Doing it all the hard way...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mountain to Sound Relay Race Report

Ready, Aim....

I was asked to fill in and ride the Mountain Bike leg of the Mountain to Sound relay. The mountain bike course went along the Iron Horse Trail a former railroad right of way that has been converted to a gravel bike path. I could use my cross bike….. I was in !

We had a Le Mans start which has always been a favorite of mine. At the gun we ran hundred fifty meters downhill then around a race banner and back up to the bikes. I was trying hard not to max my heart rate and just go fast with a minimum of effort. I was about fifteenth and I grabbed my waiting bike from the hands of Geoff. I had expected there to be a bunch of riders trying to get started and was planning on shouldering my bike for anther twenty meters, but there was an open spot so on I jumped. The gravel was loose and steep so I had to sit and crank to keep traction.

Although I had ridden the trail before I was not familiar with the climb from this side road to the trail so I had checked it out on Google Earth. The ride starts out with two hundred feet of climbing in less than a quarter mile. That is a grade of more than 800 feet of climbing per mile. For those of you who are quick on the uptake, that is a Vuelta-esque 15%+ climb. I had my cross bike with a road cassette so my lowest gear was a 42x25. That is fine for short muscle climbs, but not for a sustained quarter mile of climbing.

In thirty seconds I was moving up and was about eighth and I was trying not to blow up. The road kept climbing and I was smart not to pre ride this section or I would have totally freaked out.

By the time we turned onto the Iron Horse Trail I was sixth and feeling good. My light cross bike was agile and I was moving. I passed two riders and a young guy on a cross bike just blew past me. Then a rider pulled along side and he had a few riders behind him. I jumped on the back of the train and we kept up a vicious pace.

We had six miles to climb on the road to the turn around. I had to push now and again to keep in the group. We were going uphill and gained another four hundred feet since getting on the Iron Horse. Six hundred feet of climbing and now it was time for 800 feet of drop to the finish. At the turn around I counted four riders ahead of us and I felt strong. My drop bars allowed an aero position and I was geared high enough with a 42x11.

We were going fast and I was conserving. Although the corners were gradual, the loose gravel made me nervous. Occasional potholes would catch some off guard. I felt strong and was wondering when I should move out and try and pass the little pack.

Someone went down a few riders up and steering on loose gravel is hopeless. A rider was sideways and sliding in front of me. For an instant, I considered trying to ride right over him but his bike was rolling sideways in front of him looking like a corn harvester from hell. Saddle and bars then pedals and chain ring, then saddle side again, the chain ring looked like a circular saw and I opted to swerve and land on the rider.

“Oh well” I thought as I went down. I can’t tell you what happened next, but I came to a stop sitting on my butt with someone else’s brake cable hooked to the shoulder of my jersey. I pushed the bike over and saw my sunglasses in the road. I put them on and I heard someone ask someone else if they were okay. “I think I’m in shock,” was the weak reply. “You need help?” I asked as I picked up my bike. He said he would be okay and I started riding again. My pulse was still high and I was a little dazed.

On the bike my back and shoulders hurt and I felt my collarbones to make sure they were still straight. Yep, all good there. I knew it would be a few minutes before I was able to figure out what I had hurt. My left shin hurt and I looked for blood and found none.

I noticed I wasn’t able to shift into my two highest gears. I was flying in a 42x13. I passed two other riders who were getting started after crashing. I could see one more and a mile later I passed Hottie who shot the following picture.

I caught and passed another crash survivor and looked back and he had not even tried to latch on. He was cooked either from the ride, or the crash or both. I kept moving and still felt strong. I wished I had more gears as my cadence was high and I needed a break. I wondered where the finish was and saw one more rider ahead. I caught and passed him and he hung on. Then he took a turn and we traded pulls. Finally I moved out and saw a Course Marshall with a flag indicating the end was at hand.

A couple loose turns and I was down to the parking lot. Geoff had a straw cowboy hat that he was waving so I could find him. It was a brilliant idea. I high fived him and he took off for the road bike leg. I pulled to the side and slumped over my bars.

