Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Week 2 in New Zealand

It has been almost 2 weeks since I have arrived in New Zealand. After a week in Dunedin (South east of the South Island) I started travelling West. A very welcoming couple who I connected with through let me stay with them in Alexandra (between Dunedin and Queenstown). The climate and the terrain was very different from Dunedin. Less green, more brownish color. It was fairly flat (compared to Dunedin). Afterwards, I headed to Queenstown, the notorious adventure town where bungee jumping was invented. What a beautiful scenery towards the lake and mountains. Yesterday I headed to Christchurch. Although the city is flat, the group ride this morning introduced me to some serious climbs which seemed to pop up from nowhere.

My conclusion so far:
Only a few hours of driving lead one to a totally different climate, landscape and terrain.
Dunedin: very hilly with steep climbs, fresh and green and wet, plenty of great routes with spectacular scenery, vibrant city
Alexandra (Central Otago):dry climate, flat in general with a few mountains which are mostly accessible via mountain bike, tiny town
Queenstown: fantastic views, great climbs (Crown Range Rd, Coronet Peak), a lot of riding options, very touristy
Christchurch: flat, unfortunately due to the earth quakes a few years ago some roads are not accessible and in rough shape, a lot of bike lanes, big cycling scene

Some pictures in no particular order:

Just to get the bearings of New Zealand. I started in the Southeast of the South Island, in Dunedin, travelled West to Queenstown and then headed Northeast to Christchurch

Christchurch - That doesnt look exactly flat to me. The city does have some great climbs.

The view towards Mt Cook with the Pukaki lake in front. The lake color is turquoise due to the refraction of the glacier particles in the water. I have never seen that anywhere else before! (Unfortunately, my camera does not do justice)

This farmer must be very popular. On Crown Ridge Rd from Wanaka to Queenstown.

Southern Alps. Awesome climbs!

One of the few days where it was sunny all day long. Weather changes quickly.

On top of the ski hill in Queenstown.

Queenstown has great downhill tracks.

The water looks unreal. (On the way to Queenstown)

I barely made it through the coming cow train. 400 cows on the way to get milked. They yield 10 liters of milk each.

That was a steep downhill into a river bed which shot right back up


Monday, December 23, 2013

A week in Dunedin

(Written Dec 18) I have been in Dunedin now for a week and it has been quite an adventure. Riding is excellent here. Hills after hills. Steep and relentless. Kiwis dont seem to bother to design their roads for the cars, if they want to have access to a certain point, they just built the most direct way, no matter if it is a 30% grade into a 90 degree turn that might be impossible for trucks to drive. If brakes dont work, well, good luck!

I absolutely love climbing all these hills. It's a max effort every time. As a miserable descender I have learned to wonder every time I climb a hill, if I could descend it or if it would just create sheer terror. I learned this the hard way when I descended rather cautiously one of the mountains. It became so steep that I could not stop. I saw a sharp turn ahead. Straight ahead was a cliff with an even faster way down. I panicked. After a lot of calming self-talk and talk to my brakes, i finally came to a stop. I ended up walking down the road. Now, i am more careful about the road signs. One sign in particular.

On my 113km ride up a ridge I suddenly found myself in the middle of nowhere. I thought riding in rural Iowa was in the middle of nowhere. Nope. I found a even more middle of nowhere.

Only sheep. Steep descents and climbs. No houses, only an occasional farm. Once in a long while a car. Maybe every hour one human being in a visible distance. On the one hand, it was worrisome. All possible bad scenarios went through my head. But on the other hand what else would I need right now. I have my bike, food and water and I am surrounded by a stunning scenery.

Twice it happened to me that while riding up a steep hill, I took my eyes of the pavement and found 20 cows staring at me from the meadow next to me. When I passed them they started running next to me along. It was really funny!
If I can make any recommendations for one piece of gear to take a long, it would be a very good rain jacket. In those six hours of riding, I got rained on four times. Good brakes is another useful asset to have for reasons stated earlier.

