Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rearview 2013: Looking Forward

So, What's Next?

2013 is fading fast and a New Year faces us all along with all the new hopes and dreams for things we generally tend to conjure up in our minds when the calendar changes.  I cannot say I am very different in that manner, but I try to temper all that with a heavy dose of realistic expectations. So, here are a few things I expect will happen, or begin to happen next year.......

  • Events: I have the opportunity to do Triple D, the Renegade Gents Race, and Odin's Revenge again. These are pretty solid on the calendar. I also am aiming at Almanzo. (Gotta forge a postcard entry soon!) Beyond this I have the GTDRI to think of, of course, and I would dearly love to go to Gravel Worlds once again. 3GR rides have already been discussed as well. 
  • Changes..... There are going to be the beginnings of some big changes coming about mid-year. I cannot say what is happening now, but it doesn't have anything to do with my personal life! These several things have been percolating on my mind for several years, and it's time very soon to pull the trigger on a few of these ideas to get them rolling. These will be "big deals" to a lot of folks, and no big deal at all to a whole lot more folks. Stay tuned........
  • The Blog: I said this last year, but I have to say it again- The blog stats are off the hook. Last year I couldn't believe the growth, but the end of this year makes the end of last year look puny. I am consistently and constantly amazed by you people out there that visit this site and read my scribes. I humbly thank you! That said, I feel responsible to do even better here than before due to the interest shown.

So, 2014.....yeah! I am not going to resolve to "eat less", "exercise more", or whatever. I am going to focus more on "do" and less on "maybe someday....". If I can budge the stones more into the "do" column next year, I will be satisfied that I have done something to improve. Results will be what they will be, and I will move on from there.

I feel like last year, (well.......it is almost "last year"!), I pushed a few more things into the "do" column and I want to make that a habit. (Thus the changes mentioned above) It will be an exciting year at times, for sure. I look forward to turning a few pages. While that is always means a few scary things I also feel it will be a chance for some liberating things in many ways.

I wish for all of you health, happiness, and many miles of smiles on your bicycles. Whatever bicycles those may be, and whatever you choose to call them- just ride more. I will try to do much the same. 

Thank You and.....
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Triple D 2014: Long Ride On The Set Up

Blazing Northward on a Southerly tailwind
Saturday was to be an outstanding late December day- 40-ish degrees and sunshine? Unheard of in these parts for this time of the year. That and Sunday was to be the complete opposite- a dreadful Northwesterly with plummeting temperatures. Wind chills for Sunday were forecast to dip into the negative 20's and 30's during the course of the day. Saturday was the day to be out then!

I didn't get going soon enough to join a small group that had declared their intentions to ride Saturday morning, so I didn't get going until closer to 2:00pm. I had By-Tor all loaded up with almost everything I would be hauling for a Triple D attempt. I maybe would have stowed more water, a bit more food, but that's it. Otherwise, this was the basic set up.
  • 2011 Salsa Mukluk Titanium frame w/Enabler fork, Fatback rims and tires, (tubeless set up), 2 X 10 Shimano/SRAM mixed drivetrain, FSA/Salsa components, Ergon grips and saddle.
  • Bike Bag Dude frame bag and "Chaff Bags" and an Oveja Negra "Gearjammer" seat pack.
  • Extra waterproof/wind proof jacket and waterproof/windproof pants, extra head gear, extra gloves, tube, tool, and pump all stowed in frame and seat packs. First aid kit and lube are  in there as well.
  • Blackburn "Flea" tail light, Cateye Micro tail light, and Trelock LS-950 headlight. 
  • Extra water bottle and gels along with my point and shoot camera were in the handle bar mounted Chaff Bags.
Frozen Ivanhoe Road
 I didn't dress as I probably would for a (most likely), colder Triple D attempt, but following is what I wore on this training ride;
  • Base layers of Omniwool tights and long sleeved shirt. 
  • Twin Six bibs
  • Long Sock Guy wool socks, (over calf length).
  • Soft shell Endura jacket
  • Bontrager commuter 3/4's pants
  • Keen "Brixen" winter boots
  • Smartwool wool glove liners
  • Buff wool balaclava worn as a head covering only. 
  • Oakley Radar Lock eyewear. 
The list does not show a jersey because I did not wear one. I was fine in this set up even though going into the wind it was probably in the 20's for a windchill factor. My hands also tend to stay warmer than most folks hands, so that is why I used only the glove liners.

Now, on to the riding part! The road was still pretty firm and frozen in with snow when I started, much to my amazement. I was prepared to get really messy right out of the gate, but all I noticed was that the Fatback Sterling tires throw up a lot of "snow chips" when they get rolling faster. Kind of odd, but they did that every time I was on firm, packed snow. Initially I was feeling just great and rolling along at a good clip for such a heavy bike set up. Then I remembered that I had a healthy tailwind. Ouch! The anticipation of hurting on the return trip was not pleasant to ruminate upon, so I set my mind on just enjoying what was on offer at the moment I was in.

A field full of frozen round bales

Snow drifts off the terraced field under a clear blue December sky.

