Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday Suffering...

That was the title of the e-mail that was sent out as an invite to several individuals who I thought might be interested in a long road ride on Saturday. The weather called for partly cloudy and low 50's. The route that I planned would take us out to Afton, down the river to Red Wing, across to Cannon Falls and back up to Minneapolis. All in All it appeared to be roughly 120 miles via a quick check on Google Maps. When I say roughly, well those of you who know me, know what I mean...

Five souls showed at 7am Saturday morning. Frank had until noon to ride and would join us out to Afton before embarking on his own ride back to Minneapolis. Rob, being wise, came along for the ride but planned to turn out with Frank so as to get home at a decent time. Burton, having built up some Burton Time planned on the full route. Finally, Sean having awakened to his alarm this week made his way over. I was disappointed that my usual partner in crime Fryin Porky couldn't show. However, business had put him on a flight to the city of sin for a "Tradeshow, Tradeshow."

We rolled out with a typical 15 minute delayed start as folks filled water bottles, adjusted cleats, and dusted off their road bikes for an early spring ride. Friday night saw rain and a low hovering right around the freezing point. A heavy frost had blanketed the pavement, the air was cool and moist, the pavement glazed like a delicious donut.

We rolled south across the river and into Mendota at a slow and comfortable pace until we reached the D Street hill. With a north facing slope D Street was glazed full over making the climb on cool legs that much more treacherous. We reached the top of the short climb and spent our time recovering on Victoria Curve down to Lilydale. It was clear that the roads would not be safe until the sun reached a point high enough to warm their icy surface.

The ride through Lilydale was pleasant until we reached the Bluffs on the south side of the river. Friday's rain had left Saturday's glacial runoff. All but Rob would make it through unscathed on this stretch of road. It was a test of each man's handling skills and matter of luck to make it to the High Bridge Climb, where once again the heavy frost would test us. Sean attacked early, Rob in pursuit. I was able hang slightly behind them giving myself just enough room as Sean lost traction sliding out on a tight uphill corner. He brushed himself off and remounted his trusty bike. It would not be the last time Sean would meet the pavement on this day.

The ride out of St. Paul would be generally uneventful with only a short reprieve to fix a flat on and an opportunity for Burton to relieve himself on a neighbors fence while she greeted Saturday's incredible sunrise with the day's first cigarette. Needless to say, It was requested that Burton not use the fence as a latrine in the future.

It is always enjoyable to get out past that last strip mall and 6 lane intersection on the outer ring on long road rides. Our group of five made it to Military Rd just as the sun was reaching high enough to start the warm up cycle. There was a slight South East breeze as we rode East towards Afton spinning easily and enjoying the sights and smells of an early spring day.

When 70th met St. Croix Trail Frank and Rob headed North as Burton, Sean, and I turned south towards Hastings. Our first encounter was a steep grade up a bluff and into the rolling country above the river valley. We rolled easily to Hastings taking turns pulling on a mixture of paved and gravel roads. The long downhill into Hastings left us feeling fresh as we navigated our way through and out of Hastings towards our rest stop in Red Wing.

The road to Red Wing makes it way through the Mississippi river valley. Visible to the east are the Bluffs in Wisconsin. Visible to the West are the Minnesota Bluffs and rolling fields of South eastern Minnesota. We happily enjoyed the flatlands between the two. That is until we reached the climb out of the valley and onto the plateau south of Red Wing. As we stared down the climb we passed an unmarked road heading out towards TI Resort and Casino. Burton asked if that might be our road, my reply was not met with appeasement.

The climb was long, steep, and arduous. After 60+ miles it was not exactly the terrain we were looking for, but it was our route to Red Wing and that was the direction we needed to go. Upon cresting the climb we came across our eventual turnoff that would keep us off of Highway 61 and lead us down to the Cannon Valley River Trail. Mt. Carmel road was smooth, hard packed gravel. After the climb up it felt as if it was entirely downhill. We rolled through the open pastures actively resting and enjoying the quiet roads. I was elated to find that what I thought was our left turn was a continuation of our gravel experience. It was reminiscent of the events that I am pining and planning for this spring.

A deep gully cut its way into the earth's crust leaving a small stream leftover from the receding water. We descended the winding road that followed the water down to the river's edge where we would eventually meet the trail into Red Wing.

