– the blog –

Do You Need a Power Meter?

Yes. Probably.

"A power meter allows riders who are serious about performance and training to monitor their workload, track progress, and pace efforts during important events or races." 1

If you are at the point in your cycling journey where you know what a power meter is and are considering whether you need one or not, the answer is yes. It is the most valuable thing–besides a bike computer–you can get for improving your bike training.

Will it magically make you a better cyclist? No. But it will allow you to do structured workouts and measure progress over time. I have heard it said repeatedly by many different people that you can train solely based on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and that athletes trained that way for decades. While that is somewhat true, I would never suggest training solely based off RPE to anyone, not even experienced cyclists. RPE is subjective and can be influenced by a number of factors unrelated to cycling. Power is objective and measurable externally from you. RPE is useful and worth tracking, but it is equivalent to saying a person is warm vs they are emitting electromagnetic radiation at 15 μm.

Which Power Meter Should I Get?

There are a number of power meter buying guides out there that you can find with a Google search (example). The three types of power meters I have personally tried are pedal, crank arm, and crank spider. My advice would be to get a crank arm one, if you can find one that works for your bike. They're one of the cheaper options, are as accurate as most cyclists need, and should last you a good long while.

If you cannot find a crank arm power meter, then power pedals are a perfectly acceptable backup option. Back during the COVID pandemic that is all I could find for my gravel bike and I still use them today. If you have never switched your pedals, then I would suggest going to your local bike shop and asking for a quick lesson. Once you do it a few times, it should be a super simple 5 minute project to switch between bikes, all you need is a pedal wrench and a small tube of grease. Do not be intimiated, you will get the hang of it in no time.

I have one bike that has a spider power meter and it is, with no exaggeration, amazing. Very accurate, measures both legs, and it zero-offsets automatically. Pretty much a worry free option. If they were not so darn expensive and a bit time consuming to change chainrings on, it would be my preferred option. If your bike happens to come with one, excellent, if not, I would likely only suggest this to cyclists who enjoy spending money.

NedGravel 2023

NedGravel 2023 Silver Course podium
Moi? On a podium?! (photo credit to Laurel)

Yes, I won the NedGravel Silver course this weekend. I will not allow a podium to change me though! (sorry?)

As a heavy and slightly dense individual, I am not a natural hill climber. But I came back from my Tour Divide attempt–I prefer the term “absolute and complete failure” but Tina says I am being too negative–with an itch to get my power back after spending many months working primarily on building endurance and resiliency.

So, I put together a three week plan of getting me ready for essentially a gravel sprint race. Those 20 Chapman laps I did my first weekend back? A brutish attempt to get my brain switched over from handling a 50lbs Tour Divide to handling a lightweight gravel bike again. And I did a Zwift race every single week to get my system primed for the level of effort and time that I expected the race to take.

Race day thankfully had lovely weather. Another system of thunderstorms hit Colorado the night before and the forecast suggested we might be riding though another storm, but we were fairly lucky: except for a bit of light mud, loose grit, and manageable ruts the course was in good riding condition. My warmup made me mildly concerned as my body and legs felt sluggish and stressed. A 4:30am wake up time and no coffee probably did not help with that. Foolish mortal.

However, once the race started, I moved quickly to the front of the group and powered hard up the first climb. My overall plan was to do threshold on the major climbs, recover in tempo/AP when I could, and not crash on the descents. As you can tell, I am a sophisticated racer with a well-researched and thought out plan.

NedGravel 2023 - Laurel and I
Laurel and I at the Silver course start (photo credit to Laurel)

I kept on expecting another racer, lighter and faster up climbs than me, to appear and catch up, but they never did. For the first time in my life I was off the front of a race all by myself. Who was I supposed to tell jokes to and discuss German philosophers with? Myself? Booooring…

Anyhow, I got to the turn around point and the sheriff directing traffic shouted that I was going the wrong way as it seemed no one expected the Silver racers so soon. Even the aid station at the split was not set up when I passed by.

Halfway down the long gravel descent, I hit a deep rut that was hidden in the early morning shade and was astounded I did not crash. The Lauf fork probably saved me there. The final major climb was a bit brutal. It was steeper and looser, and I was feeling my previous hard efforts. Then the double track was sandy and a bit loose as well. I was doing 260W and only going 11 miles an hour. Nutty. The final descent was in great shape though; I took it fast but still controlled as the road was open and I saw three vehicles going uphill during my descent.

And then into Nederland. The route crosses the Boulder Canyon highway and the flaggers were still walking to the junction, so I paused for a hot second and then zoomed across towards the finish. When I crossed the timing mat, I noticed the finishing arch was not even inflated yet...but I had won! What a crazy weird feeling to be the very first finisher at NedGravel.

I waited for our friend Laurel to finish (3rd!) and then I went to clean up and get food + coffee from Salto Coffee while I waited for Tina to finish the longer, more rugged Tungsten course. A good and fun race. Given there was price money for those that podiumed, this technically means I am a pro? And now I am reconsidering all of my other races for the rest of this year and wondering if maybe I should stop focusing on 100+ mile ultra distances and focus on shorter efforts.

NedGravel 2023 Tungsten Tina finish
Tina crossing finish line

Do You Need a Cycling Coach?

