Saturday, August 22, 2015

Heck Epic 2015

Heck Epic Gravel Adventure:


Day one is fantastic. Maybe a bit cold and a little damp but it clears up and everyone has a spectacular day.
Everyone is supposed to carry all the gear they need for the 2 day ride. That is, camping gear and clothes. We all carry some food and water but use local shops to provision as needed. Notice how everyone has the same gear but just a little different configuration. Most of these riders have 100's or 1000's of miles of gravel under their belts so we all know how to pack gear the way 'we' want it.

Sunny and nice. Temps are warming but not so hot as to overheat. Perfect. Double track or Jeep trail in the deep woods of northern Minnesota.
 A mud hole creates some drama as riders try to ride through it only to dig in and crash. I ride through without issue.
We are making such good time that we agree to stop at a local business for a pizza. I'd report the business name but they were not good, friendly or worth naming so I'll call them the "Knott-a-gain"
 This is always a welcome sign. When riding one hundred miles people stretch out to just one or two at a time and drivers may be careless on rural roads and hit someone. It makes us feel better.

My gear config. Nothing on the bars like a lot of people. I didn't want the weight over the front for handling and slow steering. I have a sleeping bag, tent, pillow, camp pad, and some extra clothes in the saddle bag. The frame has a tiny stove, pot and some 'emergency dinner', snacks, inner tube, pump, bike tool,  head lamp, and other small personal items like a toothbrush.... I may use something close to this set up when I attempt the Alexander 380 in May.
Nearing the end of day one, and the first 100 miles, we see riders having a heavy snack at a grocery store and head over to join them. I lose my cycling gloves at this stop. I set them on my bike but they must have fallen off and I didn't see them and rode off without them.

 Coming into town for the first night.
 Camp is all set up and everyone is interested in 2 things, dinner and sleep.
The night was good for me but many people cheated on the gear they needed and took a soaking in the thunderstorms that passed over us. Many retreated to the lodge. I don't know if they sucked at camping or got stupid in packing as rain was forecast at 100% so nobody should have needed shelter outside of what they could carry.
 Morning line up after breakfast. Rain starts by 10am and it pisses on us all day making a very difficult day for everyone. Ok, that tree (below) blew down last night.
 Downed trees are common on these back roads, the storm wasn't that bad.
 I flat but my buddies are cool and hang out while I replace the tube and we are back on our way.
 You can tell from all the smudged photos that the rain never stops and I have no way to dry the lens. The roads are getting soft and we are only warm when riding. Stopping means bone soaked cold.
 The half way stop and the ONLY place to stop the entire day. It's just so remote there are no gas stations or towns along the route. It's all forest roads.
 Inside the rest stop we fill up on bananas and PB&J's. Everyone is shelled and their faces show it or more correctly show no emotions at all, wet gravel zombies. But this little fella is a huge help.

 All the rain and storms make mud holes. They were fun, now they suck and you just pray you don't crash and go swimming.
 We are always finding things in the woods like old hunting shacks or this hobo crib.
More rain and cold. This day is a grind, literally. It takes us over 12 hours to cover the 105 miles. That's many hours past even a slow ride. It was just a metric to quantify how hard the day was.
 Even harder. We push something like 3 miles of ankle deep mud (some riding) but we are nearing the end so every mile is gold.
The end. The ride organizer greets us with a handshake and a congratulation on completing the first Heck EPIC! I am really looking forward to more 2 day bikepacking rides including the EPIC.
Last thing, we are feet away from the parking lot we started in 36 hours ago but I got dropped off and have 12 more miles to ride into town. I get several offers for a lift but what's 12 more? They are a bit surprised I'm still content to ride but I like long and a few miles of downhill road is a treat compared to the slog we just finished.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Omaha MTB and Trains


Mountain biking in Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa means old school trails. Steep and strenuous. 
I have a day to goof off in Omaha while my wife attends to family business. That's fine with me, I have a bike and a plan and a whole day to follow my desires. First is mountain biking at the Lewis and Clark Trail. It's short but steep hills and tight bends make it very enjoyable.

 You can see, below, how steep the terrain can be.
That trail in the past, I spend a few minutes looking at the views and the reason most people visit this 'park'.

Next up is the largest train(s) I've ever seen and the largest ever built if the signed are to be trusted, largest in North America. I cross over the river and back into Nebraska from the Lewis and Clark trail on my way to Tranquility Park for this road side attraction.
A little history on the walk up the hill to the iconic steam locomotive and the double diesel locomotive you see from the highway into town.

 The walk up the hill is a history lesson, um, how original. I almost stopped but I was short on caring. I did take a snapshot of each placard so if you want to 'stop', it's up to you. Enjoy.

 Welcome to the Hill!

Look at the size of this beast. It's two diesels bridged by a single carriage. Odd as I've always known diesels to 'slave' from the 'primary'. Meaning you can connect 4 or 5 engines and control the total output from the engine at the front. Why connect them this way when a coupler and some hoses will do? Oh well, it's still cool as hell.

 Lets get to the steam and the real engineering minds of the 1900's. This stuff is real power.

 The window is open a little bit and I poke my camera in and let it rip. Below is what I got.
 None of the valves have labels! You need to know each one and how much to move it! If you ever drive a train that weights 1,120,000 pounds, bring some helpers.

Leaving the hill I have to finish my riding and get back for dinner so over to Tranquility Park for a fast loop. It's reported to have a high concentration of Orb weaver Spiders. I don't have time search but I'm interested in seeing spiders that can weave a 4 foot web.

The trail is better than the photos but it's not great, it's average. I enjoy it but it's also very hot out and I'm roasting so to be done and go home is just fine with me at this point. I've done 20+ miles, saw two huge trains and killed a day in Omaha.

To finish it off, I see a tank on the way home and it's the lightest piece of equipment I saw all day.