Exercising Your Demons

A few weeks ago, I had texted a friend on a beautiful day and asked if he wanted to go for a ride.  He responded that he was riding solo–that he had to exercise his demons.  Of course, it was an auto-correct error, but we both remarked on how ironic that change in language was.  Perhaps he wasn’t ridding himself of demons (i.e. exorcising), but rather was exercising them–making them stronger.

After Kanza, I have a few demons.  Strangely, my will to ride has been lessened.  If I missed a ride a few months ago, I would’ve stressed out.  If I miss a ride now, I’m ok with it.  I’m going to miss a major ride in a couple of weeks, and it doesn’t trouble me.  About a week ago, I did a long ride in the Driftless with Tobie and Chad (and partly with Pitts), and it was fantastic.  Not everything went to plan, but it just felt so good to be on the bike for a long day of effort, and it felt good to grill some burgers afterwards, and it felt good to blare the Beatles White Album on the way home.

Because not everything went to plan, it felt a bit like exercising my demons.  Maybe they’re stronger, but for some reason, I hear them less.

For those of you that are doing the Rapha Midwest Prestige, the course is brilliant.  Chad has outdone himself.  For those of you that don’t know about the Rapha Midwest Prestige, apologies–it’s too late for you.  But as a special preview, this is what the course will be like…

Driftless Drifting from Lawfarm on Vimeo.

Dirty Kanza, 2015

Language/Angst warning.

I went into Kanza ready for it.  I had trained for six months.  My nutrition was dialed, my bike was dialed, my life was dialed.  This was going to be a long, hard day, but I’d finish strong and be proud of what I’d done.  I could visualize the whole day, and visualize the finish.  I can’t say it in a different way–I was ready.  I was prepared.  I was fully aware, had completely researched, and I was completely in tune with what I had to do.  I had ridden training rides of the proper length and intensity.  I had tried various food and hydration regimens, and even with the rigors of this event, I was on it.  I was ready to crush it.

We got into Emporia on Thursday night.  We stayed at the Best Western, which was truly a hell-hole.  They didn’t have the right rooms for us, the doors wouldn’t latch closed, and the help was in full IDGAF mode.  Didn’t matter.  We were there to ride.  We were ready.

Friday was greeted with downpours of rain.  As the day went on, I started feeling sick.  And sicker.  And sicker.  I spiked a fever and started to lose my voice.  My compatriots took care of me, and I was in bed by 7:30 on Friday night, fully dosed on a variety of cold medications.  Around midnight, I awoke drenched in sweat, my fever having broken.  I took a shower, changed clothes, and went back to bed.  Saturday morning came early, and I rolled out at 4:30am.

We had breakfast.  For this trip, I had literally packed every morsel of food needed from when we left on Thursday morning through the completion of the ride.  I was leaving nothing to chance, and nothing to restaurants.  My GF/DF meal plan was in full effect, and I was totally conservative in my approach.  My wife–my ever-loving wife–had made so much great food for me to eat.

I was fully prepared, heart, soul, body, bike.  When we lined up, I didn’t have much in the way of voice, but I had spirit.  I was prepared.  We were at the starting line, and I was in the gates.  I was psyched.  I was ready.

Immediately before we started, Bobby Wintle gave me great advice.  He said, “where there’s mud, recognize it.  Walk when you need to walk.  Don’t try to ride the mud.”  He was totally on, and I knew he was wise.  We rode about 12 miles and hit the first mud.  I saw it, and I immediately stopped and bailed off the bike.  I carried my Moots for about 3.5 miles.  From time to time, I’d roll it, but mostly, it was carried.

When we got to the end of the walking section, I meticulously cleaned out the mud and muck off of my bike.  Meticulously.  I held my rear tire off of the ground and spun the pedals, to confirm all was good.  Feeling confident, I hopped on and started riding.  All was great.

We rode about 3/4 of a mile when I heard “PING PING PING PING Psssstsssst.” and my rear wheel locked up.  I stopped as quickly as possible and looked at the bike.  The rear derailleur was obviously f’d.  My first thought: “ok, this sucks.  But I am prepared, I have quick links and tools.  I can singlespeed this biatch, and go on.”  I then look at my rear tire and try to figure out why it is flat.

