A Structured, Multifaceted, Intensive Winter Training Program (2017-2018) to Increase Threshold Power and VO2 max.
Summary: Inspired by advice from a friend and pro racer, David Krimstock, and the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, I set-out in early December 2017 to elevate my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) from where I was at the conclusion of racing in 2017, 270-280 watts, to 300 watts. I trained three components of my cardiovascular and physiological systems, endurance, sweet spot, and VO2 max, alongside an aggressive gym program involving weights, core, balance, and flexibility exercises. After nine weeks of structured, multifaceted, and intensive training I achieved or came very close to my ambitious goal, an FTP in the range of 295-300 watts. Since leaving Deutschland and entering the amatuer racing circuit in Colorado, I've had three top-of-the-podium finishes in my very competitive 40-49 age category, a first place finish overall at the Salida 720 racing as part of a pro-expert duo team, a solo fifth overall at the Bailey Hundo, and most recently a solo 7th place overall at the Breck 100. These performances were the result of planning and hard work over the winter and the kindness of others that were willing to share their experiences and knowledge of the sport of cycling.
Part 1: Background, Schedule, and Dose.
Despite common sense, intuition, and logic, hard work does not guarantee improvement in sport especially as an athlete accumulates years of experience. As that experience approaches about 7-10 years, a hard working / training / recovering athlete transitions to marginal gains for the same effort that delivered much larger gains in the past. Sadly, these marginal gains may not even keep pace with losses, due to aging, illness, poor nutrition, etc, during the same period. Six years into my cycling and racing history (2013-present), at 47 y.o., aging is a significant factor nipping away, each year, at my physiological capacities. Aware of this process and how it might affect my long-term competitive goals, in December I initiated my most ambitious interval training program to date in December 2017 in prep for racing in 2018.
My decision to plan and execute an ambitious winter training program in-prep for the 2018 race season began with serendipity when I shared a meal with Shimano-Pivot Cycles sponsored, professional mountain bike racer, David Krimstock, following the 2017 edition of the Fat Tire 40, part of Crested Butte Bike Week. Although I'd considered many times before, especially since I started self-coaching in 2017, integrating a more robust interval training program into my usual endurance training so far I'd failed to make that happen. For some reason, my encounter with David, a super-fast, super-friendly, and studied athlete, finally pushed-me over-the-top of whatever obstruction was holding me back from implementing a full-on, pain cave, interval program.
After the Fat Tire 40, I rode-on, eventually finished my 2017 racing season with a 1st place, age 40-49 finish at the Breck 100 on 29 July and then flew to Europe where I pedaled from Hamburg to Scotland on my Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel. From Scotland, I flew back to the United States to accommodate a month-long cycling tour of New England and adjacent states (USA) to visit friends and family. By the middle of October I was back in Europe and settled-into my winter home (at that time) in Hamburg, Germany for some much needed rest and recovery. I spent the remainder of October casually pursuing, on the nice days, my 10,000 mile year goal which I completed on October 26th. Otherwise, I spent October and November refining ideas about how I might use the winter to interval train, improve my daily nutrition, and add strength to my cycling muscles through weight lifting.
By the middle of November, static, Darwinian, armchair, reflection transitioned to physical testing on the bike and in the gym where I further refined my ideas and also measured my base fitness level including Functional Threshold Power (FTP). By the end of November my confidence was high, I knew when, how much (schedule and intensity), how long, and what I hoped to gain. My structured, multifaceted, and intensive winter training program would begin on 4 December 2017, almost a month earlier than any other season to date.
By the end of March 2018, I was hoping to push my FTP to 300 watts, my primary objective, through a combination of interval training on the bike, weight lifting (squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses), core, balance and flexibility training, and improvements in daily nutrition including weight loss. As December approached, I performed one 20-minute FTP test in late November, the result was 248 watts. I performed the test on the road, invariably on varying terrain, on a day I felt I wasn't rested and following a few weeks of otherwise light activity on the bike. My guess was then and remains that with fresh legs rolling on an ideal surface, no dips in the road, stop signs, etc, I could have output closer to 260 watts which is the number I used as my FTP, rather than 248, when I started training on 4 December.
Before I get into the details of what transpired on and off the bike, it might be helpful to just cover the daily schedule, repeated each week, of my training program. Below, as an example, I've inserted my first week of training for the 2018 season, 4-10 December 2017, from my Training Peaks calendar. Assuming I felt rested enough on Friday to perform 2 x 60 minute endurance intervals, then my schedule would be M-W-F, all other days would be allocated to active recovery or days off. If I wasn't rested on Friday then I rested and instead trained hard on Saturday.
On Mondays, typically mid-morning after putting-out any fires as far as clients / work, I'd climb onto the trainer in my office between 9 and 11 am. I warmed-up for 15 minutes then rode for 5 minutes at my functional threshold power, 260 watts, before initiating 6 x 3 minute VO2 max intervals at 105% to 120% of my FTP. If you know your FTP, then your VO2 max adaptation window is approximately 1.05 x FTP to 1.20 x FTP. For me, on 4 December, that window was 299-312 watts. By training in this adaptation window I was training and hopefully increasing the power associated with the VO2 max component of my physiological spectrum. For more details about human physiological systems and adaptation, I highly recommend Training and Racing with a Power Meter from Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan. Outside of suggestions from David Krimstock, this book was my primary resource for planning the cycling-component of my winter training blocks.
At the conclusion of the intervals, I'd climb off the bike, eat a recovery snack, towel off, change clothes, and head to the gym. The first 60-90 minutes were allocated to weight lifting, followed by core and balance exercises, then flexibility. I often concluded each trip to the gym with a 15-minute session in the sauna, or a double-dose separated by 5-10 minutes waist deep in cold water, followed by a short period of relaxation before showering and heading straight for food! It wasn't unusual for me to cash food in my locker which I visited as needed throughout the gym session.
Weight lifting consisted of the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. Core and balance comprised six exercises (not always the same) done twice each, 15-50 reps. For example, I performed two push-up sets of 10-25 reps each while balanced on two yoga balls, palms-down hands on one, toes on the other. Sometimes I was tired and managed only 2 sets x 10 reps. Sometime I was more rested and crushed 2 sets x 25 reps. Flexibility involved my cycling muscles, mostly, but not exclusively. Stretching the hams, quads, glutes, and hip flexors were a priority to avoid low-back pain while walking or standing, possibly due to adaptive shortening.
Although the sauna and relaxation are simple in concept I believe they are powerful in practice. Of course, there is no need to describe how to sit in the sauna and chill afterwards, but don't let the absence of details disway you. I believe heat and relaxation were important components of my winter training.
Wednesday and Friday (or Saturday) were the same as Monday except for the cycling part. Wednesdays were allocated to sweet spot intervals, intervals performed at 85-95% of my FTP. The 'sweet spot' is the the part of the physiological spectrum that marathon-style mountain bike racers settle-into after their fast start and before they pick-up the pace for the last push to the finish. The sweet spot includes the well known / often discussed physiological zones known as tempo and about half of the sub-threshold zone between tempo and FTP. If you know your FTP, then your sweet spot is 0.85 x FTP to 0.95 x FTP. At the beginning of December, 2017, my sweet spot range was 221-247 watts based on an FTP of 260.
My training plan allocated VO2 max to my most rested day, Monday, the day following an easy weekend. Next in difficulty and slightly less rested, I integrated sweet spot intervals on Wednesday. Lastly, on Friday or Saturday, exclusively in a fatigued state by this time, sometimes wasted, I did my best to perform two sets of 60 minute endurance intervals. The endurance zone is roughly 69-75% of FTP. At the beginning of December, I estimated my endurance zone as 180-195 watts. However, based on a lot of endurance days on the bike, and testing in November, I decided to increase this range to 200-210 watts to start. On my first endurance interval session on 8 December my goal was to maintain 205-210 watts and I was successful, some evidence, certainly not conclusive, that my intuition was correct.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I worked as many hours as possible before an easy active recovery ride on the trainer and then a shortened flexibility session followed by sauna / relaxation. I varied my active recovery rides, sometimes I maintained a cadence of 90-95 for 1-1.5 hrs. Sometimes I started and finished with 10 minutes at 90-95 rpm with 40 minutes of 105-110 rpm between. Although I don't go into the value of cadence anywhere in this blog entry, it's definitely a topic any cyclist will want to read about. I believe that training cadence is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe of any successful cyclist. The minority of successful grinders withstanding, including former pro-roadie Jan Ullrich.
Saturday and Sunday, ideally, I completed an active recovery ride followed by flexibility and relaxation in the gym. Given my busy M-W-F schedule, I sometimes had to work as well, which I tried to do in the mornings.
In early December, I was still planning two trips to Spain to add climbing / elevation adaptation blocks to my winter training program. I traveled to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, from 16 Jan to 1 Feb; and later, to Mallorca from 20 Feb to 12 March. When in Spain my priority was climb, climb, climb, no gym, occasionally stretching, always eating. I took days off to work and recover. I did perform some interval sessions, including VO2 max, and FTP testing in Mallorca but those were exceptions. The rule was 'get on your bike and climb until you hate yourself'. That might sound awful but both trips provided many memorable adventures, each full of surprises with many reasons to smile and reflect.
Before I flew to Gran Canaria, I completed seven VO2 max interval sessions. Because I flew on a Tuesday I completed one less sweet spot and endurance session before the first winter climbing block. Between Gran Canaria and Mallorca, back in Germany, I completed two more weeks of training on the bike and in the gym. After Mallorca, sadly by this point experiencing relationship stress that would conclude my German experiment, I added two final weeks of intensive interval training / gym sessions before flying back to Colorado on 28 March. All told, twelve VO2 max training sessions and eleven sweet spot and endurance interval sets. Weight lifting sessions were three-times per week when I was in Hamburg, so about 30 sessions involving a barbell, same number applies to core and balance. When I returned to Colorado I replaced gym and core work with many forms of hot yoga (Midline Yoga) and indoor soccer (Arena Sports) as I increased my cycling hours and waited for my body to adapt to elevation in prep for racing.
All cycling was performed on my 2015 Giant TCR Advanced road bike attached to my Omnium Trainer from Feedback Sports, an exceptional, travel-friendly, unit. Thanks to a friend, I have a Quarq power meter attached to my road bike. Weight-lifting, core, and flexibility exercises were completed in the Kaifu Lodge, a short walk from my office and winter home (at that time) in Hamburg, Germany.
What I just wrote covers schedule, structure, and logistics, now I'll describe the dose that I chose for cycling and weights and my overall goal / objective for my winter training program. On the bike my plan was to increase intensity by five watts each session (dose) relative to the one before. So if my VO2 max goal was 300-305 during a given week then the goal a week later, assuming I was successful, for VO2 max would be 305-310. I applied a similar strategy to my weight lifting schedule / plan, add five pounds each day (dose) to all of my sets and reps. So if I performed 3 sets of squats by 5 reps at 220 lbs on Monday, and was successful, then on Wednesday I repeated 3 sets by 5 reps (3 x 5) with 225 lbs.
My hope was that by increasing power and weight incrementally over many weeks I could gradually and successfully increase my FTP to 300 watts, this was my overall goal. My decision to simultaneously (same week) train three components of my physiological system was motivated by two conclusions: 1) I'd spend less time on the trainer versus training long endurance hours for weeks, then sweet spot, then VO2 max; and 2) adaptation within each system (more power) might, sensibly I thought, cause a shift overall in my power through simultaneous adaptation. I would, I hoped, pull myself up into a stronger, faster, higher performing self by executing a winter training program that simultaneously integrated four structured training components, each imposing adaptations on different part of my body, three motivated by the bike and one by a barbell. To these physical challenges I added plenty of healthy food, active recovery, heat adaptation in the sauna, and relaxation to help motivate adaptation on the off days. This final component, a multifaceted recovery strategy, was motivated by the following reality: adaptation occurs during recovery not training.
Part 2: Details Training on the Bike
Day one, 4 December 2017, 6 sets x 3 minute VO2 max intervals (3-minute recovery between), followed by weights and core exercise in the gym, then stretching, then thirty minutes for sauna and relaxation. My average normalized power (NP) goal for this first set of VO2 max intervals was 300 watts, slightly above the middle of the target range suggested by David and the book by Allen and Coggan: 260 x 1.05 to 260 x 1.20 = 273-312 watts. Apparently I was showing myself no mercy on day one of my winter training program and I wasn't disappointed, I was able to maintain, despite the high-level of mental and physical suffering I experienced during all of my VO2 max intervals, an average of 303 watts (avg NP) over the six intervals: 296; 303; 306; 307; 304; 303. I went a little under my goal on the first interval, the next five were a smidge above 300 watts.
Here's what I wrote in the comments section of this workout shortly after climbing off the trainer: "I'm very close to being able to sustain 310-315 for these 6x3 min intervals, closer to 300-305 at the moment but that's a big leap relative to power when I climbed onto the omnium [trainer] about two weeks ago. My body is adapting quickly, road and trainer power are equalizing though not yet equal. I'm very satisfied with today's result and looking forward to the next 6x3 session so that I can assess how much closer I am to road power." Regarding "equalizing", recall I was testing ideas in November. During this time I was also spending time on the trainer so that my road and trainer FTP would be more, rather than less, aligned, simplifying the arithmetic especially when I flew to the Canary Islands in a few weeks, then later Mallorca, where I would train almost exclusively outdoors and at intensities dictated by my functional threshold power. It's not unusual for a riders trainer FTP to be 10-30 watts lower than their road FTP but the difference tends to get smaller, or even go away, following many hours of adaptation on the trainer.
Here's the complete set of average normalized power numbers for each interval from the month of December,
Weeks 1-4: December 4-25, 2018
(1) 296; 303; 306; 307; 304; 303; avg 303.
(2) 317; 319; 315; 310; 308; 300; avg 311.5.
(3) 316; 320; 321; 320; 315; 315; avg 317.8.
(4) 326; 328; 326; 327; 323; 320; avg 325.
Recall that each week I increased my average NP wattage goal by 5 watts. Week one my goal was 300-305. I actually added 10 watts, not 5, to this range the second week to arrive at 310-315 based on what I felt I could do and the less-than-ideal conditions of my last FTP test. Weeks three and four I increased my wattage goals to 315-320 and 320-325, respectively.
A fine detail but one worth stating here, for my trainer profile on my Garmin 520 I integrated lap normalized power as a prominent part of the display. I used this as a "carrot" as suggested by Allen and Coggan, to push myself to maintain, reach for, the planned / targeted wattage range on each interval. I can't understate the value of using this "carrot" trick to reach your goals on the trainer, especially those that involve a lot of physical and mental stress. The same trick is useful on the road and trail. Each week in December I successfully achieved my VO2 max goals, increasing by five watts per week.
After a New Year celebration and before I flew to the Canary Islands for my first winter block of climbing I performed three more VO2 max interval sessions in January,
Weeks 5-7: January 1-15, 2018
(5) 332; 331; 333; 330; 327; 325; 329.7 avg.
(6) 337; 337; 337; 336; 335; 330; avg 335.3.
