Here’s a trip report for a bikepacking trip I just did in South Carolina!
Well, I done did it. If you are looking for race advice just scroll to the bottom of this post.
I off-the-couch jumped on the race and finished in 10 hours and 58 minutes. That got me 175th place overall and 128th place in Men’s Open. If I weighed 10 more pounds I would have gotten 5th place in Men’s Clydesdale (over 200lbs). The stoke is high. I was unsure if I was actually going to finish or have to forcibly rip my heart out of my chest (yes like Indiana Jones) in order to finish. I did finish and I didn’t have to rip my heart out. It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done but it sure was fun. Here’s a recap:
I have wanted to do this race since about 2007 when a couple friends of mine did the race. I hadn’t ever ridden a mountain bike for more than about, say, 40 miles in a day before. I just hadn’t ever done it. I’ve ridden centuries on a road bike but endurance rides on trail was just something I hadn’t pursued. This race was in the very far corners of my mind and wasn’t a goal I had any sort of timeline for. It’s amazing what peer pressure can do. As of today, I’ve lived in Richmond, VA for two weeks. My new boss (Joey) signed up for and began training for this race months ago. Despite the hefty entry fee, I allowed myself to succumb and signed up three days before the race. Tip #1 for the race- train beforehand.
The Shenandoah 100 is the Eastern US’s premier endurance mountain bike race. It starts and finishes in Stokesville, VA and sends riders 100 miles over the famous ridges of Virginia on singletrack, fireroads, and some paved roads. This year (2012) there were almost 600 riders that entered. It’s a big fat deal in the mountain bike scene. Here is a course profile:
If it was easy, then everybody would do it. This year, we dealt with the aftermath of hurricane Issac during the race and it was wet and slick and muddy and I’ve never eaten so much dirt in my life. I don’t have many good photos (to make this post interesting) but I’ll try to give a general run through for anyone interested in riding the race themselves.
Our crew (3 riders and 2 lovely support crew) left Richmond late on Saturday. Two beer stops and as many pee stops later we got to the campground well after dark and after the dinner that is provided to riders on Saturday. Since we missed dinner we proceeded to drink for sustenance and have entirely too much fun while the rest of the campground was pretending to sleep. Race tip #2- go light on the beer and whiskey the night before the race.
I have always had a bit of insomnia and have spent sleepless nights before races and this one was pretty bad. My experiences have taught me how to perform well on no sleep but I have no suggestions for you folks with the same problem other that try out some sleep aids well in advance of your race (simulating early wake up/workout) and see if that works for you. I just lay as still and relaxed as possible and that can be as close to sleep as I can get sometimes. So, after many hours of just laying there waiting it was time to get going. At 5am someone rides around the campground beating the finish line gong and the place explodes (the port o johns explode too). I stuffed my face with a bagel and cream cheese, a power bar, salty scalloped potatoes, and coffee. I was extra generous with the chamois butter (the only piece of advice to come from my father when he learned I was racing), grabbed my prepared camelbak and headed to the start line with Team Lone Wolf No Team.
The start is divided by expected finish times and we tucked into the 10 hour crowd. The gun went off and I heard one of my favorite sounds-the start of a bike race. Be very cautious if you do this race because a bunch of mountain bikers get nervous riding in a peloton. A quick jaunt on pavement and you start the first climb on double track. I lost track of one of my buddies right off the bat and rode with Joey and another friend we met up with for the race. I didn’t have a race plan other than don’t go out too hard for the first 25 miles and eat plentifully. Trying to keep up with Joey on his singlespeed was destroying my race plan, so I said goodbye to them and throttled back on the climb. I was riding solo, along with hundreds of other bikers. When we finally hit singletrack, it was a serious goat show. There are so many riders jammed in there it’s easy for one person to blow a line and everyone has to put a foot down. Also, it seemed like there were plenty of folks that were aerobically fit but lacked technical riding skills. Just be ready for it.
