Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

If it came in a can I would be first in line

Despite my confidence at telling my grandkids that all the cool things are hard, sometimes the hard things are depressingly hard. 

After a healthy recovery from the one-two-three, wait, four punches of the Leavenworth Fondo followed by the Ellensburg Fondo and then capped with the Rhonde of West Seattle and the “day after” throw down I waved the white flag and declared an out-of-sequence easy week. 

Hottie and I did some hiking on the weekend and I mixed in some volunteer trail work (using a Rogue Hoe which is among the coolest fit-for-purpose tools I’ve ever used).  I did a gravel ride and while I didn’t doddle I did not dig deep either.   Thus I completed a solid week of recovery.

Rested and ready I returned to my training plan which naturally includes intervals. 

For illustration purposes I shall herein summarize Joe Friel’s books:
1. Make a plan with Intervals
2. You gotta do them
3. They gotta hurt
I shall now add the addendum which is the summarization from his last book aimed at older racers:
4. You gotta rest more than when you were younger

Just like losing weight or cutting the grass at a football field; it isn’t the complexity of the task that is challenging; it is the difficulty of the task that is the challenge. 

I can ride 200 miles at a low to moderate intensity and I will be tired when I’m done but at no point will I hurt as much as I do when I’m doing hard intervals.  In case you’re wondering….  If intervals aren’t hard they’re useless.  If you are willing to pay the price, you’ll be faster and able to go fast for longer.

Now that we all know the secret why don’t we all belly up to the bar and order up a heaping helping of guaranteed-to-make-you-fast intervals?  Because they hurt like hell, that’s why! 

It is absurdly easy to tell someone to eat less and do more if they want to lose weight. It is hard as hell to be hungry and also exercise when you feel tired and are starving.  Even those blessed with the rare gifts of speed or endurance will see those gifts fade as they age.  What was once easy becomes harder and harder as we age.  Whoa, kind of a downer Evo….

What does become easier as we get older is the self discipline to make a plan and stick to it.  For the cynics amongst us, I will concede there is a fine line between self discipline and being in a rut.  Never-the-less I’m calling that a benefit.

On the plus side of the equation the high intensity intervals not only boost fitness but slow down the aging process in general.  I’ve been doing intervals on a bike for thirteen years.  My max heart rate hasn’t dropped a beat over those thirteen years.  Max heart rate isn’t an end unto itself, but an indicator of good health that says that my body isn’t THAT much different now than it was when I was forty years old. 

Yes it sucks that the benchmark is a forty year old body.
Those benefits are far from my consciousness when I am cross-eyed in zone five.  My body resists going to zone five by complaining all the way there.  Once my body knows it can’t get out of it the fighting stops and I do my time in the pain cave.  I do rejoice when I get to leave. 

Despite all the knowledge of the benefits, the familiarity of the routine and even any carryover fitness it is still hard and it still hurts every time.   I am shocked by how much it hurts. The lunacy of riding down the street at six in the morning in a skin tight superhero suit at my age and station in life, hits me between the eyes.  I was doing intervals on the track in high school forty years ago.  I can’t imagine that many of my high school teammates are doing them now.  What kind of an idiot does that make me?

I guess I hope it makes me a faster idiot.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gravel roads lead to the coolst places !

With a name like 5130 it had to be good !
 Nothing magic, just another gravel ride. This time it was up the Chewuch and take a left. The grade from there was designed to scare off the faint of heart.  Once you get the first two kilometers behind you the grade mellows and the valley opens up.  The scenery is a changing as the width and steepness of the valley keep changing.
You can't tell from the photo but this "road" goes straight frickin' up.  I stayed on 5130
Yes; uphill......
I have failed as a photographer.  This road really does go straight up.  When I saw it I thought I would be walking my bike.  When you get to the steepest part, the road turns to the right and gets steeper.
This was my view just before the thunderstorm
It was an awesome ride.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Coffee and Lies #132 Ruts and Roots

                                                Cooler days....................
This past Saturday seven separate fools assembled on six Cyclocross bikes and one roadster to link together as much unpaved terrain as possible in West Seattle and surrounding environs. 