(7) 340; 341; 337; DNF.
As you can see, the VO2 max trainer session during week seven concluded with my first DNF, I was unable to finish interval four within the estimated adaptation range, 105-120%. After the session I wrote, "Wasn't rested, should have listened to my inner voice and not started."
Maybe I wasn't rested, recall everything else, physical, I was performing each week including difficult sweet spot intervals (85-95% of FTP) each Wednesday. Of course, it's always important to listen to your inner voice, that's the 80-90% of your brain that sends brief messages to your conscious 10-20% but otherwise silently works on crunching numbers, reflecting, and much more. However, what I failed to realize on 15 January, when I blew-up during interval four, was that I hadn't failed. Instead, I'd ridden myself, incrementally, week after week, into a direct collision with my trained-state FTP, likely something very close to where I was before I stopped training in 2017.
Looking back to week six, I was successful, I finished all of my intervals in the prescribed zone. If I take the average of the six intervals from that week, 335, then a rough estimate of my FTP during that session is 1.2/335 = 279 watts. Based on my 2017 power data (all files), my FTP was likely about 270-280 watts at the end of racing in 2017. The FTP estimate from session six, 279, is in that range. It seems logical that during week six I'd trained myself back to my trained-state FTP at the conclusion of 2017 racing.
Any cyclist that is interested in FTP and other thresholds has not doubt complained that FTP "is just a number", or something similar, a useful reference but not "real" in the strict sense of a threshold. Before this winter I would have quickly agreed, but now I totally disagree. There is definitely something very real about the physiological threshold known as FTP. Whether yours or mine is 290 or 291 or 289 certainly isn't important. But the "line" is a real boundary, that moves around depending on our level of fitness and fatigue. Weeks later when I realized what truly happened during week seven of my VO2 max interval training it was a moment of clarity that I doubt I'll ever forget. The realization, the moment I figured it out, will always be special and it's definitely added significantly to my experience as an athlete. By incrementing by five watts per week I incrementally approached a critical component of the human physiological system and all of the processes and chemistry that this system is composed of, our Functional Threshold Power.
From January 16th to February 3rd, I moved my base-camp to Gran Canaria, the largest of the Canary Islands. This was a nice break from chilly, grey, wet Hamburg. When I returned to Hamburg, I resumed my interval and gym sessions for two more weeks,
Weeks 8-9: February 5-12, 2018
(8) 345; 345; 346; 342; 334; DNF. (Goal 345)
(9) 345; 345; 345; 341; 328; 319; avg 337. (Goal 345)
By week seven, in January, my goal was 340-345 watts per interval. Recall that I did not finish (DNFed) the fourth interval of that training session because I couldn't maintain wattage in the adaptation window for training the VO2 max part of my physiological spectrum. Subsequently, the next day in fact, I flew to Gran Canaria where I climbed a total of 58,963 feet over 459 miles on the road bike. I was sick, unable to ride, on three days, airport gunk. I took a few additional days off to rest. Total days on the bike were eight.
Surviving so much climbing in such a short time gave me confidence, once back in Hamburg, to up my VO2 max wattage goal for week eight to 345-350 despite the DNF at 340-345 a few weeks before. As you can see from the numbers (above), I had some success, holding 345 watts on the first three intervals, both weeks, and completing the set of six during week nine. I was getting stronger, the ninth week compared to weeks 1-8 were proof of that accomplishment.
For what remained of my structured interval training, a few sessions in Mallorca and about two weeks in March before returning to Colorado, I was never able to repeat the numbers, on the trainer, that I put out during session nine. Part of the reason was so much travel during which time my body became less adapted to the trainer. Another part was relationship stress. Nonetheless, as you'll see at the conclusion of this blog and in the next paragraph, all of the VO2 max work that I'd done up to / including my success during week nine was making me stronger.
By early March I was riding outdoors under Mallorca sunshine with no excuses to postpone my first FTP test of 2018. I performed a 60 minute individual time trial on a climb that was a few minutes shy of ideal, a big dip downhill before climbing again with smaller dips before and after. Despite the terrain, I averaged 289 watts NP. At minute forty, I was holding 301 watts, right before the biggest downhill section. I don't know because I didn't do any serious testing last summer but I suspect 289 was a personal record. On March 6th, just two days after the first test, I repeated the test on the same section of road, same dips, etc, but this time held an average 292 watts even carrying the fatigue of the test from two days before.
Back in Hamburg, on 27 March, I performed one more test, a 20-minute time trial. After subtracting 5%, that test suggested my FTP was 294 watts. Not bad, especially given that I had to negotiate one stop sign during the test. This test suggests that when I departed Northern Germany for Colorado I was confidently, given stop signs, etc, capable of 295 watts for 60 minutes, and perhaps even 300 under ideal conditions. Although issues of adaptation had kept me from pushing higher VO2 max wattages on the trainer I'd nonetheless achieved, or nearly so, my FTP goal at least at elevations I encountered in Hamburg and Mallorca through intensive interval training over roughly four months (Dec-Mar).
Success and failure as just described for my VO2 max sessions over nine weeks was essentially replicated, for the same reasons described above, during my sweet spot, 3x20 minute intervals at 85-95% of FTP performed on Wednesdays. Here's the numbers from the first six weeks of my sweet spot training,
Weeks 1-6: Dec 6 2017 to Jan 10 2018
(1) 252; 246; 245; avg 247.7.
(2) 258; 252; 250; avg 253.4.
(3) 261; 252; DNF; avg 255.5.
(4) 260; 259; 256; avg 258.3.
(5) 264; 264; 261; avg 263.
(6) 270; 269; 267 (15 min); avg 268.6.
Week one, 6 December 2018, I set my first goal at 250-255 watts. Recall I increased this by five watts each week, thus my goal for week two was 255-260 watts. By week six, I was hoping to stay within 270-275 watts for each 20-minute interval. Notice on week six I faltered (blew-up) 15 minutes into interval three. As I had with VO2 max intervals, I was running into my very real FTP six weeks into my sweet spot interval training. Here's the two weeks between the Canary Islands and Mallorca (back in Hamburg),
Weeks 7-9: February 7-14, 2018
(7) 270; 269; 270; avg 270.
(8) 275; 270 (17 min; DNF); DNS.
My success during week seven was perhaps my very best on the trainer for the sweet spot up to that time. That day I had reverted to the week six goal, 270-275 watts, giving myself a slight advantage to succeed given I'd been off the trainer for weeks riding outdoors on Gran Canaria. The next week I reached for 275-280 watts and blew-up after 17 minutes during the second interval. I never started the third. It's very likely that I was above 120% of my FTP at 275 watts at least on the trainer at that time.
My experience performing the much less intensive, relative to VO2 max and sweet spot intervals, 2x60 minute endurance intervals also hit a wall, I began to blow up, during week eight. Here's the first eight weeks, all on the trainer, before my endurance interval training was set-aside during my trip Mallorca,
Weeks 1-7: Dec 8 2017 to 12 Jan 2018
(1) 207; 208; avg 207.5.
(2) 219; 221; avg 220.
(3) 226; 226; avg 226.
(4) 231; 232; avg 231.5.
(5) 235; 237; avg 236.
(6) 241; 240 (40 min); avg 240.5.
[Off the Trainer: 16 Jan to 1 Feb, Gran Canaria]
(7) 240; 240; avg 240.
(8) DNF; DNS.
My goal during week one, 8 December 2017, was 200-205 watts for each 60 minute endurance interval. By week six (no trips to Spain just yet) my goal was up to 240-245 watts and I was able to meet that goal, 240.5 watts average over the two intervals. When I returned to Hamburg from Gran Canaria I again, as with my post-Gran Canaria goals for VO2 max and sweet spot, gave myself a slight break by maintaining the goal from week six and was successful, 240 watt average over the two intervals. In contrast to week seven, week eight was a near complete loss. And this was in part because by this time I was single but still living with my former girlfriend in Germany. Relationship stress was very high. Another factor was loss of trainer adaptation. After Mallorca, I never regained the trainer fitness I had during week seven.
Part 3: Details Weight Training in the Gym
For the readers convenience, I'll start this section by repeating some of what I wrote in the introduction including the basic structure of the weight lifting component of my gym exercises, the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. These were entirely new to my athletic sphere when I started planning in November 2017. I've been performing core, balance, and flexibility exercises since April 2011 and many of these exercises as prescribed by my physical therapist, Dr. John Kummrow (Integrative Physiotherapy), instructors teaching at Midline Yoga (previously at Elan Yoga & Fitness), and massage therapists including Katie Hines. As part of my 2017-2018 winter training, I continued to do these though in different reps and sets to accommodate my goals involving weight lifting. For the remainder of this section I'll write almost exclusively about weight lifting. For questions about any part of this blog entry, including core, balance, and flexibility training, I'd be thrilled to hear from you via a comment or email.
The simplest way to replicate my weight lifting schedule and dose for the squat, deadlift and overhead press is to buy the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe. In it he advises a five pound weight increase for beginners per session, 2-3 sessions a week, in the gym. I played-around with weights, reps, and sets, and worked on form, throughout November in prep for December. Mark Rippetoe is also featured in many videos that are available on YouTube, such as this one. They're all excellent, informative and entertaining.
Throughout, planning and implementation, I was also coached by my older brother, an accomplished weight lifter and stone mason extraordinaire. I sent him videos and he coached me on form as best he could from a distance. He answered dozens of questions. He was also my inspiration and source of courage to get under the barbell for the first time since I was a teenager. What I discovered, once I went under and over the bar, was I really enjoyed these exercises. Especially the squat.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, overlapping with the trainer component of my winter training program, I went to the gym and performed first weights, then core and balance, then flexibility exercises. After these workouts, which I always performed after cycling, I often collapsed in the sauna to relax and wind down. It wasn't unusual for me to spend four hours in the gym. On days I had to be quick I could shorten to 2.5-3 hours by cutting-out some of the peripheral activities and being all business. I focused on work in the early mornings and on rest days: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday-Sunday.
I was late getting Rip's book shipped to Germany so didn't actually integrate his structure, sets and reps, until 20 December. On that day my heavy set for squat was 65 kilograms plus the 20 kg barbell, 187 pounds. I performed many warm-up sets, as prescribed (exactly) by Rip, then performed 3 sets of 5 reps at 187 pounds. Based on Rip's suggestions, two days later I added five pounds to my heavy sets, 192 pounds.
The hardest barbell exercise I performed was by far the overhead press, I started at a modest 77 lbs, my heavy sets were 3 x 5 reps just like the squat.
I enjoyed the deadlift almost as much as the squat. On 20 December I started my deadlifts with a heavy set of 5 reps at 176 lbs, weights + bar. My heavy set for deadlifts, as prescribed by Rip for beginners, was 1 set of 5 reps.
Rip predicted that my deadlift heavy weight would eventually overtake my squat heavy weight. He was right, and that occured on the 5th of February, 2018, when I successfully squatted 220 lbs (3 sets x 5 reps each) and then subsequently deadlifted 232 lbs (1 set x 5 reps). I lost and gained on all of these barbell exercises as I traveled between Germany and Spain (no gym, only cycling). On my last trip to the Kaifu Lodge, where I performed all of my gym training, I was up to the following weights on my heavy sets: squat 221 lbs, press 94 lbs, deadlift 254 lbs. I ran into marginal gains, no longer five pounds per session, about eight weeks in with both the squat and press. I continued to gain with few exceptions with the deadlift.
My first three month excursion into the weight room in about 30 yrs delivered significant strength gains. For example, my deadlift increased from 176 pounds, a set of 5 reps, to 254 pounds, a difference of 78 very real pounds. I'm already looking forward to getting back into the gym in about December 2018, based in part on how much I enjoyed my time under and over the barbell last winter but also because I know that the weight training contributed significantly to my accomplishments (so far) racing a mountain bike in 2018.
Part 4: Conclusion
Armed with great advice from a friend and pro racer, David Krimstock, and the book Training and Racing with a Power Meter, I set-out in early December 2017 to elevate my FTP from where I was at the conclusion of racing in 2017, 270-280 watts, to 300 watts. I simultaneously trained three components of my cardiovascular and physiological systems, endurance, sweet spot, and VO2 max, alongside an aggressive gym program involving weights, core, balance, and flexibility exercises. After nine weeks of intensive interval training interspersed with two climbing blocks in Spain and the work in the gym, I achieved or came very close to my ambitious goal, at least at sea level, an FTP in the range of 295-300 watts.
Given my limited experience with the sport of cycling, I suspect that what I did on the bike and in the gym was not the very best way to increase my FTP. I'll be thinking about how to make improvements and then implementing those changes in the winter of 2018-2019. But those forecasted improvements aside, it turns out my 2017-2018 plan was effective without requiring excessive hours on the trainer and I learned much more than I anticipated along the way, a nice bonus. Since leaving Deutschland and entering the amatuer racing circuit in Colorado I've had three top-of-the-podium finishes in my very competitive 40-49 age category, a first place finish overall at the Salida 720 racing as part of a pro-expert duo team, a solo fifth overall at the Bailey Hundo, and most recently a solo 7th place overall at the Breck 100. A few weeks ago when I climbed off the bike in Bailey, Colorado I knew I'd accomplished something very special for my modest, endurance-distance, racing palmeres, a breakthrough performance that was made possible by planning and hard work over the winter and the kindness of others that were willing to share their experiences and knowledge of the sport of cycling.
Please check back in to Andre Breton Racing Dot Com for future blogs dedicated to my winter base camps in Gran Canaria and Mallorca among other topics from my 2018 training and racing experiences.
A bicycle tour through eleven historic New Hampshire villages from the Sky Bridge Café in Wilton and back again.
Summary: This blog entry is the first of three intended to capture my impressions, and more, from a cycling tour of New England and New York that I completed from 9/5 to 10/8/2017 amidst lots of days off the bike to spend quality time with friends and family. My primary goal for this three-part impressions series is to inspire others to explore the regions rural routes, quaint villages, and scenic landscapes by bicycle. In this entry, I recall impressions from a day of cycling through eleven historic villages in southern New Hampshire's picturesque hill country starting and ending at the Sky Bridge Cafe in downtown Wilton. The entry is written as if you, the reader, are following my route on a bicycle and I'm a voice in your head providing directions along the way including suggestions for satisfying your inevitable food and caffeine cravings. I've also inserted a touch of history as it relates to the land and the villages on the route. From Wilton and the Sky Bridge, my eleven-village tour proceeds west, clockwise (see map below), first to Temple then Peterborough, Harrisville, Nelson, Hancock, Bennington, Greenfield, Mont Vernon, Amherst, Milford, and ultimately back to Wilton and the Sky Bridge. With the exception of Peterborough and Milford, both "towns" by any measure legal or otherwise, the word "village" provides an appropriate visual cue for the other nine. Within the villages and the much larger town centers of Peterborough and Milford are some wonderful opportunities for the curious food and caffeine motivated traveler. Among them the Sky Bridge Cafe of course, but also the English-inspired Birchwood Inn and London Tavern in Temple, the Harrisville General Store, the Local Share by Plowshare Farm in Wilton, and the Union Coffee Company in Milford. Between the villages you'll find a bit of Alice's Wonderland, a patchwork landscape of hills, forests, and farmlands. I hope my blog entry will inspire you to explore, by bicycle, this relatively undiscovered region in New Hampshire. If you can't make the trip on a bicycle then carpool with a group of lucky friends and family!
