Doing it all the hard way...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Does thread count matter ?

What are you looking at ?
Some dogs pee in the house. Some dogs chew leather shoes. Some dogs scratch the walls and others grab food off the counters. Tux the wonder dog, does none of these things. He does, however, like our bed when we are not in it. We don't mind this at all. In fact, we bought a bed spread to put on our bed so Tux wouldn't get our bed dirty. What we don't care for is the fact that Tux likes nice sheets, and wants to put his furry bum right on them. We make our bed (kind of) and pull on the Tux cover, and when we return Tux has peeled back the covers and is laying on our sheets. We've found his front paws on my pillow and his rear paws on Hottie's. We've found his butt on our pillows as well.

We could get upset, but because it could be so much worse (and the fact that he is the wonderdog), we just smile. We smile and we wash the sheets a lot. Does thread count matter? Yes it sure does. According to Tux, and I would agree with him, anything over 300 is just fine.

Monday, April 25, 2011


I have perpetrated a terrible joke on a friend. I feel just awful about it. In order to cleanse my soul, I offer my confession and ask that you all absolve me. I am already going to hell, so this is just icing on the cake.

Hottie and I attend a spin class a couple mornings a week and our spin instructor is known to us as Spinner John. We have so many Johns that are connected to biking that we had to nickname them, Spinner John, 2020 John, Crash John (sorry), Front Desk John, etc.).

We all have our faults, and I know I have mine. This is, however, my blog, so while I may feel compelled to confess this sin, I don’t feel like confessing all of them. With that preface, Spinner John while being a nice guy and all really likes to “one-up” everyone. He always wants the last word and is persistent enough that he generally gets it one way or another.

After spinning in his class for several months, he found out I had ridden double centuries in the past, and he invited me to ride with him in the Davis double century last year. His idea of “riding with” happened to be the same as my idea of “starting with.” He had looked upon my Cyclocross addiction as an oddity, yet he signed up and raced four races last year. He beat me by a couple places the first two races and I beat him soundly the last two. He had sworn he would never race on the roads as it was too dangerous, yet he joined a team and has been racing on the road following my race schedule with stalker-like precision.

I better not look over my shoulder....
It could be my imagination, but it seems to that while he doesn’t want to be me, he sure wants to beat me. My road racing this year has generally been in the 50+ category and John isn’t old enough to join my races, so he has been racing the same events with the Category 5’s. The week of the Ronde van Palouse, John asked me if I was going to do a race that was being held down past Olympia. When I told him I was doing the Ronde, he tried to reschedule a doctor appointment for his child to he could go and race it as well. To add insult to injury I told him I had been selected in the lottery to ride RAMROD this summer. He was bubbling at missing the chance to one up me.

The Ronde was a lot of fun and they had something most races don’t; trophies. The cool trophies were captured by Hottie’s camera and were impressive. On the way home from the ride Hottie had an idea and told me to pull over while she grabbed a rock. The basalt rock was the same kind that could be found on the other trophies. The plan was in motion.

After the Ronde I told Spinner John what a great ride it had been. He kept interrupting me to tell me how well he would have done if he had been there. I finally told him that I had won the Most Aggressive Rider award. The MAR is a coveted award that is usually only given in stage races. One day races like the Ronde usually don’t give out such awards and the Ronde van Palouse was no different. There was no MAR award given, yet I was claiming it. Not to worry the prize was in work.

That evening I took a grinder to an old cog and chain ring. A block of wood and the rock mentioned previously. Hottie secured a plaque and we had our creation.

At class this morning I brought the trophy in a musette and put it in front of my bike. John, ever curious if not bordering on vigilant, spotted it and took the bait.

“What is in the bag?” Spinner John asked anxiously.
“Check it out,” I offered smiling.

He pealed back the fabric and looked inside at the trophy. Then, instead of unveiling the piece of work to the whole class, he silently stared inside with a longing that was obvious to Hottie and myself. He then covered it up and extended his hand and congratulated me. “I’m going to do that race next year so I can beat you and get that trophy,” he said to my amazement. Just as I was thinking, “he actually said that out loud,” he set the bag down and walked away to speak to another class member.

Looks real to me..
Hottie and I exchanged glances and I felt like Jean Baptiste Tribout.

In 1991 an America rock climber named Alan Watts had been working on a new route at Smith Rock in Oregon. Before a climb is completed it is referred to as a “project.” The first person who completes the climb gets to name it. A year earlier a visiting Frenchman named Jan Baptiste Tribout had tried a project that Watts had been working on and did it. Alan Watts was broken hearted. He told the Frenchman he didn’t want a repeat and asked him to stay off his project.

