Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, October 31, 2016

Coffee and Lies # 201 Into the slumbering forest


Circumstances offered up a late season get away with DG. The weather looked iffy at best but mental health status increased our flexibility regarding the weekend weather requirements.  At the agreed hour we loaded up and headed over Highway 20.

The colors had peaked days or weeks before and every leaf that could turn color had done so and all were on the decline.   The yellows and oranges were dull and tinted brown. Many leaves painted the ground like a soggy thanksgiving-themed quilt.

On the drive over as we approached Rainy Pass there was snow on the hills. At Washington Pass the snow on the sides of the road and thick fog surprised us and necessitated cutting our speed in half.  When we got below the fog the clouds overhead were thick and we would not see any blue sky the rest of the trip.

It was so quiet it almost felt like there was a mood of foreboding in the Methow. The snows are creeping down from the mountains. Fall has given way and the forest is just waiting for winter to move in. Though it hasn’t happened yet, the change is inevitable and it feels as though every living thing is braced, dreading the coming of winter.
There is a pronounced lull between summer and winter recreation and the seasonal tourists are back in the city watching football. Riding conditions aren’t ideal but the trails are deserted and for those willing to wear some extra layers and go a little slower you are rewarded with a unique though solitary experience.
On Saturday morning we checked every weather source known to us including looking up at the sky seeking a sign from God.  Expecting that rain would find us sooner or later we dressed accordingly and headed out.  Our confidence bolstered by the powers of Gabba we found a comfortable rhythm. Even with embrocation, my calves felt a twinge of cold. The sky was dark and the temperature was below forty.  Despite our selection of miracle clothing we were adding and shedding layers seeking a balance between sweating and being cold.
Veering off the Chewuch onto 5130 the road kicks up sharply.  The climb seemed harder than I expected but soon the grade lessened from eight percent to the steady two to three percent that we would be on for the next twenty five kilometers until the crazy steep climb at the end. 

The forest was dark, wet and silently waiting for winter.  We saw no deer or mammals or even birds.  There was no breeze. It was spooky quiet.  In the two hours we would spend on this gravel road we would see one truck.  We joked this was a great place and time of year to hide dead bodies. DG looked at me suspiciously.

I had checked the night before and found I had ridden this in back in July of 2015 and at that time the washboard was among the worst I had ever ridden.  Additionally on that ride the gravel was soft and slow.  This time the gravel was stable and faster but the washboard was still ridiculous.  It was so pronounced in spots that we pointed to it and commented.  It looked like waves of dirt frozen in time.  My bike had ejected a bottle when I rode this sixteen months ago and I confess I kept looking on the sides of the road hoping I might spot my long lost grey buddy. 
The floor of the valley we were riding went from narrow to wide and back again several times.  One minute the mountains crowded in upon us and the road and river were the only things splitting the two sides. At other times the valley floor was as wide as a farmer’s field.
The road went on forever.  After years of using a heart rate monitor I have gotten pretty good at guessing my heart rate for a given level of effort.  Based on my level of effort my heart rate should have been about 150.  It was over 160.  I wondered if I was getting sick or if it was the loose surface or perhaps the elevation. I couldn’t explain why my HR was so high.
The road wasn’t especially curvy and the undulations weren’t excessive. Even though it wasn’t technically challenging the washboard had us hunting back and forth trying to find a decent line which made it tough to grab a bottle or food with our gloves hands.

I finally called for a stop and we ate, drank and adjusted clothing.  After a couple minutes we set off again and felt measurably better.  The cumulative fatigue from the washboard and the effort required by our bodies to battle the uphill and cold was wearing us down.  

We had decided earlier that we would turn around when we encountered one of three things; the end of the road, snow on the road that made it unsafe or significant rain. We still had eight km to the end of the road and it started to rain. We kept riding.  Uphill.
As we climbed we inched closer and closer to the snow line.  The rain was still light and the uphill effort was keeping us warm.  We spotted patches of snow by the side of the road. Finally we reached the base of the final climb.  The road got rocky and steep.  We climbed the double digit grade and reached the Billy Goat Trailhead. No cars in the lot today.  There were patches of snow on the ground. 