These journeys are the result of hours upon hours of exploring “where does this go” paths.  Stringing together these rabbit holes makes for an unusual, perhaps even contrived, route. We would be riding along a street and then slot through a narrow opening of chain link into an overgrown greenbelt or a narrow trail in a thickly wooded drainage. On the other side we would often emerge from an equally obscure portal.  At one point I wanted to refer to the course as the escaped convict route.  We weren’t quite jumping over fences and running through open doors of people’s houses, but it sure wasn’t riding along a bike lane either.

The early pace was as friendly as we warmed our legs in the rare July 4th sun.  Soon we were careening down loose dirt and gravel under a shady canopy of trees. Even in the shade the humidity gave the air a density that literally hit us right in the face. The combination of heat and humidity was a double whammy that would take its toll over the next thirty hours. 

As we made our way south it seemed our guide for the day, El Chefe’ was trying to earn the moniker “The Pied Piper of Pain.” He was the only one who knew the way and thus was solely responsible for our enjoyment or misery.  Depending on your idea of humor his mood could be described as either playful or sinister.  Some the trails had tree roots that required some rarely used bike handling finesse. 

                                                      Rural Gravel
While we could ride with a social effort on the downhills and on most of the city streets but the climbs on dirt and even some of the paved climbs required significant wattage just to stay upright.  The double digit gradients worn down our legs and the technical twisty trails made our arms and shoulders tired.  

Two early mechanicals slowed our progress.  While we gave thanks that we weren’t changing tires while shivering with frozen hands - the heat was beginning to take a toll.  My bottles were empty and my food dwindling. “We gotta stop for more water,” I begged out loud all the while wondering why nobody else had spoken up.  Did Leavenworth teach us ANYTHING?

                                                      Come on now................
We found some water and everyone topped off.  We inhaled muffins from a coffee stand and were back on our way.  The pied piper had more up his sleeve and we kept finding more and more ways to make our route more circuitous.  At times we could see the Space Needle to the north which made our turns east and west all the more ominous.  Another mechanical gave the ride a “Bridge too far” feel.  As much fun as the ride was the combination of heat, dehydration, distance and climbing made the idea of being done pretty attractive.

By now the sun was high in a cloudless sky and our legs were coated with the dust of an assortment of urban trails. We had bushwacked through thick foliage and shouldered the bikes when needed.  We had ridden through Hazard County and managed to avoid both shotguns and coon hounds.  We had been through neighborhoods of the rich and neighborhoods of the criminally famous.  We crossed over a dozen bridges.   I had leaves hanging off of my right shoe. Another flat tire was the icing on the cake. 

                            Don't try this at home.  If you're in France, go for it !!
We crossed Holiday parade routes and held our own on the Joe M crit course.  As our journey neared completion I could tell the heat had sucked the life out of us.  We had ridden for five hot hours. Our route totaled over 1,400 meters of climbing. There was pain in our legs. We parted with minimal fanfare.

After my shower I stepped on the scale. Despite drinking five bottles of water and eating a thousand calories of food I was four pounds lighter than when I started.  Dehydration was the flavor of the day.  I drank and drank and drank some more.

It was only after my re-hydration was well underway that I realized how baked my legs were.  It struck me that our bodies form a hierarchy of physical challenges to align with the greatest threat to our health.  When I was thirsty that took precedence over everything else.

Tux also got in over his head and Hottie had to take him to the vet to get put back together.  He is on the way to a full recovery.

After the best Fourth of July Barbeque dinner of my life I fell asleep oblivious to the fireworks around us.  In a spirit of bravado I got up Sunday to meet up for the usual coffee and lies ride.  I knew that in my depleted condition I wouldn’t think of mixing it up with the fast guys and a slow ride would exorcise the lactic acid from my legs.

Considering the warm sunny July day it was a freakishly small group that rolled out on Sunday morning.  A late night of fireworks and adult beverages had thinned our numbers significantly.  We picked up the Wizard of Coz and still were only four strong. 

I’m not sure how it happened, but soon we were moving waaaaay faster on the west side of Mercer Island than we should have been.  As we were churning along I looked down at my quads to see if there was blood coming out of my skin.  My legs gave me a Whisky Tango Foxtrot message.

