Monday, December 29, 2008

Lost - Lee's mojo (again)

Saturday was just one of those days that should have been a great day to ride. The weather wasn't horrible and there was a good group heading out for around 48 miles or so. The plan was for a no-drop ride at a decent pace. This was my idea as a way to start prepping for the more serious rides to come this spring. Yes, it should have been a great day but in the end it was just ok.

Let the story begin.

Since we were starting from Cafe Noto, Pat asked me if I wanted to meet early for a pre-ride coffee - his treat! I arrive at 7:30 just as Pat is riding up. A few minutes later we are drinking coffee and just chatting. Then others start to arrive and before we are even on the bikes the trash talking begins. You know, questions like "who's wearing the most layers when they should be wearing a skirt?" This is going to be fun.

At 8:00 the 9 of us head out and I know I am in trouble 10 minutes into the ride. I have 2 things working against me. First, my stomach is jacked up and I begin to fight the urge to hurl. Second, and perhaps more importantly, my legs feel like lead. I just don't have any pop and I am struggling to hang on from the beginning. Oh well, I tell myself to suck it up and keep riding.

This continues for the entire ride. I don't feel bad enough to turn back but I have trouble keeping up all day. Carmen is also not feeling well so we hang out together in the back. Finally, towards the end of the ride I managed to get on front and take one very decent pull. Then some of the group decide to haul ass back taking 30-second pulls. I simply sat up and watched them ride away. They are actually drinking coffee before I make it back.

In thinking about the ride I tried to analyze what went wrong. I have learned from Coach Tim that sometimes you are going to have bad days. Some days you simply cannot muster enough mojo to ride well. But this didn't feel like one of those days. And I can't blame my stomach for no power in the legs. So what the hell happened?

In thinking it over, I realized a few of my rides recently have not been stellar. As I turn all this over in my mind, why on a 23 mile in the rain on the Vegas (BTW - special shout out to Doppler radar for telling the closest rain was 200 miles away), it hits me. There are 3 significant mistakes that I making on these rides. It all deals with me thinking it is the off-season and riding like it's not.

Thanks to the holidays, and a lack of will power, I have gained between 10 - 12 pounds. That is not unusual and it will be gone soon enough. But it is enough extra weight to mess up my power-to-weight ratio. The additional weight simply means it takes more energy for every pedal stoke.

I also discovered I am not eating. I typically don't eat on my gentle off-season rides but the rides I have been on lately are challenging. So some of my late ride drops are really due to bonking. This should be an easy fix.

Finally, I am not in a good routine right now. I run a little during the week but no riding. Nothing on the road and nothing on the trainer. Then I go flog myself on the weekend and wonder why I am tiring towards the end. Of course, mentally I am still in the same shape as I was after my Colorado trip last July.

As you can see, it was not Saturday's ride that was important. It was what I learned from it. Now I know what I need to do to get the mojo back. The most important thing is to regain my perspective. I shouldn't be riding as well right now as I do during the season so I need to get over it.

Next week I will start hitting the trainer for speed drills, hill repeats, etc. Until then I will enjoy a few last off-season rides.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!!!

I hope that everyone found the cool stuff they were hoping for under the Christmas tree this morning! Santa and his elves (and UPS) have been very busy bringing presents to the good, and not so good, little cyclists and triathletes around the world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New holiday tradition

Over the years, Sherry and I have developed a tradition of going to a local mall for lunch on Christmas Eve. The purpose? To simply watch the craziness of last minute shoppers. You see, it can be quite entertaining as long as you are not the one shopping. And yes, I am aware this is a little twisted. I mean, who goes out searching for joy in other peoples' frustration. Well, I guess I do.

The plan was always the same. We would settle in for lunch or coffee someplace where we had a good vantage point and watch the madness. We would sip coffee, chat and laugh as we watched people pass us, in many cases multiple times, as they ran from one store to the next and back again. However, over the last few years it just hasn't been the same.

So this year we decided it was time to try something new. We went to Union Square in San Francisco for a mini one night vacation on the last weekend before Christmas. It did not disappoint. Union Square bills itself as San Francisco's Most Famous Shopping District. And I would say that judging by the crowds, they are right. There were literally thousands of people in the Square.

We found a great overnight package at the St. Francis Hotel, which is on Union Square. As we arrived, pedestrian traffic was so heavy that only one car at a time could make right turns with a green light. The St. Francis was so busy that cars checking in backed up onto Geary St and then onto Powell St creating the kind of gridlock you can only see in large cities. When we finally turned onto Geary Street, the garage was less then 100 yards away. It still took us over 30-minutes to get there. The SFPD actually started ticketing cars for obstructing traffic just after we pulled into the garage. Oh well, we were looking for craziness and we apparently found it.

We get checked into a great third story room overlooking the corner of Powell and Geary streets. The crowds are immense. So we anxiously unpack and hit the streets. Once we were one with the crowd the magic started. It was a beautiful winter's night in the City and we decided to go to our favorite coffee house which is on the Square itself, Emporio Rulli. I was going to have an espresso and Sherry wanted hot chocolate.

As I stood in line, Sherry had actually found us a table, I saw a sign for Venetian hot chocolate. So when it was my turn to order I had to inquire. I only needed to hear the words "intense chocolate" and "cream" when I immediately ordered 2 small cups. Then she asked what I believe is one of the silliest questions ever. "Do you want whip cream on those?" In my mind my response was something like "f-ing eh!" But in reality, my response was more like "Oh yes please. That would be lovely." We were lucky enough to get a table next to the ice rink were we sipped our Venetian hot chocolate, with whip cream, and watched people go around in circles.

After spending quite a bit of time in a gallery talking about the works of Marc Chagall, it was time for dinner. We ate at Cafe de la Presse, a French bistro near the Square. It was a magnificent meal in all aspects. I was even able to pick up a L'Equipe, which is a sports newspaper from France. On the way back to the St Francis we did some shopping to walk off dinner and finally called it a night.

On Sunday I slept in with Sherry (since there wasn't a ride I was trying to get to) and we spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and reading. Sherry was quietly reading her book in bed while I was trying to work my way though L'Equipe. Afterwards it was more shopping. As it was still early and starting to rain there were not nearly as many people.

Finally, we decided it was time to head home. So we packed, checked out and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. Just as we pull out of the garage it started to rain quite hard. It seems our timing was perfect.

Being on Union Square the weekend before Christmas was the perfect way to enjoy the seasonal holiday madness. And since we enjoy spending a couple of nights a year in The City we are already talking about doing this again next year.

Until then, I hope eveyone is having a great holiday season.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Found - 1 Mojo

I feel like I have been writing a lot about a lack of motivation to get out and train. Last weekend it seems that I turned a corner while riding with some big guns on Pedro's training camp ride. I mentioned in my last blog that I felt the motivation starting to return. I happy to save it has returned with vigor. So now, I feel like I finally refound my mojo.

My strong motivational feelings were actually strengthened when I wrote about the ride in Monday's blog. So what would happen next. After a Monday rest day (my norm) would I run on Tuesday or slip back into my non-motivational ways. Well, on Tuesday morning it was 30 degrees, wet, and foggy. My reaction to these conditions was a 3.5 mile run. On Wednesday and Thursday I endured freezing temperatures of 24 and 27 degrees respectively during my morning runs. And, I was enjoying every minute of it. I was beginning to feel like I was back.

The final act was Saturday's ride. A total of 11 of us braved an 8:00 a.m. start time and 27 degree weather to ride the hills of west Sonoma County. There were four of us, Pedro, Sarah, Pat and myself, that left at 7:15 and rode to our starting point which was West County Revolution. I knew it had the potential to be a dicey ride as we rode around frozen puddles of ice on the bike path. But we made it just fine, met with the rest of our group and we were off.

The first part of the ride was pretty uneventful. It was just cold. However it was sunny, the sky was a gorgeous blue and everything had a bright and crisp look and feel. And for some reason, the cold never bothered me that day. I tell you - as long as the sun is shining I seem to be fine with whatever the temperature gauge has to offer.

As we started up the day's biggest climb, Graton Road, I decided this would be my one moment of intensity on this ride. So I grabbed Pat's wheel and held on. I stayed with him about two thirds of the way up before dropping back. I was tired and out of breath at the top but hey the rest of the ride was flat so I would be fine (more on this later).

Then it was through Occidental and out to Monte Rio on Bohemian Highway. This a favorite road among our group. But Saturday was different. Not only was there ice on the road but there was also loose gravel to help cars deal with ice. There is nothing like hearing ice crunch under your 770c x 23 cycling tires to help keep you focused on the road ahead. After a quick coffee at Gold Coast Coffee & Bakery, it is back on the bikes for the ride home.

The ride back should have been uneventful except that we did have, well events. First there was a minor crash. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured and there was no major bike damage. Everyone was able to continue on with the ride and even start joking about it about 2 miles later. The second was changing the route back.

You see, we were going to take a relatively flat route back but it did have a lot of traffic. So we opted for a more scenic route with less traffic. And by more scenic I mean more hills. On the first hill I felt every pedal stroke from my push earlier on Graton. On the second and final hill on Green Valley Road I decided to really go for it and attempt to take the hill in the middle ring. I have never even contemplated middle-ringing this climb. On Saturday, not only did I think about it but I succeeded. Must be more of that new found mojo.