We laughed that we had met all three of our “turn around” criteria at once.  We were at the road end, there was snow on the ground and the rain was picking up and there were flakes of snow mixed in with it.  Any one of those would have been enough to turn us around but having all three was ironic.
We were two and a half hours into our epic adventure. We had climbed over a thousand meters on gravel. This combined with keeping our bodies warm had burned a lot of calories. We ate and drank and took photos so that if anyone found our bodies they could look at the pictures and tell our next of kin that we were having fun right up until we died.
We put on rain jackets and in fact every piece of clothing we had in anticipation of the chilly descent. When we started to roll the surface was steep and rocky so we coasted braking frequently.  This was safe but it also didn’t generate any heat.  I gritted my teeth for an hour and a half of type-two fun.

There is just something about hypothermia isn’t there?  This wasn’t a situation where if we got a flat we would die, but if we had a mechanical I imagine one of us would work on the bike whilst the other did jumping jacks to stay warm.

After the steep part we were able to start pedaling on the sustained two to three percent downhill and that helped generate some heat.  Also the drop in elevation brought with it some warmer air which we noted with relief. 

Pushing the pace had the dual benefits of generating heat and shortening the time in the rain.  When we got back on the pavement the road still had potholes and rough spots that prevented pacelining.  The rain was softer now but the temperature was still cool.

We were cautious on the slick final portion of the descent back to the Chewuch.  We ate the rest of our food and I felt a sense of relief that we were in the home stretch.  I was tired, much more tired than I should have been.  As we went along the rollers that lead to Winthrop my HR stayed high. 

I didn’t think I was bonking and my brain searched for an explanation.  One month ago I had ridden for nine hours with three times the elevation gain and I had felt downright strong at the end.  Only later would I realize that this day I was a bit underdressed and that the energy to keep me warm had to come from somewhere. 

DG wasn’t in a hurry and we worked our way back to the cabin.  We joked that it only rained for the last three hours of our four plus hour ride. Mercifully, aside from the initial descent, it didn’t rain hard until we were back at the cabin.

That ride left a mark on both of us. 
We did what all good masochists would do and after a good night’s sleep we put on our costumes and did it again, this time on mountain bikes.
Our Sunday ride stayed closer to civilization and we only got some drizzle the last half hour of our ride. Our legs were tired but our spirits refreshed.   It was a blast.
I recall the words of Scott Z who pointed out that one man’s vacation is another man’s nightmare.  Experience has taught me that you can’t explain this kind of a weekend to most people.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wet Willy

If you decided to stalk me you would soon find that most Wednesdays I commute by bike. When that doesn’t happen, there are usually good reasons. I might ride Tuesday or Thursday to adjust my schedule to accommodate social events, weather or near term training/racing objectives. At times I ride both Tuesday and Thursday if I am loading up on miles. I may also miss a Wednesday because the roads are icy and I’ve finally learned. Or I might skip it because I am sick or tired but that doesn’t happen often. 

Until this week I had been able to flex my bike commute a day or so to avoid the rain.  My schedule and the weather limited my options this week and I just squared my shoulders, put on a rain jacket and said, “Bring it.”  It was wet, I had to be careful of the wet pavement in spots, and my toes were starting to get cold at the end but it wasn’t bad. My headlight lit up the rain drops in the darkness. 
Fools all
Upon arrival at the office I had to take extra care staging my shoes, gloves and leg warmers so they would be less wet for the ride home. Not convenient, but not exactly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 

There is a quote that I have shared previously that the only thing that is warm when wet is a hot tub. Riding in the rain isn’t misery, but it ain’t a hot tub.  

My short sleeve jerseys have been stuffed to the back of the drawer and my tan lines are fading fast. My shoe covers are emerging from behind my cycling shoes and selecting gloves for a given ride takes on increased importance.  

It would be an oversimplification to say riding in winter is different.  It is more complex and the price of mistakes is greater so the riding is by default more deliberate.  These rides that require attention and caution bring on introspection.  The carefree rides of summer seem distant if not mythical.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Puppy dog eyes


Tux lives the life of Riley.  He has retired from the miserable life of a professional racer and now runs only for pleasure.  He chases squirrels in the yard, deer in the Methow or the waves on the beach. His most difficult decisions regard the location of his next nap.

