Monday, July 15, 2013

One week on from Gold Rush - assorted musings on riding ultra long distance

Here's some various notes about the DBC Gold Rush 2013 that I wrote on 5 July but never posted as I was miles away from internet access at the time. For the "real" ride report, see Emma's post.

Never wear new kit

Somewhat foolishly, I purchased new cycling shorts (Specialized Race) two weeks before the ride, and started out wearing them -- only the second time I'd ridden in them.
The first 300km went great, I couldn't believe how comfy they were. Especially given how went the weather was. On reaching Taylorsville I decided to have an early change of shorts anyway, to get some dry ones on, as I'd sent 2 clean pairs ahead to there in the bag drop. At this point I discovered the extent of damage done! The seems on the tops of both legs had rubbed in the wet, just below the hip-flexors, and caused some quite extensive abrasions. Strangely neither hurt at the time, indeed they bore through until the final day. It was only in the days after the ride that the pain really kicked off!
To be fair, I don't think these were entirely the fault of the shorts: I was wearing my new 'touring' jacket for the first 2 days, and this is still pretty stiff material, which I think had pushed down onto my legs and caused the chaffing. For long rides a thinner lighter jacket has more benefits besides weight saving. (Although they tend to be more 'boil in the bag' hence why I'd taken the heavier, more technical jacket).

Beware new bike components

A random observation. We changed the cassette 3 weeks before the ride, at the same time as the rebuild due to frame crack.
We'd previously run a 11-34 tooth cassette, but decided to switch to the latest MTB style 11-36, as this allowed fitting of a slightly larger granny chain ring with only a small increase in minimum gear available. What I hadn't reckoned on though was that this meant switching from Santana's custom specified tandem 10-speed cassette to a stock MTB sort. I hadn't realized how much I'd liked the consistent 2-tooth increments from 11 to 23 on the first seven gears. The new cassette only maintains 2-tooth separations for six gears, before getting into 3 & 4 tooth incements. This meant on top ring on rolling terrain, I had only 6 gears to play with for small adjustments. On a short ride this would be no odds, but on a long ride I started getting quite tired with the effort of trying to select sensible gear and dealing with the shifting.

Getting lucky with sleep stop strategy

I think this is one of the things we're both most pleased with. We entered with the same overall plan as when we rode PBP, the details worked out quite differently, but overall we thought we had it spot on for the terrain and the conditions.
Like PBP we more or less planned to "race out, tour back", getting a good time to the turn around and then having almost an extra day to play with for the return. Unlike PBP, we actually managed to tour rather than race back, hence a somewhat slower time, but a happier state of being on arriving at the arrivee!
Coordinating sleep stops on a tandem is tricky as you need to be sure that when you stop to sleep both parties are tired enough to get meaningful rest. On PBP we solved this by banking up sleep debt until we got in 2x 4.5 hour stops, and that worked well. We wanted to do the same on Gold Rush, getting to Adin at 520km to have our first sleep, but at the control before - Susanville - we realized we were already ready to drop so got in 2 hours kip, even though it was only 4pm. This was such a good decision! While I can't claim we flew over the next stage, it was a surprisingly undulating affair, and attempting that after 30 hours awake (almost 24 hours cycling) would have been a disaster. As it was we arrived at Adin ready for another 90mins snooze, which we managed in a control volunteer's car they kindly lent us! This was perfect. We were then getting up to finish the remaining 100km of outbound leg in the early hours, pedaling into dawn -- resetting the body clock nicely.
Due to this, the last 1.5 days were splendidly enjoyable, being able to stop for an impromptu ice cream, enjoying the catering at each control stop to the full, having an extra sleep to avoid the hot part of Thursday afternoon, and being able to finish in comfortable time and without lasting injuries to ourselves. This was really important for us, on our second ride of this length; not wanting to repeat the time off the bike we suffered after PBP.


This surprised me a lot, it maybe a sign of how cotton-wrapped I’ve become in south-bay smooth paved roads, but the middle half of the ride was supremely hard work on me due to the state of the roads. Due to the tough winter weather up at altitude, they seemed to systematically crack right across its width at regular ~20 meter gaps. Perhaps due to the concern I had as we were running a front wheel with 2 emergency spokes, or just from the miles of tandem-piloting fatigue, I seemed to get worn down by this more than other riders who barely seemed to notice it.
The effect was we were delighted to get back over the high-point and onto the Feather River canyon. Several other riders reported the logging lorry traffic being unbareable there, but we didn’t seem to suffer that too much: maybe being larger and faster than a solo, and needing to ride a bit further out from the fog line, they tended to keep back on the narrow sections for us.

Front wheel after the ride. Can you spot two unusual spokes?

Company makes it memorable

Randoneuring is a strange beast. Part of what we love about it is the time we get alone, just with our own thoughts and each other's understanding company, but equally we like the shared adventure and occasional chatter of riding in a group. This ride had a good mix of each. The opening 100km we were in big groups but bashing out the miles too eagerly for much conversation. The final 100km was superb - retracing though same roads but in a small group with Billy Olsen and Patrick Chin-Hong, churning out the miles through the night and then enjoying the sunrise over the flatlands north of Davis. We split up just before the end, Patrick wanting to ride faster to wake up a bit, us wanting to stop at a Starbucks for a relax and a bathroom break, but this worked out just fine for everyone and the chat through the last few stages was a great way to round out the ride.

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