We stayed together past the big hill and then burned off one by one until only Big John was left.  John doesn’t know what a recovery day is.  He was laying down the law and all I could do was whimper. 

On the way back John went off the front and I would like to say we let him go. In fact we could not have held his wheel if there had been guns firing at us.  Coz, The Cheetah and I traded pulls and it hurt.  Instead of sharp pain in my quads or hamstrings it was the dull total leg ache of too many miles AND too much intensity.  As I swung my useless sacks of meat in circles trying to keep up a high cadence I wondered if I had an addiction to pain.

On the final island climb I got into a smooth but painful rhythm and passed Coz and The Cheetah. Since it already hurt, hurting more wasn’t much of a stretch. At the top I dropped my head and coasted down to the shade.  It took an even greater effort not to fall onto the grass and curl up in the fetal position and cry.  I looked at my gloves hands and wondered if the real reason cycling gloves leave most of your fingers and thumb exposed is so you can suck your thumb when you hurt this bad.

We dodged several gaggles of Freds as we made our way back to coffee.   The procession back to the car post coffee was blissfully void of hard efforts.  The damage, however, was already done. 

Later as I watched the US Women take the World Cup I massaged my aching legs. I ran “The Stick” over my tender quads. I remembered doing the same with a metal water bottle in a hotel at the top of Alp d’Huez.  That had been one of my hardest days on a bike. I worried about how my legs would feel on Monday when the full impact of the weekend would settle into my quads. 

Although the Sunday effort had been hard the times were not fast.  I had expected to see some results from the pain on STRAVA.  This was not the case.  It seems my suffering had just been for the “fun” of it.

The Saturday ride was nothing in comparison to Leavenworth.  It was a hard ride but it was not epic.  It was the Sunday ride that was akin to taking a hard hit to an already black and blue bruise.   The hard effort on really sore legs just drove the pain deeper.   My bones hurt.

Am I in such a rut and I will go and ride no matter the circumstances?  Have I become so accustomed to pain that I either ignore it or dare I say even seek it?  How is it I can embrace the sweet suffering of cycling and yet remain so slow?  Like so many things in my life I expect I will have the answers only when it is too late to apply the late-in-coming wisdom…….

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Midyear numbers 2015

We are half way through 2015 and I recently passed 4,000 kilometers ridden and I have climbed just over 50,000 meters. I don’t track it, but my guess is I also have about 50,000 meters of downhills as well. Whoo hoo.

All that I have learned about training says that at this stage of my life (old) and racing career (off the back) I should avoid focusing on distance. However, my “In for a penny in for a pound” mentality dictates that I track my training and through the miracle of Microsoft Excel it is all too easy to collect, tabulate and graph my progress. It is by sheer coincidence that I find myself hitting such round numbers here at the end of Q2.

I ran stairs earlier this week at sunrise wearing shorts and a T-shirt. If there hadn’t been anyone around I would have taken off my shirt; it was that hot. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was running those same stairs at the same time of day wearing a jacket in the rain in the dark. Among the biggest differences between then and now is that in March I was alone at 5:45 and this week there were six people on the stairs at 5:45. Welcome to summer.

Although it has been hot, lucky for us it has been a moist heat.

In conversation with El Chefe’ he theorized that impact from these Fondos is both significant and cumulative. This concept fits well with the reality of my dead legs over the past ten days. I felt rested, ready, strong and lean at the start of both Ellensburg and Leavenworth but I now feel soft and slow. The temptation is to fight through this phase. Wisdom says to take advantage of the break from Fondos and keep the intensity low for a week or two.

The emergency remodel of the southern half of our downstairs has mushroomed beyond my control. I did what I could but in the end I called the insurance company and they sent in the troops. I'll keep you posted on how this goes. It is a whole new world for Evo. In the meantime I will say that with a claw hammer, a wonderbar, a carpet knife and a drywall saw you could dismantle an entire house. If you throw a sawsall into the mix, you can be one destructive badass.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Coffee and Lies # 131 Shake it up

The green flag has dropped on Summer Vacation. Several of my orange-clad brethren are out of town gathering experiences that will be fodder for post ride coffee lies in the coming weeks. Often in the middle of summer our weekly rides have more than a dozen members. Only four of us rolled from the hill this past Sunday. Missing from our group were the riders who typically ensure the rest of us hurt on our "Social" team rides. McWoodie and Einmotron don’t suffer slow riders but they weren’t riding this day and Big John would be joining late. Moonlight is off in Europe so there was a chance for a sane ride.