Lunch stop under a wooden rail road bridge that now conveys a bike path across the countryside.
I had to stop once to switch out to lighter gloves and head gear, (listed above), and then it was on to my planned "lunch stop" underneath the old trestle rail road bridge on Ivanhoe Road. I was basically following the 3GR route from the Summer months. The bridge provided some respite from the wind and I took advantage of the low angle of the light to capture the image above. Then I downed two chocolate flavored gels and a bit of water before slowly making my way onward.

The wind was pretty stiff,and as I turned back South, the roads were getting wetter and dirtier. It became a game of where to run without getting everything trashed as I struggled to maintain momentum against the stiff wind. At least while going South the wind could no longer blow the slurry and spray off the front tire right on to my new drive train! The crunching and popping of bits of stone and sand in the chain and chain ring's meshing together was unnerving.

Burton Avenue looking South
I probably was in an area where the snow fall had been lighter, thus the softer roads, because as I came further south, the roads firmed up once again. At any rate, I had to break each part into a goal to reach as by this time I was starting to get really tired, hungry, and my legs were roached.

My next main goal was to get to the corner of Burton Avenue and Bennington Road so I could stop to refuel, which would leave a short section back into Waterloo, where I hoped the winds would be deflected more and I could pass by without having to work so hard. This sector was the toughest of all, and I was rather pleased with myself afterward because I was able to fight through some pain issues, with being very hungry, and fighting with the wind and soft roads. I managed to get to my goal of the intersection without a stop after the lunch stop previous.

After a break for some gummy chews and another gel, (this one coffee flavored. Yum!), I took off slowly to go the three miles to the edge of Waterloo and a bit of a break from the high resistance of the snowy gravel when I hit chip seal roads coming into town. Just before reaching Waterloo proper, I heard a cacophony of honking in the distance to the East. I turned to see a patch of a golden brown stubble field blackened by a flock of Canadian geese that must have numbered into the several hundreds. They were certainly very loud!

In the end, I managed to make the loop in a little over three hours, including stops. That wasn't too bad, considering the tougher conditions and heavier bike, when compared to my usual Summertime loop times on the same course. I paid for the effort though! I was torched. I ate a big meal and then Mrs. Guitar Ted rolled my legs with a roller, which hurt like crazy, but made my legs feel much better than they would have on Sunday.

Next up, some refining of the set up and more riding on my way to Triple D!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #24

 In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

Remember that image from T.I.v4? That not only was T.I.v5's header, but a t-shirt too!
 Trans Iowa v5 would not only be the first with the "short" run to Checkpoint #1, but David and I decided on doing three checkpoints! The idea here was to be able to better track rider progress and be better able to make sure there was no cheating on the route. Checkpoints were to be located at Washington, Le Grand, and Traer Iowa.

It seemed that every year some elements of folk would want us to do things, which in my opinion, were suggested to make things easier on them, or easier to track people they knew in the event. The changes to the event were evoking some of this response. I can't remember if it was a Trans Iowa Vet that suggested the following, or if it was from David and I, but the following first appeared on my blog in 2009 and was added to the Trans Iowa site where it has been ever since on the top of the page......

..We are informing you all that are in the event that if you don't agree that you are on your own, that you are responsible for yourself, and that this is being undertaken of your own volition, then don't take the start. 

 The ethos of Trans Iowa was being solidified and both David and I were very adamant about "holding the line" as it had been set out since T.I.v3.

Looking out the back of the Dirty Blue Box at a county maintainer
One of the major influences on T.I.v5 was the economic "crash" of 2008, which precipitated the outcome of two things- the sponsorship and the course itself.

On the one hand, sponsors that had eagerly asked to be part of T.I.v5 had to bail out or scale down their sponsorship of the event due to cutbacks. I could totally understand, so it wasn't a surprise or unexpected. That made Trans Iowa vet, Rusty Kay's submission of t-shirts for the event participants on his dime all the more noteworthy.

On the other hand, the "bail out money" earmarked to stimulate the economy by the Fed was resulting in a lot of county road maintenance activity. Almost every road was overlaid with fresh gravel on our course, with Tama County being the worst offender. (And notably, Tama County has done this every year since!) This made the course that much tougher and dustier than it would have been.

Finally, due to my extra-curricular activities with websites and travel, I moved the date of Trans Iowa to May. May 2nd and 3rd, as a matter of fact. This would mark the only time Trans Iowa would ever be run in May. That way I could do Sea Otter and come back with a week plus to get settled in for another Trans Iowa. It worked out great too, since the cues got proofed and a couple loose ends taken care of right before the event.

Next Week: Trans Iowa v5 starts off with an imposter!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #23

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

The old had passed....

 With the cords cut to anything from the past holding Trans Iowa from moving, David Pals had suggested going South to Williamsburg. He was very familiar with routes in that area. It was decided as well that David would do recon of the Southern half and I would do the Northern parts. Kind of a "divide and conquer" philosophy of course design.

This was done in part due to pending changes in my life. At this time, Twenty Nine Inches was changing hands. The "keys to the kingdom" were being given to me, or more correctly, I had assumed total responsibility, since the owner and originator of the domain and content/editing basically had abdicated his responsibilities. I am not like that when it comes to responsibilities and I took everything very seriously at the time. Needless to say, all the mental and physical energy was taking its toll, and David was there to help relieve me of some of the organizational load of Trans Iowa.

