Friday, November 6, 2015

How to make a spiffy-looking Han Solo's Blaster and/or Princess Leia Blaster for a costume

I'm going to break from my usual cycling subjects to talk about a recent project: creating inexpensive, decent looking replicas of Han Solo's and Princess Leia's blasters.

My wife and I decided to dress-up like Leia and Han from the Moon of Endor assault, and dress our two year old daughter up as an Ewok. Carol, being the fabric-smith, took on the bulk of the costume, I took the relatively modest task of making some decent looking blasters.

As it turns out, you can't just go out and buy a "realistic" looking blaster. OK, you can, but its hundreds of dollars... and... yeah... No. Instead, you have to buy a safety orange toy blaster and paint and work it to look like the "real" thing.

To be clear, you can buy some of these made by other people for $50-80 on Etsy which are good, but not perfect either. But I'm just not going to spend that much on a costume gun, especially when I can spend $17 on the orange one, plus $15 in other materials, and hours upon hours of time to make my own. I was surprised that there was no tutorial for this online, so I thought I'd share my approach. Here's what I did, along with some tips for how it could be done better "next time".

General Instructions:

Generally speaking, you want to put some silver paint on the blaster toy to cover up the orange plastic, then a layer of black, and then carefully strip off some of the black paint to reveal the silver underneath so it looks worn. Seems pretty simple, but the devil is in the details. Here's the detailed steps:
  1. Order your chosen blaster. Searching around online you can find them at the usual online shopping places. Compare prices, there can be some significant differences.
  2. Buy your other materials at the local hardware store: 
    1. a can of silver spray paint that is specifically intended to stick to plastic (such as Krylon Fusion), 
    2. a can of matte black spray paint (I chose semi-gloss and it was a little too glossy), 
    3. for Han's blaster, a can of brown spray paint, I chose a "walnut" color, but try to find something that looks the most like wood to you, 
    4. a roll of masking tape (for Han's blaster only). It may be worth investing in some higher quality tape like Frog tape.
    5.  some "0000 super-fine" steel-wool.
  3. Take some time to clean up the seams and rough edges. I did not do this step, and regret it. Use sandpaper and/or a hobby knife to carefully remove plastic burs, and reduce the visibility of the seams between the pieces of plastic. You may want to try to take down the text molded into the blaster, such as "Made in China" A little work along these lines can go a long way, but I can tell you from my modeling experience in the past, that is easy to go overboard real quick and make it look worse, so err on the side of a lighter touch. Remember, the paint will cover up some of these blemishes too.
  4. For Han's blaster, mask off the rest of the gun and apply a couple coats of the brown paint to the handle. Take a look at photos of the blaster online to see exactly where the defining line between the handle and metal part of the blaster is. I went a little low, and had a pretty easy time masking it off at the seam of the battery compartment at the expense of authenticity. I would probably mask it off up higher next time for more realism, but it could be really challenging. This is where the fancy Frog Tape might be handy. Once the paint is dry, remove the masking tape over the rest of the gun, then apply tape over the handle before the next step.
  5. Spray paint the gun silver. Its best to do many, MANY light coats of this base silver paint. I did 3 coats, not nearly enough, I would recommend 6-8 light coats. It needs to be thick enough so that later when you wear through the black coat you will have plenty of silver underneath, and not reveal the orange plastic below (which is what happened in places on my blasters). Make sure you get every nook and cranny, but be careful not to spray too much with any given coat so you get pooling and running. I'd let it dry for 1 day to 1 week before the next step, it shouldn't be sticky to the touch, you want the black paint to separate fairly easily from the silver paint.
  6.  Apply the black paint in as few coats as you can to thoroughly cover the entire blaster. *See below for a note about the muzzle/flash suppressor on Han's blaster.
  7. Be patient and wait a day or so to let the paint dry before you remove the masking. For the next step, you want the paint to be thoroughly dry, at least 48 hours depending on how thick the paint underneath is. I waited a week.
  8. Now you need to weather the gun! I'd recommend roughing it up with some tools or files first. You could carefully drag it across some dirt, sand or gravel to give it some real world experience. The point would be to make shallow scrapes, nicks and gouges into the black paint. You don't necessarily need to scrape it to the point that it shows the silver paint underneath, just remove some of the black paint and the sanding will enhance it later. Hair-thin scrapes will get wider and more visible once you take the steel wool to it.
  9. Now is the time to really put the authentic-looking wear on the blaster. Use your super-fine steel wool and go around the whole gun (excluding the handle on Han's blaster) and give it a general polish. Get that steel wool in every little nook and cranny! This alone will make it look a little "worn" and start to reveal some of the silver under-coat along raised edges and areas where you weathered it in the previous step. Now take a careful look at the blaster from the movies and try to replicate where the wear is on the actual prop, for example on the cooling fins of Han's blaster, and give it a little more work in those places.

