Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Roads less traveled can be fun

The gentlemen’s club that is occasionally known as my cycling team is planning a different flavor of odyssey this year.  Our epics have spanned the spectrum from the Peloton of Discovery, to the French Alps and everything in between.  This year our intention is to adopt an all terrain theme by combining paved roads and dirt/gravel roads as we pedal from here to there and back again utilizing the most obscure routes possible.

As preparation for that adventure I am starting (better late than never) to increase my mileage. A recent training ride with KB on road bikes included a long section of dirt road. This, in combination with the smell of the spring classics in the air has inspired me to search out and include dirt and gravel whenever possible.

It was in this idyllic state that I undertook the infamous Pipestone - Elbow loop this past weekend.  My road bike was outfitted with moderately bulbous tires (tyres for my British readers).   I departed in the cool early morning with the expectation that warmer temperatures would greet me further into the ride.
My unusually awesome Pactimo arm and legwarmers kept the morning chill out and I was comfortable as the mercury was close to forty when I set out.  After a few familiar miles on pavement I turned and began the climb. The grade kicked up to and my chain responded by ascending the rings on my cassette.
It has been said that one of the criteria for being a redneck is if the directions to your home include the phrase, “when the paved road ends.” I took a deep breath when I turned off the pavement.  I always smile when I turn up the illogical aspect of any endeavor. 
The climbing continued but now included the excitement of an occasional momentary loss of traction. Having to think about traction, and shifting your body weight accordingly, provided a temporary diversion from the physical pleasure of a double digit grade climb. 

The grade peaked at sixteen percent and seated climbing was out of the question.  The steep section wasn’t too long but I would I if I said it was short you would call me a liar. When the grade lessened to ten percent I unzipped my jersey and drank in the cool thin air.
As my distance from the pavement increased, the quality of the road decreased proportionally.  At the same time the scenery was opening up and the views were breathtaking.  I was trying to be careful to avoid any sharp rocks and potholes but I also wanted to look around and take in the flora and fauna.  I finally decided just to stop every now and then and look around after my initial attempts to look away from the road proved unwise.  
Pipestone canyon narrowed and the road turned to singletrack and a mountain bike would have clearly been the weapon of choice. Tapping my Cyclocross skills I pressed on and a minute or two later I was back on double track.  I was still picking my way along feathering the brakes as I descended through thick trees avoiding rocks and ruts. 
As I emerged from the trees the quality of the road/trail/path picked up and continued to get better as I rode through fields, eventually reaching a trailhead and then on to a graded dirt road.  A second sustained climb, this time with a headwind, greeted me as I continued my journey.  The deserted road and my bike were quiet; the only sound was the wind.
Me and the wind
This has been here a few years..
Pausing for a "Rapha" moment
Soon I was on a loose descent making my way toward familiar pavement.  
Once on the pavement I was able to get into a nice rhythm and soon I was flying. The speed was a big contrast to the off road section I had just completed.   I took a small hill in the big ring and felt strong.
When I turned onto a busier road the car traffic seemed odd.   Before I could get used to the traffic I was once again on a less traveled road. This road followed a river up canyon.  After eight kilometers of uphill rollers I again left the pavement for the more adventurous alternative of Elbow Coulee.
This was the road I had ridden with KB not too long ago. While I missed his camaraderie; I paid more attention to the scenery.  The road was smooth enough that I could afford to look around.  I spotted a handful of spent .22 casings by the side of the road.  I watched as ducks swam away from me and could hear and see geese heading north having finished their winter vacation in warmer places.  The bright yellow of wild Arrowhead balsamroot sprinkled on the hillsides signaled that spring was here to stay. I handful of deer stood frozen, watching me, as I rode past.
After an initial climb the road rolled slightly up and down such that I watched my altimeter to find the highpoint along the road.  Soon I was descending toward pavement and roads I know well.

The last few kilometers were a kaleidoscope of emotions.  The ride had been so much fun I didn’t want it to end. I was, however, tired from the effort and ready for lunch. Though tired, in many ways I felt like I could ride forever.  I had been away from my visiting son and felt like I was cheating him by being away. Like so many things, it is often good to finish wanting just a little more.  It makes the next time a little sweeter.

