Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Bantam Classic

"Why do you wanna drive 4,000 miles just to race your bike?"

Like the lyrics to Yellow Ledbetter, or the geographic division between Hardee's and Carl's Jr., some things are difficult to understand.  

I offer this.

Friday Pre-Ride

Petaluma CA is a beautiful Sonoma Co. city steeped in history. Once known as the "Egg Capitol of the World", its roots are agricultural with a laid back farming vibe. I immediately like this place. 

I'm here to attend Yuri & Vanessa Hauswald's Bantam Classic. This 5th iteration of the Bantam produced record attendance accompanied by perfect weather. Bantam HQ is located at mother Hauswald's "Gypsy Acres Ranch". A stunningly beautiful setting with outdoor living space equal to the indoor, and a fluid line between the two. At Gypsy Acres you immediately feel welcome and leave as a friend.

A Friday pre-ride gives me a taste of the punchy rollers the Bantam course offers, helping shake out the lazy legs that have been sitting in the Honda for the past 2-1/2 days. Windy but scenic. 

Race Morning Buzz

Vanessa Hauswald working the Reg.

Yuri's goal with Bantam is emulate the European spring classics. The 45ish mile course has it all, punchy climbs, railing descents, and a section of "technical" pave'. The Bantam lands between Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold on the calendar, and in my mind, would satisfy all but the most demanding classics veteran.

The Roll-Out

Race morning had Olympians, Pro & Semi-Pro riders, ridiculously strong collegiate riders, and High School students toeing the line. With no official timing, and a neutral roll-out to the suggested starting line area, the Bantam win is for bragging rights only. But know this, there will be no gimmes. None. 

Quite Possibly the Coolest Bicycle / Chicken Picture Ever.

The post race vibe is magic. Great food, tons of prizes, and hand-crafted goodness for the fastest women and men.  

The Bantam Classic is a solid cycling soirĂ©e. All are encouraged to enjoy the workout, experience the local vibe, and build community. 

Yuri and Vanessa, along with NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association), have a noble goal, they want "more kids on bikes". I couldn't agree more. One of those kids just happens to be a middle-aged man from Missouri.

Cycling is a universal language. Learn as many dialects as you can.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Go West Middle Aged Man - Part 3 - Tahoe Trail 100k

The Starting Line

Among a seriously strong front row were Dave Wiens, Ted King, and Pro racers Eric Bostrom, Ryan Steers, and Jesse Anthony.  Levi Leipheimer was up there as well.

Levi is called up.

"Doper!" someone bellowed.

Starting Line

The guy was one row up and off to the left, fiddling with his Garmin. He said it like he was typing a hateful response on social media in a dark corner of his Mom and Dad's basement.

It wasn't my place to be, but I was embarrassed and annoyed.

This is not a story about me defending Levi. I'm not sure why Levi was racing this day, maybe Lifetime paid him to be there, maybe another entity paid him to be there, maybe he just likes racing his bike. What does it matter.

I have to ask, at what point do we forgive and forget? Even if this is your opinion of him, is it necessary to publicly announce your opinion in such a situation? 

Is this guy still pissed at Mark McGuire? 

You wanna be a douche-bag? Practice politics on the weekends, not bike racing.

We're Off to the Races

The Race

It's crisp this July morning. We're at Northstar Lodge, just southwest of Truckee CA. The starting line elevation is around 6,000 feet above sea level, with the race course topping out at approximately 7,300 feet. A 1/4 mile of climbing is not a big deal unless it happens to be compressed into the first 4 miles of the race.

It was.

The climb quickly erased the chill that a short descent had inflicted upon me. A 15% grade is good for that.

The 50k racers are sharing the same 31 mile race course with the 100k racers. It's a little crowded on the first few climbs, but still room for maneuvers. I'd reviewed the course profile and gauged my climbing effort accordingly.

The first lap stats.

Forty plus days have passed without a drop of rain in this area. 

A wise someone watered down the early stages of the climb out of the resort, beyond that, it's REALLY dusty. Marbles in flour dusty.  

The early race rider density made a few sections more sketchy, and left me wanting for a Harry Hogge moment.

"You better go high Don, pick a line you can ride through!"

