Monday 17 February 2014

Actif Epica - Report 1 - The basics

I finished, in about 13 hours, and about 13th place. This is me coming in at The Forks, getting hugs from Bekah and Sara.

There was (and still is) a lot of snow out there, and the wind came in steady from the North at between 20 and 30 km/h for the whole day.

It was hard and I learned a lot about several things, most of which had to do with riding a bike in winter for more than 12 hours. This was not a commute.

Thanks so much to the organizers and volunteers and to Graham, Kevin, Luke, Mark (and at the end Svetlana) for riding along with me. My dogged inner spirit needed other dogs to keep me going at a few points.

Shortly I will say more about this, I'm just going to take enough time to say it with care (and hopefully with a few more photos).

Sunday 9 February 2014

Epica Prep 2 (and final, besides commutes of course ...)

It was colder today than last weekend (-25 ish with a 26 km NW wind for a windchill in the high -30s), so naturally I decided I'd go farther. Well, not naturally. Not naturally at all. I just considered that it would be a good test of equipment, and me. Mostly me. I'm excited about the race, but there are always doubts to contend with. It's better to put your head down and dig in a la Boxer: "I will work harder. [Suffering] is always right." Which was, in fact, half of a two-pronged meditation delivered at church today (glory be I attended church for the first time in about two months and the message fits) in which the pastor quoted Richard Rohr who says, reasonably I think, that there are two ways available to all human being to experience "transformational change" (all right, I admit, that that term right there leaves hanging the question, "change for better or for worse?" and I'm thinking Rohr was thinking "for better" but there's no way of guaranteeing that sort of thing), through great love, or through great suffering. Which begs the question, "If you bring 'great suffering' on yourself, does it count?" Of course I'm inclined to say ... it depends. But it is possible. I believe it. It's my religion. It must be. It's the thing I'm most consistent at in my spiritual endeavours, I bring suffering on myself. At least that's the way I see it, from way over here in "first-world-problem-land." At the end of the ride, I looked like this:

Anyway, it was cold and windy, and I worked harder. I rode 16 miles. For four of those miles I followed dirt roads that are not used in winter (intermittent, and often significant drifting - "sculpted," as Ian so eloquently put it), and for two of those miles I rode the Trans-Canada Trail, which the snowmobilers around here seem to think is fair game for them, despite the signs (just proving that people who sit on their asses and move themselves around by twitching a thumb are indeed illiterate asshats). From this I learned that it's better to ride on snow drifted in and hardened by the wind then it is to follow a snowmobile track, which may or may not hold you and your bike up. The remaining miles were on gravel, with a one mile or so reprieve of pavement and paved trails in town (A-town).

Which brings me to what I learned today.
The bike which looks like this,

works, though I would like to do a parallel ride with a fat bike, just to see. Adjustments from last week's ride are: added bar tape to my "aero" bars (bar-ends that I installed on the centre of the bar, to give me a few options for riding position); strapped and bungied my pannier on top of my seatpost (because it's bigger than most rackbags and seatpost bags, and because it works - for me), and removed the traps on the pedals (which impacts my pedalling efficiency, but makes remounting and starting in the middle of snowpack way easier). By Saturday I'll have added a handlebar bag for a bit more storage - likely for food, and somehow strapped my cue sheep/map bag (Sealline) to the front bars ... somehow.

My face and eyes worked today. What I mean is, I tried petroleum jelly on my face (as a wind barrier) rather than a neoprene mask, which made the goggles stay frost free waaaaaay longer. Although there was some frost on them, and if I was going to try to read the cue sheet I'd have to lift them up, I could use them for the whole ride today. Nice. And it seems, as I write this now, that my cheeks and nose have not been frost-bitten. I did not believe that petroleum jelly would work. Now I believe. Yet another small conversion for this small doubting believer.

My feet were warmer, but not entirely. I was wearing my Sorels, with new inserts, but I needed to stop when I did. It took about 15 minutes after I stopped for them to be right. It was a longer and colder ride, so I'm finding some comfort in that, but now I'm thinking about buying some plastic pedals to reduce the cold transfer. It can't hurt.

The water situation is solved. I bought a 2L Platypus bag (on sale at MEC) and put it into an old "Mountain Gear" camelback knockoff bag (from MCC). I put it on top of my base layer, and then put a thin fleece and wind layer over top, and ran the waterline up my sleeve and clipped it at my wrist. Just over half-way into the ride the waterline worked. It actually seemed warm. I also bought a line insulator for it, but I didn't use it today, and I don't think I'll need too. This set-up was less intrusive than I anticipated. I hardly noticed it at all. Win.

