Doing it all the hard way...

Friday, August 30, 2013

Random observations # 2

We have gotten so used to touchless sinks and paper towel dispensers that when we have to actually touch something, we freeze like lost children waiting for permission before taking the next step.

Since I have either broken, or completely ignored the bathroom taboo rule (don't mention the bathroom or anything that happens therein), I will toss this out as well…  

There has got to be a shortage of toilet paper in the world. If it were not so people wouldn’t be going to such lengths (pun intended) to force us to use less TP.  They employ various tricks to minimize our TP consumption. Some of these include ovalized rollers, paper holders that “pinch” the roll making it harder to get the required amount of paper, rolls that are one half inch narrower, or the “jaws of death” that make reaching into the dispenser to get paper kind of like a game of “operation” wherein you feel as if you are reaching into a the mouth of an alligator. These challenges have become so common that when one does encounter a roll of TP that doesn’t have one of the usual “tricks” we may find the paper spewing forth like it is being shot from a fire hose. The roll acts like it is spinning on ceramic bearings or the like.  Then you find yourself trying to stop the fountain of white paper.  Thank goodness the rollers aren’t made by Chris King otherwise the sound would alert those in the vicinity that you are having a little fiasco.
Since I am already ranting on such a disgusting subject, shall we contemplate what is the likely by-product (hygienically speaking) of using less TP?  Is this a price we are willing to pay as a society ?  Look around you before answering this question. 
On a recent trip Hottie made two observations the first of which was that when we hit town for coffee and pre-ride nutrition the crowd of people that are up and about at 7:00 looks a lot fitter than the crowd that is walking around mid morning around 10:00. 

Next Observation/Question

Why have major league baseball players started to grow beards so they look like unkempt lumberjacks ? 

Coffee and Lies # 35 details

I get pretty obsessive over items like bike set up and the impact of the small things on overall performance.  It could be said that I put too much emphasis on the details, perhaps so much so that I miss the big picture.  If I ever find the right balance I will let you all know.

Details or big picture?

A few weeks ago at cross camp I didn’t have a chain keeper on my cross bike.  I run a single ring up front and I figured it wouldn’t be a big issue.  Having to stop about a dozen times in two days and put my chain back on convinced me otherwise.  It wasn’t the stopping so much as losing my momentum and then having to catch up to the group.  Last week I was able to install a K-edge chain keeper (which, by the way, is amazing) and not a dropper since.  Yes, small things can make a big difference.

Details or big picture?

A few years back I dusted off my cross bike and installed a new stem and showed up for the first preseason race thinking I was ready to go.  This venue featured many interesting challenges including a short, bumpy descent with a sharp right-hand turn at the bottom whereupon the route climbed sharply.  Needless to say, you wanted as much speed as you could handle at the bottom of the turn while still being able to make the turn.  I had pre ridden the course, but not all of it at speed, and when I hit the descent at race speed the jarring was significant.   I squeezed the brakes as I approached the turn and without warning my handlebars rotated forward in the stem taking my weight over my front wheel. Instinctively my hands clamped tighter on the bars (and the brakes) launching me into a somersault at the apex of the turn. The trail turned right and I did not. I landed on my back in a blackberry bush with my bike on top of me. My fellow racers asked if I was okay (an indication of how bad it must have looked) and of course my gender-driven rote response was that I was okay.

 The big picture says you test ride (beyond your driveway) and shake out any new bike modifications.  The big picture also says you take some hot laps before any race for a myriad of reasons.

Details or big picture?

I have an excel spreadsheet with my bike measurements.  In addition to the usual seat height etc., I have X and Y coordinates for BB, the nose of my saddle and the c enter line of my bars in my stem.  Based on this I THINK I can set up any bike by using the BB as a reference and adjusting the saddle (up/down and fore/aft) and the bars by adding or removing spacers (up/down) and changing the stem (fore/aft).  This means I have some long stems and I disdain short head tubes.

