Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grey Black and Brown

Hottie approaching Tapeworm in the Methow..

To everything there is a season. This is the season of base miles. Between trips to the cabin I've tried to squeeze in some long rides. Saturday looked to be dry and I had yet to do a ride on this side of the Cascades without fenders in 2015.

Schedules converged and El Chefe, McWoodie and I rolled out in a fog (literally- but it was dry). We exchanged stories and caught up on what has been happening in 2015.

McWoodie had to catch a flight to the other side of the world so he turned back a little more than an hour into our ride. El Chefe and I chatted and I kept looking at my computer because the fog was supposed to burn off around ten thirty and I was ready for some sunshine.

The fog did more than block the sun it also limited our views and kept my glasses wet. The resulting tunnel vision was kind of depressing. We had hoped to see the scenery. We weren't cold per se, however, we were far from warm.

When the road kicked up we welcomed the chance to get warm. Ironically at the top of the climb we were both hot and cold. The sweat generated on the climb was now getting chilly. I had joked that when we stopped seeing Seahawk flags and started seeing Aryan Nation flags it would be time to turn around.

We never did stop seeing Seahawk flags but we did see this !

Just as we stopped one of the "Eagles" stopped and realized the local youth had been busy Friday night.

El Chefe and I stopped and refueled. I quietly hoped I would warm up a bit. When we resumed our journey I felt cold. El Chefe was also chilled. Seeing the sun was no longer a hope but would be the difference between a good ride and a sufferfest. A hundred miles is a long way to be uncomfortable.

Within five minutes the sun burst through and our Brown-clad bodies were warmed. Twenty minutes later we were again shrouded in fog but we had been warmed and we no longer cold.

El Chefe pulled alongside and in a tone that reminded me of an eleven year old with Playboy magazines in his backpack asked "Do you want to add in some...gravel?" Oh yeah !

Soon we were on gravel and it felt GOOD.

Gravel in January ! !

El Chefe and his El butte on gravel along the river.

Finally when we hit Lake Washington the fog had burned off for good. I even took off my vest for the last fifteen kilometers. By the time we finished we had a hundred miles and tired legs. I had sat on El Chefe's wheel more than I should have but he didn't seem to mind. Thanks bro.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Foggy mountain breakdown

The promise was an overcast morning commute followed by a dry evening commute.  I left Casa de Evo in total darkness a bit before six in the morning and my helmet mounted headlight illuminated the wet, misty fog before I was out of my driveway.  I was snuggled in warm clothing that included a neck warmer and beanie under my helmet.  The first downhill let me know that not wearing shoe covers was a mistake.  I don’t recall if that was a decision or an oversight but soon my ankles and then my feet were cold. 

There were patches where there was no fog and those tiny fifty foot windows were anomalies that only served to remind me how depressing it is riding in fog. It wasn’t raining, yet in almost no time water started dripping off my helmet and gloves. I wasn’t wearing glasses but still I kept blinking to try and improve my limited vision.

I focused on my pedal stroke and hummed a song or two as I plodded along my usual route.

After reaching my destination and following a shower and cup of Joe I was social and had a fine day.  I felt relieved when the sun emerged and looked forward to my evening commute.  All was good.

By mid afternoon the fog had rolled back in and the temperature and my motivation both plummeted. This wasn’t what I had signed up for and I wanted a dry commute.  I had ridden over a hundred soggy miles the previous weekend and I was ready to be dry!

When it was time to go I put on an extra layer and braced for the cold.  I was wearing the same jacket I had in the morning and I don’t know if it was still damp or what was wrong- but in less than a hundred yards I was cold.
Sends a chill down your spine doesn't it?
I decided to ramp up my cadence to try and warm myself.  I caught another bike commuter whom I have chatted with a few times as we rode south.  I said hello but was in no mood to make small talk.  I finally told him I was cold and needed to spin to try and warm up.   I didn’t look back and with my teeth gritted I took off.  As it happens I had my third fastest time ever on a STRAVA segment I have ridden over a hundred times in the past four years. THAT is how motivated I was to warm up. 

