Friday, June 14, 2013

Team Refuel destiny, Pancake machine, 'Things That Used to Be,' strange place for a tree, shiny new trophy

I don't know anyone who loves milk quite as much as That Pink Girl. It's impressive, really. In particular, she's all about chocolate milk as a recovery drink. Annnnnd, she's now in the running for a spot on Got Chocolate Milk's Team Refuel — a legit sponsorship! The top two vote recipients will earn a spot on the team. Sooooooo, VOTE daily for TPG and let's make this happen! Bonus: For every vote, $1 will go to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

The morning after 24 Hours in the Canyon, I wasn't incredibly hungry at breakfast. The night before's dinner — pizza at Eddie's Napolis (yes, it's the same Napolis that has two restaurants in Garland) — filled me up. But I had room for breakfast and was fascinated with this gadget. It's practically a laminating machine that produces pancakes. Has anyone else tried an instant pancake from a hotel breakfast buffet? Not the best pancake, not the worst pancake. Syrup can solve any breakfast food's shortcomings.

Things That Used to Be: I can't explain my fascination with stores/restaurants/churches/whatnot that move into buildings that have the hallmarks of a Burger King, Blockbuster or other failed franchise. What we have here is PDQ Cleaners inside the shell of 7-Eleven. This is pretty generic, and not that interesting. I'll keep my eyes peeled for TTUB examples to share that are more unique.

Some people shouldn't be allowed to decorate.

The races in the Texas Ultra Cup Series are outstanding — great challenges and well-organized. The icing on the cake are the trophies. Kudos to 24:00 organizer Ryan Parnell for mailing the trophies to everyone. The next race is a first-timer — the Tonkawa Ultra Cup. It's a 12-hour and 6-hour race July 13 in McGregor, just outside of Waco. I won't be there, nor will I race the 2013 Texas Time Trials on Sept. 19-21 in Glen Rose. But I can't over-endorse Ultra Cup races. They're outstanding. Getya some!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pedaling for hours on end in Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Home to the second-largest canyon in the United States and 24 Hours in the Canyon — the most kickass race I've ever participated in ... so far.
Darn near every photo courtesy of That Pink Girl, who,
after a PDC weekend, also answers to the name "The Deer
I apologize in advance y'all; this is a really long blog post. I can completely appreciate not having the time or endurance to make it through the entirety of a lengthy, recap-ish blog post. I assure those who will take on the challenge will find most of it worthwhile. I appreciate every single reader's time, support and interest in my recent challenge — racing my mountain bike from noon Saturday, June 1 to noon Sunday, June 2 at 24 Hours in the Canyon — that I will start by answering the questions that most people will have.

1. Did you race the full 24 hours? No, I didn't. But I did manage to race 16 hours.

2. How far did you ride? 
136 miles — 16 loops of an 8.5-mile course — finishing fifth in my age group.

3. Did you crash? How many flats did you have?
I had three big crashes (others were minor) and sustained scrapes, bruises and cuts, but nothing that irreparably damaged me or my bike. Despite running a high tire pressure (55-60 psi) I had two pinch flats in the first 10 hours. Fortunately both occurred in spots where shade made the 10 minute process of replacing and pumping a tube less disheartening.

4. Would you do it again? Would you recommend 24 Hours in the Canyon?
Yes, but I probably will not race it next year. I enjoyed the challenge; but, I want to pursue other challenges first. Someday, it would be nice to say "I raced 24 hours straight." If you're seeking an ultra-endurance bike race, definitely circle 24 Hours in the Canyon. It's well-run, benefits the Harrington Cancer Center and has plenty of race options (road or MTB; non-competitive or competitive; 6- 12- 24-hours; etc.).

Any questions I didn't answer above will most likely be addressed in the following narrative. If not, leave a question in the comment section below. Now, strap on your helmets and gloves, and apply your preferred brand of chamois cream — it's time to go for a long ride!

Picking up my race packet couldn't have been easier or quicker on Friday afternoon. The 24:00 volunteers were top-notch. Take note how clean my legs are in this shot.

Have you ever traveled to Palo Duro Canyon State Park? For those who haven't, it's quite the hike — 390 miles northwest of Dallas. It'll take you approximately six-and-a-half hours to arrive in Canyon, about 20 miles south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. But don't let those figures dissuade you; it's totally worth it, especially if you have a seasoned crew member/race Sherpa like That Pink Girl handling the driving.

For starters, one thing you'll want to do prior to making this trek (or any long drive) is double check that you have packed all of your stuff. I didn't. I realized about 90 minutes into the trip that I left all my dry food (including my on-bike fuel) in the trunk of my car. Fortunately, we were able to load up with all the same stuff at The Bike Stop and Target in Wichita Falls.