Our route took a 180 degree turn, literally and figuratively at the bottom of that Gully. The first thing we were met with on Collischan road was a sign that read "Dead End". I had studied the atlas and made the cue sheets the night before. This was no dead end. We would surely meet Cannon Bottoms road leading us to the Cannon Valley River Trail as planned. Meet Cannon Bottoms road we did.

The sign said "Road Closed", but the two track and foot prints said otherwise. We had nothing to loose, it was either take this nameless road and disobey the successive road closed signs or turn around and take the Highway into town. The "road" became more narrow with each pedal stroke, turning from gravel to "four wheeler" two track in a matter of meters. We pedaled our road bikes further into the unknown through deeper and softer puddles, hoping to reach our next turning point. I was slightly embarrassed that my route planning led us into this situation. Expecting a beckoning question at any moment. I could feel the tension building. The end of what had narrowed its way from a closed road into what was now muddy singletrack came at the perfect time.

When we reached the Cannon Valley River Trail we stopped for a short nature break and a good laugh before making the decision to head into Red Wing for lunch. Of all the route planning for the day I was most concerned about this trail. I expected some residual snow and ice protected by the north facing slopes and warm afternoon sun. We got exactly what we had coming to us. Most of the trail was clear and rideable, but the winter's skiing had left a hard pack that turned into 3" of ice during the spring thaw where the bluffs had protected it.

Lunch in Red Wing was a welcome break where we scarfed delicious cinnamon rolls, scones, strata, and fruit and then bathed it in coffee and espresso. We enjoyed the rest, refilled our water bottles, watched the other patrons as they smelled us, and headed back the way we had come.

Just as we were settling into our pace preparing ourselves for the hike a bike ahead Mailen took his most spectacular fall of the day. With Burton and I riding side by side and Mailen trailing in the middle we were moving comfortable along. I guess Mailen had forgotten the ice on the trail and had fallen comfortably on to our wheels forgetting about the ice. As Burton and I split a section, taking the safe path on either side Mailen took the middle. There was a sound of crushing ice and a delay in realization of what had happened. I peered back to see Mailen picking himself up, once again brushing himself off, and remounting his bike.

The trail to Cannon Falls is incredibly scenic and would be most enjoyable if not for all that ice. The steep bluffs and lush river valley reminded me of last summer's tour of the Rhine River Valley. I envisioned grape vines growing on terraces overlooking the river. This was between bouts of hiking head down through three inches of water covered ice. We hiked off an on all the way to Cannon Falls. Nearly 4 miles of the 20+ mile trail was unrideable the longest stretches 1+ miles of hiking in road shoes and cleats. The few bailouts that came were only during the rideable sections, when the popular vote was to stay the course. If Burton and Sean never join me on another ride this is why. It was slow, demoralizing, and painful. Good preparation for times to come.

The route post Cannon Valley River Trail was smooth sailing. Beyond the fact that there was no ice the wind had turned from the south. We would get to enjoy it propulsion all the way back into the cities. The roads were a relatively flat mix of primarily pavement with a couple of stretches of gravel for good measure. We stopped for a water bottle refill, ran into a couple of local riders, and refilled our stores with squirreled away bake goods from lunch. The miles continued to count away as we pedaled our bikes north on Highway 3 with its wide shoulders and rolling terrain. Autopilot set in, we took turns pulling in silence through Rosemont, Eagan, and Apple Valley happily reaching the Mendota bridge after 8.5 hours of riding and pushing.

Upon crossing the bridge we congratulated each other on a nice effort and great accomplishment. Burton was especially happy, it had been some time since his last 100+ mile effort. I can see already that it has and will give him more confidence on the bike. I recognized a glimmer of hope that Burton and Sean may join me on another of these rides when they thanked me for the route planning.

Anni, tracked me on the SPOT page and waited for my arrival home. She had accomplished all she needed to for the day, finishing the grading necessary to put her on track for her students report cards. I took a much needed shower and we headed out for a relaxed date of Wine Sale shopping at Surdyk's and a dinner at Longfellow Grill. Anni wanted comfort food to feed her cold and I just wanted some food to feed my caloric deficit.

Today my legs felt relatively fresh as I crawled through the attic fishing electrical through the walls for a project. I'm looking forward to next Saturday's Suffering and the months ahead.