The road to recovery from the Ellensburg Fondo turned out to be very curvy. While I felt invincible Sunday, Monday and Tuesday after the ride, my bike commute on Wednesday had been a slugfest and when I bumped my quad Saturday it was remarkably tender. As we rolled along Lake Washington my legs let me know they didn’t feel like playing today. Why didn’t I listen?

We picked up The Wizard of Coz and we were now five strong. The morning was hot and despite the early hour my jersey was already wet from sweat. These are great days when the pile of laundry from a ride could fit in your helmet. I recommend you don’t actually put it in your helmet as that already has its own smell issues.

Off the back already I let the gap grow on the bridge to Mercer Island. On the short climb onto Mercer I unzipped my jersey a few inches as the distance to my compatriots expanded even more.

There is a spot where we traditionally stop to shed layers and regroup before initiating the throw down. With the temps already in the high seventies there were no layers to shed. Tradition dictated a stop anyway. There they stood waiting for me. Without a word I rode past the group and launched on the downhill.

I was flying !!

I figured that since my legs already hurt I might as well have them hurt a lot and didn’t expect my bluff to last long. If I went out on a solo breakaway then when they passed me I could drift back having earned some imaginary and ultimately worthless points for my foolish effort.

Doing the unexpected often results in a slow reaction as was the case here. I still had a good gap when I started the first climb. The orange train caught me near the top and I was able to latch on taking advantage of the lesser grade.

Coz took a long pull and Aaron was his usual strong self. El Chefe took a full turn at the front as did Guy. At one point we slowed and I attacked again just to mess things up. I was expecting a protest but the group responded by letting their legs do all the talking. We reformed and I rotated back. It was a dirty trick but I felt little remorse.

I feel just turribull......Ha !
It was the perfect day to have a mellow ride and I would have been the first to sign up for that yet here I was dishing out some pain. Why I was so inclined to poke the bear I have no idea. I was dreading an afternoon of bathroom demolition and this may have been an opportunity to exercise some demons.

As we hit the hill I attacked seeking KOM points. As my cadence slowed my quads screamed yet I embraced the hurt. I tried to make them hurt more. At the top I collected max points and was predictably blown. One by one the orange men passed me. I imagined them silently cursing. Soon it was just El Chefe’ and I trading pulls with the other riders fading from view up ahead.


On the return trip I thought we would be able to "keep it real." Then we spotted Big John who had come to join us. Under the leadership of Coz we formed a double paceline and rotated through once executing near perfect military precision. On the second rotation my ADD nature kicked in and I asked El Chefe if he thought Big John would jump on my wheel if I attacked. He didn’t need words as his expression seemed to say, "Does the Pope shit in the woods?" Big John had raced a crit the day before and if ever there was a day he should let me go this was it. Did I think logic would prevail?

Not a chance.

If it makes you feel better to call it, "drafting" go right ahead.......

I attacked from the back so I had some good speed as I passed my teammates. In a nanosecond I could feel the orange helmet of Big John on my wheel. My breakaway caught, I soft pedaled to slow back to the previous pace but Big John kept the heat on and I found myself struggling to hold on. "Hey guys, I was just kidding," I pled from the back of the now-rollicking paceline.

There was no slowing and Big John had possession of the sharp end and seemed to have no intention of letting up.

Hang on......If you can !!!
On the penultimate short stinger before the final downhill and final uphill I jumped again and Coz was quickly on my wheel. I still don’t know what motivated me to keep stirring the pot this day. On the climb I caught and passed the bunch only to blow up again as Aaron powered past me followed by Big John.

My legs had felt dead when I started this ride and now they felt "even more deader" on the way back to Fuel for coffee. On the climb up Madrona my lowest gear didn’t seem low enough but I was able to make it without audible profanity.

