Thursday, May 31, 2018

XWA 2018 - Thoughts on Strategy, Equipment, and Training:



Having scratched out in Ephrata last year due to mechanical failures I was incredibly driven to present a strong showing for XWA 2018. The way I conducted myself this year forged the most spartan, minimalistic, adventuring experience I've ever had. Surviving the hard stuff with Bob Heim and Shawn Pedersen during XWA 2017 was the best crash course in bikepacking one could hope for. A lot of lessons I learned on that ride gave me the confidence to really give XWA 2018 every single thing I had to offer.

This post is just a variety of thoughts on gear and strategy that worked out better than expected. Keep in mind, I'm still really new to this and at the end of the day how somebody bikepacks is entirely individualistic. 

I've included prices on somethings. If you garner one thing from this post let it be that you don't need the fanciest technology, just the most functional. A lot of this gear is really accessible to anyone curious about the sport. One of my least favorite things in cycling culture is how exclusive it can feel sometimes. The sport is not as cost-prohibitive as it can appear and the actual physical conditioning for your body can be done on a wider spectrum of bikes than you may think.

Going into XWA I knew a few things were pretty certain:

1. I would not be the most athletic person there
2. I would not have the highest tech kit

Because of these reasons I knew if this were to be my best race I would have to keep all downtime to an absolute minimum and move forward for as long into the night as I could. I'd also have to use any environmental advantages, tailwinds after Port Angeles, knocking out hard elevation at night, knowing the fast gravel on the John Wayne, using my bike handle on the gates, etc. if I were to have my quickest race possible. - Here are some things I didn't do that saved serious time:

1. I didn't eat in one restaurant
2. I didn't sleep in any hotels
3. I didn't stop to eat that often, i ate primarily on the bike

Bikepacking seems to follow exponential lines, linear paths not so much. Things typically don't add up, they begin to multiply. I know if I stopped once it would probably become habit. As opposed to being tempted I just deleted restaurants/hotels out of the equation. Once the momentum of the race began to picked up, the rhythm became easier to keep. This style of bikepacking also happens to be pretty frugal too.

Checking the forecast before XWA I was cautiously optimistic. The weather could be the best ever, but it's also the notoriously unpredictable Olympics we're heading into. I elected to take the lightest route possible for my sleep kit, but keep my full rain kit in case of the worst. Not a single piece of my sleep system is bicycle brand specific. It is very basic, thin in places, but bulletproof in others. The entire kit located off of my handlebars.

(Bob & I testing our kit a few days before the race)

1. Straps: The straps are 2 dollars each and they are generic tie downs. They have metal buckles which while heavy, are bombproof. If I were to break a plastic clip by stepping on it in the night, that could be a critical failure (Shawn pointed this advantage out to me last year). I carried 2 extra just incase, but I wont carry extras in the future. Very resilient piece of kit.

2. 10L Dry Bag: Another generic tough piece of equipment. Can be found for around 5 dollars. I do have a cycling specific dry bag that is more elongated and skinnier width wise. That bag is incompatible with my setup because my Origin8 Ergo Sweep dirt drops cause interference. Fortunately since this is a true dirt drop mountain bike (super high rise stem) I can accommodate a shorter but wider bag. Lots of space between the aeros and the top of the front wheel.

3. Sleeping bag: I used a duck down sleeping bag by a company called Aegismax. It can be found for around 70 dollars weighs less than 500 grams and is plenty toasty, too toasty most of the time actually. 

4. Bivvy: I used the 14 dollar SOL emergency bivvy. Weighed ~110 grams. I slept decently most of the time, but if I got too warm there were would be some condensation issues. Had the weather not been nice on the east side, keeping things dry may have been problematic. May experiment with a polyester bag moving forward. The bivvy ripped apart in Douglas Creek when a super strong gust blew it off me into a sage bush. In bad weather I'd run my more substantial one.

