Skip navigation

I thought I’d upload some pictures from the recent Triple D winter bike race.  Many people don’t know what winter bikers look like; these pictures will help you be able to spot them from a safe distance.  If you see people matching this description, run inside and lock your doors!  Beware, for if you come in contact with them you will surely find yourself trapped in a conversation about running low tire pressure, clothing that ‘wicks’, and people named ‘Larry, Darryl, and Marge’ that will actually turn out to be bike parts, not people.  A strange group, this one.  The safest thing to do is to seek warm shelter, for they avoid following you, instead preferring to suffer outside in the cold.  Wait a few minutes, and they will begin to fade out of sight at a speed of somewhere between 3 mph (pushing) and 6 mph (pedaling).

Anyway, here are some pictures from the race:

8:30 a.m., ready to leave the house. I'm glad I live ten minutes from the starting line; short drive to get there, and a short drive to get home.

Not a typical sight at the Grand Harbor hotel. It's interesting to see the different approaches to riding in the winter. I was definitely in the 'this is what I already have' group. Mine is the red Fisher on the right.

Kate and I at the start of the race.

My wife Katie and I at the start line. Her warm coat is covering up her 'I'm with stupid' t-shirt.

Tara and Tina and I

My sisters each made long drives from out of town to show their support. They are awesome. Both are Ironman finishers, and they would need that experience with tremendous suffering to combat the boredom of waiting for me to make it to the next intersection at 5 mph so they could cheer me on.

This was early in the race, before the pushing started. If you close your eyes and concentrate, you can just about hear me saying 'This isn't so bad..." This will be followed by the sound of Karma laughing wildly at me.

Let the pushing begin! My gps tells me that we went from 642 ft to 948 ft in barely two miles.

Misery loves company. I was relieved to see that I wasn't the only one walking my bike.

Luckily, you don't have to pay into the elevation savings account without making the occasional withdrawal. This short, steep downhill section was fun, but seeing the sharp left turn at the bottom made me want to cry. No carrying speed up into the next hill here.

And the summit is reached! We were so far above sea level that the oxygen up there was nearly nonexistent! Either that, or I am terribly out of shape.

Finally! A hill that I can pedal up. Just barely though; my heart rate monitor stopped displaying numbers and started showing arrows pointing to the nearest hospital.

Pedaling along...

Riding along Humke road with encouragement. This would be the last pavement I would see in the race. There would be more pavement later near the end, but my lights were fading pretty fast by then, so I really didn't see much of it.

Here I am being spit out at the bottom of the infamous Level B section of Humke Road. GPS shows me losing 400 feet of elevation in less than two miles, with the grade reaching 15-20%. Can't really believe the GPS too much though, because it failed to display 'You are out of control!' right before I got dumped on my ass about five minutes before this picture was taken. Later on it showed the phrase 'You have absolutely no business doing something like this.', so it is occasionally very accurate.

After 20 miles or so, I made it on to Heritage Trail. This was more familiar ground, as I had been riding out here a few times already this winter. Would I rather brave 10 degree weather and see views like this, or sit on the trainer for an hour and watch reruns? I think I'll take the Hallmark card option, cold notwithstanding.

Finally, the halfway point! This was my original goal, so anything beyond this point would be considered a success for me.

I don’t have a lot of pictures after the halfway point.  It was dark for most of it, so there wasn’t much to see, and I was pretty busy changing a tire, pumping up a tire with a slow leak, looking for broken tire lever parts, and hunting down the bite valve from my camelback.  There was even some pedaling!  And then, finally, after six more hours of s l o w l y traveling along, I reached the finish.

65 miles and 12 hours later, the bike is not looking too much worse for wear. It was much more prepared for this than I was.

"Who's this pudgy guy, and why is he so damn happy to be dead last?!"

As is so often true with photographs, they don’t do it justice.  It’s hard to explain what I went through during this race, what I saw, and why I was so damn happy for pretty much the entire time.  I guess you just have to try it for yourself.  See you there next year…


Now that I’ve explained my lack of preparation, it is time to discuss my unavoidable lack of performance.

The race was set to begin at 10:00 a.m.  I left the house later than expected (setting the tone for the day), but still made it to the hotel conference room in which the registration was being held in time to get signed in by nine bells.  I spent the next twenty minutes wandering around and checking out the bikes against which I would be racing.  Lots of interesting stuff.  Sure, I wanted a fat-tired bike before I arrived, but now I REALLY wanted one.  Lots of Surly Pugsleys, a few Salsa Mukluks, a 9:zero:7, (which is fantastic just for what the name represents) and Lance Andre’s Fatback, which just sat next to the registration table setting the bar for a what a racing snow bike can be.  Of course, I didn’t see any bright red bikes there besides mine.  In my mind, the most important decision when picking a bike for this race was ‘which will be the most visible to the search party sent to find me?’  Titanium is nice and all, but it won’t draw attention to me when I’ve crashed into the woods and become immobile.  I’ll take my bright red and white bike, thankyouverymuch.

