Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GTDRI Report: It Could Have Been Worse- Part 4

"2 Mitts" Burger Shack in Elkader Iowa was a treat on the GRTDI for 2014
Rolling up to the heart of Elkader, Iowa we clocked in at 68 miles. It was 11:45am. I was stoked.

I figured that we made up about 45 minutes to an hour on time coming from Wadena. It was an up-lifter, because now we could lounge around and not be in such a hurry to get out of town to get in the final 48 miles. That doesn't sound like many miles, but these miles would by far be the hardest of the entire ride.

I was also stoked that I was able to continue to stay hydrated and not get hungry. The chips at Wadena and the chocolate milk actually worked well. Now it was time to sidle up to the tiny burger shack and order up some grub to chew on. "2 Mitts" is a funky joint made from a travel trailer and from its little enclosure comes boiled hamburgers, brats, or hotdogs with or without onions and cheese. Order up a bag of chips and a soda. That's the menu. It was told to me that 2 Mitts is a very popular joint there in Elkader, and by the looks of the line of folks that constantly were there waiting on some boiled goodness, it was probably a true statement.

I got a cheeseburger, no onions, and a root beer. (I still had a half a bag of chips from Wadena!) I set down at a shaded picnic table and chowed down. It was a perfect amount of food. Then a trip across the street to the convenience store, a much better stocked and modern one than Wadena's, and purchased some peanut butter crackers for later and a purple Gatorade along with a bottle of water. Topped off the fluids and I was ready to go.

Ah...no! You cannot lick my ice cream cone, Jeremy! Michael Lemberger and Jeremy Fry behind 2 Mitts in Elkader.
Big views, more flowers, and heat. Just East of Elkader, Iowa.
Windmills for Paul Errington
We spent about an hour at Elkader and then it was time to mount up and get after those big climbs. Things started out nice and easy with gentler grades and a couple really fast down hills. The views are spectacular out here and I was reminded once again why this course has been a favorite of mine over the years. "Brutally Beautiful" is how I like to describe it. The hills are tough and you hurt bad with the heat and efforts, but the payoff is grand. Descents are hairy and fast. Michael Lemberger said earlier regarding the climbs and the "pay-off" afterward: "This is a currencty I could get used to." Works for me! I wonder if the heat and light company would trade hills bagged for electricity and gas?

I am pretty familiar with this country having ridden it twice before and reconned through this area a few times for Trans Iowa and the GTDRI. I didn't need cue sheets! Plus, I knew what was coming. Hills were going to get steeper and the weather wasn't cooling off at all. In fact, even the wind went away. Probably a "worse case scenario" for me, but there was nothing I could do but pedal onward. So, that's what I did. It was slow going on some of the climbs because it was like single speeding with too tall a gear.

Grape Road, Harbor Road, and over toward Ironwood Road, (which is paved now, but wasn't in '09-'10), and the climbing was brutal on the Tamland. I handled it all okay, but it was slowly taking a toll on me. I could feel my core temp raising little by little, and with no breeze and full Sun, it was tough to cool down on anything but a 30+ mph down hill, which didn't last long enough! The country out this way was really "open" as well, which left no where to hide from the elements. It was also the highest elevation point on the ride, so we could see for miles away from the ridge tops.

The turn off to Ironwood Road was where we all stopped to gather up again. Then it was off on a bit of an easy stretch on pavement toward our first B Maintenance road of the day.

Imperial Road. A nice steady climb through the trees to start out with. 
The tamest section of Impala Road. I didn't dare take any images while descending the gnarly bits! 
Imperial Road is the tamest of the two B Maintenance roads on the course. It is pretty much a straight shot at a gentle upward grade. The rocks are bigger here and most of the lane is going through a shaded area, which was nice for a change that day! Up toward the top; however, things changed. The trees go away, and there was fresh, fist sized rock spread across the entire roadway. Still going upward, the Tamland's lack of a low gear made for really stupid efforts to be expended just to stay going forward. In an effort to conserve energy, I got off and walked a bit.

At the end of Impala Road we ran across the RAGBRAI route again.
Then it was another "up-down" on gravel, a Left On Ironwood Road again, and a bit more pavement to Impala Road, where we would hit one of the most unique B Maintenance Roads in the State.

Impala Road starts out with a roller coaster down hill where you can easily reach speeds over 40 mph, then it goes right back up as steeply. The climb got me off the bike again since by now the heat and gradients were just too much for me and my bike's gearing. As I was walking along, pushing the bike, a Chevy Tahoe with a bike rack and bike on the rack stops up, rolls the window down, and the man inside says, "Well! You guys are the real Ironmen riding out here!"