Most of the rides i have done by myself. My cycling friends know that i dont like riding by myself. However, time flies while riding here. There is so much to see. Plus, the hills automatically push me to the limits and do not offer enough breath for a sophisticated conversation. I stayed in dunedin for a week, now travelling west into the southern alps searching for even longer and tougher climbs. Lord of the rings was filmed there.
Kiwis are a nice bunch. From the culture, I feel like i travelled to Europe. Dunedin is also very international. I meet more foreigners (mostly europeans) than kiwis.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

First impressions of Dunedin, New Zealand

Today I had the chance to discover some parts of Dunedin on a bike. I made the following observations:

There are a lot of hills in Dunedin, A LOT!

Those hills start all at 6% grade. (For my Minneapolis friends: Ramsey hill on every corner)

The views on top of the ridge were stunning. Not only had I be cautious to ride on the right lane but I also had to be careful I don’t fall off the cliff while taking in the stunning view, the deep blue ocean, the juicy green grass decorated with white spots and an occasional baa. (Sheep)

I almost made a head-on collision with another cyclist. Believe it or not, bike paths have the same left side rule.

Car drivers do not care too much about cyclists. Barely any bike paths around. Even more a reason to ride the beautiful remote countryside.

Although the sun is hiding a lot, it is strong. I already got sunburnt. Plus, sunset is at 10pm!

Almost every day is a group ride going on in Dunedin! Sweet!

The picture of the day:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

End of season report – Part I : The races

A year ago when I moved to the Midwest I have never heard of gravel racing before. Now, after one season full of gravel I raced 12 amazing gravel races totaling ~1700mi of pure fun (averaging 150mi/race). There is no better introduction to the Midwest than riding gravel!
That was my race calendar:

Apr 27/28   Trans-Iowa (Grinnel, Iowa) - 325mi
May 18       Royal 162 (Spring Valley, Minnesota) - 162mi
June 1         Dirty Kanza (Emporia, Kansas) - 200mi
Jul 20          Operacion Muerto (Verdin, Manitoba, Canada) >300mi
Aug 24        Gravel Worlds (Lincoln, Nebraska) - 150mi
Sept 7         Inspiration 100 (Garfield, Minnesota) - 100mi
Sept 3-15    Gravel Conspiracy (Grand Marais, Minnesota) - 180mi
Sept 28       Heck of the North (Two Harbors, Minnesota) - 100mi
Oct 13        Filthy 50 (Stewartville, Minnesota) - 50mi
Oct 19        Dirtbag (Clearwater, Minnesota) - 88mi

Thanks to Guitar Ted for an epic start of the 2013 gravel season. I was never as nervous about a race as this one. With six months of preparation, I have never gotten ready longer for any other race. Trans Iowa is not just a race, it’s an emotional roller coaster, a game with the sleep monsters and IMO the queen of all gravel races.

Royal 162
If you want to see what passion for gravel racing looks like meet Chris! Chris lives and breathes gravel. I wouldn’t be surprised if his house is made out of gravel. The Royal started with friends and ended with even more friends. It was great to see how many people enjoy gravel racing!

Thanks to Jim Cummins for introducing me to Kansas, to the beauty of its meadows and to the queen of pain – Rebecca Rush. Dirty Kanza attracts gravel racers from all over the nation to visit Kansas. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this race is: Kansas is by no means flat! With the finish line ending in downtown Emporia, the entire town cheers for you on the final stretch!

If Trans Iowa was not enough, take it a step further and ride with no cue sheets as the Canadians do it. And if you are game for surprises (like walking into a strip performance in a bar) then this race is a must do! Thanks to Hal Loewen for creating Operacion Muerto. Huge thanks to Ian Hall and Lindsay Gauld for helping us logistically and for their cue sheets (they probably anticipated the headline of the local newspaper: Search rescue to find German and American cyclists sleeping in the ditch.)

What other gravel race starts with a German shaking an enormous cow bell around his waist? What other gravel race honors you with a winner’s jersey that has World Championships stripes.  Thanks to Corey Godfrey for putting on the Gravel Worlds!

I wasn’t aware I could attend a free concert when I signed up for Inspiration 100. Thanks to Deek Surly and his crew mile 80(?) not only offered foods and drinks but a two-man music performance on self-created instruments. Plus, I never thought I would be so happy about receiving a rusted chain ring!

Gravel Conspiracy
You know how to make omelets without a pan and stove?  And how to create a feast for 20 hungry riders if nothing else but a gas station is your resource? Ask Josh Stamper because he knows it all. The three day event made this gravel ride a great adventure in the most beautiful area of the Midwest!