After an hour and a half or so I caught back up with Joey and we had some fun riding together for another 1/2 hour on what I think they call the “death climb”. I would’ve been difficult if there weren’t hundreds of racers but since there was it was lots and lots of hike-a-bike. We rode into aid station 3 together, but after that began quite a climb that Joey had to climb at his own pace on (which was much faster than mine). You might notice that I use the word climb quite a bit in the report, and that’s because there is somewhere around 13,000 feet of climbing in the race. Race tip #3- be prepared for lots of climbing.
Between about 35-55 miles there was a singletrack climb that was pretty taxing. I began cramping somewhere around mile 30 and had to pull up out of that nose dive by consuming salt pills like my life depended on it. I have always struggled with cramping in endurance events and not having trained for this one my cramps were especially unfun. Luckily, they have salt pills at the aid stations and a nice rider I rode with some told me not to hold back so I ate them like a fat kid eats jelly beans. Between that and the electrolyte replacement drink (heed) at the aid stations I actually beat back my cramps and it totally saved my race. I was on my way to a leg-locked DNF and I am very pleased that did not happen.
I didn’t have a bike computer, I think that would have been disheartening. I didn’t know the course that well (never ridden any of it) I just expected the worst. I did wear a watch to keep track of my eating. I tried to eat every 45 minutes on the bike and would eat all I could at the aid stations. The aid stations have lots and lots of food so if you are planning for this race get a feel for what they have and try it out on your training rides. My staples at the stations were oreo’s, fig newtons, and bananas. At the later aid stations I ate PB&Js and drake coke (the fifth one has pizza and you’d better believe I indulged). Overall I think smart eating was huge in my performance.
There were two massive thunderstorms during the race, and I ate and drank mud. I didn’t wear glasses and would get huge gobs of mud in my eyeballs. Every part of me and my bike was wet and slimy. Eventually (after about 6.5 hours of racing) it stopped raining altogether. That was about when I hit the big climb. The first part is all double track and not too bad of a grade, you are just a little spent at that point in your day. I climbed the best I could, which ended up being on my small chainring for the second half. The 5th aid station is NOT at the top of the climb, and I hit the pizza and coke hard and went to face the music. It took me 50 more minutes to hit the top of the biggest climb after the 5th aid station. It was the hardest part of the race. Sloppy and awful. I went down once in a giant mud puddle. You ride through about 5 high meadows before you hit the singletrack descent. When I reached the top, I paid homage to my home state of Tennessee and ate the most delicious double-decker moon pie of my life (a critical piece of my drop bag at the 5th station). My brake pads were about gone so I was a Tentative Tabitha the whole way down. It was slick and scary for the first part and I just about lost it more than once. I somehow survived and found myself at the 6th and final aid station with 12 miles to go.
I never computed how far I had left in the race total, but I would ask how far it was to the next aid station when I would pass through one. When I heard there were 12 miles left, I skipped the last station and dropped the hammer down. My race plan paid off. I decided that with 50 minutes left that I could finish in less than 11 hours and wanted it real, real bad. It hurt so good. I didn’t get passed in that last section and I’m very glad I did not because I would have tried to match pace and was already at my 100%. I tried to use ole Bobby Moss for motivation and the last climb surely laid a-hurtin on me. It just never seemed to end. I reached deep into the suitcase of courage. I had begun to have chain trouble with all the mud and didn’t ever shift to my small ring for fear of dropping my chain off. That forced me to ride faster and lay on the pain train more. The clock ticked on and I was beginning to crack. I decided that I had to keep pushing until I was actually past 11 hours by my watch. That very thing saved my time. I never gave up. Finally, I saw a guy in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. After seeing disgusting racers and rain-drenched volunteers since sunup, this clean-cut dude could only mean one thing- I was painfully close. Sure enough, I starting seeing tents and then more people and knew I was right on top of the campground. I was flying. The trees opened up, there was green grass in front of me and I hit the last turn and the finish line. Just less than two minutes to spare on the clock for my impromptu goal of sub-11 hours. As much fun as it is to do an endurance race, it is that much more fun to cross the finish line and be done.
