Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gas or GU?

Does it cost more to commute to work by car, or by bike?

Seems like the answer would be rather obvious. Gas is expensive and cars are inefficient and heavy--while bikes are cheap, light, and efficient. Surely, then, riding a bike much be cheaper!

But fancy energy foods like GU and Powerbars aren't cheap. One packet of GU (100 calories) costs about $1.35 at REI. How many GU packets do I need to pedal my bike to work?

Time for a spreadsheet. According to my Garmin bike computer, I burn about 1700 calories on my 34-mile ride to and from work (I ride fast, since I'm training for the CTR). That translates into 17 GU packets, for a total cost of $22.95.Yikes!

OK, but what about driving. Between my Honda Element and Honda Fit, I get about 28 miles/gallon. Therefore, I burn about 1.2 gallons of gas getting to work and back. At today's gas prices, that's about $3.95.

So, it looks like riding is WAY more expensive than driving. Even adding in the cost of wear and tear on the car, maintenance, etc., I'd have a hard time stretching $3.95 anywhere close to $22.95.

But I don't eat GU packets for breakfast--or for lunch. How about if I power my bike commute with Cheerios and skim milk (the breakfast of Cat 6 champions)? That comes out to $3.62. Much better!

Lots of college students ride their bikes to work, and they're not exactly flush with money to buy GU. When I was in college, I ate a lot of Ramen noodles. My spreadsheet reports that commuting on Ramen only costs 76 cents. Yeah, WAY cheaper than driving! Maybe I should eat more Ramen.

Now that I've got my nifty spreadsheet, I'm going to plug in some more foods. Steaks, pinto beans, etc...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Plans for 2012

Here's what I've got planned for 2012:

Horsetooth Time Trial Series (April)
Yep, road racing. Since most of my rides and training already take place on roads and bike paths (I commute from Windsor to Fort Collins, about 34 miles round-trip), I figure that it will be fun to take my "Cat 6 racing experience" to the next level. Rather than endanger other riders by attempting to compete in a group race, I hope that entering a few time trials will safely assuage my competitive spirit. If nothing else, riding that hard is bound to be a good training! Thanks to Alan Shenkel, the husband of my wife's good friend Jamie, for the inspiration.

Kokopelli's Trail (May)
I really enjoyed riding Koko with a couple of buddies last year, so we're going to do it again. I originally planned on organizing an officially-sanctioned race for 2012, but instead I'm looking forward to just getting out there and riding the trail with a handful of friends. We are definitely not racing each other, rather just riding hard and hoping to make it the entire way in good style.

Colorado Trail Race (August)
Although I finished the CTR in 2010, last year's attempt didn't end so well. Still, I learned a lot, and I'm excited to get out there again. No time limits in 2012--just a good solid effort to finish quickly and safely. Now that I have more experience, I don't need to obsess over planning so much this time around, although I am looking forward to refining my gear and getting as much stuff into bike bags as possible. No more panniers, and hopefully not too much weight on my back.

I run a fair bit for cross-training. So I'm also thinking that it might be fun to run a marathon or something in 2012. But I don't have anything planned yet. If I manage to run a rnough through the winter, this is more likely to become a reality.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No Offical Kokopelli Trail Race

Several people have asked me why I've decided not to continue my efforts to establish a legal Kokopelli Trail Race. While I originally stated that I didn’t want to discuss this issue publicly, people keep asking--and it appears that there are some misconceptions out there that need to be cleared up.

In a nutshell, I have decided that I don’t want to be in a position where I have to enforce or argue racing rules. I concluded this after the 2011 Colorado Trail Race, when it became apparent that a small (but significantly vocal) minority of racers simply do not share my respect for land-use regulations or racing rules. By organized an official race, I would be exposed to the legal liability of these people’s behavior, not to mention their vitriol and attacks should I need to make a call not to their liking. Since I like riding substantially more than fighting over rules and ethics, I have chosen to focus on what I love--which is time pushing my pedals, not time spent arguing on web forums.

Resurrecting the KTR undoubtedly would have been fun and rewarding. But at this point, I’m a lot happier being just a guy on a bike. If someone else feels like breathing life back into the KTR, you have my blessing!

Happy trails,

Thursday, August 4, 2011


This year’s Colorado Trail Race attempt ended in failure.

Here’s the short version:

Just before hitting the Gold Hills section, my chain snapped on a short uphill section. I launched myself off the trail into a pile of logs, banging up both knees. By the time I got to the start of the Ten Mile Range climb, my knees were still killing me, and there was no way that I was going to be able to finish the race in the necessary seven days. So, I bailed in Frisco (thanks Alix & Max).