I replied with, "Well, either that or we're complete idiots!" The guy then explains that he wants to drive his Tahoe down Impala Road to Garber. I tell him that while the road does indeed go to Garber, it would be a very bad idea to drive down it. That is because Impala Road turns into a legitimate DH course for several hundred yards. The rocks are big, the pitch is pretty steep, and there are ruts, sand, and mud in places. We picked our way carefully down at a snail's pace to avoid pinch flatting.

It eventually comes down to pass beside the Turkey River and levels out, but there were mud holes and washouts to get around as well. We passed an Amish buggy and saw the horse and driver in the river cooling off as we rode by. Then we got dumped out onto a chaotic scene- the RAGBRAI route was passing by on the black top we intersected at the end.

Tomorrow: The last installment of the GTDRI report, and the most bizarre thing that has ever happened on any ride I've been on will be discussed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

GTDRI Report: It Could Have Been Worse- Part 3

It ain't much but it is what Wadena has got. No credit cards, by the way!
We reached the Wadena "breakfast stop" at approximately Mile 39 by a bit after 9:00am. The convenience store here in this quiet, out of the way village, is a bit suspect looking on the outside, but it was serviceable, if not totally modern. No credit cards accepted! (But they did have an ATM for withdrawing cash- weird!)

I got some stuff here but my mantra going in was to eat less but eat more often. It was working for awhile, but coming into Wadena, I was hungry, and the bottles of Hammer Perpetuem weren't cutting the mustard. I was going to need to call in some reserves. I got a piece of string cheese, a small two serving size bag of salty potato chips, a Salted Nut Roll for later, and two bottles of water. I ate about half the bag of chips and stuffed the rest into my jersey pocket for later. The water was just enough to top off the bottles. Maybe I wasn't drinking enough water.....hmmmm. I also had a cup of chocolate milk that Mike Johnson kindly shared.

With that we all settled into our gear again and remounted. It was about 20 minutes to ten o'clock before we left, which really concerned me in terms of reaching Elkader by noon. I gave in to ever reaching that goal and figured it would be about one o'clock before we got there. It would be okay.....

Up over the rollers Northwest of Wadena Iowa. 
The dog that wouldn't quit!
Suddenly I heard Michael Lemberger, who was riding behind me say something. I thought it sounded like "Old Yeller...", or some such. We were on a Northward stretch and I wasn't climbing the rollers so well. The rest of the gang was well up the road. I turned when I heard Michael and saw a small dog, a mix of some sort. I'm no dog breed expert but it appeared to be a mix of some cattle herding breed and spaniel. Anyway....

Said pooch was not aggressive, but was wanting a fine run with like minded companions. We looked to fit the bill, so along the dog came, letting out bursts of whines and weird "happy sounds" as it darted amongst Michael and I, then on up the road after the rest of the gang. It was a good thing, in a way, since it took my mind off the Tamland's too steep gearing and Michael and I actually started to reel the guys up ahead back in a bit. Then they reached the corner where we were to turn left and eventually, down steeply to Echo Valley Road. The pooch had survived about 4-5 miles of hot, humid running after us, and showed no signs of giving up its new-found running mates anytime soon. Much to our dismay and against our admonitions to the dog to go home.

I liked this dog, but it was time to get it off our tail. It was running in front of us erratically, and well......we didn't want it to get lost or run over by a vehicle. Despite our best efforts, the determined mutt stuck to us, and was lagging by a quarter mile after the 40mph down hill, but was still coming! There was a right hander, then a curve and a low rise in the road. If we could just get out of sight, maybe we could ditch the poor dog.

Echo Valley Road. Beautiful valley scenery and killer fields of flowers along here.
Don't make a false move here in your car, or you could easily end up in the Turkey River! 
Round bales along the Turkey River on our way to Elkader.
We did finally ditch the pooch and we faced ahead and motored along. This was the approximately 20-25 mile "flat" section of the ride. It had a few rollers, but basically this was pedal, pedal, pedal to Elkader and lunch. We were clipping along at 14-15 mph most of this section and we made good time. 

The crew checks out this unusual barn and farmstead along the road to Elkader. 
In fact, we made such good time that we actually arrived in Elkader by about 11:45am. I was really happy and really surprised by that fact. Now it was on to finding some grub and restocking on supplies to hit up the last half of the GTDRI course for 2014.

Next: Part 4

Monday, July 28, 2014

GTDRI Report: It Could Have Been Worse- Part 2

First Gravel Of The Day
The GTDRI of 2014 started out in the valley of Backbone State Park at 6:02am after some blathering by myself. I and the six others crawled up the paved road out of the park and into a hazy, humid, almost wet day.

