing?  I don’t even know.  But unless I put that pressure on myself – the expectation that I’m going to push myself at something like a race pace – my outing could easily devolve into a leisurely tour.  And that’s not what I want.

Somewhere in that "Spirit of the Tour Divide" forum, someone suggested that a commitment to follow the rules be a part of a prospective racer's letter of intent.  I don't know why that never crossed my mind when I wrote my "blog of intent", but I think it's a good idea.  So consider this an addendum to my letter of intent.

I’ll be racing.  And I’ll play by the rules.  And if I end up breaking a rule for any of a million reasons, well, hopefully you’ll hear about it from me first.


*Okay, I realize I just said the rules don't need to be changed, but I'd like to add one.  Call it the "good sam" clause.  If someone is in need of assistance - maybe she snapped a quick-link in grizzly country, or maybe he's face down in a ditch and the buzzards are circling - have the decency and/or courtesy to offer a helping hand.  What do you have to lose?  You won't be penalized for it, and whether they self-relegate or not, well, that's up to them.  Heck, they may not even accept your offer.  But at least you'll go to sleep at night knowing you're a decent human being.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Safe Poison

The other day, I posted a link on Facebook about "why wheat is toxic." The article talked about how "Wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as withered, dead wheat plants are less taxing on the farm equipment and allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest." It was alarmist in nature, but it got me thinking.

So I started to dig. I'm just getting into this now, but it looks like it's a real thing, and it's been happening since 1980. It's called pre-harvest crop desiccation. It's when the farmer sprays herbicide on his crop 7-14 days prior to harvest to a) kill weeds, and b) speed up the natural plant drydown process, allowing crops to be harvested quicker, easier and earlier while at the same time maximizing both crop yield and quality. In Saskatchewan, only Reglone by Syngenta is registered for the explicit purpose of desiccating crops, but elsewhere (and I mean all over the world, not just North America), the chemical called glyphosphate (aka Roundup) is widely used for the same purpose. According to Monsanto, "pre-harvest use of glyphosphate started in 1980 and revolutionized perennial weed control." Fortunately for the consumer, glyphosphate is "environmentally benign" and "safe for humans... so long as it is applied carefully."

Whatever that means.

Look, I realize farmers are under tremendous pressure to produce crops that are profitable, and with chemical companies telling them their herbicides are safe for human ingestion, why wouldn't they use them? There are countries out there that are banning the practice of pre-harvest desiccation based on the "precautionary principle." But such bans are criticized by the Glyphosphate Task Force (I'm not making this up) as being "disproportionate and scientifically undifferentiated", unnecessarily restricting agriculture in the countries where they are in effect.

So it seems that unless the law of the land actually prevents farmers from doing this kind of thing, we as consumers are pretty much unprotected. I don't know about you, but I'm leery of agenda-driven "science" that tells me it's safe to consume something that is designed to kill other things.

So what can we do to protect ourselves? I don't know the answer to that question, but buying organic is probably a good place to start. "Organic" is big business now, so it's probably prudent to find out what "organic" really means, and make sure Monsanto hasn't weaseled its way into the organic farmer's field. Yes, it costs more to buy quality, but come on - what is your health worth to you?

Food for thought. Pun intended. 

Here are some references. Bon appetit. Pun intended. Again.…/agronomic%20benefits%20of%20glyph……/cro…/herbicides/Pages/reglone.aspx…/pre-harvest-use-glyphosate-recen……


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - Be Prepared

Quick post.  In the name of being prepared for this crazy Tour, I'm taking a NOLS Wilderness First Aid course this weekend at REI.  It's a two-day course, and today was day one.  Holy cow, it's like drinking from a fire hose!  And this is the 101-level "introductory" course.

Don't get me wrong - the course is great and the instructors are awesome.  I just didn't know how much I didn't know!  Hopefully, once all the new info has had a chance to soak in, I will at the very least know what everything in my First Aid kit is for.

And who knows?  Maybe someday I can put some of this information to use helping someone besides myself.

In the mean time, I need to get ready for bed.  Tomorrow is day two.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tour Divide 2015: Cracking the Nut

Now that I'm in this thing, how am I gonna get it done?  The more I ponder the possibilities - and assuming I actually can get it done - the more the following three things come to the surface.

Go alone.  Learn.  Keep moving.

Go alone.

First, I'm going alone.  Technically, anyone who challenges the Tour Divide does so as an ITT - Individual Time Trial.  Man against the clock.  The rules say that "Divide racing may be challenged at any time."  They then go on to say "TD emphasis is on a second Friday in June (southbound) 'grand départ.'"  That's when most southbound Tour Divide challengers congregate in Banff (or, if nobo, in Antelope Wells) for the grand départ.

