Wednesday, November 17, 2010
In preparation for the Colorado Trail Race in 2010, I spent months tweaking my gear list. I didn't want to carry a lot of extra stuff, but I also didn't want to end up leaving behind something important. While I've had a decent amount of experience with selecting gear for backpacking and mountaineering, the requirements for ultra-light bikepacking are somewhat different.
There are a number of great resources on the web that helped immensely. Some generous riders have posted their gear lists, which provided an excellent starting point. There are also some superb ultra-light backpacking sites that have good ideas for saving weight, many of which are applicable to bikepacking. Probably the best site on the web is www.bikepacking.net.
My final list ended up being pretty extensive, and therefore a little heavy. But I decided that I'd rather risk carrying too much than too little, especially in light of my relative inexperience.
Probably the most "contrary" equipment choice that I made was to ride with panniers. Very few racers use panniers anymore, instead choosing to use seat bags, frame bags, handlebar slings, and lightweight backpacks. But I didn't want to carry much more than water on my back, and most racers seem to carry pretty large packs because it's difficult to fit everything on a bike. On the plus side, panniers are incredibly flexible and easy to load/unload. On the downside, they tended to whack my legs when walking--and they weigh a couple of extra pounds. I was worried that they would stick out and hit trees, etc., but that was never a problem. Some people also warned me that panniers would unbalance my bike, but I honestly didn't notice them much. See this post for more thoughts on panniers.
For my next CTR attempt in 2011, I'll be re-thinking my entire kit, including whether to use panniers again. I now have a much better idea of what gear I really didn't need, so I'll easily drop a few pounds. With luck, next year will be drier, and I won't feel compelled to add a bunch of extra warm clothing at the last moment like I did for 2010!
Here's my CTR 2010 gear list. While overkill, I did manage to finish the race--and I never worried about being cold or being unprepared. I'll post my 2011 list when I get it sorted out.
fingerless bike gloves
bike shorts (2 pairs)
short-sleeve bike jersey (2)
heavy-weight long-sleeve bike jersey
mid-weight fleece pullover
rain jacket & hood
wool socks (two pairs)
extra contact lenses
small bottle of alcohol
toothbrush & toothpaste
GPS (Vista HCx)
batteries for all gadgets (GPS, headlamp, HRM, camera)
Velcro headlamp straps
cell phone & batteries
cell phone box
hear-rate monitor strap
bike lights (front and back)
small leatherman tool
TP & shovel
big Ziploc bags
small Ziploc bags
Aquamira water purification drops
7,000 to 5,000 calories/day
random extra bolts
3 extra chain links & quick links
derailleur hanger (2)
brake pads (6 sets)
spare tube (2)
tube patch kit
cleats & bolts
extra pannier clip
spare derailleur cable
needle and thread
Thermarest patch kit
If anyone has any specific questions about brands, models, etc., please feel to post questions in the comments section.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Going into the CTR (see this post), I gave myself 50% odds of completing it successfully, which is about the historic percentage of riders who have succeeded. There are many things that can lead to unqualified failure, such as a bike-destroying crash or broken bones. But many people have quit the CTR in past years for less obvious reasons. In the months leading up to the race, I put a lot of thought into my reasons for attempting it, in hopes that such clarity would help motivate me when faced with the seemingly inevitable desire to bail that so many riders seem to experience.
In the end, I didn’t quit. But I did think about it a number of times, and in different ways. Some were fairly obvious, while others walloped me out of left field. Being the analytical geek that I am, I decided to write down the experiences, including what happened and how I overcame them. As I learn more about racing, I’m sure that I’ll be learning more about the psychology of quitting, but here are my initial thoughts.
Expected reason for quitting #1: This race is too hard for me
Before the race, I was concerned that I would I discover somewhere along the ride that I wasn’t strong enough to make it to Durango. I imagined that such a realization would hit me on one of the grueling climbs, when I was most exhausted. There I’d be: Nothing but a weeping lactic-acid stain on the trail discovered by some amused hiker.
Oddly, this never happened. The day that I climbed over the Ten Mile range was, as I wrote in my log, “soul crushing.” Yet I never considered bailing then—or during any of the other hard spots. The physical struggles always seemed to give me purpose, and to enhance my motivation. Several times, it helped to recall my wife's parting words: "You're a bad-ass, and you can do this." Bad-ass or not, it helped to have someone else believing in me!