Before delving into the ride, my impressions, and more, let me start-out with some details that will be helpful for anyone wanting to repeat this ride as I completed it, all eleven villages in a day including stops for photos, snacks, drip coffee (Harrisville General Store) and a latte (Union Coffee Company, Milford). In this opening section, I'll include details about road surfaces you'll find on the route and some tips to keep in mind including tire pressure and bike choice for maximizing the fun factor on dirt with minimal loss of efficiency on pavement. The route, including out-n-backs for coffee and town-center visits, is 78 miles (126 km). Along the way, you can expect to climb, according to Strava, about 5850 feet (1783 meters). My time on the saddle, moving time, was five hours two minutes. Elapsed time, including two stops for food and coffee, was six hours thirty-four minutes. Here's a link to the route on Strava where I go by the alias Lava Monkey.
I used Ride With GPS to assemble and save my route in a format (GPX file) that could be read by my Garmin eTrex20 GPS device. Turns along the way were informed by previous rides I've done in the area. I favored roads-less-traveled and avoided, whenever possible, state-maintained "highways" such as the 101 and 31. As their designation implies, these routes are the primary corridor for high-speed traffic including freight. I'd advise staying off of them especially the noisy, busy 101, an alternative route connecting Milford, Wilton, and Peterborough. Among the roads-less-traveled, I favored paved routes mostly, but not exclusively, for this tour because I knew I would be advertising and recommending the ride to a wide-readership on my blog. On other rides I've done through southern New Hampshire's hill country (see links at the end of the blog), I favored a higher percentage of mixed-surfaces including dirt roads and rail trails (bike paths built on former rail beds). My eleven village tour is close to 90% paved vs. non-paved, so I'd advise tire pressures that favor paved roads with only modest softening for the few dirt roads that you'll encounter.
With the proper bike, "dirt" roads, sometimes referred to as "gravel" roads, a highly varied road surface, can add immensely to a cycle tour. With modern "hybrid", alternatively "gravel", bikes and the features they offer, such as tubeless tires and steel frames, these surfaces can be ridden safely and comfortably at much higher speeds than a road bike with 90-120 psi tire pressures front and rear. When preparing my Niner RLT 9 Steel gravel bike (50-36 rings, 32-11 cassette), the bike I used on this ride, for non-paved surface such as gravel roads, cobble stone, and non-technical single track, I inflate my tubeless Hutchinson Sector 28 mm tires to 85 psi rear / 75-80 psi front. Over a calendar year, my body weight varies from about 150 (race fit) to 160 (off-season) pounds (68-72 kg). You'll want to factor in your own body weight when softening your tires. Too low and you could easily damage your rim or pinch a tube if you're not rolling tubeless. There is also the trade-off to keep in mind between decreasing efficiency on the paved roads with gains, as you drop tire pressure, in efficiency and safety on the mixed-surfaces.
Unless you know a garage code in Wilton or another town nearby, where you can bunk for the night as I did, then you'll likely drive into Wilton center with your bike on a rack. You'll find ample parking in the town center. Given that you'll be gone most of the day I advise parking off the main street. The Sky Bridge Cafe is close to the west edge of downtown, a short spin from any parking option. Depending on which day and time you decide to set-out on this tour of eleven villages, or any other ride that starts in Wilton (see suggestions below for more routes), you may find that the Sky Bridge is either closed or not yet open the morning that you arrive. An excellent alternative is the Local Share by Plowshare Farm, quality drip coffee and espresso, organic baked goods, locally made art, and even local produce when in season. To find the Local Share cross the street from Sky Bridge and take a left, a few doors down, across from the historically significant and locally celebrated Wilton Town Hall Theater, you'll find the Local Share.
If you drove in then you likely arrived off the 101 from Milford. On your way, you may have noticed that the roads were essentially flat as you made your way from interstates to the 101 eventually to Milford and then Wilton. You were driving across a former, mostly flat, outwash plain comprised of sands and gravels left behind by receding glaciers, ca. 11,000 years ago (from the most recent cold period of the ongoing Quaternary Glaciation) Alternatively, if you came from the west on the 101 then you came through hills associated with the extensive and geologically ancient Appalachian Mountains, a landscape feature easily seen from space whose origins date back ca. 480 million years to the so-called Age of the Fishes, well before the evolution of reptiles and mammals. From Peterborough heading east towards Wilton, the 101 climbs up-and-over a section of Temple Mountain (2,045 ft (623 m)). Like all of the hills in the region, the bedrock of Temple Mountain is mostly metamorphosed schist and shale, rock layers that record the former existence of a sea of an antiquity even older than the Appalachians.
As this overview of the geography of southern New Hampshire implies, from Wilton heading north, towards Greenfield, west back towards Peterborough and Keene, or south towards the village of Temple you can expect to encounter a region dominated by hills and valleys and the watersheds that divide them including those drained by the Souhegan and Contoocook Rivers, each a tributary of the much larger Merrimack River. Some of the hills are significant such as Mount Monadnock (3,165 ft (965 m)), which is part of the divide between the Connecticut and Merrimack River watersheds, and the already mentioned Temple Mountain. However, don't underestimate the smaller, lesser known hills. My eleven-village tour samples not exclusively, but nearly so, this region of hills and valleys found south of the more widely known White Mountains of central New Hampshire.
From Sky Bridge or the Local Share, with plenty of caffeinated cycling fuel in your body, saddle-up and point your whip west. Just after the Sky Bridge Cafe, take a left. At this point, you're very close to the confluence of the Souhegan River, a tributary of the regionally significant Merrimack River and the locally valued Stony Brook. Cross the bridge over the Souhegan and take the first right. Here you'll begin your ascent into southern New Hampshire's hill country. A few hours later, as you approach Amherst, you'll roll-out of the same hills onto the former, glacial, outwash plain on which sits Amherst, Milford, and the eastern edge of Wilton among other towns and villages in the area.
As you begin to ascend from the banks of the Souhegan River, grades will initially approach 15% but the majority of the climb, over about 3.5 miles including false flats and short descents, is far less steep. At a casual pace I climbed to the top in about 18 minutes. You'll gain a modest ca. 550 feet on this climb. Despite your proximity to the busy 101, just to the south, you'll already be getting hints of what lay ahead in southern New Hampshire's hill country. From the summit, you'll drop-down to the 101, turn left at the intersection, coast a few tenths of a mile, then make a right onto a country road. Over the next ca. 1.5 miles you'll gain another 400 feet in two back-to-back climbs. The second is impressive, for its steepness from the vantage of a bike saddle, especially with the initial climb already in your legs. From the top, you'll descend comfortably, possibly on a section of dirt road but I can't recall for sure, to the village of Temple, the second village on the tour. Temple was first settled in 1758.
This early in your tour it wouldn't be advisable to drop-into the Birchwood Inn and London Tavern for a pint. But I would advise that you take a few photos and make plans to return to the village when you can stay longer. Scroll through the photos of the rooms available at the Birchwood Inn, they are impressive, cozy, welcoming, and a short walk to a "proper" British Imperial pint in the adjoining London Tavern. Temple is perhaps best known for the New England Glassworks Company (more commonly referred to as "Temple Glassworks"). The furnace and associated infrastructure from the factory were operational from just 1780 to 1783. Glassworks forged in Temple during this time are highly sought-after collectibles.
From the village of Temple you'll pick-up state highway route 45 and head north. Not to worry, this short section of highway, less than six miles, does not attract high speed wackos like the 101. However, you will have to climb out of town, up-and-over the western slopes of nearby Mount Howard. Settle-in, this is hill country after all, they'll be much more climbing ahead. As you approach the 101, at the top of a steep descent where you can see the highway below, take a left onto a gem of a dirt road, smooth, wide, lightly traveled. It's a false flat most of the way to the next junction with the 101. When you get there, cross the highway (with care) and make a left into the cycle lane.
This is the most dangerous part of the ride because you'll be sharing a busy road with high-speed motor-vehicle traffic. Stay as far right as possible as you ascend this part of Temple Mountain. The climb is less than a mile, about 5-6 % grade on average. The exit point, a right turn, off this cycling-unfriendly road is less than a half mile from the summit. When you reach the right turn off the 101, remember to return to normal breathing. I assure you, this short tour of the 101 is worth the risk for the opportunity to tour the villages and hill country west and north of Wilton.
From the right turn off the 101, you'll enjoy a fast, flowy, paved road for a handful of miles before turning left onto a dirt track. Unlike the previous dirt section, the day I rode this section I encountered moderately deep ruts from water erosion as well as small patches of loose sand and gravel. Be prepared to ride your road or gravel whip like a mountain bike at times. If you're like me then you'll enjoy the challenge of riding this section at a sensible speed, but not too sensible. Note, part way down the initial descent off the paved road you'll come to a sharp left, take care not to overshoot the corner. To recap so far, from Wilton center to Temple you'll ride ca. seven miles with 1000 feet of climbing; then another ca. nine miles with 775 feet of climbing from Temple to Peterborough center.
Peterborough is a popular destination for visitors and locals and the downtown area, primarily for tourists, is the center of that activity. Busyness aside, Peterborough offers a variety of shops set in an attractive New-England-style setting of bygone days. You won't be able to settle-in to every village on this tour, including the popular town centers of Peterborough and Milford, but you should at least do a roll through of the main tourist loop for future trip planning. If you're following my route and intend to complete the full eleven-village tour then it'll will be too early for lunch when you arrive to Peterborough. Regardless of your priorities, at some point you should stop-into Twelve Pine for a multitude of delicious sandwiches, salads, and other options. You might also enjoy Little Duck Organics, a grocer, or Aesop's Table, a wonderful combo bookshop and cafe. Be sure to save some time for my first recommended coffee stop at the Harrisville General Store.
From Peterborough, you'll ascend the west bank of the Contoocook River onto a modest climb as you make your way out of the downtown area. Not far from the top of the climb, you'll make a right off the main road back into the forest. You're now on your way to Harrisville and the coffee-stop that I mentioned. As you make your way, you'll ride along narrow, lightly traveled, paved routes through rural, picturesque, hills and farmlands. Amidst the landscape scenes will be plenty of old stone walls to send your mind wandering back into New England's recent past when European settler's and their harness animals laboriously transformed continuous forests into patchwork farms.
Although they'll be much more to see ahead, the section between Peterborough and Harrisville is certainly as scenic and peaceful as any other on the tour. Take your time, allow the natural smells and sounds to settle-in. Along the way, you'll encounter no hill climbs of any significance and no dirt sections (on my route). Shortly before climbing into the village of Harrisville, you'll ride for a few miles along the shoreline of Skatutakee Lake, the source of Nabanusit Brook. The Nabanusit converges with the Contoocook River not far from downtown Peterborough. We'll revisit the Contoocook one more time in the village of Bennington.
At the end of Hancock Road, which parallels the north shore of the Skatukakee Lake, you'll turn right (north) onto Main Street in Harrisville. With less than a half-mile to cover before my first, suggested, coffee and food stop, I encourage you to unleash the athlete inside you and pedal hard up the 100 foot climb into town! You'll see the short climb into the village shortly after making the right turn off Hancock Road. The Harrisville General Store is on the left at the top of the climb. Many of the old mills from the town's earliest European settlement are on the right side of the road as you come into the village. Between the centers of Peterborough and Harrisville you'll pedal about 12 miles and climb a modest 1000 feet. In Harrisville, you'll be 27 miles into the route with 2700 feet of climbing already behind you.
Stash your bike somewhere in front, next to, or perhaps even behind the General Store, there is no need to lock it in this part of the World. Once you're inside, allow your eyes to adjust to the bountiful food and drink options that surround you. Stare wide-eyed into the glass cases at both hardy and sweet options. Breath in the smell of quality drip coffee and imagine the satisfaction of a bottomless cup for a few dollars. Once you've performed a thorough-ish inventory of your options head to the counter and start ordering. If you're lucky you'll encounter a man with a strange ascent, that's the owner. I was told his dialectic roots sprouted in Zimbabwe. However, don't be dismayed if a lady or a non-funny speaking man greets you, I found only genuine smiles in this little shop perched above and beside "a unique, well preserved, 19th-century mill town" (more at Wikipedia).
In fairness to those that performed the preservation, "a unique, well preserved, 19th-century mill town" really doesn't do the extent of the towns preservation justice. Coffee-in-hand from the porch of the General Store, so much has been preserved that a spandex-clad (or otherwise) visitor can easily hearken back to an era when "work", referring to the term as it applies to Physics, was produced exclusively in this and other mill towns by the "force", more physics, of gravity pushing water downhill. You'll absolutely want to come back for a foot tour of this town, including a visit to the original Harrisville train depot and the Cheshire Mills. In the meantime, check-out this Virtual Tour of Harrisville Village.
Next-up on my clockwise tour of eleven villages in southern New Hampshire's hill country is the exceptionally sleepy village of Nelson, New Hampshire. It's so sleepy in fact that unless there is a contradance underway in the village town hall, a tradition dating back 200 years according to the locals, you could easily roll past without realizing you'd been there. As you make your way to Nelson you'll be reabsorbed by the land- and sound-scapes of southern New Hampshire's hills and valleys. The ride to Nelson from Harrisville won't take you long, it's only about five miles with 550 feet of climbing. Along the way you'll roll past Tolman Pond where, apparently, one of New England's first ski hills was established in the 1920s.
At the junction of Nelson and Old Stoddard Road take a left into the village-center of Nelson for nostalgia and photos. When you're finished, return (back-track) to the junction and proceed east on Old Stoddard. My memory suggests that this is initially a smooth, no ruts and other inconveniences for tires and schedules, dirt road. After a short climb out of Nelson, you'll descend about four miles to state-highway 123 where you'll turn right towards Hancock, the next village on the tour. You'll follow the 123 for about six miles, nearly all descending, at which point you'll encounter a large white church and a post office on the left, both signs that you've entered one of New Hampshire's historic villages. Total climbing on this section is just ca. 580 feet, most of it on the initial climb out of Nelson that I mentioned.
As any American might guess, the namesake of Hancock is the man that signed the Declaration of Independence with fifty-five other delegates to the Continental Congress. And namesakes withstanding, this short quote from Wikipedia paints a picture that should motivate you to visit and perhaps return again to the quaint village of Hancock, "Almost every building on Main Street in downtown ... is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Hancock Village Historic District. Hancock's Meetinghouse is home to Paul Revere's #236 bell, which chimes on the hour, day and night. The town does not have paved sidewalks, [instead] gravel paths [lead] from home to home." Hancock was first settled, by European invaders, in 1764.
