Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Introducing the AWOL Comp

The AWOL Comp, reviewed in March, is now a formal addition to the corral.  Though I’ve yet to ride it beyond the neighborhood, I expect this bike to immediately take over commuting responsibilities, leaving my Surly Cross Check for gravel rides and cyclocross.  Using it for randonneuring is definitely in the plans, particularly for routes with variable road conditions.

The bike represents a hybrid of ideals that will hopefully translate into the most rideable bike I’ve owned.  Aspects of randonneuring, touring, and commuting are evident in the accessories, all brought together on a Reynolds frame inspired by the 2013 Transcontinental Race.

I’m indebted to Epic Sports for team support and expert guidance during the build.  Kudos also to Compass Bicycles, Rivendell Bicycle Works, Peter White Cycles, North St. Bags, Handsome Cycles, Brooks England Ltd, and of course, Recep Yesil and Erik Nohlin (aka Team AWOL) at Specialized.

Here are a few photos taken on this Winter Solstice morning along the Missouri River.

If you would like to see the bike, it will be displayed at Epic Sports through March 2015.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014 Mileage

The days of decent riding opportunities for 2014 are now in the past, as winter has settled in throughout western North Dakota.  My final ride of the year occurred last Sunday, with a short loop in Bismarck to retrieve groceries and office supplies on my singlespeed mountain bike.  It was good to get out, as time on the bike has been severely limited since September’s brevet.

The ride summary for the year is modest, with the cumulative mileage and time impacted by new family responsibilities since March.  My commuting and road riding were especially disappointing, though the latter has been on a downward trend since 2011.  Accordingly, it may be time to release the Roubaix to someone more interested in road riding/racing.  It is an excellent bike, and deserves to be ridden.

Problems with my knee continue, suggesting a serious injury.  I have visits to the physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon scheduled for early next month.  I’ll share relevant outcomes in my December post.  In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!


Ride time





Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ride Report - Tour d’Twin Cities 600k

The ride may be summarized thusly…

There once was a cyclist name Mark
Who fell off his bike in the dark
His left knee gave way
On the following day
A gaffe with a clear downward arc

A few photos…

(Pre-ride check with a positive message to send us off)

(A cool start to the first morning)

(Riding with Jonas, Norman, and Mark prior to Taylor Falls)

(Info Control, 164 miles into the ride)

(Excellent bike trails made for safe riding)

(A short section of gravel soon after nightfall)

(Passing by Target Field the second morning…  …already off the back)

(Mississippi River)


p.s.  Here’s a link to two ride reports, courtesy of Rob Welsh and Norman Ehrentreich.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

August Rides and a Trip to Hungary

Preparations for my upcoming 600k involved a series of shorter rides, ranging in distance from 50 to 70 miles, usually early on Sunday mornings.  Riding early – by starting no later than 4:00 a.m. - is especially difficult for me, but I force myself out of bed with the knowledge that doing so should help simulate the difficulties of a 600k, especially on the second day (which typically starts before sunrise).

Routes for these early morning excursions rely heavily on the paved trail network in Bismarck and Mandan, as I’m not particularly keen on riding alone for long stretches on two-lane roads during the weekend.  Fortunately, the trail network is extensive on both sides of the Missouri River, thereby affording many interesting riding options.  Personal favorites include rides to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park (7 miles south of Mandan), University of Mary (5 miles south of Bismarck), and Harmon Lake (11 miles north of Mandan).  When combined with limited mileage on paved and/or gravel roads, it is easy to accumulate 50 miles or more without having to venture too far from city limits.

As one might expect, starting early in the morning increases the chance of encountering wildlife, of which we have plenty in North Dakota!  Deer and fox are common, particularly in Mandan.  I enjoyed one memorable wildlife experience on August 3rd, when I rode alongside a young whitetail buck for about 20 seconds before he darted down a ravine toward the Heart River.  An experience I won’t soon forget!

