The Optimist’s Stagecoach 400: Journey Back to the Man I Left behind Chronicles

Well, let’s see here. How should I begin this? It’s been a little while since I attempted the Stagecoach 400. I have read many stories of both completion and defeat concerning this event. The most common thing I’ve noticed was, “It’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!” I have successfully road several parts of this course but never all at once. I must concur with the masses that this is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

The itch all started with Ride the Divide documentary (Which I highly recommend for those who are a thrill seeking adventure…or even for someone who know one of those nuts!). After watching it I decided that I wanted to do something like that. I began digging deeper into the roots of the documentary and found that just a short drive up the hill was a bike shop that specifically specialized in these grassroots type of rides…Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild, CA. Further yet, I met the amazing owners, Brendan and Mary Collier. Fancy that! Mary just happened to be one of the mighty individuals in Ride the Divide. With a big, fat cherry on top, Brendan spear-headed the route that has become known as the legendary Stagecoach 400.

Being a native rider here in Southern California, there is a lot of hubbub within the mountain biking community about the Stagecoach 400 and living fairly close to the rally point, it has quickly become a true bucket list worthy item I have for myself. For those of you that don’t know what this ride entails, it’s a fully self-supported mountain bike journey across 400 plus miles of Southern California’s majestic back country, both starting and finishing in the same location.

Count me in! However, I am an exception to the popular belief that bike riders are super fit heroes. While I’d like to think that I’m superhero material, reality…and gravity and the laws of physics…think otherwise. In my beefy condition, I knew there was no way I was ready to do this type of event. I could barely do a 30 mile epic let alone 400 mile multiday, ultra-endurance event. So I began training by riding longer distances and going out on some overnight adventures for the practice and to get the gear dialed in. Finally, after 3 years I thought it was time to give it go.

My first attempt for the Stagecoach 400 was in March 2015. I thought I was in better shape than I have ever been in since my days of the military and mandatory PT. However, due to true inexperience at this level, the record high heat of the barren Borrego desert, I only made it 112 miles and had to bow out before I stroked out. I must toot my horn that those 112 miles were earned! While I was completely heartbroken and ego-deflated it was still quite an accomplishment for me. However, I was pretty hard on myself and I knew I had to do more training, changing up the distant, the terrain, and various climates.

With all my training under my belt, I was sure 2016 was going to be my year. I was super stoked that it was going to be much cooler temps and the route changed direction. Awesome! It’s all falling into place and going my way. Then, life happened, family stuff came up and I caught the flu and was down and out, sick for 3 weeks. With a few weeks before the start date I was on the mend and feeling pretty strong. Again, in my mind, I’m a superhero and I’m not going to let the plague of 2016 stop me from going for it! I packed in as many training sessions I could before the date and was feeling good.

The day prior to the start date I was busy getting my bike and gear ready. Then, I had the decision of whether to use my bivy or my tent for sleep shelter. I opted to take the bivy because it was lighter and less bulky. Little did I know that I would be riding straight into El Nino himself out on the trails. With my bike ready and my gear packed I headed up the hill for a rider meeting and a special dinner from the charity our fundraising efforts supported.

I was feeling pretty content and confident upon arriving at the shop to meet and chat up with the other riders. It was nice pasta dinner follow up with Brendan reviewing the course and notify us of route changes due some road construction. Then back down the hill to catch some shut eye before go time.

Of course, as luck has it, I’m up 2 hours before the alarm is set to go off and didn’t get to log much sleep. It always seems to be the case on my days off or when I desperately need the sleep. I got up and enjoyed a nice, long, hot shower thinking I might not get one in awhile. I loaded up my bike and was out the door back up the hill the big sendoff. And quite the sendoff it was. We did a neutral cruise at the start point where the kids at the school who we raised the money for lined the street to clap and cheer us on, complete with hand slaps as we rode by.

Caught up in the excitement, I noticed I didn’t turn on my GPS. So I had to stop to cue up the course and any lead I might have had was gone. Pedal as I might, I was at the tail end of the pack. Before I could get to the top May Valley, I was alone. One good thing (for me) about this type of event is that somebody always has technical problem or gets turned around. Another good thing is that this is my back yard and I’m familiar with the route. So before long I was back in the land of the living and was able to pass several people and I was beginning to feel more confident. On my way to Little Thomas Mountain, I made quick stop to fill up my water bottles and continue on my way.

