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Often described as one of the toughest bike races in the lower 48 states, the Arrowhead 135 challenges even the most prepared riders. This is a journal by a non-athlete's participation in an event where starting is often just as much a challenge as finishing.

A long week
December 6, 2010
So that wraps up the first real week of continuous riding/commuting on the Mukluk. I'm tired and my legs are sore. I did about 140 miles total. I knew this from last year, but everything is heavier and slower in the winter. And its not just the bike, its the clothes and especially the surfaces. About half of my commute route had melted off to pavement of some sort, but half was still snowpacked. All together it kind of feels like biking though water. Now most of it is unplowed and under 6" of new snow, so I'll have to find some kind of alternate route that won't take 2+ hours.

Last Friday we had a pretty good snow storm going as I left work. There were two inches already on the ground and more coming fast. It was kind of a fun ride home, but I had to give up my goggles about half way. I also stopped once and dropped my air presure just a bit. It seems counter-intuitive, but in these kind of conditions, lower air pressure actually makes riding easier. There were a lot of other riders out there, too. Probably the most nerve-wracking part was the mile stretch down Portland Ave. Portland is a major "commuter-corridor" out of downtown with a nice bike lane. The trouble is when it snows the bike lane just fills with snow from the car lanes and it becomes a real challenge to riding, and moving traffic is just a couple feet away. Wipe out and you get crushed.

In any event - with all the new snow I'll have to work out a new commuting route. I don't mind riding in the dark so much, but combine that with snow and the world gets more dangerous.

Yesterday's long ride was hard - one of the hardest yet, both from a difficulty and motivation standpoint. The previous day was busy, and it was another one of those situations, as I looked out my window at the snow and cold, that there were a lot of other valuable things I could do rather than go ride all day. I was still tired from 4 days of commuting, the city was still a mess from a snowstorm, the shoveling wasn't done, there are christmas preparations to continue, I didn't have a route planned, and on and on. I suited up and did 6 hours.

Conditions were a combination of all kinds of things from pavement to tight mountain bike trails. After getting my gumption going and getting out of the house, I decided to just ride trails around and see what happened. The roads were still in such crappy shape that I wanted to avoid them. Most of the trails had been plowed at least once, but they were varying degrees of pavement and covered with a couple inches of snow depending on the section. But it was a pretty day - some light fluffy snow falling combined with the storm snow still on the trees gave everything that "winter wonderland" sort of feel.

Taking the long way through the city, riding alleys and trails, I arrived at Theodore Wirth Park after a couple hours. The trail through the park was unplowed, but there were fat bike tracks leading in, so I rode on those. The tracks lead to the mountain bike trails, so I just kept following thinking maybe I'd do a couple of laps. The trail was pretty well packed and I was deep in the woods and doing well, until I smacked my rear pannier bag into a tree and ripped it off. Oops. For today's ride I'd been thinking I test some alternate clothing, so I packed a variety of things into the bag and hung it on the rack. I'd kind of forgotten it was there.

Theodore Wirth and I seem to have a rather "physical" relationship. The trail seems to want my left eye. One of my first times out there on the Stumpjumper a tree branch reached out and tried to grab it out of my head. I kept the eye but got a huge scratch on my cheek. A few weeks later the trail tossed me over the bars onto my face and tried to instead "pop" it out. Again I kept the eye but I had a nice shiner for a couple of weeks. The trail defeted me once last year in the winter when on the Pug, wiping me out repeatedly until I was cold, wet and tired. I was having a great run once in the summer until it reminded me I was supposed to be picking up my daughter and not riding trails - I had to leave and race back to the car to get her - I was still late.

So this was kind of bad, actually. One of the two clips that the bag hangs from when attached to the rack was completely sheared off. As a result the bag was hanging all goofy with no real support. I hopped off, leaned the bike on a tree, and took stock of the situation. I needed to realign the support so the pannier wouldn't flop around and break the other two clips, or rub on the tire. A bungee would have saved me, but I didn't have one. At that point I pulled the bag off, and dug my little tool kit out of the bottom. I removed the broken bit of clip and then took the good one off as well. I repositioned the working clip so that the bag's weight rested on that one. I then moved the lower attachment so that it was balanced with the one good clip. Ok, so far so good - the bag was resting on the good clip and rack without possibly breaking it as well, but I still needed to secure the other part of the bag somehow to the rack so it wouldn't flop around too much. With the help of the strap that keeps the bag closed, I was able to wrap it around the rack and tie it in a way that held the bag mostly steady.

With the pannier mostly stable now, I went back to making my way out of the woods being very careful not to smack it on a tree again. I finished my lap, got out of the woods and back to the trail. I'd considered just heading home because of the broken pannier, but since it was basically stable and I wasn't doing anything too demanding, I just kept riding. The nice thing about these bags is that replacement parts are pretty easy to obtain. I'll order some new parts, but this all raises a bit of concern about panniers in general. It's another failure point. Now I don't think anything on the arrowhead is as narrow as Theo, but crashing is common. Do I attempt to devise and alternate attachment? Carry spare parts? Use another bag system? Not use a rack at all? Questions...

Clothing was better. It was 9F when I left the house. On top I did a base layer, a mid insulation layer, my camelbak and then a light soft-shell on the outside. I was a little chilly all day, which was prob good. I think this was the best combination I've found so far. And when i started to cool off, I'd eat more. Its kind of funny how your body responds to stuff like that when you really pay attention. Only at one point did I consider adding another layer, but I changed direction soon after and the wind wasn't as bad. Eating and drinking is a pain, however. I was aware that I wanted better zipper pulls on everything - that would have made getting to my water hose a lot easier with my mittens, for example. I've been meaning to pick up some boot laces to make some longer pulls.

Last bit of gear notes. I exchanged some additional email and photos with the guys at Old Man Mountain about my rack, and they are sending me some new hardware. That should clean up the attachment a lot. Prob would not have made any difference on way or another to my panier adventure yesterday, but it will be nice to have a better looking, better positioned and slightly lighter mounting setup.

I need a better camera for taking pics while I ride.

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