Also, if you are traveling from DFW, you must stop in Chillicothe to pick up some Dang Good Candy at Valley Pecans. What West's Czech Stop is to kolaches, Chillicothe's Valley Pecans is to pecans. (Editor's note: Better yet, stop there on the return trip, because all the chocolate-covered pecans will melt in the blazing-hot canyon.) Other than that, there's practically nothing to look at the entire trip. The shift from grass plains to red dirt plains breaks up the monotonous view, but the real reward is arriving at the canyon — a majestic place that has to be seen in person to appreciate.

Upon arrival to the canyon, I promptly picked up my race packet, paid TPG's park entry fee ($5 per day is an outrageous bargain) and got to the business of putting together our campground for the weekend — a QuickShade canopy, cooler and food-prep station, and 6-person tent with inflatable mattress (fancy car camping, y'all). The plan for the evening — prepare a nice dinner, hike a bit of the trail, watch the pre-race race (Hill Climb Challenge up the steep 10 percent grade road leading out of the canyon) and watch a screening of the documentary "24 Solo" at another campsite.

I love her. A lot. Here we are during our hike of 2 miles of the race course.

The first three things went pretty well. Sort of. When you enter the wild, you must be prepared for all things that call the wild "home." TPG and I are fond of animals; but animals that imperil our lives are not our favorites. Well, guess what surprised us a few feet to our left in the brush beside the trail ...

Forgive the blurriness, my hand was shaking for
obvious reasons.
If you guessed "a 5-foot-long, fat, hissing and rattling western diamondback rattlesnake," you guessed correctly. We respected the heck out of this P.O.'d, venomous pit viper as he puffed up in his about-to-pounce posture. He startled us both. With hearts pounding and the sound of his rattle reverberating in our ears, we pressed on, hoping he would be long gone when we returned 20 minutes later.

Sure enough, the rattler was gone, and we were relieved and ready to see some racers take on the annual Hill Climb Challenge. All registered racers (road, MTB, single-speeders) are invited to take on the hill. While I love climbing hills, taking this beast on the night before my biggest cycling endeavor didn't sound appealing. My finally healed knee and mostly healed shoulder also provided another excuse to sit on the sidelines and cheer for those who were brave enough to ascend and descend the steep, curvy hill. It was an awesome sight. What made it even cooler was chatting with some fellow racers and watching fireworks that were set off by the crew rehearsing "TEXAS," an outdoor musical drama at PDC.

After watching the Hill Climb Challenge racers speed down the hill, we headed to the Mesquite campground to watch the film at 11 p.m.. To our surprise, we were the only people there to watch the 2008 Trek-sponsored documentary on Chris Eatough, one of the greatest endurance athletes ever, about his march toward a seventh 24-hour world title. Long story short: The film was disrupted when some serious wind gusts slammed the canyon. The movie screening tent started to fall apart, and volunteers stopped the video as TPG and I simultaneously decided we needed to get back to the campsite.

Back at Hackberry around midnight, we found part of our campsite destroyed. In particular, our canopy was no match for the 30-plus mph winds — three of its four aluminum legs snapped. Lesson learned: Always lower the canopy when it's not being used.

Assessing the pitiful state of the canopy the morning after some badass wind whipped it hard. It served us well at the rainy Texas Time Trial in September.  

We removed the canvas top so it wouldn't float away, cut our losses, zipped up our tent and slept quite well. That's one of the beautiful things about 24:00. The race begins at noon, so there's ample time to sleep and get prepared.

The is the 8.5-mile race route. I rode it 16 times last Saturday/Sunday. Fortunately, more times than not, the laps were uneventful; so I won't recap each lap. Instead, I'll sprinkle details about the events/places on the course that those red dots represent.

The race started at Juniper campground (dot no. 1). Twenty-eight riders lined up for the competitive mountain bike race. Shortly after noon, we were off an racing down the asphalt road toward the beginning of Capitol Peak MTB trail.

Tense, locked arms: Gotta work on adopting a more relaxed form. Being amped for the race probably has plenty to do with my posture. Also, I couldn't be happier with Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves — kept my arms cool, protected me from a sunburn and minimized cuts/scrapes. Note the pristine white color. They didn't stay pristine for long.

First and foremost, the race course offered a mix of challenges — climbs, descents, rocky spots, sandy sections, switchbacks and sections with significant falls for those who don't respect the trail's difficulty. All that being said, most of it was not terrible difficult. What it lacked in technical sections, it more than made up with fast spots and unrivaled scenery.