Here’s the long version:

This year’s CTR attempt was very different than last year’s successful race, even before I started packing up my gear. Perhaps most critically, I had to finish the race within seven days. Last year, I had no serious time constraints—I simply hoped to finish the race, and I really didn’t care how long it took or how I placed. And I rode accordingly, even taking six hours in Silverton to clean up my infected hands by taking a shower and washing & bleaching my clothes at a Laundromat.

This year, I had an important business meeting scheduled immediately after the race, necessitating a seven-day finish—and leaving no surplus time for dealing with setbacks. Along with the external pressure of needing to finish in in time for my meeting, I also faced some internal pressure to ride faster than last year. With a better bike, and stronger legs, I figured that upping the ante a bit by knocking off a day or so was a reasonable goal.

A bit of the mystique of the ride was also gone. Last year, I really didn’t know what to expect—and launching into the unknown was a huge part of the attraction. I even went so far as to state that, “I wouldn't be attempting this ride if I knew that I could do it”

So, last year was more the adventure than the competition. Yes, the CTR was a race for me in 2010, but I really approached it as a race against myself—not as a race against the clock or my fellow riders. My focus on was on the “adventure”—a wonderful word encompassing a whole myriad of meanings, and the “race” part of the CTR was simply some added incentive, not the ultimate objective.

But this year, I was there to race. With so much pressure on racing the clock, my head was in a very different space at the starting line. Unfortunately, I broke my chain within the first three miles. I was slow to fix the broken link and adjust my derailleur, only to realize after I got back on my bike that had another twisted link to fix as well. Unpacked the tools, replaced the link, repacked the tools. By this time, I had probably lost almost an hour. Staring down the barrel of a seven-day deadline, and already falling to the back of the pack, wasn’t a greatest way to start, especially when I was putting so much emphasis on racing.

The next section went reasonably well. I rode perhaps harder than I should have; my heart rate pegging the dreaded no-zone for longer periods than I knew was good. But I made up some time by the time I got to Bailey. And, despite the extra effort, I managed to eat and head over Kenosha Pass reasonably quickly.

At the base of Georgia Pass, it became apparent that I probably wasn’t going to make it over to the other side unless I rode until midnight or later. I was just about an hour short, and I didn’t want to sleep too high, especially on my first night. I also considered the descent on the other side of Georgia, and my memory of it was that it was rough—not something that I wanted to face at midnight after having ridden for 80+ miles on the first day. So I bivied early, planning on waking up at around 2:00 in the morning.

I slept horribly. Despite my best efforts to tune it out, the seven-day pressure kept intruding into every brief dream. Restless stewing ensued. Frustratingly, worrying about time actually cost me more time, as I ended up starting out at around 4:00—with very little sleep to show for it.

The climb up Georgia Pass went by easily, and I topped out at sunrise. The descent turned out to be far easier than I remembered—mostly fast and smooth, with a very short rocky section at the bottom that my new bike soaked up with ease.

Shortly before the Gold Hills section, my chain broke a second time. I was standing up on a short climb, and the chain popped under my full weight. Somehow I ended up launching off the downhill side of the trail into a pile of freshly-cut logs. I remember thinking, “tuck and roll!” And then thinking, “and how the hell is that going to help me survive flying into a log pile?!”

Yep, it hurt. But after sitting for a few moments, waiting for the knocks to dissipate enough to figure out what really hurt and what only sort of hurt, I was pleased to discover that nothing seemed broken or severely smashed. After hobbling back up to the trail, things seemed pretty good. Even my bike, aside from the broken chain, seemed OK.

After fixing my chain and getting back on my bike, my knees weren’t happy. Especially the right one. But I figured that I just needed to slow down for an hour or so to let them recover—although I wasn’t looking forward to Gold Hills climb. But much to my surprise, the Colorado Trail was closed due to the same tree-cutting operations (pine beetle remediation) which had provided my earlier landing zone. The reroute took me down a smooth gravel road, giving my knees a nice break.

Regaining the Colorado Trial at the base of the Ten Mile Range climb, I started having some real worries. My knees were feeling worse, not better. And the seven-day window seemed impossible if I couldn’t maintain a reasonable pace. Nevertheless, I started up anyway, hoping that my knees would loosen and feel better.

At the top of the first climb, my knees were still killing me. Every pedal stroke hurt, and walking wasn’t much better. I stopped for a couple of hours, called my wife, ate, and chilled in the sun. When I stood up, my knees were even stiffer and sorer, probably from the swelling. While I could tell that nothing serious was wrong with them, and that I could likely keep on riding, I wouldn’t be able to move quickly for a day or two. As such, there was no way that I was going to get over Ten Mile and Kokomo by bedtime—which meant that I wasn’t going to be able to finish in seven days.

Race over.

