Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, September 28, 2015

Winthrop Fondo 2015 Ride Report – THAT left a mark

                                                    Part of the "new" course
For 2015 Jake moved the Winthrop Fondo from June to September.   Wildfires mandated a re-route as well so there was more than a few unknowns to deal with on this ride.  Some of my brethren and I had ridden the first part of the Fondo course back in the beginning of September and unbeknownst to us, it was also a preview of the last twenty miles as well.

It may be presumptuous of me to claim this as my “home” Fondo but I ride these roads a whole lot for someone who works west of the Cascade Crest.  I was familiar with the route and had been looking forward to this all year.  I was glad to host a seven of my teammates at our place for the weekend of the Fondo.

I arrived a day early and tried to keep Friday as low key as possible. I behaved as if I could somehow store my strength for use during the Fondo.  Logic says otherwise, but logic has little to do with a ride that covers ninety miles and climbs what I thought would be eleven thousand feet on gravel roads. 

Many of our clan had skipped the Ellensburg Fondo in June because they were still staggering from the slaughter that was the Leavenworth Fondo at the end of May.   The mind of a middle aged man can do some amazing things one of which is forgetting the cramp-a-thon of the Swakane Canyon climb.  Embracing our powers of denial we were ready to submit to the will of Jake once again.

Four of us had promised to ride gentleman style and “pace” ourselves for the Winthrop Fondo. I was anxious to see if this materialized or if some would be swept up in the excitement and attack either on the road out of town or on the five thousand foot climb that followed. 

                                               Pre-Fondo fiddling
Following a breakfast of carbs and eggs we made the chilly ride to the start via local trails.  Soon we were underway.  My stories from last year about seeing riders go out hard only to blow up had found traction with our group.  I declared a grupetto while we were still neutral.  We were riding in formation and I felt pretty comfortable with our patience.  I suggested the name, “The Peloton of Discretion.”

All too soon the climbing started and we settled in.  When the pave’ gave way we stayed in a group as the sandy gravel crunched under our wheels.    As predicted we passed riders who had succumbed to the early excitement. 

At the first aid station we all remarked and how good we felt.  We didn’t rush as we filled bottles and stretched for a couple minutes before setting off on the steeps of Forest Service Road 39.  This part of the course was very Swakane-like and I was grateful it came early in the ride.  Soon we were atop the first climb 6,600 feet above sea level.   The wind was blowing and those who had shed layers put them back on for the descent.

                                 At the first aid station......chilly
One of the phrases we tossed around was that it was only uphill until you reached the downhill and vice versa.  There was no flat on this course, only up or down.

On the descent El Chef flatted and we didn’t see it in real time.  When we noticed there were only three of us Big John went back up to check while The Wizard of Coz and I tried to figure out how long it would take for hypothermia to set in.  

This is a great part of the course. It is remote and as WhipLaesch says, “it is a place where a small issue can become a big problem.”  After less than ten minutes Coz and I were cold and we started riding backwards toward El Chefe and John not so much out of concern but to try and get warm again.

Soon we saw two orange helmets heading our way and once again we were in formation.  The next climb topped out just over 7,000 feet and the third one was close. 

I found that I had a repeat of a situation that happened a few weeks ago where I was able to climb without issue but the extended descents hovering just over the saddle caused aductor cramping as if I were doing wall sits or similar torture.  I would feel okay on the descent but once the climbing resumed I’d cramp instantly.  I tried to dial it back and that seemed to work.   If the cramping continued it would be a long day. Who was I kidding? Ninety miles of gravel is always a long day.

I could feel the thin air and was looking forward to more oxygen and warmth at Conconully.

After topping out on the third and final pre-Conconully climb we were in good spirits though I felt there might still be one stinger lurking.  Sure enough we rounded a left hand corner and there was a sixteen percent grade kicking us in the face.  Panicked downshifting took place and we were wrestling our machines up a loose and rocky sick joke. This narrow “road” would turn me back if I were driving a jeep.  I remembered losing traction on this last year during the Fondo and having to walk to the top because it was too steep to get going. The drop off left of the road was intimidating.  I made it to the top without unclipping.

I felt relief and soon we were on the downhill roller coaster that leads to Conconully.  Although the air was getting warmer the wind chill from going thirty miles an hour kept us cool enough.

