I’m taking this week off from blogging so I can take care of some blog-related stuff. Specifically, I need to take care of some logistical and tactical 100 Miles of Nowhere stuff.
And also, I need to write a story I promised I would write for Ride 3 (I’m not going to finish it by when I said I’d finish it, but I don’t want to bail on the responsibility altogether).
I know, I know. It’s a long time, but I need all of it.
Luckily for you, a story I wrote for Mountain Flyer was just published in their Issue #45. It’s called “Holy Trinity.” And here’s what the opening two-page spread looks like:
It’s a twelve-page, beautifully-photographed feature about how about this time last year, Yuri Hauswald, Kenny Jones, and I rode all three of the St. George mesas in one amazing three-day weekend.
I’m very proud of the story and astonished at the amazing photographic work the incredible Scott Markewitz did for it. This article is available only in the print version of the magazine, so allow me to recommend you go pick yourself up a copy.
[Disclosure: I paid a discount rate (~50%) for my first pair of Empire VR90s, though I paid normal retail price at a LBS for my second pair and for The Hammer’s pair.]
I was in big trouble last year: I was not enjoying mountain biking. Not enjoying it at all. Why? Pain. Big-time pain. Every single ride. I could not find a pair of mountain biking shoes I could comfortably wear all day.
And I tried. I tried Specialized shoes (several, actually). I tried Shimano. I tried Bontrager. I tried Sidi.
The suffering would not go away.
Finally, I tried some Giro Code VR70s. And with a little help from a local cobbler, I was able to start riding again. More or less.
You may have noticed, though, that this year I haven’t been complaining about my feet at all. That’s because I finally found some shoes that work perfectly for me. Work so well, in fact, that I went ahead and bought a second pair. And a pair for The Hammer. And the road version of the same shoes.
I’m talking about the Giro Empire VR90.
I love these mountain bike shoes. Love them. Let me tell you why.
In general, I’m hesitant to recommend anything based on fit, because everything fits people differently. That’s why, even though I use one particular kind of saddle (The Selle Italia SLR) on every bike I own, I never talk about it: it’s not going to work for everyone.
So it’s entirely possible that these VR90s aren’t going to make your feet as happy as they make mine.
However, I think it’s a lot more likely that they will fit you well than that they won’t. Why? Because of the laces. Yup, this old-as-dirt fastening mechanism is also the most customizable fit system you could ever imagine. I keep my shoe loose at the front of my right foot, very loose at the front of my left foot, and otherwise snug them in good and tight.
Pain problem: solved.
Now, when I first got these MTB shoes with laces, I was worried about a few things:
1. Would the laces get caught in the chain? Nope. The shoes come with a little bungee you stick your tied lace under, keeping everything all nice and tied-down, like this:
2. Would I have to double-knot the laces? Nope. At first, I always did double-knot the laces, and then worried about what a pain it would be to have to undo the laces to take the shoes off if I got a rock in the shoes during the ride. Then, as an experiment, I stopped double-knotting the laces, to see how often they came undone. The answer? Never. By the time I got to the Leadville 100, I didn’t even double-knot them for an eight-plus-hour race.
They didn’t come undone the whole day, even with the extensive hike-a-biking I had to do.
3. Are they slower to put on? Yes, they do take longer to put on, snug up, tie, and cinch down than velcro / ratchet / wire-and-dial systems. About a minute longer, I’d say. If that bothers you, these may not be the kind of shoes you want to go with. For me, it’s time very well-spent.
4. What about when the laces break? Of course laces don’t last forever, although the laces I have on my silver VR90s have gone through a full season of near-daily use without looking frayed or ready to break. That said, the VR90s come with a second pair of laces. And unlike other fastening systems (ratchet and velcro systems have problems and dial-and-wire systems are always jamming), lace setups take little time and no tools at all to replace.
And, for what it’s worth, changing the lace colors lets you really customize the look of your shoes:
The Hammer likes the orange laces that come with the black shoes; I went with the black.