So there you have it. A grand total of 3 runs and one serious bike ride. Hell, I even thought seriously about doing a few core workouts and some strength training. I will still take it easy since it is the off season but I finally feel it's time to start getting ready for 2009.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Finding motivation in being dropped

**Special Thanks** All photos shown are from Veronika Lenzi and the full set can be found here. Ronnie - thanks for all of the support!

Ok, so it's been a while since I wrote something. This time it hasn't been a time issue, I just have not been inspired to write. I actually started a posting on hibernation versus motivation but every time I tried to write it I fell asleep. (I know, big collective groan for going after the obvious joke there.) There really has been a serious lack of motivation on my behalf to do much of anything.

I've decided that for me it's not a cold thing. I actually like winter, a lot, and I don't mind the cold. Something about being out in all of Mother Nature's elements makes me feel completely alive. No, for me it's always been a daylight thing. I would love winter even more if it were not for the short days. That's why I tend to hibernate during the week and go full out on weekends.

So how do I find the motivation to be better during the week? There are 2 answers really. First, I realized that after next weekend the days will start getting longer. The second is riding friends and fellow cyclists. Enter Pedro's training camp.

I learned about Pedro's training camp from my newest cycling friend Jeff who really seems to have the inside scoop on what's happening in Sonoma County. Unfortunately, that weekend was crazy busy with work. Still, my schedule did allow me to start the training camp ride on Saturday. Now if you read Pedro's description this is supposed to be a training ride. Or as he put it, "no December champions!"

I ride over to the start at around 9:50. Sarah is already there, Jeff rides up shortly after and finally Jim arrives to join us. At the designated 10:00 start time there are 60+ riders swarming around Peets just itching to hit the road. Pedro stands to make a few announcements but I only heard one of them. It was when he said "yesterday was a little too fast so all of you Cat 1's and Cat 2's need to take it easy up the climbs". This is going to be fun.

Then we're off. We start out taking things nice and easy down a bike path to avoid cars and lights. Finally we are out of town and on the open road. A peloton of 60 dressed in every color imaginable. The pace is great. No one is putting the hammer down so I am just riding along and talking with my fellow riders.

Eventually, we hit the only hill I have time to climb, Harrison Grade. You gotta love a road with Grade in it's name. It's 1.5 miles with pitches of 14% in places. Now remember, if we listened to Pedro, we are supposed to be taking it easy. And the big guns did take it easy. They just have a different definition of easy.

As we start the climb, I am near the front. My goal, stay with the lead group to the top. So up we go. The other riders immediately start to pass me as if they were riding downtown to get coffee. My heart rate is climbing even faster! About a third of the way up, I am no longer being passed but I am starting to dangle of the back of the group. I just keep telling myself to hold on to the wheel in front of me.

At the next corner we reach the steepest pitch. I tell myself to dig deep. I just start to drop when I accelerate and get back with the group. I am still with the group but while they are chatting and easily spinning their way to the top, I am practicing how to gasp for air quietly. At about two thirds of the way up, the pitch levels out just a bit before the final push. This is where I was dropped. I did manage to to keep them in sight to the top. In the end, I am guessing I climbed Harrison Grade at least 3 minutes faster then ever before. This is where the motivation started.

A group of us with some time constraints settled into a leisurely ride back with Sarah, Jim and I enjoying a post ride coffee and chat. All-in-all it was a great day. Riding with a few hammerheads on a regular basis is bound to make me a better rider. I like the ideal of riding with large groups and taking the opportunity to push myself. Thinking about this fanned the motivational flames a little more.

In Sarahs' blog, she talks about how this ride reaffirmed her love of cycling. And that's where I am today. Once again remembering why I ride. And while I plan on fewer miles next year that doesn't mean I can't make them count. So my basic goal for 2009 will simply be to become stronger and faster on the bike.

If Jeff continues to tell me about great rides like the ones Pedro just put together, I will also have a lot of fun in the process.


Monday, December 8, 2008

The fog gets even

In my last blog I talked about the fog. And while I did spend some time talking about the beauty it can create, I spent more time discussing its dark side. You know. The whole wet, cold, steals your motivation side. Well, I think that the fog somehow read all of that because this weekend it got even.

Saturday morning, at 5:30 a.m., was a beautiful, clear, starlit morning. It was also cold. A freezing 28 degrees. Still, there was no fog for the first time in days so I am heading out on the bike. I actually posted on Sarah's Facebook that I was testing my concept of preferring to ride when it is cold and clear versus fog. My hope is to leave around 8:00 and maybe, just maybe, it will have warmed up a touch.

So I get all the gear together, get dressed and go out to get the bike ready. The sun's rising and it is simply gorgeous. I can't wait to hit the road even though it is still only a brisk 30 degrees. As I start rolling out of the driveway, still under clear skies, I noticed that fog is forming to the east. Are you kidding me? I look to the north in hopes of clearer skies and I don't see them. However, as I look to west, towards the coast, there is still blue sky. So I head west.

About 3 miles into the ride I learn how a rookie quarterback feels when a veteran all-pro free safety baits him into throwing an interception. I was baited into going west. I am now engulfed in very wet, very thick and very cold fog. I decide to adjust my route and go looking for the sun. I also started riding more bike paths to stay off the road. I will probably cut the ride short from the 40 miles I was hoping for but I want to get in some mileage so I decide to simply endure the fog and keep riding.

While it was actually very pretty at times, it was mostly a cold and wet ride. In some places the roads were so wet I was getting road spray off the tires. In Windsor I was really starting to get cold so I grabbed a quick double espresso and finally headed for home. As I glance at the cyclometer it now looks like I will get my 40 miles so I am basically happy. At mile 35 the sun broke through the fog for half a mile. At mile 37 the sun and I started playing a little game of peek-a-boo. I would be fog-free for half a mile or so and then right back in it. This continued all the way to mile 39 when the fog at my house completely cleared and I rolled back into the driveway the exact way I began - under clear skies.

The fog also was a major player in Sunday's ride. It was Sarah's birthday and a bunch of her friends were coming up from the City and East Bay to ride with us. It was another cold and foggy day but we simply did not let that dampen our spirits as we headed out. It was a great ride of just under 40 miles with over 1800 feet of climbing. At one point, we almost climbed out of the fog but not quite. This was the first Sonoma County ride for some folks in our group so it was unfortunate that they did not get to enjoy some to the vistas we climbed up to. Still it was a great morning of riding with new friends. If you want to try and get a better feel for the day, check out Sarah's blog.

So there it is. I wrote about the fog and it tricked me into a ride. That would make the score 1 -1. I surely hope that by finishing the ride both days I have now paid my due respects and that the fog and I can declare a truce. I have never successfully beat Mother Nature and I don't expect to start winning now.

Is there a moral to this story. I think so. Never try to blame your lack of motivation on anyone other then yourself. And especially don't try and blame Mother Nature because if you do, you may just end up cold and wet.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Fog!!! (enough said)

What is it about fog? What mythical quality does it possess to make you feel so frigging cold? Of course I understand the physical reactions. Fog is wet and when you are wet you feel colder. I get that. However, I think in our psyche it somehow goes much deeper then that. When riding, I will wear just as many layers for a 50 degree foggy ride as I do for a 36 degree sunny adventure. Now that I think of it, maybe I should discussing the magic of the sun.

In Sonoma County we deal with three types of fog. The first isn't even fog, it's a marine layer of clouds that comes in from the ocean, hangs out at around 1000 feet, and typically burns off by 10ish. Then we have good ole ground fog, which is very thick and very wet. We also get something known as Tule fog, which are small dense patches that form in the valleys. Sometimes we get all three going at the same time.

The fog does create some magical moments. There are times when you can ride, run or hike your way up a climb and find yourself above the fog. These are breath-takingly beautiful mornings where you feel like you could simply step onto the fog and walk over to the next peak. I have gone from running in brilliant sunshine to heavy fog within a 200 yard stretch. This always makes me feel a little like a J.R.R. Tolkien character carrying a ring to a forbidden land. Walking through a forest as the sun shines through the fog always seems to heighten my senses and I feel truly alive, and blessed. This all happens mostly in the summer.

In the winter, it is a different story. The most powerful mythical quality fog seems to have in winter is the ability to steal any motivation I might have to get out and ride or run. I mean really. Who wants to head out into a cold (it is currently 34), wet foggy morning when they have a warm chair and coffee inside? I don't mind it once I get started. It's the getting started that's the hard part. (In case you haven't guessed by now, it has been very foggy every day this week.)

Have you figured out that I have zero motivation to head out? I mean if we were keeping score for the month of December it would be blogs-2, workouts-0. How pathetic is that? I say I am going out right up to the point when it's time to leave. Then I see the coffee and it's all over. It's just that easy to bail when I look out the kitchen window and can't even see the back fence. I can't even seem to muster enough motivation to get on the trainer and it's in the garage completely protected from the fog.

