Weighing the Wait

images-34April Fools came and went yesterday without incident.  In fact it turned out to be the nicest day we’ve had here in some five months.  It felt strange getting out on the road for three plus hours without any real discomfort.  I kept waiting for the usual pains to kick in, but other than the occasional shoulder cramp…nothing. Where was that biting wind chill, face burn and foot numbness? Which got me thinking about “waiting” and “weight”.

I’ve touched on “weight” before.  It’s not surprising that this is a recurring topic;  in the world of cycling it appears to be the ‘Holy Grail’.  Even if your primary objective is simply upgrading your gear for the purpose of function or durability…weight always sneaks into the process.  It’s more often the primary driver of whatever you’re contemplating changing or switching out.images-35

I spent a portion of two mornings this past weekend riding, planning and discussing options with my Tour Divide partner, Brad Crossley.  Coffee, maps and gear conversation occupied our full attention for hours upon hour..  Unlike the warm sunshine we experienced on April Fools, the weekend was a total washout.  The monsoon did provide my first chance to trial my wet weather gear.  The end result: more questions than answers. Which brings back to the point of this entire exercise.  I need to move past the endless gear debates and tweaking of equipment and zero in on the nuts and bolts of my setup for the Tour Divide.

1-5-Horse-before-cartTo put it another way, it’s time to put stop putting the cart ahead of the horse.  I’ve read enough from previous Tour Divide riders and their experiences to realize that zeroing in on your setup takes time, persistence and focus.  The first two are easy,  I’ve got plenty of both.  The latter is where I see myself falling short.  It’s easy to say you’re going to prioritize this way or that, but nearly impossible to do as things keep getting thrown on your “to do” list that are out of sequence. images-38 It makes perfect sense when you’re in the middle of the process.  You experience a delay in acquiring a few primary items and the next thing you know you’ve moved on down the list.  The distractions and debates of that ‘next’ item on the list leads you further down the list and before you know it you’ve lost sight of that critical piece you were focused on yesterday.  Repeat.  All of a sudden another week has slipped away.  My time spent with Brad this weekend was a good reminder why I need to go back to the top of my list and get the cart behind the horse.

You know the age old joke told to every freshman college athlete.  Their college menu of  options consists of three things: academics, athletics and social life.  Pick Two.  Well in the world of adventure/distance cycling, the same adage applies except it’s: function, durability and weight.  Trying to find equipment that gets top marks in all three is a fools mission.  Plus, anything that comes remotely close costs as much as your house.  But I realize there are a lot of fools in this world!  images-37

In the end I shouldn’t be surprised that it all comes down to common sense and keeping practicality at the forefront of every decision.  KISS.  It’s amazing how even the most experienced of us gets lured into “paralysis analysis”.  I was chuckling reading several Tour Divide blogs this week that commented on chatting with participants that were STILL debating their gear setup within 24 hours of beginning the race!  That chuckle of course was all mine.  Despite being some 10 plus weeks out from the start, I realized that was going to be me if I didn’t get busy.  Time to stop weighing everything….literally.  images-39

Onward.

Riding The Divide: Battling Inside Out

images-21I spent a few hours this week listening to a series of archived radio podcasts from last years Tour Divide.  It was surprisingly entertaining.  Joe Polk provides daily updates on the race via MTBcast.com which you can freely listen to on iTunes.

Three interesting observations that struck me listening to a portion of last year’s race.

 1.)  The Field:

The popularity of the Tour Divide has grown every year and 2014 promises to continue that trend.  Already some 100 participants  have indicated their intent to ride the route this June.  However the TD isn’t your ordinary event.  To begin with the majority of the field attempts to ride the route north to south, departing from the shadows of the Banff Springs hotel on the morning of June 13th. ( The second friday in the month of June ).  But not all.  Some riders for personal reasons will attempt to cover the exact same route leaving from Antelope Wells New Mexico and pedal north to Banff.  Every year there are a few who set out attempting the unthinkable: riding the route in both directions or in yoyo fashion.  Yes there are people out there even more unbalanced than Brad or I.images-14

The list of participants is international: roughly a third of the riders hail from South Africa, Qatar, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and yes of course Canada.  I believe at last count there were at least a dozen ‘maple leafs‘ who had signed up.

The gender split is 9 to 1.  To date there are 10 women who are planning on riding.  images-31

Age wise it’s heavy in the middle.  The largest age group participating is in their 40′s, (38 by my count) with a roughly equal number of those in their 30′s (21) or 50′s (22).  The youngest rider to register is 20 years of age;  the oldest is an inspirational 73 years young!  Wow, that’s incredible.images-33

Over half of the fifty states will have riders pedaling with the largest numbers coming from the western states of Colorado, Arizona, California, Washington, New Mexico and Montana.  It’s a pretty safe bet that Brad and I are destined to meet some extremely interesting characters come June!

