Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Final Julian Death March MTB Ride, October 25, 2014

Cuyamaca State Park, always one of my favorite sections

The Julian Death March is an ultra-endurance mountain bike event  in the mountains (and deserts) near Julian in San Diego County. I had my first try at long mountain bike races at that event, as did my son Obin and my neighbor Ron Vance. The JDM had a good run, but all things come to an end and this October was the final edition. The pictures are from various time I've ridden in that area.

Ron had long made plans to go, but it didn't look as if I could join: Kathy was visiting her parents in Colorado and Anya had a highschool race Saturday morning (Mount Sac). But Ron's wife Susan offered to take care of Anya and I gladly took her up on that. Anya's run and my ride went well (Anya was 10th overall and the first from Santa Monica in the varsity race, even though she is a freshman), but Kathy fell during a trail run with her brother and hurt her shoulder that morning.

We left Friday afternoon and had time to ride a little bit in the Santa Ysabel Preserve. I remember it as a fairly muddy area, but in October, it was very dry, but also lots of sand. We started on the West Entrance, whereas the JDM will enter the Preserve from the East Entrance.  From the west, it is a steep climb to get into the main part of the preserve.
Ron struggling on the first climb

Doing better here

Ron does not believe in newfangled stuff like tubeless setups for rides in thorny areas
We stayed in Ramona in a cheap hotel that had two rooms. Julian is a lot more expensive and also booked up during weekends. 

Julian is a nice town, although suffers from faked cutesy as a tourist attraction. It is an excellent area for bike riding, though, with lots of accessible open space and a variety of terrain. The Julian Death March route goes through Cuyamaca State Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and the Santa Ysabel Preserve. A bit further north is the Cleveland National Forest (and another route, the Stagecoach 400, goes through there when looping back to Idyllwild).

Rich Wolf is the organizer of the Julian Death March and it has come with multiple options as typically few people could handle the full loop. Most quit after the shortest version, which is 50 mile. Some of it is psychological: After the first loop, you come back to the start and then there is a second 22 mile loop that goes out to the opposite side of town. In recent years, the the regular first loop was 64 miles with about 9000 feet of climbing, including the famed Oriflamme climb, but the final edition skipped Oriflamme and was 50 miles long, followed by the second loop for a total of 72 miles and about 9500 feet of climbing - so in more understandable measures: About 116 km and 2900m. 
Start of the final edition of the JDM, October 2014
The ride starts out with 17 km or so of paved and graded road mainly downhill from downtown Julian. Fast pavement initially, suddenly turning to more sandy dirt that can be tricky. It was warm this year, but the descent often is cold. I remember a year when we it was below freezing at the start. Many people bomb down the long descent, getting overly excited by the "race". Sure enough, one of the racers crashed himself this time and I remember seeing people ending up in a big dust pile in previous years. As you can get up to high speeds, 60 km are easily possible, this will result in serious road rash. 
But that downhill stretch at the beginning can be taken easier and it actually is quite enjoyable. On a warmer morning, with Obin, probably in 2011.

Eventually, there is a sharp left turn onto real dirt, which is the beginning of a long (6 km or so) climb. That will warm you up on any day and this year, it felt hot. After the dirt climb up, another fire road and pavement that shouldn't be too hard, but it was more painful as I took the first climb a tad too hard. The switch between pavement and gravel can be tricky, one time I was riding a bunch of motorcycles passed me on a slight uphill and a few curves downhill I found them again splattered over the road. There was an aid station this time (after all, it was an organized race), followed by a longish road climb up Engineers Road. On a previous Deathmarch, we had snow on the road, but this time it was pleasant weather. After the first climb, we seem to have gained enough altitude to be out of the desert heat again, so Engineers Road didn't feel miserable. After cresting the top, a short downhill to 79, on the 79 around the lake. The traffic is mild, but then, more traffic than I like. The best stretch of the ride comes after turning off the highway:

Some rolling dirt road through the Cuyamaca section, then a nice single track climb (this picture is going the other way during Stagecoach in 2012, I had just caught up with Jill Homer).

Jill Homer in the single track section near Sunrise Highway
After crossing Sunrise highway, there is another pretty grass section, which on the Stagecoach route is among my favorite parts because it means that I had made it out of the desert.

