Monday, July 16, 2007

Fireweed

Yeah, so I'm getting pretty lazy about putting anything on this blog. Oh well...if I were posting anything it would just say stuff like "laid on the couch all day with ice and hot packs on my head trying to make this god-forsaken pounding go away" or "had a coughing fit that I'm pretty sure resulted in three broken ribs today..."

Its been a pretty miserable week. Six days after getting back to Alaska after RAAM, and just over two weeks after finishing RAAM I was on the start line for the Fireweed 200. I know it wasn't a smart thing to do, and I knew I was going to pay for it, but I didn't think it would be quite this bad. I really like the Fireweed. I like the course, I like the atmosphere, I like the fact that it gets over 700 Alaskans out for a cycling event, I REALLY liked the cookout in Valdez...it was just something I didn't want to miss.

And it didn't disappoint. There was a little bit of everything...big tailwinds, rain, sun, huge headwinds, lots of friendly folks, a little smooth asphalt, a little rough chip seal.

Rocky won the 400 by quite a bit, and after they had taken more than 2 weeks off the bike to crew for me during RAAM Heather and Gail surprised themselves winning the 2-woman 200. I think they really had a great time doing it too, because they were already talking about what they were going to do next year.

In the week before the Fireweed I felt like I was in a funk all the time. Lethargic, unmotivated, not-quite healthy but not-quite sick either...I actually generally felt better the couple of times that I got on my bike than I did the rest of the time walking around. So I made a deal with myself for the Fireweed that I'd ride hard for 3 hours and then decide whether to continue or not. It wasn't my legs I was worried about, but my motivation. I tried to tell myself that I was motivated to ride hard, but I'm not sure I really believed it, and motivation is something that comes from pretty deep inside and you just can't fake. So I figured I'd know well before 3 hours how things were gonna shake out.

In long races, rather than trying to control my heart rate or power or perceived exertion (or anything for that matter) at the start I'll generally let myself go as hard as whatever adrenaline I have will take me for about two hours and then start trying to settle into the pace I think I need. I know that this is pretty much the opposite from how a lot of people will approach ultra racing, but it works okay for me. Right from the start of the 200 I was going as hard as I could. My heart rate was holding at about 182-185 on all of the climbs in the first 50 miles and was staying above 170 on all the flats and descents. It felt like I was flying...and it was fun.

Pretty quickly my thinking changed from a 3-hour test to a sub-9 hour ride. In the 400 last year I was at about 9:11 when I turned around in Valdez. Judging by the way I felt for the first two hours of the 200 I was pretty sure an 8:45 or so was possible in the 200. At Glenallen I was averaging 26 mph...albeit with a wicked tailwind pushing me along. By the time I hit the 100 mile mark I was at 4 hrs and 6 minutes, but the wind had moved to the south and I knew that it would stay there until Valdez.

I can't remember what my time was at Teikal River, but the wind had gotten progressively worse and I remember thinking that a sub-9 was going to be pretty tough. Plus I was getting a little fatigued from trying push into the wind. Somewhere in there I came upon a 2-man team from Ohio and a 4- person mixed team from Anchorage. They were pushing pretty hard and it helped me to just be riding near some people; plus whenever one of us would pass the other we'd try to shout some encouragement. They'd change out riders and drop me and I'd slowly close the gap and overtake them and then they'd change out and blow by me again. On the final two pitches up Thompson Pass they both rode away from me. I was pretty cooked at this point.

The wind on the south side was worse and I knew sub-9 hrs wasn't going to happen. I tried to coast down the first grade to recover a little from the climb, but the wind was so crazy that pedaling made it easier to hold a decent line. So I did that for a couple minutes and then put my head down and tried to hammer out the rest of the race. I caught both of the teams I'd been leapfrogging and eventually got to Valdez in 9hrs 9 mins.

I was fairly happy with my time in those conditions. It wasn't easy to push that hard, especially the last 5 hours into the wind. The cookout in Valdez was great. I got to see and talk to some friends and some bike people that I sort of know, or know of.

But I knew at the finish line I was going to be sick for a while. The ride was just a bit more than my body was ready for.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

WOW!!!!

I'm back doing my own posts now. This one will probably be a little short, but I just wanted to get a few thoughts posted as quickly as possible. It may be a week or so before I get a more complete write-up posted.

It sounded like a lot of people used this blog to follow the race. I hope it helped everybody that was interested feel like they were able to follow along and stay in tune with what was going on. My mom certainly posted as much information as she could get from the crew early on, but cell service is pretty sporadic in the early parts of the course. Heather would occasionally check the blog and tell me who had left comments and I'd really like to thank all of you that did. I appreciate the encouragement. Sometimes the messages would find me at just the right moment to give me a badly needed lift. Ultra-distance-anything is really a psychological battle and its sometimes hard to believe how easy it is to turn a low into a high...unfortunately the reverse is true too.

First, what a crazy, crazy thing that was...It was difficult, and strange, and surreal, and sometimes scary and disturbing...but it was also mostly really fun.

The crew was unbelievable!!! In the last post I wrote (prior to the race start) I mentioned that it was total chaos packing the vehicles and getting ready for the start. I wasn't 'afraid' of how things were going to unfold, but I was sure expecting it to be interesting. By day two of the race they were functioning like seasoned veterans. It was a really cool thing for me to see and one of the highlights of the race. My perspective on it, which is certainly limited and not necessarily accurate, was that they all had a sort of generic role that they filled, and then they sort of rotated into other roles as necessary.

As for the ride, I had stated a long time ago that I expected it to be a very difficult race physically but probably not as hard as the Iditarod Trail Invitational mentally...I was way off base. For about the first five days this was probably true but around that time my body adapted to the long, relatively high intensity days of riding, and I started getting stronger and stronger. Along with this I was experiencing some of the weirdest most twisted things my mind has ever done. Two mornings in a row while Heather and Co., were trying to get me dressed and on the bike I had no comprehension at all of what was going on. They told me I was in a race and I didn't believe them. I had no memory of being in a race, no interest in being in a race, nothing. Than after about a half hour of riding at 6 mph things started to come back to me and I realized I really was in a race.

A lot of this probably comes down to luck as much as anything, but the most serious physical problem I encountered the entire race (once I got my dietary issues resolved) was a slight saddle sore problem for the last two days that occurred after riding all night in the rain through West Virginia. I had some knee pain, but nothing I wouldn't consider normal for this type of race. I had no upper body pains at all. Physically I felt like I could have kept on riding at the end of the race, so that was a good thing.

Mentally I was pretty fried. I found it so hard to motivate myself to keep pushing on days 5, 6, 7, when the excitement of the start was long gone and the energy of the finish line was still half a world away. At this point RAAM really became more of a "crews" race than a "riders" race. And my crew did a great job of just taking over and putting me on my bike and yelling at me to ride. Ben and Heather especially seemed to relish this role. At times I felt a bit like a wind-up toy that was there for their entertainment, but that's the way it needed to be and they got as much out of me as I think they could.

Sleep deprivation...man this is a whole different ballgame in the heat and high intensity of RAAM than in is in the Iditarod Trail race. I had planned on two hours a night and thought that that would be plenty, that I might even cut back to 1.5 hours. Within a couple days I realized I was going to struggle with 2 hours, on a couple days I (my crew really) pushed it to 2.5 hours and I think 3 hours one day. Even at that it was a conscious struggle to stay awake on the bike and I found myself dozing off a lot more than I as comfortable with. Somehow this never led to a crash. I don't really understand how.

I'm sleeping a lot right now. All night long and about every two hours during the day. It's that time again. More Later.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Alas...

After a final sleepy day through WV, PA, MD, PA, MD, PA, DE (and many more state line crossings that I have no room to type) Jeff pushed himself until 4am to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge into NJ before sleeping until daylight for the final 64 miles into Atlantic City. He arrived around 10:30am with a police escort for the final 5 miles and down about 300 yards of the boardwalk. Not too many people were on the boardwalk that time of morning, but those around gathered for the spectacle of interviewing a severely sleep deprived cyclist.
We then went to lunch were Jeff fell asleep reading the menu and intermittently throughout the meal (and entire day really). While waiting on the boardwalk for another cyclist (Oyler) to come in, Jeff took another nap and blended quite well with some of the local bums doing the same. Here's a photo of him at the finish. I hope he's awake enough to share some of his own reflections tomorrow.