My bro-heim Brendan comes over to look at the bike.  I’m starting to remove the rear wheel, to get going on a singlespeed setup, but something isn’t right.  The rim is pushed hard into the frame.  He reaches down and points out a broken spoke.  Next to 3 other broke spokes.  Somehow, the derailleur went into the wheel, breaking 4 spokes on the drive side.  The wheel lost tension on that side, and warped into the frame on the non-drive side, hard enough to blow the tire off the rim.  Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Ok, come up with another plan.  I can still singlespeed it.

But the tire is blown off.

I can throw a tube in it, and singlespeed it.  Problem solved.

But the wheel is so warped, that it won’t spin in the frame.

I can…

I can….

I can……

What can I do?  I can’t release enough tension on the non-drive side to true the wheel enough to make it rideable.  Even if I get the tire back on and singlespeed it, the rim won’t clear the frame.  I’m fucked.  F.U.C.K.E.D.

This whole process took about 60 seconds.  Brendan and I realized that I was fucked.  He started to say how sorry he was.  He knew how I’d prepared.  He knew how fully invested I was.  I could see in his eyes that he was gutted–gutted for me.  I couldn’t take that.  I couldn’t make eye contact and see his pity.  (It wasn’t bad pity.  It was the pity that accompanies true friendship.)  I couldn’t do it.  My eyes started to well up involuntarily, and I made eye contact with Brendan.  I said all that I could say–“go and finish.  You’ve got this.”  I dunno–something to that effect.  I turned to walk my bike down the road, but the rear wheel was so fucked that the bike wouldn’t even roll. I shouldered it again and started walking.

At that moment, I had only one thought.  I’m proud of that one thought.  My only thought was that I needed to get back to town, get our car, and support the guys that were still riding.  I posted one quasi-vague, quasi-negative Facebook post, and deleted it 5 minutes later.  I was on a mission.  Support the troops.  I figured out where I was, and called for a ride.  My walk to the ride ended up being about as far as I had ridden all day.  C’est la vie.

I eventually got back to a car, bike on my shoulder, and got a ride to town.  I took a shower, got dressed, and headed to the course to support my brothers.  I did everything I could, all day, to support them.  I did everything I’d have wanted to be done for me.  I lubed, cleaned, and checked their bikes.  I lied to them, telling them that they looked strong and ready to go.  I gave them food and drink, and pushed them to keep eating.  I suppressed my internal strife.

From our team of 6, 2 finished.  I wanted.  So badly.  To be one of the finishers.  I was ready.  I was prepared.  I don’t know exactly what to write here.  I have a lot of conflicting emotions, and I haven’t fully processed my experience at DK, even though it’s a few weeks later.  I’ll do this stream of consciousness style, and try to get across my conflicting emotions.