Joey had finished 30 minutes before me, but sadly the other two members of Team Lone Wolf No Team didn’t finish. One had severe mechanical issues and the other had severe bodily issues. It’s not an easy day on the bicycle.
MY ADVICE FOR POTENTIAL RIDERS:
- Train for the race (something, anything)
- Don’t drink too much beer and whiskey the night before
- Be prepared for lots of climbing
- Hone your technical climbing and descending skills
- Familiarize yourself with what food is at the aid stations
- Train with the food that is at the aid stations
- Don’t over-pressurize your fork or your wrists will hate you (from experience)
- Don’t ride extra firm grips or your wrists will hate you (from experience)
- THE FIFTH AID STATION IS NOT AT THE TOP OF THE BIG CLIMB
- The sixth aid station can be skipped if you’re feeling good and have something to drink
- The climb after the sixth station is long and sucky
- The first 25 miles are full of traffic jams and hiking
- Don’t ride a singlespeed unless you are a gnarly person
- Replace your brake pads before the race
- Bring earplugs because the campground is full of noisy people like myself
- Register early to save money and get your name printed on your number
- Don’t give up- you can do more than you think you can
Well, here it is. Here is my attempt to make a publicly available account of what I’ve been up to. Bah Humbug you say. Fat chance you say. That’s swell you say. There is no doubt that my track record on this blog is meager to say the least. I’m sure there will be some dark times with no posts, but I’m hoping to snowball into some sort of regularity so all of you lovely people can keep tabs on my adventures. I’m not going to try and gain a reader base until I have some sort of backbone to this thing, but in the meantime I’ve got some writing to do. If I want to be any sort of a writer I’ve got to apply the same principle I do to music: practice, practice, practice. In not so many words: I’m doing this for myself.
So, what have I been up to? I’ll try and sum up 2012 quickly here-
I was a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center until mid April (nature interpretation).
For April and May I traveled to Utah and Wyoming to ski some amazing mountains.
For June and July I worked as a field science technician at WMSC supporting a new habitat monitoring program for high school students.
In August I wrapped up my job, did a quick stint of work on a family farm in GA, and then I moved here.
Here=Richmond, Virginia. I’m a Richmonder.
I am now the assistant coordinator for the Virginia Commonwealth University Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP). The job was offered to me by my good friend Joey Parent, who heads the program. I work full time and have a variety of responsibilities, but I sum it up by saying I am a professional camper (Joey is a professional cooler packer). Mostly, I support the day to day operations of a outdoor rental center, grow a leadership development program, and lead outdoor trips. It’s not a bad gig. Actually, it’s a really, really fun gig. It happens to be one of the busiest outdoor programs in the country, in part because of the recreation opportunities right here in Richmond. We have a bike shop, a climbing wall, about 35 undergraduate staffers, and a medium sized barn chock full of outdoor toys. If you know me on a personal level, then you know that I flourish in this sort of setting. I enjoy my boss (and live with him, his lovely wife, and two dogs), I thrive on the relationships with student staff, and love the challenges that leading outdoor adventures bring. It’s not exactly forestry (what my undergraduate degree is), but it is certainly meaningful work. I’m only in my mid twenties, and I see myself as very fortunate to be in the position that I am in.
So, I now live and breath a college campus. This blog post is actually coming to you from a library computer lab. I have the perks of a land grant university available to me, and I intend on utilizing them. I work (a lot) but there is not reason why I can’t make time for some blogging now that I am living the big city life. Pretty soon I’ll have a desk. In an office. With a computer. And an assistant. Wacky, huh? All of those factors combined, and the fact that I work for the Outdoor Adventure Program all contribute to my conviction to get that shit written down so I can enjoy it while I’m old and spend my days farting on a cushion.
To conclude, I’ll give an account of the trips I’ve already been on the first seven days I’ve been in town:
Kayaking on the lower James (class III+)
Kayak instruction on the upper James (class II)
Mountain Biking x3
Road Biking x2
Rafting the lower James
Stand Up Paddleboarding on the upper and lower James
To boot my boss has convinced me to enter a 100 mile mountain bike race this weekend. My next post will be an account of that suffer-fest.