An article on Jeff by VeloNews that appeared on the RAAM website: http://www.raceacrossamerica.org/jeff-oatley-top-american-raam-07-vic-armijo

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dozing Through WV

Jeff has had a tough day leaving Ohio and covering ground in West Virginia. He was slow to get going after almost 3hrs of sleep (the most consecutive hours yet!) and then a 1hr nap around 3pm failed to revive him. Lots of ridge crossings today and apparently the downhills are too long and he's been dozing off on many of the descents--no crashes though yet thanks to a vigilant follow crew and the ubiquitous rumble strips.

After claiming caffeine was no longer having an effect on his wakefulness, Jeff downed a Cinnabon Latte and an iced coffee Gail whipped up for him and is now wired--just in time for nightfall. He hopes to pick up his pace which severely lags during his sleepy periods (coasting at 5mph seems to suit him fine).

Tom Jarding, a fellow Ultrasport competitor, made a surprise appearance on the course today to say "hi" to Jeff after tracking him on the web and making the trip down from his home in Pennsylvania 75 miles from Clarksburg, WV. They got to visit for about 15 minutes as a thunderstorm forced Jeff off the bike and into the van. Thanks for the great surprise, Tom, and see you on the trail next year.

The aforementioned thunderstorm abated the 90+F heat at about 6pm and the now 70F temperatures are perfect for riding as soon as the roads dry out. Jeff just came though Grafton and wants to bag two more time stations (90 miles) tonight before sleeping.

Illi-ana-hio

This is somewhere in Ohio I think. It's all starting to blur together. Jeff was getting handed a popsicle from the RV so Ben hopped out and took this picture. Popsicles last about 30 seconds when it's 96F and humid. Jeff has to hold them off to his side and upside down or else they melt all over his arms and legs. Jeff says this is much worse than the desert weather. We have been spraying him off with water - especially his feet - just to try to keep cool but it's a loosing battle.

Last night at about 1am we blew the fuse in the van that runs the roof top radio and rear flashers - flashers are required when it's dark - and Ben had to do some on the road repairs while I drove. I won't get into the details here, but it was impressive. Of course we were only going 15mph.




It's now 10:45am and the RV just pulled into Parkersburg, WV. This morning seemed to go pretty well but I was asleep in the RV so I don't really know. TS 46 has WiFi so we just checked the standings and it looks pretty much the same as it did yesterday with Kaldy and Vollebregt sitting about 150 miles ahead of us and Oyler about 100 miles back. 100 miles doesn't sound like much but at 11mph it's 9 hours on the bike so he's not too close. Jeff is riding at about the same pace as a 2 man team and a 4 man team right now, but they don't sleep and they switch off to eat so we'll loose them next time Jeff stops. They look as tired as Jeff.

Check the RAAM website for the profile of WV and you will se what Jeff's day is going to be like. I hope we can get 120 miles in before dark but we'll see.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Hurricane Force Tailwinds in Ohio

Physically Jeff had a better morning today. I was worried about him because we couldn't get him through Indianapolis last night and knew we were going to have to be dealing with commuter traffic in the morning. I woke up to trucks screaming by at 5am and the traffic was only increasing on what had been a nearly abandoned US 40 in the wee hours. I was nervous about putting Jeff on a bike considering his previous mornings' performances. Tim & Gail had the 1st shift in the follow van and I asked them to pin him to the shoulder so if he swerved he would hit our van instead of passing traffic. This ended up being unnecessary as he was physically fully awake very fast this morning.

Mentally however he was struggling and couldn't seem to understand why we were pushing him to ride his bike and kept stopping to ask why we were doing this. Everytime we reminded him that he was in a bike race he would nod and say something like, "Yeah, that sounds familiar, you need to keep reminding me about that so I don't get confused." That happened about 10 times this morning.

We crossed the state line into Ohio a little after lunch time today and mostly tail/slight cross winds have been picking up all day long and are now bending trees and destroying the time station volunteer tents. Great for Jeff as long as it keeps up in the current direction. We're 185 miles from West Virginia and hope to make it there tonight if the tailwind keeps up as Jeff has already covered 153 miles since 6am.

A link to today's News-Miner article by Matias: http://newsminer.com/2007/06/18/7542


Jeff being interviewed by RAAM media in Marshall, IL last night around 9pm

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Day in Illinois

Jeff had another rough morning, thankfully most of the crew was awake to help me deal with him this time. We videotaped this episode. It starts with Jeff being mad at whomever wakes him (me) and continually throwing the covers back over him when I take them off. Once we start dressing him, he keeps nodding off and refusing to eat. Usually he'll accept some coffee filled with sugar and 1/2 & 1/2. When we finally sit him on the bike he rides at about 7 mph for at least 1/2 and hour and has trouble keeping his eyes open and stops for every little excuse he can conjure (more clothes, less clothes, different bike), an uncomfortable time for the crew in the follow van. Gradually the speed increases and his form starts looking smooth and he rides well for the remainder of the day and well into the night.



Jeff powdering up for the ride.

Today's ride across Illinois has been full of friendly drivers and even some people cheering from the roadside. The temperatures have been high (94F, but only 80F at 8am) with the percieved temperature being the highest of the trip so far. Jeff is riding & eating well and talking about the chances of him catching up with the Aussie in 6th.

Mississippi River

The RV just pulled into TS # 35 at 9:25 local time. We can see the Clark Bidge over the Mississippi River into Illinios.



Jeff riding over the Mississippi River into Alton, IL


So I (Tim) was on the overnight van crew last night with Gail and Jeff was really moving. We did the entire 75 miles from TS 33 to TS 34 in the dark. It was an interesting ride. The road was completely flat for 55 of the 75 miles but had two 10 mile sections of 13% up for a mile and 13% down for a mile. Jeff was hammering up and flying down these crazy roads with lots of sharp curves. I was driving so I had to break out my race car driver skills in order to keep him in my headlights. We were both having fun.

When we got to TS # 34 it was 2 AM and Jeff was wide awake and feeling good. 2 cups of coffee and some pizza later he could not keep his eyes open. Gail and I made him get moving because we thought that the coffee would kick in but it didn't. We made it 8.9 miles out of TS # 34 in over an hour and Jeff was asleep for most of it. I kept having to yell at him to get on our side of the double yellow line. He kept saying he just wanted to see what it was like over there. Kind of funny now but Gail and I were pretty stressed out for that hour. Finally we stopped and put Jeff in the van. He kept asking what was wrong and if he crashed, then 2 seconds later he'd be snoring. We had called the RV up from TS # 34 and they caught us in about 10 minutes so we got Jeff showered and into his "real" bed. I was asleep when he started this morning at 6 AM so Heather will need to do an update on that.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

What is the capitol of Missouri?


Jeff leaving TS # 33 at Jefferson City, Missouri at 20:15 local time. Heading toward the Mississippi River.
Even with the really hot weather and high humidity Jeff is feeling good today and riding faster than almost everyone else. He is planning on riding until 4 AM and getting up later tomorrow to see if he can ride a little better in the morning when the sun is brighter.

Update from the Ozarks--plus article links

Some articles to check out about Jeff and RAAM in the Fairbanks News-Miner:

http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_action=doc&p_docid=119CBC1C6BCAF7D0&p_docnum=1
http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?
p_action=doc&p_docid=119B15A77B33CEB8&p_docnum=2


And one about Jure Robic, RAAMs current leader and multiple past winner by Daniel Coyle, author of Lance Armstrong's War (you have to register to read from NY Times):
http://tinyurl.com/2au8bl

Hot and humid in the Ozarks today, near 90F and humid. It's hard to believe many of us grew up here and never seemed to notice! After a slow start Jeff has been riding well and asking for ice cream sandwiches. The crew is trying to decide if a little more rest (3 hrs instead of 2 hrs at night) will do him any good or if after his longer rest he'll wake up just as groggy and struggle for the 1st hour on the bike anyway. We're attempting to balance our primary goal of finishing the race with our newfound position high in the pack; which means deciding whether to increase or cut sleep and whether to push Jeff beyond his self-percieved physical limits. I never anticipated a time would come that I would be asking him to go further than he thought possible, but rather assumed I would have to be the one holding him back for his own safety. We'll see how it plays out over the next 3 days.

Collins, Missouri


This is Jeff getting ready to leave Collins, Missouri at 12:25 local time (13:25 race time) heading for Jefferson City which is 2 time stations down the road. We are at a busy gas station on a busy road. Hopefully the traffic will let up a little. I think it gets worse up ahead as we are heading for Lake of the Ozarks.

