Back in February I bucked up and decided I should really give the XWA another go. A 5 year anniversary of sorts. My first attempt at the XWA was the inaugural year back in 2017 https://wordpress.com/post/fernwehnw.com/354 This year’s attempt was basically an “off the couch” attempt with minimal training due to my late decision to race and limited options here at home due to high snow levels. All in all, I feel like I put down one of my biggest efforts on the bike. I reached all my daily goals in good spirits and also some stretch goals. My primary goal this year was to ride “solo”. Basically with no regular riding partner/teammate. You do run into some of the same folks along the route day to day in re-supply areas and camp spots and that is unavoidable. My second goal was to spend more time riding into the night if possible or getting an earlier start, basically just longer days. This is not always easy to do when you hit a campground right at nightfall and riding into the unknown is awkward because you may have to “stealth” camp somewhere not ideal. I’m not a fan of night riding solo for the obvious reasons. Bigfoot and the Boogieman of course. Once darkness hits the mind starts running and you hear things you’d rather not, like the bloodcurdling screaming call of a coyote 50′ from the trail you’re on that you have to ride up to and past. In 4 days I made it to my hometown of Cle Elum after two long night time pushes into the darkness. All of this while battling a really bad case of poison oak I picked up on a bikepacking trip the week before the start of the race. That was (and still is as of writing this) a huge drag, physically and mentally. I have it all over my legs, arms, chest etc. The rash turns into incredibly itchy boils that just seem to never stop itching. The treatments for the itching eventually angered my skin and even made some of it worse by tacking on other contact dermatitis type rashes from the Caladryl. I must have transferred oils from my boots around by handling them each day to my clothing. What a sick joke mother nature played on me. Well done, well done. I’m still proud I pushed through it each day with pretty strong motivation and good spirits. I learned a TON and will be back again….
The details of the XWA can be found in three main pages: http://crosswashington.weebly.com/logistics.html
I tend to do these types of blog posts just for a place to catalog all my gear notes and thoughts I’ve recorded along the way. Eventually to put together a better kit and experience the next time. I know people like to see exactly what people brought with them and why. I know I do 😉 I don’t really explain the actual route much. That part is up to you to discover when you line up next year 😉
I’ll start with my bike choice this year. All the frames I ride are handbuilt by myself. I’ve been building frames as an amateur for nearly 10 years now. I took the very first frame I built with Paul Brodie up in Canada in “Framebuilding 101” and reworked the frame last year to accept boost spacing and sliding dropouts. It was quite a project. https://www.instagram.com/p/CMWCp8pl3i8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link But it allowed me to keep that frame in use and dedicate it as a bikepacking bike I could leave alone vs becoming wall art. Basically it’s a steel hardtail with a carbon Whiskey #9 mountain boost fork. 29er 12 speed wheels, 26-51 12 speed gearing, tubeless with Maxxis 29×2.2 Ikons and SP PD8x thru-axle dynamo front hub. It was roughly 45-50 lbs depending on food. The goal with this build was to be more upright allowing me to keep pressure off of my hands and it did a pretty good job! I did get some slight nerve issue on my left hand but it’s very minor thankfully and was caused by a mis-adjusted grip I didn’t fix until day 3. Oops. Handle hot spots the minute the arise, trust me. I took a risk and used a “new” saddle too, a Selle San Anatomica. It was pretty amazing. It’s an old original generation “Titanico” version that my wife had on one of her bikes that we both liked. There were some creaks and leather stretching issues but all had fixes. I had almost zero chaffing and minimal “bruising”. I’ll be looking into a newer version that is better suited for my weight as you can buy them in 3 different weight ranges which is super cool. This saddle should be able to allow me to ditch the cycling padded/chamois shorts which I absolutely hate wearing. They always rub things in bad ways and really hard to find that perfect fit and always full of chamois cream and impossible to wash and dry along a race route. Seriously gross bacteria farms for your ass. As an alternative to traditional padded cycling shorts I keep hearing about “Triathlon shorts”. I’m going to investigate those as well.