(Full moon reflecting off the Missouri River)

(The Schmidt Edelux II projects an excellent beam for night riding)

(Overlooking the Heart River at dawn)

Work had me return to central Europe in late August, this time to Hungary for two meetings in Debrecen.  I came away impressed by the use of bicycles as a means of transportation in this bustling college town.  Separate pedestrian and bicycle paths were common, and awareness of bicyclists on roadways was an eye-opening experience (even the bus drivers were courteous to bicyclists!).  While bicycle-related facilities weren’t as extensive in Budapest (despite a bike share program, which seemed rarely used), I left with a favorable impression of Hungary as a bicycle-friendly country.  Now, just don’t ask me about my stolen briefcase!!!

(Separate paths for pedestrians and bicyclists)

(Bicycle path, grassed tram corridor, and traditional road)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ride Report - Roe River 400k

The 400k brevet is generally considered the most difficult in the Super Randonneur Series.  The increased distance over the shorter brevets can be difficult to manage physically, particularly later in the ride.  While there are 27 hours allowed to complete a 400k, my perception is most randonneurs push to finish the ride without stopping to sleep.  Such conditions can contribute to a cumulative fatigue that can be challenging, particularly for cyclists new to the sport.
As Susan, Sarah, and I left Bismarck for Helana, Montana on July 18th, the challenge of the 400k weighed heavily on my mind.  Was it worth the risk to drive 10+ hours to ride this ‘new’ brevet distance?  Assuming I could make it through the day, what traffic risks would I face by riding during the wee hours of the morning?  And finally, how would my body respond to the smoke that covered much of Montana from fires in Canada and central Washington?
Looking back, these questions/concerns seem justified, but were non-issues.  The Roe River 400k turned out to be an excellent experience thanks to good planning, excellent support, and favorable riding conditions.  And with a finishing time of 20:58, it may perhaps be the fastest 400k I’ll ever ride.
Beginning in north Helena, the route followed I-15 to Wolf Creek for a long clockwise tour on mostly quiet, two-lane roads through Augusta, Fairfield, Simms, Great Falls, and Cascade before returning to Wolf Creek for the final 30 miles back to north Helena.  It was a challenging route, with about 9000 feet of climbing and significant distances between controls.  Jason Karp, Montana’s RBA, mentioned the route was PBP-like, minus the tree-lined roads.
 (Daybreak, south of Wolf Creek)

 (Big Sky!  Highway 434, heading north to Augusta)

(Time to refuel at the Augusta Trading Post)

(Anheuser-Busch grain storage in Fairfield)

 (The great falls in Great Falls)

(The Roe River...   ...in all its 201 feet of glory)   

Conditions for the ride were ideal for the clockwise route; at least for nearly all of the first 165 miles.  A moderate- to strong south/southwest wind aided the riding effort, and provided a co-benefit by clearing the smoky skies by the time we left Great Falls for the return to Helena (a leg that proved difficult given the significant headwind, though the clear, star-filled sky more than made up for it once we were riding in the dark).  Much like the Fishtail 300k, I found the traffic courteous with the exception of a couple sub-five foot passes (one of which  involved a Montana state patrol car).
My riding companions for the day included Jason and Ken.  We rode together for nearly the whole route.  Similar to the 300k, I was the fortunate beneficiary of their strong riding, quick wit, and positive focus when we were all suffering.  Additionally, we seemed to be ‘in-sync’ throughout the day, sharing a similar riding pace for nearly the entire ride.
 (Riding companions for the day - Jason to the left and Ken to the right)
Aside from one flat early in the day and a few interesting wildlife interactions, we enjoyed a smooth, uninterrupted ride.  As for the latter, we shared the road with a confused antelope near Cascade (who, fortunately, ran away from us), and I nearly ran over a rattlesnake while daydreaming along the frontage road north of Wolf Creek.  Ken and I were also chased by a pug for about 50 yards early in the ride (I can handle being chased by that breed of dog…  …a non-threat, even at 10 mph).
This was my first brevet where I did not break for a sit-down meal, though we took ample time in Augusta, Simms, Cascade and later in Wolf Creek to refuel with food and drink.  The stop in Wolf Creek, with much thanks to Jason’s wife, son, and mother-in-law, was timed perfectly given we had been on the road for over 18 hours.
My pace dropped off considerably after midnight, perhaps a reflection of the cumulative physical/mental fatigue brought on by the 400k distance.  The final climb back to Helena even found me walking my bike for a short stretch (and goodness, did it ever feel good to walk for a while!).
Other miscellaneous reflections…
·       Issues with my right knee were managed nicely by ibuprofen.  Only four tablets were needed during the ride.
·       Tightness/pain in my upper back came and went throughout the ride, suggesting an underlying psychological driver to this physical response.  Also, I felt better on this ride than the 300k.  Accordingly, a switch in Nitto stems prior to the ride (resulting in a more upright position) had the desired effect.
·       Riding along the Missouri river was a wonderful experience, despite being constantly pelted by an array of flying insects.  I’m fairly certain I could repeatedly ride the stretch from Cascade to Wolf Creek and never tire of the scenery.
·        Helena is a good destination for the family.  I returned to a positive review of the downtown and surrounding countryside.  We’ll return in the future, hopefully for a longer stay.
 (Looking down on the Missouri)
(Now along the Missouri river, somewhere north of Wolf Creek)
With completion of this 400k, I’m now a 600k brevet from Super Randonneur status for 2014.  My work schedule won’t allow me to return to Montana to complete the series, which will pass over Beartooth pass on Labor Day weekend (that will be a ride for another year!).  Instead, I’ll be off to Minnesota mid-September for the Tour d’Twin Cities.
All for now.  If you’d like to read another excellent ride review by Jason Karp, I encourage you to visit belgradebobcat.blogspot.com.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

