Quite a bit of snow fell last night. I witnessed this blizzard as I looked out the window occasionally from around 2 am to 4 am. I was doing some system maintenance for my job while eating a really late night dinner. I had the next day off, which made it worth it. Mostly.
Today, about 4 pm, I headed out for a nearby trail to see how my fat bike handled. Or, rather, if I could handle the trail. I headed out on E. Cedar St. trail, alternating my riding between thick snow and some vehicle tire tracks. It was pretty nice until the snow got a bit deeper, the grade got a bit steeper, and the vehicle tracks ended. Then I started just spinning out a lot. I’m going to give it another shot in a few days after dropping my tire pressure a bit and I’ll see if that makes a difference on the steep-and-deep stuff.
I’m writing about an event that happened like a year and a half ago (May 3, 2014 to be exact). Because I’m that lazy about updating my blog sometimes. Dan and Jeff, feel free to correct me about some of these statements since your memory might be better than mine. :-)
So, Spring had sprung, and my cycling buddies and I began planning for some cycle camping. We wanted to do something a little more adventurous than our past cycle camps, and we identified Chesterfield, Idaho as fairly close enough to Pocatello to be our next logical step in our ascendance to becoming Real Cycle Campers[tm]. Chesterfield features a large reservoir popular with local fishing enthusiasts, and it also has bathrooms which is nice. But no nearby running water that we knew of.
For this adventure, we would need some extra things that we don’t normally bring: dehydrated meals, camp stoves for boiling water, extra tools and repair supplies, mosquito / tick repellent, bear spray, a small bottle of vodka (can’t haul beer that far, you know), and a pump-style water filter supplied by Dan.
I overheated. :-/
The route we planned on taking would require mountain bikes since half of it would be on trails. We cycled to Inkom, and then took Inman Road, cycled over Inman Pass, and then down the long, long trail to Chesterfield Reservoir. By the time I got to the top of Inman Pass, I was hot, exhausted, and laid down in a large patch of snow I found at the top, which felt spectacularly good. On the other side of the mountain range, we had to cross a few large patches of ice and snow, but the trails were very ride-able for the most part. The ride between the pass and the reservoir is only 15 miles, but seemed endless to me.
After about 5 or 6 hours total riding time, we finally arrived, sat down for a bit, relaxed, and tried calling / texting family and friends to let them know we made it. I remember my companions wondering who’s bike + equipment was the heaviest. I won that contest. I later weighed it and found that it came out to around 65 lbs, hehe. Yeah, I need to swap a few things out for lighter alternatives.
We found a nice, grassy spot to set up camp, and we began pitching tents and looking for a good place to find water to filter. We found a nearby stream that flowed into the reservoir and took turns filtering that into Platypus water bags. This work pretty well after we got the hang of it. I drank most of the vodka, which improved my mood a lot (I was feeling tired and crabby). We fired up Dan’s little propane stove, boiled water and added it to our dehydrated dinners which taste absolutely fantastic when you’re starving after a long ride.
*Queue spooky music*
We decided to take a walk around that evening to explore a little. We found a old, spooky, abandoned house that appeared to have built by settlers over a hundred years ago, at least. According to Wikipedia, Chesterfield, Idaho is a ghost town founded in 1881. Nice.
In the morning, we felt pretty rested, and dreaded the long ascent back up Inman Pass with our sore legs and knees. But the journey back was pretty nice and enjoyable, especially since the east side of the range is a lot more gradual than the steep west side. And, of course, the descent down the other side was a lot of fun. We visited a friend of Jeff’s on the way back through Inkom, and then made our way back to Pocatello. It was a very successful cycle camp, I think. Except I think I will invest in a gravity-style water filter for our next no-running-water camp site. Pumping Dan’s water filter was rather time consuming. But we would have died without it, though. So thanks, Dan. ;-)
After Pocatello enters the 3 month hotter-than-hell season, it is important to get started on your bike ride as early in the day as possible. However, sometimes this just doesn’t happen either because of scheduling conflicts, or you’re just lazy and want to sleep in on Sunday. It was a bit of both for me on Sunday, June 28 which had a high temperature of 101 F.