Obin in 2011

The meadow-like section ends at Mason Valley Gate, which is the start of a long descent into the desert on rutted jeep roads and sandy washes. The descent can be treacherous, especially Chariot Canyon. However, it is easy going this way, coming the other way (climbing out of the desert) is a very different story.

Mason Truck road

In previous years, there was a detour into Rodriguez Canyon and then up Oriflamme, although this year's route skipped Oriflamme. The infamous Oriflamme Canyon climb is only 5 km and 1700 feet, but much tougher than it sounds. Small baseball sized rocks everywhere and the gradient keeps increasing.


You never know when this climb is just hard or extremely hard. Some times, I have to walk more than I ride, other years, I've ridden almost all even with camping gear.

Halfway up Oriflamme in the spring - this looks almost pretty, but it is grueling desert. Spring 2012 or 2013
At the bottom of Chariot Canyon, the route hits highway 78. It is a long climb back to Julian and riding the highway may be a bit faster, but there is a single track and dirt road combination that has no traffic, although goes through somebody's junk yard.

Obin climbing back to Julian on the Toll Road, nice and green in 2011
This year, the top of the Toll Road looked very different as there was a fire not long ago. With some rain, maybe there are some green shoots next spring, but right now, it is barren black landscape.

Toll Road in October 2014
Back in town, if you have energy left, there is a 22 mile loop on the opposite side of town through the Santa Ysabel Preserve. I grabbed some gels and water and headed back out, maybe the 5th or 6th person to start the second loop. On the first climb in the preserve, I saw the race leaders coming back already, so they were more than an hour ahead of me by then. That gap widened quite a bit as I really started to suffer on the last section and they were able to keep cranking. But there was nobody behind me for a long time either and I saw the next riders as I was on my way out. I made it back to Julian after about 7 hours and 40 minutes riding time and maybe another 10 minutes stopping time, well under 8 hours total, which had been my goal. I was really wasted, though, this was a hard ride for me. Ron was the next finisher, about 20 minutes behind me.

Julian is famous for its apples and apple pies. Not sure if that is deserved or a marketing trick of the chamber of commerce, but in any event, we had to buy pies. However, the line out of the Julian Pie company stretched for half a block. We didn't want to wait, but there is a much easier solution. It seems that the pies aren't made in Julian anyway, but in Santa Ysabel, and there is no wait at that store and it has a much more efficient express window for whole pies.

Which is the classier medal from this Saturday? Anya's or mine?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Idaho Bike Ride - Smoke and Fire 400 route Day 1

Sawtooth Range, day 2

Idaho has long sounded attractive to me. While I didn't know anything concrete, I associated it with rivers and mountains and forests. 

After the Adventure Cycling Association mapped out a new touring routes for mountain bikes, I started to become more interested in a visit, but it was not enough to push me over the threshold. Then, in August, Norb DeKerchove from Boise told me about a route he and Tyson Fahrenbruck put together, entitled "Smoke and Fire", and that they suggested as a bikepacking event in September. Two days later, I had booked a ticket to Boise!

around 10 am Wednesday morning

"Smoke and Fire" may not be an inviting name for a bike route, but it reflects the fact that there have been many large burns along the route. The route actually features crisp air and blue skies, not smoke or fire, but reminders of fires were never far away and we crossed burn areas every day.
Fall colors in the Sawtooth Valley
Smoke and Fire loop overlaps to a substantial extent with with the ACA Hot Springs route, but the first and last days are very different and the second day has an extra single track section. The ACA map works for general navigation and I brought it along for an overview and as a backup. I wouldn't rely on GPS and electronics alone, they work great if they work, but anything that can break eventually will break. 

The total distance was 650km and I had about 45 hours moving time (3 full days, beginning Wednesday, and 1/2 day on Saturday), 9000m climbing (I did more than 1/3 of those on the first day). 

SF is an excellent choice for a first multi-day bikepacking trip: No difficult stretches with unpredictable timing, water is available everywhere, there are resupply options every day, and climbs and descents are on good surfaces with easy gradients. A road bike with wider tires, as used by randonneurs or cyclo-crossers, would work fine for this route, possibly even better (or  faster) than a mountain bike. The absence of difficult conditions makes SF a perfect beginner route.  