Skip to tl;dr

During our evening walks, Tina and I frequently discuss coaching decisions, training concepts, workouts, etc. both for ourselves and the individuals she coaches. A discussion that came up last night was when an athlete should use a coach versus joining a training group (ala Winter BaseCamp) versus just having a training plan.

In some cases, it is crystal clear. If you are an Olympic hopeful or someone who frequently podiums at top races, it is an incredible time and energy saver for someone else to build your workouts, review your data, process your feedback, and make adjustments on a regular cadence. All you have to do is implement their plan, provide feedback, and focus on the actual training and recovery. When you are training 20+ hours a week, the value of a coach is high. They are also likely to be well informed on the recent research into training and recovery, which is handy as exercise physiology is a complex science and there is plenty of bullshit out there.

For someone starting out, a simple training plan makes sense. It is incredibly cost effective compared to a coach. You can also get a feel for what structured training feels like (hint: it's not all fun and games). And you are more likely to see overall improvements without personalized adjustments since you will be a relative beginner to the process. As you get fitter and fitter, your training and recovery will get more structured to better match your physiology and goals.

For everyone else, it depends. And it mostly depends on you. Where are you as an athlete? How much time and energy to you want to spend on training? What are your goals both short and long term? Are you willing to do the work? And not just the work of being on the bike but the rest, recovery, eating, maintenance, paying for things, and so much more. There is a nice long spectrum for the types of athletes out there and you need to figure out where you are and where you want to be, as well as how much you want it.

Motivation and Discipline

While mulling it over with Tina, I think the two most important things you need to evaulate when you consider whether to hire a coach is your personal discipline and your ability to stay motivated. Structured training is definitely challenging. Even more so when you consider all of the daily stresses that will eat up your time and energy reserves. Barely a week goes by when I do not daydream about sitting on the couch and reading a book instead of going out and doing a hard two hour workout on the bike. Will skipping one workout really hurt? No. But consistency is absolutely key to improving, so you need to find that motivation to stick to your training and the discipline to do the workouts as prescribed.

Personally, I am internally motivated. I do not need a cheerleader or overseer. In fact, I dislike being cheered on during races and prefer silence during hard efforts. When it comes to disciplined training, I have made the decision that I want to improve as a cyclist. As long as I have a workout scheduled, I do it. Simple as that, very logical.

Solely relying on internal motivation is pretty rare though. Many people, nay most people, really need some manner of external motivation as well. Social motivation in the form of riding with friends or teammates is frequently one. Achievement-based motivation in the form of a race goal is another. And then having accountablity to someone who is tracking and reviewing your progress, like a coach, is one too.

And then there is discipline. Training plans and coaches structure training to get the best proverbial bang for your buck. Sports science has evolved quite a bit in the last few decades and the science of bicycle training is an entire discipline itself, with its own bible. For example, one should not solely do hard intervals every day of the week. One should also not just aim to do as many hours in the saddle as possible either.

With a coach or training plan, workouts are planned and structured to optimally stimulate your body to get certain results base on your current fitness, physiology, and goals. You need to understand and accept this so that you can find the discipline to follow your plan, even when its really hard or really easy, instead of just doing whatever you want. If you're training for a 142 mile gravel race, your plan may have you doing a long day of endurance, which means you need to skip that all out group ride with friends. If you don't have that discipline or are unwilling to make that choice, then a coach is not going to be much use to you.

Static Plan vs Coach

However, one of the advantages of having a coach versus a static training plan is that a coach can restructure your training plan to allow for days where you are riding with friends or working on skills instead of fitness. If you're traveling and will not have your bike with you for a few days, then the flow of your training plan can be adjusted my your couch to make that a rest week. Flexibliity and adapatability is a key feature of having a coach. They have the experience and ability to take a wider view of your training to make these adjustments.

And, let's be honest, life gets in the way of training at times. If you have a particularly hard week at work or did not have a good night of sleep, your ability to train is affected. You may be unable to really push power on your intervals or do a long endurance ride without being completely wiped. A coach will get that information from you and can modify your future workouts to get you back on track. It has surprised me how many serious athletes still do not understand how important rest is and will not skip a single workout and, in fact, will push harder after they've been sick. Having a coach who you trust and tells you to sit your ass on the couch is super helpful.

A static training plan that you buy online has no ability to adjust to your changing circumstances. It is more or less set in stone. However, if you have been training for a few years and you feel you have enough knowledge and experience, you can use it as a starting point and make your own modifications as needed. Assuming nothing really goes off the rails and your life is pretty stable, this will work for many well trained individuals. Will you get the absolutely most from your training? Maybe not, but for many athletes this approach is sufficient for their goals. I think this is a perfectly fine way to train, but it does require a certain amount of detachment and discipline when listening to your body.

Everything Else

Assuming you are on board with the disicpline and motivational aspects, what else should you consider when deciding on getting a coach?

Cost. Hiring a coach costs money. While you may spend only $150 for a season-long training plan, a good coach will cost at least $250 a month. Consider though that a good coach will be spending hours a month building your workouts, reviewing your feedback, meeting with you, and making regular adjustments. They likely have been doing this for a number of years and are experienced cyclists themselves, so you are paying both for their time and their expertise. If you are serious about your training, it is a solid value.