Jeff slept from 3 to 5 last night and had a fairly hard time getting going this morning. He spent about 30 minutes on the bike basically asleep, weaving all over the road, and going slow. After that it got better but he claims that he felt a lot better yesterday and might want to sleep a little bit more tonight. We are loosing time to Kaldy and can't really tell where Richard the Aussi is but he is at least keeping his gap in front of us. Meanwhile we are holding our 1.5 hour time gap over Peter Oyler. We have been seeing his crew, cars, and RV less and less so hopefully we can put some more time on him.

Friday, June 15, 2007

El Camino Kansas


This picture is Jeff leaving Manter, Kansas on 6/14/07 after eating dinner. He rode for another 7 hours and 100 miles after this picture was taken, all in the dark.

We just rolled into TS # 28. Actually it's El Dorado - Jeff thought El Camino sounded better. Jeff is eating some food - tortellini, a leftover 1/4 pounder with cheese (more on that later), and some other stuff. It is hot, about 87, and humid. Much different than yesterday when it was cool and cloudy all day. Jeff hasn't had much time off the bike today so he is resting with his feet up, ice on both knees, and clothes mostly off. He'll probably stay here for 30 to 45 minutes and then hit the road. We have switched to a 2 person van crew with 4 in the RV. The van duties are pretty light so 2 people can handle it and this allows the next van crew to get some real sleep before their next shift. The RV is leapfrogging past the van and rider going about 50 miles and then stopping for 2 to 3 hours at each time station. Sometimes the RV has groceries to get or other errands to do so it's not always a real "rest" stop but it seems to be working pretty well.


We are chasing Richard and Attila across Kansas and Jeff is feeling pretty good so he is hoping to catch one of them in the next day or two. Jeff is really into the standings and where people are in front of him. We are trying not to let him look too far ahead in the route book or get too exited about having only 1485 miles left.

One of the highlights so far was TS # 26. It was in Pratt, Kansas at the McDonalds and the time station and McDonalds people were very exited and welcoming. The entire crew all got whatever we wanted to eat for free, they gave us lots of cookies, a case of bottled water, and they even remembered Ben from 2 years ago - something about being the "hottest" rider in the race. We still have a bag full of McDonalds so we'll be snacking on whatever Jeff doesn't eat for dinner tonight. We were all laughing about "all you can eat for free at McDonalds" 2 days ago but when we got there it was no joke and everyone ate a lot and enjoyed it.

Photos from the Front Line

Jeff at the start. Photo: Gail Koepf


Jeff has been wearing a dust mask to keep his mouth from drying out so much
(maybe to keep the dust out, too?)...
Photo: Larry Best



Photo: Ben Couturier

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Past the Continental Divide

This is Heather posting for Jeff this time...
He's made it into Kansas and his climbing days are over until we hit the Appalachians.
Three BIG climbs yesterday in Colorado--Wolf Creek Pass (10,800 ft), La Veta Pass (9,400 ft) and Cuchara Pass (9,980 ft). He rode until almost 4 in the morning to put them behind him. Today a gradual desent from the Rockies into west-central Kansas.

Each morning Jeff is having trouble eating right as soon as he gets up (after 2.5 hrs rest), but after an hour on the bike is spotting a diner or local eatery and asking for some breakfast foods. His appetite is improving and therefore is his caloric intake. We've been having mild weather (in the 60Fs all day today)and now without mountains to climb he is exerting himself less and can digest better. We hope his strength on the flats will bring him up in the standings. With much of the nice scenery behind us, Jeff won't have much to focus on other than riding.

Yesterday Tim Stern, a buddy from Colorado joined the crew as Rob Sampson left. Jeff's brother Mike came and rode with the crew for a few hours to do a newpaper story. Jeff seems very happy to have the distractions of visitors and new faces.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wednesday June 13

I just received the latest report on Jeff. He's only a few miles out of TS 16 Pagosa Springs, CO. and the weather is good.

As I said before, he called last night and he seemed fine....sounded great, but Heather said after that he wasn't feeling very well and had no appetite. They were waiting out a thunderstorm with seroiusly close lightening and 40 mph headwinds. After it passed, he pedaled on to TS 15 Durango, CO. The descent into Durango was long and with the temperature being only 42 degrees, he got pretty cold. In Durango he took about 4 hours off the bike to rest......3 hours of that was spent sleeping.

This morning Heather reports that he's feeling better and has his appetite back. She said as they rode by a restaurant, he called out to them that he bet they had some sort of breakfast sandwiches in there.

I also understand his brother, Mike, is going to meet him in Wolf Creek Pass (CO)
and is going to do a story about the race (and I assume his brother) for the Estes Park newspaper.

Well, I guess that's it for now. I'll let you know as soon as I hear more.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day 3 7:50 pm. MDT

Just had a phone call from our racer. That really shocked me. He was the last person I was expecting to hear from. He had to take shelter from a lightening storm but they're almost to TS 14 (Cortez, CO). He actually sounded great.....not tired or worn out.

The main reason he called was to find out how he's doing. They have no way of knowing what's going on and who's where or in what position. He said there's so many cars out there and no way of knowing where the riders are. He wanted to know what his and some of the other riders stats were.

It sounded like they were going to check in at the TS, get something to eat, and hit the road again. So while we all sleep, I guess he'll be pedaling!!!

Day 3 10:25 MDT

Day 3 has started and Jeff is in Kayenta, AZ. Not much farther to go and they'll be in Utah. Heather said she could see Monument Valley up ahead. They should be in Colorado tonight.

Jeff slept for 2 1/2 hours last night and it must have refreshed him because she reports that he's feeling good and riding well. He has a nice tail wind and the road is smooth. His stomach problems seem to be gone. They think he may have been putting too much food in his stomach at a time and are now spacing it out a little more.

The scenery has been great but they're not sure how much attention Jeff's paying to it. He's probably out there in his own little world right now. The crew has been taking pictures so they can show him what he missed.

Living in Alaska doesn't give you much of a chance to work on your tan, but Heather says he's got a good one now.

It pretty much looks like things are going well and let's hope it stays that way. Heather said she'd try to report back later today but that cell phone coverage has been spotty. When I some more news, I'll pass it along. Til then, have a great day!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Day 2 1:55 p.m. MDT

I just heard from Heather for the first time today.....I was beginning to wonder if they were lost!! She says they are on their way to Prescott, AZ. Jeff has been experiencing some stomach problems and was starting to fall asleep on the bike so he's taken time off the trail to get some much needed rest. I can just imagine that the heat of the desert took a lot out of him yesterday.

So far, he's had 3 flat tires. They were riding on the interstate and there's a lot of debris and junk along the shoulder of the highway. Yes, they've been out there, but Heather says the shoulder is wide and they ride along side of him for protection from cars, trucks, buses, etc. Right now they're on a pretty much abandoned 2 lane road. Sounds much safer than a interstate to me!

The weather isn't bad today......low 70's, cloudy & overcast but with some gusting winds.

Heather said they'd call later with more info so until then I guess that's all for now.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Day 1 6:30 p.m. PDT

Just had a very short conversation with Noreen. She reports that Jeff's doing good....eating well, taking on lots of fliuds and even had a burrito.

They have passed TS 2 (Salton City, CA) and are on their way to Chiriaco Summit, CA.. The highest temp they have encountered was 98 degrees. It's now down to 94.

Jeff was running in 6th postion after TS2 and it appears that everythig is going well so far. I'll be in touch with them tomorrow and will fill you all in on everything that happens overnight.

Day 1 of race 2 p.m.

Race across America started at 9 a.m. PDT. I talked to Ben & Heather in Jeff's support van. Things seem to be off to a good start. Ben said Jeff was "riding strong". At the present time he's in 7th position after checking in at Lake Henshaw, CA.

The temperature in Oceanside was comfortable.....probably mid to high 70's, but they have since experienced some 90's. It is now 82 degrees. It will be interesting to see how our "Alaskan" handles the heat. When he hits those triple digit temps the thought of -40 may sound real good to him!

He's climbed grades of up to 8% to an elevation of 2760 ft above sea level. Heather said there hasn't been much traffic and no horn honkers to contend with. I suppose there will be a fair amount of that to come.