One of the more challenging climbs was early (dot no. 2) on Capitol Peak. During my training ride in April at PDC, I tackled this one and the other toughies. But on race day, I knew I couldn't blast up these sections and waste valuable energy. So I walked them or at least a portion of them every lap, conserving for the long haul.

Speaking of energy, a quick note on fuel: Besides slurping water from a 100-ounce Camelbak, I drank Lemon Lime Gatorade (TPG taped encouraging words from friends and family on the bottles), popped 4-8 Edurolytes every hour (depending on heat), chewed Apple Pie Larabars, Clif Mojo Bars and PowerBars; Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels and PowerGels

The first lap included my first crash (dot no. 4) at consecutive step-downs on a narrow, high section on Givens Spicer Lowery trail. I have no idea how it happened, but I kissed the side of a large boulder and slammed to the ground without falling off the edge. I picked myself up quickly and got back on track. This section of the trail wasn't a problem on any of the other laps.

I humbly walked the toughest climb (near dot no. 5) every lap, as did most every racer for the first portion of the hill. This section was a popular lookout where hikers and recreational cyclists hung out.

Speaking of non-racers, June 1 also happened to be the American Hiking Society's National Trails Day. There were dozens of hikers, runners and recreational cyclists on the bi-directional trail. That could have made for a nightmare race scenario. Fortunately, I didn't experience any problems. Everyone was courteous, and I announced myself and intentions to pass early and clearly.

Returning to the campground for a break. After 8 laps, I had crashed at least twice, fixed a flat and was a dirt-red mess. I needed real food — TPG's awesome veggie sandwiches — and a clean kit.
I don't recall ever being this dirty in my life.
The first seven or so hours went pretty well. The afternoon sun wasn't too bad. The day before, the high temperature reached into the 90s. On race day, we were treated to mid-80s (in 2011, the high exceeded 100 in the canyon). I felt pretty good on the bike — just a little numbness in my right hand. I found a rhythm of drinking water (awesome refill stations around dot no. 3 and at the timing chip exchange zone), eating my bars and had the trail pretty much wired. Caked in red dirt, with sand in my shoes, sweat coating my kit and satisfied with my effort, I was ready for a quick break.

I ate real food, slipped into a clean kit and hooked up my Gemini Duo light kit,. I was ready to ride the trails at night. There was about an hour of daylight left when I rolled out for my eighth hour. My body was fine, but my bike was cranky — a second pinch flat, this time the rear tire. A relay rider who had passed me during my first flat passed me as I made the repair and said, "Aw, man, again???" I acknowledged that, yep, I had another flat and that it might be a sign that I need to reconsider going tubeless.

As the sun disappeared and racers flipped on their lights, the trail looked entirely different. One difference: The high-powered lights spotlight the sand in the air. At first I thought there were bugs in the air. Nope, that's sand, which I had been inhaling all day. TPG had recommended a bandana to minimize the effect of breathing that stuff, but I passed. (Considering how much fun it was blowing red-dirt snot, I would reconsider that choice next time.)

There was a particularly sandy spot that worsened as the race grew long (dot no. 7). This is where my most embarrassing crash occurred. This section of the trail was simple, nothing challenging at all ... if you're not wading through ankle-deep sand. Well, my high-pressure tires were having no luck in this spot, and I finally slipped. Every subsequent loop, I planted a foot at this spot and pushed my way through the turn. I'd be surprised if anyone could effectively pedal through this portion near the end of the race.

It was dark by the time I started the 10th loop. Racers were treated to another display of "Texas" rehearsal fireworks. It was awesome seeing the colorful display while riding! But not even pyrotechnics could keep me going strong. I was getting pretty tired. My riding was suffering — I couldn't hold simple lines and my confidence in my ability to ride solidly was waning. I debated taking a break. A few more slips and close calls, and I decided I needed to rest. I finished my 11th loop and notified the time keeper that I was going to take an extended break. I wasn't going to ride a full 24 hours.

That was a tough choice to make, but it was the right call. The fresh, ready-to-ride 12-hour racers were going to start at midnight, and I was concerned that my poor riding could be a danger to them as well as myself.

As I tried to get comfortable in the tent, my right quad cramped something fierce. That pain reinforced that I made the right choice. TPG hooked me up with a banana (potassium) to help relieve the cramp, which did the trick. As we fell asleep, I enjoyed the last sights of the first night — beautiful, bright stars above our tent.