We also discussed many of the strategic and philosophical elements of Trans Iowa. Neither David or myself liked that riders were prearranging strategy for the first half of the event since they were getting cue sheets for half the route the night before the event. David suggested that we cut the distance to Checkpoint #1 to around 40 miles to circumvent this phenomenon. I really liked his idea, so it was decided to hit Washington, Iowa as the first stop on the course of T.I.v5.
Remember that image I took during T.I.v4? It became the next year's header

This leads me to a funny story about the recon. David and I had gotten together to do a big recon mission in October of 2008. During this trip he wanted to get to Washington to see about the checkpoint location. We were driving around the town square on a Saturday morning, looking for a spot of coffee when we spied a gal in a long dress and her appearance was one of a lost Grateful Dead band groupie. She looked at us intently and as we noticed her gaze, we were beckoned by her to stop and follow her. We did, and as it turned out, she was running the very coffee shop we were looking for. It was surreal, and we were a bit flummoxed by it all, but the coffee shop was outstanding and the coffee even better. The woman was curious about what we were up to, and when she learned of our plans for Trans Iowa to come through, she offered to open the coffee shop up for the riders and volunteers as they came by the day of the event.

As we left she flipped us both a business card and we stayed in touch up until T.I.v5's running. She actually did open up the shop, and lo and behold, several riders and volunteers actually were buying up coffee and food from the establishment. It was an unplanned for, but really good joint experience for a lot of Trans Iowa participants, and it all started out with a strange woman's beckoning of us during recon on an average October morning.

Tomorrow: More on the changes and set up for Trans Iowa v5.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rear View 2013: Highlights- Part 2

Yep........another boring year end retrospective! Oh well......that's the time of year it is and what I have done most of the years I have been blogging, so there! This will be a bit different in that I am going to just talk about major things I was excited about throughout the year.

I'm not even going to put these into any sort of logical order either. Random......right off the "read only memory" that sits between my ears! Okay, so here we go....

The Renegade Gents Race: Well, here's another event I just can't wait to do every year now, the Renegade Gents Race. It is a "team time trial" event where a team of five riders has to start together, pass a checkpoint together, and finish together, all on a 65-ish mile gravel course.

My Renegade Gents as we raced with the wind. It was a bit tougher coming back!
 I was asked to join a team for the inaugural event three years ago by Steve Fuller, a friend I've made through gravel riding, but as for the other three guys, I had never met them. Of course, this was also going to be part of that first event's challenge for me, but as it turned out, we all got along famously, and I now have new friends in Des Moines I never had before I rode in the first Gents race. 

So, this event has always been special to me for that reason alone, but it is another of the cool, grassroots cycling events that brings like-minded folks together for good times. And let me tell ya- I've had some really good times at the Gents races!

This past Spring's event featured nice temperatures, but a strong Southerly wind that was going to be quite a challenge coming back in. We stuck together as a team though and persevered to claim another finish with all riders intact. We ain't fast, but we are gravel road riding brothers, have a good time, and stick it out to the end. Once again, I plan on returning for another round if my team will have me!

 Trans Iowa V9: 

Gee..........there is so much I could say about this event. But I will try to restrain myself! The deal was that- for myself- I managed to preside over another successful event by all accounts. It came off really, really well.

That's saying a lot when I consider that the last Trans Iowa was a record for starters, a record for finishers, and I had probably the largest volunteer corp I had ever had for a Trans Iowa. So, the event passed a lot of milestones, but let me tell you- there were a couple of near disasters! Short of cue sheets at Checkpoint #1, my volunteers made smart, on the spot decisions and got things squared away all on their own. I am so indebted to those folks! The wheels could have come off the event right there had they not been on the ball. Then there was the whiskey fiasco that I had to deal with just outside of Brooklyn Iowa. Man! Had a cop stopped to see what I was doing, it could have gone all wrong right then and there. But nothing happened, and I saved all the releases from being 100% ruined. (More on those stories and more when I get to T.I.v9 in my Trans Iowa Tales series next year.)

Morning fog conditions at T.I.v9 provided for some spectacular scenes.

A middle of the road meeting to decompress before more Trans Iowa duties
The finish line was at a restored barn which went very well. (Image by W. Kilburg)

 The Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational:

My annual ride was all arranged by the awesome "Slender Fungus" guys this year. I love this ride and the good times it has produced and the really tough rides that I have been on  over the years. This year proved to be one of those rides I wasn't going to finish. Looking back it started at Odin's when I pushed myself to my limits then came back and didn't give myself anytime to recover. That's when my wife thinks I contracted some sort of viral deal which was kicking my rear end during and after the GTDRI.

There were more riders on this GTDRI than on any previous one, and the terrain of Jackson County was spectacular. I have to also back up a hair here and say that the night before in Sabula was one of the nicest Summer evenings I have had in quite some time. Bombfire Pizza and walking around that river town with new friends was a great time.

The ride went well, (for what I made of it), and my savior that day was Chris Paulsen, who had to bail out and head back toward the beginning of the route. I decided to cut things short, as I was suffering like a dog and really had no power for the hills that were only going to get worse. Chris rode me back into a town near by, and not only that, he ferried me back to the start after making sure I had been fed and cooled down at his rustic, beautiful farmstead.