As I was talking to Ben, he opened the window to either spray Jeff with water or pass some to him and I heard Ben say, "Hey Jeff, want to talk to your mom?" From a distance, but clearly, I could hear a "Hi Mom". It was neat to think I'm in Florida and he's on a bike in CA and I could still talk to him. His voice sounded good and I imagine he's glad this thing is finally underway.

As I hear more, I'll pass it on......but so far so good!!!!!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Thank Yous

Its 9pm Saturday night. The race starts in 12 hours. Today has been extremely chaotic and a little stressful...probably a good taste of whats to come. But, as I've said all along, we'll figure out how to deal with it, adapt and adjust accordingly.

At the race meeting they called all the riders names and had us come up on stage. I sort of expected to have a revelation and all of a sudden realize how big of a race this is at some point tonight. It didn't happen. I think that's a good thing. I think it means that mentally I'm operating on the plane that I need to be. I know how big it is and I feel like I'm ready. We'll see over the next few days if I'm right or just naive.

This will be my last post for a while. During the first couple days of the race my mom will be posting info that she'll get from my crew. After that the crew will start posting directly from the vehicle. Before I start there are a slew of people that I would like to thank for their support, help, etc.

This is no particular order and I know I'm going to leave a lot of people out...sorry in advance. I'm pretty well stressed right now.

Peter Lekisch and George Stransky. They put on one of the best races I've ever done and their support and encouragement has been invaluable. I can't explain how much help they have been. The tip of the iceberg is that Peter changed his own travel plans to be able to stay with me while I used his house in Fredericksberg, TX as a training base in April.

My boss, Brett Nelson, was one of the first people to say "you've got to do this" when I first talked to him about it. I've missed a lot of work getting ready for this and him and the other NRCS engineers (Brant and Amiee mostly) have had to pick up my slack.

Morgan, who set this blog up because she knew I would talk about it and never do it.

Justin at Orbea Bicycles and Iron at Cytosport. They have both been awesome and made what is a financial disaster a little less so. I really appreciate what they've been able to do for me.

All of my friends and riding partners in Fairbanks and Colorado who've entertained me by pretending that they wanted to talk about this race because I was mostly incapable of talking about anything else...Kraig, Tim, Whitney, Ros, Tom in CO and Rocky, Luke, Julie, Norma and John, and a whole mess of other people in Alaska.

My parents for their support and for planning to meet me in Atlantic City in a race that statistically I've got a 50% chance of finishing. I appreciate their confidence.

There is no way I can adequately thank my crew. Larry and Noreen Best, my mother and father in-law, Gail Koepf our friend and next door neighbor, Rob Sampson, my former boss and friend from Boise, Idaho, Ben Couturier, the youngest RAAM finisher ever and future holder of Rob Kish's record for most completed RAAM races (kidding), Tim Stern, who has been a great friend and riding partner for a long time...and most of all, my wife Heather. She's been living with me, and therefore with this race, 24 hours a day for about 10 months.

The concept of RAAM as a 'solo' race is ridiculous. This group of people is taking time out of their lives so that we can try to accomplish something together. Something that is my idea, but that I can't accomplish without their help. They are going to suffer along with me on this. I hope they experience the highs too.

In general I'm not a hyper-competitive person, and winning races does not motivate me to train. I train because I love riding and I have fun. But early on in my training I knew this was different. I felt something like 'pressure' to make sure that if this group of people was willing to commit to doing this with me that the least I could do was make sure that I did everything I could to be prepared. Over time that feeling sort of changed from 'pressure' to more like inspiration, and has really been a source of strength for me.

Finally...I've had more fun with this blog than I thought I would. I don't have a clue who or how many people have looked at it, but thanks to you who do for taking the time. I'll probably do some post-race posting and then put this thing on the shelf.

I'm out.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Race Registration

We had to go through a big registration and inspection process today. In the end it wasn't much of a problem, but it did take some time. I also did a video interview with the race videographer today, and had a couple "official" race photographs taken. That was sort of weird. Especially the video interview. Its just pretty foreign to me and I'm not the greatest subject to put in front of a camera anyways. Lots of questions about the Alaska angle...how do you get prepared for RAAM living in Alaska?? What is it like to ride on snow?? Do you have to worry about bear or moose encounters?? The answers to all of these questions seem so obvious to me. It really reminded me how different living in Alaska can be to people that don't live there.

This is a picture of Carolyn Chandler. She's the Raam Racer Liaison and has been a big help to me in the months leading up to this week. Her and two of her daughters are taking care of keeping up with a big chunk of the racer paperwork.

After that process was over we went on a snipe hunt of sorts, looking for an REI that apparently does not exist. I had an address, directions, and phone number, but when we got there it wasn't there...and never had been. Then when I called the number I got some other business. Eventually we asked for some directions and got sent to an REI in Encinitas and got the stuff I needed.

Before any of that stuff took place I finally got out on a ride after three days of resting, driving, and eating. It was good to be on the bike again. The area where we are staying is about 10 miles east of Oceanside and has some good hills and probably less traffic, although it still seems like a lot to me. I went out for two hours and felt really 'strong' but not very quick...if that makes any sense. I don't usually feel that great after a layoff, so I guess I felt about like I thought I would. I think an hour of so tomorrow with some real hard efforts will have me feeling pretty good for the race start on Sunday.

Between now and 10am tomorrow the rest of the crew will arrive and there will be a lot of running around and a couple trips to the San Diego airport. Tomorrow there is a race meeting at 4pm and a banquet at 6pm. At that point everything will be out of the way and we can finally start thinking about starting.

The race start is under the board walk right on the beach. Here is a picture of the start banner. Its a ceremonial start, with a neutral 'race' for the first 13 miles. Then there is a re-start. So its basically just like the Iditarod. Once again, I'm a sled dog!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Getting this thing going

Heather took me to the airport to head to Denver at about 8pm on Monday night. I met Ben in the Anchorage airport and we arrived in Denver at 8am Tuesday. By 11am we were at Tim's house in Ft Collins getting gear loaded and ready to go. It went pretty smoothly and by 2pm Ben and I were on the road...sort of. We had to make a couple quick stops. But by 4pm we were on I-70 westbound.
The weather was nice, but there was a huge west wind the whole way. At about 11:30pm we stopped at a motel in Salina, UT. I think we've got a little under 600 miles to go.
Tim (left) and Ben (on top of van) getting things ready to go.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Making a puddle

When I was riding with Kraig Koski in Colorado I told him that right before RAAM I planned to ride the trainer in my workshop with heaters going to get used to the heat. Kraig said, "You're gonna make a puddle." Kraig was way off base, or maybe he was just assuming my shop floor was level...I made a stream.

The heaters would only get the shop to 95 degrees. At first I was disappointed because I thought I wanted it hotter than that. Within about 20 minutes I learned that was plenty hot. Initially it felt pretty good. My muscles just responded really well to the heat, and unlike most of my rides I felt strong right away instead of having to warm up for two hours before I started feeling good. I set the resistance at 4% and was cruising easily at 220W (these Watt numbers are from my trainer and may have no connection to reality). After about 20 minutes I was starting to feel the heat and having to cut my pace back. By 40 minutes I was trying to keep my power below 110W because (for those not familiar with power numbers that equates to roughly 10 mph on a 4% grade) if I stopped paying attention my power would increase and my heart rate would skyrocket and I'm pretty sure I'd be unable to thermo-regulate in about 10 minutes.

I had planned on riding for about an hour or hour and fifteen minutes. That's about all I can stand on the trainer in good conditions. Especially on a pretty nice day when Heather is out on a real bike ride.

At an hour I was out of water so I quickly re-filled my bottles and got back on the bike. Since this was mostly a psychological workout I decided I'd force myself to make it to 1:30. When I got to 1:30 I decided I'd go until I was out of water. When I ran out of water I tried to force myself to go for 10 more minutes. I haven't done a single ride this year where I felt like I couldn't go another hour (or more) beyond when I ran out of water. Yesterday I made it about 7 minutes after the water was gone.

I'd ridden a couple minutes short of two hours. But only 25 (trainer) miles. I'm hoping that 95 degrees in absolutely still air is worse than 105 in moving air. And I think it is. I hope it is. Because that really sucked a lot.

I'm going to do the same thing tonight. But I won't do it for that long because I've got to get to the airport.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Last bit o' training

Friday night I did Stage 1 of the Alaska Coffee Roaster Offroad Stage Race/ Stage 1 is the Ester Dome Hill Climb. I had decided to stay off my mtn bike a while ago, but figured I couldn't get hurt in a hill climb and wanted the high intensity workout.