5. Knockoff Thermarest: My trusty 12 dollar generic camping pad. I know, why would someone run such archaic tech when a 40 dollar air mattress could have me rolling in comfort? Because I know me and ever since I was a little kid if I'm around something long enough I destroy it. It is a character flaw that I'm well aware of so I prefer my equipment to be stronger than my carelessness. I know I'd pop an air mattress eventually and by the time I actually go to sleep I want as simple a setup as possible. The camping mat setup in tall grass, gravel roads, on some mulch, on some chunky terrain on the Colockum, and it required zero thought. It eventually became a piece of ride saving kit towards the end.

6. Misc - I also kept a layer of thermals, and balaclava in there. I didn't need the thermals, but the polyester balaclava was great for keeping the bugs off my face. 

Total cost sleep kit: ~115 dollars

(headed into the colockum with hydration and Dominos)

A Piano Player's Cockpit:

1. Handlebars: Origin Ergo Sweep - These were the widest dirt drop bars I could find. They are set up like old school dirt drop MTB's so very little time is spent in the hoods and almost all of my time was spent in the drops. My first and primary passion is still the piano so hand comfort is paramount to me. Each side has 3 layers of 7 dollar generic track grips. I'd put one layer on, use a layer of aquanet to slide the other on and repeat. I like aquanet for my hair too and it also does a terrific job of locking grips in place. I finished the grips off with a generous helping of grip tape under the hoods. Tons of positions with this bar, other than pinky numbness on my left hand my hands are just about perfect.


2. Aerobars: The aerobars are 30 dollar generic carbon TT bars. I was skeptical at first about the grip position being parallel to the ground, I was happy to find they were still very comfy. I covered the ends in skateboard deck tape. I got this idea from Chris froome's TT bike and it presented some surprise benefits along the way. Since I used fingerless gloves my actual skin contact with the bar was minimal. It made for a very easy place to push the bike during hike a bike sections. I could take so much weight off my back that for the really rough sections i could just look down and count my foot steps. The grip tape also made shoving and holding anything in there a breeze. Old bottles, big gulps, my puffies, etc, it ended up being a very effective catch all. My one complaint is that they sent me gloss when I wanted matte, so overall, these bars were a total boon! The aerobridge off the end was 14 dollars, and I finished them off with reflective tape. One more thing, if I hung my helmet or gas station bags off the bars, they were very stabilized by the grip tape. Virtually no weight penalty for the functionality grip tape can offer!

3. Brakes: TRP Hylex RS - This decision was one of the most complicated parts of this entire build. Currently in the cycling world drop bar hydraulic disc brakes are just beginning to take off. There are not many options out there right now, and almost none without integrated shifters. Last year my ride was cut short because I ran lower end hydro-mechanical disc brakes. That technology has been on go-karts and other applications for years. Essentially a cable from the cockpit is pulled and it actuates the the self-contained hydraulic brake in the rear. Last year it worked great until the desert. Of course I was asking them to stop 80lbs of bike in near triple digits last year, it was a gamble I lost and it caused me to scratch. So this year I wanted to make sure I had incredibly solid brakes. Most options have integrated shifters and I already had a shifting solution so I just needed the brakes. The full hydraulic TRP Hylex RS were it and I pulled the trigger.

Great brakes, tons of stopping power, the drilled levers are one of my favorite aesthetic touches on the bike, they do however eat their pads at an alarming rate. At the end of day one I felt I had lost 35% of my pads. They just had enough life for Idaho, but I definitely need to replace them now. This is probably normal as the stock pads probably weren't designed for this kind of riding. My other complaint about the brakes is that they are long in the hoods. I feel like the reach is 10mm away from where my Tektro RL 520's were. It was manageable, but ideally i'd like them closer. One of the most crucial components and I spared no expense this year, they can be found for around 250 dollars. 


4. Shifter: Of all the pieces of tech on my bike this one raises the most eyebrows among bike techs and equipment enthusiasts. Yes, the entire function of my drivetrain hinges on a 3.95$ add-on amazon cart item. The Sunrace 8-speed thumb shifter. As far as shifting goes this technology has been around since the 30's and is very simple in function. You pull push the shifter up, the derailleur moves up, you pull it down, etc. If I need to replace a cable, any will do. I have the shifter mated to one single piece of full length housing for durability. It functioned pretty flawlessly. It was also light enough that I carried a spare. I will go into greater detail about my drivetrain further down.