The Heck was my first ever gravel race last year and I couldn’t wait to come back. I realized also in this event how close, friendly, welcoming, helpful and awesome gravel riders are! Thanks to Jeremy Kershaw for a great event, whether sunshine or rain!

Whether you are rookie or veteran, the Filthy 50 is the perfect race for everyone! The shorter distance made it for a nice change in race and ride strategy. The race was so well-organized that you would not realize that that was Trenton Raygor’s first race promotion. Thanks to Trenton for putting on a great race that welcomes any level of rider.

Last but not least, the Dirtbag, the race that finished my gravel season for this year. On the drive up to the race, it was rainy, cold and windy! Who would show up in these conditions? Oh my, did I underestimate the mentality of gravel racers when I saw 90 riders at the start line! Nothing deters them! Thanks to Ben Doom for an awesome race!

It goes without saying that without all the volunteers no race would be as organized, welcoming and yummy as they are! 
I am sad to say goodbye to all the amazing people I have met through gravel racing! What a great community!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How I prepared for Trans Iowa

Trans Iowa was the most epic race for me this year. I was nervous. What did I get myself into? Would I be prepared? What equipment, tool or nutrition am I missing? Would I be able to hang with people? What should I know that I don’t know yet?

Looking back, I learned that 80% of this race is mental. Yes, it would be a good idea to get a few centuries in before but Trans Iowa was not decided how fit I was (of course, a certain fitness is required) but how I dealt with myself in my darkest moments. I was teaching myself a certain attitude that nothing can stop me – whether it is weather, sleep-deprivation, hunger, thirst or the blister on my pinky.

But to successfully apply this “No obstacle is too big” attitude, I had to train it.

To get ready for the worst, I had to train in the worst. I had to ride when it was the most humbling with no glory or Strava segments to get. Most of those rides were alone. No one else wanted to join. That was the best indicator for a bad ride.

I still remember one particular time that tested whether I stuck to my own philosophy. Every Wednesday I joined a group ride which was 15 miles away from my place. One day in January, I decided to ride to the group ride. On the way it started raining. The group ride was still happening but we shortened it because it got colder, windier and darker. Everyone was shivering. During the last few miles when we were heading towards the end point of the group ride I was debating with myself. I could easily ask one of the riders to drive me home, sitting in a nice warm, dry car, preferably with seat heating. Or I could ride the 15 miles in this wet, cold, and dark condition home. 

The car option was winning!

But then my conscience reminded me of Trans Iowa. Would there be an option on the course where I could get a ride? That would be called “giving up.” 

I had to ride home!

To avoid someone potentially offering me a ride I didn’t do the usual stop and chit-chat at the end point and just headed towards home. It was cold, wet, windy and dark, but I made it. I realized that more treacherous conditions had to come to make me give up!

Trans Iowa is like an obstacle course with unknown hurdles along the way. Every rider gets their own personal obstacles. It will not be perfect so it’s about how to deal with the imperfection. On a few rides, I simulated running out of water and food. I was thinking of every “worst-case” scenario possible and how I would deal with it. What if I get lost? What if my lights run out of battery? How will I feel at 2 am and how my body will try to convince me to stop and how I will convince my body not to stop. (Cinnamon rolls did the trick for me)

Trans Iowa is an epic event; it is an exciting journey with great people. It is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when crossing that finish line! I am very excited for everyone who will race TI 2014!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Inflated tires are overrated – The Filthy 50 race

It was a gorgeous fall day. In the 50s and sunny.

Having learned my lesson from Heck of the North, I enforced my traditional carb-loading the day before. However, instead of apple pie, I found this delicious walnut-cranberry bread from Whole Foods. Quantity will not be disclosed. (Otherwise I will see my name at the next food competition roster)

About 300 racers lined up at the start line. It will be a fast race.

For the first 30 miles I was staring as far as the wheel in front of me, my tongue collecting the dust and my legs in huge argument with its biggest enemy namely lactate. I didn’t dare to make any movement that didnt cause forward-motion. 

I could get dropped any second. 

When I looked up I found myself in a group that was way too strong for me. Why the hell was I here? I was a marionette and played along until someone would cut the strings.

