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Especially in the desert.

The Adventure

For the past couple of months, Selena has been hounding me to do some sort of self powered overnight trip.  We had been scheming a backpacking trip to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila, but with her bad ankle and my old knees, I had been putting it off.  We considered a round trip run into the springs but figured at 16 miles total with many river crossings, it would end up not being fun at all.  I realized I hadn’t been on an overnight bikepacking trip in well over two years.

Yes.

2……years.

No bueno.

The weather on the border was finally cooling off a little and a full-ish moon was still lingering.  Clear skies and a lack of wind made me think that maybe I could pull off something local.  I had yet to give any of the Monumental Loop a go other than short sections ridden in few hours.  I emailed route creator Matt Mason, then noticed that Ray Molina, inventor of the fat bike, was hosting a party at Hunt’s Hole, so I decided to give it a go.

Friday I had jury duty and I was sent home early.  Yay!  So I quickly made a frame bag for the “girlfriend” bike, a Giant Anthem 29er that I scored super cheap and have upgraded judiciously, and gathered together all of my gear.  Combing through the crap, I selected a set up that would keep Selena light on the bike knowing there would be a ton of sandy roads that we would be navigating.

The Gear

If you’re not a gear weanie, you might want to skip this.

Selena’s set up:

selena and bike

My set up:

  • Surly Ice Cream Truck XXL (total weight with water….70 lbs)
    • 29+ wheels with Ranger TCS Light FR 29″ x 3.0 front, Minion-DHF K DH tire, 29 x 3.0″ 3C/EXO/TR rear
    • Old Man Mountain rear rack
  • Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks frame bag
    • 100 oz camelback bladder with quick disconnect hose
    • Pur/Katadyn water filter
    • White Lightning chain lube
    • 3 CO2 cartridges and inflator
    • 29″ tube wrapped in Tyvek
    • Blackburn Mammoth pump
    • 2 small bottles of sealant
    • Dity bag
      • Park tool
      • plug kit
      • stitch kit
      • patch kit
      • Leatherman micro
      • Pedro’s tire lever
      • chain quick links
    • 2 cans of tuna
    • small container of 50 block sunscreen
    • Ziploc bag of drink mix
    • Baby wipes (never used)
    • Stickers  (guerrilla marketing)
    • Cell phone
    • Exposure Diablo 1st generation with helmet mount
  • Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks Fat Man Seat bag (mounted to rack)
    • Mountain Hardware 2 person tent (main tent, poles, 4 stakes, and Tyvek ground cloth….no fly)
    • 2 Mountain House dinners
    • 2 Mountain House breakfast skillet
    • 12 oz bottle of alcohol fuel
    • Cookset
      • 2 titanium sauce pans with lid
      • 2 stainless cups
      • Spice
      • 2-MRE toilet paper packs
      • mayo pack
      • relish pack
      • Bic lighter
      • DIY beer can alcohol stove
    • Boonie hat
  • Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks Titan tank
    • car keys
    • 2-AA batteries
    • Business cards
    • $25 cash
    • credit card
    • ID
    • toothbrush
    • toothpaste
    • Energy bars
    • spoon
  • 2-Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks Silo feed bags
    • Insulated water bottle in one
    • Ziploc bag full of almonds and raisins, 4 packs of Honey Stinger chews in the other
  • Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks Handlebar Pouch
    • spare bike shorts
    • long sleeve tech tee
    • swim trunks
    • spare sunglasses with soft case
  • Stuff sack mounted on top of seat bag
  • Garmin eTrex 20 on handlebars
  • Amazon light on handlebars with battery under the down tube

ict loaded for cone country

The Route

We took our time packing Friday evening and Saturday morning with the intention of riding to Ray’s place/Hunt’s Hole that afternoon. I loaded the gps file for the Monumental Loop onto my Garmin….with the intention of riding from a friend’s house in the Upper Valley area of El Paso to the Santa Theresa Airport/Union Pacific Maintenance area to connect with the Monumental Loop heading out to Cone and Crater Country.  Before Kilbourne Hole, we would detour south to Ray’s place, party a bit, then ride back to the route and camp somewhere.  Sunday we planned to ride the rest of the southwest portion of the Monumental Loop and finish in Mesilla, NM….then either ride back to the Upper Valley or have a friend fetch us.

Day 1

At 4:30 pm, we started a little later than we probably should have, and didn’t get to Ray’s until about an hour after sunset.  Selena had never ridden in the dark before and the moon wasn’t out yet, so luckily we were on soft roads that made cruising fun with our lights working great on the low setting.  Of course, there had to be a major issue and it was all me.  I loaded the gps track using Topofusion, but failed to check to see if the entire route was actually on my gps. This is something I’ve done before and I should have known better….but it’s been awhile…..2 years.  Tracks need to be no greater than 10,000 points to fit on the gps. How it is possible to be under 10,000 points for the Tour Divide route blows my mind.  Instead of freaking out, I quickly uploaded RideWithGPS onto my phone and downloaded the course using a 1-week subscription at $3.99.

Cruising the route, we stopped at a solar powered well early in the ride and tried unsuccessfully to get it to work.  Oh well.  We both had plenty of water to at least make it to Ray’s.  An hour or so later we saw one large group of ATVers, side-by-sides, and two jeeps…one being towed.  After turning south off route, we passed another tank but didn’t stop. After getting on the road that would take us to Ray’s, we saw headlights behind us and they guy pulled up next to us asking if we were going to Ray’s.  The only “normal” vehicle we see on the road and of course it’s some dude headed to Ray’s.  About 20 minutes later we hear voices and see bike lights and knew we’d reach at least one of our destinations.  This was all before the moon came up and it was dark AF.  Ray and his buddy escorted us to the compound for the party where Ray skittered all over the place trying to be an excellent host.  It was getting pretty cold and neither of us packed anything to cover our legs and I only packed a long sleeve tech tee.  Selena had her long sleeve tee and a rain jacket which she quickly donned.  I forgot how cold the desert can get on a clear night.  After eating some pork tacos and our Mountain House meals, we loaded up with water and headed out to get back on the Monumental Loop and find a place to camp before Ray and any of his friends decided to break out any firearms or incendiary devices.