At the food stop we let the young ladies fill our bottles as we ate and stretched.   I changed batteries in the GoPro and chomped some calories and swallowed electrolytes. 

The day was feeling warm and we debated what clothing to keep and what to leave behind for transport to the finish.  Ultimately I stuffed my arm warmers, wind vest and beanie into my jersey pockets and only left my full fingered gloves. 

The remaining climb would be a serious undertaking with fresh legs. NOBODY had fresh legs. With way over two thousand meters of climbing in my legs I started off very measured.  We stayed in a group until we hit the gravel and then began to string out. 

I felt a cramp coming on and stopped and just stood for thirty seconds stretching my legs.  I remounted and climbed some more.  I was slowing down and found myself in a strange spot.  My cramping kept me from going as hard as I wanted.  The level of effort I could maintain wasn’t generating as much heat as a zone three or four effort.  This could be a problem…….

I stopped to stretch and I put on my sleeves.  After climbing another hundred meters (vertical) I stopped and put on my wind vest.   After another hundred meters of vertical I was out of water.  The beanie came on another hundred meters higher.  

The climb was exposed and the mountains were beautiful. The golden foliage that lined the road was motivating.  I could see thirty miles to the south and fifty miles east.  The sky was blue with while clouds that had silver edges.  I spotted El Chefe on the road ahead and he was cramping as well.  This climb was taking its toll.

The air was cold and fresh. The views were worthy of the effort I had expended.  My legs ached but I’m not sure I should have expected anything else.  I had eaten and hydrated well.  My equipment was working.  For all of the preparation and execution this ride is just plain hard.  I was hurting and I was okay with that.

                            The ride was so tough, I even turned black and white.....
Near the top of the final climb Coz was shooting video as I rode past head gritting my teeth Rapha-style.  Over the top we began the surprisingly smooth descent. The kilometers ticked past and before long all four of us were at the final aid station.  With full bottles and smelling the barn we set off for the final nineteen miles.  

We dropped three thousand feet in twelve miles and my legs were thrilled when we hit the pavement and I could descend with my tired ass in the saddle.   I used my local knowledge and took the sprint to the town limit sign.  We crossed the line four across as El Jefe’ cheered us on. 

We collected our patches and rode back to the barn (really we rode to the barn) where we grabbed a slice of pizza and collected our drop bags. 

I thought the new course was much better than the old one. Move views and the final climb was steady and had good surface.  I hope this is the course henceforth and forever.

Back at the cabin the full impact of the day’s journey was manifest.  Coz was prone and stayed that way. Complete sentences from any of us were rare. El Chefe’ somehow managed to whip out a recovery meal of barbequed steaks, potatoes, grilled onions and peppers and a salad that would have impressed the fairer gender.  We ate our fill in near silence.  The quiet spoke both to the quality of the meal and the physical trauma of the day. 

For the metrically inclined I collected 158kilometers and 3,692 meters of climbing. That is ninety eight miles and twelve thousand feet of climbing in old money. 

We went on a short walk to enjoy the full moon and provide a diversion so we didn’t go to bed before nine o’clock.  We went to bed shortly after. We slept. Oh yeah, we slept.

                           The next night I watched the eclipse from the cabin...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Sunscreen and snow tires

As it happened a few of the men who wear the orange were in the Methow this past weekend.  Family obligations dictated an early departure.  We gathered at Rocking Horse for a pre ride coffee.  The black beverage provided warmth and helped improve our motivation. 
As we rolled out the grey skies were spewing a few raindrops to test our resolve.  We continued undaunted up the Chewuch. Our plan was to do the first hill of the Winthrop Fondo.  Before you make a serious error in judgment you should be aware the first climb goes up 5,000 feet.  For the avoidance of doubt, we start in town at 1,800 feet and climb up Forest Service Road 37 then Forest Service Road 39 until we reach the pass at 6,800 feet. 

Our plan was to get to the pass, ride down the other side a few hundred feet and turn around.

That was our plan.

As we made our way up the paved road we spotted a stray white calve. After turning onto FS37 the quality of the pavement quickly dropped just as the elevation quickly grew.  The road meanders at a steady grade in a deep valley.  We were enjoying the conversation as well as the views. 

The rain had stopped and we paused to stuff vests into our jersey pockets and drink for a moment before resuming our ascent.  