The playground became a cemetery when my legs died at 32mi on a climb: Nature Road. Once on the ridge, it was time to chase. Head down (I was told the course was very beautiful. I missed out on the scenery but I can tell you all about the dust collection on my stem). I caught a few stragglers along the way. 

With about five miles to go I could feel the gravel under me more pronounced than normal.

Do I have a flat?
Wait, do I want to know the answer?
No. Ok, then keep riding and just don’t look.

After a few miles it became too apparent. I had a leak in my front tire. How inconvenient! Even more inconvenient for the wheel because I am not going to stop!

When I hit the pavement the last three miles, I was riding the rim. No air in the tire. Nothing. Nada. Null.

I must say, it is quite strenuous to ride uphill on a flat. The constant banging of the metal against the tarmac attracted some attention on my way to finish line. But it’s all good. My HED wheels don’t even have a scratch.

Congrats to all the finishers of the race! I hope everyone had fun! Huge thanks to Trenton for a phenomenal race. With his entire family, neighbors and great sponsors as support, the race was a well-organized event and suited every kind of rider. A 50 miler is the perfect distance for newcomers to try out gravel racing and for veterans to change up the pace.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Heck of the North – My toughest gravel race this year

First, thanks to Jeremy and the volunteers for putting on such a great race! 

This race has once again shown to me that gravel racing is a team sport and the competition is me. 
Other racers make this personal endeavor easier by sharing the burden against wind, weather and terrain.

Heck of the North would become the toughest challenge I have faced this year so far.

The first 15 miles was the usual race development for me.
Got dropped. Chased back on. And got dropped again.
But this time I wasn’t able to chase back on.

I got into TT mode for the next 40 miles with Kristin in tow. All headwind. All flat.
I didn’t want to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to catch up to the group. It was one against ten.

My energy was slowly draining. The usual spike from an energy gel wasn’t working.

Something was off.

It started raining. Then pouring. Another ten miles to the drop-off spot. Maybe I could catch the group then? I wanted to ride with my friends.
A group of ten came up behind us. The group I was chasing for the last 40 miles.
They got lost. Lucky me!

We all stopped at the drop-off spot. I put my rain jacket on to stay warm but where was my food? I must have forgotten it. Mark and Jon gave me a burrito, gummy bears and a granola bar. I cant thank them enough for that!
That would hold me off for the last 40 miles.

But man, was I wrong!

We got back on the road. Six of us. It was still pouring. Everything was wet and muddy. Glasses fogged up and became useless. Dirt was dripping off our helmets. My cue sheets turned out not be waterproof.
Our group dissolved slowly.  It became harder to grind through the wet gravel.  Drafting became a muddy insult to the eyes.

Corey and I rode together for a while and we took turns fighting the rain. No energy to talk. Words spoken only if necessary.
The last 90 miles took its toll. Despite a gel I wasn’t able to recover at all anymore. I was crawling up rises that wouldn’t make it onto an elevation chart. Corey had to leave me behind.

Only I and two seemingly insurmountable miles to go.

I fell into a delirious state of complete exhaustion, tiredness. Thoughts started creeping up what would happen if I would stop right here and just not keep going. 
I was in my drops. Staying in my hoods became cumbersome. I was hungry. Starving. And sick to my stomach.

Food was in the pockets of my rain jacket. I wanted those gummy bears Mark gave me.
Do I have the energy to take my hand from the drops to reach into the pocket while sustaining my weight with my other hand?
That sounded awfully exhausting.

I decided to wait.

But I needed food! I had to do it! Sunglasses, trash, and a granola bar, I didn’t want in the pocket would make it difficult to get the gummy bears.

In a moment of energy I reached into my pocket.
Granola bar.
Where the heck are the gummy bears?

My surge of energy vanished. I had to put my hands back in the drops. No gummy bears.

I opened my eyes as wide as possible so I would know they are open. The yellow of the leaves became really bright. The baby heads in the middle of the roads popped up too fast to avoid at 8 mph.

Would I feel the pain when I crash? Maybe that’s the easy way out.

Okay, another try to get those damn gummy bears. Okay, Monika, don’t be so picky. Whatever I get, I will take! I was reaching into the pocket.

Granola bar.

After devouring half of the bar while losing the other half, I realized I had the rest of the burrito in the other pocket. Where was my mind?