I shook hands with the guy who I had traded pulls with. I asked if he had been in the crash. He said he had not, but was right behind and that it was spectacular. As we talked he told me my jersey was torn and pointed out that I had a dent in my top tube.

Shit my top tube has a dent. I stepped off and looked at the bike. The wheels looked straight and everything else looked okay. I was too trashed to really think about it much more. I grabbed a banana and drank some water. Hottie was up at the start and I began the five-mile climb back to the car.

I was the ninth biker in and was just under a minute behind the riders who were in the front when the crash went down. I would (in the optimistic part of my brain where I regularly lie to myself) like to think I could have passed those riders if I had kept the rubber side down.

When I was able to look at my cuts and bruises, and feel my tender ribs, I realized that I would be sore and useless tomorrow. I decided I should post this today while before my age catches up with me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Used Saddle on eBay

This is the image I want in your mind when you read the description that says something like, "Nice saddle only used a few times. Almost new"

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour de Blast 2010 Ride Report


It was wet, but it was a cold wet...

After toying with the idea of doing the Tour de Blast for several weeks, I finally decided that if the weather looked good, I would do it. With less than a week to go, weather underground predicted sunny and about 70. I signed up. It appears that within seconds of signing up the weather reports began to deteriorate. They continued to worsen until the conclusion of the ride. A firestorm of emails began circulating among the woebegone members on my team who had also committed to ride, regarding weather and potential alternative plans. One of the draws of doing this ride was the opportunity to stop at a Mexican restaurant in Centrailia that is reputed to be the best Mexican food in Washington. Kevin on our team swears it is the schizzle. Others have blogged of their legendary flan. Our team president had been absent from the email volleys of the preceding days and then the evening before the ride, as options were being proposed and amended and amended again, he flatly stated he would not be denied his flan. The wavering was done. To the volcano we go!

Light traffic at 4:55 AM

The alarm went off at 4:20 and there was a little light in the sky as I stumbled my way to the Mac. The Doppler showed there was one yellow-green blob in the state. It was large and right over the ride course. It showed signs of moving north which gave me a hint of hope that we might escape the deluge.

I arrived at El Jefe's’s place under cloudy, but dry, skies. Sam came out chomping on a bowl of granola. A few moments later Big John arrived with the vehicle and we loaded up our rain bikes. Down the street Hank reluctantly allowed his bike to be latched on and finally he grabbed his bag. After making sure we were not kidding and that we really wanted to go to Mt. St. Helens, he put it in the back and we set out for the mountain. John’s Pilot rocked back and forth gently as Hank shook his head.

Hank brought a thermos of fresh brewed coffee, cups and a small carafe of cream. We almost made it to Tacoma before the rain started. My theory was we would drive through it and come out to dry skies. Hank sent a text asking about weather to members of our team that had a 45 minute head start and were closer to the event. “Sunny and 80 degrees,” was the reply.

Traffic was light at the early hour and we made good time. We all started eating from our respective stashes as we neared the start. We arrived, signed in, and changed into our riding clothes as a light mist fell. It wasn’t too cold so we were still comfortable. We rolled to the bathroom when Hank recalled he had left his saddle bag and needed to go back to the car. We waited out of the rain for Hank and noticed it had started raining harder and harder. Hank returned and we rolled out.

Ready to be stupid

Puddle next to our car…..

We quickly formed a paceline and alternated medium pulls. We all had fenders, but Hank was lacking “buddy” flaps. The rooster tail behind Hank was heinous so that became the place no one wanted to be. We were moving at 21-24 mph and our effort combined with the mild temperatures kept us warm. We hit the first food stop having climbed 900 feet in sixteen miles. It had been rolling and only near the end was there any consistent grade. I wolfed down several slices of baked potatoes and banana. I filled my empty water bottle and dropped in a nuun tablet. I had started the day with Sustained Energy in both bottles and I still had one left. The rain had not let up for a second and we quickly got moving again to warm up. My arms were wet but okay. My core felt fine and the climbing seemed much easier than I recalled.

