Consistent with all of the events offered by the Colorado Endurance Series, racers competing in the Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL) must self-support including water, food, and navigation. There are no course markings, aid stations, or emergency personnel anywhere on the course. The SBFL comprises over 110 miles of single-track, (mostly) dirt road, and jeep trail. Most of the course lies between 8,000 and 10,000 feet (2438-3048 meters). Below I describe the course, my experiences along the way, and offer a few suggestions for anyone that might be considering taking-part in this grassroots event.
A race profile alone, like the one provided above, isn't enough to know just how tough a race will be. However, in the case of the Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL), it's enough to initiate respect from any sensible mountain biker. Starting a few hundred feet above 7,000, near the heart of downtown Salida at the Cafe Dawn (barista's take note), the race begins with an initial ascent, with few breaks to shake-out the legs, that tops-out at ca. 10,000 feet on the forested slopes of Mt. Shavano (14,235 ft [4,339 m]). Part-way up that opening climb, the race course crosses 8,000 feet above sea-level and keeps climbing. From this point, until the final descent back into Salida, across 100 miles of single track, (mainly) dirt roads, and jeep trails, the racers body will rarely drop below or above 8,000 and 10,000 feet, respectively. And a significant portion of their day will be spent breathing the thin air above 9,000 feet.
From Mt Shavano, competitors roll onto the Colorado Trail as they turn north towards another giant, another "fourteener" as they're referred to in Colorado, Mt Princeton (14,204 ft [4329.3 m]). Both of these majestic mountains are part of the impressive Collegiate Peaks, a commanding geographical feature of the Arkansas Valley, a never-forgotten vista among anyone that's been lucky enough to view it. After a massive climb from Mt Princeton Hot Springs to the upper forested slopes of Mt Princeton, the race continues north on the Colorado Trail to Cottonwood Creek. Just before Cottonwood Creek the course departs the Colorado Trail and begins heading east on a graded dirt road towards downtown Buena Vista, a town known locally as BV.
It was at this point, the point when I should have exited the single-track, that I made a GPS error and went off course. Before long, I was, dreadfully, well over 10-minutes into an off-course blunder. At that point, I was still on the Colorado Trail when I should, instead, have been approaching downtown BV on a fast, paved, road into town. All told, when I eventually returned to the course, I'd given-up 23 minutes and added a few miles, with climbing, to what would be a monumental day on a mountain bike. In hindsight, I remained fairly calm given the extent of my mistake, I turned around and repeated the extra section in reverse. Once I returned to the course, I tucked my body around the Jet 9 RDO top tube and sped down the road, in the correct direction, towards Buena Vista.
Downtown BV is roughly 50 miles along the race course from the SBFL starting line, about the half-way point. Riders typically make a quick stop in BV to resupply, especially water. Consistent with the rules of the Colorado Endurance Series, the SBFL rule book states that riders are required to self-support, that includes water, food, and navigation. The course is completely unmarked. Other than local competitors that know the course in its entirety, the remainder of the racers rely on a GPS such as my Garmin eTrex 20. In 2016, organizers diverged slightly from their hard-and-fast no support rule when they accepted Boneshaker Cycles request to offer neutral support, a place to fill your water bottles, etc, to SBFL competitors.
Unfortunately, I rolled-past the shop, didn't see it, as I came into the downtown strip. Alternatively, I ran into a small restaurant at the east end of town and the wait staff were happy to fill my bottles. From BV to Salida water options are limited to residential homes, campsites, and natural water sources such as ponds and creeks. It's absolutely essential to fill up in BV! The day before I drove about 15 miles south of Trout Creek Pass along the course and stashed most of a gallon of water, that stash was my last water stop for the day. In total, I drank 9x26 ounces; two bottles on the bike, a third bottle in my middle kit pocket. A easily could have drank a tenth bottle if one had been available in the last 20 miles of the race, but the nine were sufficient.
Just east of downtown BV racers ride over the Arkansas River on a narrow foot / bicycle bridge and take a right onto the Midland Trail. Immediately, the trail begins to pitch up, a familiar experience by this point on the course, and the next massive climb, of many, in the big friggin loop is underway. Riders continue for many miles on the Midland Trail into the Four-mile Recreation Area before transitioning to dirt road for the remainder of the ascent to Trout Creek Pass on Highway 285. Well before reaching Trout Creek Pass, the race course has entered South Park, a high elevation, prairie-complex surrounded by impressive Rocky Mountain vistas. At Trout Creek Pass, the route turns towards the south, towards Salida.
No doubt, among SBFL rookies, I wasn't alone when I celebrated, quietly, a little, in my mind when I reached this point. I'd regret that celebration 10, 20 miles farther along. Although a lot has been accomplished by the time a rider reaches Trout Creek Pass, so much lies ahead that they would be best served by holding-off any celebration, no matter how small, to avoid disappointment. In hindsight, I should have held-off my small victory grin until at least Futurity Ghost Town. At Futurity, racers have the option to hop-off their bike and search for a Futurity Chip, the closest thing to a trophy they'll garner from the Salida Big Friggin Loop. In 2016, fifteen chips were prepared, all composed of flat, grey shale, of various sizes, with the letters 'SBFL' hand-painted, not so neatly, on their surfaces. Historically, the chip's value has been a 30-minute time-deduction off your finish time and 2016 was no exception. Futurity is about 90 miles into a roughly 110 mile 'long friggin loop' back into Salida ... that's 20 miles ahead in addition to 90 behind.
If you decide to line-up for the SBFL some day, don't be misled (you're not done climbing) by the significant descent out of the ghost town of Futurity. After locating the chip stash and adding one of the smallest ones to my kit pockets, I descended between aspen groves on a fast, fun, two-track. At the bottom, the forest service road ended and another offered a left or a right option. The race continued to the left before a right at the next split, the beginning of another seemingly massive and steep, by this point in the race, climb. The climb is apparent as soon the left-hand turn is made, and that's enough to cause significant disappointment despite the beauty of the surrounding valley. And there is much more ahead, after that initial climb many, many, smaller climbs follow.
Eventually, from the bottom of the descent from Futurity, I spun my way into an area called Aspen Ridge. As I continued to ascend, descend, and ascend, over-and -over again into and within Aspen Ridge, I suffered as much as I had in any race before. Each patch of shade beckoned me to stop for a visit, to give up. But if you're willing to start this race chances are you're stubborn enough to finish. Fortunately, for my long-term happiness, I turned out to be a stubborn participant for which I was eventually rewarded with a descent down a full-on (wide and graded) dirt road, known as the Ute Trail, to the trailhead of the recently completed Cottonwood Trail.