I’m still on the fence about running a dynamo hub. It certainly worked but even on the XWA I felt like, at least on the first half, it had some limited use. It could certainly be useful for the second half so in the end is probably still worth it. You have to maintain a decent clip in order for it to truly work in real life. Yes it will start a trickle charge to a buffer or cache battery at 3-4mph but when you are doing those speeds you’re most likely pretty close to having to get off and push anyway and the USB charger likes to shut down and require a 10 second buffer time before it starts up again so it can be a lot of on/off. The hub has drag (not necessary noticeable on the bike but it’s there). You have a wire to manage and a charger unit that needs two different types of charger cables. It was fun having it. I at least knew for the most part I could always keep my Wahoo or Inreach topped off even if all other batteries were dead. That was pretty comforting to know. Part of me just wonders if it’s better to just carry an extra tiny 10mah battery along. They weigh about the same as the combined dynamo setup and produces probably the same amount of total power, and faster over a few days. It’s just one more device to charge when you get to a charging point but that is why you carry a USB charger that has multiple ports and you get a passthrough battery that can charge other devices while it is charging. I used a Zendure Mini 10,000mah battery. It didn’t’ really truly “pass through” charge while on the dynamo (which it was supposed to) but it did fine when on a wall charger. I could charge that and a phone or light off the same cord to the wall, so at least that was handy. I’m still new to Dynamo use so lots more to experiment with.
Below I’ll list what I had in each of my bags (with some swapping around here and there but pretty close each day):
Front Triangle bag: 6.72lbs *Not including daily random food
- Tool kit: Tube, tire lever, pad spacer, small Stans bottle, Wolftooth link pliers and extra 12s links, Stans Dart, backup DIY bacon tire plugger tool with roll of bacon strips, zipties, extra Wahoo mount and Inreach mount, Multitool, small razor knife, patch kit, sew kit for sidewall or frame bags etc, hand pump, lighter with duct tape, lube, extra tubeless valve, Brake pads (acquired in North Bend, mine were almost to the metal and they were brand new before the race), chain link section, extra cables, (cc taped to a tube just incase I lost my small wallet that was on me).
- Frame bag is my ancient Bike Bag Dude bag. The zipper finally failed on the 3rd day so I had to do some creative re-organizing of the stuff and just try to leave it alone. I need to have the zippers re-done and just keep it as backup. It’s pretty clapped out but was custom made for that frame so I used it anyway. It’s key to run these bags as loose as possible on the frame when loaded so you don’t strain the zippers. I did that but that bag is just SO old..it’s zipped out.
- Katadyn BeFree water filter. These things are great. Easy to use and super light. Water was never really an issue on the 1st half. But on the 2nd half it does become an issue as re-supply get’s longer and the water get’s harder to find. The stuff you do find is agricultural runoff or near cow farms. I had two bottle cages on my fork just for extra water storage for the east side. I keep using the downtube bottle cage for water and that is just a terrible idea. It get’s full of mud and horse shit or whatever…just don’t do it. Don’t risk drinking that water. Put a tool kit or something else there like stove or whatever..something you rarely intend to use…..just anything else but your drinking water.
- Ti pot with 1/3 full gas canister, coffee, Micro Snow peak Ti stove and 1/2 backpacker meal (total weight with coffee and bc meal was under a pound…). For the XWA I really think you can leave the stove at home provided you can wait for coffee etc. Re-supplies are frequent enough. Even small it did take up needed space. Probably should’ve moved it to the lower downtube, “turd catcher” spot haha
- Full tube of Chamois Butt’r and A&D ointment for butt. Probably could’ve scaled those back to smaller bottles. Not sure why I brought full bottles.
