The Benefits and Perils of Pre-Riding a Race Course

02.15.2016 | 7:37 am

A Note from Fatty: I generally don’t like to give things away out of sequence in my stories, but the fact is, over the weekend I shot, in slo-mo, a straight-up incredible shot of my friend Kenny doing a ten-foot drop…except he accidentally unclips either right before or right after he begins the drop. The result is disastrously incredible, but somehow ends with Kenny looking like he just completed a gymnastics routine. It’s a must-watch. So here it is.

2016 promises to be an interesting year, race-wise, at the Nelson household. For one thing, I’ll be racing in a new age group, what with my impending fiftieth birthday. Which means I’m likely to be placing mid-pack against people who are older than I am, instead of against people who are younger than I am.

Okay, that’s not particularly interesting. I’ll give you that. 

What’s more interesting is that while I’m planning to race with gears this year, The Hammer is thinking of racing singlespeed, across the board — an interesting reversal. 

Perhaps most interesting of all is that The Swimmer — our 20yo daughter — is registered to race the Leadville 100. And leading up to that race, she’s planning to do all the local endurance races. The Crusher in the Tushar. The Six Hours of Frog Hollow. And — in just a few weeks, her first endurance mountain bike race ever: The True Grit Epic. (If you’ve got nothing else to do, you can go back and read parts 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of my True Grit recap, as well as The Hammer’s story, from last year.)

Which means that I am discovering exactly how much alike daughter is like mother. Specifically, they both have a little bit of an athletic gift, coupled with a lot of tenacity and a competitive spirt (but also they both like to say “I’m not really competitive”). 

And, above all else, they both want to be prepared. Oh mercy, do these two women love preparation. I’d go so far as to say that they like to be prepared for races almost as much as I like…sandwiches. 

To be perfectly clear: I’m a big fan of sandwiches.

It should therefore be no surprise that last weekend, The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I went to St George, for the Very Important Purpose of pre-riding the True Grit Epic course, under the watchful eye of Kenny and Heather, without whom we would still be out on the course, hopelessly lost.

Pros and Cons

I understand where The Hammer and The Swimmer are coming from, preparation-wise. Really, I do. All else being equal, I prefer to not go into a race completely naïve to the course. You’re going to learn things about the course you can only truly understand when you’ve experienced it firsthand; a mostly-singletrack course in Southern Utah can’t be described in distance and vertical gain. Not even close.

Knowledge is power and whatnot.

However, I would also like to point out that doing a recon ride of a long and difficult course can be fraught. Because in addition to learning all this really awesome beta about the course, you’re likely to learn a few things you weren’t expecting.

Like that you seem to be aging rapidly at the moment. 

And that with your newfound decrepitude, you seem to recover from illness a lot more slowly than you used to. 

And you may even find that you’re slower and weaker than you used to be. to the point that maybe you are so far from being the alpha rider that you are left to wonder what comes after omega.

As you probably have guessed by now, I am — alas — not writing about hypotheticals here. 

Hand-Me-Downs and New Shoes

I was excited for this ride, but hadn’t given it a lot of thought prior to the trip. I had been sick most of the week, and slammed with work for the rest of it.

Still, I have done hundreds of rides longer than this one, and I was feeling better. As proof: it had been more than thirty-six hours since I had needed to use Nyquil

I brought two bikes to St. George: my Felt 9 FRD (affectionately known to me simply as “Fred”), and my Specialized Stumpjumper singlespeed, the twin of the bike The Hammer plans to race this season. I figured I’d ride the singlespeed to show solidarity with The Hammer, at least in training.

The Swimmer, meanwhile, would be riding her Cannondale Scalpel: 

Thumb IMG 4452 1024

I’d like to point out a few things about this photo. First, yes: this is the Scalpel I won last year. Or more accurately, it is the Scalpel I won and which The Swimmer immediately claimed as her own.