Cottonwood, like Futurity, was another opportunity to grab a time-deduction. Riders received a 100 minute time-deduction, off their finish times, for dropping Cottonwood. I certainly considered bypassing Cottonwood and heading down the Ute Trail to town. By-way-of the Ute Trail, I would have been inside of downtown Salida within about 15 minutes. Instead, I took a left, adjusted my suspension to 'trail mode', and began what would be a fun descent down a well-built, designed-for-mountain-bikes, roughly 12-mile section of single-track. Because of this experience, the next week, after the race, I rode-up the Ute Trail twice to drop Cottonwood just for fun. The carefully routed trail includes a variety of challenges including dry gorges with technical drops and banked single-track through Ponderosa Pine forest, this trail shouldn't be missed if you're a mountain biker visiting the Arkansas Valley.
The thinking was, I suspect, when the 100 minute time-deduction was chosen, that Cottonwood would be a continuation of the suffering that riders could otherwise escape by descending the Ute Trail. But what I discovered, soon after rolling off the dirt road and onto the single-track, was the trail experience, a fast, flowy, fun descent, actually revived my ambition to be a part of the race. Within moments, I was smiling as I guided my Jet 9 RDO from Niner Bikes smoothly down the trail. From the bottom of Cottonwood, on the south-side of Salida Mountain (aka, "S" mountain) competitors were told they could take any route they desired back to town. I continued straight from Cottonwood, farther along the Cottonwood Creek drainage before climbing back into Pinon-Juniper forest, and eventually exited the Salida Hills on the Mesa Trail.
After spending so many hours alone, I'd been alone since Cottonwood Creek west of BV, it's a strange experience coming back into the hustle and bustle of human society, even into a small town like Salida. When I noticed a rider coming into my view from the left, I was trying to reconcile my new environment with the one, a moment ago, I had left behind. From reconciliation my minds focus very slowly shifted to the rider that seemed familiar and they were. Here was the rider that was behind me, out of view, when I'd continued straight on the Colorado Trail west of BV instead of turning right onto a dirt road. For the last six hours I'd been alone, but now I was looking at the last rider that had been close to me on the course. What I didn't know was he was presently in second place. Of course, I did know that he hadn't yet crossed the finish line. Ignorance aside, I knew I was going to try to pass him before the finish at Cafe Dawn.
He made his way, without noticing me, towards the F Street Bridge. Over that short half-minute or so, I cut the distance to him in half. As he crossed over the bridge, I rolled-up behind him, just a few bike lengths away. In hindsight, after talking with him post-race, he was trying to revive his unresponsive GPS and so never noticed me coming, or going. At the first four-way stop sign in town, he went straight while still (mostly) looking down at his handlebars. I went right, picked up my pace, and finished with a sprint to the coffee shop. Despite a 23-minute off-course blunder and considerable mental suffering as I approached and rode through Aspen Ridge, I'd managed to catch and pass one rider in the last few tenths of a mile to finish 2nd overall. Suffering forgotten, I soon settled into celebration with my teammates, including the 1st overall finisher, Ben Parman, and all of the other Long and Short(ish) Loop finishers, among others.
Before a late sign-up for the SBFL, my June race calendar was left intentionally empty. The plan in June was to start the month with a 10-day rest period and then resume training in preparation for my second, highest priority, race of the season, the Firecracker 50 (4 July). Although the SBFL turned-out to be a significant departure from resting and structured training, it certainly made a positive contribution to my form, something I'd hopefully carry-over into my July and August racing calendar. Contributions to my form included gains in physical strength and high-elevation endurance from racing mostly above 8000 feet for nearly 11 hrs, over 116 miles with 13,600 feet of elevation gain (my race file on Strava). The SBFL also helped me gain a new perspective: it redefined my understanding of 'hurt', the mental and physical suffering that an endurance athlete experiences on a race course. As bad as that sounds, the redefinition could prove to be valuable for my performance at the Leadville Trail 100 (LT100), the last A Race (highest priority) on my 2016 racing calendar.
In my next blog entries, I'll write about what's been happening in the month of July. Overall, I've been racing stronger than ever, here are some of the highlights: Despite missing my top-3 age 45-49 goal at the Firecracker 50 (4 July), and by a wide margin, I regrouped and succeeded five days later (9 July) at smashing my previous performances at the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville. Subsequently, I made a last minute decision to throw-down in '40 in the Fort', a Front Range 40 with a reputation of a 100 miler. The conclusion of that race was my best, overall, podium finish to date, 2nd overall in the open class and just 1 min 7 sec out of 1st place.
Hartman Rocks Recreation Area rises out of the valley containing Gunnison, Colorado, in dramatic fashion, effectively tempting any mountain biker that might drive through town heading east or west on highway 50. The head wall, towering above the main parking area, exposes the granite bedrock foundation of the recreation area. Looking way-up from this perspective, technical chutes and fast, banked, single-track descend into a network of grin-inducing trails, such as Jack's and Collarbone Alley. Above the wall, and out of view from the parking area, is a rolling sage brush plateau broken by granite outcrops and creek drainages. This area too is criss-crossed by celebrated trails. Along with this exceptional single-track is a World-class scenic backdrop, the San Juan and Elk Ranges of the Rocky Mountains dominate views to the south and north, respectively. With a base elevation around 7,700 feet, Hartman Rock's is an ideal location for outdoor adventure .. including the sport of endurance mountain bike racing.
The trail complex at Hartman Rocks is managed with considerable expertise and experience by David Wiens, retired pro mountain biker of Leadville Trail 100 fame, and his crew from the not-for-profit Gunnison Trails organization. To help fund the organization, Gunnison Trails offers a handful of running and mountain bike events, including a combined bike-run-bike event (Meowler). Perhaps the flagship of their endeavors, the Original Growler has become a bucket-list race for many cross-country (endurance) mountain bikers. Single-track makes-up the majority of the race, sometimes technical and always fun. Along the way, riders encounter steep, leg-burning climbs and ripping-fast, flowy, descents. On the jeep trail sections it's full gas to the next pinch. There is really no rest for the hardy mountain biker on the 32-mile course, completed twice for the Full Growler and one time for the Half. Added to the Half and Full Growler is a controlled start from downtown Gunnison along highway 50 and a few miles of racing on pavement to a dirt road climb of notorious fame, Kill Hill. You can easily see Kill Hill from the main parking area at Hartman Rocks, it's a great option for hill repeats if you're feeling masochistic.