We rolled out at a little after 10:00 a.m. from the behind the Star Brewery.  We headed north through Dubuque out to West 32nd street.  At this point, the race officially began.  I knew this not because I was at the front and saw it, but because earlier we had been told that this would be where the race would began.  I was content to hang out at the back so as not to slow down any of the real athletes who were competing in this race.  It is important to note that just because this was going to be a fun little experiment for me it did not mean that most (if not all) of the other competitors were truly impressive athletes bent on winning.  In fact, I think it says something about this race that the capability of entrants ranged from them, on the high side, to me, on the subterranean side.

Once we crossed West 32nd we started on a really rough, snowy bike path.  Last year this section was only rideable by a very few (among which I could not count myself), so the fact that this year I was not pushing my bike made me more than happy to get beat up as I rolled over the frozen human footsteps and canine deposits.

From there we crossed under John Deere road, headed across US 52, and then headed off into the snowmobile trails running alongside the north side of the Northwest Arterial.  This made for a couple of fun downhills, a few miserable uphills, and a few off-camber, barely rideable sections.  My heart rate was pegged right away, which I knew wasn’t going to be good if I had planned on making it more than an hour into the race.  I tried to balance this out by nearly falling several times on the steep downhill sections of the trails.  It turns out that this does not, in fact, balance out a raised heart rate on uphills, but actually contributes to it being high.  Who knew?

I did have a secret advantage; one that I didn’t notice any other competitor having.  At nearly every intersection, along almost every road next to the trails, and just about any other spot where you can fit a minivan I had my family cheering for me.  My wonderful wife, my two beautiful daughters, and my fantastic sisters were following along and cheering me on, complete with ‘Happy Ride Daddy’ and ‘Happy Daddy Go!’ signs.  It might have seemed a little out of place in this type of race, but I can say that I appreciated it.  They seemed to enjoy cheering me on, and really enjoyed seeing the other racers as well.  I do want to mention to the several female racers that my 3 and 5 year old daughters were particularly excited to see that there were girls racing their bikes in the snow.  I hope that they would assume that there were women capable of doing this race as well, but I’m sure it helps for them to see it directly.

After 20 miles or so of snowmobile trails, the course climbed up on to Humke road.  After a brief respite of paved road, the course then went onto a Level B section of the road.  “Level B” is the county’s designation for roads that were designed to cause injury.  I think most roads are probably Level A.  “Level A” == “avoid injury.”  “Level B” == “cause injury.”  I don’t know if there are any Level C roads in the county, but if there are you can bet it just a short concrete launch ramp over the edge of a bluff with a pile of skeletons at the bottom intermingled with rusty old mountain bike frames.  Level B is somewhere between a four-lane highway and that.  Needless to say, there is a spot on the output of my bike computer where the speed graph goes from over 20 mph to an abrupt zero.  I laid it down pretty fantastically there; my only disappointment is that there wasn’t a witness to it.  Luckily, I landed in pretty soft snow, and I was back up and flailing down the hill out of control almost immediately.  Because I’m sure the 20 seconds I picked up by going way too fast downhill was more than worth the increased chance of breaking my face, right?  It wouldn’t have made sense to take it easy down the hill.  Nobody turns down free speed!

Once past the Level B section, the course ended up on Heritage Trail, the local rail-trail.  At this point, it was relatively flat, and the course conditions were pretty good.  I found solace in trying to stay in the track of someone running a set of Schwalbe tires; Nobby Nic maybe?  Whatever the tire and whoever the rider, it tended to follow the part of the trail where I could ride faster and easier.

It is probably worth explaining that riding in snow is inherently different than normal off road riding.  The challenge is in finding the easy spot.  On any given trail there are subtle differences in the surface that are sometimes invisible, but they are there.  One experienced rider described the change in sound from a ‘crunching’ sound that was synonymous with difficult pedaling to a sudden silence, indicating that a slightly harder surface was now under the tires.  You can instantly feel a slight acceleration.  It is hard for me to describe accurately, but it makes riding a fairly flat and wide open trail more challenging; rewarding attentiveness and careful tire placement with a little bit of speed and slight drop in required exertion.