I won’t tell you who climbed the route first, but the climb is named, “I am a bad man.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Does cycling bring out the worst in us?

The other morning I drove through an intersection that I had ridden through the morning before. I remember the spot because a driver who had the right of way stopped and yielded to me. What struck me as odd this morning is I recall that when the driver did the, “No, you go” thing, I was a little ticked off.

As cyclists we try to follow rules and when someone else doesn’t follow them, such as not taking the right of way when it is theirs, it messes us up. While the whole, “you go, no you go” debate could be the subject of another blog, my point here is that I got (slightly) upset.

My guess is that when one is exercising and the blood is flowing we are somehow more prone to hostile, or at least irrational, behavior. We have seen professional athletes act out during the heat of competition. I think of basketball or footballl players committing foolish fouls when the game is on the line because they couldn’t help themselves.

Many of us have seen cyclists who are normally calm, reacting to a car coming too close as if they are going to actually kill the driver. I heard the theory that it is the helmet that makes us think we are preparing for battle; but I think not.

Perhaps we should attribute the altered behavior to the fight or flight instinct. We find ourselves with endorphins flowing, our pulse racing and threats and disruptions (to our perceived rules), elicit an atypical reaction. When a normally calm riding buddy raises a fist, or their voice, or both, I find myself trying to deescalate the situation. This is not so much to avoid the conflict as to keep intact my mental image of my mild mannered riding companion.

Then again, maybe I was cranky because my face was sore from being pelted with hail.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Monday

I'm the king of the world !!
When Monday arrives and I find myself mentally refreshed and physically exhausted, it has been an ideal weekend. This was one of those Mondays. On Saturday Hottie and I got our glasses adjusted. What a difference. I still consider myself a rookie in the glasses world, and I was stunned how much better everything worked. Yep, I’m getting old. Live and learn as they say.

RJ visited and brought Kyson. He just gets cuter every day. He is more alert and responsive; which is a thrill. The poor fella just goes back and forth between my arms and Hottie’s. He didn’t seem to mind too much. What a sport!

As irony finds me wherever I go, the Sunday morning ride was dry and eventually sunny. So it came as quite the surprise that we only had three souls roll out. Dave F took the shortcut back so only two of us finished the full ride. The bonus was the other rider was Marc who moved to New Hampshire last fall, but was back in Seattle on business. He was a member of our Peloton of Discovery last summer and it was truly great to see him again.

When I tried to work my recent Ronde van Palouse into the conversation, Marc commented he had just competed in the Tour of the Battenkill. That race touts itself as America’s Queen of the classics. He might as well have said he just finished Paris-Roubaix. I was unworthy!! We shared some war stories as the miles rolled past.

I also got a chance to use my birthday gift. Hottie consulted some knowledgeable and opinionated members of my team, and based on their recommendation, she was able to get me a Garmin bike computer at a ridiculous price. I am almost intimidated at the data which is now at hand. I suffer from an inner battle as my romantic view of things says, “Just ride,” while my OCD side wants to know how the grade and pace altered my heart rate. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.

Hottie and I caught a matinee and then it was time for yard work.

Short grass makes for a fast racing circuit..
I cut the grass for the first time all year. It was an ordeal. With little sun in the winter the grass in the Pacific Northwest hibernates and doesn’t grow much from November till spring. In the summer you have to cut it twice a week, but this isn’t yet summer. The depth of the “field” choked our mower, which was hoping for a few easy pre-season workouts before tackling the green monster. Inside the washer and dryer were likewise gainfully employed.

As the sun went down, I ironed shirts while we watched sports on TV. I baked and then froze some blueberry almond scones for the week and we still had some of the bread that was baked Saturday morning. We set alarms for five fifteen so we could make it to Monday’s spin class and called it a weekend.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ronde Van Palouse Race Report 2011

We all look good before the slaughter begins

A year ago the Vance Creek Road Race was the second weekend in April. I had assumed it would be on the same weekend in 2011 and planned accordingly. I had seen announcements about the Ronde van Palouse, which sounded interesting, but was in conflict with Vance Creek so I looked the other way.

A couple of weeks ago I realized Vance Creek had been moved to May, so the weekend was open. The Ronde promised an alternative from the ultra-serious road racing and Hottie and I were in need of a little break anyway. The fact that the race was on my birthday was an added bonus.

I watched the weather and when I was convinced it wouldn’t be wet, I signed up and booked a room. I noted one of my friends who rides for was already registered, so I took some solace in knowing there would be at least one familiar face in the hinterlands to the east.

I bailed early from work and Hottie and I enjoyed an uneventful drive over with sunshine and a sleeping greyhound in the back. Either my haste or laziness resulted in my booking a room in Post Falls Idaho (4 miles from the border).