No worries! Just load up with 3 to 4 liters of water (some to drink, some to squirt on yourself) and head out at noon! Yeehaw! That’s what I did. I took my time, took breaks, drank a lot of water, and had fun. My objective was to cycle around on the trail that starts on the corner of American Road and Buckskin Road, and do a little exploring. It kind of reminded me of one of those Australian outback nature shows, where you can see waves of heat in the distance and lizards scurrying.
Pocatello is in a semi-arid desert region
So, yeah, got a fairly good 1 hour workout. Said hi to a trail runner who exclaimed that he was surprised to see anyone out besides himself in the intense heat. I offered him some water, but he said he was fine.
One interesting thing I re-discovered was the basic rule of not touching your front brake when you happen to be downhilling on loose terrain. The above mentioned trail has sections of powdery dirt that has been beaten into the consistency of sand or snow, and “feels” quite similar in traction terms. While coming downhill, I was using mostly rear brake and a bit of front brake, and as soon as my front tire hit the deep, loose soil it performed the cha-cha. Yeah, rear brake only on the sketchy sections. Just leave your front brake alone. :-)
So, in case you haven’t heard, a few days ago I purchased a new Gravity Bullseye Monster (yeesh, that name is heinous) from Bikesdirect.com, which makes my sixth purchase from that company. They just keep sucking me back in with their great deals and fairly high quality products. I can’t complain.
As you’ve seen from a previous article of mine, my friend Jeff allowed me to test out his fat bike in the winter, and I was extremely impressed with their sure-footed-ness. Four inches of tire compared to the regular 2 inches you find on most mountain bikes makes quite a bit of traction difference. So, I had to have one to add to my fleet of bicycles.
Today, I woke up, had some breakfast, and set out for Nasty Hill to see what I could do with my new fat bike. Cycling out felt very nice, very mountain-bike like, except more so (interpret that however you will). ;-) And then came Nasty Hill. I tried, I spun on on the loose rocks, I failed. I hiked-a-bike to the top and decided to try decreasing my tire pressure. The Vee Rubber tires that come with this bike are marked as 8 – 22 psi, and I set out today with about 16 psi. So I decreased down to 12 psi using my handy-dandy tire pressure gauge that I bought from Autozone. It’s one of those Slime brand, low pressure, internal-needle style gauges you can get for $5.99. I think they’re more accurate than the ones that look like a ball-point pen, and using them to deflate accurately is a breeze. Anyways, so I attempted to ascend Nasty Hill again, avoiding the loose rubble, and made it. Twice! I then attempted attacking the loose rubble section again, and spun out and failed. Well, there ya go. Low pressure plus avoiding the loose stuff on steep grades equals success.
After heading back home, and doing a high speed descent on the asphalt road, I felt the gyroscope effect with the heavy tires / wheels on the turns which felt a little funny (Edit: after googling around for the cause of this odd issue, it was found that the tire type is most likely the cause of this “self steer” effect). All in all, this is a mountain bike that gives tons of extra traction and I really enjoyed myself. Next, I will be going on a longer trail ride with my buddies in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Fat bike with rear rack
Edit, April 22, 2015:
Ordered the following new items for this bike:
Mr. Tuffy 3XL, 4 inch wide tire liners ($44 … yike!)
Topeak Mountain Morph Pump ($28)
Kenda Fatbike Tube ($11.50)
Axiom Fatliner DLX rear rack ($56)
Installing the rear rack and tire liners was flawless and easy! I am now ready to do some longer trail rides without fear of punctures.
Ten days ago, on Thanksgiving, I gave my 2 Hour Challenge Ride a good honest try. But, as I explained in that article, at around the 1 hour 20 minute mark I was starting to feel some fatigue. I neglected to mention in that article that along with my legs starting to feel fatigued, I was just plain ‘ol bonking. Not bonking hard, but that oh-so-familiar feeling of “I need to stop off somewhere and buy a triple cheeseburger” was setting in. Then, a few days later, I stumbled upon an article by Carmichael Training Systems that addressed sweating and how it relates to exercise. And here is the small part that gave me a sudden realization:
Electrolyte drinks or carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks should be a part of during-exercise nutrition strategy whenever your workouts are going to be longer than 1 hour. For workouts shorter than an hour, electrolyte drinks may still be somewhat helpful, but generally you’ll start short workouts with enough carbohydrates and electrolytes on board to complete a high-quality one-hour session. — Chris Carmichael, Founder/Head Coach of CTS
Wow, maybe this explains why I died at the 1 hour 20 minute mark. Ya think? :-) I had actually used Gatorade or Powerade in the past, but had stopped using it since most of my rides back then had a lot of breaks where I’d eat granola bars, peanut butter sandwiches, and so forth. I just felt like it didn’t need it.