As a relative newbie, with only ultra-endurance rides under my belt (CTR 2010, Kokopelli’s Trail 2011), I have been lucky to succeed both times. But, as they saying goes, one learns more from failure than from success. So, rather than let this failure get me down, I’ve actually been enjoying thinking about what happened out there, and why. Here are the main points that I’ve come up with so far:
  1. Had I not been forced to complete the race in seven days, I expect that I would still be out there. Instead of quitting, I likely would have headed into Frisco for some ice, and taken the remainder of the day to reduce the swelling and get my head back in the game. But an eight-day finish simply wasn’t an option. I don't want to start another race with a time limit.
  2. Needing to complete the race in seven days wasn’t good for my head, even before I crashed. With so much energy diverted to hitting an arbitrary time target, I found myself missing out on many of the pleasurable parts of the race—the mountains, the people, the adventure, etc. In truth, a little extra time to enjoy the ride wouldn’t have slowed me down much, but the pressure of finishing in time was simply overwhelming. Every setback, no matter how small, seemed to put completion in jeopardy, making me increasingly negative. Not without reason, it turned out.
  3. Adventure trumps competition as a motivator, at least for me. Last year, I really didn’t care how I placed, as long as I survived and finished. I just wanted to push hard and enjoy the trip, which was wonderful and soul-enriching. In contrast, embracing the “race” this year made me to single-minded and obsessive. Not that competition is bad (it is the Colorado Trail RACE, after all), but I think it’s better as an incentive, not as the objective. I might feel differently if I were in a position to win the CTR, but that's not going to happen!
  4. Panniers on full-suspension bikes suck. Really. While panniers worked very well with my old hard-tail Cannondale last year, they caused the rear triangle of my full-suspension Cannondale to wag, shimmy, and jiggle like a bowl full of Jell-O. I kept wondering if something was going to break—which might have eventually happened if I had ridden for more days. If I’m going to ride a full-suspension bike, I need a new gear setup.
  5.  Full-suspension bikes are awesome on the CTR. I was able to ride faster and far more safely this year. Blazing down rough sections of the trail on my Cannondale RZ 120 was simply a blast! For that matter, climbing over roots and rocks was easier as well.
  6. Gear matters. Last year, I had one mechanical: I dropped my chain at the start (weirdly, at almost the same place that I broke it the first time this year). I'm still trying to figure out why my chain broke twice this year, but I sure would have had a better time if it hadn't.
  7. High-intensity training was great for power, but some longer training days are important too. I didn’t get many long days in this year, so I tried to compensate with more intervals and greater intensity. I suspect that this led to some minor digestive issues, as I had a harder time eating than I expected. I’ll definitely try to add more 2+ hour rides in the future. But I did have a lot of power compared to last year, so I’m not abandoning intervals anytime soon!
So, there it is. Toby 1, CTR 1. I don’t know if I’ll try again next year, since prepping for the CTR is such a time-consuming and absorbing effort. But a shot at redemption would be nice, not to mention the opportunity to apply some new lessons to the game.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

CTR Starts on August 1, 2011

The Colorado Trail Race starts on August 1, 2011, at 6:30 AM. If you want to learn more about the race, or to follow it in real time, here are some resources:

Trackleaders.com: This is the "official" tracking site that will show the locations of all riders. Almost every rider carries a Spot, which transmits his or her location to a satellite, which then sends it to Trackleaders. Please note that sometimes not every tracking message gets through, usually due to heavy tree coverage, failing to reset the Spot, etc.

MTBCast.com: From time to time, riders will be calling in to report their progress, etc. You can listen here. Cell phone coverage is pretty thin on the CTR, so riders only call in periodically.

Twitter: I'll be sending text messages to Twitter, and you can follow me. I've also set up Twitter to forward tweets to this blog (see block to the right), and to my Facebook page.

Colorado Trail Race website: The "official" CTR site. Probably not any live updates, but complete information about the race.

Colorado Trail Foundation: Information about the Colorado Trail. Not race-specific. Note that the CTR doesn't use the same wilderness bypasses that the Foundation recommends; we race a harder route.

Some links to related blog postings:
Colorado Trail Race profile and map
Why ride the CTR--again? (2011 pre-race musings)

Most of my blog is about the CTR, so take a look at older posts for more ruminations.

Why ride the CTR--again?

The Colorado Trail Race is about to start, just days from now, on August 1. Looking through my old blog entries before last year’s successful race have been interesting, especially the one where I asked “Why ride the CTR?” While most of the reasons from last year still very much apply, one of the answers that I gave, “I wouldn’t be attempting this ride if I knew that I could do it,” is now obsolete. I know that I can do it, because I’ve done it—so why do it again?

The honest truth is that I don’t know that I can do it again. The CTR is incredibly difficult, and many things might stop me cold. A broken bike. A broken body. A broken spirit. But perhaps the biggest new variable is speed. Last year, I really didn’t care how quickly I finished, as long as I put in an honest effort and actually made it to Durango. This year, I want to go faster. No, I’m still not going to be fast compared to the leaders, but I’m hoping to knock a day off of my previous time. And by stretching the wire a little thinner, I’m increasing the odds that I won’t finish. I’m feeding the demons to keep things interesting.