Perhaps my logic had been that if my legs hurt I wanted everyone else’s legs to hurt as well. Maybe I had forgotten how slow I was and needed to push it so I could be dropped and find out. I typically don’t raise the ante in a game I expect to lose and my ability to bluff is limited.

As we neared Fuel I took an early turn and managed to get to Fuel first. I figured the least I could do after instigating repeated unnecessary suffering upon some of my best friends was to take care of the bill for the coffee.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ellensburg Fondo Report The fifth book of the four book trilogy

When I finish the video, the link will be HERE !

Three weeks was not enough time for the scars left by the Leavenworth Fondo to heal. The Post Traumatic Stress was significant. Perhaps that is why there were half as many souls willing to partake in the “bonus” Fondo known as Ellensburg.  In conversation with the other entrants/idiots there were many who related having complex internal dialogues that preceded participation in this event.  Some of us learn from our mistakes; some of us do not.  

This was the inaugural Ellensburg Fondo and with predicable patheticness the usual suspects assembled out of fear of missing out on the suffering each considered their foreordained destiny.  This had been a series of four of fondos and “New for 2015” was this addition pain festival that brought the total to five. Having five fondos ruins all of the “grand slam” references but it is what it is.

Incorporating the lessons learned on previous fondos I think I finally have the routine dialed in.  The curveball this time was that the event took place on a Saturday instead of Sunday. After work on Friday I went home, cooked some pasta, ate, loaded the war wagon and headed out so I might spend one more night in a hotel with a view of the interstate.

The hotel was just fine and the only issue I had on Friday was a recurring twinge in my right calf hinting that it wanted to cramp.  I hadn’t run for a few days so my tight calf was a complete mystery.  It was just enough to keep me wondering if it would attack on one of the climbs. We all need some fearful thought that can dance across our minds as we drift off to sleep don’t we?

The refreshing change compared to Ephrata and Goldendale was that when I looked out of my hotel room window in the morning there was no rain falling.  There would be a headwind going out, but that paled in comparison to the suffering that had been served cold and wet in March and April.  I was glad to stay in a hotel to avoid an alarm going off at three in the morning like I had the morning of the Leavenworth Fondo. 

The morning followed the usual pattern.  Coffee, breakfast, dress, drive to the start, sign in, load up and wait to line up.  

Then it went sideways.

My Garmin mysteriously shut down and when I turned it on again the battery was dead.  I am pretty geeky about keeping it charged so I can only conclude it got bumped and turned on subsequently draining the battery during the previous day or two.   As we all know there really isn’t any reason to ride if you can’t record it on a Garmin so I prepared to pack up and go home.  Realizing I had already applied Buttonhole I figured there was no turning back now.

Following an unusual moment of wisdom and good fortune I borrowed a power stick from El Chefe and connected it into the Garmin to charge it and stuck the whole wired contraption in my jersey pocket.  

I was curious to see if Jake’s pre-ride instructions would be as stern as they had been at Leavenworth.   His pre-ride words before that ride felt like he was trying to persuade us to skip the event and go home.  This time the information disseminated did not feel like it was intended to strike fear but to inform.    When we finally took off I didn’t feel like had a reasonable expectation that I would survive the day.

There were about a hundred intervention candidates who departed Ellensburg and headed for the hills. The neutral start lasted longer than usual and I tried to soak it in. When the lead car honked and the pace picked up our little band of orange clad riders had no plans to go hard but we did want to hold a reasonable tempo.

On a short climb one of our clan dropped back as a result of some medical issues. A gap formed and the leaders slowly pulled away. I hated to see them go. Actually I hated to see their draft go. We had a headwind and needed all the help we could get.  We settled in and our group picked up friends who were saving their powder for the climb that we all knew was looming thirty miles up the road.  I dubbed this behavior the “Leavenworth Hangover.” 

In the true spirit of sarcasm a coworker had presented me with the ribbon shown below and I spent much of the first hour of the ride fielding questions from other riders about the ribbon flapping around behind my saddle.  

There were many who coveted the maroon ribbon.   Lou Zers.

We traded pulls and tried to keep our anxious legs in check.  Everyone was drinking and eating as if drinking now could somehow retroactively reduce the suffering of Leavenworth twenty days prior.  Once bitten, twice shy as they say. 