Eat drink and be wet !

I ate the banana I brought and took off my sunglasses. The climb to the next stop was steady and we were in the clouds. Visibility was crap and people who had turned around at the twenty-seven mile point were coming downhill on the other side of the road with their brakes on because they couldn’t see far enough to go fast. They were also gritting their teeth because of the cold. Going uphill was strange because in the fog you couldn’t see more than 100-150 meters so in my mind I was constantly near the top of the climb. When there was a gap and you could see a greater distance (and more of the climb) I found I would slow down as if I suddenly realized I was on a hill and needed to pace myself. Lots of people had fenders, but many did not. The stripe on their clothing was one thing; the soggy chamois, I imagine, would prove to be the bigger problem.

I was dressed for intermittent rain and the lack of a break gave me no chance to dry out. Were I to do it over again I would dress differently. I should have worn my GORE gloves and duct taped my booties to my hairy legs. As it was the water ran down my legs and through the slight gap between my booties and my skinny ankles. I have an ideal jacket to wear if it is 35 to 45 degrees. It wasn’t, at least not at the start.

Note that in almost every picture of Sam - He is eating..
Soon we were at 3800’, twenty seven miles in. Over 2000’ of climbing since the last food stop and it felt easy. It was time to stoke the furnace with more food. Hank had a ham sandwich which sounded absolutely gross to me. I ate, topped off my bottles and was ready to go. A couple Cyclocross friends rolled up to the food stop and they were likewise questioning their idea of fun….. The four of us turned right and a course marshal said they were recommending people not go to the top. It made a lot of sense, but we just rode past and thanked him.

Stylin’ the Toutle Chapeau

After a momentary climb; a quick descent brought us down to 2530’ and the beginning of a 1800’ climb to the highpoint at 4330’. In contrast to most rides the riders going uphill were smiling (because they were warm) and those going down downhill fast were grimacing (because of the wicked wind chill on their frozen bodies). The climb was steady and we were passing people like crazy. Soon I was dropped by John and Sam and although I continued to pass people, it wasn’t as dramatic.

I was in a comfortable gear and I just kept spinning circles and soon I was making the sweeping left hand turn that signaled the end was near. I passed the 4000’ sign and could see the light that edged the parking lot. When I pulled in a woman volunteer informed me my “party” was in the visitor’s center. As I headed up I saw Sam walking away from a bike rack where I quickly parked my bike.

The view of the mountain from the visitor’s center

Inside I found a quiet corner and I removed my helmet, gloves and hat. I tried to be discreet as I wrung the icy water from my gloves and earband. I removed one bootie, the shoe and my sock. I wrung out my sock and looked at my wrinkled white foot. I put my sock, shoe and the bootie back on, and repeated the process for the other foot. My booties suck.

Sam pointed me to the restroom where soggy cyclists were taking turns drying gloves and what not under the hand dryers. There was an assortment of thousand mile stares. Everyone was a little on edge as they were preoccupied with monitoring their individual battles with hypothermia.

Finally we emerged into the cold air, and for the first time I felt a chill on my legs and chest. We made our way to the actual food stop and Sam bought a round of hot chocolates. God bless him. We stood around drinking the hot nectar with shivering hands. One of the medical support personnel herded us into a waiting ambulance where six of us sat while the heater cranked. They handed out thick surgical gloves which I put over my wet gloves for wind protection for the upcoming descent. When they asked if we were okay, I replied that I was experienced at doing stupid things and would be fine enough. When we decided further time would not get us any warmer, but would erode our resolve- we rolled out of the ambulance and quickly jumped on our bikes like a trained SWAT team.

In the ambulance

Hey, can I try some of these drugs ?

Thumbs up ! The glove, the ambulance, and a man earning his flan

As we rolled down there was a parting in the clouds and I stopped to capture the view.

About 4000’ up the mountain

It was a dilemma on the descent. If you went faster it was colder; if you went slower you prolonged the suffering. If you pedaled you might warm up, but you’d get even more wind chill. I feathered the brakes until a microclimate formed on my front side and then I pedaled to warm up. The rule is 3.5 degrees cooler for every thousand feet of altitude gain. The descent brought up the temperature about 6-7 degrees and it made a difference. The climb back to 3800’ was almost pleasant. I felt strong and was warm enough once again.