A conference call that refused to end and a distant meeting conspired to force my lunch to be a hastily grabbed cup of soup so in addition to being cold I was bonking as well.  Another red-letter day at the Bailey’s!
THIS is how you fuel a cyclist...
I noted Chismus lights blazing despite it being mid January. I even looked up and saw a fully lit Chismus tree in a window.  What the heck?  Luckily I wasn’t too tired to be judgmental.  Getting home was my focus as I zigged and zagged my way home. 

At some point along the way the body heat I was generating was enough that I was no longer uncomfortable although my feet were still cold.  “You can’t save them all” I told myself.   

I arrived home and switched off my headlight and four, count ‘em again…four, flashing red lights.  I unlocked the door and put the bike in the garage.  I unplugged my battery to bring it upstairs and recharge.  I shut off the garage light and paused for a moment.

I closed my eyes, tilted my head back and took a slow breath. Physically I was standing downstairs in a dark hallway clutching a bag of dirty clothes in one hand and a bike bag with my phone and wallet in the other. My mind is not downstairs. 

With eyes closed, for just a moment, I am riding under bright blue skies along a winding road in France.  My legs are tan and strong from dozens of soggy rides like the one I just finished.  The sun warms my shoulders and the cool breeze flows through my helmet. 
Although in my mind I'm not riding this French antique..
Although it takes no more than thirty seconds, it is worth it.  I smile and head upstairs.

I will always have memories of riding in France. I hope to get back and do it again before I am too old to be able to do any meaningful riding. Until I do return and during these dark winter months I will gladly savor these silent moments. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Coffee and Lies # 106 It's twenty-fifteen

2014 was a fantastically eventful year.  Zach got into and subsequently started at Lauder; we were able to get the cabin and spend a bunch of time there. Bikes were bought and sold and kids and grandkids had fun.  The nightmare that was the Carlton Complex and Rising Eagle fires scared us, but left us mostly unscathed. Work was good and playing was even better.

To put the icing on the preverbal cake; by combining some vacation and comp time with my company holidays Hottie and I were able to spend two solid weeks at the cabin to close out the year.  It was the longest vacation we had taken since we traveled to the Middle East after Zach finished his program in Damascus. We were gone long enough we had to have our mail held. Whoop whoop.
We had some time to ourselves as well as time with family and good friends.  We watched it snow and walked under the stars.  We skied, rode fat bikes, sledded, baked and read. We ate well.  I skied hard and biked hard a handful of times and at other times we enjoyed some mellow skiing, riding and walking.  The sun went to bed early and so did we. Aside from a feast prepared by El Chefe’ and our Chismus dinner the meals were simple and satisfying.

Only because I could- I let the hairs grow on my chin just to see how much grey there was.  I was wondering if I might get kind of a Walter White cerebral-bad ass look going.  
It turned out to be more of a cowboy sidekick look.  
I was happy to shave it off, but not as happy as Hottie who had practically resorted to picketing to try and persuade me to shave off the prickly monster.

When we got home I went to grab a plate and opened the wrong cupboard.  It was an accomplishment to have been gone long enough to be confused.   When I returned to road biking the more traditional Q-Factor felt odd after the super wide pedal spread on the Fat Bike.

Despite a discouraging rain a half dozen of us showed up for the Coffee and Lies ride. Another three joined the soggy squad for post-ride coffee at Fuel. Big John had a surprise for me that was truly a Chismus miracle. 

Speaking of Chismus miracles; after months of working on updating our tried, true and awesome kit design our team’s design committee offered up the results of their labor to the team and it was received with open arms.  I can assure you I will never look at a team kit the same again.  There are a lot of riders wearing bad looking kits. There are some kits that look okay.  There are very few that look outstanding.  We were striving for excellence.  I think we nailed it.  More to follow.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Coffee and Lies # 103 Shifting gears

Cyclocross is over and there is snow in the mountains. Winter, as I define it, is in full swing.   The rituals of the season though familiar are for a moment, fresh.  The audible click when my boots locked into my Nordic bindings was a sweet sound I had forgotten until I heard it again.  When I heard it I smiled.  Assembling and donning the proper layers of clothing to cope with cycling in the cold and/or chilly rain brings a satisfaction when it all works out.  I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark.  It isn’t good or bad; it just is.  When I need to work on bikes in the garage it is cold down there. 

