Thursday, May 29, 2008

First Ritual Ride

In a season of several cycling firsts I notched another one last night, my first road bike group ride. Since I have taken up the mountain bike Taco Ride on Wednesday nights, The Ritual Ride would normally conflict, but with all the rain we've been having riding dirt was clearly not an option. Still, I wasn't sure that I wanted to subject myself to a group road ride because some roadies have been known to have uppity attitudes and I knew there would be several very fast riders in the group. A post on the local mountain bike message board asking about the attitude and pace of the ride netted me several "you'll be fine, its a relaxed ride" sort of responses so I decided to go for it.

About 30 cyclists showed up for a little chilly, but otherwise nice, ride that leaves the Ritual Cafe in downtown Des Moines @ 5:30. The ride is organized by one of the local women's road racing team, Punk Rock Cycling. It was as advertised - a relaxed atmosphere, the group looking like a fair mix of recreational riders and racers, with about 2/3rds of the riders being female.

After leaving downtown and tooling through Waterworks Park I was in a pack that was traveling at a pace that was just slightly under where I like to ride. Up ahead I could see a group of mostly racers leading off the front by about 300 yards. One of the ladies in my group said "they must be doing th extra 2 mile loop". Shortly thereafter my group started to break for the turn at the Great Midwestern Trail. I decided to take the extra 2 mile loop and set to trying to close the gap between me and riders out front. Yeah, that wasn't going to happen. I was laboring pretty good (especially considering I didn't want to squeeze all my juice in the first section of the ride) when an older gentleman passed me pointing to his back wheel indicating he wanted me to draft him so we could work together to catch the others. Try as I might I couldn't get onto his wheel, so I let him go. Thanks but no thanks Pops. I did manage to catch a couple of other people that had fallen off the lead group on my way back to the Great Midwestern trailhead. Shortly thereafter I passed Pops who seemed to have some minor mechanical. I expected him to go whizzing by me somewhere down the trail, but he never materialized.

At the trailhead I caught up to 4-5 other riders, including 3 guys and 2 members of the Punk Rock team. I was able to ride with them for the rest of the 24 mile course. It was nice, probably just a touch faster than I would've ridden by myself, but not at all in the red zone . My cycling computer isn't working so I don't know what we were averaging, but I would guess somewhere between 17-19 mph. One of the riders was a quite tall male, so he was nice to draft and that helped. Once the route went off the trail and onto the roads around Moffitt Reservior and Walnut Woods it was clear how lighter riders (everyone but me and Tall Guy) are faster going up hill and the, ahem, more robust riders are faster on the downs. I felt like a heavy loaded semi truck driver who menaces the poor little car who's just trying to keep it on cruise control.

Anyway, it was alot of fun. I even had some nice casual conversations with a couple of riders on our way back through Waterworks. One lady was lamenting the fact that the Hy-Vee Triatholan is only a month away and her training has not gone well. Yeah, my training has not gone well either, but that's because I'm not doing any. I would drown right out of the gate and that would be the end of my race.

I peeled off the group at Grey's Lake and headed for home. Between riding to work, Ritual and the ride home I put in close to 40 miles - not bad at-tall. I will definitely be keeping this ride in mind when it is too wet to ride dirt.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bonus Dirt or Commuter-track

I'm not sure what to call it yet, but last week during bike to work week I did some exploring on my way home from the Taco Ride and discovered or, in some cases, rediscovered some dirt trails running along the river between Principal Park and SE 14th (and under SE 14th - how cool is that? the trail goes under the street - ninja). The river-side stuff continues east of 14th until you pop out on Hartford Rd. From there you can cross the street and head up a mongo hill to get behind the new softball fields on one side and Pioneer Park on the other. From Hartford you can see a motocycle/atv path steeply climbing the bad boy hill. I've been eyeballing it for awhile thinking, "I wonder if my rotundness can make it up that?" Last Wednesday I gave it the test. Being a little spent from the morning commute, ride to the Center and about half the Taco route I only gave myself a sportman's chance. There was a nice lady and two motocycle guys (sans motocycles) at the top. Between the spectators, the Slip Knot on my iPod and me being slightly less Chris Farley-esque I was able to make it to the top. The audience was quite impressed. They heaped praise on me, most of which I missed due to the aforementioned Slip Knot. Before I dove into the trailhead on the other side the lady asked me if I had ridden back there before. I told her I had, she said "well, you're gonna find more really steep hills in there." One of the guys scoffed. He said, "I just saw him climb THAT, I think he can handle the stuff in there." The lady quickly agreed. It was one of the nicest compliments I have received in quite awhile.