We rode about 5 more miles on some nice roads before pulling off to camp.  We set up the tent in a couple of minutes and leaned bikes against creosote bushes to prevent rats from chewing on sweat soaked items and Camelbak nipples.  It was probably in the 40’s so sleeping in our sleeping bags (I used the 40 deg but carried the 30 deg) was fairly comfortable. The moon blazed like a spotlight into the tent the entire night.

Day 2

Soon after taking off, we passed a muddy cattle tank and I foolishly decided to pump filter some water.  It instantly clogged my filter.  I got worried.  We continued on route and noticed that the roads were a little sandier.  There had been plenty of rain the previous week, so there were spots that were still moist, but with some of these roads getting a little bit of ATV traffic, there were some soft spots.  Nothing bad enough to air down, but we definitely had to pick our line.

The route took us north of Riley Peak, west of it, then south…where I took the only photo of the ride.

selena west of riley peak

The freshly graded road was pretty fast heading south, then we headed west again and it was more of a trail.  I saw a hose leading up to a tank and found the tank.  It was not the source of the hose, but the tank being filled by the well……a mile or so back.  Luckily there was a pretty clean, accessible tank being fed by this system.  I tried pumping again but it was difficult and slow.  I filled a quart saucepan with water and had to fill my stove twice to bring the water to a full rolling boil.  After a slow boil of around 5 minutes, I decided to pour some into a Mountain House meal, let the rest hit a rolling boil, then  dumped the rest in my bottle and bladder.

The route ended up in a wash for quite awhile and I guess we were on and off what was supposed to be a jeep road until we hit a fence line…..the most southwestern portion of the Monumental Loop.  After looking at my gps and checking my phone which was down to about 27% battery, we decided to head more northeast and try to hook up with the course again.  We passed another solar well with wires that had been disconnected.  I attempted to make contact with the bare wires from the pump to the plug hanging off the panels, but couldn’t get them in.  While milling around some shade, I saw a bat go into a mesquite tree.  This is the only picture Selena took.

bat

A few hundred yards away was another muddy tank and we attempted to filter and I gave up at just over half a bladder.  We continued on and came upon a guy tending cattle.  Not really needing water at the time, we continued on until we came upon a beautiful tank being filled by a working solar well.  It was pumping gloriously clear water.  At this point I looked at my phone and saw that we were closer to the popsicle stick of our ride as opposed the the route that would take us to Mesilla.  Not wanting to risk running dry, not knowing how sandy the route might be, and not seeing a way to link up to the main course without killing my phone, we decided to link up with our entrance route and ride the section we skipped in order to get to Ray’s place.  It was pretty sandy so we aired down our tires.  We passed Kilbourne Hole and another large tank full of water, and then we were back tracking our tracks from the upper valley of El Paso to finish our 111 mile adventure just before sunset.  While we were on dirt, we saw 3 vehicles plus the party of ATVers/Jeepers.

Lessons Learned

  • Always check your gps file and make sure the entire thing shows up on your device.
  • Always carry backup water treatment options.  Tablets of some sort would have been fine for this entire trip as we found several sediment free sources that would have been fine after treating with tablets.
  • Research the route better.  I definitely did not research this route enough and ended up only riding about half of the section we wanted to ride.  We were bummed not to finish in Mesilla as we were hoping for some deliciousness from one of the many restaurants in town.
  • Wait to ride this route when the daytime highs are no more than about 85 degrees.  It was forecasted at 89 in El Paso/Las Cruces on Friday and I never checked it after.  Nor did I check the lows.  Assume it will be about 5 degrees hotter around the craters and on the lava strewn sections of the route and assume it will be 10 degrees cooler at night than what is forecasted in El Paso/Las Cruces.  We got lucky with winds and stronger winds prevailed on Sunday when we were heading back….tailwinds!  If it had been a headwind, we would have finished well after dark.
  • Bike choice.  You’ve got some options that should all have their pros and cons.  Fat bikes will be awesome on the sandy roads especially if it’s been a few weeks since rain.  No bigger than a 4.0 though.  There are a few rocky sections with rocks that could cut sidewalls, but mostly it was just rounded but rough lava rock.  This section of the route is plus bike heaven.  Keep in mind that Selena did great with wider 29er rims and the fast rolling Ikon 2.35.  Her total setup was a very respectable 46 pounds and she is a fly-weight.  I know plenty of really fast guys who start races with about that weight.  My rig was way too heavy for my personal tastes, but I got a great weekend of “resistance” training and at a comfortable pace, Selena was comfortable and not killing herself.

Next Time

I would like to at least complete this section of the Monumental Loop before the end of the year.  If I do, I’m going to consider using Fargazmo …my custom Walt Works Fargo copy.  I’ll run it with 2.5 or maybe even a 3.0 tire up front and the 2.35 Ikon…or if I can get it to fit….a 2.5 Schwable or Maxxis 2.5 tire….on my 30mm inside width carbon race wheels with my dyno hub. I’ll rig my light to the dyno, make sure I’ve got the correct gps file, start my ride early in the am in Vinton, and crank it all out.

If you were to do the perfect build for this section, I’d say a Salsa Deadwood or a Mone Bikes El Continente would be choice.  This is drop bar country….lots of fast roads and you could easily find yourself in a decently evil headwind.  I’d pass on the filter and carry at least 2 bottles in addition to a 100oz bladder, relying on the big tanks and wells for water that only needs a tablet to treat.  As for the rest of the loop, I know most of the area south of the Organ Mountains, the Sierra Vista Trail into the Franklin Mountain State Park, is true mountain bike terrain except for the long stretch of deep sand that is present before you cross over the range before Hwy 404.  That stretch in itself justifies plus sized tires and maybe a real fat bike if it hasn’t rained in more than a week.  As for the area north of Cruces….I know nothing about it and need to do more research.

Matt Mason is planning to do a mass start event on this route on Halloween weekend.  I may have to get my shit together and give it or another section of it a go.

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It happens.  People die.  We’ll all be dead….eventually.  Cyclists live a dangerous life.  When we ride recreationally, we take risks either with traffic and other road hazards, or with risky moves on trails lined with rocks, trees, cactus, etc.