So, having made it through the ‘difficult’ part of the race, it was now time to concentrate on keeping a decent pace, not overheating, getting some calories in, and not breaking anything.  I had already overheated and shed some clothes, then got cold and put them back on.  At some point my front derailleur had lost it’s grip on the shifter cable, but since it was in the small ring it wasn’t causing me any problems.  I figured it would be easy enough to pull the cable back through and tighten it up, but time spent doing that was time spent not pedaling.  At the pace I was maintaining on the trail (7-8 mph) I needed to worry more about forward motion and less about ensuring that I could get into my big rings.  So seeing as how my pace wasn’t really decent, I had already overheated, and I had broken some stuff already, I concentrated on getting calories in.  I thawed out a Clif bar and some gel under my jersey and managed to get those eaten, and I had been drinking a ton.  I wasn’t sure how much was getting absorbed and how much of it was just going through the system, but I was finally able to keep my heart rate down under 160, so I figured that would help.

I made it to the Dyersville checkpoint at almost exactly 5 hours in.  I was pretty happy to have made it this far.  I parked my bike outside Chad’s Pizza and went inside, eager to change into some dry clothes and get something to eat that was actually hot, instead of just ‘thawed.’  I probably stayed here too long, even though I only had one small slice of pizza and some corn.  I’m not sure why the corn sounded good; it was hot, and it had salt and pepper on it.  I figured that since it was a vegetable that it had to be somewhat good for me, and even had a brief image in my head of marathon runners flying through a checkpoint, grabbing a small cup of corn and tossing it back, and chasing it with Gatoraid.  I put on a dry base shirt, an insulated jersey, some dry socks, and then headed back out onto the course.  I figured I would be able to make it to Farley for sure, and that I would evaluate whether I would continue on at the point.  So far, except for some major cramping that I had been able to slow down and pedal through, I really hadn’t been having any problems.

I had ridden about a mile past Farley when I noticed my front tire was completely flat.  I’m not sure how long it had been flat.  Looking back at the speed graph of my bike computer I would guess that it had been flat since late November, but it’s more likely that it went flat right around the Farley tunnel.  I figured I would try to throw a tube into it, and if I didn’t get too cold, I’d keep riding, and if it didn’t work out that way, I would call my wife and go home and shower.  I called her to let her know my intentions, and set to changing the tire.  It was a little bit of a fight to get the tire off of the rim.  Not sure if this was because of the sealant, or the cold, or because I’m weak, or what, but it took longer than I expected.  I got the tube in, and spent a lot of effort trying to get the tire back over the bead.  Eventually, I got it, pumped it up, and kept on riding.  I was just north of Epworth now, and I knew Graf was only four miles away.  I was actually thinking ‘Graf would be a respectable place to throw in the towel, that’s over 75% of the distance’, but once I got there, I felt pretty good and decided to keep going.  At this point it’s already 9 hours into the race, and I know I’ve got probably three hours left to go.  My new tube in the front was leaking slowly.  I was stopping every few miles to pump it up; I figured if I stopped to change it again I would get too cold.  The whole time I was constantly surprised that I wasn’t in more pain, cramping more, or slowing down even more, but since none of that was happening, I really didn’t have a good reason to quit, so I just kept going.

I made it to the mandatory checkpoint at the Handle Bar in Durango around 8:30 or so, which was 10+ hours into the race.  I was quite obviously the last one to get here.  The bartender gently broke the news to me that I was last, checked me in, and then called the race organizers to let them know that I wasn’t lost, that I was planning on finishing.  I ordered some hot chocolate and some mini-tacos, and laid my gloves, jacket, and outer jersey by the fireplace to dry out a little bit.  I was there for about twenty minutes, and then loaded back up for the final push home.  I now had some drier clothes, and my front tire was actually holding air.  What could go wrong?

Well, nothing, except that I got lost.  In the town that was born in raised.  Twice.  (I got lost twice; I didn’t mean that I was born and raised here twice.  That wouldn’t make any sense at all.  Not that getting lost did either.)

The first incident was caused by the tunnel under John Deere road that led back towards the bike trail being completely shrouded in darkness.  I saw all kinds of tire tracks heading up a steep snowmobile trail just past the turn.  By this time my brain no worky so well, so I just got off the bike and started pushing.  It took a good five minutes before I realized what was going on, and then turned around and headed back down the hill, and then found the tunnel, and was back to getting abused by the rough trail to get downtown.  Once I got into downtown Dubuque I tried to remember which street would lead back to the road under the train tracks near the Star Brewery.  Everything east of White street is kind of a mystery to me; at one point I ended up riding backwards down a one-way street.  Anyone who has spent much time in Dubuque realizes this is any easy mistake to make, but they can still laugh at me if they like.

Finally, about 12 hours and 10 minutes after I started, I rolled my bike into the lobby at the Grand Harbor hotel.  I walked into the second floor conference room (where the awards ceremony had probably ended an hour earlier) and asked if it was too late to check-in.  Traci, one of the organizers gave me a big hug and started a big round of applause for me.  And that was awesome.  Highlight of the day.  I’m in a room full of people who did this same race in probably half of the time it took me, and they are telling me that I did well.  I’ll take that any day.