We kept looking ahead and to the left where we would soon be climbing. The hills presented a stern front with no obvious gaps.  We spotted a road cut high on the mountain and joked that is where we would be riding. Little did we know that steep line was exactly where we were headed.  By now the morning chill was gone and the sun felt good on my black shorts. I welcomed this rare and fragile time when the temperature was perfect.  I expected I would be baking soon.

When we arrived in Cle Elum I pulled out the Garmin and the charging had worked and the Garmin appeared ready to play.  I switched it on and El Chefe told me we had had thirty eight kilometers in the books already.  I would be doing the math the rest of the day.

We arrived at the first water stop and refilled our bottles.  We knew the flogging would commence shortly. I could sense the uneasiness in the air. It was not unlike the waiting room of an outpatient surgery center.  With bottles full we took a collective deep breath and clipped in.

Leaving the water stop the grade kicked up right away.  A few minutes later the slope eased up and we were back to taking turns pulling. We collected stragglers and all too soon came the sharp left turn that indicated the wait was over. Many in the group faltered and it was just the boys in orange at the front. 

At the end of a Cul-de-sac the gravel started and the grade went from eight percent to fifteen and it was loose and sandy.  Looking ahead I could see riders getting off and walking after only ten feet of gravel.  That just is not the kind of omen you want right away.

I was with the Silver Bullet and we rode past the walking riders and kept going. The grade didn’t let up but the surface did improve just a hundred meters in.  The road ducked in and out of shade and the temperatures were warm but far from oppressive. 

Every rider was in their lowest gear.  There wouldn’t be a lot of shifting on this climb. There would, however, be cursing, sweating and wishing for bigger rear cogs.  The Silver Bullet wished for my 32. I wished for el Chefe’s 36. El Chefe’ wished for McWoodie’s legs.  McWoodie wished the climb was longer.

The climb was steeper than the final climb of Leavenworth but it did come earlier in the day. Despite having a cheat sheet with the elevation of the big climbs taped to my top tube I was afraid to look at the altimeter on my Garmin for fear it would scare me.

One could oversimplify the ride by saying you ride thirty miles of road to get to the gravel then climb thirty plus miles of gravel roads tallying 8,500’ of climbing then you ride thirty miles back to town.  Metaphorically the ride is a sandwich and this was the first bite of meat.  It was a big bite and I was trying not to choke.

I experienced a moment of panic when the road kicked up a bit more and I realized I was already in my lowest gear and the climb would only get steeper.  I was passing riders who had gone out hard and were now paying the price.  I offered encouraging words using precious breath.  Soon I would have none of either to spare.

                                      The views opened up as we climbed

Gravel climbs are harder than road climbs in every way. Gravel roads tend to be steeper than paved roads. The loose surface means you can’t just stand when you want because you may lose traction and spin your rear wheel. The surface also causes you to lose energy rolling over small rocks and a portion of the effort you put into your pedals is lost kicking up rocks and just displacing the surface.  Many of us drop our heads and concentrate on long climbs but you have to watch the constantly changing surface so you can avoid the bigger rocks and loose dirt.  You also find yourself dodging rocks and potholes which strains secondary muscles that have already reluctantly been pressed into service by the difficulty of the climb.

The upside of most gravel climbs is the beauty of the scene and the constant scanning of the road takes your mind off the profanity coming from your legs.

The climb was, as expected, relentless. This was what I had come for. The climb I had seen on paper was now under my wheels.  So far; so good. The dry road climbed up the mountain in a series of unforgiving switchbacks.  You could see the end of each switchback and for reasons I still can’t understand you worked toward it like a goal and were glad to reach it.  Your only reward upon reaching the switchback was the road turned, continuing on just as steep as before.   The corners were usually looser than the rest of the road and you had to almost attack the corner to keep from losing traction and spinning out. In hindsight it was like looking forward to a root canal.