Han Solo Blaster Detail

Han's blaster is well used. He carries it with him constantly. He pulls it out a lot. He fires it a lot. He gets into scrapes, and the gun gets dropped, on the ground or bounced around the Millennium Falcon during maneuvers. I feel like the more wear you can put on this blaster the better its going to look. Just be careful not to wear right through the silver paint too and expose the orange underneath as this ruins the effect.

*You may want to mask off the muzzle of the blaster to keep it the silver color as seen in A New Hope. This also makes the gun a little more visually interesting than all black. But if you look at the blaster from Return of the Jedi, its muzzle is black, or only slightly faded (as if the metal has been heated due to being fired). Actually, look at the series of photos below you'll see there is a lot of variability in what Han's BlasTech DL-44 looks like most of the blasters shown in the movies had more-or-less silver flash-suppressors/muzzles, but most of them from publicity photos were all black. For what its worth, the high-quality replicas tend to have the black flash suppressor/muzzle. Can't say which is more authentic, perhaps the black finish wears off with use.

If I could have found a dark metallic paint I may have put a few coats of it on the muzzle. I also considered "misting" some black spray paint on the muzzle to give it a more charred look to the silver, but this could be tricky to get right. In the end, I think I would just paint the whole blaster black and then carefully try to remove as much of the black paint as possible from the muzzle/flash suppressor to show the contrast seen in the movie while applying the well worn look. I would probably masque off the other parts of the gun immediately adjacent to the muzzle to prevent them from getting worn too much.

I might also be tempted to drill out the holes in the muzzle/flash suppressor, but that would be a lot of extra work and could go south in a hurry. Also, it appears not all of the prop guns had holes in the flash suppressor. If it could be done well it would be a nice detail to add.

Princess Leia Blaster Detail

You can't actually buy the blaster you see Leia using on Endor. Instead, the more iconic long-barreled blaster from A New Hope is available. This is fine by me since its a costume and the more recognizable gun is going to make you look more like the character, even if it isn't 100% accurate for our Moon of Endor get-up.

The blaster Leia used on the Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi

This is the gun we all associate with Leia anyway.

Princess Leia is a noblewoman, and her gun doesn't get as much use. In A New Hope, it looks pretty pristine. It's a self defense side arm. So I kept the wear to a minimum to try to replicate what it would get being carried in a holster and occasionally used. It got the general polish with the steel wool, then I paid special attention to carefully wear off the paint on textured surfaces, such as the grip and sight adjustor, and the little adjustor knob below the barrel, as these are where a real gun would show wear. I ended up putting more wear on this one than you see on her blaster in the movies, but I think that makes it look cooler.

I just noticed that the end of the muzzle of her blaster is silver in A New Hope! So maybe mask that off.

For what its worth, the high-end replica Leia blaster that sells for hundreds of dollars, appears to simply be this same toy blaster, very carefully done up!

The Results:

Not perfect but pretty good. I may even try to sell the Han Solo blaster online and buy a new one to try again and see if I can improve accuracy.
If you look carefully at some of the raised points you can see where I polished through the silver paint to the orange plastic underneath. I'm going to try to find a fine paint brush and touch these up later. Also, the muzzle looks oddly un-weathered compared to the rest of the gun.

Authentic scuff marks made by lightly scratching the area with a file first, and then while polishing with the steel wool they really started to stand-out.