When you're ready to ride-on from Hancock, follow state-highway 137 out of town. Neither route 123 nor 137 present any concerns as far as traffic and proximity to fast moving vehicles. Neither road is heavily used and those that do use the road don't seem be late for their dinner reservation, which too often seems to be much more important than safety concerns for a nearby cyclist. Follow the 137 for ca. one mile then turn left onto Antrim Road. From this junction you're only 3.5 miles, with about 330 feet of climbing, from Bennington, the next historic village on my clockwise tour from Wilton and back again.
If you've been scribbling down numbers and arithmetic then you may have noticed that "feet of climbing" per mile cycled has been declining in the last few miles of my description. That's because as you make your way east from Nelson you'll be riding out of southern New Hampshire's hills and into the region of the former outwash plain that I mentioned earlier in this blog entry. You'll descend off the last hill onto sands and gravels distributed by flowing glacial melt water, ca. 11,000 years ago, and later covered-up by invading plants, such as White Pine (Pinus strobus), as you approach Amherst. On Antrim Road (named for a village to the north) you'll find yourself in a space that should be familiar to you by now, the smells and sounds of southern New Hampshire's hill country. Ride on and enjoy the solitude.
The village of Bennington is located at The Great Falls of the Contoocook River, the same river we encountered to the south in Peterborough. The Great Falls drop 70 feet in 1.2 miles (more details at Wikipedia). Attracted by the Great Falls, industrialists and their mills were already established in this town by 1782 not long after the conclusion of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Because I wanted to visit Bennington, a village north of both Hancock and Greenfield, I wasn't able to include a wonderful feature of the region known as the Hancock-Greenfield Bridge. On your future visits to the area, many I hope once you discover or perhaps rediscover, as I did, what you've been missing, I suggest making the bridge a part of one of your itineraries. The bridge lies about half-way, on a roughly east-west line, between the two villages in its namesake. All of the details that you'll need, are available at the Hancock-Greenfield Bridge Wikipedia page.
From Bennington, my route heads south and then east to the village of Greenfield, about six miles with 400 feet of climbing on paved country roads. Amidst it's list of current and historical factoids, one fact, an accomplishment in this case, about Greenfield truly stands-out in my humble opinion. From Wikipedia, "Greenfield is home to the Yankee Siege, considered the most powerful ... trebuchet in the world. [The Yankee Siege] has participated in the annual World Championship Punkin' Chunkin' Contest in Sussex County, Delaware since 2004." Also from Wikipedia, "A trebuchet is a type of siege engine which uses a swinging arm to throw a projectile at the enemy." No doubt there is much more to see, eat, and drink in Greenfield, a town established in 1753 in part because of the distance to the nearest church and school and the "Monadnock hills" along the way, but don't let that stop you if your preference is to seek-out the "most powerful" pumpkin thrower, aka, the Yankee Siege!
Once you're satisfied with your visit to Greenfield, roll east out of town on the main street. You'll spend only a minute or two on state-highway 31 before making a left turn onto a friendly cycling alternative. Enjoy the next six miles as you continue east towards the oddly named road "2nd New Hampshire Turnpike S". At the turnpike, a mellow road despite its name, turn right. The turnpike will take you directly into Mont Vernon, village number nine on my tour of eleven.
Mont Vernon really is spelled without the "u" as in "Mount". But spelling aside, which they got wrong relative to its namesake, the town founders were apparently fond of George Washington and so they chose the name of his country residence, a plantation in Virginia, for the name of their town shortly after 1803 following a dispute with residents of nearby Amherst. There was a time when Mont Vernon was a favorite for travelers coming-up from the south, especially members of privileged societies from Boston. Hotels from that time, including the Grand Hotel, must have been a sight to behold, each of them sparing no detail for their elite guests. But sadly, none of them survived to the present (more details at Wikipedia). However, you can still view images of these old hotels on display in a museum on the second floor of the Town Hall, courtesy of the Mont Vernon Historical Society. If you need a snack before continuing on to Amherst, consider a quick stop at the Mont Vernon General Store, you'll roll past it, on the right, as you leave the village.
Less than a mile south of town turn left on Amherst Road and follow this just three miles to the village center of the same name. Amherst, for white settlers, began as a land grant to soldiers that participated in King Phillip's War (1675-78), a war brought to Metacom (aka, "King Phillip"), then the leader of the Wampanoag Confederacy, by selfish puritans among others. An accurate telling of history aside, it's nonetheless fascinating to think that this part of New Hampshire was settled by soldiers from so far back in American history. At that time, New England remained a dangerous frontier for both natives and settlers. For an excellent, historically accurate, and unbiased account of the settlement of New England, including wars and other skirmishes, I strongly recommend Mayflower: the story of courage, community, and war, a book by Nathaniel Philbrick.
Amherst has a wonderful central park, with a ring road around it, that is perfect for a short break, especially to take advantage of shade trees if you happen to ride on a warm day. The same park also provides an excellent vantage for capturing images of the park itself with historic buildings in the background. If you're feeling peckish, then I recommend a visit to Moulton's Cafe, on Main Street, they are apparently New Hampshire's original "soup bar" (see their webpage for more details). You'll find plenty more to eat at this location including a handsome menu of fresh sandwiches, baked goods, and groceries. When you're satisfied with your Amherst visit then pick the route back up and continue, just three miles on flat roads, to the last village on the tour.
Hopefully, you'll have some time, before riding the six miles back to downtown Wilton, to drop-into the Union Coffee Company for your favorite espresso-based wake-me-up. They serve an excellent latte in a proper cup, visualize a soup bowl with a handle. Like Peterborough, Milford has a lot to offer the curious traveler. No doubt, if you need something you'll find it somewhere around the central oval (a ring road) found in this busy yet attractive, old New England-styled town. Milford's namesake was a mill, perhaps one of the mills still standing, built close to a ford over the Souhegan River, the same river we encountered not far from the Sky Bridge Cafe, in Wilton. Despite it's size relative to sleepy Amherst, Milford actually separated from Amherst, not vice versa, in 1794. I encourage everyone to visit Milford's Wikipedia page for a more thorough read of this communities rich history. For example, prior to the emancipation proclamation (1863) and the conclusion of the American Civil War (1861-1865), "Milford was a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves".
With whatever gas you have left in the tank, supplemented by a caffeinated beverage from the Union Coffee House, from Milford head north from the ring road across the same bridge you came in on, over the Souhegan River, and turn left, to the west. From here you'll follow the Souhegan on a gently rolling, lightly trafficked, paved road. At the junction of North River and Purgatory Road take note of Fitch's Corner Farm Stand, you may want to return for fresh veggies on your way home. Take a left onto Purgatory Road then take your second right back onto North River Road and enjoy the last few miles back to where you started earlier in the day, downtown Wilton.
If you were able to postpone your inevitable rendezvous with a hearty meal then you really should sample some of Jorge's, the owner of the Sky Bridge Cafe, locally famous paella. And although his espresso machine is modest by industry standards, Jorge's talent for preparing an espresso will nonetheless impress you and your taste buds. Depending on when you arrive to the Sky Bridge you may be able to sit in the shade, outdoors, with your feet up. Regardless of where you land when you step off your bike, be sure to let all that you've accomplished settle-in before you return to your busy life. Once you're back home and drifting-off into a well earned sleep, I anticipate that you'll dream about the hill country of southern New Hampshire; and when you wake, you'll consider plans for your next trip to Wilton for a day or part of a day of exploring the hills, valleys, and villages nearby.
Strava links to other rides in the area from the Lava Monkey,
Native American name translations and other details from Wikipedia,
Souhegan River: Algonquin, "waiting and watching place." Prior to European settlement, salmon, alewives, sturgeon, and eels all migrated to and from the river. The name for this river reflects a time when Native American's sat and waited, with nets across the river, to capture fish. Today, these fisheries are either gone (e.g., Salmon) or greatly diminished (e.g., American Eel),
Merrimack River: Algonquin, "the place of strong current."
Contoocook River: Abenaki, Pennacook Tribe, "place of the river near pines."
Skatutakee Lake: No translation available.
Nabanusit Brook: No translation available.
Wampanoag: "People of the Dawn."
For questions about this tour and any other inquiries please send me an email from my webpage. I'd enjoy corresponding with you.
Summary: In this three-part blog-entry I recall my pre- and post-racing experiences at the 2017 editions of the Original Growler (Gunnison, Colorado), Salida Big Friggin Loop (Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado), and the Fat Tire 40 (Crested Butte, Colorado). I also share my motivations for entering the Fat Tire 40, a chance to race amidst an exceptional outdoor community with an exceptional mountain biking history and also very close to a community with the same priorities just down the hill in Gunnison, Colorado. Highlights include a first place finish overall in the ultra-endurance Salida Big Friggin Loop!
ORIGINAL GROWLER: 28 May 2017, Gunnison, Colorado
For the 2017 edition of the Original Growler, half (32 mile) and full (64 mile) routes, Gunnison Trails introduced a new course with even more single track than years before at the expense of (mostly dirt) road sections. Single-track has never been in short supply in this race. The addition of even more, including the technical, rocky, Graceland Trails, ensured that the experience would leave a long-lasting, positive, impression even among the most experienced participants.
I had a productive week leading-up to the event, as far as race prep on and off my Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO. As in the past, this year I was registered for the Full Growler, about 64 miles of racing at Hartman Rock's Recreation Area, scheduled for 28 May. Prep encompassed three days in Gunnison including a visit with a friend, KAO Dave, at the clean, green, and friendly, Gunnison KOA. On the first full day, I rode the entire course (two laps) at (mostly) endurance pace starting from the main parking area at Hartman Rocks. The following day I used my 2002 Toyota Tacoma to access convenient entry-points to session the three most difficult sections of the course along Skull Pass, Josie's, and Rattlesnake Trails. No doubt, training and living at elevation for three days in Gunnison (7700 feet, 2350 meters) was beneficial. And rather than return to Fort Collins after my pre-ride / session work, I instead accommodated additional high-elevation acclimatization by staying in Salida (7100 feet, 2165 meters) for five days prior to the race.
Saturday, about mid-day, I returned via Monarch Pass to Gunnison from Salida. I want to thank two friends for their support, Andrew Mackie (Executive Director, Central Colorado Conservancy) for allowing me to camp-out in his living room from Monday-Friday and runner extraordinaire Ellen Silva for crewing for me on short notice including a quick visit on Saturday to transfer bottles, food, and strategy. Ellen was in town to crew for her freakishly fast (aka, "pro") boyfriend that was also competing in the Full Growler. She was very generous to wait close to 30 minutes for me to finish after her primary responsibility crossed the line, he finished 5th overall by the way, legit.
A neutral start from town got underway, following a Leadville 100-style shotgun blast, at 7 AM, Sunday morning. Just before the gun went off the pros, among others, were shedding arm warmers and vests. It's noteworthy, based on my experience, that some of these very experienced racers were visibly shaking because of the morning temperature, reportedly 30 F (-1 C) or possibly even cooler, at least one report suggested 28 F. A few degrees aside, it was certainly a cold start even for late May in Gunnison, Colorado. Unlike my neighbors on the starting line, I retained my arm warmers and vest, ultimately I was able to hand-up my vest to a volunteer as I exited Skull Pass on lap one. I held onto the arm warmers to the finish, so often I forget to ditch them when I have the chance, such as when I stopped briefly to resupply water from Ellen before starting lap two.
I felt good on the roll-out and stayed close to the police escort, just one bike between me and the bumper, close enough to the elite racers that I was able to listen-in on their conversation, a privilege that I wasn't able to retain for long. When the group reached the right turn onto the dirt at Hartman Rocks I was quickly dropped by the top fifteen or so riders as they raced towards the base of Kill Hill. With an average and max grade of 8% and 22%, respectively, Kill Hill is an effective obstruction for spreading-out the pack. At the top of Kill Hill, the race continued for about 1.5 miles on deeply rutted jeep road before descending onto the first section of single-track, Josho's Trail.
My ascent up Kill Hill was slower than my race performances in both 2015 and 2016, 4:34 min:sec versus 4:16 and 4:12, respectively. I didn't feel bad, it's possible I wasn't as warmed-up as years past, perhaps because I've become more efficient at staying out of the wind in a peloton. Despite my slower time up Kill Hill, on the fire road I passed far more than passed me. This set me up, at the intersection with Josho's, to descend onto the single-track with a comfortable space ahead and behind. However, I quickly rolled-up on a group of about five riders as we started the first single-track ascent. No doubt I lost some time getting around these initial riders, perhaps enough to decide my race fate, the 1 minute 24 seconds that I would eventually concede when I rolled over the finish line in 2nd place among 40-49 amateur males (geared).
Traffic aside, as I descended and then ascended Josho's, I settled-into an uncomfortable, endurance-tempo pace that I knew I could sustain for many hours with sufficient food and water. Whether or not that pace was faster or slower than previous years is difficult to say, perhaps impossible. My gut suggests I was slightly behind my pace from 2016 and possibly 2015, consistent with my times and overall placement (14th, 17th, 21st overall in 2015, 2016, 2017). Considering I lived for six months over the winter at sea-level, my performance even at the end of May was probably still being affected by an incomplete acclimatization to high elevation (ca. above 7000 feet). But living preferences and acclimatization aside, for the most part I felt strong throughout the race and for that I'm grateful. I'm also grateful that I pedaled away from a high-speed crash that I experienced on the descent of Skull Pass (lap two).
On lap two, following a fast descent (only 9 seconds off my PR) of the Graceland Trails, I rolled-up on the wheel of a racer, Andrew Feeney, that would ultimately finish three places ahead of me overall (inside of the top 20). More significantly, before reaching the finish line he'd pass two racers from my age class, one pro, and one amateur, the amateur would finish #1 in the male 40-49 class, which was my goal for the day consistent with my first place, age 40-49 (amateur, geared), finishes in 2015 and 2016. It's always easy, in hindsight, to question what you "should have" and "could have" done, in a race or any other situation that comes to mind. But as all of us eventually learn, as we age, perhaps supplemented by the fabulous book Stumbling on Happiness (2006) by Daniel Gilbert, "should have" and "could have" thinking is replete with pitfalls and misconceptions.
Respecting these caveats, I nonetheless cannot help concluding that I wish I'd dug deeper. Over the roughly four miles that remained in the 64 mile endurance challenge, I wonder, looking back, if I had the resources to take back what remained of the four minutes that Wesley Sandoval, #1 finisher in my age class, had taken from me on lap one, and then a bit more. Instead, I watched as Andrew rode away from my wheel shortly after we connected to a short piece of jeep road. As I topped the next hill, by this point on my own, I watched Andrew approach two racers as all three approached the single-track known as Top of the World. Based on finish times, Andrew likely passed them on that section or as he climbed The Ridge. In 2015, unknowingly, I passed my last age 40-49 competitor during lap two on The Ridge, and subsequently crossed the finish line 36 seconds ahead of that individual. My fate was different in 2017, 1 min 24 seconds off the back of Wesley, but that's racing, and #2, despite being the "first loser" as my former coach Alex Hagman once joked, is certainly something to celebrate!
