Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A cruel truth

Aside from a stray month here and there when I was recovering from one injury or another, over the last four or five years if I happened to feel like riding a hundred miles on the next weekend I have no doubt I could have done it without leaving a mark.  In the spring and summer my level of fitness is typically very good, but I kept my base up all year such that I never felt like I was never more than a few hard weeks away from good form.

The ability to clip in and ride for four to six hours has become a basic assumption in my life. If I need to peak then a couple months of long weekend rides sharpens my legs and I drop the kilogram or two I battle all year. Even when I am not at my peak I am still pretty good.
When we had our gravel camp this past June I was wrapping up phase one of my recovery from my surgery and I still did pretty well.  It almost felt like cheating. I felt like I was able to get by on my good looks and charming personality.  This only served to reinforce my self-image of invincibility. In hindsight, I think five years of base miles saw me through.

As the warranty period following my surgery (my words not the Dr.’s) was drawing to a close I tried to spark an episode just to confirm whichever side of the fence I was on.  I set out on some rides with the specific goal of spending time redlined in Z5.  What I found was that my legs had a really hard time getting there and I was also notably slower. 
I targeted some sustained climbs that I had done before with the expectation they would put me in the red.  After the first set I checked Strava expecting to see some impressive numbers in comparison to prior efforts.  Not only did I fail to PR but I was slower than prior years.  The prior efforts were not necessarily associated with peak fitness which was even more disheartening. I was lighter now compared to those prior efforts and my bike had better gearing for the stupid steep climb.  WTF?

One of the harsh realities of the facts and data Strava spits out is that when you feel like you have put out a good effort that workout gets digitized and you can compare the details against past efforts to see where you really are.  This is when the balloon starts making that damn hissing sound. 
I’m still trying to deny that getting older is the root cause, but that is getting harder and harder as times relentlessly marches on. The other option, and the one that I am clinging to, is that I have just lost fitness as a result of time off and time less focused.

Two recent rides only served to complicate matters.  On one of our recent gravel rides I didn’t dig very deep yet I kept up just fine and felt strong.  This was a four plus hour adventure and late in the ride as El Jefe’ pulled away just for fun I held the gap until I was lost sight of KB at which point I backed off.  My thought was that with just a bit more fitness I could have hung at the back of the first group.

Then I snuck in a longer ride after work, and although it was the polar opposite of the gravel ride (flat and smooth), it totally kicked my ass.  I had a list of things I had planned to do at home after the ride.  That list ended up being, eat, shower and fall into bed.  I’ve never had a flat ride take so much out of me. I felt pathetic.
I had taken for granted that I had power in my legs and all I had to do was to decide to go and it would materialize. When you are fit it can be just like turning a knob.  Dial up the effort and you go faster.  There is more hurt, but you gladly accept that in return for the increased speed. 

Greg Lemond famously said of training, “It never gets any easier, you just go faster.”  With that in mind it is awkward when it does hurt, but instead of going faster you are going slower.  It is demoralizing to put on the hurt and have the pain gauge tell you that you must be going fast only to realize that you are in fact……slow. 
Edward Abbey declared, “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”  The cruel truth is that I must adjust my current self-image to align with my present lack of fitness.  This is made all the more awkward by my teammates casually flexing their end-of-season strength. 

As my friend Todd says, “Happiness is attained by continually lowering the bar.”  As an aging athlete, my goal is always to do the best given the present circumstances.  It is frustrating that the current circumstances are not what I have come to expect from myself.

Aging or not, Rule # 5 still applies.  I shall end my whining now. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Destruction of evidence

In these days of paper trails and electronic traceability I find it almost exhilarating when I can make an anonymous transaction.  An example would be paying cash for a Big Mac so your visit to McDonalds doesn’t show up on your credit card statement. I try to imagine the steps I would have to take in order to go somewhere and not leave evidence of my visit. Leave my phone at home and only carry cash.  No Garmin or recognizable clothing.  Dark glasses and a unremarkable ball cap. 