Leia's postol came out pretty well. There are a few spots where orange and white plastic are visible, which I can touch up later.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MTB Test Riding #1

So, I'm starting to shop for a new mountain bike. I honestly don't expect to buy until 2017 (Happy 40th B-day to me!), but so much has changed in mountain bike technology in that past 10 years since I got my last bike, and there are so many options out there today, I'm going to try to get out there and test ride as many bikes as possible to inform my desicsion.

I was just going to write the following in a text file on a computer, but then I said, hey, why not post it on the blog so maybe my thoughts might influence others. Also, easier to find on the blog than a random text file on my computer.

Today was the Giant demo ride day at Cam-Rock. I rode the Athem, Trance and Reign.

Overall Impressions:
  • Disc brakes still aren't that great. The XT brakes on the Anthem and Trance (with 160mm rotors) were very unimpressive, though they matched the modulation of my Avid v-brakes, they had significantly less stopping power than my 15 year old SD Mag's. Once I got on the Reign with the 200/180mm rotors, I'd say the stopping power just about matched the v-brakes on my Soulcraft. Viva la v-brakes!
  • Newer bikes have much more stiff steering than my 10 year old Soulcraft. This was most pronounced on the Anthem which was horizontally stuff and vertically compliant to the point of feeling kind of weird... but it definitely improved bike handling.
  • I think I'm going to want a dropper post (if I want a dropper post) with the ability to pre-set a couple heights. What I really wanted was a XC position like I normally ride in, then about a 1" drop for more technical sections and then maybe a total of a 4" drop for when it really gets vertical. The type of dropper post on the Giants was awkward, you flip the lever on the bars for the dropper post, then you needed to put a little extra pressure on the saddle to compress the post. It would move down pretty fast and suddenly the saddle is way too low to work well as a contact point to help you handle the bike.
  • 27.5" tires didn't really feel all that different than 26" tires. Maybe because I run larger diameter tires 2.4" at lower pressure than the bikes I tested which all ran 2.2" or 2.25" tires. I feel like all these bikes would have worked better with larger volume tires at lower pressure. This would allow for more small-bump compliance and better traction.
  • I liked the Fox suspension products better than the Rock Shox. The Fox bits seemed easier to use, for example the rear shocks suspension firmness adjustment lever was easy to get at and remember which setting was which. The same lever on the Rock Shocks Monarch was hard to reach and impossible to see what setting it was in... you'd just have to memorize it. Also, I'm a bit of a Fox snob after owning some really bad RS forks back in 90's and early 2000's. To be fair, the Revelation fork is not as well regarded as RS's higher end Pike fork.
Reign Advanced 27.5 1: This is their "Enduro" bike with 6.3" of travel in the rear and 130-160mm in the front. I felt like this much travel was useful. The head tube angle was 65-degrees. This was a little ridiculous. Though it felt really smooth and controlled in the berms, and very playful on small drops, it was awkward on the flats and climbs sine the bike wanted to "wander". In fact, the steering kind-of had the habit of oscillating. The bike was also heavy (these guys weighed it at 31.7 lbs) and the suspension ate up a lot of pedaling energy. Lastly, the stem was really short and the bike had a very upright riding position. These four strikes made it a bike that would be fun to ride downhill, but I would really only recommend it when you have a chair lift or pickup truck carrying you to the top of the hill because pedaling it up was not fun.

Trance Advanced 27.5 1: This bike was pretty well rounded, but still the HT angle felt a little to slack and wallowy at 67-degrees. Suspension gave up some energy on the climbs, but if you set the suspension to the stiffest setting (which was a pretty easy flick of the switch) it wasn't bad at all. Still kind-of heavy though, but then again, I'm pretty heavy right now too. These guys say its only 25.8 lbs, but it felt heavier, maybe that weight is sans-pedals. The medium size had great stand over, but the top tube was too short, I would have to go with a 70mm stem (I think the stock was 50mm) and maybe move the seat back a little further.

