There is the old adage “It’s all mental”. You can apply this to nearly all types of sports or activities. The idea is that you can mentally achieve everything you set forth by mentally preparing yourself. However, that’s hard. Reworking your brain to trick it into liking being awake for 20+ hours all while riding a fully loaded mountain bike is absolutely, clinically, insane and apparently, I am just insane enough to do it.
From my early days of bike racing nearly a decade ago I was influenced by the underdog. The rider who was had to outsmart the rest of the pack, the one who could suffer the longest. The one who you didn’t see coming. None stood out more than Thomas Voeckler.
I mean look at the guy!
Thomas Voeckler rode with his heart on his sleeve and put everything on the line. He knew how important it was for a French rider to do well in the Tour De France and he raced with the whole pride of a country behind him! I emulated him throughout my whole cycling “Career” and I still use him as a reference point today.
However, I digress, Thomas Voeckler showed what mental toughness is and I am attempting to get myself to the point where I can suffer though all of the pain that the Triple crown will instill and never quit.
It’s much easier said than done. Sure, I can tell myself every night that I love eating salads for dinner but those damn PB&Js are so tasty! It’s so much easier to fall into what is easy vs. staying true to what you goals are. But you already knew that! Everyone does. We struggle with this on a daily basses. Comfort is the main driver in nearly every decision we make. Once I have figured out how to suffer better and how to overcome the drive for comfort I will let you know.
In other news, I am just starting my first week of classes of my last semester of college! Whoop! I am finally figuring out a schedule that works for me all while trying to train, work and reconnect with old friends. It’s a hard balance but that’s life.
Training wise I have not been able to nail down my plan as well as I would like. I know I need to hit the gym more and do longer rides. I recently attempted to do an “Everesting” attempt which would have included 120 miles of riding but that didn’t go as I planned. More on that in a later blog.
That being said the training will prick up and soon I will be back in the flow getting ready for the races! I am on the right track to get to my ideal racing weight and mentally feeling very excited and inspired for the races!
Look for more blog updates as I start to figure out the flow and batten down the hatches for Triple Crown 2019!
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines motive as “something that causes a person to act” and motivation as “a motivating stimulus, force, or influence”.
I like to think that my motivation comes from a long lineage of mettle before me. Both sides of my family put their heads down and worked hard. Nothing was ever expected to come easy. My family has worked at meat packing factories as kids, worked the steel mills till their death, taught in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and got through the hard times. They are the definition of grit. I sometimes wonder if my relentless drive to push myself, to be washed by suffering, is due to my unconscious desire to get close to my glorified idea of who they were and what they stood for.
My dad’s saying “You can always go harder, it’s all mental” rings through my mind. I don't know when he first started saying this to me but it stuck. I have viewed everything in my life with this idea that you don't have to be the best athlete, the strongest physically, or the smartest to meet your goal. You just need to be the strongest mentally. Everyone is suffering the same but the winner is the one who can suffer the longest at the greatest intensity.
Life and sports are a battle of attrition. I fully believe that anything in life is doable if you are ok suffering and being uncomfortable to achieve it. A life with no pain is a life where nothing gets done.
Now, I know that this sounds really intense, and it my seem like I view life as trying to one up others. Instead, I view it as a one on one battle with yourself. In the end you are only trying to be the best version of yourself.
“Pain is the purifier” this quote from the running legend Percy Cerutty echoes in my mind every day. I have it printed on a road ID I wear everyday. It’s been a saying in my family for as long as I can remember. In many instances it has been used a joke but I have come to take the saying as a major motive for my life challenges and goals. I believe that only in suffering do we know who we are and what we are capable of.
When I am out of breath, nearly vomiting, shaking, and trying to calm a heartbeat of 200 bbm, then I know I am alive. Everything is clear in those moments. It becomes clear that you are just competing against your own self. Going toe to toe with a side of you that wants nothing more than to see you quit. This battle never ends but only gets harder as you get stronger.