It is not pavement, but the majority of riding was on this type of road

 In contrast, Stagecoach has the desert on day 1 that has cooked many people (and even necessitated actual rescues), Los Padres has multiple days without resupply, Coconino has a brutal hike-a-bike climb, and all three require careful planning with water and dealing with heat. The bigger Colorado Trail and AZT combine all the challenges, and add potentially serious cold, snow, and lightning storms to the list. But on SF, 
I ran ahead of my optimistic plan most of the time, several hours just on the first day. So I took days 2 and 4 easier as it didn't make sense for me to finish before Saturday: My return flight was Sunday night.

Norb and Tyson's plan followed the by-now standard bikepacking race format: Map out a route, propose a full moon week as a focal riding date, have people register on for satellite tracking (which turns an otherwise lonely activity into a virtual spectator event), and see who shows up. It is not a group ride, you really are on your own and usually are not aware of any other rider after the first few hours or the first day. However, with a focal date, it becomes an opportunity for sharing stories and ideas with similarly minded people at pre (and sometimes even post-) event activities. And for people really wanting to crank this out, having the some competitor on the route to give you the extra push is helpful. In fact, even works for me: Who wants to be the slow old guy?

Arrival - Tuesday Sept 9

I had shipped my bike the week before to REI in Boise. Greg Tovey, another rider tackling the route, works there. It was very convenient and cheaper than taking it on the plane. United these days charges $200 one way for a bike - more than the ticket itself, which is $150 one way. And since LAX-Boise is a small commuter plane, United  wouldn't even guarantee that the box goes on the same flight.

I was surprised as the plane started the descent into Boise: Nothing green in sight, it looks just like Nevada. Not at all how I imagined Idaho! 

Indeed, Boise is a desert town at the foot of the mountains. It does not take long to be in a more forested area, but it will be a 1000 m climb. The city itself is pleasant as lots of trees have been planted, but just at the outskirts of town (such as the airport), it is desolate desert. 

Boise airport

After picking up my bike at a suburban shopping center (about 6 km from Boise proper), I rode to the city center where we had a pre-ride dinner/orientation/beer meeting. As I rolled in, I saw immediately a few familiar faces from California: Blake Bockius from Truckee, Forest Baker from Sunnyvale, and Jeremy Plum from Bishop. Although we live a few hundred miles from each other, we seem to run into each other regularly at bike rides. Blake, Jeremy, and I now have time to ride more after our kids are old enough to be on their own or even out of the house, and Forest and Brian are in the pre-kid age range (which, however, for Forest changed this year). 
table in foreground: Forest Baker, Blake Bockius (with hat),
Brian Pal from Seattle, and Jeremy Plum's back.

Long-distance mountain biking is a small community, I think I see Sharon Sell from Alaska (the woman with long blonde hair at the next table) who has been on other rides. But since she wasn't on the start list, I thought I was mistaken - except that she had moved to Boise. 

Pre-event meeting, Norb and Tyson in the background

The turnout was surprisingly large, 33 in total showed up, with the majority being locals. But there were also 5 from Montana, 4 from California, 2 each from Oregon and Alaska (so I was not the one that came the longest distance), and the lonely rider from Seattle. 

One of the fun parts of pre-meetings is catching up on people's other experiences on bike rides. Everybody has their own strategy, some really are racing for first place, others are trying to beat the course at their best ability, another group is just touring fast, and some are even slow tourers. 

Day 1 - Wednesday Sept 10

The start was planned from the city center at 7 am and coming from the suburbs, I just barely made it on time. It felt like a big peloton rolling out, led by Norb. Big enough of a group to cause difficulties with city traffic! 
Norb DeKerchove (left) and Bart Bowne

Within a few minutes, we were out of the city and along a bike/running path along the river. There was a group of folks on the side already handing out beer cans, which made for a fun atmosphere, but it was about 12 hours too early. 

First hour in the ride, the front group (what am I doing there?). Jeremy Plum, followed by Blake Bockius on the left, Forest Baker, followed by me and Dylan Taylor or Brian Pal, on the right. Picture by Kurt Schneider
In no time, the pavement turned into dirt and a climb and distances between riders grew. With morning energy and full of excitement, quite a few people started cranking it up, probably more than was good for them. The first stretch on dirt had babyheads and loose surface, entirely rideable, but you'd pay for early exuberance later on and I got off and walked a bit rather than trying to push through.

