This last weekend, a small group of us ASU grad students rode our bikes from Phoenix to Tucson and back! Two centuries back to back was a new one for me, and it was a (hot) refreshing weekend! A few of us had ridden it last year in January. April ended up being a bit hotter (we are 10 degrees above average at the moment), but well worth it.
Here’s a trip report for a bikepacking trip I just did in South Carolina!
Well, I done did it. If you are looking for race advice just scroll to the bottom of this post.
I off-the-couch jumped on the race and finished in 10 hours and 58 minutes. That got me 175th place overall and 128th place in Men’s Open. If I weighed 10 more pounds I would have gotten 5th place in Men’s Clydesdale (over 200lbs). The stoke is high. I was unsure if I was actually going to finish or have to forcibly rip my heart out of my chest (yes like Indiana Jones) in order to finish. I did finish and I didn’t have to rip my heart out. It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done but it sure was fun. Here’s a recap:
I have wanted to do this race since about 2007 when a couple friends of mine did the race. I hadn’t ever ridden a mountain bike for more than about, say, 40 miles in a day before. I just hadn’t ever done it. I’ve ridden centuries on a road bike but endurance rides on trail was just something I hadn’t pursued. This race was in the very far corners of my mind and wasn’t a goal I had any sort of timeline for. It’s amazing what peer pressure can do. As of today, I’ve lived in Richmond, VA for two weeks. My new boss (Joey) signed up for and began training for this race months ago. Despite the hefty entry fee, I allowed myself to succumb and signed up three days before the race. Tip #1 for the race- train beforehand.
The Shenandoah 100 is the Eastern US’s premier endurance mountain bike race. It starts and finishes in Stokesville, VA and sends riders 100 miles over the famous ridges of Virginia on singletrack, fireroads, and some paved roads. This year (2012) there were almost 600 riders that entered. It’s a big fat deal in the mountain bike scene. Here is a course profile:
If it was easy, then everybody would do it. This year, we dealt with the aftermath of hurricane Issac during the race and it was wet and slick and muddy and I’ve never eaten so much dirt in my life. I don’t have many good photos (to make this post interesting) but I’ll try to give a general run through for anyone interested in riding the race themselves.
Our crew (3 riders and 2 lovely support crew) left Richmond late on Saturday. Two beer stops and as many pee stops later we got to the campground well after dark and after the dinner that is provided to riders on Saturday. Since we missed dinner we proceeded to drink for sustenance and have entirely too much fun while the rest of the campground was pretending to sleep. Race tip #2- go light on the beer and whiskey the night before the race.
I have always had a bit of insomnia and have spent sleepless nights before races and this one was pretty bad. My experiences have taught me how to perform well on no sleep but I have no suggestions for you folks with the same problem other that try out some sleep aids well in advance of your race (simulating early wake up/workout) and see if that works for you. I just lay as still and relaxed as possible and that can be as close to sleep as I can get sometimes. So, after many hours of just laying there waiting it was time to get going. At 5am someone rides around the campground beating the finish line gong and the place explodes (the port o johns explode too). I stuffed my face with a bagel and cream cheese, a power bar, salty scalloped potatoes, and coffee. I was extra generous with the chamois butter (the only piece of advice to come from my father when he learned I was racing), grabbed my prepared camelbak and headed to the start line with Team Lone Wolf No Team.
The start is divided by expected finish times and we tucked into the 10 hour crowd. The gun went off and I heard one of my favorite sounds-the start of a bike race. Be very cautious if you do this race because a bunch of mountain bikers get nervous riding in a peloton. A quick jaunt on pavement and you start the first climb on double track. I lost track of one of my buddies right off the bat and rode with Joey and another friend we met up with for the race. I didn’t have a race plan other than don’t go out too hard for the first 25 miles and eat plentifully. Trying to keep up with Joey on his singlespeed was destroying my race plan, so I said goodbye to them and throttled back on the climb. I was riding solo, along with hundreds of other bikers. When we finally hit singletrack, it was a serious goat show. There are so many riders jammed in there it’s easy for one person to blow a line and everyone has to put a foot down. Also, it seemed like there were plenty of folks that were aerobically fit but lacked technical riding skills. Just be ready for it.
