Doing it all the hard way...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Love is the greatest gift (but Carbon Fiber is still pretty awesome)

Zach on my mountain bike several years ago...
A few weeks ago I had a couple studs over at the cabin for some intense riding.  Hottie was there the first day but was overwhelmed by the testosterone and left us alone for most of the weekend.  It was a chance for me to share some of the roads and trails I have come to know and love.

The gents and I were able to sneak in a mountain bike ride late Friday finishing just before sunset.  We went on the classic Buck Mountain Loop. The ride was fun.  It was one of those, “It doesn’t get any better than this” kind of rides.  My love of gravel has taken me on many challenging roads but the thrill of riding single track on a mountain bike was rekindled.   We spooked deer and rode through some idyllic scenes that just left us wondering what we did to deserve so much fun.
El Chefe' striking the hero's pose
My mountain bike isn’t quite a museum relic but in dog years it is over a hundred years old.  My companions were on 29 inch machines that are both pretty young.  Their great bikes in combination with their fitness and bike handling skills made keeping up a challenge.   They were kind enough to wait for me on descents and some technical sections where my bike couldn’t keep up. 
The ride just sucked !
I was pushing and found myself approaching the edge of the envelope where you go faster than feels safe. You can usually get away with what for a while but not too long   I didn’t like getting gapped and my ego was pushing me to let off the brakes and let it fly.  I could see those guys zipping back and forth on the downhill ahead of me and I tried to keep up.  I was employing self-talk to convince myself that my old bike was just fine.  My rear wheel also seemed to have some unexpected side-to-side play but I used my well honed powers of denial to chase that thought out of my head.
Honing my denial skills over coffee and lies..
The steely taste of adrenaline in my mouth and a corner or two where I barely made it prompted me to back off and let the gap grow.   The guys stopped now and then and waited for me and didn’t utter a hint of complaint.  These are great guys. As kind as they were I didn’t like being THAT guy.
 The view from the back
Like many folks my childhood is peppered with memories of being on the outside looking in. I wanted Levi’s yet I went to school in pants from JC Penney. Those pants weren’t even real jeans. They were some poly blend with a denim pattern printed on them that never faded like jeans were supposed to.  I hated them. All they lacked was the “Kick Me” sign pinned to the butt. Mom how could you?
Nice dress eh?
My friends had Schwinn Sting Rays and I had a purple bike from Montgomery Wards. Even as a child I outwardly shrugged it off and kept the brave face until I split the head tube landing off a jump. I carried my bike home in two parts.  The only bright side was the crash finally ripped those damn JC Penney pants.  I yanked the tear to make it even bigger.  If my mom had patched those pants I would have run away and joined the circus.
French Bike, French Tires and French Pedals, all old.  
In France which is also old.
Forgive me; I digress. Back to 2015.

About the middle of the ride I noticed my left brake lever seemed to have more play than the right brake lever.  I stopped and saw the lever had lost its pivot bolt and was dangling.  We still had a thousand feet of descending to do and I found that if I kept a finger on the lever at all times I could keep it from coming out and then I could kind of brake.  “I’m good,” I lied to my companions.

I made it down intact and was grateful to have shared a wonderful ride.  Back at the cabin I showed Hottie the dangling brake lever.  She seemed concerned. Later that evening I shrugged off the events of the day as I searched the internet for a replacement lever.  I put the bike away and turned my thoughts to gravel.

Over the next couple days I talked with my friends about what would be a good 29er bike for me.  Hottie joined in on the discussion as well.  She asked me about this and that continuing the conversation even after we returned to Casa de Evo on the west side of the state.
A doctor told me once the best way to have surgery is to start talking to a surgeon.  I wanted to have a bike in mind but I knew I was somewhere between a season and a year away from getting a new mountain bike.  I quit talking about it as I figured it would just make me want one and that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.  My life is pretty sweet and I was content to count my blessings.

Two weeks later Hottie and I returned to the Cabin and brought my dear mother, a.k.a. “The Beast” for Mother’s day weekend.  In the back of the War Wagon was a small plastic bag containing a replacement brake lever.  Lucky for me cable brake levers are cheap!

