Sunday, June 14, 2015


With a semi-solid endurance base under my belt, it's time to improve my climbing prowess. My goal: Improve my performance at the 2015 Silver Rush 50 MTB and the 2015 Leadville Trail 100 MTB. While I was temporarily satisfied with my 2014 LT100 performance, it's my nature to want to improve. Both races are a climbers dream, and climbing faster is my focus.

2014 Silver Rush 50 MTB (5hrs:52:min)

With 4 weeks to up my ascending game, it's time to head for the mountains, Ozark mountains. Specifically the Buffalo National River area. Saturday, June 13th. I wake to a 3:00AM alarm, somewhat aggravated, confident I had just closed my eyes. A quick snooze reprieve and I slowly realize that 5 hrs elapsed in that blink. I dress, gather gear, load my bike and meet a group of friends in Springfield at 5:00AM, friends well versed in the self-flagellation that is the Jasper Disaster Loop. By 6:40AM we're grinding up the Hwy. 7 hill out of Harrison, AR.

The 18.5 miles from Harrison to Jasper serve as a great warm-up period for the day's work, a nice rolling section of pavement. At just over an hour, we cross the Little Buffalo at Jasper and take a left on Hwy. 74. The 10 mile run down to Piercetown is a roller coaster workout and helps me determine the kind of day it's gonna be. Luckily I was reaping the benefits of last weeks thrash at the Iron Horse 100 Gravel Race, and feeling good, in a "fingers-slammed-in-a-car-door" sort of way. At Piercetown we turn right on 74/123 for a scenic cruise along Big Creek to Vendor, AR a small town consisting of office......that is all. Vendor is a key turning point, literally and figuratively.

This is the start of the the 374 climb. I use the "boiling frog" anecdote to describe the climb. You're immediately climbing, but the intensity of the climb kind of creeps up on you. Then, it what seems like a split-second transformation, you're on a 14% wall of pavement, with every corner bringing another 2 digit pitch! Below is a picture representative of the 374 climb:

NOTE: Not the actual Hwy. 374 Climb. 374 is MUCH worse.
Hwy. 374 Climb Stats.

I sit and pedal, I stand and pedal, I shift and pedal, shift, sit, pedal, stand, shift, sweat, pedal, sweat and then, arrive at the steep section. It's at this point I feel as if I'm riding this rig up the mountain......and there's a Sumo wrestling team riding in the tag-a-long!
My rig for the Hwy 374 Climb. The Sumo wrestlers are off screen right, eating.

The Hwy. 374 Climb Summit
After a day and a half of climbing, I summit, we regroup, and enjoy the plunge back down to Jasper.  We find sustenance at a Jasper convenience store and all too quickly we're working our way up Mt. Sherman en route to Ponca. 

Mt. Sherman is a 3 mile climb with a few double digit pitches, but it seems somewhat "easier" after 374. The entire group makes good time on the climb and we're all ready for the winding descent down to the Buffalo River. My friend John Long and I carve the switch backs together and we join the group in downtown Ponca.

Ponca is a place to rest, fuel and dread the climb out. This day is not one that has me trying to improve my PR on the climb. I'll just be happy with that 132nd KOM position a while longer. The weather produces a light shower, and it feels oh, so, good to cool down some after this effort. In short order we are all on our way to the last pit stop of the day. Compton store.

On the final climbing curve up to Compton, there's a brassiere on the shoulder of the highway. I know it's been there for about 3 years now, maybe longer, it's missing a cup, stained dark, and tattered a bit. I look forward to seeing it on every Jasper Loop. It has been the subject of much discussion. How did it get there? How long has it been there? Why is it STILL there? I always look forward to seeing it, not because I enjoy seeing bras on the roadside, but because it means the majority of the day's climbing is done. It was a VERY welcome sight this day.

We ride the next 9 miles on the ridge, then make the screaming 40-50 mph plunge toward Harrison. I push myself on the last 7 miles into Harrison. I know that Neighbors Mill awaits and I'm hungry.
Good workout, great day.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Iron Horse 100 Gravel Race

Toeing the Line

There are brilliant shafts of sunlight intermittently piercing the canopy over the trail, slightly more vertical, and you'd fully expect Captain Kirk to appear with a landing party. 8 to 10 riders, myself included, have set an aggressive pace for the first few miles of the Iron Horse 100 mile gravel race. The first 16 miles outbound are on the rail-to-trail Frisco Highline. I'm near the rear of this pace line and trying not to do anything stupid.