He is adored by children and a worthy ambassador for Greyhounds.
I'm a climber not a crit dog!   (Note the lack of grey in his face)
His racing career was short and unremarkable.  We found his race results online and his first race result was, “Turned in gate.”  He went on to a series of mid-pack finishes in a handful of races. When he pulled a muscle they unceremoniously cut him from the team. 

No tailgating!
Shortly thereafter he left Florida on a truck in a crate with other prisoners. A week or so later he found himself in Washington at a Greyhound rescue shelter.  He wasn’t even two years old yet and life had been nothing but work. 

A year prior we had two happy greyhounds. We lost Zach after a brave fight and then Lily left us suddenly a couple weeks before Tux hit Washington.  We had talked about going dogless for a while but that turned out to be a pointless idea.  I confess I was the one who proclaimed (though seeking concurrence) that it was time to find a new family member.

We looked at a bunch of dogs but Tux seemed to need us more than the others and we liked him as well.  His snout curved to the left but he was so loving that he needed an anomaly to avoid perfection. He was jet black and is was scary how fast he was. His agility left me breathless. 

Although fully grown he had never seen or been through a dog door, had never climbed stairs or seen his food prepared. He had spent every night of his life in a cage. We put him on a leash and he was terrified by passing cars.  We took him to the Volunteer Park Criterium his and he was so scared by the bikes that we put him back in the car where he collapsed in relief. 
 A dog for all seasons
In those first days when I extended my hand to pat him on the head he recoiled and braced thinking I was about to hit him on the head. Aside from his race results I don’t know any of the hard facts about his time on the track, but it must have been terrible.

Hottie was an excellent teacher and Tux was a quick learner.  He has become a wonderful pup.  He is happy to ride in the car which happens a lot. He has great leash manners and loves people, including our grandchildren, and other dogs.  He seldom steal food off of tables or counters and is cautious.

With cats and squirrels he likes to play life or death tag and if Tux wins they lose.  He has gotten away from us and chased deer away and we have concluded that he is being territorial rather than predatory.

His misshapen jaw necessitated some dental surgery a few years ago and he lost some teeth.  His front teeth don’t match up and if you pull back his lips you would see a jack o’ lantern smile. When the teeth don’t get to work as designed bad things happen.

When we picked him up from the vet after that surgery he was clearly mad at us.  He looked at us like we had broken a promise or worse.  He carried that grudge for months.   I guess I was naive to think that he would appreciate that we had just spent hundreds of dollars on his teeth but that was not the case. After he healed up we started brushing his teeth to delay what the vet said was inevitable.  He hates it but submits with stoic dignity though he lets us know he does not enjoy it.
 I like my bed and so does Tux
For two years the vet applauded us for the job we were doing brushing his teeth.  Each year she told us he would keep his teeth for now, but we were only delaying the inevitable.

Though we’ve been brushing his condition had gotten worse over the last year and he was having trouble eating. His breath was bad and I suspect he knew something was coming.  He had been wincing when I brushed his teeth.  Time remains undefeated. 

The inevitable happened today and Tux lost eight teeth; five incisors and three molars. It had been scheduled for almost a month and we’ve been giving him “Sorry Tux” looks all of October.

I wanted to spread the resentment around so Hottie dropped him off for surgery and I picked him up afterwards.  When I saw him his expression was a combination of “Thank God you’re here get me the hell out of here,” and “How could you have forsaken me?”

We brought him home and he went straight to his dish and ate his softened food, went outside and peed then flopped down spent from the experience.  It was hard to tell if his eyes were expressing fear, pain or relief.  

 Puppy dog eyes. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Frontier Park Cross Report 2016


Mud, rocks, roots, rain, blood and a beating. 

Coz and I left a rainy Seattle for the long journey south.  We brought extra provisions and our passports just in case. Grey skies and off and on rain gave us a preview of the race conditions.  Amid a sea of fast food restaurants and strip malls we found the wooded venue of Frontier Park.