SALIDA BIG FRIGGIN LOOP: 10 June 2017, Salida, Colorado
There's a lot that's tough about the self-supported (no aid stations, no course markings, etc) Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL). An event, like many others (perhaps all) from the Colorado Endurance Series, that's been described as ultra-endurance. As this implies, the SBFL is considered a step above, i.e., harder than, events that fall under the endurance category including the popular Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. But rumors and opinions aside, whether or not the SBFL is "ultra-" versus within the "normal" range of endurance-style brutal is probably best decided by a participant that's competed in both events. That's what I signed-up for in 2016 (both events), in 2017 I returned to the SBFL (but not the Leadville 100) for a second time with a goal to win the event overall. This would be my first, premeditated attempt, at actually winning a bike race, part of an amazing, personal and athletic journey from 2013-14, "just finish without being run-over"; to 2015-2016, "see if you can win your age class"; to 2017, "lets see if you can win the whole thing!"
In my first rendezvous with the Salida Big Friggin Loop. despite gong off-course for about 21 minutes, I finished 2nd overall just a few seconds ahead of the third place finisher. Ahead of me, by a convincing ca. 45 minute margin, was my good friend and mentor, Ben Parman (aka, "the Parmanator"). In 2017, I wanted to return to the event with the knowledge of the course that I had stock-piled in 2016. I also wanted to deploy a more aggressive, and hopefully effective, water and food strategy. Going into the 2017 race, I felt that if I could keep the air in my tires, stay on course, maintain an uncomfortable endurance-tempo pace throughout, and eat and drink sufficiently, then I had a chance to cross the line first overall.
As far as nutrition, plan and implementation, I consumed an original GU gel (not Roctane, too expensive) or Organic Honey Stinger Waffle every ca. 45 minutes. If my stomach was feeling a little too sweet then I went with the waffle, if it was feeling content, neutral, then I went with the gel. Importantly, I started eating right-away including a gel a few minutes before the neutral roll-out from town. At the 2017 SBFL, I raced for 10 hours and 2 minutes, so that's roughly thirteen feeds, combined gels and waffles. As far as calories consumed, my guess is I ate about nine gels and four waffles (total 13 feeds). GU gels are about 100 calories each, waffles about 140 calories, 9x100 + 4x140 = ca. 1460 calories consumed during the race. As of 2016, I've been using only water, no dissolvable mix of any kind, in my Subculture Cyclery (Salida, CO) bottles.
For hydration, I started with two 26-oz water bottles which were, in hindsight, not enough for the first 50 miles of the race, Salida to Buena Vista, via the Colorado Trail below Mounts Shavano, Antero, and Princeton. The summits of all three of these peaks exceed 14,000 feet, part of a stunning alpine backdrop that rises majestically from the floor of the Arkansas Valley (Collegiate Peaks Wilderness). If, in the future, I line-up at this event for a third time, I'll certainly stash a water bottle somewhere between Mount Shavano and the base of the Mount Princeton climb. I feel that the only mistake I made, as far as hydration, was not stashing a bottle in this section. The two bottles that I carried from Salida were essentially finished by the time I was part-way up the difficult Mount Princeton climb, a paved and dirt road climb that reconnects racers to the Colorado Trail.
Not dehydrated but definitely parched, I was finally able to resupply water at the local tennis courts east of downtown Buena Vista (BV). In roughly two minutes, I drank 20 ounces or more and then refilled my two 26-oz bottles. From here, I ascended to Trout Creek Pass, about mile 68 on the course, before descending to my first, 24-oz, water stash roughly two miles away. The day before the race, as I'd done in 2016, I spent some time stashing water on the back-40 miles of the race course. After a longer descent and some climbing, roughly twelve miles from Trout Creek Pass, I arrived to my main stash, two bottles + six original GU gels stuffed into a water bottle. Much later, at about mile 98 out of 108, I picked up my last 26-oz bottle before the final, significant, dirt road climb. Because of that last 26-oz stash, I had access to water during the hottest part of the day as I navigated (up and down) about 10 miles of single-track through the Arkansas Hills, eventually to the same location in downtown Salida where the race started at 6:30 in the morning, Cafe Dawn.
The neutral roll-out (not enforced but generally followed) ends when the pavement turns to dirt whilst ascending from Salida to about 10,000 feet on the slopes of Mount Shavano. Unlike 2016, I decided to keep this section of the race reasonable, not going too deep, but at the same time trying to keep the fastest riders within sight all the way to Blank's Cabin, the start of the Colorado Trail section. I met my goal and felt good on the climb. When I reached Blank's I entered the woods among the top four or five. Subsequently, I was quickly caught and passed before a significant hike-a-bike on a rocky, loose, and steep ascent. But at the top, I quickly regained that difference and rode on to the next wheel. I was probably a little too hot on the throttle after that ascent, but in hindsight I must not have gone too deep either because of how well I was able to maintain my pace late in the race. I caught the lead rider well before the descent into the Mount Princeton Valley, Part-way up the asphalt section of the Mt. Princeton climb the same rider came into view below, but I'd see him for the last time as I approached the Colorado Trail on the upper slopes of Mount Princeton.
Throughout the day, even as I was approaching the finish line at Cafe Dawn, I was looking over my shoulder. Many miles before the finish, a look over my shoulder at Chubb Park, not far from the famous South Park, gave me a lot of encouragement towards the conclusion that I might be far ahead, perhaps enough to hold onto the win. Nonetheless, I remained vigilant and on the pedals throughout the day.
Because of careful planning, food and hydration, and perhaps backing-off on the opening climb, I suffered much less along Aspen Ridge, ca. miles 94-98, than in 2016 when I was barely able to rotate my pedals on what seemed like endless climbs and far-too-short descents between. For sure, I was hurting in 2017 through Aspen Ridge but it was a hurt that I could withstand without descending into mental anguish and a desperately slow, grinding, cadence. Knowing where I was, how much climbing was ahead, etc, was also a huge advantage relative to my previous experience.
At the top of Aspen Ridge, it seemed, based on what I hadn't seen behind me at Chubb Park or elsewhere, that the race was mine to win or lose, all I had to do to achieve the former was maintain a reasonable pace to the finish, enough to stay out front without seriously risking a crash. I wouldn't say I dropped Cottonwood Trail with extreme caution, but I certainly backed-off my fastest pace, especially when approaching rocks that could have easily been my tires undoing. Following that descent, a section that I enjoyed despite how many miles I'd raced that day, I rolled-out of the Arkansas Hills to the palatial view of the Arkansas Valley, Arkansas River, and Salida, below. Soon thereafter, I crossed the train tracks adjacent to town, navigated a fence opening, crossed the F-Street bridge, made a right, and finally, dodged traffic at the last street crossing before rolling to the finish.
When I began bike racing back in April 2013, three years after I'd purchased an entry-level mountain bike, my first bicycle since I was about 16 years old, I did not anticipate that I'd eventually find my way to bike racing, doing well as a bike racer, and certainly not winning an ultra-endurance mountain bike event. I'm grateful that chance navigated my journey to cycling and all that the sport has taught me along the way. No doubt, no matter what comes or goes in my life, a small part of that journey, winning the SBFL overall, will remain a fond and often replayed memory.
Note, I also won (overall) the FoCo 102 earlier this year, so technically the SBFL was my second overall victory as an amateur, endurance, mountain bike racer. Unlike the SBFL, the focus of the FoCo 102 for the majority of competitors is mainly social, hence my decision to focus, as my first win, more on the SBFL than the near-equal in difficulty FoCo 102. All that said, perhaps I should focus more on the 102 as my first victory? Preferences aside, there is no doubt that my overall win at the 2017 edition of the FoCo 102 will remain, like the SBFL, a highlight of my racing accomplishments and as such, a fond memory. I want to thank Road 34 for developing, organizing, and hosting the FoCo 102,
Lastly, I want to encourage any of my readers that might be living in or close to Fort Collins, Colorado, to add the FoCo 102 to their bucket list AND to sign-up for events, such as 40 in the Fort, that will be part of the upcoming, July 21-23, Tooth or Consequences Mountain Bike Festival. Local races are easy to attend, easy on our budget, and most important, they are easy on Planet Earth: far less fuel and other non-renewables are consumed to support our cycling passion when we race locally. Also, if we don't support our local events then those will eventually go away, a sad conclusion. Go online and sign-up today, and tell your friends to do the same. I'll see you out there.
FAT TIRE 40: 24 June, Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte, Colorado, widely known for epic, high-alpine scenery, is equally well known for it's mountain biking community, including a very accomplished cohort of pro and elite-amateur racers. And not too far away, a few miles down hill on the only paved road that joins the two celebrated mountain towns, Gunnison is home to an equally respected community of mountain bikers that fill the spectrum from social to high-octane rockets.
Early in my mountain biking adventures, well before I initiated training and racing, a friend, Phil Street, generously invited me to visit him in Crested Butte. That was my first visit to the extraordinary backdrops surrounding the town, often referred to as simply "CB". Pretty quick, I was hooked on the views and what I sensed were the priorities of the town, which seemed to favor proximity to nature and outdoor recreation as a good life's highest priorities. Of course, if you favor both then you will likely be very good, given hours of practice, at whatever sport(s) you favor. When mountain biking came into being, in ca. the 1970's, Crested Butte and nearby Gunnison, where people share the same priorities, quickly developed and expanded the sport (Crested Butte may even be the origin of the sport itself, more details). Eventually, both towns would become famous for their feats on mountain bikes, both professional and amateur.
Before I departed CB on that initial trip, Phil led me on two rides from town. Despite my pace, well off his wheel most of the time, Phil encouraged me throughout. From CB we traveled down to Gunnison, spent a day riding at Hartman Rocks, where I would years later win my age class for the first time as an amateur, and then drove out to Fruita and Loma for more mountain biking adventures. The whole trip was a breathtaking eye-opener to the scenic splendor of Colorado and areas regarded as some of the very best in the United States for mountain biking. I took it all in, cherished it, and dreamed about the future including returning to Crested Butte.
Years later, as I improved as a racer and interacted more with the mountain biking community, I found myself thinking about what it would mean to me to race amidst the communities of cyclists that I'd come to respect, starting from those initial trips with Phillip, in the highest regard. Early-on, I satisfied that curiosity, in part, by competing in the Original Growler in Gunnison, Colorado, for the first time in 2014; and then returning to the Growler in 2015 and 2016, both years I finished first among age 40-49, amateur, competitors (geared). As these details reveal, I accomplished my wish to compete in Gunnison early in my racing career. Along the way, each time I returned to Gunnison, I remembered my similar bucket-list dream to race among the elite up the hill, in nearby Crested Butte.
One week before the event was scheduled to start, a teammate mentioned that she was planning to attend the Fat Tire 40 in Crested Butte, part of Crested Butte Bike Week, and she thought that I should come along and throw-down amidst the local and visiting, elite-amateur, mountain bikers. I don't usually race events as short as 40 miles, more typically I favor (and my finish placements do as well) much longer events (65-100 miles). But this was CB and I was eager, as I outlined above, to take part in an event in that valley. My schedule also was open on this weekend (June 24th), that too contributed to what happened next, a hasty decision, all in a day, to sign-up!
A comfortable 8 am start and neutral roll-out opened the 2017 edition of the Fat Tire 40. So comfortable that I was even able to weigh-in on a conversation with the fastest guys in the race, including number two finisher of the day Bryan Dillon, USA Pro Team Topeak-Ergon. As I'd done earlier in the year at the Growler, I stayed within the top few racers directly behind the neutral pace vehicle, that is until the car pulled-away and the pro and nearly-a-pro group increased their pace. Following that surge, I dropped, very quickly, to about mid-pack. Along the way, I tried not to think too much about it. Instead, I tried to focus on smooth, efficient, pedaling. Before the race transitioned from pavement to single-track, by now within Mount Crested Butte above CB, I'd made up some ground including a last minute 3-person pass just before my tires made contact with the dirt.
By the way, for this event I used the same tires (by now the rear showed significant wear) as the SBFL, Vittoria Saguaro 2.20 front and rear. Overall, I was impressed by their performance in both events, the non-aggressive tread pattern provided noticeably more grip than the tire I traditionally use for training and racing on dirt, Specialized Fast Trak Control 2.1-2.2. However, I'm not convinced that either tire is what I'll commit to moving forward. For the 15 July 2017 edition of the Durango Dirty Century, I'll be rolling with a Maxxis 2.2 Ikon EXO (rear) and 2.2 Ardent Race EXO (front).
When racing in a valley with the reputation of CB, no one should be surprised when the trail gets technical. Right away, the opening single-track (Upper Loop to Upper Upper) became festooned with rocks and roots, occasionally broken by short, anaerobic climbs, and longer sections of flow where the aspen trees closed-in and threatened to catch your handlebars. At times like these, when the trail gets technical, I'm fortunate to be from Fort Collins where the trails are often the same. The opening trail allowed me to pass many more competitors. By the time I reached the first section of dirt, I was warmed-up and feeling confident.
From Upper Upper the course transitioned to dirt road for a few miles before connecting to the Strand Hill (dirt) road climb. I settled-in as I monitored riders that were coming from behind, when I needed to I picked-up my pace to maintain the gap. The back-side of Strand Hill is a fast descent on mostly, non-technical, single-track. However, just before the exit above the same road, and nearly the same point, where the Strand Hill climb began, is a narrow, steep, washed-out gully in place of where a trail once descended. When I came face-to-face with this unanticipated gulch I was carrying a lot of speed. I tried to shave some of that whilst redirecting the bikes trajectory towards a deeply entrenched trail between two walls of stone. I'm not sure where I failed, but the next moment I was on my feet, the bike was laying between the walls, and I was focused on my right ring-finger. Somehow I'd dislocated the primary knuckle. Later, a teammate with medical expertise, advised that I might have also broken the finger and damaged a tendon. Back to the trail, I felt that I could ride on. I straightened my handlebars, not quite enough in hindsight, and remounted. For about 10 minutes my finger caused me a lot of pain. But as I approached the ascent that would lead to Deer Creek most of the pain subsided and I was able to refocus on the usual endurance-tempo discomforts.
Most of 20 minutes went by as I climbed the dirt road up to the Deer Creek Trailhead. From that point, another hour passed as I climbed and then descended Deer Creek through what must be one of Colorado's most spectacular, scenic, landscapes. On either side of the trail, wildflowers, dominated by mule's ear and lupine, inspired vast meadows with their colors as they held fast to steep slopes above and below the trail. Above this wildflower extravaganza, in the alpine zone, I could see deep pockets of late season snow interlaced with extensive talus slope and exposed bedrock cliffs. Below a green forest filled the valleys down to pastures and homesteads. In the same view, Crested Butte's namesake rose from the valley floor in majestic fashion. Despite all of this scenery, I managed to stay inside my endurance-tempo pain cave. And the descent down the back-side of Deer Creek was fast and fun (other than when I reached out to catch a slip and smacked my sore finger).
At the bottom of Deer Creek the course returned to gravel, busy Gothic Road. From here, I descended, whenever possible, in the super tuck on my top tube. Along the way I passed at least one more competitor, maybe two. And also, crossed paths briefly with my NCGR teammate, Bill Bottom. He was kindly hauling water bottles up for friends and teammates. Unfortunately, I passed him (opposite directions) with such haste that I missed the chance to get a bottle.