Lastly, 80 of the 100 or so participants are first timers.  There are a handful of second time riders and a few who have attempted or finished the ride more than a few times already.  With so many first time riders the fact that so many fall out along the way, makes sense.  I’ve personally never undertaken anything remotely this challenging and listening to the daily rider call ins from 2013, I realize you’re never going to feel fully prepared for the magnitude of what gets thrown at you during this event.

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 2.)  The Start:

Listening to the voice of experience from last year,  I was humored picturing many first time riders going out blazing the first week of the race.  I’m competitive.  I get it.  Anyone who has toed the start line in a 10K road race or similar event can relate.  Your adrenaline kicks in and before you know it you’ve just run the fastest mile of your life….problem being there are five more to go! Envision that same natural tendency in an event of this magnitude and you can see how easily a lot of rookies get chewed up and spit out before they’ve left Montana.images-28

Hopefully having a riding partner like Brad we can temper our early ‘enthusiasm’ with some turtle wisdom: slow and steady.  The Tour Divide is a classic example of why you don’t want to get caught up comparing your progress with some of the other participants.  There will be riders setting out on June 13th with the express goal of covering the route in roughly two weeks.  Brad and I on the other hand will be focused on simply ‘finishing’.  We’ve discussed setting an initial goal of 25 days to cover the distance, but like all the first time riders, it makes no sense to get fixated on your timeline because you can’t predict the dozens of things that can and likely will cause delays.

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     3.) The Journey:

Spending time listening to those tired voices calling in from the trail last year was a good way to remind myself just how unpredictable this journey is.  Admittedly that’s a big part of the attraction.  I love going into situations where the outcome is anything but predictable.  Still those voices shared a sobering glimpse into the reality of attempting to pedal your way through some of the most rugged landscape on the continent.  This is not for the faint of heart.images-29

I could feel the fatigue and exhaustion in those voices.  Weather and trail conditions were constantly changing pushing the mental and physical toll on riders.  They spoke of getting caught in torrential rain, hail and snow storms.  Lightening and thunderstorms were also issue for many.  Trail conditions covered the gamut of your imagination: dry and dusty to sopping wet and muddy.  In some cases the mud was so bad that riders had to ‘drag’ their bike while they slogged forward on foot because the mud was so heavy, thick and unwieldy.images-30The wetter northern states posed an entirely different challenge than the stifling dry heat of the south: ravaging floods in the north and smokey forest fires in the south.   Riders were regularly having to detour to avoid natural disasters.  Mosquitoes.  Some portions of the route are apparently notorious for atomic sized mosquitoes.  And if the mosquitoes aren’t a problem it’s because you’re pedaling into 30 mile an hour headwind that can bring forward progress to a grinding halt.  In the northern states some of the riders referred to ‘bearanoia’ as a daily distraction; the fear of rounding a corner and bumping into a ill tempered grizzly. IMG_5156 Still different issues come into play once you’ve left grizzly country behind, like long dry basins and stretches where a poor provisioning decision can leave you high and dry.  And I haven’t even broached the topics of mechanical bike failures, flats, etc. or the frequent citing of stained leg muscles, achilles and knees.

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The takeaway?  The Tour Divide isn’t something you enter into lightly.  Of the roughly 100 plus riders currently training, planning and preparing: the majority won’t reach their destination: Antelope Wells, New Mexico.  Mental, mechanical and physical failures will begin adding up as riders make their way south.  Wind, rain, hail, snow and extreme temperature changes won’t make it any easier, but seem to have a way of piling on.  Hearing those beat up voices calling in from the trail last year’s  was inspiring.  But it reminded me that what we’re preparing for isn’t following anyone’s game plan, except Mother Natures.  In a sense that what makes it exciting, albeit a bit scary — the unknown.

Onward.IMG_2423

 

 

 

Thrashing Thru The Snow….

Change of pace.  It occurred to me it might be a good idea to get some “off road” time in the saddle given that June’s Tour Divide is about 80% double track fire roads..  And it would’ve been a great idea except I overlooked one thing: snow.th-9

The closest rail trail of any distance in our little corner of southern NH, is the Rockingham trail that runs from Newfields to Manchester NH.  This was the old Portsmouth branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad system . So I pitched my bike in the car and drove up to the eastern end of the trail.  I immediately discovered that March hasn’t done much to melt this winter’s snowpack, especially on a shaded path regularly ridden by snowmobilers.  Glancing down the path leading away from the Newfields train depot,  I decided to test whether my cross bike and I were equal to the challenge.   IMG_2747

Six miles and three hilarious spills later I determined that this might not be the smartest move and exited to a nearby crossing road.  The sun was wreaking havoc with different stretches of the trail.  Long shaded sections were firm and IMG_2757fast lending a false sense of confidence.  You had to fight to hold a line but it was fun spinning along a snow covered pathway.  But stretches of glare ice appeared out of nowhere, (always when I had a good head of steam) and I found myself gripping the handlebars for dear life.  There were also exposed sunbeaten stretches that had turned into heavier corn snow, bringing any momentum to skidding halt.  It may have been a relatively short six mile stretch until I came upon a cross road, but this was work.  And I could already feel the bruises welling up from a few spectacular headers!  IMG_2752

After wrestling along this ribbon of snow, ice and slush, jumping back to the road surface felt like butter.  I pedaled a 20 mile country road loop and then returned to my car via the Rockingham rail trail.  On the way back I crossed paths with a couple of ‘fat’ bike riders.  I hadn’t even seen a ‘fat’ bike until earlier this fall. These are really cool looking, super snow, off road riding rigs.  These two were spinning along without any of the misfortune I was experiencing; just a walk in the park for a fat bike.  While I was hanging on for dear life, they seemed to be rolling along effortlessly.

