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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sleep Deprivation aka #CrossVegas and #Interbike

The Latest From Shimano's Parisian Groupo
We sent roving reporter Gumbo Boy to Cross Vegas.  A week after going All-In, he mustered the energy and clarity to write about the experience.

(by Gumbo Boy) There are a couple known quantities about Las Vegas – you aren’t going to get much sleep and everything looks close until you try to walk to it. There are also a couple known quantities about bike racers – they like to sleep and they hate walking or standing. Welcome to Interbike and CrossVegas – something’s gotta give.

Let’s Go!

Trips to Las Vegas seem to start out the same – unbridled giddy enthusiastic anticipation of all the possibilities – of which Vegas can accommodate pretty much everything. Couple Vegas with Interbike and CrossVegas and a CX geek’s thoughts are running a million miles a minute. Even for a bike racer you aren't thinking about walking or sleeping.

One for all, All for one

No matter what time you get to the airport - in our case it was 11:30PM PDT (for those looking for their calculator, that is 2:30AM EDT) - you have to see the strip. By the time we checked into our hotel and headed out to walk the strip and get some dinner it was easily time for me to get up and get ready for work back home. If sleep is high on a cyclist's agenda it was quickly being priortized down the list.

Red Bull and Food

That first meal hits the stomach and your body starts to talk back a little bit – uh we’ve been up since early this morning finishing off those TPS reports, doing last minute packing and flying out here – according to my watch it is closer to time to get up for tomorrow than time to go to bed – can we sleep? This feeling is negated by chugging a Red Bull and getting your wiiings.

It’s a Marathon not a Sprint

About 3AM PDT the calculator starts whirring in your head. The checklist of activities starts forming mentally. The to do list and the available time start colliding as you realize the gravity of the situation - I can't go the full 72 hours in Vegas without sleep. Already your brain is starting a mental budget not unlike the budget you put together that determines your CX racing calendar - the only difference is every decision is immediate. Its a struggle to remember 72 hours is a like a time-trial. If I go too hard early and crash I may end up in bed for 14 hours straight - putting 1/5th of the trip at jeopardy in one subconscious step.

In the Zone

Staying awake in Vegas is really very simple - the amount of over-stimulation available creates a false sense of day and night, a distorted sense of time, and almost certainly an ability to push through periods of mental weakness. At about 30 hours straight awake you enter a zone of heightened awareness, an uncanny ability to sense the people and faculties around you - almost as though you had become Neo in the Matrix. Time has stopped and reaction speed has doubled.

Valley to Rally

Eventually you succumb to sleep. The stimulation of Vegas has been overcome by the realization that Interbike and CrossVegas are still to come. You can't sustain 'the zone' for 48 more hours, so a bit of sleep seems wise. However, with a little sleep also comes a valley - its that period in a cross race where you can't do anything right - you slam into barriers, miss the apex of turns, dismount with stutter steps - and can't get on track. Then you remember your rally cap - a large Starbucks coffee. There is no valley that can't be overcome with a large enough coffee - much like those o-dark-hundred alarm clock calls the morning of the USGP. 

Stay in Motion

Cipo attracts just as many guys as the scantily clad women
We rallied to Interbike and walked an endless floor of booths of every product you can imagine. We saw pink chains that would match Mr Pink (Joe Biker's CX pit bike), we saw more disc brake setups and combinations that I can begin to remember, every combination of bike. Interbike for a bike junky made the glitz and glamour of Vegas seem underplayed. How could I possibly take all this in and digest it?

Leaving Interbike and back into the Vegas strip left us back where we started before the coffee - in a valley. We had to fight through it by staying in motion - another secret to Vegas. Once you stop moving, seeing, witnessing, pointing, and laughing your brain is able to get a word in and reminds you that since Monday morning at 6am (it is now Wednesday at 4pm) you have had approximately 8 hours of sleep - roughly a single night's equivalent over two night.

The secret is to stay in motion.

Page, Trebon, Driscoll, Johnson so close I can touch them
CrossVegas was exactly that - constant motion – do I watch the flyover? How about the uphill barriers that were hopped like tiny twigs left on the bike trail after a small rain storm? How about the stair stepped runup they were riding like it wasn’t even there? Hanging with an Elvis impersonator that sang Viva CrossVegas before the Elite race? Sooo much to do and such a brief fleeting moment of time to do it in.

Combine enough coffee and the constant motion of CrossVegas and the brain was spinning like the top in the movie Inception during a dream. How do you come down off this? I just watched Jeremy Power storm back in a field that included last years winner Van Der Haar, Trebon, Page, McDonald, Berden, Fluckinger, Johnson, and Kabush each trading blows to the gut like it was the Worlds – in person, at night, in a beautiful setting with the perfect temperature and a loud, excited crowd.

Wow. I can’t breathe or sleep.

Wednesday was an amazing day. Two events that I have always wanted to attend - both in the same day and a roller coaster of emotion. The lows of no sleep at breakfast to walking the floor of Interbike to rallying with motion to stay awake back to one the biggest highs in CX at CrossVegas - all in less that 15 hours.