5. Feed Bags: My feed bags were one of the most often utilized and important pieces of my kit. They are actually 5 dollar ammo bags. To get them securely around the handle bar the tops of the bars had insulation foam underneath the buckles. This made them much more secure when latched on. I hauled a 2 liter of fanta in to the Colockum at night and it stayed put, 2 32 oz gatorades outside of ritzville, no issue. One bag could carry enough food for 1-2 days. They also enabled me to shove my puffy in there if it got too hot, and retrieve on the go when it got too cold. When I would stop at a gas station I would quickly pick up provisions to hang off my aerobars, since the feed bags were so big redistributing the load on the go was a breeze. My feed bags saved me some serious time and again, they were not bicycle specific technology, nor were they expensive. They were very simple, effective, and tough!

6. Misc: I electrical taped a carbon extension tube on the inboard side of my right aero bar. This was to prevent interference between my navigation and forearm while in the aero position. In the future I will make that bar a battery holder for the Garmin as well. My Garmin was placed at a very viewable angle, and I could also see if my helmet light was on in the reflection. The water bottle cage I got from the bicycle co-op in town (http://www.ptrecyclery.org/) and it fit perfectly. The motion to grab my water bottle was very natural and seamless. The bottle cage is bolted directly to the handlebar. My horn, while loud enough, did not have the right tone, sounded too much like a duck so people could hardly notice it.

Drivetrain: Arguably the most unorthodox piece of equipment on my bike. I might go as far to say I may be one of the only people out there doing rides like this with only 8 friction driven gears.

1. Shifter: We covered the thumb shifter earlier but I will describe more of the benefits. One thing I learned last year while bikepacking is that one of the first appendages to start taking a beating is your hands. They get messed up from shoving things into bags, beat up from percussion, used, abused, and in general deteriorate quickly. It's not uncommon for people to have trouble shifting later into the race. Originally I tried this system on my fat bike for the ease of shifting when wearing thick ski gloves. The system is so easy to use that 80% of the time I shift with my wrist. I debated a bar end shifter when I first built the bike, aesthetically it looks cooler, but I did not like how exposed it was. Prop your bicycle up on a fence, if it falls on the shifter, that could be a race ender! Having the shifter positioned to the right of the aero bar leaves it in a very protected place. I have this drivetrain on the bikes I ride most often so it is deeply ingrained into my muscle memory. On long rolling hills I can start in the 11 spend all of my momentum, get way up there, and then dump all the gears straight into my 40t and spin the hill out. There are many hidden benefits of this system. Downsides: the shifting is about as crisp as overcooked spaghetti, if you bend the derailleur hanger, you'll lose function of the 11t or the 40t - I packed a spare derailleur hanger in case.

2. Chain: 8 speed chains are pretty tough and you can find them at any wal-mart target etc. 

3. Crankset: I found a great deal on an XT double MTB crankset with bottom bracket for 60 bucks.

4. Chainring: I went with a 12 dollar 32t oval chainring from a company called Deckas. Prior to XWA I had a 36 on here, dropping to the 32t before the race really helped the bike retain some nimbleness under load. Last year I ran a 40-22 with an 11-40 in the back but ran into issues early on. I found that rather than spinning up hills the reprieve from walking was more valuable. I am not afraid to admit that most of the hard elevation I walked up at night. I was also super skeptical about oval rings at first, but I am a huge convert, hard to explain the feeling, but a definite ergonomic improvement over conventional rings. 32t - 40t was a great climbing ratio, just a little bit too spinny to stand up which is right where I like my granny gear.

5. Cassette: 11-40t 8-speed Sunrace CSM680 ~ 30 bucks - This piece of equipment was not available last year. Other than the cost prohibitive IRD cassette this is the only other wide range 8-speed cassette in existence. It's on a few of my bikes and I haven't broke one yet. I like keeping the teeth at 40 or under as well so I don't have to complicate things with longer b-screws, or hanger extenders etc. Also with having only 8 gears to choose from, makes gear selection a breeze. Hard for me to imagine friction shifting 11 speeds.