Is there a cure for this? How do you get past this serious lack of mojo? With a little help from your friends. I am much more likely to head out if I am meeting up with someone. They are my little anti-fog support group whether they know it or not.

For now, I'll just roll with my lack of motivation and call it recovery. Soon, I'll starting getting restless and feel the need to head out again. Until then, where's my coffee?


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My grand plan for 2009

Sunday was a great day. There were 6 of us heading out for a short easy ride. Two of our group, Pat and David, had just finished Ironman Arizona the week before (congrats to both of them) and were looking for a chance just to spin their legs. Pat was also coming out of his vegetarian slumber so he wanted to finish the ride with a burger, which was just fine by me.

The ride itself was pretty uneventful. Since we were taking it easy, I took the Vegas so it was my first group ride with the single speed. We mostly rode together and chatted. We chatted a lot about the boys Ironman efforts, which led us to talking about next year and who was doing what event, which made me decide it was time to declare my own goals for 2009.

So what kind of goals should I set. Should I be like David, who after completing his first full Ironman is talking a lot about his couch, coffee and yoga for 2009 (he will do much more)? Or perhaps I should model my goals after Pat. About one month before the Ironman he posted to our group that 2009 was going to be the "year of the bike!" and he was going to complete the California Triple Crown, which is three 200 mile rides in one year. As I understand it from listening to him on Sunday, I think his new plan is to complete the triple crown, ride the 3-day Courage Classic, compete in another full Ironman and race in the Kentucky Derby. (BTW - Pat is a great athlete who could actually do all of those events. Well, maybe not the Kentucky Derby). I could also choose to follow Sarah's lead and boycott any event that is jacking up the price because they can (check out her blog).

Perhaps I should start by reflecting on 2008. It's been a long year with a single focus on cycling. As a result, I have ridden 5,377 miles so far in 2008 and I am starting to feel it. A lot of those were training miles where I had a specific agenda I had to follow. Speed intervals, hill repeats, power intervals and such were always the norm. And way too many of those miles were solo. In preparing for the Terrible Two, I completed a 140 mile solo ride. As I reflect on the past the future, at least 2009, becomes very clear. It's time to remember why I ride.

So what are my goals?
  1. Reduce cycling mileage by 30%. This may seem dramatic until you realize that this still has me riding almost 4000 miles.
  2. Increase the number of ride that finish with 3 or more people sipping coffee by 50% (as in spend less time riding alone).
  3. Increase cross training, which simply means I want to spend time doing other things like running, kayaking, and hiking.
  4. Complete 5 events I have not done before or have not done in the last 5 years (I stole this from Coach Tim). This will be a mixture of running, there are some 10k's I like to try, and cycling. At least one event will require travel so Sherry and I can use it as an excuse for weekend get-away.
  5. Increase the number of weekend mornings where I decide to sleep in with Sherry and have french toast for breakfast.

So there they are. As you can see, 2009 is all about fun and remembering why I started riding in the first place. With a plan that calls for more fun, more coffee with friends and more time with Sherry, I have a sneaky suspicion that I might just be able to stay on this plan.

For those of you creating your own goals for 2009 I have this one piece of advice. Please be sure your plan allows for plenty of recovery time with family and friends. And don't forget, we do this because it's fun.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Ride and Feast

Well Thursday was Thanksgiving and I do have a lot to be thankful for and I was going to tell you all about it. But first, I had to ride. No wait! First, I had to chop vegetables and help Sherry do the prep work for the feast to be served later that day. Then I could ride.

Now I always go for a quick ride on Thanksgiving. However this year, my newest cycling buddy Jeff told me about the annual ride leaving from NorCal Bike Sport. They typically have between 75 and 100 riders heading out to climb Pine Flat. So I mention it to Sherry to see if the timing will work. You see, they don’t leave until 9:00 and it’s about a 60 mile route out and back. That’s a lot longer then I am normally gone. Plus, we are actually hosting T-Day at our house. You would think the possibility of joining this ride was not in my favor. But that’s because you don’t know Sherry.

You have got to love a woman that looks at you and says – Go! So we negotiated a 1:00 p.m. curfew and I let Jeff know I will make it.

After my morning chores, I ride over to NorCal. It looks like we’ll have between 70-80 riders this year. This will be the biggest peloton I have participated in so I am pretty jazzed. However, I do recognize some of the riders and a lot of high-end bikes so I know this will be a hammer fest. No worries. I’ll just hang on as long as I feel like it.

So at 9:10 we’re off. Things stayed pretty calm for the opening 10 miles and I spent most of the time with first 6 or so riders. We went over the first hill, which was the weak side of Chalk Hill, and I managed to go over the top with the lead riders. Then we started the descent and that was a whole different story. I am very comfortable riding in the pack but that was my first time descending with that many riders and it was a bit unnerving. So I backed off and let them go. And that’s when they put the hammer down.

I catch back up at the regroup and then we are off again. At this point, people are peeling off at every intersection to head for home to make their own personal curfews. Still, I kept riding. You see Pine Flat is one of my favorite climbs. It is a very narrow but beautifully paved road. And of course, the reason I really like the climb is for the descent that comes next. It has a multiple number of S-turns with 3 or 4 curves in a row. There is nothing else like it in Sonoma County.

At the base of Pine Flat the attacks started again and I remembered my second promise to Sherry. I promised I would not come home flogged. She has seen me finish a hard ride and spend the rest of the afternoon in a fetal position on the couch and today she wanted me to be a little more energetic when our guests arrive. So I climbed at a nice easy pace and just enjoyed the beauty. I made it about two-thirds of the way up, all in the middle ring I might add, before it was time to turn around.

At precisely 12:40 I rolled back into the driveway to begin the second half of my feast preparation duties. At 3:30 the family begins to arrive and at 4:30 we sit for dinner. Now, Sherry and I are not really roast turkey people. So we made turkey osso buko. It was delicious. In fact, the whole meal was idyllic and the company of family made it even better.

So there you go. I managed to chop vegetables, ride 65 miles with 2330 feet of climbing, and still be home when promised to enjoy a great meal with family. Now that’s worth giving thanks.

I would like to add one more thing. While I think it’s great we have a day dedicated to giving thanks, I would like to invite you to take a second each and everyday to give thanks. Don’t take things for granted. Instead, take time to find the simple pleasures of life and share those pleasures with others. I believe if you do this, you will never run out of things for which you are thankful.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Riding without a net (pump)

So Saturday came around after another quiet week from my riding group and once again I am heading out alone. There was a ride pulled together in Sonoma which was starting a little too late since my wife and I were heading to the City later that day. (BTW - for those of you who are planning a vacation to San Franciso, it is simply known as the City here.) So I decide on the single speed and off we go. A single rider and a single gear. What could be simpler?

Before I go any further, I have now decided that constantly typing the words single speed is just too much work. So I will start referring to it by my pet name. Yes, I have a pet name for my bike. I simply refer to it as The Vegas (it is the Las Vegas version of the Specialized Langster). I call the geared bike Paolo, after Paolo Betinni who also rides a Specialized. I am guessing his is a little nicer.

So I bundle up since it is a brisk 36 degrees outside at launch time. I decide to do what we call the gut run. This is a relatively flat route from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg and back. The entire trip is 40ish miles depending on the route. As I head out, I go by Sarah's house and this time she is looking out her kitchen window. So I make a quick u-turn and stop to chat for a bit. She is on her way to a special event but I'll let her tell that story in her blog.

So, with time for chit-chat over, I start heading out. Now remember the bike is fairly new. Up until now I have been moving my gear bag between bikes which was becoming a pain. So Friday, I bought a bag, tools, tubes, etc., On Saturday I put the new fully loaded bag on the bike so The Vegas now has it's own set up. However, I was about 3.5 miles from the house when I realized I forgot my pump. Are you kidding me??? So as I see it I have 2 options. Take a chance and keep riding or go home and get the pump.

Let me tell you why going back home is not a really an option. To begin with, you may remember it's cold. So if I go home I will have to go into the warm house, walk by the coffee, get the pump, walk by the coffee again, and then back into the cold. That's not going to happen. If I go home I will end up with a stunning 7 mile ride. Instead of reaching for my pump I'll be reaching for my coffee cup. Plus, Sherry will be up by now. So as I walk into the house there she'll be looking all cute in her flannel pajamas and drinking coffee. Then she'll look at me with her sexiest smile and ask the one question she knows will always keep me off the bike. "Do you want french toast for breakfast?" (FYI -I told her I came up with this line so I actually did get french toast on Sunday. Her french toast rocks.)

So I keep riding. I do have an amazingly supportive wife and I know if I flat she will come and get me. But where should I ride to? Going to Healdsburg no longer makes sense. I will have to wait quite for a while, in the cold, for Sherry to come get me if I do flat because you know Murphy is not going to allow me to flat in front of a coffee shop or even a Starbucks.

The question is - How do I get in 30 or miles while staying close to home? So I start doing short loops from town. I would head out on a little loop, come back into town and then head out in a different direction. I was having a great time trying to ride routes that never took me further then 7 miles from home and without riding the same road twice. In the end, I got in 32 very fun miles and, of course, no flats.