This week the cycling world lost two good ones.  World record holding “professional bikepacker” Mike Hall was killed by a vehicle while he was racing in Down Under.  I never met Mike, but I have a lot of friends who did.  Friends who actually hung out and traveled with him……not just lining up at a race and seeing him for a brief period of time.  He seemed like a great guy…..humble.  He pushed the limits and set records causing many others to do the same.  I’m bummed I never got to meet him.  Not sure if he was into Guinness, but I’m going to drink one this weekend for him.  Seems like the right “tip of the hat” for a guy from the UK.

The other one we lost this week was Steve Tilford.  Steve was a daily blogger.  He delved into the world of doping and seemed to know that our clowns at USAC were quite guilty of keeping that dark culture alive.  I actually met Steve.  Just casually….a couple of times.  Sea Otter and a couple of National XC events.  He was a fellow “tall guy”.  Rode custom ti bikes like me.  He was also a van guy.  And he was killed last night on I-70 in one of my favorite places in the country….the border region between Utah and Colorado.  You can read about it all here.  I can’t write about it and his buddy’s pics that were posted are haunting.

Steve’s death is freaking me out a bit because I lost another friend from my youth in a similar manner.  Julie Hamilton was the older sister of a long-time classmate of mine.  She was a ridiculously good basketball player and very pretty.  I had a pretty solid crush on her, but since she was older, I never knew how to express it and feared rejection.  Julie headed off to college on a basketball scholarship.  She attended a small college in upstate South Carolina.  Early in the season, her team was traveling by van when everything in it cut off.  They limped to the shoulder of the freeway.  I never heard a timeline, but since they didn’t have any lights, an 18 wheeler drifted onto the shoulder at the wrong time and plowed into them.  Julie and a couple other teammates were killed.  At the funeral, there were several girls in wheelchairs.  It was devastating.

So…. first to the van safety thing….Steve had exited the vehicle with no major injuries and was walking around the scene when another 18 wheeler crashed into him and killed him.  Please keep these safety tips in mind.  Always have a kit with flares.  If you are on the side of the road doing a repair or attending to a crash, make sure those flares are HUNDREDS of meters up the road from the crash.  Walking 20 steps behind your vehicle is a joke.  Get way back.  It takes a LONG time for trucks to stop.  Whether Steve and his buddy had time to do that, I’m not sure.  They had time to take pics.  I would have acted much more quickly to secure the scene first and make sure nobody else wound up in that crash.  Get away from the vehicles and move off of the pavement….a long way off.  Have a flash light in your kit with extra batteries.  Turn it on and point it at oncoming traffic.  Our freeways are stupid.  While convenient, more people die there than pretty much anywhere else in America…..our freeways.

As for riding in traffic……what can I say.  It sucks out there.  Make yourself visible as possible.  Today’s LED lights are ridiculously bright.  Use them.  Have people pray for you.  Use a camera if you commute in a hostile area.  Try to stay off crazy roads at night….like the interstate I rode on a rainy night when I did the Palmetto Trail.  That was stupid.  Don’t be stupid.

Be safe out there.

After a quick trip to Reno, Truckee was the next stop where my friend Hayley who lives in El Paso was visiting her parents.  Both of her parents are avid skiers with season passes to Northstar.  I skied a day with Hayley who did some knuckle dragging around the icy slopes.  This part of the trip is where the REAL van incidents occurred.

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Before our day on the slopes, I went to her parent’s place and was told to “get a run at the driveway”.  That driveway was steep and with my half-way worn El Paso tires I only made it half way up….and then slid backwards….into the ditch….about a foot from the telephone pole.  A board, a jack, and some salt got me out no problem.  I weaseled my way into their neighbor’s driveway and slept kind of crooked that night.  The next day, while unloading the neighbor’s driveway, the van suddenly started sliding backwards.  I just stood there and watched as it finally came to rest about 3 feet from a planter and a tree.

That evening I busted over Donner Pass to visit my old friend and former REI employee Chris McGovern.  He’s now building gorgeous carbon bikes under the McGovern name and he is the US national cyclocross coach.  I wanted to visit him because he had a Quadvan conversion done on his Ford Transit.  The first big atmospheric river (Pineapple Express) was rolling in and traffic was bumper to bumper from the bay area to Reno.  Google sent me over old Donner Pass (Hwy 140) and I beat the snow.  Then I met the traffic – and it was slow.  By the time I pulled off I-80 to head to Nevada City, plows were everywhere and snow was accumulating quickly.  About a half mile off the interstate lights were flashing and the chain monkeys were working hard.  I blew through it….and barely made it.  Lots of fishtailing ensued but I let traction control do its thing and eventually I was at a lower elevation and rolled into Chris’s place well before bedtime.  Quick tours of vans and work space happened and I really wish I had taken some pics, because Chris is getting kind of famous. Soon after I was back on the road to Georgetown where I made it to my brother’s place after bedtime but before the snow accumulated too much in his area.

My plan was to spend a day at my bro’s, then head to Kirkwood for what was guaranteed to be a giant powder day.  That meant that I needed to figure out my chains.  And sure enough, they didn’t fit.  New chains were purchased as well as rubber tensioners (never use chains without tensioners and never buy chains from Amazon).  A day was spent with one of his friends driving to a hill to do some sledding….a lot of work when there is a couple of feet of powder.

The next day I left for Kirkwood slightly behind schedule when about an hour or so away from the resort, I ran into this.

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Notice how clear the road is up until this point.  I didn’t have cell service in that location, so I looked at my atlas and picked a route back and around.  I ended up having to chain up and didn’t get to the resort until noon.  It was all good though as there was plenty of powder to be had and I needed to pay some dues in the chopped up stuff anyway.

Leaving Kirkwood I pulled a total Texan move and lost control of the van, sliding into a mount of snow and taking out a pole of some sort.  A minute or two of shoveling and I was back at it.  Plows and blowers were everywhere.

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I needed to get to Bridgeport to meet my friend Tim.  I knew he was tired and waiting for me and I drove as fast as I could (like 30 mph in chains).

