A Tale of Four Cities

Or possibly I should title this the Agony and the Ecstasy.

This month I’ve ridden two rides that share one thing in common (other than that they involve biking) – they both start from one city and finish a long ways off in another city. The similarities pretty much end there. My first effort (the Agony) was my part of the riding of the Rockwell Relay – Moab to St. George Utah. This race is a 4 person relay starting off from Moab and covering about 530 miles in 12 legs – each rider doing 3 legs. My second effort (definitely ecstasy) was the Red-Bell 100, covering 104 miles from Redmond to Bellingham Washington.

I attempted to ride the 4th leg of the Rockwell relay (stages 4, 8, and 12). Stage 4 is a beast. It features a slow, seemingly endless climb from about mile 6 out to mile 26, and then a 19 or so mile decent to the start of stage 5. I was on the road from 3:06 pm till 6:33 (if you’re thinking ‘heat of the afternoon’, you’ve got it spot on). On the climb, the high temperature was a soul crushing 117 degrees, average overall was 108. Often this leg features a killer head-wind – I got a reprieve of sorts there, getting to instead fight a killer cross-wind. I think, if you can manage the heat, then this isn’t really that hard a ride – my problem was that I was not able to manage the heat. I finished the ride ‘well done’ or perhaps only ‘medium well’, was unable to recover, and abandoned leg 8 5-10 miles in (where exactly isn’t clear, as I didn’t get my garmin started). Frustrated, Disappointed, and Ashamed of failing the team describe pretty well how I’m feeling. There was lots of good and fun from the trip, and my 3 teammates have a lot to be proud of for their efforts, and overcoming their own bits of adversity – but I won’t cover that here and now.

Fast forward two weeks, and the circumstances and results couldn’t be more different. The biggest concern heading into the Red-Bell 100 was how I was going to deal with the almost certain rain we would encounter during the ride. A trip to outdoor Mecca (REI-Seattle) resulted in a light-weight ultra breathable rain jacket that I tucked into my middle back pocket. It had showered Thursday and Friday, heavily at times, and everyone at the start was clearly prepared for a Pacific NW ride. Lots of bikes had fenders, and some people just rode in their rain gear. Son Patrick dropped me off at the start at about 6:30, and after checking in and downing a cup of coffee and a banana I moved over to the start area. There was a group of four, and then a lone rider (Mike from Seattle) who looked like he was about my age – so I started chatting with him, and when the ride started we headed out together. Mike proved to be the ideal riding companion – pretty darn strong, outgoing, and a local who was happy to play tour guide. The ride is on bike paths for much of the first 50 miles, except for the first ‘big’ climb (big is relative, but its a decent hill, gaining about 400 ft. over 1.5 miles). The path surface was awesome – ‘immaculate’ perhaps is the best word for it. Some time after the first rest stop, we collected another rider (Don) who was also of the ‘more mature’ sort, and working together we kept the speed up but the effort contained – getting in to the lunch stop in the first 40-50 riders and generally feeling like we really had no business feeling that good 60 miles into our ride. Also, the weather was cooperating (and would continue to do so) – although we hit some wet roads, we got no more than a minute or two of sultry drizzle the whole day. My new rain jacket was apparently just the right sacrifice to the weather gods – I never pulled it out of my pocket. With the temperature running from the low 60’s to the upper 70’s, conditions could not have been much better, and yet they were!

From mile 62 to mile 90, with much of the course running straight north, we had a tail-wind blowing 20+ miles per hour. For much of this time we were moving at a steady 20-22 mph, but only pushing at about 2/3’s the effort normally needed to do that – I was on the front pulling for a bit of this, and there was just no sense of pushing through the wind at all – if felt just like I was drafting. The final 10 miles runs through some low hills south of Bellingham on Chuckanut Drive. This is a series of short climbs with a bit of downhill between each one and was a great way to finish the ride – ultra scenic, a bit challenging, and finishing in Bellingham on the doorstep of Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro.

So where does this leave me? Its hard to say – clearly I can ride a fast century, given decent conditions. Clearly, I’m not as strong a rider as I would like to be, especially when dealing with difficult conditions – my two worst days cycling have featured lots of climbing and lots of heat. I probably learned more about what I can and cannot do by riding the Rockwell relay, but the Red-Bell 100 was a much needed booster shot of cycling confidence. I think I want to try both rides again, but I know for sure that I have a lot more to do in the training leading up to Rockwell if I want to be successful there. I initially chose the Red-Bell 100 when the Davis Livestrong Challenge was cancelled, looking for a ‘fun, flat’ century – and that choice was exactly right.

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On Packing and Bike Fitting and things

So, Saturday (some), and Sunday (more), and in drips and drabs today and tomorrow, culminating in a wonderful packing frenzy Wednesday AM, I’m packing the black monster, and ice chest, a 10 gallon water cooler, and everything I need for 36 – ish hours of cycling in preparation for my big event of the summer, the http://rockwellrelay.com. I have, with Julie’s encouragement, purchased a Sony AS 100 video camera, so hopefully I’ll get some pictures of the event to post here later. If the packing suggestions had just been ‘pack everything you have that is cycling related’, it might have been easier. I’m excited, this should be reasonably epic, for at least some definition of epic.

What is the Rockwell Relay you ask (because you are too lazy to click on the link I’ve so thoughtfully provided)? In short, its a 4 person relay race, run in 12 stages (3 each, right?) that winds its way through some of the most scenic areas of the world, from Moab Utah to St. George Utah. We start out Friday AM and hopefully finish up mid-day Saturday – including 4 legs through the night.