More About Fit
Giro does a nice job on accomodating a lot of different kind of feet, and it doesn’t end with the laces. The VR90s also come with a couple of different thicknesses of footbeds and different height arch inserts:
By mixing and matching and experimenting, you’re pretty likely to find something that works for your feet.
Easy to Clean
One thing I did not expect to love about the VR90s is cleanability, but in fact these shoes clean faster and easier than any MTB shoe I’ve ever had. The one-piece Evofiber upper means you don’t have a bunch of mesh for crud to get caught in or leather to take care of. You just spray it with some Simple Green (or Windex or water) and wipe it down with an old t-shirt.
Below, my left shoe is dirty from a few rides, my right shoe is what they look like after about fifteen seconds of attention with Simple Green and a rag.
Easton Carbon / Vibram Lugged Outsoles
I do not like hard plasticky outsoles on my mountain bike shoes; I’ve slipped and fallen while hike-a-biking too many times. So I love that Giro uses Easton Carbon outsoles paired with Vibram rubber lugs. Even hiking for about a mile (like at Leadville), I felt sure-footed, while the stiff carbon keeps my shoes from bending while I pedal.
Shoes are something you don’t think about at all when mountain biking — until your feet hurt, at which point your shoes are all you think about.
And since moving to the Giro Empire VR90s, I don’t think about shoes anymore.
I love these things.
I confess that from time to time, I overcommit myself. For example, early last summer I started a race report about my perfect day racing the Crusher in the Tushar (read part 1 here and part 2 here), then never finished.
But I will finish. Soon. I promise.
The thing is, that’s not even my worst started-but-didn’t-finish story. Not by a long shot.
See, waaaaay back in January (January, for pity’s sake), I talked about how I was going to write a story for the latest in the Ride short fiction anthology. I even came up with starts to three story ideas I had.
And then…I completely abandoned the project.
No, wait. That’s not precisely true. I actually did quite a lot with the project. Mainly, I decided that I liked my first idea — “Kokopelli” — best, and that I really wanted to complete that story.
So I contacted Keith Snyder — the publisher — and asked for an extension, which he courteously gave me.
Then I didn’t do anything else, until he called me a couple of weeks after the extension was past. At which point I promised that if he’d give me just a couple more weeks, I’d get the story done.
Which he gave me. And then I didn’t do anything.
As it turns out, I kind of suck. In fact, my failure to deliver a story completely derailed the book, which was otherwise completely finished and ready to publish and everything.
My failure killed a whole book. That’s a lot of suck, people.
Oh wait a second. I think that may not be entirely perfetly correct.
As it turns out, Keith himself also did not finish his story, either.
So, I would now like to propose this, as both an open apology and call-out to Keith:
I will finish my story by one week from today (i.e., by October 20, midnight MDT)…if you will do the same.
And if, furthermore, you will commit to soon thenafter publishing Ride 3 before the end of the year.
And if you don’t, well…there must be consequences (same goes for me, by the way). Which I will decide in the near future.
Accept this challenge, Keith, if you dare.
PS: Below is the start of my story as I originally wrote it.
Daniel was one of those people who never stops talking. Which explains why, right this second, he is saying, out loud, “Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.” Even though there’s nobody around him.
Daniel, you see, thinks he’s probably going to die. And for once, Daniel is probably right.
Let’s back up a little for a moment. Not very far—this isn’t going to be some Tarantinesque flash-forward-flash-back story—but just a few minutes.
Daniel had been riding his mountain bike on The Kokopelli Trail, from Moab, Utah to Mack, Colorado. All 142 miles of it, in one push. By himself. In June. On a clear, windless day.
Which is to say that, about three minutes ago, the temperature outside was 102 degrees. (Fahrenheit.)
This was foolhardy, but not out of character.
But it wasn’t the heat that was likely to kill Daniel. At least not directly. In fact, right at this moment, Daniel isn’t really even thinking about the heat. Although he is sweating profusely.
He’s not even thinking about his broken collarbone, although I guarantee you that in about twenty minutes he’ll be giving it a considerable amount of attention.
Right now, Daniel is thinking about what caused him to endo and break his collarbone three minutes ago. Which was his friend Eric—very recently deceased—lying on the trail, facedown in what at first looked like a pretty good-sized anthill, but which in fact was an astonishing large pile of heroin.