Well, a blog entry a month is better than no blog at all. This is day 17 of a 23 work-day streak. It may extend beyond 23, I don’t know yet. Life is great, but these are busy times. When you work in the winter holiday vacation destination, you work over the holidays. Colorado is having a rather slim snow year so far, so the desire to get out into the backcountry has been easy to get over. I am disappointed at my slow loss of peak fitness that I acquired over the summer, but I am waiting patiently for some grueling days in late winter and spring earning my turns and attempting summits.
Most of my days are taken up by my internship, which is at a natural education non-profit based in Avon. My job is lots of fun and I learn every day I go to work. Most of what I do is staff a nature center, lead snowshoe hikes, give community programs, and represent the forest service through a couple avenues. The position lasts until April 15th, so I’ve got some time yet to spend with the organization.
The internship, as much fun as it is, generates only a small stipend so I’ve been working at a couple of restaurants on the mountain at Beaver Creek on my days off. I make as much in a night there as I do all week at my day job so it’s helping to balance my finances. An exciting new prospect for me is my summer employment, which is strongly pointing to a wilderness ranger position in this area of Colorado. Bring on the big boy job.
That’s what I’ve been up to! I’ll be sure to post some skiing pictures once we do some skiing worth photographing.
Sorry, I’m a sucker for puppies.
Hello. How are you? I am well.
Sometimes, in life, you get lazy and don’t update your blog. This is very disappointing to your friends and family, especially if you make it a habit to ignore your phone and you travel frequently.
Since I have been a phone-ignoring, facebook-scoffing traveler, it’s high time to get my life back on the internets so I can develop as a writer and keep you important people in the know.
Well, here’s the last bit of my life in a nutshell:
- Winter (2010-2011) I lived and worked in Avon, CO
- Spring (2011) I traveled a bit in my sweet van and did some mountaineering in CO
- Summer- TRANSAMERICA- 4,400 mile bike tour across ‘merica
<read about my sweet trip here>
- Fall- I lived at Aunt Glenda’s Home for Jobless Boys
- Winter (2011-2012) I’m back in Avon, CO
For clarification: Aunt Glenda’s Home for Jobless Boys is actually my little sister’s apartment in Knoxville, TN. She is a student at the U of TN there and I used her place as a base camp for southeastern outdoor adventures. I gave her apartment that nickname because at any given point there were 2-4 jobless boys residing there. Good times.
This winter, I am working an internship for Walking Mountains Science Center. My official title is “winter naturalist”. If “naturalist” is the the job title, it’s gotta be a good sign. The internship hasn’t started yet, but when it does I’ll be teaching little kiddies about nature and skiing in the smoky the bear costume. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to post pictures.
Since my housing is provided through the internship, I am living in my sweet van until my house opens up. I lived like a king on wheels all last winter, so a couple of weeks in the early season is child’s play. If it’s not below about 25 degrees (F) outside I don’t turn my heater on. When you’ve seen negative double digits living in a van, your cold tolerance undergoes some redefinition. It’s not all sunshine and daydreams though; I’ve already had to replace the fuel pump, blown out a tire, and was kindly asked by the police to relocate or be towed (baby jesus was not happy about me camping in a church parking lot).
If you think of me in the next couple weeks, you can be pretty safe to assume that at that very moment, I’m out on my skis doing some backcountry skiing. I’ve skied every day I’ve been out here so far and I still don’t have a lift pass. The glory of snow travel gear. If I can every get my ski boots to stop feeling like I’m using my feet to chock a fire truck on a hill, I’ll be getting in some pretty big days in the Rockies this winter.
I pretty much invite every friend I talk to out to CO to some skiing this winter. That offer still stands. Between my brother and I, we can deck you out in some sweet snow gear and show you what skiing is all about. Since I’ll be living in a building (wahoo) my “guest room” aka my van is open to visitors. Take me up on it, I dare you.
Till next time! I’m hoping to keep a weekly or bi-weekly blog going this winter so check back in!