 

The entire week after Christmas was spent skiing with my little guy and his mom.  They have been best ski buddies for for well over 70 days in the past year.  I skied with him Thanksgiving 2015 and he was just learning.  I was prepared to step up my game, but I wasn’t sure how much.  It was much greater than I anticipated.  He’s a fast and slightly reckless little dude.  His mom was right there with him and even blasting tree pow and gnarly rock outcroppings on her ridiculously fat Big Joy Head skis.  If they weren’t ripping down the blues, they were dicing their way through manked out trees searching for powder.  My new skis were perfect for all that, but my skills lacked.  By Thursday I was keeping up….for the most part (I’m wary around lots of people).  My knees didn’t hurt and I was able to do some good yoga at my old roommate’s house as they were out of town and I did a bit of dog sitting in exchange for an electrical outlet to keep the van the perfect sleeping temp.  His driveway was immaculately groomed.20161225_182309

I’m sure it’s much different at the time of this writing considering they’ve had more snow,  rain, ice, and as much weather well above freezing as they’ve had below in the past couple weeks.

On my last day in Utah, I finally tried skate skiing.  Connor and Jen have XC gear, so we went to Solitude Nordic Center.  REI had skate gear that fit me like a glove.  I fell a few times leaving what I called a butt hole in the track.  I think I left 3 butt holes in the track.  What a great workout and a fun way to get away from the crowds….though the Big Cottonwood traffic snake loomed just above us for about an hour.

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Connor taking a break coming up the hill. Lots of breaks get taken when skiing with groms.

That Friday afternoon I headed out of the Salt Lake valley’s fog and pollution to Wells, NV to bum an electrical outlet from Adriana W. (former Franklin Mountains State Park ranger) and her boyfriend Jeremy.  It was in the single digits out there and the campground they’re in was like a gnarly ice rink with tire tracks making it ridiculously hard to navigate.

I’d never spent time with Jeremy, and it ends up we’re like brothers from different mothers…..and he’s hella shorter.  I’m glad I stopped by and glad they were there.  I was tired of driving and needed a warm place to sleep.jeremy

Breakfast was consumed and I hauled it across Nevada to Reno to catch up with the Yackle Bros, shop at the REI garage sale (big gear scores there), then head to Truckee were I was to rendezvous with my friend Hayley….yeah….the one that was taking care of my dog.  The dog got passed to another friend.  Her parents live in Truckee so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to have a place to park and ski a resort I’ve never skied.

My only “creepy” incident of the trip happened on my drive to Reno.  Some old guy in an older pickup stayed next to me for several miles on the interstate.  I did my best to ignore him.  He kept placing his Veteran’s hat (this guy claimed 3 wars….WW2, Korea, and Vietnam) in the window so I’d have no choice but to see it.  The only other guy I’ve seen with a hat like that was at the VA hospital in El Paso and that guy looked eons older than this creepy dude so I’m in doubt that he was a 3 war vet. I have a neighbor who served in Vietnam only and he looks eons older than this creep. I wasn’t sure what kind of point he was trying to make and why.  I did have to accelerate around him before entering the freeway because I was in the wrong lane, but I definitely did not cut him off.  I turned off my cruise control and made sure he stayed in front of me.  I drove much slower than I ever wanted to drive on this trip just to keep this creep in front of me.  He finally pulled away and eventually I went back to driving 75 mph and never caught up to him.

 

After my divorce, I downsized from a huge truck and slide-on camper to a van.  I got a decent trade in and picked up a brand new Ford Transit 260 medium height medium length with the Ecoboost twin turbo (trouble in the making).  2 years later I have a rig that I can pretty much live in.  I still want to do a few more things to it, but for now, it’s pretty stellar.  Two of the things it lacks is a heater (I do have a propane “little buddy” heater but it consumes A LOT of propane) and a shower.  People asked how I’d cope and my response has always been,  “I have lots of friends.”   Many of those friendships have been neglected.  When I joined the army in 2000, I cut myself off from way too many friends.  That was a huge mistake and over the past few years, I’ve decided to reconnect with as many friends as I can.

For winter break 16/17, I decided to road trip to ski country.  My son and his mom only had a 9-day break.  With two weeks on tap for me, I figured I could get in plenty of skiing in Utah with the little ripper, meet up with some old friends, and maybe do some riding.  I’d have more than a couple of driveways with nearby electrical hookups and showers at my disposal.   My brother recently moved into a place in California not too far from ski country.  So plans came together after Thanksgiving to do a 3,000 mile loop….Utah, across Nevada, California, back down through Nevada, Arizona, and back home.

That month before the trip would include recovering from a week in Moab at Thanksgiving, riding as much as I could (but I ended up with a pretty severe respiratory illness which knocked me on my ass), getting my classes ready for final exams, finishing a van project so I could have some more storage space and actually be able to get into my bed without killing myself, doing as much yoga and dry land ski training as possible, and making all the bags that had been ordered.  Unbelievably, I was able to do everything I needed to do.

The van came together exactly like I wanted.  (Pics)

Shanti Yoga near the airport offered 4 classes a week free to dudes during December.  I think I went to 11 classes.  They were either hot Vinyasa or hot 26.  The Vinyasa classes helped a whole bunch since my dry land ski training consisted of doing hundreds of downhill lunges with a 30 pound backpack, running up and down steep and rocky hills, and a few thousand heel raises.  I was sore from day one and never took a break until I got in the van on December 23rd to head north.

And……. I made a bunch of great bags for customers.  Thank you customers.

On the 22nd, I got this message from Jen.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-elXN-2vqK0

Crap.  That meant no riding in Moab, but that was a mute point as a thin layer of snow and ice blanketed the trails.  I would be hustling to get through that storm before it got too bad.  I had contemplated purchasing snow tires….at least on the rear…but nobody would sell me non-commercial rated tires.  The current tires are perfect for dry street, but they are E load rated commercial vehicle tires and they ride rough as crap as my van sits at about 6,200 lbs curb weight.  They are through about 2/3rds of their life, so I decided to go forth on those and hope that I’d be fine with the cable chains I bought a year earlier.

I also had Jen (yeah….I have my ex doing errands.  Baller!)  grab these at 2nd Tracks in Salt Lake.

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Surface Walk Free 186 skis….Made in Utah

I have old but reliable tele gear –  T1 boots with Rainey bindings mounted on Rotefella releases.  Using that stuff would be like running a 3×9 drive-train on a 27+ bike.  Apparently those skis aren’t cheap, but I scored them on a sick sale price of $240 with tax.

