Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Are we crazy? Tahoe Sierra 100 and Rose to Toad’s MTB rides

We did Tahoe Sierra 100 mountain bike ride on Aug 23. Some say it’s the hardest mountain biking century in the country. I don’t know if it is true, but I know it deserves a ride report. However, some time has passed and I didn’t find time to write, but more importantly, I didn’t know where to start. Then the Labor Day weekend arrived and we did the TAMBA Rose to Toad’s ride, which in my mind, could be a world class MTB ride. The day after, I’m sitting on a Lake Tahoe beach when Mr. Mud took my visiting coworker out for kayaking. Perfect time for me to relax and start writing. Now, where to start… (Note: I only finished writing a week later in the car when driving to Oregon.)

Lately, there was an MTBR thread that I participated in (one might say, unwisely, but I didn’t have enough zen in me to remain silent when seeing wrong information was offered with arrogance). In one post, the OP, whom I was in disagreement with, exclaimed “anybody who doesn’t prepare, both physically and mentally, for a big, new ride, is also crazy.” I’d like to think that the statement was not targeted at me. Most likely not, but I also know that the OP has pulled statements made by his “opponent” from elsewhere in order to support his own point, and I happened to have just posted in the Tahoe Sierra 100 thread on the same day that I went into the ride without having touched my mountain bike for a month, without having ridden any section of the route and consequently suffered cramps for almost half of the ride. Is he right — am I crazy? The question did keep coming back to me, so I’ll start with this one.

I always think that I have Type A personality, which means that going out on big rides like these without proper preparation is against my nature. However, I have done it, again and again.

Take Tahoe Sierra 100 as an example, I didn’t touch the mountain bike in the month prior. I should have because if I had done it, I would have remembered that the brakes need bleeding (or replacement since I’d bought new brakes a year ago) and the front derailleur is not working properly (half of the time I have to get off the bike in order to shift into the small chain ring by hand). The week leading into the ride, I was very busy with a visiting coworker whom I work closely with, so busy that all the liquid I drank during the day was one cup of coffee in the morning and another in the afternoon. I remember seeing the dark colored urine thinking oh, I’m so dehydrated and then I ran back to my office to continue working. Also because he, from India, was not comfortable driving, so he didn’t rent a car. I was chauffeuring him to market (he likes “fresh” fruits), dinner, and hotel before returning home very late every day. No time for any kind of preparation, mentally or physically. Three days before the ride date, two discounted transfers landed on our laps, and brought the ride back to our radar. I knew Mr. Mud always wanted to do the ride. I asked him, “do you want to do this ride? do you think we are ready for it?” He replied, just like how he always replies to my questions of that sort, “just ride it. It will work out.” And it indeed always did. BTW, when I say it did workout, I meant, we were able to achieve our goal and we did not become anybody’s liability.

It’s not that I don’t think preparation is important; it’s not that I don’t think I myself need preparation. It’s just I seem to find proper preparation difficult to obtain, for me anyway. Maybe my time management skills are poor because most of the days, I simply cannot find time to fit training in. The only reason I manage going to the climbing gym two early mornings (I get up at 5am for it) a week is because I am a reliable climbing partner to my friend Leslie. And then I need the rest of the days to make up for the missed sleep. I am also battling some form of depression. It’s not the crying type, but my depression does keep me up late at night doing nothing,  lying in bed when I’m awake and should be up and doing thing.  It keeps me sitting in the chair longer than I should. Subsequently, there are always necessary things left unattended to and I feel guilty. The first thing to cut out when you feel guilty about inaction is exercises. Do others feel the same way? Maybe sometimes? Another symptom of depression is indecision. When I can’t decide what I want to do one week down the road, I cannot make commitment; thus I cannot make plans. When there is no commitment nor plan, there is no preparation. Yeah, I know, I’ve got a problem. BTW, I’m getting help from professionals about that, so I hope to improve. One part of dealing with it is to accept it and not hide it. That’s what I’m doing. Plus, I doubt I have one or two readers anyway.