Time and Energy. If you hire a coach, you are committing to your training. And once you have committed yourself to training, it will become a significant focus in your life. You are essentially moving up to the next level of cycling and there is a time and energy cost. If your coach has you on the bike for 10 hours a week, that is just the beginning of your time and energy expenditure. You need to get ready to get on the bike (dressing, water, snacks), clean the bike and maintain it, recover from your rides (shower, eating, massage), and then provide feedback to your coach on your workouts. 10 hours on the bike can easily mean 5+ hours of time spent on tasks off the bike. Don't underestimate that affect on your life.

Benefits. You're going to learn a lot from being coached. They should be providing knowledge and feedback to you on a regular basis. Structure and consistency are the requirements for cycling achievement and coaching provides it. Our bodies take time to adapt, but in a couple months your cycling game is going to go up a couple notches. You have to trust the process and be patient, but training works.

All About Moi

My first structured training on the bike began in April 2021 with a purchased training plan focused on Everesting. Previous to this, I took what I knew from ultrarunning and simply applied it to bicycling doing my own, unstructured workouts. Lots of long bike rides exploring the Boulder roads and doing hard work up hills with regular rest days. You can get pretty far on your own by having a firm understanding of fueling and periodization training.

Once I decided to Everest, I knew it required more structured workouts so I started with a training plan as it seemed the easiest and cheapest given my experience-level. After my Everest attempt, I signed up to join Tina in doing the Queen's Stage Race at Rebecca's Private Idaho. That was a multi-day stage event, so I made the decision to join the RPI BaseCamp training program to continue my growth and development as a "serious" cyclist. BaseCamp is an in-between step between a training plan and a personal coach. You get a semi-personalized training plan based on your available time and goals, but then you are also part of a large group of cyclists who are mentored by a small group of coaches. I bought a power meter, got a bike computer, and learned quite a bit during the summer of 2021.

After a reasonably successful RPI and with no end in sight for the pandemic, I kept my focus on cycling and in November I joined the Winter BaseCamp training group. Like the RPI BaseCamp, you get a semi-personalized training plan and join the group for 4 months of training with a group of coaches helping you learn and grow more as a cyclist. Near the end of BaseCamp, my aspirations had grown enough that I hired a coach and we worked together for the entire Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2022.

I found having a coach valuable but ultimately not for me. As I said before, I do not suffer from a lack of motivation or discipline once I commit myself to something. Also, I am not one who really needs a cheerleader or much in the way of positive feedback. Further, as someone who got a degree in Philosophy and works as a programmer, I found it tiring providing written feedback on workouts. It either went well or it did not. Finally, with Tina working on becoming a coach herself and me slowly absorbing knowledge from her and the BaseCamp coaches, I felt I was in a place where I could manage my training well enough for my goals.

So now I coach myself with Tina as a sounding board. She uses a tool called WKO5 to help her analayze her athletes' training, so I have also been a little guinea pig for her when she wants to learn something new. "Hey, Paul, you should try this!" and off I go. Honestly, it has gone better than expected. I spend an average of 15 hours a week on the bike and I have become extremely fit, even for Boulder. While I tend to focus my training on ultra gravel distances (125 miler CO2UT or Tour Divide), I also have pretty solid power as well going by being in the top 30 this year for some well known Strava segments in the area. It's a nice feeling being one of only a few hundred people in the country who could roll off the couch and do Unbound XL with maybe a day of prep.

Could I be a bit better with a coach? Yes. But I am comfortable with my level of commitment to cycling right now. If I was going to get a coach again, I think it would be because I wanted to increase my time on the bike and had some grander goals. I like and enjoy cycling, but it is still just a hobby for me. I am serious about it, but I do not take it too seriously. If we switched sports again, I would be fairly indifferent. Too many things to try and explore to be pigeon-holed by a single sport.


If you are a fairly new cyclist, try a training plan or training group first. Expect some learning and challenges when starting out, but that is how we grow and just trust that good things are coming.

If you have at least a year of cycling experience under your belt and you want someone to keep you focused on achieving your cycling goals, get a coach. Interview at least 2-3 options to find a good fit.

If you have a few years of serious cycling training under your belt, are a focused and disciplined individual, and have a willingness to keep learning, you might consider coaching yourself.

If you are a professional cyclist or Olympian, get outta here you beautiful, sexy beast.

Tour Divide 2023: Gear List

For posterity and potential usefulness for future Tour Divide victims racers, the following is my Tour Divide 2023 gearlist. You can also watch a video of me going through the setup on Instagram.





  • Health Insurance card
  • Debit Card
  • CC Card
  • Cash
  • Passport
  • License

Packed (Clothing):

Packed (Sleeping):

Packed (Misc):

Packed (Electronics):

Packed (Maintenance):

Scratching the Tour Divide 2023, Part 2

Scratching the Tour Divide 2023, Part 1

The morning of the Grand Depart was early thanks to a 7:15am start and our hotel being a 25 minute drive from the start. And upon arriving in Banff, I would need to repack my bike because driving it fully loaded on the highway seemed a bit reckless. As I have done for nearly ever gravel race, I packed oatmeal for breakfast. While I finished it, I was not exactly feeling hungry that morning. On the upside, my trip to the bathroom was uneventful.