- Headlamp. I hate that BD headlamp. It’s probably the worst one BD ever made. I think next time I’d leave the headlamp home and get a 2nd Fenix BC26R to run on my helmet for night riding. I may or may not have ran some sections with just my headlamp on so I could see what was going on. Then you always have a backup light and backup battery. Night riding without a helmet light is not fun. Troy if you’re reading this we need you to fire up your 3D printer and make another low pro helmet mount for me 😉
- Wireless Bluetooth earbuds. These things were amazing. $35 off Amazon. I normally never ride with music but they gave me the pick-me-up that was needed for long climbs and creepy nights. I just wore one at a time, usually my right ear so I could still hear people or cars or screaming coyotes etc. They charge multiple times out of their own case and if you only use one you get double bang for your charge. Highly recommended. With that said, make sure you download your music from Spotify or whatever to offline use. I had a new phone with me and had forgot that step so only had about a dozen songs that I had to listen to over and over.
- Two cache battery packs. (1) 16,000mah Anker and (1) 10,000mah Zendure one. Primarily to keep my phone and Wahoo charged. I kept my phone in airplane mode but it still sucked power every day requiring full recharges. It’s important to stop and charge stuff off a fast type charger every time you can. Don’t pass up a chance to put another 20% into something when you’re eating. Don’t be bashful about asking if you can use a power outlet at a restaurant etc.
- Anker 2 USB charger. I’d suggest doing a 3 or more one though and bring a cable for each thing. Then you can plug in and not have to manage anything. Really nice for when you’re at a hotel. I think Troy H told me has a 5 USB port one.
- 2 Extra Fenix 5000mah 21700 batteries for my main Fenix BC26R light (3 total). These things are so cool. You can pre-charge them in the light, a wall charger or their own built in USB-C port built into the battery.
- 2 trimmed Safeway bags to use as vapor barriers if word was the the snow hiking was bad. But never needed them.
- Then random daily food and snacks. Lots of nut mixes with chocolate, gas station bars the occasional corndog or cheeseburger…
Front Roll/Sleep system: 6.62lbs including roll and harness
- Sleep kit: Nemo Hornet Elite 1Person (mostly free standing with groundcloth and rainfly). Really worked great and added “comfort” type thing of having a sit up shelter, but also not very “stealthy” if needed. One option was to just get it in minus the poles….Had never really thought of that. It would provide bug protection and rain protection without the tall profile. Maybe brace it off my bike’s handlebars to keep it off my head….will have to try that. Thanks Thomas for that idea.
- Thermarest NeoAir . Super light but small and VERY noisy. They are the crinkliest pads on earth lol. I think I’d ditch this for an ultralight 3/4 design since your feet hang off this regular size one anyway.
- Mountain Hardware Mtn Speed 32 deg 850 Q-shield down mummy bag. (I have a down quilt bag but didn’t want to chance bringing due to possible poison oak oils on it…..grrrrr.
- Entire Sleep kit comes in at 4.32 lbs for the tent, pad, bag in an Event Ultrasil compression bag. That is VERY light and compact. Hard to argue with. I’d still like to investigate using just a bivy instead for racing. By the time it’s time to sleep you can pretty much sleep in anything. Rain would be my deciding factor I guess. The simplicity of the bivy is handy though.
- Revelate harness and BBD front roll. I’d like to look into a lighter roll bag. The harness is OK but mounts kind of weird. Need to work out some bugs with that. It smashes into my bottle bags on the bars and holds the front roll all cooked if you only have one bottle up front. That was annoying.
Rear Revelate Seatbag: 4.5lbs
- Rain kit: Jacket, pants and overmitt shells. I wanted to make sure I could stay warm and dry in real cold rain.
- Skull cap for under helmet. That became my daily head covering, even when sleeping
- Extra warm fleece gloves. I usually started and ended each day wearing them
- MH down puffy and REI down vest. I only wore the puffy once but wore the down vest daily. I think I’d swap that out for a high end synthetic one since I liked to wear it while it was sprinkling and down becomes useless in wet. Synthetic stuff at least still retains some warmth when damp.