Relating to this, and some thoroughly undesired knee pain that I had about 3 weeks back, I’ve made some pretty significant changes to my bike set up. First, I returned the seat from where I’d raised it to approximately where my builder put it originally. Why did I think it needed to be higher? I’m not sure, but at the time it just felt better. Also, after 3 attempts on the left shoe and two on the right shoe, I think I’ve got the cleats adjusted so that they’re pretty much right over the top of the pedal axle. This based on some reading I did when my knee acted up suggesting seat height and cleat position as two likely culprits. I know that for some time I’ve been clenching my feet (especially my right foot) when I ride, and that seems to have stopped. For me this is definitely an in-exact science (more like semi-educated guess work). Someday I suppose I should just pay for a proper professional fitting.

 

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Mid-Season Thoughts on Biking

a.k.a. ‘Why am I doing this’.

First, a bit of background. I grew up riding a bike. From 2nd grade through college it was my primary mode of transportation, even after I got my first car. Then I moved down to the San Jose area, and although I kept riding for a few years, work, marriage, and kids soon took precedence and I stopped riding for about 25 years. Fast forward to about 2 years ago and after a lot of frustration with weight gain and lack of fitness and lack of progress once I tried to lose weight by walking, I started biking again. I’m enjoying it, mostly, but a few recent events have caused me to question my goals and approach to cycling.

Two weeks back, I joined my local recreational bike club in a climb up Mt. Diablo. The weather was cooperative (cool), and I did well, but by the following Monday, my right knee was in a lot of pain – tendonitis. A week of rest, ice, and Ibuprofen settled it back down, but it was a real wake up call. Then, last weekend, we rode up Mt. Hamilton. It was hot, and while the Mt. Ham climb is not that challenging (rarely steeper than 7-8%, and most of it at 6% or less), its really long – 15 miles of climbing, with two short decents along the way. This morning, I’m finding myself spending a lot of time wondering why I wanted to do these climbs, and ultimately whether or not this is the style of riding that I want to do.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still very much happy with cycling in general. I’ve started losing weight again after a long hiatus, and the 25-40 mile rides that I do locally are a great joy. For sure I arrive home feeling glad that I went out and rode literally every single time.

What I’m questioning is whether I want to do these more challenging rides – the centuries and hill climbs. 100 K seems to be a very nice max for me right now, especially if it involves less climbing than some rides. I’m signed up for the Sequoia Century this coming weekend, and I’ll be doing the 100K which has two climbs up to Skyline – one from the bay side, and one from the ocean side. That’s a lot of climbing (6000 ft.) for me, and will probably go a long way to cementing my thoughts about all of this. What I’m thinking is that unless / until I can lose quite a bit of weight, maybe I’m not doing myself any favors by doing long climbs – the last thing I want to do at this point is anything that takes the fun out of my riding.

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Plumbing

My father-in-law had a favorite saying: ‘Owning a house is god’s way of making sure you never have too much time or money’.

So true. The last few nights, the inevitable cycle of clearing and then slowing clogging our bathroom sink drain finally reached the ‘its too clogged to ignore any longer’ stage.

To enlighten those who somehow aren’t aware of this cycle (its more inevitable than “the circle of life”, in my experience), it goes like this:

  • Clean, free flowing drain, a.k.a. nirvana
  • early clog forming stage: if you run the water on full blast it might slowly fill up, but really its not a problem yet.
  • mid-clog: water backs up a bit, but it drains out without too much delay and nothing gross is left behind in the sink.
  • late-clog: water back up a lot, really at this point you should clean it, but its such a pain, so you decide to ignore it a while longer.
  • terminal: doesn’t drain at all or at best only very slowly, the stuff you spit out from brushing your teeth stays in the sink, along with shaving cream and whatever else makes its way into the sink. Time for the liquid plumber.

Julie has a go at it Monday – one or possibly two rounds of drain cleaner, and the sink just laughed at her and said ‘is that all you got? watch this!’ as it went from late-clog to terminal stage, completely ignoring the drain cleaner. Our sink is the Richard Sherman of plumbing. So Tuesday I had a go. Again, our sink was not impressed – two rounds of drain cleaner and it only receded to late-clog stage, so after a couple of candy bars to build up my plumber nerve, I dug out the snake, unpacked everything from under the sink, and had at it. It was a tough fight. I survived, but was left with trembling hands devoid of grip strength. Further, as I finished snaking, I was pretty sure that I’d been defeated. On a whim, I put the drain bend thingie back in place and ran the water just to see if there was any improvement, and I must have loosened things up just enough because there was a gurgle and then suddenly we were back to sink nirvana.

For the rest of the evening and again this morning, I have repeatedly found myself running the sink water and marveling at my plumbing prowess.

Best of all, project cost was < $10 and required no trips to the hardware store.

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Trainer vs. Road

Bicyclists are generally a friendly group, but every so often when out riding I run across a particularly chatty rider.

Such was the case Sunday – I caught up to a guy riding a fixy on the slight downhill stretch of Foothill between Los Altos and Arastradero and we started talking.  After covering the weather and his bike (a nice Surly), we talked about riding indoors in the cold and he said (unattributed), that a 50 minute trainer ride is about the same as a 90 minute road ride.

I’ve thought about this just a bit and I think he’s about right. Or at least I hope so.

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