This is also where the benefit of living in Santa Rosa comes to light. Although I was never more then 7 miles from the center of a town of over 150,000, I was on rural roads riding through vineyards, redwoods, and other pastoral scenery. I can leave my house, which is near down town, and be out of town by bike in any direction within 15 minutes.

So, when it was all said and done, I got in a great ride knowing I could count on Sherry if necessary. I guess that makes her my safety net and I wouldn't want it any other way.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The joy of (not) cycling

Sunday was another gorgeous day in Wine Country. The kind of day where you absolutely have to get out and ride. Highs in the 70s, no wind and a clear blue sky all beckoned to pull out the bike and go. The original plan was to take the single speed out for the first time with another rider. So at this point, I am jazzed about riding and looking forward to the day.

Well, my friend bailed on me. No worries, I am going out anyway. But as I sat drinking coffee that morning and waiting for sunrise, I started thinking about cycling and how hell bent I've been this year on putting in the miles. I started reliving the hours and miles of solo riding with no one to talk to. So I had to ask myself - Do I really want go out for another solo ride?

I then started thinking about the awesome Riviera Revolution Ride #2 on Saturday. In November, we had about 12 riders for the inaugural event. Saturday we had over 30. It was a great day and great ride. We ended up with 51 miles, over 3,200 feet of climbing and a brisk pace. So to be honest, I was feeling the efforts in the legs. Still, I simply can't pass up the weather so I am sticking to the plan and hitting the open road. Besides, a nice spin will make my legs feel better anyway.

I check FaceBook and see that my newest cycling buddy Jeff is logged on. He plans on riding with his group 2 Wheel Racing. That would be cool except their not leaving until 8:30 and they are riding Pine Flat. Pine Flat is a monster climb in our area. Once again the thoughts return about my hell bent cycling nature this year. So again I ask myself - Do I really want to climb Pine Flat today? I mean I wanted to go for a ride but I didn't want to flog myself. I also didn't want to be gone all day. So I pass on the ride and refill my coffee cup.

Sherry is now up and has offered to make chocolate croissants. Any riding thoughts were melted into the croissants at this point. So Sherry and I enjoy a breakfast of croissants and café au laits. As I was enjoying breakfast I decided to rearrange the garage. You see, a lot of the stuff that went out there as part of the kitchen remodel is not coming back into the house. So I get everything set up so I can get to the weight bench and trainer. After all, winter will get here eventually and I will be back to strength training, core workouts and Chris Carmichael kicking my butt as I try to keep up with one of DVDs.

Then we decide instead of me going for a 2-hour ride, we should go out for a 2-hour lunch. This is turning into a great day. So it's off to one of our favorite places - Kenwood Restaurant. We both had the Bouillibaise, with some fries on the side, and a bottle of La Bretonniere Cabernet de Saumur Rosé. Of course, we were sitting outside and enjoying the views of the vineyards. Now this is the way to spend a day in Wine Country.

In case you haven't guessed by now, the ride never happened. And I'm ok with that. I've ridden enough this year that missing one Sunday won't kill me. Plus I got some things accomplished around the house and had a great lunch with my wife.

What more could you ask for on a beautiful autumn day?


Friday, November 14, 2008

It's almost time

With 2009 approaching fast, as proven by the fact we already have holiday commercials, it's time to start finalizing my goals. Mine are going to be a lot different this year. However, before I make a public commitment to next year, I am going to start off with a little blog cheating.

Many of you know that I tried to complete the Terrible Two this year. But that was before I had the blog up and running so many of you have never seen the report of that attempt. So I am posting it now. Why? Because it was such a huge part of goals and training for 2008. It will also partially explain my goals for 2009 which will follow very soon.

So, if you are reading it for the first time, enjoy. If you've read it before then I apologize for the re-run.

My Terrible Two -

Let me just start this report right away by saying I rode 110 miles of the 200 mile Terrible Two. You may have noticed that I avoided saying that I did not finish. I still truly believe that was an incredible success for me giving the extreme conditions. My TT experience might best be some up by these words from the Weather Channel – Sat June 20th, heat advisory for all of Northern California and predictions of triple digit heat.

Let me just say this – I don’t like riding in the heat. On our January rides when the temperature is in the low 30’s I am the first one ready to go. If the temp starts to top 90 then I begin looking for a rope. So, my TT probably started on Wednesday or Thursday as I watched the forcasted high temperatures continue to climb. Still, I feel ready and I am definitely giving it a go.

My good friend and coach, Tim, picked me up at 4:25 a.m. to head out to the start. As we are driving, I am looking to the north which is where I am heading, and I am see flashes of light. Who the hell ordered lightening? Oh well, it’s probably too far north to be of concern. So to the start, get registered and then on the bike to begin. Isn’t the beginning of any event exciting? So here I am all jazzed and ready to go.

Then we’re off. Some of the boys off the front set a blistering pace. I am constantly being passed on both sides while I am riding at 20 – 22 mph. After about 5 minutes the people quit passing and I think “there, we have now settled into our groups”. So I look behind me to see who I am with. No one!!! At 5 minutes into the ride I am already riding faster then I intended and have been dropped by the entire group. No to worry I think. I will see some of them on the first climb. I just keep practicing my mantra – You are the tortoise.

I settle into my pace and enjoy the ride. After a quick stop to kiss my wife, the TT went right by my house, I keep riding towards the hills. The first small climb was uneventful and then I hit the first big climb – Trinity. I find my rhythm and make it up Trinity without any problems. Near the top I see another good friend and riding partner, Brian. He jogs beside me for a while, tells me I am looking strong (and I was feeling strong), and then points out a sign showing all of the summets. BTW, the sign was sponsored by Fitness Journal. So over the top a car pulls up next to me and I start to see more flashes of light . It is MR. FJ himself, Chris Watson, taking pictures. So down the descent and start the second part of the climb. Here is where I begin to catch a lot of the rabbits who are already suffering from their quick start.

Down into the beatiful Napa Valley. I actually manage to catch the back of a train going the perfect speed and ride it all the way to the first rest stop in Calistoga. I am now riding 18 – 21 mph with a heart rate in the low 120’s. I can actually feel myself saving energy for later in the ride. But the biggest thing, it’s not heating up. Of course, it was still only 8:00 in the morning.

I leave Calistoga ahead of schedule. That was the good news. The bad news – it was starting to heat up and the trains were gone. So I enjoy a nice ride through Knight’s and Alexander Valley. Finally, it’s time to climb the Geysers. The is the longest and highest climb of the day. It is a 9-mile, double summit beast. As I start the climb, I am feeling strong, ahead of schedule, and enjoying the ride. That’s when I hit the wall.

Of course, in cyclng, the wall metaphor can mean many things. Saturday it meant heat. At the base of the climb it was 90. A mile and a half later it was 105. One mile later I can feel myself over heating. I slow the pace and keep drinking. Then I begin to feel a little nauseous. No biggie I tell myself. Settle in and find your rhythm. Less then 5 minutes later I start to weave to get up the climb.

I am now riding head down and just trying to make the first summit. Then I see 3 weirdos in wigs and speedos. Are they running at me? WTF? It is my coach and two other riding partners, Pat and David. They were hillarious. So up they come dumping cold water on my back and refilling my bottles all while I rode. (There will be more on support later.)

On the flat section at the top of the first summit I flatted. This was a blessing in disguise since it happened in a shady section. So for 7 minutes, I was off the bike and in the shade. With the flat fixed, I bombed down the small descent and start the second summit which was a true struggle but I made it. There was a rest stop there so I soaked myself with water, filled up with food, more air in the front tire and then began the descent.

At last, I am going downhill. If I can only recover I might still make it. Into the shade on the descent I am thinking that it wasn’t much relief. That’s because it was 102 in the shade at this point. Off the descent and out of the shade onto a long section of rollers. The temp is starting to climb again and at this point I have quit eating although I am still drinking water that is at least 90 degrees. At one point coming down a small roller my heart rate was 108 and the temperature was 110. You know the ride’s not going well when the temperature is higher then your heart rate.

On the Geysers there was a cooling breeze. That was gone. The wind ( actually a head wind) now felt like a blast furnace. It felt like the blast of hot air you get when open the oven door to see if your cookies are done. And I can tell you my cookies were done!

I finally make it out of the back country and into Cloverdale. I see my wife in the car and she follows me off and on to Lake Sonoma. It is still 104 and I have riding in triple digit heat for almost 3 hours. When I get to the small climb over Dutcher Creek I know I am done. I can easily do Dutcher in the big ring. Saturday, I had to drop to the triple to get over it. That might have been because it was now 111 degrees. At this point I know I will not be continuing from the lunch stop. I am too far behind schedule to make the cut-off times and the sun has made me feel like Sampson after a hair cut.

As I roll to a stop at Lake Sonoma I see more friends. Pat and David are there, without their wigs, and so is Sarah, Matt and Jim. They actually help me off the bike and take me to the shade and being pouring water on me. As I cool down I discover I have missed the cut off time so continuing isn’t an option (it really wasn’t an option anyway). So we load the bike in the car and drive home.