I can hear the off-and-on ratcheting of my friend Jonathan's Industry 9 free hub, and know he's working hard to be with this group. He's riding single speed, and 20+ mph pace lines are not his friend. Limbs and vines are swatting at me. I'm bobbing and weaving like a guy just a bit to tall for the room. The actions of the rider just a few feet ahead are the only indication of the next low hanging branch or vine. I do some quick math in my head...........let's see, 36 inches at 20 mph..... and determine that I can't do the quick math to figure out how much time I have to react.

At 16.5 miles we exit the trail and hit the punchy rollers to the North, working our way toward the southeast tip of Stockton lake. I stay with the group for the first few miles, and eventually have that conversation with myself, "Don, this is not your pace!". The temps are near 80°F and the humidity feels like I'm wearing a plastic jogging suit. The group splinters a bit and I'm riding with my Dirty Dog Race Pack friends Anatolie and Josh. Anatolie hits one of the low water crossings a bit hot and pinch flats. I watch the remainder of the group gain ground and eventually go out of sight. I get my heart rate down to a point where it doesn't shake dust off my chest and focus on the task at hand. I'm riding solo.

The chainring church is in session, my Garmin and cue sheet have worked things out, they're on the same page and preaching it to me straight, down to the 10th of a mile. I'm using every smooth section of gravel (all 3 of them) to to eat and drink, working on that 200+ calories per hour. I quickly determine that water will be a problem and chastise myself for not sticking a 3rd bottle in my jersey pocket. I hit a sketchy descent and drop off into a rut that recent torrential rain produced. I blurt out an expletive, one that fear of a gravel face plant produces. This is not allowed in church. I am excommunicated.

Around mile 53 Josh and Anatolie ride up beside me. I ask, "How far to the aid station?" Josh says it's at mile 55. I was out of water. When you're riding in these conditions, and you run out of water, your thirst immediately goes through the roof. It's one of those immutable cycling laws, like Sir Isaac Newton's, or Dade County's. Notice how those guys back in the 1600's could rock the Robert Plant hair, make up cool laws, and still be called Sir. Newton would have been called a peace lovin' hippy in the 60's. But I digress.

Leaving the 55 Mile Aid Station

I make quick work of resupplying at the 55 mile aid station and head south. Around mile 63 there's a left turn in the course, immediately followed by a punchy climb. It's here that I'm passed by a fellow rider on a single speed. This guy is climbing strong, he's on a mission. He's also got a .50 caliber Browning M2 mounted to the rear of his bike, and he's shooting Fat Cyclist pain pellets at me! This guy obviously has friends at DARPA, because he's shooting smart pain pellets at me. They go directly to my legs and lungs. He rides on, I assess my wounds and keep pedaling, albeit somewhat slower. At this point the wheels start coming off, (keep in mind, I only have TWO!). I chomp down a banana, drink some GU Brew, chase it with water. I ride on. Several miles later, I hear a rider bearing down on my 6 (still on the military thing), it's the black ops single speeder! AGAIN! "I've gotta quit adding extra miles", he explains. I do my best to hide the wounds he inflicted earlier and shield myself as as he hammers around me. Mental note: don't follow his turns. Later I pass the black ops single speeder with double flats. He implied that he had what he needed and I rode on. Even though he'd nearly killed me with machine gun fire earlier, I couldn't help but sympathize with his plight.

Soon Josh and Anotolie catch me....again, and ride on looking strong. I start a downward spiral of self doubt and loathing. "You're a pudgy, out-of-shape old man!"......"You should've stayed in bed this morning and binged on Mad Men re-runs!". "This is too hard an effort after last week's Dirty Kanza!" Around mile 78, I climb out of rocky creek bottom road and continue East on some pool table smooth chip-n-seal. I see Josh and Anatolie in the distance, but I'm out of water........again. I see a farm house with a family outside and beg some water. They not only provide water, they gave me water with ICE CUBES! Ice cubes, yes, ice cubes. This brings my core temp back down to the molten lava range, I thank them profusely, re-mount and ride on. A mile or two down the road, I hear someone yell from a farm house, it sounded like water, but I had just filled up, and waved my right hand in the general direction of the yell. I find out later it was Josh and Anatolie yelling at me, they had stopped for water as well.