Anthem Advanced 27.5 1: Bearing in mind that I've been riding around on a bike with a 71° head angle for the past 20 years or so, I felt pretty at-home with the 68.5° head-angle on the Anthem. It definitely helped stabilize things in rock gardens and in berms compared to my Soulcraft. Honestly, I may be OK with a head angle as low as 68° for all-around riding. (UPDATE: This bike may actually have a 69.5° HT angle (Giants geometry charts aren't consistant), which would explain why I felt relatively at home on it.) You could tell it didn't have a lot of travel, 100mm in the back I could use more, but I suppose that's 100mm more than my hardtail. With the suspension set to the firm setting, it actually felt like it had a firmer rear-rend than my steel hardtail (with a Ti seatpost), for better or for worse. The 100mm fork in the front was very laterally-stiff for good control, but was somewhat unimpressive from a soaking-up bumps standpoint, perhaps because I'm used to riding a 100mm fork on my Soulcraft, but perhaps the fork was set up a bit too stiff for me. Size large actually fit me perfectly horizontally, but left me with 1" or less standover clearance, which is not acceptable. Medium would need a longer stem, but I don't see why they can't just make this model with more standover clearance. This bike seems to be marketed as an XC racer, but honestly I think my Soulcraft would be more efficient and work better on all but the most rough courses. These guys say its about 25 lbs, didn't really notice the weight either way, which I suppose is a good thing.

Conclusion:  If I was buying right now, I think I'd either by a short-travel FS bike with a longer travel fork on the front (like the Anthem SX which was not available for a test ride) or a Ti or Steel hardtail with a similarly longer-travel fork. By longer, I'm thinking 110-140mm adjustable fork like a Fox Talas. I think it would be ideal if this allowed me to ride the bike with a roughly 68.5-degree head angle for XC riding and a roughly 67-degree head angle for technical, vertical trails. But Man, I don't like how the Anthem SX is all SRAM 1x11 with a Rock Shox fork. I feel a 2x drivetrain would suite my needs better.
Maybe a 27.5+ bike would work well too, I'll have to find a way to throw my leg over one of those.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Foward Wisconsin: Into the Wind

I began my road riding 'career' in the late 1990's in the flat-as-a-pancake plains of central Illinois. This area is almost nearly treeless, and the corn is only tall enough to provide even a modest wind barrier about 3 months of the year. The roads are paved, nearly traffic free, and arranged in a perfect mile-square grid along the cardinal directions. This makes rides safe and navigation easy, but they could get a little boring, especially when riding solo.

Here, the ride route each day was dictated by one thing: the wind direction. We'd gather up at our meeting point, assess the wind conditions and head out of town, two-abreast, on whichever one of several routes took us as directly into the wind as possible.

This had a couple key advantages:
  1. We could challenge ourselves working into the wind while we were fresh and strong early in the ride, and get a good workout in.
  2. You never found yourself worn-out and stranded too far out of town. If you were questioning your ability to go on, you just turned around and the wind pushed you home.
  3. We could ride in groups with a fairly broad range of fitness levels, since the strong riders could pull on the way out of town while the weaker riders sat in, working less hard and thus keeping up with the group. Often at the turn around the stronger riders would form a race-like group and sprint-chase-tempo their way back into town further challenging themselves. If anyone (or sometimes, just about everyone) got dropped, well they had an easy ride back to town with the wind behind them.
Since then I have lived in a couple locations that had trees, buildings, or both! This has led me to two basic edicts that I follow when planning a ride route. These seem so self-evident to me that I'm pretty shocked by how few Madison riders consider these when planning a ride:
  1. Always head out of town into a headwind.
  2. Choose an outbound route near buildings and trees that exposes you to the minimum amount of headwind, and a return route through open country that exposes you to the least headwind.
Now, riff on this theme to your liking: If you want a hard workout, maybe you want to face down the wind as much as possible on the outbound leg. But my point is: pay attention to the wind!

If you're going to do the Monona Lake Loop, figure out if the wind will be with ya, or against ya on that big open stretch on John Nolen Drive & the Monona Terrace. Heading south into the wind? Use the tree cover on the Badger Trail to get you south of M, and then use Seminole or some other rural road to push you back to town. Head west through town into a wind with cover from buildings, then return east north or south of town with the wind behind you on country roads.

