Hills and Flats

I’ve been riding flats this year. Lots and lots of flats. And straight lines. Loads of lines. This year started out slow. I left my house, went up the road a ways on one of them flat, straight lines, then I came home. I’d often ride every day, but it was most always the same, ride up the road and then ride back. I’d go on longer rides over the weekend, but still a lot of straight lines involved. I got stronger and stronger, and went farther and farther, but the routes, well, you got it.

So is this good or bad? I thought it was bad, or at least uninspired, but it looks like things turned out pretty well. Over time, as uninteresting as they were, the miles, and my fitness, added up. Several of those straight lines ended up being 150s, and I even managed my first double century. My routes weren’t holding me back.

And this weekend, I saw something I never thought I’d see. Those flat rides actually helped me on the hills. I was on vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia where they don’t have anything, anywhere, resembling a flat course. Everything was up and down, and trust me, it felt like all up. And it was kinda no big deal. Four thousand feet of elevation gain over 35 miles felt like just a regular ride. Well, not really, it was totally different, but it didn’t feel unattainable. I wasn’t cursing my lack of preparation. My all-flats fitness, it turned out, was transferable.

So what’s next? More flats or more hills? Hard to say. I’m not quite sure what the winter will bring. Maybe another double in February, or maybe just a lot of indoor riding. I’ll let you know after I figure it out.


It’s been a hard winter. And since this post is near the end of July, apparently a long spring and a chunk of summer as well. I won’t get into a lot of details, but the thing to know is that my cycling frequency sort of fell off a cliff late last fall, and the cycling I’ve done since has been very low mileage. I just sort of couldn’t. Physically I was fine, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t really want to be on the bike. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop, I just slowed way the heck down. 20 miles was a big ride. I had to force myself to go out when I did.

But something happened just a few weeks ago. I started enjoying it more. I wanted to be back on the bike. And what do you know, my mileage has started to clime. I did a 60 mile ride this weekend, followed by another 35, and it felt good being out there doing them. 60 miles was nothing to get excited about last year, I was eating centuries for breakfast, but for right now, it’s a ride that shows real promise. It’s something I can work with. Something I can build on.

And so I’m back. Not back as in back to my old shape, but back to actually wanting to get back to my old shape. Back to that spot where I’m wondering how many miles I can get away with next weekend. That’s something I can work with.

Shirley got hit (me too)

This isn’t going to be a long post going through a play by play recap of a car hitting us. There are just a few things you need to know.

  • It was not an accident. The car hit us. It was going the wrong way in our lane. It was impossible to avoid. It his us head on.
  • I am totally fine, even though my head hit the ground and my foot was pinned under the car. Miracle, or a great helmet and awesome shoes? Either way, I got some scrapes and bruises and that is totally it. The paramedics said I was good to go.
  • Shirley did not do so well. Did I mention the car hit us head on? The list of damage was enough that the insurance company gave me a decent sized check.

I’ll miss Shirley. She took me to many great places. She took me to work, on centuries, and just tooling around town. I was even planning on taking her places she was never meant to go, like gravel races going hundreds of miles. She did everything I asked of her and more. RIP old friend.

Not Finishing

If you start something but don’t finish it, how should you feel about that?

  • a banana – this is no big deal, but ideally you don’t want to waste food.
  • a shower – you should have finished. It’s not a good idea to leave suds and stinky stuff behind.
  • High School – you really should have finished. You should be bummed enough to at least go for your GED when you can.
  • a movie – who cares. Why should you beat yourself up over missing the end of Deep Blue Sea?
  • a book – Some people are going to make you feel bad for not finishing 1984. And you really should finish it because it’s a very important book and the end is super critical to it’s impact. But it’s just a book.
  • Your exercise routine – Once? No big deal. Twice? It’s not a great idea to let this slip, but twice is not so bad. Regularly? It will impact your health. You should care.
  • Your “event” – This is the one I struggle with.

I didn’t finish the GDMBR, or at least the part I set out to finish. I only got about half way through. I didn’t do the Retreat Double, even though it was my intention to do so. I didn’t finish my ride a week ago. I felt weak and asked Laury to help me home. They all feel weird. They feel like failure, even though I know in my heart, mind, somewhere, that they’re just rides. In the grand scheme of things, how bad can that be?

I have an answer for that. They are not bad. But the feeling that they’re bad can be good. They make us want to do better. To overcome that goal at some point in the future. Sometimes this can backfire on us, as anyone who’s every been on a diet well knows. We can feel like we’re failures and just give up. Feeling that not finishing is bad can sometimes lead to actions that are worse.