As I rolled up and finished my ride my body and bike were just like my mind, dirty and happy.  It was a good day.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Zach and Sasha !

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pactimo Knee Warmer Product Review

Post Soggy-Race Photo 
I’ve been putting various items of Pactimo clothing to the test of late.  I use it and abuse it and as soon as I form a solid opinion I post a review.  I have formed an opinion on their Pactimo–branded knee warmers. Stand back.

If there is any piece of clothing that has frustrated me over the years it has been knee warmers.  I would study reviews and marketing propaganda and then make a purchase full of hope and optimism only to be let down time and time again.

After accumulating more knee warmers than I want to admit to owning, I had resigned myself to accept compromise and tradeoffs.   The Nanoflex knee warmers are really good in the rain, but the fabric is so slippery that the hem of my bibs slips on the fabric and the legs ride up.  I don’t want to be tugging at my clothing during a race, so that limited their usefulness.   I have some Hincapie knee warmers that stay in place just fine, but they bunch up behind the knee so my skin is raw after a long ride.  I had others that didn’t even stay up so they end up tied in a knot in the back of the drawer awaiting a bike clothing drive.  I tried some reassuringly expensive Assos knee warmers that were so bad at staying up I returned them.   Some Pearl Izumi leg warmers suffered the same fate. 

When I opened the Pactimo knee warmers I wondered if Pactimo had any idea they were picking a fight with the knee warmer snob of Washington State. “Good luck Pactimo, you’re going to need it“ I said to myself. 

First impressions were positive.  These were not just bland fabric tubes. Good start. They had multiple panels and flat seams, and based on logo placement, I could identify a specific right and left. Okay so far.  My jaded experience kept my optimism in check.

Unlike other knee warmers, Pactimo puts their logo on the back.  After a moment or two of wondering what they were thinking, I figured it out. When I ride or race I see other cyclists from the side and behind.  Whatever logo is on their front isn’t seen unless we are standing around before or after the ride.  Granted logo placement is self serving for the brand, but it does show me they understand how cyclists work. I allowed myself the faintest glimmer of hope.

It won’t matter how pretty these are if they are stuck in my drawer; and unless they can perform on the bike, that is where they will end up.

Here is what I have settled on for knee warmer criteria:
(You get the benefit of my years of knee warmer frustrations - So don’t mock me!)

They have to stay put.  No sliding down or they are cut from the team. Failing to stay up is a deal breaker.
They can’t feel tight. If you think this contradicts the requirement to stay in place you aren’t greedy enough.  I don’t want them to cut me at the hem (mid calf) or at the knee or the top (somewhere on the thigh).  I want them to keep me warm while letting me forget they are there.  I want it all.
They must work with my clothing.  I don’t want to be pulling my bib legs up or down or pulling the knee warmer up through my bibs.  If I am wearing them under rain pants I don’t want the friction with the rain pant to wear off any aspect of the miracle fabric. 
They must fit in a pocket if it warms up significantly.  I have some knee warmers that have the bulk of a small jersey when they come off so I can only wear them if I am confident I won’t be taking them off.
They must be Comfortable. I don’t want any chafing at the back of my knee. I do want a big temperature range so I can leave them on unless it gets way hot.  I want the fabric to feel cozy going on and have enough loft to provide warmth. I don’t want any seams that chafe me and if the elastic on the hem pulls on my legs hair I won’t be happy.
They need to be durable.  I ride every week of the year and wear my stuff out.  I need to be able to wear it and wash it (gentle cycle, no hot water, hang dry) time and again.  I don’t like seams that fail or fray or fabric that fades or gets stretched out.

No knee warmers I had ever tried managed to hit all of these criteria.   Because I ride and race in various conditions I have amassed an assortment of knee warmers and I use one pair for racing, another pair for rain, another if it is a long ride…….you get the idea.

Blah, blah, blah, what happened when I used them?

The Pactimo knee warmers feel good against your skin.  They stay in place at the top and at the bottom. My bibs don’t wander when I wear these knee warmers.  They wash and wear well.  They seemed to disappear on my legs. The fit is perfect, not tight or loose.  No bunching at the back of the knee. 
If you are invisible, this is exactly what you would look like..
I rode in them again.  I wore them in the rain.   I wore them in the wind.  I wore them on a ride just above freezing.  I wore them on a ride in the fifties.   I haven’t used any other knee warmers since I started using these.