I will not be among them.  I'm not anti-social or anything, but I'm waiting until late July to fly to Banff and point my bike south.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  First is weather, which, on the Tour Divide is like a box of chocolates.  But after watching the GD racers get pounded by the elements for a week straight this year, I'm hedging my bets, and hoping things have dried out by the time I start my run.  Not sure what this will mean when I hit New Mexico during monsoon season, but unless I start in September, monsoon season is going to be hard to avoid anyway.

The second reason is my own weakness when it comes to riding with others.  By going solo, I can circumvent my own propensity to try to keep up with stronger racers.  Maybe you can ride with others and not fall into this trap, but for me, it seems like no matter how I try, if there's a carrot out there in front of me, I'm a-gonna go for it.  Long ride, short ride, doesn't matter.  I can't help myself.  I know it's a trap, and I fall into it every time.

"Dave, see that trap?"


"You sure?  That trap right in front of you?"

I see it.

"Really?  'Cause it looks like you're about to step into it."

I'm good, I got this.

"Okay, go!"

Smack!  I fall into the trap.  I've pushed too hard and blown myself up, and within a hour, all I want to do is lie down in the ditch and take a nap.  

Pacing.  Sticks and carrots.  Impulse control.  Guarding my reserves.

Still working on those.


In The Cordillera V5, one of the things that really stayed with me was Erick Armentrout's observation that "The first time you race the Divide you're not racing, you're learning.  When you come back you're racing."  Actually, this advice came from someone Erick met at the mercantile in Hartsel, Colorado.  In any case, it had the sound of wisdom, so this is the approach I'm taking on this, my rookie attempt.  Whether or not I ever return to "race" the Divide, well, we'll just have to wait and see about that.

When I talked about this approach with a friend, he coined the term "fast recon".  It's still racing, but I'm not out there to smash records or even approach the podium.  Frankly, I'd be thrilled with a qualified finish.  25 days is pretty much the outside limit of what is considered a competitive run for men, so that's my baseline.  There are so many variables out there, so many unknowns.  If I can shave a day or two off, great!  But this is my rookie run.  If I can make it to Antelope Wells in one piece, I'll take it.

Keep moving.

In the trailer for Ride The Divide, Matthew Lee gives away his secret to a successful run.  "Always need to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.  Always."  I think that's the name of the game.  I don't necessarily need to move fast - unless there's a tailwind, or a descent, or both (score!) - but I do need to keep moving.  I think I remember one top-ten finisher saying "I don't ride faster than anyone else; I just sleep less."  Be smart about the time I take off the bike.  I mean, I'll take time to take pictures, smell the flowers and chat with the locals when opportunity presents itself.  But no lazing about in town when there's trail to be taken.

That's the strategy.  Preserve my capacities.  Learn all I can.  Always keep moving.  Finish.

And maybe someday I'll get to come back and really race this thing.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - Contact Part 3: Feet

If you've been following this journey to the Tour Divide, my writing style may suggest that I know exactly what I am doing.  While I'm not a total doof, I am making a lot of this up as I go, gleaning information from what I hope are reliable sources and building on my own experience.  In some cases, I'm pretty confident in my decision making.  In others, I'm, uh, less confident.

Which brings us to the feet.

Feet are probably the most important contact points, simply because it's through the feet that power is transferred from body to bicycle.  As such, the feet are subject to stresses that hands and butt just don't experience.  Of course, I've never had a saddle sore on a hand or a foot, so I guess each contact point has its own set of challenges.  

At any rate, foot & ankle injuries are among the most common on the Tour Divide, for any number of reasons: repetitive stress, lack of support, poorly fitting shoes, poorly designed shoes, internal physiologic/anatomical issues, bad posture, cheap laces, crashing, rocks...  The list goes on. 

My feet are different.  Literally.  My left foot tends to pronate more than the right one.  In other words, it's flatter.  Also, after 15 or 20 miles on the bike, a wave of pain swells between the third and fourth toes of the left foot.  It hurts enough to adversely affect my pedaling.  If I pedal long enough, it'll start in the right foot as well, but not as much.  I'm not sure if we're talking neuroma or metatarsalgia, but it feels like someone has cut off my toes and drilled into the nerves - kinda like this:

Ouch.  Image courtesy of Cyclologic's facebook page.
So I start looking into custom footbeds.  This is my first experience with orthotics, and so far, it's a work in progress.  I go to the place, put my foot on the thing, they take digital impressions, and a week later I have custom footbeds for my MTB cycling shoes.  They look cool.  I go for a ride.  Right foot feels fine; the left foot waits 30 miles before it lets loose the familiar wave of pain.  Poop.