After an unceremonious warm up and a couple pre-ride laps I concluded that I could ride ten laps on this course and still not be familiar with it.  It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It felt like an endless series of serpentine sharp corners that gave the course a barrel racing feel.  Accelerate, then brake late and hard into the sharp corner, make the turn at almost a dead stop then accelerate out of it. Repeat until blown. Once blown continue one more lap.

Loose rocks and mud in various proportions made the corners very inconsistent from one to the next.  The corners also featured the full spectrum of cambers and uphill/downhill combinations. There was a corner with a high berm you could hit fast and bounce off of.   Ten seconds later you came upon a sharp left hand corner that featured an off-camber drop that was a combination of roots and wet golf ball sized rocks that managed to take me down in my race.  Other corners featured water saturated mud bogs and some had sketchy dry gravel. 

In between corners it was either wet single track with baby heads, lumpy grass or loose gravel. There was one section of chipped wood just to tick all the boxes. Tree roots added unnecessary complexity as did the variety of water saturation levels.
There were sweeping corners where the outside line was fast and smooth and others where it was a bumpy mess. As the day wore on there were spots where the course decomposed so the line between loose and firm was moving lap by lap.  What worked on lap two didn’t on lap four.

The bottom line was that for me, it was impossible to find a rhythm.  When you can carry speed through corners and keep the RPMS consistent it is possible to get a feeling of flow on a course. This isn’t the Cross Revolution way.  They seem to pride themselves on disrupting any hope of a flowing, euro-style course. The ghost of Seattle Cyclocross and a maze of 180 degree turns is alive and well. 

There was only one section where you could accelerate for more than ten seconds. My hands still ache from braking and wrestling the front wheel.  The course required no less than five dismounts per lap. I usually do well at courses that have a lot of running but this was not my cup of mud.

The race started hot and heavy and were onto loose gravel in fifty meters travelling at full speed. If someone had plowed a front wheel the cartwheeling carnage would have been epic.  After the gravel the leading riders took a wrong turn and headed into the pit at full speed. This moment of confusion was short-lived and we regrouped at the pit exit. After running a series of four logs we dipped and ducked into the forest.
Ninety seconds of racing and my chance to count our group to see my current place was gone forever.  The course would veer in and out of the trees so you only had visibility of those within ten or fifteen seconds ahead of, or behind you.

On the third of five laps I had grown my gap on Marshall but I went down when I washed out my front wheel on a loose off-camber downhill corner.  I popped back up and remounted just ahead of Marshall and stomped on the pedal. It spun as if the chain was off.  It was. 

<<Insert whispered profanity here>>

I assumed the familiar posture of a man leaned over his bike putting his chain back on.  By the time I was rolling again Marshall had fifty meters on me and I started the chase.  “Not all at once,” I coached myself.

For the fourth and fifth laps I considered trying to bunny hop the barriers in an attempt to close the gap on Marshall.  Each time, wisdom prevailed and I behaved like a man with responsibilities.  I drew closer and was only one turn back as we crossed the line with one lap to go. I took momentary comfort that I hadn’t been lapped by the single speeders or the 45 plus Cat 3 guys.

When I got close in the corners I kept shouting to Marshall that I was coming for him.  This was in good fun and he appreciated the attention. On the only pavement section he got out of the saddle and drilled it. Maybe I should have kept quiet. I had to fight to hold the gap.  Marshall is a dedicated mountain bike racer and he used the technical single track sections to build a gap. 
I accelerated hard out of the corners trying to close the gap but traffic was now an issue and I was forced to wait to pass slower riders from other cats.  The loose corners suggested a bit of discretion as well.

By the time Marshall finished he had grown the gap back to the size he had when I first remounted. I rolled in to claim a top ten finish which met my objective but Marshall had become my target during the race and he beat me fair and square.

When I got back to the car I washed the mud and blood off my knee and only when I changed clothes did I realize my hip and shoulder also had some scrapes.  This is racing and it is what I had signed up for.  I was cooked and was glad for company on the long drive back home.

Coz took fourth in our competitive field and also lamented the aftereffects of the technical, if not abusive, course.