So, sometime last week, I thought of a fun experiment. I was going to go buy some Gatorade powder, mix that into my water bottles, and drink that instead of my usual plain old water. Well, friends, it worked. I was totally expecting to start feeling like a weakling at the 1 hour 20 minute mark or so, and I didn’t. It might have been the turkey and cabbage wrap I ate this morning, it might have been the fact that I started cycling a few hours later in the day than last time. But, I dunno. I’m pretty sure it was the Gatorade. I felt pretty fabulous energy-wise all the way to the finish line. My legs were pretty fatigued, but I was able to power through it anyway since my stomach felt fine and I didn’t feel so horribly weak like I did on the previous attempt. I felt like I could go for another hour (haha, ok, maybe not…).
And my time? 2:04:15 with an average speed of 15.3 mph (taken from my cyclometer). Shaved off nearly 6 minutes AND I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over afterwards. Great success! </ Borat >
It seems like almost every year, Thanksgiving has perfect cycling / running / whatever weather. I think the universe is telling us to burn some calories before taking too many of them in. :-D This Thanksgiving, it was 50 degrees and sunny, so I decided to do my 2 Hour Challenge Ride! This is a name I made up for a very popular road route near Pocatello, which I wrote about in this article.
I hadn’t done as much cycling this year as I have in past years (life just seems to get busier as you go along, huh?) so I didn’t expect to set any personal records. I had tried this ride a few months earlier, and I couldn’t even finish it due to the hot temperature in combination with my wussiness. However, today was cool which gives a massive performance advantage so my time today shouldn’t be all that bad, I thought.
As a side note, I usually like to do these personal challenges by myself, as I’m sure many of you understand. Being able to think about how your cardio and legs are feeling, and the appropriate gear you ought to select based upon those feelings (oh, the pain), works a lot better if you concentrate without distractions. Okay, okay, sometimes riding with others can give you extra oomph and can help you to ride harder. But that’s for another article. :-)
The route is in a big loop with a big hill climb, followed by a long downhill, followed by rolling hills and flats sprinkled here and there. I usually tackle the mountain first while my legs are fresh, even though it never feels like I’m warmed up enough for it and I’m slower than beans. Also, I’m a heavy-weight, and hill climbing is my personal biggest challenge. It’s hard. Really hard. So, yeah, I was doing the granny gear up Buckskin Canyon. Yes, my road bike has a granny gear. Bite me. :-p
After the agony of that, I usually reach the top at around the 45 minute mark or so (starting from the Booth / Pocatello Creek Road intersection). And, oh, the joy of the downhill is the elixir of life after that. And, wow, is it a long and joyous downhill. Miles and miles of it. And I really like giving it hell on the downhill, using downhill momentum to accelerate up the occasional hill, getting into an aero position, and having a general blast.
I reached Inkom at about the 1 hr 20 minute mark and I thought, “Ugh… nope… 2 hour finish is not going to happen. It’s gonna be more like 2:30. I should have exercised more, not drank so much beer, blah blah blah.” Also, the onset of my-legs-are-starting-to-feel-toasted syndrome was setting in.
But then as I headed onto Portneuf Road on the other side of this circular route, I felt a small, steady tailwind pushing me from the southeast. Oh, glory, all may not be lost! And I was very grateful for it, for by the time I was nearing Pocatello, I was looking for my friendly Bannock Highway Sinclair to stop at and rest. But, as I neared it, I thought against it. Especially since the temperature and conditions were so amazingly fabulous. You can’t ask for any better conditions than 50 F and a tailwind. That seldom happens.