George S. Mickelson Trail – Part I

I planned to participate in a 400k brevet in Colorado on May 31st.  I awoke at 1:30 a.m. that morning in time to drive to Colorado Springs to make the 3:00 a.m. check-in.  I had even turned south onto I-25 at exactly 2:00 a.m.  All was set.  My gear was on, the bike was ready, and all I needed to do was to arrive, get my bike cleared by the RBA, fill my bottles with water, stretch a bit, and mentally prepare for a long day in the saddle.  No problem, right?

I turned around at the first exit and headed north through downtown Denver.  My reasoning came to me just as I started to drive south.  I had slept approximately 10 hours the last three nights and was understandably tired and admittedly a bit grumpy.  The upcoming brevet had 17,000+ feet of climbing, meaning a very challenging day lie ahead.  Finally, my work schedule had changed such that I had to be back in the office on Monday, no excuses.  How was I going to ride 20+ hours in an already fatigued state and then drive home (safely) on Sunday?  I concluded it wasn’t worth the risk.  I would have to reschedule a 400k later in the season.

Disappointed by the situation, I thought about how I might salvage part of the day by riding somewhere along the route back to Bismarck.  Before I arrived at the Wyoming border, it struck me.  I’d ride part of the Mickelson Trail!  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, the weather was good (no rain forecasted), and my schedule was favorable for getting in a good ride.

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a 109 mile crushed limestone trail through the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The trail follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line, and as such, is one of the longest ‘rail-to-trail’ conversions in the United States.  The full length of the trail formally opened in 1998, and is named after former South Dakota Governor George Mickelson, who was early supporter of the trail’s development.

My ride started in Edgemont, which serves as the Mickelson trailhead.  Arriving at approximately 8:00 a.m., the weather was cool following a significant rainstorm the previous night.  After driving six hours, I was eager to get underway.

(Start at the beginning.  At the trailhead in Edgemont.)

From Edgemont, the trail travels east and then north past Hwy 18 (to Hot Springs).  My new tires absorbed the increased rolling resistance from the limestone, as I made good time into Pringle where I stopped to rest my shoulder/back and enjoy the local ‘art’.

(New Compass tires provided a smooth ride on crushed limestone.)

(Looking to the southwest approximately nine miles outside Edgemont.  Wyoming in the distance.)

(Bike ‘art’ in Pringle.)

The trail was quiet for most of my ride, having passed only two cyclists en route to Custer.  This allowed me to fully enjoy the scenery without having to worry about traffic along the trail.

(Bison grazing lush grass just south of Custer.)