I caught Sam on the climb and we paced each other back to the food stop at fifty eight miles. “We can’t stay long!” was a unanimous proclamation as we arrived. I ate, topped one bottle and was looking around when I spotted Paulo, my lunchtime ride companion from work. I knew he was riding and I had been looking for him assuming he started well ahead of us. He was under an awning set up to give the riders some shelter from the continuing rain. There was a bonfire going on a platform a few inches off the cement and Paulo was seated smack in front of it. I said hello and he told me how cold he was. He had decided to SAG back to the start having ridden up all of the hills. I concurred there was no shame in cutting out the easy part. I could feel my core temperature dropping, so I bid him a hasty farewell and with my mates rolled down the mountain. It took longer to warm up and then I started getting cold again.

Ten miles further down the road the rain stopped and the highway looked dry for a half mile. Sam was cooked and I was pulling him along as the rain was on again, off again. I felt amazingly strong. Without a word we skipped the last stop and motored on. On the way up we had passed a small pub where local women tried to entice us to stop with the promise of free beer. It sounded like a set up to me. Now on the descent they were out again, this time with bigfoot, seeking patrons. We were rolling at twenty miles an hour and it would take a lot to give up that momentum. Wisely we ignored the Sirens song, but I did snap a couple pictures as this was during a brief dry spell. We later talked to a rider who said he had survived stopping for a beer and a shot in a prior year.

Skank and Bigfoot

Note the cigarette in her hand and the bikes in the background

Less than two miles from the high school finish line, Sam and I spotted Big John on the opposite side of the road with his rain jacket off eating. The bonk had hit John and he decided to stop and eat. Sam and I joined and we all shared what food we had.


Bonked with a hint of attitude

Big John had a commitment that meant we had to choose between stopping for tasty flan or taking a shower at the finish and eating at the post ride pasta feed. Without much discussion we decided on showers and pasta. In no time we were at the finish, then to the car and on to hot showers. The school showers may be where locals take their old cars to get the paint stripped off, but we were grateful for the warmth.

No flan for this man, but Spagetti will do….

The rain continued all the way to Seattle. We looked longingly to the east as we passed Centrailia and promised ourselves that we would eat there another time. Although the draw of flan is a powerful thing, supporting a friend in getting home on time proved more important.

It is strange to say this, but it was an enjoyable ride. I don’t know that I have ever had as much fun being miserable. I recall a line from the movie/documentary about Cyclocross called “Pure Sweet Hell.” It says the reason Cyclocross is so fun is “because it sucks the most.”

I will post a follow up blog on equipment and course comments.

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 Clothing Review

I am doing one of those insecure male rides this weekend. As a side note, I have never been so back and forth on whether or not to do a ride in my life. I finally tossed a coin and signed up.

This ride goes into the mountains and the elevation highs and lows for the ride are about four thousand feet different. I did this ride four years ago in sweltering heat. When I was first contemplating repeating this ride I made a clothing list assuming the same heat. In recent days the forecast has shown as much stability as the stock market so I reconsidered my list contemplating cooler temps and possible precipitation. What was amazing, and is the point of this post, is that the list was virtually unchanged.

With wicking layers and fabric microclimates, the performance modern clothing provides is truly amazing. When I was a young buck we went running in cotton T-Shirts and cotton socks. Our school sweat suits were thick double knit polyester that could be hot, excessively breezy and abrasive all at the same time. I know wool has been around forever, and some will say it has always been wonderful, but I recall it was like wearing steel wool in an active environment.

The miracle fabrics we have today make you more than comfortable. By extending the range of temperatures where you can function normally, you are effectively safer. I recall a backcountry ski trip where a light dry snowfall gave way to wet slushy mixed rain with snow, and our clothing was suddenly absorbing icy water and our core temperatures plummeted. Our trip back to the car became a race against hypothermia.