  • Those that finished have my great admiration, and nothing that I write is intended in any way to diminish from their accomplishments.  I wish I could say that in a way that made it absolutely, unimpeachably clear–for my homie Brendan, I was truly inspired by your ride.  For my homie Chad, you’re insane, in the best possible way.
  • I was riding a CX frame with a Di2 drivetrain.  I’ve seen bloggers writing about all of the idiots with road derailleurs who blew up in the first 20 miles.  To those bloggers, I say: fuck you.  This isn’t Trans-Iowa.  I studied the past decade of DK races in detail.  I was fully prepared, fully acclimated, and had picked hardware that was properly suited based upon every scintilla of information available.  If you’d like to throw a stone and say I’m stupid for running the bike I ran, then great.  As soon as I develop the ability to predict the future, I will gladly start to do so, and will pick equipment based upon the conditions that I’m able to foretell.  Until then, I’ll prepare based upon all available information, and do my best to accommodate changes in the field.  That’s what I did here.  I failed.  I did my best.  Dudes on fatbikes failed too.
  • I accept that what happened was beyond my control.  I don’t know why it happened.  My drivetrain was clean and running properly when I got back on the bike.  I’m guessing I picked up a clod on the tire, and it fell on the chain and went into the derailleur.  I don’t know how to prepare for, or prevent, that particular situation.  I’m sofuckingmad that it happened.  But it did.  I can’t undo it.
  • I’ve read all of these posts saying, “if you haven’t failed, then you’ve not set hard enough goals.”  Honestly, I don’t subscribe to that.  That sounds like the kind of thing that failures tell themselves to feel better about failing.  I set ludicrous goals for myself–personally and professionally.  I prepare for every contingency.  I train.  I read, I prepare myself.  I go in ready for anything.  And I finish.  I win if winning is possible for me.  I do it. I adapt and overcome because when I set a goal, I’m set on accomplishing it.  I didn’t fail at DK and feel some sense of empowerment.  I didn’t fail and think, “damn, this is a true challenge that really puts me on the spot.”  I was prepared.  I failed.  I didn’t feel that I was a better person for it.  I set my sights on finishing DK, at all costs.  I failed.  That’s on me.  My previous successes in life have not been because my goals weren’t hard enough.  They’ve been because I’ve thrown my entire soul at my goals.  My failure at DK wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough.
  • I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve questioned the course.  The DK organizers are amazing.  But.  If I was in their shoes, I can’t say as though I’d feel comfortable routing riders where they routed riders.  It doesn’t make a ride more epic when more people fail.  It just makes for a larger group of unsatisfied riders.
  • I just wrote, two points above, that my failure at DK wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough.  That pains me.  So.  Much.  If I failed because my spirit broke.  Because I ran out of food or water.  Because I ran out of leg, or heart, or mind.  If I failed because of me.  Such a failure would, improbably enough, be so much more satisfying.  Instead, I failed because of some unforfuckingseen condition that blew up my bike and ended my day.  When I was done–when I realized I was truly done–I thought about walking as far as I could on the course.  I decided that my time would be better spent supporting my brothers that were still mobile.  In the greatest twist of irony yet, after making that determination, I realized that I had to walk the course to get to somewhere that a car could reach me.
  • Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  I’m still there.  I don’t have a more eloquent answer.  Still just fuuuuuuuuuuck.
  • I’d like to say that barring this issue, I was prepared enough to finish, and to finish strong.  I think I was.  I think I was.  But honestly, that’s bullshit.  That’s talk from a blogger.  That dog won’t hunt, unless I actually did finish–which I didn’t.
  • I don’t know if I’m going back.  I don’t know if I can train for an event for six months, only to be taken out by some great cosmic joke.  I didn’t come away thinking, “DK vanquished me this year, but I’ll be back.”  I came away thinking, “I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted preparing for this.”  If I go back, it will be because I want to face the challenge of DK.  I will not go back based solely upon a quest to avenge this year’s squalid showing.  I have seen the consequences that a desire for revenge has upon people.  I will not be motivated by revenge or spite.

I’m sharing all of this because I don’t think it gets shared ordinarily.  If I went out and raced a crit tomorrow, I wouldn’t be all broken up about it if I lost.  That’s not my strength.  My strength is the stubborn will to continue.  My strength is analytically reviewing something and then preparing for it and then finishing it, when it is a test of will.  I know I’m not the strongest or fastest.  But I can control myself, and I can finish what I start.

I’m not writing this to solicit responses or sympathy.  I’m aware that some of what I’ve written may be controversial.  I’m writing this because it is the truth of my response to this event, and because I feel as though I need to write something about DK before I can go on with this blog.  So my options were either to write this, or to kill the blog.

This experience has changed me.  I see all of these posts about the new Salsa Cutthroat, and I’m like, “damn, that tire clearance…those big tires…that’s awesome.”  And then I look and see a regular derailleur without Alternator dropouts, and I’m back to, “that’s fucking stupid.  Who would design an adventure bike that cannot be SS’d in an emergency…or that cannot be built with an internal-gear hub?”  I dunno.