At the base of Mount Crested Butte the course returned to single track, and soon the final ascent before the final drop back to Crested Butte and a short road section into town. More than anywhere else on the course, I suffered on the Lower and Upper Meander climbs. I had gone into this race carrying a margin of fatigue more than I would have wanted, ideally, and I think that margin began to take affect on this climb. Nonetheless, I eventually climbed over the top, under idle ski lifts, and began the descent. Right away, my next competitor was directly ahead of me, but as I opened my suspension my rear tire suddenly deflated.
As we often do in a race, I tried to ignore my fate, and rolled on for about a minute before stopping to assess the damage. I wasn't carrying CO2 cartridges, only an exceptional hand pump from Lezyne Engineered Design. After searching for a side-wall tear, I didn't find one, I went to work partially re-inflating the tire. Unfortunately, that initial re-inflate didn't last long and I was off the bike a second time, swearing a bit, and trying once more to re-inflate without installing a tube. This one held, not completely but enough to get me to the finish line. At this point in the race, the final miles, it's a pity that I had to stop twice and, in between, shave so much speed to avoid damaging my rear hoop, I think I could have passed, certainly one, and maybe even a couple more competitors on that descent and ride to town. I was feeling good and my descending instincts were firing efficiently after the opening 35 miles of racing in technical terrain.
Of course, it could have been much worse, not only the tire incident but also my high-speed crash. So for these reasons, I'm grateful that I even finished, let alone in first place overall among amateurs aged 40-49. Even better perhaps, I finished second among all amateurs and just six minutes off the wheel of the first place amateur finisher. Adding to my accomplishments, I was 19th overall out of 122 including the freakishly fast pros. Getting back to my early experiences and bucket lists, racing in the Fat Tire 40 delivered what I'd anticipated all along, a very special day of racing, a fond memory, and plenty of inspiration for the future; a mangled finger, deflated tire, and other mishaps withstanding, it's all part of the process and part of racing.
In this blog entry, I open with a recap of the social journey from Fort Collins to Cortez, Colorado, on a plush bus, operated by Lea Angell, with about fourteen teammates that were also competing in 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. The paragraphs that follow delve into, what I believe now, was an inevitable part of becoming a stronger, smarter, athlete. I've done my best to describe, in words, what I believe happened before and after my psychological melt-down during lap six, about nine hours into the 12-hr race. In my next blog entry, I'll return to the positive side of racing and training as I share my post-12-hr experiences including many podium finishes added to my amateur palmarès.
Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders (NCGR) has developed a tradition, in recent years, of opening our social and racing season with attendance at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, a popular and well organized event held annually at Phil's World just outside of Cortez, Colorado, in early May. And for the last two years running, we've upped-the-ante by renting a plush, retro, touring bus from driver, owner, and adventurer extraordinaire Lea Angell. If you're part of a group that is traveling en mass from a location somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Collins to point(s) somewhere on the periphery of our Front Range Universe then consider getting in touch with Lea about the cost of riding in style, in one of his buses. For mountain bike groups, you can literally pack dozens of bikes on and in this bus and still sit comfortably, with space to spare, in the passenger areas. And in general, rolling with Lea will add measurably to the fun factor ... all you'll need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the view such as the stunning, three-hundred-and-sixty degree, Rocky Mountain vistas awaiting lucky travelers that ascend and descend Wolf Creek Pass on the continental divide.
By the time NCGR reached Wolf Creek Pass on day two of our journey from Fort Collins (first night in Alamosa, Colorado), the group, about 15 in total, had already boisterously battled their way through many card games whilst enjoying a few full strength PBRs among other adult beverages. Unlike the previous two years, the weather then and ahead looked fabulous for a 12-hr mountain bike race in the desert adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park. Anticipation and no doubt a few nerves were managed as we made our way to Durango from Wolf Creek Pass and eventually to registration at Kokopelli Bike & Board, in downtown Cortez. If you're in this area and need a part, or a fix, for your whip don't hesitate to drop into Kokopelli, it's an excellent, well stocked and professional, bike shop. After a grocery resupply we backtracked a few miles to the local fairgrounds, ejected every imaginable item from a bus with deep pockets, assembled a small city, went for a short pre-ride, and, as if trained by veteran carnies, were settling-into a freshly cooked taco feast well before dark.
This would be my first year, out of four, entering 12-hrs as a solo rider. In the previous three years, 2014-2016, I was part of a 3-person, male, geared, team. My logic in 2017 was that racing the full 12 hours, as much as possible given cut-offs for the last lap, would be an excellent training opportunity for priority, long-distance, endurance races later in the season including the Gunnison Growler on May 28th. Also, an added cardio bonus, with no teammates to draw straws, riding solo ensured that I would be part of the le mans start at seven am. As in previous years, when I drew the shortest straw, the quarter-mile run from the starting line to my bike, awaiting in a nearby rodeo corral a short distance from a significant pinch point (corral exit), was a very uncomfortable way to start the day but perhaps an excellent way to jump start my engine. This year I was slower than previous efforts, based on numbers of riders that squeezed through the pinch point alongside of me, some on their bikes, some still pushing. But my pace during the run was sufficient to get me through the first important pinch point and out onto the course with the leaders.
Before going through the underpass from the fairgrounds to Phil's World, I passed my friend and teammate, Ben Parman. (aka, "the Parmanator") Nonetheless, Ben and RJ Morris (aka, "R-Jangutan"), another teammate, easily passed me back before or just after, respectively, we reached the single track. As history has often demonstrated, even amidst my best performances, I'm slow to warm-up and as a result slow to start and the 2017 edition of 12-hrs was no exception. Looking ahead, I think this weakness can be explained by an analysis of the structure and intensity of the training I've done over the years, good news given that I can and plan to try a different training recipe in the winter and spring of 2017-18. Perhaps I won't be able to overcome my historically slow start, but based on my own analysis I don't think that I've ever tested that hypothesis with an appropriate, high intensity, training block, or series of graded, low- to mid- to high- intensity blocks. I'm looking forward to seeing what's possible in the next twelve months and perhaps I'll put whatever I've done, by then as far as revised training, to the test as a solo rider at 12-hrs in May 2018. Stay tuned.
Back out on the course, shortly after I lost sight of RJ (the Parmanator was already far ahead of both of us), I settled-into a comfortable race pace for my mind and skills at Phil's World and rode-on through the first lap (ca. 17 miles) on my Niner Bikes Air 9 RDO (race design optimized). I had decided to race my 2014 edition of the Air 9 RDO following the discovery, at the venue, of a crack in the rear carbon hoop laced to my Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO. As this implies, I'd traveled from FoCo, on the bus, with two bikes rather than one, so clearly I was already thinking "I might", depending on the course, favor racing my nimble hard-tail over my full-squish, somewhat heavier, Jet. I could have risked serious rim and tire failure and rode the Jet, the bike that I would have preferred after my short pre-ride on Friday night, but instead I chose the path of least, mindful, concern and prepared my Air 9 for it's first adventure since the 2016 Leadville Trail 100.
Laps 1-3, about 1 hr 20 min per lap, came and went, for the most part, without any issues. I made mistakes along the way, e.g., slammed by crank arm two or three times which was closer to the Earth than my Jet, the bike I'd ridden most this year on the dirt; but otherwise the Air, my body, the landscape and atmosphere were getting along just fine over these initial ca. 60 miles. Similarly, lap four left few impressions other than by this time I was eating but my stomach seemed to have other priorities. I can't recall for certain what I ate on laps 1-4, but my guess is two gels.
Elsewhere, in my previous blog entry, I described how and why I had been neglecting to eat for the first, roughly, three hours during high intensity training workouts and the only other race I'd competed in prior to 12-hrs in 2017, the FoCo 102. I made the same poor decision, neglected to eat for about three hours, at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. In particular, see details elsewhere, I was trying to take advantage of a happy stomach over those first few hours because I knew when I started to feed I was going to feel a little ill. However, what I didn't realize, was that by neglecting to eat I was causing my stomach to shrink, imagine a fist, metaphor for my stomach, closing a little more each lap. As this implies, when I finally initiated eating, my stomach was not only off-line but also a pinch-point with serious, inevitable (that's been my experience), implications.
By lap four I was experiencing an unhappy stomach as I tried to force nutrition into my working, endurance and tempo (mostly), efforts. And the same was true on lap five, when I increased intensity in an attempt to catch two of my teammates, the "Parmanator" and Mick McDill, aka "Vanilla Gorilla" on Strava. My first clue that I was closing the gap was provided by the event announcer. As I concluded each lap, he announced my position and roughly how far ahead the next male 40-49 rider was relative to me. From the end of lap four to the end of lap five, his announcements made it clear that I was catching both Mick and Ben, an accomplishment that motivated me then and still impresses me now despite what was yet to come in my experience at 12-hrs.
As I was entering the last handful of miles of lap five, consistent with what I'd learned from the announcer, I started to get glimpses of my teammates. And as I rolled the last 100 meters of the lap, to the barn, I finally caught them. No surprise, if you know either of them, Ben and Mick shouted encouragement even as I closed-in on their enviable ca. top five, male-solo-geared (all ages), places at that point in the race. Both of these gentleman, as the word implies, are worthy of admiration for the talent and sportsmanship that they bring to the sport of mountain biking.
Unfortunately for my athletic ambitions, the high that I felt by catching two of my mountain bike mentors, Ben and Mick, was very short lived. The three of us rolled-out of the staging area more or less as a group, I was the lead bike with Ben behind and soon Mick following. As Mick approached, I shouted-out that I would move over if they wanted to pass, Mick quickly obliged and just as quickly disappeared down the trail ahead. Ben sat-in a few minutes longer, but then he too rolled past and away as if my Specialized Fast-trak Control Series tires had suddenly deflated. This began my descent into a psychological obliteration that three days later I crawled out of and, ca., seven days later recovered from enough to begin sifting through the ashes.
Since initiating my training and racing adventures, in April 2013, this would be, in hindsight, my farthest fall into the depths of internally motivated, psychological, sport-associated, annihilation. Unfortunately, for the first 72 hours, despite for the most part keeping a strong disapproval of myself and my performance just barely under the surface, I stated on my webpage and on Strava that I had, in my words, "quit" on lap six, even "DNFed" which was not true. Further, I clarified that my decision to quit came-about because of a mind that descended into a state of "failure" after I was dropped by my two, highly respected, teammates. I deeply regret making those pronouncements on social media, because my analysis at that time was as flawed as my response; and because Mick and Ben, as friends and teammates, deserved much better. They deserved the respect, e.g., that they unselfishly offered to me as I caught-up to them at the end of lap five.
Mindful, as I am, about the significance of "annihilation" and "obliteration", among other adjectives and phrases that I used, above, to describe my state-of-mind, I want to clarify, as best I can, how this could be so to the extent that I'm proposing. I've been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about what happened and based on that analysis I believe that the conclusion for "what" happened is actually (obviously, by now) quite simple: I had failed to supply, leading up-to and during the race, proper nutrition to my mind and body with deleterious consequences, especially the consequences of a made-up reality stubbornly and persistently held onto by a despondent mind. That's what happened, nutritionally, only slightly more complex is "what happened" in regard to my much longer, and much more significant, psychological melt-down.
With the aide of concepts from a book from Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox, it's now clear to me that my nutritional errors and, importantly, lack of psychological training focused on athletic performance and especially non-performance, allowed my inner chimp to rule, authoritarian-style, for three days. Not surprisingly, my chimp-self abandoned logic (realm of my human-self) and replaced that mode-of-operating with emotional, reality TV sort of drama, mostly internal for which I'm grateful. Without getting into the weeds, this is the truth of what really happened, nutritionally and psychologically, including a brief look at the Science of the mind to help explain how I got to "there" and where I was when I arrived, psychologically.
Beyond these valuable facts is something even more insightful, from my perspective as an athlete with a modest, sport-related, education, that I want to share before I conclude this entry. That something is an insight that I gained through the process of falling, at 12-hrs, into the deep, dark, recesses of my mind and then navigating back to the surface many days later, to my normal state. For the most part, I don't think people endeavoring, at the outset, to compete at a high level, or people such as husbands and spouses looking outside in, consider the extent of the implications of drawing down your bodies nutritional resources, to the extent that training athletes do routinely, that are otherwise critical for normal human function, psychological and physiological.
By "resources" I'm referring to those substances, such as iron for oxygen transport to the suite of electrolytes including magnesium for maintaining water balance (etc), that contribute to metabolic function whether a person is idle or experiencing extreme physical exercise as in a long (time span), endurance, mountain bike race. As humans that normally exist in just this way, in a "normal" physiological space, our experience with extreme lows of critical metabolic resources is zero until, if we ever do, either find ourselves in a starvation situation or else delve into a habit of extreme sport activity. Importantly, how we will respond to these lows, especially lows that affect normal brain function, is anyone's guess given normal variation in humans including relationships, recognized or not, with their inner-chimp. This insight, among other implications, demonstrates that my experience was inevitable, a part of the normal process that is embedded in the extreme sport, athletic, sphere (a multi-dimensional space) from which athletes draw their day-to-day state-of-mind and -performance. What I experienced at 12-hrs was an unpleasant, yet, inevitable part of the process of becoming a mature athlete. Eventually, if you go to extremes, you'll arrive there too, no doubt with regrets, but also with a valuable education for banking and perspective.
Twelve-hours of Mesa Verde, 2017, will always be with me, something that significant never completely dissolves from our vast and complicated network of neurons. However, after a lot of personal reflection and analysis, I'm ready to put the hard lessons, the regrets, behind me in favor of making wiser decisions moving forward. No doubt, like everything else that's been a part of my cycling journey since I impulsed purchase a GT Avalanche in 2010, they'll be surprises including more regrets, but hopefully my evolution as a cyclist will continue to move towards something worthy of friends and mentors like Ben and Mick and many others from the cycling and non-cycling community that have unselfishly helped me in so many ways. The many successes that I've experienced as part of that journey are a reflection of their kindness, patience, and generosity.
Despite a serious crash, resulting in a dislocated and possibly a broken ring finger, and two tire deflation's in the last five miles of the Fat Tire 40 (24 June 2017) in Crested Butte, Colorado, I managed to hold-onto a 1st place age 40-49 and 2nd place overall finish among amateurs. More about this race and others in my next blog entry.
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/750525683
At about 10 am, following a few last minute work commitments, I departed my German winter residence at 77 Bismarckstraße in Eimsbüttel Quarter, Hamburg, on a journey that concluded today, at the same location, 16 days later. A journey indeed, an adventure for my mind, body, and soul, nourishment that I anticipate will have many beneficial effects including a slowing of time.
I hardly know where to begin now that I'm on a familiar couch, in a familiar living room, the sounds outside of children playing at a local school and the many birds above the canal, all familiar too. But I am here, now, so begin I must, and in a moment, anew. Sometimes it helps to start with the simplest tasks, so I've taken a hot shower, clipped my nails, and eaten, somewhat ravenously, locally made falafel. But not too much because Clarissa and I will have a nice dinner together this evening! At home, with tea and laughter for desert. I think our coming back together will be the best so far, and we've already had some wonderful reunions.