Quickly, I am reminded about the laws of physics. I’m a solid 280 and regardless of my will, power and fuel, gravity rears its ugly head and any lead I had was squashed, leaving me alone again. But what goes up must come down and with gravity now on my side, I caught up to some people and passed them going down to Bautista. I almost caught to more people I could see on the horizon but it was a false hill, if there is such a thing, and slowed down.

I made it to the 371 and decided to stop at Dairy Queen to pick up a couple of burgers; one for now and another for later. After enjoying a bite to eat, I made my way up the road to Sunshine Market for my last fill up spot before Warner Springs. While on my way I saw several bikes parked along the way at various stores and restaurants which meant more good news for me; I wasn’t last!

About this time, its mid-afternoon and the weather looked like it was getting a little angry. On Bailey Road and about half way up the hill I began to feel some sprinkles. So I took off my pack and put the rain cover on and donned my rain jacket. And it didn’t take much time before the rain started to fall so I pulled over again and this time out came the rain pants. I kept thinking this is Southern California, the rain will pass momentarily; however, it didn’t. If I were to stop, I would lose progress and this was my year. Besides, heat is my kryptonite, not the cold, so I pushed on.

It seemed like an eternity pedaling in the rain, the sun had set and darkness was fast approaching. The wind picked up and raindrops began to feel like some medieval torture. My gloves were soaked and my fingers were becoming numb. I would go up one hill then down it and onto the next until it was just too slippery and then the walking began. I had plastic covers over my socks and under my shoes but somehow, my feet were either crying or the bags were not serving their purpose.

Dark, cold, and wet, I was slogging my way up the hill and saw a truck driving around. Of course, in the dark, especially in the situation I found myself in this evening, I had every horror flick flash through my mind. Who was this person driving this mystery truck in the middle of nowhere, at night, in the midst of a torrential downpour? Finally, at the top of the hill there was a water tower and low and behold, the Truck! An instant lump in my throat and without any notice, a guy pops out of the darkness and approaches me, asking if I’ve seen anyone named Carrie Hammond? He was her brother and was looking for her whereabouts. I clarified if she was a rider. She was. I recognized the name and was pretty sure she was mid pack and was already at Lake Henshaw or farther.

After my heart settled back into my chest, I got back on the bike started riding again. Being dark, I didn’t realize the steepness of the hill picking up speed. I was going pretty good when my wheels slid and I lost control, launching myself over the bars and hit my head on some nice rocks. Stunned for a second, I heard Carrie Hammond  brother holler out if I was alright so apparently I wasn’t moving at quite the distance I had initially thought. He must have seen my light flipping around in the darkness and deducted that I wasn’t riding anymore. I hollered back that I was fine. I grabbed my light and made sure everything was intact. I picked up my bike and proceed to walk. I knew that as I was moving that my crash had to be pretty intense because my head hurt where I knocked it, my knee throbbing and my ribs began to hurt.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it Lake Henshaw in this condition so I looked at my GPS to determine my location to see where Indian Flats Campground was. It was a doable distance so I pushed on.

First stop was the bathroom and to my surprise there were people in there sleeping. I went around looking an open campsite I could sneak into & crash. As luck had it, I found one. I was miserable; wet, muddy, cold and numb. I couldn’t feel my hands and I was shaking my so hard my teeth were chattering. I set up my sleeping kit and went into my bags to switch out into something dry and almost everything was soaked. I found the driest thing I could did a quick change put on my 150 gram Ice Breaker shirt and my Ice Breaker socks along with my puffy jacket, slipped into my bivy and into my bag. It seemed like two hours before I warmed up and by this time the rain had stopped. When daylight came, the campground turned into Grand Central Station. People were coming and going and I thought for sure the Ranger would come find me squatting in this campsite but I didn’t care.