I greeted them jealously without peeling a single finger from either bar.  I’d already been prone enough times for one day.  I’m guessing they had a good chuckle at my expense.  Hey even I was laughing at myself by this point.  But I may have to consider a fat bike next winter to experience that calm riding demeanor myself!  If you haven’t seen a fat bike, here’s what they look like.  Snow and sand are no problem for these machines and they’re gaining popularity.  They’re becoming popular with bike packing adventurers looking to blaze their way on and off trail in the backcountry.

But until spring finally shows up and sends winter packing, I’ll just have to stick to the roads.  And it seemed like such a great idea……

Onward.

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The Tour Divide: Why??

One of the most fascinating aspects of embracing the challenge of the Tour Divide is the responses of family, friends, peers, neighbors and acquaintances.  Lately I’ve grown accustomed to the  quizzical stares accompanied by “you’re doing what” or “you need to get yourself checked out”.  Yes I probably should.

But there’s more to these responses than meets the ear or eye.  I understand the initial reaction that I’ve lost my marbles or likely have a few crossed wires.  I mean it’s not normal for people to put themselves in a position where they’re under enormous physical and mental duress with failure as a very real outcome.  We’re human; we seek comfort; even when that comfort doesn’t serve our best interests. So why?images-17images-11

I mean what is so appealing about mounting a two wheeled self propelled piece of steel, titanium or carbon and pedaling it up and down the Continental Divide for almost a month?

If you sat and interviewed the hundred plus participants that set out last June or the years dating back to 2000 when the Tour originated, I’m sure you’d get some entertaining responses.  Given that it’s billed as a ‘race,’ the logical conclusion might be that it attracts a macho group of testosterone driven competitors whose elevators don’t quite reach the top floor.  What other logical explanation could account for someone actually getting excited about embracing a challenge like this?images-13

There are plenty of “why lists” that I’ve stumbled across reading articles on the internet.  Here’s a collection that have brought a few chuckles and ah hah’s from my lips:

1. An Excuse To Play With New Toys:  clearly more a ‘guy’ thing that needs no explanation…you either get it, or you don’t.  If you’re a guy reading this, enough said.

2. The Divide Diet – Eat Anything + Everything: yes the thought of trying to find the highest calorie items in the snack aisles is appealing.images-19

3. Expand Your World: I like this one…going outside your comfort zone into new places is scary but thrilling at the same time.

4. The Preparation:  It’s a journey.  It’s as much about preparation as it is setting out in June.  There’s a satisfaction associated with the grind and discipline an event like this requires.  It pushes you, it nags at you and it empowers you.

5. You Can Do More Than You Think:  All of us realize the truth in those 7 words.  Too often we settle.  We have our reasons, but those are better known as ‘excuses’.  In my case it just seemed an appropriate time “not” to settle.

6. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: This one resonated with me.  The opportunity to focus on moving forward, being present, increasing my awareness….all attract me.  Nature has a way of nurturing healthy introspection and sharpening our perspective on life.

7. Teamwork: This is a big piece for me.  The prospect of sharing the ride with someone I respect.  The knowledge that Brad and I will have to find our rhythm and develop a routine intrigues me.  I’ve always been a ‘team’ driven personality. I’m not sure the prospect of doing it alone appeals to me as much.  Sharing the ride is as important to me as the potential of finishing the ride.

8. Oh The People You Will Meet: I love adventures with the prospect of meeting ‘real’ people.  People are fascinating.  Seeing them in their own element, even more so.  Almost every account I’ve read highlights this part of the ride, with good reason.  This is one of the big silver linings for me.images-20

9. Accomplishment:  I’ve read a lot about the sense of accomplishment.  But I’m not sure that those who’ve actually completed the TD would cite this as their primary driver.  I know it isn’t mine.  I find that mindset too ‘destination’ driven for me.  Completing the TD is an amazing accomplishment and given how many riders drop out, not easily done.  Many riders return after dropping out more than once.  As I’ve come to grasp of the magnitude of the preparation that goes into this event, I’m pretty confident that anyone straddling a bike in front of the Banff Springs Hotel on the morning of June 14th has  already accomplished a lot.images-14

So what’s missing?  There’s something else about this event that I find deeply appealing.  I struggle putting it into a single word or  simple phrase because it’s more about the fabric of what my life has been up to this point. It’s about the lessons I was taught time and time again growing up.  It’s about ownership, self reliance, accountability.  If you want something then put your mind and body in motion and go out and do it.