Back to the ortho guy.  He sands down the underside of the footbed to further refine the shape, and gives me a foam pad with an adhesive back to apply to the footbed, in order to better support the metatarsal heads and open up the space between the third and forth toes.  We're hoping this provides relief by easing pressure on that red nerve in the picture above.  Then I go for a long ride up in the mountains.  I do not find the relief I seek.

If anything could take me out if the race, this is it.  I'm working with Cyclologic and an orthotics specialist at Endurance Rehab to get this worked out.  If orthotics don't take care of the problem, they're talking injections or surgery.  Not being a fan of surgical intervention if it can be avoided, I'm looking into everything with regard to this issue, including natural medicine and other means of support.  Right now the custom footbeds are sitting on a shelf, and I'm experimenting with Correct Toes and Pedag metatarsal pads on a factory footbed, but I can't tell you how this arrangement works yet because I have yet to do any honest-to-goodness long rides on them.  

Oh, and did I mention I'm using hiking shoes now?  "Whoa, hiking shoes?  What happened to the MTB cycling shoes?"  Remember when I said I'm making this up as I go?  

Okay, shoes & pedals.  Initially, I had decided to use SPD pedals and a cycling shoe with all-Velcro enclosure, as this kind of shoe fits in with my "fewest moving parts" philosophy.  I don't want to be in the middle of nowhere and have a some exotic binding system crap out on me.  Simpler is better IMHO.  I tried the Mavic Pulse shoe, but as soon as I slipped it on, I could tell the bridges of my feet weren't happy.  Back they went.  Next I ordered up a pair of Shimano XC30's, a decent and inexpensive all-Velcro-closure cross country shoe.  They're comfortable and, aforementioned orthotic issues notwithstanding, they do what they're supposed to.

But I've discovered some tradeoffs that I'm not sure I can live with if I keep these shoes for the Tour Divide.  First is mud.  Nothing new here - riders have had to deal with mud in pedals and cleats for as long as there have been pedal cleats.  But it is pretty inconvenient, and all but negates the pedal/cleat interface until the mud can be cleared.  The second issue, however, is the big one, and it has to do with heel & ankle support.

Shoes: biking vs. hiking.
So check it out: the shoe on the left is the Shimano cycling shoe; the shoe on the right is my Adidas hiking shoe.  Which one is going to do a better job supporting my heel & ankle during a hike-a-bike?  The one with the wider foundation.  The effect is so pronounced that whenever I wear the cycling shoe I have to pay special attention whenever I dismount on uneven terrain - and by uneven, I mean loose gravel on the sidewalk - lest I roll my ankle.  It's like walking on high heels (so I'm told).  I can't imagine having to rely on these things to support me across miles of HAB (hike-a-bike) over rocky terrain, downed trees, avalanche debris, and water crossings.  I've thought about wearing some kind of brace to add support to the ankle, but that doesn't address the narrower heel platform.  Essentially just a band-aid fix to a much bigger problem.  Now, other shoe manufacturers have other shoes that have wider heel platforms.  Even Shimano is coming out with new "trail" shoes for 2015 that look promising.  But then you're still dealing with cleats and mud.  What to do?

Some folks swear by clipless pedals, no matter what.  Some swear by flats.  Which basically means it's a matter of personal preference.  Although I'm pretty solid on my understanding of the virtues of clip-in pedals, I am now experimenting with flats. Kent Petersen, who was the first person to complete the Great Divide Race on a single speed back in 2005, did it on flat pedals.  Check out his entry for June 21 for his perspective on clipless vs. flats.  Read the rest of the story too - it's a fascinating account of an incredible journey.  Then, the folks at Rivendale Bikes have a thing or two to say in favor of flat pedals.  There's even a Flat Pedal Manifesto.  Apparently I'm not alone in my search for a suitable foot/pedal interface. 

So at the moment, it's off-the-shelf orthotic products in hiking shoes with the factory footbeds.  But again - still learning, still making stuff up as I go.  Gotta put some serious miles behind me with this configuration before I can determine whether or not it's going to work.  I have some long rides booked in the next couple weeks, so I'll post an update when I know more.  Until then...


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - Contact Part 2: Butt

There is nothing quite like the exquisite misery that is delivered by a saddle sore.  It's one of those things where you think you can keep pushing, just muscle through the pain, not realizing you're opening yourself up to an infection that can take you out of the game for days, if not weeks.

There are several things you can do to reduce the possibility of toxic ass-et syndrome: shorts and padding, chamois cream, training mileage, personal hygiene, and the saddle.

Ah, the saddle.

Berthoud Aspin.  As seen on eBay.
I've already mentioned how when I bought my bike, I allowed vanity to enter into my saddle selection, and bought a Gilles Berthoud Aspin touring saddle.  It was a thing of beauty.  But it never quite felt right.  When I went for my bike fitting, I discovered why.