A recent ride turned into the perfect multifaceted acid test for knee warmers.  After getting dressed we rolled out and encountered clouds, sun, wind and some rain.  We climbed hard and soft pedaled later. We rode on pavement and gravel roads.  We got off the bikes during which time I stood, sat and walked around. Another hour of riding and the knee warmers had no slippage, no bunching and no adjusting of anything at any time on or off the bike. I was comfortable and not only did I never think of taking them off, I forgot they were even on. 

After the ride they sprang back into shape and were ready to go again. No stink and no stretching.  They breathe well so they aren’t even damp unless it is raining.

After writing this I wondered if my experiences thus far had been a fluke, or maybe it had all been a dream. I kept the write up as a draft and waited a few more days until I could wear them this week bike commuting.  In the morning I would hit temperatures around forty and it would be in the mid fifties on my ride home. 

They did well.  Then I raced in them in epic Belgian conditions.   Heavy, unrelenting rain and wind and an angry peloton made for a hard, hard day.  My knees were happy start to finish. 

I believe my search for the Holy Grail of knee warmers has ended.  Once again they stayed in place without binding or bunching. Knees were happy. 

You can maintain a quiver of knee warmers and select your weapon depending on the circumstances you expect to encounter, or you can have one pair that does it all.  Look for my other knee warmers on eBay sometime soon.

You can buy them here !

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Vance Creek Road Race 2014 Race Report and Photos

Even before I point you to the photos let me refer you to Rule #9

Now, if you want to see the Race Photos go HERE !

If you want to see the Race Results go here !

If you want to hear about my saga; read on..
Time to build an Ark...
I checked the weather three to ten times a day each day leading up to Saturday's race south of the hamlet of Elma, Washington.  It went from bad to worse and despite a dry departure from home I knew the rains would come with a vengeance. 

Hottie photographed the morning races under light rain. I tried to read the dark clouds and wonder if we might get lucky.  I hooked up with teammate Big John and we warmed up and discussed clothing options. 

The pre race excitement was only tempered by two things. The absolute certainty of limitless suffering on the final climb and the near certainty of biblical rains which would start any minute. 

We rolled out behind the Cat 1-3 Masters and in front of the Cat 1-2 women.  After the neutral roll out we amped it up pretty quick.  The early season races had seen some of the graybearded peloton forced to hold their fire because of teammates in breakaways. These strong men weren't going to let anyone sit in today and the attacks started right away. 

The congenial mood of the start was soon replaced with a silence that reveals that racers are digging deeper than they might like.  These were the cracks that the strong riders were looking for.

Down in the valley we were on farm roads and as Paul put it very succinctly, "This ride tastes like Carnation."  There is an early season TT in Carnation that goes through an agricultural area on pavement that always has a thin film of animal excrement.  The rain had started almost as soon as we rolled out and the spray that was coming off wheels 
This machine is actually shooting shit next to the course.  Chicken shit if it matters. 
The challenge was to get enough oxygen inside you minimizing the mud, cow shit, chicken shit and chemical who-knows-what from getting inside you. 

We were thirty strong and there was an abundance of fast guys.  Despite the weather all the fast guys had come to race.  There are a few Rouleurs like myself who prefer the courses without the big climbs. These brothers skipped the race.  It was a climber day. At the port-a-toilet the urinal portion was designed for men no taller than five and a half feet.  This was an omen.  The course was ill suited to myself and Big John.

Emerging from the narrow farm roads we headed south before we would turn and begin the uphill rollers that culminate with the final climb that makes everyone question themselves.  We were greeted with a headwind that killed any chance of catching your breath. The front of the pack swung from one side of the road to the other as riders were searching for a place to hide from the wind. There was none.
Those aren't flecks of pepper in my teeth.....
We turned right, heading west approaching the hill we would climb on each of our four laps.  Big John was at the point of the peloton and I was hoping he could slow them down and I could keep in contact. 

