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Job Hunting Again, Part 2

With the shutting down of buddhi in August, I am once again doing a job hunt. And while job hunting is rarely an enjoyable experience, this one has been far and away my most frustrating one. So far.

Part of it is the fact that whenever I apply for a job, I rarely know what the interview process is going to be like. There are some companies that legitimately think 8+ hours of inteviewing with multiple technical challenges is the correct approach. While on the other end of the specturm, one company scheduled only three interviews where I simply talked with the hiring manager, the engineers on the team, and finally the CTO. A rather more friendly, informative, and personable approach in my opinion.

And the technical screenings are a complete toss up. I had a company ask me to build a Binary Tree from an array on a whiteboard. Another wanted me to solve the Maximum Index problem in my preferred language and then answer a dozen Computer Science questions. You know...those really important problems that always come up when building a web application. 🙄

My personal favorite recently was a take-home coding challenge that had an expected completion time of five hours. Naturally, the requirements for this challenge were poorly thought out and were written in a text file with two mistakes in it. Definitely the sort of challenge that a software engineer with two decades of experience is eager to do. I waved goodbye and moved on.

I was also tickled pink when a Director of Engineering admitted he had learned coding from software that I wrote...and yet still wanted me to take their coding challenge. A little flexibility on this point may have been wise, just saying.

Skipping past the time commitment, which is truly fun when you remember I am interviewing at multiple companies, and also the wacky technical screens, I would like to talk about the ghosting. Two weeks ago I finished a company's entire interview process and then heard nothing for 10 days. I had to poke the outside recruiter to contact them and when he finally heard back, he was brushed off with a vague "We're moving in a different direction." with no additional details or feedback. It was the second company to ghost me like this. Seems incredibly unprofessional.

So, here I am fours weeks later, and I am starting my entire job hunt over.

Now, I expect job hunting to require some effort. It is you and a company trying to see if you're a match because it is an investment into what is hopefully a long term relationship. I also expect some manner of screening by a company to ensure that my resume is legit. There are scammers out there and a smart company will want to confirm one's credentials, so to speak.

However. Throughout my long (looooonnng) work history, I have been a CTO (twice), VP Engineering, Software Architect, Lead Engineer, Principal Software Engineer, and Senior Software Engineer. My resume includes building blog software, a CMS, a framework, multiple SaaS applications, and rewriting or maintaining numerous large scale applications. And my skills have me able to handle everything from creating a new icon, designing a website, building an entire frontend application, building the entire backend, managing servers, and deploying. I've got some skills and experience.

I have also been the primary technical interviewer for multiple companies and I truly believe an experienced technical interviewer can assess someone like me with an in-depth conversation. In fact, my most positive interview experiences were when exactly that happened. Further, anecdotally, the companies with the most exhausting technical interview processes tend to have the worst applications and engineering culture problems.

With all that in mind, if you are looking for a software engineer, I highly suggest you keep the following in mind:

  • Post your salary range in the job description. It is one of the most important pieces of information to a candidate and is now legally required in Colorado and California.
  • Post your interview process in the job description. A short description of each step and expected time duration.
  • If you have more than 4 hours of interviewing for candidates, seriously reconsider your process and determine if this amount of time is really necessary. Candidates are interviewing at multiple companies, may have a current job, and need to schedule around their own life. Also, the mental strain is already intense, do not make it worse.
  • Evaluate your technical screens for what information you really need and want. Keep them short and tight. Train your interviewers and standardize on questions and how to evaluate answers.
  • Coding challenges should be no more than 2 hours, unless you are paying candidates for their time. The instructions should be clearly written, concise, and presented well.
  • Do NOT ghost candidates. A simple email within 24 hours of every interview step, even if turning them down, is better than having candidates left wondering. Be honest and straightforward; you are representing your company here.


Race Season 2022

An abridged version of this post is over on Instagram, if you want to see some lovely photos.

With race season over, I thought a little race recap was in order. Here are my thoughts on each race and stage:

  • Old Man Winter Rally. Brrrrr. Incredibly cold feet by the end. And the conditions in a couple parts–like Bow Mountain Rd–were super dicey. Overall though, I would highly recommend, just with dedicated cold weather biking footwear and maybe an extra layer + warm gloves for the Sunshine descent.
  • Boulder Roubaix. For a race we signed up for last minute in the middle of a training cycle, this was my favorite race of the year and I ended up with 5th place in Cat 5. If I had known that a podium spot was within reach, I would have changed my tires and pushed much harder in the beginning gravel sections to break the group apart. Who knew you could race gravel and be done in an hour?
  • CO2UT. Canceled thanks to a heavy downpour the afternoon before turning parts of the course into deep, sticky mud. The Colorado Monument was a nice consolation prize. Still, I felt ready for this race and thought I was going to nail it. Bummer.
  • Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder (OTGG)

    • Day 1. Miles of loose, deep sand. Oof! The short downhill volcanic rock bit hardly qualified as a trail but was crazy fun. The downhill sections on gravel roads were a bit cursed with many small branches on the road and dappled light, which made it a bit hard to make sure you were not going to hit a branch and crash. Those downhills made me want those fancy photochromic bike sungalsses.
    • Day 2. The nearly 4000' climb in the beginning was boring. The latter half was way more fun, especially needing to navigate over short snowbanks. More dappled light on the gravel roads, which caused me to hit a pothole so hard that both water bottles went flying and I was fearful my gravel wheels were finished. Thankfully not.
    • Day 3. Despite the warm temps and a stick in my derailleur, I hit the uphill TT hard and felt proud that I did as well as I did. The taco stand aid station was not appealing to me, I would have greatly preferred a cooler of ice with tasty drinks (the one they had was empty). The downhill TT was a bit nuts and my life flashed before my eyes when a rider in front of me fishtailed and nearly lost it.
    • Day 4. Hot, dry conditions, one aid station without ice, next aid station without any drinks besides warm water. Miles and miles of loose sand at the end. Got bad heat exhaustion and probably needed a trip to the ER for an IV. Ended up feeling ill all night.
    • Day 5. I bailed and got a ride to the finish. Another 80 miles in that heat and exposure seemed like a recipe for disaster.
  • NedGravel Ultra. Got COVID less than 2 weeks before the race thanks to Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder and did not race. Bummer. I was looking forward to that course.
  • Rebecca's Private Idaho: Queen's Stage Race