The mood was good and we had a great group of guys gathered together. A couple of surprise showings in Dan Buettner, who decided to come over dinner the evening before, and Aaron Schnee who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, but was up visiting relatives in the area, so he drug along his bike and showed up to ride as well. Michael Lemberger was in from Madison, Wisconsin, and Jeremy, Mike, Tony, and I were representing the Cedar Valley. A really strong group of riders and I knew I had my work cut out to be able to keep up with them.

The first part wouldn't be too bad though, since it was relatively flat and there were paved sections coming into Strawberry Point and leaving there. "First gravel" wasn't hit until almost three miles into the route. We passed by the Backbone Bluegrass Festival, and it looked pretty busy there already at a little past 6:00am. While it was tempting to turn left into the venue, we kept rolling!

Our first "encounter" with RAGBRAI. It wouldn't be the last one!
Coming into Strawberry Point we saw lots of activity. Tractors, banners being unfurled, things being roped off, and the great smells of cooking outdoors as the community was readying itself for the onslaught of RAGBRAI riders. They would be going in the opposite direction than we were going. This prompted many a "You're going the wrong way!" comments from the locals and a few RAGBRAI front runners that had already made it to Strawberry Point. Our reply became, "No, we're going the RIGHT way!" Which bewildered the folks that heard it. No time for explaining, and we rolled Eastward out of town and quickly back to gravel roads again.

Our first major road was "Amission Road", or in old parlance, "Old Mission Road". It is an oddity in a state of roads set on a grid, since it was an early Army road, then an important route to ferry supplies and people to the Northern parts of Iowa as settlers came in after Statehood was granted in 1846. It wanders Northwestward out of Strawberry Point for several miles before it eventually disappears into the gridwork imposed by the government. Our time on Old Mission Road was notable for losing track of two of our riders, Michael and Jeremy. It turned out that their "nature break" ended up becoming a flat tire repair for Michael. We were just heading back  down the road to find out where they were when we saw them coming back to us.

Old Mission Road escapes the grid, but not forever!
Barns for Jason: Michael Lemberger checks out a family farm's barn.
Big views early into the ride near Volga, Iowa.
Leaving Old Mission Road behind we went North and the Eastward over some "roller coaster" hills that were a precursor to the fast descents and insane grades that we would face later on. Then it was the Right turn onto St. Sebald Road that catapulted us upward to a place where the views were spectacular. The cloudy conditions were breaking into a sky with patches of blue and the heat was slowly ratcheting upward. I found my Raleigh Tamland's gearing to be lacking. It was going to become a big liability on the hills coming up later. For now, I just had to get up and over these first bits and to a big sector of flats coming later.
A stretch along the Volga River
We made it down to Volga, a small hamlet on the Volga River, and cruised through and back Northward. The road bent West a bit as it hugged the Volga River and then it was past the hill where on Trans Iowa V4 we came across a mudslide that blocked the road and where we had riders scoot over the mud and debris. Oddly enough, Aaron Schnee was on that T.I. and remembered the incident.

Moving past that point, not very much further on up the road, we came upon a crest of a hill, and much to my surprise the riders in the front decided to stop and we all ended up taking a break. It was really humid, and the heat was beginning to make us feel our legs and I guess it was good to stop and cool down. I was a bit concerned about not getting to the lunch stop before 12:00pm, but there was plenty of time to go before we got to Elkader.

Wadena was our town to first stop and refuel and we were all wanting to get there to resupply on water and maybe find something to eat. The last stretch to Wadena was a straight shot Westward on relatively easy road, but as I remarked on the ride, I don't know why those miles there seem to take so long. Then it dawned on me. You cannot see anything off to the sides as the road is lined with trees for much of the time through there. It makes seeing progress harder. Or not. Just my theory there.

Next Up: Part 2

Saturday, July 26, 2014

GTDRI Report: It Could Have Been Worse

It was a long, long day!
The 2014 edition of the Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational will go down as one I'll never forget, and I bet the other six guys with me would say the same.

It was a long, long, day, and not because we were riding. I'll explain in Part 2, but for now I will leave it at that.

Seven of us rolled out and this is the crew:
  • Mike Johnson
  • Jeremy Fry
  • Aaron Schnee
  • Tony McGrane
  • Dan Buettner
  • Michael Lemberger
  • GT
Tomorrow I will get into an in depth report, but for reasons I will explain later, I will be taking a full day of rest before I get to talking about this ride!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday News And Views

The big ride is this weekend
Getting Ready To Ride: The Guitar Ted Death Ride invitational is set to go off tomorrow at 6:00am sharp from Backbone State Park just South of Strawberry Point, Iowa.

