Wednesday, December 21, 2011


It's official, Alba Rallysport is back and we're heading up north to Atlanta next month for the Rally America Sno*Drift rally. It's been over a year since we've had the WRX on the stages and I can't wait to get behind the wheel again. It's been a great year off with the family and focusing on getting back into shape. I've really enjoyed spending time on the bike. Life is about balance isn't it? I even had a go at Adventure Racing earlier this month which is somewhat like rallying only more exhausting. Car prep begins over the Christmas holiday. Let's hope the temperatures drop and we get some snow in the next few weeks. It's unseasonably warm.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Barry-Roubaix Recce

There is a bike race in March held just south of Grand Rapids called the Barry-Roubaix. It's modelled on the Paris-Roubaix race where cyclists ride road bikes over mud covered cobbled streets. With historic cobbles somewhat lacking in Michigan the Barry-Roubaix route (named after Barry County in which the race is held) covers 35 miles through the Yankee Spring recreational area most of the roads being gravel. With this race in mind we rode the course even though we woke up to find a dusting of the white stuff.

December Chilly Adventure Race

The race went quite well, I thought, considering my rather lacking level of preparation. But I (we) did not really know quite what to expect going into the race.

The December Chill 2011 adventure race was made up of 42 CheckPoints, spread out over 3 disciplines (mountain biking, canoeing & hiking/orienteering). Some CPs were mandatory and needed to be found in a particular order. Others were optional and could be found in any order. But to obtain a maximum score and be eligible for the overall win, you basically needed to find all of the CPs.

We started with the biking at 9am (34°F). Brrrrrrr. But 5 minutes into it, internal heat was more than sufficient. With a mass start of 100+ riders, it was a bit chaotic at first. Less than a mile into the ride, we all had to funnel down from a 2-lane road to a 1 lane (~ 4ft wide) bridge which really strung out the pack a bit. But Team P.O.R (David Allen & I), got off to a decent start (~ top 25% of the field).

Expecting to excel on the bike portion, I found myself working hard to keep up with David's quick pace. But this was so much more than just mountain biking. We had to navigate using a topo map of the park & surrounding area to find CheckPoints marked on the map. But many of these CPs were not just sitting alongside the trail. We had to drop the bikes and go searching in the woods for some of them.

At one point, we were going after a CP that was on the opposite bank of a swamp/marsh area. David suggested we try crossing the area on foot. The ground LOOKED firm enough, but after only a few steps in, we were up to our ankles in water...thanks to the 2+ inches of rain that fell on the preceding Wed.. So we retreated and found another, dryer way around.

Here I have to give a lot of credit to David who managed, quite well I'd say, to ride a mountain bike on unfamiliar, snow covered 2-track & single track trails while at the same time reading/navigating from a topo map...without crashing...and leaving me in the "dust" at times. Well done!!!

After bashing around a couple different parks (Proud Lake State Rec. Area & Milford Mntn Bike Trail), we were working on wrapping up the ~17 mile bike leg. At CP20, David noticed that the two furthest CPs for the upcoming canoe section were only about 100 yards from our current location. While standing near a couple other teams, David whispers, "Have you read anything in the rules prohibiting going to CPs out of order that are in other Legs?" Me: "No, I've read everything I could and saw nothing about this in the supp's/rules." So we waited for the other teams to move on and we collected the CPs at the nearby river. We were not the only ones to figure out this loop hole. And it saved us over 1 mile of canoeing.

The end of the bike section was back at the start point/HQ. In this "Transition Zone" we were allowed to go to our cars, change our gear, leave the bikes and head down to the river for the next leg. We both took a rather lax approach to this TZ and spent way to much time changing clothes, warming our feet, etc. In hind sight, it likely cost us a position or two in the final results. But we're learning.

At then end of the bike leg we were in 17th overall (out of 66 teams) and 10th in our Male, 2-person class (out of 30).

