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Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava
Life in and around Northfield, Minnesota.
Updated: 1 hour 29 min ago
My boss just came home from a long trip to England, and brought me this reproduction of a World War I recruiting poster. Bloody brilliant.
Like you do, Vivi spent a good half hour the other night writing fortunes for fortune cookies. Her cursive script is excellent, and her sense of cookie fortune absurdity is top notch.
Be an advertiser that constantly says, “50% Fewer calories.”
Salt and/or pepper will invade your life.
Grow up to be like Aunt Jemima.
Make a dent is a dead bird’s beak.
Chip your tooth on a barb wire.
Develop a sack-racing obsession.
Pinocchio will take you to Kokaki land.
Work in a factory that makes butter.
An evil magicians will steal your hairbrush.
Smash a tulip.
EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!
Vivi’s latest passion is magic tricks. I blame the library, as usual – all those books, full of interesting ideas and projects. A couple of the tricks in the first book she checked out were pretty easy to see through. Surprisingly, she wasn’t disappointed when I could tell how she did them.
One trick flabbergasted me, though. She put a different Matchbox car in each of these bags and had me shuffle them, turn them, stand them up, or lay them down the bags. No matter what I did, she could always tell which bag held a certain car. It was literally incredible. Though I knew intuitively that she had somehow marked the bags, I needed an embarrassingly long time to figure out what she was doing – and even then, she was delighted to have tricked me for so long.
I took advantage of the perfect weather today and the girls being busy with a friend to clean up the garage.
I took down and packed away the Christmas lights on the front tree, passed on to new owners two unneeded kids’ bikes, reorganized the crazy miscellany on the shelves, stowed the snow-removal tools again slash finally, installed hooks to get other stuff off the floor (a half-dozen sets of bike tires, a bike rack), and sorted my three bins of various cycling-related items – racing gear, winter equipment, and spare parts.
I also threw out a ton of junk, including these casualties of my winter racing: a worn-out cassette, two derailleurs (one merely bent, one folded like a pretzel) and a bottom bracket whose death throes sounded like a coffee grinder.
Not pictured are the shifters I grew to hate, two different chains I snapped, or the big chainring whose 42 teeth were ground down to nubs.
I looked at this junk and though, "Expensive problems to solve." But as the guy at my shop reminded me, bikers are supposed to ride their bikes. I had a lot of fun wearing out all this stuff.
As someone with a middling level of experience in long-distance fatbike riding and racing, I’ve learned a lot from more experienced racers like Danielle Musto, who posted a great list of tips for better fat biking and Jay Petervary, who gave a great presentation on winter racing at the Winter Bike Expo in Minneapolis last fall, wrote up some of his ideas on the 45NRTH blog, and later posted on Salsa’s blog a great video on the bike and gear he is using (right this very second!) in the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
Along those lines, and keeping in mind that I am not a fast guy, I thought I would write up a few of my own lessons for successfully undertaking long-distance fatbike rides and races.
Forget drop bags.
Though I know many racers use drop bags to replenish their food and drink and to have good stuff to anticipate at the checkpoints, to me they’re been a complication, something to worry about before and during the race: what should I put in the bag? where and when do I drop off the bag? what will I do if I can’t find the bag?
A fatbike set up for a marathon or longer will have enough space on it to carry the stuff that could go in a drop bag, eliminating this complexity – and living up to the "you are responsible for you" ethos of fatbike racing.
Wear a hood!
Hats are great, especially if you need to shade your eyes, but hoods are, I think, superior as means to manage heat and moisture. Not only do hoods look awesome, but they’re easier to pull up or down than hats are to remove and stow or dig out and don. Good hoods, the kind that have high front zippers that cover the chin, also serve as good buffs, helping to bottle up heat inside a jacket or jersey.
To do well in a long race, you have to practice riding, of course, but an ultramarathon demands all kinds of other skills, often an in opportune times like in the middle of the night or after hours of fighting a frigid headwind. To be ready for those moments, practice finding and donning your extra clothing quickly, starting a fire, pushing your bike through deep snow, fixing a flat tire – all those eventualities that could mean the difference between comfort and suffering, between a finish and a DNF, or even between surviving and not.
I love regular coffee and Coke. Love them, and enjoy them whenever I can. But as good as they are, caffeinated drinks and foods are even better during arduous races. As such, I’ve started weaning myself from caffeine before big races, so that I am caffeine-free for the couple weeks leading up to the event. Not only does this help induce good sleep over that period, but this assures that when I do take caffeine during the race, it’s like rocket fuel. The effect can’t be overstated! Caffeinated gel and chews, Coke, coffee, Red Bull: it’s all magically potent.