I spent some time talking to people, ate a cupcake, and then headed home.  At the advice of my sister, I tried to take an ice bath to ward off the impending soreness in my legs.  THIS WAS BY FAR THE DUMBEST THING I DID ALL DAY!  It was the first time that I really got cold!  My feet shut down instantly.  I couldn’t feel my legs.  Horrible!  Why would anyone do this?  And she thinks I’m crazy for riding my bike in cold weather?  No way.  I took a regular human shower with warm water, and then went to bed.

Looking back on the whole thing, I’ve got more to say, but I’ll save that for another post.

I entered a bike race this past weekend called ‘Triple D’.  It was a fun one.  I entered it last year, but did not finish.  This year, I had better luck.  More on that later.  Anyway, once again, in an effort to provide information to others on how to prepare (or, more likely, how NOT to prepare) for a winter endurance bike race, I am going to write a little bit about what I did.  Pay attention, dear readers, for it is possible that both of you may find something useful here!  I will try to break up the precious needles of information into multiple haystacks, instead of burying them deeply in one long post.  For this first one I will list what I did to prepare.  Don’t worry, it will be a short one.

Training:  On a scale of 1 to 10, with ‘1’ being ‘I am in a medically-induced coma’ and ’10’ being ‘I occasionally get off of my bike to do jump squats, but then ride the other 23 hours a day’, I would rate my training regimen as a solid ‘2’, or ‘I rode my bike a three times in December and three times in January, and some of them were even outside.  The longest ride was for three hours, going about 20+ miles.  (yes, that’s right; I was averaging a little over 6 mph.  No sense in overtraining.)

Bike:   I rode the mountain bike that I ride the rest of the year in the woods in the same configuration as I ride it in the woods.  It is a Fisher X-Caliber; a basic 29″ aluminum mountain bike.  (No special snow bike here, but not for lack of wanting.)  It is set up just as I bought it when new, except that it has bigger tires on it:  29×2.35 tires (Bontrager FR3s, in case anyone cares).  These worked MUCH better in the softer snow than the narrow studded tires I ran last year.  I was running them tubeless, which allowed me to drop down to about 11 psi without any trouble.  (I know, I know; tubeless tires have problems in severe cold, etc. etc.  I liked how they worked for regular mountain biking when tubeless, and I figured if they wouldn’t hold air I could always put a tube in.  More on that later)  Anyway, I rode in the snow several times, and I would say the bike worked well.  By ‘worked well’ I mean ‘I was able to occasionally maintain forward motion.’  I knew if the conditions were really soft I would have trouble, but if the trail was packed at all I should be able to ride.

Shoes:  I splurged this year and bought some nice Lake winter cycling boots.  This was the single best decision I made about this race, other than deciding to do the race in the first place.  Last year I screwed around with regular shoes, extra socks, toe warmers, shoe covers, and so on.  Pain in the ass.  I’m glad I got the Lake boots.  I knew I made the right decision when I showed up for a 15 degree New Year’s Day ride with the local bike club and over half of the people were wearing the same type of boots.

Clothing:  Nothing exotic here; a pair of Sugoi insulated bib tights, some waterproof pants, a pair of cheap non-cotton long johns, some arm warmers, a WarmFront vest, some polypropylene base shirt, a regular bike jersey, and a snowmobiling jacket that was big enough to fit over my Hydrapak backpack.  Some insulated cycling gloves and a Sugoi balaclava to round it all out.  I had tried out this setup several times, and it seemed to work pretty well down to about zero degrees.  If the mercury receded below that I would be putting on an additional insulated bike jersey and/or calling for a ride.

Nutrition:  100 oz. reservoir full of Infini-T, some gel, and some Clif bars.  I had done some long (for me, meaning around 3 hours) rides on any empty stomach and went through plenty of Infini-T, always with good results.  By ‘good results’ I mean ‘I went very slow but did not vomit.’

Strategery:  It would be an insult to strategy to say I had a strategy.  More of a plan.  Or a plan to plan.  Anyway, I was planning to plan on riding until it wasn’t fun anymore.  That’s what I did last year, and that worked pretty well.  I was hoping to make it to Dyersville, which was the halfway point, but I didn’t really know what to expect.  Even halfway would be considered a personal success, since I knew I was going into the race underprepared, underequipped, and undertrained.  (But overweight, in order to keep the whole over/under thing balanced)  I did spend some time stretching the day before, and I did cut my hair.  Really, what more could I have done?

As you might have guessed from the hints above, I wasn’t really ready for this.  I had fully planned on training much more, weighing much less, and having a much better plan on doing the race.  That being said, nothing was going to stop me.  From entering, that is.  There was a no shortage of things that were probably going to stop me from finishing.