I’ve got a lot of pent-up anguish about this failure.  It’s my failure–no one else’s.  I’m not satisfied, and yet I’m not rushing back to sign up again.  I’ve written this to be a truthful reflection of my feelings, concern for others be damned.  I’m not planning on writing about it again; I’m moving on.

Brendan and Chad, I was inspired.  I wanted to be you, when you finished.  Knowing that I couldn’t be you, I wanted to, at the very least, be there for you.

Trek Fuel EX 29 Rear Suspension

I’ve written about my Trek Fuel EX 29er quite a bit, including a review of the amazing RS-1 fork.  This morning, I got out and put some miles on the EX in an urban environment, doing some unconventional off-roading.

#fuelyourmorning #outsideisfree #urbanexploration

A photo posted by @lawfarm on

What it made me think about is the efficiency of the Fuel’s rear suspension.

The Fuel has the Trek Active Brake Pivot (ABP) technology, which helps prevent brake jack.  That’s something that I’ve written about before, and a technology that just plain works.  The Fuel also has the Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) technology, which I’ve also written about before, which essentially provides a two-stage shock that helps maintain a more linear shock progression throughout the full range of travel, until the very end of travel where it ramps up to soften the jar of a hard bottoming-out.

This bike also features Trek’s “Full Floater” design, which essentially means that the shock is attached to the chain stays the upper rocker arm, rather than being attached to the upper rocker arm and seat stay.  If you look in this picture, you can see that the chainstay extends beyond the seatpost, and serves as the lower mount of the shock:

Accordingly, as the chainstay moves up, the bottom of the shock moves down.  At the top of the shock, as the rear suspension moves up, the rocker arm pushes down on the top of the shock.  This gives Trek the ability to change the leverage on the shock at different points in the travel, by carefully designing the length of the rocker arm and chainstay, as compared to a design with a fixed mounting point for the shock.  The design produces 120mm of travel that feels like much more, and much less.

The DRCV allows the bike to have linear, consistent travel throughout the range, which makes the travel feel far greater–it feels bottomless.  However, the full-floater design aides greatly in resisting pedal bob, and in improving efficiency.  To my taste, the Fuel has less pedal bob than even the XC oriented Superfly (and I’m not alone in that opinion).

In terms of pedaling efficiency, I tend to think that the DW-link and Split Pivot designs are at the very front of the industry in producing an amazing balance between efficiency and travel.  They are the mark against which I compare other designs.  To my taste, the Fuel doesn’t really give up anything on efficiency as compared to those designs.  Further, from my perspective, the DRCV allows the Fuel to have more consistent, more useful travel as compared to a DW or SP with a traditional shock.  Accordingly, when I had to decide between this bike and a Split Pivot, I chose this bike.  To be fair, I chose this bike because of the way I could spec it, as compared to the stock builds of Split Pivots…but when I made that choice, I didn’t view going with this suspension as a downside.

The combination of this rear suspension and the geometry of the Fuel makes for a very, amazingly confident bike.  The front wheel is solidly out in front of you, which lends a certain feeling if invincibility.  In terms of climbing, the Fuel performs solidly, and keeps traction without bucking or pedal hop–even when out of the saddle.  And when an obstacle appears in the trail, the Fuel mountain-goats right over it.

In terms of rigidity, I can feel no slop in the rear end.  My ENVE 29XC rims with Sapim CX-Ray spokes and DT240 hubs, coupled with the thru-axle and full-carbon rear end on the Fuel, makes this a very surgical instrument.  The rear feels tight and solid in the corners, unlike some other comparable travel FS 29ers.

So, another component of the Fuel reviewed, with two thumbs up.  It’s an amazing bike.

Brooks Dirty Kanza Ride

I’m incredibly pleased to say that I’ll be riding Dirty Kanza as a part of a 6 person team, sponsored by Brooks.  I’ve been putting in a lot of time on a Brooks Cambium lately, and it has proven to be the perfect saddle for the long-haul, as I expect DK to be.

Our team will include two gents I’ve not yet had the good fortune to meet, along with Brendan, Paul  and Aaron.  And we’ll be flying the Axletree colors.