My mid-morning, the landscape started to change as we had gained some elevation. Still dry, but becoming more attractive:

Speeds started to converge by mid-morning and one of the early climbs I was riding with Gary Meyer from Oregon and Amy Chiuchiolo from Montana. While I didn't see much more of them during the rest of the ride, they were never far ahead or behind. 
photo by Rob Huguez
I found the climb to Prairie around km 75 surprisingly hard and took a longish break at the Y-Stop store. The morning also saw the first black forest:

which has an entirely different feel compared to riding in Germany's Black Forest:
Germany, not Idaho, family tour on the Schwarzwald - Murgtal Radweg
The route passed a reservoir and it was just as empty as the ones in California. It had a boat launch area, but the docks were nowhere near the water anymore. 

 Before 4 in the afternoon, I was in Featherville, about 150km in. That was 2 hours ahead of schedule and changed my plans: A slow moonlight ride to climb Dollarhide Summit (about 2650 m) and camp well before the top (too cold to stay at the top and then descent 1000m in the morning). But at this rate, the moon wouldn't even be out before I get to the top! Blake should be able to finish that route in less than 48 hours (which he did, with hours to spare).

A lot of other people were in Featherville around the same time and in fact crowded in the same little restaurant at the end of town. I slowly digested a double cheeseburger and rolled along thinking about what to the rest of the day, but presumably it would involve going over the pass. 
Greg Tovey

Idaho locals Greg Tovey and Bart Bowne  seemed to know that this was a fast route as both had mounted aero bars:

Aero bars are surprisingly practical on a mountain bike when there is a lot of flat riding or easy gradients on smooth roads. I found myself being on them a lot when I did the Great Divide Mountain Bike route. Aero bars are less useful for more typical mountain bike routes with narrow or technical trails and lots of up and down, so I haven't had them on my bike for years. However, for this loop, they are a good choice. 

After Featherville, the route stays along the South Fork of the Boise river for a long time. It was still early and kind of hot, so I took a swim in the river before the sun set and felt much refreshed (and a lot cleaner) afterwards The only unusual animal I saw on that ride was also along that river (but I didn't take its picture): A gigantic moose bull. 

I started the real climb up Dollarhide summit around sunset, but no moon in sight. So I just had to keep going. Riding in the moonlight is one of my favorite parts of the ride and best if that can be combined with a climb so I can ride without any lights. I passed a number of people in the dark, some had already made camp for the night. Still, no moon. 

Dollarhide is a gentle climb, but it goes up fairly high for somebody coming from sea level (top is around 2650m). The combination of altitude and coming late in the day made it a hard effort for me (at the top, I had done about 200 km for the day and 3400 m of climbing).  I was wishing for a steeper gradient that justifies getting off the bike and walking, but it never gets steep enough. I walked a few times anyway to give my legs a rest, which were plenty tired and clamored for walking to use muscles a bit differently. Near the top, I caught up with Bart Bowne who had gone too deep or too hard earlier in the day and now was paying for it, feeling nauseated and barely able to move. When you hit that low point, calling it a day or at least take an hour or two rest is about all you can do. A good rest, some food and water, and the next day should be ok. Probably exactly at the same time of day as Bart, I had one of those moments on the Black Canyon climb last year: The darkest hour 

Around 10.30 or so, I got to the top and finally there was the moon! It had been hiding on the other side of the mountain all along. But now it was all downhill, so I needed my lights anyway. Temperatures were dropping quickly, and even with all my layers, I was getting so cold that I stopped repeatedly. One of my best ideas was to use the armwarmers as extra gloves on the descent, but my hands were icy anyway. Miserable descent, but I knew there were hotsprings somewhere near the bottom. A strong sulphur smell indicated that I was getting close and they were easy to find: right next to the road, and connected to the river. So around midnight, I was soaking in the Frenchman's bend hotsprings. Was a fantastic night out with the full moon. Great moments and abject misery are never far apart on these type of rides. 

After soaking in the hot springs for about 30 minutes, I rolled on for a little while until I found a good camping spot. They were no longer easy to find as this is near Ketchum and there is a lot of private property. But I found a nice flat meadow next to the river, behind a shack that said "US Property". I crawled into my sleeping bag and was nice and comfortable, although it was a rather chilly night (but that was something to deal with the next morning). 

To be continued.....

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cold Frosty Mornings - Idaho Day 2

Thursday, Sept 11
It was a cold frosty morning. My tent had a thin ice layer on top, which was charming. A less charming feeling came from my arm and leg warmers that I had left outside overnight and they were frosted over as well. 

So off to a cold start....