6. Derailleur: The derailleur is a shimano Deore 10 speed long cage clutch type derailleur. Purchased as a take-off for around 30 bucks. No complaints on how it functions, shifted just great. 

There were no forums I could read up on that had a drivetrain like this. I am enamored with the results. This drivetrain is a very emblematic of what I like most in my equipment, simplicity, toughness, and functionality. I can find the chain at any walmart, shifter cable from any bike, and it's all affordable accessible stuff. Even if it's not your race drivetrain, it's a killer drivetrain to train on, runs about a 1/3rd the cost of most 11 speed tech while still retaining a 363.63% gear range.

I do need to remove some links as I did throw the chain a couple times. If the drivetrain loses lubrication and the links bind up it wants to cut into the frame. The last 300 miles of the race my chain was lubed with mayo. That was a trick bob and I learned at 4 corners after a full day of torrential down pour washed away all my lube. I broke a chain at the quick link once, but other than that had no serious drivetrain issues.

Misc:

1. Seatpost: Generic carbon 31.6x400mm - Will change to suspension in the future

2. Seat: It caused me so much grief I wont even mention the specifics of it. I trained on non-padded carbon seat, and the first 300 miles of this ride were fine. Then all of sudden after the colockum catastrophic saddle sore failure.

3. Stem: XLC high rise stem 110mm x 40 degrees! - My bike looks really funky without bags haha

4. Pedals: Crankbrothers Candy 2: These things made me nervous, they're what I learned on but I know they're fragile. May switch to wider platform spd pedals in the future.

5. Bottle Cages: I used an M-wave double adapter on the down tube. Zip tied and electrical taped on very securely. I did lose a bottle that Bob retrieved before douglas creek, it was too small in diameter and flew from the top. The cages were finished again with skate board grip tape. I learned that trick from studying the bikes of the Paris-Roubaix. Electrical tape may not be the most elegant solution but over the last 4 years I've found it to be one of the best. Bottle cages are easy to break by bending and even if they snap in the usual spot where they all do, electrical tape will keep them in place for the rest of the race.

6. Reflective spokes: I got these 99 cent foam core reflective spoke covers. I stacked multiple on one spoke of each wheel closest to the valve stem. If I ever needed to adjust pressure, I never had to search for the stem. Also the motion of one reflective spoke is very eye-catching!

7. I covered my fork, my bike, my helmet, in all different colors of reflective tape. There is no weight penalty and I like being as visible as possible. If every piece of my kit was reflective, I wouldn't mind.

8. Jeep Handle ~ 8 bucks - I mounted a grab handle from a Jeep Wrangler in the direct center of my bike. I think this simple modification saved me at least 1-2 hours of grief. Last year negotiating our bikes over the first rockfall was a terrifying ordeal. This year it was like carrying a briefcase to work. I used that handle countless times and as I mentioned earlier, with your hands being one of the first things to go south, any help they can get is welcome.

Hopping those gates with the handle made things so simple. I would do a wide radius turn and park my bike parallel with the fence. Dismount directly on to the gate, stand in the middle rungs of the gate, reach down and pick my bike up and over with the handle. After stressing about the gates before hand, this method eased my worries. This would not have been possible if it wasn't for the compound weight lifting Bob and I had done off and on since January.