Like all hill climbs, this one started hurting right off the bat and didn't let up until the finish line. Ester Dome is something like a 2000 foot climb in a bit over 4 miles, but the bulk of the climb is done in three very steep pitches.

By the halfway point Reese Henneman, a super strong 18 year old xc skier/triathlete and I were riding together a bit in front of Rocky and David Norris, another junior Nordic Skier with tons of strength. I kept telling Reese he needed to drop me, but he was pretty content to sit on my wheel. He's a lot stronger than he understands. He thinks he's going to go too hard and blow up and I (or somebody) will somehow catch him. When he figures out how to get past that he's going to be hell to race with. His potential is huge.

Anyhow...the climb almost tops out then descends a 1/4 mile, climbs back to the true summit, has a very short leg-breaking climb before kicking you onto the road for the final 0.3 mile descent and then short (momentum type) climb to the finish line. Reese gapped me on the final "leg-breaking" climb and then held on until the finish line, beating me by 2 seconds. I'll take 2nd place in a hill climb any day. I suck at climbing.

On Saturday morning I had thoughts about doing the rest of the Mtn Bike Stage Race. I was feeling very strong and really wanted to go hard. But several years ago, after training all summer for the Leadville 100, I broke my arm a week before Leadville doing something stupid in a mtn bike race that I had no chance of winning and no real reason to even do. I decided to do the Leadville race anyways, with a pretty big cast on my arm. I finished the race, but rode like crap, crashed a couple times and probably caused a few other crashes or near-crashes. It was a pretty damn excruciating 11 hours on a bike. I can be pretty hard-headed and have never really been known for learning lessons the easy way. But I remember after that race thinking, "Man, if I didn't learn something from this I'm just stoopid."

Well, I finally have proof that I'm not too stoopid...finally!!! I decided to skip the mtn bike race. I did a fast group road ride instead. It was basically like a race up every hill. I felt good and got to ride hard so it worked out well.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

After Work Century

On Memorial Day the weather was pretty crappy...40's and rain all day. So I ended up spending an hour and a half on the trainer. I really don't like riding a trainer at all.

Tuesday I had a rest day planned, but ended up riding about two hours, but mostly just riding around town doing errands.

Last night I left work at 4:30 and rode to Nenana and back. That's a great ride. It's a little over 100 miles with really good pavement and shoulders, not much traffic on weeknights, and a lot of long'ish hills. Last night was pretty windy and (of course) it rained several times. But the ride took just under 6 hours and I felt pretty good and fresh the whole time.

Not much to take pictures of on my last two rides so I'm posting a couple of my favorites from this years Iditarod Trail Invitational.

This is Rocky with a bottle of vodka we found on the trail between Nicolai and McGrath. It had been about -40 F, but was probably closer to -20 F when the picture was taken. But the Vodka is still almost completely frozen.



This is my favorite picture from the 2007 race. We are on the South Fork of the Kuskokwim River, maybe 5 or 7 miles from the Rohn checkpoint. It was probably -10F and the wind was absolutely screaming. We'd been going straight into it for the last 25 or so miles. We were being pelted with snow and sand from the exposed gravel bars. We couldn't ever seem to stay on the trail for more than about a quarter mile, and were constantly hitting open leads and "new" ice that is not that much fun to cross. It was brutal. When the picture was taken Rocky was trying to shelter himself from the wind enough to eat...and it just wasn't working.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend - lots o' pics

After a ridiculously light week of riding I was ready to ramp back up over the three day weekend. Our friends Luke & Emily and Bob had planned to ride their mountain bikes across the Denali Highway over the long weekend. Its a beautiful 130 mile dirt road through the Alaska Range. Heather wanted to do that ride too, so we figured that I could ride from Fairbanks to Paxson (about 190 miles), meet them there, help shuttle cars and do some camping and fishing while they rode their mtn bikes, and then I could ride back to Fairbanks from Cantwell on Monday.
There are a lot of things that I really like about having Rocky & Gail as our neighbors. Rocky is probably the most insane-hardcore athlete around here and Gail is about the same, except that she's a lot more sane...and that even when she's skiing the Iditarod Trail, or something like that, she'd probably rather be working in her garden. One of the best things about having them as neighbors is that no matter what ride I ask Rocky if he wants to do his answer is going to be either "Sure" or "Let me talk to Gail about it". So Rocky was up for the weekend trip too.
We left Fairbanks at 6:30am on Saturday morning. It was 54 degrees, warm for that time of day, and mostly sunny with a little wind out of the south. Because it was so warm already we didn't take a lot of extra clothing. I took a lightweight windbreaker and rocky had arm warmers and a lightweight windbreaker too.

Captain Bianchi taking a break

About 40 miles out of Fairbanks we rode through a smoky area. The first significant fire of the year was burning in the Tanana Flats south of the Richardson Highway. The ride the rest of the way to Delta Junction (mile 100) was pretty easy and uneventful. We had a slight crosswind and averaged about 20 mph.

Rocky riding along the Tanana River near Shaw Creek


Me crossing the Tanana River at Big Delta w/ pipeline in the background


In Delta we stopped at the IGA (grocery store) for some food and drink. A family was sitting at a table eating and the father started ask us where we rode from, where we were going, how much we rode, how much our bikes cost, all that stuff. He was really nice and super enthusiastic and eventually he asked us "If we could race in the Tour De France?" We laughed and said "no", and tried to explain how much faster those guys are than we are, but I'm guessing that he didn't really get it. Its hard to understand how fast professional cyclist are (in this country let alone in Europe, which is a step above the domestic level) without actually seeing it in person and trying to race with them. But the family was really nice and its always fun to have a real interaction with a non-cyclist that doesn't involve getting honked at and yelled at.

Rocky climbing towards the Alaska Range into a nasty headwind

We left Delta heading south into a strong headwind. Our easy riding was over. For the next 60 miles we bucked a big wind, probably averaging 15 mph. On top of that, there is no place to get food or drink in the 90 miles between Delta and Paxson, so I had to start rationing my fluids which is something that I really don't like to do.

By the time we were in the heart of the Alaska Range I had run out of cytomax and gummy bears, the wind was even stronger and it was very obviously about to start raining. Oh yeah, and the temperature had dropped from 70 degrees to 45 degrees. Once it started raining we knew we were going to have trouble making it to Paxson, which was still about 30 miles away. It was just too cold for the clothing we had with us.
Putting on my only piece of spare clothing...rookie mistake
Riding near Phelan Creek with the pipeline in the background again

Summit Lake is a 10 mile long lake that runs north and south at the head of the Gulkana River. Its at about 3300 ft elevation and is still completely covered with ice. When we got to Summit Lake we were riding in a 45 degree (steady) rain along the exposed lake shore into a ridiculous headwind (coming across the ice covered lake)...it was seriously cold. We knew we were about 10 miles from Paxson and a lodge/gas station/restaurant, but weren't sure we wanted to do the final descent in those conditions...my hands were already starting to get dysfunctional. We stopped briefly so that Rocky could put a plastic trash bag he found on the side of the road inside of his jersey to block the wind a little better and talked about the descent into Paxson and how much it was going to suck. Rocky said that he saw a light on in a cabin a quarter mile back. We knew that meant somebody was there because there is no electricity in that area. It took us about 5 seconds to decide to go back and see if they'd mind us warming up in there cabin.

The owner, Dan from Fairbanks, met us on the porch and welcomed us in. He said he'd saw us ride by and thought we must be "hardcore". We told him we were just a bit stuck in the weather without the proper gear. Dan was there with his son, Shane. They came down for the weekend to do some target shooting and have some some fun. Dan fixed us some coffee and hot chocolate and we warmed up quite a bit before we saw Heather drive down there road an hour later (we had propped our bike by the side of the road so she would see us).

When she got there we loaded up the bikes and hopped in the car and drove to the Tangle River Lodge for dinner. By the time we finished dinner it was 41 degrees and raining harder. The forecast for Sunday was for more of the same weather. Heather knew she wouldn't want to ride a dirt road in those conditions and we decided rather than camp in the rain we'd just head back to FBKS so that we could enjoy the nice weather there on Sunday.

Our ride was 180 miles in about 10.5 hours of ride time.




























