Monday, June 10, 2013

The Calm Before the Storm - Tour Divide 2013

Monday  morning, cup of coffee in hand, organizing my thoughts.

Today is my last day of preparation before departing early in the morning for Calgary, then a shuttle to Banff, where I have a couple days to reassemble my kit, meet racers, and make those final nervous adjustments before the Grand Depart on Friday the 14th.

It's hard to describe how much effort and organization this event requires - I'd been studying it for years, but when you commit your focus changes and the real question emerge.  Finalizing your equipment list is harder than it looks, even when you've done a number of shorter self-supported events.  Here, it's all about shaving ounces while retaining enough margin to keep moving, have shelter, stay warm in the cold, and not overheat in the sun.  I read somewhere that this is the most expensive free race in the World.  That is no joke.

The typical race blog includes all the major items but excludes the little things that add up in both weight and utility on the trail.  Remember Paul Harvey?  He needs to weigh in on this...

I'm sure I'll be mailing a few things home when the weather warms enough, just to shave a little more weight when it makes sense.  Today, I'll be reviewing my medical and parts stocks for what must be the tenth time, looking to shave one more pound from the gear, although it's hard finding anything near that much to save.  Items like lithium batteries, brake pads, vitamins, band-aids, blister pads, water purification tablets, matches, patches, duct tape, para cord, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, space blanket...  each of these weighs nearly nothing on its own yet combine to add both space and weight to your kit.

You'll never pick up a 3 oz object with the same perspective after preparing for this race.

Organizing everything is another challenge.  It's hard finding things when you're tired and it's all jammed into your bags.  Organizing it into some kind of logical system is my approach, based on function and how often I'll need it, and how urgently I might need it when I do.  My bike is segmented into seven basic compartments - handlebars (rain gear and clothing), seat pack (tent, sleep system), upper frame bag (water, maps, quick access items), lower frame bag (spares, emergency supplies), food bags (3), jersey pockets, and main tool pouch.  Space is very limited, and weight adds up fast.

My approach is to be very methodical about using things and returning them to the same place - we'll see how long that holds together in the race.

To put the trade-offs in perspective, I chose to carry an ultra-light tent, because even though I don't mind sleeping in a bivvy on the ground, a tent offers shelter from a storm.  My tent, a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, is under 2 lbs in my pack, but it uses up valuable space that I might otherwise use for food.  Which means I had to come up with another way to carry over 4000 calories of food on the longest stretches without services.  Which adds a few more ounces even with my semi-clever solution.

You'll never look at a gas station the same way after preparing for this race - I can now tell you the calorie density of quite a few gas station food items.  Calories per pound are key - Some of them even have added vitamins!  I wonder how much those weigh?

Why does the weight matter so much?  It's only a pound??!!

Well, there's a web page called that can help.  I used it to do some analysis, and found that over a 6 mile climb, shaving one pound saves about a minute - roughly a hundred yards at the same effort.  Not much really, but this is a race.

There are over 200 thousand feet of climbing in TD - a 6-mile climb is pretty average, and over days and miles the savings add up.  The daily average is about 10,000 feet of climbing.  It's a balancing act between efficiency and sufficiency - you want to do just enough to get you to your daily mileage without falling short and losing time because you saved 3 ounces and left something behind.  The key is minimizing accumulated fatigue, and not wasting energy by having to go somewhere because you need something you don't have.

Then there's the bike.  It's another huge undertaking - to prepare well, you go through every single bolt, bearing, cable, hydraulic hose, and gear, ensuring everything is fresh, properly torqued, and undamaged.  One of my TD mentors, Terry Brannick, raced in 2012, and had a pedal bearing fail mid-race.  He had to ride basically one-legged for 250 miles to get new pedals.  Those kinds of stories are part of the race, and it's probably fair to say that every TD racer has them - failed brakes, bottom brackets, seatposts, saddle rails, broken derailleur cables, broken frames, wheels, failed hubs, torn sidewalls, lost shoe cleats, delaminated shoe soles, broken chains, derailleur hangers...  the list goes on and on.

So I went through every part of my bike the past couple weeks, refreshing crucial items, cleaning everything to like-new or better, installing new sealed shift cables, bleeding brakes, new brake pads, teflon tape to bottom bracket threads, new chain, loctite on chainring bolts, adding gel grip tape over my Ergon grips, adding a Thudbuster post, replacing my RockShox with a rigid carbon fork (saved 2 lbs, removed failure-prone parts), new tires, new bearings in my friend Greg's rear wheel hub...

Wait a minute - new bearings in someone else's rear hub?  My first mechanical and the race hasn't even started!

I have Easton Haven wheels and they have been great, except for one thing, the rear hub bearings, for which Easton engineered a fix.  After several discussions by telephone, the Easton support team decided that my rear hub was compatible with the bearing update, and sent me the kit.  My rear hubs have been fine, and I keep tabs on bearing adjustments, so I didn't think much about it - I figured it could be part of my final preps.


When I took apart the hub to really check it out, one of the four bearings was getting rough, pointing toward failure at some inopportune moment - good thing I had the upgrade kit!

Except it wasn't compatible with my hub.

Which is why my close friend Greg saved my sanity and offered his wheels.  So I upgraded his hub (his are two years newer than mine), added my cassette and tires, and I'm race-ready after replacing all the cables and whatnot described above.

I wish it was that simple.

Jobs are always easier when you have the right tools.  In fact, the right tools are what make jobs possible.

I didn't have a 12mm Allen wrench - and I'll bet you don't either.  Most bike shops probably don't have them, and you have to special order them from Sears.  Home Depot?  Nope.  Auto Parts stores?  Fugettaboutit.

My best friend and wife, Navenka, saved the day - she found a bike shop that had one in their mechanic's kit, and convinced them to sell it to her.  I think they dug her British accent.

It took all day to do a job that Easton's video shows in six minutes.

So what's left to do?

I have some final map work to do, reviewing course notes and comparing blogs with map locations for insights into the details that maps don't really show.  It's really just nervous energy waiting to be translated into kinetic energy hoping to produce more efficient forward motion...

Because at this point, there's not much left but getting there, getting to the start, and getting going.

If you've read this far, I would imagine you'll be watching my blue dot on - and I'll offer a couple thoughts on that.  If I'm not moving, I'm either sleeping, eating, or figuring out which way to go.

If there's a serious problem, help is always close enough, and the word will get out.  So chalk up what you see to the normal friction of a long event - everyone makes mistakes, misses turns (even with GPS), and has to overcome problems that require extra energy.  It's part of the adventure, and an important element of the challenge.

I have two simple phrases that will guide me:

Keep Going.

Relentless Forward Motion.

Thanks for reading.  I'll post some photos later.



Blogger Mom & Dad said...

We will be watching your blue dot! Good luck and God Speed. You will be in our prayers. Love, Mom & Dad xox

12:48 AM  
Blogger Mom & Dad said...

Hello Don, this is Ronda Markovich, your childhood neighbor from South Grove. I remember you as Dody and I really never knew your real name i was friended by your mom and have been following your updates and wish you a speedy recovery! What an amazing accomplishment and you are a very strong, determined man from what you went through on the trip! Take Care and Get back on that bike when your better!

2:06 PM  

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