Even after the tape measure says it fits, I still swing a leg over and try it out.  And if I am going to race it, I test it a LOT.  I was amazed at how long it took me to get my Ridley dialed in as well as how small the changes were.  Tiny things like bar angle made a big difference.  The story is the same with my cross bike.  When on a ride I realized I wanted to lower the left brake hood a bit and didn’t have a long enough hex key with me, I was uneasy.  It was as if I had to pee or something, I could not get comfortable.  Oddly, when I got home and was able to adjust the brake position, I felt a sense of relief not unfamiliar to male cyclists of a certain age.

I read somewhere (probably in Cyclocross Magazine) that during cross season Marianne Vos rides her cross bike exclusively no matter if she rides in the mud or on the road.  She knows how important it is to feel comfortable on it.  While I have tried to dial in the details I am aware that the details only exist as part of the whole bike.  Getting comfortable on that bike is important and I have logged over 200k on my new cross bike and I would say I reached my final configuration where I can declare it “spot on” just this past Friday.

The big picture tells me I need to get my legs in shape pretty quick if I hope to have any kind of success at all in 2013.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I am a man, I can carry it in one trip...

Hottie and I were on a bike ride this morning on during a mini vacation. Her favorite food is popcorn and she has a particular weakness for kettle corn. After sharing a scone at our destination we stopped at a farmers market. Lots of stuff we wanted, but we were on bikes so whatever we did get we (read Evo) had to be able to carry it back on the bike for the eleven miles back to our start/finish location...
Now we don't have a your-wish-is-my-command kind of relationship, but I really wanted to make her day...

This worked..


Friday, August 16, 2013

Late Summer Flash and Flash back

It is almost with indignity that I acknowledge that the days are now significantly shorter.  The alarm goes off in darkness and it is dark when I lay down at night.  Cyclocross will start soon and yet again we shall see how that goes.  The summer has been pretty dry and the riding plentiful.

My mind hearkens back to my youth and the final days at the end of summer just before school started. I was pretty OCD about Track and Cross Country in high school. In the summer between my junior and senior years I got my name on a plaque for running over a thousand miles in the period between school letting out in June and resuming in September.  I made a plan and stuck to it.

Late summer was the time when you got ready to put your cards on the table. There was no faking it and cramming only led to injuries.  If you had put in the miles you would be ready, if not, it was time to prepare to be found out.  The seventies were the era of LSD (Long Slow Distance). My goal was to run a hundred miles each week. These were the base miles and the “sharpening” would come in the fall. I had plenty of natural speed, so for me the base miles were almost all that mattered.

To be honest I haven’t been crazy serious about Cyclocross for a few years.  Even my breakout 2011 season began with lackluster motivation. I was within inches of skipping the whole season. Even as I found success, other complication in my life kept the foolishness of racing success in perspective.  I’m not saying I am crazy serious this year, but I am excited to race a bit.

Last year the France trip dominated my calendar and I entered the Cyclocross season in perfect shape for five hour rides with lots of climbing.  Despite trying to throw in some intervals I never got fast. This was such a contrast to my 2011 success it felt like a huge letdown.

This year is different as I had a spring of road racing. I did take off a chunk to build more miles for the volcano trip (as well as avoid any “trip-terminating” crashes), but have (at least in my mind) tried to keep throwing in high intensity rides.  I can’t say it will make a difference come race day, but it is a sharp contrast to last year.

McWoodie commented that he thought I was in the best shape going into cross that he has seen. A more ego-feeding compliment is hard to imagine.  I am tempering my optimism, but always hopeful. I am bracing for the bitch-slap that Starcrossed always gives me.  I go in that race with high hopes and everyone just rides away from me and I am left wondering WTF?  I once thought to myself that the race should be called “hope-smasher,” but I don’t think they would get as many entries if they incorporated the name change.