- Small compression bag with wool long sleeve shirt, extra socks and one extra pair of gloves
- TP, lots of TP. Oddly never needed it.
- UL emergency backpack incase of a bag failure or wanting to carry stuff short distances from stores to a camp or whatever.
- Bathroom kit: Toothbrush, toothpaste, Benadryl, Imodium, Ibuprofen, Claritin, contacts with case and solution, small pack of Cetaphil wipes
- Small Emergency kit with blood clotting gauze, pre-cut strips of KT tape and some Triple antibiotic packs.
Top tube bag/”Chaff bags”
- BBD top tube bag: I normally kept my phone in this bag. I also had a mask, chapstick and SPF50 bottle in there.
- Chaff Bags (Feed bag, bottle bag) normally had one bottle of water on one side and the other side fought for space with my Inreach, cache battery, cables, snacks etc. This is one area where I need to do some re-work. There is no need to fuss with electronics like I did. The Inreach should’ve been mounted on my bars or top of my front roll. Phone could stay in the top tube bag and only food/snacks in the other bag. With only one water bottle in the bags my front roll always sat crooked. That was pretty annoying. I need to look at a way to rework the front end/bar stuff so it all has it’s it’s own exacting home each day. Not fussing around with it. The whole time you have to keep rain in mind. What can get wet and what needs to remain dry.
- Inreach Explorer Satellite unit. This was my tracking unit used for Trackleaders. It’s also a Satellite device so I can send messages even when out of data/cell range. Super cool tool. I kept it tethered my bars so you can’t lose it.
- Wahoo Bolt V2 GPS unit. This is what I used to follow the route. The route was loaded from RidewithGPS. I had the main route and also the alternates loaded. Overall it’s the nicest GPS unit I’ve ever used. A lot of my fussing with it was just because it was new to me and I had to learn how to use it while racing. I need to get a new mount that allows the unit to be charged while riding though. It had some great features that were new to me like Turn by turn directions with alerts (lifesaver), custom loadable alerts you can set to send out as reminders to eat or stretch or whatever at any interval you choose, graphing of road/trail grades, temperature, altitude etc. This was a high tech unit for me. Lots more to learn about it and little bugs to figure out. Overall a nice device. Some tips with the Wahoo I learned were to turn off Auto Re-Route and Auto Pause. Those were pretty much useless. Also expect the GPS to cut out in the Olympics….a lot. Keep track of your battery level by viewing it in the “load route” screen before it dies on you while riding. I also kept mine tethered to my bars with their tether kit they sell for it.
- Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra for phone. I was able to have a backup route loaded into the RidewithGPS app on the phone to use as a backup if the Wahoo failed. I kept the phone is airplane mode all day and only turned on when I took a break somewhere. Also had Google maps, Gaia and some other apps loaded for offline use to use in a pinch for off route navigation if needed.
- Lighting: Fenix BC26R. Super cool light that takes 5000mah 21700 batteries that you can pre-charge in advance. At 200 lumen setting it last many hours….days of light actually. I’d run a second one on my helmet and share batteries and use as a backup. Leave the headlamp I hate at home. I think I may give that headlamp and my poison oak soaked boots a proper Viking funeral some day.
Some thoughts and ideas that came up during the race that I’ll log here as I think of them:
- There are lots of strategies that come up when racing-vs-touring the XWA. The big one seems to be sleep. Do you ride from hotel to hotel and get a refreshing nights sleep, charge batteries and dry stuff out, eat real food and get up super early and leave before anyone else is riding or just ride as far as possible each day and worry about where you’re going to bivy or set up a tent? Hotels seem to be the norm with almost every racer at least a few times in the race. You really need that time to do a full battery charge on stuff, escape the rain and just reset your brain. I saw that a lot of people did a mix of both. It really just depends on where you end up or WANT to end up each day. Hard call. Hotels are also expensive. Plan on spending $5-600 on hotels if you wanted one every other day on a week long trip, which is the average finishing time. 7 days is seven 100 mile days. 100 miles every day for 7 days is no easy accomplishment either. *warmshowers.org was a cool idea I saw if you want to try and get the benefit of a hotel but save the money. And it’s open to everyone so it’s legal. Also keep in mind the 2nd half of the ride is near Memorial Day weekend and many if, not most hotels are fully booked so be prepared to camp if needed.