There are some new challenges too.

Last year, ignorance was bliss. Starting up a climb, I didn't know how steep it would become or how thin the air would be at the top--so I didn't worry about it. Setting a goal for the day by drawing a dot on the map was abstract and easy, but I had no idea what riding 80 miles to get there would feel like--so I didn't worry about it. Having no idea if I could actually haul my carcass to Durango, I simply figured that I'd better just keep rolling--and I didn't worry about it.

This year, I'm stronger, more experienced, and better equipped. But I also know just how horribly steep the hills are, how thin the air will get, and how long the days will be. I may not fear the unknown so much this time around, but I now know what to fear. Thus, I still feel like a newbie in so many ways, struggling with my doubts and anxieties. But I'm happy with that, as it means that I still have much to learn and new boundaries to explore.

Learning is good, and is the one item that I left out of last year’s blog entry. Being open to looking at problems in new ways is liberating. Figuring out how my mind works—when faced with binding sleet, sleep deprivation and loneliness—is enlightening. Learning to face the existential fear of defeat is humbling. The primal joy of pressing hard into the unknown nourishes my soul.

I am ready for the CTR, and whatever it may bring. Last year, my mind warped cairns into monsters; visions of lions and rabid rabbits blocked my path—and I howled with laughter into the void. What will greet me this year?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kokopelli Success!

Seventeen years ago, when my wife and I lived in Grand Junction, I never would have imagined that people would someday ride Kokopelli’s Trail in a single push. Fast forward to today, and people are regularly doing exactly that—with a few super-humans finishing the entire 140 miles and 15,000 vertical feet in less than thirteen hours.

Inspired by the fast guys, I decided to give Kokopelli’s Trail a go last weekend, May 21st. Based on my performance on the Colorado Trail in 2011 (where I rode about half the speed of the fastest guys), I figured that I could through-ride Koko in about 24 hours.

Andy Farish, who I met on the CTR last year, and Peter Scholz, another aspiring ultra rider from Fort Collins joined me for the start. Andy and Peter decided to carry minimal bivy gear to catch some sleep along the way, but I hoped to ride straight through so I only carried enough stuff to stay warm and dry.

After catching a shuttle with Coyote Shuttle (good guys, highly recommended!) from Loma to the Slickrock trailhead in Moab, we started riding at 11:15 AM. While most racers generally start at night, we figured that it would be nice to ride through the chilly La Sals in the daytime warmth, and then hit the lower desert at night to avoid the heat.

I climbed reasonably quickly up Sand Flats Road, while carefully watching my heart rate. With so much excitement that I was finally on the trail, it was hard to hold back—especially when so much of my training these days is focused on high-intensity intervals. But going fast for twenty miles wasn’t going to help me survive the next hundred, so every time my heart rate climbed into the red zone, I reluctantly throttled back a notch. The snowy-bright La Sals, rising out of the red desert into the blue sky, kept me smiling all way to the up.

The last little stretch before hitting the Mountain Loop Road was a bentonite nightmare. Although there had been a lot of rain leading up to the weekend, most of the trail had dried out reasonably well—except for this one short section. My bike quickly became encased in the most amazing sticky clay. It was like dirty peanut butter. Thanks to my Cannondale Lefty, my front wheel would roll even when encased in clay. But the back wheel just skidded uselessly along as I pushed, pulled, and carried my bike to the top. Fortunately, the mucky stretch wasn’t too long, and I found a nice big puddle where I spent a good twenty minutes cleaning up the mess. The remaining glop spun off my wheel in the screaming downhill.

The next big climb up Castleton Road was easier than I anticipated. Riding pavement can often be a bit boring on a mountain bike, but the view made the time go by quickly. Before I knew it, I was at my first water stop, Fischer Creek. I refilled my 100oz hydration bladder and two water bottles, and enjoyed a bit to eat while the Aqua Mira drops did their work.

The decent down to Fisher Valley was an absolute blast, which helped put me in a good mindset for the arduous climb back up to Sevemile Mesa. On some of the rough climbs, the amount of tire rubber that 4-wheelers have scraped off is astonishing. It must take those guys hours to move a hundred yards!

After putting on my headlamp and trading out the lenses in my sunglasses, I enjoyed the last bit of daylight as I zipped from Cottonwood Canyon to Dewey. The GPS track that I was following headed out across the void that used to be the Dewey Bridge, but I regained the path after crossing the river on the new highway bridge. Maybe someday there will be money to rebuild the old Dewey suspension bridge; I hope so.

One of the reasons that most people who race Kokopelli’s choose to start at night became readily apparent: for maximum speed, it makes a lot more sense to ride the smooth slow climbs and roads at night, and then to get some daylight for the jeep roads that come later. With only my not-so-bright lights, it was hard to find the clean and fast lines that would have been very obvious during the day. Having more nighttime riding experience would have obviously helped too.