I used the bit of energy I got from the granola bar to fetch the burrito. Too tired to unwrap, I just took a huge bite from the tin-foil wrapped burrito. It was crunchy.

I was staring a few feet ahead of my front tire looking out for rocks. I didn’t want to see the seemingly endless trail ahead of me. What would happen if I’d stop and took a nap right here? I slowed down. Was I even able to slow down? I was crawling.

If I stop here, someone would surely pick me up 2 miles from the finish? Maybe it’s easier and faster just to ride there? But that requires I actually to move my legs. 
An eternity later I looked up and saw people at the road. The finish! How the heck did that happen?!

Looking back, I know what caused my full energy depletion. I hadnt had my traditional apple pie the day before the race. Clearly, that was it! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Inspiration 100 gravel race – an accidental dehydration experiment

The stay in a cabin with ten fellow racers the day before the race (thanks to Charlie and his family) set the perfect atmosphere for a successful gravel race weekend – preparing race food, discussing bike gear and talking race tactics.

Every gravel race is different. With gravel worlds still in mind I was lining up at the start line with two water bottles. With refueling stops at mile 40 and mile 70, two bottles would last – so I thought at least. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that everyone else seemed to have a camel bak, which would mean the chance that someone would refuel at mile 40 would be low. 

Deek giving instructions at the start line

Roll out.

So I treated this as a physiological experiment how far two bottles would get me.

Within the first ten miles, the three leaders were already ahead of the group.
The leaders.

At around mile 40 we were still a big group

Our chase group of about 15 dabbled along for a while; no one with a strong incline to burn matches. 

I was sitting on my chosen wheel while we were passing mile 40 – a gas station and first opportunity to stop for water. 

My group chose to continue so did I. 

A lot of rollers.

Some "technical" double track


I was already running low on bottle number 2 but I knew mile 70 would be the next stop. Until then, so I hoped, the group would be smaller, which would make it easier to convince everyone to stop for water.

But for now, another 30 miles to go. Half a bottle had to be enough. 

It became hotter. Dust stuck to sweat running from face, arms and legs. The gravel was deep asking for a lot of effort for little forward-motion. The sudden change of gravel depth required continuous concentration. Slowly but surely, the energy level of the group started draining. 

I kept riding my own pace and at mile 50 I was by myself.

Twenty miles to go. Nothing left in the bottles. I started feeling the effects of dehydration: overheating, headache and hot feet.

Finally at mile 70 I made it to the liquor store to stop for water. Equipped with two bottles, a Gatorade and a snickers bar I was back on the road. That should be enough for the last 30 miles.

I entertained myself with old racing stories and started singing the first line of all five songs I remembered. I tried to solve my biochemistry homework, which gave me headache and caused a drastic slowdown of my riding pace.  

So I focused on the race and the potential whereabouts of all other racers. I had no clue but it gave me enough to think about until mile 93.

I realized all of a sudden that I was VERY tired. “Monika, you are riding a bike, stay focused!” It became harder to hold the grip of the handlebars. My body told me to stop and sleep. I slowed down to seemingly walking pace. The only songs that came into mind were the German and American anthems which kept me upright for the last seven miles. That was a tough race!

Yep, I was thirsty.

We were all exhausted. 

Deek handed creative awards out.
Results are here.
Thanks to Deek Surly and the volunteers for a great event and for taking pictures!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The German survival of Gravel Worlds - a 150 mi gravel race in the oven

I had the privilege to participate at Gravel Worlds– a 150 mi gravel race in no other prestigious region than in the middle of the US…Nebraska. 

The race promoter crew, PCL, didn’t lack any creativity to make this a special race. It all started on a farm owned by a German who kicked off the race with a big circular hip motion accompanied with a noise you would usually hear in the Alpes. He was shaking a massive cow bell. Surprisingly, he didn’t start yodeling.

Nebraskan weather treated us with the best of the best – upper 90s and 20 mph winds. Although this might not be the best outlook for some coldblooded Minnesotans the race was set up that made everyone a winner. Every racer had to buy a lottery ticket on each of the three checkpoints and turn them in after the race. Now we are 203 racers.  Obviously, one of us would win!