Per the plan I had left work early and when we arrived we unloaded and I swapped out the old lever and put on the new one.  Within thirty minutes of arriving Hottie and I were riding mountain bikes on the trails of the beautiful Methow Valley.  I followed her as she rode her Santa Cruz Tallboy and the bike soaked up the bumps. I increased the volume of my self-talk telling myself what an awesome bike my old Fisher was.

As I watched her float over rocks I tried to sit on the same section of trail only to have my teeth rattled.  I convinced myself that standing out of the saddle was great for my training.  During our ride Hottie got a call from a friend of hers who lives in Omak but was in Winthrop on business.  We stopped for three minutes while she made arrangements to hook up with her friend post ride. After the call we returned to riding and I thought nothing of it.
Not a lot of thinking going on inside here.......
After showers and dinner Hottie drove to town to meet her friend.  The Beast was chilling outside and I was doing a few chores inside.  I saw Hottie driving up the driveway and I rushed to finish hanging up our bike clothes which I had washed.  I didn’t want to greet her friend with a pile of wet bike kit in my hands.
With my bibs hanging “business side out” to dry Hottie called me out to the front porch.  She gave me a card with my name on it.  I looked to my right and saw a big mountain bike leaned against the cabin.  The bike was pointed at me so all I could tell was it was a mountain bike (flat bars and wide tires).  I was sure I had put the bikes away after the ride. I remembered our conversations about mountain bikes and wondered if Hottie had bought me a new bike.

Despite Hottie’s history of excellent gift giving I still reverted to my childhood trauma and feared I might be looking at the 2015 version of the Montgomery Ward purple bike.  The card bore the tried and true words, “Nothing says Love like Carbon Fiber.”   I had hope.

Speechless, I walked over and stood in front of the bike.  There in all its glory was a brand new full suspension Tallboy in my size.  It was a better model than I had dreamed of. My head was struggling to understand what was happening. This was Mother’s Day weekend.  Why was I getting a gift?
“Just because you’re a great guy and I love you” was Hottie’s answer. 
I have the greatest wife EVER!  
Say hello to my 29 inch friend...
My mom had contributed as well and I had no choice but to forgive my mother for all the dorky clothes she had made me wear as a child.  Let the healing begin!
In a flash I put pedals on it and zipped up and down the driveway until it was too dark to ride anymore.  I was like a kid on Chismus morning and was almost afraid to go to sleep for fear it was all a dream.  Hottie’s “friend” was in fact Methow Cycle and Sport calling to tell her when the bike would be ready.  I had been duped.  I’m fine with that.  The awesome team at Methow Cycle and Sport had gone above and beyond to get the bike in and build it up for me. 
The Wizard of Coz and Methow Cycle Sport
The next day Hottie urged me to take it out solo for a “get to know you” ride. I rode it and it was predictably awesome.  I tried to hold back but that didn’t last very long. What I realized was that while I was indeed faster, speed was only a byproduct of having more control and thus being significantly safer.   The ride was also more comfortable, which despite my bravado and outward denial of being impacted by time, matters a lot. 
In the days since I find myself reflecting on three things. First, it means a lot to me that people love me and care for me enough to sacrifice so I can have such an expensive gift. It makes me think maybe I’m not such a bad guy.  Second, I do have some wonderful people in my life and that means more than any material thing. 
Dos Tallboys      Hottie's on the left
Finally, speaking of material things, that Tallboy is a freakin amazing bike.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Gravel Fondo lessons learned (so far)

Don't forget: If you love it, lube it !!
One of the purposes of this blog is to store notes to myself for future reference.  If these notes help you then that is great as well.  Just remember this is all about Davo. My profession involves continual reassessment of processes in search of improvement.   I am pretty OCD about making lists before an event and saving those lists for later reference.  Shortly after each event I revisit the list and add comments as to what worked and what did not.

Below in no particular order is a listing of what lessons I have learned from my Gravel Fondo experiences.  I’m not going to say if the lesson was learned because it worked, or if I learned a lesson by not following the advice.