9. Pump - I had a nice topeak pump and a proven generic pump. To my amazement they weighed about the same. I went with the generic pump because it had a much larger volume, and a foot stabilizer. Handle was also wide enough to use both hands when pumping. It's the pump I use with my fat bike, and it worked great. No complaints, would run again. ~9bucks

10. Lights: Generic 600-1000 lumen front lamp. When I first started running lamps at night I wanted as many lumen as possible. Realistically, who wouldn't? Eventually I started going the opposite direction. What is the minimum amount of lumens I am comfortable with. Turns out, 600 lumen is enough for most situations I encountered. This year on XWA a lot of my night riding happened to coincide with hard effort areas. With me walking most of the elevation 600 lumens was enough. If I did have a descent I could crank it up and blast it with my headlamp but overall 600 was plenty. Because of this low power draw I was able to finish XWA on a single battery. My headlamp was a generic 14 dollar headlamp. Tested it in the olympics, great tech, batteries will wear out soon though. Rear lights I used a running headlamp that would flash both red and white if need be (like the hood canal) and a 3 led flasher. I will run two of those running headlamps next year. About 50~ in lights

11. Batteries: I packed two Unifun waterproof shock proof batteries. They are rated at 10400mah but in practice they do much better than other batteries i've had rated much higher. There is so much about battery technology I need to learn, I've built some, tried some higher end ones, and this one has been the best no idea why. One was enough to run my light, charge my aux lights, and my phone.

12. Phone: I run an LG flip phone. I have my reasons why, but for bikepacking the long battery life is awesome. Lack of distraction I think also kept me focused. However it was weird not knowing where anybody was most of the time. 

13. Navigation: Etrex 20x - I didn't load a basemap, just had a line. Yeah I went through that dead carp bog. The only way out is through right? Getting basemap shortly.

With my only information coming from a flip phone and a garmin with no basemap, the objective was distilled to it's most basic essence. Move forward!



Bags:

1. Seatpack: My large seatpack is the Kada Rat Pak II. This was on sale at bikewagon for 49.99 during christmas two years ago. Tons of space, super large buckles, but unfortunately if you pack it in a hurry, it can sag on to the wheel. Not as much of an issue this ride, but from now on I'm using narrower compression sacks to stuff it with first. I had my rain layers closest to the opening for easy access. Then thermals, then an extra tube, then all my spare parts next to the post. 

2. Small seatpost bag: I used a 10 dollar profile design seatpost bag for second tube mounted on top of the rear triangle. I mounted one of those plastic shock fenders to keep crud out of the whole area. Normally an underutilized area of space on the bike I managed to mount a tube there for quick access. Pouch also carried tire levers and a presta chuck in the same bag.

3. Large seatpost bag: I used a bag by a company called B-soul to the tune of 3 dollars. In here I kept butt paste, wet wipes, and my comb - it would have been the bathroom of my mobile home. I regret not carrying hand sanitizer in this pouch. It's an odd topic in the public forum but the importance of keeping everything together down there can't be stressed enough. Last year before rock island grade I had a bunch of arbys mozzarella sticks/jalapeno poppers and things got hot, not just the triple digit temps either. Fortunately Shawn had some chamois butter. Another hyper important lesson from XWA 2017 I will never forget. A comb is also an essential for me on any bikepacking trip. If my head gets hot on a long walk up a steep grade, brushing my hair back feels great. I feel my scalp get air, my hair stays out of my face, and I would be lying if there wasn't a noticeable morale boost. Combing my hair is one exercise that reminds me beneath the animal there's still some civility. Also by day four my hair was magic, so much volume, not greasy anymore, manageable! So I think the key to great hair is pass out in a sack in the wilderness, dominos crust hanging out of your mouth with chocolate milk stains on your jersey. Do this 4 times and don't shower, you're worth it.

4. Frame Bag: Surly - I ordered a framebag before the race and it was too large. Fortunately I could borrow one of bob's old ones for this run. Bag was awesome! Fit like a glove, huge zippers, bowed out towards the top for extra space. No complaints, might have to pick up my own now. This is where I kept replacement batteries, spare parts, DSLR, and I still had space left over. Sometimes I'd stash a can of soda in there. Going to buy one immediately, love running some Surly stuff.

5. Top tube bag: Roswheel ~ 25 bucks: This top tube bag is great. It has a vinyl stabilizer running around the whole thing so it's really tough and hard to tip over. It is waterproof and I kept my spot in the clear cell phone area so I could always see it with my phone and wallet underneath. Last year I kept having trouble keeping track of my important items. This year I made sure I could see all the essentials in one glance, garmin, spot, wallet, and phone. The less mental energy I spend with trivialities the more stamina I have free to turn into momentum. 