The alarm chirped before 5 a.m., and as soon as you could blink, TPG had coffee and oatmeal ready for me. I was well-rested. filled with a good breakfast and ready to tackle the rest of the challenge. I was happy that I would ride my bike for another six hours. I knew I could do it. It was all downhill from here.

The 6-hour racers hit the trails shortly before I returned to tackle my 12th loop. I rode slow, and, for the first time, slipped down to my smallest chainring, aka, the granny gear. It was starting to be about preservation at that point. I needed to take advantage of every gear available to me. As I had during the fir

Dawn turned to full-blown morning quickly during that first loop. The highlight: Seeing TPG at the GSL trailhead, where she shot some more awesome pictures.

I handed off my headlight and battery and headed toward one of my least-favorite sections of the trail — a descent that was sandy and had been a popular spot for cheering spectators and photographers.

Dot no. 6 was the scene of my most dramatic falls. My front tire plunged into a sandy spot at the top of this drop. My body flipped forward and my head crashed into the dirt. My bike followed above me, barely missing me as it slammed below me on the trail. No one was there to witness the wreck, but I'm pretty sure it looked awesome. Fortunately the crash only shook me up. It also stole my sunglasses. The fall must have knocked them off. I couldn't find them when I walked my bike the next time I reached this descent. TPG noted that there were tarantula dens in this area, so we figured these eight-leggers walked off with my Uvex specs. (I'm sure they look good on them). The wreck also damaged my bike's saddle (bent the left wing down), which I didn't notice until after the race.

As much fun as it looks. Thank you, TPG, for documenting everything!

At first, I thought I might take a break every two loops. But I felt about as good as one could hope, so I pressed on and prayed that I wouldn't have another flat (I didn't) and focused on those who were cheering me on — friends and loved ones across the country — thought about those affected by cancer, pictured everyone who helped me exceed my fundraising goal, and pressed on. I thought I could ride six hours straight, possible ride another six laps. My right knee had another idea. It started to hurt on the fourth lap; but I paid it little mind and focused on shifting my effort to the left side of my body. After completing the fourth lap, I rolled down a small hill and, as I pedaled up the uphill, my knee screamed. I knew I was in trouble. I thought about pressing on, but I knew it would struggle to block out the pain. I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to roll across the finish line near the 24:00 mark. I had two hours left but only one loop left in my legs. So I took another break.

I returned to the campsite. TPG was at the top of the canyon to update friends and my sister with my status (no shock, there's not much cell reception at the bottom of the canyon), something she did throughout the race (yes, she's the best). I took out my pocket allen wrench kit and disassembled the canopy frame so it would fit in the dumpster. TPG returned and was surprised to see me. I filled her in on my knee situation, and she set me up with a cold pack and a comfortable seat. We chatted and enjoyed or time together before 10:45 rolled around. I got up, jumped on the bike and rolled off for the final loop.

I soaked up the scenery. I had grown tired of the trail, but it felt bittersweet knowing I wouldn't see the rocks that scraped my flesh or the hills that humbled me. I said sayonara to them and even started to tear up as it hit me that the journey was almost over. The course was mostly bare. There weren't many racers still on the trail. I traded congratulations and words of encouragement to those who passed me and those I passed. We were a fellowship of folks who loved riding and found something magical in the canyon. I can't put words to it; you just need to go there to understand. PDC is something special.

And then it was done! I stretched out my hand so my timing chip would beep for the final time as TPG and volunteers cheered for me. It felt awesome!

I was ready to be off the bike. My butt was literally tired (serious saddle sores, y'all), and I wanted to hold my greatest supporter and love of my life. TPG held stinky-old me tight and exclaimed, "You did it! I'm so proud." And waves of emotions flooded over me. I kept my composure, but it seemed like it couldn't be true. Was I really done? Had I really just ridden for 16 hours out of 24 hours?

As we walked back toward the campsite, the realization that I had ridden hard and long sank in. I couldn't help smiling. I finished something substantial; sure, I raced, but more importantly I did it for a greater reason than a personal challenge. I raced and fundraised for a worthy cause.

It has been five days since the race. My sore back, banged up legs/knee and scraped arms feel fine. I am still on a high from the race. It's taken me three nights of typing to put together this blog post. I could probably write twice as much, but it's time to move on. There are new challenges in front of me (El Scorcho — my first 50K) and non-endurance things I'd like to do. Until then, I will wrap this up by thanking y'all for believing in me and for the overwhelming interest and support in this goal. I cannot thank you enough really. But I will try. Whatever your goals are, reach for them. Don't stop dreaming about the seemingly impossible. You can make those dreams come true. You believed in me, and I believe in you.