I polished up the Tamland Two for the ride and since it only has two water bottle cage mounts, I will likely attach my Revelate Tangle Bag and either throw in a bottle and stainless canister for cold drinks or use a bladder. I'm digging the canister idea for this ride.

Anyway, I was checking out the RAGBRAI route and whattaya know? It goes through Strawberry Point and Garber Iowa, both towns on our route. No, no.......I did not plan it that way, but we will likely have some "ragbree traffic" to deal with at a couple points. I'm certain that if that happens it will make for some interesting interactions.

"Having fun on RAGBRAI so far?"

"Nope. I'm not on RAGBRAI. I'm on the Death Ride."

(Blank stare)

Or something like that! Look for a full report starting Monday.

Same bikes, different year.......
What The What? No New Warbird?

The biggest downer for me from the recent Saddledrive coverage was the lack of any changes on the Warbird. Salsa Cycles flagship "gravel bike" basically carries over from 2014 unchanged for the most part.

I'll make no bones about it, I think the Warbird V1 is flawed. I know others who are really into gravel riding and some other folks I know in the media feel likewise. It could be the "go-to" gravel rig, but in my opinion, (and that of others I know), it needs an overhaul.

And here's a question I haven't heard discussed much: Why is the Colossal, (Salsa's long distance road rig), a steel bike and the Warbird is an aluminum bike? Furthermore- Why should Salsa have both bikes when one model could easily do both tasks? 

Not that Salsa Cycles would ever listen to me, (cause they have smarter folks running the show than I), but why not make "one bike to rule them all" with 42mm tire clearances, a steel frame, and gosh darn it- a real, honest to goodness lower bottom bracket!! 70mm bottom bracket drop is not "low" folks. It just isn't, and gravel bikes and long distance roadie rigs should have a lower drop than that for ALL sizes. Salsa could make this "one bike" outta steel, give it a 71.5° head angle on the larger sizes, slacker on little sizes, and call it good. Salsa Cycles doesn't need two bikes for "all road riding". Don't like big tires? Fine, run 28"s. But for those that need 'em, they could. Not a Vaya. That bike is over-built for a purpose of touring. But yeah......I get why that makes sense too. It just doesn't need to be a touring bike. This "one bike" for unloaded riding could have a livelier frame than a Vaya. Okay- maybe a Vaya-lite?

One bike for everything, Salsa. (Hey! It doesn't hurt to let 'em know!)


TIMP News:

In Trans Iowa Masters Program news, there is a group of four including a couple of T.I. finishers and our first female rider attempting the route together today. No SPOT track available to follow here, so we'll just have to wait and see if they can make it. Sounds like the weather may be cooperative at least.

Then we have two ITT, (Individual Time Trial) attempts happening in August. Mike Johnson has been scheduled for quite a while for the 22nd and a new one came across my desk yesterday. Allen Brunner, a Trans Iowa V9 finisher, will be making his attempt on the 15th.

I've given it some thought, as far as extending the time limitations for attempting TIMP, but I think I'll not allow it. There just wasn't enough interest, and I feel that it should stick to the original plan of ending on August 31st. The TIMP was partly a celebration of Trans Iowa's past, partly a celebration of getting to my goal of doing Trans Iowa V10, so extending the date past the plan seems a bit "not right" to me. Not to say that something similar won't be offered down the road, but I haven't given that any thought now, and may never. We'll see.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend and I'll be back Monday at the latest from my escapades in Eastern Iowa. Keep the rubber side down and ride your bicycles.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Skeeters And Flowers

Just about succumbed to a Skeeter attack here!
Last chance for gas with the Borealis before it has to go back to Colorado, so off to Ingawanis Woods I went. It was a gloriously cool, drier day compared to Tuesday which was a typically beastly, humid, hot Summer day. I was really happy that Wednesday was much better.

When I reached the last road to the woods, I spied a 40 acre field of wild flowers and prairie grasses that I thought might make for a good image or two. Filed away in the back of my mind for later, I drove the last stretch to park and get ready for a quick lap on the carbon fiber 29+ rocket.

Surprisingly, I found that there were few mosquitoes in the air in the grassy lot where I traditionally park there. Not like the last time, when brown whizzing clouds of the blood sucking insects wouldn't leave me alone. This was a good sign, and I planned to take many images and enjoy myself on the loop. I rolled off on the bone dry, rock hard dirt and scooted around the first few corners.