So I plugged on, talked myself through it, spun a lot in a lower gear, kept moving, and finally arrived at that glorious Benton / Main intersection. And then I wadded my mouth with granola bars and chugged water like mad. Felt pretty good after I got some sustenance. ‘Twasn’t a bad ride. According to my cyclometer, my time was 2:10:10, average speed was 14.7 mph, top speed was 39.8 mph, and distance was 31.8 miles. Whee!
This blog entry is a continuation of my personal mountain bicycling learning journey that I started recently. I am a road cyclist who is learning the art of mountain biking with a little help from my friends. :-)
Last fall, Jeff Selfa was kind enough to take me, and some other mountain bikers who were looking to improve their skills, out to the East Cedar Street trail system to do a bit of practicing and to learn a thing or two. This turned out to be highly educational for me as I learned and practiced some important techniques pertaining to traversing steep, rocky grades. The trails in this area are pretty nice. They’re close to town and they’ve got quite a bit of variety: jeep style trails, deeply rutted trails with some crevasses, moderately steep stuff, very steep stuff, rocky sections, loose dirt sections, easy sections, etc. So it’s a great place to get out and try a few things.
There is one particularly steep hill section (marked as “Steep Hillclimb!” on the map to the left) that I affectionately refer to as Nasty Hill (or whatever other profane thing I feel like calling it at the moment) that is great for practicing steep hill-climbing and descending techniques. I was fairly familiar with these techniques, but Jeff and Nasty Hill emphasized them for me quite well. The most important of these techniques is to use your body to move the center of gravity backwards or forwards on the bike as necessary, and make this a lot more exaggerated on really steep hills. This means that you are hunching way up on your handlebars for steep hill-climbing. And your butt is hanging over the rear of your saddle for steep descents. Other than that, you just have to practice your balance, braking, pedaling, and practice a lot. I don’t know about all you other folks, but I require a lot of practice to get some of these techniques down pat. I’ve watched a ton of technique videos on YouTube, but I never really “get it” until I learn it for myself out on the trail and get some “muscle memory” put in place.
So, descending Nasty Hill isn’t too bad. I do it at a snail’s pace because I’m a wuss, but I can do it without any mishaps. Jeff and Dan Lloyd do it at a much faster rate. And they were also able to climb the hill without losing their balance. The rest of us, however, were not. Maintaining your center of gravity, balancing while moving slowly in your lowest gear, trying to maintain smooth-as-possible pedaling, trying to avoid loose stuff, and spinning out on loose stuff is difficult to do all at the same time. You’ll fall over unless you’re totally prepared for it. Having your center of gravity somewhere other than the soles of your feet is not a feeling humans are accustomed to. :-)
Over the next few months, I cycled back to Nasty Hill and kept trying. I was getting better, but still was not able to climb the hill without falling over.
But I am going to remember Sunday, March 23, 2014 as a day of great success. For it was on this day that I scaled the mighty Nasty Hill, not once, but thrice without losing my balance! Staying on the far right side of the trail away from the loose stuff, relaxing, and concentrating on good form was the keys to my success, I think. I am excited to go back and give some other areas of the section a try. I am also going to pick up my downhill speed a bit and see how I do with that. Yeehaw!
Bonus video! This is a video I shot of Jeff Selfa and Travis Poppe riding fat bikes on Nasty Hill in December 2013.
I have spent the vast majority of my cycling time on the road. It’s useful (in terms of commuting), it’s easy, it’s a great workout (in terms of those wonderful weekend road rides), and there’s very few variables involved to throw off it’s sheer simplicity and ease. Most of the time, road cycling in Pocatello involves nothing more than scenic miles of endless country roads and your ability to traverse them on your road bike. It’s so pure and simple. I love it.
However, I would venture to say that most cyclists in Pocatello love this area for it’s world class mountain biking and it’s vast network of trails that range from easy to insane. It would be a shame to spend all your cycling time on the road in such a rugged and mountainous place. But getting out on the trail usually involves hopping on a mountain bike and traversing terrain that is absolutely nothing like a smooth, flat section of pavement. Oh dear.