When the garbage people take our trash thus  intermingling it with the trash of others before shipping it off to New Jersey, I cannot help but think they are taking away evidence. Every now and then I have a CSI moment when I consider the physical evidence I leave behind wherever I go.
Because everyone gets to choose their own moral code and draw the line between right and wrong where they feel appropriate; everyone believes they have noteworthy integrity. Because everyone draws their lines a little differently we typically focus a bit more attention when we find ourselves close to those dividing lines. 

It is with that rambling preamble behind us that I relate the following questions and the problem of compounding greyness.

The first question relates to using a company printer to print out a single page of personal material.  You bring your own pen to the office and generally your hours of work exceed the hours you are paid.  The cost of a single sheet of paper is likely some fraction of a penny.  In the big picture, printing out an email so you have a hard copy should be just fine. Right?

The second question relates to forgetfulness and corporate responsibility.  A lot of what you work on is proprietary, though some of it is not.  You are encouraged to make sure you pick up everything you print promptly to avoid any company secrets from getting into the wrong hands.  Your work area is secure so anyone who can walk by the printer likely has the same clearances and confidentiality agreements as you so this really shouldn’t be a big deal. Right?

The final question relates to how you use your sick time.  Your company allocates you a certain number of sick days per year.  You have never even approached your annual limits while other people max them out every year.  You decide to take a trip to the beach and call in sick.  You don’t do this often and the company is darn lucky to have you.  You aren’t hurting anyone and you will be mentally refreshed when you come back.  Sounds like a win-win. Right again?
This all sounds fine until you send the email telling everyone you are sick and can’t make it in.  Everyone feels bad until they walk by the printer and see that yesterday you printed out your hotel reservation for the beach for today and forgot to pick it up.

My advice to this guy is to use sunscreen.

Monday, August 28, 2017

My fun is probably not your fun

Our team has demonstrated some tendencies that the casual observer would find bizarre.   As an example when the summer is in full swing the number of participants in our Sunday Coffee and Lies ride predictably increases.  Yet when the menu offers up a mid-winter celebratory slog-fest we get more riders than a warm Sunday in July.   We get more participation when the forecast calls for pain.
McWoodie pretending to be patient....
This was proven again as fourteen souls assembled before seven in the morning and departed for a gravel adventure that promised to leave everyone tired, sore and filthy.
Are you ready to rumble?
We had done this ride fifty short weeks ago and we came back with more riders and wider tires. The sky was smoky from fires to the north and the mercury was aiming for ninety degrees by mid-afternoon. Without shame I broke the rules and carried a hydration pack.  I was not the only one.  As we age, logic does make limited inroads.
We rolled out and my legs protested immediately. Nearly three hours of mountain biking with El Chefe the day before had left a mark.  This would be a long day.  Sore legs would only make it longer.  I am a fool.  It was a Morgan Blue Solid kind of day.

This is the time of year when most of us are wondering what to do with the fitness we built up all spring and summer.  I am usually in this camp and it is a great place to be. Hills are easy and power is there when you need it.  Long days in the saddle are a pleasure.

My personal agenda this year had many events and distractions that were not conducive to cycling fitness.  I find myself torn between trying to cram in some late season fitness only to lose it between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, or to just limp into winter and build up fresh come spring.  At this point I must simply confess I am not in good cycling shape.

Rich man was sporting his new Litespeed and his shiny rear cassette looked like it was made of diamonds glistening in the sunlight as he rode. The shiny metal bits were anxious for an introduction to the dirt and gravel they were designed for. Rich man did not disappoint.
Let the climbing begin!
The dusty road soon turned uphill and my legs went from being sore from the prior days ride to working hard on the climb.  One form of hurt gave way to another.  As we gained elevation the views opened up and we found our varied climbing rhythms.  I had recently added a wolf tooth extender and an 11-40 rear cassette to the B2 Bomber. The low gear would be my best friend on some of the climbs later in the ride.

After the ride last year I did some research on the Stampede pass area and this year I kept my eyes open.  The history of the railroad, train tunnels, and mining from a bygone era in this forgotten land is fascinating.

We climbed and climbed and the grade let up now and then allowing us to catch our breath.  After topping out the first sustained downhill was a chance for us to fly.  Our single flat tire forced a stop for the group while they worked on a leaky valve stem.
If I don't make eye contact with the flat then my tires will be unaffected.....
At this point someone asked Rich man how he was liking his new ride.  Fat tires and hydraulic discs make all the difference and his reply was less than enthusiastic. He finished his comments by saying he was not a good descender. 