The town is so small they all share the same mail box.
The morning of the race dawned clear and crisp, with the promise of warmer temperatures by race time. The Spokane area is at the intersection of rolling farm fields and pine covered hills. The drive to the race was pretty and I was excited.

I got a coffee on the way and realized just how serious they are about racing in the northeast corner of the state...


After driving the course, we returned to the starting area. I spotted Kevin and we were both glad to claim a friend in this hostile land. Our field was lean in number as well as body type. We rolled out and the first few miles we all behaved like gentlemen.

After a full rotation of double pacelines we hit our first significant roller. A drop of one hundred and sixty feet where I clocked 44 mph. Up the other side was a climb of the same elevation and I never got out of my big chain ring. The kindness had ceased and the field began to splinter. I made the selection and was in a lead group of five.

The rollers were pretty typical. Steep at the bottom (where you are carrying your speed), and tapering near the top, so you could power over. Then a nasty one broke the pattern and kicked up at the top. I lost some ground and let a gap form. As I pushed to close it, I felt a cramp in my right calf.

I decided to cruise for a minute and catch on with the next group. Much sooner than I expected I had company. Our chase group wasn’t very organized and soon we too were split up. A right turn and we were headed south and fighting the winds the Palouse is famous for. Nobody gained or lost much, but I did close on the rider in front of me.

Soon we turned onto the gravel that was the reason for the race. Channeling my inner Katie Compton, I ignored the urge to slow down and plowed down the first loose downhill. Then I used my Cyclocross skills to power up the gravelly rollers. I was able to spot soft dirt and avoid it. I was catching riders who were lacking either in boldness, or skills, in riding the loose stuff. The second stretch of road was soft and the wheel tracks told me lots of riders were getting sideways. I moved my weight back and focused on keeping my pedaling motion smooth and I passed some more fledgling souls.
The dirt road turned once more and was firmer and faster. As I approached a steep uphill a rider to my right was out of the saddle and his rear wheel was slipping. Pedaling hard, with my weight on my rear wheel, I blasted over the hill and soon we were back on pavement. In a minute or two, our group reformed and we started working together as we approached the killer hills near the end of the first lap.

I kept drifting back and catching up with this group. As we neared the top of the longest climb of the route I was off the back. I nearly caught up as we peaked on the final climb, which rose to the high point of the whole course and provided an inspiring vista which I would have enjoyed if I could have caught my breath and un-crossed my eyes

Soon I was rolling past the start line, then past the finish line and on the second and final lap. I was living the lonely life of a dropped rider. I spotted someone up ahead and tried to time the gap between us. The gap was sixty seconds, then forty, then twenty, and then I was close, but didn’t seem to be gaining. The rollers and wind had us both getting out of the saddle periodically. As I finally closed it down I realized it was Kevin. He was cooked and we hit the gravel together. I rode smartly through the loose stuff and when I got back on the pave’ I soft pedaled until Kevin caught up. He was grateful and we soon caught another spent rider from our group and the three of us worked together. The hills were relentless and when I got out of the saddle my quads were both cramping. I thought I had been drinking enough, but a spin class on Friday morning combined with the long drive with little to drink and dry climate gave me plenty of reason to be low on electrolytes.

The three of us limped the last few miles like a true band of brothers. On the final two climbs I felt good until I got out of the saddle only to sit down and cry “uncle.” I told them to go on and I geared down and spun a lower gear seated and to my surprise, caught up. I repeated this on the final hill and soon we were zipping toward the finish.

Kevin kept at the front and led me like he knew it was my birthday. We were three across with 200M to go and I felt it my duty to announce that I was going to sprint. I went and my companions let me have my glory. My quads cramped and I just stayed on it, and I let the burn overcome the pain.

As riders stood around afterwards, they all looked like they had suffered on the ride. There is a look that says I gave the last 200 meters all I had, and there is another look that says I gave the whole 48 miles everything I had. I saw lots of the latter. I didn’t see anyone asking to add another lap to the race next year. My computer told me I had just over three thousand feet of climbing on the day. The fact that we were more than a half mile above sea level may have also contributed to my experience.

Post Race notes:
My bike was wonderful with 25mm tires at 105 psi. I wore a short sleeved jersey with two under shirts (one mesh and the other wool) and arm warmers. I also wore knee warmers and toe covers and a little poly skullcap kept my cozy. I started with a vest, but peeled it off halfway through the first lap.
The race was well staged with controlled intersections and lead, and follow, cars. Although the fields were small they were fast and it was an adventure.
The Cyclocross skills were a huge advantage.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Moonlight Graham understood the deal

I heard from my wandering son last night. He has been living and working in Alaska, and has survived the winter. He was in good spirits and our conversation left me feeling the same way.