                                                                   Naw ???
As we climbed the quality of the road continued to decline.  Five kilometers back there had been cracks in the pavement and now there were potholes that grew larger the more we climbed.  We were forced to go single file to avoid the hole in the tarmac.

Finally we crossed the bridge that I knew was the end of the pavement.  The surface was loose, sandy and had washboard the full width of the road.  The sand diminished but the road remained loose and rocky.  The washboard was relentless. I wished I was wearing bibs with a thicker chamois.  Note to self for the Fondo: Wear Pactimo bibs. 

I love this shot.  Prepped for war.  
                            Rapha Lightweight jersey and Pactimo Raptor bibs
WhipLaesch and Einmotron slowly gapped El Chefe and me.  This was expected and didn’t create an emotion.  Soon El Chefe and I were grinding away.  My heart rate and cadence were trending in opposite directions.

From bottom to top the climb take an hour and a half.  It isn’t possible to ride up this easy. 

I was deep in the cave as was El Chefe.  We had been silent for ten minutes. The only sound our labored breathing and the constant crunch of gravel under our tires.

“You want the good news first, or the bad news?” I grunted. 
“Bad News,” El Chefe responded breathlessly.
“It doesn’t let up at all the rest of the way.  In fact, it gets steeper at the top.”
“Thanks” He said after a pause.  Talking used valuable oxygen.
“The good news is you don’t have to waste your breath asking if there is any good news.”

I would like to think he smiled but I didn’t have the energy to look over.

We reached the junction of NF37 and NF39 and stopped for a moment and drank and repacked the layers we had pulled off.  NF39 veers left and is markedly steeper than continuing on NF37.  As we started it was kind of like heading out into the rain where you take a deep breath and mutter something like, “here we go.” 

The road is noticeably steeper and looser.  There are also some humps that require bike wrestling. I checked any my cadence was below fifty.  I had been in my lowest gear for an hour. This was hard.  This is, however, why we came.

After a couple twists and turns (all uphill) we came to what I call elephant hill.  Although you eat the elephant one bite at a time if you see the whole elephant all at once it is intimidating.  This is a climb you see for a good bit and it looks like it goes on forever.  I recall seeing riders at the Fondo last year just get off and walk when they saw the climb. 

Photo from 2014 Fondo

After reaching the top of elephant hill the road, of course, just keeps climbing.  Five minutes later we emerged from the trees and I could see the road carved into the mountain in front of us. 

“See that road cut up and to the right?” I asked El Chefe.
“Yeah” he answered hopefully.
“See the one to the right and above that?”
“Yeah,” his voice cracked.
“I think that is the top for today.”

Without a word we chugged uphill.  I remembered the grade near the top was around twenty percent.  I was saving myself and El Chefe pulled ahead.  After the turn at the first road cut the top was visible. Mercifully the road dropped a few meters as we gathered our courage for the final meters.

With profanity oozing from our legs we battled up the final incline.  A final kick up in grade was augmented by loose gravel so one had to get some speed to avoid spinning out.  We topped out and slumped over the bars. 

On the exposed ridge the wind blew cold.  The dark clouds were again spewing but now it was snowflakes that dusted our helmets.  Quickly we pulled out all the clothing we had and put everything back on. Vests, sleeves, caps and long gloves were all donned in great haste.  I checked the Garmin.  We were UP there......

I would have loved to have spent a few minutes soaking in sunshine and the accomplishment of the ascent.  The sun was hiding and the cold wind cut us down. We turned and headed down.  
The road had been steep going up and it was steep going down.  The washboard was wicked and kept us out of the saddle.  Hovering over the saddle for ten, then twenty then thirty minutes caused my aductors to cramp.  Kind of wild to get  cramp on a downhill.
Down, down, down we went.  Finally it started to get warm.  Well, it stopped being cold.  El Chefe removed his sleeves and vest.  I pulled off my vest but I wasn't ready to claim warmth. 

Before long we were back at the cabin and getting ready to take Lily out for a tour of the Sun Mountain trails.  We were tired and needed a pick me up.  We thought about EPO.

We decided we would stick with burritos................

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Let’s get shallow

Summer is dead.  July and August are gone. Fall is upon us.  Don’t waste your time looking back. Tis the season of football, flannel, embrocation and shoe covers.

At least for now I will refrain from sharing my overly cerebral epistles regarding family, humanity, politics and the environment.  I shall, at least for now, return to the trivial bullshit of training stories, ride reports and equipment reviews.  