Stephen Merz at Cyclologic is my bike fitter, and one of the services Cyclologic provides is saddle pressure analysis.  With the bike mounted in a trainer, he slips this electronic boot thingy over the saddle, you get on and start to pedal.  As you pedal, he can see in real time where pressure is loading and unloading on the saddle through the cycle of the pedal stroke.  If there are any potentially hazardous pressure points - i.e. under the sit bones - he can see it on his screen.

Before we continue, a little anatomy lesson: what are "sit bones?"

Sit bones (ischial tuberosities) are the part of the pelvis you sit on.  Think of them like the curved runners on a rocking chair.  When you sit erect on a chair, you're actually tipped up on the rear points of the rocking chair runners.  This upright posture isn't so bad because the seat of the chair has enough surface area to disperse pressure to the rest of your butt and thighs, and allows you to move around when you get uncomfortable.  Not so on a bike saddle.  When you sit upright on a bike saddle, the rear points of the sit bones exert pressure on the tissue between the bones and the saddle.

This video shows a tale of two saddles.  My two saddles in fact.  The one on the right is the Berthoud.  As it plays, you'll notice that there are three major pressure points, and they don't move around much.  The points on the left and right are under the rear ends of the sit bones, and the fact that they don't move around tells me that the tissue between the bones is not being unloaded during the pedal stroke, and is therefore less able to recover as I ride.  Concentrated pressure over time leads to tissue fatigue and eventually to saddle sores.  Ouch.

This could be mitigated if I were able to roll my pelvis forward on the saddle as I ride, off of the rear "tips" and onto the longer "runners."  In this position, the shape of the sit bones allows for a wider dispersion of pressure, and the motion of the pedal stroke should allow the sit bones to rock back and forth, allowing for pressure to load and unload on any given point.  But I'm unable to lean forward on this saddle because of the third pressure point.  The one in the middle.  If I were to roll forward on the pelvis, I'd be increasing pressure in the, um, center area.  Such pressure can lead to more than just saddle sores.

Cobb Randée.
So Stephen introduced me to the Randée, a new saddle from Cobb specifically designed for folks doing brevet-style all-day-in-the-saddle kind of events.  I spent one hour on a trainer with Randée, and immediately put my Berthoud up on eBay.  In the video above, Randée is the saddle on the left.  The shape of the Randée allows me to roll my pelvis forward onto the "rockers" of the sit bones, reducing concentrated pressure on the tissue supporting the pelvis without increasing pressure in the middle.  The pressure points that do flare up during the pedal stroke tend to move around, which shows that the tissue beneath the sit bones is better able to unload - and get some relief - during each pedal stroke.  Overall, a much better scenario for long days in the saddle.

For chamois cream, DZ Nuts comes highly recommended, so I'm trying that out.  For shorts, I'm currently wearing DeSoto 400 Mile shorts, which have a 14mm (!) pad, and some high-tech wizardry involving tiny embedded ceramic beads to reduce friction between the saddle and the shorts.  The best part, though, is that they actually provide a degree of compression - more so than typical riding shorts - which is supposed to help stave off muscle fatigue.  So far, I like them.  Order large though - these things are snug!

Everyone's anatomy is unique.  I really wanted the Berthoud saddle to be the one for me, but sometimes things just don't fit together the way we want them to.  I can't recommend one saddle or pair of shorts over another to anybody.  But I absolutely recommend a saddle pressure analysis like the one performed by Cyclologic.  In my view, it's an essential part of the fitting process.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - Contact Part 1: Hands

When riding a bike, you come into contact with it in three places: hands, feet, and butt.  Okay, technically that's five contact points, but you get the idea.  When riding that bike for miles and miles and miles and hours and days and weeks, it's important to think about how you interface with those contact points.  Minor irritations on a weekend ride with your buddies can turn into unwanted game changers when undertaking a multi-day bikepacking race.  The last thing you want when you're headed to the middle of nowhere is for your bike to rub you the wrong way.  Literally.

The "look."
So, hands...

But before I get into that, I have a confession.

I'm usually a pretty pragmatic guy, but when I ordered my bike, I have to admit to some degree of vanity.  See, I was going for a "look."  Those of you seasoned enough to know better are already grinning at my folly.  Anyway, when I ordered the bike, I also ordered a Gilles Berthoud Aspin touring saddle, a beautiful natural leather French-made piece of bicycle art, and matching leather handlebar wrap.  I even bought vintage-looking ElevenGear riding gloves.

Quite the ensemble.

Now, I did take the extra measure of wrapping the bars with an under-layer of Specialized Bar Phat.  I mean, it's gonna be rough out there.  Gotta treat your hands right, right?