    • Stage 1, Adventure Day. I survived and did not crash! I do not enjoy racing such tight, tough conditions with riders right on my tail, but I do always gain more skills on race days like this. Lost a nearly full water bottle with 59g of carbs in it, so I had to ration my water and snacks on the Harriman Trail section. Did not bonk but I was definitely drained at the end and needed a couple recovery shakes to rebound.
    • Stage 2, Dollarhide Time Trial. Holy shit, Tina did not catch up to me! She only beat me by time by 0.6s. Maybe I'm not complete shit?
    • Stage 3, Baked Potato. Fuck the heat. Fuck the dry, dusty roads. Curse the 20mph+ head winds. And large pickup trucks barreling down roads kicking up huge clouds of dust can go straight to hell. Even on day 4 of Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder I did not consider quitting but I almost quit during this stage of RPI. Fairly wrecked at the end and I have sworn off ever doing this race in the heat again.

My overall place for RPI:QSR was higher than expected and by the numbers I did well, especially considering how COVID kicked my ass and killed my fitness in July. Still, that race was almost entirely Type 3 fun, which is not how I like riding my bike, so I think QSR and OTGG are the sort of races I will be avoiding in the future. Bring on the autumn weather!


PCT Anniversary

It has now been nine full years since I finished thru-hiking the PCT. And since I am currently unemployed and can only bake so many loaves of sourdough, I have created a little movie of that summer. All photos are mine and were shot on an iPhone 5.


Bike Racing for Fun

With the 2022 race season wrapping up with only RPI remaining, I have started pondering what I want to focus on for the autumn and what races might be tempting for 2023. And I keep on coming back to wondering if I want to race at all in 2023.

A fair amount of that uncertainity is stemming from me having a less than stellar race season. My first two races–Old Man Winter (Feb 6th) and Boulder Roubaix (Apr 16th)–were fun, early season races that were not meant to be full effort races. Heck, for the Roubaix, I still ended up doing a 2 hour training ride immediately after. I did reasonably well during both races, even getting a 5th place finish in the Boulder Roubaix Cat 5 category, but they were never intended to be full, pedal to the metal race efforts.

My first real A Race was meant to be CO2UT (Colorado to Utah) on April 23rd. We showed up to Fruita and I felt ready. My energy levels were high, my legs felt strong, and I thought the race was going to be exceptionally fast and fun. Sadly, the weather gods were unkind and rain fell the afternoon and night before the race, which turned parts of the course into a muddy, sloppy, peanut butter mess that made the conditions too dangerous for a large group of racers. The race got canceled and I missed my chance to see how fast I was after a winter of training. Boo! The consolation prize of doing the beautiful Colorado Monument instead of racing relieved the sting a bit.

Tina then did Unbound XL at the beginning of June and I am kicking myself a bit for not doing it too. Unbound takes place in Kansas and typically has some fairly warm weather, bordering on abusively hot some years. This year was a bit of a switch with hard rains in the days preceding the race and then some fairly mild, cloudy conditions during the race. This made the course fast and I think I would have reasonably enjoyed the experience. Or at least as much as you can when biking 350 miles on gravel without sleeping. Oh well, maybe next year.

My next race was the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder (OTGG) in Central Oregon. Now, it took a long while for me to convince myself to sign up for this race. My body does not respond well to hot weather, especially when there is also direct sun at elevation; central Oregon in late June on volcanic rock is not exactly known for its cool, refreshing weather. Further, in 2021 this race took place during the PNW heat dome weather event, which had temperatures well above 100 degress Fahrenheit. 🥵

Still, Tina was going to be in Portland, Oregon for a conference that week and the race had the potential to be a fun experience with overnight camping and provided meals, so I signed up and hoped for the best.

Prior to driving down to Bend with my friend Eric, the weather in the PNW was wet, wet, wet. We had traveled and visited family in Washington the week prior and by the time we finally arrived in Portland, I was feeling a bit worn down from the travel and doing about half my training rides in the rain. My energy levels were a bit low and I was not feeling very energetic about racing. Still, we drove down and I tried to get my head in the mental game.

The first three days of the race went fine. I put out solid power numbers and I kept on top of my hydration and nutrition. It was definitely warm though. The third day involved an uphill time trial with the last third in direct sun and I felt COOKED when I got to the top of the climb. While there were challenges with aid stations running low on drinks and snacks, the shorter distances of the first three days made it manageable.

Day 4 though, I blew up and blew up pretty bad. The first part of the race had two climbs totalling nearly 7000' in 40 miles. My Garmin registered a temperature of 93 during the exposed top of the second climb and while I recovered a bit during the muddy, wet part afterwards...I was not feeling too great. And then when I arrived at the second aid station, miles after that last climb, I discovered they were completely out of ice. Ugh. Still, the aid station had water and I was pushing fluids down as quickly as I could. Onwards!

Unfortunately, the next section was just miles and miles of sand with a gravel road of dark lava rock afterwards. It was punishing and I found myself getting passed by a number of riders. By the time I reached the third aid station, I was overheated, very dehydrated, and desperate for shade and something cool to drink.

Well, the third aid station was off the side of a hot road with absolutely no cool drinks left. I have never seen a more disappointed group of riders than at that aid station. I found some ice at the bottom of a cooler and put that against my face and neck while a friend poured water over my head. Even though I felt like shit, I only spent about 10 minutes at that aid station because the temperature was easily 95° or hotter with no wind. I headed off and then had to pull off to the side of the road minutes later to have a bit of puking. Always a good sign, right?

That last bit to the finish was on more volcanic rock and then miles and miles of sand before arriving on blessed pavement. I reached the finish and THANK THE GODS there were two coolers full of cold drinks. It was off the side of the road and exposed again, but it was enough to give me the energy to reach the campground 5 more miles away (with more sand on the way too).