I’m incredibly excited about the ride because of the challenge it poses, and because of the gents I’ll be riding with (not necessarily in that order).  It was only two years ago that I rode Almanzo, and found it to be the hardest ‘recreational’ physical undertaking I’d ever done.  I have trained harder, and prepared better, for DK–and I think I’m ready for it.

Brooks will be shooting a video of our ride, documenting the suffering great fortune that we have as friends, successful business people, fathers, husbands, etc., to share a day on the bike, and to share an accomplishment as a team.  We are greatly indebted to them, as one of the primary sponsors of Dirty Kanza overall, for the opportunity to ride on their behalf.  We won’t be the fastest team, but we will have an amazing experience, and will work hard to continue our normal traditions of being ambassadors for awesome cycling through Axletree, along with being brand ambassadors for Brooks.  I anticipate that the video will be amazing, and I am currently developing a list of classy sounding one-liners to throw out every time I pass a video camera.  (Not to mention polishing my “I’m really not working hard” smile).

I’m going to take a minute here and tell you about the guys I’m riding with.

Brendan is one of the most generous people I know.  I’m fortunate enough to live close to him, and my life has greatly benefitted from his friendship, his counsel, and his humor.  He and I share many rides in the area, and I have seen him at his very best and his very worst.  At his best, he is a fierce competitor, loving father and doting husband–and loyal to a fault.  At his worst, he is a broken man, trudging through a foot of slushy snow, carrying a Krampus and muttering to himself out loud about how much Illinois sucks.  In both instances, he is a great friend, and a trusted compatriot.  I’m using this picture of him, because he looks good in every picture, other than this one.

What’s funny about writing this post is that as I start to type comments describing my friends, I want to use the same words.  The same adjectives apply to all of them–so many common, amazingly good traits–that as I write, I am concerned that I will inadvertently insult one of them by omitting one of their best attributes.  Paul is one of the first people that I started cycling with in DeKalb.  I saw him at my very first Gravel Metric, years ago.  Paul has an amazing family–both his wife and son, and beyond.  He is one of the kindest people I have ever met.  He is grounded in a way that is uncommon, and he has a faith that I am deeply jealous of.  Paul has reserves of everything–reserves of faith, reserves of power, reserves of patience, of humility.  He is one of those people who appears to be effortlessly talented at everything.  I was with Paul at Almanzo, and around mile __(70?), he started to feel the pain.  This is Paul in suffering mode:

What’s amazing about that moment is not that he was suffering, but that he hung.  And around mile 95, when I started to fall apart, Paul pulled in front of me and took a pull–a long pull (we’re talking miles)–that saved me from failing.

Last but certainly not least there’s Aaron.  Aaron is one of the smartest people I know, whether you measure intelligence by the breadth of one’s knowledge and intellect, or by the number of words that they have to describe one’s crotchal region.  (Seriously–it’s impressive.)  Aaron possesses a unique calm, where he never really looks like he’s working hard.  I once saw Aaron ride 80 miles with a stomach bug that was effectively dysentery, smiling and laughing the whole way.  He has an infectious sense of humor, and perhaps the best comedic timing of anyone I know.  He has a steely exterior, but is amazing kind and insightful.

I was fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with Aaron in Steamboat last fall, and we were never at a loss for conversation.  He is knowledgeable about an amazing myriad of topics, and has a way of charmingly disarming just about anyone he meets–and he is skillful in a way that is uncommon these days.  I mean that literally; he has a great many useful skills that he graciously shares with his friends.

To those that know me, it comes as no great surprise that I am socially awkward.  In a professional context, I can be dispassionate and perform my responsibilities with aplomb, but I am often baffled by simple social situations that others find rudimentary.  I may be committing some faux pas by exhorting the characteristics of the friends that I’ll be riding with, but that’s ok.  Each of these 3 guys is someone who I would describe as a best friend, and each of them has repeatedly demonstrated the grace and kindness to accept my strengths and weaknesses.  Each of them has an amazing wife and a truly perfect child.  Each of them is someone I can relate to, and someone I trust expressly and implicitly.