After lying there, contemplating getting up, I finally made my move. I packed up and made my way to Warner Springs. I didn’t see any other riders until I got the Hideout when I saw a few people make their way to the trail. At that point I had to make a decision to go to Lake Henshaw RV Park for a nice, hot meal or proceed on the trail. I wanted a hot meal, so off to the RV Park I pushed on. The ride there took much longer than I expected. I saw more people from the ride going towards the trail. It was a small burst of encouragement that I wasn’t beyond dead last. I finally made it to the Lake Henshaw restaurant. Still in pain with every pedal stoke I took. I laid my bike up against the building and climbed those steep stairs that led to my hot meal. I ordered the best of both worlds; a hot chocolate and a cold soda. The restaurant wasn’t as warm as imagined it would be but it was nice to get the hot chocolate in my belly. I ordered an omelet and called my wife. I asked her to look at Trackleaders to see where everybody was at. She said the others didn’t look far off and I know that I had seen a few riders but she was worried about me. I was worried too. The condition I was in, being banged up, cold, wet and miserable as I was, I didn’t think I could go on. So I decided it was in my best interest to call it. My wife asked several times if I was sure. She knew that I could be extremely hard on myself and beat myself up for not going on but she heard it in my voice and I knew I hit my limit. I messaged Brendan and Mary I was calling it.

I waited about hour and half for my wife to come and get me. It’s was one of those meeting where you see someone and are just filled with emotions. I took apart my mud-caked bike and put it in the cab of the truck. She was nice enough to bring me a dry change of clothes but unfortunately forgot dry shoes or dry socks so I would continue to squish when I walked. But I had dry clothes and was homeward bound.

The moral of this story is that I learned I need to make my gear absolutely water tight, bring some tights to keep me warmer, better rain gear and if there is any chance of rain…any…bring a tent. The most important lesson is I need to get a lot faster. My fitness was there but my speed is very slow. So now I have new goal; get faster, lose some more weight and get some better gear. Outside of that, I would just like to be in the middle of the pack. At least, there is a little more human contact or at least more interaction with those that are participating in the same event. Most of the ride, I was alone which wasn’t bad but it would have been nice to converse with somebody along the way.

I will not be discouraged and I won’t be detoured. I will take my lessons like a man and do what it takes to try…and succeed…next time. Hope to see some of you on the trail. Keep the rubber side down!

Categories: Journey Back to the man I left behind Chronicles, Mountain Biking, Random Ramblings | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

6 days until Stagecoach 400 Start

Well I did my last big ride yesterday 41 miles with about 4800ft of climbing. The weather looks like its going rain during the stagecoach 400. So that means a change of gear I am bringing. So rain jacket is must and rain pants. I will be bringing tent instead of a bivy. Several people have ITT the new stagecoach 400 route now with fast times. One also did it and scratched. Getting a little antsy. So today i am work tonight I will do a little foam rolling. Tomorrow do after work road ride if rain stops if not trainer. Tuesday last shakedown ride of the gear and bike I will be riding. I will trying to get at least 8hrs of sleep a night. Rest thursday and go to prerace meeting and eat with the charity we rised money for and go to bed. Friday morning drive up Idyllwild, ca from my house. just a quick 30 minute drive. unload meet at the starting line. easy right. maybe for some. anyway here is the tracker if you want to watch on my journey.



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Went on some Training rides

Feeling much better now went on some training rides near my house. Almost back to normal. Stagecoach 400 is 11 days and wake up. I am going to do the best I can. Anyway here is the tracker link.

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cold , sick, not much training for Stagecoach 400 2016

Well I have been getting ready to do stagecoach 400 but I have been sick and its been some bad weather. Hope I am ready enough for the stagecoach. I am bettter prepared and have more knowledge and I am riding a different bike.

Categories: Mountain Biking | 2 Comments

Getting hot around here

its been getting hot around here. It been in low 90’s and over a 100 someday s. It makes it hard to go out and ride. It my long week of work this week. It still hot out after work and I don’t do well in the heat but I don’t do well in cold either due my aliments. I am suppose to go on another bikepacking trip this Friday with some buddy’s. But it looks like life is going to get in the way. I have some pool stuff to take of and the only time I have to do is the day of the trip. So I was think I might ride up later to meet up with them. But the other problem is I have something to the next day so I would have to get up early blaze home so I can get to the other thing.