I'm on the last page of the cue sheet....YES! I know we hit the Frisco Highline at mile 88ish and I'm counting the miles off in my head.......82, 83, 84, 85, 7C's Winery!.....mmm wine, "Don, stop here and drink some wine, it'll be okay."...."Don, you're an idiot". 86, 87. It was in this area that Miles Hamilton met me and yelled words of encouragement. I was hoping to still be in the top 10 finishers, not realizing I was currently in 2nd place, behind Jake Bradley. I found a little spring in my pedal stroke, (think small spring, like a ball point pen).......there it is, the Frisco trail. I stop in the shade, combine my water bottles, slam a GU, and set off in the shaded, flat comfort of the trail. I find it fairly easy to maintain +15 mph and was feeling much better.

A few miles on the trail and I hear riders coming up on me. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, It's Josh and Anatolie. Josh is a big man, and a strong rider, he leads the charge. The three of us kick it up to the 17+ mph range and head back toward the finish line. The trail switches from chat to pavement near Willard. Ahh, this is nice. The miles click off quickly and soon we're turning off the trail and onto the mini storage entrance that is the finish line. Josh and Anatolie sprint toward the finish. My sprint looks a lot like soft pedaling. I roll across the finish line and find some nice green grass to fall on. Both of my hamstrings are still suffering from the pain pellet attack and take this opportunity to make me look like a guy being attacked by an invisible grizzly.

My good friend Jonathan Graif quickly comes too my rescue, chasing away the grizzly with some cold SBC root beer. I'm handed a cold, wet towel and place it around my neck. I'm thankful to be done.

7 Hrs; 2 min. 102.7 miles, +6000 ft. climbing, 88°F at the finish. Butter me up, I'm toast.

Josh, Anatolie, and I finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively. Huge congrats to Jake Bradley on the overall win. A hard days work.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Dirty Kanza 2015

We, as human beings, need to be challenged. It's in our DNA. Step back a few nanoseconds in the hour we've inhabited this earth and we experienced survival challenges daily. For the majority of us, the modern world has all but eliminated them. I believe challenges make our lives richer. Let's find one. - db

Jamie Wynne and I working on the prairie

I was calm at the line. Uncharacteristically calm. It's my third time lining up in front of the Granada, and I'm prepared for a tough day in the saddle. Upon completion of the WWF style call-ups (and yes, I liked it) we're off and rolling. The usual position jockeying was temporarily blunted by the train time out a few blocks from the starting line. A time to visit with fellow riders and make train jokes. There are very few train jokes. 

The temp was cool, almost cold, with a gray overcast. The roads were muddy and wet. The right turn onto gravel just over the Cottonwood River bridge, that's when it gets real. The neutral pace vehicles peel off and it's a white knuckle ride. Typically, the white knuckle ride lasts for 20 miles or so, then sorts itself out. This year a muddy hike-a-bike at mile 11, crushed a few dreams early in the day. My 15 mph average quickly faded to a slog. I wasn't angry, just determined.

The mud march at mile 11 - DK200 2015

Earlier this year, a stint at Bobby Wintle's LR100 had beat a valuable lesson into me. Carry it. Carry the bike. Here's a typical scenario with the muddy sections: "Rider comin' through!" I step off to the side, let the rider slip-n-slide past only to watch them, dismount, fall, or watch the muck devour yet another rear derailleur. Wash, rinse, and repeat. After about 2-1/2 miles the road (generous description) firmed up enough to ride.  It's not the most graceful way to make progress, but it will get you to the finish. A short while into this muddy hike-a-bike it became quite clear that this was not a "personal best" sort of day. This was not a "race the sun" day for me. It was going to be a long, difficult grind back to E-Town. Oh, and note to self, grab that headlight at Cottonwood Falls. 