The rest of the intrepid riders ended up bagging the entire ride, but not until after dark, which would have put me into arrears getting to work the next day. So, for two reasons, It was good for me to head home when I did. I hated it though, missing doing the entire ride, and the GTDRI stands as one of my bittersweet cycling moments in 2013.

Surly's ECR: I really liked this bike!
Interbike 2013: 

The 2013 version of Interbike was a highly anticipated event for many since it was moving down "The Strip" to the Mandalay, where the hopes were that somehow things would magically be better than they were in the Sands Convention Center.

Ummm........hello! This is still Las Vegas, ya know? On The Strip? Yeah.......like that'll change things by moving the venue a few miles!

So, anyway, the event! Well, it was pretty much a wash as to the good vs bad of it. I liked that we had less of The Strip to deal with, and it was easy to get into and out of the Mandalay, but the interior layout of the event stunk. They can work on that part though. In the end, I think it was a good move.

The highlight, as always with this deal, is the people and riding bikes. I rode a few nice rigs, but none more curious than the Surly ECR. The 29+ wheels and puffy tires seem good, but in an odd way. Why not get a lightweight fat bike and "ECR" yourself to wherever ya wanna go? Then again, this could be the best loose, deep gravel travel set up ever, (with maybe the possible switch to drop bars.) Maybe an ECR-ized Fargo?   Anyway, I digress........Interbike. A big part of the year, another yawner of a show, and a lot of cool folks that I only get to see once in awhile. Now Cross Vegas on the other hand, that was rad! The best part of the trip by far! (Thanks Brian Fornes!)

Trans Iowa v10 recon
Other Stuff:

Well, there were a bunch of Ingawanis Woods rides, a bunch of Trans Iowa v10 registration fun, recon, and a Trans Iowa clinic! Snow came along and I got new tires for By-Tor and signed up for Triple D again. Cue sheets to set up, Grinnell venues and hotels to get arranged for next year's Trans Iowa, and more of that sort of stuff. I got a new bicycle or two along the way, and had fun fixing up and wrenching on the fleet here. It's been a busy, busy year.

Next up.......looking forward....

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rear View 2013: Highlights- Part 1

Yep........another boring year end retrospective! Oh well......that's the time of year it is and what I have done most of the years I have been blogging, so there! This will be a bit different in that I am going to just talk about major things I was excited about throughout the year.

I'm not even going to put these into any sort of logical order either. Random......right off the "read only memory" that sits between my ears! Okay, so here we go....

Odin's Revenge: This is an event I think about every single day since I have returned from it in June. Really! I have a Sun burned line across my right thigh that reminds me of this event! It's inescapable.

But even without that mark, I would rank this as one of the major events of 2013 for me. It was a big trip for me to do something I was not totally prepared for, mostly because I didn't know what I was getting into. The hills and heat out there rival anything I've ridden, and the scenery is so spectacular and unusual that I am salivating at the chance to go back once again. But that is not the only reason I am interested in this event. The people that put it on have their heads screwed on straight, know what they are doing, and put on an event with that elusive "feel" that I miss in some other events that have gone mainstream or big time. Odin's may go down that same path at some point, but I sure hope that they don't.

Big cliffs of loess along a minimum maintenance road at Odin's Revenge

It's a tough event with spectacular back country roads like this one.
I like being "out there", and while some events really make you feel tiny, insignificant, and alone, Odin's has a remoteness that rivals the Dirty Kanza, and probably any other gravel event in the middle of the U.S.A. It's also probably harder than anything I've attempted as well. There are no convenience stores, no towns, and hardly any signs of civilization. If it weren't for the stocked checkpoints that the Odin's folk set up and man, you would be hard pressed to ride the course without dragging a metric ton of supplies along with you. Again- a testament to the fine organization behind this event.

I'll be going back for another attempt. This coming year Odin's organzers are hinting at an entirely new course with roads they claim are even more spectacular than what we saw this year. I can not wait! I hope also that I can share this experience once again with my good friend, MG.

3GR: The every Saturday ride that I host out on the gravel roads around here made it through a second season.

This past season we ran the route out of Waterloo due to springtime and early Summer high water issues in Cedar Falls and the route out of town Northward that the flooding affected. . It worked out brilliantly, if I may say so. I thought we may miss my coffee stop at Cup of Joe's, but we found a better replacement in downtown Waterloo in the Cottonwood Canyon Coffee shop.

There were some new faces and surprises on the ride, and we broke the one time attendance record for this ride as well. There was a good ride every weekend for several months and I really miss those rides now that winter has come and I have shut them down for a bit. Never fear though. Next year I plan on doing this again for a third season.

Triple D: I finished my second Triple D winter bike event. It was 65 miles of (mostly) brutal ice conditions. I was super stoked to have walked through the door of that motel that day at the end of it all. The icy conditions caused me to take only one dive, but it was fortunately only a slight delay, and there was no injury or damage done. I beat my previous time by a little, and had a lot of fun.

This is another event that is run by some really sharp folks and has that "special something" feel that I happen to like. In the two years I have done it the conditions have varied wildly, the venue changed,  and the courses were slightly different, but none of that affected the vibe of the event at all. Kudos to the Triple D organizers for a great experience. As many of you know, I am planning on going back a third time again.