It can be hard to tell which way we’re going to react. Do we get a push to do better next time, or a feeling of despair? Is not finishing good or bad emotionally? For that I ask you, do you really want to be the person who plans to fail, or would you rather be the person who plans to succeed next time? You might go either way, you really might, but I think planning for success will give you a better chance of achieving it.

Global Pandemic

  • Rockstar postponed (probably can’t make it on that date)
  • Storming of Thunder Ridge cancelled
  • First TransVA 550 cancelled (second date a remote possibility )
  • Garret County Gran Fondo cancelled
  • Loundon 1725 postponed (small chance I can make it on that date)
  • Nightmare Tour probably won’t happen. A friend’s memorial service had to be postponed to that date. Her friends couldn’t show up during the pandemic, but she deserves more than a video farewell.

So, this year’s riding calendar is all but wiped out. It was my goal to do a very hard event on most months to expand my long range endurance for next year’s Tour Divide, but a global pandemic that’s killed hundreds of thousands of people, put millions out of work, and thrown the world into recession, is a tad more important. My schedule is not worth a tear, not even worth a frown, in comparison. But it still affects me personally, and it is worth mentioning in the context of this ongoing blog.

But even while the world has been going through turmoil, our government has asked us to continue exercising. Seriously, it’s a thing. So I have. I’ve brought lots of water on my rides. I’ve brought lots of food. I’ve worn a face mask ever since we’ve been asked to do so. I’ve avoided people when at all possible. And I’ve kept stops to an absolute minimum. I’ve had fewer close human contacts than the vast majority of people I’ve seen walking , running, and biking close to home.

And as completely solo ventures:

  • I set a personal record on the Fresh Bikes ride
  • I rode to Harper’s Ferry and back
  • I did my first solo 150
  • I’ve done a century every other week (on average) since February
  • 2700 miles so far this year, which puts me on track for my highest average year ever.

And I’ve got more in the tank.

  • I will do my first double this year
  • I’ll ride the entire C&O to Cumberland in one day
  • I’ll do my first back to back centuries over a weekend
  • I might (no promises) do my first double double over a weekend
  • I might ride a century on the Blue Ridge parkway
  • I might do a 150 or a double on the BRP

With our without an event to guide me, I’ll prepare myself. For what? Why? I don’t think it really matters. I want to go as hard as I’m capable.

RockStar 270

My next big event is the RockStar 270 starting in Harrisonburg, VA on May 2. It’s a small ultra-endurance gravel race, and the first UE I’ve done since the Great Divide. My goal is to finish it within 2 days. This will not be easy.

Unlike the Retreat Double, where I knew it was a questionable task, I’m approaching the RS as a doable goal. Is it doable in two days? Hard to tell. But the race, itself, is something I can manage. It’s basically 10% of the tour divide, and I’ve already done about 50% of that, so I know this is well within my capabilities.

I have a lot of work to do. May 2nd is only a couple of months away. I have a lot of training, a lot of gear prep, and some significant weight loss to do before then. Wish me luck.

Refueling on the Bike

This is a subject that whole books are written about, blogs are full of, and many, many articles profess to know something about. There are some good sources out there, too. But generally refueling strategies for ultra-endurance events consist of a lot of guesswork and generalizations from other kinds of events. They generally don’t go by the numbers. In fact, I’ve never found one that spelled it on out with math. So let’s give it a shot based on what I know (which is also more than a bit of guesswork.).

Here are some things we know.

  • Our bodies can easily burn 500 – 800 calories per hour
  • Our bodies can only take in 250 – 300 calories per hour
  • An endurance even will have you riding for more than 10 hours a day
  • Based on the most optimistic of those numbers(which you won’t get), with all conditions being perfect(which you won’t get), you’ll run a 2,000 Calorie deficit over that riding day.

How do we deal with these facts?

First, you need to get as close to perfect conditions as possible. That 300 cal intake number was super optimistic, and most sources say you’ll get closer to 200. Still, lets try to get your body to absorb 300 calories per hour. The first thing you need to do is make sure your body _always_ has calories available to it. That means you need to eat all the time. But do you eat 300 calories on the hour, 150 calories on the half hour, or something else? Do you eat 600 calories of slower digesting food so your body can digest it at it’s leisure, or do you eat fast digesting food and hope the body will keep it around for the whole hour? These are the questions that need to be answered.