At a rented house not far from highway 50 and Hartman's, my girlfriend and I joined a group of Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders on Friday evening, May 27th. We spent the next day in preparation for the 7 am start the following morning. On Sunday, I woke at 3 am, quickly prepared a breakfast of two eggs, pre-cooked potatoes, and two slices of toast with butter. I enjoyed a banana and orange first, then the toast, potatoes and eggs, an order consistent with digestion rates, fruit digests the fastest, etc. After breakfast I went back to bed. As I transitioned into and out-of sleep, I did my best to relax by focusing on a style of breathing I learned from yoga classes at Elan Yoga & Fitness. At 6 am, I started the process of preparing for the race, by 6:30-ish I was rolling towards highway 50 and downtown Gunnison to line-up for the 2016 Full Growler.
I felt good at the start, and despite no warm-up other than a light spin into town, I felt good during the road section of the race from town to Hartman's. That 'feel good' continued up Kill Hill, I topped-out inside of the top 20-30 riders, perhaps even a little better. After the race those 'feel good' suspicions were confirmed when I discovered that I set a personal record (PR) that morning climbing Kill Hill. But even better than that PR, as I climbed Kill Hill that morning my legs felt strong and my heart was suffering less than anticipated given my effort. All systems were working efficiently, confirming that my preparation for the Growler had been successful.
Not far from the top of Kill Hill, the Growler course, ridden counter-clockwise (more below), converges on its first section of single track. I burned my legs a little more just before the pinch and managed to pass a few more riders while respecting that I was a slow-to-warm-up rider, i.e., being careful not to blow myself up. This section of single track quickly returns to two-track, a climb and a very hard left, a left I was happy to know about from my partial pre-ride the previous day. A short descent from the hard left and the race was back onto single track and climbing to The Top of the World where I set another PR on the course and was on my way to set many more before I finished lap one.
Year-to-year race comparisons are difficult even when vendors offer an identical route annually. By reversing the direction of the course from year-to-year, a feature of the Full and Half Growlers, the comparison challenge is greatly amplified. The last time I raced the Full Growler in a counter-clockwise direction was my very successful 2014 season, my second season racing a mountain bike. In 2015, the event switched to its alternative clockwise direction, the direction it will roll again in 2017. Certainly, the course is very different when ridden in reverse. In particular, although it's equally technical going forward or backwards, there seems to be more intense (higher average grade) climbing in the counter-clockwise direction. Consistent with local opinion, that additional commitment to climbing, especially the climb out of Skull Pass on single track, and a steep, winding, jeep trail climb off the pavement, results in slower race times.
Some technical sections behind me, I dropped into Skull Pass feeling so-so but not overly-concerned. It just seemed that I might be slowing-down, or perhaps going at a less-than-ideal endurance pace, given a few riders that were close behind me. At the bottom of Skull Pass I began what I knew would be a tough climb including at least one section of hike-a-bike, probably two. At the base of the first short hike-a-bike I ran into traffic and so had no choice but to hop off the bike. I cleared the short, steep, loose section and resumed pedaling. Near the top of the Skull Pass climb, a series of granite rocks and ledge can be cleaned, I'd done it with a 34T ring on my 1x11 Sram drivetrain post-season in 2015. Nonetheless. I wasn't able to repeat the feat, on either lap 1 or 2, even with a 30T ring on race-day in 2016. No doubt I lost some time by walking these sections.
From the top of Skull Pass I pressed-on, eventually to Bambies descent, it was here that I finally dropped all but one competitor that had been on my wheel for many miles (sometimes I was on their wheel as we flip-flopped order). I dropped the last competitor on the climb that ascends off of a short pavement section that riders come to at the bottom of Bambies. A friend and my girlfriend were waiting for me on the pavement, it's always a thrill to see friends on the race course. They handed-up a bottle and I dropped my vest and arm warmers without stopping. A moment later, my smile forgotten, I was aiming my Jet 9 RDO at an awfully steep, loose, winding jeep trail ascent. I locked-out the drive train and began a patient leg-burning climb to the top.
Unlike Skull Pass, I managed to clean the jeep trail climb, and all of the other climbs along the course. I also did well with the technical sections, one-time off the bike, otherwise a few dabs. From the top of the road climb, I enjoyed the downhill before another climb. The Growler course gives the impression of relentless climbing. Soon onto Josho's and another personal record compared to two years ago; then onto the celebrated Rattlesnake descent, another PR for the day. After Rattlesnake, lap one is nearly finished other than a steep, technical squeeze through the front wall overlooking Hartman Rocks main parking area, a trail called The Notch. I exercised some caution, apparently, on lap one, and subsequently set a PR descending the The Notch on lap two.
On the lap one-to-two transition, I nearly missed my water bottle hand-up as I initially rode past both of my supporters. Spectators were crowding the transition area making it difficult for me to identify my crew while maintaining some momentum (not stopping). Normally, in previous years, I've used the transition hand-up to refresh two bottles, but the opportunity to grab a bottle on the pavement section below Bambies changed my strategy. I grabbed just one at each juncture, Bambies and the transition area. I started with two 26-ounce bottles and picked-up three more during the race, for a total of 5x26 ounces of water.
From the transition, I climbed Jack's, feeling good but aware of another rider coming up behind me. Jack's tops-out and soon tailpipe, with it's granite marbles, and the ridge present many challenges, all single-track. The ridge includes a technical descent, mistakes on this section could result in serious injury. At the base of the ridge racers come face-to-face with a familiar trailhead, a moment later they're reascending Top of the World for the second time ... lap two-of-two in the Full Growler.
As I ascended the Top of the World I was alone, and that remained the case, with one exception, for the remainder of my race. The exception was a racer that caught me while I was descending into Skull Pass. We climbed the pass together and then he quickly dropped me when we returned to the dirt road approach above the pass. Otherwise, always wondering who was ahead or behind, and hoping to see the next rider but not get caught, I did my best to keep my pace up and take risks on the descents. Coming off the pavement below Bambies, after a bottle hand-up and a small coke, I again cleaned the loose jeep trail climb. From the top, looking ahead, I glimpsed a rider which was most likely my teammate Ben Parman, but that's the last time I'd see anyone ahead of me. Looking back, while climbing Josho's, I saw a rider for the last time behind me. I thought he'd catch-up, but that glimpse was, apparently, enough to inspire me to pick-up my pace. Soon I was back on Rattlesnake, alone, descending Becks and then The Notch to the finish where friends were waiting to congratulate me.