A Fat Bike For Jacob: Speaking of fat bikes, the day I decided to get my son a fat bike was a good day. That decision has turned out to be one of the better ones I have made in awhile!

While he had fun on his old mountain bike, the skinnier tires kept him from going places I could easily ride and he was getting frustrated. This wasn't a good sign for keeping him engaged in cycling. So, the fat bike has definitely solved the problems he was having with cycling, and he is now having a lot of fun on this rig.

It put The Snow Dog out of commission for a while, but it was well worth doing that for my son and the rides we've been getting in have been proof of that. Don't worry about the Snow Dog though! Plans are already in place to start bringing it back to life soon.

More Rear View 2013 coming soon.....

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #22

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

A bucolic scene from the recon of T.I.v5's course
 During the planning and running of Trans Iowa v4, David Pals and I talked some about the concept of Trans Iowa now that it had gone to a loop course. It could be done anywhere within Iowa, so why not move it around? It was an intriguing idea, but there were some reasons why I wasn't quite ready to move on just yet.

For one thing, I had a few ideas I had yet to explore for routes up that way. Secondly, I liked Decorah, (still do), a lot, and finally, I have a tendency to stick to things as long as they are good to me. Decorah had been nothing but awesome to me/Trans Iowa all along since day one. Sure- there were some reprimands and tough learning to be taken in along with the growing pains of Trans Iowa, but Decorah, and its people were good to me and the event.

However; that all changed in a day in the Summer of 2008. Suffice it to say that a number of events that year were affected negatively by the weather. An event I was roped into putting on, organizing it mostly by myself, was part of that. It was the "Big Wheeled Ballyhoo". A celebration of 29"ers, company demos, and hooliganism that had its first edition the year before in Decorah. I was assisted in that endeavor by the guy I was working for at Twenty Nine Inches at the time, but for the 2nd edition, he bailed out on me and stuck me with making all the decisions concerning it. Not what I wanted.

Anyway, the crux of this story is that I was put upon to call off the event, or not, due to flooding, possible trail damage, and no camping area available for attendees or a solid answer on where the demo trucks could go. It was getting right down to it. On one hand I had Decorah folks giving me some conflicting info and on the other hand I had vendors wanting to know if they should bother to make the trip or not. I decided to just make the safe decision and I called off the event.

Decorah folks said they would ride anyway, and actually, by the date of the cancelled event, it was beautiful. Go figure. Well, I went up for the entire afternoon and saw no one there that was supposed to be riding. I wrote about it on my blog, and suddenly, a very upset Decorah person with major ties and influence in the cycling community there was assailing me with e-mails and ended by saying, "........please do not consider Decorah for any future events."

Have a seat! More strangeness on the T.I.v5 route during recon
Well, I was a bit shook up by that. I shared it with David and he suggested we give them what they asked for and frankly, I agreed. There wasn't anything I could have changed about what had happened, I didn't feel like I/we had done anything wrong,  and I didn't feel that I, or Trans Iowa, needed to poke a stick at any sore feelings anymore by coming back to Decorah, so we moved on, but where to go?

David suggested we go south to Williamsburg, an area he was very familiar with. He said there were some really cool roads down  that way, so I agreed to look at that.

Looking back, Trans Iowa v4 was a transitional period for Trans Iowa. The last one having anything to do with Decorah, the first that had two checkpoints, and the beginnings of many friendships and the end of some other relationships. Things done at Trans Iowa v4 were the skeletons of ideas fleshed out in years to come. It was the first Trans Iowa that had a winner other than Ira Ryan!

Beginning with Trans Iowa v3 and ending with the final cutting of the cord with Decorah after T.I.v4, I felt like Trans Iowa became the event I had adopted as my responsibility alone. There was no more Jeff Kerkove, no Mike Curiak, and no more Decorah influences. Decisions on Trans Iowa going forward were all going to have to go through me. Yes- I had help and welcomed help, but in the end, it was here at this point that I recall feeling responsible for everything  about Trans Iowa.

Next: Changes......

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cold Commuting With The Cold Avenger

Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava
With Triple D coming up, I figured I'd best be prepared for any eventuality in terms of weather. In many ways, I've been "lucky" the last two years in that it hasn't been "stupid cold" or really windy. I almost wished I had pogies last year, but it warmed up enough during the mid-day that I made it through without them. But you just never know in mid-January what weather you'll get.

I was hearing about this special balaclava and I have looked into it before, but took the chance that I wouldn't need it and passed on it. However; this year I took the plunge and ordered the Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava.

I've had this sitting on the shelf for about ten days now, but I couldn't use it since the air temperatures were so balmy of late. However; as many of you may have noticed, the Mercury has headed South and in its wake we are experiencing truly bitter cold air temperatures. In tandem with the wind out of the Northwest yesterday, it felt like -22°F. Perfect! I got the Cold Avenger balaclava out and "suited up" to do battle with the frigid air and 6 inches of fresh snow on By-Tor the Titanium Mukluk. A simple, (normally it would be simple), commute turns into quite the adventure at these temperatures and with these conditions.