Ride Smart. Don't be a sheep and just ride the same routes the same way all the time. Have fun.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Triple-D 2015: the Warmest, Fastest, Messiest Triple-D yet

I came into the Triple-D this year from a pretty low place. I always intend to train for this race starting in October, or even August, but life gets in the way. In particular, we moved my now 18-month-old daughter into a new daycare in September, and I think I've gotten 5 bouts of colds/flu's from this new 'germ factory' from then through the end of the year.

The end results is that I came into the Triple-D in arguably the worst shape I've been in in my 25 years of riding. Possibly, in Y2K when I pulled my quad and recovered by sitting on the couch eating chocolate chips and watching Star Trek for 3 months and gained 30 pounds was worse. Lately, my legs have been noticeably sore even after a moderately-paced, 2 hour ride which I only seem to get in every other week or so. I wondered, how long it would take until they just give out completely?

So I gave some thought to not attending this year at all, but in the end I figured the worst case scenario was that it would be a 3+ hour ride before I had to call the sag wagon. And getting out for a ride like that would be beneficial, so back I go to Dubuque.

I stayed at my parents cabin in Galena the night before, so I had a nice 45 minute drive to think about the race as I drove into town the morning of. This was going to be (yet another) weird one. High temperature around 40, and a low in the upper 20's. That's 30 degrees warmer than some of the Triple-D's I've ridden in the past. I knew warm temps and melting snow could make for some unpredictable trail conditions. Warmer temps meant I could wear less and pack lighter to be more efficient. But on the other hand, this was a 'I just want to finish' year for me, so maybe I should take extra gear to be ready for any circumstance. In the end I did a little of both, and it worked out fairly well.

This was a big year for the race with something like 120 starters in the bike category and enough runners to push the total participants over 200. Let me tell you, the sound of 240 fat tires rolling down the pavement during the neutral start is quite a cacophony. When we got to the point where we were supposed to separate out into pace groups, instead of people waiting for Lance to send us off as groups (top racers, racers, just-finishers, poker run riders, etc), people just started to take off. Well, when in Rome..., so I got into the mess too, over the tracks and onto the singletrack among the top 20 or so riders.

My race strategy was simple: get near the lead for the start of the race so you're not stuck behind poorly skilled riders or people with too much air in their tires at the beginning (most everyone has too much air in their tires), then once the course opens up take the pace back a bit to something I could sustain for several hours. I actually nailed this plan. At the start and in the singletrack, I didn't have anyone get in my way and I didn't get in anyone else's way. My riding but Tyler had gotten into the fray a few positions ahead of me, but he was off like a rocket and I didn't see him for long.

Once we got out into the open, I started getting passed pretty steadily. Its hard as a long-time racer to let this happen, there's a twinge every time that makes me want to chase, but I stuck to my plan and rode at my own modest pace. Nick passed me in the fairgrounds, and we continued on through old fields, pastures, corn fields, soybean fields and more pastures. Conditions on the ground were pretty good, a mix of firm snow and frozen (but slowly thawing) dirt, and I noted making a couple climbs that had always bee hike-a-bikes in the past.

Then my hip started to bother me. I have a problem in that my SI joint in my hip locks up every few months and makes my IT band very tight and can also screw up my spine alignment a bit. I hadn't been riding enough before race day to notice it was locked up! I started getting shooting pain radiating from my hip down to my knee and starting to go up my spine, so I had to stop just after crossing the road past the fair grounds to stretch it out. I had to stop again 15 minutes later at the top of one of the longest climbs of the race to stretch it again. It was so warm that I was actually choosing places that were open and exposed to the wind to stop and stretch rather than looking for somewhere sheltered like you usually will in the winter.

Well, I may be fat, out of shape and partially crippled, but I still have the skillz. I bombed the next downhill, one of the funnest parts of the course, and then actually managed to ride most of the way up the next hill through the woods, before having to stop and stretch again. Then we were out into one of the biggest open field stretch of the race, which is usually a drifted-in hike-a-bike, but I was able to ride almost all of it.

I used the pavement section that followed to eat a bit and drink, when we turned west on Humpke Rd. into the headwind, I was lucky enough to have a group of riders come up behind me on so I got in the pack and drafted a bit.