If you were counting, you noticed that I had 8 different people strategically placed to cheer me on. There was no other rider out there who could claim that. My friends were amazing. And what can I say about the speedos on the Geysers? On Sunday, we hosted a champagne brunch for them for helping me get ready for the TT and for their support during the ride. Not one person was disappointed in me not making it 200 miles. They were all genuinely supportive and proud of the effort, especially knowing how I ride in the heat.

Will I try it again? I’m not sure at this point. Heat can always be an issue so may I find myself in the same boat. At this point, I am simply enjoying being in the best riding shape of my life. I am already turning my focus to the next event. A road trip with great friends where we will ride the 3 day Courage Classic in Colorado.

And that’s why I ride!

So there you have it. By far, the most defining and memorable moment in my cycling career. If that was what 2008 was all about then I can't wait to see what 2009 has to offer. Until then, I'll just keep riding.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love and a single speed

I am one of those people who does not throw the word "love" around trivially. I do not love movies, my job, books, or just about any other inanimate object you care to think about. I, of course, love my wife Sherry and the life we have together. You could probably argue that I love good food and great wine. But mostly, I reserve the idea of love for family and friends. With that said, I have to admit that I may love my new single speed bike.

Back in June, as I was finalizing my training for the Terrible Two, I ran across an article on training with single speeds. On our rides we also talk about single speeds from time to time, especially when one goes by. I've always thought they were very cool for reasons I really can't explain. So I start doing more reading and talking to Coach Tim and decide the time has come.

So I put on my I "heart" bike porn cycling socks (courtesy of Tim) and hit the Internet. After some significant research I made my decision. I was getting the Specialized Langster. But which model? The paint job of each model is patterned after a city such as Boston or Seattle. Some have mountain bike style handle bars while others have drops. So I finally selected the Boston since I wanted drops. I don't have any real connection to Boston, I just thought it was the best looking of all my choices.

So a short time later I was in NorCal Cycling talking to Phil, the manager, and I asked if they had any Langsters. They had a few at their other store but not the Boston. Then Phil starts chatting with me about single speeds, why was I thinking of getting one, how much fun they are, etc., and says, "Let me show you something." He heads to his office and comes back with an industry catalog showing the 2009 models. He turns to a specific page and shows me my bike. The Specialized Langster Las Vegas. It was pure cool! So cool that I decide to be patient and wait for the new models to arrive.

In mid-October I begin to see on the Internet that some shops already have the 2009 models. So back to NorCal to see Phil. He had not pre-ordered any Langsters so we place a special order and I wait some more. Then it arrives. Within days it is built out and ready to roll. It is even cooler in person. From the dice, poker chips and playing cards down to the "gold" head stem and brakes, this bike screams cool!

On the first ride I felt like a kid again. I chose a 30 mile route with a few rollers. Taking what the road has to offer without being able to shift changes everything. If you want to go faster, pedal faster. If the road goes up, pedal harder. There is just such a simple beauty in that. The funny thing is that I missed shifting more on the down hills then on the small climbs. Of course, I did make myself laugh a few times when I realized I was trying to shift.

So today was the second ride. I left my house and went on a Tour de New Bike. I road past 4 coffee shops, not including Starbucks, in 3 separate downtown areas. I rode on roads that I know are very popular cycling routes. I even rode past the houses of 2 friends just in hopes they would be outside. To be honest, I was simply having a blast and hoping someone, anyone, who could appreciate it would get a chance to see the new ride.

The next challenge will be a group ride. I can't wait to see if I can hang with them as they waste all that finger energy shifting while I simply ride along. And, I live in Sonoma County where there are plenty of hills, so it won't be long before I truly get tested.

Until then, I think I'll just keep playing with my new toy and reminding myself that simple really can be better.


Monday, November 10, 2008

A little time with my friends

Well, it was another crazy week that ended better then it started. Actually, as I am writing this I am realizing - I don't even remember how it started. How's that for crazy? But it ended with family and friends and that part I definitely remember. Like a lot of you I really enjoy my time with friends. From the chance meeting in a coffee shop to a full scale party or anything in between, it's all good.

On Thursday I was scheduled to attend a seminar in Fairfield. The trip there and back would take me through the town of Sonoma where my good friend Brian lives. Brian works from his home office when not traveling so I gave him a call. Sure enough he is in town and lunch is on. We met at Rin's Thai Restaurant in Sonoma for a quick bite to eat and some catch up time. If it weren't for my crazy week that could have easily turned into a trip to the pub and an afternoon of playing hooky.

I decided a cappuccino was required for the drive back so I stop at Barking Dog Coffee, which is also in Sonoma. To my pleasant surprise, my friend (and Mrs. Fitness Journal) Francee is working. She is actually their coffee roaster. And like me, she's learning to speak french. If your cycling nickname is Niles (comme moi), then you gotta have a least one french-speaking, coffee-roasting friend. So after a quick chat and the perfect cappuccino, I really am heading back to the office now.

Another very good friend and I have been trying to hook up for dinner for some time now. Finally, the planets aligned and we are all set for Thursday night. So I get the chance to spend time with my third friend of the day. That doesn't happen as often as I would like. So Wayne and I enjoy a great french dinner at Bistro 29 and then hit Upper Fourth for a night cap. In the end, it was great catching up but I stayed out a little too late for a school night.

Friday night was family time. Sherry and I, along with her mom and sister, attended our nephews' high school football games. The JV squad lost on the final play however my nephew did not get the chance to play. On the varsity team my other nephew did get to play but unfortunately they also loss by a whopping 38 - 0. I am quite sure that was not the present he was looking for on his 16th birthday. (The previous week he had a game-turning interception).

While I was at the game, I received a text that a group of guys were heading out the next morning for a short ride before the rain. Perfect! I had posted a ride to our group and did not get any response so I figured I would be riding solo again. Instead, I joined Jim, Brian, Tom and Jason for a quick ride. It was a good ride ahead of the rain with lots of banter. Afterwards, we may have spent more time drinking coffee then riding. Jason and I decided to ride Sunday as well. It was a chilly start but otherwise another picture perfect day for cycling in Wine Country. And to top it all off, Sherry made home made scones Sunday morning.

Finally, on Sunday night, Sherry and I joined Pat and Julie for dinner at Diavola Pizzeria in Geyserville. It is a European style pizzeria that was outstanding.

So there it is. I can't remember how the week started so it must not be important. But I definitely remember how it ended. With great friends and good times.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Another fun day on the bike

It rained this weekend, a lot! Most of Saturday was spent inside listening to the gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, rain on the roof. I actually enjoy rainy days like that. The only down side is not being able to ride.

However on Sunday, Tim and I managed to head out. Our destination? Well, kinda of somewhere around the Cloverdale, Dry Creek Valley area. Or maybe we should ride in Alexander Valley and then Geyserville. Or perhaps . . . As you can see, we really didn't have a set route. We didn't even know how far we were going. We were just going out for a ride. The only thing we knew for sure was that I was going to take Tim on the new road and bike path I discovered from the Asti Tour de Vine.

This was going to be a big group ride. But time constraints and the fear of getting wet (or was it the fear of crashing) left just Tim and I. So I picked him up at 7:00 and off we go to Healdsburg. As we are getting ready the weather doesn't look to bad. There is the threat of a remaining shower but there is also blue sky. The cloud formations were actually quite spectacular. You just had this sense that it was going to be a great day.

Now we are off to Asti. On the way, it began to rain lightly but not enough to turn us around. As we get closer to Asti I found myself getting a little excited about taking Tim on a new road. You need to understand that Tim has been on every road in Sonoma County. When I first started riding he let me pick the route one day. When I asked if had ridden on Cherry Ridge Road his only response was "was it paved yesterday?".

So we make the turn and head for the temporary bridge built across the Russian River for the summer. I warn Tim that the road leading to the bridge becomes gravel. What I did not know was that it was also flooded. No worries. We simply plow through roughly 200 yards of deep puddles that at one point reach the bottom bracket. I also know the road is full of major pot holes that I cannot see. I just knew it was only a matter of time before I hit one of these monster pot holes and took a swim. It was like Russian roulette with a bike and muddy water. But in the end we both made across with nothing more then wet feet and big smiles.

After dodging a couple of fallen tree branches on Tim's new road, we hit the bike path in Cloverdale. During the Tour de Vine, I described this path as a roller coaster. Of course on Sunday there were more people and it was covered with wet leaves. So we took it easy, chatted about nothing, and talked about how great the path was for riding with the kids.

After accomplishing our only goal of the day we asked each other "what's next?". We have just over 20 miles in at this point. We head south through Cloverdale and ultimately decide to cut over to Dry Creek Valley. The plan is to take Dry Creek Road back into Healdsburg. Then we decide to take West Dry Creek Road because it is more scenic and we get to cross Lambert Bridge, a cool little bridge built back in 1915.

This part of the ride was all talk (okay, most of the ride was all talk). We got started on the election. Not about how we were voting but more about the mistakes we feel both Obama and McCain have made during their campaigns. Tim also told me about Palin being pranked.

We decided to tackle one last small hill and came back into Healdsburg through a quaint rural community. Then it was to the Flying Goat Coffee. They are one of my favorite coffee houses and reason enough to ride from Healdsburg. As we walked in we got what I now refer to as the "look of lunacy". We are both covered with bits of mud from road spray. Our feet are still wet and very muddy. I just know they were wondering "don't they know they could just drive here?".