After uploading all of my rides to Training Peaks, I can provide an accurate recount of average distances, etc, from the tour of seven countries: In 16 days, I covered 1,534 miles (2454 km), 96 miles (153 km) per day on average. The shortest day was the day I set-off by train for Dresden and, last train, the Czech Republic, two short rides totaling just 16.22 miles (26 km). Total time cycle touring, including grocery stops, 122 hours. My longest day was 9 hrs 57 minutes, I pedaled 128 miles (205 km) that day, it was the tenth day of my tour. My weight before and after the trip: 71.2 kilos (157 lbs) and 69.2 kilos (152.5), respectively. Svelt.
In a moment, I anticipate a reunion with my roommate and girlfriend and, sensibly, I want to start without an iPhone attached to my hand! But before I go, I want to thank ALL of my friends, sincerely, a big cyber hug and a kiss on both cheeks, for following my most recent adventure. Looking ahead, I have ideas for the future, something very big perhaps, much bigger than my 16 day tour, so be sure to check back with Andre Breton Racing Dot Com from time-to-time. Meanwhile, I send you best wishes, including tours of your own, and good health from Hamburg, where "Emperor Charlemagne ordered [a castle] constructed in CE 808."
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/749933875
As I rolled along the river in Magdeburg this morning on the Elbe bike-way, I was treated to fall colors, sunshine, and an impressive, towering back-drop, above the trees. The back-drop comprised architecture from bygone days including what the German's refer to as Magdeburger Dom. In English, the church is known officially as the Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice. Construction began in 1209 and concluded a mere 300 years later! It's the oldest Gothic-style church in Deutschland. A church with an exceptional history withstanding, the scene from the left bank of the Elbe on a sunny Autumn day is well worth a visit to Magdeburg and I suspect that many other parts of the city would inspire similar fascination. For the horse-lovers among you, if you find yourself in Magdeburg don't miss the Magdeburger Reiter dating from 1240 CE, it is "the first equestrian statue [erected] north of the Alps."
Unlike the previous two mornings, one involving a hangover and the next a body that demanded more rest and got it, this morning went as planned: out of bed about seven, coffee before breakfast, followed by coffee with breakfast at 7:30. I also had enough leftover bread, etc, to make two sandwiches for the road packed with locally-grown German apples. Not to take advantage of an already generous deal, I offered Inge and her husband another five euro for the on-the-go lunch and they obliged.
On the way to the river from Inge's splendid AirBnB, I discovered my first mechanical issue of the trip, a lose tire valve, easily repaired once I was able to find someone that would loan me some form of plier. A city crew cutting and chipping tree limbs along the road had what I needed. Shortly after a friendly chat with the keepers of the city vicegrips, I experienced my second crash in fifteen days when I foolishly caught my front tire between widely spaced cobble stones. Fortunately, there was no harm done to bike or rider. I rode on whilst enjoying a chat with a local commuter named Thomas before I cleared the city limits.
The weather was promising from the start, other than a few rather wet looking, scandalous clouds, here and there. Promising aside, there was a fairly strong wind coming from the north and east, a sign, among others today, that I had returned to Northern Germany and the vicinity of Hamburg. But from my perspective, riding as I was under a mostly sunny sky, it was an easy task to focus on something other than an unexceptional disturbance in the troposphere. Among the 'other signs' that the second largest city in Germany was looming on the horizon, about mid-day I returned to trail markers that made the presence, the inevitability, of Hamburg known.
Today's pedaling resulted in another 104 miles traveled on the trip, about 165 km covered in 7 hrs 14 minutes including stops. I've not had the opportunity to add up all the daily distances but my average must be close to 100 miles per day including the shortest day (day 12, just 16.22 miles), so roughly 1500 miles in 15 days, or 2400 km. Although they'll be skeptics, there was plenty of climbing too! From the Belgian Ardennes to Strasbourg across the south of France. Within the obscured visibility of those famous hills, I topped some memorably steep ascents, nearly vertical from the perspective of the rider at times.
Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, not bad for a quick Autumn tour after a busy season of training and racing. Five of these countries, in bold font, were new for my life-time travel log. But much more than miles and places along the way, this trip was, for me, about proving to myself, a proof of concept, that I could get on my bike and ride to anywhere in Europe. It was also about pushing-out the edges of my comfort zone in my newest home, the continent of Europe and Northern Germany in particular. I discovered, as I have in many other instances in my life, that there really was nothing to be concerned about. Quite to the contrary, what I discovered out there in the great unknown, where I had no previous experience, was opportunity, excitement, and ideas for the future. Along the way, I also bagged an education worthy of many inspired (you'll have to search for those) university courses.
It's been another fantastic and enviable day of touring on Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel, a versatile, comfortable, and race-level performance bike on any surface. I really owe a big debt to the friends that led me to the purchase, assembled it, and educated me on the details including what bags to purchase. The workhorse on this trip were my Blackburn Universal Panniers, an unbelievable quality product. This Outpost top-tube bag from Blackburn Design was also exceptional.
Short, Autumn, days and cool mornings, which often delayed my start to the day, led to another near-dark arrival to my lodging for the night, Karsten's AirBnB. in a remote German village known as Lenzen on Elbe River Cycle Route. I had some trouble locating the BnB but thanks to a helpful bartender and a friendly hotel clerk in the village I was able to access the internet and the confrimation details from Karsten. A hiccup in the AirBnB procedure, you can't access your reservation including the BnB address without internet access. At Lenzen, my cell phone was unable to connect to any cell phone network, the hotel wireless system saved me a ride out-n-back, in the dark, to at least the slightly larger village of Gartow, a village with an archeological history dating back to the stone age.
Lenzen "was the scene of an early victory by the Germans over the Wends in 929. Frederick Count of Zollern [subsequently] confiscated [Lenzen] from the von Quitzow family in 1420 for their part in the uprising of the Wendish nobility, and mortgaged it to Otto von Blumenthal. He redeemed the mortgage and restored the von Quitzows in 1422." More recently, Lenzen found itself within the restricted zone east of the Soviet-controlled east German border, the Elbe in this part of Germany: As the cold war escalated and tensions rose, "in June 1952 ... numerous families, including businessmen, small tradesmen and farmers, were forcibly resettled from Lenzen within a few hours [by the soviet occupiers as a way to secure the border with West Germany]."
Today Lenzen is nearly a ghost town, many of it's residences and shops in the tightly built town center are empty, some have even been abandoned. The town has not (unlike many other villages in the region) recovered from economic hardships previously experienced in Germany. According to my host, Karsten, you can acquire a building in downtown Lenzen for no cost. Of course, you'll incur a significant cost to recover the structural integrity of the property. Karsten's brother took advantage of property depreciation in the remote village when he purchased a unit a block off the main village road, which Karsten is now expertly renovating, and managing as an AirBnB. I enjoyed part of my evening with Karsten where we discussed, primarily, the history of Lenzen and our mutual passion for cycling! Before the night concluded, Karsten offered, and I accepted his offer, to ride part of the way towards Hamburg with me in the morning!
As I inefficiently type on my iPhone 5 the time is steadily approaching mid-night. Time slows when we do what we love, and the time that we need for resting becomes even more nourishing. Tomorrow I anticipate that I'll arrive to Hamburg by five post meridiem, possibly earlier, though I will have to complete another 100+ mile day (160-200 km) to get there. I'm hoping the weather will be reasonable. Until tomorrow's conclusion, which will hopefully include my arrival to Hamburg, I bid you one last Guten Nacht on this Autumn tour of, turns-out, seven countries, not six as I had originally planned, from Lenzen, formerly part of the Old Hamburg-Berlin Post Road.
Today's' Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/748630853
After sleeping through breakfast and subsequently receiving forgiveness for the second time in 24-hours from Wolfgang, the patient BnB owner, my day settled-into its usual routine, albeit a bit late, though not nearly as late as yesterday. Breakfast with all the coffee I could drink, four cups this morning, maybe more. My companions for the morning meal, a lovely German couple touring the local and regional history, were patient listeners as I rambled on and on, from one topic to the next. A lone traveler does become a bit of a liability at times.
Caffeine withstanding, I started the fourteenth day of the tour, in the 2,016th year of a widely anticipated but nonetheless absent lord, with a casual, exploratory, spin through the historic town ot Torgau. Foremost on my brief rendezvous with Torgau was the time that I spent alongside the 16th century Hartenstein castle, a castle that was likely constructed on the foundation of a 10th century stone castle ordered built by the Holy Roman Empire and a suspected wooden castle built centuries before by the Slavs, presently the "the largest Indo-European ethno-linguistic group in Europe." After my brief tour, I concluded with a moment of reflection overlooking the Elbe with my back to the grand wall of Hartenstein castle, a wall that countless, no doubt, senselessly died whilst defending or attacking. Despite the gravity of those losses, a moment later, respectfully, I had returned to my own here and now, a migration along the Elbe River Cycle Route towards Hamburg's populous and their brethren elsewhere in Northern Germany.
As the photographs imply, cloudy with occasional rain, never heavy, and cool temps persisted well into the day. Late afternoon delivered moments of sunshine, seemingly "on cue" in historic Wittenberg, but otherwise here and there, apparently, at the whim of my Goddess, the ruler of the known Universe, Epona. My Epona is fickle but she is nevertheless a delight to worship, naughty but not overly so and always on the look-out for opportunities to exercise her Holy sense of humor.
Cobble stones and classic European architecture from ages gone-by but not forgotten, were served-up large along the Collegienstraße and Schloßstraße in Wittenberg, Germany. Wittenberg is another example of places I've arrived to on this Autumn tour without anticipation. Although planning would no doubt reveal much more even to a constantly on-the-go traveler, an unanticipated introduction offers it's own suite of benefits.
Famously, although it has been contested as being fiction rather than fact, Wittenberg is the place where "Martin Luther [supposedly] nailed his 95 themes to the door of the Schloss Kirche and [by doing] so heralded in the Protestant Reformation." I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend David Conlin for reminding me of this event in history; and for sharing the location of the blasphemous act, Wittenberg, a detail I never knew or copied-over somewhere amidst neurons allocated to my subconscious long ago.
After my brief rendezvous with Wittenberg, I was once again on a country tour, navigating as I was across an agricultural and horticultural landscape with occasional wee villages and forest patches between. During this time I arrived at and crossed another ferry, bringing the total up to about six crossings for the tour including those that I can easily recall across the Weser, Meuse, Rhine, and now the Elbe. Despite long periods of time spent pedaling in the open spaces between population centers, a time-lapse of my entire tour would be an enviable and fascinating treasure to look back on. Perhaps advances in digital video and photography will provide travelers in the future with this Orwellian luxury at an affordable cost, images from the latest NASA mission to Jupiter suggests they will.
I approached my next ici et maintenant after a fairly lengthy, perhaps an hour or more, tour of industrial mankind east of Magdeburg, on the bank opposite the main part of the city. But as with other less-than-satisfying moments from my life, persistence delivered in the form of another trip into Europe's middle ages. Of course, much of Magdeburg is modern, including tracks for hauling students, tourists, and locals (if you can find one) here and there. But nestled into the latest trends are obvious outliers from the past.
Here is a peppering of sorts, a dash from the shaker, a small sample of the story: Magdeburg "was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe." If you know anything about the former Hanseatic League, then you won't be surprised to know that, given it's historical importance, that Magdeburg was " a notable member of the Hanseatic League [in the 13th century]." Reaching back farther, well before the Hanseatic League came to fruition, to the man that reorganized Europe half a millennium after the dissolution of Rome, "Charlemagne [founded the city] in 805 as Magadoburg, probably from Old High German magado for big, mighty and burga for fortress, the town was fortified in 919 by King Henry I the Fowler against the Magyars and Slavs." Regarding "the fowler", a avid hunter, Henry the 1st "is generally considered to be the founder and first king of the medieval German state, known then as East Francia ... a successor state of Charlemagne's empire and [a] precursor of the Holy Roman Empire." A bicycle can really bring you to some fabulously historic places; and along the way, to many, more subdued but equally enviable, places less trodden.
Cycling aside, I'm once again impressed, as I have been at the conclusion of each blog entry, by the history that was revealed to me from even the superficial details provided by the open-source encyclopedia, wikipedia.org. As I did for OpenFietsMap, I made a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation when I returned to Hamburg. I've really enjoyed assembling a small part of the story of some of the places that I've visited on the tour.
Returning to the here and now, it's my impression that an evening at "the cottage", two nights ago, continues to exact a toll my critical body systems (most of them). For this reason, my trajectory towards the north and Hamburg today was certainly not at a fast pace even for a relatively heavy bike and tired legs. With all of that in mind, I really should get some rest!
I'll hope to finish much earlier tomorrow so that I can ramble on (perhaps while humming the popular Led Zeppelin song) with my usual ad Libitum modus operandi. Guten Nacht from Inge's AirBnB, clean, spacious, and friendly, and for just 49$ including breakfast. You'll arrive and depart smiling if you decide to visit Inge and her husband in Magdeburg, a city where "Matthias Flacius and his companions wrote their anti-Catholic pamphlets and the Magdeburg Centuries, in which they argued that the Roman Catholic Church had become the kingdom of the Antichrist." Strange, I thought Barack Obama (a non-Catholic) was the antichrist, perhaps the nit-wits that have popularized this claim in the United States would benefit by a history refresher. No doubt, along the way, they'll find many suspected antichrists, each one a scapegoat for a despised adversary.
Trains were always part of what I considered possible during this trip, especially a long or short train ride back to Hamburg if my body decided it was finished. I'm feeling better than anticipated on the bike, despite many long days, and fatigue between rides has also been less than anticipated. This likely means no bail-out by train. But bail-outs aside, I have considered, before my departure from Hamburg and during my tour, other possibilities involving trains.
One scenario in particular became more and more attractive as I diverged, grandiosely, from my original itinerary on day six, a decision motivated by the allure of auto-free bike trails, a random encounter outside of Metz (France) with a 70-something cyclist named "eh-mo" (Herman), the historic city of Strasbourg (France), and the possibility of exploring the famous Rhine Cycle Route between Strasbourg and Switzerland. Of course, the unplanned divergences that followed, collectively hundreds of saddle miles, had implications. Foremost, I delved into a significant proportion of the '16 days' I had comfortably allocated to the entire cycle tour when I departed Hamburg on 5 October.
The idea that's been on my mind involves a giant leap, a "bishop's move" as my friend David Conlin called my idea, to the city of Dresden on the Elbe River in east Germany from a train station somewhere in the vicinity of Frankfurt. With Clarissa's help, a chessic collaboration begun yesterday well before I reached the Speyer bridge, this morning the "bishop's move" became a plan, hatched this morning, and then revised le long du chemin from the comfort of one of my comfortable, wind and rain free, carriage seats. Given that I was en route to Dresden by bahnhof, I thought "why not get in touch with a friend that lives close by?" I knew that David was roughly one hour south by train from Dresden. And conveniently, since I was planning to follow the Elbe River Cycle Route all the way to Hamburg, his cottage was high-up on the east bank of the Elbe in (bonus) the city of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic. If the plan was successful, then I would visit the Czech Republic after all, part of my original plan, despite the time I spent riding to and from Switzerland along the Rhine.