So on Tuesday this week I brought my camera and did the same dirt route on my way home from work. It was a bit tempting to ride dirt on my way in, but showing up to the office looking like one of the Mud People may not be the best thing for my career (but then again, who cares?)

Da beginning...I hope any River People are friendly

Little brother hill, with Big Bro in the background.

Doesn't look too steep in this picture, but it is. The top isn't even the top. There's 2 more little climbs to the right.

Top-o-the-world, Ma. Well, top of Des Moines anyway. I really think this is one of the highest points in the city. You can see the Altoona water tower in the other direction.

There's not a lot of trail behind Pioneer Park, but the stuff that is there is pretty cool. There's plenty of ups and downs, roots and such to be had.

Clearly motocross goes on back here, although I've never actually seen it in action. It does tend to make me a little nervous, especially when rockin' the headphones.

Even a little creek crossing
Sweet. Workdirt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

That was fun, except for the part where I smashed my face

I'll get to the smashed face part in a minute. First some, less-gory trip details. Me and a group of 4 other Iowa mountain bikers headed to Arkansas on Thursday for a race/tour event called Syllamo's Revenge. It is a 50 mile race through the densely wooded, uber-rocky Ozark Mountains. We spent Thursday driving so we didn't ride except to tool around the campground.
Friday we got up to rain, but that quickly moved off and we rode about a 15 mile section of the course. The majority of Friday's ride was on a loop rated the easiest at Syllamo but to get there we had to climb a very steep and long fire road that would be the beginning of the race the next day. Once to the top the trail was loose and rocky, but very twisty and flowing. It was amazing how dry it was, especially since they had been getting a lot of rain. It was super fun. Later, back at the cabin, I was thinking, "Damn, I'm pretty tired now and we have to ride that plus 35 more miles tomorrow." It also occurred to me that our route was the easy part. I thought this was going to be tough, but it was looking more and more like I underestimated it. At least the easy stuff was at the end of the course.

On Saturday about 250 riders started the Baatan Death March with trails rated "advanced" and "difficult". Those Arkansas folks aren't kidding about those ratings. The International Mountain Bike Association rates this trail system as one of their "Epics". They clearly aren't joking either. This was the toughest trail I have ever ridden by far. It makes Sugarbottom and Boone look like kids stuff. When the race started I let the vast majority of riders go, not being interested in rubbing tires with the firebrand types. About a mile after the first long climb the rocks came.

This was a tame little section. I didn't stop to take pictures during the hard stuff because I was too busy not getting killed. Anyway, trust me on the rocks; I mean every kind from the little buggers perfect for blowing out a tire to the medium size that are good for bending and breaking derailleurs. Then there was the BIG ones, slathered with mud and slick as ice. All this made for a fun but exhausting time.
About 4 miles in I started having trouble shifting into my lowest gear for hill climbing. This made it very difficult because the trail was either too loose and rocky or too muddy to stand in the peddles to climb. I fixed it, sort of, at the first checkpoint (13 miles in) but continued to have intermittent problems throughout. Man, I really could have used my granny gear, instead I burned a lot more energy than I wanted to early in the ride. Other than that, the lone mishap in the first section was when I stepped off the trail to let another rider go by. I didn't realize I had stepped into a thorn bush (more of a long vine really) when I bolted back onto the trail it ripped my legs up big time. Ouch.

The nice lady at the 1st checkpoint said it was another 20 miles to the next one. She also reminded us that we needed to make the third CP @ 30 miles by 2:30 or we would be directed back to the campground. Oh and by the way you better get going because you are a little behind the pace. Oh yeah? no problem. Right after the check point was a little 5 mile loop that had some excellent vista views along with some big stair-step rocks. I can't really tell you why I didn't stop to take pictures because this was some of the prettiest and most fun stuff of the day. After a tough start I was starting to hit a stride. After this loop and for about the next 13 miles I was settling into a groove. I had caught and passed several riders and was now in a group of about 10 riders. I was riding very well for me, negotiating all kinds of things I would have never attempted before. I was pretty pleased with myself and I remember thinking that I should not get over confident, especially as I continued to get more fatigued. Our new little group of riders crossed a big creek but had some trouble finding trail on the other side.