Descending at LR100 2015
I met up with my friend Jamie Wynne post mud, and we worked our way through the vastness. Jamie has those monster quads that seem to propel him effortlessly into the 15 mph headwind, I dropped a bottle hammering my way through 1 of 100 stream crossings and had to work my ass off to catch him again. I hung on until we hit an open stretch of prairie (more open than the open stretch before) and that was the end of team Jamie and Don. Jamie went on to finish the race with John Bradley, both of them beating the sun by mere seconds and finishing in the top 50 overall at 14hrs:41min. I continued to plod along until mile 73 at Madison, CP#1. I rolled through the timers at 5hrs:44min, grabbed a new cue sheet and headed toward the support section. I was sharing SAG with a group and Cynthia and Connie made short work of resupplying me. I lubed the chain and was back on the bike in ~5 minutes.

There's a brick paver wall, disguised as street on the way out of Madison. It's a 14% gut punch. You've just filled your stomach full of potato chips, chocolate milk, and/or pickles and this hill makes you want to hurl your recently found sustenance out on the street. I find granny gear and grind it out, saying hello to an elderly local perched along the street watching a steady stream of muddy riders work their way out of town. He replied with words of encouragement. I wondered to myself what he must think about the race, hoping it provided him some entertainment. 

The next 50 miles are desolate, a beautiful desolate, but desolate. I visit with a few riders, but spend a large portion of this section alone. This is a new section of the course and I have to keep my eye on the cue sheet. Luckily, my navigation decisions are backed up by a few tire tracks. At mile 121 I stop at the water oasis, refill my water bottle and drop a GU pellet in it. Riders are sitting in lawn chairs, shrouded in thermal blankets, sporting 1000 mile stares. I quietly remind myself of the Kanza's extremely high attrition rate. Stay focused, eat, drink, and pedal. 

Shortly after the water oasis and before CP#2 at Cottonwood Falls, someone poured sand in my bib shorts, and used a cheese grater on my sit bone area while they were at it. I stopped, dug through my gas tank, locating the lifesaving ointment that is Chamois Butt'r. The world just looked better after that. I soloed my way into Cottonwood Falls rolling across the mats at 12hrs:32min. I found my SAG section, and once again Cynthia and Connie turned me around in stellar fashion. I clamped on the headlight, 5 minutes in and out. I felt good and was confident in my finish capability. 

Just out of Cottonwood Falls you start a 10 plus mile push to the North. The roads are not bad, but the wind, combined with the rollers and 13 hrs. of fatigue, make it tough work. At mile 170, 14 hours after I left Emporia, I turned East and found some reprieve from the wind. I joined forces with a couple of riders in this section and we quickly found our way to Lake Kahola, a beautiful change of scenery. At 15 hours we hit Americus, the lights came on and a 20 mph pace line commenced. We could smell the barn. 

Mile 180- I've been pedaling for over 14-1/2 Hours

Just outside Americus, the 3 of us became 5. One of the riders, a single speeder, pulled up beside me and said "Hey Don! It's me Eddie from Cedar Cross. I've been chasing you f*@#ers for the last 10 miles! Eddie and I finished the grueling 113 mile Cedar Cross together a few weeks earlier. Along with Eddie, there was a female rider on a new Salsa Warbird. I would later figure out this was none other than Andrea Cohen. Andrea and Eddie turned up the volume to 11 and it was game on! We hammer across the I-35 overpass and Eddie and I hit the ESU campus with boosters on. I guided Eddie through ESU and into the finish line chute. I know it's just a bike race, but the Dirty Kanza finish line chute has magical powers. The town of Emporia as a whole, make you feel like a total rock star, each and every finisher. I see a young lady with her hand out and slow to tag it. Eddie continues the sprint and hits the mat a second ahead of me.

The phenomenal Kristi Mohn gives me a hug, hands me the glass, and puts a smile on my face 15 hours, 44 minutes, and 51 seconds in the making. Kristi, Jim, Tim, Lelan, Emporia, thank you.

Once again, as Janeen Mcrae so eloquently put it, "In short, I am baptised"

A shout out to all the photographers that help us relive this event and share with the world what we've experienced. Go ahead and grab that screen shot, but when the dust settles, find a few pics that are important to you and buy them. Linda Guerette, Eric Benjamin, Jason Ebberts and all the photographers that worked so hard, THANK YOU.

I want to leave you with a shot from Jason Ebberts of TBL Photography. If you want to see what "giving it all" looks like, look no further than this shot of Yuri Hauswald, the 2015 Dirty Kanza champion.