After dropping off my dog with my friend Hayley, I was on the road by 3 pm on Friday the 23rd and made it all the way to Farmington, NM where I stealth camped in the Walmart parking lot.  The next morning I continued my cannonball trajectory through Cortez and across snow covered farmland and desert all the way to Moab…..which was cold and snowy.  So onward to Salt Lake I drove.  Just above Price, I blew through a jam packed chain-up area and spun tires up through about 15 miles of snow covered roads.

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I don’t need no stinking chains!

Soon the road became 4 lanes again before Soldier Summit and there was no falling snow and the roads were clear!  Yay yay yay!!!!  I made it through the first small part of this HUGE incoming storm without having to chain up and only fish-tailing about 5 times.

After arriving in Salt Lake, it started to snow.  BIG TIME.  On Christmas day, Connor and Jen XC skied to church.  I borrowed Jen’s truck and tried to go to Brighton….at lunch time.

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Wasatch Dr and Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I sat in that same spot for 7 light changes before I bailed and went to my friend Ann’s place just west of there.

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Ann’s porch..that’s well over a foot in less than 24 hours.

After catching up, I finally got up to Brighton to try out my new skis….which were awesome.  If I had a Santa suit, I would have skied for free.  Mental note for next year….bring Santa suit.   It was an excellent way to spend Christmas day.

 

For the first time ever, I participated in a sponsored trip.  Local mountain bike guide (Geobetty Tours) and publicity honch Don Baumgardt brought together El Paso riders along with the Ride For Reading crew and film makers to ride 70 miles across the high plains east of El Paso to Dell City, TX to deliver books to their school.  Hot shot photographer Devon Balet and his numerous connections for sponsorship had us sleeping in some Big Agnes products which I feel very compelled to review.  Note that we did not get to keep these products.  I think we were all given the same sleeping bag…the Cross Mountain 45 with synthetic fill.  We had a variety of sleeping pads and a couple different tents.  I chose to not sleep in a tent.  It was just too nice outside.  I did help set some up and I can tell you that they are extremely light and easy to set up. They came with really nice stakes and lots of reflective cord.

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The sleeping bags were perfect for our cool nights and I heard few complaints.  These are the bags with the sleeve for the sleeping pad.  They don’t have insulation on the bottom relying on the pad to provide an insulating barrier between your body and the ground.  I’ve always wanted to check one of these out and was excited to destroy the inside of one with my sweaty, dirty, and sunscreen caked naked body for two nights.

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I was given the Green Ridge sleeping pad which I believe is their lightest pad….and weirdest.  Weird in color and texture…like a dry condom.  I didn’t slip it into the sleeping bag sleeve the first night, and being a restless sleeper, I found myself struggling to roll over and move around since my body was sticking to the rubber material.  At only 20″ wide, the pad did not provide enough width for me.  From the comments from the other party goers, none of the pads were wide enough for them either.  All the provided pads were 20″ wide, but varied in material, weight, style, thickness, and length.  A perfect rectangle, mine was 78″ long and 3.75″ thick….totally sufficient in those dimensions but barely wide enough for my shoulders.   The pad was a bit noisy as well.  Not as noisy as the Mylar lined Thermarest NeoAir Xlite, but quite squeaky when you moved around on it….even when it was in the sleeping bag sleeve.

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In the middle of our first night, I decided to stuff the pad into the sleeve of the sleeping bag. This made things a bit quieter, but I noticed some air pockets.  On the edges of the pad, the bag did not insulate well and at the top opening, there was no way to cover your head and shoulders since the opening was flat with no mummy hood or tapered closure.  Air snuck in around my head and onto my shoulders.  As a naked sleeper, this was no good.  There was plenty of room at the foot of the bag and it extended off the end of the pad making it perfect for my size 15 feet.

In the morning I left the pad in the sleeve, unscrewed the valve on the pad, and compressed it into the stuff sack of sleeping bag.  There was plenty of room for everything including my 7′ long Cuben fiber bivy.  The next evening, inflating the pad took a couple of minutes and everything was ready for sleeping…no fighting the pad to get it into the bag’s sleeve.  This could prove a time advantage for someone racing the clock.

Would I buy either of these products?  Even with a discount, I would not buy these.  The pad is not wide enough at all.  The bag is a clever idea and someone who sleeps in a t-shirt may like the bag.  I’m more of a mummy guy and like to be able to roll over with the bag staying with me when I move.   I am impressed with the compressed size of the kit and the weight isn’t terrible.  I think this would be a great bag for someone who regularly uses a tent since the tent would cut down on drafts experienced through the neck opening.

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Wider is better

This year’s Puzzler was in my mind since April when Brent asked me to loop the new direction for GPS verification and provide him with affirmation.  Running it counter clockwise was definitely going to make things a bit different for everyone, especially me on the single speed.  Climbing up Mundy’s from the west side is MUCH steeper, yet the rest of the course had much gentler overall climbing and more descending….at least in my view.  I never looked at any gps data.  I stopped doing that long ago.

I tried to ride this new loop as much as I could without wearing myself completely down.  I dropped a bit of weight after the Chupacabras and kept myself under 195 through the holidays.  I didn’t ride as much as I would have liked to, but I still got in some fun days of riding leading up to the race.  Spending time exploring new places with my son has taken priority over killing myself on the bike.

I must admit there was a bit of pressure leading up to this year’s race.  Last year’s 3rd overall was a bit of a fluke.  Not a lot of fast guys showed up.  Mo Frias, who cracked on the last 15 mile stretch, was just figuring out the long stuff and Jerry Garcia had crashed his road bike a few days before the race.  I was definitely hoping to be in the top 5 again, but top 10 would be more realistic considering I don’t train anymore.

I made a few changes to my ride.  Dirty Girl, the Titus Ti frame got put away after last year’s when I noticed a crack in it.  The Spot BE Trophy Bike handles a bit better since I can run a shorter stem on it, so I stuck with it for most of the year’s single speed duties.  With the main climb being steeper this year, I went with a taller gear since I knew I’d be walking up it and the rest of the course would need something slightly bigger.  I ran a 30×19 and it kicked my butt on the lower part of the Mundy’s climb which caused me to lose touch with 6-8th place.  I ran MUCH wider bars this year.  Crank Brother’s 780’s.  They were incredibly perfect.  Combined with an 80mm stem, this bike is insane on the descents.  I also have wider rims…30mm inside width Light Bicycle carbon rims.  They’ve been awesome.  I mounted up a new Maxxis Icon 2.35 on the front and a Kenda Nevegal X Pro on the rear.  However, I completely failed in regards to setting good tire pressure.  Somewhere in the race, I let a little out of the front.  It wasn’t enough and was bouncing off rocks way more than I wanted to and I felt like I was riding very poorly on the technical stuff.  Then I let out too much and rode from somewhere around Mule Shoe to the finish with about 10 psi in the front tire.  It made Sotol super fun, but it was still just a bit too low for me.