On the way to Banff, I sipped from a Nalgene holding 16oz of water mixed with a packet of Skratch Hyper Hydration to increase my odds of staying hydrated throughout the day. It did not settle particularly well. In fact, once we parked, my stomach almost threw it and all of my breakfast back up. I diluted it further and eventually got it down safely.

Banff - Biking to Start
Biking to the Tour Divide's grand depart at the YWCA. So clean, so ready.

The organizers had put me in the third wave of riders, who all expected to finish within 17-19 days. Our group started without much fanfare and just like that, my Tour Divide race had started. My legs felt solid and I was immediately at the front of my group feeling strong. The tempeature was cool and the sky mostly cloudy. Pretty stellar weather for a race start.

The first part of the race is on a wide trail with a couple punchy climbs and loose rock, but nothing too terrible. The next section was single track and had a number of washout with sudden drops. Enough roughness that I saw two lost hydration bottles and a bear spray from the 40 or so riders ahead of me. About 12 miles in, I tooted...and there is no easy way to say this, the fart was not alone. Right in my chamois. Not a lot, but also not insignificant.

When I reached the trading post at mile 50, I snuck behind a dumpster and completely cleaned my chamois with water, sanitizer, and the TP I had on me. Also applied some vaseline as the irritation was unpleasant. More than you wanted to know, I am sure, but it was a 20 minute break I had not planned for. While there I looked at my fork and saw that the swooping single track we had done before this section had caused my wheel to completely shred the protective tape I had added. I added new tape, drank a chocolate milk from the store, and kept on trucking.

Around mile 68 or so, I developed stomach cramping. Was it the chocolate milk I bought at the trading post? A consequence of stuffing so much food and drink into my body while still not being fully recovered from my illness? Not sure, but it was mild so I hoped it would work itself out. Coincidentally, this is where the rain started in earnest and did not let up until about 10 miles from the day's end.

Mile 101 of Tour Divide
Selfie at around mile 101, just starting Koko Claims. Rather damp.

Mile 100 is the turn to Koko Claims pass. I was with a small group of riders and we all stopped to go pee, eat + drink, and adjust anything we needed before the long climb. The cramping had become increasingly uncomfortable and I considered just calling the race there as a small town was not far away. It was only 50 miles to Fernie though and Koko Claims is infamous, so I pushed on.

Koko Claims was worst than I imagined. Part of this was the stomach cramping. Part of this was the steady rain making all the rocks slick and loose. But, then, it is also just a horrendous pass to travel. This video by motorcyclists shows it rather well. Watch that and then imagine doing it after 100 miles of riding, in the rain, with a 50lbs touring setup. There are four separate rocky and steep sections where you have no choice but to pull/push your bike. After I finished the first one, I thought I was done. Nope. Another one. Assumed it was finally over. Nope. One more. And then the final one? I literally had to heave my bike over multiple rock steps.

And then you get to the top and have to go down the other side. Instead of rocky sections there were steep, sandy gravel bit with deep rain washouts. I am not exaggerating: -25% grade in parts. More than a few times you were off your bike and riding your brakes to not lose control as you walked/stumbled down. There were frequently sections that were ridable and one of these is where I crashed. The trail was nice and loose from the rain, so when the dirt collapsed under my rear tire, I went over the handlebars. I landed reasonably well but it still made my right neck and shoulder unhappy with a number of scrapes on my right leg and fingertips. The bike was in reasonably good condition, thank goodness. Right shifter was out of place but that was an easy adjustment. Drivetrain got a little dirty, but nothing a quick wipe with my rag could not handle.

Rock Garden on Koko Claims
The first of the Koko Claims rock gardens you have to hike-a-bike up.
At the bottom of the pass, there is a left turn that four of us went right past without even recognizing it as a possible route. Our bike computers' all beeped at us and I swear it looked like an old, unused trail that had been abandoned 10 years previously. As a group we just shrugged and listened to what are GPS told us. Eventually the faint trail turned into something more akin to single track, followed by another nutty descent on rocky terrain. And then we turned onto a real gravel road! Hallelujah! It had taken me nearly 3 hours to do the ~10.5 mile Koko Claims section with an average speed of 3.6mph. I think I aged about 3 days during it.

With 110 miles done, it was only 40 miles to Fergie, BC, my goal for the night with a promise of a hotel, shower, and warm food. After a bit of diarrhea, fork rubbing issues, stomach cramping, the brutal climb and descent of Koko Claims, a bike crash that made my right side crotchety, and the incessant rain I mentally latched onto reaching Fernie and recovering. If I could just reach that town, I knew a good night's rest would set me up well for day 2.

3 miles later my bike computer died.

I purchased my Garmin Edge 840 a little over a month before the Tour to replace my rather beat up Garmin 530. This new device was solar powered and had a fresh, longer lasting battery with improved GPS. I used it for every single ride the month before the Tour Device in all manner of conditions, including mud and pouring rain. Performed flawlessly, not a single issue.