6. Molle Bags: I had 2 shotgun shell ammo bags staple gunned to the top tube bag, 3 dollars each. I kept batteries for my light in there. The way the USB battery worked it was easy to plug the light when they layed on their sides. These bags worked perfectly for that and didn't take up any room in my main top tube bag. They were also easy to find and feel in the dark.

Frame/Fork:

The frame is from Mongoose's higher end and it's called the Mongoose Ruddy. It was sent to me by Steve K. at Pacific Cycles. The frame is boost spaced and can run 27.5+ for a cushier ride, or 29er if you're going for efficiency. Up close all the tubes are trapezoidal and the welds are substantial. Has internal routing and routing for a dropper post as well. I didn't use any of the internal routing and just kept one solid length housing for the derailleur. The frame has pretty aggressive geometry and was a blast to ride. Obviously being aluminum the ride was a little harsh, but smoother surfaces the bike would fly. Felt like a sparrow on some of the single track. I am so enamored with this frame, all the way down to the color. A mile before tekoa I did give my bike a hug and said we were almost there.

Fork: Fork is from a chinese company called BXT. It looks exactly like the niner fork. Ken another guy on the route was running one as well. No complaints, fork did great. ~75$

Wheels: Wheels are tubeless ready 29er take offs from a marin bicycle. I had lighter wheels but went with these as the rims are a whopping 35mm wide! ~220$ 

Tires: I went with the tried and true continental race kings set up tubeless. Loved how they handled and the look on a 35mm rim is great. I ran a little too high of pressure, but figured that out 200 miles from Idaho and corrected. I found 20 psi front and 25 psi in the rear to be ideal for me. ~85$ pair on sale

(Bob and I running tubeless for the first time on this very race)

Clothes:

I packed a lot, but the stars were my puffy vest and puffy, and multiple layers of thermals and padded shorts. 2nd to last day I changed into my still clean 7-eleven jersey, pretty sure that added 10 horsepower lol. All clothing was generic and unbranded.


(my little bike stand thing in the garage, works on a fully loaded 29er!)

Things for the next bikepacking race:

1. I might carry one wifi ready device as a backup. Originally I thought Bob and I would be together so he had a smart phone and that was some added security. On the final run had my Etrex quit, which has been known to happen. I'd just have to wait for the next rider to come a long since I don't have a smart phone.

2. I'd carry less rain stuff. I came in this year packing elephant ammo for quail. Weather is notoriously unpredictable in the Olympics but I ended up not using 60% of my clothes. I don't think I need to carry a spare shifter or certain other little spare parts here and there.

3. I will definitely bring back the frame pump powered air horn for my next bikepacking trip. 120 decibels of power would have came in handy in the deep wilderness at night. Just from a sense of safety. 

4. I need to make thicker pads for my aerobars, the stock ones were too thin. 

5. I'm also thinking of adding a bar in the middle of the aerobars perpendicularly also wrapped in skateboard grip tape for more security for that catch all system. 

6. Air fork? Lauf Fork? Steel fork? Larger tire? Keep it the way it is? 

7. Wider pedals: I think I will try crankbrothers mallets to see if that helps with feet issues or a wider platform SPD pedal.

8. Different Shoes: I actually have some great new northwave shoes (Thanks Adrian!) I can now try out, and will have to keep experimenting to find the ideal set up.

9. I will bring ventilated camp shoes for long hike a bike sections to save my feet. Blisters almost killed the ride of my life.



Nutrition:

Bikepacking is so individualistic. How one navigates a journey of this scale will probably be very different than other people in the field. What I like to eat might cause someone else to scratch if they tried it, everyone is different. So all of the information I provide here is based on personal experimentation, and might not be right for everyone, probably not even ideal for me but it's the best i know of for now.

One week prior to the event I abstained from caffeine. Getting my body to produce it's own cortisol again left my body fresh for the race. I did not take any ibuprofen during the race. I read a book a few months back that changed my perspectives on ultras, natural remedies, and food called "Eat and Run" by Scott Jurek. Some amazing insights. I did not have any painkillers till advil in Tekoa! 

