Blood in the Woods

I’d planned on a long outing on my bike today, but found that Mother’s Day wasn’t working like that, so instead I rode over to the hardest trails in town. I planned to focus on my weakness, which is maintaining speed on technical sections, and definitely got some good practice. I wound up doing ten laps of a short loop that demands a lot from me if I want to go fast (or at least fast-ish)  – a stretch that has one rock garden, some sharp ups and downs, a few hairpin corners, numerous tight passages between trees, and several narrow bench-cut ledges with loose dirt and stones.

Overall I did well, riding more smoothly than I did last year and feeling like I’m on a training path that will pay off with better results at the Cheq 100 in June and the Marji Gesick in September. I did push it a little too far a few times, grazing some trees and even once riding off the trail into the thicket. I scraped up my forearm, but it’s just a flesh wound, a bloody little reminder that if you’re not crashing, you’re not trying. 

Just as I turned for home, I noticed that my bike computer wasn’t on my handlebars anymore. 15 minutes of slow walking around the loop paid off when I spotted the device in the weeds. See the yellow nicks in the tree from my handlebars?


Sweat and blood are familiar aspects of mountain biking to me, the off-season equivalents of ice beards and chapped lips. The oddest part of the ride had come earlier, as I rode into the heart of the trails. Just after one tough switchback, I had to stop sharply because a massive old tree had fallen across the trail.  


I had ridden through this same trail late on Saturday afternoon, so I knew this monster had fallen in the 18 hours since then. I wonder if it made a sound?


I broke off enough smaller branches to allow riders to pass along the trail, but cutting the main trunk back will require a chainsaw. A little human intervention will hasten the tree’s return to the dirt it shadowed for decades. 

Companionship in extremis

(Warning: contains confession of possible craziness.)

In a short essay on the Adventure Journal website, Erin Windauer describes the occasional but not rare sense of athletes, adventurers, and others that they are in the presence of someone or something which is benevolent or reassuring but which isn’t actually *there*.

Ernest Shackleton’s epic tale of survival after the sinking of his ship the Endurance in Antarctic waters is well known, but less known is what he and two of his companions experienced after they made their way by open boat, above, to South Georgia Island and trekked across to a whaling station to find salvation. Each of the three felt the presence of someone with them: “During that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia,” wrote Shackleton in his memoir, “it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”

Though I don’t quite see the link between this sensation and the lab experiments summarized in Windauer’s piece, I can’t stop thinking about the phenomenon, which is one I’ve experienced in some of my winter races.

I didn’t even know that my feeling of being… joined? guided? accompanied? was a thing; I just chalked it up to being hungry, cold, and exhausted. And yes, all those stressors might have contributed to my sense that *something* was with me while I rode and walked off Two Top on January 8, thirty-six hours into the Fat Pursuit.  

But still: to have that experience in common with Shackleton is strangely satisfying.

January Racing Recaps

Fat Pursuit 2017 (part I): the first part of my race report on the Fat Pursuit

Fat Pursuit 2017 (part II): the rest of the race report on the Fat Pursuit

Fat Pursuit Numbers: some facts and figures on the Fat Pursuit

Fat Pursuit Bike, Gear, and Kit: a look at the clothing and equipment used at the Fat Pursuit

Arrowhead IV – Fast Until It Wasn’t: my race report on the Arrowhead 135

Ultra Effects, or Putting the Hell Back in Health: musings on the physical effects of racing