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In The Palo Duro Canyon

November 18, 2009

Every SRAM Shifter Dies, not every one lives.

Colleen and I headed out towards Palo Duro Canyon Thursday afternoon as soon as she got off work. What an adventure we were in for. Hardly 70 miles into our 1060 mile round trip journey, some Texas Pit BBQ was calling my name in Lampassas. With a tummy satisfied and a full cup of tea, we hit the road again, stopping in a few other small towns before reaching Abilene and taking I-20 45 more minutes west to our resting spot for the night, the Lake Sweetwater Municipal park. While searching for a good halfway point to camp at along the way, I happened to notice this small park on my Roads of Texas supermap. A google search revealed that they had some campsites for cheap, so we planned on staying here. After finally getting someone on the phone at the lake’s bait shop after trying all day to talk to someone about camping there all day, Colleen seemed to squeeze out enough of a response from the man to indeed confirm they had camping. We had no trouble finding the lake, but a helluva time finding the camping area. After 30 minutes of circling the water and wandering strange unlit backroads, we finally found the unmarked campground. Sadly, we had unknowingly passed right by it upon initial arrival at the fork in the FM road. There wasn’t a soul in sight, and it really didn’t feel like we were supposed to be camping there, but we were tired and setup camp quickly. Maybe an hour into our slumber, some drunk kids, from the hopping town of Sweetwater, no doubt, came tearing butt through the camp area in their mom’s minivan and felt compelled to drive right up to our tent with brights on and honk a few times. Boy did they get a kick out of that! After attempting a few more donuts in the field they peeled off and let us be for the rest of the night, but following this incident we didn’t exactly sleep soundly the rest of the night.

Come sunrise, we packed up and got the hell out of there in search of breakfast. Sweetwater claims to be the wind energy capital of the US, and adjacent map dot Roscoe supposedly has the largest wind farm in the world,  but strangely, we couldn’t find any good places to eat in either town that time of day. Luckily, we found breakfast taco salvation in Snyder, the next town up Hwy 84. That would keep us going for the uneventful drive up to Plainview (so named for the vast treeless plain surrounding the post office) for lunch at a supermarket, and then on to Palo Duro. We settled in at a friend’s campsite, pre-rode part of the course, had dinner, and went to bed early at 7pm. 12 hours of beautiful sleep later, we awoke to a chilly, moist morning in the canyon. We mosied over to Juniper Canyon campground to register and setup for the race after a nice Caveman breakfast.

Photo by Rebecca Holcomb

The race started at 10am. I signed up for the open category and lined up with 7 others at the front. It was a mass start with all remaining age group racers behind us. I wasn’t feeling particularly strong this day, but I was able to secure the hole shot and held the lead for about a ½ mile, at which point I decided I was winded and didn’t want to be there anymore, so I let a group of  7 go by when the trail widened enough. I caught my breath and proceeded to set a fast tempo that I hoped to hold for 45 more miles. I was never much of a go getter at the beginning of a race anyhow; I like coming from behind and digging deep in the 9th inning when everyone else starts to tire to make my surge. The first two laps went pretty smooth, and while I conceded time to the top 4 racers (3 of which hold a pro license), I had passed two others to move back into 6th and wasn’t too far from 5th. I was noticeably fatigued going into lap 3, but could sense the gap shrinking on the next rider up. Big Tex was really eating the course up and I was having a blast barreling down some of the more technical descents and carving the twisties with ease. Just when I started to think how nice it was that I hadn’t had a mechanical yet, my rear shifter pod stopped downshifting about 3 miles into the 16 mile lap. With the front still working on my 2×9 drivetrain, I was thus relegated to 2 gears: medium and high. Luckily, the rear cog was set in the middle of the cassette when the shifter broke, so it was manageable gearing with a 26t and 40t up front. I was prepared to finish the race this way and walk any steep uphills that I had to.

Unfortunately, the upshift function still worked and occasionally a knuckle would accidentally tap it to shift into a harder gear. The first time it happened, it wasn’t a huge deal. I had caught 5th by this point and although it hurt like a dog, pushing a bigger gear than I really wanted was helping me to get a gap on him. But then it happened again, and again, and before I knew it, I was in my 11t on the rear cassette. The lowest gearing I now had was a 26-11, or a 2.37 to 1 ratio. Normally, when singlespeeding a 29er on a course like thise, you want around a 34-19, or a 1.8 to 1 ratio. That gear was absolutely killing me, and I just couldn’t push it anymore, so I was forced to stop and turn the outer limit screw all the way in on the derailleur to push it back on the 3rd cog, or about a 15t gear. Still a little bigger than I wanted, but much more manageable than the 11t! I dropped back to 6th, but now sensing 7th closing in on me, I pushed through some pretty serious pain, cramping, dehydration, and energy depletion (I had a hard time eating and drinking during this race since the pace was so high and there were few good places on the course to do so) to finish the final 5 miles or so an maintain my position by less than 20 seconds.

Even at 6th place, the payout was good enough to cover my entry fee (major kudos to the promoter and sponsors!) Although completely drained and hurting bad afterwards, it was one of the better marathon races I’ve competed in. Trail was in great shape, was a lot of fun, competition was good, and the weather was decent too. A total of 101 men entered the full marathon, so even though 6 of 7 in the open category didn’t look great on paper, 6 of 101 was a bit more respectable.

A nice little hike with my lovely fiancé before sunset followed by a super awesome caveman dinner consisting of salad, avocado, Cornish game hen spit cooked over campfire, and little cocoa beverage sweetened with agave nectar rounded out the evening’s festivities before a hard night’s sleep and a very long drive back home to Austin. No races for me until possibly Thanksgiving weekend, when there are some cross races up in Dallas and I’ll be up that way to visit family anyways. In the meantime, the break will be a nice opportunity to rest and work on the ‘new’ website. Thanks for reading.

As for the opening quote of the story, my old SRAM X.O shifter lived a good life. It began its duties on the Turner Flux in 2005 and 2006, before being transferred to Proud Mary for 2007 and 2008. This year it was put on Big Tex and had some awesome races before finally giving out in Palo Duro. It will be missed, but not forgotten. A formal changing of the guard shall commence as soon as I find a new one… and get around to cleaning the bike… RIP shifter.

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