Friday, May 25, 2007

Technical Mtn Biking in Alaska

Not much to report. I've been riding an hour or so a day. Wednesday I did an hour and a half. Bigger plans for the upcoming weekend.

I've also been told to get more pictures up, so I'll try to do that soon.

Here is a story about mountain biking in Alaska you guys should read...

http://newsminer.com/2007/05/24/7155

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Hard Part

This is the part of training that I hate and have really blown in the past, but not usually before big races. I hate trying to taper to get the rest my body needs. I know that I need the rest and time off the bike to recover and get to near-peak condition for the start. But mentally its hard for me to go from riding 4-11 hours every day to riding 1 hour a day, without feeling like I'm not doing enough. I get bored. I really like riding and I almost always want to ride more, not less. It sucks.

I've ridden 4.5 hours in the last 4 days (including a race) and feel like I haven't ridden in about a week...

On the plus side my sleep patterns, which were getting pretty bad as I got closer to being "over trained", have gotten a lot better.

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I checked the RAAM roster and saw that both Wolfgang Fasching and Jure Robic are now signed up for the race. I'd heard that Wolgang was going to be there but that Jure would not be. That'll be exciting. They are probably the two most accomplished ultracyclists in the world and have a slew of RAAM wins and top 2 or 3 finished between them. That puts three previous RAAM winners (Daniel Wyss, who won last years race, and is on the same level as Wolfgang and Jure) in the race this year. This years roster might lack the marque names (Tinker Jaurez and Jock Boyer) that were in last years race, but will have as much or more strength at the front.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

RAAM Lead-up

So I'm trying to keep what seem like logically separate things in different posts to make this thing more user friendly than a bunch or random thoughts...we'll see if it helps.

My RAAM training is pretty much over at this point. I just need to recover and feel fresh and motivated when I get to Oceanside in early June...barely over two weeks away. I'll still be riding, but my hours will be cut way back, especially this coming week. I probably won't ride more than an hour a day all week. Next weekend I'll probably do one ride in the 150-200 mile range. I'll do a few more short rides with a little intensity, probably in the form of some steep climbs, in the days leading up to my departure. Cutting back the hours works well because I've got a lot of off-the-bike things to get ready before we leave and I'll probably be working quite a bit too.

I'll also try to do a couple 1-2 hour rides on my trainer in our shop with the heaters running to get a taste of extreme heat. I think I can get the shop up to about 95 or 100 degrees. Riding in that with no wind will be oppressive...Other than that it should be a pretty low-key couple weeks.

Skiers Win

I took two more days off completely after I got back to Alaska and then did a race today. It was a pretty interesting new road race called the Three Hill Race. Its really just one hill done three times on three different roads. Each climb has at least one section of +10%. They all climb about 700 ft. In 9 miles there is about 2000 feet of climbing (and 1400 feet of descending). The finish is at the top.

Tyson Flaherty, a phenomenal X-country skier and super strong cyclist, easily won the race. There isn't anybody around here that can come close to Tyson, especially when it comes to climbing. Reese Henneman came in second. Reese is about 17 years old, and another strong cross country skier, he's got huge potential on the bike too. He's starting to figure out how strong he is. Rocky finished third a dozen seconds behind Reese and about a minute in front of me. I felt a lot better than I did in Colorado, making me think that at least part of my problem there was elevation. But I wouldn't say that I felt fresh yet. I'll get some more rest this week and see how I feel next weekend.

Its really good to be back in Alaska. I'm a bit tired of traveling right now. I won't mind the next trip though.

Colorado Wrap Up

After the rides out of Ft Collins I spent most of my time between my brother's house in Big Elk Meadows and my friend Whitney's house in Boulder. I did one ride from Boulder up Lefthand Canyon to Ward, along the Peak-to-Peak Highway to Nederland, and then down Boulder Canyon back to Boulder. This is a really great ride...one of the better mid-distance rides in the area...lots of climbing to start; 4000 ft in the first 16 miles. Then a pretty scenic ride on the Peak-to-Peak, and Boulder canyon is one of the better descents around the front range. So its a fun ride, but the first time I did it (Monday, 7/14) my legs still felt really heavy.

I took a day off and then did the same loop again and felt a bit better. When I returned to Boulder on this ride I met Kraig and we did a ride back up Lefthand to Jamestown and then back over Lee Hill back to Boulder. We mostly rode easy and talked. I think this was close to 80 miles and probably a little under 8000 ft of climbing.

My last ride was out of Lakewood, CO with my friend Doug Bittle. We left his house at 8:30 am and rode up Lookout mountain, connected to Highway 40 along Highway 70, and then came back through Red Rocks into Lakewood. This is a really nice ride, especially considering that its right on the edge of such a major metro area. There is very little traffic on the lookout climb and its not super steep or hard, but still goes up over 2000 ft. We rode really easy, got passed by about everybody, and had a good ride.

In the end I got about 8-10 hours less than I had hoped the first week of the trip. Mostly because I made the trip from CO to IA a lot faster than I expected, so no complaints about that. The second week I was too tired to get the hours in I had hoped to. At least I was smart enough to cut the hours and try to rest more. There were times in the past when I buried myself trying to stick to a too-ambitious training plan. Other than it was a good trip, although I would really have liked to have gotten into some really hot weather...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A day in Big Elk Meadows

I spent all day today doing next to nothing at my Brother's house. All I did was update this blog, play with my niece, sleep, and eat. It was really nice. Tomorrow I'm back on the bike.

Colorado riding

I don't figure to get a ton of physical benefit from the training that I'm doing in CO. I think any acclimatization to the altitude that occurs will be lost by the time I get back to CO during the race. Plus I'm a little tired from the Iowa ride and probably need some time to recover physically. But the long climbs are something I haven't gotten much of in the last 7 or so years since I moved from CO to Alaska, and mentally I think there will be a lot of benefit to doing this riding. And living at about 450 feet above sea level I know the 10,000+ ft passes are going to hurt and I want to feel that burning now so I don't freak during the race.

But I've already decided to shorten my trip up by three days and am taking a couple days off in between the harder rides I'm doing.

I got back to CO on Thursday (5/10). Spent all day friday getting things ready in the van, putting a roof rack on it, shopping for some of the supplies I need, etc.

Friday night Tim and I did an easy 1.5 hour ride over the Horsetooth dams. It was a really nice and scenic ride. Probably one of the better 1.5 hour rides anybody has from their front door. Had I not spent a big chunk of the day trying to drive around Ft Collins in ridiculous traffic and getting in peoples way at the Mega-low-Mart I would have probably been thinking "man, we should move to ft collins."

On saturday Roslyn and I rode from Ft Collins to Carter Lake to meet my Friend Kraig and his friend Scott. Kraig is an uber-athlete and loves to climb and we were planning on going up into the mountains a bit. It was a lot further from Tim & Ros' to Carter Lake than we thought so we were a bit late getting there. But Kraig & Scott found us pretty quickly. From Carter we went up to Pinewood Reservoir. Which was really pretty, but not much as reservoirs go. Then came back down to HWY 34 and went up the Big Thompson Canyon, which is easily the flattest canyon ride around here. At Drake we turned off HWY 34 and went up through Glen Haven. This is a little steeper and features two pairs of the tightest switchbacks around during a 1 mile 12 to 14% section. It tops out at nearly 8000 ft just above Estes Park.

Kraig and I had talked about going longer, but my legs were really not feeling good and we had a good ways to get back to Ft Collins, so Ros and I went down HWY 34 and Kraig and Scott went out the Peak-to-Peak HWY to take Lefthand Canyon home.

Ros and I fought a headwind all the way down Big Thompson. I think I decided I don't like that canyon much. I don't mind working hard going up a canyon, but working hard to go down is ridiculous...

After a little drama involving me thinking I'd lost my credit card (only to find it in my wallet back at the house) we got home. The ride was 6.75 hours, 110 miles, and had 7000 feet of climbing. I felt pretty bad for almost all of it. Probably partly from having tired legs and partly from the elevation.

We'll see.

Fauna of the Central US

Since I was riding across a section of the country, and since riding that sort of terrain doesn't require a lot of attention (although a couple times my near complete lack of attention almost cost me) I had time to do some studying.

The most obvious thing to study was the street-crossing skills of the various species of wildlife common to the central US. This is what I think I learned...

1) Possums are not good at crossing streets. I don't know how many possums there may be, but their street-crossing success rate can't be any higher than 50%.