After a little over three hours, I entered the town of Custer.  Here I decided to turn around, but not before refueling with lunch and cold water in my bottles.  The temperature was rising fast, and when coupled with the dry air, I was sure to need ample hydration on my way back to Edgemont.

(Harbach Park Trail head in Custer.  Time to find lunch!)

(I didn’t have to go far.  Baker’s CafĂ© was just around the corner.)

Instead of retracing my path along the trail, I chose to ride back on Hwy 89 and 18.  I had ample room along the shoulder and traffic was light, so the ride was enjoyable (minus my aching shoulder/back).  The decreased rolling resistance of the pavement was also welcome, and I returned to the Mickelson trailhead by 3:00 p.m.

(Final downhill stretch into Edgemont along Hwy 18.)

Following a shower at the Spearfish City Campground and a tasty burrito from Barbacoa’s, it was smooth sailing all the way home.  Not a bad way to salvage what started as a disappointing day!  I hope to return soon to complete the Custer to Deadwood leg of the Mickelson trail.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ride Report – Fishtail 300k

Three weeks after the Northern Pancake 200k I headed west with the family to Laurel, Montana for the next brevet of the season.  Starting with three other riders at 06:00 in the parking lot of the Laurel Walmart, the weather was perfect for what was to be a great day in the saddle.

The route took us to Columbus along the Yellowstone River then south to Fishtail, Red Lodge, and Belfry, before turning north to Bridger and then back to Columbus via Joliet and Hwy 421.  It was a wonderful ride with great roads, scenery, and riding companions.

(Riding with Jason Karp, Montana RBA, with the Yellowstone River to our left)

(First control at Fishtail General Store)

(En route to Red Lodge, with the Beartooth Range to the south)

(Highlight of my day…  A quick lunch with Susan and Sarah in downtown Red Lodge)

(Refueling with Jason and Ken in Joliet)

(Leaving Columbus on the last leg to Laurel...  ...now the Yellowstone River is to our right)

Overall, a great experience.  I’m hopeful we can return to Montana for the next brevet of the season in mid-July.

For additional photos and a more thorough ride report, see Jason Karp’s webpage.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ride Report – Northern Pancake 200k

The first brevet of the season took me to northern Minneapolis on May 3rd for a nearly flat 200k with 30 other randonneurs.  The temperatures were ideal for riding (50s°F), but a shifting wind made for some challenging sections.  Finishing in just over nine hours on my Specialized Roubaix was not unsurprising given the lack of time I’ve had in the saddle so far this year.  Needless to say, this was a ride of ‘base miles’.

(Riding together prior to the second control)

Still, I enjoyed connecting with a few riders from last year’s Munger Bungo, and even managed to meet a couple folks due to some unfortunate circumstances (helped one rider switch out tubes following a double puncture within the first 15 miles, and then stopped following an unfortunate crash by another rider also early in the brevet).

(Refueling at the Princeton, MN SuperAmerica – Control #3)

I expect to return at least once this year to participate in another brevet organized by the Minnesota Randonneurs.  They do a great job with planning and communication (now with a Facebook page).  I’m fortunate they are within a seven hour drive of Bismarck.

(First 2014 brevet in the rear view mirror)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Slow Start to the Riding Season

Unseasonably cold temperatures and untimely precipitation has made accrual of base miles particularly difficult this year.  Moreover, my dad has been hospitalized since early March (fell on ice, hit his head, multiple subdermal hematomas, three brain surgeries, 12 days in ICU, etc. etc.).  His situation has created a significant learning curve, and the transition in assuming numerous new responsibilities has been time consuming, to say the least.  I’m hopeful some degree of consistent riding will commence once the weather improves and I’ve adjusted to this ‘new normal’ in my personal life.

In the meantime, I’ve been out for a few good rides and even managed to sneak away to Europe for a brief visit to Warsaw for work. Below are a few photos from my experiences the past seven weeks.

(Watching the sun rise while enjoying coffee at Rolling Hills truck stop)

 (Shadow rider)

(Bike share program in Warsaw)

(This bike has seen better days!)

(MCDS, Mobile Caffeine Delivery System aka 'The Bike Cafe', Warsaw, Poland)