Self Support in 2015: What’s In, What’s Out?

Guidelines for self-supported riding Start with “Pedal the entire route, under your own power, using no outside assistance or prearranged support.” Add to that, the vibe of “Do nothing that not everyone else can do.” I do not believe self-supported rules have to remain static. But I do think we have agreed to an ideology of what all these “self supported events” are supposed to adhere to. We all come together for a self-supported ride with an understanding that we’re all riding under “X conditions” and go forth on the honor system. Self supported riding has significantly grown in popularity over the past few years; and I believe that’s a great thing for mountain biking, and a good for the world as it’s bringing more folks out into nature. High minded stuff, yeah. But with the boost in numbers comes some inevitable misunderstanding of the self-supported spirit, and more competition brings some more bending of the rules. Some Change Not many years ago, cell phones were strictly off-limits to self supported riding; now we have real-time, first person updates on social media. Some contend that this has made these rides less of a solo venture and more of a mainstream, fully “plugged in” event. The Trackleaders pages and SPOT tracker technology that has given these rides a spectator contingent has also been criticized by some riders for giving away too much information, and the SPOT’s SOS function have arguably given many riders a false sense of security when heading out into unfamiliar terrain.

"you and your damn cell phones"

“you and your damn cell phones”

I like to think of us Idyllwild bikepackers and our riding buddies as being from the “old guard” of self supported riding, but we’re not. We’re really the “middle guard” who started doing timed events at the very first days of cell phones being allowed; from when it was frowned upon to use them but technically “in bounds.” Spectatorship almost never happened. One of my goals in putting the Stagecoach 400 route together was- I paraphrase here- to make a badass bikepacking route. Another goal was to bring a world class bikepacking event to Southern California. I set a high standard for participation in it from the start, and never concerned myself too much with making it “accessible” to many more than the very most honed backcountry riders. Maybe 30 or so people would show up each year, I figured, hopefully some of them would come from California. The San Jacinto Enduro was a great stepping stone to get Southern Californians into longer rides, and, with enough time in the saddle new bikepackers could sharpen their teeth and eventually get into the Stagecoach 400. That was my thinking anyway. Today we have folks who’ve never been on a bikepacking trip entering the Stagecoach 400. Many folks are coming to the Stagecoach from a different angle; not indoctrinated in self-supported riding, but coming from outside conventional racing. The Stagecoach 400, lets face it, is a big riding accomplishment, as is doing a 12 hour race, the Leadville 100, or the like. And that’s cool! It’s great. Welcome to the party.  I’m the old man standing on the porch, in my underwear shouting at the whippersnappers to get their act together. If I aim the garden hose at you, it’s not that I don’t like you… it’s just that I want you to be awesome. In that spirit, I’m clarifying below some common issues I’ve seen over the last few years of the Stagecoach 400. No Outside Assistance No Prearranged Support Caching some water out in the desert? Of course not. There should be no “caching” of any kind on the route. You should start with your own water, for example, and have a plan to find more along the way be it from a store, natural source, etc. The only stuff you use on the route that you didn’t start with should come from a publicly available store/source. What about using the Postal Service? You CAN use the Postal Service, or the like, but only AFTER the start of the ride. Mailing yourself a change of clothes to somewhere on the route before the ride has started is a no-no. Basically, the only reason you’ll be using the USPS is to send stuff home that broke, like your broken soul just before you throw in the towel and DNF yourself. Postal Service is damn near off limits. Want to send your sleep kit home on last day? Uncool! While technically not illegal, you’ll lose cool points and get frowns. Staying in hotels? You CAN stay in hotels, but again, DON’T make reservations until after the ride has started. Capeesh? As in, if the ride starts at 8am on Friday, don’t even pick up the phone to make a reservation until 8:01am or later. Making reservations before the ride has started is out of bounds. That would be “prearranged” get it? Meeting a friend/spouse/rider on route? Don’t do it. If you have a friend pace you up a tough canyon climb,*ahem, cough cough Oriflamme* for example, you should remove yourself from the ride and report yourself DNF. Likewise, if you feel you might need to see your SO during the ride for a conjugal visit, you probably should not enter this ride. Stay home and make sexy time. Having friends in the periphery via motorcycle, car, etc? Super uncool, out of bounds, illegal, DNF yourself. If your friends just so happened to be riding motorcycles in the desert that day, maybe you should join them. DNF yourself and enjoy a cold Smirnoff Ice. Don’t sign up if you think it’ll happen. I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but it really harshes the mellow for everyone else. Plus it’s pretty clearly taking “outside” and “prearranged” moral support. Likewise, if you’re not sure you can make it across the desert and maybe want the security of having a friend nearby to save you in case things get weird… we would rather you stayed home. We want your utter confidence that you can complete the route from start to finish. If you aren’t so sure, please keep training and consider joining us next year. Stopping by my house, which happens to be on the route? Don’t do it, unless you are stopping home to call in your DNF. Even if you broke a bike part *saddle* and you have a spare in your garage. Either go to a bike shop and have it fixed or DNF yourself. Do NOT go to your house for any reason.  Calling home with my cell phone? Instagram? Facebook?  Totally! It might mess with your head, but go ahead and do that as much as you’d like. Strava? Go to Leadville.

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5 responses to “Self Support in 2015: What’s In, What’s Out?

  1. Spot on Brendan… consistency among “ultras” is key. Great articulation. Clearly drawing the line between “Trail Magic” and “Support” is key IMO in light of recent publications.

  2. Very interesting and enlightening post Brandon. So… I’m guessing you might frown upon a 58 yr old dude signing up who, up until four months ago, hadn’t ridden a bike in 40 years? Damn, and I just bought a cheap Motobecane online, hung a bunch of cool gear on it, and thought I was ready… I’ve already made my donation, so I think I’ll stay in and see how far I can get… I may even leave my spoke reflectors on 🙂

    • Jeff, I can’t frown on anybody coming to the ride, or what path they follow. everybody is on a journey, right? I do frown upon folks coming in who won’t abide by our guidelines.

  3. Brendan, I might add your rules follow the spirit of the solo better than the RTD rules, which are full of inconsistencies. For example, dining in restaurants and sleeping in hotels makes the route far easier, and favors riders with a fat wallet or credit card. But, talking to friends and relatives on your cell phone is okay ; saying hi in person anywhere on the route is forbidden? Uh? If you can spend two days riding across a desert on your own, how is having lunch in San Diego with your spouse or friend a “help” to get you to the finish line? Seems to me, that would be more of a temptation to rack your bike and go home. I think an example of true unaided solo rules might start here: http://www.badwater.com/blog/marshall-ulrichs-solo-badwater-to-mt-whitney-record/ 🙂

    • Jeff, I contend that sleeping in hotels and dining in restaurants… makes the ride harder. Not easier.
      That’s been my experience anyhow. I prefer immersion, but that’s just me. Hotels work for some, definitely not for me. Cell phones too, you pretty much won’t see me use one; not because I don’t love my family, but because I love my own private Rabbit Hole for a few days.
      But I digress.

      What seems an advantage to you sounds like a disadvantage to me.
      But that’s the rub; the rules aren’t exclusively about advantages and disadvantages, and it sounds like you might think that’s where we’re coming from. Let’s stick with “prearranged” and “outside” support & assistance for now… meeting your main squeeze *somewhere* is both prearranged, and outside right?
      Additionally, abiding by these guidelines helps keep a low profile, which matters for things like the legalities of permitting- or in our case, not permitting- the ride. The total number of beating hearts associated with this ride matters; not just the people on bikes. In some areas it is a maximum of 69. Others… it is significantly lower.

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