Riding and racing is a lot easier and more fun when you stay relaxed and loose, whether by temperament or by habit – by consciously counteracting the tension that naturally builds in the body and mind. A loose body also stays warm better, I think!
But staying relaxed ahead of a race also matters to the race itself. Practically, I do this with by using checklists to be mindlessly sure I’m packing all the right stuff, by using drawings to plan the locations on my bike of all my gear, by packing race kit in one bag in my duffel and my post-race clothes in another…
Less practically, I stay relaxed by trying to follow as normal a routine as possible: my usual food, my usual clothes, my usual habits. I’ve found that a beer or two the night before a race helps keep me calmed down. Delicious. Normal.
Move like a sled dog.
From my friend and super-fast fatbike racer Kevin Breitenbach:
"I feel like i dont have a ton of relevant things to learn from guys at the Tour de France, just like they dont have much to learn from me. i have way more to learn from my dog. The more i move down the trail like my dog the better. i dont suggest anyone move down the trail like a roadie. you dont have to be a great cyclist to do well in winter races. you need to know that the most important thing is to move efficiently through every aspect of the race. a good musher, husky, wolf, coyote, or fox knows the same thing. find the sweet spot in the trail, keep your back steady and stride consistent, regulate your temperature easily and constantly, no wasted motions, rarely stop, stay on top of the snow, eat and drink quickly and deal with it in uncomfortably large portions then get rest in whatever form, no matter how brief, as often as possible. Mushers and dog teams do all that very well, and if things go well in a race so do winter endurance athletes."
"Unless you’re riding, always do two things at once."
This is one of JayP’s tips. Ride as much as possible, but when you can’t ride – and any fatbike ride of any distance will include hike-a-bike sections – make sure you’re doing something else while you push: drink water, down a gel, adjust clothing, pop some ibuprofen, move food from a frame bag pocket to a bar bag, open or close is jacket zippers… Make full use of the time before you can get back in the saddle and start making better time again.
This is another of JayP’s tips: do the thing you know you need to do as soon as possible. Tires washing out? Stop and air down. Thirsty but your bottle’s empty? Stop and find that full one in your seat bag. Getting sweaty at 0 degrees? Unzip the jacket (or lower your hood!). Craving some food that’s out of reach? Stop and dig it out. Take care of a little issue before it’s a big problem.
Sunday was a true early-spring day: sunny, breezy, and about forty degrees F. Beautiful, in other words. Finally weather that lets me wear the same clothes all day! No need for a jacket; a fleece sweater is fine!
The sun motivated me to do a few "spring cleaning" tasks around the house – sweeping leaves and sand off the patio, wiping down the patio table, stashing the snow shovel and melting salt and sand in the back corner of the garage, putting the girls’ sleds and snowboards away. I tried to take down the Christmas lights in the tree out front, but the snowbanks were too high and soft to let me get close to the tree itself, and the extension cord was frozen down in three different places. Next weekend!
The day being so nice, I decided to make the usual seasonal tweaks to my bike. I took off the Buffalo’s winter tires and re-installed its dirt tires, took off the winter racing bags and put on a puny little seatbag, and finally also put on my trusty and essential fenders. Cleaned up, the Buffalo looked pretty light and fast:
With these domestic chores out of the way, I decided to hop on the bike to do a couple errands on campus. I saw a half-dozen runners even before I left if our subdivision. Cutting through the very melty Carleton Arboretum, I exchanged affable smiles with one die-hard skier, skating through the slush and standing water. On campus, kids were out everywhere – running, walking hand in hand, playing frisbee golf, just hanging out on the steps and benches. One woman was even fishing through a hole she’d cut in the ice on the pond.
After a stop at the gym to drop off the week’s workout clothes, I went over to my office, where I hung a cool poster I bought from North Central Cyclery, one of my favorite bike shops
and then took care of a million cleaning tasks I never have time to do during the week. Besides cleaning up my desk and filing cabinets, I threw a couple dozen books in the recycling bin and put twice as many in a box to drag down to the used bookstore sometime soon.
Before long, I needed to head home again. I took a meandering route through the streets, seeing many more walkers, dogwalkers, runners, and bikers, plus groups of kids playing frisbee, football, and baseball. With the sun dropping behind the trees, the air was cooking fast, and I got a nice chill – maybe the last of the season.
Julia threw up all night Friday, after being up till 12:30 on Thursday night. Understandably, she lay on the sofa all day Saturday, tossing and turning, reading books, sipping some water, nibbling some crackers, and generally looking and feeling awful.
After dinner, Shannon went out for a walk – her first chance to leave the house all day. Julia propped herself up on an elbow, turned toward me, and said, “I feel so awful, I want to use a bad word.”