The Stats:

136 miles
15.5 mph average (with hiking at 3-4 mph)
8 hours 30+ minutes on the bike (or hiking and pushing)
10+ hours total ride.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Riding Fargo, Carrying Stuff II

In January I wrote a post on riding the Salsa Fargo and carrying stuff. I said that the frame bags warranted their own post. That time has come.

I won't make a claim as to when today's iteration(s) of ultralight touring frame bags originated, or who they originated with. I got my first look at them at Interbike 2006. I was walking the aisles of the show, getting a well deserved rest from the booth when I ran into this guy. He was pushing a Redline Monocog 29er with some very interesting looking bags strapped to it. We got to talking about the bags, exchanged business cards and that was that.

Frame bags have evolved rapidly in the last two years with Jeff Boatman at Carousel Design Works and Eric Parsons at Epic Designs working with the best multi-day endurance riders in the world to refine their designs. They are both one man operations. Sewing in the winter to support ITI, Arrowhead, and other Multi-day winter adventures. Sewing to support GDR, CTR, and other Multi-day adventures in the summer.

Their exists a healthy competition between Eric and Jeff. They definitely think of each other as competitors. Judging by their backlogs of work, 6-12 weeks currently, neither of them has to worry about the other.

Sometime last summer I called up Eric to let him know that I wanted to order a set of bags for a prototype. It was June, we had just received the first prototype Fargo frames and I was already planning for this summer. Eric had built bags for several other folks at QBP and they all had good things to say. I considered both Jeff and Eric at the time. I ultimately ordered from Eric because Jeff's site had a note saying he currently wasn't taking any orders. He was deep in summer endurance season and extremely busy.

Here's a word of wisdom for those of you reading this. If you are going to order a set of bags from Jeff or Eric plan ahead. Like any custom manufacturer they need time to build your gear.

It was late October when I received my bags. I ordered a frame bag for a Large Fargo and two seat bags. I immediately mounted them up on the prototype Fargo I have been riding where they have stayed until I built up this, my current production Fargo. The bike I plan to ride the GDR on this summer.

GDR Setup Take 2!

I have used them for commuting since then and loaded them for a couple of winter overnighters. Now that the weather is finally above freezing I've begun to load the bike for summer and the GDR. Lists have been studied and mine has been made. This week was the first time I've loaded it all on the bike to begin the ongoing process of refining, simplifying, and lightening the load. What is critical will stay on board, what can be left behind will. All of this plus some additional items must end up on my person or the bike.

GDR Gear Check 1!

I've already started the process of reduction. If I was planning for a luxury tour the items would have stayed.

I'm always surprised at how much I can get into my frame and seat bag by packing intelligently and simply. I typically use the seat bag for clothes and the frame bag for kitchen and maintenance gear. I'm waiting on a handlebar bag, but will use it for my shelter. Water ends up on the bike, or on my back. Food gets stashed in the gas tank, frame bag, and in my Wingnut pack. For a multi-week tour I'd likely use panniers, but for fast and light or overnight, these are the ticket.

It is hard to believe that GDR is only 12 weeks away. It seemed far off in the distance as we rang in the new year. The process will continue and I'll share some of it along the way. Until then I hope at least a whisper of wanderlust has made it into your mind.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Flat Bar Fargo

So, I've just set up an original prototype Salsa Fargo (Size L) with flat bars to ride for awhile. Sunny skies this afternoon and an extra hour of sunlight, so I took it out for a short spin overlooking the river.

Flat Bar Fargo

I've been riding this proto since June. It has gone through several iterations, but none of them has included flat bars. Until now...

Campy on a Flat Bar Fargo

I've put the campy 10 drivetrain back on the bike. This time I've pulled my Moonhead Machine Works 10-Speed campy mounts out of their bin.

Moonhead Machine Works Campy Mounts

Moonhead seems to be now defunct. Originally based out of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, Moonhead manufactured several machined alloy products along with the classic "Trimble" MTB frames.

With a 140mm Ti Titec 0 degree stem I was able to get the fit within 2cm of my MTB fit. This will be close enough for awhile. If I was going to ride the bike with flat bars all the time I'd likely ride at least 1 if not 2 sizes larger.

A report may come in time. Until then, I've got other projects.