Triple D is over. I’m done. I did it. Well, I started doing it, and then after awhile I stopped. My sisters, both Ironman finishers, pointed out to me once that something doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun. I don’t think I truly understood that until now.

Rewind two days: my chances of finishing were looking up the day before the race; because of trail conditions there was a possibility that the race would be run on gravel roads for much of the 62 miles. My narrow studded tires might even give me a slight advantage over some of the tractor tires that everyone else would be running. Upon checking in at nine a.m. I learned that the trail was in pretty good shape, and we would be running the entire 23 miles of it twice (out and back).

I showed up at the start, and saw exactly what I expected: everybody was running way more tire than I was. I didn’t blame them; if I could have fit more on my rims, I would have too…

We started at the Star Brewery in downtown Dubuque. We rolled out in a paced start at 10:00 a.m., heading north through town. We crossed 32nd street and the race began just as the walking began. The route traversed 1.2 miles of bike path that was not opened to snowmobile traffic, but was not shoveled or plowed either. I think I saw maybe one or two tire tracks that didn’t have evidence of footsteps next to them. So we all marched along, single file, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, once we crossed under a road, we reached rideable terrain. This was a relief, because I was planning on being able make pretty good time in the early sections of the race, and the walking had killed that idea so far. Several weeks ago I had pre-ridden the same path that we just walked, and it was mostly just ice. I was able to roll right down it pretty easily. I knew as the race went on I would be at a disadvantage with such a narrow tire, so losing out on even a mile of paved roadway was disheartening.

We rode through a parking lot, crossed a highway, and rolled down some snowmobile trails to get to the start of Heritage Trail. I had my first highlight of the day upon seeing my family waiting there, cheering me on. Everyone else in the race may have had better equipment, better fitness, and much more experience, but I had ‘Go Fast Daddy!’ signs. Try to top that, you losers! I’m speaking, of course, to all of those people who were now very far ahead of me. So I was pretty sure I was last, but I really didn’t care. It was a beautiful day, warmer than expected at 6 degrees or so. I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t thirsty, I wasn’t hungry, and I was finally moving right along. So long as I stayed in the middle eight inches of the trail on the hardest packed snow, I could keep pedaling along with pretty little effort. Maybe these tires weren’t such a bad idea at all.

I rolled through the first few road crossings of the trail, and even passed a couple of people. I stopped at Budd Road to change foot warmers and talk to my family again. My sisters had even joined in, ensuring that I had the largest following of any of the racers out there. Either that, or their cheering sections didn’t stick around for the guy who was a half-hour behind everyone else.

Everything was going pretty well, until I came around a slight bend and something large and ominous moving toward me…

Do you know what the apocalypse looks like? It looks like a large Snow-Cat dragging a snowmobile trail groomer behind it. It slowly walks toward you, plowing soft snow all over the nice packed trails you’ve been riding. It quietly walks by with no realization that it is raining shit all over the parades of the people it passes.

I cannot even begin to convey how much this felt like getting kicked in the stomach. Seriously. Before I even tried to ride, I knew that my day was going to end much sooner than I expected or wanted. I got back on the bike, and gave it a shot. For the first half-mile or so I could just barely keep moving by staying in the eight inches nearest to the right edge of the groomer’s pathway, but it was taking a ton of effort. Eventually, that turned out to be too much work. I would find short sections that looked rideable, but after 200 or 300 feet I would run into soft mush that would cause my heart rate to spike and my legs to burn. I could just barely ride through some parts, and I could not ride through others.

I made it to Graf, which was the 16 miles or so from the start and roughly halfway to the turning point of Dyersville. I stopped and talked to my family again, and learned that it sounded like nearly everyone else was having issues with the freshly groomed trails. I figured as much, judging by the amount of 29er tire tracks that were wandering back and forth from side to side, searching for some snow that was solid enough to ride on, instead of through. I got back on and tried to ride again. I made it about 500 feet, and started walking again, figuring there was a chance that conditions would improve. Shortly after that I met the two leaders on snow bikes coming toward me. These guys are three quarters of the way done, and I’m meeting them a quarter of the way in. I’m not a winter bike racing expert, but I was starting to think that maybe these wide tires were some sort of a slight advantage…

Long story short, I kept on walking, and trying to ride. Five miles later, my legs started cramping up; left quad, right hamstring. I was in Epworth, 21.2 miles from the start. It took me a few minutes more than five hours to get there. I called my wife, and asked her if she was bored and wanted to come pick me up. She’s wonderful, so she said she would, even though I don’t think she was bored at the time.