Some exciting times at the office (and when was the last time I said that?) dictated that my bike commute be on Thursday this week. 

I pulled my hamstring ten days ago and have been taking it uncomfortably easy since then.  I didn’t plan to push it on my bike commute, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to help myself and would, one way or another, get a good idea of the status of my hamstring.

El Jefe’ had called a last minute cross practice this past Sunday. The rain was heavy and ironically it made our spirits light.   I took it easy on my hamstring. It was tender and I treated it as such thus I didn’t have any issues.  I gave it some more rest this week.

The alarm called my bluff and it was time to ride or hide.  I checked the outside temperature. Fifty one degrees just as expected.  It was dark and wet outside. I was excited to ride.

After finding my weather appropriate clothing and getting my electronics engaged I got underway.  For as free spirited as riding a bike should be- when you complicate it with four lights, a heart rate monitor, a GPS device and a speed and cadence sensor not to mention the phone in your handlebar bag; any argument about the simplicity of riding a bike gets complicated.

Soon I was pedaling along in the darkness. The smell of wet pavement and the twinkling of the stars made me smile.  The streets were deserted.  No complaints from my hamstring. Yet.

On a short rise I got out of the saddle and my chain seemed to skip for a second.  As I kept going, the skipping got worse.  Using my shifters I worked the chain back and forth on the rear cassette trying to find a happy spot.  The clunking would stop for a bit only to return a couple minutes later.

Finally I stopped and tried to figure out what was wrong. I wiggled the cassette. It was loose.  With uncharacteristic speed I made the correct decision. I pointed my bike back toward home and limped back.  I arrived and put the bike in the garage.  I managed to resist the strong temptation to pull off the wheel and determine what was wrong.  

After getting home and pulling everything apart I would say my freehub is shredded. When aluminum and steel fight, steel wins. Actually steel doesn't really win, but aluminum finishes last.  There were no pictures on the web that compared to how torn up my freehub is right now.

I got cleaned up and drove into work. I was bummed I wasn’t able to get in a full commute.  I was happy my hammy seems to be either recovered or at least on the path.  


Friday, August 28, 2015

August is a warning

July is the definition of summer.  The nights are warm and the days are hot.  Sunshine starts early and stays late.  The last of the green grass dries and the hills turn golden.  Long pants and long sleeves only come out for work. The trails are dusty and my post ride laundry pile is about the size of a grapefruit.  I keep track of where the sunscreen is.

                                             testosterone ?
For dedicated cyclists we get to drink in the Tour de France while typically enjoying the fitness gained by our winter and spring riding.  We fly up hills that were a slog in March.  We pick up STRAVA PR’s without trying.  “What do I wear for my ride?” is a question of style instead of dressing to minimize discomfort.
August takes the baton from July and for a few days there is no change.  Then all at once you realize things are happening.  People start talking about Football.  If you cycle then you know August is a time of panic.  For those who race cyclocross those races start in September.  On plan or not, your training increases in intensity in August. For those who don’t ride in winter the “Now or Never” panic sets in.  Early risers note the sun is sleeping in later this time of year. At higher elevations the longer nights result in cooler morning temperatures.  Where is my long sleeve shirt?
 Summer is far from over but it no longer feels like it will last forever. The summer bucket list gets prioritized as you concede that you won’t be able to do it all.  When you come across your winter riding jacket you almost look forward to some rain. Soon the mud will be flying the sweet smell of embrocation will be part of the pre-ride ritual.  Times they are a changing.

Kids aren’t immune from the panic and are either anxious or dreading a return to the classroom.

Once we become reconciled with the thought of summer coming to an end we cannot help but look forward.  The leaves will turn bright colors and the air will be crisp.  The trails will get tacky and fast.  Cyclocross gets going in a big way and with it the unique bond shared by all those who battle in the mud.  We no longer have to endure the latest “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” chapter in the season long slaughter being endured by the hapless 2015 Seattle Mariners and their broken-hearted fans.

The Methow cools down.
The fires will burn out.
Hottie will heal up and get to ride again.

Snow will fall and we will play.