Ketchum (the biggest town on this ride) was less than 20km away and I went for a warm breakfast in town. Not a racing move, but by the time I finished, the temperatures were perfect for the rest of the day. 

After yesterday's riding, Ketchum felt like a huge metropolis in Idaho, with overwhelming traffic volume, and innumerable restaurants and shops. I ignored the Starbucks. I was more set on an omelette with smoked trout, which I found at the Kneadery that advertised itself as the "finest in Rocky Mountain Rustic Homestyle Cooking". Good choice as the portions are way too big for normal people, but perfect for bicyclists. Then I wanted to get out of the big city as quickly as possible, which didn't take too long despite my initial impression of Ketchum because the population is just around 3000 people. 

Out of Ketchum, there is a small stretch of a bikepath and then a gravel road, roughly paralleling the highway. It could be fun if the gravel road were really parallel, but instead the "Harriman Trail" crosses the highway back and forth and puts in gratuitous swoops. If the trail ran far away from the road, that might be enjoyable but doing all those obviously unnecessary turns and ups and downs in plain sight of a straight flat road is aggravating. Eventually, Harriman trail moves to the other side of the river from the highway and that improves the psychology of that stretch, but the highway remains visible throughout and it clearly does not have those up and downs! 

looks pretty, but would be more fun if the gravel path wouldn't have gratuitous turns in sight of a flat, straight highway.

It is about 50km past Ketchum on this trail, then a long climb to Galena summit begins. Galena Summit is almost exactly the same altitude as the Dollarhide summit the day before (about 2650m) and also a gentle gradient. There may be a dirt road that can be used for the climb, but I didn't see it and rode pavement. Not too terrible for a road climb and can't complain since that was the worst part of day 2. 

Once over the top of Galena, the rest of the day is very pretty riding. The route immediately leaves the pavement and has a lovely descent into the Sawtooth Valley on smooth dirt with nice views. 
descending into the Sawtooth Valley

The next few hours are all on empty dirt going north, with the Sawtooth range on the left. Maybe one car per hour, I can deal with that. 

The afternoon had a special treat, but at the price of some extra highway miles (not very many) going up and down on highway 75: Fisher Creek single track loop. The Fisher Creek loop is about 30km long, maybe 600 m elevation gain, and has a reputation as one of Idaho's best mountain bike trails. The climb is up on a fire road that gets progressively steeper and rockier, ending with hike-a-bike towards the end. With some grimacing and without gear, it could be rideable as a hard effort fresh in the day, but not on a multiday ride with equipment.
starting Fisher Creek loop with Sawtooth range in background and lots of sunscreen on the face, photo by Ken Runyan

Before the trip, I had planned to get to Redfish by the end of day 2. Since I was hours ahead of schedule, I chose to make it a relaxed afternoon, with a mid-afternoon break and short nap at the top of the Fisher Creek climb. The Smoke and Fire Route turned out to be a lot easier than I expected, but that is preferable over the reverse - which is much more common on bikepacking routes. 

The single track starts with a narrow mountainside descent in a massive burn. The trail is very smooth and beautifully maintained, not at all what you expect after a big burn. In contrast, the Station Fire in the Angeles Forest (Los Angeles County) took out all the trails and closed off the whole area to any use for 5 years. However, despite being a wonderfully rideable trail, the burnt forest is still depressing on the Fisher Creek loop.  
Fisher Creek  - wonderful single track, but still depressing
Burnt trees provide the backdrop for the large majority of this trail, I estimate about 3/4 of the single track section. 

Only near the end of Fisher Creek loop do we leave the devastation of the Orcs, Mordor, Sauron/Voldemort and return to land of fairies, elves, and unicorns (unless they are as big as moose, then it may be too steep them).  

But now I had puttered around long enough and it was close to 7pm and there were still 2 hours left to get to Redfish Lake. Once the sun sets, the Sawtooth Valley gets bitterly cold. By 8.30, I was cold despite warmly dressed. While I had great expectations of Redfish Lake based on pictures, it turned into a disappointment as it felt like riding into Disneyland with all the cars and traffic. Of course, should have anticipated that the pretty lake near a major highway is not a quaint backcountry place, but a tourist trap. So I turned around right at the (huge, Disneyland-sized) lodge and rode back towards Stanley. However, I did use some day-use bathroom facilities nearby to clean up a bit and get ready for the night. I never actually saw Redfish Lake. 