I reached camp and was a complete mess. I was suffering from bad heat exhaustion borderline heat stroke. The "medical" tent was useless and I was tempted to find a way to a medical facility for an IV. In retrospect, that would have been the smart choice as I spent the rest of the day and night drinking liters of fluids and trying to get my body back to feeling normal. Even with a concerted effort to rehydrate and recover, I still woke up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break and had to sit down on the way back to my tent as my body felt like passing out. Suffice to say, I skipped Day 5 of OTGG and got a ride to the finish. My first DNF (Did Not Finish) of 2022.

Here's the kicker. Two days after getting back to Portland, I woke up with a deep cough in my chest and tested positive for COVID-19 the following day. Seems in my weakened state at OTGG, I had caught COVID from someone despite spending 99% of my time outside or inside with a mask. Tina learned via Facebook gossip that there were riders who had knowingly gone to Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder after testing positive for COVID. Naturally, there was no COVID precautions in place during the race and not even a box of masks for when dinner was indoors during the last night.

Thanks to COVID kicking our asses for three weeks, we missed the NedGravel race up in the mountains above Boulder. A pretty big disappointment as it was supposed to my second A Race of the season. Given CO2UT was my early season A Race and it got canceled by rain, I have now missed 2 of my 3 top races for the season.

The last race I have planned for the season is the Queen's Stage Race of Rebecca's Private Idaho at the beginning of September. We did this 3-day stage race last year and it seemed worth doing it again. We will know a slew of people there and it is a good opportunity to see how our skills and fitness have developed over the last year of dedicated training. The downside is that COVID took us off the bike for weeks and then we spent weeks recovering from the lingering effects while building our strength back up. Only in the past week have I finally start feeling as strong as I felt at the end of May.

So. Yeah. That's been my summer race season so far: 1 canceled race, 1 DNF'd thanks to heat exhaustion, 1 skipped for COVID; with only 1 race remaining to see the results of nearly 9 months of fairly focused training.

Right now my plan is to spend most of September just having joy rides up in the mountains with a couple days of focused training per week. Get out, stretch the legs, explore, get a little lost, and not think about things like intervals. I would also like to spend 2-3 days a week doing exercises to get my knees and ankles prepared for a little running and serious hiking too. After that, I can start planning my goals for winter and next year.


New Blogging Platform and Other Stuff

Upon this static site generator, I shall build my blog.

Greetings, fair viewers, it has been a while. Now that I am once again unemployed and have copious amounts of free time, I have decided to try and blog again. Previously, with the micro-blogging of Twitter and the photo/video sharing on Instagram, it really felt like I was mostly covered with sharing little tidbits into my life with people. Also, with a full-time job and biking 12-18 hours a week, it became increasingly hard to find the mental energy to really dedicate to writing. And, if I am being perfectly honest, we're subscribed to at least three streaming services right now and I would hate to miss out on all the excellent shows that are out. Seriously, go check out "The Orville: New Horizons" and "For All Mankind", if you are even remotely into science fiction.

So, with a bit of free time on my hands, I went through my various websites and upgraded all of their libraries/packages/code to be up to date with current and (supposedly) more secure versions. During that process, I got mildly infuriated about how much effort I was putting into updating my CMS/blog just to be more secure without gaining any really useful features. It's been years since I started using it and basic search features were still not available in the admin panel. Features that were in ExpressionEngine–the CMS that I wrote a long, long time ago–had in its very first version. Bleargh.

And then I started thinking about how I usually write (in a text editor or notes app) and just accepted that I was not enjoying the writing experience in that CMS at all. So, I tossed it to the curb. Unwilling to use a hosted platform like Wordpress.com for snobbish reasons, I posted a tweet and someone responded that Eleventy might be worth a look.

I dragged my heels a little bit as I was hesitant to learn Yet One More Thing in technology, as it feels like my brain is already crammed full of knowledge about web development. Eventually I took a couple hours to play with it and once I got the hang of things, found it to be a pretty compelling choice. Basic templating, combined with fast loading static files, and each entry its own file. Simple, fast, and not terribly hard to build a blog on. You can see the current iteration up on GitHub.

Rebuilding the blog and design took a couple hours, tweaking a few things for serving and deployment took a couple more hours, and then finally I wrote a quick script to output all of my current blog entries into the new files. Probably, all told, about 10 hours of work. Easy peasy, relatively. And with GitHub's built in ability to add/edit your repo on the web, pretty simple to create content from anywhere.


Rebecca’s Private Idaho: The Queen’s Stage Race Ride Report

RPI’s Queen Stage Race was THE race we had been waiting for. Our entire training program for the summer had been focused on preparing us for this race. Point of fact, neither of us had originally signed up for this multi-day race and instead had only registered for the Baked Potato, which is the very last stage. But thanks to people dropping out, we both got invited to join the full stage race in mid-July. As rather ambitious individuals, we had both already been following the stage race training plan, so we were more or less on the right track training-wise.

We arrived the afternoon before the first stage and decided that our shakedown ride should be on the Harriman Trail, which made up the second half of the first stage. And we were so glad we did. Our gravel rides around Boulder seem to be evenly split between smoother gravel roads (groad) or more technical off road trails. While we have areas of deeper gravel, they typically are short and mostly on the bends of downhills. The Harriman Trail had some seriously deep pea sized gravel for many miles. It required more focus and careful line choosing than I expected for a mere “path”.

I am not saying I was worried but part of my brain was preoccupied. It is a funny thing the mental aspect of biking. There are days I simply click and enter the smooth flow that makes gravel riding almost effortless. And then there are rides I start off, and for whatever reason (an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato, etc.), I feel just a bit shaky and my brain needs to warm up to the challenges of speedy gravel riding. The Harriman Trail shakeout ride was definitely the latter.

STAGE 1: GALENA & HARRIMAN TRAIL ADVENTURE DAY

After discussing it with people who had raced in previous years, we decided to drive up and park at a pullout near Galena Lodge opposed to taking the shuttles. This gave us a chance to sleep in just a tad longer and have all of our things with us in the car. It ended up being the right choice as we got within a couple hundred meters of Galena and were able to stay warmer while prepping our bikes for the race.