But motivation is hard to maintain. When you do lose a battle to yourself and turn back on a run early, stop on a hill, or eat that extra brownie you have two options. Learn and grow by changing habits, pushing harder or developing a new plan. Or you can take the easy route and decide that the challenge was too large, unattainable, and you are not up to the challenge and you quit. This is the ultimate killer of motivation; self doubt. When you are competing against yourself, the second self doubt creeps into your mind you are already falling behind.
With the triple crown training and preparation I have had issues with motivation. I struggle with the time commitment, large financial strain, and physical challenges these races bring. No one else is putting these races on me. This is my choice. I am the one causing myself this pain and being conscious of this fact can be hard to handle sometimes.
Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? These questions have been circulating my head these past few weeks as I start a new job and battle with mental demons.
But how do I overcome this motivational setback? I get on the bike and ride hard. The days you don't want to ride, train, and run are the days you need to. That's how you get mentally strong. I look back through old photos of me racing and the challenges I faced head on and overcame. I know I can suffer through dark times and that brings a sense of comfort to me when the lights of my dreams seem dim.
Motivation is a tricky S.O.B. and I am taking it on just as I have with everything else in my life, As a personal challenge that involves me and only me. It’s my inner demons vs my goals and expectations and I do not intend for them to stop me.
My motive for the Bikepacking Triple Crown is my unquenchable desire to push myself physically, mentally, and emotionally to my absolute limit. Whatever my overall time is as long as I push myself to my absolute limit I will be satisfied.
Sleeping shelters for the Tour Divide/ Colorado Trail race/ and Arizona Trail Race come in all different shapes and sizes. Many are partial to the bivy, or as I call in a bear burrito. Moreover, others prefer the false sense of security and real sense of comfort an ultra-lightweight tent brings. I am currently in limbo between the bivy and tent but for today’s tech review, I will be looking at my Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 Tent.
Big Agnes is the producer of some of the nicest tents on the market and it shows. You cannot do an ultra-race without seeing at least one Big Agnes tent. There build quality is outstanding, two years of abuse and a zipper has never even snagged and the color still looks like it is brand new, and the attention to detail just adds to an already solid tent. However, that does come with a large price tag.
Big Agnes tents run between $200 and $850. That is a lot of money and defiantly cost provocative to those just getting into backcountry travel and bikepacking specifically. When I purchased by Big Agnes I did so over eBay and was able to save quite a bit of money from the actually retail price. I am a big proponent of buying used gear in order to save money, limit environmental impacts, and supporting other outdoor adventures.
Ok enough about the company itself let us look at the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. The fly creek comes in several variations with mine being their ultra-light two person tent, hence the UL2. When looking that Big Agnes tent offering I was interested in weight and space. I love getting gear that I can use for numerous years and trips as well as for different reasons such as family camping, racing, and road trips. This is a lot to ask for in one tent but I seem to have found it with the Fly creek UL2.
The totally weight for the tent comes in at around 1lb 15 oz. This is a pretty good for a tent but still much heavier that the 8.4 oz. SOL Bivy Pro. However, this perceived weight issue is quickly forgotten when the benefits of a tent are weighed.
First of all the fly creek ul2 allows for one person to have a roomy space to stretch out and relax after a hard day of pedaling while also proving enough room for a second person to join in with decent space as to not feel like you are always bumping into that person. During the Tour Divide, this tent was a much-needed escape from the elements and I viewed it as a refuge after each grinding day on the bike. There was one point in particular during the 2016 divide when a mountain thunderstorm hit the portion of New Mexico I was riding in out of nowhere; I had mere minutes to set up the tent before it rolled over. That sense of security and shelter is something I do not take lightly which is why this piece of gear will always be valued.
Despite the low weight, comfort and ease of assembly there are some drawbacks. For one there is only one entryway. This is fine for one person but when someone else is also in the tent, it becomes a hassle to climb over them to open up to door.