Lance the race organizer was in the group, and as we approached the turn off for the gnarly downhill B-road section of Humpke, he said something to the effect of "be careful on the downhill". At this point, I pulled ahead of the group and shouted back to Lance: "you said 'GO FASTER!', Right?! I couldn't be sure about Lance, but there was no doubt in my mind that I would take that downhill faster than the rest of the folks in that pack. As it turned out, Lance was a pretty good technical rider, and he knows every section of the course really well. I kept ahead of him for the first 50 ft once we actually got on the gnarly bit, but he got ahead of me there, and we were both skilled enough to stay out of each others way on this rutted, bumpy 2-track. It was so warm there was actually flowing water in the upper section of the road where there is usually overflow ice, so I thought conditions would be good all the way down and I kept the speed up. Unfortunately, there was overflow ice in the bottom 50' or so of the road. Going full speed into it, there was really nothing I could do but try to keep my wheel straight and my weight balanced squarely over the center of my bike and hope my tires didn't slide out underneath me. To my surprised this worked.

The man in blue, just after the fun part of Humpke Rd. Photo by Amber Bettcher.
A small group of us, again, including Lance formed up at the bottom of the descent into a pack and rode the short paved section to the Heritage Trail together. Once on the trail I was able to draft a bit and keep up with some of the people in this group for a while. Trail conditions were not looking good, getting kinda soupy, slush and a grindy mud formed out of the crushed limestone trail surface.  I said to Lance: "The question is now, how much do you hate your bike?" Riding through gritty mud like this can chew up a bike pretty bad. It got better in the next stretch that was more shaded, and Lance noted that large sections of the course were in the shade, though I questioned whether things would defrost even in the shade by afternoon. Overall the trail conditions were fairly firm (for the time being) so, I stopped and put 100 pump-strokes of air into each tire, stretched again and pedaled on. I also had to stop to partially straighten my derailleur hanger which had somehow gotten bent. I couldn't quite get it right so for the rest of the day I had to keep it in the small chain ring whenever I was riding less than 10mph otherwise there were some awful noises coming from my rear cluster as the pulley, chain and cassette interacted poorly.

There's not much to tell from the next 10-15 miles of the race. I was doing OK until the trail exited the Little Maquoketa River valley and got out on the flats. My hip an IT band were screaming at me after 10 miles of steady pedaling up a slight uphill grade, so I had to stop at the shelter just past Holy Cross Rd and stretch for a few minutes. I had to make at least 1 more stretch stop in the next 5 miles, just to get to the Dyersville. Trail conditions were getting really soft here so I rode on the grass growing on the very edge of the trail which kept me cleaner and rolling a little faster than I would be in the middle of the trail. Oddly, It seemed like a lot of people were not searching for the best line on the trail, riding right down the middle no matter what, which shows that a lot of people are not very experienced with snow riding. As I approached Dyersville the lead racers started coming back at me from the other direction. Tyler was storming along, probably 2-3 minutes back from the lead in 6th or 7th place.

Once at Chad's pizza I decided to settle in for a long rest and refuel. I had let myself bonk a little by not eating enough in the first half of the race. Us racers were making a really big mess, all of us covered in mud, but the staff at Chad's was really kind and friendly and seemed happy to clean up after us. Michael came in maybe 10 minutes after me and left long before I did. I stretched and stretched and ate 2/3rds of a cheese pizza they had baked up for me (the all-you-can-eat buffet only included pizzas with meat on them). I may have spent a total of 45 minutes there before heading out again.

I did NOT feel good for a while after the Dyersville stop. Having let my blood sugar drop too much before lunch, I may have gone the other way and eaten too much. I felt bloated, and oddly enough somewhat lightheaded and faint by the time I got back to Holy Cross Rd. At this point I was doubting I could make it to Durango, let alone finish. But I knew my best option was to keep pedaling, see if I got better, or at least get closer to Dubuque for an easier pick up from the SAG wagon. Slowly I felt better, but man the trail conditions did not help. There were stretches that were hard and firm where it was well shaded, but most of the course was a gritty, muddy soup at this point.