Oh, and it was COLD up there. The car recorded a temperature in the 30s and the sun was behind the mountains, so it was incredibly hard to stay warm in race clothes without having multiple extra layers on. We tried to do a warm up ride 15 minutes before the start, but I honestly think it made me colder as we descended back to the lodge. Next time I think it is worth bringing insulated down pants and a larger drop bag to hold them.

I was unprepared for the start. Let’s put that in writing. When the race started, I somehow did not expect it to be an all out effort on a single lane forest road straight up a rocky hill. It was only a few hundred feet of climbing but the air was cold, my legs were not remotely warmed up, and it was so crowded that choosing a line was nigh impossible. There were a number of people who could not make it up that hill and trying to navigate around them safely was taxing.

And then that first descent was dusty with riders from a full range of abilities going down it, which made it a bit chaotic. I pushed as hard as I could through that first bit, as it was pretty obvious that position was super important. At the bottom of the first hill there was a creek crossing (I jumped off and leapt over the water instead of taking the crowded bridge), followed quickly by the steepest hill I have ever tried to bike. Everyone was off their bikes huffing and puffing up that steep ass trail. Every so often an ambitious individual would try to ride around others, but they ended up usually behaving like a jerk and making things slower when they stumbled off.

Finally we got on the downhill single track and that was exceptionally fun, if a bit unnerving. Broken branches and tree trunks were just off the trail and with the dust, you sometimes only had a couple seconds of visibility for the next bit of trail. At one sharp turn I heard a clanging sound and I thought my saddle bag had flown open or fallen off. I pulled over to find out I had simply hit someone’s dropped spare gear roll. Nuts.

The single track was exhausting, bone rattling, scenic, challenging, painful, and ultimately everything Rebecca said it was. You really could not believe you were doing this kind of terrain, on a gravel bike with 42mm tires, at this speed. I lost my chain on a swoopy bit where I shifted too quickly before it became a steep, punchy uphill. Pulled over and it took a hot minute to untangle it from my pedal to put it back on the crankset. I now have a long area of paint missing from my chainstay. Shortly after this area, on a fun descent among skinny trees with a handful of riders around me, I heard Tina give a whoop right behind me.

You can read about her RPI here, but that is the last time I heard or saw her for the next 1.5 hours. Thanks to other riders and the race course, I got a smidgen ahead and stayed there until I saw her near the turn around on Harriman Trail.

Once out of the single track, we descended to the paved highway and did a water crossing to get onto the Harriman Trail. I biked into the water a short ways, leapt off, and enjoyed the chilly water as it quickly went above my hips; all the while a photographer documented the moment for posterity.

The Great Water Crossing
The entrance to the water crossing and before it started getting deeper.

Once back on my bike (and with some severely water logged shoes), I zipped down the Harriman Trail towards the turn around 11 miles away. For the first half of this section I only saw a dozen or so riders. Seems the single track had spread the field out well. One little turn I came up a bit too fast and had to go straight off the trail to avoid sliding out; given the number of other tracks I saw in that spot I am guessing this turn caused a number of racers to have a tiny scare.

The turn around went well, if a bit confusingly since it was a small little path to a tight circle that had a timing mat and then back the way you came in. A different path for riders going out would have been safer and less confusing, me thinks.

On the way back, I saw a few Basecampers I knew and also Tina! The cheers exchanged were a nice motivator to keep going strong. And then, while making a sharp turn on the far side of a wooden bridge, my wheels slid out from under me. I remember having the thought as I went down that, “Oh, this is where I fall.” It was onto my left elbow/knee/ankle on my non-drivetrain side, so I picked myself up, quickly checked that the bike still functioned, and kept on going. According to Training Peaks, the entire event took only 20 seconds but it felt much longer.

That crash took a bit of wind out of my sails. My elbow was supremely sore and I could see a nice patch of dried blood and dirt on it. The last 10 miles were a bit of a sufferfest as I climbed back up to the lodge to the finish. Got passed by a handful of people but did not have the oomph to stick with them. In the end I finished in 3:43:18 and 56th place (out of 141 men). Not too shabby. Learned quite a bit more about racing during that stage, particularly on gnarly terrain and with a cold, crowded start.

Looking Serious
Headed out on the Harriman Trail on Stage One

STAGE 2: DOLLARHIDE SUMMIT TIME TRIAL

This stage had a 20 mile neutral roll out, a 4.5 mile uphill time trial, and then a leisurely return downhill to Ketchum. Of all the stages, this is the one where I felt I would do the worst relative to other racers. While I have decent power, when you compare it to my weight it is nothing really stellar. So, on climbs I tend to do well but never really excel.

Since this stage started later, we had a more relaxed morning getting ready. The bikes were all prepped the night before and eating breakfast does not really take that long, so I luxuriated in bed for an extra five minutes after the alarm went off. Bliss.

The neutral roll out was definitely neutral, but there were definitely segments towards the end were I was with a group of riders in a paceline and we were pushing a bit harder than necessary. Also, the gravel road was not closed to vehicles, which unfortunately meant that there were trucks and RVs interspersed among the group of riders. I ended up behind one truck for a solid 10 minutes sucking in its exhaust until the road widened enough to pass it safely.

Time Trial - Stage Two
Attempting to fly up to the summit with Tina quickly gaining.

Anyhoo, reached the time trial start in about 90 minutes and Tina magically ended up only five spots behind me. We got a chance to drop our extra gear, take a bathroom break, and fuel up a bit before our turns. About thirty minutes after getting there, I was given my wave and raced up the road to the summit. My legs were no longer warmed up but they seemed to mostly click into place after a minute. My power averaged 285 watts (3.5w/kg) for both the first and second halves, which is about 10 watts below my FTP, which seems just about right after the previous day’s hard effort.

My overall goal was to finish it in under 33 minutes with a crazy dream goal of breaking 30 minutes. Well, I got one of those. Official time of 31:52, giving me 49th place for the TT. As expected: good but not exceptional.