Then I took it all out and rode the Chino Grinder, and I learned a few things about contact points.  I'll save the saddle discussion for another time, but here's what I learned about that pretty, smooth leather bar wrap: it's slippery.  Especially with matching leather gloves.  Especially on gravel roads.  With washboard.  I only rode the short course, but after 42 miles, my forearms were sore from simply trying to hold on to the handlebars.  No way this stuff was going to go any serious distance.

So, off it came.  I kept the padding, but switched out the leather for Lizard Skin bar tape.  Very tacky, very grippy, and in combination with the Bar Phat, very cush.  So far, it's been great.

I haven't finalized on gloves yet.  I like the carpenter's gloves I've been using on my trail bike - simple, cheap and durable protection, although they have no padding to speak of.  I do still dig the ElevenGear gloves for warm, dry riding.  They offer less finger protection, but offer some modest padding in the palm.  And did I mention that they look cool?  Not sure if either are going to do the job just yet.  Decisions, decisions.

I haven't bought thermal or wet-weather gloves yet.  After the horror stories I've heard from those who rode in the 2014 TD (Grand Depart), I'm uncertain which way to go.

For rain, I was keen on the Mountain Hardwear gloves that Marshal Bird was going to take out, but after reading about his experience, I'm thinking twice.  I've heard similar stories about other brands of "waterproof breathable" gloves too.  So at this point, I'm looking elsewhere to find something appropriate.  So far the most promising thing I've found is from the world of motorcycle touring.  My favorite so far is the Aerostich short gauntlet rain covers, but even Aerostich offers a bullet-proof (and cheap) alternative: industrial dish gloves.  At $4 a pair, I'll probably throw a pair of these in my kit for good measure.

As for thermal gloves, I was looking at the DeFeet Wool Duraglove.  Simple, inexpensive, Merino wool.  Pretty tough to beat.  Then when it came time to pony up, my size was not available.  Come to find out the Wool Duraglove is being discontinued, as DeFeet is introducing a Wool ET (electronic touch) Duraglove to replace it.  It's only a couple dollars more than the original, and is designed to be used with touch-screen devices.  Handy when futzing with the GPS or making a phone call with the smart phone.

Looks like these just came online, so if you'll excuse me, I gots me some shopping to do.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - Bike Mods

So, Salsa Fargo 2.  Steel frame, drop bars.  A great bike.  How do I make it better?  More specifically, how am I going to tailor this bike for my use as an overland back country survival vehicle?  The Tour Divide takes place mainly on backroads and trails, with a little bit of single-track and a whole lot of climbing.  So what about this bike needs to change?

First modification: wheels.  There's a growing body of evidence that suggests that for mountain biking, wider rims make more sense than the beefed up narrow rims found on most mountain bikes today.  Less burping, better float, less deformation, reduced rolling resistance, yada yada yada.  All very controversial and subject to personal preference, but it makes sense to me.  So I had Peter White build up a new set of wheels using Velocity Blunt 35's drilled to fit a Schrader valve.  Why Schrader?  How many back country gas stations have a compressor with a Presta tire filler?  That's right - zero.  Rear hub is a Hadley 135mm QR, and up front I'm running a Schmidt SON 28 15, a dynamo hub that outputs 6W at 9mph - enough to run a headlight and keep my phone charged.  Wheels are set up for tubeless, and I'm running Specialized Fast Trak Control 29x2.2" tires.  They're light, they're fast and they're quiet, even on pavement.  I love my wheels.

What about the stock wheels?  I set them up with Schwalbe Marathon HS 420s.  I've taken them out a few times, but they're less comfortable and no faster than the Fast Traks, so I leave them at home and use them on the trainer.

By the way, cost of a complete bike plus custom wheels was about the same as the cost of a naked frame & fork set built up from scratch.  This way, though, I have a second set of wheels to train with.  Food for thought. 

Modified wheels & drivetrain. This mule is built to climb.
Second modification: cranks.  The bike comes stock with SRAM S1000 2x crankset with 28/42 chainrings.  I want lower gearing than this, so I swapped out the stock part with a SRAM S1400 crankset (the OEM version of a SRAM X7) with 24/38 chainrings.  Thank you eBay.

Third modification: cassette.  The stock cassette is a SRAM PG1050, which I left on the stock rear.  For the custom wheel, I added a SRAM PG1070 11-36 cassette, and to that I added a OneUp 40T granny gear.  The handy thing about the OneUp kit is that comes with a 16T cog as well.  Instead of making room for the 40T cog by simply yanking one of the higher cogs - say 17T - and being left with a jump of 15T to 19T in the upper gears, you can pull out the 15T and 17T cogs, and replace them with the new 16T cog.  It does wonders to smooth out the shifting, and overall the system works as well as the stock cassette.