After an hour and a half or so I caught back up with Joey and we had some fun riding together for another 1/2 hour on what I think they call the “death climb”. I would’ve been difficult if there weren’t hundreds of racers but since there was it was lots and lots of hike-a-bike. We rode into aid station 3 together, but after that began quite a climb that Joey had to climb at his own pace on (which was much faster than mine). You might notice that I use the word climb quite a bit in the report, and that’s because there is somewhere around 13,000 feet of climbing in the race. Race tip #3- be prepared for lots of climbing.
Between about 35-55 miles there was a singletrack climb that was pretty taxing. I began cramping somewhere around mile 30 and had to pull up out of that nose dive by consuming salt pills like my life depended on it. I have always struggled with cramping in endurance events and not having trained for this one my cramps were especially unfun. Luckily, they have salt pills at the aid stations and a nice rider I rode with some told me not to hold back so I ate them like a fat kid eats jelly beans. Between that and the electrolyte replacement drink (heed) at the aid stations I actually beat back my cramps and it totally saved my race. I was on my way to a leg-locked DNF and I am very pleased that did not happen.
I didn’t have a bike computer, I think that would have been disheartening. I didn’t know the course that well (never ridden any of it) I just expected the worst. I did wear a watch to keep track of my eating. I tried to eat every 45 minutes on the bike and would eat all I could at the aid stations. The aid stations have lots and lots of food so if you are planning for this race get a feel for what they have and try it out on your training rides. My staples at the stations were oreo’s, fig newtons, and bananas. At the later aid stations I ate PB&Js and drake coke (the fifth one has pizza and you’d better believe I indulged). Overall I think smart eating was huge in my performance.
There were two massive thunderstorms during the race, and I ate and drank mud. I didn’t wear glasses and would get huge gobs of mud in my eyeballs. Every part of me and my bike was wet and slimy. Eventually (after about 6.5 hours of racing) it stopped raining altogether. That was about when I hit the big climb. The first part is all double track and not too bad of a grade, you are just a little spent at that point in your day. I climbed the best I could, which ended up being on my small chainring for the second half. The 5th aid station is NOT at the top of the climb, and I hit the pizza and coke hard and went to face the music. It took me 50 more minutes to hit the top of the biggest climb after the 5th aid station. It was the hardest part of the race. Sloppy and awful. I went down once in a giant mud puddle. You ride through about 5 high meadows before you hit the singletrack descent. When I reached the top, I paid homage to my home state of Tennessee and ate the most delicious double-decker moon pie of my life (a critical piece of my drop bag at the 5th station). My brake pads were about gone so I was a Tentative Tabitha the whole way down. It was slick and scary for the first part and I just about lost it more than once. I somehow survived and found myself at the 6th and final aid station with 12 miles to go.
I never computed how far I had left in the race total, but I would ask how far it was to the next aid station when I would pass through one. When I heard there were 12 miles left, I skipped the last station and dropped the hammer down. My race plan paid off. I decided that with 50 minutes left that I could finish in less than 11 hours and wanted it real, real bad. It hurt so good. I didn’t get passed in that last section and I’m very glad I did not because I would have tried to match pace and was already at my 100%. I tried to use ole Bobby Moss for motivation and the last climb surely laid a-hurtin on me. It just never seemed to end. I reached deep into the suitcase of courage. I had begun to have chain trouble with all the mud and didn’t ever shift to my small ring for fear of dropping my chain off. That forced me to ride faster and lay on the pain train more. The clock ticked on and I was beginning to crack. I decided that I had to keep pushing until I was actually past 11 hours by my watch. That very thing saved my time. I never gave up. Finally, I saw a guy in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. After seeing disgusting racers and rain-drenched volunteers since sunup, this clean-cut dude could only mean one thing- I was painfully close. Sure enough, I starting seeing tents and then more people and knew I was right on top of the campground. I was flying. The trees opened up, there was green grass in front of me and I hit the last turn and the finish line. Just less than two minutes to spare on the clock for my impromptu goal of sub-11 hours. As much fun as it is to do an endurance race, it is that much more fun to cross the finish line and be done.