Daniel doesn’t know what Eric is doing there. But he’s going to find out. Soon. Real soon.
As soon, in fact, as he stops wailing so I can step out from behind this rock and introduce myself.
And then we’re going to have a conversation.
I have no idea who the characters are or what ought to happen next. I expect I’ll figure something out soon?
Before I get started on this story, I should apprise you of two important facts:
- This story is completely true.
- Everyone survives.
I felt it might be necessary to enumerate these items, because at some point you will likely not believe item #1, and — during the actual event — I sometimes had my doubts about #2.
It Started Out Innocently Enough
Early October is the very best time to be a mountain biker in Utah County, Utah. The weather goes from hot to perfect. The trails go from dusty and loose to packed and tacky. The colors change from greens and browns to yellows, oranges and reds.
And, for some reason, about 85% of the people who had been on the trails…stop riding. Which leaves the amazing network of singletrack on the Ridge Trail Network free and clear for those of us who know what an incredible (albeit short — we generally have just four weeks before rain and snow will shut down the trails above 5000 feet) window of riding we now have.
The training for the year is over. There are no events planned, no KOM/QOM hunts in our minds. It’s time to ride for fun.
And so yesterday morning — after a no-alarm wake-up and a lazy breakfast — The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I loaded up our mountain bikes: the Cannondale Scalpel Team Edition (which The Hammer has adopted as her own), my Cannondale Scalpel 2 (which The Swimmer has adopted as her own), and the Cannondale F-Si Carbon Black Inc. (which I love more than you could possibly imagine).
[Note: I did not mean for this post to go so Cannondale-centric so quickly. But here’s the thing: Cannondale is making unbelievably great mountain bikes, and they’re what we’re riding pretty much any time we go out.]
We parked at the Timpooneke trailhead, planning on a fun ninety-minute ride: Timpooneke to Ridge to Joy to Summit to Ridge and back.
And, at first, fun is exactly what we had. The weather was perfect, the pace was fun and easy, and we took lots of photos.
Here, let me show you.
We were having a great time, and both The Hammer and I were marveling at how The Swimmer can pretty much crush both of us on descents since we moved her from a seven-year-old, beat-up, hand-me-down hardtail to the brand new Scalpel 2 I won.
We had no idea that everything was about to go pear-shaped on us.
Helpful, Yet Alone
We were about three-fourths of the way through the ride: having gone down Joy, we were now climbing up to the summit parking lot. I was in front as we crossed the paved road a quarter mile from the summit of the Alpine loop. I looked back to see that we were all together, then rode onto the short stretch of singletrack that leads to the summit as The Hammer told me about the race she had done the day before.
We were still chatting as we reached the summit parking lot maybe three minutes later. There, a man on a mountain bike had a question about the trail network we were on; he wanted to know what would be the best way to ride singletrack down to the American Fork Canyon road.
Happy to oblige, I explained there were two really good routes, both involving taking the Ridge Trail to Tibble Fork trail. The only question was whether he’d want to detour onto Mud Springs trail, which would mean an additional (but fun) climb and a somewhat more technical descent (the best descent in the network, according to both The Swimmer and me).
I finished describing the forks and turns he’d need to watch for, and the man thanked me and began his ride.
And then I was alone.
Which is to say, neither The Hammer nor The Swimmer were anywhere in sight.
I rode around the circular parking lot once to make sure, and by the time I finished I knew what was going on: The Hammer had gotten tired of my jabbering, and she and The Swimmer had gone on ahead of me.
I confess: I am chatty and enjoy talking with folks I meet on the trail. I further confess: I lose track of time and don’t always know how long I’ve been talking with people.
Without a doubt, The Hammer and The Swimmer had taken off, and now it was my job to go as fast as I could ’til I caught up. It’s a game The Hammer and I have played many times when riding together.
I was a little disgruntled, though; today hadn’t been about cat-and-mouse riding; it had been about enjoying a family ride together. And besides, I needed to pee, and there’s an outhouse at the summit.