I can’t complain: she rides it better than I would. I am not exaggerating when I say that she already can demolish me with this bike on descents; I cannot hold her wheel.

To make the adoption final and permanent, in fact, I got her those snazzy matching Giro VR90 shoes

But she’s still wearing borrowed socks, shorts, and jersey. Luckily (for The Swimmer, though I’m not 100% sure it’s quite as lucky for The Hammer) she and her mom wear the same size. 

The Day Started Well Enough

I love the feeling of getting away with something — of doing something clever and fun that just doesn’t occur to most folks.

Going to St George, UT in mid-February always feels like I’m getting away with something. Friday after work we load up the Bikemobile at our home in Alpine, UT (two feet of snow standing on our front lawn), drive for 3.5 hours, and — wham — we’re in a short-sleeve desert mountain biking wonderland. 

And we have friends who let us stay at their house for free, so that helps, too.

Thus, we — Kenny, Heather, Kathleen, The Swimmer, The Hammer, and I —started our fifty-mile singletrack odyssey at 10:00am, all wearing shorts and short sleeves. 

Except Kenny, who had cut off his sleeves. Naturally.

Within a few miles, Heather had gotten a torn sidewall on a downhill, which I was completely stoked about, because it meant I got to take a break from riding. And also, it meant I got to take a picture of Kenny and Heather in their matching NICA-themed helmets.

IMG 4447 

That’s also when I took a picture of The Swimmer with her matchy-match bike/shoe setup, and of The Hammer in her matching helmet, glasses, and FatCyclist kit:

IMG 4449 

Nobody took a picture of me, because…well, because I hadn’t done a very good of matching stuff up, I guess. Not that I mind the lack of photos of me. The truth is, I’m way over fighting weight right now, and I’d prefer to keep the photo evidence of this sad fact down to a minimum.

Anyway, I didn’t get to take photos for very long, because Heather suggested that the rest of us continue on our way; she’d take a shortcut and rejoin us.

Somewhat disappointed, I remounted. Strangely, it didn’t occur to me at that moment that it was very unusual for me to be welcoming a break so early in the ride.

Technical Difficulties

The True Grit course can be roughly divided into two kinds of terrain: the hard parts, and the not-as-hard parts. 

I was finding very few non-as-hard parts on this day. Climbing was difficult. The Hammer kept riding away from me. My camelback felt like it weighed thirty pounds (it actually only weighed twenty seven).

It’s not that I felt bad; I just felt slow. Incapable. Sore. Grouchy. My wrists were hurting. The inside of my left ankle was chafing against my shoe. My bike was ridiculously overgeared (34×18 for crying out loud).

Basically, I felt the exact opposite of what a guy who is on a beautiful ride with wonderful people should feel.

Meanwhile, others were having a great time. Kathleen and Heather were riding stuff I could never ride on my best day:

IMG 1439

And then giving each other celebratory high-fives and stuff.

IMG 1476

The Swimmer was riding really well, too: having fun, riding strong, and cleaning technical stuff I’d have thought out of her reach.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she didn’t ever fall. Of course she fell. That’s part of getting better. Plus, that gave her the right to claim first blood:

IMG 1478

“How’d that happen?” Heather asked, when noticing The Swimmer’s knee. 

“Elden was going too slow around a hairpin, and I was behind him, so I fell.”

“Hmph,” I retorted.

But The Swimmer’s skinned knee was about to be upstaged, big time. For we had arrived at what I am assured is called the “Base Jump:” a big drop to a constructed dirt ramp.

It’s all Kenny had been talking about. He had been promising himself that this was the day, the day when he was going to try that drop.

And I, in turn, promised to get a good slo-mo filming of said drop. 

Which I did, and which you must watch. I’m serious: you must.

Later, Kenny would watch this video with astonishment. He had no recollection of having unclipped during takeoff or flight; he had been wondering what had been the problem.

As for me, I’m just grateful that I actually pressed the record button before this all happened. My success rate is about 50% on things like this.

