Thursday, September 3, 2015
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
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.
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
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
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
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.
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.
Sunday, August 9, 2015
This adventure started out like so many others. A series of seemingly unrelated events aligned and I found myself in an interesting situation that I now feel inclined to share.
A theme for this ride was timing. That theme was kicked off on the Wednesday before when I was doing commutervals on my way into work. If you imagine one of those days when you hit every light red it was like that. Streets that are nearly always deserted had cars backing out of driveways with groggy drivers. It just kept happening and finally I made a game of it.
A half dozen men who sport the orange were planning to ride to the top of Hurricane Ridge and it sounded like a fun time. Once a year they open the road to cyclists. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that once each year they keep the freaking cars off the road for five hours and let the cyclists enjoy the view without the stench of exhaust or the threat of being mowed down by a Winnebago with a WALL DRUG bumper sticker.
I managed to meet up with the guys at the ferry just as they pulled up. I took the perfect timing as a positive sign. Despite the sign saying there was a two hour wait we got on the next ferry. Timing worked out again.
Big John had a friend with beds so we were able to crash near the ride start the night before and skip catching a pre-dawn ferry. The place was right out of middle earth complete with a forest dweller who offered us some vegetables right out of the ground. After a fitting pre ride dinner we crashed and crashed hard.
I woke a bit before sunrise and could hear my mates stirring. I checked the clock and it was one minute until the alarm was supposed to sound. The perfect timing continued.
Our morning unfolded like most do and before long we were dressed in matching costumes and anxious to get going. With road names like Chicken Coop and Kitchen Dick we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. I guess one of the selling points of living in Sequim is you can win a lot of bar bets with people trying to spell the town name. The street names are no less unique.
We followed the cars with bikes on them to registration where got our wrist bands and it was time to go. I’ve been doing races and Fondos for the last few years so the casual "start when you want" format felt odd. We rolled out and our ride followed the script we had all agreed upon. We would each ride to the top at our individual paces. We were free to go fast or slow as our conditioning, genes and mood dictated. The sorting took shape almost at once. John shot out first, his Pavlovian instincts quickly overruling any emotions or logic that might have slowed him. The Silver Bullet and I settled into a good tempo and we were locked in for the duration.
The Silver Bullet rolling just fine
I like to think that I do fairly well on long steady climbs. During my road racing career and on overly competitive group rides when we hit something that takes more than a minute to climb I am dropped straight away. It takes me a couple minutes for my body to shift into climbing mode. I don’t know if it is a cadence thing or what causes this but I’m good on short kickers and long steady climbs but in between I’m just crap.
On longer climbs like Cougar or Sauk I get dropped right at the bottom then I get in gear and soon pass some of the riders who dropped me. In addition, I had lost a couple of stubborn pounds so I was hoping that would translate into increased climbing prowess.
I watched my HR slowly climb and I felt good. I had ridden this road two years ago with only passing cars for company on the road. This day I had other riders around me so I could target them and pass them. Over the course of the day Barry and I would be passed by only four riders, one of whom we would later pass back so the net was three riders. Not bad for old men.
My legs started whining and I was still in zone four. I tried to embrace Rule # 5. This did not, however, result in any increase in speed. My HR held solid in zone four and would be there pretty much the entire climb. That was all I had this day.
The road soon emerged from the forest and the views opened up. Barry and I were passing people at a good rate. The riders included the full range. Fast and slow, skinny and large, young and old were all riding and enjoying and suffering as they chose. There were Schwinns and Pinerellos . Carbon, Ti, Steel and Aluminum were all present and accounted for. There were bike with racks and tubulars. This was a real smorgasbord of cycling.
Apparently the "bike only" rules were not well enforced and there were a handful of recumbents. Men and women with grey scraggly beards, tie dyed shirts and smelly wool shorts were plodding along. My observations indicate you have to be at least seventy years old to even buy a recumbent. It was disgusting. Flags and streamers and stuffed animals were attached to the filthy contraptions. I waited to see if any of the clowns were juggling. I followed the code and refused to acknowledge their existence. One of my mates offered some encouragement to a recumbent "driver" and I quickly coached him to ignore them in the future. That is what friends are for.
As the air grew thinner the views got better and better. We continued to pass people and the wonderfulness of not having to look over your shoulder or listen for cars was awesome. The bike-only environment was so refreshing.
We were getting closer to the top and as we rounded a corner I could see the road ahead was higher than I wanted it to be. I also knew that the high point I could see was not the high point of the ride. We continued to churn the pedals. Before long we were on that corner and then we could finally see the final turn. We had more climbing ahead but with the target in sight we kept pushing.
We could hear the faint sound of drums. As we got closer to the top the sound grew louder and it provided a needed mental boost. Soon we were rounding the corner and the grade was letting up. Our speed picked up and my chain zipped across the rear cassette.
As we rolled into the parking lot at the top with some speed there were people cheering. I noted many riders with their heads dropped, spent from the effort. For those who were in good shape this climb, though far from back-breaking, demanded a serious effort.
You're at the top of the road !
I looked around at the riders who had finished the climb their faces revealed the relief at only having a long downhill between them and done. This was not our plan today.
Someone told them they would get free beer for doing this.
Some people are so easily fooled.
"But wait, there’s more! If you act now we’ll double the offer!" We found Big John and the three of us headed down looking for the others from our team who had driven over that morning and thus had started much later.
After a speedy descent we spotted our brethren and our fingers got busy shifting from big rings in front and small in back to the reverse. We then climbed it all over again with our mates. It was all about timing. We kept it "real" but still found ourselves passing riders. We were even passing some riders we had passed on our first ascent. Ouch !
At the top we took group photos and enjoyed the view. The Cheetah commented that he was going to do this ride every year. It was a pleasant change to do a ride that was challenging yet didn’t leave us physically destroyed.
Can you spot the black sheep ?
The descent was long. It was sobering to think we had just climbed all of this. Even more sobering to think we had climbed it twice. It kept going and going. As we descended the thousands of feet our water bottled collapsed because of the pressure differential and on an innocuous curve a team bottle fell out of the bottle cage of one of our group necessitating a short retrieval activity. Realizing what had caused the bottle to disembark I popped the valves on my own bottles and heard a "woosh" sound. Then as I returned to the downward ride I looked and saw a handful of strewn bottles on the side of the road. Lesson learned.
Like food, only not as good for you
Back at the parking lot we changed clothes and partook in the provided post ride meal.
We parted and I was glad I wasn’t the one driving. Soon we were stuck waiting for a submarine at the hood Canal Bridge which wasn’t all bad. It was all about timing after all. We elected to return via the Kingston to Edmonds ferry which saved my life. We got in line and relaxed. The Silver Bullet bumped into someone he knew and Big John and I did our best not to embarrass him too much.
We made it back in plenty of time for dinner so once again, the timing worked out just fine.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
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.