Another downside is the staking involved. With many lightweight tents, stakes are required in order to use the whole shape of the tent and provide structure. This is also true for the Big Agnes as it comes with only one large stake with two adjourning poles. This technically one pole system provides the main structure by a minimum of four stakes are needed to provide the potential footprint of the tent. A further 3-4 stakes are necessary if you want a bombproof rain fly set up as well. These stakes are lightweight but they take time to place and it limits where you can set up to tent. You much have space and the proper dirt to stake into otherwise you are using rocks and damaging the tent in order to keep it up.
Overall, I love to Big Agnes fly creek ul2. Despite the annoying staking required and the one door issue it has proven to be a reliable tent going up at least 70 times since I purchased it 2 years ago. It is yet to be seen if this will be by tent for the Triple Crown. I want/need to drop my gear weight if I want to break the record so it may see the chopping block in favor of the Enlightened Equipment Bivy or the SOL Bivy Pro. Nevertheless, whether or not I use a different system for the Triple Crown I will always have the fly creek UL2 as my weekend explorer and long expedition set up.
The San Juan Island’s of Washington, known for breathtaking beaches, abundant wildlife, perfect sunsets, and for the summer, a weird cyclist named Dylan.
If you didn't know, I will be living in Washington until late August. I have been in the San Juans for a over three weeks now and I am in love with the place! For the spring season, I am currently working as an outdoor environmental educator at YMCA Camp Orkila on Orcas Island. Soon, be transitioning over to an Assistant Director position for the Teen Expedition Program. I know what you’re thinking; “But Dylan, what does your job and location have to do with your Triple Crown prep? How does teaching kids about plankton lower your resting heart rate? Well, thanks for asking those questions generous reader! Allow me to anwer...
The Triple Crown is my main focus over the next year but that doesn't mean the rest of my life is being ignored or set aside. I have one semester left before I complete my Bachelor of Science in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management so when the opportunity to come work at Camp Orkila presented itself you know damn well I took it! The way I view it, I can ride my bike and train anywhere but the opportunity to work at one of the most respected YMCA camps in the states only comes around once in a while.
That's how I find myself writing this blog at a camp in the San Juan Islands. The training potential of this island, Orcas Island, is far better than I thought it would be. There are rolling hills, several climbs that give you around 2,500 feet of vertical gain, a large network of trails for running and hiking, AND some of the friendliest drivers I have ever encountered. I have gone on a ride nearly every day and I have yet to have an angry driver.
When I can't get out on the road, I have a trainer set up on the porch of my little cabin to ride, so there are no excuses! Additionally, I can tell you from my years of working at summer camps that the non stop moving and activities of camp is an all day work out in itself!
I will return back to Marquette in August and will wrap up my last semester at Northern Michigan University. Some bikepacking trips in New Mexico will follow, and then training and working in Marquette right up until the Arizona Trail race in April 2019!
Now please enjoy these breathtaking photos of Orcas Island!
I hate Mummy Sleeping bags. I am normally not the one for blanket statements but I have never found a mummy sleeping bag that I like. I am a side/ stomach sleeper and with every mummy bag I have used I have always found myself tangled up in it come the morning. I also found mummy sleeping bags to be one of the least versatile pieces of gear. I mainly am referring to the lack of ventilation in bags that in turn provide comfort AND temp control. I have had many nights of camping in the summer in which I end up sleeping outside of the bag due to the heat and wishing I had not brought it in the first place. For a while I assumed I would be stuck with uncomfortable bags but this all changed when I discovered the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Sleeping Quilt.
Enlightened Equipment truly revolutionized the way I see sleeping in the backcountry. The Revelation successfully combines the warmth of a mummy bag and the versatility of a quilt to form the perfect sleeping set up. I have used my Enlightened Equipment quilt for over two years now and I can confidently say that it has made me more comfortable in the outdoors, better rested, and a faster bikepacker.