I remember looking down at the bike computer's screen and seeing no numbers changing. It was frozen. OK, it happens, just shut it down and restart. I shut it down and the damn thing would not start up again. I tried multiple times and it was just dead. "Am I cursed?" literally came out of my mouth. The last I checked it was over 90% battery, but I still plugged it into a battery pack and waited 10 minutes just to see if that would help. Nothing. Switched to my second battery pack, waited, and still nothing. OK, so primary navigation was dead. I still had my phone with RideWithGPS on it and while not ideal, especially with pouring rain, it would work. A few other riders had caught up to me during my fiddling around with the Garmin, so I just decided to simplify matters and stay with them until Fernie.

On and on we went. The road had many many many many many water filled potholes. Occasionally, a stream overflowed and we had to go through bigger stretches of standing water or jump off to carry our bikes over a deeper part. My stomach continued being unhappy so I was just nibbling small bits of food (raisins, Spring energy gel, peanut butter cup) on a regular cadence trying to keep it from fully shutting down but fueling me enough not to bonk.

Night started to fall and I turned on my front headlight. We were going uphill at the time and it was still twilight, but it looked like it was not shining particularly bright or well. The crash had bent it up a bit, so I manhandled it back into place, but it was definitely flickering. It is dyanamo hub powered, so I just assumed the uphill portion was not charging it enough but things would improve on a downhill.

But during the downhill from our last pass, it continued flickering. Not exactly a strobe light but near enough. Checked the dynamo hub connection, the wire loom connection, etc. and all seemed intact. Our group had gotten spread out (everyone was pretty exhausted) and I was alone for the descent. A rocky, muddy, sandy gravel road with washouts and potholes at night with a flickering front light. It was less than fun. "How close is the road, how close is the road, I need to get off this." was echoing in my head.

And then, right ahead I saw the unmoving light of another rider on what finally looked like a level section. I slowed down to see if they were in trouble and I am glad I did as I did not notice the thick, gooey mud that had brought him to a complete standstill. A sudden fishtail and in a split second the lower half of my bike was incased with mud. 25-40lbs worth of extra weight I would guess. With an exasperated groan, I pulled out my phone to see that the pavement was barely a mile away.

So began a fun party at 10pm—after 145 miles of riding—where I would clean out gargantuan chunks of mud with my chainring cleaner and then pick up the rear end of my bike to run as fast as I could until the mud seized everything up again. Despite the hour and exhaustion, I did this with a certain amount of fervor. I could smell the proverbial barn. I also pulled out my headlamp as the dynamo hub powered front light was effectively useless and I needed light to see.

Thanks to the mud, I saw a half dozen cyclists in this section, more than I had seen since the beginning of the day. All I really saw of them were their front and rear lights, but you could tell no one was able to ride through. No grass on the sides of the road to escape either, just a wide road full of gooey mud. By the 5th or 6th cleaning, the mud had thinned enough that I was able to get back on the bike and throw down enough power to get going again. It was a short few minutes and I was finally on the pavement. Thank the gods.

Suffice to say, my bike and its drivetrain were a complete mess when I got to the pavement. I cleaned it up the best I could so I could shift again (chain only dropped once, yay, electronic shifting), pulled out my water bladder to drain the last remaining milliliters into my mouth, and started riding to town. I was completely thrashed and feeling like absolute shit; but the pavement, oh man, it was so nice to just go.

Muddy Bike
Cleaning up the bike in Fernie

During the ride towards town, I did a realistic assessment of how my race was going...and I hope it is clear from the above, it felt one small step away from disaster. Multiple mechanical issues, a crash that meant I could not turn my head to the right, and a gastrointestinal system that was barely functioning leaving me underfueled and dehydrated. My second day of racing was supposed to have 116 miles with 8815' of elevation gain, and I thought it highly unlikely I would make that in my current state. In fact, I suspected I would crash and burn both mentally and physically. So, I texted Tina to find out how far away she was from Fernie.

Dynamo hub is broken and Garmin stopped working. Also diarrhea in shorts today. Also crashed.

In Fernie, I went straight to Snow Valley Lodging. They had posted in the Facebook group about how they would be up late with food, a hose, and discounted lodging for Tour Divide riders. Two other riders were in the office before me, and I gotta admit that we all looked like we had been through the wringer. Wet, muddy, and chilled with am exhausted, resigned look.

After acquiring an entire room to myself for two nights, I rinsed off my bike with the hose and went up to the room. First order of business was getting some more Skratch Wellness into me. Scratching the race was definitely on the table and looking like the right choice, but I was not going to fully commit to quitting until I tried to address the myriad of issues I was facing. First and foremost was trying to get my stomach and intestines working again. Hydration seemed like the first step.

Unpacked my bike to get things cleaned and dried out on my room's table. Grabbed a small bowl of chili and a bun from the Snow Valley Lodging peeps that went down without trouble, which was encouraging. Took a shower and found a bunch of cuts and scratches from the crash and mud, which I cleaned up best I could. Got another Skratch Wellness in me and tried to start the Garmin bike computer again but it remained unresponsive. I left it opened up with the faint hope that drying it out might help. Took a handful of acetaminophen for my neck + shoulder as the endorphins had finally worn off and it was quite painful.

Skratch Wellness packet and glass
Skratch Wellness. Probably what kept me from needing an ER visit.