I rode the Thrilla with Geoff yesterday and that was a total blast. Near the end of the ride, after all the technical terrain was behind us, he attacked a long loose hill that he said was a well known STRAVA segment. He had warned me well in advance that he intended to ride it hard. I had replied that I had no such aspirations. After seeing him ride off I steadily upped my effort and soon found myself entering the pain cave.  I ended up going deeper and deeper until I was in the deepest, darkest corner of the cave.  

My quads were burning and I kept spinning. I focused on pedaling in circles and soon my hamstrings likewise joined the rebellion. I looked at my Garmin. My aging vision prevented me from seeing my heart rate, but I knew with absolute certainty it was in the 180’s (later confirmed).  With conviction seldom seen from me in this century, I embraced the pain and drove onward undaunted. My lungs were screaming for more oxygen.  As I neared the top my left calf joined the party but I refused to let up and lose my focus.

I was hurting. My climbs on the volcanoes trip, as well as the preparation rides, had been varying degrees of uncomfortable, but not painful. This was pain. I lied to myself saying I wasn’t going at my max as Geoff had built up a big gap (never mind that he is only six year older than my oldest son).  I had scooted forward on my saddle and I was on the rivet in every way.

Ah yes, the cave…. Even though it had been a while, the pain cave is a familiar place.  I tuned out the temperature (hot) the humidity (high) the trail walkers around me (no idea - filtered out) and with Zen-like focus willed myself upward. When it was finally time to let up, Geoff was there, hunched over his bars, he was benefitting from the head start on recovery and his eyes were no longer rolling back in his head.  He didn’t know it yet but he had garnered the KOM for the climb.  In my aged condition and even with the noncommittal start I was pleased that evening to find myself 30th on the leader board out of 271 egotistical riders.

“Kind of blows out the cobwebs,” I quipped to Geoff, trying not to drool or slur my speech revealing myself as absolutely blown apart.  The best part of a climb is often when the road (or trail) then goes downward. First off; the chance of violent cramps drops and you can spin easy which chases the lactic acid from your limbs while appearing to have fun. We got to do that for a while.  We earned it.

On the climb I had put in a hard effort. On the earlier parts of the ride I had ridden well despite some nearly missed turns and finding myself in the wrong gear when coming around a blind corner the trail turned up suddenly several times.  Overall I felt strong; really strong. Strong is good.

As we cruised the last couple miles I had that good end of summer feeling. That feeling that comes from paying your dues and making deposits in the pain bank for future withdrawal. Last weekend when we rode 100K of trails on Saturday I wasn’t wiped out at the end. If there had been a throw down the last five miles, I would have jumped right in and may have even done well.

When it comes time to play my race cards this year maybe, just maybe, I might do okay. If not, that is okay too.

As Geoff and I finished, I felt good.  The summer rain had moistened the trail enough to make the dirt tacky and I had a layer of mud on my bike and on my body. It was good to peel off my socks and see a healthy Belgian tan line.

Driving home I thought back to early spring when I had yearned to ride a fast bike on dry roads with exposed arms and legs.  After the long summer the dry roads once again seem trite.  My heart is turning to Cyclocross. 


I hit 7,000 kilometers for 2013 this morning.
So far, so good..
Kyson will catch me sooner or later.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cross Camp 2013.. Might as well do it all..

Looks like a fine day for a ride.
Work schedules necessitated Evo, Big John and Muddy Steve catching the late train (The war wagon) to the team’s annual Cyclocross camp in Mazama.  Since joining the team I have missed more than I have made and this was my second time around.  The camp had tremendous benefits for my racing in 2011 and I had high hopes for a similar outcome this time.
I dashed home from work and loaded my bike on the top of the wagon, tossed in my duffle bag and sleeping bag and shortly thereafter arrived at the park and ride where I spotted a notably handsome full-sized man seated like a kid waiting to go to summer camp.  Big John had taken the bus to the park and ride and after some roof rack recalibration he and I were loading up Muddy Steve and his bike and we were finally on our way.