The quilt itself has a foot box that can cinch together and zip up that provides constraints for back sleepers or extra warmth on colder days. The quilt is meant to be wrapped around a sleeping pad and as a result, it has numerous straps and buttons to fit around any pad.
This ability to loop around a sleeping pad drastically cuts down on weight and provides a more comfortable system for us side and stomach sleepers.
I bought the 30-degree quilt and I have pushed it into the 20s and remained decently comfortable. When this quilt is paired with the proper pad, it is exceptionally warm. I have found that when I use a slightly larger pad it feels like I am sleeping under my blankets at home. I am able to use the quilt like a blanket and “tuck” into it all while keeping my feet warm in the foot box and not rolling off the pad.
The only issues I have faced with the quilt is the loss of warmth due to the clumping of the down. This is mainly due to my poor storage on occasion and the large trips I take it on in which it gets lots of use and little washing. After washing the quilt and fluffing the down, it is as good as new!
A good night's rest is crucial for any Bikepacker. I have found that from ultra-races to weekend explorations the Enlightened Equipment Revelation allows me to sleep better and as a result ride harder and faster on the trails.
I have always been, well, a shitty trainer. I am so spontaneous that a normal workout schedule is nearly impossible. I will go a week with only a few short 20 mile rides than randomly bust out a 150 mile solo hammerfest the next. It all depends on what I’m feeling like in the moment. IS this good for performance training. Probably not. Did it work? I did finish the Tour Divide. When I first got into cycling I would follow a week plan from VeloNews for one day but when intervals would come up I’d opt to time trial it. Was this lazy or poor commitment? Neither. I knew what I wanted to do and I did it. This strategy won me many races and, more importantly, kept my love for the sport alive and well. So many people I used to race with as a junior racer have moved away from racing or quit cycling altogether due to grueling training plans and rigidness. The bike should be fun! Hell, If you are not having fun you are doing it wrong!
That being said I understand the huge physical and mental challenge I am about to face in the Triple Crown. I am by no means taking this challenge lightly (read my last blog post on fear) as a result, I’ve been trying to fill in the gaps I have noticed with my mind and body with training.
Let's talk about the Arizona Trail Race. I mean the race has a 20+ mile hike through the Grand Canyon in which your bike has to be on your back! That’s fucking insane! Or the Colorado Trail Race in which you climb 70,000 feet in 500 miles! And don’t let me get started on the Tour Divide. I will be riding around 180 miles a day for 15 days!
Pain now will make these experiences less painful later. My training plan for the races is to do hard things any chance I get and enjoy the grind. Sure, I will have intervals, weight training, and long tempo rides but I will also explore new places, ride for fun, and enjoy to process.
I am a firm believer in the idea that if you are not having fun you are doing it wrong. This is the main catalyst behind my (non) training plan. I will ride for fun and, in turn, get faster and better.
I like to keep my training relatively quiet, but that being said please follow along on my strava and Instagram to see what weird rides or training ideas I am doing!
“Ride as much, or as little, or as long, or as short as you feel. But ride” - Eddy Mercx
“It’s not about the bike”, rings in my mind. I’ve heard this since I was 12 when I’d go to races where my competitors bikes were thousands of dollars more expensive. It is easy to think that a new carbon fiber bike will make the difference between winning and being at the back of the pack, in fact that’s probably what the companies producing bikes want you to think. However, the result of these races are determined months before by the amount of sweat and pain the rider is willing to give. You are only as good as the engine pushing the bike, your body. I do acknowledge that a good bike can make you more comfortable and can make the suffering a hell of a lot more fun (which might make you a little quicker).
I put a lot of thought into what bike or bikes to use for the 2019 Triple Crown Challenge. My trusty 2014 Giant Anthem 3 full suspension is what I finally settled on. It is rather uncommon to use the same bike for all three races as the Tour Divide has much smoother terrain than the Colorado and Arizona Trail race. Most people have a hardtail or fully rigid bike for the Tour Divide and a full suspension for the Colorado and Arizona. I however, will not be prescribing to that race strategy.