While I have my own problem, I know many other peoples deal with all sorts of reasons that prevent them from proper preparations. Too often, I see people say “I would love to join this ride, but ___ has kept me away from training, so I can’t. Next year.” And next year is the same thing. I think this is where Mr. Mud and I might be a little different, or in some people’s mind a little crazy. Although there are sometimes other factors that stop us, e.g. time and budget, but we usually do no let lack of preparation stop us from attempting and achieving something big and grand, and often difficult.

In my observation, most people enter a difficult ride without the right expectation, and as soon as the going gets tough, they decide it is not the event they subscribed to and calling quit will cut their loss. Fair enough, and guess next time, they just need to do their homework better. And then there are people entering a ride knowing it will be difficult and still give up part way because they don’t think they have what it takes to follow through to the end. Speaking from personal experience, over the years, I have learnt that our body is capable of doing a lot more than what our mind believes it can, so it is our mind we need to work on. Most times, I don’t really care how fast I go or if there is a purpose in the thing I do, because when my mind reaches its breaking point, I convince myself to let my body, no matter how tired and beat up it is, do its work, and so far, it has always pulled me through. That’s the game I play, anyway. Am I crazy?

Now onto the rides.

Tahoe Sierra 100

The 2014 version is difficult. (They change it every year, and sometimes dramatically.) How can you say something being difficult without any comparison? Okay, here is a comparison. I’ve done Hard COEre 100 (currently defunct as the ride creator took the ride site down). Coe 100: it climbs 22,000’+ in 100 miles all on dirt, which TS100 cannot claim and is unheard of; it is so difficult that it took me 18 hours to complete; it is so difficult that in 2013 there were only two riders, Brian and yours truly, who completed the ride among all who attempted.  Yet, the 2014 TS 100 was harder despite its meager 17,000’+ of elevation gain. Why (for me, specifically)?