I knew that this would mean it’d be a close thing as to whether I’d catch them at all before I got back to the truck, but I didn’t care. I’d start my chase once I took care of business.
My bladder now much more comfortable, I began my chase. I tried to get into the spirit of the thing, but I wasn’t really into it. The Hammer hadn’t even told me when they left, and I wasn’t in a mood to race; that part of the year was over.
Still, my legs felt good — it’s been a while since I have gone truly at race pace — and within five minutes or so I had caught the man I had given directions to. Which meant The Hammer and Swimmer had stayed ahead of him. No real surprise.
I flew down the downhill segments, bummed that I was doing these alone; I’ve been loving the fact that The Swimmer can stay right on my tail on these descents and had been looking forward to riding them with her.
I started formulating variations on what my terse-yet-cutting remark would be once I caught up with them. Most of them were along the lines of sarcastically saying, “Hey, great riding with you today.” Although I was also toying with a long diatribe around the central theme of how I had waited for them multiple times during the ride, and was it really too much to ask for them to wait just once for me?
I had a pretty good head of steam built up as I got near the end of the trail. Not terribly surprisingly, I hadn’t caught them. I noted with a little bit of angry satisfaction that since I was the one with the key, they couldn’t have gotten inside the truck and would have to just be standing around outside it. I fiddled around with adding “I hope you had fun just waiting around outside the truck for me instead of riding with me” into the outline of the speech I would make.
And then I got to the truck…and — I know you saw this coming, but I didn’t — nobody was there.
The realization hit me: I hadn’t been chasing them. Somehow, I had left without them.
“Oh no,” I said aloud. “It turns out that I’m the jerk.” (Except I didn’t say “jerk.”)
Knowing that they hadn’t been ahead of me, I concentrated back to when I had last seen The Hammer and The Swimmer.
It had been when we crossed the paved street onto the short stretch of singletrack just a quarter-mile before the summit.
I then had been talking with The Hammer as we rode to the top, and remembered her standing by me in the parking lot while I talked with the man…but I didn’t remember seeing The Swimmer ever coming into the parking lot, and especially didn’t remember seeing the two of them head toward the Ridge Trail.
The Swimmer had never gotten to the top (at least that I could recall), and The Hammer had just…disappeared.
In a flash of inspiration, it occurred to me that The Swimmer must have gotten a flat or had a mechanical somewhere in the quarter mile. The Hammer, wondering where The Swimmer was, must have gone to look for her.
And I knew for a fact that I was the only one riding with any tools or a patch kit.
I quickly loaded my bike onto my truck and tore off on the pavement toward the Alpine Loop Summit parking lot, where I was certain I would find them.
Except I wasn’t certain at all I would find them there.
A Switch of Perspective
And now, let’s go back in time just a little bit. But this time, let’s follow The Hammer.
After arriving at the Summit parking lot with Fatty, The Hammer stops and patiently listens to Fatty explain every turn and trail feature in the entire trail system to an increasinlgly dazed-and-confused-looking man. Really, all he needed to hear was “Take Ridge to the four-way trail intersection, then turn left and take Tibble down to the reservoir.” One sentence.
But Fatty was going on, as is his wont.
After a few minutes, The Hammer begins to wonder: Why hasn’t The Swimmer gotten here? Maybe she’s crashed? Maybe she’s flatted? Probably it’s a good idea to go check.
The Swimmer can’t be far, it’s only a tiny section of trail since we’d last seen her. So The Hammer rides back the way they’d come, expecting to return in a moment.
After going a hundred or so yards, she comes to an intersection in the trail. An intersection we never even think about anymore, because it’s so close to the summit parking lot. You can practically see the parking lot from the intersection. Plus you just crossed the road that goes to the summit; it’s clear as can be that you should go up and to the right.
But…that’s only obvious if you already know it, really.
The Hammer chases down the trail — the “wrong way” fork — a quarter mile or so, shouting out The Swimmer’s name the whole time.
Then she realizes that this might take a while, and she’d better let Fatty know.
The Hammer charges back up the trail to the Summit parking lot.
And Fatty is gone.