I love the images of Andy Hampsten battling his way up the Gavia, but I am so glad I can wrap my Evos in some modern clothing and enjoy a nice ride regardless of the conditions.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peek a boo summer

I saw my shadow. Only six more months of rain!

Yesterday Paulo and I rode at lunch. We started with wet pavement and dark skies. Luckily I had my fenders on, but Paulo got a stripe up his back from the wet roads. A cool breeze gave my bare legs a chill. My vest was stuffed in my jersey pocket ready to be donned if the dark clouds decided to dump on us. Working up a long steady grade I finally warmed up. Nearing the top we were caught by a light. I realized I that I was feeling warm and that there were patches of blue sky. In a few minutes we were down by the water and the pavement was dry and we had sunshine. The ride back to the office was dry and the clouds came and went.

Once we were back in the parking lot I paused before putting my bike in the car. I wiped off the wet debris that had accumulated on the ride. A coworker, who was returning from lunch, was squinting in the bright sunshine. He commented on what a great day it was for a ride.

Driving home from work I was able to both wear sunglasses and use my windshield wipers. This morning I ran before work and got soaked. If April Showers bring May flowers, what does rain in June do for us?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Spin Class

There is a spin class at our local YMCA that Hottie and I attend semi-regularly. There are bikes for nineteen people looking to suffer for fifty minutes or so. The class has grown in popularity to the point where on Monday and Friday there is a 6 AM class AND they added a 5 AM class as well. When they added the 5AM class I wonder who, if anyone, would attend so early in the morning. To my surprise, it is better attended than the 6AM class. There have been days when both classes were completely full. Usually there are one or two vacant bikes per class. There are other spin classes at other times, but these are the ones we attend. I am pretty regular at the 6AM Friday class and Hottie is a regular at both Monday and Friday. Spinner John teaches the 5 and 6 AM classes on Monday and Fridays.

There is predictably a cast of regulars. Although everyone misses now and again; and we all have gotten to know each other in the class. Last Christmas we got together for an informal dinner out and that was quite the change to see people wearing street clothes. In my opinion, some looked better, some looked worse.

There is a lot to like about this spin class. The bikes are absolutely first rate. I generally like the music and have gotten downright Pavlovian with a couple of the songs. The music choices are somewhat eclectic, but enjoyable. Spinner John is a cyclist outside of class, so the images he calls to mind in class have real world application for me. The familiarity of the group is comforting, but at the same time the conversations can distract from the class itself.

Before we joined the YMCA I had not been inside any YMCA since I was twelve years old. I expected stinky locker rooms and worn out equipment. I was so wrong. The gym is first class, with well maintained equipment and good folks staffing the place. Towel service is free and there is an amazing array of classes offered.

Last week I squeezed in a weight workout in before spin class and that only “enhanced” my spinning experience. I have done “the double” once (the 5AM and 6AM classes back to back) and it did little other than reveal the shortcomings of the saddles on the spin bikes.

I find that to improve I need to leave my comfort zone and do more than I would on my own. When I am riding, I enjoy riding with guys that are faster than me so I can improve. This spin class does two things for me; first it gets me to work out on days when I might otherwise sleep in, and when I do come if the mood is right and the music hit me just so, I will really push it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fifteen, Twenty, Twenty-seven

One speed is all you need

Fifteen weeks till Starcrossed kicks off the REAL Cyclocross Season. As El Jefe' advised me, if it is fashionable to wear white, it is too early to race Cyclocross. Twenty weeks until the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships. Twenty-seven weeks from now, assuming they have a reprise, would be the Clydesdale Championship of the Universe.

I check the pressure of my tubies every week or so and pump them up as needed so they don’t go flat. My Single Speed project has been successfully completed.

With most of the northern hemisphere seasonably warm and on the brink of being hot, why do I find myself thinking about Cyclocross? Perhaps because today is this eleventh straight day of rain here in Seattle. In normal years I am getting in midweek, pre-work rides with the sunrise at five in the morning. This year, I find myself looking out the window at the rain as I spin on my rollers with a Belgian Cyclocross (narrated entirely in Flemish) DVD playing in front of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I want summer to come; and I want it now! But as I look outside I can’t help but think about cross. A glance at the calendar reminds me that it isn’t that far away…

Training Update June

Angels around the Peloton ?