Looking back, I’m pretty satisfied with how it went. I did everything I could in preparation, short of buying a completely different bike. Everything I planned about food, water, and clothing worked. In the end, it was a nice sunny day, and I spent it with my bike. I was even riding for some of it. The only downside is that I plan on doing it next year, and I know I’m going to be using a different bike to do it. Anyone want to sell a lightly used Pugsley for cheap?

I went on another training ride last night to try out some more theories.  I put the seatpost rack on with a tool bag containing my small (50oz.) Camelbak bladder, thinking it might be good to take as much water as possible.  I even had some emergency supplies for building a fire, some tools, etc.  I strapped some new rubber overboots on top of all that.  I didn’t expect to wear them tonight, but I want to figure out a way to take them with me in case I have to push a long section of the race, since the last few times I had pushed in the snow my feet had begun to freeze instantly.  Maybe something about having a large chunk of metal on the bottom of the shoe causes the heat to bleed out quickly?  I figured maybe having some rubber boots to throw on for a long walk up a hill would be an advantage.

As usual, getting ready took too long and left me frustrated.  I got home from work at 5:30 or so, and was pretty much ready to go in an hour.  I had to pump up two of the jeep tires before I could leave, which left me frustrated.  I was finally on the road a little after 6:30, and got all the way to Potter Hill Road before I realized that I forgot my helmet.  Turned around, went all the way back home (to find that the garage door had reopened on its own), grabbed the helmet, then headed back out.

I went to my in-law’s with the Jeep, and then my wife gave me a quick ride from there to the top of Potter’s Hill.  The plan was to try the Level B section again, but without trying to climb Potter Hill Road as a ‘warm up’.  She dropped me off at the top of the hill just as it was starting to snow pretty heavily.  I unloaded the bike, gave her a kiss, and started rolling down the hill.  I was looking forward to trying out the skinny Nokians on what would probably be the roughest part of the route.  They worked really well heading down the gravel, to the point where I was keeping pretty good pace with a small deer running about 40 feet in front of me.  Then we got to the end of the gravel, and the deer took off, and I slowed way down.

The skinny tires didn’t do too bad on the rough spots.  It was a handful to keep it pointed in the right direction with all of the off-camber spots I was going over, but it was much better than it was when I was running oversize tires on skinny rims with too little pressure.  I did end up dumping over sideways twice, but never hit hard.  I made it down to the bottom pretty quickly and gave my wife a call to let her know I was heading west on Heritage trail.

I made it out almost to Farley without too much trouble.  I stopped a couple of times to send my location, take drinks, eat Clif Bloks, etc.  I decided to turn around after I had about an hour in when I got to Boge road.  I was having pretty good luck with the narrow tires, but it was getting tougher as more snow fell.  I was also having issues with the seatpost rack swinging around on me and the boots on it hitting the tire.  That was pretty frustrating, as I would have to unclip my left foot to swing my leg back and push the rack around.
About halfway back to the jeep’s I decided to stop and swap foot warmers to see how long that process took.  It went fine, but it went slow, and it left my hands cold for the first time.  They had been plenty warm for the entire ride, but having gloves off to take socks off had chilled them a little.  I think if I was going to be out much longer I would have gotten out some of the little hand warmers.

Swapping the foot warmers was uneventful, but I should have done it sooner.  It’s a lot easier to stay ahead of cold toes than it is to catch up with them.  I really hope the insulated ‘booties’ for my bike shoes arrive in time; I think that will help with the cold feet quite a bit.

I was making pretty good time on the way back until I stopped to change my foot warmers.  Things seemed to slow way down after that.  I made it into Graf and swung out onto the road, as it was slightly easier going.  It felt great to be rolling along in the fresh snow, hearing no sound but my tires crunching along.

I was coming up Potter Hill road and I started to feel bad.  It was almost 10:00 and the girls were still awake because it was taking me so long to get back to meet my wife.  I was close enough that I thought the GMRS radio would work, so I called Katie and told her she could pick me up if she wanted on Potter Hill road.  A few minutes later I saw the barn come into view that sits across from their driveway, so I caller her back and told her not to worry about it.  I rolled down the driveway and then cranked up the hill, arriving right about 10:00 p.m.

Lessons learned:
1.  Seatpost racks (still) kind of suck.  I still may end up running that one, but probably just with the boots.  I think I can fit everything else in the Hydrapak.  Also, it needs to be mounted higher, possibly with something tethering it to the seat rails to keep it from swinging all over the place.
2.  Big mittens over nice cycling gloves will leave hands sweaty.
3.  Small tires on packed snow work okay, but it’s on the edge of not working.  It was important to find a good spot in the trail that would keep me from sinking too deep to keep rolling quickly.
4.  It is most important to have a very understanding wife and a very supportive family.

