Hello blog-people. Yes, I’m alive. Outage is over, and life is good. I’m leaving for Scotland and the Highland Trail Race next Tuesday. I’m not saying I’m in any kind of race shape, but I’m going to give it the good ole college try. Besides, I’ll be mountain biking through the Scottish Highlands, so even if I’m slow, it’ll still be more than worth it! Here’s the link to the GPS race tracker for anyone who wants to follow along: http://trackleaders.com/highland14
After I finish the race, I’ll recover for a couple of days in Glasgow, and then take the train to the coast, then through the chunnel to Calais France. From there, I’ll take a train to Avranches, and from there to Bayeux on June 6th for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. Needless to say, I’m very excited, but that’s not the point of this post.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine, Jill, finished the Arizona Trail Race on her way to a bikepacking triple-crown, which is a finish in the AZT, the Tour Divide, and the Colorado Trail Race. She sent me a message on facebook asking if I had any advice, tips, etc., that I would like to pass along. I thought about it, and decided it would make a good blog post, not just for her and everyone else, but for me as well. I’ve been doing the Army thing for too long, so I’m going to do it in an After-Action Review format, which consists of a list of sustains and improves.
- Bike kit was spot-on perfect. I didn’t have anything extra, and there wasn’t anything I didn’t use. In short, I don’t feel I over or under packed on anything. Also, nothing major broke either, with the glaring exception of my iPod on the first day. Here’s a video I made before I set out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiZf7yrCpXw
- Navigation – I only missed one turn, and that was because my GPS died, and I didn’t stop to look at the map. Had I done so, I would have been good. GPS as a primary, with a map back-up is definitely the way to go. I also had the GPS track saved to my iPhone in case my primary GPS died.
- Route knowledge. The closest I live to the GDMBR is about 700 miles. Here’s a list of town information and distance that I came up with that helped immensely. I saved it to my iPhone and would glance it over during stops, along with a map, so I always knew what lay ahead.
- Bike problems – I had no mechanical breakdowns and one flat tire in 1200 miles. Given my propensity for such things, that’s nothing short of divine intervention (and High Gear Cyclery’s tough as nails bike build).
- Drop-bar handlebars. I had absolutely no hand issues at all because of drop-bars and aerobars.
- Lack of rest prior to start/starting too early. I started a day earlier than the Grand Depart, and this was a huge mistake. The week before the TD went like this: NG Drill that weekend, my uncle’s funeral Monday morning, worked Monday night 6:30pm -7am Tuesday. Left Emporia Tuesday at 4 pm for Wichita. Stayed overnight in Wichita and flew out at 6 am Wed morning. Got to Banff Wednesday afternoon, and started on the TD Thursday. I definitely should have taken Thursday as a down day and left with the Grand Depart on Friday.
- Not starting late in the morning. I was hoping to head out of Banff around 8. During the flight, my rear disc brake rotor got bent, and I had to wait until 10am until the bike shop opened to get a new one. I didn’t end up leaving until just before 11am, which put me at Bolton Creek around 6pm, and a storm popped up, so the guy I was riding with and I decided to camp there for the night, which meant I only got ~65 miles in the first day, and ~85 the second.
- Understanding the difficulty of the route. I’ll be honest, folks, I was expecting hard, but holy shit did that blow me away. I’d never done a 30 mile climb before, let alone two or three in a day, which is basically what the Canadian and Montana sections consisted of, one right after the other. Wasn’t expecting that shit.
- Bike fit. I was a dumbass and didn’t get a bike fit before I left, and I was constantly adjusting the seat trying to get it just right. I’m pretty sure this contributed to my knee problems I was having too.
- Shoes. I should have gotten new shoes and had them broken in before I left, but I just used my old ones. They cracked in half, which really inflamed my achilles when I had to walk in them.
- Frustration. In the end, I just let my frustration get the best of me. I hit a 5-mile section of road that had just been graded, and it was totally unrideable. I ended up falling during one such attempt, screwed up my knee, and I knew I was done. I let the route get the best of me, instead of just shaking my head and laughing it off.
- Not starting with Grand Depart – A lot of people passed me on the second and third day, which really screwed with my head. Had I started with the GD, the “jackrabbits” would have been already been ahead, and I don’t think it would have been quite as big of a deal.
- Not camping enough – I spent too much time in hotels, which are gigantic time sucks. Camping is WAY more time efficient, although I DID plan on doing a lot more when I had gotten out of grizzly country.
Some other miscellaneous things I learned:
- People are awesome, but they canNOT judge distance AT ALL. I don’t know how many times I’d ask someone how far it is to the next town or whatever, and they would say 3-4 miles. 15 miles later I’m STILL not seeing a f*^&ing town. Or the opposite would happen. “Ohh, it’s at least a 25 mile haul to Stupidville, MT.” 3 miles later, there’s Stupidville.
- Human kindness was absolutely incredible, although I DO think some racers really push their luck, and some locals are starting to take notice. I can’t tell you how many people offered to buy breakfast, or would cheer us on, or whatever. Human kindness along the route was AMAZING, but don’t take it for granted. That being said, the waitress in Sparwood asked if we all had a learning disability, haha.
- With few exceptions, breakfast restaurants in Montana don’t open until 8. I have no idea why this is, but almost every small town we came to didn’t open until 8. It was weird.
- Elkhorn Hot Springs has a 105 degree hot-springs sauna, $2 Budweiser pounders, a hostel room, an all you can eat breakfast buffet and $35 for everything. Not a bad place to get rid of hypothermia from riding in 35 degree temperatures and driving rain for 4 hours. It’s about 5 miles north of Polaris, and just down the road is a country store you can stock up in also.
- Flagg Ranch Resort has a 4-star restaurant, but they don’t look at you funny at all when you go there after not having taken a shower for 5 days. The food there is hella expensive though, and the portions are small.
- Even if you get there at 11:01pm, the Hardees in Helena closes at 11. There’s a 24-hr grocery just down the street, though.
- Bring multi-vitamins, because you’re going to be lacking any kind of real nutrition for the most part.
I’m sure there’s a whole bunch more, but that’s what I can think of for right now. Ride, ride fast, but most importantly, make sure you enjoy the ride (race)!
See you down the road,