Now, that is funny!

In the last 24 hours of the trip, even with some sleep and a meal in your belly you start running on fumes. Everyone knows what happens now – everything is funny – as in EVERYTHING. We came up with some product and money making schemes that if brought up at a party with wealthy investors would make them leave and walk to the next table.

I am reasonable sure that every product you see on an infomercial late at night was dreamt up late at night in Vegas after 54 hours of no sleep by four guys trying to one up each other at every step. How else could the Shake-Weight become an actual product that people would buy?

Where did all this crap come from?

You got any room to carry some of my crap home?
You have only been in Vegas for 50 hours…how can you not close your suitcase? You can’t check anything at the airport, it costs money and that money could be spent on bar tape, cleats, or entry fees. Oh yeah…we came here for a conference where they hand out paraphernalia on bikes and bike gear.

Not only did you pick up Chris King brochures, catalogs from Pearl Izumi, Cipollini, and Phil Wood, but you bought a pair of shoes that were a show special, a pair of Crank Brothers pedals (Interbike special!), CrossVegas t-shirts for yourself, 3 juniors back home and the rest of the family, and managed to collect three (3!) caps from Crank Brothers for friends back home.

Without sleep you have no faculty to separate yourself from anything you have collected. You manage to smash everything into your bags assuming that a smashed trucker cap will still be perfect for your buddy.

You can sleep on the red-eye

With only a few hours remaining at Vegas the body starts to shut down and feel the pain, but you persevere knowing that the pain is temporary – the loving comfort of a fully upright, economy class airplane seat is waiting for you to call home. A perfectly square blanket that isn’t long enough to cover half of your body, even when diagonal, is ready to keep you warm from the neighbor's vent pointing your direction. What could be better for a trip back home than a to sleep in an upright position fully clothed with no leg room, a cool breeze on your neck, and no pillow (some flights charge for this honor now)?

Your only solace is everyone else on the plane appears to have played the last 72 hours in the exact same fashion - all in.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thank You Park City For Saving Us From The Absolute Worst Flat Tires EVER!

The Rail Trail Runs in Valley Behind The Famous "PC"
Joe, Jill and their son Ely reside in the Salt Lake City metro area.  They drive a surprisingly clean (for having a young son) Toyota Sienna with a hitch mount bike rack.  I know, because my wife and I rode in the backseat with our two bikes with four flat tires bouncing in the rear view mirror.  They saved us from would have been in the worst case, a 15 mile walk in spandex and bike shoes on a gravel path in a cold remote valley, half of it in the dark.

It was our first full day on our 4th or 5th trip to Park City.  I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve taken a mountain bike vacation to PC, but it was Sunday, September 2nd, 2012.  Traditionally on our first ride, we like to take an easy ride so the altitude doesn’t kick us in the lungs.  The past two years we’ve taken the Rail Trail out past Round Valley and along I-80 toward Echo Reservoir.  Round trip it’s a 50 mile ride at a 2% grade, 25 downhill and 25 uphill.  The past two years we’ve always turned around early, worried about lack of daylight on the return.  This time we got out early in the afternoon, plenty of time to enjoy the day.

Full Moon Over Mountainside
We’re experience mountain bikers.  I’ve been riding, racing and vacationing with bikes for close to 18 years now.  Still, we’ve had our shares of cuts and bruises and mechanicals on vacation, stitches in Breckenridge, a couple more in Whistler.  I always pack a first aid kit, tubes, tools, pump, patches, sunscreen, a map, phone, cash, credit card, insurance card, extra clothes depending on the day, more than enough water, more than enough snacks.  With the Hydrapak and seat bag full, we rolled down through the valley. 

Side by side with our tires making a bobsled-esque noise on the downhill gravel, we took in the sights: some long legged Heron looking birds in the tall grass, sheep, llamas or alpaca, the rock formations and the most unique cows we’ve ever seen.  We called them Oreo cows.  The front and back ends were black, with a delicious looking white middle.  “Hey pretty cow!”  My wife shouted.  It was beautiful late Sunday afternoon.

We zipped around the gate at the entrance to Echo Reservoir.  There were no boats, no jet skis, no picnickers, weird for a Sunday.  There was no water.  It had dried up, save a 40 yard stretch being circled by some guys in 4 Wheel Drive trucks.  A lone jogger passed by and we exchanged hellos.  Then silence again.  Bummed, we sat on our top tubes and chatted about the drought.  I leaned over and picked a rock out of my front tire treads.

Pssssst.  The rock was a thorn!  I quickly spun my tire with the hole toward the ground so the sealant would seal up the leak.  Later we would learn it was a Goat Head thorn.  My tire was covered in them.  Both of my tires were covered in them.  All of our tires were covered in them.  “Leave them in.  We’ve got sealant, but we better head back!” 