REST DAY: CHAMOIS BUTT’R FUN RIDE

Rebecca’s Private Idaho encompasses four races really. The Queen's Stage Race (196 miles over 3 stages), Baked Potato (102 miles), French Fry (56 miles), and Tater Tot (20 miles). The Queen’s Stage Race is done over three days and its final stage is the same race as the Baked Potato.

So, Sunday is the big day when a mass of riders converge on Ketchum to ride all three courses. That means Saturday is the perfect day to have a fun ride for racers to meet each other and enjoy the expo. For stage racers, Saturday is a day off and the fun ride serves as a way to give their legs an easy spin to facilitate recovery.

It was damn chilly at the start (my hands were repeatedly in my armpits for the first few miles), but once the sun came out the fun ride was just a leisurely lap around the Tater Tot course with old and new friends. We joked around, got free stuff at the end, and ate many a sugary snacks

Pre-Fun Ride Shenanigans
When in Rome...wear Chamois Butt'r

STAGE 3: BAKED POTATO ROUTE

Well. This one had a rough start. I probably got, at most, two hours of sleep the night before. Not sure what happened, but my body would not fall asleep. My mind was an empty room and I even took a half dose of Zzzquil, but I just laid in bed for hours and hours. When Tina finally woke up, I seriously considered not racing that day. Mentally and physically I was in a poor state. The surest indication that things are not going well for me is when I am just completely silent and will not crack a single joke. That morning my silence was like a dark cloud over everything.

But I arose, finally, and made a STRONG ASS cup of coffee and ate my oatmeal slowly. Afterwards I made a glass of Skratch’s hyper hydration drink mix because I knew I was dehydrated and the Baked Potato course was going to be long, hard, and dry.

By the time we biked over to the start line, I was slowly coming back to life and as we lined up, I felt almost energetic. Once again we began with a neutral rollout, but you could tell by how quickly things spread out that there was a bit of speed up at the front. Once pace car pulled aside and the neutral roll out ended, we started the climb up to Trail Creek Summit. The first part of this climb felt almost relaxed for me. I even spent a hot minute talking to Phil Gaimon, part of which ended up in his video. Once the climbing started in earnest Tina easily pulled away, but according to Strava we were never more than ten minutes apart during the entire race.

Frustratingly, further up Trail Creek the road narrowed and we ran into a line of motorized vehicles going up with an occasional vehicle trying to come down. Add in a few hundred bicyclists and it was extremely tricky to navigate. At times I was completely stuck behind cyclists and cars with no ability to move over or pass anyone. A strong thumb down for this section, especially with the exhaust.

Once over the summit though, it was a quick descent into Big Lost River Basin and the traffic disappeared. I stuffed a bunch of food and liquid into my mouth during the descent, which caused me to choke and spit out a chunk when I hit the washboards a bit too fast. Oops. I was traveling pretty fast here and quickly picked up a few friends who wanted to draft; by the time we got to the first turn, a group of a dozen riders were working together. Real racing, folks!

That fun, fast racing went on for a few miles. We caught new riders, skipped the second aid station, and headed straight into Wildhorse Canyon. This is where things got a bit thorny. I stayed with my group, but there was deeper, loose gravel on this road with lots of dust being kicked up and only a couple good paths to follow. Visibility was important but almost non-existent at times.

At the turn around, our group fell apart as the road got rougher. I tried to keep up with the leaders, but as we pulled out again I was near the back. And then, the rider I was right behind slowed down and I watched as the main group moved slowly away. It took precious minutes for me to find a safe time to pass, but by then the group was 150 meters ahead. I burned a couple matches to catch up and then the same thing happened again. The last rider just slid off the back and I was caught behind them with no ability to pass.

As I turned onto 135 again, the main group was less than a quarter mile ahead. Tantalizingly close. I burned a match and got a bit closer. Took a lot of deep breaths and burned another, got just a smidgen closer. At one point I was only 100 meters behind them. But I could not bridge that gap. And they just kept pulling further and further away. Soon it was just me. I looked behind and saw nothing but empty dirt road. Shit in a handbasket.

There was nothing to do but just keep pedaling. Spent 6 miles by myself, lost in the wilderness. Eventually a large group came up from behind and sucked me in. This is where having a power meter comes in handy as I can compare the before and after. Once I joined that group, my average watts dropped by 30 but my speed increased my nearly 2mph. The power of aerodynamics.

Was doing fine for food and water (yay hydration backpack!), so I skipped the next aid station and kept on going. New groups came and went, chatted a bit with a fellow, and reached a high point where some kind souls were passing out sodas. Decided to zoom down the descent and continue going since I knew the next aid station was where I wanted to resupply. Joined a group of three during this descent, including a fellow Basecamper, and we just flew. 65 miles into the race and I was feeling far better than expected.

At the aid station I took a 4 minute break to loosen a shoe, fill up my water bottles, suck down a couple GU liquid gels, and throw spare gels into my back pocket. And then I was off again. And I swear to god, within moments I was by myself. I passed one rider right after the aid station and another a few minutes after that, but then the nearest rider ahead was about half a mile. I got all the way back to Trail Creek Rd without sharing the ride with a single soul.

Back on Trail Creek Rd, a solid headwind was blowing and I found more cyclists at last. Sadly none of them were matching my pace, so I passed them very slowly and enjoyed the dirt being kicked into my face by the off roaders driving the opposite direction. Finally I made it to El Diablito, which was a rough, slow bit of road that was very much like single track. My body was aching here and I definitely lost ground to a few other riders who had wider tires or more technical skills.

And then the final climb. Oof. This one dragged on. Washboard road, headwind, longish climb, and all after multiple days of racing. I skipped the final aid station (all downhill from here!) and cruised the 1300 feet down to the pavement. Remembering Rebecca’s words that one would not win the race on this part but one could definitely lose it, I took this descent reasonably chill. My body was pretty much through with my shenanigans and that drop off to the right is no joke.

Back on the pavement, the headwind was still being a jerk, so I just kept on pedaling and tried to stay reasonably aero. Half a mile from the official finish, a small group of four caught up to me and we crossed the line more or less together. To my surprise, I earned a bolo tie, having finished as one of the “fast” male racers in the Baked Potato.