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My First Solo, Overnight, Bikepacking Trip Ride Report

A few weeks ago I was suppose to go out with a few buddies for an overnighter S24O (sub 24 hour overnight) bikepacking trip but the rainy weather mucked it up and we had to cancel it. We postponed until the following Friday and as luck would have it, my honey do’s/ errands ran into overtime and I had to forfeit. Of course, being the die-hard friend I am, the itch was still there so I started looking around and came across Topanga Canyon Bicycle shop. On top of selling the bikes and equipment for bikepacking, they do a lot of cool bike rides and bikepacking stuff. I was checking out there site found a cool patch they sell, Unpredict Your Journey. They also go out on Wednesdays for for some bikepacking, Unpredict Your Wednesday, and with shop folk and patrons alike on an impromptu bikepacking adventure somewhere. I thought that was awesome and it inspired to do get me some of those patches to put on my frame bag and Unpredict My Wednesday!

Of course, after Googling Topanga Canyon, it was only a short 113 miles away and it wouldn’t be that feasible to trek over that way and be on time for the meetup, especially in Southern California traffic on a weekday. But I had Wednesday off and the afternoon was free from any chores or honey-dos, so I decided to go ahead and Unpredict My Wednesday.

After lunchtime, I packed up my gear, turned on my mp3 player and I was out the door to my intended destination, Idyllwild. I’ve rode the area several times and know of many camping areas but I left home without a plan other than to ride. I figured that being middle of the week, yellow post sites at Black Mountain or Thomas Mountain would be an easy catch so I figured that would be an amazing place to journey to. Starting with a surface ride of about 10 miles before the control road up the mountain, the weather was mild but starting to heat up. As the temperature slowly began to increase, my core began to increase and I started to think, ‘what the heck am doing?’ I never start a ride so late in the day because of this very reason and I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. But being the bull-headed man my wife claims that I am, there was no turning back for a Barnett.

I begin my incline on the control road and knew it was going to be about a six mile climb to get into Idyllwild. My first 10 road miles were hot, so no telling how much warmer to mountain miles were going to heat up. I stopped a few times in shade rested every once in while an encouraging breeze would blow by. Finally, I came around a familiar corner and knew that it was about three miles to town. To keep my mind occupied on anything other than the heat, I switched my GPS to map mode to display the newly installed California Trail Map. I was getting an education in what the actual trail names were, which was interesting. As I stopped for another break and to eat something somewhere around Alvin Meadows area and decided to check the time. I figured I was moving at a good speed but damn, was I ever so wrong. It was five o’clock and it had already taken me five hours to get where I was and I knew I still had a ways to go and I was getting tired. I thought I would even stop by the Hub bike shop in town and say hello to Brendan and Mary, but that wasn’t going to happen now. Downing the last bottle of Tailwind, I finally made it into town.

First stop was the ranger station in hopes they had fire permits outside. As my luck has it, they too were off on Wednesdays! So I made my way back down to the local gas station to get restocked. I filled my water bottles and drank a Rockstar hydration drink, ate a Lara Bar and my tried and true pepperoni stick. As I was sitting there it eating my Lara Bar, circling around defeat and pride, an interesting, almost transient looking older lady was walking my way with a curious look on her face. When she got close enough to realize her err, said stated that she thought I was John Candy, the larger-than-life comedian. It couldn’t have been the likes of Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum but an overweight, middle-aged dead man. However, thinking back, maybe she was being cordial and told me to enjoy my candy bar. But at the time, it was kicking me while I was down.

Daylight was burning fast and sunset was just within arm’s reach. I was not going to make to Black Mountain unless I rode in the dark and I wasn’t up for that because I was beat. The sun had baked me and I was feeling a bit delirious. So I decided to see if I could make to Thomas Mountain. I began to make my way to May Valley. I’ve rode it so many time in the past and it was never as steep as it was in this moment. Then, it dawned on me, all the other times I’ve made this journey to May Valley, I drove my trusty car and parked in town so I was fresh and eager. That climb to May Valley was a bear and took me a lot longer than normal. By the time I got to the top of the climb, it was around 7 PM and less than an hour of light. Since things hadn’t swayed too much in my favor thus far, I decided I would forgo Thomas Mountain and hit the Apple Canyon yellow posts.