Alas, I was on my own and riding blind. I nearly put tire tracks on a less fortunate rider that fell in the midst of the dust bowl. 

The course starts descending at mile 5 as I work my way around the base of Mt. Pluto, en route to the lake shore village of Carnelian Heights. I use the descent to gel and take in water laced with electrolytes. My Garmin alarm is set on 30 minute intervals and I gel accordingly, with intent to take in +200 calories per hour.

This is beautiful country. The course is a sweet mix of fire road and jeep trails interspersed with mildly technical single track. 


Around mile 16 I see my Kuat teammate, Dathan, sidelined with a rear tire puncture. I stop and offer assistance. He ask only for my spare CO2 cartridge and sends me on my way, not wanting to jeopardize my chances for a Leadville entry. 

At mile 17 there's another climb of substance up to Robie Park. By mile 19 you top out and start a 6 mile fire road descent that has me feeling like Leo hanging off the bow of the Titanic. 

This passes all too quickly. 

The final punch before a the start/finish pass is a 900 ft. kick in the ass skirting around Lookout Mountain. The first 1-1/2 miles of the climb is solid double digit grade, the second half tapers off to extremely difficult climbing. This climb is hurts, even on the first lap.

There's some good fun to be had in the plummet back to Northstar Village. I enjoy this section immensely.

The switchbacks on the way down to Northstar Village

Dathan stashed our food and drink near the start finish line, and I quickly pit and reload. I was solidly in race mode with little signs of fatigue. My training preparation was paying off. 

Full Race Stats

The second lap was easier. Not necessarily "easier" from an effort perspective, but definitely easier from a "knowing the course" perspective. This knowledge was bolstered by considerably less traffic on the second lap. 

Around mile 53 of the race course I stop at a neutral support station. My rear derailleur has been squalling for the last hour. A victim of the extreme dust. The kind gentlemen quickly lubed it and my chain, while I downed a GU and coke. 

I was on the home stretch. The only climb of substance was that 900 ft wall I mentioned earlier.

"Hey! Way to ride strong!" a fellow racer yelled.

I responded in kind. I'm consistently impressed by the caring and inspirational people I meet racing bicycles.

Home Stretch

I was climbing at a solid pace with none of those cramping twinges rearing their ugly head. I railed down the switchbacks and hit the pavement on the back side of the lodge. Seeing the finish chute always brings me joy. 

Full aero, or near collapse. Unsure.

Dathan had repaired his puncture and whittled away at the gap produced by this delay. I knew he was charging toward the finish line, which I'm sure provided additional motivation. 

True to form, he crossed the finished line just a few minutes after I did. I was fortunate to hold him off that long. 

Did I mention it was dusty?

A few minutes later my traveling companion and friend of 40+ years, John Long crossed the finish line. I'm just thankful that I didn't look that dirty at the finish.

John Long at the Finish

We wash the bikes, head to the lodge for a quick shower, then return to the finish line area for awards. 

I still need a Leadville coin.

If you're one of the 3.5 people that read my race reports, you know how this ends. But, for that new reader, here's the details.

Each Leadville qualifier race gives the racers an opportunity to gain entry to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. The total number of Leadville entry slots for each qualifying race is based on the number of entrants at the qualifying event. The coins (Leadville entry slots) are distributed by virtue of race finish time, per age group first, then a portion are distributed via lottery to the remaining racers (pull a number out of a hat). 

The entry slots go fairly deep into each age group. My group 50-59 year old, had 76 finishers. I finished 25th in the group. 

The coins ran out at 23. 

Disappointed, yes. Fraught with grief, no.

I still had an opportunity to gain entry in the drawing.

There were 70 slots available for the drawing. I was not worried.

I got this.

Around number 35, I internally rationalized.

"How many idiots want to race 103 miles at +10,000 feet of elevation??" I'm gonna get in.

I'm confident my number will be called soon. 

Someone to my right, they got called, they're all happy and hollering. Someone to my left, they got called, high fivin' each other.

I dislike them. A lot.

At 60, I was depressed, just wanting to bury my face in some ice cream. At 65, I was pretty sure this trip to Tahoe was a complete failure at gaining entry. 

I was called at 68. 

Ken Chlouber and Myself

This trip was a righteous adventure, giving me an opportunity to experience the Leadville Trail 100 MTB for a fourth time.