When all was said and done, it was simply a fun ride. It was the kind of ride that reminds you why you started riding in the first place. We finished with 43 miles. We had been hoping for somewhere between 35 and 50 (how's that for specific training). We never pushed the pace. We talked non-stop. We weren't even wearing our heart rate monitors.

I hope everyone gets the chance to have a ride like this from time to time.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My weekend in Phoenix

Hey everyone! I apologize that it has been a while but last week was crazy. Finishing up a big work project, planning for a conference presentation I had to give in Phoenix yesterday, and making plans to visit Sherry's brother (also in Phoenix) left little time for blogging (or anything else for that matter), But I am back and ready to tell you all about the Phoenix trip. It was a fun and relaxing trip.

Earlier this year I was invited to give a presentation at the Experience Learning Live conference in Phoenix on the topic of the Psychology of Learning. So since Sherry's brother and family also live there, we decided to turn it into a mini-vacation. So we both took Friday off to enjoy a long weekend with family. Mike and Jamie have 2 kids, Kylie, who is about to be 5, and Lance who is just turning 1 in a few days.

So Friday we hop on a plane for the short flight from San Francisco to Phoenix. It was mostly an uneventful trip however, I now have a better understanding, and appreciation, for Southwest Airlines commercials. We were actually on US Airways and they charged extra for everything. Still, even with all of the add-ons, the flight was cheaper then anything Southwest could pony up. The rest of Friday night was spent relaxing and catching up. We were also continuously entertained by Kylie who is quite the princess/actress.

Saturday was a beautiful fall day in the desert. Mike is training for the P. F. Chang's Rock 'N' Roll Arizona marathon in January so he invited me to join him on his run. Saturday he had to go for 7 miles at race pace. After a not-to-subtle inquiry I discovered his race pace was a cool 6:30 mile. Are you friggin' kidding me? (I already knew Mike could fly. That's why I asked.) Still, I wanted to be supportive so I hopped on Jamie's hybrid bike and rode along beside him. It was kind of cool to be on a bike with no cycling kit, no gloves, no helmet, and no agenda.

Later on Saturday we went to the local Pumpkin Patch Festival. It was everything you would expect a old-fashioned fall carnival to be with the addition of the local Farmer's Market. So we roamed, ate good food, and participated in a few of the activities. The coolest? We got to stuff our own scarecrow. Yep! For a whole $3.00, you got the chance to grab some second hand clothing, stuff it with hay, and take it home. Kylie named our scarecrow Bobby. Another cool thing was where the proceeds went. I assumed the proceeds went to the local neighborhood who was putting on the festival. Instead, all proceeds went the Life is Good Foundation.

Sunday was mostly relaxing and watching football. Then we all piled into the minivan and headed for our hotel in Tempe. After saying goodbyes, Sherry and I checked into our room and immediately decided to explore our corner of Tempe. Well, as it turned out, our corner was right next to Arizona State University so we were basically in College City, USA. We did find this sign in our explorations and felt duly obliged to snap a photo for David and Pat who will both be doing this event. I also sent them a few texts but all they wanted to know about was the weather (haven't they heard about

Our hotel was right next to A Mountain. You have seen this in the backdrop if you have ever watched an Arizona State game or the Fiesta Bowl. So on Monday morning I decided to skip the hotel gym and climb A Mountain. It was great! I reached the top just as the sun was rising over the desert. It was a spectacular view. On the way up, I was passed by a young guy with a huge chain around his neck running up the mountain. A little later I saw the ASU wrestling team making their way down. They were all coming down in a wrestling crouch and all wearing 40 lb chains (I asked). That is definitely not for me. But then again, they may not find joy in climbing 5-miles uphill on a bike. C'est la vie!

My presentation was Monday afternoon. It went very well. The group participated in all of the planned activities and I think everyone managed to have some fun while learning some new pointers to improve their corporate training programs. Then it was back to the airport for the flight home.

So not a bad 4-days. A little family time, climbing a new mountain, and delivering a successful presentation. Hopefully, I will get invited back next year and we can do it all over again.

Until then, ciao!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The final event of the season

In a week that saw me get to hang out with some of cycling's top pros, Saturday's ride brought about one last connection with pro cycling. I did my last event of the season. As the pros were finishing up the 2008 season with the final pro tour race, the Giro di Lombardia in Italy, I was riding the Asti Tour de Vine in Sonoma County (you don't have to ask who was faster).

This is the first year I've ridden the Tour de Vine. It is a local charity ride with 25k, 50k and 100k routes. And even though I can ride these roads whenever I desire, I just had the feeling I would learn something new. So I set off for the start on Saturday morning on what promised to be a beautiful autumn day.

I arrived at the famous Asti Winery, which is now known as Cellar No. 8. On the drive up I was thinking that I was ending my season much the way I began it, riding solo. None of my core group could make it to this ride so I was on my own. On the drive, I also decided that I was going to do Fitness Journal proud as I was in my full FJ kit. So I dropped my original plan of taking things easy and decided to see how long I could push the pace.

As I rolled out at 7:30 I realized that this would be a true solo ride. This is a fairly new event so there were not a lot of riders and it seemed I was leaving a touch earlier then most. I set off on a pace that I hoped to maintain for the next 65 miles. My anticipation for finding a few new routes was not disappointed. I discovered a super cool bike path that had all the twists and turns of a roller coaster. I also found a beautiful road that has a temporary bridge across the Russian River during the summer.

As I enjoyed the new roads and scenery I was still trying to push the pace a bit. At this point I am probably averaging 20 mph, which is not bad for a solo effort. I reached the second rest stop, at 30k feeling great. That's when I discovered that there was 1 other 100k rider ahead of me by about 20 minutes. Could I catch him? I honestly doubted it. It would be hard to make up 20 minutes in the 70k. Still, it might be worth the effort.

So off I go. If I keep catching him as a goal I might stay motivated to maintain my brisk pace. As I roll through the vineyards of Sonoma County I am now focused on many different things other then the fall colors. How's my heart rate? Should I cruise or attack the next roller? Are there any signs of fatigue? Where is he now? I can't explain why but I felt like I was gaining on him.

Then I hit the wind. The course itself was not hard. It consisted mostly of rollers with 2 decent climbs thrown in for fun. However, the wind changed everything. In some sections I was using the same effort to maintain 14 mph that earlier had me rolling at 22. But still, I kept pushing. I almost cracked at 50 miles, and then again at 60. At the 62 mile mark I new I wasn't going to catch the dude up front so I back off the pace just a touch but still finished strong.

As I was packing up the bike to go enjoy lunch on the patio I was pleased. I basically did a 68 mile pull and I was never passed. The final numbers were 68 total miles, with a fair amount of that in the wind, and 1520 feet of climbing in just under 4 hours. All-in-all I feel that I met my objective of pushing the pace and wearing the FJ kit proudly.

At lunch, I ran into a guy I know casually from work (he is one of our vendors). So I joined him and we began to talk about the day. Come to find out he is the guy I was chasing. However, he left 35 minutes ahead of me and I only came in about 10 minutes behind him. That's a good enough effort for me.

On the drive home I felt the soreness start to set in. I know I am going to pay for this effort. But in the end, it was worth every pedal stroke to finish strong. I will now finish the year riding for the fun of riding. After this long year, I am really looking forward to it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dinner with Levi

Does it get any better? Just 3 short days after riding and lunching with BMC Racing Team pro Scott Nydam, I got to attend a dinner reception for Levi Leipheimer. Now, to be honest, if you don't follow pro cycling you may not know who Levi is. But if you do, or you live in Santa Rosa, CA, you know that Levi is currently the top rider in the US and one of the best cyclists in the world.

The whole thing came about from the Viva la Revolution at the Riviera ride I did last Saturday. After our great lunch, GiamPaolo invited us to this special dinner. Sherry decided not to go so I invited my friend Tim. So on Tuesday, Riviera Restorante was closed to the public and filled with cyclist. Now, I don't know if GiamPaolo, Rita and Luca set out to create a restaurant that seemed perfectly catered to the local cycling community but they succeeded. There are signed jerseys on the wall and cycling talk at a lot of tables. If you cycle, and visit Sonoma County, you simply have to eat there. But let's get back to the dinner with Levi.

Levi had a great 2008 season. He was the overall winner of the Tour of California for the second year in a row, 2nd place overall in the Vuelta a España, and won a Bronze Medal in the Olympics in Bejing. And these are just a few of his accomplishments this year. He also won the US Pro Champion road race in 2007 which means he is the current US champion. So you can see why a cyclist like myself was excited to spend this evening with him.

After we settled down to start dinner one of the guest stood up to make a toast. Afterwards, Levi offered a short little story (not a speech). He told us of his love of Sonoma County, how he has chosen to live here, and the great support he receives from the cycling community. When he won the Bronze Medal in Bejing, he wished more of us could have been there to share that experience. But since we couldn't be in China he brought the medal with him. That's right! He reaches down for a box and pulls out his Olympic Bronze Medal for all to see.