Joey had finished 30 minutes before me, but sadly the other two members of Team Lone Wolf No Team didn’t finish. One had severe mechanical issues and the other had severe bodily issues. It’s not an easy day on the bicycle.
MY ADVICE FOR POTENTIAL RIDERS:
- Train for the race (something, anything)
- Don’t drink too much beer and whiskey the night before
- Be prepared for lots of climbing
- Hone your technical climbing and descending skills
- Familiarize yourself with what food is at the aid stations
- Train with the food that is at the aid stations
- Don’t over-pressurize your fork or your wrists will hate you (from experience)
- Don’t ride extra firm grips or your wrists will hate you (from experience)
- THE FIFTH AID STATION IS NOT AT THE TOP OF THE BIG CLIMB
- The sixth aid station can be skipped if you’re feeling good and have something to drink
- The climb after the sixth station is long and sucky
- The first 25 miles are full of traffic jams and hiking
- Don’t ride a singlespeed unless you are a gnarly person
- Replace your brake pads before the race
- Bring earplugs because the campground is full of noisy people like myself
- Register early to save money and get your name printed on your number
- Don’t give up- you can do more than you think you can
Sorry, I’m a sucker for puppies.
You can find a mostly comprehenisve journal of my ride across the United States here:
There are many people in our culture who would say they love their mom. There are slightly less people that would say their mom is a real inspiration. There are fewer people still that would say their mom is cool and progressive. There is only a small number of people who would confidently say their mom is a badass. My mom is a badass.
If you have had the honor of meeting my mother, you are already aware of this fact. If you haven’t met her, or just don’t quite know her well enough, I’m sure you will agree after reading this post.
In writing this I’m discovering that it is difficult to articulate just how important she’s been to my life and just how many ways that she has achieved her badassdom. I will do my best but I feel like I do not have enough time to really get said what I want to say. I will try to describe aspects of her personality through select words.
Devoted. I’ll start with one of the things that I feel like my mother uses to get out of bed each day. Gayle has always said that if you are really going to do something serious with your life, you might as well do it to the best of your abilities. When it came to rearing children, she put her own personal and career opportunites aside and fully devoted herself to raising children to the best of her abilites. She was above and beyond the soccer mom status quo in everything she did. She wouldn’t just pack four lunches into appropraitely sized tupperware containers, she would put in a little note about how much she loved us. We fell out of taking lunches to school while us kids were in high school, but if we needed her to make one, she would (complete with love note). My senior year of high school, she would wake up early when I asked her to make a stellar breakfast casserole for the frequent potluck breakfasts I had in my first class of the day.
She reads as much or more than any college professor you ever had. She read entire volumes of books to us as kids, and I am convinced that instilling a love for reading has been fundamentally important to my success in my education and my career goals.
When the kids starting leaving, she became a volunteer president of the kids soccer league and devoted herself to that. When she started her own business and went to a massage therapy school she was devoted to that. She is now in law school and is unquestionably devoted to it (via online courses thank you very much).
When she decided to radically change her diet and lifestyle choices to be a healthier person, she took devotion to a new level. Ever try to run your first marathon in your fourties? Hmm? What about a full ironman when you are 50? I would wager that most people who end up reading this are much younger than 50. Think for a moment about doing an ironman at your age. I don’t think anybody other than Jake is anywhere close to such a feat.