I’m convinced there are 2 kinds of mountain bikers: naturals and panicky wimps, and I am of the latter category! I know, I am sure there is a whole spectrum of mountain bikers out there, but it appears these are the 2 categories I’ve observed so far in my beginner-to-intermediate mountain biking history. I’m sure I’ll change my opinions after I get more experience. I always do that with everything it seems, but there’s nothing wrong with jumping to conclusions too early, is there? This is a blog after all! :-)
A few friends of mine, Jeff Selfa and Dan Lloyd, are quite experienced at mountain biking and have offered many times to go on a few rides with me and help me out with my technique. This seldom happens though since A) getting people together for a ride just adds more complication to the hop-on-your-bike-and-go feel to cycling and B) I like learning by myself most of the time, even if it takes me longer to learn. That’s just me. :-p
Ok, enough background history, let’s talk about 3 recent mountain bike rides I’ve done!
The Cedar – Center – Buckskin Route
Cedar – Center – Buckskin trail map
Jeff recommended a fairly short trail close to town that is fun to practice mountain biking technique on. It is shown on the crudely drawn route map to the left. There is one steep section of the route where you do have to hike your bike up a rocky part, but other than that it is pretty nice and easy. It’s so close to town that it’s a trail you can ride to from your house and traverse it within an hour easily.
It was on this ride that I attempted to try a few different things to make steep downhilling easier and less scary for me. I lowered my seat a couple of inches, hung my legs down over the front of my pedals to lower my center of gravity as much as possible (probably not a proper technique!), and made my way down a steep section with some loose gravel on it. It was surprisingly easier than having a higher seat and keeping my feet on the pedals, and therefore felt less like I was going to fall over the front of my handlebars.
The Two Chinese Peak Rides
After feeling better about my downhilling technique, I wanted to try my new skills out on my arch nemesis of trails: the south side trail of Chinese Peak. This is a fairly narrow, rocky trail that has some very steep sections near the top of it where I am forced walk my bike down due to my fear of riding down it. And it was those sections that Dan Lloyd, in the past, had merrily rode down to my chagrin. :-(
Also, as I have attempted (and failed) several times in the past, I wanted to finally succeed in cycling up to the top of Chinese Peak (on the regular, west side trail, of course) without stopping! This is a feat that requires that you do 2 critical things:
Cycle slowly in your lowest gear, concentrate on good form and breathing, and relax.
When you encounter steep sections near the top, you must pick up your speed a lot to avoid falling over! This is usually difficult because you’re pretty exhausted by the time you’re near the top.
My first attempt was in late October and all the lovely foliage colors were looking beautiful. Some of the large clumps of trees also happen to be at the same location as the steep sections, so I took the opportunity to wuss out, get off my bike, and take some photos of the fall colors. Sigh. :-) After getting to the top, I cycled over to where the horrifying south trail begins and there was a big “Temporary Closure” sign across it. Secretly, I was relieved that I had an excuse not to traverse the trail, and I gleefully cycled back down the west trail.
My second Chinese Peak ride was with Dan Lloyd, and so I was anxious to show him a thing or two about scaling Chinese Peak without stopping (hopefully)! Also, he had been running a lot lately and not spending any time on his bike, so I was curious to see how he’d do. As it turns out, he was a bit faster than I was, but he also had to stop a few times. I, however, slowly made it up the entire way without stopping! Success at last! We found the south trail not to be blocked by closure signs, but the trail was muddy and a little snow-laden, so we went back home down the west trail. There’s always next year to test my skills on the south trail.
So there you have the end of the mountain biking season of 2012. Here’s a brief to-do list for myself for 2013:
Learn wheelies, bunny-hopping, and other nifty techniques.
Practice more trail riding.
Improve my general agility and technique.
I am envious of those cyclists on YouTube videos that seems to use their bicycles as a natural extension of their bodies and can make it do amazing things, and I yearn to explore that almost completely missing part of my cycling experience! As always, I’ll let you know how I do by recording my experiences in this blog, probably more for your amusement than for your information. ;-p
My usual cycle camping buddies (Travis Poppe and Dan Lloyd) and I were eager to do an overnighter soon, and Labor Day weekend was approaching. Recently, Jeff Selfa had joined our circle of geeky beer drinking cycling folks and Travis had gotten himself a girlfriend, Justina, and they both wanted to come along as well. Jeff is a very experienced cyclist and has the ability to blow us all out of the water in terms of speed and skill as well as sheer coolness factor of the bicycles that he rides, so I thought he was going to be bored to tears for this event. Justina is pretty new to cycling so I was worried that this 60 mile round trip ride was going to make her hate cycling for the rest of her life. Ah, well, I was interested to see how things were going to turn out! And you never really know how a cycle camp is going to go anyway, to be honest. But that’s how adventures are supposed to be and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
We all gathered at Travis’ house at around 9:00 am on Saturday, September 1. It was a sunny day and the temperature felt perfect. Dan and I were towing trailers, Jeff and Travis had their panniers packed, and Justina carried a bottle of water. ;-) Yes, we knew what Justina was in for, so we thought we’d better assist her the best we could. She seemed very happy and enthusiastic about the ride; I hoped this would carry her through when things got tough for her ahead!