Compared to 2015, when the course was ridden clockwise, my finish time increased by about seven minutes in 2016. However, with climbing grades and other differences in mind, from 2015 to 2016, I think the time comparison is misleading. No doubt I had a great race in 2015, best to date at that time. However, 2016 was likely even faster, based on intuition and anecdotal evidence. For example, I finished ahead of Matt Woodruff for the first time, by about 1 min 30 sec, in 2016. In 2015, a year earlier, he finished ahead of me by about the same. In 2014, he won the age 40-49 age class. I was 6th that year, a whopping 31 minutes behind Matt.
Also consistent with my best performance to date at the Full Growler, Strava recorded many second fastest times on sections that I repeated on lap two, along with a few personal records. My second lap no doubt contributed to the gap between myself and the next 40-49 male finisher, more evidence that I raced my best Full Growler to date, a gap of nearly 14 minutes in 2016. The previous year, I was only 36 seconds ahead of my nearest competitor, I passed them on the final climb up The Ridge on my way to the finish line / end of lap two.
The excitement of the day is still crackling a bit just under my skin, especially the moment when I realized I had achieved my 1st place age 40-49 goal for the second year in a row. However, that realization didn't materialize until Dave Wiens was announcing the age 40-49 finishers at the awards ceremony. My friends and I had overlooked the fact that the one 40-49 male finisher that was ahead of me was registered as a pro (rocket and legend Josh Tostado). For that reason, all of us were convinced that I'd managed second place in 2016, certainly a position worthy of celebration ... a celebration that was well underway in my mind even when Dave announced my name in the 1st place slot. That made my second, 1st place finish, in back-to-back years, even better. Topping it all off was the opportunity to share the moment with my girlfriend and many friends from Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders. I'll never forget the surprise in their faces that no doubt mirrored my own when Dave called my name in the 1st place position!
Training and racing are difficult, with many lows and a few big highs. For the next two weeks traveling with my girlfriend through Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, the two of us would continue to celebrate, a little part of each day, a finish that both of us had earned, her through patience and encouragement and me through many hours of training and other preparation. Other than a century ride in Yellowstone National Park, during this time I also took a much needed break from cycling, only riding twice in ten days.
At the conclusion of our trip it was time to say goodbye to my German lady-friend until September. Another sad departure behind us, on 9 June, she was on her way home to Hamburg and I was making final preparations for my first experience competing in a Colorado Endurance Series event, the Salida Big Friggin Loop just two days away. Despite all of the time off the bike and a 23 minute off-course error during the event, I finished 2nd overall at the Salida Big Friggin Loop at the end of nearly half a day on my Niner Jet 9 RDO. I'll pick-up here, with many more details, in my next blog entry ...
In this blog entry I recall my experience traveling to and from 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, a 12 hour endurance mountain bike race, with Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders on a rented plush bus! And in between, I reflect on my progress towards preparation for high priority races that still lay ahead at that time, in May, July, and August.
If you're going to ride-on as much as a cycling addict, then occasionally you should enjoy the view and allow someone else to do the driving. And that's exactly what Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders (NCGR) decided to do on their return to 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, an event held annually at Phil's World, a celebrated built-for-mountain-biking network of trails juxtaposed between Mesa Verde National Park and downtown Cortez, Colorado.
Lightly and comfortably sprinkled into a plush bus, NCGR and company departed on Thursday evening, 5 May, with plenty of open containers (everyone except the driver) and a stack of Fort Collin's best pizza from Nick's Italian. Our pilot, Lae Angell (contact leaangell AT yahoo DOT com for rental inquiries) easily navigated his bus through Denver on I-25 south, as we relaxed with our feet up, before heading west to the San Luis Valley and our planned overnight stop in Alamosa. The next morning, after not-so-bad coffee but a long-ish wait at the hotel restaurant, we continued west, into the mountains, through Pagosa Springs and Durango. Thirty-minutes farther down the road we were passing through Mancos, then past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. A few minutes later we were looking for a place to park our team bus in downtown Cortez. We spent just enough time to visit Kokopelli Bike & Board for packet pick-up and to satisfy any last minute needs, including a quick wheel repair for our team leader, Ralph Eberspacher.
A few miles back in the direction that we'd come and we were at the local fair grounds, race headquarters, free camping, and the starting line for 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. All the doors and hatches were thrown open on the bus, bikes unpacked and reassembled, tents thrown-out and pitched, food assembled, cooked, and eaten, all before dark. That evening, some chose to sleep in the bus, on comfortable, padded, benches converted to beds. Settled-in, a pre-ride in the bag, we drifted into sleep while looking forward to a half-day, 12 hrs, of racing the following morning.
This would be the third year running that I came to 12 hrs of Mesa Verde as part of a 3-person, all male, team. However, I was hoping that it wouldn't be the second year in a row that I was unable to start due to inclement weather. In 2014, the venue did experience some rain, there was mud too, but completion of the race was never under threat. That wasn't the case in 2015. The weather turned from bad to worse to apocalyptic, and by then the organizers of 12-hrs of Mesa Verde really had no choice but to pull the plug which they did after lap two. Since I was scheduled to ride the third lap, their decision meant the end of my race, before it started. Despite a 2-lap 12-hrs, there was still an awards ceremony that year, and my team finished fourth in the 3-4 male category, a podium position. That remains my best finish to date as a non-starter!
Fluctuating skies and less-than-ideal weather predictions aside, the 2016 12-hr event started and finished without a hitch. As in 2014, there was mud, rain, and snow before it was over, but fortunately conditions always improved, and quickly, to hero dirt. By taking-on the first lap and the opening Le Mans start, a start involving a ca. 1/4 mile run to a nearby corral containing all of the starter's bikes, it seems that the universe was satisfied with my contribution to the man-up part of the race. My hardy teammates on the other hand, especially RJ Morris, experienced muddy drive-trains and cold, wet, fingers on one or even two laps. By chance, I avoided that uncomfortable fate. For the Le Mans start, inspired by one of my teammates, Mitch Wood, I managed a fair run for my talents, reached the corral in the top 40-ish, and was out the pinch point (corral exit) before the planned back-up of riders.