I also finally used a “finish” bottle.  I haven’t really used one since my shorter XC days and back then they’d make my heart do funky stuff so I was afraid to use one again.  This year I filled a bottle with dark green tea, a scoop of Cytomax, 2 Sportslegs, and 2 Traumeel’s.  Traumeel is an herbal anti-inflammatory.  This was nice to have since my knees were bugging me most of the race.  I stayed quite hydrated the entire race.  I had to pee around mile 25….a lot.  I didn’t lose a place but I was in 8th at the time and 9th almost caught me.  At the end of the race, I had to rush off to the porto toilet to pee again.  That never happens.  I drank about 3 bottles with one scoop Gatorade and one scoop Cytomax and ate a 2 bags of Honey Stinger Chews as well as a Clif Z bar, a regular Clif bar, and 4 organic newtons from Costco.  I also carried a full 100 oz bladder of water in my frame bag and that was about 1/3 full when I finished.

I went into the last 13 miles nervous about the finish bottle.  When I finally took a swig, I was reassured with a desirable flavor and a couple of minutes later, no leg and knee pain.  I made sure it was all gone about half way through Sotol Forest for the last climb.  That was an amazing stretch.  I have never finished a race that long with that little cramping.  Usually I’m fighting for my life at that point.  I held my position and ended up 8th since the guy ahead of me took a wrong turn on the last 13 miles.

Overall I was just kind of meh about the result.  I knew it would be tough to get up Mundy’s, but I totally cracked there.  The rest of the race was really fun and it was great to go back and forth with some people in the first half.

Big thanks to Greg at Truckerco.com for keeping me rolling with Tire Cream and making sure I can stop with new finned pads for the XO brakes.  I also use alloy Speed Evolution valve stems and ESI grips which he distributes.

I’d also like to mention the movie night we had before the race…..which only 22 people attended.  I worked really hard with my buddy Victor from Velo Paso and George from Geo Geske’s to set up a great venue.  We had a TON of prizes from Truckerco, Magura, Endlessbikes.com, Geobetty, and Nukesunrise.com.  The movies were great and we actually went through about half a keg of Lagunitas IPA.

 

The weekend before school started back, I raced a team race in Juarez with my buddy DJ and another El Paso rider, Avyell Lo.  Avyell has been getting fast and asked me to be on his team even though he had to have me recruit the other member.  DJ was fresh off the Breck Epic so I new we’d have fun no matter what.  I figured I’d give myself a bit of a handicap and decided to race the Ice Cream Truck 29+ Super Beast.  OMG!!!  That bike is so much fun.  It will ride over ANYTHING. Even better, this course had about a mile of SAND!!!!  Braaaap Braaaaaaaaap Braaaaaaappppp.  I passed so many riders in the sand, but had to wait on my teammates.  Oh well.  That was fun.

The course was about 25 miles long and consisted of a bunch of the Chupa trails and there are a lot of new sections.  Chupa is supposed to go over King Kong, a beast of a climb which I’m glad the team race didn’t

go over because hauling the ICT29+SB up that thing would have sucked.  Although, I probably could have pedaled it all considering how much MAD traction that bike has.

Our team finished 4th or 5th…depending on how you look at the results.  We had a blast and I got a good workout in taking good pulls and pushing DJ on some of the climbs.  I will definitely have to get down there again to ride King Kong before the Chupa.

It was overcast most of the morning.  Then it got after we finished.  Perfect timing.

It was overcast most of the morning. Then it got after we finished. Perfect timing.

Results.  You had to be with your team at all the check points.

Results. You had to be with your team at all the check points.

Avyell in the bottom left corner.

Avyell in the bottom left corner.

Pic stolen from Facebook.  I rode with no hands a bunch.  The ICT29+SB is ridiculously stable.

Pic stolen from Facebook. I rode with no hands a bunch. The ICT29+SB is ridiculously stable.

Yeah.  It’s been a while.   It’s been well over a year since I’ve blogged.  I actually have a write up of my thoughts on my 2014 Tour Divide ride, but I really don’t want to subject people to that.  I think it is quite opposite of what most people want to hear about the Divide and I don’t want to come off as more of an asshole than I already am.  This past weekend I did something that I think is blog worthy, positive, uplifting, and hopefully a bit humorous for my 10 readers.  I finally traveled deep into Mexico for a mountain bike race.  Over the years I’ve been invited more than a few times.  Sometimes we (back when Jen and I were together) weren’t invited….just told about some really cool race after the fact.  When I found out about this race, the Reto Cusi in Cusihuriachi, I decided to take advantage of some new friendships and get my ass down there.

Cusihuriachi is just south of Cuauhtemoc.

Cusihuriachi is just south of Cuauhtemoc.

GETTING DOWN THERE

To travel into Mexico you need a few things.  A traveling partner that speaks the language is a bonus.  My friend Luisa is from Chihuahua City.  She is getting into running (not managing) events and found the Reto Cusi on one of the many Mexican sports facebook pages.  You need a passport (I have the ID card), a vehicle permit, and a travel permit (free since I was going to be there less than a week).  The vehicle permit cost me $460 USD, but I had $400 refunded upon my return. An older model vehicle would result in a much lower deposit.  We snagged the permits the morning we crossed into Mexico at the Santa Theresa/Jeronimo crossing.  It took about an hour to get everything we needed.  The race promoter sent us a toll booth exemption permit so we wouldn’t have to pay tolls.  That saved us about $60 USD.  I felt like Wayne and Garth with the back stage passes.  The last thing you need is enough money for gas and food.  Gas is a bit more expensive, especially if you get convinced to buy premium gas since “that low grade stuff is so bad for your car.”  One last thing….make sure your  car is in tip top shape.  The roads are rough and people drive WAY faster than the speed limit.