I’ve come to realize that there are a great many opportunities that I have to ride my bike.  I can ride by myself just about any day I want.  What makes for a great bike ride is more than just riding your bike.  You certainly have to have a bike–the foundation for any great ride is a bike that fits, with quality parts (like the Brooks saddles that we’ll be using)…and a misfitting or uncomfortable bike can ruin just about any ride.  But a great ride comes from the experience, not the equipment or the route.  Some of the most miserable routes and most awful weather I’ve ridden in have been some of the most memorable rides I’ve had, because of the people I’ve been with.  I’m going into Kanza with three of my brothers, and regardless of the outcome of the day, we will create a lifelong memory.

At some point, true friendship is this delicate balance between two conflicting points.  On one hand, I know that any of these guys would do anything I asked them to do.  On the other hand, I would never ask them to do anything that they shouldn’t do.  These aren’t friends that would help me bury a body, as the cliche goes.  These are friends that would talk me out of the bad situation that would lead to a burial being necessary.  These are people that make my life better every week–nearly every day–and whom I’ve come to rely upon to take pulls on the bike, and to take pulls in my life.  To offer wisdom, solace, humor, and friendship, and to be there for me when I have a need.  And in return, I offer that same benefit to them, and find that it is equally fulfilling to be of service as it is to receive someone else’s service.

I am hopeful that the video captures some of this essence, this spirit and this camaraderie.   Kanza will be an experience, and I am thankful to Brooks for offering the opportunity, and a fantastic saddle to experience it from.

Candles, not Matches.

I’m going to be riding in the Dirty Kanza this year, with some awesome guys.  More details on that to come, shortly.  That will be the longest race I’ve ever done.  Frankly, it will be the longest ride I’ve ever done.  I’ve been doing some serious prep work for over six months now, and I feel as though I’m prepared.  I’m perhaps not ready, but I’m prepared.

I sat down in October and decided I wanted to do this ride.  I had decided a year ago, really, that I wanted to do a ride of this nature.  The quasi-supported nature of the ride is perfect for me…200 miles is certainly enough of a challenge, but the ability to stop every 70-ish miles and grab food from my own cooler–that is what makes this possible.  I don’t have to rely on food from gas stations (which aren’t terribly supportive of my health conditions), and I don’t have to pack enough on the bike to last, truly self-supported, for 200 miles.  This isn’t a self-supported race, and I’m ok with that.

My training has been an interesting undertaking.  Basically, I’ve concerned myself with time in the saddle, and that’s about it.  This winter, I spent a lot of time fat biking, just churning out miles, not particularly fast, not particularly far, but keeping my heart rate around 150 and keeping moving.  As the weather warmed, I’ve transitioned to gravel, and sometimes to mountain biking, but working at that same goal.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time on the trainer, working at the 150-160bpm heart rate level, and working to expand the amount of time I could spend at that level (with little blasts up to MHR and back).

Through that effort, and through following my heart rate, I have developed a far better understanding of my fitness and my heart rate, and the correlation between burning matches and stamina.  Saturday, I rode 71 miles with Brendan, much of it into a headwind (as the wind changed on us mid-ride), and came home feeling great–not tired, not sore, just great.  The reason?  In the whole ride, I burned one match.  On the very final climb of the day, just to be a smartass, I sprinted up to the top.  This riding isn’t sexy.  I’m not going to win DK.  I’m not the fastest I’ve ever been.  But for what I’m planning on doing, I am adapted, and I am knowledgeable.  I understand how to fuel myself, and keep myself going.  I know what happens when I stop for 5 minutes, or for 20 minutes.   I know how many matches I have, what happens when I burn them, and how long it takes me to recover.  I’ve gotten better at recovery.

I’ve tried to build myself into a rider that burns candles–slow, long-burning, steady–rather than one that burns matches in brilliant little bursts of light.  I am confident I will finish, and accept that it will not be at the front of the pack.  But it will be on my terms, and it will be my best effort.