As I mentioned above, 2015 was a non-start for me at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, as a racer anyway. However, with Phil's World on my R-pod base camp doorstep, I couldn't, sensibly, leave the venue until I exercised my Niner Jet 9 RDO with haste on the race course. The morning after the event, as everyone else was pulling-out, headed for home, I prepared the Niner and rolled-onto the course for what would be three relatively unencumbered laps, especially the first two laps, and a muddy lap four. On a hero dirt course built for mountain bikes, peak fitness that was intended for the race the day before, and few reasons to slow down (other bikes, etc), it's not surprising that lap one proved to be my fastest lap to date at Phil's World; 1:04:45. A year later, in 2016, my best was 1:05:16, 31 seconds shy of my best from 2015. Without the background, particularly unencumbered in 2015, it would appear that I'd actually slipped backwards, my form had perhaps descended slightly from 10 May 2015 to 7 May 2016. However, background included, it's clear that all that stood in my way of crushing my 2015 record was all of the bikes, fellow racers, that I had to share the trail with in 2016. All that considered, 1:05:15 was certainly a personal best.
Looking a little deeper at my top ten times from the '12 Hours of Mesa Verde' Strava Segment, my 2nd and 3rd fastest laps on the 16 mile (26 km) course were from 2016, laps involving slowing down to pass, etc. By the way, lap one in all years is a different route, to spread-out the field, so not comparable to any other lap. My fourth fastest lap was lap two from 2015, a lap that, again, benefited by an empty course. My fifth fastest lap. lap 3 from 2015, may be the most useful for comparing 2015 and 2016 and determining improvement. By lap three in 2015 the race course was peppered with late arriving riders, no racers of course. And as a result, I was encumbered on that third lap, similar to how I was encumbered on all laps in 2016, and those encumbrances contributed to a slower lap time, 1:08:03. Fatigue aside, it was my third consecutive lap after all, I nonetheless think my best in 2015 would have been closer to this 1:08:03 lap time, perhaps 1:07:00, if I'd actually raced in the event.
In conclusion, looking at my top 10 above, it appears that I sped-up by about two minutes from 2014 to 2015 and then improved by the same margin from 2015 to 2016. Over such a short segment, just 13.7 miles (extends to about 16 miles when the start / end race sections are added to the course), a two minute gain is significant and on-track with what a racer might reasonably anticipate, as far as improvements, from one year to the next.
On 7 May 2016, following the seven-am Le Mans start, I returned to the race venue about 18th overall after a big effort on the Niner Jet 9 RDO. No where near top five or ten, but that was also my first lap, a lap when my physiological systems were still waking-up. Subsequent laps were full octane, and as a racer often experiences when they're feeling their best, I was passing and, for the most part, not getting passed. Riding high on my success from Smithville, Texas, the month before (Austin Rattler), I raced my third and final lap for 2016 as if it was my last opportunity to experience Phil's World. At the conclusion of that lap, I rejoined my friends and passed the clothes-hanger clip (baton) to my teammate just 10 seconds slower (1:05:26) than my previous lap (1:05:16; note lap times here and above do not include 12-hrs course south of Route 160 where timing and other facilities are set-up). This marginal loss, 10 seconds, is also evidence that the form that I brought to 12-hrs of Mesa Verde in 2016 was significantly improved relative to the form I had in 2015.
Those are the numbers, some of them anyway, and they tell a reassuring story for a guy that has recently (since April 2013) been dedicating much of his life, his time, to cycling including high intensity training in his uncomfortable zones. But reassurance is not worth much if you miss the opportunity to share events like 12-hrs of Mesa Verde with friends, teammates or otherwise. Back on the bus, a fresh round of open containers in hand, and filled-to-the-brim with excitement and moments to share from the previous days racing, the coming together of an unexpected group began their celebration of the very best life can offer, friendships and having fun.
About 10-12 hours after departing Cortez, we were back in the Fort and the black-and-green throw-down at the 2016, 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, was comfortably in the team 'bag' along with many empty PBRs. In my next blog entry I'll be writing about my experiences and thoughts following my second, consecutive, first place age 40-49 finish at the Full Growler, an event presented by Dave Wiens, his crew, and sponsors at Hartman Rocks Recreation Area not far from downtown Gunnison, Colorado.
In this blog entry I recall the GI issues I experienced in February and March including related stories, such as my reasons for discontinuing my use of Hammer Perpetuem. That story naturally spills-over into my first race for the year, the Austin Rattler. I finally discovered what was making me sick only days before I flew to Texas with two teammates from Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders.
Throughout the first two months of training in 2016, February and March, I experienced a lot of queasiness on the bike. Often, the queasiness subsided after about 1-1.5 hrs, but it never went completely away. On the worst days, queasiness persisted and even escalated. Desperate to keep riding and training, on those 'worst days' I thought my best option was to stop the bike and cram a few fingers down my throat, hoping to puke and relieve the sick feeling. It never worked, I never threw up, and the problem continued. By April 4th, a few days before I was scheduled to fly to Texas to compete in my first mountain bike race of the year, I was still routinely getting sick. Unfortunately, I'd made a classic error since initiating training on 3 February, I'd changed TWO parts of my cycling diet simultaneously. Prior to making these changes I experienced no problems; after these changes I was getting sick. In order to track the effects of one diet change, it's advisable to make just one change at a time, assess the results for a few weeks, then conclude before making any other changes. By the way, I suspected the more complex 'whole food' portion of my diet but as you'll see, that suspicion effectively distracted me from a far simpler explanation.
Formerly, all of 2013-15, I'd fueled in-part using Hammer Perpetuem, during training and racing, and the results were always excellent. The product always provided me with stable nutrition (no bonking, etc) on the bike and no negative side effects. While riding in Germany the previous Autumn I'd run out of Perpetuem and was unsuccessful finding any product vendors in the city of Hamburg. It was the off-season so I didn't panic. Instead, I decided to experiment with whole food, something I'd been thinking about anyway, such as a variety of sandwiches made at home and bakery rolls, croissants (sometimes filled with chocolate!), and other goodies purchased in countryside villages. I experienced no issues, and soon made plans to bring the whole food trial back to Fort Collins and my 2016 training schedule
In hindsight, I'm embarrassed that I didn't determine the source of my GI issues much sooner, such as the first week that I experienced the symptoms. Looking back, there were two, not just one, highly likely possibilities that could explain why, in February and March 2016, I was all of a sudden experiencing regular queasiness on the bike. Unfortunately, I locked-on to just one of them, whole food which varied from one day to the next on the bike, and hardly took a moment, all it would have taken, to consider another possibility: the product that I had started using shortly after I returned from Germany, Skratch Labs Hydration Electrolyte Mix. Unlike Perpetuem, this product, from Skratch Labs, was a simple mix of electrolytes (no protein, lipids, or carbs).