So he puts the medal around his neck for the many, many pictures being snapped at this point. And then he did a truly unbelievable thing. He put it back in the box and sent it around the room. So while Levi was chatting with everyone around him, his medal is simply floating from person to person around the room. I can only assume it made it back to him safely and is not currently listed on e-bay.

Finally, after more toasts, more great food, and more cycle-chat with those at our table, the night was winding down. Tim and I did get to spend a few minutes chatting with Levi. He is really just a nice guy. We wished him luck for 2009 and let him know just how much we would enjoy watching him ride. I certainly wish him the best for next year and I look forward to seeing him 3-peat at the Tour of California when it rolls through Santa Rosa.

Until then, I'll keep riding our local roads and watching for the US Pro Champion to ride by.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

My ride with a pro cyclist

Yesterday, I set out with Sarah to ride the very first Viva la Revolution at the Riviera! This ride started at a very cool bike shop, West County Revolution, and ended at one of my favorite restaurants for lunch. It was the first of what they hope will become a monthly event so I wanted to make sure it was well supported.

The ride was schedule to start at 9:00 a.m. Well, since I live less then a mile from the restaurant, I decided to ride to the start so I could then just ride home. Sarah was also looking for a ride on Saturday morning so I convinced her to join us (although she had other plans and couldn't stay for lunch). So at 7:45 we head out to the start at a nice easy pace. It was just enough to get in a good warm up without putting any real stress on the legs.

We arrived at the bike shop at 8:45, which was plenty of time to hang out, drink some coffee and get to know the new people we would be riding with. All of the initial indiciations were that this was going to be a great ride. There was also one other good omen. I had felt something fall on my helmet during the ride out. When I took it off I discovered it was a yellow jacket. He rode in there for over 15 minutes with stinging me.

So, people are getting itchy to start so we discuss the ride and get ready to head out. I overhear someone ask Steve, from the bike shop, "where's Scott?". At that point someone says "Here he comes". So up rides Scott on his road bike while also pushing his mountain bike. He is also in a full BMC Racing Team kit and bike. I soon recognized that this is none other then Scott Nydam.

Scott won the King of the Mountain jersey in this year's Tour of California and then went on to have a very good 2008 season. He is done racing for the year so he can join local group rides like ours. So this is it. My first ride with a pro. This is one of the many cool aspects of cycling. I will never play a game with the SF 49'ers (and really, who would want to) but I can ride side-by-side with a cycling pro (as long as he lets me). You gotta love that about this sport.

So finally, we're off. We started out on some bike trails so the pace was fairly easy. There were 2 interesting things that occurred during the warm up phase. First, I got to hear the lead rider shout "pumpkin up!" In cycling, this is your warning of something up ahead. A walker, runner, slower cyclist, but never before has it been a pumpkin. Sure enough, there was a couple with an engine jack moving what they estimated was a 700 pound pumkin. Next, we were almost run over by a young buck deer who came charging down the path in our direction. It was very exciting after he raced by without taking any of us out.

We finish the warm up, leave the bike trail and are ready to tackle the open road. I'll be honest, I really expected the pace to ramp up significantly. But it didn't. We were cruising at good speed with people taking turns on the front and pushing each other on the little hills we were riding. On one of the larger smaller hills (is there such a thing), I went over the top with Pro-Scott just behind me. After the descent I was chatting with him and I mentioned, "it's only fair I let you know that in my blog I am going to say I paced you up that climb". His reponse (with a smile), "all's fair in blogs". I then rode the next few miles either on Scott's wheel, with Scott on my wheel, or side-by-side chatting. He could have easily left us at anytime but instead he just cruised along. Cool dude!

At the 20 mile mark, the group broke into two separate rides. Sarah and I stayed with the more "moderate" group, while the others went out to do something a little more serious. At lunch we heard stories of them hitting up to 28 mph on one of the flats. The rest of our ride was great. There were 5 of us riding a good pace but still managing to enjoy the fall secenery in the vineyards. We all took turns on the front, stayed together on the climbs, and just chatted as we got to know each other. That's what made this a cool group of guys. Sometimes, all you get on these rides is a bunch of hammerheads who do nothing all day but attack and try to wear out the whole group. These guys weren't like that at all. Instead, we all shared the same of goal of a getting in a really good workout while still enjoying all of the social aspects of a group ride.

We rolled up to the resaurant just in time for Giampaolo to serve us wine and espressos before lunch. Of course, I had to have both. There was something a little weird about standing in my favorite restaraunt in a bike kit and no shoes drinking wine. The other group arrrive about 15 minutes later and we settled in for a lunch of salad, pasta, wild salmon and dessert. It was fabulous. We all decided to make this a monthly affair and to talk it up to see if can get a larger group. Sadly, it was finally time we all got back on the bikes and headed for home.

This will likely be one of my more memorable rides. First, I got to ride with a pro. And not just start in the same group with him but actually ride next to him and chat. But more importantly, I was reminded of just how great most of cyclists I meet really are. I mean, I only knew Sarah when the ride started. But in the end, I had a whole new group of friends and invitations to go on more rides then I have time for.

I know I've said it before, but that's why I ride.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Konocti Challenge

This last Saturday some friends and I rode in the Konocti Challenge. This is one of my favorite charity rides for a lot of reasons. It has a mixture of great scenery, a relaxed pace, and the best post-ride BBQ I've eaten yet. It used to be called Pedal the Puddle since the 65 and 100 routes circumnavigate Clear Lake, which is the largest natural lake in California. This was my third year and it has yet to disappoint.

This year's adventure actually started before the ride as members from our little group, Wine Country Velo, tried to decide if they would ride or not. At one point there were 6 of us heading up but in the week before the ride it had come down to 4. We all decided to ride the 65 mile route this year and the general plan was to "not lift the pace, jump any fast moving trains, or do anything else that keeps us from chatting and enjoying the views of the lake."

So we are excitingly exchanging e-mails and texts about the plan when someone noticed the forecast called for rain. Uh oh! So who really wants to ride in the rain? Now the texts and e-mails take on a whole different attitude. Sarah, the only woman in our group is also the only sensible one who decides to pass (there's got to be a connection there somewhere). Tim, David and I decide to soldier on.

When I check my e-mail one last time late Friday night to ensure no one else has bailed, and to make sure ride is still on, I see I David has sent me something. But he's not bailing. Instead, he sends me a link to this article in our local paper "Smelly carp piling up on shores." Oh that's perfect! As if the rain were not enough to deal with now we have to deal with dead fish!!!

So I'm up at 4:45 on Saturday morning and immediately look outside. It's beautiful. The rain we had Friday night was supposed to linger into Saturday morning but now it looks like it's moved on a little faster. Sarah is going to be sorry she missed a great ride. So I pick up David, then Tim, and off we go. A short 30-minutes later it is pouring! Apparently, Sarah will not be sorry after all.

We arrive at starting point, check-in and head out. There was the definite threat of rain but it was dry when we started. In fact, we rode all the way to the first rest stop at mile 18 without getting wet. It was also warming up nicely. So at the rest stop I drop the base layer. That must have been the signal because not 50 yards after leaving the rest stop it started to rain. Then it started to rain hard. I don't want to dwell on the rain so here's the basics. It probably rained for half the ride. It mostly ruined the descents since none of us wanted to hit the pavement. But in the end, it really wasn't that bad. For me, there is nothing like riding in the rain to make you feel like a kid, or a pro.

As we rode along, chatting and enjoying the views, the paper was right. There were dead fish everywhere. Fortunately, the rain was knocking down the smell so it wasn't too bad. It definitely added an interesting dynamic to our conversations.

So the final part of this report deals with the end of the ride. On one of the small hills, another rider catches us and sits on our wheel. We are not pushing the pace but we are riding in a pace line. So he just sits there for quite a few miles enjoying a free pull as Tim, David and I took turns on the front (he never came to the front). Then after a while he comes around and just rides away from us. Hmmmm! No biggie. We are enjoying the ride and have no desire to gun him down.

However, he never really pulls away. Now, it's about 15 miles left in the ride, it's raining again, and we are pretty much ready for the ride to end. That's when I notice Tim lift the pace just a touch. I knew he was irked when the guy passed us after sucking our wheel for so long. So I think to myself "we're about to reel him in." Sure enough, we ever so slowly start to bring him back. Eventually, we catch up to him and Tim grabs his wheel. For all of 30 seconds! Then the guy sees Tim behind him and pulls off to let us pass and then gets back on our wheel. WTF!!!

I now have no doubt Tim plans to drop this dude. So up goes the pace and we form a line of Tim, David, me and wheel-sucker. With about 5 miles to go I realize that Tim is riding strong but will need a rest before the final push. So I come around David and Tim and take the front lifting the pace again just a little. With 3 miles to go, Tim comes back to the front and is now driving a serious pace. David starts to drop off Tim's wheel (in his defense, he still had to do a 1 hour run later that day) so I come around, still with wheel-sucker in tow, and grab Tim's wheel. And the pace keeps ramping up. Finally, we hit town and now we are flying. Tim is looking into the store windows and sees that wheel-sucker is starting to dangle off the back. One more acceleration and he is officially dropped.