Don’t Tell Me

This ride was recon. Nothing more. Nothing at stake. And so this next part of the story shouldn’t bum me out.

But this part of the story so bums me out.

I wasn’t climbing well. I wasn’t descending well. I was falling behind. I was hurting.

At one point, I said to The Hammer, just before a big climb, “I am not sure I’m going to make it today.” Which was essentially a plea for some moral support, maybe some sympathy. 

“Oh, that’s too bad,” The Hammer replied, and then rode away from me. 

A few minutes later, The Swimmer said, “Are you OK? You’re riding really badly today.”

I’m still trying to work out which of the two were the bigger blow to my morale.


I knew it long before I said anything: I wasn’t going to finish the ride. I was sore. Tired. Not having fun. Coming down Bear Claw-Poppy, my wrists hurt so badly I had a difficult time using the brakes.

I was done.

So at the point where I could either turn right and join the group for the second half of the ride, or turn left and ride a few miles back to Kenny and Heather’s house, I said, “Guys, that’s it for me; I’m going home.”

A number of people said, “Really, are you sure?” 

Yeah, I was sure. Completely sure. 

The Garmin of Justice

I turned left and began riding back, feeling great about my decision. 

That great feeling lasted for approximately one minute and nineteen seconds.

And then the shame began.

“Seriously, you just bailed out of this ride?” I asked myself. Yes, yes I had. 

I got back to Kenny and Heather’s house and plugged in my new Garmin Edge 520 (an early birthday present from The Hammer), so I could upload the ride — as much of it as I had done — to Strava.

It would not upload. In fact, the Garmin froze entirely, and would not even reset. I vented my frustration on Twitter. DC RainMaker replied, saying there’s the basic reset (which I had done) and then multiple levels of nuclear resetitude.

And in short, I got my Garmin to work again…but I completely lost my GPS data.

Which is probably for the best.


So now it’s the day after the day after the day of the pre-ride. And I find myself wondering: how much of my discombobulation was because of sickness? How much of it was because of wrist pain? How much of it was because I’m just a baby?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But I do know that this particular pre-rde — while a huge failure for me in one way — was also a massive success in another. Because now there’s no way I’m going to be taking this course, or equipment, or my fitness for granted on race day.

Redemption. Will. Be. Mine.

Unless I’m not feeling so good, in which case I’ll probably bail out or whatever. 


100 Miles of Nowhere: Riverside Estates Crit – Men’s Ex-swimmer-on-a-bike division

02.12.2016 | 9:29 am

A Note from Fatty: Big thanks to Wesley Brown for writing this great race report. 

I’ve read with morbid fascination the exploits of those brave enough to attempt Fatty’s 100 Miles of Nowhere over the last few years. It’s not the physical aspect of riding 100 miles that is daunting. It’s the mental aspect of repeating the same short course or putting out watts without seeing the scenery change that gives most people pause.

I finished my Triathlon season last month at Beach 2 Battleship and this year I decided I needed to be one of those cyclists. So I jumped at the chance to register when Fatty opened it up.

07 November began — and continued throughout the day — with pouring rain. In spite of knowing that riding in bad weather makes you a badass, this wuss wasn’t up for six hours of fun in the rain.

So I delayed until Sunday the eighth.

And since — for some reason — the weather continues to defy historical trends and we’ve been blessed with a long warm fall, sitting on the trainer for hours on end just wasn’t going to happen.

The Course 

Hains Point Centuries have been done. But who in the world would want to ride 100 miles through my neighborhood? The planned loop topped out at 1.85 miles with exactly 58 feet of altitude gain and loss. The average time to complete each lap would be between 5:45 and six minutes at a moderate pace. The lap includes one quick climb, moderate spinning, then a descent and spin back to the house and the start of the next lap.

And the other plus: I intended to regain my KoM status on the climb up my street. Some sneaky guy who lives on the other side of the neighborhood swiped it from me by one second. That’s really hard to handle (Fatty, I know you can relate).