As we made our way to the canoe "put in" my legs were looking forward to the upcoming rest. The first half of the canoeing went very well. Heading down river, we made good time with David steering us around a number of obstacles. As we pulled up to CP22, a solo competitor was attempting to pull himself and his kayak up onto the shore. He had split the bottom of the hull and was taking on water...FAST! But he was OK. We pressed on. After CP23 (the turn around), we had to paddle back up river ~ 0.75 miles. Thanks to all of the previously mentioned rainfall, the water level was very high and the current was quite fast. As a result, the return trip was not fun! If we both stopped paddling for even a moment, our forward progress ceased almost immediately. My arms felt like they might fall off at any moment (see attached picture). I was SO done with paddling, but David kept motivating me and we pressed on.

Back on land, after traveling ~ 1.5 miles, we had set the 5th fastest time (59 min.) on the water leg and we'd moved up to a 3-way tie for 7th in the overall (3rd in class!!!) despite my complete lack of upper body strength. ...Boy were my arms looking forward to a "restful" hike!

The final leg, Trekking/Orienteering, consisted of 16 CPs that could be reached in any order. These CPs were loosely placed near/around two separate sets of hiking trails. As David continued with his role as navigator, he wisely opted to tackle the larger trail loop first. The value of this would become apparent later on.

By this time, the temperature had climbed into the mid 40's. This was quite comfortable given the level of energy that we were exerting.

Often times the quickest way from one CP to another was to follow the trail. But other times we would head straight through the woods to cut off large sections of the trail. And because it was more or less a free-for-all out there in the woods, we really had no idea how we were doing compared to the other teams.

Before starting this section, I expected our pace would be a brisk hike. But after only a few short minutes into the leg, it became apparent that we would need to jog whenever possible in order to stay competitive with the other teams. I was not prepared for this. My training consisted of zip, zero, zilch, nada, no running/jogging. And on top of that, I was carrying way more in my back pack than I really needed (once again in hind sight).

With many words of encouragement from David, I jogged as far and as often as I could, but with frequent periods of "fast" walking in between. But we cleared the CPs, one by one.

Then shortly after starting the final, smaller loop which had 6 CPs to track down, we came across a sign that said "Trail Closed". This was a marshy area with a number of boardwalks that made up the trail. We were told before the start that this closure was because of some missing planks on the boardwalks. "No problem" we told ourselves as we leapt over the missing pieces of lumber.

But...... then we rounded a corner only to find a 10+ foot section of boardwalk completely under 4-6 inches of icy water. The only way passed this frigid obstacle was to walk/run straight through it. There was no way to avoid completely soaking our feet/shoes. It was quite a shock at first. But fortunately this came near the end of the race.

Once we had made it beyond this soggy surprise, it wasn't long before this uncomfortable feeling was all but forgotten. This was due to the burning sensation in my thighs which took over my thoughts as I squeezed the last bits of strength from them.

David kept on trucking through the final miles of the course and I gave it all I had just to try to keep up. When we arrived at the finish, I was completely wiped out. The hiking leg ended up being ~ 6 miles which we coved in just under 2 hours. So the total distance covered by Team P.O.R. was about 25 miles in 5hr 12min. This was good enough for 11th place overall and 6th in class. Not too shabby for the first time out. And we were only 1min 43sec away from a top ten finish which basically came down to the time lost during our "relaxed" Transition Zone after the bike leg. Oh well!!

The overall winning team finished with a time of 4hrs 23min., a cool 49min. faster than us. But this gives us something to work towards in the future.

We had a great time. It was certainly quite an experience. A big thanks goes to David who expertly handled the navigation throughout the race and who managed to keep me motivated in order to press on regardless and make it to the end.

Paul Fernandez, Team POR

Sunday, November 13, 2011

WTF is Cyclocross?