Now, the Tour Divide is largely about climbing, so let's talk ratios for a minute.  My Santa Cruz Tallboy has a 3x crankset with a 24T chainring up front, and a 36T cog on the back, resulting in a granny gear ratio of 24/36 = 0.667.  Decent, but I still end up walking more than I'd like on Crown King Road.  Definitely not low enough for loaded backroad touring, IMHO.  On the high end, Tallboy and Fargo both have a 42T chainring mated to a 11T cog resulting in a final drive ratio of 42/11 = 3.82.  Nice.  Now, the stock 2x Fargo crankset has a low ratio of 28/36 = 0.778 - much higher than the Tallboy, and way too high for the kind of climbing involved in the TD (again, IMHO).  Now, if I were simply to drop the front chainrings down to 22/36, that would result in a granny gear ratio of 22/36 = 0.611.  That's a significant improvement on the low end, but the penalty comes on the high end, where the final drive ratio is reduced to 36/11 = 3.27.  Not terrible, but not ideal either.  With the crank/cassette mods I listed above, my granny gear ratio is 24/40 = 0.6 (!), and the final drive ratio is 38/11 = 3.45.  Happy medium.

Why so low, you ask?  With a low ratio of 0.6, I'll probably spin out at about 5 mph, and have a comfortable cadence somewhere between 3 and 4 mph.  One could argue that I could get off the bike and push it nearly as fast as I could ride it in low gear.  Maybe, but at least with this gearing, I'm still on the bike, and I'd rather ride the bike than push it whenever I can.  Personal preference.

There are other modifications having to do with contact points, but I'll save that for another day.

It's coming together.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - The Bike

When I was a kid, my parents allowed me a ridiculous amount of personal freedom, and I rode my bike everywhere.  On road, off road, in traffic, through fields, across town - wherever the adventure du jour was taking me.  When I got to high school, my grandmother bought me my first real road bike, a Peugeot PS20.  Chromoly frame, Shimano 600 group, all white.  A thing of beauty.  Of course, I did nothing to change the way I rode my bike, or where I rode it, and within a few months, the shape of the rims reflected my beliefs about what a bike should be. 

Ever look back on a past relationship, feel a tinge of regret, and wish you'd been a little more kind and a little less harsh?  That's how I feel about my Peugeot.  Live and learn. 

Fast forward a few years, and now I'm deciding which bike to use for the Tour Divide.  Which bike do I think is going to help me go the distance?  My overall philosophy is that generally, the fewer moving parts, the better.  Less things to go wrong.  I'm not keen on the idea of being in the middle of nowhere when a suspension seal blows out.  Plus, suspension adds a bunch of weight which I'd rather not have to pedal up all those mountains.  So, hardtail with rigid fork it is.

In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to contend with derailleurs either.  I've lost count of how many hangers I've snapped.  However, Pinion gearboxes aren't widely available here in the US, I've heard mixed reviews about Rohloff hubs on the TD, and friends, single-speeds are not for sissies.  I'm not saying I'm a sissy here, but after about a month of researching what ratio every previous TD single-speeder has used in the past, and contemplating what that would mean for ME out THERE...  Ya know what, fine, call me a sissy.  I need my gears.

So I started checking out my options.  My initial intention was to buy a naked frame & fork, and build from the ground up.  What better way to get to know your bike, right?  I put together half a dozen "virtual" bikes in the form of spreadsheets, searching for the ideal combination of frame and components.  Know what I discovered?  Building a bike from scratch is expensive.  Budget considerations eventually prevailed, and I couldn't resist the value offered in a complete bike.  But I still didn't know which one to get.

I've done enough riding on a flat bar mountain bike to know that going long distance on such a bike is very hard on my hands.  At the other extreme, there's a whole spate of drop bar cross and gravel bikes out there, but I didn't relish the idea of being hunkered down over road bars for days and days.

Salsa Fargo 2, fresh out of the box.
Thank goodness for the Salsa Fargo.  Salsa's motto is "Adventure by Bike," and in my view, no bike exemplifies this better than the Fargo. 

The Fargo is one of the go-to bikes on the Tour Divide, as it combines the best aspects of MTB and road/cross bikes into one clean, sexy package.  A more upright position than a road bike, paired with a unique shallow-drop handlebar with flared ends make this the perfect back road touring mule.  

I bought the Fargo 2, which means it has a steel frame in lieu if titanium, and some of the components are a step down from the top shelf.  Would I have preferred the Fargo TI?  Of course!  My dream bike would be a TI-frame Fargo-style 29+ bike with a Pinion 1.18 gearbox and belt drive.  How sweet would that be?  But when one has champagne tastes and a beer budget, one learns to make concessions.