This past Saturday El Chefe’ and I started at sunrise and spent the first four hours of grey daylight riding and talking. We wanted to be sure and finish before the day got dry and comfortable.   We achieved that goal. When we finished we had more than a hundred kms which was the longest either of us had ridden in a while, yet we both felt pretty good. El Chefe’ was still in race shape but was kind enough not to drop me.

We bumped into McWoodie on the I-90 bridge.  You can always spot the brown kits from an amazing distance.  We finished with a loop of the island. It was good to catch up with El Chefe’ and I was reminded that he is an exceptional human.

It felt really good to go long.  After a season of intervals four hours seemed like forever. The slower pace necessitated by the distance and road conditions was welcome.  Saturday afternoon my legs were tired.  Not sore, not tight, not achy, just tired.  It was a great feeling. The voluminous mound of post-ride laundry reflects the season as much as anything.

The Sunday morning rendezvous for Coffee and Lies was surprisingly populous with a peloton that peaked at eleven riders sporting the brown.  For perhaps the first time all year we had our entire executive committee riding.  I was wondering if we might get a State of the Team Address from el Jefe.  That didn’t happen; we just rode.  That was enough.

Our team rides in deep winter are a treat. Although conditions are typically bleak the pace is slower and during the ride I get some unhurried time to spend chatting with each rider.  This is the season of base miles. 

Before it was the Coffee and Lies ride it was known as the “Hank Ride.” Ironically Hank hasn’t been on his namesake ride for about three years.  Hank’s passion has gone to the dark side and he now competes in rowing events and uses cycling as a supplement to his rowing training.  How misguided…

A similar story with a very different ending comes from another neighborhood ride.  That ride goes four days a week and on Sunday it departs before the Coffee and Lies ride.  Those riders are known as (fake name to protect the innocent) The Flanders Boys Ride named after the group’s leader Tim Flanders. 

For the majority of this year the Hank ride and the Flanders Boys rides had no Hank or Flanders.

Mr. Flanders spent last year battling cancer.  In my “denial is the key to success” way, I acted the coward and kept up on Tim’s illness from afar.  In the spring months things looked grim.  Time to talk about time grim.  By summer things were looking better and by fall, Tim had begun riding again.  His outlook isn’t ideal; kind of along the lines of something is better than nothing.  Compared to nothing, something is infinitely better.  Sometimes something is enough.

On our ride our group met up with the Flanders Boys including the man himself.  During the conversation Tim mentioned how painful it had been when he returned to riding a few months ago.  I asked him if he enjoyed that pain.  He met my gaze and matter-of-factly confessed that he had enjoyed that suffering.  His expression told me he knew what I was asking. 
As our group gets older our priorities are shifting away from the podium.  We still relish being known as “The nicest bunch of guys that will kick your ass.”  Don’t get me wrong; we aren’t ready to trade our carbon and titanium bikes for wheelchairs.  I am just noting that as much fun as it is to kick people’s asses we are finding great joy in just riding and sharing those experiences with each other. We have finally figured out the quality of a ride can be expressed without using speed as the primary measurement.

It was enjoyable to catch up with my band of brown brothers.  It reminded me what a special group we have.  I hope they don’t do any retroactive background checks and boot me out.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THAT was a bad decision

This would have come in handy...
As my co-worker asked with sincere concern in his voice, “Is there some point where you decide it isn’t smart to ride?”  After a brief but awkward silence I tried to answer with a hint of knowledge in my tone while at the same time conceding I had just done something foolish.  “Yeah, when it gets like this you shouldn’t ride,” I confessed.

While it can be said that bad decisions often lead to great stories, sometimes they just lead to pointless suffering.  No great story here, just cold hands and a hint of shame. 

After a long holiday weekend of riding fat bikes and skiing in temperatures in the teens I was not about to let temperatures just below freezing stop me from bike commuting.  I had already made two or three commutes with temperatures in the twenties so I figured this would not be a big deal. I was wrong.