For some strange reason I gave cyclocross racing a go this autumn. Cyclocross is very popular in Euroland where eons ago road racers started using it to stay fit during the winter. It's now it's own sport. Cyclocross is kind of like rallying whereby competitors race machines that aren't made for off-road use, off-road. I quite like it.

There is a great series of races in and around Grand Rapids run by I managed to get out to a few events and so far have had a pretty good time. Today sucked a little due to some pre-winter flu crap I have but it was still a good course. The courses are between 1-2 miles long usually so these are sprint type events where lap counts can be anywhere from 3-8. The general idea is to go hard and try not to throw up.

If you can ride a bike, it's worth coming out on a Sunday and giving it a go. The last event of this season is on November 27th.

Friday, November 4, 2011

December Chill

For many, December is a time for reflecting on the past 12 months, spending quality time with the family in front of the fire and enjoying a finely prepared hot Christmas dinner. I ask myself then, why am I heading out into the Michigan woods to compete in a 7hr adventure race that involves mountain biking, canoeing and running whilst navigating with a map and compass?
The truth is, the 12hr endure mountain bike race at Hanson Hills was the motivation to get out and compete in a multi-sport race, it just so happened that the next one was in December! Biking, canoeing, trekking and navigation aren’t new to me. Long before I held a drivers license this is how I spent my time. I even used to do orienteering as a kid. A driver who can navigate? Imagine the shock and horror of it all. With that said, what with GPS and Smartphones these days it’s been many years since I pulled out a map and compass and I still can’t run to save myself so this should be interesting. Honestly, I have no idea what we are in for and as I roped Paul Fernandez (12hr endure team mate) into this we’re committed to it. He's a co-driver so I'm hoping we don't get lost.
As of today we are on the entry list of 27, 17 of us make up the class we are in and we are eagerly anticipating a racer’s update (supps!) in a couple of weeks. Hopefully that will shed some light on this winter madness.
You can find out more about the event at and follow updates of our team aptly named ‘POR’ here at

With a few minor modifications (saddle bag with tube, air and multi-tool, a bottle cage and grippy Schwalbe tyres) the bike is ready for winter adventure racing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