I’m not entitled to finish.  Everyone doesn’t get a gold star for showing up.  This race is about owning your preparation ( or lack thereof ), it’s about fixing problems you encounter along the way ( no help allowed ) and ultimately it’s about accepting the consequences of your own decisions.  There are no sag wagons to pick you up when you’ve miscalculated distance, weather, water or food images-15supplies.  Your on your own.  There are no race marshals standing at every junction or pass to guide you.  Go off course and it’s up to you to back track and find your way.  There are no style points or politically correct versus incorrect approaches.  It’s black and white: you ride the route as outlined, without assistance, period.

If you fail there are literally hundreds of reasons why, but my hunch is those riding don’t really care to discuss it.  Excuses.  Noise.  I’ve read dozens of online discussions from former riders of the event. They embody the mantra that it’s what you do, not what you say, that matters.  The TD is a metaphor for life: tough, grueling, full of setbacks, bad weather and wrong turns….and ultimately, rewarding in ways unseen.

Onward.

75 Reasons To Ride

Sunday morning. Yesterday’s 75 mile training ride was a reflection of life: arduous; interesting; painful; bumpy; too hot; too cool; energizing; tailwinds; headwinds; flying; crawling; in sync; out of sync.IMG_1002

“Almost all my middle aged acquaintances, including me, feel about 25 years old,  unless we haven’t had our coffee, in which case we feel 107.”

Pedaling for hours apparently has a similar effect. When you trudge up the driveway with endorphins running wild your feeling pretty good. I’d say somewhere in your 30′s. An hour later reality sets in.  Suddenly you’ve morphed into ‘gramps’ and the bed is calling your name. The thought of getting prone seems attractive until someone tells you to get up.

“I’m officially middle aged. I don’t need drugs anymore, thank God. I can get the same effect just by standing up real fast.”

Amazingly this mornings coffee came to the rescue again. I lost 30 years in a matter of 15 minutes. I’m not feeling quite as spry as ‘Moose’ but I’ll take it. Mimicking the energy pouring out of that 14 pound dynamo would take some serious drugs . IMG_2703I’ll pass. I’m not sure I could handle a return to fraternity days where chewing on the furniture and peeing in the corner was the norm. The coffee will have to suffice.

No big ride planned today but I’m curious to see what my body has to say when I plant myself in the saddle. Usually it’s impossible to predict. It’s akin to watching your team in warm ups. If they look great – they’ll probably stink. Or vice versa.

Good, bad, zapped or zipping…..at least you know you’re alive.

“When a middle aged man says in a moment of weariness that he is half dead, he is telling the truth…literally.”

Onward.

CountDown: 13 Weeks To the Mark

I should be grateful that the Tour Divide is three months away.  Even after switching over to daylight savings last weekend, it still isn’t feeling very ‘spring like’ here in New England.  In the meantime there’s plenty of activity both inside and out that has me feeling like I have far too many ‘to do’s’ still on my list.  If I didn’t know better, it feels like my math isn’t exactly working… Crossing one off, add three?  Is that how it’s supposed to work?  Time to get busy.IMG_2441

Anyone venturing outdoors yesterday likely shared my less than enthusiastic response to the dusting of snow and gale force arctic winds.  I was relieved that my plans didn’t include me on the bike today.  At least not outdoors.  When it’s this cold and windy the bite latches on the minute you step outside.  There’s really no escape either no matter how hard you pedal.  Pain is along for the ride from start to finish.

Luckily I’d already scheduled spending yesterday with Fit Werx in Peabody going over my bike setup and mechanicals.  IMG_2492Fit Werx uses a combination of computerized software and video much the way you’d have your swing analyzed in golf.  It’s fascinating to watch your own positioning on the bike.  The prospect of sitting on a bike and pedaling for twelve hours is intimidating enough but there’s also a healthy fear that if your positioning/alignment is way off then your body could easily breakdown somewhere in the middle of Grizzly Adams country.  Not my idea of fun.

It was a couple of well spent hours.  Sitting pedaling on a mechanical instrument that adjusts a dozen different ways and watching your image on a screen was a first for me.  Having spent many decades working with athletes trying to correct unrelated but similar mechanical deficiencies, I can relate to the process.  Technology can do some amazing things these days.  After spending a life time on the instructional side, I’d like to think I’m a receptive student!  Still even with all this technical analysis and equipment, the end game is always the same: feel.  If it feels right then it likely is right. IMG_2490 Today’s session exposed a number of things that I hadn’t given much thought to when trying to discover that intersection between performance and feel.  Some of the time was spent simply better understanding ‘why’ certain positions feel awkward or comfortable or in between.  I enjoy learning the ‘why’ as much as I do discovering what works best.  No surprise, I’ve still got some work to do before finishing the setup on this bike.  Hopefully I can transition from my cross bike that I’ve been training outdoors on this winter, to this mountain bike which I’m counting on  transporting my butt from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.  That’s a lot of ‘butt’ time.