Second, you will not be on the bike all the time. You will stop and rest. Your body needs to be absorbing the maximum calories over this time as well. You need to follow a similar feed strategy as when on the bike to make sure your body always has something to absorb.

Finally, you will sleep. During your sleep, your body still has the ability to absorb calories, but how do you keep that tank full? Do you wake up every hour and eat? Do you pile on a huge, slow-digesting meal so it can keep busy?

Lets talk again about that maximum absorption again. Best case scenario, 300 calories per hour, gives you a max of 7,200 calories per day. A more realistic number, 240 calories per hour, has you only taking it 5,700 cal per day. That’s if you eat perfectly, with fuel available to your body not only every hour you ride, but every hour you’re awake, and every hour you sleep.

Yesterday, on my simple, 100 mile ride on pavement, with less than 8 hours on the bike, my body burned about 6,500 cal. That’s not an ultra distance event, just a good, hard ride on pretty flat pavement. In order to do the tour divide in 21 days, I’ll need to do about 130 miles a day, mostly on gravel, loaded, averaging over 7,000 ft of elevation gain per day. It is crucial to have my body absorbing calories every minute of that time.

For the next installment, more info is needed. Let’s see what we can find.

No Retreat Double

I didn’t do the retreat double. I had some setbacks, and it was ambitious, and I knew it, so I don’t feel bad, but I also kind of feel bad.

I did a century yesterday and it was the first century I’ve done in a while. I got a chance to try out some new(ish) gear over a longer time frame and things wen’t generally well. I’m wiped today, which is something I haven’t felt after some of my centuries in the past, but I was carrying a full pannier, I was running a dynamo for recharging, and I was using knobby gravel tires pumped relatively low. I was also using aero bars during a lot of it. So pluses and minuses.

What does all that mean? I’m not 100% sure, but I definitely need some more intensive training. I also need to eat better. My eating patterns were not very good for this kind of ride. So, like I said, training, but not just of the legs and the heart, also of bike fit, refueling, etc.


For the past couple of days I’ve been riding a trainer indoors in my home office. It is weird. I did a couple Training Peaks training plans that called for me to maintain a particular power measurent for an hour to an hour and a half, and that is exactly what I did, all while watching some of the great gross-out comedies of our time (I’ve never been accused of an excess of taste).

Anyway, one of the weird things about it is that it felt efortless at the time, but afterwards I felt the same physiological response as if I had done an important workout. You know, actual fatigue. Usually when I ride outdoors I feel the fatigue, but I feel it while I’m riding as well. I’m not sure what’s going on here. Fewer bumps? Less need to focus on suroundings and balance? No cold or wind? Probably all of the above.

I’m not sure I like it. It kinda feels like doing the leg press at the gym in the sense that, yah, I can pack on weights far exceding what I’d be able to squat, but I’m also missing out on working out the important stabalizing muscles. So it’s better, but it’s also worse. I think perhaps the smart thing to do will be to keep it occasional and keep biking outside as my primary workouts. But I do love gross-out comedies, so I better not drop it altogether.


Shirly is my Surly Cross Check. I’ve had her for a 7 or 8 years and she’s been a great bike for me. She’s kind of a Jill of all trades, but she’s definitley a master of none as well.

Her virtues:

  1. She’s sturdy. When bad stuff happens, she’s not going to break
  2. She can handle pretty heavy loads
  3. She can handle decently wide tires
  4. She’s just plain versitile.

Her problems:

  1. she’s heavy
  2. She has poor aerodynamics
  3. She’s not super comfortable. My back hurts on long rides.
  4. She doesn’t compete well with road bikes
  5. She doesn’t compete at all with mountain bikes
  6. She’s not equipped for gravel or snow

I want to turn her into a gravel, light bikepacking bike. Here’s what I’d like to do.

  1. New handlebars
  2. New Stem
  3. Drop the cross levers
  4. Dynamo hub
  5. Dynamo lights
  6. Mudflaps that actually deal well with mud (as opposed to the current fenders that jam up with mud)
  7. More water storage
  8. Food and clothing storage
  9. Wider tires with more grip
  10. Set up tires tubless

I have most of these worked out with gear on the way. Can I get everything together before the retreat? I think so. Can I get my fitness together to match the bike? We’ll see.

Will she be a good choice for the RockStar 270? “Best” is not really her thing. But she’ll probably be the bike I bring. Because that’s what she does, what’s needed.