Cruising into the Party
Entering the corral to the sounds of applause at the end of stage 3

After a few photos, I cruised back to the start line where the end of race party had started. Tina was already there having finished 15 minutes before me and I did a couple bunny hops for the crowd as I came through the corral. And that’s pretty much it. Finished 90th in the Baked Potato with a time of 6:28:03.

AND IN CONCLUSION…

Eesh, that was a long weekend.

According to the official results, I finished 42nd in the Queen’s Stage Race. Which is not too bad. All of my times were slightly faster than what I put into my fueling plan and my ranking got better every stage I did, which shows that all of that fatigue resistance training really paid off.

Could I have done better? Probably a little bit. That crash on stage one definitely affected me for days afterwards. Not sleeping before the final stage was less than ideal. And, I probably could have picked up a few minutes and saved some energy if I had not lost my first group in Wildhorse Canyon. But, ultimately, for a 42 year old rider who got his first gravel bike this year, had only done one race prior, and is still new to structured training…I am pleased.


Ned Gravel 2021 - Tungsten Course

Back in mid-March, in what I can only assume was an uncharacteristic streak of blind optimism, I signed up for three gravel races in less than two days. The first one on the calendar was Ned Gravel whose goal was to build one of the most challenging gravel races in the world. And last weekend, I did that race.

The night before there was a thunderstorm and there was every indication that another storm would occur during the race with possible flooding happening in the canyons. As we drove up to Nederland in a steady rain, we discussed possible bail out points if the conditions deteriorated. We parked at Eldora Ski Resort, organized ourselves, and biked the 5 miles downhill (in the rain) to the starting line.

And then, a miracle. Barely 10 minutes before the race started, the rain magically stopped. And for another five hours, not a single drop of rain fell.

Since we're in the middle of training for Rebecca’s Private Idaho Queen’s Stage Race in Sept, we treated Ned Gravel as a "B" race–a way to test our fitness and preparation but not drop the hammer and go all out. Based on our scouting of the course and my knowledge of the conditions, my goal was to finish in roughly 5.5 hours. Oh, sweet, foolish summer child.

Given we were not intending to push crazy hard, we put ourselves in the back of the pack in the start corral; in fact I was the 147th person to cross the start line. It was a neutral roll out, so I just cruised with Tina up the first hill until out of the blue she asked if my back tire looked a little low. And it did. I popped off my bike at the top of that first hill and did a quick look for a puncture. Nothing. So I jumped back on and quickly caught up to her assuming it was just the low tire pressure of the wider gravel tires I was using.

Starting Line at Ned Gravel 2021
Starting Line for Ned Gravel 2021 - Tungsten Course

With the wet but not muddy gravel roads, the course felt fast. The first gravel section was fairly non-technical and it was a hoot to get caught up in the race energy. Tina and I stayed mostly together but once we got onto Sugarloaf Rd, my tire definitely looked even lower. I waited until I was at the top of a hill before jumping off and discovering that my valve had worked itself open. Shit. Closed it tight and figured my tire pressure was fine until I reached an aid station.

Tina was now a couple minutes ahead of me and while I caught glances of her for the next hour, I never caught up. After zooming down Switzerland Trail at a speed that previously would have felt a bit insane, I reached the aid station. And they did not have pump. I had CO2 in my saddle bag but I decided the tire was not low enough to justify losing the time required to pull it out and add 5 psi. So, on I went.

Next we went up the north part of Switzerland Trail. While I had been passing people regularly up to this point, this is where I felt my training really allowed me to just keep moving up and have the oomph to quickly skirt around people on the rocky terrain. The descent down Lefthand Canyon came in no time at all and based on my original plan, I was already 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

On the 12 minute descent, I crammed as much food and drink into my mouth as I could. Finally, I reached the dreaded Lickskillet and there was not a single other biker to be seen. I started up and made it to the first sharp turn before I saw someone ahead walking his bike up. I kept pedaling for another two minutes before I realized I was straining my legs but losing ground to the person ahead. Popped off my bike and started pushing the bike uphill–sweating like no one's business the entire time.

When I reached a point with a long view uphill, I saw Tina's helmet ahead and she was still on her bike. Ever the climber. During this section I got passed by two bikers who were still pedaling but ultimately I think I made the right choice by walking. Sure I probably could have ridden up it a minute faster but only by expending a great deal of effort. Knowing how much riding was left, I conserved my energy.

At the top I jumped back on my bike, skipped the water station with a friendly wave, and zoomed down Gold Run Rd nearly two minutes faster than I had ever done it before. The power of racing energy.

And then began the long, gradual climb up Four Mile Rd before the race continued up south Switzerland Trail to Peak to Peak highway. Nearly 15 miles and 2450' of climbing total, more than half on rough trail. I stopped at the aid station at the bottom of Switzerland and filled up a water bottle, scarfed down food and electrolyters, took a deep breath...and biked about 3 minutes further uphill to find a place to pee while a four wheeler went around me.

And then I started up Switzerland Trail in earnest. At this point, I was definitely feeling the race. Despite the cooler weather, I had been sweating profusely and in just three hours had probably burnt over 2300 calories. And there was still a third of the race left with challenging terrain ahead. Time to dig deep.

Halfway up Switzerland Trail, you could see that the distant sky was darkening and could feel a bit of extra weight in the air. Another storm was definitely on the way. Around this point, I met up with another rider and we traded places back and forth for the next 30 minutes or so. This was the first time in the race I really worked with another rider to keep going and had an actual conversation. Definitely helped keep me motivated, but I could have used another gel as we were cruising.

As Switzerland turned from rocky trail into a potholed gravel road, the other biker flagged and I passed him. I was out of food at this point and did not know how much water was left in my hydration pack, so I stopped at the last aid station for a water bottle and a gel. Still 10 miles left in the race but with half of it downhill. A second gel might have been smart, but I was the proverbial horse smelling the barn and I zoomed off.

The next 4 miles flew. Zooming down gravel roads was a hoot after all of that climbing. You get back on Peak to Peak highway for a short while and then there is one last climb before you start heading back towards Nederland. I saw three different bikers walking up that climb, nearly spent. At the top you get on an easy dirt road, then at a junction the rest of the route is downhill. More zooming. My legs loved this recovery and I pushed pretty hard downhill doing 28-30mph.