Somehow, in the course of three minutes, all three of us have gone from riding in a close group to being completely separated, with nobody knowing where anybody is.
Jumping back just a hair in time, let’s now look at where things are from The Swimmer’s perspective.
It’s been more than a month since the last time The Swimmer’s been on a bike, but Fatty and The Hammer have taken her on a monster of a ride, complete with this current big ol’ endless climb. And they’re talking, talking, talking as they ride, not noticing that they’re pulling away and out of sight.
And now, here she is, at a T in the trail. Which she does not recognize and they did not stop at. Which way should she go?
Down — left — sounds good.
So she goes down. And keeps going. It’s a nice trail, but it seems a little odd that she hasn’t come across either of them yet.
So when she comes across a couple hikers, The Swimmer stops and asks, “Have you seen a couple mountain bikers go by, just a minute ago?”
No, they haven’t.
So she turns around, and goes up. Up, up, up.
After a while, the trail opens up into a parking lot, and there’s her mom. Nearly in a panic.
Fatty’s nowhere in sight.
They start riding back to the trailhead, expecting that Fatty will be waiting for them somewhere along the way.
Except, of course, you know that he’s not.
One Final Switch
Finally, let’s jump back to my perspective.
I drove maybe fifty yards before my doubts override my decision to drive to the summit, a picture of a dog chasing its tail coming to mind. If they are on their bikes and on a trail, I will absolutely positively not find them by driving on a paved road, I say to myself.
So thinking, I find a pullout on the narrow road, turn around, and head back to the Timpooneke parking lot. I unload my bike, put my helmet back on, and get back on the trail, retracing my steps.
This isn’t as fast if they’re still at the summit, I think to myself. But if they’re somehow on the trail we had agreed we’d be riding, we’ll run into each other.
I’m hauling. At race pace, again. Just tearing my way up the mountain. Which explains why, about a mile into the trail and coming around a blind corner, I very nearly have a head-on collision with The Swimmer, who yelps.
I start laughing, I’m so relieved. They’re laughing, too. We ride back to the truck, load up, and for the entire drive home, piece together exactly what happened.
“I know what tomorrow’s blog post is about,” I say.
MRSA man, MRSA man
Doing things a MRSA man can
What’s it like?
Don’t want to know
—With apologies to “Particle Man” by They Might be Giants
I’ve left something out of one of my race writeups this year. Something important, at least to me. Something that has been, for the past two months or so, been the center of my life.
And I’ve got pictures. Although, to be fair, you may not want to see these pictures. I’m dead serious here, so I’m going to go bold italic red for a moment:
You may not want to see the pictures I’m going to show today, so might want to skip this post.
Why? Because I’m going to be talking about the MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), an antibiotic-resistent infection I’ve been living with.
You’ve been warned, OK?
It Started in Leadville, Maybe
There are many things to love about being a man with shaved legs. An almost overwhelming number, really. So many, in fact, that many male cyclists with naturally-burly leg hair (e.g., me) still go to the effort of keeping our legs smooth.
There is one drawback, however: occasional ingrown hairs. A hair somehow forgets that its job is to grow straight out and instead becomes a sullen, inward-pointing thing, trying to return from whence it came.
Maybe it’s Freudian. I don’t know. Nor do I care, really.
Generally when this happens, a zit-like red bump appears where the hair grew in. Within a couple days, it’s bothersome enough that you pick at it, dig it out, squeeze out the goo surrounding it, and carry on with your life.
No big whoop.
But about the time I got to Leadville this year, I had an unusually big ingrown hair. Or at least I thought it was an ingrown hair, and treated it as such: squeezing and digging and picking at it.
Someone should have put a cone of shame on my head right then.
It might’ve saved me from the agony I was about to put myself through.
But nobody did put a cone of shame on me, and so I continued to push, squeeze, pick and otherwise mess with this sore, which was becoming both larger and more obvious to all those around me.
And yes, it was obvious and visible to those around me, for it was not on my buttocks area; it was on the left side of my right leg, just above the knee.
It got big enough that it often hit the top tube when I rode. It got red enough and oozy enough that people asked me if I’d perhaps been bitten by a rattlesnake and just hadn’t noticed it.