I’m slowly but surely picking away at the assembling the bike gear I’ll be carrying.  I’ve discussed this in previous posts so I won’t belabor the point, but holy cow the options and choices are endless!  Self supporting over a distance like this changes everything you ever thought you knew about cycling and outdoor gear.  IMG_2484I never considered myself a ‘weight weenie’ in my former life, but it’s nearly impossible not to morph into one in this situation. Every decision comes down to weight, functionality, durability and of course cost.  The lower the weight, the higher the functionality/durability = th-2Apparently this is the formula no matter what you’re buying. Fueling it of course is an entire subculture of fanatics who anguish over this tradeoff year round trying to shave ounces from their bikes and gear.  I’m looking forward to finalizing the “stuff” that’ll be joining me for the ride.  Enough already.

Today was every bit as interesting as yesterday.  You don’t need to know anything about biking to understand that if something other than your body is going to break down, it’ll likely be your: a) drivetrain/gears  OR  b) your wheels.  Fortunately there are some pretty talented professionals in New England that try and minimize this possibility.  IMG_2493Peter White is one of those people.  I always enjoy ‘meeting’ real people who are much more than the sum of their parts.  I’ve come across Peter’s website many times over the years, always thinking that someday I’d perhaps have a reason or excuse to make use of his talent and experience.  I just didn’t realize it was going to happen today.

Checking my to do list this morning there were two big holes staring back at me: night lighting and wheels..  I also realized that the solution was very likely right in Peter White’s wheelhouse.  I called.  Peter answered.  (How many business owners offer that experience?)  A few hours later I was standing in Peter’s shop in Hillsborough NH.  That alone would have made the trip worthwhile.  Surrounded by raftered wheel IMG_2494sets, workstations and some classic touring bikes, I quickly realized I’d struck gold.  Peter patiently walked me through how he could take the Schmidt dynamo front hub, build it into a much stronger front wheel, but most importantly – power everything from a head light, my gps, my iPhone, my IPad and any other electrical devices I wanted to schlepp along…..all while pedaling.  This was a no brainer: done.  If each of the dozens of bike challenges I’ve encountered thus far had been resolved this quickly and easily,  I might already be in the Rockies! Thank  you Peter!!

Looking ahead to the next few weeks I’m actually hoping for a series of rainy days where the temperature isn’t sub zero and I can slog my way around some of the local riding routes.  I’ve assembled most of my foul weather gear but I need to experience some trial and error rides where certain things work and others not so much.  I’d rather discover something I was counting on to battle the elements isn’t going to win that fight here on my home turf, not in the middle of nowhere.  Hardly the time or place to have a V8 moment!

No matter the forecast, I’ll be heading up, or should I say ‘down’, the coast of Maine in the coming weeks to spend a few of days riding the Downeast Sunrise Trail with my Tour Divide riding partner, Brad Crossley.  Newly opened in 2010 the Sunrise Trail was the brain child of some forward thinking Mainers who realized the demise of the rail line linking Ellsworth and Calais offered a unique recreational opportunity for the area.  It’s a familiar story across the USA:  automobile replaces train; train service shuts down and the rail bed sits waiting for local government and recreationalists to push it back into life as a natural outdoor corridor for hikers, cyclers, snowshoers, cross country skiers, etc.  I’m excited to get on some extended bike time on gravel surfaces like those we’ll be traveling on the Divide and the Sunrise Trail promises to be a nice way to get some mileage under our belts.  I’ll be sure to share some of the highlights.tn_DEST_brochure_back2-1

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

So I’m ready to say it… “uncle”.  There, you win.  Winter is “the man”.  You Da MAN!!  I get it.  You’re not ready to leave just yet. When you are, you’ll do it on your terms.

I never imagined when I signed up for this zany adventure that I’d be teaching myself how to “accomodate” our good friend Winter.  After all I did have some experience riding in spring temperatures that weren’t exactly pleasant.  But this extended visit is shall we say, a bigger test than I envisioned when I jumped in with both feet in January.

Layering for this weather is no easy affair.  It reminds me of being a kid and putting on all your snow gear to head out into the snow before realizing that the bathroom beckons.  I used to think getting dressed for hockey was  too involved.  That routine is looking tame by comparison.  I did the math the other day.  In the past two weeks I’ve found twenty different items that need  pulling, zipping, snapping, ratcheted, velcroing, etc.  That’s close to twice the number I think I managed in my skating days.  And lets not talk about the shedding gyrations when nature calls.  I’m becoming a “twerker”.

IMG_2454Here’s a sample of the stuff that goes on “over” my regular cycling gear.  Place the wrong thing on in the wrong sequence or “forget” the sequence because you’re distracted…and it’s back to the drawing board.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screwed up; I’ve lost count.  Time is not your friend either.  The longer you wrestle with tugging the last few items over your head or zipping them into place, the more you overheat.  Sweating profusely before heading outside in this weather is the kiss of death.