After a massive day by train across the German heartland, from Sinsheim to Hof to Dresden then south to Usti, involving five connections and two short bike rides along the way, I found myself well inside of the Czech Border, in the village of Ústí nad Labem, about 70 km south of Dresden. It was close to eight pm when I stepped off of the train in Usti into the darkness, among strangers, in a strange land. A short ride, 15-20 minutes followed, lights blazing off the bike, despite the long day I smiled all the way to my core, my next adventure was underway.
At the cottage I was greeted with shouts, maybe some clapping, hugs and other greetings from Jana, Vašek, and David. A moment later I was holding a Czech beer. A long night celebrating new and old friendships followed, and followed, and followed, until it was nearly 5 o'clock ante meridiem. Well before this time, Vašek, a local golf pro (David's instructor) and a fabulous guy, had sensibly gone to bed. Food, libations, and enviable conversation were all on the five course menu this evening, a festival of laughter and happy taste buds that started as soon as I arrived to David and Jana's cottage high above the Elbe River about one hour after arriving by bahnhof to Usti.
So here it is, nearly 5 am and I've not closed my eyes despite starting my day at 5:30 am in Rauenberg, Germany, the day before. My hosts, David and Jana, really rolled-out an exceptional evening, German Riesling, Czech Rosé courtesy of Vašek Froněk, that five course meal I mentioned, and much more. Thanks to their generosity, I'm stuffed, completely exhausted, and full of the excitement and refreshing comfort that an evening with good friends delivers after a long period of solo, introverted, travel. Sunrise is less than three hours away. That gives me some hesitation after so much Riesling, but I'm nonetheless committed to starting my last push, towards Hamburg, by noon-time.
The final stage of my trip will begin with a cycle tour through two national parks that are bisected by the Elbe River Cycle Route. The parks converge at the Czech-German border (see map on the right). The Elbe River Cycle Route will be my guide all of the way back to Hamburg, that's my plan anyway. The section of the Elbe River Cycle Route that I intend to ride is over 300 linear miles (480 km), considerably longer than a rook might fly if she was to fly directly from Usti to Hamburg. As this implies, by committing to the Elbe River Cycle Route I'll also be committing to the very convoluted and scenic route. If I depart tomorrow, with what will for sure be a significant hangover, I should be in Dresden within three hours and hopefully three hours farther north by four post meridiem, perhaps even as far as Torgau where on "April 25, 1945, Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe River, marking an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe. This contact between the Soviets, advancing from the East, and the Americans, advancing from the West, meant that the two powers had effectively cut Germany in two." I want to thank my friend David for making that bit of history known to me, among others.
There is much more to say about a very unusual day, evening, and morning, but I'm not up to the task at the moment. I must surrender to the pillow and my bed before the sun makes its next debut on the horizon. I'll provide more details tomorrow. Until then, Guten Nacht from the Czech Republic, a country that "ranks 27th [on the list of] most environmentally conscious countries in the world [by the] Environmental Performance Index. The Czech Republic [has] four National Parks and 25 Protected Landscape Areas."
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/745583189
Last night I laid my head onto the pillow at about 9:45 pm, was asleep by 9:50, and woke at 4:30 feeling rested. It seems I needed some rest after yesterday's three cul-de-sacs and more, including just under 130 miles on the saddle. I rolled-out of Offenburg, "a city with about 57,000 inhabitants", at about nine o'clock, roughly two hours after I exited the misery frame. Right away, within a kilometer, freelancing led to two flights of stairs; I was happy to climb and then descend them, on foot, respectively. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in rolling foothills, mostly furbished by apple orchards and grape vines, on an enviable one lane road which was sometimes deeply entrenched, so much so that you could lean your bike, nearly vertical, on either road bank. As always, I cherished the country setting. The air was warm relative to most of the mornings I've experienced on the tour. And even better, by noon the sun was shining through partly cloudy skies.
After roughly 20 country miles, first northward and then (most of the miles) westward, I was again approaching the Rhine, my companion for the last few days. At the east bank, I turned right, to the north, and resumed my commitment to the Rhine Cycle Route. It was often fast and smooth, but just as often convoluted, resulting in a grand tour of the region. Which is excellent unless you're hoping to bag many miles in a day. These and other circumstances led to a switch from river bank right (east) to left (west), by ferry, and soon I was rolling along at 18-22 mph on smooth pavement where naughty cars are not allowed.
Ferry crossings have been an important part of my trip, as they were when I was undertaking the bulk of my North America touring, from about 1996 to 2005, by motorcycle in my 20s and early 30s. A decade of off-and-on-again touring, including five major tours (one of these covered 24 states, 16,000 miles, and 6 months) and many smaller tours. Along the way, I explored all of the lower 48 states and Canadian Provinces east of Manitoba including Newfoundland and Labrador. My preferred lodging in those days was always, exclusively, a tent! Most of the touring was from the perspective of a 1982 CX 500 Honda motorcycle which I purchased for 250$ from a family friend. The bulk of the total mileage was absorbed by this very reliable motorcycle, close to 80,000 miles (128,000 kilometers). In my 30s I acquired, for a short time, a 1983 GL650 Honda Silverwing on which I continued to tour by motorcycle. My last purchase of a motorized two-wheeler was in my 40s, a 2004 GSA 1150 BMW. During my years of touring by motorcycle, I discovered that the path less followed was always best, and sometimes, to avoid major bridges, those paths led to relatively sleepy auto and passenger ferries across North America's most famous rivers including the Ohio and Mississippi. I've carried-over my fascination with rivers and ferries, developed as a motorized touring adventurer, into my latest passion, light bicycle touring.
So far, on my first bicycle tour of Europe, I've used ferries, a convenient and inexpensive option, to cross three culturally, economically, and historically significant rivers: on day one I crossed the Weser River at Sandstedt, Germany; day three I crossed the Meuse River on my way to lodging in Baarlo, Holland; and today I crossed the Rhine close to Leimersheim in Germany. The Weser "River is the longest river whose course reaches the sea and lies entirely within German national territory ... eight hydroelectric dams stand along its length (744 kilometres [462 mi])." The Upper Meuse River "from 1301 roughly marked the western border of the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of France. The Meuse and its crossings were a key objective of the last major German WWII counter-offensive on the Western Front, the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944/45." And regarding the Rhine, "The Rhine and the Danube formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire and, since those days, the Rhine has been a vital and navigable waterway carrying trade and goods deep inland." Of course, this brief lesson in history from Wikipedia is just, the tip of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.
On either bank of Europe's major rivers, access to ferry crossings are not uncommon and hours of operation easily accommodate a traveler that can never be certain when they might arrive to the loading area. And beyond convenience, cost, and other practical reasons, crossing a river an a small auto and passenger ferry is a wonderful way to experience a river. You'll be forced to get off of your bicycle, or motorbike as I was in my youth, breath the air rising-off of the river and adjacent wetlands, listen to the sounds, and perhaps even have a short conversation with another traveler that might lead to previously unknown opportunities down the road.
From Leimersheim, on the west bank of the Rhine, I maintained a comfortable, unimpeded, light cycle touring pace north to Speyer. At Speyer, a town inscribed as "Noviomagus on the world map of the Greek geographer Ptolemy [in AD 150]", I climbed a set of stairs, attached to the southwest quarter of the Speyer bridge. This unconventional cycle touring move gave me access to a route over the Rhine, to the east bank, and beyond into the foothills of the Alps in this part of southern Germany. After a successful search for lodging using the AirBnB app, as I was clipping each shoe into my RLT 9 Steel bicycle, I found myself feeling a little sad as I looked down, over my right shoulder, on my ageless friend for what I knew would be the last time on this trip. The Rhine, despite centuries of manipulation, easily inspires. Even in its modern form the river remains worthy of everyone's bucket list. No doubt, I'll reflect, with fondness, on my experiences along this historic river well into my old age, whatever "old age" that happens to be.
As I rolled off the bridge, towards the east, I began what was some hasty, to avoid darkness, navigation to a supermarket followed by the same to my resting place for the evening in the village of Rauenberg, 15 km south of Heidelberg. I arrived just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, early enough for a few photos of St. Peter and Paul Church in the village center. Any time I'm forced to slow down in a village, and even better, to sleep there, I'm thrilled. For the most part, I've had enough of navigating through cities on this trip, though those experiences have not been wasted either.
Anyone following my blog entries should anticipate a big surprise tomorrow, a "bishop's move" that will completely change my perspective, and yours. In the meantime, this evening I'm settled-into Maik's AirBnB, a gem of an AirBnB lodging option. Maik offers, for 56$, a spacious room, covered area to stash your bike, and a home made breakfast including brotchen picked-up fresh in the morning at one of the village bakeries. Maik, his two daughters, and his wife are open, friendly, a joy to visit and talk with. And if you forget anything, Maik has you covered: beer; wine; tooth paste; and more. Just outside my door the voices of excited youngsters are contagious. From this enviable perspective, I bid you a Guten Nacht from a village in the foothills of the Alps "first mentioned in 1303 ... where in the Middle Ages there were two settlements, Wederswilre and Ruhenberg."
Today's Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/744435501
A long day as I followed the Rhine on the German (east) side, 129.9 miles (208 km) with a modest 1039 feet of climbing. That's my longest ride out of ten days, as far as I can recall, since leaving Hamburg. Despite the few ups, the distance combined with cool, wet, overcast weather was enough to wear me down by the time I arrived to my intended destination for the day, Offenburg, Germany.
Offenburg is directly east of Strasbourg, where I stayed in France at the conclusion of day seven, on the opposite bank of the Rhine. At this implies, I rode for about 1.5 days on the west side of the Rhine ultimately concluding in Laufenburg, Switzerland. After today's effort, I'm back where I started after just one day of riding in the opposite direction, all close to, and often directly on, the east bank of the Rhine.
On my way to Offenburg, I intentionally bypassed the famous town of Freiburg, Germany. This decision allowed me to avoid inevitable route finding challenges and in effect maintain an average 15-16 mph pace all the way to Offenburg. Along the way, other than a few exceptions, most notably the route I took to bypass Freiburg, I took full advantage of the well marked and cycle-friendly Rhine Cycle Route (EuroVelo Route #15). My priorities on this trip aside, Freiburg will be well worth visiting on a future cycle touring adventure. A small sample from Wikipedia leaves an appropriate impression: "[Freiburg] was strategically located at a junction of trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea regions, and the Rhine and Danube rivers. In 1200, Freiburg's population numbered approximately 6,000 people. At about that time, under the rule of Bertold V, the last Duke of Zähringen, the city began construction of its Freiburg Münster cathedral on the site of an older parish church." In the middle ages, "the need to find a scapegoat for calamities such as the Black Plague, which claimed 2,000 area residents (25% of the city population) in 1564, led to an escalation in witch-hunting that reached its peak in 1599. A plaque on the old city wall marks the spot where burnings were carried out." The word parish refers, in this context, to a territorial unit of the Catholic church. The foundation of the "older parish church" was no doubt part of a human presence in Freiburg dating back many more centuries beyond 1200 CE, and perhaps into antiquity (ancient times).
Offenburg has it's own colorful history to offer the curious traveler: "Remainders of Roman settlements have been found within the city's territory. Offenburg was first mentioned in historical documents dating from 1148. [By] 1240 Offenburg had been declared a Free Imperial City [same as nearby Freiburg]. [Dreadfully,] in September 1689 the city - with the exception of two buildings - was totally destroyed [by naughty French troops] during the Nine Years War. [And a century later, following] Napoleon's dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803 and [the] reorganization of the German states, in 1803 Offenburg lost its status as a Free Imperial City and fell [instead] under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Baden."
By this point on my trip, I was occasionally concerned, but not overly so, about the number of days I could, comfortably, allocate to the cycle tour given existing work commitments. I had this concern in mind when I set-off to Offenburg from Laufenburg, a nine hour ride covering about 130 miles, and the same when I made plans, in my mind, to depart Offenburg tomorrow morning without stopping to sample the city's exceptional history. Despite these conclusions, Offenburg and Freiburg nonetheless provided a delicious morsel to fuel my mental gymnastics even if the bulk of that inspiration, a main course, will have to wait for an adventure with different priorities. For what remains of this trip, my priority is to ride from somewhere in the Czech Republic to the River Elbe then follow the Elbe River Cycle Route back to Hamburg. I hope to return to Hamburg within about 16 days of my departure date (5 October). As the "somewhere in the Czech Republic" implies, I'm reconsidering my route to, and including, Cheb. I'll hatch those changes, if any, soon.
The EuroVelo Route #15 on the German side of the Rhine is fast, for the most part well signed, and scenic. Unlike the same route on the French side, the Rhine Cycle Route in this part of Germany is often alongside the Rhine rather than alongside canals. My only complaint for the day, other than my own blunders that led to three cul-de-sacs (more below), is that I could have done with less riding on the tops of levées. From the vantage of a levée a solo rider has a lovely view of the river and adjacent wetlands but they also experience the full wrath of the wind, which was blowing into my face and over my left shoulder most of the day with moderate intensity. It was the wind that drove me, not mad, but towards alternate routes, some of which I cannot recommend.
Despite more than sufficient signage and a GPS staring-up at me, today I still managed to ride myself into not one or two cul-de-sacs, but three! Each time, I was faced with the river or a canal on my left, the end of the road ahead of me, and a canal on my right. Each time, I had to turn back and repeat, in one case many miles, the ride back to where I'd gone awry. On the third and worst trial of them all, a attempted shortcut back to the main route resulted in a rendezvous with bait used to draw in pigs and the offending hide directly ahead of me. Fortunately, a man on a bike starkly contrasts with a pig on a hoof, and so perhaps, for this reason, I was not shot dead. However, for reassurance, I offered a few verbal "don't shoot, helloooo" requests from my RLT 9 Steel bicycle as I made my way past the hides inky shadows, no doubt in a verklempt state. By the time I recovered from the third cul-de-sac of the day, I was searching for wisdom from which I can offer this sage advice: when navigating within the network of river and canal along the Rhine stick to the main, well signed, route; taking shortcuts will almost always lead to disappointment and perhaps even a morbid conclusion.
Cul-de-sacs and the inky shadows of a pig blind withstanding, I did survive to tell the tale of a memorable and enjoyable adventure today, the tenth day of my tour. I'm going to recall the day this way while my subconscious smooths over any rough edges. In the meantime, my eyes, wet and running most of the day because of the wind, will be getting some much needed rest in the space allocated to me within Susanne's lovely AirBnB which includes, for 56$, all the Illy Espresso I dare to drink (a fair bit in the morning), an espresso machine, and a secured basement for stashing my bike. From the city that witnessed the "first democratic demand" in what is now modern Germany, I offer you a Gute Nacht und freche Träume.
Adventure Guide, Mentor, Lifestyle Coach, Consultant, Endurance Athlete