Like something from your worst nightmare!
The fit of the Cold Avenger is worth commenting on, because it is unusual, and by past reviews on this item, I do not seem to be alone in my views of it. The Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava is a two piece design. There is a "traditional" balaclava hood made from some fleece that is claimed to be four times more wind resistant than "traditional fleece" product and that due to it being "tightly woven". On either side of the "hood" there are copious amounts of hook material. This mates with the loop material on the second, "mask" portion of the Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava. The "mask" portion is held onto the "hood" portion by the means of this hook and loop set up, and allows you to remove the mask when you need to eat, drink, or clear your nose without removing the hood part, or any other head gear you may be wearing as well. The "mask" part is the heart of the system which allows for the breathing of the wearer to be more comfortable and "normal".

The thing is, the dang hood part is cut silly. The "cap" part on top of your head is not "deep" enough, so the opening's top runs way up high on your forehead and the lower part runs right under yer eyeballs. Seems like if one could magically "shift" the opening downward a bit on the hood it would be a better fit for a lot of people. This isn't unfixable, but at $80.00 retail, this is a bit of a disappointing discovery with this product. I am able to work around it as it is, but it is a tad frustrating.

Now the "mask" part? That is brilliant. I really was pleased with this part of the product. The mask has an internal wire across the bridge of the nose which is formable so you can customize the fit and feel of the Expedition Balaclava. But besides that neat little feature, your breathing in the mask is really free and it works as advertised. If you've ever worked yourself hard in sub-zero temperatures, you know what I mean when I talk about "lung burn"- that awful feeling you get when you are sucking down really cold air into your breathing passages. The mask eliminates this altogether and you can suck air as hard as you need to without restriction. Sweet!

Don't let that Sun fool ya- It was super cold!
So, I set myself up with this balaclava on first, then my thick, Polar fleece hat, and tried my Oakley Jawbones with this set up and along with the rest of my gear, headed out into the -22°F windchill, straight into the wind, for my 5 mile ride to work. I didn't get very far before I realized two important things: One- you really need to concentrate on breathing with your mouth with this system. It seems to keep the fogging to a minimum with regards to eyewear. Secondly: Eyewear will likely fog over anyway, leaving you blind.

I ditched the Oakleys on top of my hat where they stayed for most of the ride. Then the next thing that cropped up was that aforementioned bad opening on the balaclava proper. I fussed with this off and on during both trips on my commute. It was a bit frustrating, but I could eventually get it to sit where I wanted. I will say that it was a warm set up and no wind whatsoever touched my skin where it was covered. In that regard, the balaclava works great.

Coming home the ambient air temperature was slightly above zero, and going with the wind proved to me that the Cold Avenger Expedition Balaclava was on the verge of being too warm for me. So, I think I know when I will be using it in the future, and that will be if the air temperatures, or windchill combined with the air temp gets to be zero degrees or colder.  Above this temperature I think I will end up becoming too hot and perspiration management will be more difficult.

Conclusions: For the asking price, I feel that the balaclava is a let down. Theoretically the idea for this product is awesome, but the execution of the important balaclava component is a fail. It just fits really badly. Yes- I could work with it as it is, but for $80.00 I am not at all pleased with that part. That said, Cold Avenger offers a "half mask", which gets you the awesome "respirator" part, for $59.99. In my case, I will likely fit the mask portion to another, better fitting balaclava, or try to get the Cold Avenger one modified a bit to fit better.

I would not recommend this product until Cold Avenger addresses the ill fit of the balaclava. If they do, I feel it would make this worth the benefit. As it stands I feel I have a nearly worthless balaclava due to poor cut and fit of that part of this product. And as I stated, from reading other reviews of this product, I am not at all alone in this.

Note: I paid the full retail price for this product and was not asked by Cold Avenger to review or test this item. I was not paid, nor bribed for this review and I strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

Merry Christmas!

Guitar Ted Productions would like to thank you all for reading and for those who commented here throughout 2013. Tomorrow look for another Trans Iowa Tales post, and I'll be back again with something on Thursday.

Safe Travels and hug a loved one!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Solid Ice Testing

Thursday night we got some ice and it made everything nice and slick. So, it was a perfect opportunity to test out the 45NRTH Gravdal tires with 252 studs in each tire.

Now, I've ridden 35mm-38mm studded tires before. Innova and Kenda tires that felt dead and stiff as a board. They made me hate studded tires so much I swore I'd never ride them again. Sure, there were more expensive, hard to track down Nokians and some others, but these were for my old commuter bike and they needed to be 38mm tires or so to work. Not 26 inch mountain bike tires.

The Gravdals are 38mm tires and would have fit that old commuter rig I had, but I don't, and now the tires are on an older Vaya. That's a good bike to have them on too, because of the low bottom bracket and longer stays which give me more stability anyway. With the Gravdal tires, I figured I wouldn't be in too much danger of going down suddenly. 

See the white scratches? The studs scraped the ice when I laid the bike down
Still, these were "skinny" tires and getting bounced around, or sent offline a bit on ice was going to put those studs in a bind as far as grip is concerned. There is little room for error with such a small footprint. That's why I usually opted for a grippy, really wide 29"er tire at a ridiculously low pressure. I used to have really good luck with WTB WeirWolf LT's at 15psi, for instance. But these tires were no where near that foot print, and I was going to have to be very careful.