The Ride Begins

Since my race season officially ended a couple of weeks ago at the Beach2Battleship Half, I would need to get my riding in around everything else that was going on. So, early bird gets the worm, so I would need to get a couple of hours in before everyone in the house started moving.

Only, this didn’t happen.

The alarm went off….and snooze. Hey, come on: it’s the off season. Who gets up at 0530 to ride in the off season? So I putzed around the house all morning, fed the kids, played with the kids, and generally avoided the fact that I was supposed to be riding my way towards 100 miles of nowhere.

My trusty steed.

Finally around 1030 I managed to lumber out to the garage in my 100 MoN kit (fantastic jersey by the way! One of my favorites now!), grab my Wilier road bike, complete with GoPro attached to my trusty K-edge mount (hey no video or pictures it didn’t happen right?) and a couple of full water bottles.

NewImageDressed for success!

Rolling down the driveway and I was off on lap one. I turned on the GoPro to document one complete lap, pedaled up the hill and on my way. Lap one passed in a little over 6 minutes (hey got to warm up the legs, no sense going for broke on the first lap). I settled in to a steady rhythm for the next 9 laps stopping the clock after lap 10 in 58-plus minutes.

Time to take the kids off the wife’s hands for a while, so I switched over to my snow-commuter-ugly-Betty-Frankenstein bike with kid trailer. Buckling the kids in, I intended to ride 3-5 laps with them then roll over to the park to let them play for a while.

What was I thinking?

Struggling up the first hill, I found myself wondering when they got so heavy. What were we feeding these kids?

I felt like I was dragging an anchor through mud. Ten minutes went by before I completed one lap, and both kids seemed less than thrilled with being dragged along on my quest to nowhere. We made one more revolution before stopping off at the park to play for a while.


Once they were good and tired, we rolled home for lunch. At this point I had completed 2:10 of riding and about 26 miles.

Only 74 more right?

Round and Round

After lunch, our firstborn plopped down for a movie and little man went down for a nap. Back to the grind with the much lighter bike…and minus the anchor. I became a metronome of pedaling efficiency. The blue sky and moderate temperatures made it a joy to ride. On the backside of the loop a family had been out raking leaves and cleaning up their yard for much of the morning, and they now realized this crazy guy kept circling the neighborhood. At first they cheered encouragement for a couple of laps. Then they stared questioningly.

Then the teenage kid asked when I was going to stop.

Eventually, he simply shouted, “Why?”

“Why not?” I shouted back.

It’s funny the things that go through you mind after a couple of hours in the saddle. When will this end? What’s the meaning of life? Are we there yet? Did I remember to feed the dog? How many miles left? I fed the kids, right? What’s for dinner? What did I just eat for lunch? Who put that rock there? If I ride fast enough down the hill can I reverse the rotation of the earth and travel back in time?

I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with any answers.


At 2:50 I completed 15 laps and 50 miles. Happy half way! Woot!

After a while I was on auto-pilot, barely registering the cheers and random questions shouted my way by folks wondering again, “what’s this idiot doing? Is he lost?”

After 27 laps I pulled into the drive way to restock my food and refill water bottles. My wife was in the kitchen as I started to re-fill my water bottles. “Are you still riding?” She asked, raising one eyebrow at me.

Is there a right answer to this question?

After three hours in the saddle there’s not a whole lot of blood flowing back to my brain, but I managed to get out, “Uh, just a couple more laps to cool down.” I eeked out 5 more laps in about 30 minutes, for a total of 60.9 miles and 2800 feet of climbing over 3:36.

I quietly crawled back into the house, cleaned up and spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the house. I was done for today, but fear not friends of Fatty: I would get my 100 miles in.