2) Whitetail deer are not very good either. But I think they outnumber possums by about 10 or even 20 to 1. So I'm going to put their success rate at 95 to 97.5%. That still makes for a damn lot of dead deer.

3) After that it gets a little less clear cut. Raccoons seem to be marginally successful...probably around 99% success rate. I also think they stink worse than most other unsuccessfull street-crossers...with the obvious exception of skunks.

4) For the purpose of this study rabbits are a sub-category of raccoons with similar success rates. Although I personally believe rabbits cross roads for the shear excitement of it and sometimes they intentionally cut it pretty close, so the numbers belie there true street-crossing talent. Rabbits are the Mountain Dew drinkers of the animal kingdom. They are X-treme.

5) Rattlesnakes...this is a tough one. There aren't a lot of rattlesnakes in Iowa, but I saw two dead on the road. This could very well be a 100% failure rate. Or maybe not.

6) I'm going to lump all birds into one category and call that category "birds". I saw a lot of dead birds, but I saw a lot of birds on the roadway. I also personally witnessed thousands (literally) of birds cross the road successfully. I think they have a high success rate. Probably over 99.9%. Part of the high success rate may be attributed to their ability to travel above the height of most traffic.

A final thing, since I want this blog to be educational as well as informative, did you all realize that the bird known as the Oriole is really called the "Baltimore Oriole"?? Me neither. I thought it was just the Oriole, and the baseball team from Baltimore is called the Baltimore Orioles. But I looked it up and the bird is called the Baltimore Oriole. I saw a dead one in Nebraska.

Iowa Mini RAAM

The ride from Ft Collins to Davenport was intended to do two things 1) get me to Iowa to pick up the minivan that we will be using as a follow vehicle during the race, and 2) let me get some consecutive long days of riding in to see how my body would respond and how my diet would work during some pretty long, but not RAAM-long days. The picture below is me and my bike loaded and getting ready to leave Ft. Collins during a brief break in the rain.



The ride was 900 miles long. My ride time was 44.25 hours. I did it in five days; so just over 20 mph average speed (for actual ride time, clock time was probably 6-8 hours longer). The ride was four long days to start and a really short day to finish. The weather was really bad for the first three days, but I felt pretty good, even after 4 consecutive 200 mile days, and didn't have any major problems.

Day 1: I had hoped to leave by 8am but it was 42 degrees and raining so I decided to wait a bit. By 10:00am it had stopped raining and Tim and I were ready to leave. Tim had planned to ride about 30 or 40 miles east with me and then turn back for home. 5 miles out of Ft Collins it started raining again. The picture below is Tim putting on his raincoat. In the next 10 miles it got a LOT worse than this...

Ault, CO is about 15 miles from Ft Collins. By the time we got to Ault the temperature had dropped to the high 30's, it was pouring rain, and we had a huge headwind...basically it sucked. Oh yeah, and there was lightning...just for fun. But 15 minutes after Ault we were through the storm and it was sunny and near 50 degrees. That's pretty much the way the day went. I rode through five different thunderstorms of varying degrees of intensity and scariness. If I could get out of the storms into a store or whatever I did, but sometimes on the high plains there just isn't a lot of options...except pedaling really hard. I raced one storm at 30 mph for an hour. That was a one hour TT 6.5 hours into a ride. Not really what I wanted to do, but seemed better than getting struck by lightning or sent to Oz by a tornado. The race went to the storm as it beat me to the grocery store in Haxton, CO by about 5 minutes.

I had hoped to ride through the first night, but about an hour and a half after dark another storm came with wind, rain, and lightning and I stopped in Imperial, Nebraska for the night. I was a little disappointed at having to stop the ride short, but when I got into the motel room I turned on the Weather Channel and felt pretty lucky about getting that far. There were reports of tornadoes all over the place and some ridiculous number of lightning strikes. A tornado had touched down near Sterling, CO about an hour and a half after I rode through there. The forecast for the next day didn't look much better. I'd ridden 197 miles in 9.5 hours (ride time).


Day 2: It was cloudy and cool when I started riding, but at least it wasn't raining. I had a steady tailwind and covered the first 100 miles in 4 hrs 8 minutes. I'm pretty sure that was the fastest 100 I've ever ridden. Over the next couple hours the weather changed a lot the wind moved from due west to due east and it started pouring. I heard thunder, but never saw any lightning. The last 60 miles took longer than the first 100. I got to Hastings, NE right at dark and never considered going any further in that kind of rain. I didn't realize how cold I was until I stopped riding. I stayed in a nice & clean $30/night motel and ordered a pizza for delivery. I'd ridden 209 miles in 10.25 hours.


Day3: I got up at 7am and looked out and it was raining so I went back to sleep. Got up again at 8am and it was still raining but I decided to start riding anyways. It rained lightly but steadily for the first 7 hours. Around Crete, NE so much dirt had been washed onto the road that I had to stop several times and get water from a puddle with one of my water bottles to hose down my drivetrain because it sounded like I was grinding parts with all the grit and sand in there. There had been a huge amount of rain in the area.

As I crossed into Iowa on HWY 2 it cleared up and got pretty nice for the first time. I had decided to take HWY 2 instead of HWY 34 because I didn't feel like fighting more crosswinds to go north to get on 34. This turned out to be a minor mistake. I got almost to Shanendoah,IA and HWY 2 was closed due a roadway being under water at the Nishnabotna River...something like that. I talked to a couple other people about possible re-routes and they only knew of a way that was going to go south into Kansas and I didn't want to go that far south. I back-tracked to Sidney, IA and (eventually) ended up at the Sheriff's office where they told me that they thought I could get through to the east on HWY 34, but weren't too sure because that was out of their county. Anyhow, I headed north and got to Red Oak, IA right at twilight to see a road closed sign. Disheartening for a minute, but as I was approaching I saw that there was a detour to another bridge only a mile or so south. Here is the approach to Red Oak, IA...
It turns out the Town of Red Oak had some serious flooding and there were a lot of people forced out of there homes. A couple of them were in the hotel I stayed at. I felt bad about thinking that the rain and flooding had caused me problems when there were people flooded out of there homes. I'd ridden 218 miles in 11 hours.

The only thing close to a problem that I had happened on this trip. Riding through the rain and all the road grime resulted in a lot of sand and grit getting into my clothing, especially in my shorts. this caused a slightly painfull rash at a lot of the seams. I washed the clothing pretty good that night and things got better the next day.

There was a BBQ place right next to the hotel which I saw as another data point. The people were really nice and friendly, but the BBQ was...not so much.


Day 4: It was beautiful right from the start. The roads in Iowa don't really have a lot of paved shoulders so I rode the white line as close as I could. There was also a lot of truck traffic on HWY 34 which made me a bit nervous, but I never had a horn blown at me and everybody gave me as much room as they could, so it wasn't too bad. Probably also worth mentioning that my legs were a little tired on the second morning, and a little more on the third, but after that they were about the same on the fourth and fifth mornings.

I felt like I was riding pretty good and the day went super fast. The only things that really stands out is the pizza that I had for breakfast at a gas station and an awesome blueberry-raspberry Slurpee that I had in some little town. Oh yeah, and I got chased by too dogs. I generally don't run from dogs, but I was going downhill pretty good when they came after me so I kept going. Those suckers chased me for a mile at about 30 mph!!I had thoughts of riding the rest of the way that night, but without a decent shoulder I really didn't want to be on the roads past dark. So I stopped what I thought was 75 miles from Larry and Noreen's house. I'd ridden 212 miles in 10.5 hours.

Day 5: The first 20 miles were really nerve-racking. No shoulder and constant dump truck traffic...lots of crosswinds making it hard for me to hold the white line. I was wishing I'd have done this section in the dark when at least there wouldn't have been the dump trucks. After Muscatine it was a really nice and quiet ride along the Mississippi River. It ended up being only 63 miles and took 3 hours. I was done at 11:30 am.

Overall the ride went very well. I felt good. Didn't have any vehicle traffic/problems to speak of. Some of the riding, particularly eastern Co and Western NE was absolutely great (minus the weather) with smooth roads, big clean shoulders, no traffic, and a tailwind. That's about as good as cross country riding gets, I think.

I spent the rest of the day at Larry & Noreen's watching birds on their feeders and a geriatric raccoon on the squirrel feeder. Saw a bunch of ruby-crusted crossbills, red-headed woodpeckers, hummingbirds, morning doves, and cardinals. Here's a couple pics...
