Today I went back out into the cold to try to get some mileage in and make up for yesterday’s near failure.  As usual, I got left (hee hee) later than I wanted.  As usual, it had to do with changing bike tires.  Having realized that a 2.1 was far too wide for my narrow rims, I was ready to try the studded tires again.  The front one went on surprisingly easy.  I went to finally pump it up, but while I was attaching the pump to the valve the rim fell away from me, causing the top of the valve to break off.  In the words of the wise-beyond-her-years Clara:  Grr!  So, after some initial pissed-off-ed-ness and a quick slam of the mini-tool on the bench, I proceeded to grab a spare tube and swap it out.  I switched the rear out without any issue and I was ready to go.

I drove the Jeep out to Graf and parked at the picnic area.  I unloaded the bike and headed west, pedaling out over some Pugsley and Nokian tracks, all of which were so much wider than mine.  I began wondering if I was trying this on the wrong bike, but I wasn’t having too much trouble with the riding.  I kept changing out different things in regards to clothing.  My face was getting a little cold, so I took off the sunglasses and switched to the goggles.  The goggles fogged up a bunch, so I let them hang around my neck.  I never did experience enough cold in my face to warrant dealing with the fogging.  My upper body was hot, so I took the liner out of the snowmobile coat I was wearing and bunched it up on the Hydrapak, which was outside of the coat.  My hands got cold in the snowmobiling gloves, so I threw some handwarmers in them.  That didn’t work, so I got out my $10 El Cheapo mittens and threw the handwarmers in there.  This worked surprisingly well, and I never changed anything else for the rest of the ride.
I got about five miles out and realized that my hose was frozen somewhere between the bladder and the bite valve, so I decided to turn around.  I thought putting the hydration pack inside my coat would help it thaw out.  The bunched-up liner attached to the pack was too thick to put the coat over, so I rolled that up and tied it around my waist.  I was heading back and a pretty good clip, as it was getting pretty dark and my toes were freezing.  Suddenly, I was slowing down like I dropped a plow.  Turns out the coat liner had come untied from my waist and had decided to become one with my rear cassette.

I flipped the bike over and started trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get that out of there.  Lots of tugging and pulling and swearing and thinking and I finally managed to pull the wheel most of the way out, and then get the coat liner unwrapped.  It’s a good thing I didn’t have a knife, because I would have cut that thing to pieces.  It was way too cold to be screwing around with stuff like this.

Once that was done, I was eager to start making time.  I got back on the bike and put the hammer down, relatively.  More of a ball peen hammer than a sledge hammer, but it was put down all the same.  I made it another few miles and my toes were getting way too cold.  I found a good spot to sit and decided to try something different.  I took out another pair of insole warmers and put them directly on my toes.  I ditched the thin Pearl Izumi socks and put the ‘Large Warmers’ directly on my feet as well, despite all of the dire warnings about burning skin.  Pulled some smartwool socks on over the whole works and got back to moving.  Just about the time I got to the Jeep I was feeling pretty good; feet were warm, hands were warm, everything else was doing okay.  My hose had even thawed, just in time to pack it in.

Lessons learned:
1.  I don’t need goggles for positve temperatures, at least for the first two hours.
2.  My hydration hose can freeze, even if I blow air back into it every single time I use it.
3.  My big snowmobiling coat may even be overkill, except to keep my hose warm.
4.  I need to figure out something different for my feet, as the thin+thick socks just aren’t doing it, even with chemical warmers.  I can get away with putting the warmers directly on my skin, but I’d rather find someway to just keep my feet a little more insulated.  I think getting a  pair of the insulated booties are the answer to that, although I would prefer not to call them ‘booties’.
5.  Everything needs to be tied down tightly, or it can fall into the drivetrain.  If you lose the drivetrain, you lose everything.

Eager to test out some chemical hand/foot warmers, I planned to take a longish ride today and try out the Level B part of Humke road that is going to be part of the Triple D race.  As always, pre-ride prep work took longer than expected.  I wanted to give a friend’s 29×2.1 tire another try in the front so I switched from the studded Nokian to the Panaracer 700×45 in back.  This new front tire is an absolute bitch to get on and off.  Goodbye to another el cheapo tire lever.  I even put a pretty good bend in the Topeak tire lever as well.  (still need to get that fixed, by the way)  Eventually, it went on.  (that’s right; broke the tire lever putting the tire ON.  God only knows how bad it will be coming off)  Loaded the bike up on the Jeep, and headed to my in-laws, who happen to live very near what might be the roughest part of the race route.  My wife and children were already spending some time there today.  Judging by the temperature (2 degrees) and the condition of the road that I was going to ride (shitty), it was a good idea to keep the support staff close at hand.