The climb started and the strong me were again looking for cracks. I quickly shifted down and kept a high cadence.  I was losing places and I could see a separation opening. I pushed hard and caught the back end of the front group.  I started losing ground an inch at a time and as we passed the 200m sign a Bikesale rider passed me on my right and I grabbed his wheel and focused on nothing else. 

I ignored the screaming in my legs and pedaled on.  They screamed louder and I tried to make them hurt more.  I caught back on. I looked at my HR on my Garmin.  188.  My max HR is 182. Okay, I was about to die.

On the descent what I lacked in fitness I made up for with a lack of fear.  By the time we made the sharp turn at the bottom I was sitting third wheel.  We jockeyed a bit and I looked around.  We had lost ten and were a pack of twenty.  I looked back and could see nobody.  

Twenty angry men..
We continued to fly and the attacks kept coming.  I dug down and held on.  More attacks. More digging from Davo. I latched on. I drifted back and then there was a gap.  I gave it all I could.  I was back on.  I was hurting.  My time would come.  Recover now Davo!

We approached the climb the second time.  If they kept it real I could hang on, if they ramped it up I knew I would be dropped.  The rain increased in intensity and I was getting soaked.

After giving it just a little more than everything I had, I was dropped and I looked back hoping to see a two or three riders with whom I could work to either catch back on, or at least share some suffering for the remainder of the day.  There were supposed to be ten guys behind me.  I saw nothing. 

The Cat 1-2 women had started five minutes behind me and I did not want to get caught. I kept riding and looking back.  Where were the other riders from my group?    The two remaining laps would be hell to ride solo.

I flew down the hill and soon was on the farm roads for the third time. I looked straight down and the water on the road reflected and it was like I was riding on a mirror.  My back was hurting but I was still going pretty fast so I kept drilling.  I felt any icy rivulet of water go down the top of my left foot under my shoe cover. 

I had water spraying off the ends of my handlebars like streamers on the end of children's bike handlebars.  There was a perpetual roostertail coming off my front wheel.  My downtube is shaped to be aerodynamic. It sprays water off of the front wheel onto my shoes as I pedal.

I kept driving.  I still felt strong and according to my bike computer I was still going fast which motivated me. I turned and fought the headwind alone.  I got down low and fought my way to the right hand turn. 

As I was climbing toward the finish line and the parking lot I kept seeing cars with bikes on top leaving. We had four laps and the pro men had six and the Cat 3's has five so nobody SHOULD be leaving until I finish my fourth lap. 

I climbed toward the climb.  It was ironic as I was hurrying to a climb that I knew would hurt.  I downshifted and kept going.  After climbing a good ways you hit the 1k to the finish line (and then another 13+ mile lap) sign and then you just keep climbing.  
It was raining, but lucky for us it was a cold rain !
You can see the 200m sign and the finish line is still hidden by the hill.  When you hit the sign you can see the finish line and it is a false flat during which you do a slow motion climb and you are suffering for all to see. 

On the downhill the rain stung my face and I could hear the words from an old song, "and you bleed just to know you're alive." It felt good to feel the hurt on my face. It meant I wasn't frozen. My legs kept driving. 

I was glad to be racing.  I was even glad it was raining.  I was glad I wasn't giving up.

On my final lap I again looked over my shoulder on a big open corner and saw nothing behind me. I was glad the women would not catch me.  I finally caught one rider, then another who were spent and despite my kind words, each waved me on as they chose to suffer their last lap in solitude. 

It was cold and despite having a vest in my center rear pocket from the start, I saw little point in putting it on as I was soaked to the bone. My knees were happy. My hands and torso were happy.  My feet were wet and getting cold.  If there had been five laps I would have had a problem. 
Behold the power of the Lion of Flanders !
On the final climb I started to cramp and dialed it back just a tad. I was still in zone five, but my eyes weren't rolling back in my head. As I approached the finish I spotted Hottie and raised my left had to reveal the yellow Belgian wrist band with the Lion of Flanders which was a revered gift from El Pirate from CX worlds in February 2013. 

John had taken a top ten finish and I took sixteenth.  In the Men's 1-2 race, out of 47 started 30 did not finish the race.  Lots of folks didn't finish their races, I was glad I finished mine.   It hurt.  I uploaded my file and Strava categorized my ride as an Extreme Sufferfest.  I'll go with that.  Fifty three miles of fun.