A Dock On The Mighty Snake River
Soon, we were all cycling along Highway 30 at a moderate speed, chatting with each other and enjoying ourselves. By about mile 20 we were all ravenous for Tres Hermanos, our favorite place to eat in American Falls. A few miles later we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, went in, got our food, and began shoveling tamales into our faces. There’s nothing like authentic Mexican food after 25 miles of riding. :-P~~
After we ate, we picked up some food and beer at a local grocery store and cycled the remaining 5 miles or so to Pipeline Road. Jeff and Travis decided to cycle down the dirt road to see how crowded it was since many locals love to have one final camp for the year over Labor Day weekend. After a while, Jeff cycled back to us and announced “we’ll have to share the campground… with the birds!” The campground was completely empty! We all cycled down to the campground, had a look around, cracked open a few beers, and relaxed. The lush greenery, massive Snake River, pelicans floating by, and the surprising absence of bugs made this area seem like such a paradise.
Next, we set up our tents, made a fire, drank more beer, and started cooking some food. Shortly thereafter, dark clouds started coming in, the wind began to pick up, and a few sprinkles began to fall. Dan shot a video of it!
Storm’s A Brewin’
The rain started getting a bit harder, but I just stood there like an idiot, shirtless, drinking beer and enjoying myself. The temperature hadn’t fallen much and I have a layer of blubber that keeps me warmer than other people, I think. Dan and Jeff put on their rain jackets and Justina turned herself into a burrito with a sleeping bag. Next, the wind and rain started falling way too hard for comfort, so I dove into my tent! I was sure to take some beer with me, though. I’m an expert at outdoor survival, I’m sure you can tell.
The rain stopped after about 30 minutes or so, so I emerged from my tent and went back to the campfire. Jeff and Dan had apparently weathered the storm by standing around the campfire with their jacket hoods cinched up. We cooked more food, ate plenty (mostly thanks to Jeff and Dan’s instant add-boiling-water meals) and took some lovely shots of the sun setting across the Snake River. And then we headed to our tents for bed.
And it was at this point that poor Jeff discovered that his bivy sack and sleeping bag were completely soaked. He decided his best choice was to cycle home through the night. Dan volunteered to go with him since drivers probably aren’t used to seeing cyclists pedaling along the back roads in the middle of the night. I loaned Jeff my headlight blinker and he and Dan pedaled off into the night. Jeff wrote a brief but vividly written article entitled “The Pipeline Deserter Branch – s24o Labor Day 2012” about his experience that night. Tis a good read!
Mist Coming Off Of The Snake River
The next morning, thick fog rolled in and mist was coming off of the river. It looked like like an enchanted scene from a fantasy movie. I walked out onto the dock and basked in the sounds of fish jumping and water birds talking to each other. As soon as Travis and Justina were up, we cleaned up the camp site, packed up, and headed back towards American Falls. There, we stopped at a cozy diner called Casey’s Lounge, ate a hearty breakfast with plenty of hot coffee, and then headed back to Pocatello. Hot coffee and breakfast is so fantastic and delicious after camping overnight, isn’t it?
The ride home was pleasant except for the fact that we were all tired of sitting on a bicycle saddle. And the temperature had risen a lot, so by the time we were nearing Pocatello, I was ready for a long shower and more beer! And that’s exactly how I ended my journey. Oh, and Justina endured this whole trip like a real trooper! She did amazingly well for her first long bike ride as well as being surrounded by beer swilling barbarians for 2 days straight and we’re all very proud of her!