In January and February, as I was thinking about and then reintegrating into training, I was also communicating with friends and asking questions. At that time, a lot of them were using an electrolyte hydration mix available in many flavors from Skratch Labs, a product that I anticipated would be harmless, as far as possible side effects, healthy, and effective for replacing lost electrolytes during training and racing. I tried it out, enjoyed the flavor(s), and quickly, without much thought, made a large purchase of the product.
I mentioned 'harmless' because that must have been part of what I was thinking when I began introducing the product to my water bottles. Since that time I've had many more conversations. A couple of those conversations raised the same question, something I hadn't considered, such as what's the source of each electrolyte in the product? Apparently, our bodies will not necessarily respond well to just any source of an electrolyte. So that's one possibility why the product didn't work for me, as I'll explain in a moment it seems that my body / GI rejected one or more of the electrolyte compounds in the mix. Interestingly, a brief internet search didn't lead to any discussions about queasiness and this product. I'm guessing that's legit, evidence that my response to the product is unusual. Let me back up and finish the story ...
On Monday, April 4, I serendipitously ran out of Skratch Labs Hydration Electrolyte Mix. It was a scheduled e-z spin, average watts 150, so I decided to ride on with just water and a couple of Gu gels (my primary means of fueling these days along with, often but not exclusively, Honey Stinger Waffles). I rode from Dartmouth Trail to Old Town Fort Collins at a leisurely pace, passed New Belgium Brewery, and rode on towards the Anheuser-Busch plant north of town. I was taking a route I knew well, one of my favorite loops for an e-z ride. By the time I reached Old Town the first flag had been thrown, something seemed 'normal', the normal that I had enjoyed before I began having GI issues. But at that point I was barely pedaling, maybe it was my easy pace. If I picked-up my effort surely I'd start feeling queasy? As I approached the Anheuser-Busch plant I sped-up, raised my heart slightly, still no issue. Now I was intrigued, what happens next is the e-z ride on the schedule is jettisoned and soon I'm giving it full power trying to make myself sick.
I rode on, 10, 15, 20 miles into the route. Along the way I ate everything I had in my pockets, quickly and without concern, I was deliberately trying to make myself sick. Nothing worked. No matter how hard I pushed or what I shoved in my mouth the GI issue never surfaced. After two months of suffering I had my answer, a seemingly simple, harmless, electrolyte mix was being rejected by my GI and the result was queasiness ... and no doubt, a loss of power on the bike (I'll get back to that). I had suspected whole food, something I often varied from day-to-day, and been dead wrong, at least that's the way it seemed after one queasy-free ride. To be cautious, the same week that I was packing my bags to fly to Texas, I decided to abandon whole food in favor of trusted / tested products, Gu Gels and a few others, especially Honey Stinger Waffles. Once I made these changes, I had absolutely no GI issues. These days, for each race or training ride I head-out with water-only in my bottles and the products I just mentioned in my pockets. Looking ahead, I may reconsider whole food in the Fall, do some more testing, but for now I'm not taking any chances!
On Thursday, April 3rd, I rendezvoused with RJ Morris and Mick McDill, two rockets from Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders, and we carpooled to Denver International Airport. A few hours later we were on the ground in Austin, Texas and driving east into the suburbs. In attractive downtown Bastrop. It's worth a visit if you're ever in that part of Texas, we feasted on tacos not far from the Colorado River. The next morning we comfortably made our way, not too early, to the race venue in Smithville, Rocky Hill Ranch, for a low-intensity pre-ride of the 16 mile course. In the Austin Rattler, the next day, we would repeat the loop four times for a total of, roughly, 100 km. During the pre-ride, I had an issue with my chain and rear derailleur that would result in some unwelcome stress that evening. Fortunately, those problems were resolved by about 6 pm. Following another feast in Bastrop, I went to bed with a clear head, ambition, motivation, and excitement. I was ready to wake-up the next morning and throw-down in the Rattler.
The Austin Rattler was a sold-out event, over 800 riders including about 75 teams. In Lifetime Fitness - Leadville Race Series style, the Rattler starts in a single, massive wave of riders inspired to pedal by an exploding shotgun shell. A neutral start for about 1/4 mile then the race is on. RJ gapped Mick and I heading down the jeep road that leads to the first single track. Mick, aka 'the vanilla gorilla', dropped-back to run sweep, he's a good friend looking after his little monkey friends. I settled-in with a group of roadies no doubt, based on their furious pace on the flattish jeep roads and their reluctance on the tight, winding, single-track. By lap two I was past most of them; eventually, on the same lap, I caught-up to RJ.
He was kindly pulling a group of about six guys across the ranch. After big smiles and a few words, I was generously propelled forward by an R-Jangutan sling-shot to the next rider. About that time, still well within view of RJs group, I caught an edge and swerved far-off the trail into the trail furniture (shrubs, ruts, tall grass, etc). I managed to ride it out, back onto the single-track, disaster averted. Within a few miles, my race was a two-man effort with Marc-O, a local rider from Austin, We stayed together nearly all the way to the finish line.
Historically, the start of a race has always been a limitation for me, my metabolism and the muscles that system supports are slow to warm-up. The Rattler was no exception, but somewhere into the first lap I settled into what must have been a fast pace. For the remainder of the day, I was catching and picking-off my competitors. In hindsight, I wonder if I had put a little more in the bank than anticipated because of the queasiness I experienced in the weeks leading-up to the bike race? The queasiness could have acted as a governor? Alternatively, maybe the way I felt in Texas, outstanding, was a function of elevation (sea level), excellent preparation (training), and the boost of confidence my mind experienced when I finally broke through the queasiness, to a happy GI, and rode-on just a few days before the race. Unfortunately, this example involving uncertainty is far too often the case in bike racing, an unhappy reality for the curious scientist within me. The truth, the why, for my performance in Texas will never be known ... despite my suspicions.