  1. Altitude. Elevation is no joke. When you are not acclimated to elevation, a small exertion can leave you gasping for air, and even worse, depending on the individual or the day, altitude can induce headache of various severities ranging from annoying to downright debilitating, and I’m not even talking about mountaineering high altitude! I don’t say this as an excuse for my slow performance, but I do believe people who have frequent exposure to altitude have the natural advantage when it comes to riding, let alone hard riding, at altitude.
  2. Terrain. The BS factor on this route is through the roof! This ride happened this year after the famous horse endurance race Tevis Cup, and the route shares many of the same trails. When hundreds of horses go through dirt trails, they turn the dirt and rock loose. They trash the trails. On top of that, some portions (esp. the one that’s added in 2014 to replace the much mellower now-off-limit portion) are open to OHV’s. Throttles are not kind to dirt trails and roads either. There were many sections of trails on this ride that became unrideable despite a gentle grade or even a downhill grade! Then, there are the trails that are not really meant for biking (at least in the direction we went) such as the climb towards Devil’s Thumb, which I call Devil’s Middlefinger. There are so much hike-a-bike that my bone spur in the two heels were badly bruised from the bicycling shoes and turned into two painful pressure points with every step. And there were many many steps I made on foot on this ride.
  3. Time pressure. I usually don’t race, and even though this one was claimed not to be a race (due to some Forest Service requirement), they do impose time cut off at each aid station (and who knew, in the end, they actually published riders’ times based on their watch). If I don’t make the cutoff, I will have to be pulled out and SAG’ed out. I was worried about making the cutoff because after all, the reason we got one of the transfers was a friend that I considered much stronger than me decided not to ride it because he didn’t think he could make the cut off after he rode some sections of the route. Because of the time pressure, I did not linger at any aid station; nor did I take my time searching for the right food or the right drink. Despite my best effort to stay ahead of the cutoff, my cushion at each station kept shrinking, from 2 hours at  the 1st station, to 1.5 hours at the 2nd station, to .5 hours after Deadwood station… and when I reached Foothill station, I was 10 minutes past the cutoff, or so I thought. So, when I rolled in, the first question I asked was, “Can I still continue?” As it turned out, due to the harder reroute at Lyon Ridge, they had postponed the cutoffs by half an hour, so I was actually 20 minutes ahead. After Foothill station, my GPS shut itself off and despite the full charge (as I confirmed by turning it back on), it refused to stay on, so I lost the sense of time. I had no idea where the actual Driver’s Flat station was because there were volunteers and rider crew at different points and I couldn’t tell which one was the actual station. Regardless, other than people asking me if I still wanted to continue (and my answer was always yes), nobody told me not to, so I assumed I was okay with the cut off. Only when I arrived at Stagecoach station (the last one before the finish and it had been torn down to only one water jug sitting on the back of a truck) with only easy riding left, one lady told me that I was behind the cutoff. She looked almost apologetic when she said it. I, on the other hand, was on the moon happy at that point because I knew that I had survived the worst cramps especially when I had to walk and there would be no more walking, because I knew that I had survived riding the rocky river trail in the dark, and because I knew that I had the last five miles in bag. I offered to her to turn in my number plate so they would no longer be responsible for me when I was no longer part of the organized ride. I was happy to do that, but another volunteer, Rich, stepped up to me and told me not to even worry about it. With a strong push from him, I rode on. I rode to the finish around 9:46pm (with 15 hr and 38min elapsed time since we started the ride at 6:08am). I was 8 minutes past the 15:30 allocated time. As a result, I was not listed among the 46 solo finishers on the website (125 riders signed up for the ride). 8 minutes was what I spent on an extra out and back my riding companion Kevin and I did when we missed a left turn where the arrow was hard to see if you didn’t know where to look.
  4. Inadequate nutrition (when you count on aid stations). TS100 had the reputation to have well stocked aid stations, or at least that’s what Mr. Mud told me. The event website did have an impressive list of items including Perpetuem, Heed water, and Pickle Juice, etc. That would have been enough for me because Perpetuem could be a great liquid fuel, Heed for electrolytes, and pickle juice is known to do wonder for cramps. When I reached the first aid station, I asked for Perpetuem. I was told there was none, but another volunteer standing off to the side pointed out that there was some. There was a ziplock bag full of white powder sitting in the back. I got a spoonful in my bottle. That’s okay. The next station would not be that far. As it turned out, that was the only station where I could find Perpetuem. I asked every one afterwards, and nobody had it. The Heed from the jug tasted weak like water. And I never did find pickle juice despite my desperate search at each station after my cramps started midway, and they really flared up whenever I stopped at the station (stopping was worse). I could tell the volunteers felt bad for me and tried to help me at their best, but all they had to offer was electrolytes pills, which didn’t work that well for me. It was not their fault. I should not have count on the promises on a webpage.

I learned my lesson from every aspect listed above. If I were to return, I think I can do better, esp. if I get to ride my mountain bike a bit more before the ride. However, we thought not to return again because we were appalled by how beatup the trails were and we would not want to partake in further damaging those trails again. That said, we were told that some years, this TS100 ride takes place before the Tevis Cup Horse Endurance Race and the trails can be in much better shape, like in night and day difference. Maybe we will return.

MTBR 2014 Tahoe Sierra 100 Thread

My Strava Track with comments

Mr Mud’s Strava Track with comments

Event page

4th Annual TAMBA Rose to Toad’s (R2T) Ride

Now, compared with TS100, the R2T ride seems like a play even though it still covers 60+ miles of trails (some very technical) at an altitude that goes up to 9500’. After another very busy week and barely had an opportunity to recover from TS100, we were already all packed up and on our way driving up to the Sierra again in the Labor Day weekend traffic. Only then we found out that neither of us really wanted to do the ride (feeling exhausted and tired with the driving), but both thought the other wanted to do the ride, so we tried to be supportive. Apparently, we were so busy that we didn’t really have time to even communicate clearly with each other.

Mr. Mud had an amusing report on this ride.

There is also an MTBR thread on this ride with lots of stoke around the ride.

Needless to say, we have committed to return to do the ride again.

My Strava Activity with comments

Mr. Mud’s Strava Activity with comments

Event page