Recently I came across writings detailing the use of vapor barriers to better manage body temperature in cold, frigid weather.  The majority exercises outdoors in moderate climes or seasons where sweat just wicks away and does it’s job of cooling. Bundled up, you experience the same process with very different results.  Those who spend a lot of time exerting themselves in harsher climates obviously are a whole lot more familiar with this stuff than I.  In layman’s terms, vapor barriers are used to keep the moisture pouring off you contained so that the layers outside the barrier don’t become sweat soaked which can render them ineffective in keeping you warm.  Or a block of ice depending on what the thermometer says.  In a short out and back workout thats not an issue because you can strip them off before you get chilled.  But if you’re outside for extended periods of time, it becomes a big problem.  If you’re out for extended days or weeks, it can become a serious problem; no bathroom heater to dry things and release “eau de body” perfume into the air.

Yesterday I took a ride up the up the NH coast crossing into Maine.  It was sunny but well below freezing.  Instead of layering multiple foot covering devices over my cycling shoes,  I placed a plastic vapor barrier over my socks and inside my shoes.  Four hours of continuous riding later, I returned home without any foot discomfort from the biting wind.  The wool socks under the vapor barriers were damp of course..  But they were warm.  That was a first for me.  If you already know all about vapor barriers, this won’t surprise you.  If you want to understand the nuances of the ongoing vapor barrier debate, check out this website:  http://www.andrewskurka.com/2011/vapor-barrier-lines-theory-application/

IMG_2460 IMG_2468Riding up and down the NH coast line in the midst of a bitterly cold March, is a bit surreal.  The roads are wide open with only an occasional passing car.  Hampton beach is a ghost town; the only signs of life being the occasional brave dog walker. Bustling summer harbors like the picturesque  Wentworth By The Sea, were beautiful in the sunlight, but not a soul in sight.  Pedaling up the Rye coast and on into Portsmouth the lobster eateries were likewise silent.  If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve guessed it was mid January.  If a few zombies had lurched out of the buildings, my suspicions about the ‘Apocolypse’ would have been confirmed.  No Zombies.  Well….except the one riding that bike.IMG_2461

Every Wall Is A Door —– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I watched the recent Olympic Games in Sochi with more than just a passing interest.  images-9The hockey world is truly a small one.  Having spent a dozen years coaching gifted females in the sport, I looked forward to watching players I had both coached and competed against.  In particular I anxiously awaited the showdown between the Canadian and American teams who were clearly the class of the tournament.  Despite what pundits might suggest, this matchup was too close to call with plenty of talent, courage and determination on both benches.  It would be decided on the ice.

The eventual outcome, dramatic late rally by Team Canada and thrilling triumph in OT has been much discussed.  Depending which side of the 49th parallel you reside upon, it was either one of the greatest comebacks or defeats in the sports short history.  The media, which are drawn to drama like moths to your front porch light, seized upon the moment.  I saw countless articles depicting the agony and ecstasy that unfolded.  Some went so far as to suggest that the tears on the faces of the American players somehow called into question their character or fitness for the sport.  Absurd.  It lead me to wonder if these writers had ever competed passionately at anything in life?la-ol-the-us-womens-olympic-hockey-team-crying-001

I coached one of those teary eyed young American women for her entire collegiate career.  Kacey Bellamy embodied much of what I spent a career trying to teach hundreds of other athletes.  It would be impossible to summarize what she stood for in a few short paragraphs, but Kacey was the complete package.  You could take Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” or Lombardi’s ‘What It Takes To Be Number One” and check off one characteristic after another.  Kacey had them, she believed in them and she lived them: Commitment, Leadership, Passion, Sacrifice, Teamwork, Discipline, Excellence.SB_3106572139

Two things stood out about Kacey when she arrived on campus in the fall of 2005.  She had big dreams and she believed in herself.  Hardly uncommon for an elite division one college athlete you might say.  What I discovered over the next four winters however was that Kacey had a enormous burning passion and will to be great.  She was tireless, relentless, focused and determined.  She knew where she wanted to go and had every intention of getting there.  Just as remarkable, Kacey possessed more genuine humility than anyone I’d ever worked with.  She had all the intangibles of a great leader and she worked at it every day.

By the time she graduated, Kacey was a star amongst stars in the college game.  Her remarkable development thrust her into national team consideration and when given the opportunity to represent her country at the National Under 22′s in 2007 and 2008, she excelled.  SB_3861969985Her career as one of the elite defenders on Team USA was well established by the time she helped Team USA secure gold at the World Championships in 2008-2009.  It was hard to fathom that the skinny kid that had arrived in Durham NH four years earlier was that women leading the USA to gold.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.”  Francis of Assisi

Kacey’s dream was to win gold at Sochi.  Following the Vancouver Winter Olympics when Team USA watched Canada celebrate their gold medal victory on home turf, I’m sure that dream of rising to the top of the podium burned all the more brightly.  Half of Team USA were veteran’s of the Vancouver games.  You can bet each of them were fiercely determined to come out on top this time around.  Is it really surprising that after making the enormous commitment of staying the course for an additional four years of intense training, that these same women might be emotional watching the gold medal slip through their hands?!?crying

Kacey is like many of her teammates: a champion.  Coaches understand what separates these athletes from the pack.  Muhammed Ali once said, “champions are made from something they have deep inside– a desire, a dream, a vision.”