At the end of the day, after 4 hours and 10 minutes on my WTB Volt bike saddle, I rolled over the finish just 1 minute and 19 seconds off the 2nd and 3rd place, age 40-49 male, podium positions. For a C Race, a race intended only to test my legs and provide a quality (fun) training day, my finish couldn't have been better. Overall, 18th out of 575; and 5th age 40-49 male. The 4th place finisher was just 19 seconds ahead of me.
Nearly a disaster, because of the Skratch issue, but then a major success, the Austin Rattler proved to be a great decision to launch my enthusiasm for what remained, the majority of the 2016 racing season including A Races (highest priority) in May, July, and August. In my next blog entries I'll recall spring racing, my successes and disappointments (not many!), and other experiences ...
In this blog entry I recall two experiences in particular, my decision in January to switch coaches and then the difficult process that I went through to re-acclimate to training at elevation after living for four months close to sea level in Hamburg, Germany.
January and February are tough months for outdoor cycling up and down the (Rocky Mountain) Front Range including my state-side home for the last few years, Fort Collins, Colorado. Home trainers and rollers are the only way to ride most days, 'only' unless you have heated gloves and a bike that sticks to snow and ice. That said, it's not all grey skies and cold. The patient cyclist can anticipate a handful of warmish days for getting outside to enjoy some well ventilated riding. And there is at least one local, indoor, alternative for social bikers: If you ever find yourself living in Fort Collins be sure to check out Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies and say hello to the rocket that established and still heads the organization, professional road racer Zack Allison. Source endurance is a great, social way to train comfortably in the winter, inspired by music, the expertise of Zack and his pro and near-pro cycling employees.
First-up on my list of responsibilities when I returned to Fort Collins from Germany was a personal decision that I'd been considering, reconsidering, and sometimes avoiding for weeks: to stay the course with the coach that mentored me in 2015 or to take another path, possibly even the path of self-coaching, in 2016. Now that I was back in The Fort, I couldn't put that decision off any longer, and arguably, I'd already put it off for too long. Fortunately, the universe is as unpredictable as it is interesting, and on one particular morning on about January 15th the unpredictable dropped-in for a visit and the difficult decision was behind me.
From my new base camp in the home of friends and teammates on Dartmouth Trail, not far from Peloton Cycles, options for riding into Old Town Fort Collins or into the country were as convenient as a cyclist might have wished for. Nearby, city bike trails head-off in seemingly all directions, attractive options for avoiding in-town traffic and reaching-out to the less traveled roads of Larimer and nearby Weld County on the periphery of the Fort Collins hub bub. I'm in debt to 'The Royle Woody' family, including two patient boxers, for a handful of months of comfortable living at that location.
On about 15 January, I was, by then, a few days into light training and scheduled for my first face-to-face conference with my coach at the same coffee shop where we started our coaching-athlete relationship back in December 2014, the Little Bird Cafe. When I left Dartmouth Trail en route to Old Town on my GT Avalanche 1.0 (the bike that inspired me to ride on; retired to city bike status in 2013), my intention was to ask tough questions until I was confident that the coach and athlete that overtrained in 2015 would avoid that scenario in 2016 without sacrificing performance. But sometimes planning and intention get derailed by poorly understood effects, by the unpredictable. In this case, the unpredictable showed-up part-way to town, at the intersection of Remington and Mulberry, about 1 km from the coffee shop.
For reasons that I may never understand, at that traffic signal I was reminded one more time by my mind about the question I'd been asking for months, same coach or a change. A moment later, with a calmness and clarity typically reserved for non-fiction, I knew the answer was 'to move on' and that's what I did. After a professional conversation about the past, small stuff, and some of the status-quo, I explained that I had decided to move on, and to move on to a place that, at that moment, I was unable to visualize. I wasn't moving on to another coach that I had in mind. I was just moving on from what I felt was not an ideal scenario for my future as a cyclist and bike racer.
Looking back, I have very few regrets from 2015. In contrast, I can easily visualize a long list of successes and a valuable education. Moving on from a coach isn't a reflection of the coach, not in every case anyway. It's more often moving on from a coach-athlete relationship. Like all relationships, the coach-athlete relationship is often ephemeral. It may even run its course in a season, as I felt ours had. Moving on doesn't mean forgetting or disrespecting the gifts from the past. I'll always be grateful for the coaching that I received from Pat Nash, and I wish him a long, fruitful career as a coach and his athletes great success.
Perhaps reflecting some of the stress that resulted from 'the coach question', shortly after the conversation at the Little Bird I acquired a flu that knocked me down for a total of nine days. Not literally on my back, in the misery frame, feet up, but nearly so for a few days and then for many more days just lingering-on. The timing wasn't ideal given the way the 2015 season had ended (overtraining syndrome), or my recent decision to move on to unknown pastures. Then again, it forced me to be cool, to rest, and during that time I decided to return to the guidance of my coach from 2013 and 2014, Alex Hagman. Much to my relief, he held no grudge whatsoever for my professional departure after our very successful 2014 racing season, including an 'inside of the top 100' finish at the Leadville Trail 100. Moments after our first conversation we were back in a familiar space and mutually excited to make 2016 my best season to date.
Patience followed as my flu eventually degraded to a mild nuisance before jumping ship entirely for a less motivated vector. By then it was February 3rd, my first scheduled day of training in 2016. For those of you that followed my training in 2015, you may recall that this is a full month later than the previous year. Already, and this would have been the case with or without the late January flu, training was going to be very different in 2016. Importantly, Alex and I would always do our best to integrate fun into the training equation, and plenty of time for recovery. I'll return to these and other details of my 2016 training plan in a forthcoming blog, In the meantime, I want to conclude this entry with recollections of the difficulty that I experienced regaining the mind and body that I'd lost shortly after the 2015 Growler. A melancholic mind, and legs that often lacked power, became my normal in the last six weeks of training and racing in 2015; and those legs seemed to be unchanged when I returned to Fort Collins in January.
Despite the healing that I'd accomplished post-season, coming into 2016 I still had lingering concerns about my physical state. In particular, had I annihilated myself? Had the overtraining syndrome gone too deep to recover from in a single winter? To answer this question I went to see a medical doctor who assured me that my adrenal glands showed no sign of lingering stress associated with overtraining or any other source, a good sign. However, he also identified a significant deficiency of testosterone, not unusual for a 45 year-old athlete. Given the complications, namely "doping", of doing anything about the testosterone I decided, and have maintained this decision, to rely only on natural supplements (maca powder among other plant-based options).