This was unacceptable for Evo and I went to his bike and checked his tire pressure.  It may not have been sixty psi, but it felt like it. 

I unscrewed his valve stem and began to let some air out and Rich man quickly thanked me.  I kept letting air out and his gratitude turned to panic.  The sound he made was a combination of the word “no” a quacking sound and a scream.  Undaunted, I kept my finger pressed on the valve letting those unnecessary pounds per square inch go free.  I took his 40mm wide Nanorapter down to about 30 psi.  I went to the back and despite his repeated protest I brought that down to about 32psi. 

After the next downhill he would comment on how well the tires were now working.  Welcome to the wonderful world of wide tire tubeless!  Rich man, we’ve been waiting for you!  You’re never going back!
Deeper and deeper into the forest we went.....
Like some strange black, orange and white accordion we strung out and came back together.  We reassembled at critical corners and stretched out on long climbs.  We linked up when we hit the Greenwater draining and we flew down the road in a literal cloud of dust.  At one point I looked at my once-white arm coolers and they either had a patina of light colored dust or had a pearlized surface finish.  My teeth were likewise coated with dust.

After a long false flat the final climb starts off steep and loose and the heat of the day seemed to increase the effects of gravity. My legs hurt but I just kept going. Even in my Horst gear my cadence was slow.  I could only imagine some poor soul on a cross bike climbing this with a 36-25. 

The grade let up and I was able to get a much better pedal stroke going.  With my hip flexors working my pace picked up considerably.  I felt a fleeting moment of strength and revisited the question of trying to increase my fitness so late in the summer.  I kept pushing and tried to stay ahead of the man with the hammer as I could sense he was getting close.

After an unexpectedly steep though short, loose section after a bridge I saw Ryan stopped in the shade at an intersection.   That little kicker in combination with the heat brought me back to reality.  A couple minutes later the rest of our breakaway came up, one at a time wrestling their bikes.  Their faces revealing the aftereffects of that short steep section.

The climbing continued and I recalled the section ahead from last year.  At that time I had attacked and chased Big John all the way to the top.  This year my focus was to drain my hydration pack and metabolize some calories to prevent bonking.   My shoes suddenly felt hot and I noted the full wrath of August was upon me.  No shade for the wicked on this exposed dusty road.  Oddly, this is my idea of fun.
Near the top I realized that shortly we would be going downhill and the implications of cramping or blowing up were lessening quickly.  I got out of the saddle and pushed myself. With a spring and summer full of limited efforts it felt good to push hard on tired legs. I smiled at the ache in my quads. This is how we get strong.  “I remember this feeling,” I thought to myself.

After reaching the top I circled back to collect KB who was also feeling the heat.   Amazing how after a minute of coasting downhill my legs recovered and the final kick of the climb felt easier the second time around. 

After cresting the top the road hugged the ridge and offered a slight, though sustained, downhill. Without a word we let the grade give us free speed.  With big tires and low pressure we were safe as we ripped along high above the I-90 corridor. 
There is a freeway down there somewhere
We sailed along with broad smiles and soon everything increased.  The turns got bigger, the downward incline got steeper, the gravel got looser and we just went faster as we could sense the ride was nearing a happy ending.

By now we had become accustomed to flying over washboard and bunny hopping ditches. When the crunch of gravel ceased as we hit the pave’ for the first time in hours, the silence seemed sacred.  We looked at each other and did not need to speak.  The quiet was deafening and our expressions told the story.

Back at the cars we peeled off our crusty kids.  El Jefe’ handed me a bottle of water fresh out of his ice chest.  We munched on chips and drank the cold water as we changed and loaded the bikes up.
A stop at Lake Kachess provided a chance to cool off in the lake and partake of various other beverages that El Jefe’ had hidden his cooler.
This is the "after" photo

Fourteen middle aged men stood by the lake each grateful for friendship, wide tires, cold water and supportive families. As KB said, he was sore and tired, but it was the best kind of sore and tired.