I have no idea what road Kacey and her teammates will take now that the 2014 games are behind us.  Some will likely retire from competitive play and enter into new ventures and pursuits.  Four years is a long time and there is more to life than the pursuit of medals.  It won’t matter what they decide, these women will make their mark on whatever organization or enterprise they choose.  Even in defeat, they have shown remarkable class and dignity.  Life is full of failure. The only difference is most of us don’t have those failures broadcast around the world.

What I witnessed on television following a heartbreaking loss, was simply pure emotion from some of the most talented women hockey players on the planet.  Had the tables been reversed in OT, you can bet there would have been plenty of tears on the Canadian side.  It’s sport, it’s passion and it’s why we are drawn to watch.  So thank goodness they shed a tear. They cared.  A lot.  Thanks for the memories ladies.  Thanks Kacey for sharing the ride.SB_1630875431

Dare Mighty Things

  Theodore Roosevelt
26th President of the U.S. and
winner of 1906 Nobel Peace Prize


It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Riding With Old Man Winter

Living in New England makes winter riding a pain.  Over my years of biking I’ve cut some corners pushing the shoulder seasons, but this is my first attempt at “riding through” the deepest part of winter.  It takes some getting used to. I’m not complaining, we live here by choice.  Anything is doable if you put your mind to it.  It’s just a bit more complicated.images-6

For openers, you have to educate yourself on the nuances of layering.  This I’m discovering is more art than science. IMG_2423

There is no one size fits all when it comes to layering. That’s me looking like a cross between a squirrel and the Michelin Man. It only takes a few degree shift in temperature or wind to really alter what works versus what doesn’t.  It’s a bit like making up a recipe as you go, except there’s a hefty price to be paid when you err badly…not just a batch of burned cookies.. more often it’s a case of frozen buns.

You’ve either overdone and find yourself sweating like some sumo wrestler, or worse you’ve badly underestimated the wind chill and overestimated your ability to warm up into the ride.  The latter, for stubborn males, results in an exceptionally painful experience.  I’ve had my share this winter.  The light bulb usually goes off around the 3-5 mile mark when you’re just far enough ‘out’ to resist turning back.  I’ve had plenty of these pep talks: “it’ll get better, just pedal a bit harder.”  By the time you reach the 8 -10 mile mark you’re brain is siphoning heat back to your core which means away from your feet and hands.  At this point those two areas are beginning to scream at you.  You’re now acutely aware that this particular ride isn’t going to go down in the ‘fun’ category.  images-7This is pain. The next step is trying to figure out how long you can endure that pain and quickly recalculating your route.  Several times this past month I’ve resorted to a Dunkin Donuts warmup in order to settle the argument going on between my head and my extremities.  The extremities somehow always come out on top.

UnknownThen there’s the roads.  By this point of the winter the backroads that I’ve been frequenting are in large measure a fractured mess.  There are endless yawning potholes looking to separate you from your bike without warning.  Maybe it’s just my imagination but it seems as if those bad sections of road keep growing by the day.  In a matter of a few weeks,  every six inch pothole has become a gaping series of holes and shrapnel.  I’m sure a winter like were having this year exacerbates the problem.  We’re well over three feet above our yearly average here this year in terms of snowfall and the thaws have been few and far between.

Which brings me to the road side snowbanks.  They’re huge!  images-8It’s not just that they make the country roads feel narrower, ( they do), it’s the fact that they make for lousy drainage.  Lately I’ve been sticking to more heavily traveled routes simply to avoid having to blast through endless pools of water. IMG_2437 I haven’t yet succumbed to adding full on fenders on my training bike, but it’s crossed my mind.  Cool February air plus sheeting water all over your backside and legs is never a good combination if you want to survive for hours at a time.  Naturally,  these wading pools only frequent the three foot shoulder section of the shoulder where cyclists live.  Veering out towards the middle of the road is only practical if there’s no vehicle traffic or you’re particularly fond of hospital visits.

Then there’s the drivers.  Insulated inside today’s luxury chariots, they seem basically oblivious to the perils of winter riding.  I find three broad classifications of winter drivers: the timid, the competent and the combative.  The timid drivers can’t seem to find their way around you even with no oncoming traffic.  They seem confused by the act of changing lanes and passing you and your bike as if it were a thirty five foot semi.  Instead they transform into tailgaters that infuriate other drivers as the line of traffic off your rear grows exponentially.  Fortunately the middle category of competent far outnumbers the timid. The vast majority of people quickly maneuver around and beyond you without incident.  The last category are fortunately a minority as well, but they’re out there apparently seeking you. images I’ve never quite understood the thrill of gunning a two ton super charged pick up within inches of a rider’s left elbow, but it apparently holds an attraction for some. I use a small bar end mirror so I have an inkling when the game is about to begin.  I’m sure there’s an explanation somewhere deep in their upbringing, I just don’t happen to know what it is.