It was worth every bit of it.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 4 - Lake County High

"Who needs a push?"

"You're almost there! Who needs a push?" shouts a race volunteer stationed at the Lake County High School hill. 

The Monster didn't respond. Not sure if she didn't want a push, or maybe she was just really focused on this last climb of a long day.

"She wants a push!" I announced. The volunteer obliged.

I've had a few of those pushes in the last 4 years, and that feeling is permanently etched in a quiet corner of my brain.

This hill is significant. At the top you can see the funnel formed by a welcoming crowd of friends, family, and loved ones. You can see that red line in the middle of 6th street. You can see the arch with Old Glory waving you in. You can see the timing mat that stops the clock on your day. You have a year to come back and trip it a little earlier, but on this day in August, it means you've completed a ridiculously difficult, breathtakingly beautiful, enormously satisfying thing.

You're allowed to breathe a sigh of relief. To rejoice. To rest. To cry.   

You're part of the family. 

I'm unsure what my 20 year old self was doing August of '86, but I'm 100% certain it wasn't entering ultra endurance mountain bike races, as a college student. The Monster has some strong positive influences in her life. She has done, and will go on to do more remarkable things.

Melisa, thanks so much for sharing your finish line with me. 

Official Time for Melisa 10:12:14 - for Don 10:13:35

We should all be so happy to finish.

The Monster and I
Left to Right: Elden, Melisa, Don, and Lisa
It would be remiss of me if I failed to acknowledge the monumental role that Mr. Dathan Atchison played in my 2016 Leadville race. In April of this year he allowed me to tag along to the Austin Rattler  where Dathan, by virtue of finish time, gained a Leadville entry. I was not as fortunate. In July, Dathan was the architect of our Tour of the West trip that included the Tahoe Trail 100k. It was in Tahoe that I gained entry to Leadville. 

Dathan is in street clothes for the finish line picture below because he had 1-1/2 hrs. to kill after he finished. This guy, my Team Kuat teammate, my friend, finished his first Leadville in 8hr:44m! Big buckle this guy! 

Dathan's finish time does not surprise me. He's a fierce competitor and genuine man. Thank you!

Myself and Dathan Atchison

I head home and look forward to Leadville 2017. 

I rest for FOUR long days and Friday, August 19th, head off to Lincoln, Nebraska for Gravel Worlds. 

I should write a blog about that trip.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 3 - Can't Touch This

The view from St. Kevin's

No Trespassing

The Monster and I are on Tennessee Creek road, just off the base of St. Kevin's. The gradual arc to the South gives us a taste of Northerly wind from the Hwy. 24 valley.

It's a sublime feeling that tailwind.

A third rider joins our effort, we're 5 miles from the carpet, and a bit of "finish line high" enters our bloodstream. There's a gradual descent on the pavement down to the intersection of Turquoise Lake Rd., and it's time for a big gear. A twinge in my left hamstring tells me to unclip and stretch my leg......bad idea. The stretching initiated what could only be described as a thousand little knives being buried to the bolster. I'm working my hamstring with my left hand, eventually getting to the point I can clip back in. In the interim, The Monster and the other rider have worked around my slowing pace. Fortunately, the cramp subsides and I'm able to do work again. 

The three of us pass through the intersection, charging into the B road paralleling the tracks. Knowing this section well, I hit it hard and fast.

The Monster and I scramble up the rocky climb to the Boulevard proper. Beyond "minimal" I don't recall much of our conversation in this section. In 2015 Alban Lakata blasted up the Boulevard at 17.3 mph, because he's the "Albanator" and has that whole "SKYNET" thing behind him. (Not to be confused with team SKY, that would be the "Froomenator")

We're a bit slower, let's just say 50%ish. The Boulevard, ridiculously difficult. So close, yet so very far. 


The Long and Winding Road

In the early switchbacks of the Columbine climb, just above the Colorado Trail, I'm passed by a singlespeeder. He's climbing out of the saddle, his black kit form fitted to a lean muscular build, I know this kit, I know this rider, It's Elden "Fat Cyclist" Nelson. Elden has, via fundraiser, committed himself to the service of his lovely wife Lisa. His job, a domestique for Lisa in her bid to set the women's singlespeed course record. 