I was now deep in my own personal pain cave and the door was locked. My jersey was unzipped and I was sucking down gel and drinking my preferred potion to fuel my legs. I no longer said anything as I passed riders. I wasn’t trying to be anti-social, this is simply how it works.  We all find our rhythm and this was mine.  My HR was 172 but I felt really, really good.  I didn’t feel like I was redlined and decided to keep going and ride by feel.  My calf twinged now and then but my adductors were fine and I was climbing well.

I stopped at a vista and took some photos.  It took me several tries to get going again on the loose steep slope.  The lesson here was that if you stopped you might not be able to start again. This climb was not for the faint of heart.  

                                       This is what 15% looks like
I recalled that I had felt good on the first two climbs at Leavenworth and feared a reprise here. There was a water stop just short of the top of the first of three progressively higher summits.  The break felt good.  I waited for one of our riders who was having a rough day.   I recalled what a good descender he was and decided to roll on and let him catch me on the downhill. 

                                        Water Stop near the top......
I knew the second climb was short so I allowed myself to push it a bit.   We were dipping in and out of forest and the scenery was impressive. I kept looking for the third summit which was also the Cima Coppi of the event.  I rounded a corner and the road pointed down and with no fanfare I had just passed the high point of the ride. 

The Silver Bullet punctured and he proclaimed his faith in Tubeless was now gone forever.   With a tube in his tubeless tire (irony noted?) and El Chefe again in the fold we followed the road downhill toward the food stop at 57 miles. 

                                         Yeah, I'm heading for those roads..
El Chefe descends fast.  I figure that if his wonderful wife loves him she’ll help him get a disc brake equipped Boone 9 and thus he will be safe on these sketchy descents. As it is, he risked life and limb flying down the gravel washboard. All the while he was hoping his life insurance is enough to get his daughters through college.  Such are the thoughts of this noble man.

The Silver Bullet and I waited at the food stop and when El Chefe’ failed to appear I began formulating how I would tell the widow Chefe’ the bad news.  To calm my nerves I ate a handful of tortilla chips and the salt and tiny bit of sugar-absorbing fiber hit my stomach perfectly.  “Remember this,” I thought to myself.

                                                           FOOD !!
Finally a rider came in and reported El Chefe’ had a flat and needed a tube.  We grabbed an extra tube (worth more than gold on these rides) and headed back up the steep road we had just come down.   

                                               Ready to get back to work !!
We received puzzled looks and told the riders coming down that we just needed a few hundred extra meters of climbing.  Going backward to help a teammate is noble. Going backward and uphill earns an honor rewarded by getting to wear the orange of 20/20 Fuel.

                             There were about THIS many flats at the food stop....
Chris of Cucina Fresca came down and told us he had given El Chefe’ a tube and a couple minutes later the man himself came bombing down.  The three of us coasted down to the food stop.  We repaid the tube debt and El Chefe picked up his drop bag and filled his bottles and we were onto the final climb.
The steady four to six percent grade felt easy after the thousand meters of double digit steepness we had behind us. I found a rhythm and felt super strong.  Three to five percent is my specialty. At the top we fist bumped then flew down.  Within a mile of the pavement that would carry us back to Ellensburg the Silver Bullet collected anther flat.  The gash in his sidewall had exposed the tube.  We needed a boot to hold the tire inside the tube.  The ribbon was up to the task.  Sacrifices had to be made.

                                                 The ribbon to the rescue
Just after getting on the pavement we rolled into the final water stop. We loaded our bottles and pointed our wheels toward Ellensburg.  Two hundred yards from the water stop we hit a climb the Silver Bullet described as “Spicy.”  A sixteen percent grade sixty miles in was plenty spicy.  Soon enough we topped out.  The wind that had been in our faces in the morning was at our backs and we welcomed the tailwind as we flew down the road.

We could look up the road and see riders who had passed us while changing flats or that had been at the water stop when we pulled in.  My legs felt frisky and I convinced El Chefe and the Silver Bullet that we could chase them down as a final hurrah.  

There were a few stinger climbs sprinkled in to disrupt our rhythm.  As soon as we reached the top of each little climb we would regroup and charge on.    Soon the valley opened up and there would be no more climbs.  We caught the riders and invited them to join our train.  They were either spent or offended by our bad breath and did not latch on.