DRIVING TO

Driving down was fairly uneventful.  We passed Samalayuca where I will definitely be returning for some fat bike adventures on their dunes.  We passed through some smaller villages where guys were trying to make you think you were being pulled over for some traffic violation, guiding you into their burrito place.  We navigated that successfully.  No burritos or quesadillas were harmed in the process.  Rolling into Chihuahua City felt like a return to Korea with fewer high rises.  We had tacos at Tacos Orientales with Luisa’s mom.  The tacos did not have an Asian twist.  The family that owned the place was originally from a neighborhood outside of Mexico City called Orientales.  Turns out that there are lots of places with Orientales in the name.

After Chi City, we cruised into the hills flanked by mountains towards Cuahtemoc.  One last toll check and suddenly there was the Walmart on the edge of town.  Registration was at a pizza joint next to the Walmart.  We got some bad directions to Cusi and wound up about 20 minutes past town after battling traffic through town (I got a great window wash from a guy who had a brand new scrubber….5 pesos).  We reoriented ourselves by getting confirmation on our location from a very short farmer selling the worst elotes (roasted corn on the cob) in the world.  10 pesos in the trash….well…we got confirmation that we were in the wrong place.

Chihuahua City traffic.

Chihuahua City traffic.

Toll booth.  Decent restrooms at all of these.

Toll booth. Decent restrooms at all of these.

Applebees...in the same parking lot with Walmart.

Applebees…in the same parking lot with Walmart.

We eventually got on the most horrible road of the trip that guided us through huge apple orchards owned and operated by white Menonites.  I felt like I was in Colorado.  Then we dropped into a canyon that took us to Cusi.  We took a little tour of the town and then found a good campsite on a neat spot of land owned by the family of the race promoters. Then  it rained….and hailed…and rained…..and hailed…and rained some more.  Some of our fellow campers got completely hosed and ended up getting a cabin in the little mining town.

Really old church with scary Jesus statue inside.  After 2.5 years in Catholic school, this still made me wonder what's up with Catholics.

Really old church with scary Jesus statue inside. After 2.5 years in Catholic school, this still made me wonder what’s up with Catholics.

The main street at the end of Cusi just before the venue.

The main street at the end of Cusi just before the venue.

Cusi

Cusi

Dropping into the canyon where Cusi is located.

Dropping into the canyon where Cusi is located.

THE RACE

I could have spent an hour trying to do a bank transfer to register for the race, but since only a few people from the states attended this thing, the promoters were willing to save us a spot and let us pay when we got there.  The entry was 250  Pesos….about $18 USD….yeah.  Awesome!  They were capping entries at 500 and they closed registration in the middle of the week.  I got zero riding in the day before because the rain started right when I got my bike out of the van.  We sat out the storm, ate dinner, then finally crashed out.

A brief walk up the course didn't really help me get oriented.

A brief walk up the course didn’t really help me get oriented.

The morning of the race before the venue got completely packed.

The morning of the race before the venue got completely packed.

The outskirts of the village.

The outskirts of the village.

Not a bad camp spot at all.

Not a bad camp spot at all.

There was no need for an alarm the next morning because 500 cars were making their way into the tiny canyon.  We had a prime spot near the finish and across the creek from the start.  I got a good warm up in and made my way to the line.  I chose to ride my Racer X since it has gears and I was unsure of the course.  I tried getting details but they were limited.  The profile seemed like a few long climbs.  It turns out, there was only one place a single speed would have struggled…about 3 km of flat road (dirt and pave).  The rest was a lot of fast double track descending and climbing  with most of the climbing fairly short and punchy relative to what I’m used to riding in Colorado or in El Paso with Mundy’s Gap.

Sort of near the front.  Start protocol doesn't really exist in Mexico.

Sort of near the front. Start protocol doesn’t really exist in Mexico.

I got a bad start but stayed patient and worked my way up to 14th.  Then I bridged up to a group and at the front of that group, I only saw a couple of tracks.  The mud was pretty bad in spots, but overall, the course was pretty fast.  Most of it was between 6 and 7,000 feet.  That kind of caught me off guard.  Being about 15 pounds overweight and choosing to do a bit of “promotional” work by running a frame bag with a bladder and bottle in it, I was having to do a little work on those climbs, but I was comfortable where I was.  Then my front tire went really soft.  I hit it with an air cartridge, but it only lasted about 500 yards before going way too soft again.  Sealant wasn’t spewing out, so maybe that wasn’t sealant I heard shaking around inside when I checked the wheel before the race.  I had to use my mini Leatherman to unscrew the valve core so I could put some sealant in, then hit it with my last cartridge.  It didn’t hold air.  Hmmm.  I kept riding on it.  This is my chinacarbon rim so I’m was not overly concerned about completely destroying it.  With only about 8 or 9 psi in it, the Ikon 2.35 did a great job in all the mud at that low pressure.  However, the descents on this course were very rocky and stuff would come up on you pretty fast and I banged the rim a bunch and came close to rolling the tire off.  I stopped two more times to use the hand pump and eventually made it to the end of the lap in about 15th.  I didn’t see my friend Luisa near the finish area, so I rode off course to my van, injected some sealant, and pumped it up pretty hard….like 30 psi.  I grabbed a cartridge (2 more were in feed bag with Luisa), and got back on course.  Just at the creek crossing after the start/finish, Luisa was there with my bag.  I grabbed a bottle and the 2 cartridges in my bag and proceeded to work my way back up through the field.  The course had dried out quite a bit and was much faster.  About 8 miles in I started passing single lap racers, but I was starting to feel my efforts.  I’m pretty sure I caught one of the guys that was in the teens, but he pulled away on one of the longer climbs.  Then the main descending started.  I was catching and passing people like crazy.  I felt super smooth and under control, floating and bunny hopping stuff while probably going too fast for my own good.  Just past the 10k to go sign, I pinched the rear.  I was running a brand new Ikon 2.2 on my Spank (tank) Subrosa rim which slammed a rock pretty hard.  The air and sealant hissed out in less than a couple of seconds.  I immediately went for my tube, inserted it, but couldn’t find the head to my inflater.  I tried the hand pump, but apparently, my tube was not good despite being sealed in Tyvek.  A rider being toted out on an ATV let me borrow his inflater head, but that only confirmed that the tube wouldn’t hold air.  So I ran and rode the last 8k or so to the finish on the flat tire.  I was still passing the single lap riders and I was actually able to stay with some guys in the long race as long as the climb was fairly smooth.  I ended up 20th.  I only had to do some minor truing to the rear wheel and my front wheel with the carbon rim was still perfect.