My 2014 Giant Anthem 3 full suspension is the bees knees. I used this bike in the 2016 Divide and it rocked. I may have lost some times on climbs but I more than made up for it on the washboard roads and rocky descents. When most people were forced to walk, I was able to ride. Currently I am running a Rockshox Recon Gold fork and Rockshox Monarch rear shock. I plan on upgrading them to lighter and lockout capable shocks. I also plan on upgrading the brakes to Shimano xt. The current brakes I have on the bike are Shimano’s basic hydraulic brakes and while they do the job 4 years of hard riding are starting to show. I will also upgrade the wheels to a wider and stiffer set up. My current wheels (Giant SX-2 front wheel and Crankbrothers Cobalt 2 rear wheel) feel spring loaded and don't do well when weighted. I have more smaller upgrades coming soon.
The aluminum frame and non boosted 27.5 wheels fits my height and weight perfectly. The frame absorbs rough roads very well and the 27.5 wheels roll easy and are still twitchy in singletrack which is how I prefer to ride. The frame also allows for a frame bag and the top tube has lots of space to strap things to.
I know I will get funny looks at the start of the Tour Divide with this bike but I know that this is the best set up for me to break the Triple Crown record.
The Bikepacking Triple Crown is terrifying.
Three races that span a combined 4,050 miles should not be taken lightly. These races travel across deserts, mountain passes, and remote wilderness that few people will ever touch. That is the allure. In the spring/summer of 2019, I will be racing the Arizona Trail Race, Tour Divide, and Colorado Trail Race. Currently only 10 people have completed all three races in one year and I plan to set a new record for fastest time. Currently Jay Petervary holds combined record for Triple Crown at 27 days, 18 hours, and 33 minutes; I will do it 27 days flat. This may sound too ambitious and a fool’s errand but I will be throwing myself at these races with everything I have over the next year.
Which is terrifying.
I completed the Tour Divide in June of 2016 in 22 days. This was a decent time but unspectacular compared to the blazing time of 13 days set by the winner Mike Hall. Regardless, that race changed me to the point where I think about the Tour Divide daily. The race was scary, challenging, and extremely risky. Looking back now I pushed myself hard but I could have gone harder. I could have slept less, eaten less, biked at night, pushed well past what I did. Which is terrifying.
Last year I took a summer off adventure racing and I rode around Lake Superior with two friends (one that later became my girlfriend). We recorded the stories of the people who call the lake home. During the days of willing fully loaded bikes up Canadian highways, I frequently found myself daydreaming of the Tour Divide and everything I would have done differently. This is when I made up my mind to pursue the Triple Crown. I found something deep inside of me that needed to find out how hard I could push myself mentally and physically. Which is terrifying.
What exactly makes this experience and these races so terrifying? The personal risk, the financial risk, and of course, the trails themselves. In order for me to break the record, I will be sleeping only a few hours a night and riding nearly 200 miles a day. I will be consuming food at every chance I get while also navigating some of the roughest and most remote trails in North America.
By the time I leave for the first race, I will have graduated with my BS in Outdoor Recreation Leadership Management. Unlike other racers that have been more established before completing the Triple Crown, I will be making some of my first student loan payments from the trail. Sure, the races are free to enter but you need to get to and from the races, pay for food during the race, get proper equipment, and fix that equipment, all this while taking time off from work to train, plan, and race.
It is scary committing myself totally to races that will destroy me both physically and mentally. I do not take this challenge lightly and with less than one year to go until the Arizona Trail Race preparation has begun and I am more driven than ever to finish these races.
This website and blog will be my way to record what I am doing and connect with those who are following me!
I will be updating this blog every week with updates on my training and preparation and every Friday with a gear review of something I am using for the races.
Thanks for following along and supporting me on this crazy mission!