Before reaching  the highway, I pulled off to camp  away from any cars, traffic, dogs, people. It was probably below freezing already, although still earlier than I would usually stop.  I quickly set up my tent (which I did bring only for cold weather) and went into my sleeping bag. I had to share the sleeping bag with my water filter because the filter element doesn't survive freezing temperatures. Although the night was going to be cold, I was very comfortable in my sleeping bag and even took off a layer because it was too warm.  
This was the first time in a few years that I brought a tent, mainly because of the expected subfreezing night temperatures. I also didn't know about insects and rain and wanted to be prepared, but neither of which was remotely an issue on this ride. In Southern California and Arizona, I bring just a tarp. The tent is a bit bulkier and heavier, but both are very light: About 400 grams for the tarp with stakes and extra rope versus 900 grams for the tent, including poles and stakes. The tent is actually a bit lighter than my 20 degree sleeping bag, so it is not luxurious, but still a tent (really a superlight tarptent. It has a good floor, reliable insect netting, but it is a small and has no double layers). I detest bivy sacks: the inside and outside get wet from condensation and they offer less protection from rain or bugs than a tent, yet are much heavier than a tarp. 

The Sawtooth valley night temperatures may have been the toughest test of equipment on this ride. I was comfortable at night, but could have been warmer for riding. Better gloves would have gone a long way. But this route is safe even for the most unprepared as there are motel rooms available, which was the first choice for many people. 

Overnight choices may be where the biggest variances between riders appear. A bad decision can make for a really bad night and cast a pall over the rest of the ride and a nice spot makes for fond memories. So if I stop for the night, I want it to be a nice place (no cars, no dogs, no electric lights is part of that). I am generally not aiming for a particular destination, just keep going as far as I want. This time, having targeted Redfish Lake as a goal for day 2 was a mistake, I should have gone on, resupplied in Stanley, and kept riding later, maybe to the beginning of the next single track section. Because of having been fixated on Redfish Lake, I only covered 2/3rds of the distance and 1/2 the elevation compared to day 1, about 100 miles/160km and 1700 m. Not a recovery ride by all means, but nothing "racing" about it. 

There is a long-running debate whether staying in motels makes for slower rides because people get too comfortable, an idea advocated by Matthew Lee. On, you can find endless discussions on this issue. For me, it might almost be the opposite: I'd be going quicker leaving a roach motel than a nice camp spot.

My approach is to camp, unless it is raining hard and cold (or snowing), or it was raining all day and everything is soaked. Heading to civilization is for the weakest moments, having cracked, getting sick, running a fever, or nothing dry left and temperatures are dropping. Bikepacking should be about sleeping under the sky and my fondest memories are not about motel bathrooms. Instead, it is when settling down to a view like this (Coconino loop in AZ)

or waking up to a view like this (Los Padres in Southern California):

Having equipment for staying outdoors overnight has its limitation and won't get me into the fastest finishing time. The fastest rider go with minimal equipment and take no (or probably rather uncomfortable) breaks at night. Some, like Forest "Outhouse" Baker, seem to prefer low cost, ooh, alternative indoor accommodations. I heard that this time he found an unlocked door near the Redfish Lodge to escape the cold. Anyway, that would be an incentive to get off to an early morning start and he reliably gets more riding hours into the day than I do, always starting much earlier than me. Forest has many good stories, one of this jokes: "Free, and it even comes with climate control. If it gets too cold, just open the lid". 

The unambiguous downside to going with camping over staying indoors (whether high or low quality) is extra weight. An emergency aluminum blanket that some of the fast racers take is not going to cut it for sleeping comfortably outdoors, rarely even in California (except low desert) and definitely not in the Sawtooth Valley. Pared down to the minimum weight, I have an extra 4 pounds just for the night. Most tents will be heavier than my 900g tarptent, I don't use a sleeping pad, and even my sleeping bag is about the lightest you can get for that temperature rating, so weight could easily be 6 or 8 pounds. That has a noticeable impact on climbing speeds. On the other hand, it is easy to sit it out a nasty rain or even snow storm in high mountains without discomfort. I had to stop by midafternoon due to uncooperative weather at other occasions and never was uncomfortable.

I sometimes can catch up to the faster group with a full throughride at night. But the conditions have to be right for that and I can only do that once on a ride. I don't do all night rides very often either, but some of them have been among my favorite parts of previous tours (e.g. on Stagecoach or Tour Divide).