In the course of our rambling dialogue we touched on Grandpadom. We debated if having children was selfish. I assured him that even if it started that way, it seldom stayed that way for long. I tried to convey the amount of sacrifice involved and he readily agreed.

I told him how often in my conversations with friends and associates the phrase, “I can’t make it, my son/daughter has a play/concert/game/camping trip /sleep over.” He jumped on that and remarked, “Dad, you could have been so many things, a mountain guide, an explorer..” He went on and on and my ego wasn’t about to interrupt him. He tried to tell me how much I gave up by having a family. He missed the point.

I reminded him of my all-time favorite scenes in the all-time greatest movie ever made, Field of Dreams. The movie has little to do with Baseball and everything to do with love, faith and sacrifice. In the movie the protagonist, Ray Kinsella, builds a baseball field where long dead baseball players get to play once again. One of the players is Archie “Moonlight” Graham who only played one half inning and never got an official at bat in the major leagues. After his half inning the season ended, and he left baseball and went on to become a doctor and help mankind for decades before his own passing.

In the pivotal scene Ray’s daughter is choking and Moonlight Graham, who is once again a young and vibrant ball player, has a choice to help her as a doctor knowing that if he does so he can never go back to being a ball player, or watch and see what happens. With only a moment’s hesitation as he weighs the consequences, he takes the step from which there is no return and helps the young girl.

Ray, realizing the sacrifice Moonlight has made feels horrible and questions him. With a wink, Moonlight assures him that the bigger tragedy would have been if he had only been able to be a doctor for five minutes.

Is it wrong to kill an innocent dog or cat? If it is wrong to cause an animal harm, then it must be right to bring those same animals some measure of happiness. Is it wrong to hurt a stranger? Then it must be right to help others. No life is wasted if it brings happiness to anyone or anything.

Last Sunday as I heard Hottie playing Wii with a young girl my daughter (Kyson's mom) was caring for, I was touched by the excitement I heard coming out of the room from both of them. I have heard it called the law of accumulation, “Everything counts.” Kindness counts. Winning or losing at tennis, basketball, bike racing, or baseball simply does not count.

Evo, RJ and The wanderer...
Nobody sits on their deathbed and wishes they had skipped a child’s soccer game so they could have done something else. As I ponder this whole Grandpa thing, I think about my own parenting experience. Rest assured I have plenty of regrets, regretting sacrifices I made isn’t on the list.

Hottie and Kyson

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What part of that is the downhill ?

Hauling it up the hill...
I really enjoy riding bikes. One of my favorite things is to ride downhill. The best downhill is one that was proceeded by the climb to the top. That feeling of earning the downhill makes the speed so much more exhilarating.
My friend Hank, who persuaded me to do Ergomania earlier this year, has taken his rowing “game” on the water. He has forgone the road cycling season and has been rowing. We only get glimpses of Hank on the bike, and on a recent Sunday morning he related his rowing experiences.

It seems he has been rowing to the point of total exhaustion. He practically needs help out of the boat (I am sure there is a cool term for the boat, I just don’t know it). He showed me his blistered hands and told me how sore he is afterwards. When I asked if all that work was paying off, he conceded that his hard work was not translating into success and that he had only poor results to show for his significant efforts.

Zach suffering in his most recent Cyclocross race !
When one of my teammates asked why Hank wasn’t riding with the team, I shared the circumstances of Hank’s absence and my friend wisely asked, “What part of that is the downhill?”


This morning as I was making my way upstairs after a brutal secession of intervals on the rollers in my pain cave, I took solace in the fact that this pain would make my upcoming endeavors not only less painful, but more enjoyable, and hopefully, more successful. The whole principle of sacrifice is giving up a lesser something, for something better. You do the hard stuff now, for a payoff down the road.

Payoff !!
There are exceptions. Sometimes you get so used to doing the hard stuff; you forget what the “downhill” was supposed to be. The reward for riding up that big hill is getting to zip down the other side. The payoff for working hard is getting to play. After you sow, you get to reap. The reward for scrimping and saving is getting something cool.

One of the worst things you can do in your training is to never go really easy or to never go really hard, but always go “kinda” hard. This can feel like an endless false flat (which is bike-speak for slight uphill). You need the balance of hard days and easy days. Just like I think we need to work/save/sweat so we can later enjoy. I know of people who have gotten so used to the hard stuff, they have forgotten how to enjoy the rewards of their own efforts. If you have been saving marbles for so long you don’t know where to put any more, it is time to play marbles.

If you find yourself trudging along and you can’t remember what the downhill is, I challenge you to find one.