I told The Hammer that I thought it was infected and that I thought I needed antibiotics.
“You’re just being paranoid,” she replied. “Stop playing with the thing and it will go away.”
Well, ceasing to obsess and fiddle with this thing — this thing that was the very center of my existence, to be honest — was out of the question, so I called my doctor (couldn’t go to him, since I was in Leadville and he doesn’t make 7-hour-drive house calls), described what it looked like, and got a prescription for antibiotics.
By the day of the race, the redness and grossness of this bump had faded considerably. In fact, it had faded to the point that I don’t recall it hitting my top tube a single time, and thus cannot blame it for the twelve minutes I’d like to blame it for.
[A warning from Fatty: This is your last notice. Soon you’re going to see a picture, and you won’t ever be able to unsee it. Continue at your own risk.]
The Sunday I got back from Leadville, I did my laundry (by which I mean, “I put all my laundry in the hamper and all my clothes magically appeared clean and in their proper place). This was necessary because the next day I headed out to Austin for a three-day offsite meeting.
It was super fun.
On the flight home from that meeting, I was sitting on the plane, minding my own business, when — all of a sudden — a sharp pain began about three-quarters up the back of my right leg. Not severe, but sudden and surprising and painful. Like an ant had bitten it.
The next morning, I remembered the pain, reached around and felt where it had happened.
There was a bump. And it was tender and painful.
I got out a mirror and contorted myself into a position I won’t describe here. Not because I want to spare your feelings here, but because I lack the vocabulary to describe it with adequate precision.
I, apparently, was growing a little volcano out of the back of my leg. A volcane-let, if you will.
Luckily, however — since it was high up my leg and nowhere near my saddle — I was able to continue to ride, without particular pain, so long as I covered it with a bandaid or something so it wouldn’t get chafed by the constant motion of my bike shorts.
It got bigger and bigger each day. I tried to leave it alone, and utterly failed at this attempt. But bearing in mind that my wife had previously said I was just being paranoid with my last (oh-so-recent) sore, I didn’t do anything more.
In fact, on Saturday, The Hammer and I rode the Interlaken 100 (another story in my race report backlog). Even though the thing had grown to be the size of a racoon head (I’m exaggerating here; it was actually no larger than a squirrel’s head).
By Saturday night, however, it was hurting so much that I could not sleep. At all.
I took a picture of it, to get a better look at the thing. And then, aghast, I took another photo with a quarter beside it. For scale:
I decided it was probably time to get myself to a doctor.
Ow ow owowowowooowwww
I didn’t want to wait ’til Monday to see a doctor, and had no idea whether I’d be able to get an appointment with my regular doctor on Monday anyway, so I went to the Instacare.
Which turned out to be a stroke of genius.
I had no wait, and the doctor took quick, decisive action.
“We’re going to get you on antibiotics,” she said. “But first, let’s see if we can get some of that crud out.”
At which point she squeezed the living hell out of that volcano growing from my leg. I resolved to remain silent.
I failed, to a certain degree, in my resolution.
And by “certain degree,” I mean “high degree.”
“There’s a lot of MRSA going around here, she said. I’m going to swab and culture test this, but I think we’ll prescribe antibiotics that work against MRSA.”
Two days later, I got a call: it was MRSA, all right.
Which made me super happy, because now I knew: this wasn’t just a gross pus-filled festering boil. It was an exotic, scary gross pus-filled festering boil.
Ten Days Later
For the next ten days, I was the most religious about taking medicing I have ever been, taking my twice-daily meds exactly at 10am and 10pm.
During this time, I did not ride my mountain bike, for I had discovered that while the wound was not on my sitting area, it was in such a place that the nose of the saddle could (and would) whack it from time to time when I was descending.
Which made me somewhat tentative. And a lot more likely to just ride my road bike.
Little by little, the oozing and bleeding slowed. ’Til it was just a beautifully normal scab:
OK, maybe it’s not a thing of beauty to you, but to me: sheer visual poetry.
The Moral of the Story
There is no moral to this story. I just wanted to show you some gross pictures.
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