Anyway, the more realistic happiness was found in the three additional checkpoints called fittingly “oasis” along the course. That meant six water stops on a 150 mile course. I would carry 2 bottles.

The race started at 6am. I missed the memo to bring a light so my borrowed 50 lumen blinkie shined as far as to the front wheel. Well, with a start right into soft gravel and my newly enforced anti-crash-policy I lost the front group with my friends in it.

Who would I talk to now for the next 149.5 miles? I was concerned.

When finally the sun crept over the horizon and I saw more than my front tire, it was time to chase. About 16 miles and 20 matches later I caught on. I would have been fully content if the race would have been done right there. I was cooked!

At mile 30 we had to buy our first lottery tickets. 15 people stormed the gas station. But I took my sweet little time to refill water bottles and buy my tickets and left the store.

No bikes!

Apparently I misinterpreted the hectic movements of my fellow racers. (I see a trend here for my rather slow stops)

Back on the bike I was reciting the German curse vocabulary while imagining 120 miles by myself. Can I catch on again? 

Where are you, legs?

Shut up, legs!  

Didn’t work! Jens is lying!

But only a few miles later I found my friend Ted at the side of the road getting back on the bike after fixing a flat.

How convenient! That was my chosen wheel. 

Four others caught on to us and our group of six cruised along roller after roller. The sun started frying us. But it was all good. Except one thing.

Me: “Ted, you are too fast for our group.”
Ted: “I have good legs.”
Me: “I realized. Can you please ride away from us?”
Ted: “Nah, I like hanging out here.”

After some convincing, we finally got him to leave us. He ended up second that day to a pro racer.

For the next 100 miles we got baked with a consistent 20 mph wind from the South. If I was dough, I would be done by now. 

The impact of the heat can be best explained by a comment from a fellow racer when we turned towards North:

 “Oh dammit, we have tail wind.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
“There is nothing anymore that gives some sort of cooling down.”
Point taken.

It was about 1 pm and around 110 miles into the race with the next 12 miles straight into the head wind.

I was alone. No one insight. No tree. No draft. Just me, loose gravel and a 100 degree breeze right in my face. My mind was already at the next checkpoint.

When my body caught up and I approached the gas station, I saw the three leaders pulling out! 

Only three!? But where are the others?

I found the answer in the gas station. One super clean rider (did he take a shower in the sink?) sitting too comfortable on a bench sipping on his fourth Gatorade.

“Are you done racing?” I asked.
“Nope. Just taking a break.”
“Haha…right! How long are you taking a break?”
“Not sure. Until I cool down.”
“Are you joining me?”
“Naah. I wait.”

Shoot, he was my only hope to mix the next 30 miles up a bit. Apparently, I annoyed him by asking him another five times because he finally got up. I had company! Someone to talk to!

We got lost in a conversation. That got us lost.

Two miles off course.

When we turned around we met up with another group of four. We ended up riding together until the last few miles before the finish. 

At the finish, I was greeted by Corey, the race promoter, a sweet jersey and a lunch box! (I wish I had a picture of that)

What a race! Great organization, challenging course, and a heck of fun! Thanks to the PCL crew for an outstanding race!
Thanks to Foundry and HED to set me up with the perfect gravel bike!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Poutines, dance performance and ditch naps – a 300 mile gravel challenge in Canada

Five weeks after my crash an epic ride was more than overdue. I also have been given the privilege to ride for Foundry, a Minnesotan bike company with the mission to work hard and ride harder. I was excited to test my new Auger in its natural habitat on gravel roads. 

The Muerto Operacion, traversing the Canadian Province of Manitoba, seemed to be great challenge to satisfy my need for adventure - at least 500km through an unknown area on unknown routes with unknown stops. 

So basically we had no clue what we would get ourselves into. Lucky us, there was a supporting Manitoban bike community that didnt think it was a good idea to have a German and American cycling aimlessly in their back yard. So they gave us maps and possible water refill stops.

Thanks to Ian Hall for the maps
Without them, we would have ended up in a ditch-- wait-- I ended up in a ditch!

Never mind.

It all started that Lindsay and Ian gave us a ride from Falcon Lake to Virden.

We learned that Tom Horton had bad coffee, that we definitely should try Poutines and that most of the time the wind comes from the west. Most of the times!