As the disorientation of darkness, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation settled in, and I tried to turn on my autopilot and focus on simply riding. But it was a struggle to keep going. Robbed of the visual beauty of the desert, I felt like I was wobbling around in ever-tightening spirals in my little pool of light, dirt, and churning legs. At one point, I turned off my lights and looked toward the stars—which were as thick and bright as I remember them as a child. Time became so distorted that I sometimes thought that 20 minutes must have passed, but when I looked at my GPS I had only traveled a tenth of a mile.

Later, as I stopped to unwrap a Powerbar, I noticed a pair of electric blue spots looking back at me. My first thought was that they came from a small mammal, perhaps a mouse, as their eyes often return flashes of light from a headlamp. But as I crept up, I discovered that it was a spider, its eyes like little blue LEDs. For the rest of the night, I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them along the trail--sometimes popping out of the darkness like little sparks, sometimes glaring at me as I skipped toward them through the gravel and dust. How can such little eyes reflect so much light?

Between the spiders and the stars, I finally found the beauty and mystery necessary to lift me out of my funk. My nose picked up the unfamiliar scents of the desert, some bright and fresh like the odor of unseen springs, and some sulfurous and fierce like scorched minerals.

At about 3:00 in the morning, I found myself at the junction to the Westwater Ranger Station, my second and final water stop. I had read that there was a spigot there, which would save me the trouble of dealing with silty water from the Colorado River. Although it was a perfectly legitimate and legal source of water, I felt like a thief skulking through the sleeping compound in search of a forbidden elixir.

Most of what remains of the night is crumbling memories of fighting sleep. Rubbing salt crystals from my cheeks. Watching the little black line on my GPS. The constant mental reminders to eat and drink. The cries of rebellion from my stomach. The inability to divide 142 miles by anything, in vain attempts to calculate my time and distance. Little blue eyes. A yellow moon rising late and illuminating little.

At dawn, I found myself riding down toward Rabbit Valley. At the awkward hour when the sun isn’t yet bright enough to fully illuminate the trail, but my headlamp seems too dim, I had my one and only crash. I simply didn’t see the rut; but fortunately I was riding slowly and cautiously, so I only skinned my elbow. My calf briefly cramped, but it passed quickly with a little stretching.

When the sky brightened with the colors of the sunrise, I stopped in utter confusion, as the sun seemed to be rising in the west. Slowly and awkwardly, I unwound the twists of the night, forcing my mind to accept that the sun was in the right place, and it was my internal geometry that needed correction. Finally able to see clearly, and with blue skies above, I accelerated through Rabbit Valley to the singletrack above Salt Creek.

My apologies to those who actually like Troy Built, but I personally think that it’s one of the more horribly-designed and pathetically-maintained trails in Colorado. Fortunately, Kurt R. had advised me to bring some extra gels just for the last twenty miles, and I had saved some chocolate GU packets. Yum, pure energy that my stomach didn’t have time to question before it was already in the tank. Thanking Kurt, and cursing Troy, I skittered, walked, and wobbled my way to Lion’s Loop.

A rush of familiarity hit me as I turned one corner on the trail. I hadn’t ridden Lion’s Loop since I lived in Grand Junction, perhaps fifteen years ago, but it was one of my favorite trails back then. Even after so many years, I rode through technical sections on muscle memory alone, like magic.

As Lion’s Loop merged with Mary’s Loop, I realized that I was close to my goal of riding Kokopelli’s Trail in 24 hours. A little too close—I needed to pick it up if I was going to make it under the wire. No longer needing to reserve the little strength that remained in my legs, I found myself standing up on the last remaining climbs, and railing down on the descents, a stupid grin on my face.

And then, I was done. Standing next to my car in the parking lot at 11:11, surrounded by hoards of day riders primping to the beats of their car stereos, I felt like a dirty and desiccated alien with my awkward headlamp and salt-stained jersey. Dazed in my elation, I tried to organize my thoughts enough to find my car keys.

Andy showed up out of nowhere as I was digging through my pack. Although he had unfortunately bailed out and hitchhiked back to the trailhead, his big smile and booming voice revealed none of his own disappointment--just unabashed excitement that I had managed to finish. Damn, that’s a true friend. Thanks Andy!

Later that evening, Andy and I drove out to pick up Peter from Rabbit Valley, just as the skies released enough rain to hydroplane Andy’s truck down I-70. Back together again, the three of us spent the evening sharing memories of fun and crazy moment with each other over beer, brats, vodka and tequila--with a great old friend in Grand Junction (thanks Kirk!). For Peter, it had been two days of so many “firsts,” that it was hard to keep count—his first bivy, his first time riding at night, his first long ride... Although he didn’t make all the way to Loma, it was clear that he was a winner—and primed for the next adventure.