When we did locate it I heard one of the lead riders let out a "woohoo!" like what he had just ridden was really fun. The trail took a sharp turn and came to a rocky ledge section. I was fired up to ride a fun section and get my own "woohoo!"

As we came out onto this ledge the riders in front of me slowed and/or stopped so I did too. Stopping in a technical section is never a good idea, because it is very tough to get started again safely. I thought about getting off to walk, but I decided to roll a bit forward and see how it went. It didn't go very well. Ever-so slowly I dropped off the ledge that is angled toward the drop. Not a big deal except for the other rock angled the other way. It popped my tire the opposite of the drop.

I put my foot down and did a little hop but my inertia was too great and I fell over the side. I knew it wasn't a real long drop because the trail bent around and headed under the ledge, but it was probably a 2-3 drop, but there was stuff in the way.

These trees/logs were, I think, leaning against the ledge. My plunge pushed them all over. I know my left check hit one of them and I heard a crack. At the time I was worried I had broken my jaw. I'm not sure if the crack was from my face hitting the wood or from my feet and legs breaking through them, but it doesn't really matter. One of the bikers climbed down and got my bike, which was still under me. That made it possible for me to pry myself from the debris. One of the bikers below me said, "Just so you know, you are bleeding." I looked down and saw the blood drops on the log.

Everyone in the group was very nice, showing massive amounts of concern. I assured them I was alright. They encouraged me to walk to the next checkpoint which was only about 1/4 of a mile away. I took a minute to compose myself, during which time I remembered to get some pictures. I took one of my face so I could see what everyone was ooing and ahhing about.

I rode (damn it) to the next checkpoint and got a lot of really nice, but unwanted sympathy. Some good ole boy wiped my cheek off with some antiseptic. He scrubbed on it hard until I finally growled at him like a dog. The volunteers told me the next checkpoint was another 10 miles and to finish the race I would have to get there in about an hour. Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal, but this was on the toughest rated trail out there and now I had a busted face. Despite the gentle persuasion to call it a day I decided I would ride to the next point. I knew I probably wouldn't get there in time, but even if I didn't just getting there would mean I had ridden all of Syllamo - between the two days.
So I took off up a long steep hill littered with lots of loose rock. At the top there started to be deadfall across the trail. I thought, "this can't be right" so I turned around and rode quite a distance back toward the CP. I didn't see anyplace where I missed a turn so I turned around and went back to my original route. After awhile I began to notice no tracks in the trail, plus there was more and more overgrowth (riding through that stuff felt awesome on my face by the way). Just as I was starting to get pretty concerned I heard the highway. I took out my map and roughly figured out where I was located - kinda, maybe. I hiked through some brush to get to the road and followed it to where the trail crossed it. It went across another big creek, but when I got to the other side the trail disappeared again, so I turned around and went back across the knee-deep water. Entering the water I felt something fiercely scrape the same left shin that was abused earlier by the fall. Even the water hurts, damn it.
Then I found where the trail went after the creek, but on the map it looked like if I rode up the highway a bit I could find where the trail crossed it again. This would cut off maybe 2 miles of trail - I felt I had earned that much, so I rode up the pavement. Not being completely sure of where I was going I was happy to see the bike sign pointing back across the road, when I pulled into the little parking lot I saw some familiar faces - I was back at the checkpoint where I got the medical attention. I got turned around I guess and did my own little loop ending up back where I started instead of closer to the ultimate end - Yippee. Needless to say, this was the end of my day.
Unfortunately the guy with the 2way radio at the cp had left and the remaining volunteers had no cell phone service. Several bikers were there and we all waited about an hour and a half to get picked up. During this time several riders straggled into the checkpoint. People couldn't stop commenting about my cracked mug. Really, that was the worst part of the whole deal. I mean it hurt, but it didn't hurt bad, it was just more embarrassing than anything. That night, when I went into town to buy bandages, the nice checkout lady at Wallmart wanted to tell me about her recent injury shingling a house. Apparently she had quite a scrape on her ankle. The discomfort she was experiencing from her injury must have been preventing her from telling that I didn't really care.

Oh well, minus the dented grill I had a great time. I think I rode pretty dern well. It just bugs me that it doesn't look like I did. I really only had one wreck, but then again, I only needed one.