Lastly, there IS a fourth category that applies to most everyone: the multi taskers. They’re the biggest threat we all face whether venturing out on two wheels or four.. I just say my prayers a few extra times each day knowing there’s nothing you can do alter some peoples habits behind the wheel.  Onward.

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Wacky Or Not — Here We Come!

This winter I’ve rediscovered many things, like the value of taking nothing for granted and appreciating what you have one day at a time.  Watching your daily routine suddenly vanish overnight can do that.  It also lets you refocus your attentions on pursuits that get pushed to the bottom of our “to do” drawers.  Plus  with age comes a natural rethinking of ‘bucket’ lists. Throw in a big pinch of idle time and you have a recipe for something crazy, unorthodox, perhaps downright wacky.Image

Before drifting too far off point here let me be blunt: I am seeking to separate you from some of that hard earned cash you have in your pocket.  Not a lot mind you. In return I’m promising to provide those who opt to come along, plenty of real life entertainment and of course laughter.  So read on at your own risk.  I take no ownership if suddenly you find yourself doing something irrational in your own life.Image

This past December I learned that the father of one of my UNH skaters was beginning preparations for something called the “Tour Divide”.  I’d never heard of it.   Unless you have a few loose screws, I’m guessing you haven’t either.

Following many hours of online research the magnitude of his latest undertaking took hold.  The Tour Divide is an annual ‘race’ that starts on the morning of June 14th in front of the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff Alberta and ends in Antelope Wells, a dusty border town lying along the New Mexico and Mexican border.Image

Participants, if you choose to call them that, must navigate their way in a self supported ultra cycling challenge covering 2,745 miles, along the longest off road mountain bike route in the world.  Surfaces range from pavement, good gravel fire roads, four wheeler roads, single-track paths and old railroad beds. No support is provided.  There are no race organizers or official checkpoints until you finish in Antelope Wells.  That is, if you finish.   Here’s the on site description of this event:

Divide racers must not only be conditioned to endure weeks of consecutive 16+ hour days in the saddle, they need to bring other skills to the trail.

The route is unmarked and circuitous, requiring navigational acumen. It travels through remote backcountry with Grizzly and Mountain Lion density. Intervals between services are frequently 100+ miles and demand calculated food/water resupply–or else. Riders must also find shelter each night or bivouac trailside. In minutes the Rockies’ dynamic mountain weather can wreak havoc on route surfaces, skewing even the most near-term travel projections.Image

After several weeks of back and forth contemplation, I realized that this was something I wanted to do.  Why?  I can’t put it into words. If you’ve read this far, you likely know me.  You’ll just have to take me at my word.  Adventure, risk, unpredictable outcome, challenge, perspective, escape, foolishness, testing ones limits, fear of getting old, or insanity.  Pick one and you’re likely to be half right.Image

After deciding to participate, I took a page out of my riding partner’s book.  This would only be worthwhile if I turned it into a “win – win” affair.  I thought long and hard about making this about giving back to something valuable and worthwhile.  I picked a charitable cause that I wanted to ride in support of, something that would elevate this challenge beyond a typical adventure pursuit.  In keeping with my life’s passion, I wanted it to be about kids.  I’m riding in support of Best Buddies, a non- profit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for one on one friendships and leadership development for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Image

Every summer my close friend and Dartmouth classmate Mark Berthiaume organizes a large team to participate in the Boston to Hyannis Port Century, raising funds for this wonderful organization.  If you’re a New England native you likely know Best Buddies from the many ads featuring Tom Brady, the official spokesperson for the event.

Karen and I will be riding from Boston to Hyannis in the annual Best Buddies Century on May 31st.  I’m asking for your support via the link below.  I’ve chosen as my Best Buddies identifying name: Brian4TD.  My goal is to raise $27,450 or $10 for every mile in the Tour Divide.  The May 31st Century will be a warm up for what is to follow two weeks later on June 14th.   Here is the link to Karen’s and my donation page:

http://myhp2014.bestbuddieschallenge.org/brianm4td

In return, I am pledging to entertain you!  I’m set up to file a nightly Blog report from the spine of the Rocky Mountains as we pedal our way south towards Mexico.  The Blog address: TwoWackyCanadianOnThe TourDivide.  You can click on this link to subscribe and get notifications every time I post:

TwoWackyCanadiansOnTheTourDivide.com

We have set our magic number of 25 days to complete this epic ride.  That’s almost a full month of non-stop saddle sores, bear escapes, flat tires and hail storm reports to entertain you nightly while sipping margaritas from the porch of your summer cabana.  Hell that’s better than the nightly Sochi updates since there’ll be no cheating to see if we made it past Grizzly Adams via the web!  My beautiful 10-year-old daughter is beginning to think I’m clairvoyant for picking the gold medal winners each night with staggering accuracy!   Image

I hope you will join me in supporting this great cause and sharing what portends to be an epic of comic and humbling proportions.  There won’t be any media filters in play here shaping our message.  Just the facts as we learn the real meaning of the phrase “roughing it”.   Onward.

Brian

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