As I finished writing this, I got an e-mail from Andy. He thinks that he might like to try again in October. Peter, are you in?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kokopelli's Trail in 24 Hours?

This coming Saturday, I'll be embarking on a new adventure. I'm setting out to ride the entire length of Kokopelli's Trail from Moab to Loma. About 140 miles and 16,000 feet of climbing, hopefully in less than 24 hours.

I've never done anything like this before. The closest that I've come is the Colorado Trail Race (CTR) last year, which was a multi-day bikepacking race. While I put in some long days on the CTR, I've never even come close to riding a mountain bike for the 140-mile distance of Kokopelli's Trail in a single push. Dozens of other riders have completed it successfully, so I know that it's possible. One guy, Dave Harris, set a record of 12:41 hours a few years ago (but I'm not sure that Dave is human). I'm pretty damn human, so I don't know if it's possible for me--which is a big part of the excitement.

Joining me will be Andy and Peter, a couple of solid riders and all-around good guys. While Andy and I finished the CTR last year, this will be Peter's first long-distance mountain bike adventure. Andy and Pete are bringing sleeping gear, while I am hoping to ride through the night without stopping.

Setting out for a new adventure is a great feeling. There's only one first time, and I'm looking forward to giving it my best effort!

I'll have my Spot tracker with me, so you can see how I'm doing. The page will give an error until I actually turn on the Spot and start riding, so keep checking on Saturday.

Click the map to see a larger version, and then use the magnifier to make it even larger:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Colorado Trail Race Navigation

2012 update: I just posted my 2012 CTR track and waypoints file here.

A few people have asked me about maps, waypoints, and GPS tracks. Here's what I did last year. It worked well, so I'm doing it again this year.

  1. I loaded all of the waypoints from Bear Creek Survey (BCS) into Topo! (National Geographic’s mapping software). I also loaded Stefan’s track.
  2. In Topo!, I deleted BCS waypoints that were irrelevant due to detours, etc. I also added some of my own.
  3. Then I converted the Topo! file into something that Mapsource (Garmin’s mapping software) understands, using GPSBabel.
  4. I then used Mapsource to load the tracks and waypoints into my Vista HCx GPS unit.

The net result is that I have an awesome track to follow on my GPS, and all of the waypoints match the Colorado Trail Foundation's Databook. I printed maps out of Topo! at several different levels, so I can also verify waypoints on the maps. I also printed the wilderness bypass instructions directly on the maps.

As an aside, you can probably do the same thing using TopoFusion, but I owned Topo! for about ten years before TopoFusion came out. Maybe someday I’ll buy TopoFusion—it looks like a great program and will obviously save some steps because it seems to have superior GPS connectivity. There’s no doubt that I would have bought TopoFusion, and not Topo!, had it been available!

I rode 95% of the trail using just my GPS and a printed profile. But I figured that the maps might be very helpful if my GPS failed. I did use the maps on the Cataract section, just to find out where I was, and when I was going to get to Silverton (it was night, and raining hard)! I also thought the maps might come in useful if I needed to bail to the nearest highway or hospital, but fortunately I didn't need too.

Here's an example of a printed map (highest detail level). Click to view it larger, and then zoom to see more detail.

Here's another detail level:These maps fit nicely into a handlebar map case, and I threw them out along the way to reduce the weight!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Colorado Trail Race Profile

A couple of people have asked where I camped on the CTR in 2010. Click on the image below to see the complete CTR profile--my camping spots are marked on the bottom in white numbers. After you click, you may need to zoom on the photo a bit to see the details.

Also, here's an overview map. Again, click and zoom!

OK, I confess: I camped at Super 8 in Leadville!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


OK, I'm off the fence: I have begun the process of establishing an official Kokopelli Trail race. In deference to those people who still want to hold outlaw races, I'm not going to reuse the "Kokopelli Trail Race" name, so this race will be called something different. For now, I'm thinking that LokoKoko is amusing and seems to fit the bill nicely. Maybe Lokopelli?

But regardless of the name, here's the scoop:
  1. The race will adhere, as much as possible, to a non-commercial ethos. I'm not in this to make money, or to make money for anyone else. Any potential entry fees will simply cover necessary costs like insurance, etc.
  2. This race will be about having fun. Therefore, I will work with the BLM to guarantee that the race is fully legal, 'cause getting ticketed isn't fun.
  3. COPMOBA and the BLM deserve huge kudos for establishing the Kokopelli Trail, so this race will honor them in some fashion (TBD).
  4. The first race will occur in 2012.
  5. I will establish a site that provides more details in the next few months.
  6. I welcome input and suggestions, especially the positive and creative variety!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kokopelli Trail Race?