Mud was getting sprayed on my back and legs constantly, and if I rode faster than about 12mph it would spray up in my face too which drove me crazy. This kept me going slow as much as anything. So much water was getting on me that it was saturating my tights running down my legs into my socks and my waterproof boots were filling up with water like I had just jumped in a lake. At one point I decided to see if I could wring some of it out, so I stopped at a bench and run a disturbing amount of very muddy water out of my socks, and layered up a bit. Unfortunately my feet were soaked again in just a few minutes.

I was feeling better now, so I stormed into the Durango bar checkpoint and out again in a hurry, taking only a bottle of bottled water with me rather than taking the time to fill up my camelbak. The sun was still up, which means despite all my problems I was still covering ground faster than any other Triple-D I had done before. I had lost my headlamp at some point during the day, so I pushed on to try to get back to the finish before it got really dark.

At one point on this last stretch of the Heritage Trail a couple guys who were riding together passed me. One guy chose the left side of the trail and the other went right. They got about 30 feet in front of me as we approached a bridge, both of them held their line and rode right onto the crusty ice at the edges of the snowmobile tracks rather than the nice, dry rubber strip in the middle. The guy on the right slipped on the ice and took out the guy on the left like a spare on a seven-ten split. I manged to stop just before hitting them. They said they were alright so I rolled on, but I never did see them again.

My feet were getting really cold. The were literally sloshing around in a bath of water and as the air temperature dropped and I got more tired I wasn't keeping them warm. I could still feel my toes, but barely. So when it came time to ride up the bike path up the bluff, I decided to walk/run the whole way. My toes when from near-numb, to painful, to not bad in about 15 minutes. And honestly, it was kind of nice to walk for a while.

Nearing the top of the bluff, I got back on the bike. Twilight was setting in and it was pretty unfortunate that I didn't have a headlamp and that my taillight had failed due to all the muddy water slung up on it, seeing as I had several street crossing to negotiate. The air started to cool below freezing and things started to fail on my bike. The freewheel began to freeze up, the shifting began to slow down, water freezing in the cable housing, most likely.

Then everything went completely to pot. I stopped and got off the bike and realized that one of the pulleys on my derailleur was missing. Riding on the bent derailleur hanger all day must have put some force on it somehow and caused the screw that holds it in to unthread. This would be enough reason to quit if it had happened an hour or two earlier. But at this point I was only 2-3 miles from the finish, so I pressed forward, walking uphills, coasting downhill as the dark settled in to the wastlands between the strip malls of west Dubuque.

Eventually I managed to find a gear that I was able to pedal in, soft-pedal anyway, too much pressure and the chain would slip, since there was nothing wrapping it around the bottom of the cassette. So I could pedal on the flats and on the downhills and walk uphills. Of course, I could only ride as fast as I could see in the dark, but its amazing what you can roll over on a fatbike when you don't see it in the dark. I used my iPhone to light my way though one area where the route wasn't clear, but, let me tell you, an iPhone is no substitute for flashlight.

I walked most of the creek crossings because, well my feet were already soaked, I didn't want to risk slipping on icy rocks, and maybe this was an opportunity to wash my mud soaked boots off. Past the hobo camp, I was glad to find that no one was home. Over the tracks and then soft pedaled my way back up to the Best Western. I came in at 6:16 pm, 55th place (out of roughly 120 starters), 8 hours 16 minutes on the course.

Me and my bike just after finish. I look clean because I put this jacket on over top of my muddy torso when I stopped to look at my broken derailleur (note the sagging chain).
My buddy Tyler, he won it. The son-of-a-bitch rand down all those guys in front of him and put them behind him. He rides a 36 pound Pugsly, flat pedals, baggy shorts, no GPS, no power meter, no heart-rate monitor... not even a cyclocomputer, no training plans, no recovery drinks, compression socks, shaved legs, none of that. Just: Ride or Die.
My bike in the bike shower the following night.
Took three hours the following night to wash my bike and clothes. The chain was shot, the pulley replacements are $40 a set, I lost my pretty-darn new headlamp, tore a hole in my classic IceBike tights and my pedals will need an overhaul. I hand-washed the clothes to get the bulk of the mud and grit out, and then it took two times through the washer to get the remainder of the grit and silt out. Its enough to make me question whether I should have done this event, knowing what I know now... but really, its always worth it.