Food. I didn't bring any along, which was a mistake, because I'm going to stop halfway through most of the legs on Saturday and eat something, because, well, food, it does a body good. During the week though I threw a variety of bars, etc, into the freezer to see how hard things would get. My results have led me to decide on using dried figs (still pliant when frozen), Oskri fig bars, and Larabars (though I don't really like them). Each of these are dense with sugars, and stay pliable in the cold. I'm interested in other ideas too, but this is what I've got so far.

Baselayer. I bought a merino wool base layer, and it does keep you feeling warm, even when it's wet, but it doesn't solve the sweaty-wetness problem. I'm scared shitless about how wet I was after this ride. I'm going to bring along numerous dry base-layers to change into, along the way. I'll keep the merino wool on, even when it's wet, but I'll add a dry layer overtop of that, hoping that it will wick up some of the wet and help to keep the chill and shiver out.

Looking forward I love it that the race route has so many turns and changes, and that there aren't many long stretches on one road or trail. The mental distraction of navigating, and changing terrain, will help with managing the discomforts.

Here we go!

Saturday 1 February 2014

Epica prep report

The Actif Epica is a 130 km ride/race from St. Malo to Winnipeg, via dirt roads, gravel roads, and the Crow Wing Trail. It happens on Feb 15, in two weeks. I've signed up. The course map indicates five check-stops with "stages" varying in distance from 12 to 30 kms. Today I rode 12 miles (19.2 kms) to see what that might be like. I rode a circuit of 9 miles of dirt roads that are not cleared, with three miles of gravel all-weather roads. It was -18'C and the wind was about 13 kms from the NW. I rode North first, for 4 miles, West for 1 mile, South for 5 miles, and so on. There were a lot of drifts.

 Here's what I learned:

The bike
I commute to and from work (16 kms round trip) all winter, so I have an idea of what I'm in for. But I'm not going to use the cross bike a commute on for this race. On the advice of a racer from last year's race, who did use a cross bike, I've decided to ride a 26" mountain bike (no cash just now for a fat bike and, though I'm sorely tempted by them, I'm not certain yet), on which I have put the fattest tires I could find (2.65 inch downhills). They worked pretty well today. I had to get off three times, but for the most part I could ride over the drifts or follow the tracks of a whatever truck or tractor or snowmobile had gone before. I'm happy with the bike decision, though I'll have to adjust the set-up to get the right riding position. It's too upright for me. 

You have to be patient, and anticipatory, when you shift. Even when it's only -18'C, the shifter and derailleur are pretty slow to "click" into place. I've got some aerosol de-icer I'm going to spritz into the levers to de-grease them. 

I sweat. Even without a face mask, my goggles were frosting up at 4 miles. I didn't treat them with dish soap (which I definitely will), but I'm guessing it will be unlikely that I'll be able to use them for a full 20 kms. Either I'm going to have to slow down, and not generate as much heat, or I'll fog up. 

Damn. I just sweat too much, and I have this lie I tell myself, that if I'm not sweating I'm not working hard enough. It's a pain in the ass, really. And it's really not great for this race. I wore three layers today: a lightweight hooded polypro baselayer, a lightweight zipped fleece, and a uninsulated windbreaker. I was not cold, ever. By the end of this 20 kms the base layer was completely wet, and my thin skullcap and the baselayer hood were fused, by ice, to my sideburns (shave them off?) and it hurt to remove them (1st world problem).

I was sure that my ankle high winter-rated Columbias would be enough, if I wore good merino wool socks. This has just proven not to be the case. I believe it'll be Sorels for me. I'll take the straps off the traps, and still use the plastic pieces to help stabilize my feet on the pedals.

Awesome. Thank you Farm Service for your super leather-palmed, unbranded, work mitts. No problems there.

Two layers was enough. Bike shorts (obviously), a mid-weight base layer, and then a wind-barrier front overlayer (also tights) was just fine. Not hot, not cool. I may put something over my left knee, which has some sensitivity issues due to a past injury. 

All in all, I'd be fine with race day being a day like today. If I had a picture of the roads it'd look like snow drifts over a dirt road, and sometimes, just snow drifts, and no road. Good times ... sorta.