Badass. I could not think of a better word. I tried. My mom is just a badass. It takes a lot of guts to try for the things she has tried for in the first place. She is pretty closely aligned with something Teddy Rosevelt said about life,
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Gayle said she was going to complete an ironman, and she godammed well did it. Spilling over to her devotion, she has pledged to do absolutely anything with her kids as long as we will allow her to join us. That is quite a tall order if you know what sort of activites us Jordan kids pursue. Which brings me to her next quality:
Adventurous. There is a famous quote section at the end, but to some up how Gayle has always viewed life, you simply need to hear one of the Jordan family mottos, “Life is an adventure.” Four words that were so ingrained into my psyche I find myself college educated and choosing to live in a van, pursuing adventure. My siblings and I soon were acclimated to total changes in plans or focus when it came to family adventures. When we had to spend two summers in RVs with her parents as reluctant adolescents, we were kindly instructed to suck it up and realize just how lucky we were. Look at any of her four children and this life-focus is readily apparent. Anytime we have run something past mom, she just says “OK”. This next week my brother and I will be far into the backcountry doing some ski mountaineering, she said, “be safe and call me when you’re out”.
Intelligent. I have friends that come to my mom for advice on life, over their own parents and friends. There are many other words that I could put in bold and use as adjectives, but I feel like many of these would ultimately stem from intelligence. She is a compassionate, understanding, tolerant, introspective, gnarly, thoughtful, open, witty, courageous, detailed, energetic, wonderfully lovely lady. This all stems from her life ethic and attitudes that she never loses sight of. I mentioned that she is in law school. An online law school. I always resented the online components of classes in my undergrad, and she is pursuing an advanced degree wholly through an online classroom. Holy cow. If you think you’re a smartie yourself, try online law school.
Radical. She just is. She’ll talk about anything to anybody. Try it out. Does your mom wear a shirt that says, “question everything”? Her journey away from Christianity to atheism has been one of the most inspiring and formative aspects of our adult relationship (I’m still a kid I just didn’t know what word to use other than adult). I never had a chance to be in a box at all; she has constantly inspired us to be open, questioning, and never satisfied in the status quo. She comes from a religious family, has religious friends, and lives in a religious society. It takes a very brave person to denounce the faith of your upbringing and choose your own path. How many atheists do you know? How many of those atheists are willing to talk about atheism? If you are my friend, you are likely to be young and progressive and you might know a few. Think of your mom’s circle of friends and how she would be recieved if she was openly atheistic.
My mom bought me condoms in high school and still sends them to me if she ever sends a gift box (like this last Valentine’s Day). She helped a gay couple get through hard times with their families as they become open about their sexuality. She will argue to the death and make a stand for what she believes in. No wishy-wishy once a week groupthink fix for her. She is as independent and radical of a mother as I’ve ever met. If you think your mom is more radical, please get them in touch because Gayle is always looking for friends who are not afraid to challenge convention.
Loving. It’s a cliche adjective for a mother, but she really is. She loves her kids and makes sure we know it. This post is an inspiration from her blog where she has written love letters to her children. If you are her friend, you know how warm and cheerful she is to be with. She loves physical contact with people and is expressive of her feelings. She also passionately loves her family. Her father is exceedingly grumpy and difficult to connect with, and her mother and other family members have felt abandoned and hurt by her outspoken atheism. Despite these difficulties she still cares very deeply about them and is devoted to maintaining relationships. I also know that even through their divorce, she still loves Jess.