Is the Fargo 2 perfect?  Few things in life are, and the Fargo is no exception.  There are two improvements at the top of my list.  First, make it belt compatible.  The bike has these nifty "Alternator" dropouts on it, but if you're running single speed or an internally geared hub, you're still stuck with a bike chain.  Lamesauce.  Second, make it 29+ compatible.  While I was waiting for my bike to arrive at my local Salsa dealer, I emailed someone at QBP to ask if it was possible to run 29+, if not front & rear, at the very least up front.  I was told that such an arrangement would "ruin" the bike's geometry.  Now that I have the bike, it's clear the Firestarter carbon fork has ample room for a 29+ tire, but there is no way to shoehorn a three inch Knard between the rear stays.  I haven't tested a 29+ tire up front, so I can't say whether or not anything would be "ruined."  But it is tempting to give it a try.

So, perfect?  No.  Awesome?  Yes!  And getting more awesomer with some choice modifications.  I'll get into those modifications in future blog posts, but suffice it to say that I wish this bike had been available when I was in high school.  Maybe then I wouldn't still feel that tinge of regret.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - On The Weigh Down

There's a whole slew of things to consider when preparing for a multi-day bikepacking event like the Tour Divide.  First there's the stuff - the bike, the bags, the apparel, the sleeping system.  Then there's the course - maps & GPS, grades & profiles, water & resupply.  Then there's physical and mental training - making sure the body and mind are up to the task of pedaling the bike day after day after day.  It's a lot to get your hands around.

But there's one thing that often gets overlooked: weight.

I'm not talking about the weight of the bike or the weight of the gear.  Most of us obsess about that stuff.  How many of us have weighed our kit and wondered if anyone out there makes a lighter rain jacket?  Or a lighter sleeping bag?  We dream about how much weight we could save if we upgrade to a titanium frame.  Or a lighter seat post, handlebar, or derailleur.  Even now, I'm contemplating buying titanium pedal spindles so I can shave 70 grams off my rig.

70 grams.  For the love.

But what about the elephant in the room?  In all of that weight-weeny furor, it's easy to overlook the heaviest - but most important - piece of gear.  I'm talking about the weight of the rider.

Hold on, you say - does rider weight really matter?  Uh, yes it does, and it matters more than you may think.  This year's Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali struggled with his weight in the months leading up to the big race, so much so that his doctor speculated he would not win unless he got serious about shedding those last few pounds.  Nibali set a goal, achieved it, and won the Tour.

Now, I concede that the Tour Divide is a whole other kind of race.  But losing weight still makes a difference, whether it comes from the bike or the rider.  Some studies have shown that losing body weight may make a greater difference than shaving grams off the bike.

This is tough.  You've been living with yourself for a long time now.  So long in fact that you've come to believe you're normal.  Sure, it'd be nice to lose a few pounds, maybe even uncover that six-pack you had in high school.  "But who am I kidding" you say.  "My body is what it is."  So you focus your training efforts on building aerobic capacity and endurance, because deep down you don't really think changing your body composition by burning fat is sustainable or even possible.

Lose weight?  Like, a significant amount of weight?  Probably not gonna happen.

Are you listening to yourself?  You're about to attempt the world's toughest bike race!  If you don't think you can set a physical goal and hit it before race day, then brother, stay home.

As I write this, I'm 6'3" and about 185 lbs.  That works out to a BMI of about 23.  According to the National Institute of Health, the "healthy range" for BMI is anywhere from 18 - 25.  So I'm good, right?

Yes and no.  Yes I'm a healthy weight for life in general, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm still too heavy to sustain race pace - or even touring pace - for days on end.

That's why my goal for race day is 170 lbs.  That works out to a BMI of approximately 21.  Well within the healthy range, and not even that big a jump on the BMI scale.  But think about it - how much money would you have to shell out to drop 15 lbs off your rig?  Is that even possible?

I think it's a given that dropping weight has benefits with regard to wind resistance and the power required to pedal at speed.  However, the other significant benefit - maybe the most important one in a multi-day bikepacking event - is wear and tear on the rider.  Knees.  Ankles.  Saddle pressure.  The less body weight you carry, the longer you'll be able to stay on the bike.

Reducing body fat is part of an overall strategy for creating health for my life in general, but it is an essential ingredient when it comes to optimizing my chances for success in the Tour Divide.  Dropping weight in the weeks leading up to race day is a losing proposition, so I'm doing it now.  Achieving target weight this far out will have a positive snowball effect on subsequent training as well, allowing me to build my body and my mind with confidence as I gear up for the big day.

Can I do it?  Time will tell, but I'm confident that I can.  If you've read the "about me" sidebar of this blog, you already know I'm a health coach with Take Shape For Life.  My wife and I have had tremendous success with TSFL in the past, and are dedicating our lives to helping others transform their lives too.  I believe in TSFL because I know it works.

And it can work for you too.