Finally, you reach the pavement again and you enter Nederland. This is where it got a bit messy. Nederland is not large but is popular on a Saturday in summer, even without a race. I had to maneuver around numerous cars before I could take the turn leading to the finish. Tina had reached the finish ten minutes before me and was taking photos/video, so as I cross the finish line I did a little bunny hop for the camera. Fin.

Paul and Tina Ned Gravel Finish
Raising our bikes at the end of a successful Ned Gravel race

15 minutes later, it started sprinkling and within 45 minutes it was full on raining. We stuck around for the awards ceremony (Tina got 1st place in her age group) and then drove home still pumped from the race. According to the tracker, my race time was 4:44. The night before I had planned to be out for 5:30, so the race went significantly faster than planned. The combination of rain before the race and the cool temperatures during meant the course was super-fast.

I am rather pleased, especially since I only took two days easy before the race, ended the race with energy left over, and was still able to do my planned 4 hour endurance workout the next day. Seems all this training has been incredibly effective at raising my fitness. And the course is great. Just that perfect blend of scenic, challenging, and thrilling. I highly recommend it. If I am around next year and keep on training (maybe get some more climbing power and technical gravel skills), I would like to treat it as an “A” race and see if I could knock 30-40 minutes off my time.

Tina on the Podium
Tina on the podium at Ned Gravel for her age group.

Once Upon a Time on NCAR

I am getting really good at failing at Everesting. Although, if you graph my three attempts thus far, it seems probable that I will succeed by my fifth attempt. I am not sure if that is encouraging or mildly worrisome, especially for a theoretical fourth attempt.

This attempt was supposed to be different though! Instead of doing my own version of "training", I was following a professionally created training plan specifically designed for bikers who wished to Everest. What the training plan did not factor into play was a week of >90° temperatures and then my Everesting plan needing a drastic revision at 1am.

Given the hot temperatures, I decided to do my Everesting attempt a couple days earlier than planned and to do the majority of my riding in the dark. This was to take advantage of the fact that Friday was going to be drastically cooler than the rest of the week with a high of only 82°. Friday morning itself was forecasted to be a frosty 52°. Loverly.

For safety and convenience, I chose the nearby NCAR hill since it has a beautiful bike lane to the top, a reasonable grade for climbing, and has a parking lot at the top that is open to the public and the origin point for a number of popular hiking trails–which meant it had a Porta-Potty.

Top of NCAR
Ready to start at the top of the NCAR hill at 7pm and over 90°F

The ride started well. The sun disappeared behind the mountains and the growing darkness made the temperature bearable (though still 80° at 11pm). A strong wind picked up and blew me around a bit, but it was manageable if mildly nerve wracking on the descents. Around midnight–20 laps into a 69 lap Everesting attempt–we were paid a visit by two individuals in a small SUV labeled “Security”. We were informed that the parking lot closed at 11pm and that we could potentially be ticketed by the Boulder Police with a fine of $1500.

Well, shit in a hand basket.

I think it is important to state right now that there is no signage at the bottom of the hill or in the parking lot that indicates this. We scouted it out the day before and purposefully looked for anything that might indicate a problem. The NCAR visitors page has nothing about it. The City of Boulder NCAR trailhead website also says nothing. We checked! Afterwards, the only place we could find a possible mention of the parking lot maybe being closed was on the Boulder Open Space Rules & Regulation page under a “Curfew” tab. And it is still not clear that it applies to the NCAR parking lot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

NCAR After Dark
It was nice that the NCAR hill had a bike lane, especially at night.

So. We had both our cars there. Mine was full of my support gear, backup gear, a cooler, and a wide assortment of snacks. And then Tina had her car with her stuff and also the ability to go home to fetch anything that might be needed. Our first action was for Tina to immediately move her car past the bottom of the hill into the neighborhood. Not an ideal location for support, but it would work. I would continue on my laps while she would come back up and move my car down.

A small wrinkle but manageable or so it seemed. On my way back up NCAR, this same SUV flashed its lights at me and a woman leaned out the window and told me the NCAR road was closed and I should leave. ::blinks:: This happened around 12:15am and I will state for the record that two cars had driven past me on the NCAR road while I was doing this lap. At this point I had been biking for five hours and had done over 9000’ of climbing, but I was not even a third of the way done. My mental state was in a just-keep-pedaling mode and not ready for this curve ball.

Tina arrived in the parking lot soon after this, so we moved my car and I sat down on the curb of a dark street to consider my options. And then I had an allergy attack. The wind had been blowing grass pollen around for hours while I had been sucking it in while climbing a hill repeatedly. Once the adrenaline stopped coursing through my blood, my body let loose with snot and sneezing as I have not experienced in years. We found a Benadryl in my first aid kit and it slowly abated. My throat and lungs felt pretty raw for days afterwards.

Back to the Everesting. Obviously we needed to stay off NCAR. Being told off twice like that made it a non-option. And it was way too late to start all over on a new hill. The only real option was to switch from a normal Everesting (one hill, repeat until 8848m) to a 10K Everesting Roam (anywhere, 10,000m climbing, at least 250mi, 36h time limit). Or, you know, quit and go home.

The 10K Roam Everesting was actually what I had started planning the previous week. It is more my style of biking and also gives one’s body a chance to stretch different muscles as it is just not hill repeats. But it is a longer and harder challenge and the hot temperatures made it seem like a terrible idea.

But quitting seemed like a waste. I was out, I was all suited up, and I had already done all of that climbing. Tina was also on board for supporting me for another 30 hours. So, why the hell not?

This required an entirely new strategy and making many off the cuff decisions that could make or break the attempt. First, Tina would need to take her car home, bike back to my car, and start supporting me by driving it to break spots. The rest of the challenge would also be ridden solo and with significantly more mileage and elevation than originally planned. Let’s be honest, 1am is not when you want to loosely plan a 10K Everesting Roam attempt, but we gave it our best shot.