12hrs of Hanson Hills

Race weekend arrived all too quickly. For some reason this crazy idea to race our bikes for 12hrs at the Hanson Hills enduro maybe wasn’t a smart one, I thought to myself. I probably wasn’t the only one in team Quattro that was asking himself, “Have I put enough miles in over the last 2 months?” Perhaps I was.
Our departure planning was terrible. Tammy and I arrived in Grayling, MI with the two kiddies around 10pm. Not a smart move. We finally got them settled down and asleep but we had a crappy night’s rest.
Rise and shine at 6:30am to start ‘fueling’ and ‘regular fluid checks’ for the day ahead. A healthy Big Boy breakfast followed by constant water intake got us fired up and by 8am Paul and his friend Joe and I headed over to the race to set up service at the base of the Hanson Hills ski area. There we met the fourth member of the team, Jake who I work with. It was a cloudless day but nippy. The race in principle was fairly straight forward. Starting at 10am we had to race as many laps as possible in 12hrs. The course was mostly tight, twisty single track with the occasionally sand trap where you had to keep your wits about you to avoid the trees that were right on the edge of the trail. They weren’t going to move if you came too close and we hadn’t fitted rollcages to our bikes and the helmets didn’t have HANS posts. There was even a Caution! on one descent.
Paul and Joe had raced this event before so Paul drew the short straw and started first. I was keen to put a night lap in but went second, then Jake then Joe. This proved to be a great starting order. Going into this event, in my mind we were going to do about 12 laps. Jake and I had visited Hanson Hills a couple of months prior and while the race course wasn’t marked out we got a feel for the terrain and it was pretty tough. I was thinking 55mins-1hr laps plus a changeover between riders. Paul set a blistering first lap at 51m 45s, our relay style handover was smooth and I took off on the trail. It started out on two track gravel then changed into hard packed sand and a single track climb. The first 1.5 miles climbed up into the woods and then flattened out and snaked down into a ravine. There was no chance to rest and with tight turns the focus was on maintaining momentum by not braking. Keep the speed, bank the turns and rail the side of the trail.
Don’t look off to the side or those magnetic trees would get you. I was glad I had a new bike. It’s a carbon 29er with lock on the fly suspension forks, very light and super fast on this terrain. I zig-zagged through the woods, the air was a little chilly with the low morning sun. The last climb was a killer; two track gravel with sand at the top, almost designed to zap the last ounce of power you had in your legs. It climbed the back of the ski hill but once up there the traverse through the woods was fast into a tight left and down a rocky chute over a crest and down the ski hill to the finish line 10.5 miles later and another 52mins lap. It felt as though we were flying and it was fun.
Jake was up next and he powered off at the changeover coming back around in another 52mins lap then Joe was up and smoked us all with 48mins. The ‘old’ guy in the team schooled us all. With that inspiration we got into a groove and got used to resting, refueling between laps. Allister helped with service and almost stabbed my tyre with a screwdriver, Ryan chilled out in his car seat, eating mostly, and Isla slept pretty much the whole day in the sun. Happy kids. Happy parents.
The trick with endurance cycling is to remember to drink and eat and while we couldn’t stomach a 3 course meal we scoffed cereal bars, fruit, yoghurt and a bunch of other tasty high calorie snacks. As the day went on we became more familiar with the trail, hitting 25-27mph on the descents and consistently averaging 12mph with each lap which meant we quickly realized that we might actually be able to do more laps than we thought. As I finished my 3rd lap with the Wee Man screaming, “Go Daddy Go!” (by far the coolest part of my day by the way) I could smell the grill from the finish line. Tammy had returned after taking the kids for a nap at the hotel and the burgers and brats were grilling away. It was a cool atmosphere hanging out watching the other racers and just talking crap whilst eating and waiting. We even had time to visit the play park and play on swings, a rather odd scenario mid race.
As the sun went down the temperatures dropped from the mid 60’s into the 40-50’s. We fired up the generator and floodlights then we started setting up the lights on helmets and handlebars. The rules state that you need to have lights on the bike from 7pm onwards and a flashing red light at the rear. I lost mine somewhere in the woods. It just exploded and fell off. That’s the story I’m sticking to. Joe finished his 3 lap, and Paul headed out on lap 13. We all got a little anxious when the hour passed and he wasn’t back. Anything could happen out there in the pitch black. Thankfully he made it back flying through the finish line and I headed out for lap 14. It was cold by this time so I just wanted to get around and make it back. Food, warmth and sleep are great physical and mental motivators. There were a few stragglers out there that could obviously see the lights coming up behind them and they jumped off the side of the trail to let me by.
There was some wildlife out there to so my mind started playing tricks on me imagining flying around a corner into a deer or something big and furry. Suddenly a black cat shot across the trail, yikes. It must have been a sign that the stinking hill at the end was coming up. It kicked my arse but once at the top it was a cruise to the finish and we had done it. 14 laps or 148 miles in 12hrs 13mins 15seconds. Brilliant.

Now, a little perspective. The top 2 person team did 15 laps in less time than we did. The winner of the solo 24hr race did 20 laps.

We were still pretty happy with ourselves but clearly a loooong way to go in this game.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 2011 already?

It's been a long time since we sat in the rally car. Due to a very busy year, our rallying has been on hold. During the second half of the year we plan to get back into the garage and prepare the car for the 2012 season so stay posted!

Alba Rallysport is a twit. Yes, we are on twitter and you can follow our updates on car prep, up and coming rallies, driving madness and the odd biking outing thrown in for training.

We havent been completely car free this year and did have the chance to test drive a Tesla Roadster which completely changed my perception of EV's. That thing is a missle. The torque and overall performance is incredible. Now, I just need a spare $150,000...