As I roll into the area, I notice the first spot is occupied and pushed forward to the next site. Alas! First things first, find a spot that is level to setup my tent and pull out sleep bag to let it fluff up. Dinnertime! I pulled my Mountain House beef stew and started to heat up two cups of water. I cracked open the Pepsi I got from the gas station earlier and munched on another Lara bar while waiting for my water to boil and thought of John Candy and laughed. I went to add my water to my freeze dried packet of food and nearly forgot to pull out that little packet that keeps the food safe but oddly will poison you if you eat it. I poured the water into bag and let if sit for 10 minutes. It was long 10 minutes and accommodations weren’t very cozy but at least the food was warm and filling.

It was time to call it a day. I brought out my luxury item, my Big Agnes sleep pad. Once it was inflated, I situated my fluffed up sleeping bag on top. I made one last sweep at camp and locked up my Precious to the picnic table, positioned in her highest gears. The coast was clear, so last pee of the day and out of nowhere, some guy driving by with his trailer in tow shining his bright headlights on me, yells out the his window, “Howdy Camper!”. Lucky I was only doing number one otherwise, a whole other story would have ensued.

Normally, I’m out like a light and sleep like a rock but this journey have been totally unpredicted and I seemed to revert back to a scared little nine year old. I lay there, wide awake and hear every snapping twig, blowing branch and singing cricket when suddenly, a loud screeching moan. Like a wounded deer or maybe a moose in heat. It finally either succumbed to its injuries or reached completion and then it was the cows’ turn. Once I was able to get out of my head, I drifted off to sleep only to be awoken by the sound of alien space craft right out my door. All those movies I’ve watched truly were real! Laying there like a scared little schoolgirl, I finally found my balls to look outside. Of course, I must be armed. I grab my all around tool-knife and zip open my door, toss the flap back and peered out ready for combat, all in one fell swoop. Nothing! No alien space craft. No bulbous type figure with a glowing fingertip. Just darkness. My mind was really baked from the days ride and once I convinced myself, there were no extra-terrestrials out for me, I secured my tent, put away my weapon and relaxed back into sleep.

I had been sleep for a while now when again, out of nowhere comes this bright spot light gleaming into my tent. My first thought is the Howdy Camper dude messing with me. I’ve had enough of this crap for one night and this poor idiot is going to get the short end of the stick once my fuse is blown. A little sketched out and more pissed off that my mind is alive with imagination for the very first time, I have this image of Deliverance and banjos begin to play loudly in my head. I pull out my trusty weapon and make note that maybe I should invent a small, lightweight weapon that is bike pack worthy and have this very image as my marketing scheme. Again, I zip open the tent, throw the door open, and appear ready to pounce. This time, there was something there. A big, bright, full moon casting its light over me and my crazy, tired, sunbaked ass. I decided I would go pee while all the excitement has gotten the best of me. Barefoot and walking to the bush, I get a cramp. So here I am, half naked, freaked out from all the screaming wildlife, alien activity and camper pranks, hopping around trying to clench my noodle so I don’t pee myself and work out the cramp. This is most definitely Unpredict Your Wednesday!

For whatever was left of the sleeping hours, I was finally able to embrace them with no further interruptions. As 5:30 AM rolls around, I woke up and couldn’t get my stuff packed quick enough. It was time to go home and home was still 35 miles away. It was a beautiful morning to be pedaling out on the open road, watching a few cars buzz by and think that poor guy is probably on his way to work while I’m soaking in the pure serenity of nature. I decided to go home by way of Jim Truck Trail. While it was a few extra miles, it was less climbing and remembering the previous day I had, I opted not to climb quite as much. On my way, I passed by a few locals walking and exchange greetings. It’s refreshing how spirits can be lifted by simply enjoying the outdoors with the simplest of means. Once I reached the peak of Jim Truck Trail, I snapped a few pictures and texted my wife.

It was time to hit some nice downhill single track.

I got home around lunchtime to be greeted by my greatest fans, the boys. I was able unload my gear, upload my ride to Strava, shower, jump into some clean clothes and relax. My recliner had missed me because she didn’t let me leave her warm embrace until dinnertime. Reminiscing over the crazy 24 hours I just had was intriguing. It was exciting, challenging, terrifying, mostly fun and definitely unpredicted!