You Know What Time It Is?

I say hello, and ask "How's Lisa doing?"

"She's about 3 seconds behind me" he replied. 

I say hello to Lisa and wish her well, watching the two of them seemingly effortlessly disappear into a sea of riders ahead. 

The trees slowly disappear, followed shortly thereafter by the muscles in my legs. It's then I find myself at the Goat Trail. Founder Ken Chlouber is there, typically perched on his ATV, shouting words of, ahem, "encouragement." Most would consider it heckling, I take it as a compliment. Ken, he doesn't really care how you take it, just keep your ass moving.   

Columbine, Near the Turnaround

After 30ish minutes of working my way up the conga line, I remount and make the push over to Columbine aid station. This is the where the out and back changes from out to back. As a rule, you can double your time at Columbine and estimate your finish. Mean, median, mode, it's irrelevant at this point. I'm off pace, I know it, and I try to not let it consume me.  

My Grandson Liam, having learned I'm behind schedule at Columbine.
He takes my racing very seriously. 

I enjoy the words of encouragement from inbound traffic and act in kind. The reward for that 7 mile grind up is 7 miles of "how bad to I want to warp my brake rotors."  

I make conversation with a few riders en route to Twin Lakes, cross the dam, and find my crew. 

"Do you have a coke that's not warm?" I asked. I hope that didn't come out hateful. They quickly help me swap hydration packs and resupply me with waffles and gels. 

"How long have I been here?" I asked Cynthia.

Her reply, "It's time to go!" I complied, trying to stay optimistic, but I had a bit of dread in my mind. 

The windy flat work and the Powerline climb lie ahead. I make good time through the singletrack, and quickly find my way back to the Pipeline aid station. I didn't need fuel or drink, so I headed to the pavement. I found a few riders to work with, other trains were too fast for me, and I was left solo. I thought the wind was tough until I turned left at mile 76, It felt like an invisible wall, or maybe I was towing a cinder block, or a mobile home. Thankfully this drive West was short lived and I soon find shelter in the trees as Hwy. 300 curves around to the base of Powerline.

The Powerline climb is intimidating, but I was feeling better, rode the sections I could, and pushed the bike up the rest. The monotony of this climb is broken up by a few false flats, allowing short reprieves.

I know this climb well, and welcome mile 82.5 with open arms. I take the hardtail beating that Forest Rd. 105 dishes out and do my best to stay alert. With a 180° turn on Hagerman, I breathe a little easier and enjoy the ride.

 And then this happened. 

This will take you to the finish line.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 2 - Testosterone Tim

In April of 2016, it was the Austin Rattler, I wasn't fast enough for an age group slot, wasn't lucky enough for a lottery slot. Then it was 100k at the Tahoe Trail, on a righteous tour of the West.

I had a stellar race at Tahoe, still wasn't fast enough, but lady luck tossed me a coin.

I'm toeing the line at my 4th Leadville Trail 100 MTB. 
I'm a lucky man.

Photo Credit- Eddie Clark Media

The Final 10 Miles

For 30 minutes The Monster and I have been trudging up to Carter Summit aid station. We make a quick pit and down a coke. After a minor climb out of Carter aid, there's flowing descents on the 2 miles over to the intersection of Uncle Buds Rd. The Monster demonstrates her descending prowess, and I do my best to keep up. Immediately following this intersection there's a tough bump up to the Kevin's descent. 

"Don't wait on me!" she announces. Following up with a "I'll catch up." 

After seeing her enduroesque bike handling minutes earlier, I had little doubt. 

I scramble on up the loose rocks and start that sweet release signifying the end is near, the Kevin's descent. I embrace the occasional drainage cut, feeling a little Red Bullish. With the turn at Gulch road the bottom drops out. That 12-14% gut punch from this morning, is now rutted nirvana.  I had 2 immediate goals, no broken bones and beating The Monster to the cattle guard. 

No broken bones, check. In the final downward pitch, she's there, I hear her coming, she passes, and it's well before the cattle guard. 

I feel old. I feel old and slow. 

We wind our way out of the trees, and get a taste of that wind.

That tailwind. That glorious tailwind.