Tri-geeks get all excited about transition time and mine came when I pulled into my driveway.  Hottie and I were having dinner with my daughter and her family which necessitated catching a ferry. Less than twenty minutes after hitting the driveway in WW2 full of bike and mud, Hottie and I were pulling out with a freshly washed Evo and a garage full of muddy stuff awaiting my return.

We made the ferry and had a great evening.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Give me Lumens or give me death


I bike commute a day or two each week.  When I don’t ride, I drive.  This morning I was driving to work along a relatively busy street and I was struck by how dark it was. There were street lights which seemed excessively high considering the task at hand and appeared only to illuminate the tree branches immediately adjacent to them.  The darkness was overwhelming.

My selfish mind quickly personalized the situation. “A cyclist would be invisible on this road,” I thought to myself. Ahead I could see the flashing yellow light where a bike route crossed the road.  I slowed because while I couldn’t see anyone there; the light was so bad I also couldn’t see that people weren’t there.  I had the same uneasy feeling when you outrun your headlights in the fog.

It served as a reminder that when it comes to visibility, as cyclists we have to assume one hundred percent of the responsibility to be seen. That isn’t a legal opinion, it is a self-serving way of life. A pinstripe of reflective material and a $20 light don’t cut it.  You might as well wrap yourself in a black blanket and lie on the road at midnight.
The Ninja look (all black) with token light also known as "I want to be an Organ Donor"
Ladies and gentlemen we are talking about your lives here. 

I will gladly defer to your personal preferences when it comes to how you light up the road in front of you for your visibility when riding in the dark. However, when it comes to the lights that exist so that others can see you, there is no acceptable reason not to have multiple strong lights pointing behind, in front and in fact covering all 360 degrees.  These lights must be bright, even bordering on offensive. It is good to remember that pulsing is better than blinking and irregular patterns are better than simple on, off, on, off.

I recommend an ambulance as your target lighting configuration.  If you can’t manage the rotating blinding lights on top then I suggest pulsing lights facing forward and backward that feature side visibility as well.  Two or three lights in back and a forward facing flasher in addition to a headlight should be a starting point.

Your objective is to be seen by people who are NOT looking for you.  You have to “interrupt” their visual trance.
We all have our favorite flavors when it comes to lights. Evo is a fan of Light & Motion products.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Intervals. In the rain. In the dark.


This is the time of year when the sport loses a portion of its glamor.

You can ride on a trainer indoors and stink up a room whilst flogging yourself in mind-numbing isolation. Yes, I know there are a whole new crop of diversionary tools that let you pretend your suffering is fun. A few of us still prefer our medicine to taste like medicine.

Alternatively you can get outside and muck up your bike and hope not to slide around on the wet pave’.  When you have to alter the timing of your intervals until you pass the section with all of the slippery wet leaves it illustrates the desperate nature of the workingman’s Cyclocross training.  My post-ride laundry is triple what it is in summer.
If there is something enjoyable about cold, wet feet I have not yet found it.

Wet or dry, this time of year the cycling fun quotient is low and the hurt factor is high. Intervals are amazingly effective so at least your pain makes you faster. With our races parsing age, gender and ability we can all dream of being the tallest dwarf in our given racing category. 

Even the lowly bike commuter dons storm-worthy clothing as seen on “Deadliest catch” and plods along to and from work in the dark.  This isn’t a time of year when people look at cyclists and comment, “That looks like fun.”

Only the dedicated need apply. 

I love this time of year.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Racing 2016


RACERS!
In the days leading up to the race yesterday I did a quick sort through the plastic tub that I take to cross races.  The tub contains a small tin of safety pins, embrocation, my clear racing glasses, some gel packets, cowbells and whatever else has accumulated over the years.  The bottom of the tub has some bits of dirt that might bring me luck so I don’t clean them out.

In my rummaging I came across a flyer from the 2005 Cyclocross season. Reading the names of the venues brought a wry smile to my face; as did the year, 2005. Counting on my fingers confirmed that this is season number twelve for me. I should have learned by now.  It is time I resigned myself to the fact that just like Forest Gump, “I am not a smart man.”
I felt confident the weathermen and weather babes would be wrong and overblow the forecasted Stormageddon. I can say “weather babes” because sexism is alive and well in broadcast media. Show me a female weather broadcaster over forty years of age and I’ll show you a hundred male forecasters over forty. We like our men trustworthy and our women pretty. Sexism justified by market research is still sexism. 