So here's the pitch.  If you're gearing up for a major life event, or if you simply want to create health in your life for its own sake, contact us - we can help.  If you're reading this in September 2014, you can even join us in our Thin It To Win It Meltdown Challenge.  I can't think of a better way to kick off the fall - and head into the holidays - than making health a front burner priority.  Creating optimal health starts with burning off unnecessary fat reserves as you learn new habits of health.

Where you go from there is up to you.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tour Divide 2015 - Letter Of Intent

Two questions invariably come up when someone decides to take on the Tour Divide.
  1. Why (!) are you doing this?
  2. How are you gonna pull it off?
Hopefully I can answer some of the 'how' questions later on in this blog.  Maybe someone out there will find it helpful.  I'm no expert, but I've always enjoyed gleaning information and inspiration from the blogs of others as they've made their preparations.

But why?...  The question lingers.  I'm not even sure I can answer it.

I can still recall when I first learned about the Tour Divide.  It happened in 2008, but I remember it like it was last week.  The place, the noise, the light...

That summer, my wife and I were lodging in the Ronald McDonald House in Palo Alto, where our son had received a kidney transplant a couple months earlier.  It was an emotionally turbulent season for us, to say the least, and I was feeling pretty raw.  I had wandered down to the public dining room for a snack when I saw it: a beat-up copy of Outside Magazine with the audacious claim "The World's Toughest Bike Race Is Not in France" on the cover.  Being a bit of a bike nerd at heart (albeit a lapsed one), I couldn't help myself.  

Right away I was hooked.  Here they were, these young guys like Jay Petervary and Matthew Lee (along with the article's author Jon Billman) and a handful of others, and they're going to follow the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico.  On mountain bikes.

Say whaaa?

Further, they were going to do it unsupported.  That means no chase vehicles with food or coaches or spare parts.  No fans cheering roadside.  No nutritionists, no mechanics, no massage at the end of each day.  If they wanted something during the course of the race, they had to carry it themselves, or hope they could buy it en route.

Crazy.  And irresistible.

Now at the time, I wasn't in shape to participate in a bike race around the block, let alone one over 2700 miles long.  Years at a sedentary desk job had resulted in a BMI teetering on obesity, and the cardiovascular capacity of a piano bench.  Heck, I didn't even own a mountain bike, and I could barely ride my road bike five miles without having to stop to catch my breath.  Yeah, sad.  When I thought about the Tour Divide, and the kind of shape I'd need to be in to show up at the starting line without getting funny looks - you know, the sympathetic, chuckling "what is this guy thinking?" kinda looks...  Well, the disparity between the shape I was in then and the shape I knew I'd need to be in to survive seemed insurmountable.

I believed - for me at least - that the Tour Divide was impossible.

Beliefs are powerful things.  Henry Ford said "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right."  Beliefs guide the decisions we make and the steps we take whether we realize it or not.  Actively or passively, we align our actions with our beliefs, and I had allowed the trajectory of my life to cement the belief in my mind that I would never be able to do something as grand and ambitious as the Tour Divide.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Each year, I'd watch the blue dots on Trackleaders and listen to the racer call-ins at MTBCast, and my soul would yearn for adventure.  2010 saw the release of a movie called Ride The Divide, which provided all kinds of fodder for my adventure fantasy.  (Oh, and speaking of adventure fodder, this video by the Adventure Cycling Association is pretty awesome too.)  But at the end of the day, that's all it was for me - a fantasy.

Then in 2012, the tides of life began to change for our family.  I retired from my day job, which allowed me to start riding and training in earnest; further, our son's health continued to improve, and my wife Stacy and I were able to focus on creating health in our own lives.  We shifted from passive to active mode, and as we did, our beliefs started to change along with our bodies.  Last April, Stacy ran the Paris Marathon.  Yes, in France.  Which is a major accomplishment when you consider where she started on her journey toward health.  

Today we're in the best shape or our lives, and getting better every day.

So I'm training and gearing up.  I'm poring over maps and talking to those who have gone before.  And I'm having a blast doing it.  Next summer when I show up at the Spray River Trailhead, I might even look like I belong there.

Why am I doing this?  Because I finally believe it is possible.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bread - Shaping The Loaf

So, now you know my recipe for Bread of Biblical Proportions.  But what about some of the finer points of working that dough.  I'm talking about shaping the loaf.  My loaf shaping skills are a work in progress, but here's a pictorial overview of the basic steps mentioned in the recipe above.

Under wraps.




Stretch out...

...and fold in.  Round 1.

Round 2.

Round 3.

Round 4.

Round 5.

Round 6.

Round 7.

The home stretch...

...and round 8.


The flip.

Dust & rub.

Onto the slider/peel.

Time to make a mark.




The flop.  Yeah, still working on that one.

Lid on.

Bake: the first 20 minutes.

Bake: lid off for the next 60 minutes.