Race Morning

After 2 trips back to the car, each time retrieving the essential items that my 5AM mind failed to gather. After as many trips to the porta-john, I'm in the green corral, and I'm somewhat jealous. A guy near me is outfitted in a thrift store bath robe. It's one of those full length avocado gems, you know, like your Grandma would wear all day when it's cold. It's around 35°F, and that my friends, is Grandma's robe weather. 

My steadfast crew chief, Cynthia, has done her part. She's delivered me to the starting line, and will then make her way to Twin Lakes to support my outbound and inbound stops there. The rest is up to me. I need to push myself, push myself really hard for 1 mile, then repeat that 103 times. I want a single digit finish. To finish this race is tough, to finish it in less than 10 hrs. is a substantial challenge.

On the Starting Line - Leadville 2016
It's nearly show time. My position in the green corral ends up silver after the gates drop and the file's compressed. 

The Start. Photo Credit: Eddie Clark Media

With a shotgun blast by Josh, hell hath no fury like the Leadville "neutral" roll-out. I recently heard a wise man suggest a progressive wave start for Leadville. I so look forward to that day. Beware of Testosterone Tim, he shows up to the corral at the last minute, then plows through a sea of mountain bikers to get to the leading edge of your corral. Timmy's gonna beat you to the railroad tracks, whatever it takes. Timmy will end your day early in his banzai run to the base of St. Kevin's.

Starting Line to the St. Kevin's Turn

In hindsight, I'm going to have to be more aggressive in the run to St. Kevin's turn. As you can see above, I'm trending the wrong way. I was feeling lightheaded early in the race, specifically on the Kevin's climb. Maybe that was my pace problem?

55 minutes after leaving 6th street I'm carving corners on the paved plunge to the tip of Turquoise Lake.

It's still cold. 

This cold is magnified by the 40 mph descent, in spandex. 

The Team Kuat vest, it's a keeper.

You'll work hard on the Sugar Loaf climb, but there's a reward. If the weather cooperates, and it did on race day, you're treated to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful vistas the Colorado Rockies has to offer. The sun shines warm on your chest, the race is still young, and you've ticked a couple of the climbing boxes. You feel like you're on top of the world. You're not, that comes later.

Sugar Loaf Ascent - Photo Credit: Eddie Clark Media

I'm a minute off my 2015 pace descending the brutally treacherous Powerline descent. I'm just too damn cautious. 

Base of Powerline, Outbound

I hit the paved flat and start the TT over to Pipeline. I feel strong through the singletrack and pool table smooth gravel over to Twin Lakes. Cynthia and the Atchison family have me in and out of the pit in a minute or less. 

Cynthia turning me around in short order. Twin Lakes Outbound.

I love the carnival on the outbound side of Twin Lakes. It the closest thing I've found to that warm fuzzy Dirty Kanza finish chute. A few more minutes and I'm at the base of Columbine. Team GU extraordinaire Yuri Hauswald is there. Yuri's shouting words of encouragement to the racers. I appreciate his words.

Things are looking up. Way up.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 1 - Of Monsters and Men

Race Day

"How's your descending?" asked The Monster.

"Average" I replied, internally thinking that I may not even meet that criteria.

"It's the only thing I'm good at" she says.

It wasn't braggadocio, but more acknowledgement of other perceived shortcomings.  In the following minutes I witness firsthand the merit of her statement. 

Earlier, I make the near 180° turn from Hagerman Pass gravel to the sweet pavement at Turquoise Lake Rd. I relax for a moment on the descent to the tip of Turquoise Lake, mentally preparing for the push up to the Carter aid station. I'm doing my best to stay positive, but disappointed in my race performance, wallowing in a bit of self pity......okay, more akin to drowning.

Leadville is an emotional roller coaster for most riders, and it's commonplace for joy and elation to quickly turn to the depths of hell with something as simple as rounding a corner. It was here The Monster rolled up beside me. I recognized her kit, bolstered by a brief interaction with her the day previous in Leadville.

With light conversation about her age, her college efforts and accomplishments behind us, I could see The Monster was ready for the suffering to stop. Unfortunately we had a substantial climb staring us in the face. At the top, the Carter aid station. Knowing well my chances of a 9hr:5Xm finish were gone, I shifted focus to this young lady. She has a good heart, and you know this within a few minutes of meeting her. As we trudge up to Carter I mentally and verbally committed to delivering her to the finish line.