By the way, big John is one stylin' mofo.
An advance party of our more “carefree” brethren had arrived hours ago and had finished a ride and swim well before we even made it to the freeway.   Thick, slow moving traffic made us envious of the early departure of our teammates.  Nonetheless we soldiered on and soon we had stopped for burritos and gas (just to be clear we made two separate stops).

As we drove on the light began to wane earlier than it did a week ago.  Although the shorter days signal the coming of Cyclocross, we find ourselves saying farewell to a summer that has been warm and dry.  We arrived in the darkness to the greetings of our fellow Cyclocross devotees.  We were packed light and in five minutes we were unloaded and standing outside looking at the stars with a cold beverage in hand.

To the west there were flashes of light as the rumored thunderstorms materialized.  They were too far off to be heard, but the flashes of light were so frequent it looked like a war zone being bombed.  We watched for a few minutes until the weight of our eyelids drove us inside and into bed.

During the night the thunderstorm made its way overhead and the thunder literally shook the cabin.  As big heavy drops of rain started to fall Brad and I dashed outside and put the bikes under cover. Rain and wind pounded the roof and walls. I dared not look at my watch and I fell back asleep quickly.

I awoke a little before seven and it was still raining lightly. I found out we had been outside around four o’clock.  After some breakfast and coffee the rain let up and we put on our costumes.

Although we like to say that we "respect tradition," the reality is cyclists are just plain superstitious.  Two words that are not to be spoken out loud on a ride are, “flat” and “rain.”  Because the advance party had experienced four “___ tires” on their ride the day before, we vowed not to say either word.  Instead we used the word “blank.”  We were hoping to keep the “blank” tires to a minimum today.
After some moderately complicated logistics we followed KB along the single track.  The speed was friendly which was welcome as we had guessed we had about sixty miles of trail to cover today.  A half hour down the trail we met up with HLAK who had awaken at five AM and driven over to meet us at this spot. Soon Brad arrived after some vehicle shuttling and we were rolling in full force. 

I was riding a new to me aluminum frame and my chain keeper didn’t fit on the fatter seat tube. I dropped my chain on some bumpy baby heads and quickly put it back on. This event would be repeated about a dozen times over the course of the day.  I had no idea my chain keeper worked so hard. 
Big John confirmed first hand there were no gopher holes at the trail junction. 
Following a promise of secrecy, Brad took us on a new “locals only” trail that was an absolute hoot. We joined back onto the Methow trail and Brad offered up one of those, “if you are interested in climbing THAT” options.  Like lemmings we lined up and soon were spreading out as the road was steep and long.

As the rest of the group arrived a truck bounced up and inside was the legendary bike builder Doug Curtiss of Curtlo bikes. Doug built a Cyclocross bike for me a few years back and it was resting back home as I didn’t want to change out the carbon wheels and carbon specific brake pads.  I asked him to introduce himself. He recognized me and said, “I built his bike,” it was an awkward moment as I wasn’t astride the Curtlo.  My friends laughed all day as they reminded me of my nearly evangelical praise for Doug’s work.  Then the one time we all collide (my friends and Doug) I wasn’t on the Curtlo bike.
Doug in his workshop a couple years back.
We enjoyed a fast descent into Winthrop where soon we were eating sandwiches and refilling bottles. 
Just an odd moment whilst eating sandwiches.  The bag had no magical powers..
 With cold water in our bottles we made our way up to Patterson Lake. The climb isn’t huge, but the midday heat provided additional motivation for anyone who wasn’t sure if they wanted to swim in the lake.  This is where the previously mentioned car shuttling paid off as our pickup truck was waiting with water and our swimsuits and towels.