The next day I drove back to Colorado...the ride was WAY more fun than the drive.
































































RAAM Training Plan

Okay, it turns out I'm not very good at keeping a blog. I'm doing what I can and I'll try to get a lot of info up in the next couple posts.

I don't really like the idea of "training programs". With me they tend to get too detailed and eventually take some of the fun out of riding. If I was racing twice a week that kind of structure makes some sense. But I need to put in a lot of time and miles and to do that riding has got to stay interesting and fun for me.

But because RAAM is a pretty big race and I felt like I needed (if only for psychological reasons) to be in pretty decent shape at the start, I started out with a big-picture training plan to get ready. Plus, with winter lasting generally into April in Fairbanks I knew I needed to get the most out of the limited training time that was available. The plan had three parts:

1) Work on power & endurance all winter riding on snow. This is sort of a no-brainer. Winter riding is all high-power low cadence, and with the Iditarod trail Invitational in late February I was putting a lot of hours on the bike regardless of RAAM. For most of this time I was riding, running, and lifting weights and getting in 20-25 hours a week.

1b) Take a break in March. I mostly commuted to/from work. Maybe a couple 2 or 3 hour rides on the weekends and one or two (short, slow) runs during the week.

2) Go to Texas and get used to being on a road bike again and really work on leg speed. I figured my power would be pretty good from the winter (and I think it was), but I needed to translate that to the higher cadence of road riding.

The TX training went pretty well and my endurance was really good. In about 15 days of riding in TX I rode 1400 miles, did two group rides/races, and two trail runs (due to rain). I did 100+ mile rides 8 of the last 9 days I was there, and felt pretty decent in all of them. Generally I'd start the rides feeling a little tired and a little slow and then warm up over 2 or 3 hours and start feeling better and riding better. I think these weeks were 34 and 36 hours of riding.

2b) Go back to Fairbanks and get rested for the next training trip. The first week back in FBKS I think I rode around 18 hours, the second week less than 8 hours.

3) A final training trip to the lower 48 (starting in Colorado). This was broken into two parts. The first was a 900 mile unsupported ride from Ft. Collins, CO to to Heather's parents house in Davenport, IA. The second part is some hill climbing and elevation in Colorado.

3b) Go back to Fairbanks and get recovered and ready for the race.

I'm in the middle of part 3 now and everything has gone pretty good so far.

jo

Friday, May 4, 2007

My own blog...thanks to Morgan

Okay, now I've got a blog so I might as well start filling it up with random rantings and 2-minutes discourses on everything that's wrong with everybody...everywhere. No, I don't think this'll be that type of blog. This one will stick pretty close to what I'm doing, and planning to do about the Race Across America this summer.

First, thanks to Morgan for setting this up for me. I told her I wanted to start a blog as a way to let friends and family keep up with my RAAM planning and training, as well as the race itself, and before long she's sending me addresses and passwords. Pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten around to it myself. So I'm glad she took the initiative...

Anyhow, on to the RAAM details...I'm at my friends Tim & Ros's house in Fort Collins, Colorado right now. Tomorrow I'm supposed to start a 4 or 5 day, 950 mile ride to my mother- and father-in-laws house in Davenport, Iowa. And as I should be used to by now, the weather is trying to get in the way. Its about 45 degrees and raining right now and the forecast for tomorrow is for more of the same. I had hoped to ride a minimum of 250 miles tomorrow and if things felt good and the roads seemed safe enough, maybe ride through the night and the next day...stretching it into a 500+ mile ride. Now it looks like that won't happen. That's how it goes. I'll get some miles in either way.

It doesn't seem possible, but I've essentially got only two weeks of training left for RAAM. Especially since I did my first road ride of the year one month ago tomorrow. Coming from Fairbanks I knew my time on the road would be severely limited, that's why I scheduled training trip's to Peter Lekisch's place in TX in April, and to Colorado in May. I knew I had to get a lot out of the little time I had to try and get ready for RAAM. Initially I was really concerned about this scenario, but I think everything is working out okay. I have a huge base after putting in a lot of hours on snow this winter and I feel really fresh and motivated every time I get on my road bike...or have so far at least.

This next week should be the biggest volume week I've ever ridden (races excluded). I should get around 60 hours of riding in. The week after that will be reduced by about 50%. During that time I hope to do a lot of long climbing and high elevation rides around the front range of CO. Then its back to Fairbanks to recover, re-pack, and get ready to head to Oceanside.

This next section is for the bike geeks:

I just finished setting up my Orbea Ora TT bike for the ride to Iowa. Its got two headlights, two taillights, a food pouch on the aero bars, which are about 3 inches higher than they would be an a true aero setup, a second food pack attached to the stem/top tube, a frame pack attached to the top tube/seat tube, a seatpost bottle mount, and a huge rear pack. As Tim said, it looks like it should be a Surly Steamroller or 1978 lugged-steel motobecane touring frame under all the little packs and bags, not a state-of-the-art carbon fiber time machine. Its sort of like renting out a Kentucky Derby contender for 4-hr trail rides. But it works, and doing this ride, on the route I'm doing and without support I need to be able to carry some small amount of gear and food all the time. I'll get a picture of it up here sometime.

That's all.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Training for RAAM Part I: Texas

I've had more than a few "what have I gotten myself into" moments with respect to RAAM, which is probably good and healthy...fear motivates me as much as anything. I've also been riding like a bastard and am feeling pretty good. I did 150 miles today at about as hard as I could go. It was 80 degrees and windy and I felt great the whole time, so that helps my confidence some. I'm red as a lobster right now.

For probably the first time ever I've wished I was a professional cyclist. Its so easy and fun to get up at 8am, eat, read for an hour, go ride, eat, take a nap, go for another ride, etc. Then I remember that "professional cyclist" is sometimes another word for "broke as a joke" and that I wouldn't be doing any of this if I were a "professional cyclist"...that this is really a vacation...like those guys that pay like $40,000 to go to a "training camp" with a bunch of retired New York Yankees (probably retired Boston Red Sox too Julie) for a week. Anyhow, its nice, and sometimes feels a bit poetic, riding all day listening to Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Old 97's, Butthole Surfers...all that classic TX music.

The Fredericksberg area is a lot nicer than I expected. Its unbelievably hilly...not a flat piece of ground anywhere. Its also very wooded and has tons of wildflowers in bloom right now. About 80% of the riding is on these narrow country roads that have almost no traffic . Tim (friend from CO who was here to ride with me until yesterday) said it reminded him of riding in Italy. It reminds me of Mexico, but the hills are smaller, the views are not as large, the roads are narrower, etc etc...so not really I guess.

I've also got to say that Texas has redeemed itself in the BBQ department. Luke knows what I'm talking about. We went to one place that was freaking awesome...only bad thing was that they claim that G.W. says its his favorite BBQ place. I'll concede the man knows his BBQ, if nothing else. It was pretty sweet...lots of plywood and you eat on sheets of butcher paper instead of plates.

The other place I had BBQ at was a Shell Station/BBQ. I've never been afraid of giving gas station food a fair shake and it paid off big time this week. I knew I was in luck when I tried to order and I couldn't understand a thing the guy said. Actually I suspected I was in luck when I saw his BBQ out front. It was a John Deere tractor with the engine removed and a bigass BBQ in its place. the BBQ exhaust even vented out the tractor exhaust...with a working flapper valve...pretty sweet. Anyhow, I'm pretty sure he was speaking english of some dialect. He seemed to understand me...at least I got what I ordered. While I was eating he'd periodically say/shout something (I think to us...we were the only people there) and I'd just say "yeah" or "hell yeah" and he'd grin and shake his head. It was pretty funny. I wanted to try the frito pie, but was way too stuffed...think I'm gonna go back though.

Here is a picture that Peter Lekisch took of me riding on a road near Mason, TX. Its pretty typical of the riding around here...rolling hills that just keep going and going...no flat ground anywhere, lots of flowers, very green - greener than the picture looks...and windy, always windy. Lots of deer, cows, sheep, and goats, goats, goats. This road is pretty big compared to most of them I've been on. It has stripes, most of them don't.

Here is a picture of my favorite road in the Fredericksberg area (Welgahausen). It isn't very long, but is tight and twisty with a ton of wildflowers and a little 12-14% climb thats a real leg-breaker at the end of a 120 or 140 mile ride.





jo