1.     Bring breakfast food so you can be self sufficient on the correct assumption the hotel food is plastic.
2.     Pack a “starting line bag” of the stuff you will put in your pockets and items you will need just before setting off.  My bag includes gel(s), shot bloks, endurolytes, lip balm and drink mixes for interim aid stations.  This bag is in a larger bag that contains my shoes, helmet, gloves, chamois cream and sunglasses – stuff I will put on just before starting.
3.     Use the drop bag option whenever it is offered.

4.     At food stops eat only what you know works for your body.  Often the food that is most appealing fifty miles in is exactly the food you should avoid.  You put all that effort into training.  Don’t sabotage that by eating the wrong stuff.
5.     Have a plan for your food stop.  It isn’t a race, but spending too much time at the food stop costs valuable time, body heat and stiffness.  Eating, filling bottles, dumping wrappers, refilling pockets etc. is a lot to do and giving that some thought beforehand is a good idea.

6.     Unless you are going for the win, keeping your race number in your pocket and pulling it out just before the finish is just fine and doesn’t put holes in your cool jerseys.
7.     No matter what the weather prediction is you should bring way more clothes than you think you need so you are covered just in case.  Just in case happens more than you think and having the right gear in your drawer at home is even worse than not having it at all.
Hot Hottie (properly dressed)
8.     Carry a patch kit just in case.  Just in case happens more than you think.  Peace of mind is worth something as well.
9.     Try and over hydrate the evening before.  For us, that has been on the drive over.  If you don’t have a bottle in your hand you’re probably not drinking enough.  

10.  Start eating ride food before the start.  I was munching on some shot bloks in the parking lot and on the first mile of the ride.   The first thirty minutes of the ride can be intense (paying attention to the wheels in front of you) and thus you forget to eat.  
11.  Have a three pronged recovery food plan.  First, have something to eat as you change out of your kit right after the ride.  Second, figure out a dinner plan assuming a late afternoon finish.  Finally, have something worthwhile to eat on the drive home.  Cheetos and cheeseburgers don’t fit into any of the groups I just listed.

12.  Being old and lacking close up vision is a hindrance.  Not being able to get a good look at a hole in your tire (especially a tubeless tire) is a problem.  I don’t have an answer for this one yet.

Tux before his second birthday.  Check out that muscle definition.....

13.  A good inspection of your equipment the week before the event is a really smart idea.  This includes inspecting your tires, brake pads, cables, bar wrap, shoes and cleats.  I’d even say checking your clothing for tears or missing stitching can’t hurt.  Test rides the day before are better than nothing, but not by much.  Check your gear far enough in advance that you can do something about it if you need to.

14.  Smearing grease on the outside of your bottom bracket to keep grit and/or water out may be messy but it pays dividends in the long run.  If you dare to worry about the extra watts needed to carry the weight of the grease and a sprinkling of grit compare it to the wattage required when that grit gets next to the ball bearings of your BB.

15.  Ride the bike you’re on and not the one at home.  I was on skinny tires (28mm) and should not have bombed down the rocky descent like I was on a mountain bike.  Next time….

16.  I have never regretting taking on additional electrolytes.  A nuun tablet added to a bottle of your favorite drink mix is good as is popping Endurolytes before and during the event.

17.  Buttonhole is still the best stuff ever made for its intended purpose.  I get mine from

18.  Garmin Edge 500’s don’t multitask well.   When I load a course onto my Garmin and then proceed to ride that course the Garmin struggles.  The device will say “Off Course” about a hundred times if there are mountains around which I can live with.  I’ve had the Garmin completely lose the course more than once which can be unnerving.  Most recently it seemed to “miss” some of the ride distance while on the ride.  When I finished my 143km ride my Garmin showed a total distance of 138km.   When it uploaded it showed up as 143km but during the ride when I was expecting the climb to start at km 116 it started at 112 because some of the distance was “missing.”  The possibility of either losing the uploaded course or having inaccurate distance (which invalidates a Cue sheet) can be downright dangerous on one of these rides.   Oh well, better to know than not.