I decided to stop and take an image of the rooty, broken rock infested climb near the counter-clockwise start, and I found out that this was a very bad idea. If anything, this was the worst the skeeters had been in years. Just awful! Okay then, pack it up quickly, remount, spin off, and forget about stopping.

Nothing but flowers and bees out here!
This made for a single stop running of the loop, which is pretty unusual for me, only because I usually feel the need to document a bike, component, or a beautiful scene with the camera when the mood hits me. I am not all about the "fastest time" or "training", for that matter, so I typically don't care about speeding through Ingawanis without enjoying the sights and sounds.

However; the beastly skeeters put a different spin on this ride and I found myself grooving on cutting corners as fast as I could, or in not using my brakes as much. It made for the fastest times in many sections that I have ever had. The mood and techniques were one thing, but the bike played right into that as well. Big, 29+ meats, set up tubeless, were the meal ticket to eating up single track at an alarming rate. Whomever said 29"ers could not zap around tight corners never rode such a rig as this, that much I do know. I was flying through the tight twisties faster than ever, and conditions were not primo for traction either.

29+, (really, they are 31"ers), are so good at gaining traction, that speed in areas you typically have to scrub off speed in, or be careful with pushing too hard for fear of breaking away, are non issues. I was even cruising right past the sandy patches in the apexes of corners like they were pure, tacky dirt. Braking traction was insane, when you needed to brake, and whoa-ing up the Echo was no problem at all. I'll be adding a 29+ or a B+ bike to the stable for sure based upon this experience with the Borealis.

And that flowery prairie? I decided to stroll on over on the Echo and visit for a while. It was a great, relaxing way to cap off a frenetic ride through Ingawanis Woods escaping the dreaded skeeter attacks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fatter Fat Attack

The 2015 Blackborow DS
Saddledrive is when all the new Salsa Cycles product gets released now for the following year. I knew of a few things going into that due to Twenty Nine Inches and was aware that Salsa Cycles was about to announce a "5 inch fat bike platform". For those unaccustomed to "bike speak" that translates to a bicycle with enormous tires measuring approximately 5 inches wide.

This intrigued me, but when I saw this pale green entry shown here, I was smitten, and now I am about to tell you why that is......

First off, I have noted that since I have had the Snow Dog that running into snow which I cannot float on has been a consistent problem. Even when I got the titanium By-Tor fat bike, this problem persisted. I had various upgrade scenarios in mind, but here's the thing: The Mukluk fat bikes were never meant to have that big, five inch wide tire on a 100mm rim stuffed between their chain stays. I could probably have fudged it, but drive train issues and clearances, and........Bah! So, I never got too serious about getting down to actually pulling the trigger.

So, now the news is out on Blackborow. This suits my Winter escapades to a "T". The widest rims and tires on a frame designed for that. So, what is it? A single speed? No.......it's a dinglespeed! 

If I end up with one- it may end up like this!
 A dinglespeed? Yep! Two chain rings, two rear cogs, (or as in this case, a single piece of metal fashioned into a double cog), and one chain which you can manually swap from one combo to the other. Ideally you get a "high" gear combo for faster, flatter terrain and a "low gear" combo for slugging it out on the hills and in the brush. If it is set up right the chain doesn't have to be re-tensioned or lengthened/shortened to accommodate swapping gearing combinations. The Blackborow is set up to do it without fuss. 

Now if I cannot deal with the dingle set up, I could always 1X the thing easily by getting a new, Right side Alternator plate suitable for the task. Then I could add a cassette, derailleur, and gears easily enough. Or I could tamper with the rear ratio a bit. Either way, the deal is that the wheels and tires are suited to my desires and the design is centered around those wheels and tires so it will all work well.

Salsa did some nice detailing on this one too. Stainless chain rings, chain ring bolts in stainless, a stainless dinglecog, and a KMC Rustbuster chain along with stainless steel hardware in the brakes. That's nice because I saw what commuting did to my drive train on the Snow Dog and the brake hardware looks horrid. Nice going Salsa! This would help solve my maintenance issues with fat bike commuting as well.

Sure, I could get a carbon fat bike this, or a suspended fat bike that, but this is the bike that would be practical in a "car replacement" sort of way and be my go-to rig for wicked snow conditions, which we seem to be plagued with often in Winter here. Not sure I can swing it, because, well.......these things cost money, and even though I feel it is a reasonable value, it won't be easy to scrape up the cabbage for this, and then....who knows when it would actually be available? If it works out it works out.

But there ya go- that's why I like the Blackborow!