A few years ago, I came across a thread about the Kokopelli Trail Race (KTR), a 148-mile self-supported mountain bike race along the entire length of the Kokopelli Trail. Unfortunately, I discovered that it had been shut down by the BLM because the racers didn’t get approval and a permit. This was obviously very contentious, in large part because the race wasn’t a conventionally-organized race with sponsors, entry fees, etc. It was really nothing more than a group (ok, a group of 50 or so) of riders who just put a date on the calendar and headed out for a competitive ride. Apparently the BLM was unable or unwilling to distinguish between a commercial event and a small informal “disorganized” race, and at least one ticket was handed out. Since then, the “race” has taken place in one form or another, often by solo riders reporting ITT times. There have been some small groups out there as well, but only those in the know have been able to participate.

In October of 2009, I contacted the BLM about a running a legal KTR. Turns out that the requirements were relatively limited and seemingly easy to address. In a nutshell, the BLM needed a little paperwork (which requires several months of lead time), an insurance policy (surprisingly cheap), and a relatively minor detour around a few miles of trail outside of Fruita (mostly to facilitate parking at a more "hardened" area). I estimated that everything could be covered by about $30/rider, although I have forgotten the exact amount. The BLM guy that I spoke to seemed sincerely excited and supportive of the idea, and offered to personally help expedite paperwork, etc.

I didn’t proceed beyond the initial inquiry though, for a number of reasons. One was that many Kokopelli Trail Race veterans didn’t want to draw attention to the event, out of reasonable fear that the BLM would hide in the bushes and hand out tickets again. The other was it seemed stupid to essentially commercialize the KTR just to fulfill the BLM’s expectations of what constituted an allowable race—after all, one of the joys of the current ultra-racing ethos is the utter lack of glitz, glamor, money, and corporate meddling. Lastly, I caught a lot flack on bikepacking.net for opening what turned out to be a volatile can of worms.

In hindsight, I think that a lot of the vitriol expressed on bikepacking.net is fairly reflective of the tensions that exist between land-use agencies and land users in general. Every member of the public feels that their use of public lands should be allowed because they are the "public." Miners, ranchers, hunters, hikers, birders, ATVers, mountain bikers, river runners, etc. all want to do their thing without any regulations or unwelcome intrusions from other users, and they get pretty bent when they are told that they can't. On the other side, those who manage public lands are under continual attack from pretty much every side, and it gets especially heated when one type of land use interferes with another. They end up circling the wagons and hiding behind their desks, which I think is pretty understandable (if annoying) considering the circumstances. In practical terms, this means that they generally fall back on the legal regulations that have been hammered out after years of turmoil. In the case of the KTR (in its current low-profile, DIY style), the event simply doesn't fit the regulations very well--so the BLM didn’t know what to do with it, therefore they stick it into the best-fitting basket that seems relevant. In this case, that means treating it like a commercial race, which is an imperfect fit. Then, of course, people get angry because they feel (not without just cause) that the rules are clumsy, stupid, and capricious--and everyone gets testy until the cows come home.

Despite the acrimony, my interest in the KTR hasn’t waned. This year, I’m planning on through-riding the route in one shot with a couple of friends. We’re definitely not racing, rather just seeing what it’s like to ride for 148 miles without stopping. Although two of us completed the Colorado Trail Race last year, all of us are still pretty much newbies who are just looking for a demanding adventure.

If I successfully complete the ride, I suspect that the desire to race it will be just that much stronger. So, the question is, should I attempt to work with the BLM to start a “legitimate” KTR in 2012? Would I just face a huge time-suck and a mountain of grief? Or would it be possible to hold an event that retains the DIY spirit of ultra-racing, while enabling a bunch of riders to enjoyably race the KTR without being chased through the desert at midnight by BLM staffers?

I really don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but that’s why I’m posting it on my blog. I’m eager to hear what people have to say—although I would sincerely appreciate it if people tried to maintain a civil tone.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Colorado Trail Guidebook and Waypoints Updated!

Last year, I purchased the excellent Colorado Trail waypoints from Bear Creek Survey. In addition to uploading the file to my GPS, I also added them to my printed maps. Combined with Stefan's excellent track files, it was pretty cool to have so much information available at the touch of a button (and the turn of a page).

In light of the new Colorado Trail Guidebook (and presumably Data Book) coming out in a bit, I checked with Bear Creek to see if the waypoint file is also changing--and indeed it is. New files should be available to purchase in a "couple of weeks."

Information on the updated Colorado Trail Guidebook:

Bear Creek Survey:

While on the subject of spending money: If you are planning on riding the CTR this summer, please make a donation to the Colorado Trail Foundation. The trail is an amazing resource, and the Foundation could really use some extra cash to buy new tools, chainsaw oil, etc. Compared the the money that we spend on bikes, gear, food, etc., donating $50-100 to maintain the trail is a bargain!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Panniers for 2011?