And so I biked. First up Flagstaff. Then Sunshine. Over to Hygiene. A break at Lyons just as the sun was rising. Next, a lap up to Peak to Peak Hwy. At this point I had been going for over 12 hours and was definitely feeling the lack of sleep. Tina had a work call to take, so we decided I would descend back to Lyons (gotta get that easy mileage) and we would drive home to restock as well as plan the next half of the challenge. 16K feet of elevation gain and 131mi done done by 8am.

Peak to Peak at Highway 7
Resting at Peak-to-Peak just after sunrise.

At home I started a load of laundry (why not have freshly clean bike clothes?), showered, ate food, and took an all-too-short two hour nap.

By the time we headed out again, it was 3pm and it was sunny and hot. Given the heat, we drove the car up Lefthand Canyon a ways to a dirt pull off at around 6600’. While the sunlight lasted, I figured I could do laps up to Ward and enjoy cooler temperatures and maybe some shade. That worked out rather well and over the course of three and a half hours I added another 5800’ of elevation gain to my total.

High Point Near Brainard Lake
Reaching my highest point (9600') of the challenge near Brainard Lake

However, as the sun began to set, it was getting chilly up there and my body was rejecting the bars, gels, and treats I was still trying to force feed it. The only real option was to head down to town so Tina could fetch a real meal for me to eat with the hopes my body would find that more to its liking.

Lee Hill Sunset Climb
Climbing up Lee Hill around sunset on the second day.

While she went to find food, I reached Linden Drive (Tina’s Everest hill from 2 weeks ago) and…I barely made it one lap. I genuinely almost got off my bike to take a break halfway up a 1.6 mile climb. It was very disheartening. While my body felt like it still had energy, I was having a hard time pushing the pedals. Tina arrived at the bottom of the hill with food and I told her that there was a very real chance that I might be done.

I sat down and slowly ate a very tasty combination of beans, rice, sauce, and guacamole while thinking my predicament over. I still had 9,000ft left to climb. It was almost 9pm and the sun had already set. There was only 10 hours left for me to complete the challenge. Doable, but it meant another sleepless night with me biking nearly the entire time. And I would definitely need to find a shallower hill. Tina was willing to stay out all night supporting me, but she also had a gravel clinic the next morning and had barely slept as well.

Mentally I was just not on board with what completing the challenge required. So, at 9pm, 26 hours after starting, I officially stopped with 194mi and 23,774' done.

——

Here we are a week later, and I am still not even remotely disappointed. Previous to this Everesting attempt, the longest ride I had ever done was 106 miles. The most elevation I had ever done on a single ride was 16K’ during last year’s Everesting. This was significantly more on both counts. And this had the added fun of extra warm temperatures and only 2 hours of sleep. Not a bad day’s work, honestly.

Also. And Tina reminded me of this afterwards, Everesting is frequently the purview of great and exceptional climbers. While I am a good climber, perhaps even categorizable as strong, I would never say I am great at it. I can put out a fair amount of power but I am also quite heavy, which is a huge detriment on climbs.

Will I try again? Maybe? It is a vexing thing to apply myself towards a goal three times and fail each time. This attempt also felt like a rather poor attempt, all things considered. I know I have the fitness to complete either an Everesting or a 10K Everesting Roam, but it would surely help if it was not attempted during hot summer weather with a plan that did not go belly up at 1am. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


It's Recovery Week!

After three weeks of my training plan, I have reached my first recovery week. That means it is time to absorb all of the training that I did by giving my body the time to rebuild and rest. Woo!

And I, for one, am all for it. Last week had me biking for 15.5 hours with 19,000ft of elevation gain. On top of the bike workouts, I also had two separate hour-long core sessions and my daily 20-25 minute walk. It all adds up. By Sunday, I could feel the stress as it took a good 30 minutes for my body to really click into the day's endurance ride. Also, let's not forget that I got my second vaccine shot last Sunday, which knocked me flat for all of Monday. Overall, not a bad week, not bad at all.

Recovery week mostly means I take the first two days off completely and then have three days of easy rides before I start preparing for the next four weeks of training. And that preparation includes an FTP test. Ohhhh boy!

Let's start with the days off. By the end of the weekend (having spent 7 hours climbing in the mountains on Saturday and 30 miles of endurance on Sunday), Garmin was telling me that I needed 3.5 days off to fully recover from my efforts. Given the strain of the weekday workouts, the vaccine shot tanking my energy, and then my "fun" weekend, my body was pretty well wrung dry and hurting a bit. My calves were tight, my quads and hamstrings were sore, and even my chest felt a bit roughed up. Let's not even talk about my caloric needs, since I easily polished off an entire packet of Trader Joe's Speculoo cookies Sunday night.

So, today is Tuesday and my second, completely-off-the-bike day. This morning my resting HR was 48bpm, which while higher than normal is lower than Sunday's. Also, since I had a book at the library, I enjoyed a 4.5 mile round trip walk this morning. When I got home, my watch said my recovery time was down to only 23 hours. Progress.

The next three days only have me biking four hours total and always at a fairly relaxed pace. No hard efforts and no intervals; nothing but endurance riding. That's because Saturday is the FTP test!

No one really gets excited about FTP tests. In all honesty, I have to psych myself up for them. They are meant to push you hard and are used to determine what your training levels will be for the next block of training. After a warmup that gets the legs spun up and ready for some hard efforts, you do 5 mins at the maximum effort you can sustain. It tends to leave one feeling like Rocky at the end of a round–still standing but a little uneasy on the feet. And then, oh then, you switch to 15 minutes of endurance to "recover" before your 20 minute max effort.

That 20 minute max effort tends to leave me gasping over my handlebars, with a faint taste of copper in my mouth and a desire to collapse and moan "medic" at whomever is within earshot. Since I intend to do this test outside–weather permitting–I will complete the ride by ceasing the melodrama and biking my tired ass home.

And the FTP test signifies the end of rest week and the return to training. More and harder intervals, longer endurance rides, and continuing to build up my ability to maintain power when tired. I will be interested if the FTP test shows any improvement in just three weeks. I think I have noticed an ability to climb hills faster and also maintain my power when I am tired...but...it could all be in my head. When it comes to training, data matters.