My bike commute to work stays on lightly travelled side streets for the first half of the trip before hitting a bike lane on a busy road.  I was having a great ride looking up at the stars and singing quietly to myself.  I saw folks scrapping the ice off their windshields and was glad I didn’t have that chore this morning.  It was cold, but I was warm and all was good.

Then my route ventured out onto a busy road that has a nice wide bike lane.  We had been at the cabin when the Puget Sound received a token snowfall last Friday but I wasn’t paying attention.  I had no idea there would be ice in the bike lane.  After a couple miles where there was ice only in the curb half of the bike lane the ice took over the whole bike lane. 
Not my photo, but you get the idea

Now what?

I stopped and considered my choices: 1) Ride on the icy bike lane and assume that if I go down I will be squashed like a grape by a passing bus. 2) Ride on the sidewalk where the snow had been trampled down so while lumpy, it wasn’t glazed over with ice. 3) Ride out in the road and hope traffic would go around me rather than tailgating me so that if I did fall the last thing I would hear would be automobile tires sliding on ice whilst heading for my head. 4) There was no fourth option.  I was twelve miles into my seventeen mile commute.  I had a morning meeting.

At this point I put the “Pro” in “Profanity.”  Fortunately my riding collar was pulled up to muffle my mumbled words.

I chose to ride mostly on the sidewalk and venture out into the bike lane when the ice didn’t cover the whole bike lane. As I made my way gingerly on the bumpy sidewalk I grew colder.  Because I was forced to go slow I couldn’t generate much body heat and my poor choice in gloves this day was dramatically exacerbated and my hands were slowly turning into meat paddles. My ride now had the feeling if a story from “Accidents in North American Mountaineering.” I used the old woodsman trick of windmilling my arms to force blood into my hands but I knew I was fighting a losing battle.  Wildly swinging your arms while riding on a slippery surface is just piling on to an already bad situation.

I hadn’t fallen and contemplated making a deal with the devil to ensure my safe passage.  Years ago I would have made a deal with God, but I found out just last year God was in fact working against me.   In a 2013 Cyclocross race I battled against a rider trading places back and forth the last two laps. On the last lap he gapped me on a loose corner and in spite of my hard effort he held it to the finish. After the race I congratulated him and he said Jesus had helped him that day.  I felt pretty screwed when I found out that Jesus was trying to make me lose. It was, however, an answer that explained a lot in my life. Now that I know God is (and has been) working against me, I’ve started making my deals with the devil and so far it seems to be working just fine.   

I made it to the office without crashing and after a hotter than usual shower I regained feeling in my hands. I discarded my usual bravado and when asked how my ride had been.  I responded truthfully. “It was pretty bad.” I hoped the day would warm enough to melt some of the ice for my evening ride home. 

In an effort to feel warm I drank so much coffee my ears began to itch.

Looking out a window from my office I spotted a patch of ice that I decided would be representative of the bike lane on my route home.  I checked it during the day and noted only a hint of improvement.  I employed Google Maps for alternate routes to the bike lane and found a contrived maze of side streets that would keep me away from the Polar Express.

When it was finally time to punch the clock I changed clothes in the phone booth and loaded my bike for the evening adventure. I had written out a Cue sheet. Yes, it was in a very large font.  I’m no longer a young man. Thanks for highlighting that and reminding me of another of my many shortcomings.

It was a few degrees warmer and with a higher cadence I was able to keep almost all of my hands warm.  Only the tips of my fingers were cold. When I started on my “snow route” everything looked promising.  Following my directions I turned left, stayed right then took a right turn. The road was ice from curb to curb.  I chose what looked to be the best line and pedaled smoothly. My real wheel slid a bit but I stayed upright. I just tried to stay smooth.
Still not my photo, but it captures the feeling...
The snow route had almost no traffic but in places the roads were icy.   When I was fully past the fire swamp and had no more fear of R.O.U.S.’s or ice, I relaxed, resumed my singing and had a pleasant ride home.  My diversion took a full twenty-five minutes longer and when I hit the doorway of Casa de Evo I was hungry.  

Hottie had spaghetti cooking and before long I was clean and warm with a full belly.   Hard to believe I can keep thinking I know better yet I still find myself doing stupid things.