How Many Can You Count?  Each Tiny Dot Is A Thorn Too
We were 25 miles from “home” at 5:30pm with literally hundreds of thorns in our tubeless tires.  Never in our 4 or 5 trips to Park City have we ever encountered thorns.  We’ve ridden nearly every trail from Mid Mountain to Flying Dog, ‘cept for the new Armstrong trail and last five miles of the rail trail to at Echo Reservoir.  It would be officially dark at 8pm.  The shadow in this deep valley would cross sooner.  Out loud, we did the math.  At 14mph, we could be back by 7ish.  That left us about an hour to deal with the flats if we had to, but the sealant was working at the moment.

Amazingly, we rolled 8 miles before both my tires became uncontrollable on the gravel.  I pulled out a CO2 and aired them both up.  2 miles later, her front went flat.  I pulled out another CO2.  Ssshhhhuuuuup!  It was full.  As I removed the chuck from the valve stem, the chuck stuck.  Sometimes that happens with the cold cartridges.  I pulled again.  My heart sank.  With the chuck, the valve stem had pulled through the metal hole in the rim.

I pulled the whole tire off and tried to get the valve stem back through.  Being an old wheel, it was done.  The rim had corroded a bit (maybe the sealant got to it) and now the hole was too big for the stem to seal.  We had to use a tube with a tire that was covered in at least 200 thorns.

In the area of my wife’s thumb print, she counted six.  Extrapolate that to a whole mountain bike tire and multiply by four.  Goat Heads are evil buggers, as sharp and long as a thumbtack.  An elementary school’s worth was stuck in our tires.  Sitting on the trail on either side of the tire, we went to work.  Yep.  One by one, finger by pricked finger.  I used a knife, she her fingernails.  In twenty minutes, we probably made it a third of the way through the thorns on her front tire.  With a sigh, I looked up the valley, a group of cyclists approached.

“Are you guys okay?  Do you need help?”  They asked as they slowly coasted by.  We all ask the questions when we see a cyclist by the side of a trail.  Sometimes we don’t expect to actually…uh…help.  “Yeah.  Yeah.  I think we do” Rachel piped up.  The couple and their son stopped.  We explained.  “Oh.  Those are Goat Heads.  You’re not going to fix that.”

I don’t recall when we introduced one another.  I do remember their bikes.  Funny how that works.  They had early 90’s “vintage” mountain bikes, one Fisher and one Ritchey, still with rigid forks, platform pedals and those big fat cantilever brake shoes.  Those bikes were the shit back in the day.  Jill asked my wife Rachel if she could snap a photo of her phone number on her phone.  It was decided that they would return to their van seven miles up the trail, pack up, and drive to meet us at the nearest freeway exit two miles away.  Jill would call when they got back to the van.  We parted ways with complete trust in strangers.

After a 20 minute walk, we sat on some concrete in a construction site in front of a Sinclair convenience store at the bottom of the exit ramp and waited.  I played around with some rebar as we chatted.  “How long do you think it will take for them to get here,” Rachel asked.  “I’m thinking 45 minutes to ride the 7 miles up hill, a few minutes to pack up and maybe 15-20 to get here.  It’s gonna be an hour at least.”

Surprisingly, only 15 minutes later, Jill and Ely rolled up to the Sinclair as well.  “Heeey!”  They said it was a little too far and too uphill for young Ely.  Joe was on his way with the van.  Here we were, in the middle of nowhere (to us) outside of Coalville, Utah making the best of a bad situation with two complete strangers.

What sticks out in my mind is that it was never awkward.  They were very personable, interesting people.  It was more than small talk.  We got to know each other a bit.  I never felt a cold shoulder, not even from Ely, an unbelievably patient young man.  Soon enough Joe arrived.  I helped him load the bikes.  We shared the backseat with Ely.  “Where are you staying,” Joe asked.  “If you don’t mind driving us to the Marriot Mountainside in Park City, that’d be great.”  It was no problem at all.  We talked about our careers and backgrounds and travels and soon enough we pulled into the driveway in about 25 minutes.

Every Little White Dot You See Is A Thorn
Joe and I pulled the bikes down.  We shook hands.  My wife offered $25 dollars for the ride, the gas, their generosity, the nice clean van, Ely’s patience.  They declined.  Jill said something like, “Joe rides all the time.  I can only hope that if he’s in a sticky situation, someone will help him out.” 

The next day after buying four new mountain bike tires (thank goodness for the 40% off End of Season Sale at Cole Sport) we went out for another ride.  On the way back, we stopped in White Pine Outfitters, probably our favorite shop.  As we paid for some socks or something, we looked down to see a sign scotch taped to the counter. 

“Do not ride the Rail Trail past Coalville.  It’s covered in Goat Head thorns.  You WILL need to buy TWO new tires.”

Joe, Jill and Ely rest assured, if you ever get into a spot of bother on a ride and ask for help our answer will always be yes.  What goes around comes around.  So, thank you for coming around with your kindness, patience and generosity.

Best Regards,

Joe in Cincinnati