As Tim and I arrive back the car we are talking about how him and I knew exactly what the other person would do without ever speaking. Tim and I have been riding together for 5 years now. He taught me most of what I know about cycling. I knew this guy irked Tim when he passed us and I also knew Tim would drop this guy before the ride was over. I knew when and how I needed to help. That's the cool thing when you have been riding with someone for so long.

At lunch, we were chatting about the end of the ride and dropping Mr. Wheel-sucker. Now don't get me wrong. We will happily tow in any rider who needs a little help. But, if you're strong enough to ride away, you're strong enough to take a pull. So Tim tells me I need to write about this guy (see how well I take instructions) and my reply was "Oh, he is so getting blogged". And he did.

In the end, it was a great day. A little rain, a lot of laughs, 1 dropped wheel-sucker, and a dynamite post-ride BBQ. I can't wait to see what 2009's ride will bring.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Another good week

Wow! I can't believe it's been a week since my last post. Part of that is due to being incredibly busy and the other part is, quite frankly, I have not been the mood to write. However, in reflection, it was still a very good week.

The kitchen is finally done!!! Ok, not done, but close enough. There are few trim boards that need to go up and 2 doors to put back. So it is 95% done but more importantly, it's fully operational. Sherry and I have been cooking since Wednesday night. It's great the way the new space flows. We have also spent most of our free time loading box after box out of the garage and wine cellar where everything was stored. And, of course, there is a whole house to clean since it was a construction zone for 8 weeks. I am now proud to say that the kitchen and wine cellar are back in order and looking splendid. And the garage? Well to be honest, it will be a while before we get the garage dealt with properly.

I took rest days on Monday and Tuesday after some pretty serious weekend riding in the mountains. All total, I put in 75 miles with 6300 feet of climbing in 2 days. The rides were spectacular as mountain rides always are.

Wednesday morning I did my 3.5 mile run. This was just your ordinary run-of-the-mill run with no real fanfare. I did notice I that I finished very strong. Maybe it's time to increase the distance a little (more on this later).

Thursday morning I went out and tested a 3-mile cycling loop for working on speed intervals. It is in the city, so it's also in traffic, but it consists of 4 right-hand turns onto roads that all have bike lanes. I did the first loop nice and relaxed. I was just getting a feel for route and the turns. I didn't have to deal with any cars and the right turns, all with traffic lights, didn't slow me down much either. So the second time I decided to set my base time. Of course, this time I had kids crossing in front of me on the way to school, cars pulling out in front of me and the lights did not work in my favor. Oh well! It was still a fun workout.

Friday I decided to push the run distance from 3.5 to 4.0 miles since I was feeling so strong on Wednesday. So, I head out and know within 200 meters that this will not be my day. Instead, it's going to be one of those workouts you have to fight your way through. I finally settle into a rhythm and things are going ok. Of course, I made the classic mistake of putting the extra half mile at the end. As I reached the turn for home if I am doing a shorter run I had this conversation with myself.

Mind - You're not running well. Why don't you just turn here, go home, and call it a day?
Me - No! We set out for 4 miles and that's what we are going to do!
Mind - I'm telling you - TURN HERE!
Me - Not going to happen!
Mind - (As I approach the turn) TURN! TURN! TURN! Dude, you are so going to pay for that.

In case you couldn't tell, I did not turn. Instead, I finished the run as planned and in the end it felt great. My goal is to get back into the 5 mile range so I can run the occasional 10k.

On Saturday it was off to Clearlake for the Konocti Challenge. This is a great charity ride with 65 0r 100 mile options. We opted for 65 miles this year. It was a great ride even though it did rain on us for over half the ride. What the hell! It builds character right? There may be more on this ride later.

So there you have it. A crazy week full of work, workouts, and box moving. Still, I'd have to say it was another good week.


Monday, September 29, 2008

A weekend in the mountains

Well, with the kitchen still not up and running, Sherry and I did another weekend get-away. This time to the mountains. We have a friend with a cabin near the town of Strawberry, CA (which is about 50 east of Sonora). So 5 of us headed for the mountains for the weekend. We try and go every year but somehow our schedules never lined up in '07.

The drive out on Friday was pretty uneventful. It takes about 4 1/2 hours to get there from home. But we had both taken the day off and where in no real hurry. We arrived to some of the most beautiful mountain weather imaginable. The highs were in the upper 70s and the lows in the low 40s. On our arrival, there was not a cloud in the sky. The other 3 were already there when we arrived so we performed the functional duties of unpacking before settling down to relax.

The cabin is very close to the South Fork of the the Stanislaus River. So after a little relaxation I hiked down to the river and spent some time exploring. Is there anything better then a mountain stream to wash your cares away. I found a big rock to sit on and just sat there thinking about nothing and everything. Finally, it was back to the cabin for grilled tri-tip and other assorted goodies for dinner.

Saturday dawned just as beautiful as Friday. For me, the day started with a 55-mile ride to Kennedy Meadows and back. I was feeling strong and considered going to the top of Sonora Pass. I am still not sure if it was the allure of tri-tip sandwiches and beer for lunch or the sign stating 26% grade that changed ultimately my mind. This is my third ride in the mountains this year and they have all been special in their own way. (There may be more about the cycling in a future post.)

Back at the cabin it was time for lunch. After which, I tried to read and relax a little. It ended up being more of nap a little and then nap a little more as I was sitting on the deck. I eventually found enough energy to do more river exploration and spend some time writing in my journal. I am in the slow process of writing a book. (I actually started this blog to practice my writing style.)

That night brought another great dinner and then one of our group wanted to play cards. I have to admit that I am not much of a game player. And I can definitely do without card games. But, I wanted to be a good sport so we played for a couple of hours. I definitely understand the reason people enjoy playing cards as we spent a great deal of time laughing.

Sunday morning brought another ride, only 20-miles, and then it was time to head home. All-in-all, it was the perfect weekend retreat.

To add to our fun here are the wines we drank.
Navorro 2006 Pinot Gris
RWC Le Mesnil Champagne
Valley of the Moon 2004 Cuvee de la Luna
Ferrari Carano 2006 Fiorella Chardonnay

We may try our first winter trip this year which should be spectacular. Until then, we will keep warm with the memories of this recent trip.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The first official ride of Autumn

I love autumn. I always have. There's just something about the crispness of the air, the color of the light, and the cooler temperatures that has always awakened me from my summer heat-induced haze. The only down side - shorter days. Between working until 6:00 p.m., or later, and darkness arriving in Wine Country by 7:20 (as I discovered), that doesn't leave a lot of time for riding.

That's why I was thrilled on Tuesday when I managed to get off work a little early. So I dashed home, changed and off I went for my first official autumn ride of 2009. I am saying "first official ride" because although it has felt like autumn for a few weeks now, autumn did not officially arrive until Monday, September 22nd at 8:44:18 a.m. PST. That's when the Fall Equinox occurred (did you know that autumn had an official start time?).

As I started the ride, it was 85. Of course, that's 85 with a hint of coolness. I headed out of town along the same route as usual for my after work rides. There is a bike path that follows our major creek out of the city and it allows me to avoid traffic and, more importantly, traffic lights. As I ride along the creek, I can just see the beginning of color change in the trees. We have not had any rain since May (our typical pattern) but the creek still has plenty of water. So there are lots of birds. And since I have now decided to simply enjoy the act of riding for the rest of this year I am sitting up on the bike and enjoying the view.

As I head out of town, I begin to ride past the first vineyards. This is where you really see the autumn color of Wine Country. All of the vineyards turn into beautiful palettes of red, orange, and yellow. In fact, you can tell the varietal of grape from the colors of the leaves as they change. I had the whole thing explained to me once by a winemaker but since I was drinking wine at the time I cannot remember the specifics (although I remember the wine was red).

The color and crispness of the setting sun were amazing. As I continued to roll along at a pace that allowed me to enjoy the scenery, I passed a couple of wineries. They are now in full crush mode and you can smell it. If you like wine, it is almost impossible not to be swooned by the bouquet of the crush. Of course now I have to have wine with dinner when I get home.

Along my route I was not alone. I saw many, many cyclists all trying to get in a decent workout in before night fell. There is nothing like racing the sun in terms of lifting your pace, and your heart rate. I also saw many people taking walks with strollers, dogs, and kids on bikes. I passed a couple of equestrians heading home. It seem like we all shared the same felt need to get out and enjoy the evening.

I notice it was getting dark a little earlier then I anticipated so I head for home. I thought I had until around 7:30 but I was off the mark by about 10 minutes. So back towards town, back along the creek and to the house. I can tell the last 15-minutes were interesting (read - scary) as all the cars passing me already had their lights on.

So safely back home, I was reflecting on the ride. It had everything I was looking for in an autumn ride. Great weather, great scenery and a pace slow enough to enjoy it.

I better enjoy it while I can. I also saw a UPS truck with its one lone driver and for some reason it make me think that soon, every UPS truck will have two people as they try to stay on top of holiday deliveries. That means that the holiday season, and rain, can't be far off. Until then, I'll keep riding along and enjoying my favorite season.