When we got up the next day for this 300mi+ adventure, we learned quickly that this day would be one of the seldom days where the wind comes from the East.
300mi of headwind! Drafting was not allowed.
Not even 300 yards into the ride and we had to ask for directions.
But, we had 70 degrees sunny weather with clear deep blue skies that made up for our yelling back and forth so we could understand each other.

The first 80 miles were on flat, nice smooth gravel. Did i mention flat?
Kansas seems mountainous compared to Manitoba.

Neither of us had a cyclo computer so we didnt have mileage, compass and speed.

We just rode.

Since we were so far north, it was hard to tell what time it was from the position of the sun. We could have looked at the phone but we let ourselves surprise when we stopped the first time. It was 12:30 pm when we entered Wawanesa. 6.5 hours of riding. We were hungry and thirsty. We entered the only restaurant in town, owned by a British, ate our fish and chips and off we went towards Holland. 

Fish and Chips in Wawanesa.
On our way of town I almost got us disqualified when I wanted to ride the nicely paved road out of town when Corey stopped me and pointed to his cue sheets.

Ah, right, cue sheets. I forgot already about those. 

I went naturally on the nicely paved roads when Corey pointed out we had to look for a gravel road. We asked for directions.
Four hours later we entered Holland and enjoyed salami rolled chocolate chip cookies on the curb outside the grocery store. While I searched for more fat and sugar in the store Corey got invited to a wedding nearby.
Salami rolled chocolate chip cookies hit the spot
When we got back on the bike, we felt the 130miles in our legs. The next 50 miles would be the most challenging, at least mentally.

It was one road, one direction. Nothing else. Keeping ourselves entertained was key. 

Keeping ourselves entertained.
Corey, is this a cheap version of hide and seek?
Professor Monika studying maps.
New company.
We looked behind us. The sun was setting, slowly but visibly. It got colder.
The sun didnt set until 10:30 pm.
 We wanted to reach the bar in Brunkild by sunset. And we did. Barely. We both were physically and mentally exhausted. We needed some entertainment. To our surprise we got more than the expected entertainment.

When we entered the bar, I walked right into a striptease performance.

I turned around 180 degrees ready to leave.

Have we entered the wrong door? Nope. The bar is right behind the naked woman.
 Once having reached the bar safely we ordered burgers, sandwiches and the notorious Poutines, a combination of fries, cheese curds in gravy. Everything tasted great.
Poutines, chicken burger, cheese burger and melted cheese.

They tried to convince us that the next 200mi might be easier with one Jaegerbomb or 10 - Corey believed it.

The stripper told me we are now the new attraction in town. Two drunk kids came in and ordered jagerbombs for everyone. I played party pooper. Corey played along. 

We were thinking of the cold night outside. I was prepared.

Corey not so much.

His new wardrobe included an XL bar T-shirt, 20 newspapers and knee socks cut into thigh and forearm warmers. I say ghetto, he says MacGyver. (In any case, we chose not to take a picture. He might get ostracized by his local community.)

When we left it was in the low 50s. It was 11:30pm. In the next town we were greeted by a barn with full blasting music coming out. It was full house. Half Manitoba was dancing.

We had to stop here because of my need for a nature break. While I was in the woods, a car was charging towards Corey and stopped shortly before him. 
Then the car left.
Then the police came up to Corey.
Then it left.

What the heck was I missing?

The car was asking if we needed help. The police was asking what the car was asking.
Interesting investigation!

Leaving town we entered the first terrain challenge, mud! I recited my repertoire of German curse words. Despite the shortness of the section I was reminded of this little monster of mud and clay section for the remainder of the ride - I couldnt clip in anymore. 

Mud everywhere!
However, it woke me up. It put Corey to sleep. Or maybe it was the jagerbomb which made him sleepy but all of a sudden he became very quiet.

At 3am we came to an intersection where we had a choice of going north following the route or going 2 miles south into the town of Steinbach trying to find food and drinks. His MacGyver dress was not holding up to its expectations. He was freezing. 

We chose right and looked for food.

Mc Donalds was closed.

Walmart was closed.

What would be open at 3 am on a Sunday? It was Tim Horton. The irony made its circle. The bad coffee tasted wonderful and the Boston creme donuts just delicious. I had two more just for verification purposes.
Only option at 3am on a Sunday. I couldnt ask for a better meal.
Looking back, this stop was essential because the next section was brutal. Besides that was my turn to get tired. I was swerving, seeing elks in the woods and turbines as houses. At some point Corey asked to stop to put some lotions on some body regions.