I don’t have another word to use to describe this section, but here are just a few of the sayings that Gayle is known for:
- Carpe Deim
- Life is an Adventure
- Life is a sampler platter
- Question Everything
- Well behaved women seldom make history
That’s about my best stab at describing what my momma means to me. She is truly an inspiration, a mentor, a friend. The above picture is the day before she completed ironman. I got choked up picking that picture out because I still well with pride and love for my mother when I think about that achievement. I call her a badass because I finished that race with her and I was hurting, and she had been swimming and biking absurd distances since the sun came up. I might mention that she crossed the finish line at midnight. If you have ever been there to cheer your mother on through the pain, pushing to meet the deadline, then you understand why you still get choked up just looking at pictures. She has always been and continues to be one of the most important people in my life. I’ll be honest, I’m teared up now. I am just so dang proud of her. That’s my momma, and I love her.
If you know me at all, you know I can be pretty impulsive. I tend to just go for it and hope it works out in the end. Mostly, it works great for me. Sometimes I have to drop back and punt. That’s just life.
I have been in the Durango area for a few days now. I had originally planned on hanging out with two friends that live in town for this whole week. When I got to town, I discovered that they are both out of town on an extended river trip. It’s just the type of person I associate myself with I guess. (I did call ahead, I was just not very firm on dates).
So with gas up to $4/gallon, I’ve stayed local and done a good bit of hiking. Pretty desert-like and beautiful out here. A big highlight has been the ruins in Mesa Verde National Park.
The trail list I’ve done over the past three days:
prater ridge trail
point lookout trail
knife edge trail
petroglyph point trail
spruce canyon trail
soda canyon overlook trail
animas mountain trail
sand canyon trail
Some of the overlook trails are are short as a mile, but that last one (sand canyon) was 15 miles. It was in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. Great place to get away from the national park crowds.
Campsite for tonight: abandoned KFC
This is what I think I’ll be bringing on this summer’s upcoming trans-America bike ride. Feel free to use it for your own trips, I’ll write a comprehensive one when the bike finally gets loaded up in May.
ON THE BIKE
Hat (skullcap, stocking cap, or helmet liner)
Shirt – long sleeve
Shirt – short sleeve
Fleece / Wool top
Thermal pants or lightweight tights
Socks – short
Socks – knee highs
Gore-tex socks (seal skin)
Gloves – short
Gloves – long
Gloves – wool
OFF THE BIKE
Hat – sun
Hat – warm (wool or other)
Shirt – long sleeve
Shirt – short sleeve
Jacket (warm enough for region)
Sense of adventure
Shoes OR Sandals
Fleece / Wool top
Toothbrush / Toothpaste
Brush / comb
Contacts (case); spares
Quick dry towel
Washcloth / scrubby
Cassette removal tool (aka Hypercracker)
Spokes (front, rear d/nd)
Rag for cleaning chain and cables
Schrader / Presta adaptor
Adjustable crescent wrench (6-inch)
Assorted nuts and bolts
Allen wrenches (2-4-5-6-8 mm)
15mm wrench (pedal removal)
Cassette lock ring tool
Ortlieb mounting hardware
Spare cleats and cleat bolts
Assorted hose clamps
Dad (most useful tool on the trip)
Gifts for hosts
Mini sewing kit
Eye cover to wear when it isn’t dark enough out
Copies of travel information, credit cards, passport
stuff sacks in various sizes
Card with insurance & in case of emergency contact info
Cell phone & charger
Camera cleaning cloth, grey card, other equipment needed
Camera battery charger
Batteries / charger
Small screwdriver kit
2 blank CD’s
Maps / Maps case
Watch with altimeter & alarms
Nylon bag (small roll-up for spontaneous shopping)
First Aid kit
Leatherman / Swiss Army
Wallet (cash and credit cards)
Pen / pencil
Business cards with CGOAB web address
Banjo and case
Sleeping Bag w/ stuff sack
Tent w/ stuff sack
Cat hole shovel
Tarp OR Ground Cloth
Weather Radio (maybe)
Clothesline with clips
Nalgene bottles or 1/2L collapsible bladders
Sleeping pad to chair converter
Pillow (aka Big Agnes)
Pot holder / handle
Container for eating
Pot w/ lid
Small garbage bags
Water purification tablets
That’s all. Really. Piece of cake.