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Finishing on a flat.

Finishing on a flat.

The organizers where extremely welcoming and super cool.  Their entire family worked together doing everything.  They had a really great start finish area, plenty of fencing, good course markings, and feed zones every 5k.  The top 200 finishers in the 70km race got a long sleeve  jersey with pockets.  How they’re able to pull that off in Mexico is beyond me.  A Tarahumara won the overall and walked home with about $180 USD.  I heard no bitching or whining but I could tell the mud took it’s toll on people and they would have preferred it to be dry.  Trophies were given as well as big blocks of cheese.

GOING HOME

I was a bit concerned about getting home at a decent hour.  I didn’t want to be driving the crazy highways in the dark.  They don’t have much of a shoulder and some even have a gnarly concrete ditch maybe a foot outside the line.  We were a bit delayed in exiting the venue, but they moved some fencing and we went right under the finish banner to leave the venue.  The organizers wanted photos so we got out one last time and gathered for photos and a bit of q and a.  You could tell these guys were in their second year for this event and you could feel their enthusiasm.  They asked if I returned.  If things stay cool down there, I’ll definitely be back.

It was tough getting out with all the people trying to get in to have a picnic.

It was tough getting out with all the people trying to get in to have a picnic.

Fueled by a half liter Coke, a small ice cream cone, and all the fruits and veggies left in our cooler, we rolled into the military checkpoint south of the Salamayuca dunes about the time it started getting really dark.  The guy searching our vehicle asked where we had been and he said, “Ah.  Los montanas!”.  I told him it was awesome.  He smiled and sent us on our way.

The highway before Santa Theresa actually got better so driving in the dark wasn’t that nerve racking.  South of the last toll station, the road has an excellent shoulder.  The entire evening we were flanked on both sides by huge thunderstorms that were putting on quite the show for us.  Eventually we rolled into the border where the Mexican official processed the refund for our deposit and finally got through our customs person to head home.

EXTRA PICS

European made Ford Transit van.  No ground clearance, cool windows.

European made Ford Transit van. No ground clearance, cool windows.

Dude at car show throwing down burnouts in his ultra dope Plymouth (duster hatchback??)

Dude at car show throwing down burnouts in his ultra dope Plymouth (duster hatchback??)

Not much different than Colorado.

Not much different than Colorado.

Farm land.

Farm land.

God rays!!!

God rays!!!

This year I’ll be headed out on my 3rd AZT 300.  Not quite sure why other than I love those trails a whole bunch and I need a really good shake down ride before the Divide.  I also have a teammate hitting it for a rookie attempt.  So I figured I’d treat myself to a new toy or two and go rally some of the most awesome singletrack in the country.  Oracle Ridge definitely ranks in the top 10 of bikepacking trail gnar.  Lots of people crack in lots of really difficult sections on the AZT.  Mainly due to the high level of gnar.  I get lucky since I spend most of my time riding trail that difficult if not more.  So it’s not a big deal.  I’ve been riding a bit more this year than last….not really training, but I think I’ll got a bit faster if I can get good sleep from April 1 until the start.  I’m limiting the time on the sewing machine.  Customers will just have to wait.

I’ve been wanting to do some reviews and sneak peak some stuff to my readers, and now I have a little bit of time to do so.

I think I have the dyno dialed.  I wasn’t able to get any charge on my AyUp battery and I think that’s because I used an extension cable and it’s made for running the lights, not charging the batteries.  Tonight I removed the unit from Fargazmo, shortened a few wires, reversed polarity on the AyUp charging line, and mounted up pretty much everything to the Dirty Girl.  I’m way ahead of last year.

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Things are looking pretty clean.  I just added the quick link on the Camelbak mainly for the Fargazmo as the frame bag on it has a hose port.  This bag was one of my first  so I just run the hose out the zipper.

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The AyUps are mainly backup lights….or in case I find myself headed down Oracle Ridge in the dark.  I’ll run the Exposure on the helmet and charge it on the bar saving some room in the Titan tank.

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Oh.  That’s a new harness/stuff sack combo or some sorts that I’m going to be a bit coy about.  I’m going to give it a thorough testing on AZT before I decide what I want to do with it.  Basically it combines the harness panel with the stuff sack so it’s quite a bit lighter.  The straps run through some interesting hardware.  The stuff sack comes out easily leaving the straps on the bars.  I find this helps facilitate stuffing everything in and you can more easily use your stuff sack for a pillow/storage bag when you are sleeping.

I taped and zip tied the dyno wire to my fork since I thought I’d better run some sort of slack take-up system to keep the wire from getting caught in my tire.  I didn’t want the take-up system to pull the wire through the electrical tape and pull the wire off the hub.  Totally ghetto, but I think it will be perfect.  I’ll test it this weekend.  I put a grommet in the tank bag and have the main wire running out of there.  Pretty clean.

I also got a new fork!  A TS 6 Magura with through axle!  It rocks.  I can’t really tell that much difference in stiffness/lateral control….well…maybe there is a bit of a difference….but the thing is super plush.  I love it.  Very simple.  I thought it had about 120mm travel when I first rode it, but it’s only 100mm.  I should note that I purchased this fork through Magura Direct which is a form of sponsorship for grassroots riders and wannabe industry insiders like myself.

I may find the time to make a new pouch.

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This one is my second one ever made.  I don’t use those shitty so-called “waterproof” zippers anymore.  Total waste of money.  This one is super faded.  It faded so fast I almost refused to buy anymore red fabric.  People kept asking for red, I’d warn them, and they said they didn’t care.  So I ordered more.  I think my first order had really poor UV coatings or something.  This bag still works great, but not having the storm flapped zipper and the standard reflective tabs I include now sometimes confuses potential customers.  I had to add attachments at a wider point for this new harness system.  The attachments on the inside are for the Superfortress and Stealth harnesses.  I may be on to something here.  We’ll see.