When he took care of some business I found the grass to look very comfortable and soft- almost like a pillow. 
I had to test it.

I softly hit the ground and was out for the next 5 minutes. 
My bike and I needed a nap. Right here, right now!
After my little nap I was ready for more adventure. The adventure included new terrain and it didnt get easier: deep sand and creek crossings. The 20miles to the next gas station felt like 60.
Keep on moving otherwise we became breakfast for the mosquitoes.
The fact that I wasnt able to clip into my shoes didnt make it easier. We ran out of food and water. When we stopped, we became breakfast for the 100 mosquitoes.
We also learned that horse can fly comfortably 25 mph and still can bite you.

In crawling pace we made it to our last stop before the finish line - a gas station. I realized too late that the tap water was undrinkable. With all the mud I ate, that little bit of water contamination wouldnt make any difference. After refueling and some small talk with a Russian we entered the last section of the ride and finished in 31 hours with 300+ mi of headwind.

This was the second part of our route:

The course, the people and the weather was exceptional! What a great adventure!
Now I got seriously addicted. I am already thinking about the next challenge.

  • Thanks to Hal for creating this great challenge.
  • Thanks to Lindsay and Ian for giving us a ride to Virden plus the maps and the recommendations! What a great Manitoban cycling community!
  • Thanks to Foundry, especially Matt, for a giving me the privilege to ride such a great bike! The bike is made for this kind of adventure. Very comfortable and no mechanicals!
  • Thanks to HED Cycling for sweet gravel specific wheels! With 25 mm light rims that made the ride very comfortable. The wider rim fulfilled its promise for fewer flats. I had none!
  • Both the bike and the wheels cushioned the impact of the gravel. My back felt great, which is usually the first affected area from rough terrain.
  • Thanks to Corey for joining me for this adventure and for taking these great pictures and listening to all my stories, at least nodding at the appropriate moments.
  • Thanks to Thomas from Angry Catfish for getting my bike ready and for his patience with all my bike adjustments.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Operacion Muerto

My next challenge - Operacion Muerto - a 300mi gravel challenge across the Canadian Province Manitoba - is now posted on my website:

You can follow this challenge via spot tracker:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gravel racers with a mountainbike problem - Tips from a 4-day Colorado Trip

Our goal was to get an affordable mountain bike trip on gravel- and fire roads in the mountains of Colorado. We found it in Leadville.

The Leadville hostel not only beats every other lodging in its price for 25$ a night and all-you-can-eat breakfast for $7 it also gave us a great opportunity to meet interesting people, especially hikers and cyclists, from all over the world. The location of the hostel allowed us just to jump on our bikes and ride up the mountains.

Leadville is located on a mountain side so we had a choice of climbing up the mountain gaining 800ft within 3 miles or heading down to the Turquoise lake and go in any direction for another climb. We rode parts of the Leadville 100 course every day climbing St Kevins,  Sugarloaf and Columbine. We gained 3,400 feet within 9 miles on the Columbine climb.

Special considerations for the mountains
We took a camelbak with plenty of water and sunblock for all the rides since the altitude causes quicker dehydration and easier sunburn. Since the weather is so unpredictable, we also carried rain jackets which we definitely put to use. Also, the altitude made easy efforts at sea level a lot harder. Especially, the Columbine climb which goes up to 12,500 feet was quite a humbling experience.

The High Mountain Pies restaurant in town offered a great variety of sandwiches, pizza and salads. At rush hour the place can become very busy. Another delicious place was Tennessee Pass cafe on the main street that has options even for the most picky eater including vegan and gluten-free dishes.

We had outstanding weather, always in the 60-70s. In the afternoon, the occasional rain shower passed through the mountains. Knowing that rain most likely would come in the afternoon got us out the door in the morning.

View to the mountains

Turquoise Lake

In the distance the Columbine climb

The Leadville course offers a great variety in terrain

Mostly smooth gravel roads

The beginning of the Columbine climb

The hostel

Rain in the afternoon is not unusual
Thanks to Corey Godfrey for the great pictures.