Fortunately I did not take a dive or even get close to going down. I had a couple of tense moments and I knew that the studs were gripping, or I should have gone toppling over. I stopped on the way home to see if a certain stretch of pavement I had just crossed was still ice covered and by the scratch marks left in the ice by my studs when I laid the bike down, I knew that indeed it was still very slick.

So, the tires passed the test with flying colors. However; I'd feel a lot more secure on, say Dillingers with studs! I'll have more to add to this later, but for now, these are pretty darn good Winter tires if you are stuck with, or choose to ride skinnier shoes in Winter.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #21

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

Charles Parson heading toward our makeshift finish line in Edgewood
 As David Pals and I looked at each other at the bottom of that hill in the darkness of night, we knew in our hearts we had run out of options to push Trans Iowa v4 any further up the road. Now it was time to decide what to do about putting an end to the event.

We knew that only five men were still in the event. We quickly called our Checkpoint #2 folks, and they informed us that all had passed through with the exception of Corey Godfrey. He was informed of our predicament, but it would be incumbent upon us to catch the other riders to tell them that the town of Edgewood would be the finish of T.I.v4.

We quickly identified a corner where we could set up a makeshift finish line near the end of a street that was on the course. We weren't there too long when we were questioned by the local cops. What were we doing and why were we standing around? When I explained that we were ending a bicycle race there, the local law enforcement officer said, "Well, I hope they aren't out there all night. There are plenty of drunks on the road around here." That was not very encouraging news! But it did reinforce our feelings that we were doing the right thing by ending the event. The only other option we had to continue the event was to run the riders about 4 miles around on a heavily trafficked blacktop. With reports of drunks confirmed by the local officers, we were glad to be ending the ride where we did.

Winner John Gorilla with his "gutter beer".
Not long after that John Gorilla's support crew came around a bend and stopped in front of us. They had gotten word about the finish from having been at Checkpoint #2 when we called. We decided to ask them to man the last corner before our position, and to warn the riders the end was four blocks up the street.

They agreed to this and it wasn't much longer when we heard screams and cheering. This all a little after midnight! Well, David and I watched as three riders sprinted up the street. One made a move and got a little clear of the other two. It would be John Gorilla who would cross the "finish line" first followed by John Kucharski and Charlie Farrow.  There was a bit of confusion and anger at first for our ending the event, but after some explanation, all three agreed it was the prudent, (yet not altogether popular), move to end the event there.

John's crew, with his wife Adele, all arrived then on the scene and things were a bit chaotic for a bit. Riders were taken care of, plans were made to get riders back to Decorah, and Adele found John a beer in the gutter, which he promptly cracked open and drank with gusto. Soon though, it was quieter, as we awaited the next finisher, Charles Parsons, who was attached to John's group. Charles rolled up about an hour later, and they quickly packed him in the vehicle to get back to Decorah. It was getting colder now and we were all alone again in Edgewood.

Skip Cronin talks with Cornbread at the finish of T.I.v4
 Not for long though, as a huge van full of Lincoln Nebraska riders and support folk rolled up in Edgewood. They had heard my report on Trans Iowa Radio about the impromptu finish line. Their "last man standing", Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey, was the last man out on course. They were there to fetch him when he arrived.

The Lincoln crew was boisterous and full of energy at first. I was a bit concerned, seeing as how it was about 2am in the morning! However; one by one they wandered back to the van to warm up or go to sleep. Things quieted down, and it wasn't long before David and I were standing there, peering into the dark waiting to see an LED lamp round the last corner of T.I.v4.

Earlier I was warned that Corey could be "directionally challenged" especially in the darkness. This greatly concerned David and I. Around about 3am, David was peering up the street when he suddenly turned, looked me in the eye and said, "Let's go!" I knew exactly what we were going to do too. We backtracked the course. Looking for signs of Corey. Maybe he had taken a wrong turn? Maybe he was crashed out by a frost heave or......? The imagination runs wild after being up for 24 hours straight with all the stresses we had been subjected to.

Suddenly David saw him. His little LED light bobbing in the dank blackness. We stopped and chatted Cornbread up. He was tired, but seemed coherent. He had been a bit befuddled by the rerouting and had considered sleeping off his fatigue in a ditch but thought better of that when he heard coyotes yipping in the shadows near by!

John Gorilla raises the "trophy stone" the following day in Decorah.
 Well, Cornbread was led in and the Lincoln crew quickly collected him and disappeared into the night. David and I loaded up the SUV I used that year and headed off to our room in Decorah for a couple hours of shuteye before we were to meet John Gorilla and Joe Kucharski to download their prizing at a Kwik Star convenience store parking lot. 

That was pretty much that. Trans Iowa v4 was done and David and I headed our separate ways. In the days immediately following T.I.v4 I did my usual assessment and thought about the future. I liked the two checkpoint idea a lot. I liked T Bock's handling of our Pre-Race meeting. I pondered moving Trans Iowa somewhere else. David and I actually had discussed moving it around Iowa to explore different parts of the state, but I figured we would do at least one more out of Decorah. I had some roads I wanted to use that we hadn't used yet. Of course, something would happen that would change all of that! More on that later....