19.  Ride hard, but not too hard and save some matches.  If the pace early on feels hard don’t be afraid to back off right then and there.  When the ride duration is four to eight hours you have plenty of time to pour it on later.  Early on you SHOULD feel like you can go harder.  If you go as hard as you feel you can early on be prepared to be eligible for citizenship in the pain cave.   Your day will be long and miserable.

20.  Be flexible.  Take a lesson from Cyclocross.  You train, you prepare, you get your equipment dialed in then you roll the dice. In a cross race when someone crashes into you one minute into your race your day may well be done.  Goals and objectives are nice but cows on the road, flat tires, freaky weather and a hundred other things can affect your day and you are powerless to alter them.  Make sure your goals can still happen in spite of these surprises.   Goals like, ride with my friend and enjoy the scenery are really good goals. People have died chasing STRAVA goals.  Relax and enjoy the ride.

Coffee and Lies #117 The Law of Accumulation

I never said that the Coffee and Lies would be published in sequence so just relax.
The Law of Accumulation can be summarized in two words, “Everything counts.”  As spring is upon us I am pleased to report I have a hint of season-adjusted fitness.

My Ephrata experience may have sounded extreme but the grim conditions were somewhat offset by what I felt was a strong ride by me.  My slow base miles in January and February were augmented by a sprinkling of speed work prior to the Fondo and I felt fairly strong during and after the ride.

At the time I questioned the value of those miles and wondered if the zone one rides would translate into fitness or just establish a pattern of slowness.  In spite of these questions I just kept at it.  I would love to puff out my chest and portray myself as persevering against all odds.  A more realistic scenario is that I am in such a rut I just kept riding because I didn’t know what else to do.

Some of my bike commuting miles this past winter felt like walking barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways with a constantly shifting headwind.  Cold, dark and usually wet miles that seemed pointless at the time yet they provided a base that would reveal itself only when the days began to grow longer.

When I upped the intensity and threw in stairs my body seemed to respond well.  The week of the Fondo when I woke up Wednesday for my bike commute as I putted around the kitchen I felt more tired than I should have and upon brief introspection I declared I felt “off.”  I decided not to ride that day. I felt a tad “off” that day and the next and when the Ephrata Fondo came around I had no clue how I would do.  I was pleasantly surprised at my performance.
This blog has featured the famous quote from Greg LeMond, “It never gets easier; you just go faster.” This is how much of my training feels. When you push it feels harder. The fact that you are going one or two kilometers per hour faster or slower is imperceptible.   You do notice that some days you can turn it on and other days it just doesn’t seem like there is any more in the tank.  When things feel hard you are never sure if you are building fitness or just struggling because you are out of shape.

Hottie is slowly healing from her malady.  I am fairly sure she does not feel like she is really getting better, but she is.  She is beyond anxious to get going again.  It is always easy to tell someone else that, “this too shall pass.” However, when that someone is you, it is hard. She rode quite a bit before her surgery both on the road and in the snow on her fat bike.  Those miles will come back to benefit her when she gets the go ahead to ride again.
Not long ago it was warm enough to wear short fingered gloves for my bike commute in to work.  I threw in a block of three minute intervals and even collected a STRAVA KOM for my troubles.  I’m focusing on an age-appropriate three week cycle of hard/hard/easy for my training.   Let’s see how that works out.  So far it feels good.  That logic would explain my Cyclocross season last year so at least for now, I’m sticking to it.

I don’t need the headlight for my commute home and my Showers Pass rain jacket got to start its vacation early this year.  Maybe the folks who live in New England feel differently, but this climate change isn’t all bad from where I sit.
With my roots in endurance sports reaching back to the seventies I am familiar with the principle of sowing and harvesting.  As a teenager my summers included running ten to fifteen miles a day in preparation for cross country races in the fall. Even before I could shave I understood that the races in December were won because of the preparation done in July and August.

I don’t mind putting in the hard work now in return for a benefit further down the road. This ability to work hard is perhaps as much of a curse as a blessing.  Last fall I kept working well after I should have raised a white flag and backed off.

There is no fire in my belly to beat any person or win any prize.  My objective is the satisfaction to do my best considering the tradeoffs I believe appropriate.  It is fun to have your legs gladly obey when you ask them to pick it up.