- Ride time. It sure seemed to me that the ideal time to be on your bike was 4:30-5am to 10pm. That way you maximize daylight, and also that quiet time where there are less cars. It’s pretty important to get at least 4-6hrs of sleep each day if you can. Less than that and it starts adding up on your body pretty fast if you’re not accustomed to it. I think I’d be more likely to night ride on the east side….way less Chupacabra and Boogiemen out there hiding in the woods.
- Bike choice. I mentioned mine above but it still looked like the best bike for this route is some type of modern high volume gravel/allroad type dropbar bike and some type of aerobar setup to give your hands a break. I used the allroad bike the first year that I built https://www.flickr.com/photos/109733516@N07/albums/72157667350164585 and was one of three that year to try the XWA on dropbars. It was doable. I’d make some fit changes to a new version and trying again on a lighter bike is not out of the question. (my allroad bike as is was 9lbs lighter than the bike I brought). That is a LOT of weight. My fully loaded bike was rolling around 50lbs with some snacks (water weight not included). A bike in the sub 40 lbs category fully loaded would be ideal. 10lbs is a LOT, especially if you can still carry the things you need with no compromise. Don’t get hung up on weight. Bring what you need. It’s better to have it and not need it but still be careful of overpacking. You’ll figure that out soon enough in the race.
- It’s cool to see that Port Angeles and beyond is now the Day 1 norm. That was not the case the 1st year. We had to climb up and over NF-29 in snow and it took so long.
- I tried to be careful with not carrying too much food but of course I still did. It’s important to plan out your food needs. You can just carry what you need plus a little extra in case of emergency…not a LOT extra like most of us did. Food re-supply is always around the corner and no more than a day away each day.
- Even if you use a lot of your kit in normal trips and familiar with most stuff it’s super important to try and do an overnight or even just training rides with a full kit. You’ll learn so much so fast and will be less likely to have to futz with your gear the first few days. A “shakedown” ride/trip is key. Make time to do that if you can. All of these little comments I made above on certain things could be cleared up or avoided. Every little technical difficulty adds up…..don’t discount that. Start the race in the best possible position you can.
- Goals. My main goals were to ride solo as much as possible, ride more at night or get moving earlier, have fun and take pictures. Just have fun as much as possible while putting in the biggest day I can. I think I did most of that pretty well. *I do think riding solo, unless you are REALLY experienced at that or prefer that does kinda wear on you. There is some comfort in racing with a buddy who’s on the same page as you. You can both push and motivate/encourage each other to keep going when you might want to just stop early because it’s dark and the boogieman is out. The days feel very long solo. I’m somewhere in the middle of the road on the solo-vs-buddy debate.
- TRAIN. I did not train much leading up to this event. No excuses really (but snow did make it hard, wah…I know). There were things that would’ve benefited me like riding standing up. You have to build the muscles in order to do that for very long. My knees hurt and muscles for standing weren’t that strong it seemed. This is key for saving your butt. Standing gives your butt a break. Set training goals early and start in the winter at the minimum. Slowly work your way up in mileage and load. Stretch and strengthen your Achilles Tendon and calves etc. Achilles Tendonitis has taken out many an XWA’r. This year somehow I got lucky….
- Research the route. Sit down and look at where most folks stop for the night. You can do that on Trackleaders by clicking on a racer and looking at their “Full History”. You can also see where they went fast or slow. A lot of local racers go out and pre-ride some sections like the urban section for training. I can think of a few spots where that would’ve come in handy.