And so, shortly after midnight I headed to bed with an agreement with Tina to talk early in the morning about where she should come get me. Food and Gatorade were on the night stand so I could continue working on fueling and hydration throughout the night. Thus ended my first day on the Tour Divide.

Woke up before 6am and started assessing my problems. Intestines were still not happy but I was tolerating carbohydrate-rich liquids so there was still a chance. Discovered the wobble had caused my wheel to partially wear through my feed bag straps, which was yet another problem to solve. Spinning my front wheel, I could definitely still see a flicker in the dynamo light, so I emailed the people I bought the light from asking for advice as the connections still looked fine to my eye. The local bike shop did not open until 10am, so I walked 10 blocks to get coffee hoping some caffeine might help clear up my backed up digestive system (you know, coffee, the magical elixir of life that solves all problems). On the way back from the coffee shop, I found a bakery and got a couple treats. While they were super tasty, my stomach immediately cramped up from eating them. ::slow sarcastic applause::

Back at the hotel, I took off my front wheel to start working on repairs to the worn areas and also clean up the light connectors. The light still did not improve so it was either the light itself or the dynamo hub. Right when the bike shop opened, I called them to see what front light options they had for night riding on gravel roads and trails. They had one possibility that might work, but I would probably need to purchase an additional high capacity battery since I could no longer rely on my hub for charging things. Magically, my bike computer started up again and I was able to save the first 110 miles of the race it had actually tracked. Was a bit dubious about its reliability though so I was considering purchasing a backup option from the bike shop too. Still, finally a step in the right direction?

Note: I did not notice at the time, but when I got home to Boulder I plugged in the bike computer and it refused to charge despite my best efforts, so it was definitely NOT reliable.

I was trying not to be quitter and Tina pointedly asked after all this, "Do you want to keep going?" and my answer was a pretty solid no. The first day had sucked, parts of my body were in serious pain from the crash, I was going to need to buy a number of new things to keep racing, and the real cherry on top was that I was unable to eat food without feeling incredibly ill.

My ego is trying to write checks my self preservation is trying to void.
I think I need to be smart and realize that I am not well and while I could pull off a recovery, I feel pretty shit right now and might make things rather worse.
I am literally sitting on the floor drinking a hydration mix as I cannot eat.
::sigh:: please come fetch my sorry little ass.

Tina arrived around 4pm and after with one final check-in to make sure I wanted to quit. Given I was on the stairs sipping water with painful intestinal cramping, I gave a solid yes.



Here I am a week after we arrived home in Boulder and while I know it was the right decision to scratch, it still does not sit particularly well. No one shows up to the start line of the Tour Divide intending to quit after the first day. 7 months of prep and training with quite a bit of money invested in this endeavour only to have it end after 150 miles–just over 5% completed.

But it took four days for me to have a normal bowel movement and I ended up losing 6 pounds of weight because I was primarily subsisting on liquid calories for three days. My neck and shoulder are better, but those also took a couple days and numerous pain relievers before they felt ok. And, as mentioned above, the bike computer was borked and had to be returned to Garmin. The dynamo hub powered front light is functioning normally again, and the current theory is water got into the hub causing issues. I will need to be doubly sure of it before any future bikepacking races.

Realistically, I think if I had headed out on day 2, there was a 95% chance I would have turned around and come back to Fernie or ended up calling for assistance. I was not well. And with that 5% chance of making it to the next stop, it was like digging a hole and deciding when you hit bedrock to pull out the dynamite. That is not where I wanted to put myself.

And oh boy, I think I may have dodged a bullet a little. The conditions on this year's Tour Divide have NOT been kind to riders. So much rain, hail, mud, cold, and destroyed equipment. But that one day taught me quite a bit. That one fierce day of riding tested me so much more than the months of training beforehand.

Will I attempt the Tour Divide next year? If you had asked me the first two days after quitting, it was a solid "Hell no." But four days afterwards, I was already considering what I would do differently. New approaches to training and also the gear I would bring is on my mind. I made good choices based on what I knew, but doing that first day and watching the riders this year, there are things I definitely wish to change on my setup. Also, I feel I left something unfinished out there.

Scratching the Tour Divide 2023, Part 1

So, I already posted an Instagram reel where I explained most of what happened during the Tour Divide this year, but here is a written account with even more detail, for posterity.

First, the backstory. Way back in early November, I was trying to decide what I would focus on in 2023. Thanks to the popularity of gravel racing and the early registrations, you really need to start putting together a plan by December. Given my enjoyment of remote, semi-isolated rides up in the mountains, I felt the Tour Divide was a worthy option. It is a ~2700mi race starting in early June going north to south along the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border. Go read more about it, if you like, but it is a race where anything can happen: wildfires, floods, miles of mud, endless eqqipment failures, and there is so much climbing.

Sometime in mid-November, I decided the Tour Divide would be my primary bicycling focus for 2023. A few other races sprinkled would be spinkled around it (Old Man Winter, CO2UT, NedGravel, Steamboat), but the Tour was the focus around which everything else would revolve. Once the Black Friday sales started, I started acquiring the gear I thought I would need to pull off this challenge. I also ordered a Lauf Seigla as it seemed the perfect balance of lightweight, huge tire clearance, and a decent price.