EDIT, August 4, 2011: Panniers with a full-suspension bike SUCK! While they worked well my old solid hard-tail, they made the rear triangle of my new full-suspension Cannondale RZ 120 wag, wiggle, and sway like a bowl full of Jell-o. Time to move to a rackless setup!

With the Colorado Trail Race still seven months away, it seems sort of silly to be organized my gear already. But long, cold, dark nights lend themselves to contemplation. Further, I can save a fair bit of money by watching for sales over the course of the next few months, rather than buying stuff at the last moment.

Having completed the CTR last year, I have a better idea of what worked and what didn’t, so this year I’m mostly fine-tuning my choices rather than starting from scratch. Last year’s gear certainly worked well enough, but I’m aiming to cut a little weight for 2011, in hopes of riding a little faster.

The biggest conundrum I’m facing is whether to ride with panniers again, or to move to "modern" racing bags. Of the forty riders who showed up last year, I was the only guy with "retro" rear panniers—which made me feel just a little conspicuous! It didn’t help that several people that I met along the way wondered if I was "one of those racers, or just out for a tour."

The truth is that I liked my panniers. They were incredibly convenient. But I’m worried that I’m missing something that the other 39 riders know about. So, to help me figure out what to do, I’ve been writing up the pros and cons of panniers versus new-style gear:

Pannier advantages:
  1. No heavy pack. Without panniers, it’s not possible to put everything on the bike (especially on my Cannondale RZ 120, which doesn’t have much room for a frame bag). Even with huge seat bags and handlebar bags, most racers seem to carry fairly heavy/bulky packs. This is the biggest reason that I’m considering using panniers--I really don’t want to ride with a top-heavy, arm-cramping, back-destroying, and butt abusing pack! A simple and light hydration pack is OK, and it even helps provide some protection in the event of a hard crash.
  2. “Fluffy” food is easier to carry. While re-supplying in Buena Vista, I discovered a box of Poppycock at City Market. It fit right into my roomy panniers, along with a roll of bagels. Yum.
  3. Lower center of gravity. Panniers make it possible to carry heavy stuff nice and low, thereby improving bike handling.
  4. Easier organization (especially with a rack bag). Rather than have to cram everything into super-compressed frame bags, panniers make it easy to organize and access food, clothing, etc. A dry bag on top of the rack also makes a convenient pantry, shrinking and growing as vittles are consumer and replenished.
  5. Pannier dry bags are DRY! Last year, I used Pacific Outdoor Equipment dry-bag panniers. With just a roll and a clip, everything stayed nice and dry. No covers required. Very nice! Yes, some seat bags have dry-bag inserts, but then they start getting heavier.
Pannier disadvantages:
  1. Weight. Yes, panniers (and a rack to hang them on) are heavy. About three additional pounds (edit: with lighter panniers, the difference is closer to two pounds), in total--which seems like a lot when otherwise counting every gram. How much extra energy is required to move three (two) pounds over 500 miles of trail—not to mention 60,000 vertical feet? Is it worth it to avoid carrying a large pack?
  2. Wide load. When slipping between tight boulders and trees, I couldn’t help feel a little thick in the rear. Not a horrible problem on the CTR, but occasionally distracting.
  3. Unbalanced. While it didn’t bother me as much as I expected, panniers make for a heavy-ended bike. Spreading the weight around would be nice. On the flip side, panniers have a lower center of gravity, which is nice. Maybe smaller panniers combined with a smallish handlebar bag would provide the best of both worlds?
  4. Overkill capacity. With large panniers, the temptation to carry enormous quantities of gear may be an issue. But all it takes is a little willpower to avoid carrying the kitchen sink. My gear ended up weighing about the same as most racers’, maybe a bit less than average.
  5. Wind resistance. My commuter bike has panniers, and on windy days I feel like I’m dragging a parachute. Not bad for training, but not great for getting to work on time. Wind drag isn’t much of a problem on the CTR though.
  6. Hitting legs while walking. This did drive me a little crazy on a few of the longer hike-a-bike sections, although I did get used to it. The bags that I used in 2010 were pretty thick (9+ inches). Thinner panniers would be nice, and Ortlieb makes a nice pair of 5.5”-wide dry-bag panniers...
  7. Rack durability. I haven’t broken a rack, but many people have. OMM racks seem pretty tough.
  8. Panniers look dorky. Bright green love handles? Ah, who cares!
At this point, I’m leaning toward panniers and a handlebar bag for 2011. Perhaps a pair of smaller Ortlieb Front Roller Pluses mounted to an OMM rack, and an Ortlieb dry bag strapped to the bars? Probably time to start sorting, measuring, and weighing everything to see how many cubic inches I actually need. Only six more months to mull this over!

There are a couple of good threads over at bikepacking.net about panniers and carrying gear. Note that when people post photos of their setups, they often omit the pack!