Part 2: Veterans’ Day

The following Wednesday was Veterans’ Day. Last year a few friends and I started what we hope to continue as a 11th of November tradition and did a crazy-silly 100+ mile loop, complete with trail side coffee brewing, BBQ, beer stops and a ferry crossing. This year’s edition was not quite as ambitious, but I would definitely get my remaining 40 miles in.

Now usually I guard my training time preciously. I don’t ride fluff miles; every ride (even commutes) has a purpose. This was not that type of ride. This was truly a ride with no other purpose than riding for the sake of riding and enjoying good company. So in essence, a ride to nowhere.

I was of course again decked out in my 100 Miles of Nowhere kit, but had switched over to my ugly-better fat tire commuter, since this ride promised to be at a much more leisurely pace, and was likely to include some mixed terrain. I dragged a co-worker who claimed to ride, Finch, and my early morning coffee and bike pal Tony along for the adventure.

After picking up Finch, and meeting at Tony’s house the plan was to head out on the Washington-Old Dominion Trail to Vienna and then cross over to the Cross County trail and possible loop back to Tony’s house. Tony is a fan of fat tires and beautiful steel randonneuring bikes, but for some reason I ended up riding fatter tires than he did for the day.

Finch rolled out on a full carbon Giant road bike with carbon wheels, which proved interesting when we hit a few dirt patches. As we rolled out a little after 0700 we really had no plan other than be back by 1300. Our first leg lasted about 45 minutes when we stopped for coffee and breakfast at Lazy Sunday’s Deli in Falls Church. From there we headed off towards the Cross County Trail and Accotink Trail.

With the fall colors and fallen leaves the Accotink Trail was beautiful giving off a very remote vibe despite being in the thick of DC suburbia. We had hoped to take a loop around the lake, but were greeted with chain linked fences, and while the first didn’t stop us, the construction crew and torn up trail at the second did.

We turned around and headed back for our planned lunch stop complete with cold beer and chili cheese dogs in Vienna. I convinced the waitress to bring me an order of pulled pork to add to my chili cheese dog, because, well why not? It was Veterans” Day after all.

Did I mention craft beer was consumed too? Yup, this is the way to ride. Pork and beer. Mmmmmm.

We stopped in Shirlington at the end for one final beer (or two) before returning to Tony’s house. All told we managed 49 miles, but the truly interesting stat lies in my nutrition for the day. I started the day with two water bottles full of Skratch labs, and jersey pockets filled with an assortment of Gels and bars.

I consumed, three cups of coffee, two slices of banana bread, two chili cheese dogs topped with onions and two servings of pulled pork, three craft porter beers and two pints of Guinness. I returned to the car with every Gel and bar, and two water bottles which were just as full as they were at the start.

A ride truly worthy of the Fat Cyclist himself.



Thanks for the opportunity to support Camp Kesem and partake in a truly unique and bizarre “race” format. Keep it going, who knows maybe next year I’ll make it 100 miles around the neighborhood.

Oh, and I never did get my KoM back. Grrrrrr. Until next time….

Not Dead

02.10.2016 | 12:18 pm

Hi, I’m sick but not dead. I’ll post again when I feel better. I hope that will be soon.

Big Dreams and Leaps of Faith: a FattyCast with Ryan Cleek

02.8.2016 | 1:00 pm

NewImageLet me start with a little bit of full disclosure: “Reach for the Sky” is one of my favorite songs from my favorite band (oh, and be sure to listen to this acoustic version, too).

So yes, I was predisposed to like Ryan Cleek’s documentary: Cam Zink: Reach for the Sky

In the end, though, it takes more than an awesome song to make an awesome documentary. And this is an awesome documentary. It essentially shows a year in the life of Cam Zink, the extraordinary freerider.

Talking About Big Dreams

Bookended by Redbull Rampages, this movie has incredible footage on the bike. But it’s what happens off the bike that makes Cleek’s Reach for the Sky really worth watching.