Well, let this be a lesson to all of you good people out there. That lesson is, of course, that with 5+ years of pestering I will eventually give in. Thank you, mom (epiphanyhealth.wordpress.com) for the years upon years of pestering and pressure to get me to blog about my life. It has been a long struggle, but she finally has won. I am finally in possession of my own personal computer, and it would be just plain stubborn if I did not do something to record my adventures. Perhaps I will one day have another blog about something more specific (trip reports, socio-political-environmental commentary, humor, etc.) but for this one, anything goes. Hold on for the ride, judge not less thou be judged, and enjoy it. Thanks for reading.
This first blog will focus on my living situation for the past five months. Since November, I’ve been residing in a 1994 Airstream B-van. Yup, straight out of college and into a van. It’s not especially original, many interesting and intelligent people have called a van home at some point or another. However, not as many people have done so in one of the most consistently frozen environments in the country. This van dweller has been calling Vail Valley of Colorado home for all those long winter months. It has been character building, to say the least. I have certainly learned some things about myself and the quality of living that we enjoy in this country. I have also learned that no matter your living circumstances (within reason) you can choose to be happy and satisfied.
The decision to move out of a building and into a van in the high country of Colorado was fairly impulsive. It really only all came together in late November of last year, just before my job out here actually started. I have a trans-America bicycle ride planned for this upcoming summer, so the late start and early end to the ski season made it easier to forgo a lease and call the van home. I am an avid kayaker, backcountry skier, and mountaineer, so the mobility and potential for recreational vehicle-ing was a large deciding factor. The van has delivered. Not only has Colorado experienced a phenomenal snow season, but also I have managed to make it so far this season without a single boot or parking ticket. Rent is not cheap in a ski town, unless you just live in parking lots (and then it’s free). I have tried to remain a moving target, staying in a dozen different locations around the valley. I have only been asked to leave once, but that was on resort property and they still let me spend the night that night (I just couldn’t come back). Otherwise it has been smooth, under the radar van life. My ski pass came with my job, and with no rent to pay I have gotten my 100 days of skiing in this year for pretty cheap.
I will not be overly macho or denying of the fact that there were some cold, difficult nights in the van. I have been living at 8,200 feet in the Colorado high country in the winter. I’ve seen more than a few nights in the negative double digits. My job was an outdoor evening job, so I would be working out in it at night (my coldest night was -21) and get off my shift only to return home to a nicely deep-frozen van. I purchased a little propane-powered heater from a sports store at the start of the season that has ensured my survival. My guess that even with the heater on full blast on the very coldest nights that the temperature inside the van was still below freezing. Like I said, I built a little character this season.
If you live in a tent for a week on a backpacking trip, you come home and enjoy modern luxuries in a new way. If you live in a van for a winter, you come to realize that we are the most fortunate humans to have ever existed.
On the grand scale of all humans that have ever enjoyed life on this planet, we surely must be in the top .01% of those that have enjoyed freedom, health, and material wealth. You may not fully realize it, but sit back and consider the continuum of civilization since it came to be in Mesopotamia (and the untold generations of hunter-gatherers before that). They were concerned with survival, we are focused on modern pop culture and mass media. Granted, you are perhaps a better-informed, concerned citizen that has taken some time to appreciate the difficulty in securing your own food, building your own shelter, and clothing yourself. I’m not trying to be pretentious, I’m just saying you own more stuff than most humans have ever known and it only a financial transaction separated you from owning it before it was yours. Maybe you helped build your own house, painted the art on your walls, or made some of your own clothes, but I can be fairly certain you did not fill your pantry or your fridge. Do you dare check to see where the clothes you are wearing were made and consider the working conditions we were made in?
We just critters that have big brains, we depend on the Earth like all of the other critters do. I try not to lose sight of that and that’s why I would live in a van and think that I’m one of the luckiest critters to ever draw breath.