With only a hint of discretion we peeled out of our cycling costumes and stepped into our swimsuits. Soon we were flailing in the cool water and smiling like we had crashed the party.  We speculated on how a graph would look that showed distance on the x-axis and on the y-axis was plotted, elevation, heart rate, temperature and motivation.  There was a lot of introspection as we tried to convince ourselves to put our cycling clothes back on and ride.
The breeze dried our clothes and carried off any unfavorable odors. 
Note the range of motivation levels
Despite the temptation of calling it a day, we only lost one man at this juncture and the survivors continued onward. We circumnavigated Patterson Lake on a trail which at times is perched precariously over the water offering anyone who misses the turn a tumble followed by a swim.  We climbed through Pine Forest passing the Evorosa (think wordplay on "Ponderosa").  The shade made the stupidly steep climb tolerable and before long we were on Meadowlark on the Sun Mountain trail system.  Those of us who had spent time riding in this area knew the climbing for the day was pretty much done.   Knowing this we attacked on some of the short, punchy climbs that remained.
Sun Mountain Trails whoo hoo !!
We zipped down the swoopy, loopy, zoopy, foopy trails and nearly everyone was grinning as the trails provided a Disneyland-like experience.  Despite my chain continuing to wander like a misguided puppy, I was having fun.

The day was hot and as much fun as we were having we knew that the difference between this being a fun hard ride and a death march would depend on how long before we could get water. We struck a gold mine and I won’t tell you where it is because we may need it again someday. 
We paused and stacked bikes while we....
Filled our bottles with ice...
The day was so epic, it had to be captured in black and white
Brad was feeling so Rapha, he and his surroundings actually turned black and white..
With our bottles topped off with ice cold water we gradually we made it back to the valley floor and soon we were at our first rendezvous spot where El Jefe was planning to pick up one of the shuttled cars and drive back to the cabin. After a five minute re-group we were about to roll and I noticed my front tire was almost completely “blank.”  El Jefe offered me his front wheel and in no time (faster than at Cyclocross Nationals in Bend back in 2009 BTW) the wheel was changed and we were headed back.  About a mile from the cabin we paused to cool off and bobbing for rocks.
I'll confess; that is Evo bobbing for river rocks as HLAK looks on in amazement.
KB was taken aback at finding his fellow cyclists buck naked swimming in the river.
KB was relieved to find his teammates were actually partially clothed.  
Being the joker I am, I asked if his iPhone was waterproof.  It was on dry land.
We had over sixty miles and well over four thousand feet of climbing on all kinds of surfaces. NOt quite six hours of saddle time.  We covered trails on the valley floor, climbed to the top of the riding trails and everything in between.  We pretty much did it all.

It wasn’t until we were back at the cabin and I was out of the shower that I felt tired.  It was as if someone had put some Kryptonite in my pocket. I started moving slower and slower.

KB’s sweet wife and daughters had spent their afternoon preparing food of exceptional quality and in unreasonably large(but needed) quantities.  With the subtlety of plundering pirates we descended on Casa del Besh and piled up plate after plate of delightful food.  The weather was perfect and I didn’t put on anything with long sleeves all weekend. We sat outside and ate as the light faded into darkness.   

KB’s wife commented that we were al l moving in slow motion as the days ride had taken its toll.
In a reprise of the night before the western skies were filled with silent lightning. As a point of trivia in John Denver’s song, “Rocky Mountain High’ there is a line that goes, “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.”  He said that line was referring to a lightning storm that I can only guess was similar to what we experienced on this trip.  Likewise Hottie tells me about seeing lightning filling the horizon while in Africa, but hearing no thunder because the distance was so great.

When the food was gone and exhaustion slurred our speech, we headed back and fell into bed.
 I awoke wondering if the rain had made it to us. I looked outside and the ground was wet.  I guessed it had rained.
That is HLAK on the porch. 
“Was that lightning amazing or what?” and enthusiastic Dave E. asked me.   “Was there lightning here?” I asked.  I had slept through the storm.  I received a text from Hottie that the pass was closed due to a mudslide.  That meant an even earlier departe. We took a short and uneventful spin to get the lactic acid out of our legs.   We packed quickly and took the long way home and while the drive was long, it was good to get home.

I did forget my swimsuit.  I'm sure it will turn up somewhere..