There was some grousing about the truncated event, that it wasn't a "real Trans Iowa", but I put that into the perspective of Trans Iowa v2, which no one "finished", but we recognized a "winner of the overall prize" that year in Lindsay Gauld, so why not just say that John Gorilla "won" T.I.v4? It wasn't his fault we had to stop the event. Anyway, T.I.v2 and v4 set a precedent that I have used since, and that's the way it goes with long events like this that have to account for road conditions and weather.

Next Week: Trans Iowa gets shunned.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Trans Iowa: Ten Years Of Tales #20

In mid-November, the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched. The year was 2004. In the ten years since then there have been many stories and memories. These posts will tell of the most prominent ones to my mind. Maybe I'll even spill the beans on some things you never knew....

Re-routing: Nothing was sacred!
 Of all the Trans Iowas so far, perhaps T.I.v4 was the most adventurous for me. There never was a dull moment, really. David and I were working our tales off at high stress levels just trying to save what we could of this one. To get as far as we did? I consider it one of my best achievements as an event director. Of course, I would assume David would say as much.

As if gale force winds, snow, freezing cold temperatures, flooded rivers, and mudslides weren't enough, we were really only halfway through the obstacles that were set against us.

I recall that we had gotten word that about 5, maybe 6 guys were still in the event past Winthrop. Who those all were was something of a mystery that wouldn't work itself out until later, but the wind and cold had basically shelled most of the riders off. In a way, David and I were somewhat relieved to know this. But then we forgot all about the riders for several hours.....

We crested a hill. I remember seeing a huge lake glinting in the afternoon Sun. A gravel road stretched out in front of us and disappeared under the jewel-like waves. Our course! We sprang into action with maps, discussion, and then decisions. Using our protocol for rerouting, we basically made a new course for probably ten to fifteen miles around the flooded area on roads we had never laid eyes on. Fortunately, everything worked out well that way. We were particularly afraid of what we'd find ahead at a B Road section we had in the course.

That image of the stop sign there? I remember that very well. I decided to stick the ripped duct tape strips up there. The wind was so strong, the sign was doing that side to side dance you sometimes see signs do in strong winds. There was an eerie humming noise all the while I worked on this as well. Like something of a moaning in the wind. It wasn't until I finished the tape job that I realized that the sound was being produced by a high tension electrical wire above my head.

Joe Meiser's rear derailleur: Image by Rob Walters
Then we sped on to that B Road. We feared what we would find and were already making plans for a re-route. When we got there, miraculously, it was fine! We couldn't drive all the way through it, but we did drive almost all of it, which we had thought would be impossible coming to that spot.

Okay, so with the huge re-route and the B Road okay, we forged ahead to Checkpoint #2 which was in Earlville, Iowa, right off Highway 20. We were finding the roads to be in pretty fair condition, and for a time, we were more relaxed. The volunteers at the checkpoint were grilling steaks and we had some beers. Some earlier drops and some other folks stopped by and made for good times. It was still cold and raw, the Sun was setting, and we had to take our leave. By now we knew there were indeed only five riders left, and we knew who they were. Things were looking pretty good, with the exception that we had found out one of our next B Roads, about 30-40 miles up the course, was 6 feet under water. No problem! We knew a good re-route.

However; when we pulled out of Earlville, the complexion of the roads was quite different. We weren't out of town 3 miles when we had to start in re-routing the course again, and it got worse the further we went on. In fact, the frost heaves in the road were so bad at one point we had to abandon the car to check the roads. There was a tree down across one road we needed to use, and David left me there to break off enough branches in the dank darkness so that riders could pass by on one side of the road while he forged ahead to check on another re-route.

Washed out road in the headlights. (Note David Pals standing in the washout)
It was getting later in the evening and progress was slow, We had not even made it to Edgewood by 10pm and that was only about a dozen miles on blacktop roads from Earlville. Just past Edgewood we found our way blocked again, and had to investigate another re-route down a long, wash-boarded descent. By this time David and I were exhausted both physically and mentally. It seemed that something was against us, and to overcome it was proving to become more and more difficult Re-routing in broad daylight was one thing, but under the utter blackness of rural Iowa skies it was mind-bending. Then we saw it and I stopped the car. A huge washout, probably 10 to 12 feet across, right at the bottom of a long, sure to be high speed descent for the riders.

We carefully considered our options. The stones in the washout were loose and footing was treacherous. Riders would have meager LED lights which would be hard to see by. David and I looked at each other and we knew this was the end of the road. Nothing needed to be said, but now it was time to arrange the end game.

Tomorrow: The Sprint Finish and Looking For The Lost Sheep

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday News And Views

 The other day, a good friend of mine, (and far better photographer than I!), posted his "10 Favorite Images of 2013". I thought it was awesome, and so since I take a lot of pictures myself, I figured "why not?"

So, in no particular order then, here are my ten favorites from 2013 for this edition of "Friday News And Views".  Enjoy!
Matt Wills at Odin's Revenge
Summer Stormy Sky At Sunset

Snowy Ride At Ingawanis Woodlands

Harvest 2013
T.I.V10 Recon
February Fat Bike Riding
Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational 2013
Summer Gravel (Image of me by Jeremy Fry)

Fat Bike Ride With My Son
Fall 2013