I finally got out there around 3:30 or so, and got on the bike shortly after.  Starting off in 2 degree weather on Potter Hill without much of a warm up is a recipe for walking part of a hill.  I alternated between pushing and riding up the steep part, then got on and rode out from the shallower grade near the top.  I took the right turn through the gate onto the Level B part of Humke road.  At first, it didn’t seem bad at all, but then I realized I hadn’t made it to the bad part yet.  The bad part started halfway down the hill past the last driveway, and things got ugly from there.  Lots of deep ruts were throwing that fat front tire all over the place, even folding it over sideways; making the extra width on a narrow rim more trouble than it was worth.  I nearly got launched multiple times, and my feet were freezing.  I found a level spot at the bottom and threw my coat and Hydrapak off to see why the chemical foot warmers weren’t working at all.

It turns out the plastic backing covered with Asian words needs to be peeled off to get any kind of warmth out of them.  I had some of the actual socks with the little heater pockets in my pack, so I tried to fit them over my other two pairs of socks, but there was no way I could pedal comfortably.  I moved the foot warmers to the inside of the my Smartwool socks and threw a pair of the toe warmers on the outside, and hoped for the best.  The road continued to be a challenge, but eventually (after several attempts at throwing myself on the ground and nearly missing) I made it out onto the gravel on the other side.  I got to the first intersection that was marked with road signs (Graf road and Humke road) and called my wife.  My feet were freezing, and I wasn’t about to take any chances with frostbite on a silly training ride.

While I was waiting I thought I might as well keep riding toward her.  That’s when I noticed my rear tire was flat.  The stem had ripped out of the tube, which upon further inspection happened to be one that had already been patched at least once.  Fantastic!

Lessons learned:  peel the plastic off of the foot warmers/toe warmers before you start.  Don’t run a (relatively) giant 29×2.1 tire on a narrow 18mm rim.  Blow the water out of a water tube EVERY TIME.  Also, if you can get even a tiny bit of water to flow through a frozen tube, you can get the ice to melt.

Some background:  I’m a novice recreational cyclist.  I spend most of my riding on a small set of singletrack trails not far from my house.  I had not touched a bicycle for about fifteen years, and then two years ago I spent about $600 on a Gary Fisher Kaitai.  It is sort of a hybrid bike with a heavy leaning toward a 29er mountain bike due to the frame.  The main shortcomings are the front fork and the rear triangle not having enough room for anything bigger than a 29 x 1.9 tire, and a narrow set of rims.  It came with 700×38 hybrid tires, but I’ve been running it off-road with 700×45 Panaracer FireCross tires for some time.  It works pretty well for me; the bike is definitely not the weak point in the man+bike equation.  (I’m not in ideal shape, unless round is an ideal shape)  Either way, I’ve been having a stupid amount of fun riding it in just about any way possible.  It’s taken me on countless trips through the woods, across Iowa, over a particle accelerator, through the hills of Wisconsin, and down a rails-to-trail bike path called Heritage Trail several times.  I think I’ve more than got my money out of it over the last 2000 miles.

Sometime last fall I ran across some links and blog posts talking about a winter bike race called Triple D that is held on the Heritage Trail I mentioned above.  It’s 62 miles, and it’s held in the dead of winter.  Biking in the snow sounded like an interesting set of problems to solve, and I was really intrigued by the dedicated snow bikes.  Maybe it’s my childhood spent playing on and around construction equipment, or time spent driving jeeps over ridiculous terrain, but I do appreciate the advantage of oversized tires.  (This turns out to be ironic later)  As the weather got colder, I set a goal of entering this bike race.  I had no delusions of being able to actually finish, having read previous accounts on various blogs, but I figured getting to the point where I felt comfortable enough to enter it would be a good way of forcing myself to not park the bike when the weather turned cold like I did last year.  So…  after continuing to ride as the weather turned nasty and maybe a dozen rides in actual snow and ice conditions, I signed up.

In addition to loading up on some clothing for riding in the winter, I knew I needed a different set of tires.  I borrowed some tires to try to go wider than my normal 700×45, but didn’t have much luck.  A set of 29 x 2.2s would hit the top of the fork in front and would rub against the front derailleur in the rear.  I bought a set of 700×40 Nokian W240 tires (thanks Peter White Cycles), and they proved to work out really well in some conditions.  I rode different paved bike paths with large sections of glare ice without any fear or lack of traction.  I rode through some really deep powdery snow, although only for short sections here and there.  On Heritage Trail, where most of the race would take place, they worked pretty well so long as there was a well-packed snowmobile track in which to ride.  I knew that how far I got would depend on trail conditions that day, but the last few times I tried them they were working pretty well.

Look at me!  I’ve joined the 20th century and created a blog.  I hear they are catching on, and I want to get in early…

Actually, I have been preparing for a local bike race, and I learned a ton of information from the blogs of people who had done it in the past.  I thought maybe my experience would be useful to someone else, even if it only provides them with a list of what not to do.