 We came around a corner and the little red arrows that had guided us all day now pointed us onto loose gravel.  We were on the Iron Horse Trail now and the gravel was like an ocean of marbles.  We kept our front wheels aimed straight and our rear wheels swam back and forth like a hook and ladder as we pedaled.  I felt like I was riding a salmon.  El Chefe and I had contemplated a long ride on the Iron Horse Trail.  Those thoughts died an instant death at this point.  For the riders who were baked this power sucking section may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A few miles further on I spied the finish tent ahead and took my hand off my bars to fish my race number out of my pocket. The gravel pulled my front wheel and I swerved and grabbed my bar to avoid going down.  I tried again with similar results. I stopped and put a foot down and retrieved my number which I flashed for the folks recording finishers. 

I collected my finishers patch and fist bumped my mates. We still had a few miles to ride to get back to the parking lot.  My legs felt really strong and the last bit passed quickly.  Before long we were in clean clothes and eating post race burritos. I should clarify that statement. We were in clothes that were clean before we put them on and we were inhaling burritos.

With the power of cilantro-infused beef flowing through our veins we departed the parking lot and began our assimilation back into the world of the living. 

This fondo did not leave us staggering but we were tired. The ride clearly exceeded my expectations.  The roads to and from Cle Elum turned out to be better than expected and the scenery in the middle had been impressive.  Even though we had a short stretch of the course right next to I-90 the course still felt remote which is consistent in this Fondo series.

I am glad we have more than three weeks before we resume our Fondo Odyssey in Winthrop. I will clean the bike....

Monday, June 15, 2015

Go back Jack; do it again. Wheels turning round and round

They say that short memories are a good thing for quarterbacks and pitchers.  The ability to forget about the interception and throw boldly is a valued asset.  I have always eschewed looking backward as my ability to alter the past has proven to be very limited.  While I do think we should learn from the past; excessive time spent revisiting past decisions is wasted energy.  

Just as I find myself finally able to stand erect after the sweet torture that was the Leavenworth Fondo I am looking forward to the next round.  I have graphed the elevation profile and swapped cassettes in anticipation of yet another superlative-laden adventure. 

This one should be hotter and steeper. 
What could go wrong ?
I plan to gather with a close-knit group of fellow slow learners and assail the Cascade Range from the eastern side on the eve of the summer solstice.  What I find morbidly amusing is the drop off in participation following a particularly challenging event.  After the washing machine ride that was the Ephrata Fondo, the number of riders at Goldendale was down significantly.  If a particular Cyclocross race is a sloppy mudfest the week following will have far fewer riders.  I expect a number of battle-weary Leavenworth riders will skip the next event at Ellensburg.  Your loss....
It takes a special mindset to find these type of events enjoyable. Psych wards are probably full of folks with this “special” mindset.  For those of us lucky enough to be high functioning and still have an outlook on life that allows us to find joy amid this suffering; we know who we are.   Making eye contact with our fellow crazies yields a unique connection.

Our selective memories don’t remember the numb hands or frozen feet.  We are more familiar than we should be with the fine line between extreme discomfort and danger on the hypothermia scale.  We can wipe the drop of vomit from our sleeve or wash the salt from our helmet straps and erase the memory forever.  If someone reminds us we typically resond with, “Oh yeah, I forgot….”  We take a perverse pleasure, somewhere between analytical and masochistic, in reaching our limits.

I heard that one definition of tact was telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the journey.  Those of us who pin a number on for these events know exactly what we are getting into and yet not only do we do it again, we look forward to it! 
Why must you humiliate me for your perverse entertainment ?
At this stage of my life the prizes and accolades for riding a bike faster than some other idiot are meaningless. It is egotistical (or maybe Zen-like?) to say that as far as racing goes the only opinion that matters to me is my own. It thrills me to ride to the top of a mountain and take in the view.  I take pleasure in finishing a ride exhausted, having tickled my physical or technical limits. I find these Fondos complex problem-solving challenges that require the right combination of fitness, equipment selection, nutrition, riding finesse and luck. When I get it right I feel omnipotent. Riding with Hottie or with my friends is far more satisfying that standing on a podium.

I don’t think I am lowering the bar by preferring the journey over the results. I prefer to think I have found a better bar.