I don’t know who was on the committee that decided we would have seasons but I appreciate the thought they put into it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Coffee and Lies #139 Smoke gets in your eyes

                                            Stop dragging my heart around. 
Last year I elaborated on the desperate look on the faces of those affected by the wildfires. This year those expressions capture two additional emotions. First there is the tragic death of three firefighters and the horrific reality of the fourth who has sustained burns over a majority of his body.  Scenery and property are big losses, but human death trumps that every time. The other emotion is anger that this happened “again.” The businesses that were only just recovering from the loss of business in 2014 find themselves once again knocked to their knees by a wildfire.

Last year the expression was one of sadness, this time it is more frustration.

Following the fires last year there was a common hope and spirit to rebuild.  That rebuilding was hard. It took more and took longer than anyone thought.  Now as many face that task once more they now know exactly how hard it will be.  It will be intimidatingly hard. That is a part of the look in the eyes of some locals.  Here we fricking go again…..

Tourism is a world of “strike while the iron is hot.”  By the time the smoke clears (literally) the iron will have cooled down with kids back in school.  Imagine that your business depends on eleven weeks of summer tourism and that you lose three of those weeks.  Your expenses are based on eleven weeks of revenue and slashing your revenue by thirty percent means another year of big losses.

Back to back years with big fires makes it hard to tell either tourists or the bank that this is an anomaly.  Our culture of sensationalizing the news only fans the flames of fear that the whole state is about to burn to the ground. 

We visited this past weekend and as expected our place was intact.  The ghost town that was Winthrop was spooky.   We talked to some of our friends and sympathized with their plight.  We are lunch at the cabin and when the winds shifted as expected the only blue sky we had seen all day was gone. The orange-pink haze set in and it was hard to breathe.  We gathered some key items just in case and returned to Seattle the same day.

I am not equipped to fight fires and am ill equipped to help with the emotional toll. I love the place and love the people.  I am searching my soul for ways I can help.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Nuf said

Whilst Zach works away in Dubai, Julie and Sasha came to visit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Coffee and Lies #137 Far and Wide

This week was all over the place.  I won’t even try and link up the assorted events.  In no particular order here they are:

Ready or not, Cyclocross season is coming.  Following the abysmal failure of my training program last year and the sobering reality of heart ailments targeting my demographic I have embarked on a new training schedule using twenty one day cycles.  My training always takes on an increased urgency in August.

With my love of gravel riding and a new objective for 2016 on the horizon my motivation for racing Cyclocross is pretty low.  The last time it was this low I ended up on the podium at the end of the year.  I have no such aspirations this year. I am nothing if not jaded. I am in fact ready to abandon my Cyclocross racing for 2015 at the drop of a hat.  All I need are some discouraging results or an injury and my fate is sealed.

                               That thing on her wrist is the "before" picture....
Hottie had so much fun with her wrist surgery she decided to do it again and go bigger this time.  Tragically her summer biking season is over and the next bike she will be riding is likely her fatbike on the snow.  The snow is months away and thus you have an idea of the magnitude of her surgery. She is relearning to use her left hand for all things and I am relearning to vacuum.

Taking care of Hottie kept me from partaking in the annual team cross camp in the Methow.  Since we bought the cabin every weekend from April to November is a lot like cross camp so I think I will survive.   

A deep-winter full-blown Coffee and Lies secession 
                            Note how Jesus-like the Wizard of Coz appears

I was able to join in the Coffee and Lies ride here in town and with most of the fast guys over in the Methow the ride here looked the way we describe that ride to others.  It was a friendly ride.  Usually it is a life or death race and we lie and say it is a friendly ride.

Following the ride our coffee conversation turned unusually serious as the topic turned to heart problems. As aloof and dismissive as I am, even the great Evo could not steer the topic back to wax based lubricants. As KB put it, working out may help the mechanical issues in and around your heart but it may harm the electrical functioning.   Whoa- serious shit.

Last Friday there was a secret meeting of the executive committee and white smoke was finally seen rising from the chimney of Brad’s cabin following the final vote. McWoodie sent an email announcing the committee had stuck a pin in the 2016 calendar and declared it time to return to the continent for some serious cycling as we did back in 2012.

                                 A chip off the chip off the old block

My oldest son and his wife have spent winters in Moscow and after trying the other extreme and spending this summer in Dubai my daughter in law and grandson will be visiting us for a few days while Zach finishes up his internship in Dubai.  At the end of the month they will rendezvous back in Philly for his final year of graduate school. 

So there you have it.  Looking back and looking forward. Looking near and looking far.  There was laughing and seriousness.  This week had it all.