The next four months involved training, learning more about how other riders have tackled the Tour Divide, and slowly purchasing more items I thought I needed as my budget allowed. Once my winter training block was over and the weather had improved here in Colorado, I set up the Lauf Seigla with aerobars, bikepacking bags, dynamo hub powered lights, etc., got a bike fit from IOG, and started taking it out for rides. Long rides, climbing rides, a few night rides, and rides where I tested new pieces of gear and resupply strategies at small stores or gas stations.

Switzerland Trail with Tour Divide cockpit
Testing my Tour Divide setup on Switzerland Trail.

There was so much trial and error. So many purchases to experiment with new gear and bike setups. It was a part-time job on top of the 12-18 hours of bike training a week, which was already on top of the 30-hours a week of web consulting I was doing. Still, things progressed and I got comfortable using such a heavy setup and riding it for hours on the roads and trails around Boulder. Also learned a number of new skills too. In May I started feeling actually ready to take on a 2700 bikepacking race.

The Wobble: One problem I did find during training was a wobble on the frontend of my bike that would periodically appear during rides, normally when fully loaded and on paved roads at 15mph or faster. The Lauf fork has springs meant to dampen bumps and hits in the direction of travel. However, it also does have some flex from side to side. Not much, but when you load it up (say for backpacking), are using wide tires, and have the weight positioned in a certain way, it will develop a wobble where the frontend shakes and you have to keep at least one hand on the handlebars. It was a bit unnerving. Manageable but definitely not quite right. I tried a few different setups and weight distributions, but I could never get it to disappear. Replacing the fork and maybe the handlebar was outside my budget and the fork definitely made riding rough gravel roads for hours far less abusive on my body, so I kept it and continued working on finding a way to keep the wobble at bay.

After a final bike tuneup, a haircut, and a day of packing everything up, Tina and I started driving to Canada on June 5th. Nothing special about the drive. It was long, took the better part of two days, and we saw a couple serious thunderstormes storms along the way. We arrived in Canmore (a short drive to the start in Banff) mid-afternoon on Tuesday, June 6th. We happened to run into a friend of Tina's in Canmore whose partner was also doing the Tour. Grabbed dinner with them and on Wednesday I did a shakedown ride to Banff along a bike path and then back via the first part of the Tour Divide route.

Tour Divide bike + gear
The final Tour Divide setup with all gear.

On Wednesday night, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant and my stomach felt a little uneasy. Chalked it up to all the driving, a warm day, a harder than expected shakedown ride, and maybe some nerves. I do not really get nerves at bike races, but the Tour Divide seemed significant enough that it might be the case. I grabbed a ginger ale with dinner to help and did not think much about it.

Woke up Thurday morning and my abdomen was gurgling and grumbling something fierce. Tina had already headed off for a bike adventure to Lake Louise by the time I got up to go bathroom. And the bathroom experience was an unpleasant flush of my system. Shit. Well, actually, not shit, just diarrhea.

My first step was to mix up a Skratch Wellness packet from the stash I was intending on taking with me on the Tour Divide and drink it immediately. The rest of me felt fine, including my stomach, so I hoped this was a minor blip and that I could deal with it by keeping well hydrated.

I had brought oatmeal to eat for breakfast, but I was not craving it so I went out to get a coffee and bagel with cheese + egg. Unfortunately, after eating breakfast, I got back to the hotel room and 30 minutes later had another bout of diarreha. The rest of the morning was spent drinking Skratch Wellness, going to a nearby bike shop to fetch more Skratch Wellness, and grabbing a couple of last minute items. I was still eating but only basic foods like animal crackers to try and help my system settle.

I think the point at which I started having a real worry was when I went to the grocery store mid-afternoon to get my first 150-250 miles worth of food and nothing looked appetizing. Months of Tour Divide gut training and two years of bike racing before that, and I could not figure out what I wanted to take. After a couple laps through the store, I grabbed what made sense, including an entire container of Gatorade hydration powder. I figured if the Tour Divide was going to start with a problematic gut than liquid calories should be readily available.

I did another 6 mile shakedown cruise before dinner and discovered the wobble had caused my wheel to wear away the protective tape on my fork, so I put some electrical tape there to reinforce it. Also discovered that my spare bib shorts had the left side of the chamois no longer attached to the bib fabric. Addressable and minor problems, but I was sort of hoping the day before starting the Tour Divide would be a bit more confidence inspiring than all this.

Dinner was uneventful. I was still eating. No diarreha since the morning and the bike was all setup to go, everything was organized, and even though the day had not been confidence boost I still felt ready to go.

Part 2 is coming...

Cycling Talents vs Interests

With the copious amount of free time granted to me by not currently having a job, I am continuing to contemplate this year's race season and all the training that went along with it (part 1, part 2).

The current facet that I am mulling over for next year's goals and races is my talents vs my interests. As a cyclist, I have only been seriously training for a little over 18 months and have only owned a gravel bike slightly longer. In that time I have done a fair amount of cycling around Colorado and a number of races in Western states like Oregon, Utah, and Idaho. My training has been almost equally split between the trainer, road, and gravel. Overall, I think that is enough time and experience to know what my talents and interests are as a cyclist.