Categories: Mountain Biking | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stagecoach 400 Dreams

Well I have been wanting to do this for awhile now. I was going to do this this year and I decided not too since I had been sick. But a few my friends talked me into. so I have been trying to train for it the best I can. I have been getting my bike ready too at the same time. I have most the gear only one more piece to finish it off and few more piece for my bike. I have done a least 1/3 of the route in last couple years and road most the areas. So I kind of have idea what I am getting into. I  have month and five days until I go on this insane event. Getting a little worried about it though. Its alot miles. I hope I have the mental ability to complete it in the the 5 days and not have to get DNF. Short work week this week so I am going to do some back to back long rides.

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Julian Death March October 25th 2014

Hello all I have signed up for the Julian Death March mountain bike race. Its going to be tough there is 2 races 50 mile 6800 feet of climbing and a 62 one with alot more climbing. I have been training for this for the last 6 weeks and I still have about 10 more weeks to go. I was very optimistic doing this. Now I’m not sure. At first I was I can do this. Now after my training and doing my first big mountain bike training ride. I hope I can just make the cut off times and finish in the allotted time. So here is how it has been going I have been doing a training plan that I purchased for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I have used it before in preparation for a 12 hour race series I did. It worked out good. But this time around I have been following much more closely and taking it more seriously.  It seems like I’m getting worse but that could be that I’m riding more and weight training. But when I look at my rides I’m improving. Just not like I thought I was. but its good anyway. It also could be the riders I ride with. I have been in the back of the pack on most group rides. But I thought I would start to catch up. They just keep getting fast as I do. I’m waiting for them to get  level out. Ok 10 weeks till the big race. Alright Let me tell about my big ride yesterday. It started out at zero dark thirty.  I rode to my friend leonards house and I got there about 5am. We were done 6 1/2 hrs later only doing 44 miles with 3400 ft of climbing. I need to do double that in climbing and go 6 more miles. In the same amount of time or faster. I’m pretty sure I can do the 6 more miles not so sure about another 3400ft of climbing. At least I know where I’m at now. Last day of training this week. 2hrs of zone 2 training after I go to work for 12hrs. Not fun but I got to get my riding in. Tomorrow a day off from riding. But I still have strength training( squats, bench, bent rows). During the first 3 weeks I would ride on my day off. Now I don’t even think about riding. I look forward to not riding. Days off are good! Well until next time. Maybe in few days. I keep forgetting i’m doing this.

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5 bite diet day 17

Well I’m down to 266 lbs today. Half the weight I gained off from when I fell off the wagon. Last night I did the Stronger Iron workout for the first time. It was easy and hard at the same time some stuff I could do and other stuff I had to do the modified moves. I  also went on 1.5 mile walk on my lunch break. After the Iron workout I did day 9 of the 30 day Ab challenge. I don’t know if it was hard because of the Iron workout or if its just getting tougher. But I almost didn’t complete it. Today is Friday for me. I got three days off. Today is big workout day. I will doing a walk at lunch. After work its Stronglift 5X5 weight training after that Stronger workout and after that I will be doing Fabulous Flat Abs workout for the 30 day Ab challenge workout. Last week when I did the Fabulous Flat Abs workout it kind of kick my butt. Hopefully today its easier. So tomorrow I’m going to try to get a mountain bike ride in. Its been a week since I have been a bike. I’m doing all this other workouts for two reasons 1. lose the extra pounds. 2. So I can ride fast on my bike. I wonder if anybody reads what I’m writing here?

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Day 9 5 bite diet

Wow this tough. I had relapse this weekend. Went to Hawaiian festival. Couldn’t resist and it was just down hill from there. But I got back on track Monday. But for some reason I gained 10 lbs with just two day of not doing this. Weird! Anyway last week I also started Stronglift 5×5 weight training and livestrong 30 day ab challenge. Yesterday I started Livestrong stronger workout program. I will see how it goes. I did go on a 33 mile mountain bike ride with 7000ft of climbing. It took me 7hrs to do.

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