- Separate from my Poison Oak debacle I did get a small case of some type of “trench foot” I think on top of the front of my ankles (where the tongue of the shoes would be and off to the sides a bit. Primarily where the Velcro part of my Shimano MW5’s close up. I think that area just had prolonged exposure to wet wood that created a friction spot and it eventually broke the skin. Now it’s just a red, dry scaly spot of both feet. It’s not noticeable or itchy or anything thankfully. It’s pretty much impossible to keep all your foot gear totally dry. Day after day you have to put your feet into wet shoes even if you have a dry pair of socks. I had Liner socks with me that I never used. Maybe that would’ve been a good idea to wear them….I was just afraid of too much bulk and getting too hot. Or maybe a cream on that area to reduce any rubbing. More frequent cleaning would’ve helped too.
- If the route goes past your house, make SURE you do NOT accidentally end up in your home town at 1am, swollen, tired, hungry with wet gear and near dead batteries haha. In my defense, my wife and I have a rule that if I have to scratch from something I can’t do it at night. I need to sleep on it and re-evaluate with a clear mind the next day. I tried to do that by getting a hotel but in my tiny town the lobbies are locked and lights off at 1am, especially nearing a super busy holiday weekend. The lure of my own bed, shower and seeing my wife and dogs won. That’s OK. Next time I’ll know to only pass through my area mid day or make sure I’m rested before nearing home. Better planning would’ve solved that issue. I’ll do better next time.
- A topic that comes up every year is numbness and Ulnar Neuropathy in hands from long distance efforts. I’ve had it bad over the years and was mostly a result of too much weight on my hands. This year I went with a super upright “flat bar” type setup with ergonomic bars and grips you can see in the pictures. I had a very mild case of numbness in my left pinkie and ring finger that came on two days after I stopped. Thankfully it’s mild. I’ve had bad cases that took a year to fully heal (your Ulnar nerve only regenerates at 1mm a day I guess so depending on how bad you treated it, it can take a long time to heal. Some people never fully heal. I ignored a “hot spot” in my left palm that was due to improper grip angle and rode a few days complaining about until the 3rd evening when I fixed it but I think it was too late. Fix hot spots the SECOND they appear. In hands they turn to nerve damage. In feet they can turn into ride ending blisters etc.
- This leads me to thinking about how I’d set up a 2nd generation “all road” bike for another go at this. I’d switch from 650b+ to 29x50mm or so. I’d design my frame to be more upright in the front end (much taller headtube) while maintaining the geometry I need. I’d consider a Redshift stem, aero bars and copious amounts of thick Wolf Tooth bar tape. Maybe even a “gravel bike suspension fork”. All in all I think it’s an issue here pressure, weight and time on the nerve is just gonna get you either way. However you choose to solve this issue it takes being very conscious of your hands, all day long, every day. You need to switch up your hand placement often. Most importantly not just switching from one weighted position to another. You have to completely remove the weight from the hands. *I’m thinking some people’s hand anatomy is just more subject to this type of injury than others, within reason? From a comment from Troy; “From a bike fit perspective, you should be able to ride in your normal position and then let go of the handlebars without changing your position. If this is not possible then your bars may be too low and you are putting too much weight on your hands. (Core strengthening could also help here)”
Closing thoughts: Getting a finish in the XWA may take a few more tries. No doubt. Looking at the average age of competitors though is eye opening. There were so many men and women on course in their late 50’s, with the average age seeming to be mid 40s. Crazy. It takes years to build the grit for this stuff I think. Actually I know it does. I slowly get a little more each year. It’s hard. Very hard to push through these huge days day after day but it’s extremely rewarding and quite a rush when you get to stop for the day. Big thanks to Troy Hopwood for designing and building out this route and the mountain of management he still takes on each year to keep it all moving smoothly. Thanks to my awesome and always supportive wife for not thinking I’m totally crazy when I say this is fun and for always taking time out of her schedule to help support these things.