Screenshot 2016 02 08 12 11 02

Cleek captures an extraordinary year of transition in Zink here, even as, behind the camera, Cleek is making an equally big bet himself. To make this film, Cleek quit his job and took a leap of faith, quitting Specialized and loading up his credit cards while he made a film he knew he needed to make.

So while we for sure talk about the film itself, my interview with Cleek in this new FattyCast is just as much about Ryan and taking big risks.

I have to say, I loved this conversation for a lot of reasons. Cleek — an accomplished rider and racer himself — is an amazing storyteller. He’s honest, and direct, and he’s unafraid to chase down things that are important to him.

He’s an inspiring guy. Who also, it should be known, owns what must be the squeakiest chair on the face of the earth.

Squeaks aside, you have to listen to this edition of the FattyCast. Listen to it on iTunes, using my RSS feed (, or on Or, if you’re so inclined, just listen to it (or download it) below. 

Where to See the Film 

It doesn’t matter whether you even know what Freeriding is; you’ve got to watch this film. Click here for links to the many ways  you can download and / or stream it. Supporting indie filmmakers is good.


I am not going to go into the “what” quite yet, but let me say this: seeing people like Cleek go out on a limb and do something amazing is inspiring. 

I’ve got something big in mind, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but have lacked the will to try. 

If I can gather the courage, you’ll know more soon.

Announcing a New FatCyclist / RKP Collaborative Project: The Paceline Podcast

02.5.2016 | 1:48 pm

You would think I’d learn. But I don’t learn. Or at least, I am not sure I learn the lessons I think I’m supposed to learn.

I have an example. 

I am currently about as busy as a human being can get. My day job has gotten me maxed out. Family stuff too. Training stuff too. And this blog. And the FattyCast. And I have a book I really need to get written.

So how about I take on another project?

Specifically, how about I partner up with the guys at Red Kite Prayer and do a weekly podcast about cycling with them, and call it The Paceline?

Like I said: not a good learner. But still: the fact is I really enjoy our chats, because I’m clearly by far the least-informed of the group. Plus since we have an actual radio guy hosting, we sound good at least a third of the time.

Give it a try. Subscribe on iTunesAndroid, or using the RSS feed ( Plus I’ve got a player down at the bottom of this post

And there are already three episodes ready to go.

Episode 1 (download MP3)
Disc Brakes, Peace Prize, Gravel Grinding, Podium Presentations

In this first episode, we try to have an argument about whether disc brakes are a good idea on road bikes. Unfortunately for the “argument” part, we all pretty much agree. That doesn’t prevent us from talking at great length about this, though.

Then we talk about whether the bike should receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I snort at the absurdity of this notion and then present a reasonable alternative. 

We talk about a couple of cool races coming up this year, and then end by talking about our pick for racer of the year. You’ll love my selection. Everyone agreed I was the winner. 

Episode 2 (download MP3)
Idaho Stop, Riding High, Winter Training, Debating Wheel Size 

In episode 2, we pretend to care about laws and whether we should feel bad about the fact that no cyclist has ever stopped for a stop sign in the history of stop signs. Except me of course, because I always abide the law.

We talk about riding while stoned, and I utterly fail to contribute anything meaningful because — and I am being absolutely honest here — I have never been high. Ever. Even once. I am a natural-born prude.

I do go on and on and on in the next segment, however, talking a lot about how much I’m digging my Kickr / TrainerRoad setup. Like, I think I go on for twenty minutes or so before I realize that I am a walking, talking TrainerRoad infomercial. 

Finally, I take a nap while the other two guys argue about which wheel size is best for mountain biking. 

Episode 3 (download MP3)

STC vs. IMBA, Sandbagging, New Bike Laws, Ride With Bono

This episode is kind of aggro, and I think that’s my fault. After all, the whole sandbagging part centers around something I wrote. I do, however, try to bring some levity to the show by speaking in a falsetto for the entirety of it. 

No, not really.

For realsies, I am proud of this show, and if you like podcasts and bikes, I have 92% confidence you will enjoy the Paceline.

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