With the exception of a fish sandwich before the race, and a fish sandwich after the race, I did not eat any meat at all. This worked for me, but everyone is different. I really don't like to chew alot while bikepacking and I feel I've found a balance that works for me.

Favorite foods:

1. Mayo Packets: Another discovery by riding around the Olympics in bad weather. On a ride down snow creek to Blyn we discovered that mayo packets have 80 calories. Which is staggering to think about, 3 mayo packets is an egg mcmuffin of calories. The entire race I was concerned about eating too little so when there were times I needed to eat but I did not want to chew, a mayo packet was great. Also works as chain lube. Not my favorite by flavor, but favorite by function. I'd usually grab 3 and some dairy at every gas station.

2. Chocolate Milk: Between 70-80 grams of protein per half gallon. I always tried to have some before bed, and first thing in the morning. I didn't like chewing on stuff till lunch time and chocolate milk always sounded good.

3. If a gas station had Cherry Garcia, grab 2-3! 1200 calories in those bad boys. I'd wait till it was almost milk shake, like a milkshake float. And the chocolate and cherries at the bottom ohhhhhhh. I'm almost about to hop on my bike to the nearest gas station.

4. Gummy Bears: Finding foods you don't tire of eating can be very difficult when you're consuming more than you ever thought was possible. For me gummy bears are a near endless enjoyment. Took about 550miles before I grew weary of them. Easy to eat on the go, doesn't not require 100% mastication, and options to switch it up with sour ones are there. I need to eat 3 regular to 1 sour though, the sour ones can burn your tongue.

4. Dominos: It's hard to beat the Large pizza carry out special. It's about 8 bucks and sooooo much food. I found it paired with gummies to be 1.5 days of food at least. I was tired of it by Wenatchee though. I usually would pick up a two liter, fanta or coke. This really was just utility food. It wasn't terribly enjoyable but it keeps really well and functions.

5. Iced Gatorade: Gatorade in it's pure form can be overwhelming if you've been eating sugar all day. I found a big gulp of gatorade with ice filling the entire cup to be the perfect balance. No matter the state of my hunger or thirst iced gatorade was always a welcome luxury.

6. Bean and Cheese burritos, normally my favorite, but the ones on XWA this year stunk. I kept getting there by the time they were BBQ'd all day, low and slow. Most were like hard greasy cardboard with a fart of cumin.

I ate a lot of other random junk, but those are the stars and where the majority of my calories came from. It's dirty, it's brutal, it's bikepacking! If I were to have an actual diet not limited by logistics of the nearest gas station, I'd eat a lot more fruit, a lot more nut butters, beans and rice etc. - Part of the race strategy though is minimizing your stops and gas stations are usually the swiftest option on route. The common thread through all those foods was caloric density, you only have so much room on the bike so dense foods last longer.

General tips:

Cover the hard stuff at night if you can. The majority of my elevation efforts were at night and I was walking! I did not spin up a lot of this route and by doing the hard stuff at night I could carry less water, move more efficiently, and save my legs for the flats. My bike was built with speed as a major consideration so I maximized the harder surfaces as best as I could.

As opposed to logging long boring miles like the year prior, this year I focused on intensity. Steeper hills, faster speeds, shorter durations. Training on my fat bike on the beach was pivotal to my development. It helped keep my race bike feeling nimble. During the winter I also ran up some of the steep local hills in my neighborhood.

Having my best friend/neighbor Bob as a training partner was the real secret weapon. Often times neither of us wanted to wake up and lift weights in a frozen garden shack, but we did with that little extra glue of shared responsibility. Even the just for fun rides to the bell tower in town to chill. That's when I figured out those feed bags were golden! Any bag that can hold 3l of bag wine is a winner haha. Pages of discussion on bikepacking tech, heroes (which we got to ride with!!!!), and so much experimentation. Following him around his home turf on his krampus really forced me to up my mountain biking skills, prior to that I just did mainly gravel. Absolutely pivotal to my development, and the best part of all, we had so much fun preparing for this! Nobody pulls their best performance out of a vacuum and when you're in the middle of a great run you think of everyone who has helped along the way. 