While I intend to keep the miniscule details of my training between myself and my training advisory board confidential; I will share some tidbits for the good of the community.

The weights seem to be helping. I think both the leg strengthening and core conditioning make a huge difference. I note that when I am putting the hammer down on rollers, if I am a gear too high, I can still muscle through and keep the pace without having to click down to keep up my cadence. The yoga is still like a miracle drug and I’m not giving it up. Speaking of miracle drugs, I am taking a supplement recommended by Hank that is pure voodoo. Hank is such an analytical person that I can trust his voodoo recommendation without too much hesitation. I won’t incriminate myself further, but I will say it appears to be equal parts molasses, prune juice (actually what I guess prune juice tastes like), and Pennzoil.

On a recent weekly team ride I was able to hang with the group and dared to push it a couple times. This is a position I have been in before, but not in a long while, and never with these bicycle mercenaries.

I plan to start interval training in late June with an eye toward cross in the fall.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I have good "form"

Tux from the north as he heads south
Tux has been a wonderdog. He is cute yet unobtrusive. He seems happy with the food we give him and has learned well. He has been suffering from a digestive challenge and the vet asked about his turds. The term, and I love this, is do his "movements" have good "form?"

As an athlete and cyclist I always thought form had to do with conditioning. I stand corrected.

I was successful in signing up for the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championship. As a bonus, if you follow the link it will tell you that I, and forty nine of my friends, have good "form."

Lucky me..

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Evo and the art of bicycle maintenance

Ready to roll

I really enjoy working on bikes. It doesn’t matter much if it is my bike or Hottie’s or a friends. While some cyclist’s fantasy camp is riding with RadioShack, mine is to be one of their team mechanics.

I have pondered this oddity. Growing up I loved to take things apart and understand how they worked. That interest was a challenge because we had very few tools. My father had a hammer, a huge adjustable (crescent) wrench, a plumbers wrench and two screw drivers. This drove me to buy tools with my allowance at a very young age (when my parents didn’t steal my money for liquor or down payments). Having the limited resources of a young teen I bought cheap tools which almost did the job. This is why I so appreciate quality tools, and thankfully Hottie understands that. It may sound funny but I was starting to get misty when she gave me a Park Truing stand one Father’s day. Those same limited resources also meant that during my youth the bikes and other hardware in my life were seldom first rate.

Like anyone that has earned the wrinkles on their face, I have mistakes and regrets. There are many things I would do different if I could. But with the time-space continuum being what it is, I can’t. One of the things I like about bikes is that, unlike people and past mistakes, I can usually fix them. Do I work on bikes to try and make amends for a lifetime of frustration? That is way too deep for this Blog.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On behalf of a grateful Nation

Beginning in high school, and continuing through my late twenties; Memorial Day weekend was spent on backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As my children got older it became a time for barbeques with friends and their kids. With the passing of Janet’s father it has finally become what it should have been all along, a time to reflect and be grateful for those who serve our country past and present.

I grew up at a time when anti-war protests flavored the nation. As such, my reverence for the military was predictably soured. As I grew older and wiser I gradually began to comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifice of the men and women who have served. For those who were fortunate to return to their lives after their service, I realize they knowingly forfeited their individuality for the time they were enlisted. They went where they were asked and were prepared to give their lives if required.

At the graveside service for my father in law at the National Cemetery, I was truly struck by the men and women who performed the ceremony. It speaks volumes to the caliber of men and women who, years after completing their duty, volunteer their time to lay their brothers and sisters to rest. When they presented my mother-in -law with a flag on behalf of the “President of the United States and a grateful Nation” it touched a rare place in my heart. The signs that guide you to the cemetery feature the words, “Where Hero’s Rest.” I can’t pretend to add anything to that.

Happy Memorial Day.