I also need to give credit to David Goldberg, an accomplished ultra-distance athlete, for helping me avoid this one. A couple of days before the race, Dave told me, with the greatest intensity and seriousness, to eat all the time. I did, and I never bonked once. I also wore a heart-rate monitor, and kept my heart rate at a manageable level throughout the race.
Expected reason for quitting #2: I’m not having any fun
I’ve read about this one in many ultra-racing blogs. Often relatively early in long races, some people just quit, seemingly without any significant reasons. They often stated that they weren't having any fun, and that the whole endeavor seemed rather pointless and stupid.
This one was the most insidious of all, largely because it’s very logical and rational. It first hit me as I was riding though the Coney/Cataract section, which is a stunningly beautiful part of Colorado. The massively ragged San Juan peaks are surrounded by delicate tundra and crisscrossed by burbling mountain streams. The sun was out, and I was warm and toasty—and I started thinking about how much fun it would be to share such a special place with my wife and son. Rushing through such beauty, often alone and sometimes in the dark, for so many days on end, suddenly seeming idiotic and selfish. Wouldn’t it be more fun to take the time to smell the proverbial roses and share the experience with those who I most love? It’s a fair question, and it led me down a dangerous path: If this isn’t fun anymore, and I’m supposed to be having fun, then maybe I should quit and go backpacking with my family.
I fought this one off by reminding myself that the CTR was mostly fun—but that over the course of a week, there will undoubtedly be times when something else would be more fun. Rather than dwell on the moment, it became important to look at the complete experience and to acknowledge that my family would still be there when I finished the CTR, and that we could enjoy the mountains together when I returned. Indeed, the struggle through Cataract motivated me to take an early-fall trip to Canyonlands National Park with my family.
Expected reason for quitting #3: My body is falling apart
There’s no doubt that the CTR took a toll on my body. By day six, little cuts on my hands and feet started getting infected. My left heel was starting to really hurt on hike-a-bike sections. My throat and tongue were so raw that it hurt to swallow and eat. Especially on descents, my neck and back cramped and burned. And my butt—well, my butt hurt in so many ways that I don’t want to talk about it! It was pretty clear that my body couldn’t go on forever.
I didn’t overcome this one lightly. Instead, I sat down and took stock of all my physical issues. I figured that nothing was presenting an immediate threat to my health or ability to keep moving, but that the infections might develop into something more serious if I didn’t sort them out soon. So I took some extra time in Silverton to grab a hot & soapy shower—and then to rip open every infection, scrub it out with soap and alcohol, and then pack it with antibiotic ointment. I also stopped in a Laundromat and washed my clothes with bleach. Fortunately, this seemed to work. In short, I had to remind myself that unless I was in danger of death of permanent injury, there was no reason to stop. Taking time every day to evaluate and/or treat emerging ailments helped me determine what needed attention, and what could be safely ignored.
Unexpected reason for quitting #1: What if I quit?
This one seemed to rear its little head more often than I ever imagined. It was never terribly serious, but it was incredibly irritating. Every hour or so, regardless of whether I was flying down some fantastic singletrack or slogging through mud in the rain, a little voice would ask, “What if I quit?” The answer was usually, “What the hell for? Everything is fine. Go away.” And it would go away—until it popped back up again just down the trail, for absolutely no reason.
I’m still not sure how to completely resolve this one. It’s like playing whack-a-mole: I just kept whacking away and focusing on something else.
Unexpected Reason for Quitting #2: Laziness
On about day three, I found myself lying in a warm aspen grove, eating a bagel with Nutella, and thinking that I didn’t want to get back on my bike. Nothing hurt and I wasn’t having an existential crisis. I wasn’t even really thinking or feeling much. I was simply zoned out and extremely comfortable and unmotivated. While it’s kind of amusing to imagine being overwhelmed with pure laziness in the middle of a bike race, that’s what happened.
Fortunately, my inertia was overcome when another rider caught up to me. We chatted for a bit, and with his encouragement I begrudgingly got back on my bike—and wobbled along for a good hour before the fog lifted and my motivation returned. (Thanks Andy Farish!) I was hit by similar episodes of laziness several times in the race, and they always evaporated once I started rolling again. The trick was to not worry about it or get worked up, just to start moving before I started to sprout roots.
I expect that next year’s race(s) will reveal more on this topic, as different races and different objectives will reveal different pressures. But at least I can add some “unexpected” reasons for wanting to quit to the “expected” column—and thereby have better plans for dealing with them. Hopefully I'll never quit a race for a reason that I later regret!