"You're going to make me cry." she blurted.

I responded with "Nothing wrong with crying, but I want you to save it for the finish line."  


Wednesday Dathan and I rode the rec trail from Frisco to Breck, climbed to Peaks Trail, then descended back to Frisco. It was a beautiful day, with a multitude of hikers on the trail with their dogs. A righteous stretch of the legs. 

Peaks Trailhead

Friday, we drove to Leadville for packet pickup and the racers meeting. 

Clinton Gulch Reservoir

After packet pickup we went for spin. I'd mapped a ride that would allow Dathan to experience the Powerline descent prior to the race. We parked at Turquoise Lake dam and worked our way up to Hagerman Pass Rd., then climbed Sugarloaf. Near the summit we were joined by a fellow rider and the three of us made our way down Powerline. Dathan now had a feel for this somewhat treacherous section of the race course. His descending is spot-on anyway, but knowing the course is even better.

Powerline Pre-Ride
We make our way back to Turquoise Lake dam and head for the racers meeting at Lake Co. High School. After the meeting, it's back to Frisco, eat dinner, complete race prep, and turn in early. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Go West Middle Aged Man - Part 2 - Off the Back

Myself, Dathan, and John are leaving Leadville, driving North on 24 after pre-riding sections of the LT100MTB course. We're en route to I-70 at Eagle-Vail, and it's been a long day.  The beautiful sunset has gave way to darkness as we wind our way up the valley on this two-lane mountain highway. We talk about the ride, and how the altitude crushed us on the push up St. Kevin. 

With limited opportunities, Dathan takes advantage of a short straight stretch to pass a car. It was a safe pass with no risk beyond everyday driving. Immediately after returning to the right lane, the car we'd just overtaken begins the most erratic behavior. Flashing the headlights between high and low beam. Aggressively approaching our vehicle, doing their best to come up beside us. I was convinced that our pass had somehow offended the driver, and they were in the process of showing us just how offended they were. It made me nervous, and I did little to hide it. Dathan done his best to get away from what we perceived as a serious case of road rage. He sped up. The car sped up. He aggressively slowed and pulled to the shoulder. The car aggressively slowed and pulled to the shoulder. I had visions of newspaper articles detailing the bullet ridden truck, chalk outlines of our bodies carefully drawn on the pavement, that place where we fell, running from the road raging maniac, gasping our last breath. 

Finally, Dathan had his fill. We stopped. We stopped in the middle of our lane. The car pulled along side, rolling down the passenger window as it approached. Dathan lowers his window. I await the barrage of expletives, the sound of semi-automatic gunfire.....


He then sped away.

Let me process this a moment.

Okay, well, umm. Wow. I feel somewhat foolish. More than usual foolish. 

I feel foolish because......because it's MY bike on the back position. It's my bike, and there's only one reason it's falling off the rack, the back tire scrubbing the pavement as we cruise down the highway at 50 mph. It fell because I failed to secure the rear bike tire. 

Luckily the front tire restraint on the Kuat rack is designed to capture the wheel in the cradle, preventing the bike from falling completely off, cartwheeling down the road. Wreaking havoc to the bike, and even worse, other motorist. We pulled to the shoulder and I went back and surveyed the damage. I was lucky, the only damage of substance was the rear tire. 

Like asking that not-pregnant woman, "When are you due?"

Not one of my finer moments.

Go easy on the left hand corners

I properly secure the rear wheel, and we're off to western Colorado for the night. We have the breadth of Utah and Nevada to cover the next day.

That's right, we rock a selfie stick. Try waiting for someone to take a picture of you in Ghost Rock Utah

Myself and John near Green River Utah

Myself and Dathan near Green River Utah

Nevada has the loneliest highway stretch, Highway 50. 

The name is still applicable.

We arrive at the Reno airport and pick up Brad, our 4th riding partner, then head down to Northstar village, located between Truckee, CA and lake Tahoe. It's late Thursday evening. It's good to be out of the truck, and it's really good to have all 4 bikes on the rack.

Northstar Lodge

 Let's Race!