Practice eating on the bike, organizing things on the bike too. I had a pretty slow average moving speed, but I think by severely limiting distraction I was able to be consistently covering ground. Those jumbo ammo bags helped.

Listen to your body attentatively. At one point in Wenatchee I got into race mode too early and got sick from the heat before Rock Island grade. I wasn't racing my own race at that point and I paid for it, flew too close to the sun. I did pay attention to my cravings and the soy sauce and pickles with gatorade got me back in action quickly. Still had I taken my time through Wenatchee I could have segued up Rock Island Grade more smoothly.

I might attach a small digital recorder just for this problem. REMEMBER what you want before you enter the gas station! They don't like you a lot of the time, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. These oasis's are so fragrant and bright, and everything looks good, and there's a/c! IT'S A TRAP, haha. I'd try to keep it to 4 things but would still get confused. Bikebrain is half the battle. "Ice cream, batteries, gatorade, gummy bears." 15 minutes later gummy bears, a root beer? Did I leave my wallet in there? where am i?! etc. - A serious challenge. After last years XWA I never looked at gas stations the same, they all look like safety now.

I try to listen to my cravings as much as I can. I've gotten pretty decent at it, and as long as my macros are 50 carb, 25 fat, 25 protein I'm good to go. At home I like it in thirds, but this takes awhile for everyone to figure out. I made sure to eat before I was hungry and as often as possible. Did not bonk the whole ride!

I started eating like I was bikepacking 3 days prior to the event. Just getting my body used to processing crap. First 2 days my throat was tingly from the acid but by the time of the race I'd successfully converted to Avgas. 

I think the longer the race goes on, the harder the race can get. Problems can add up exponentially the longer you are out there, I could not force another day of saddle-sored blistered riding so I had to get to Idaho as soon as possible. 

Know the course. I was really lucky to have lived in Ellensburg, that whole section was like a glorious homecoming. I'd spent countless nights keeping up with a tailwind running down the John Wayne. Those gate crossings I darted around the sides like a sparrow, it was my home turf and it felt great. Growing up in Everett the Urban section wasn't overwhelming, and also, having spent most of the past year here in the Olympics I was able to negotiate it's obstacles as well. Even checked out some of the single track before hand. Biggest help though was XWA year 1, I learned more about myself on that ride than other experience till XWA 2018. 

Prepare to come out the other side as a different person. After Bob and I split up I had some deep time to myself. Between the excitement and exhaustion your stream of consciousness starts flowing more openly. You're so far ahead of all the chatter back in the real world that you just get all this space/time to marinate on your thoughts. For the last few nights sleeping in the deep wilderness with the most minimalist of gear I felt so many epiphanies roll in one after the other. Most of the time I wasn't physically comfortable, but those hyper vivid clear thoughts and emotions before bed were overwhelming. I have a suspicion that everyone tears up during this things because of the sheer enormity. I remember falling asleep in the wildlife packed Colockum with a steaming bag of dominos 20ft away. The Milky-way looking tangibly three-dimensional in texture. Every sense is heightened while bikepacking, so to have that sensitivity pointed up towards the sky, the universe was exploding! Countless satellites, the planets looking highlighter bright, caught one large green shooting star, far too much going on to be concerned with how cozy I wasn't. Moments like that, almost every night felt like swimming off the deep end of the pool for the first time and loving it. But there were also nights where it felt like I was running away from 300 coyotes at 2:00am through the desert without cell phone reception. Be prepared to experience the entire spectrum of human emotion in a hyper-sensitive revelatory condition. 

Next Blog: "A Game of Chad and Mouse" - The ride of my life in so many ways. If Bob helped stoke the fire, Chad dumped the gas.


My first frame up bike build, took me 7 months to put together. 
Was a labor of love and I'm proud it reached Idaho!

If you have questions feel free to comment!