At the same time, I climbed back onto the bike and attempted to re-start what seemed like a very unwilling engine. A ride in late January, just before I fell ill, foretold the difficulties that I experienced in February. In particular, it was as if I was trying to ride in an atmosphere devoid of oxygen on a planet that had two-times Earth gravity. No doubt, four months living comfortably in Hamburg, near enough to sea level to occasionally record '0 feet or less' on a Strava elevation profile, explained most of my powerless engine. But then again, how much of what I was experiencing was the effect of overtraining from 2015? The question of permanent damage to my engine was hard to suppress. The month of February was a long struggle. And although March was better, the numbers from my rides still lacked a clear conclusion, damage or normal re-entry to training physiology?
Looking ahead I hope I'll never again experience two introductory training months like I did in 2016. Part of the problem was my mental state, not quite 100% when I returned to Fort Collins. The remainder, it seems, was normal, early-season, physiological limitations. Through persistence, I eventually motivated the changes in my body, such as an increase in the density of mitochondria per cell, that are critical for the performance of an endurance athlete and cyclist. As a result, by mid-March I was beginning to have days when I had 'legs' and the lungs to power them. And not too soon either, my first race for the season was looming, an early season 100 km throw-down outside of Austin, Texas (April 9th). I'll share more about that race, the Austin Rattler, and many other details at Andre Breton Racing Dot Com in a forthcoming blog entry ...
In this blog entry I recall the conclusion of my goal, set late in 2015, to ride 10,000 miles (16,000 km); and then share some of my thoughts on how the bicycle, while riding about 3000 of those miles in northern Germany, helped me to recover from overtraining syndrome.
Before I flew to Deutschland from Denver International in September 2015, I made plans to return to Fort Collins, Colorado, fulfilling a basic travel requirement of German Customs and Immigration. At that time, the plan was to return in late December, allowing for a three month stay in Hamburg, Germany with my girlfriend. Plans changed slightly, by a few weeks, following acquisition of a six-month tourist visa. The six month extension allowed me to stay into the middle of January (and beyond of course) at which point I was being encouraged by my coach to return to Fort Collins and initiate training at elevation for the upcoming 2016 season. Despite how quickly the bonus days came and went, it was a wonderful couple of weeks including a memorable New Years Eve celebration in the Hanseatic city of Lubeck - picture a sky festooned with fireworks and enough smoke to conceal a massive forest fire! Following the bonus weeks, and a sad departure, I was on my way back to Fort Collins on January 10th; and on the ground, but still nearly a mile high, the following day.
Over my nearly four month visit to Hamburg, the process of recovering from overtraining syndrome, my reality by June 2015, had been slow. But gradually I broke the cycle of melancholy that dominated my mind when I considered racing and often, life and cycling in general. Partly, this was accomplished by a very patient girlfriend, my "second coach" by the way, as she refers to herself. Nutrition, yoga, stretching and sauna, other forms of relaxation, and time ... also contributed to my steady recovery. But most of all, it was the bike that brought me back to a sensible reality, and a strategic late season (September) goal to complete 10,000 cycling miles (16,000 km) before New Years Eve. If I was successful, then my thinking was that I'd be far better off (happier) finishing the season with a goal in the bag than the disappointment that I experienced at the conclusion of the 2015 Leadville Trail 100. The strategy worked, as I'll explain below. The same bike that had brought me into the danger zone, reversed its effects. When the 10,000 miles were behind me I was back to the reality where my friends and family had been waiting and encouraging me to return.
Elsewhere (scroll down to Cycling from Los Angeles to Cape Town) I introduced my goal of riding 10,000 cycling miles in 2015. Last I wrote on that topic I was inside of 8300 miles, still a long way to go, 8,976,000 ft (2,735,885 meters). In hindsight, I certainly underestimated the physical and mental investments that would be necessary to close the gap from 8300 to 10,000 miles. By late October, with winter imminent in northern Germany, the significance of that investment made it's introduction. In addition to the physical and mental challenges that I'd have to overcome to reach the finish, I was also going need some luck with the weather, and did I mention a very patience girlfriend? Fortunately, the weather cooperated: rain and cool relinquished and Autumn, as a consequence, came and went gradually. In between I rode on with the encouragement of my roommate and determination of a bike rider that was beginning to hope-for all of the feel good of accomplishing a difficult cycling challenge. Sometimes lonely, never with headphones, sometimes in the rain and often riding in cool, damp weather, I kept pedaling. After a mishap with my GPS, the long-awaited for day finally arrived, it was 20 November, I reached 10,000 miles for the year. Captured in the photo (above), I was smiling of course, but just under the surface is much more, a deeply satisfying feeling of success after a long, exhausting, mental and physical challenge. What next? I rode on for extra credit (strava)! And by evening I returned to Hamburg ... where I promised not to ride again until the middle of January ... a much needed break for myself and my relationship!
Pedaling through the countryside of northern Germany, as the leaves changed from green to reds, oranges, and yellows, I was alone most of the time and often thinking about what went wrong in 2015. In particular, I thought about the effects of overtraining syndrome that enveloped me part-way through the racing season. Eventually I found my way, through a form of meditation, a rhythm, through cadence, to a healthy, positive, mental state. Among many other unanticipated consequences of becoming a cyclist, the #1 benefit of cycling may be access to this meditative, patient, deeply reflective, perspective. Of course, friends, family, and even strangers played a significant role as well in my recovery. In between my rides, I asked questions, had discussions, and eventually landed back on common ground with my clear-thinking contemporaries, overtraining syndrome was no longer a source of melancholy, instead it was a lesson that I'd always remember.
Witnessing my transformations from the low point that led me to competitive cycling in 2012-13, and from a debilitating case of overtraining syndrome, both accomplished from the perspective of a bike saddle, has led me to conclude that there is much more to a passion for cycling than the obvious physical and mental health benefits. A 'much more' that is worthy of celebration, encouragement, growth, and exploration. These are some of the reasons that I intend to ride on, to be a bike rider, until my legs will no longer propel me.
In my next blog entry, I'll delve into the two most significant challenges that I faced shortly after I returned to Fort Collins from Hamburg.