Alas, I digress.

Rich sent out an email to find out who was racing Sunday and he said the weather forecast predicted perfect conditions.  I love Rich. Grown men and women going to play in the mud. Maybe we aren’t as grown up as people think.

The days and hours leading up to the race followed the usual routine I found myself at the back of the starting grid waiting for the signal to go.

The start was predictably fast but I wasn’t expecting the rooster tails of water in my face and front of my body. The rain and wind had let up but the standing water was icy cold on my bare legs. I moved my line to the right to avoid the water coming off of Coz’s back wheel.
Tacos El Magnisun
As we left the pavement and hit the bumpy grass I was mindful as I rolled across the brass memorial plaque marking the spot of El Chefe’s wheel tacoing tumble from a year ago.  I was on some fat 40mm tires that soaked up the bumps from tree roots and grass clumps.

My Nano tires aren’t just wide and fluffy, they are aggressive and the hungry tread and low pressure bit into the grass like saw blades and I was able to rail the sweeping loose corner.  The mud in Randy’s Crack is tacky until it gets too wet and then it is a greasy mess and carnage quickly follows. Lucky for me it stayed tacky for my race.
 Randy's crack
The grassy sections were a diabolical mix of lumpy roots and rutted mud bogs.  I piloted my fat tires around the ruts whenever I could and they absorbed the lumps better than narrower tire options.  I moved up and was able to count riders in my cat as the course doubled back on itself.   There were three off the front then a group of four with Coz among them that had a small gap on me.  Coz had been sick otherwise he would be in the leading mix instead of having me anywhere near him. There were three guys chasing just behind me so I focused my attention on the riders in front and tried to keep in contact with them.
The mud around the tennis courts was like some gravitational hyper-vortex that sucked your strength and held your tires in its sloppy grip. The mud slowed you to a comical speed. 800 watts to go four miles an hour.  Riders tried to hug the fence line which was faster but brought its own risks. This option cost El Chefe’ his left shift lever.

Bunker Hill took on a Portlandish persona of slippery cream cheese-like mud that necessitated both finesse and brute strength.  Then onto the gravel road that is usually fast but was saturated with water on this day and was painfully slow.  When I pre-rode the course I had tried multiple lines, left, right and center and there were no fast lines. This was a tough day at the office.

The climb up Kite Hill is always good to me and this day was no exception. We were catching riders from the open Cat 4 group and I started picking them off.  As others feathered their brakes on the blind downhill I let my fat tires fly.

The sharp corner at the bottom reminded me of one of the unique and hard things that define Cyclocross. Accelerating from a near stop to full speed again and again makes the sport feel like an hour of intervals with insufficient recovery.

Passing the finish line and seeing three more laps gave me hope. I thought I felt pretty good for an old man in Zone 5.
 Sure enough; I'm 38.  And Yiddish!
In the grassy switchbacks I spotted two guys in my Cat still chasing me. I had a gap but I didn’t feel safe. I feared I might fade on the later laps. We were now in the thick of the Cat 4 open field so it was hard to see who in front of me was in my group.  A healthy sprinkling of mud on my glasses didn’t help either.

I focused on good lines and keeping speed through the corners. I am trying to make this the winter I don’t break a rib so I was conservative on the really loose stuff.

On the third lap a couple of the 35 plus guys passed me and I tried to leverage their draft and get pulled along.  It didn’t really work but since racing as an old man involves pretending you’re young and fast, another incremental lie wasn’t that far out of place.

At the end of the third lap I heard the sweet sound of a cowbell at the finish line telling me I had just one more lap.  I looked ahead and lapped a rider from my own cat.  Wow.
People often refer to “old man strength” and I can assure you that it is real. I can handle almost anything if I think of it as the last one.  I would later see that my lap times were remarkably consistent and my final lap was the fastest.