“Go ahead, honey,” I told her. “When you’ve had two days as bad as you have, you’re allowed.”
She settled back into the sofa and with great relish said, “I feel like crap. Crap.”
*sniff sniff* My little girl is growing the hell up!
A few of Genevieve’s choice quotes today:
"I’m getting on my nerves."
(After she herself passes gas) "No offense, Daddy, but you’re kind of the farter of the house."
(Of my handwriting) "This looks like it was written by a gorilla using his non-dominant hand."
(In Bloomington) "I don’t like big cities. They always smell like hamburgers."
"I’m such a lozenge."
"By all means, I should be pixelated by now."
And a sign we both thought was funny:
Video proof that people in cars are stupid:
1. A buffalo headbutts a car in Yellowstone NP:
2. A lioness opens a car door in South Africa:
Vivi, my little scientist, today received her Scholastic book order: eight rocks and a little book of experiments to do with them. She’s fascinated. We did a few of the experiments, and will do more after getting some supplies (do people really keep Epsom salts on hand?), but the best thing we did tonight was to start growing crystals on a "popcorn rock" submerged in white vinegar. We should start start seeing aragonite crystals within a few days, but we were impressed by the bubbling and cloud of matter rising up from the rock. Geochemistry for the win!
Parenting involves a lot of getting blindsided by things good and bad. Vivi’s fascination with the solar system and Julia’s amazing drawing abilities are two good surprises in the last year; their adoption of the rhetoric of being “too busy” is a bad one. Partially because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about “being busy” lately, and as the internet does, it threw two interesting and relevant things at me this week.
1. From an interview with Brené Brown in the Washington Post a few years ago:
‘Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.
I see it a lot when I interview people and talk about vacation. They talk about how they are wound up and checking emails and sitting on the beach with their laptops. And their fear is: If I really stopped and let myself relax, I would crater. Because the truth is I’m exhausted, I’m disconnected from my partner, I don’t feel super connected to my kids right now…
Healthy striving is about striving for internal goals, and wanting to be our best selves. Perfectionism is not motivated internally. Perfectionism is about what people will think.
The present is fleeting, to the degree that to some it seems non-existent. It is always in motion, it flows on headlong; it ceases to be before it has come, and will no more brook delay than the firmament or the stars, whose incessant drive never allows them to remain stationary. It is only with the present that busy men are concerned, and the present is so transitory that it cannot be grasped; but because their attention is distracted in many directions they are deprived of even this little.
Tomorrow, the biggest, baddest fatbike race of them all starts: the Iditarod Trail Invitational, run on the dogsled route from Anchorage, Alaska, north and west to McGrath, the end of the "short" 350 mile race, and Nome, the end of the "long" 1,000 mile race.
This year, a bunch of my fatbike-racing friends are doing the races, including these yahoos from Minnesota and South Dakota:
My buddies Ben Doom and Mark Seaburg are fourth and fifth from the left here. And I loaned my headlamp to Charly Tri, at left. (I want that lamp back, Charly!) I’ll be rooting for them and for other friends I’ve met – Jay and Tracey Petervary, Beat Jegerlehner, Kevin Breitenbach, Petr Ineman- and not yet met – Toni Lund (an incredible photographer) – starting Sunday afternoon.
As you’d guess, I am very eager to do the ITI. The checkpoints and other milestones ring in my head like bells: Knik, Yentna Station, the Skwentna Roadhouse, Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, the Dalzell Gorge, Rohn, the Farewell Burn, Nikolai, McGrath…
With finishes in two Arrowheads and one Fat Pursuit, I have enough experience to do the "short" race to McGrath. The problems, as usual, are time and money. Including both travel time and up to five days of racing, I would need about ten days off to do the race – a long time to make Shannon handle all the domestic duties, and a long time to be away from work. Maybe more importantly, the adventure would cost several thousand dollars to do: the race entry fee, extensive travel to and in Alaska, lodging there, plus all the usual race costs like food and Alaska-ready gear and food and batteries (so many batteries!) and food (so much food!).
Someday, right? Till then I’m going to follow the race from afar – which you can do this year with Trackleaders. I’ll be glued to it for the next week! Ride hard, everyone!
This is what I see whenever I sit down to eat something from a bowl.
Grandma Cat can tell the difference between the clinking sounds made in bowls or on plates. If she detects food being consumed from a bowl, she comes begging, hoping that it’s cereal, so she can have the leftover milk, or ice cream, so she can slurp the melt.
Tonight, despite a solid 15 minutes of begging, she got nothing, since I was eating some chicken chili. When I let her sniff them empty bowl, she gave me a look of equal parts disappointment and hurt, then padded away to the sis.