As in other sports I have participated in, I seem to be a solid all-around cyclist. Never the fastest, strongest, or most skilled but capable of doing almost everything reasonably well. Ok at everything, a superstar at nothing. The joy and curse of never completely focusing on any single sport and developing a true speciality. Still, my physical size and long history of being active has given me some noticeable strengths and weaknesses.

As a 182lbs, 6'1" male (82.6kg, 1.85m for the rest of the world), I am not a natural climber. To quote myself, I am just too damn dense. Training has definitely improved my power and ability to spin up hills as well as making me lighter. But, unless I lose 15lbs and focus my training on it entirely, I am probably never going to be a world class climber. I do love to climb though. Especially hard, challenging ascents with super steep and fast descents. It's simply fun!

On the flip side, With my weight and fairly decent power, if you put me on a flattish road, I am quite fast. On a cool, windless day, I would put even money on me being able to do a solo 100 miles in 5 hours on the roads north of Boulder. That is without anything like aero bars or a time trial bike. If I really dedicated myself to it, I bet I could be a somewhat competitive time trialist. And yet, um, no interest whatsoever. Spending that amount of money on a dedicated TT bike and aero improvements just so I can push myself hard and stare at the road while in an uncomfortable position? I dunno, seems boring as shit.

The above disinclination also covers doing track cycling. I tried running track in high school and dropped out after a month. Give me the open road, s'il vous plaît.

Given all the 100+ mile gravel races I have done, you would think I might have a fondness for endurace racing. And, well, you would be right! It is very gratifying being out on gravel roads, away from one's busy modern life, and just cruising through nature. And I am moderately good at biking for long distances. Yes, it gets tiring being on the bike that long and it requires oodles of calories to keep me fueled, but it is satisfying on many levels. What I am not good at is long distances in hot weather. Even with heat training and careful fueling + hydration, my body starts losing the hydration game around the 4th hour. So, I prefer endurance racing when it is cooler, wetter, and a bit more sheltered from the sun. Sort of how Unbound XL ended up in 2022. 🤔

Tina happens to be doing cyclocross this autumn and having a blast. Given my ability to put out power quickly, I was very tempted to also participate. However, I've had a broken bone, serious sprain, or other injury almost every year for the past 5 years. Given the intense competitive nature of cyclocross (especially with males in their 40s) and my relatively newbie bike handling skills, I thought I would take this year off from visiting the ER or urgent care. But, if I stick with cycling through next autumn, I might give it a shot.

Speaking of high speed, manic bike activites, there are also criteriums. For the same reason as cyclocross, I have not explored this aspect of cycling culture. Crashing at 30mph on pavement because I had my wheel tapped by another cyclist while navigating a street corner...I mean, I'm no longer in my 20s and eager for such "fun".

So, where does this leave us? First, long endurance rides on gravel surrounded by nature in cooler, wetter weather. Second, challenging hill climbs with fast descents. Third, a possibility of cyclocross in the future once I gain more skills and less of an aversion to crashing.

You know, part of me thinks all of that combined sounds a great deal like adventure racing...

Is Type 3 Fun Actually Fun?

Most adventurous, outdoorsy, athletic people are well acquainted with the Three Types of Fun (explained here and here). To simplify it, here is how I think of the three types of fun:

  • Type 1: Wooooo!!
  • Type 2: LOL, that was nuts. Do it again?
  • Type 3: WTF?! Never again.
Now, I have had my share of all three types and greatly prefer the first two, by leaps and bounds. I am not against Type 3 fun, but it has to be towards some purpose or worthwhile goal. In short, I am against suffering for the sake of suffering.

As I think back to my past two race seasons on the bicycle, I have discovered that the races where I firmly slipped into Type 3 fun are the ones I have no intention of doing again. I suffered during a couple races this year and ended up feeling wrecked afterwards. And when I try to find some benefit from doing those two races, I find none. No chance of being on the podium, no amazing views that took me away from the pain, and no bonding experiences with other racers during the race. In point of fact, they felt like suffering for the sake of suffering. Thumbs down. Hard.

And here's the flip side. There is always a possibility that a previous Type 3 activity could be turned into a Type 2. I did Rexy in 2021 and ended up DNF'ing with my body feeling like shit for days afterwards. Unlike Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder and RPI's Queen Stage Race though, I have continually thought about doing Rexy again. While the race cracked me (and cracked me hard), I still have a handful of positive thoughts that make me want to do it again someday. The scenery was beautiful, I had a great crew, and the first section was enjoyable despite my freezing feet. Sure, I could barely move my body the next day and sitting was hard for weeks, but I can foresee me one day (with a few better bike and clothing choices) having a great Rexy race.

I am keeping all of this in mind as I start to slowly consider what challenges I will put on the calendar for next year. Unbound XL is on there as it toes that line between Type 2 and Type 3 with the possibility for some really enjoyable moments and being a solid accomplishment. The Great Divide Bike Route is also tempting me. It's been nearly 10 years since I thru-hiked the PCT and I feel I am past due for a grand adventure. Let's not forget the Montana Bike Odyssey, which I almost did this year and just looks stunning.

I am also contemplating an international trip as I have not been out of the country in a good long while. There is a race around Scotland, the Rift in Iceland, and one must admit that the Alps or Mallorca are pretty gorgeous too.

Decisions, decisions...

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.