After the mud followed by Bunker Hill I redlined the engine on the gravel and up Kite Hill. I let it fly on the downhill and had my target rider in my sights. After the turn at the bottom I accelerated out of the saddle. My legs were screaming and I wanted to catch my target, a 35 plus guy who had passed me and I had been chasing him the whole last lap. Back in the saddle I spun with all my strength.

Picking up speed I ticked through my cassette and passed two Cat 4 open guys who were blown.  As if he smelled me, my target was out of the saddle sprinting for the line.  I came up next to him and we held even for a second before he slowly pulled in front.

I crossed the line at full speed then grabbed the brakes as I was two seconds from hitting the grass and El Chefe’s taco spot.  I finally rolled to a stop and unclipped.

As I fought to catch my breath I slumped over my bars. Even though I was stopped I had to consciously work to maintain my balance and stay upright. At this moment I wished it was socially acceptable to lean over and just fall off your bike and lie on the ground.  Doing so would result in calls to 911. Such is my demographic.

This moment of ecstasy and agony was what I came for.  This is why I pinned on a number and got myself and my bike covered with mud. I felt absolutely alive. I am still a racer.

After a short warm down I made my way back to my car where I washed the mud from my legs and threw my muddy clothes into a big plastic bag. Endorphins were still swirling around my bloodstream keeping me warm and excited.  
 Afternoon engagement........
An afternoon engagement forced an uncharacteristically rapid departure and as I drove off I chomped on a bagel that had been intended as a pre-race snack. I drove faster than usual. Another side effect from racing. 

Racing.  I love that word.

For a handful of people racing is about winning. For most of us it is a chance to find out more about ourselves.  Racing is hard.  Doing hard things is good. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Do you still race Cross?


The sand at Lake Sammamish is a gift that keeps on giving

Growing old is a never-ending sequence of humiliating realizations. 

I remember the first time someone called me “sir.”  I’ve been too old to die young for decades. My oldest son will be able to race masters before I age out of my current race category.  My ice axe and mountaineering boots are both more than thirty years old.

Yes, I am old, however, in my head I am still a bike racer.  And in all my pathetic vanity I want everyone else to think of me as a bike racer also.

I’ve watched the Cyclocross season start with incredible personal ambivalence. I am excited for my racing brothers and sisters but I’ve been very happy to remain on the clean side of the course tape.
Last weekend Julie asked me if I still raced.  I wouldn’t say I was offended but I would have felt better if she had assumed I was still racing.  I did provide a predictably clever answer that implied I would race when the circumstances aligned.

It looks like they are aligning for this weekend.

Mud and rain are forecasted and I’m pleasantly excited.  I’ll mount a pair of aggressive tires on the bike, dress in the costume and pin on a number so I can suffer like the desperate dog that I am.  I will finish hypoxic, filthy and exhausted.  I can’t wait.
 At work I walked by someone’s desk and they offered me a donut from a big pink rectangular box of sin. I smiled and told them, “No thanks, I’m racing this weekend.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cut me


After all the nostalgia about fall riding, it isn’t until that first icy rivulet gets past your collar and runs down the back of your neck that the reality of winter training hits home.  Despite all of the miracle fabrics that one drop of water cuts to your core and sends a shiver down your spine.

Hard efforts, even in cold weather, generate a lot of heat.  Sweating and being cold are both unpleasant sensations. When they are happening concurrently it is even more so. Cold and clammy is a seasonally appropriate, though undesired, condition.
 Hottie took this one......
It has been months since I’ve had cold fingers or cold feet. My riding laundry has been cantaloupe-sized and now it is as big as a turkey.  My assortment of full finger gloves has been on the sidelines awaiting the call to duty. 

On the ride I added and shed layers based on ride duration, sky cover and ascent or descent.  It felt weird to have to be so deliberate. Reach the top of a climb, even though I’m warm, before I head down I put on more clothes and zip up.If I wait until I'm cold I'm screwed.
I recall how in the spring my shoes look strange after being hidden under booties for so long. Now my booties look unfamiliar.

When I finished my ride I took a quick moment to lube my chain before going in.  I cooled down so quickly that by the time I went inside I was starting to shake. I stood in the shower longer than I have for a long time. 

Summertime is over.